Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) paces back and forth in his trailer — a tattooed torso with a butterfly knife aflutter in his hands. He performs the nervous, preshow ritual of a stuntman summoning his courage before he gives the knife one last flick and drives it, determinedly, into the door. The scene then transforms into a sustained tracking shot, trailing in the wake of Glanton’s cigarette smoke, as he winds his way through the cheaply lit fairgrounds — past gaggles of teenagers and boothes stacked with weighted milk bottles — to a carnival tent containing a spherical cage where Glanton, along with two other stuntmen, performs in a death-defying ballet of swirling motorbikes.
It is an audacious moment among many such moments in The Place Beyond The Pines; still I break the sacred, silent dark of the theater by chuckling to myself as I instintively recall the new Funny or Die video, Ryan Goslin’s Actin’ Range. “These are props we can hide behind!”, the Ryan Gosling impersonator quips in my mind as he manhandles a lighter, a toothpick, and a hammer. And now we add the butterfly knife to the list.
Uncanny as it is, it’s a cheap shot taken too often at Mr. Gosling’s expense. True, a signature prop is found in many a Gosling role and, yes, said roles tend to be variations on the laconic, brooding protagonist archetype but Gosling nonetheless brings his A game, with unrivaled intensity and vulnerability. The only thing sphinxlike about Gosling’s wordless stare as Glanton rekindles an attraction to old flame, Romina (a worn-down working-class Eva Mendes), or as he discovers an unconditional love for his baby boy is he demands you put in work to figure him out, but the stares are never blank, never inscrutable. Ryan Gosling remains a captivating performer.
Gosling’s hold on my attention is such I check the time on my phone as the daredevil-turned-bankrobber hemorrhages into nothingness and passes the narrative torch on to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) following a couple gunshots, a doubling over, and collapse from a third-story window. Had a movie’s worth of adrenaline rush from Glanton’s heists and high-speed escapes passed so quickly? No, it had only been an hour. Director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance had done what few ever dare: he traded protagonists. It isn’t Cianfrance’s last such exchange either.
The subsequent hour’s worth of Schenectady P.D. corruption entangling Bradley Cooper’s Hero Cop is equally gripping and unexpectedly twisty, even if it ends with more of a fizzle than a bang by comparison to the relentless pace in Gosling’s first act. Avery is an ambitious man. He has already attained Glanton’s naïve goals by the time we’re introduced to him. Avery’s tale is a guilt-trip obsessed with medal-worthy heroism that Avery manipulates to conjure a promotion from beat cop to politician. Equal to Avery’s ambition is his cowardice — first crippled by it, then reliant upon it — as his principles and loosely held sense of justice vanish before his and our eyes.
Not content to let sleeping dogs lie, Cianfrance checks in on the sons of Moto Bandit & Hero Cop fifteen years later (stoner/slacker Dane DeHaan & douche-tacular Emory Cohen). We watch on as the actions of each father echo on to eternity and reflect on the veracity of Glanton’s earlier plea to Romina — “I grew up without my dad and look how I turned out” — during his son’s misguided revenge-kick of the final act (itself the result of Luke’s absence as a father) where we had previously scoffed, doubting Glanton as role model material, and imagined back into the untold decisions of Moto Bandit & Hero Cop’s respective fathers and their fathers’ fathers.
Cianfrance’s Schenectady is writerly in its elegance and massive in its scope, occasionally to the film’s detriment. Despite the diminishing returns in both acts two & three, The Place Beyond The Pines remains a riveting, dreadful meditation with ambition to be lauded — to explore the depths of not just a couple lives, but generations of lives, to see fate & destiny passed down from fathers to their sons, to witness the consequences of each act unfold in both trivial and meaningful ways lends The Place Beyond The Pines a magnificent omniscence rarely glimpsed outside the pages of a novel.
28 Apr 2013 / 3 notes
Well, if it weren’t abundantly clear by now that The Strokes are totally ambivalent towards their “saviors of rock” title, take one listen to their fifth and latest album, Comedown Machine—it all but spells it out. And what’s more, it appears they’re collectively throwing in the towel to boot. Between no announced tour dates, a media black out, and a fulfillment of their contractual obligations to RCA (did you see that album cover?), I’d say all signs point to “see you later”.
So, this is it? They’ve decided to ostensibly end it all with Comedown Machine? Every group has to call it quits sooner or later (except The Rolling Stones) but, come on, guys, you weren’t even trying. I’m not even talking aesthetics (but don’t worry, I will)—in terms of sheer songwriting and musicality, Comedown Machine is among the laziest, most disjointed, and uninteresting (not to mention utterly disappointing) albums I can recall. It’s hard to think of another band—a band formerly so unimpeachably, unassailably cool—that has fallen so far as The Strokes, and in little more than a decade.
