Friday, August 31, 2007

New Joe Wright Film Opens to Award Buzz in Venice

I have a list somewhere in my head of my favorite movies of all time. That list is completely different from my list of the greatest movies of all time, but the differences between the two would have to be put in a separate post. The point is, one of my favorite films ever was Joe Wright's adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. I've seen it more times than I can count. The cinematography is fantastic, the sets, costumes, and framing of all the shots seems perfect to me, and everything flows from one scene to the next flawlessly. It was also Kiera Knightley's best performance of her career, or so it seemed until now.

Wright's follow-up to P&P is an adaptation of another novel, Ian McEwan's Atonement, starring Kiera Knightley alongside James McAvoy. It's set in the 1930s, I've been looking forward to it ever since it was announced, and now it looks like all my wishes for the film are coming true.

At 35, Wright is the youngest director ever to have a film open the Venice Film Festival, which began this week. After the screening, media outlets started going nuts over it. This week can be remembered as the start of Oscar buzz for the film, Wright as director, and Knightley and McAvoy as actress and actor, respectively. I'm certainly going to see it at the soonest opportunity, and I can't remember the last time I was so happy that the people behind a favorite film of mine was on the receiving end of such good news.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mid-week Special: Live Echo & the Bunnymen

Even though Richard Kelly didn't orignally intend to use Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" in the opening credits of his cult classic Donnie Darko, the track fit perfectly with the mood and tone of the film, and that opening sequence was one of the reasons I first picked up one of their records.

All of the reissues of Echo records come with a bunch of bonus tracks, and sometimes there are live tracks. Here are three of my favorites:

One of my favorite tracks of off their debut record is the title track, "Crocodiles". Like most of the album, it has a real punk sound to it. To me this entire album always sounded like the band before they jumped down their creative rabbit hole and started experimenting more with larger arrangements and less mainstream punk sounds.

Echo & the Bunnymen - Crocodiles(Live)

My favorite complete album from the band was their second, Heaven Up Here. It's got an amazing cover, the songs flow from once to the next very nicely, and it kicks off wonderfully with "Show of Strength". This live version is a little faster than the studio track, but McCullouch doesn't spare any volume in his wailing.

Echo & the Bunnymen - Show of Strength(Live)

Of all Echo songs, my favorite has to be "My Kingdom" off of Ocean Rain. The pinnacle album of Echo's popularity and creativity, the entire album is chock full of huge arrangements, but I like "My Kingdom" for its simplicity, it doesn't have nearly the sonic arsenal that "The Killing Moon" does. Notorious for his arrogance, Ian McCulloch declares this song is from "the greatest album ever made" early in the track. Yes, he's cocky, but there are a lot of people out there who would agree with him.

Echo & the Bunnymen - My Kingdom(Live)

There you have it, three live tracks by one of my favorite bands. I'm posting my five favorite albums of the summer by September 1st, so stay tuned.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Summer Discovery: the Frames

I think the best band I started listening to this summer is definately The Frames. They've been popular in their native Ireland (& oddly enough the Czech Republic) for years, but haven't really translated that into success stateside. However, when former bandmate John Carney cast frontman Glen Hansard in his Sundance hit Once with Czech pianist Marketa Irglova, the soundtrack to the movie started climbing the charts and the band started getting much more attention.

Ever since I saw the movie, I've been collecting more and more of The Frames' music, as well as Hansard's solo work with Irglova (who he is now reportedly dating), and I really like the variety in their records. Hansard has a really great voice for the emotional songs that he writes, and the songs from the recording studio scenes in Once are the strongest I've ever seen in a movie about musicians. Here's a sample of their work:

This live version of "Fitzcarraldo," one of The Frames' best earlier songs, was recorded in Brno, Czech Republic. The song is based on the Werner Herzog film of the same name, about a man trying to bring a huge ship over a mountain in South America. The film was infamously difficult to complete, and the song is appropriately epic.

My favorite song on the Once soundtrack, "Fallen From the Sky", comes from the recording studio scenes, with Marketa Irglova playing a funky electronic children's toy to create the beeps in the background.

The solo record Hansard and Irglova recorded, The Swell Season, sports some interesting alternate versions of the songs found on the Once soundtrack (Falling Slowly, Leave, When Your Mind's Made Up) as well as a few other gems of their collaboration, such as the softly driving "Drown Out". The piano really gets me, as do the string interludes.

So there, enjoy a taste of The Frames. I'm still hard at work on a Best of Summer post, with the first likely to be up sometime around the end of the week.

