Saturday, January 05, 2008

Oh so pretty. . .: Announcing the Deeply Superficial Blog-a-Thon, Feb. 1-8


Hey there. How you been? I just realized that there was a new Friday Night Lights last night and that I should probably write it up, eh?

But I come here to tell you about something else. I enjoy Friday Night Lights for its substantive scripts, for its attempts to portray small town life realistically and fruitfully and for its excellent acting and directing. But I also enjoy just how pretty everyone in it is. I mean, is there a better-looking cast on television? I highly doubt it!

Writing the top 100 list (and, yes, I'll get to the comments, hopefully tomorrow) caused me to realize that we watch TV or movies or listen to music or read books for a variety of reasons, and sometimes those reasons are deeply shallow. Sometimes, we just want to stare at pretty people or gorgeous production design or just hear some funny lines that don't have deeper social concerns or anything. There are many works that can be appreciated on BOTH levels -- you can view Days of Heaven and enjoy its subtle themes about corruption of innocence and paradises lost and various literary allusions and. . .OH WOW. THAT SHOT SURE IS PRETTY!

See?

This is not to say that there's no value in the deeply superficial. Many of the best filmmakers or novelists use purely beautiful shots or prose to put over their deeper meanings, but these are the sorts of works that use that beautifulness to worm their way into your brain.

Also, sometimes, you just want to look at attractive people doing witty things. I mean, we're all human!

So here's hoping you'll join us for the Deeply Superficial Blog-a-Thon, running from February 1-8. You could write an extended treatise on a work where the superficial pleasures led you to a deeper understanding of the piece as a whole. Or you could make a list of people you find attractive. Or you could just post pretty pictures. So long as it has to do with something in the arts or pop culture and it's something you enjoy on some sort of shallow level, it's fair game. Obviously, the subject lends itself to more humorous writing and/or personal reflection, so if you feel up to either, feel free to go ahead with that. It's as scholarly as you want it to be.

We'll link to everyone that writes a Blog-a-Thon post at their own blogs. Don't have one? Well, type something up in a .RTF file and e-mail it to me by January 31, and I'll publish it here with your byline and everything.

What am I writing about? I don't know yet, but it's sure to be a thing of beauty.

And here's a YouTube clip!

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Friday, January 04, 2008

"This Skull and Bones stuff is a bit much, don't you think?" : Gossip Girl


Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your festivities were filled with champagne, party dresses and regrets, in honor of this very show. Unfortunately, I rang in the new year by going to be early and watching Turistas on HBO on Demand. When someone as hot as Josh Duhamel can't make a movie watchable, you know you're in for a bad ride. And boy, was that movie bad. Just...no, Duhamel. No.

Now who's ready for some juicy Gossip Girl fun?


I'm not sure about the rest of you, dear readers, but I could not watch this episode without thinking of those erstwhile fictional and beautiful New Yorkers, Ben Covington and Felicity Porter. Like Ben and Felicity, the GG gang broke into the school pool facilities and staged an impromptu party. Also like Ben and Felicity, the GG gang was caught and faced some pretty harsh punishment -- reveal the ringleader with the key to the pool, or else everyone involved gets expelled. If only their punishment was seeing the awesome Dr. Toni Pavone instead! Man, I adored Dr. Pavone and her crazy chain smoking.

But enough about my love for Felicity. Thinking Blair was the owner of the key, Nate confesses to the crime and gets himself suspended when the new headmaster realizes he is lying to cover up for someone. Despite Chuck's manipulation by threatening to tell Nate about his affair with Blair (in an obvious and desperate attempt to keep Nate and Blair apart), Blair decides that Nate's selfless act is the push she needs and gets back together with Nate. I'm sure that won't come back to bite her in the ass at all! Chuck is usually so forgiving!

Also in dire straits because of the pool party is dear Dan, who doesn't have the means to buy his way out of an expulsion seeing as he is a scholarship student. Serena begs him to keep quiet, and after he protests she reveals that she was the one with the key. When pressed by the headmaster, he steadfastly affirms that he doesn't know who owns the key, but just then Serena shows up to take full responsibility for the crime. Seeing as she has quite the checkered past, she expects a harsh punishment but only gets a very small amount of community service. She is convinced she didn't get any special treatment, but Dan annoyingly thinks differently...and it turns out Dan annoyingly is right, because Bart Bass bought Serena's freedom for the low low price of a new wing at the school.