The Strokes defined millennial chic upon Is This It’s arrival with the force and immediacy of an Olympian thunder-clap—Chuck Taylor’s, skinny jeans, graphic tees, shaggy bed-head—an Athenian appearance, fully-formed and armored, out of the God of Rock’s head. The music, like the band themselves, was frayed just enough around the edges, to insinuate a perpetual state of intoxication, eternally stumbling out of the garage or some model’s bed and ever onward to the after-party. Room On Fire rushed to replicate the success of the original (I still have electric memories of getting my hands on those rough drafts and live bootlegs leaked on Kazaa). It repackaged the raw appeal of their first in a neater, tidier package, reminiscent of how That Thing You Do’s The Wonders would wrap a set, smile, and sprint off stage. First Impressions of Earth was the most sprawling, albeit occasionally uninspiring, 52 minutes ever released by a garage rock band. The Strokes’s music became muscular, polished while remaining tough and yet also more emotional; it was a welcome listen during a time of personal relationship hell. And Angles, for its numerous, tasteless offenses, was still the reunion album. After all, who can resist “getting the gang back together”? And it’s not as though the songs were poorly written, some of them were great (“Machu Picchu”, “Under Cover of Darkness”), it simply found The Strokes going down a road I wasn’t particularly interested in following.
Comedown Machine, however, finally sees The Strokes (only just?) outlive their usefulness. If Angles was The Strokes’s Green Album, then Comedown Machine finds The Strokes in Weezer 3.0 territory—ill-conceived, schlocky, out of touch, and uncool; a band making music no one particularly cares for in a fashion not all that dissimilar to the reanimated shenanigans in Weekend At Bernie’s. “All The Time”, Comedown Machine’s second lead-off single, is the most like anything from Is This It or Room On Fire but it’s also manufactured, uninspired, bland. As Comedown Machine’s only other single, that other being the A-ha aping “One Way Trigger”, this is the most they can muster? Even the most worthwhile tracks, like the lively “Happy Ending” or the decent kick-off tune, “Tap Out”, are merely second-rate Angles leftovers.
Nearly all the rest are so unmemorable I can’t describe them unless I’m listening to the track as I write. “Welcome to Japan” sees the band try on disco, Casablancas’s continued bizarre obsession with three decade old synth technology rears its ugly head yet again on “80’s Comedown Machine”, the most can be said for “Slow Animals” is it doesn’t rock the boat, and “Chances” sounds like an 80’s prom night reject. None are particularly better or worse than the other; in fact, they might all be rather catchy were they not so flabby in the middle. Hands down, the worst track is “Partners In Crime”, containing by far the laziest guitar work from Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. on the entirety of Comedown Machine and ear-grating harmonizing between Casablancas and his goddammned synths. Never have I actively hated a Strokes song until this moment, so, thanks for that. “50/50” and “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” let the band stretch into break-neck punk and Tom Waits-styled 20’s jazz respectively but they’re both so out of place they’d still be head-scratchers even if they were the best tracks here, which they most definitely are not.
The whole affair rings hollow and tossed off. It’s frustrating because the whole world knows how truly great The Strokes can be. We’ve seen it before. Is This It was structured, edited, rehearsed, refined to perfection like a flawless gem. Look no further for evidence than “Barely Legal”—the difference between the miscalculated and overly-long version on The Modern Age EP and what they did with it on Is This It is astounding. If The Strokes had put even a modicum of the effort into Comedown Machine as they did into that one track, we’d have a final album from a legendary band that would be worthy of remembering, or at least one capable of going toe-to-toe with Angles.
30 Mar 2013 / 2 notes
Look, you’re reading this because you want to know more about Side Effects but, believe me, you really don’t. I wouldn’t even recommend watching the trailer. All the joys to be derived from what is purportedly Steven Soderbergh’s final theatrical release come from going into it completely blind. As Roger Ebert said in his review,
…critics were not admitted unless they were there from the start. It’s like an Alfred Hitchcock warning: “Don’t give away the beginning!”
Convinced? Great, I’ll see you in the next paragraph.
Welcome back! So, what did you think?
Aren’t you glad you didn’t spoil yourself?
I can’t recall the last time I was so genuinely delighted by a film for catching me off guard. In a world saturated by continuous streams of media with commercials creeping into every corner of life, it’s a small miracle to remain unspoiled by marketing. And boy did avoiding all that crap pay off. Soderbergh pulled off a devilishly fun, tangled web of a noir yarn in the guise of an issue film.
