Saturday, March 01, 2008

Building Nothing Out of Something: Meeting the Music in 2008

We’re barely two months into the calendar year and I’m already playing the retrospective game. Go figure. I should note, however, that this is more of a “HEY! Look at these good albums that have already been released!” sort of thing as opposed to some weird look back at the great albums of these illustrious…two months.

I’ve heard a good handful of solid LPs already in 2008. They range from adequate to impressive to pretty damn good. I haven’t heard anything that has completely blown me away as of yet--but, like I said, it IS only March.

So, here are several albums that I feel should you should take note of while diving into the music of the year that is 2008. I’ve mentioned the great releases from Xiu Xiu as well as Blood on the Wall and The Acorn recently. Now, here’s some more!

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

I spoke on Vampire Weekend’s debut EP a while back and liked it fine. I’ve been kind of ducking the obligation of mentioning their debut full length here, mainly because that was all anybody could talk about for a few weeks there. Now, however, that the dust has settled; now that the backlash has been unleashed and has been…backlashed over itself again; now that all the weird in-fighting and general nonsense has mostly subsided, what are we left with? A pretty damn solid debut, if you ask me. Vampire Weekend is calculated to a fault and their sound is nowhere near as “organic” as they might have you believe. BUT, the album is so fluid and decidedly easy going that you can forget most of the pretense fairly early. I do wonder if once this legitimately catches on in the “mainstream” we could have a Strokes-like rise for these gentlemen, though. Time will tell, I suppose.

Beach House, Devotion

When I first heard Beach House’s self-titled album, I remember really wanting to like them. It just seemed like something that I would enjoy; droning guitars, shoegaze styling, ghost-like vocals, fuzz box atmosphere. Really, though, they never were able to hone all of these elements into anything enjoyable or even truly compelling. With their latest LP, Devotion, they oddly don’t really change their basic structure all that much. But this makes it all the more pleasantly surprising when you realize what a remarkable album Devotion is. Beach House have been able to carefully and gently refine their sound and return with an assured, focused, angelic voice which it is all too easy to get lost within.

Hot Chip, Made in the Dark

I was a fairly vocal supporter (like most others) of The Warning back in ’06. How could I not be? Hot Chip makes completely accessible electropop with a strong sense of humanity as well as wisdom laced throughout the double time pumps and crisply toned production. The Warning was special mostly because of its strong sense of progression from the bands previous album. The geeky, master craftsmen fashioned a damaged opus that was moving, poppy, and, above all else…relatable. Made in the Dark is somewhat disappointing mainly due to the fact that it is a bit of a mixed bag when all is said and done. There are portions of genuine beauty and progress, and moments of true ease and talent. However, those moments and portions become bogged down with some unfortunate attempts at deliberate showmanship as well as some surprising cockiness. When all of these components come together, Made in the Dark becomes a very odd experience--if not a rewarding one. This album is certainly good, but far from great.

Times New Viking, Rip It Off

One can’t really be a fan of Times New Viking without a certain amount of patience. In the case of Times New Viking’s Rip It Off, the patience would need to come from a place of understanding; a place of trust. Do you trust them to take you down this turbulent road with the belief that you will come out the other end with something worth while to hold on to? I've spoken on Times New Viking several times before, and if you've read any of those pieces you know already that they are a group that truly fascinates me. Not because they are so original or so brash--and not even because of the fact that I feel that they really are very talented. It is mostly because of their bravery. Times New Viking are not scenesters out to pay homage or steal any sound. True, what they are doing has been done before, but the vigor in which they deliver their message is like very few I've ever seen. The ironically titled Rip It Off (the bands Matador debut) is their best and boldest album to date--and that is saying something. All the tricks are the same. Loud as fuck, fast as fuck, short as fuck. They poke you, annoy you, and grind you down—the usual. But it is still such a fun dance. They might lose you along the way...if not for that trust. Rip It Off is a boisterous introduction to Times New Viking and stands as a brief, unfiltered testament of said trust, focus, and anger honed to sublimity.

I should be back later in the week with a few more albums that you should check out as well!


Friday, February 29, 2008

"Bombay Highway" - Lipstick Jungle, episode 1.4

With Cashmere Mafia having concluded its strike-shortened run, we now have an entire post to consider the much more entertaining Lipstick Jungle. "Bombay Highway" begins with Nico revealing something to Wendy and Victory that we've known all along....

....namely that she's been having an affair with 25-year old Kirby, the photographer's assistant now suing her for sexual harassment. Nico's boss Hector, assuming its a nuisance suit, puts his full support behind Nico. But Nico is feeling guilty not only because her attempts at damage control have cost Kirby his job but because she's actually in love with her husband Charles (Christopher Cousins). In my first poist about this series I said that Charles, a professor, seemed to have wandered in from another show. But Charles (whose lack of interest in sleeping with his gorgeous wife is explained this week) finally gets developed a bit this week.

