Sunday, September 30, 2007

Live: The Hives

Tonight I saw The Hives at the Metro in downtown Chicago. It was my first concert since arriving at Northwestern, so it was pretty exciting. The Metro is 2 blocks north of Wrigley Field, so I got my first glimpse of the infamous sign on the stadium, and snapped an obligatory picture of it.

After making the crowd wait for about 15-20 minutes past the time their set was supposed to start, the bloodred lights dimmed and out walked The Hives to thunderous applause. The Metro isn't that big of a it was stupendously loud for the entire performance.

The Hives don't look like your average garage rock revival-era band. Essentially the only two bands still around from that early 00s period are The Hives and The White Stripes, what with The Vines and The Strokes having somewhat spun out (The Strokes clearly have the better potential for getting back on track though...). Singer/Guitarist duo Pelle and Nicholaus Almqvist go batshit crazy on stage and it got the crowd really pumped up, and they all dress is matching black suits with an "H" crest on the breast.

"Howlin" Pelle Almqvist reminds me a lot of a young Mick Jagger. He struts, he rocks out, he climbs stages, he is supremely confidant in himself and his band, and he is a fantastic live singer. At one point during the night he quipped that if everyone there told a friend who told a friend who bought their album in a few weeks, they'd be back playing Wrigley Field this time next year. I wondered at one point during the set if he was going to start singing "Start Me Up" because he was flailing around onstage just the way Jagger used to in the videos of the Stones' huge stadium tours.

The set was filled with old and new material, my favorites "Diabolic Scheme" and "Walk Idiot Walk" getting played in the middle of the set. Songs from the new album sound like a baby step in terms of sonic development, but when you have a winning formula I guess you don't really need to mess with it. They have razor-sharp guitars, a great vocalist, and enough bravado to eventually fill stadiums. They have a hope of making the world forget that ABBA ever came out of Sweden. Here's the first single off The Black and White Album, which comes out in November. It's called "Tick Tick Boom" and they closed their set with it. I think it's fantastic, and they do a great job imitating a ticking time bomb. Here's hoping that the popularity of The Hives is about to explode as well.

The Hives - Tick Tick Boom

Friday, September 28, 2007

The End of My First Week

Today marks the end of the first week of college classes for me. After a shaky first few days, I can definatively say that I am having a great time. Tomorrow is our first home football game since I've been in Evanston, against the Michigan Wolverines. Most likely, we'll compete for a little while and then get beat, but the whispers of Appalachian State will haunt that school and those players for years to come.

In a tiny sendup to my first week here, I'm putting up my favorite song about college. It's by Relient K, a pop/punk outfit from Canton, Ohio. They've had a nice run on and under the radar, and I remember randomly picking up their album Two Lefts Don't Make a Right...But Three Do in a record store back in middle school and absolutely loving it. This track, "College Kids," is how I will always idealistically view college life, no matter how different the reality may be.

It has all the great features of a powerful pop song: it's got chugging guitars, witty lyrics, and god damn it's catchy. Listen up.

Relient K - College Kids

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mid-Week Special: The Format do The Lovin' Spoonful

Last summer I spent a month at a film program for high schoolers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where I currently attend college. It was at that time that I was introduced to a wonderful pop band from Arizona called The Format, whose debut album was somewhat of an indie hit.

Their second album Dog Problems came out right as I returned home from that program, and it became the soundtrack of my summer from the first time I put it into my stereo.

The story behind that record was a favorite success story of mine. The Format were dropped by their label after their first album, and their sophomore album contained very obvious references to their hatred of corporate music after having dealt with it's horrendous management personally.

I found this cover a short while ago, and it just exemplifies how much of a perfect pop duo they are. Most of their songs are intricately designed shiny pop songs, and what better song to cover than a classic shiny pop song? So here it is, a cover of The Lovin' Spooful's "Do You Believe In Magic."

I bought the new Foo Fighters' album this week, and a review will go up sometime soon...and more posts will follow as my schedule delves into normalcy now that college classes have started. Just as a small note, VH1 put Foo Fighters' single "The Pretender" in rotation as a "You Oughta Know" video, adding to the lunacy of that segment's supposed "indie spotlight."

The Format - Do You Believe In Magic (The Lovin' Spooful Cover)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Lies of VH1's "You Oughta Know"

I love VH1's television programming. I got hooked on all the I Love the 80's/70's/80's Strikes Back/90's/80's 3-D/90's Part Deux stuff, as well as all the other lists, and I preferred the Top 20 Countdown to anything that was ever playing on MTV.

That being said, there is one part of the channel that I cannot stand, and that is VH1's featured artists "You Oughta Know." I haven't watched the channel in a long time due to my being at college and having much more available to me, but an email from a friend reminded me of how idiotic the feature is.