The Frames - Fitzcarraldo(Live in Brno)
Glen Hansard - Fallen From the Sky
Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova - Drown Out

Friday, August 24, 2007

Album Review: Under the Blacklight

I remember the first time I heard a record that made me want to hear every single piece of music made by an artist. I subscribed to Rolling Stone in the beginning of my sophomore year, and the first issue I got was the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list that created endless debate over the status of great records. I remember reading a blurb about a band called Echo & the Bunnymen, and combined with references in two of my favorite movies, High Fidelity and Donnie Darko, I decided to buy one of their albums. Since Tower Records still existed, I browsed the aisles until I found their section, only to find one single copy of their self-titled last album. Now, at the time I had no idea which album it was, what it meant for the band, or even which album I had intended to buy, but by some twist of fate I just bought the record anyways. When I first played the record, I didn't leave the room until the last notes had finished. I don't know how to describe it, but I was just enthralled by the complexities of the sound, the gravely tones of Ian McCulloch's voice, and Will Sergeant's sailing guitar. I went back to Tower over the course of the next month and bought every album the band ever produced, and became an Echo fanatic.

Now, I tell that story for one singular reason: I have found another album that instills in me the desire to own all music produced by an artist, Under the Blacklight by Rilo Kiley. In a short 37-minute span, I now like the band so much that I want to buy all their music, go to concerts, and follow news regarding the band.

From what I know of the band, they are an LA based band that got a start recording for Saddle Creek Records. All I knew of the band before this band was from the film An Evening With Saddle Creek (which is a great doc about the rise of an indie label, I highly recommend it).

At only a little over a half an hour in running time, the songs on Under the Blacklight are for the most part crafted to function at or around three and a half minutes. That pop sensibililty to the album makes each of the songs perfectly compartmentalized for a small segment of time. They twist around through your ears for its designated stretch of time, and then leave to allow the next infectious melody feast on your eardrums.

I've read other reviews saying that the album can be seen as struggling with life in LA, or dealing with the breakup within the band (the song "Breakin' Up" would seem to be a dead giveaway about its subject matter). Whatever the case, the album certainly is sexually charged, and the music has a strange danceability about it on many songs. Under the Blacklight also finds Rilo Kiley changing genres and sounds on almost every song. No two songs sound very similar on the record, and I find that a testament to the band's ability to make an album worth of fresh sounds that still fit cohesively, with most of the credit going to Jenny Lewis' voice, which ties all of the songs together wonderfully.

The album starts with a saloon-type country infused track ("Silver Lining"), and a little bit of a country sound does creep in on many of the tracks, but it isn't the tired Toby Keith or Garth Brooks country, the sort of music that always sounds the same no matter who's playing it. Instead, the country tones add a personal sound to the album, as though Lewis is truley singing her heart out on these tracks.

I don't know much about how Under the Blacklight stacks up against Rilo Kiley's back catalogue, considering it's the only album of theirs I own, but after hearing this half hour slice of pop genius, I know I'll be heading back to a record store soon to stock up on everything they ever made. Give this album a chance, and maybe you'll find a favorite new discovery as well.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mid-week Special: Paramore does Foo Fighters

Lately, my semi-guilty pleasure indulgence has been Paramore. They're basically a pop/punk outfit from...well honestly who cares, the focus of the group is squarely on their massively outgoing 19-year-old frontwoman Hayley Williams. They have a very raw energy that appeals to me, and I've been spinning their 2nd album Riot! very frequently over the past couple weeks. So what if they're signed to Pete Wentz's Decaydance Records? The album still packs a huge punch, and that's all that matters.

This cover of Foo Fighters' "My Hero" came from the Sound of Superman album, which was a companion release to the movie Superman Returns last summer. Basically, in an effort to sell items other than movie tickets, Warner Brothers comissioned an album of up-and-coming bands to cover songs about Superman or the idea of a hero for an album. Luckily, it all leaked and people just snatched the tracks up instead of having to support the Superman product line (Superman Returns was by no means anything like Batman Begins). This would fall into the category of a song about the idea of a hero, considering it's from the Foo's best album, The Colour and the Shape, which is about the beginnings and ultimate failings of a relationship, which mirriored the demise of Dave Grohl's marriage with photographer Jennifer Youngblood. This song in particular is always thought of as being about Kurt Cobain, so take that as you will.

It's acoustic, and I really like Hayley's voice, so the cover is really good to me. More news on Foo Fighters coming later, they've got a new record dropping in the fall, but for now enjoy the cover.

Paramore - My Hero(Foo Fighters cover)

random side note: I've been seeing off a lot of friends as they leave for college, as well as packing a lot myself in preparation for when I leave, so posts will be a bit more sparse in the next few weeks, but I'll do my best to post some new tracks, and I've got a post in the works for a Best of Summer that's that.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chelsea @ Reading: The Return of Petr Cech

Being a soccer(called football from here on out) fan is hard in America, especially when you follow a team that has just become a world power. My best friend's Aunt and Uncle used to live in the Chelsea district of London, and he started supporting them when he was about 10. Through my friendship with him and love for football (we played together on our high school team), I became a rabid Chelsea FC supporter during the season right before Russian oil baron Roman Abramovich bought the team, and before Jose Mourinho was hired from Portugal side FC Porto as manager.