Soderbergh hooked me with Rooney Mara’s hypnotic performance—perhaps not entirely dissimilar from Mara’s last (wild and unpredictable Lisbeth Salander) as a twenty-something suffering from debilitating depression—as the shimmering lure to the unexpected bait and switch he pulls during Side Effects’s murky midsection. As Side Effects shifts from a morality play on the perils of pharmaceuticals into high gear as an out-and-out thriller—like a lost Hitchcock with Fincherian tinges of Zodiac obsession—it also shifts protagonists, No Country For Old Men-style, transferring narrative perspective from Mara’s cloudy & troubled Emily Taylor to her baffled psychiatrist Dr. Banks (Jude Law) who is as caught off guard as the audience.
Were it not for Soderbergh’s deft direction and sleight of hand, Side Effects would be far more preposterous and tawdry. The pitfalls associated with preachy message films and the conventional mechanics of Hollywood genre thrillers are studiously side-stepped in favor of a series of escalating twists and ratcheting tension. Side Effects’s Primal Fear moment is merely one twist among many during the film’s third act and serves to unravel several further backstabbings later on. And, speaking of stabbings, I’ll never forget the deeply unsettling murder at the heart of Side Effects where Soderbergh’s merciless, unflinching camera is as brutal the foley work of ripped fabric and pierced flesh.
The only semi-compromised moment in an otherwise uncompromising work is the “happy” ending slapped on at the conclusion. Do we really believe Banks has redeemed himself in the eyes of his family or the medical community after going so far down the personal and professional rabbit hole to find his answers? Nonetheless, it remains enormously gratifying (I almost forgot how great Jude Law can be) to see the beleaguered psychiatrist Banks get the better of Emily and her conniving partner/lover (Catherine Zeta-Jones), no matter how contrived it comes off. I guess that’s the side effect of making such an endearing, damned good piece of entertainment.
12 Mar 2013 / 2 notes
One of the better skits from Ben Stiller’s self-titled sketch comedy show—criminally cancelled by Fox after only one season and, ironically, the posthumous winner of the 1993 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Series—was the timely parody trailer for Die Hard 12: Die Hungry. At the heart of the skit, littered among a bounty of classic riffs on the (at the time) two Die Hard’s and Ben Stiller’s uncanny resemblance to Bruce Willis, was the incisive tagline “they say lightning can’t strike twelve times”. The tagline, especially in the context of the mock-trailer, remains hilarious twenty years on but what initially worked as the crux of Stiller’s triumphant parody on the endless milking of the cash cow that is the action movie sequel became something all the more prescient in the subsequent two decades, which, to date, have seen a further three Die Hard sequels. At his current trajectory, however, John McClane is more likely to find himself in outer space than a grocery store.
The Die Hard series—nay, franchise—has placed John McClane in a number of ever-escalating circumstances wherein he has to “shoot some mother fuckers”. First, the top ten stories of Nakatomi Plaza. Then, in Die Harder, it was Dulles Airport. Five years after that, Die Hard With A Vengeance had McClane reluctantly partnered with Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) as they ran around New York City defusing bombs. And just when we thought there was nothing more to be said, McClane was resurrected—twelve years later!—yet again to save the Eastern seaboard from the nefarious clutches of Timothy Olyphant in Live Free or Die Hard. Which brings us to the fifth, and may it mercifully be the last, installment where fish-out-of-water McClane must save his son, and the world, from the Russians in the newly released A Good Day to Die Hard (see what I mean about space?).
The conceit is one recycled from the previous entry, only this time John’s reconciliation with his spunky, estranged daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a thankless role), is switched for reconciliation with his hard-headed, estranged son, “Jack” (whom you might remember as John Jr. from a real Die Hard movie, here portrayed by Jai Courtney). But since Jack is John’s son and not his daughter, he gets to tag along with dad and kill lots of baddies, whereas in Live Free or Die Hard Lucy only got herself kidnapped because, apparently, that’s all women are good for in these movies.
A Good Day to Die Hard’s “plot” revolves around John flying to Mother Russia to bail his son out from some serious trouble only to find, as usual, the more serious trouble has come to them. And within the first twenty minutes, Die Hard 5 has its (overly long, discombobulating) car chase. Now, as any action buff can tell you, the typical car chase center-piece doesn’t come in until roughly an hour or more of a movie—having this bloated, nonsensical ravaging of Russian motorists so early on makes Die Hard terribly disjointed. Once there’s a car chase, the action can’t let up, so to have the action kick into high-gear like this immediately sets up red flags. Sure enough, these trepidations prove accurate. From that point on, McClane & Son are decked to the nines in semi-automatics, blowing away dozens of faceless and nameless henchmen right until A Good Day to Die Hard’s last, ludicrous moments.