Basically, it's VH1's idea of introducing an "indie" band or artist to their audience, but it's just silly. They don't look for an artist that is actually independent or in need of the publicity, they always end up choosing artists who have broken through months before their feature or artists who shouldn't even qualify as independent. They show up late to the party on almost every single band, sometimes even after Pitchfork has already declared them musically insignificant.

Here's a small list of artists that have been featured on VH1's segment over the past few years:
The Fray
Flogging Molly
Franz Ferdinand
James Blunt
Colbie Caillat
Daniel Powter

Ok, for some reason VH1 and Apple have an obsession with the same kinds of musicians. Feist's album came out months ago and was just recently featured (it had to be something about the iPod nano commertials, which have ruined that song for me...), and Colbie Caillat has been sitting near the top of the iTunes Music Store for weeks. Franz Ferdinand is the only truely deserving band there, but once again VH1 was late to the party that almost every music publication was already at. The segment should be showcasing artists who have difficulty getting published or played in other places, just as any segment trying to feature new artists should. Anyone with ears, a radio, or a computer has heard of pretty much all the artists on that list.

Over the next couple days I'm going to get up a post about artists that I think need a little more publicity. They are some of my personal favorites, and they might not be as independent as I like, but I they are relatively new and need a bit of a bump from some more people, even if it's just me with a tiny, tiny readership.

Friday, September 21, 2007

When a Team Flushes a Season...

A few days ago Jose Mourinho, the manager (which means the same thing for a football team in europe as it does in MLB here) of Chelsea FC resigned after a draw with Norwegian side Rosenborg at Stamford Bridge in England. I was absolutely shocked to read that news, and it's taken a little while to sink in. Then I started to think about it a little, and realized that this decision makes absoluetly no sense at this point in time.

Last summer there was tension b/w Mourinho and the team's owner Roman Abramovich after a season where Abramovich desired an unprecedented four trophies from the team, but Mourinho and his men could only provide two. Now, Man U had a fantastic season last year and was almost without a single significant injury. Chelsea on the other hand had to deal with several injuries including Petr Cech's depressed skull, John Terry's long absence at central defense, and other small nagging conditions throughout the season. It seems that under those conditions two trophies would be a triumph; apparently that isn't the case to the big, bad, Russian owner.

I would understand somewhat if Mourinho had parted ways with Chelsea after the end of the season. He had won two EPL titles, a few other cup trophies, but had stalled and had conflicts with the owner. But he still came back to start this season, with a supposedly renewed friendship with Abramovich, which is why this news comes as a shock.

Mourinho has left Chelsea to flounder through this year as a lost one. Without his direction, the team just isn't as good. Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are out with injuries, and now with this managerial loss Chelsea really can't hope to succeed in a big way this season.

I'm horrifically disappointed in Mourinho for giving up so easily at this part of the season, but also upset with the management of the club, who have put so much unnecessary pressure on Jose to keep winning trophies year after year. This is the manager that won two EPL titles in a row for a team that had only ever won 1 title in its entire club history. Plus he took Chelsea from barely competing with the biggest clubs in England and put them in the same category as the best club teams in Europe. Unless Chelsea is able to hire someone like Jurgen Klinsmann away from his vacation life in Los Angeles, or hire away a big time manager from another European giant, there was no reason to part ways with Mourinho.

Therin lies the problem, though. It is currently a month into the season. There is no possible way that a Mourinho-caliber manager is going to be lured away at this point in the campaign to look after Chelsea. I just don't see it. Right now, this mutual resignation agreement is the worst thing to happen at Stamford Bridge in a long time. The Mourinho era has come to a close, and I don't see anything better than its far too brief window in the future for the club unless a major swoop occurs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mid-Week Special: Bloc Party b-side

After releasing their sophomore album A Weekend in the City in February, English alt/dance/rock outfit Bloc Party released 11 stellar b-sides, which became known (at least to me and the friends I told) as Another Weekend in the City. However, that entire album worth of b-sides wasn't enough for Kele and the rest of Bloc Party, expressed by the b-side "Cavaliers and Roundheads" that accompanied the release of the "Hunting for Witches" single.

It's a pretty good track, but I don't think it was as good as the other b-sides that were available on the different versions of the album back in February. Still, it's worth checking out.

Bloc Party - Cavaliers and Roundheads

Just as a side note: I've finally gotten myself moved in and settled down at college. It's pretty amazing, but I don't have a lot of time to post stuff this week, what with...registering for classes, and...figuring out the campus, and...other fun activities for college-age Americans.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More Krolik: A Guest Review

Ok, so now we've got a guest review from my friend Krolik. He runs Truth in a Bullet Fedora, and he loves Kanye West. I put up an article about the two albums, and he commented on it with this. Take a read, I've got comments afterwards...