Why would Bart do this, you ask? Well, because Mr. Bass has just become engaged to Serena's mother, of course! After a completely flaccid attempt to create conflicted feelings for Lily where Rufus is concerned, she ultimately accepts Bart's ridiculous proposal, thus making Serena and Chuck eventual step-siblings. Unluckily for Serena, losing Blair to Nate again has brought back pilot Chuck, he of the disgusting come-ons and rapist sheen. Unluckily for me, I find his skeeviness completely entertaining, despite the disgusting and misogynistic undertones. Something is wrong with me.

This brings us to Vanessa. I've got to wonder, again, what they are doing with this character. Is she supposed to be likeable? Are we supposed to be rooting for her and Dan to get together? Or is she supposed to be a horrible person? Because if she's not, they are doing a TERRIBLE job of conveying that to the audience. Listen, if someone came to my house and taped me without my permission, then refused to hand over the tape and threatened to use it against me? I would beat their ass. Well, I can't fight so I would get someone else to do it for me, but still. She was such a smug little jerk most of the time this episode, and I could not stand it. I did like that she took Chuck's money and gave him a blank tape, but only (ONLY) because she gave Blair the real tape afterwards. The best part or the whole thing, of course, was Blair not wanting to be indebted to Vanessa and therefore paying her rent for a year in payment for the tape. Oh, Blair. You crafty girl, you.

What do you guys think about Vanessa? Am I interpreting the character incorrectly? And do you guys miss Felicity as much as I do? I think I'm going to go watch the pool episode right now, in fact...

Next week: Nate finds out about Blair and Chuck's limo sex. Awesome.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

SDD's Top 15 Albums of 2007: Places 05-01



05. Graduation, Kanye West

Dear Mr. West,

You egomaniacal mad man, you. How is it, exactly, that you scale yourself back so gracefully, yet still come off as a boastful preteen on your latest album Graduation? The third part of a trilogy, after all, is always hit or miss. You, however, seem to miss so spectacularly sometimes that we can forgive even your most arrogant of mistakes. Graduation is such a ridiculously calculated effort, showing an almost complete lack of organic chemistry, that it is in battle with itself for most of the album’s duration. If we didn’t know you so well, we would think that this is all bad news. Fortunately, you reluctant genius, we can see this method and all its pratfalls for what they really are: the overly large vision of a conceited nutcase with the actual talent to back it all up. Graduation is many things, but scattered it is not. Despite its uneven nature, you effortlessly set a uniform tone that really shouldn’t even fit with the album at all. You bring it all home by hitting us with that not-so-gentle swagger we’ve come so accustomed to these past years, and blend it with a (god help us) genuine sense of honesty. You’ve made a beautiful mess, Mr. West. I thank you for it.
Sincerely,
Me




04. A Weekend in the City, Bloc Party

There are a lot of things to enjoy on Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City on a superficial level. They forcibly switch their style up, you could say. It is a cold night, neon-lit concept album taking place in one dissolute London weekend. There are pulse-pounding jam rock gems; post-punk gazes of existential angst; straight-forward ballads of lament and paranoia. Bloc Party is arguably one of the more interesting rock bands around right now--even if only in terms of song construction. They are a mercilessly tight band that has a willingness to lose control of any given track, while never really relinquishing their hold on it. More interesting though, is that there seems to be a number of elements on A Weekend in the City that don’t initially “work.” It is surprisingly difficult and needlessly down-trodden. However, A Weekend in the City is only difficult because it seems to go off the rails so early on in the album. What we miss is the stifling nature that the production has on Bloc Party’s want to simply become too big for their “britches.” A Weekend in the City has a vision; it’s a morose, defeatist vision, but a vision nonetheless. The fascinating dance that the band performs with their seeming to desire to spread themselves thin and their inherent need to communicate their frustration is nothing short of intoxicating. A lot of times, the albums that are the most fun to love are the ones that are kind of difficult to enjoy.