Charles is one of those cool professors, the kind who hangs in a coffee shop and doesn't freak out if somebody's a little late with a paper. He's so lovable that Nico, in a moment of weakness, signs a false statement that Hector's lawyers have given her. The statement paints Kirby as a sexual predator and the lawyers think it's the quickest route to making the lawsuit go away. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the irony is that Nico seems to need what she's getting from Kirby and Charles. Charles provides stability, and its the sexual confidence the affair from Kirby provides that enables Nico to score a coup at work with the concept for the Prince William photo shoot. (The idea that women need to be satisfied in their personal lives in order to be happy at work is positively radical when you compare it to Cashmere Mafia, where everyone's personal life is a mess) When a certain grad student leaves one too many messages on Charles' phone, Nico begins to reconsider how to get what she needs emotionally.

The rest of the episode is devoted to a elaborate party that Wendy is throwing to generate buzz for an art-house movie. Victory is asked to design a dress for the movie's star, a Spears/Lohan tabloid sensation. Victory views the job as a chance to get back on the fashion A-list. The party ends badly when the atarlet breaks up with her boyfriend and flips out, but what's important is the relationship between Wendy and Victory. Victory views herself as the little sister of the group; her inferiority complex is exacerbated when Wendy dismisses her opinions on Nico's marriage because Victory hasn't been married herself. Victory calls her on it and the two hug it out. It was good to see Victory show some backbone, and her dress does get the attention it deserves.


"I need a minute.": Lost

One of the best things I can say about Lost is that it's almost frightfully earnest, to a point where it can be so over the top that you have no recourse but to mock it. I realize that in our modern age, the sort of swooning romanticism that Lost sometimes overindulges in can be a real turn off, but I've been over irony since before it was cool to be over irony. I realize that it's occasionally a mistake to think that Lost's attempts to play at these sorts of grand emotions (love, loss, hope, faith) completely work (the show can flail around), but the series has at least two terrific love stories buried inside of it, and it returned to one of them tonight in an episode that was probably the best of the young season, unless you're one of those folks who waits on the edge of their seat for new plot revelations (and, honestly, the ones you got tonight were more of the inscrutable variety than anything else).

When the season premiere rolled around, I said that I found Desmond and Hurley to be the show's soul. Indeed, I don't think the show would work without Hurley, and Desmond has certainly kept the show tamped down in the last two seasons, offering a dose of the mystical that went out the window when Locke became an Office Drone for the Island and also offering a healthy dollop of emotion. There's something inescapably sad in Henry Ian Cusick's eyes, and the show's producers have made the most of it by making him the Island's resident Cassandra. The interplay between Desmond and Charlie in the back two thirds of season three was almost always good, even though Charlie was one of the show's weakest characters, just because Cusick so gave this story the weight it needed.

Naturally, once the producers realized what they had in Cusick (which seemingly happened by accident somewhere in season two -- remember how he later popped up on 24 out of nowhere?), they saddled him with the usual cliched back story, but something in the way Cusick and Sonya Walger played off each other really clicked, and the show earned the deeply tragic romance it wanted for them. In particular, season three's "Flashes Before Your Eyes" was one of the more impressive hours of the show, wrapping all of that swooniness into a fairly classical Twilight Zone narrative.

Now, as stated, there's no way this works without Cusick and Walger, but on a show where the writers seem to have occasionally let down coherent character arcs just because their actors could handle bizarre, unwarranted shifts, the story of Desmond and Penny and their troubled romance (not least troubled, that is, by Desmond becoming unstuck in time, Billy Pilgrim-style) has mostly followed a coherent arc. True, this is just more or less the story of the romance beset by troubles and perils on all sides that's been played for all its worth in epics of all sorts, but it really FEELS epic here (that moment when Desmond said he wouldn't call for eight years? Classic). The moment when Penny finally picks up the phone and Desmond unloads years of emotion on her and she on him is one of the best moments in the show's history, and that final few seconds of the two of them talking over each other was well-nigh perfect.

What was also nice about the episode was that it used the flashbacks as a legitimate time travel device. The show had already done this to similar effect in Flashes Before Your Eyes last season, but it really seems like this is a well that the show can go back to a few times, with Desmond especially. What was great was that the time travel mostly held together and didn't create any obvious paradoxes, so far as I could see (one of the great joys of the time travel story is finding the paradoxes inherent in the concept). Desmond pinging between 2004 and 1996 made great use of playing against and with our expectations for the flashback structure (particularly in moments when his time travel would cut off Sayid in the present or something). It was also fun to see Faraday finally delivering some answers on how the island twists time. I kind of half suspect that the time paradoxes were cooked up when someone realized that, hey, Malcolm David Kelley would grow up awfully fast, but they've sure made the most of them.