Your "famous friend" is having a weird day. Have you ever come back from class to find 41 comments on your blog, most of which are some kind of variation on how retarded you are? It's weird. Anyways, here's what I thought of Kanye's album, as he's my favorite artist and me and this guy argue about him constantly. As always, because of the huge variety in his beats, Kanye is hit-or-miss; here is my ranking of the "hits."

1. "Stronger": If this comes on at a party and nobody grinds on you, you probably smell like dead bear. Pushes the limits of bumpability.

2. "Can't tell me nothing": One of the few tracks on this album that showcase Kanye's conflict and ability to self-examine. Also, the beat gave me chills. Also, this is what led me to turning in a paper for American Lit. comparing Ben Franklin to Kanye West.

3. "Everything I am": Beat gave me super-mega chills. The lyrics inspire because there seems to be actual truth behind the self-aggrandizement; instead of making himself larger-than-life, he describes himself as someone who has overcome his own faults.

4. "Homecoming": Love the piano. Love the Chris Martin.

5. "Champion": An uptempo beat made from a Steely Dan song is either going to be really good or really bad; I found it to be the former.

6. "Good Morning": Kanye's in a grove with more laid-back beats on this one; they all just seem to work out well. And I don't know why I love the line "You got D's, Mothafucka, D's, Rosie Perez," but I do.

7. "I Wonder": See above quote about laid-back beats.

8. "The Glory": An in-your-face move to his critics, even with the ultra-chipmunking of the sample.

9. "Big Brother": I'm sorry, but I'm just not interested in hip-hop feuds, especially when they're closer to Coke-Pepsi than Biggie-Tupac.

"Drunk and Hot Girls" and "Barry Bonds" didn't really do it for me. But damn, I love Kanye.

Okay, so after his reactions, here are some of my own in response:

1. I still like the original song by Daft Punk better...which I guess is what keeps me from liking this song so much, and I've already written about my views on Kanye sampling too many other artists. There is no better evidence to me that he samples too much than this page on Wiki, where there is a 3rd column in the table about his songs that shows which songs he sampled.

2. I didn't get "chills" from the beat, that was reserved for the first and last songs on the album, but I did like the self examination. It also contains another obligatory reference to the title of the album, which is just another wink Kanye puts in so that we understand the progression of titles from his three albums.

3. This is the kind of track I really like in rap. Just a simple beat, Kanye stripping away all of the fancy production and just being honest through his lyrics.

4. I'm a little tired of the practice where rappers have musicians from different genres on their albums. This collaboration is a better one, but I still think it's closer to Fall Out Boy having Babyface produce Infinity on High than Dizzee Rascal and Arctic Monkeys collaborating on tracks.

5. Where Krolik found it really good to sample Steely Dan, I didn't find it that great.

6. Still my favorite song on the album, and currently the song that wakes me up in the morning on my iHome in my dorm. The lyrics are fantastic, and I love the DeLorean reference.

7. To be honest, I kind of see this track as the beginning of the lull that is the middle of the album...sorry.

8. Krolik mentioned the chipmunking of the sample; that sums up why I didn't like the track in a pretty simple way.

9. So Kanye believes he has a part in one of Jay-Z's feuds...big deal. The story seemed forced and out of context to me, and thus I didn't like the track.

There. Now you've got even more analyzation of one of the biggest albums of the year, and one of the most important rap albums ever. I didn't say best, because I don't believe that in any way, at this point in time it doesn't even begin to rival College Dropout, but it's better than a lot of stuff out there.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Showdown So Far: Kanye v. Curtis

Okay, so both Graduation and Curtis have been out for a week now, and as pretty much every single person related to music predicted, Kayne is outselling 50 Cent. Not a very big surprise, considering 50's ultimatum that he would quit the buisness if he didn't outsell Kayne sounded much more like a publicity stunt and an empty threat than he wanted it to.

I've managed to get a hold of both albums in ways that didn't disrespect my music tastes...for me, there is very little rap that I will actually pay for out of my own pocket (Dizzee Rascal, Nas, and a few select others...) so I relied on some friends.

Now, I'd like to say that I could put my thoughts about the artists aside when looking at these two albums, but I think that you have to consider how Kayne and 50 are perceived to fully look at how these two albums stack up against each other.