Apart from being blandly, unmemorably directed by the inept John Moore (Flight of the Phoenix, Max Payne) and atrociously edited by Dan Zimmerman (who?), A Good Day to Die Hard’s greatest sin is its complete disregard for what makes a Die Hard film a cut above every Joe Schmo action flick—the everyman plight and catharsis experienced vicariously through hapless John McClane. There’s a fine line between a coincidence and the absurd, a line John Moore blunders over repeatedly, that makes McClane, as he refers to himself in the first Die Hard, a “fly in the ointment” to all the dastardly villains out there. It’s not that McClane doesn’t mess it up for the Russians this time, it’s that we, like McClane here, don’t know what the hell is going on or what whose plan he’s messing up.
Just as bad is Willis himself who phones it in completely or, if there is any McClane to this performance, it got left on the cutting room floor with, presumably, at least a half hour of character building material. Sure, in Live Free or Die Hard McClane became a kind of demigod but he maintained his typical wisecracking likability throughout. Here, Moore hardly bothers to have Willis do anything more than espouse one god-awful one-liner (“I’m on vacation!” [which he clearly is not]) with some dried blood on his ubiquitous, grizzled visage. Where is the peril, John Moore? John McClane doesn’t stand up and dust himself off after cooking some fools or jumping off a building or into what is likely a pool of standing, radioactive water. He suffers, struggles, limps, and bleeds his way through it.
An action movie, even more so a Die Hard, is defined by its hero. If your hero is a confused, grumpy, trying, exhausted yet invincible old man, what does that say about your movie?
26 Feb 2013 / 1 note
What follows are 10 of my personal favorite films from 2012. There was a lot to love this year, far more than can fit on a such a simple list, but my aim here is to show you something new or something you already knew, but with a twist. And, again, these picks aren’t in order of great to greatest, simply chronological; putting such constraints on these works would only serve to be reductive. In any case, read, enjoy, be frustrated, laugh, reply and share your thoughts.
Oslo, August 31st
Oslo, August 31st is remarkable if for no other reason than making protagonist Anders—a recovering addict who guilt trips his best friend, storms out of a job interview, badgers his ex-girlfriend’s answering machine, and crashes another ex-lover’s birthday party all in the course of a single day—an empathetic character. Anders is desperate to connect but time has slipped away from him. There is a beautiful moment halfway through Oslo, August 31st, a film littered with questionable judgment and wrenching emotional stakes, where Anders sits in a bustling café letting the dozen odd conversations wash over him. It is the film’s warmest and most life-affirming moment. Anders smiles to himself, nostalgically, aware he’ll never know such little joys again.
What was supposed to be a macho movie where Liam Neeson punches a wolf in the face unfolded into something deliberate, somber, and altogether unexpected. Joe Carnahan’s low-key direction turns what could easily have been misconstrued as a ploy to bring Neeson to The Expendables 3 into a poetic meditation on the inevitability of death.
The Cabin In The Woods
A “WTF” premise slowly reveals itself to be, literally, the horror movie to end all horror movies. A narrative twist a little too meta for some horror die hards, The Cabin In The Woods is nothing less than a thrown gauntlet telling all the other players in the horror medium to up their game.
The most charming film of the year and one of Wes Anderson’s strongest pieces. Anderson’s uncanny skill at evocatively painting a wonderful fantasyland in the drab colors of rural New England, scored to Benjamin Britten’s angelic children’s choirs, and combined with the frank innocence of prepubescent sexuality, Moonrise Kingdom is all at once familiar and refreshing.
“We need a haircut,” is the driving force for all of Cosmopolis, a kooky day in the life of Eric Packer (the aloof Robert Pattinson), a 28-year-old billionaire wunderkind on the brink of financial ruin. As obstacles present themselves—the president’s in town, Packer’s favorite rapper died, anarchists setting themselves aflame in the street—and all manner of expected and unexpected visitors (Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, and Paul Giamatti are but a few) weave their way in and out of his limousine as he tries to cross Manhattan, Packer comes apart in layers (“I didn’t realize your eyes were blue”, “What happened to your tie?”) and becomes increasingly unhinged right down to the highly cryptic and utterly Cronenbergian finale.