The episode was not without fault. I'm definitely hoping that Fisher Stevens isn't dead for good as Minkowski, because his work here was nicely unhinged, and I'd like to see Desmond or Faraday run across another time traveler in their wanderings. And after such a good episode the final beat -- where the previous four episodes have all had terrific cliffhangers -- just felt sort of perfunctory (so Faraday is also time traveling? You don't say!). Furthermore, while I often enjoy the episodes where a small subset of the cast is focused on specifically (weren't only six regulars featured in this episode?), there are some characters who have been gone for so long that I miss them. Last week's episode did a good job of working in Sun and Jin or Claire or any of a handful of others that might not have a bearing on the story but were worth catching up with. This episode didn't do as well, so dedicated was it to playing out its tricky reversals.

But I'm willing to go along with any episode that features moments as great as the closing beats between Desmond and Penny or moments that featured Sayid (rapidly becoming my MVP for season four) as the one-man Radio Shack he was in season one. And you know that any episode that made mention of it being Christmas (something some friends and I joked about back in season two only to find that Lost sort of DID do a Christmas episode) and tying in to the hoary old idea of the ghosts we've forgotten ringing us up on the eve was going to get my heart pounding. Lost isn't always this good (indeed, it's probably the least consistent show I unabashedly love), but it's episodes like this that make all of the Bai Ling flashbacks in the world acceptable in my eyes.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A new couple is on the rise on 'Big Brother: 'Til Death Do You Part'

After all of the life and death drama of yesterday's episode, this week's elimination seemed rather anticlimactic in comparison. Let's face it, vote seesawing and a sappy background package on James and Chelsia cannot compete with severe allergic reactions, hypoglycemic shock and the crazy that is Sheila. Alas, my task is to recap tonight's rather boring episode and not yesterday's drama fest. So recap I shall.

Julie starts us off by recapping Amanda and Allison's medical mishaps and assuring us viewers they are perfectly fine now. Julie, why are you wearing my school photo outfit from 1992? Sadly, my 1992 self and your current self probably wear the same size. Once we are sufficiently comforted that all medical issues are in the past, Julie teases us into the first taped package by promising that Matt and Natalie aren't as safe as we might think. Will there be some sort of strategy exhibited by any of the players? Will someone finally figure out how to play this game? Mark me down as skeptical.
_____________________________________________________________________ Read the rest of the article here.


Please, bury me with it.

"I'm going as far as these crooked legs take me." So says Rolf Klausener on The Acorn's beautiful, aptly titled "Crooked Legs." A labour of love, if you will, The Acorn serves as Klausener's brain child--a tool he uses to connect the dots of his personal journey and his inevitable destination. Glory Hope Mountain is, in part, a soaring narrative focusing on the life of Rolf's Honduran mother. No, really. Due to this fact, Glory Hope Mountain is not only touching, but a seriously engaging blend of folk inspired, polyrhythmic, gems and compelling works of master craftsmanship that are as shockingly charming as they are meticulous.

*Listen here


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

'One Tree Hill': Don't bother me, I'm busy complaining

According to this week's episode of One Tree Hill, the only thing people use the internet for these days is porn and complaining. I think I'll skip over the porn but boy, Tree Hill, do I have some complaints. Chiefly - how many different television shows and movies were you planning on ripping off this week, anyway? (Or do you call it an "homage" to help you sleep at night?) Seriously, we had shades of The Breakfast Club, Dawson's Creek (who were actually ripping off Career Opportunities themselves), Magnolia and numerous others I am sure I am forgetting. I know there are no original ideas, but could you at least try not to be so darn blatant with the borrowing next time?
Read the rest of the article here.


An intriguing Oscar link

Over at The Film Experience, Nathaniel R. has a great post on how the public has abandoned the Oscars, how the media tries to make it seem like it's Hollywood's fault and why the Oscars matter that's a must read. It says everything that I was planning to say in an Oscar defense post (and a few things I said a few years ago here), only better. I'm still busy and occupied with personal stuff. I hope I can get to The Wire this week, and I'll definitely get to Lost (doing link-throughs for a few other blogs on that one), but for now, enjoy Nathaniel's piece. (And that image? That's the previous Oscar best picture winners adjusted for inflation -- remember when EVERYone was talking about Schindler's List or Rain Man or Dances With Wolves? Remember when respectable dramas were a box office draw?)