03. Kala, M.I.A.

When discussing M.I.A. you are prone to hyperbole. I am personally guilty of this. Whether it is a negative criticism or a positive note, you tend to deliver it with the same vigor and spastic joy in which she delivers her music. From the start I’ve acknowledged that Kala is not an album that everyone will love. I note this, not because it is some indescribable masterpiece that only certain people will “get;” I note this because the style in which Mia has grown accustomed is becoming a little tired, if not predictable. Kala is simply a masterwork in carefully coloring outside predetermined lines. Upon closer reflection, I've realized that it’s actually nothing new--especially not for her. What I love about Kala, though, is the deft maneuvering and splendid confidence that is shown through out the album, giving it such a shockingly unforced identity. Kala works kind of in spite of itself and this makes me love it all the more. These are blistering, novel ideas that M.I.A. has. She just has a tendency to deliver them with an aforementioned shtick that is not going to last her much longer. For me, however, they work ingeniously on Kala. The production is expectedly all over the place; the shcitzo structures; the shimmering grime; they all add up to a massive cluster of playful ideas, ideals, and seeming social conscience seminars. Kala is manic because it wants to be and amazing because it needs to be. Mia will ride this pony until the trick becomes new all over again




02. Mirrored, Battles

I pegged Battles for my favorite album of the year some time ago. Sure, I happened to hear one album that I feel delivered on its vision a little better, but Mirrored largely goes above and beyond almost anything released this year by a mile. It is not only the most intense album of the year, but also the most intriguing. This is something of a rare occurrence in my experiences. Battles effortlessly meld militant formations and arrangements with flippant, fuck-all experimentation. Mirrored becomes something of a shrewd exposition on the merits of blending percussion and harmonics. Its cadence carries over into its larger theme of progress and innovation, but surprisingly finds a soul amidst all the wreckage of genre. Mirrored is sleek when it calls for it; choppy when it feels like it; robotic at all times. It is a well-oiled machine that has become self-aware somewhere in the dark of night. For all of my hyperbole though, the album is mostly grounded in reality. It doesn’t use any extravagant methods to get its point across, nor does it press an issue to any sort of pretentious height. Part of what makes Mirrored so spectacular is the overwhelming sense of urgency that is created from such…uncomplicated means.




01. Flying Club Cup, Beirut

It is increasingly evident that Zach Condon just doesn’t know when to quit. The 21 year old prodigy (also known as Beirut) makes dense, elaborate opuses of traditional, Eastern European inspired folk. The band members can range anywhere from just himself to sixteen other members. The songs are intricate and delicate, led by Condon’s almost inhumanly delicate timber peppered with jarring power and pain. Officially with a full band, his second release under the Beirut moniker entitled Flying Club Cup is a marked improvement over his debut and a sinking reminder of what a true talent we have on our hands.

Startling brass arrangements and a plethora of strings and deliberately odd instrumentation gives Flying Club Cup its inviting signature; it is Condon, though, that gives Beirut the identity that proves to be so deeply layered and ultimately satisfying. His lyrics are strange and heartfelt, and his vocal work calls to mind the echoing halls of a cathedral or palace that you might visit if you ever had the cash to put down or the will to understand its past. Condon’s bellow is the actualization of a dream inspired portrait of a soon to be tortured genius.

Flying Club Cup moves in graceful oddities like a painter may dabble in water colors. The construction is deft but never impenetrable or esoteric to a fault. The tracks pour out slow but full into a jug not yet topped off but nowhere near empty. There is a tingly, awe-inspiring aura communicated through these thirteen tracks that mainly focus on otherworldly endeavors that stir up cloudy misgivings of affliction and contrition. And it just doesn’t stop. Flying Club Cup is relentless in its elegant aesthetic, and relays its smoke screened vision of the world in a finely tuned, brilliant fashion.

***Thanks for wasting some time with me. It's been fun. I hope that you, at least, mildly enjoyed yourselves. Happy New Year!

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Monday, December 31, 2007

SDD's Top 15 Albums of 2007: Places 10-6



10. Boxer, The National
If The National have ever met a melody that they couldn’t make eerie and off-putting, I’ve never heard it. Boxer, their second LP, sees The National easing into the style they created for themselves on Alligator. There’s percussion so robotic and precise; melodies so haunting and oddly matched; vocal work so monotonous and naked. Boxer sees a critical meeting point of semblance and dissonance that The National exploit to their advantage at every turn. There is a flow on Boxer that proves to show more control and fluidity than a number of albums that I’ve ranked higher on the list even. It seems to give you this sinister gaze that doesn’t so much look through you as it does into you, entering your blood stream.