Drinking inordinate amounts of fixer and god knows what else. Humping mermaids made of sand long past the point of your comrades’ amusement. Beating the shit out of a customer getting on your nerves. Phillip Seymour Hoffman being jerked off into a sink by Amy Adams. There is, as Paul Thomas Anderson suggests in his post-WWII piece The Master, something deeply wrong at the heart of America. It’s a sort of puzzle made up along the way, one where the pieces don’t quite fit, but envisioned in some of the most stunningly composed and intensely acted (Joaquin Phoenix’s unflinching, dianetic cross-examination by Hoffman is mesmerizing) moments of 2012.
The best original screenplay of the year belongs to Looper. It is nothing short of a spell-binding work of sci-fi mastery. The insanely original conceit—Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis play the same person, thirty years apart, pitted against each other in a twisty, time travel yarn—is among the best the genre has seen in ages. In a year plagued by films (including some on this list) that could only meander the way to a finish, Looper—in the fearless hands of director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom)—takes a total left turn in the final act to find a climax—revolving not around the predictable laws of action narratives but around the redemptive core of a mother’s love for a son—that rewards investment in Johnson’s characters beyond explosive and masturbatory 45 minute set pieces.
Life Of Pi
Initially starting out with a questionable and clunky framing device, Ang Lee’s gorgeous Life of Pi gives way to the powerful journey of a young Indian boy, Pi (Suraj Sharma), and a bengal tiger named Richard Parker stranded together at sea. The conceit—”a story to make you believe in god”—comes dangerously close to cheesy but the masterful 3D artistry, Suraj Sharma’s powerful performance largely acting against the ether, and the older, storytelling Pi’s brief yet powerful closing affirmation are enough to ward off Life of Pi’s shaky footing with great aplomb.
Zero Dark Thirty
Whether Kathryn Bigelow has crafted a pro-torture film or not is hardly the point of Zero Dark Thirty. The film works along the lines of David Fincher’s procedural Zodiac to say “A then B then C” with Jessica Chastain’s calculated agent driven to employ whatever means to the end of Osama bin Laden. Perhaps more terrifying than anything else in Bigelow’s knuckle-whitening film is the climactic raid on bin Laden’s suburban fortress. The silent, shark-like helicopters floating over a pitch dark and mountainous sea, the surgical precision of entry and execution by Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6, and the harrowing sobs and cries of children being told “It’s OK” mere moments after their parents have been murdered are all as equally haunting and damning, regardless of their justification, as Zero Dark Thirty’s opening salvos of torture.
Quentin Tarantino’s second piece of revisionist history/revenge fantasy—after 2009’s Inglourious Basterds—is the most brutal look at America’s terrible history with slavery I have ever seen. Nothing the slaves do in Django Unchained is quietly heroic or noble—the slaves are humiliated, they are beaten, they are pitted against each other, they are raped and they are eaten alive by dogs; that it never occurred to me some of these things were fictionalized on Tarantino’s part as I watched Django Unchained speaks volumes about our country’s eagerness to sweep slavery under the rug. Django comes along to lift up that rug, burn it, and say, “fuck you”, before dishing out gobs of gratuitous vengeance. Stamp on some trademark Tarantino dialogue (with savored deliveries by the likes of Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Leonardo DiCaprio) and a funked-up soundtrack, and you’ve got yourself another Tarantino classic.
4 Feb 2013 / 6 notes
Let’s do something different this year. Here’s ten albums from 2012. I love all of them and I present them here, humbly, to hopefully show you something new. But I’m not going to rank them, because, ultimately, what does that prove? And honestly, I couldn’t rank these selections if I wanted; each is a work unto itself, with its own styles and merits. Claiming one is “better” than the other is childish. Instead, this list is my journey through 2012—that is to say chronologically. I hope it’s one you can identify with, one that will make you think, one that will have you talking about your own favorites, and one that you will unabashedly get wrapped up in. And, as always, here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure.
Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light
It was a long four months getting to Spiritualized’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light. Rock veteran Jason Pierce’s latest, most celestial offering offered the first ray of hope for something wonderful in 2012 and became the first I album I fell in love with last year. The grand experiment of religious pleading and symbolism combined with every type of rock, psychedelia, blues, and gospel you can imagine into sweeping statements on life, love and death made for a welcome, if late, start.
Death Grips The Money Store
No other album took me by surprise, nor infected me with maniacal glee, as much as Death Grips’s The Money Store. Somewhere in the last few decades—presumably on this planet—somewhere between hardcore punk and hardcore rap, there exists a reason for Death Grips. I’ll be damned if I can find it. Either way, nothing else from last year will grab you with such ferocity and headbutt you into submission like The Money Store. In a good way.