What ensued was Chelsea's meteoric rise to power in the EPL and on the European stage, competing for the first time in years with the big powers of the league and actually winning. Now, I get called a fair weather fan, or told that I'm simply jumping on the bandwagon of a team that now has a high profile, and that is certainly not the case. I'm proud of supporting Chelsea, but even more proud that I came to them when they weren't viewed in America as just another team like Manchester United.

My history of being a fan aside, last night was Chelsea @ Reading. It was Chelsea keeper Petr Cech's return to the stadium where last season he was hit so hard by a knee to the skull from Stephen Hunt that the bone actually got depressed and there was doubt over whether or not he would ever play again.

In perfect Chelsea stud form though, Cech shook off the skull fracture to come back a few months later and finish out the season.

In last night's game, however, he had one of the worst moments I've ever seen in his career, completely whiffing a punch out on a ball coming into the box and allowing Reading to take a 1-0 on what was essentially an open net touch-in for a substitute. Now, it's not that Petr Cech isn't a fantastic goalie, he is, but that was a terrible mishap, and he's lucky it didn't cost Chelsea the game.

Luckily, within a five minute span early in the second half, Lampard and Drogba scored successive goals to take a 2-1 lead, and Chelsea held on for the win. I'm glad to see Drogba get his first goal of the seaon, and I hope it's the first of even more than last year's campaign, lord known he'll need it to beat that world class diver in C. Ronaldo.

Just as a little side note, let's look at the goal scorers in the first two games for Chelsea: Pizarro, Malouda, Essien, Lampard, Drogba. Now, we've gotten some support from new signings, and the other new players are fitting in well, but Chelsea didn't spend nearly as much this past summer as they did before last year on Ballack and Sheva, but where the hell are they? Both have picked up injuries, so they are essentially the 2nd and 3rd most expensive bench warmers in the world, after David Beckham here in the U.S. I love my Blues, but those two players really need to get fit and get on the field. Ballack can play, and Sheva can feed the ball to Drogba better than anyone else in a Center Forward position with Drogba playing Striker. I just want to see the players come through on their transfer fees, that's all.

Next game is over the weekend at Liverpool. Barring a huge defensive meltdown at Anfield, I figure Lamps and Drogba will combine for something special, and we'll get at least a tie out of the fixture. Let's just see if Man U can get themselves out of their funk or not in their derby with City this weekend. Hopefully not.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mid-week Special: Ben Gibbard Covers Avril in NYC

Ok, so for the second week running I'm hitting 2/3 on the live, cover, and b-sides that are the intentions of these posts. This time it's Ben Gibbard playing at the Knitting Factory in NYC in November of '02. He's covering the "song of the summer" at the time, Avril Lavigne's breakout hit "Complicated." At the time, the song was kind of catchy in an "Mmmbop" sort of way, but it descended into bubblegum pop hell as it was overplayed on the radio and was plastered all over the entire country in a few short months.

Now, given my discontent with the song, why am I posting this cover? For a few reasons:
1. It's still a great pop song, no matter how annoying it is to remember that time back in '02, and I feel no shame in admitting that. Even Hanson had its merits in that little bit of '97.
2. Ben Gibbard turns the song into a light, comedic acoustic track live. It has a different feel when it's just one guy and a guitar crooning while winking with his voice and trying to keep a straight face to a crowd that knows he's trying to be ironic.
3. The banter after he finishes the song is priceless, commenting on what is going on in the song, and how ridiculous it actually is if you pay attention to the lyrics.

Also, as a little commentary on this track, I found an interview with Owen Pallett, who is the violinist for Arcade Fire as well as the act known as Final Fantasy, a snippet of which can be found here .

In the Q&A, he takes a stab at Gibbard for the way he comedically does his cover of Avril, and positing that covers should be serious and without irony because an artist should really love they song they're playing if it's by someone else. Now, the idiocy of naming yourself after the Squaresoft video game series aside, I actually like some of his music as Final Fantasy, but saying that every cover must be straightforward and serious is just being ignorant and stuck up in an attempt to be "holier-than thou". As a matter of fact, Final Fantasy's best two songs are live covers of two other bands: Bloc Party's "This Modern Love" and Arcade Fire's "No Cars Go," so I'm not sure what genius artistic ground he's coming from here way up on his pedestal whining about how bands should perform covers. I think they're a lot of fun, and if the song merits a little tongue-in-cheek comedy and winking at the crowd, such as this Gibbard track, then power to the artist.