09. Person Pitch, Panda Bear
I’m not an Animal Collective fan. There, I said it. It is hard to explain this fact when I go ahead and champion a band like Deerhoof…but such is life. They are exhausting (in a bad way), and damn near impenetrable for me. I am not smart enough to enjoy it, I guess. I went into Panda Bear’s Person Pitch with this attitude and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong. Person Pitch is a down to earth, inviting flirtation with sensory meanderings that is both bloated and sparing with its ideas and fragments of dreamy opuses. While the machinations get increasingly overbearing somewhere in the third act, Panda Bear proves to be a master at turning marginal rope-a-dopes into genuine majesty.



08. Curses, Future of the Left
Future of the Left is not in the business of making friends. They assault you, insult you and catapult you into their shaky world of tonal disparity. But that’s all kind of expected, given their history as Mclusky. What makes Curses such a tortured delight is its arguable sense of humor and unforced honesty. Future of the Left take a sparse skeleton of a sound and amplify it to a screeching car wreck of an album. What you will find is that, as simultaneously self-satisfying and self-defeating as it may be, Curses is damned proud of it all. Future of the Left easily blend post-punk and noise-core into a cripplingly caustic Molotov cocktail of loudness and introspection. This album makes me want to punch you.




07. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Of Montreal
Years ago, a relationship of mine ended abruptly. With no hesitation I fell into a steady regiment of binge drinking, eating and self-loathing that would put Artie Lange to shame. However, never in those savage months after the break-up, did I feel the need to create something as diabolically satisfying or eerily pitch perfect as Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Given a strange sense of after thought since the couple’s reconciliation, Kevin Barnes’ seething creation takes on yet an even separate layer of irony and discomfort. Of Montreal turn out some of their best work here, with blurred melodies and disjointed rhythms that surprisingly add up to more than the sum of their parts. Perfectly pop and wonderfully woeful, Hissing Fauna…simply bleeds real life.




06. Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem
With Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem’s excellent second LP, James Murphy is able to tone down his lingering proclivities with a fine tooth comb. The aftermath leaves a special, humanistic semblance of songs that form into a shockingly classic album. Here, his sound is simply more refined while still holding on to the slightly elegant grime that makes the DFA sound seem so signature. With brilliant songs like “All My Friends” and "When Someone Great is Gone” Murphy drips those silver droplets of crisp sonic structure that repeat and repeat until they tattoo themselves onto your brain. More importantly, Sound of Silver shows such an obvious reflective side to Murphy that it would all seem immensely silly if not for the purity of the poetry.
***Tomorrow: Places 05-01 on SDD's Top 15 Albums of 2007!***

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

SDD's Top 15 Albums of 2007: Places 15-11



15. The
Paisley Reich, Times New Viking
The Paisley Reich is something of an anomaly. By all accounts this should be a bad album. It is excessively loud, brash and atonal. It’s plodding and difficult. However, the more you understand the adept nature in which it was conceived, the more you start to appreciate Times New Viking in all their debauchery and self-indulgence. The clustered up, lo-fi arrangements are static in nature but fluid in delivery. Each track has a vitality specific to the album. The Paisley Reich is able to reach a unique harmony found between noise and control, and it is truly something to behold.




14. American Gangster, Jay-Z
A return to form seems like such a damning term to apply to Jay-Z. Carter may not hit “homeruns” every time he makes a “comeback,” but he still has, maybe, the most impressive body of work in modern hip-hop. American Gangster is interesting in that it finds him both returning to his niche and instilling the prevailing feeling that he is pandering to fans. I don’t feel that the latter is true, but an argument surely can be made for it. American Gangster finds an inspiring meeting between the acid tongue and the earnest mind without forgetting its true nature.




13. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire
To initially view Neon Bible as a sophomore album, I think, does it a disservice. Arcade Fire has an all too publicized way of seeping into the heart of matters and changing their very nature. This to say that: they make sadness not a celebration, but a part of life. Neon Bible accomplishes this in a singular way. The same way that Funeral accomplished this in a singular way. The core sound remains the same, sure, but the variety of mindsets and emotions (oh boy, the emotions) expressed on Neon Bible have such a lucid, marked identity. This is staggering.