Beach House Bloom
The aptly named Bloom does exactly that. Every song opens slowly into a swirl of dripping guitars, dreamy synths, and captivating beats. The same applies to Bloom’s creators, Beach House, as well—over the last few years Beach House has honed their craft, iterating and refining their sound. Bloom has a decidedly familiar warmth but it would be unwise to dismiss Beach House for being “too samey”—every track on Bloom is deliberately crafted and distinctly, ethereally gorgeous.
Japandroids Celebration Rock
How great is it that there exists an album titled Celebration Rock and it starts off with fireworks? I’ll tell you: it’s freakin’ fantastic. Japandroids have forged an album of joyful, anthemic rockers to celebrate life, stuffed to the brim with crashing beats, huge hooks, and singalong chants. Celebration Rock’s zenith is the penultimate track, “The House That Heaven Built”, a track so immense it’ll give you goosebumps.
Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
In a moment The Idler Wheel… is both tender and violent, sorrowful and whimsical, musically old-school yet bold and refreshing, Fiona Apple is at constant war with herself as she reveals in the woken giant chant of “Every Single Night” (“every single night is a fight in my brain”). But any album that can juxtapose the sinister piano tones of “Jonathan” and “Left Alone” next to a track opening on a pun (“I can liken (lycan) you to a werewolf”) without inducing eye rolling is clearly crafted by a mastermind.
Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan
Decidedly my most anticipated release of the year—really only because a handful of transcendent moments from 2009’s Bitte Orca—Dirty Projector’s folky, off-kilter Swing Lo Magellan lived up to lofty expectations. From its opening moments of low hums, handclaps, siren vocals, and a cheeky throat clearing by frontman Dave Longstreth, I knew I was in for a treat though it was the delayed gratification of “Offspring Are Blank“‘s electric fuzz hook that sealed Magellan’s fate as an unquestionably fantastic.
Frank Ocean Channel Orange
Never did I equate the powerful R&B presence from Kanye West & Jay-Z’s opener on Watch The Throne, “No Church In The Wild”, with one of Odd Future’s posse on this year’s infectiously fun cut “Oldie”. The discovery was as good an indicator of Frank Ocean’s remarkable abilities (and at only 24 years old) as his soulful crooning on Saturday Night Life (delivered from a stool no less). Between “Thinkin Bout You”, “Sweet Life”, and “Bad Religion” there’s enough here to make Ocean a sensation; that the rest of it is just as impressive bodes well for R&B’s best new talent.
Grizzly Bear Shields
The opening warble of guitar reverb on Shields crashes waves against a rocky cliff when Chris Bear’s drums enter on the dreamy “Sleeping Ute”. But it’s when “Yet Again“‘s gentle, choral indie rock gets drowned out by an outro of feedback squall produced by Daniel Rossen’s guitar that you know Shields won’t be letting you come up for air any time soon.
Tame Impala Lonerism
While the comparisons to Magical Mystery Tour era Beatles and early Black Sabbath—now with a dash of T. Rex—are apt, they do a disservice to Tame Impala. Rather than slavishly holding to the past, Tame Impala uses them as touchstones to weave their own legacy of quality tunes like the head-bobbing “Apocalypse Dreams”, the slinky guitar and sloppy drums of “Mind Mischief”, the reverse sleep-walking of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, or the relentlessly trashy glam-stomp of “Elephant”.
Kendrick Lamar good kid, m.A.A.d city
As the latest arrival on this list, the nuances of Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city haven’t the chance to entirely sink in yet but even on the first listen the power of Lamar’s concept album of his upbringing on the streets of Compton—and away from his mother and father who plead for him to return home via answering machine—was not lost on me. The incredible stylistic versatility and braggadocio on “Backstreet Freestyle”, the G-funk of “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “good kid”, the disconcerting commentary of alcoholism on “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, and the sorrowful come down track “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” all perfectly showcase Lamar’s prowess as both rapper and conceptual artist so when it comes time for the obligatory passing of the torch from Dr. Dre to Lamar as the new king of Compton, it’s obvious he’s earned it.
24 Jan 2013 / 2 notes
Last year’s song selections was the hardest list I’d ever assembled. It was considerably easier in 2012 likely because it took the better part of the year to get into any albums the year had to offer. Meanwhile, stellar songs were plentiful, arriving early and often, making this year’s songs list the easiest to create. What follows, of course, are twenty favorites with a general “ranking” more based around having a compelling listening order than individual merit. Be sure to check out the Spotify playlist, @ reply me on Twitter with your thoughts, and share the awesomeness of the last 366-day-clump with your fellow music lovers.
Frank Ocean “Thinkin Bout You”
It was obvious the moment I saw Frank Ocean deliver his soulful falsetto from a stool on SNL he would be an artist to watch in 2012. “Thinkin Bout You” is Ocean at a crooning, warbling, love-lorn peak.