As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I don't remember anything about how you go about imitating a certain song being a part of that, which is something Pallett should do well to keep in mind. Parody is still in itself honoring the original artist, as any band that's had Al Yankovich do a song of theirs can attest. Some greats have been humbly honored by the man who's made a career out of making fun of other people's songs, can't Pallett tone down the artsy ego for a little bit so we can just enjoy his music?

Ben Gibbard - Complicated(Avril Lavigne cover)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Deer Tick, or How to Name Your Band After an Invasive Parasite and Still Sound Awesome

So, I was cruising around on random blogs yesterday, and happened upon this post on IGIF about a guy called Deer Tick and few songs of his from an upcoming album called War Elephant.

Now, I like animals as much as the next guy, but Deer Tick? The ones that bite you if you're not covered up in the woods and gives you Lyme Disease? Really? Oh well, weird band names aside, it helps that the two songs up there pretty much rule, so go check them out. They say he sounds like a younger Tom Waits, which I kind of agree with, but I do really like the was his voice sounds. Also the story about him in the post is pretty funny.

Starry, Starry Night

Tonight was the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. It was a really great spectacle, and it still has a few nights where there will be a lot of meteors streaking across the sky, so I suggest you get out and see them at a spot without a lot of light around about 11. And in honor of the time spent staring up at the night sky, here are some great songs having to do with or about stars:

My sophomore English teacher got me really into early 90s indie rock, especially Built to Spill. I had already been listening to Pavement, but these guys, the Silver Jews, and Yo La Tengo’s presence in my musical tastes are a direct result of that guy. This was the first BTS song that really hooked me, and rightly so. It’s got a great melody, and Marsch’s lyrics are childish (referring to the Big Dipper as a “brontosaurus laying on its side up in the sky”) and tender at the same time.

Built to Spill – Big Dipper

I definitely feel that Echo & the Bunnymen don’t get the respect they deserve for the great records they made back in the 80s. The Smiths get all the critical praise, The Cure got the album sales, but Echo was always my favorite of those three. This song comes from their first album, Crocodiles, which was definitely their most raw sounding, before they started messing around with more instrumentation in the studio. I don’t think this is one of their absolute best, but I still really like it. Echo is one of my favorite bands, so you’ll definitely see more of their stuff on here in the coming weeks.

Echo & the Bunnymen – Stars are Stars

Ok, so this only has a little bit to do with stars, but it’s such an awesome song that because the word is in the title I have an excuse to post it. Off of Radiohead’s second album The Bends, the entire album was like the band waving goodbye to the traditional rock music they were expected by fans and labels alike to keep making for the rest of their careers following the success of “Creep.” As we all know, they went down the rabbit hole of creativity to incredible artistic success, but the amazing thing here is that they were equally adept if not more impressive in their farewell to more traditional alternative rock music.

Radiohead – Black Star

In movie news, Rush Hour 3 topped the box office with a weekend total of just over $50 million.

However, I’ve read in a few different places that the total has been inflated a bit so the movie could get a little press out of opening over fifty mil. Here’s one movie-goer that hopes the actuals turn out a bit lower. It’s the summer of threequels to be sure, and not all of them have been good, but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that the only person in America that really needed this movie was Chris Tucker.

UPDATE: Final numbers put it at 49.1 mil, which is still way too much, but at least it's not 50. Also check out a great post on /film here about how the opening is being received by the media. It's a great comparison to M:i:3, and a wonderful display of how Brett Ratner for some reason is getting cut more slack with all the crap in his back catalogue than Tom Cruise is with all of the great performances in his career.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mid-week Special: Covers, Live Tracks, & B-sides

Okay, so after a little difficulty in figuring out how to actually upload mp3 files so people can download them (if they read this...), I've actually gotten this site up and running.

I got into reading mp3 blogs about a year ago, when a friend of mine introduced me to the hype machine, which you have to be familiar with if you read an mp3 blog. in keeping with some of my favorite blogs, I'm going to start posting some covers, live tracks, or b-sides from my favorite artists that a lot of people don't have.

So, for the first installment of this, I figured I'd kick it off with a doozy, and one of my all-time favorite covers:
Dashboard Confessional's cover of Weezer's unreleased song "Jamie"

This sort of satisfies two parts of the ideas behind these posts, so it makes me happy. This song was recorded by Weezer during the sessions for The Blue Album back in '94, but sadly never made the album. It saw a cd release when The Blue Album deluxe edition came out, but sadly i don't know when the Dashboard cover was recorded. It's a great acoustic cover by Chris, complete with female backing vocal "ooo-ing" in the background. Classic Weezer. Great cover.

Weezer - Jaime
Dashboard Confessional - Jaime(Weezer Cover)