12. New Moon, Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith’s second official posthumous release, New Moon, plays much better as a celebration than an obituary. Spanning two discs of bootlegs, b-sides and demos, New Moon portrays Smith’s work in stunning fashion, breathing life into a body that never really seemed to die. There’s an endearing lack of pretense on display, which makes for an intriguing listen that feels like a completely new experience--even for a long time fan. There is an ever-pressing sadness residing behind the silver curtains, but you ignore it for a little while, and simply visit with an old friend before you say farewell…again.




11. Night Falls Over Kortedala, Jens Lekman
Night Falls Over Kortedala is the first LP proper that I’ve heard from Jens Lekman. 2005’s You’re So Silent Jens was a brilliant collection of singles--as well as multiple compilation and EP tracks--that all formed into seriously gentle, seriously “eccentric” vision of a pop mastermind. Night Falls Over Kortedala, was pieced together from recordings made over the last three years, and builds upon that charming (almost-campy) persona that Jens has always put forth in previous recordings. Beyond that, it further explores the various avenues of orchestral sampled chamber pop that makes the stilted emotion all the more graceful.

***Tomorrow: Places 10-5 on SDD's Top 15 Albums of 2007!***

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“Lick Parkay, Cornwallis. This is our gym class!” – The Adventures of Pete & Pete



Don’t Tread on Pete is a strangely anarchic episode of Pete & Pete. The show has always been strange or absurd, but this is by far its most farcical episode yet. It introduces characters, trots out side stories and slips in hallucination sequences with a whirlwind fervor. Pete & Pete’s always been full of quirks, but this episode is downright weird.



The central story involves Big Pete worrying about a history test. Simple enough, right? But apparently, Big Pete completely missed the announcement that he had a test in the first place because he was so entranced by a flip movie drawn in the corner of his history book. So, he tries all sorts of attempts at cramming for the test (including engorging himself on ice cream bars to give himself a sugar rush) during the lunch break right before history class. The premise allows the episode to run in something resembling real time, making it that much more frantic.


Meanwhile, we meet member of Big Pete’s social circle that had strangely neve
r been mentioned before. Teddy and Bill have made occasional appearances since Day of the Dot, but Maggie and Rick are completely new (and I don’t think we ever see them again). They don’t serve much of a purpose, other than adding a few lines that wouldn’t have made sense coming from Big Pete, Ellen or Teddy, but their mere presence make the episode that much stranger.


We get the strange story of Emma, a young cafeteria lady played by altrocker Juliana Hatfield (anybody remember her?). She flirts with Big Pete, warning him to avoid the meat loaf (inspiring a Don’t Look Back reference that I’m sure was lost on me when I saw the episode as a kid). The cute rebel cafeteria lady could have been an interesting character, but midway through the episodes, she escapes, apparently to Iowa. Big Pete briefly considers following her lead, but soon decides against it, making the entire establishment of Emma as a character a non-point. Well, I guess it’s an opportunity to once again mention Big Pete’s history teacher and her grotesque varicose veins. You see, one of the running gags of the episode is that the veins resemble a road map of the Hawkeye State.


Oh, I forgot to mention that Big Pete’s test is on the American Revolutionary War. So, it’s fitting that meanwhile, Little Pete must fight against an oppressive gym teacher named Cornwallis, who wants to force Little Pete and his class to sit out the period so his dodgeball team can train. The team’s name? The Kings, of course. Little Pete, being Little Pete, rallies the class together to oppose the tyranny, leading to the American Revolutionary War being played out as a dodgeball game. It’s about as cute and silly as you’d imagine.


All in all, I don’t really know what to make of this episode. It was directed by Phil Morrison, who would go on to direct Junebug. If you’ve seen that film as well as the show, you would understand how perfect sense that makes. Morrison keeps the episode’s energy running and his visual style matches the show quite nicely (that, or it played a large part in the style he would use when directing Junebug). But the episode does not make a whole lot of sense. The pace keeps building and building, only to hit a weak climax. In some ways, this episode was the opposite of Day of the Dot. While that episode was a great idea marred by poor execution, Don’t Tread on Pete was an exquisitely done filler episode.

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