Porcelain Raft “Unless You Speak From Your Heart”
Swagger like Lennon, licks like Harrison; Porcelain Raft deliver a 21st Beatles awash in feedback, keys, and an attitude all their own.
Cloud Nothings “No Future/No Past”
All the post-grunge Nirvana rip-offs of the last twenty years pale in comparison to Cloud Nothings. “No Future/No Past” is a track awakened from its slumber, a deep hibernation that builds into until it thrashes back to life with shredded vocals and crashing cymbals.
Blur “Under The Westway”
The dreary sound of modern London need only be expressed by a descending chord progression and Damon Albarn’s world-weary, every-man sing-speaking. But, like only Blur can do, a deft touch of grandiosity in the form of timpani and bells elevates Albarn’s earthly musings into grand meditations.
Sharon Van Etten “Give Out”
Awakening slowly, first timid then bold (or maybe desperate), Sharon Van Etten’s crippling anxieties are made manifest in this three part tale/mantra of Van Etten’s self-destructive leaps from infatuation to dependency. Her guitar work alone is enough to give you goosebumps.
Schoolboy Q featuring A$AP Rocky “Hands On The Wheel”
Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky’s party lifestyle anthem wouldn’t be nearly as concerning if it weren’t so damn infectious. Between the various drug cocktails (“Pikachu”, anyone?), drunk driving (hence the “uh-uh, fuck that” response to the song’s title, complete with onomatopoeias for an out-of-control vehicle), and gang-banging, it’s a miracle either of them are alive to record this unstoppable track.
Odd Future “Oldie”
A posse track, a declaration of intent, a thrown glove. Odd Future’s ten-minute cut of escalating verses, each one making the way through their ranks, serves to impress not only based on sheer talent but, as Tyler, the Creator reminds us, how insanely young they are: “I was 15 when I first drew that donut/Five years later, for our label, yea, we own it/I started an empire, I ain’t even old enough/to drink a fuckin’ beer, I’m tipsy off this soda pop”.
The Men “Open Your Heart”
A muscular, yearning track in the vein of classic punk rock. The Men tear through verse and chorus, pleading to the subject to “open your heart to me” and, though sweet at first, the motivations become blurred with “even if she says no, I won’t let go”.
Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, & 2 Chainz “Mercy”
“Mercy“‘s unintelligible, overbearing sample leads into a sparse, first verse about … assquakes? Sure enough, “Mercy” ranks up there with the catchiest Kanye but it’s only after a dozen or so listens—and a mandatory peek at the lyric sheet—the striking juxtaposition of hand jobs in a Lamborghini clashes against the aforementioned sample—a far more activist “weeping”, “moaning”, “gnashing of teeth”, and belief—to settle in and pushes Kanye’s “Mercy” into the realm of bizarro pop-art.
Hot Chip “Flutes”
Swirling, hypnotic dance-pop from the guys who excel at swirling, hypnotic dance-pop. That is all.
Fiona Apple “Every Single Night”
Perhaps nothing embodies Fiona Apple’s inner turmoil/defiance on The Idler Wheel… than Fiona’s tender voice giving way to storming army of Fionas chanting “Every single night is a fight in my brain”. “Every Single Night” works as part-credo, part-self-defense with lines like “what I am is what I am cause I does what I does” defining every glorious moment to come after.
Ty Segall Band “I Bought My Eyes”
“I Bought My Eyes”, along with the rest of Slaughterhouse, definitely sounds as if it were unearthed from a garage. Ty Segall and his band gleefully inflect their 60s garage rock roots with some punk muscle but it’s the trashy surf-punk solo that winds its way to the outro that kills it.
Tame Impala “Elephant”
If any track is to be embodied by its title, it’s “Elephant” with its churning, lumbering guitars and thudding fuzz bass. Top it off with a synth-tinged guitar break and you’ve got a glam-psych-metal winner.
Kendrick Lamar “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
“Swimming Pools (Drank)” would seem like a mindless party track if it weren’t for the ominous intro and the Jiminy Cricket second verse hinting Kendrick Lamar is dangerously close to alcohol poisoning brought on by peer-pressure. The chorus has a head-spinning whir behind Kendrick’s inner-monologue (“pour (drank)/ headshot (drank)/sit down (drank)/stand up (drank)/pass out (drank)/wake up (drank)/ faded (drank)”) that instantly sours any of “Swimming Pools“‘s revelry into nauseating exhaustion.
Beach House “Myth”
Beach House’s ethereal dreaminess takes on a mammoth—”mythical” if you will—scale with the opener from their latest, Bloom. As “Myth” climbs to its end, Alex Scally’s guitar ascends ever greater heights in undeniable self-fulfillment.
Grizzly Bear “Sleeping Ute”
Yet another in a line of expansive and grandiose rock tunes to land in 2012, Grizzly Bear finds bliss in a swirl of synth riding on the crash of cymbals and guitar reverb as absorbing and dreamlike as the wandering, pining lyrics.
Dirty Projectors “Gun Has No Trigger”
Opening to a skipping, stuttering beat and a siren’s song, Dave Longstreth unfolds a tale of biblical proportions, full of earthquakes and oceans boiling over. Is Longstreth singing of the ends of days? Gun control? Veiled innuendo? The results prove so hypnotic it hardly matters.
Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built”
If Celebration Rock is the perfect name for Japandroids’s latest album, then no track embodies that ethos more than “The House That Heaven Built”. A rousing, fist-pumping anthem of celestial conquering, expelling evil, and telling your enemies to “go to hell”, “The House That Heaven Built” couldn’t rock any harder if it tried.
Spiritualized “Hey Jane”
A rocking, Velvet Underground first half (as the track name, “Hey Jane”, should clue you in to) crashes only to wind up again, giving way to a second half that turns the melody on its head then throws in a host of angelic la’s, trumpets and chants of “sweet heart/sweet light/love of my life” all building to Jane’s saintly ascension. At nearly nine minutes, it is the definition of epic.
Death Grips “I’ve Seen Footage”
I don’t know why I, or anyone else, am so in love with Death Grips. They’re aggressive, offensive, in your face, and loud as all hell. And yet, they are simply undeniable. Case in point, “I’ve Seen Footage”, a track so old-school and abrasive it hit me like a jolt of electricity. I don’t have the slightest clue what MC Ride is yelling about but this I know: “I’ve Seen Footage” gets me amped. And it probably will do the same for you, though you won’t have a clue why.
23 Jan 2013 / 3 notes
IMDb has the Oscar nominations—which of these films do you not give a shit about?
(Seriously, though, Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for Best Actor and if not, fuck everything.)
10 Jan 2013 / 0 notes
And so the festivities begin! Kicking off the week in typical Pitchfork year-end style is their top 100-51 tracks. Tomorrow will follow with numbers 50-1 with albums taking up the rest of the week.
If you haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on in the music world over the year, here’s where you get caught up on anything worth knowing.
17 Dec 2012 / 1 note
Louis CK contractually drags himself, kicking and screaming, through an hilarious Vanity Fair questionnaire. Among the highlights:
How would you like to die?
Handcuffing myself to you and jumping into a cauldron of molten bronze.
11 Dec 2012 / 8 notes
Zach Baron waxing philosophical in the New York Times on Taylor Kitsch placing bets on all the wrong horses this year:
[Kitsch] looks like a bruiser, his true strengths, as Friday Night Lights taught us, lay in his heart and his empathy. He’s not an action hero. He’s a romantic lead trapped in an action hero’s body.
Consider, though, a different 2012 for Kitsch: Instead of John Carter, imagine he’d appeared amid the stark naturalism of the surprise hit The Grey. Instead of Battleship, imagine if he’d joined Channing Tatum in the stripper fantasia Magic Mike. The tragedy of Kitsch’s 2012 isn’t the movies he did — it’s the movies he didn’t do.
Spot on. Kitsch touting his wounded roguishness in The Grey or his chiseled sex appeal in Magic Mike would’ve been an asset to his career and likely to those films as well.
Unfortunately, the question now is: how many more strikes before Kitsch is out?
6 Dec 2012 / 2 notes
Is this real life?
5 Dec 2012 / 0 notes
Jen Carlson at Gothamist unearthed a retrospectively hilarious, negative review ran in the New York Times for The Beatles final masterpiece, Abbey Road. It’s full of ironic zingers. My favorite pull quote:
The badness ranges from mere gentle tedium to cringing embarrassment.
27 Nov 2012 / 0 notes
People, Hell and Angels follows Hendrix in 1968 and 1969 as he works on material apart from the Jimi Hendrix Experience and suggests new, experimental directions.
The legendary guitarist was considering these new sounds for First Rays of the New Rising Sun, the planned double-album follow-up to Electric Ladyland. Hendrix toys with horns, keyboards, percussion and a second guitar, exploring fresh diversions from his legendary guitarwork.
Is it just me or does a new album of previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix music materialize from the ether every ten or so years? Whatever, take my money.
27 Nov 2012 / 2 notes