50 came out as a protege of Eminem and Dr. Dre (how many of those have we seen...honestly...) with expertly produced tracks that became huge club hits and were played way too many times at high school dances with only white kids. His personal story is somewhat of a charmer, what with surviving being shot 9 times and moving up from dealing drugs to putting out records (which he's trying to get kids addicted to...just like drugs...). I've always seen 50 as solely a buisnessman in music, and have never really enjoyed anything he made in any way other than on the surface. His music is danceable, yes, but it isn't rewarding to listen to multiple times. Nothing reveals itself to you after repeated listenings, no lyrics are decoded, no bigger theme emerges. 50 has always been, and always will be, out for the largest chunk of change he can get his hands on with the catchiest beats he can put on a record.

Kayne will always be a better producer than he is a rapper, which tends to show itself in the weakness of his lyrics over an entire album. Sure, there's a great song here and there, but he can't hold up lyrically to his idols that started out as rappers. He samples other great music way too much. There's a lot to be said for a rapper that uses an original beat and catchy lyrics to create something where there was nothing. Kayne loves using samples as a stepping stone into different musical tastes; it allows him the widest audience possible when he samples Ray Charles, Daft Punk, and Shirley Bassey on different tracks. Maybe it's an artistic choice to sample such a wide array of artists, but I still feel like when I listen to those songs that its a carefully calculated buisness decision to attract a huge listening audience.

He does push artistic boundaries where 50 does not, but the double-edged sword that is his arrogance gets in the way. Yes, he strives to do something different in rap, and his charisma for his art is admirable, but it causes him to believe that even his weakest songs hold up against other great tracks simply because they are his. That kind of headstrong certitude is something that he tragically has in common with a man he ridiculed on national television: our President.

Ok, attitudes towards the artists aside...I thought both albums were pretty...average. Lots of credit is being heaped on Kanye and a ton of shit being piled on 50, but to me they both just seemed like more of the same from both of them.

The largest failing of Curtis to me is that 50 Cent wanted to seem more honest. This album was supposed to be his Marshall Mathers LP (which for the record is one of a few rap albums I consider great, after Illmatic). Eminem on that album was very honest about himself, Marshall Mathers, and conveyed a deep sense of self in his songs. On Curtis, 50 just seems like he's creating a character, the Curtis he wants people to believe he's honest about. The album wasn't supposed to be about creating another fake moniker to rap behind, but when it comes down to it, that's what Curtis sounds like.

Graduation, on the other hand, has some spectacular tracks. I got the iTunes edition, and the two tracks that bookend the album ("Good Morning" and "Goodnight") are just fantastic. That being said, it still bothers me that Kayne samples so much that it seems unnecessary. Kayne is a great producer, and when he makes one great track with one great sample for another artist to put on their CD, the gimmick works really well. However, almost an entire album of that just gets tired to me. The skills of Mr. West as a producer far outgain his abilities as a lyricist, and it starts to show as the album drags in the middle with some forgettable tracks. Granted, the beginning and end to the disc are both great, but this album is no College Dropout, the surprising genius isn't there anymore. People have come to expect absolute perfection from West, and in that sense this album is a small disappointment.

So who's the winner of the album battle? That answer is very clear: Kanye. His album is selling more, his album is more artistically adventurous, and it comes off as more real, even in its heavily produced atmosphere. The two albums seem like a perfect example of my taste in rap. 50's music is a distinct "rap" style, while Kayne could be classified as more "hip-hop" which is less about the street image and more about musical style. That's not to say there are not great rap albums, it's just that 50 has definately not made one with his latest effort. Kanye emerges victorious, and now 50 has to crawl away and declare himself un-retired or something...we all know he isn't done yet.

Kanye West - Good Morning
Kanye West - Goodnight (feat. Mos Def)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mid-Week Special: Vinyl Only Built to Spill

After the last day of school my junior year of high school, I spent the afternoon with my friends in the classroom of one of my favorite teachers, who was leaving the next year to do graduate work at UNC-Chapel Hill. He did two things that afternoon: made all of us participate in a "Worst Poem Ever" competition, and gave me a vinyl single from the band Built to Spill that he had received from Doug Marsch himself at a concert in the late 90s as a gift for helping lug the band's gear into a venue for a gig.

He had been my sophomore English teacher and Journalism teacher for two years, and his taste in rock from the early 90s really got me started in exploring indie music from before my high school years. This vynil single and a record player happened to be in his classroom one day; I put it on while we were editing an edition of our school newspaper, and I've been hooked on the band ever since. It was a single for "Strange," which was the lead single from their album Ancient Melodies of the Future (a roundabout way of saying the album was a melody for today...), and contained an instrumental b-side that I've spent countless hours trying to find online to no avail.

Luckily, another one of my friends had the equipment to digitize a vinyl record, and thus was able to make me a digital copy of the b-side, titled Intrumental #2 on the insert for the single. It was the track that got me started on Built to Spill, and it was a great soundtrack for editing a newspaper. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Just to prove...aww, hell with it, here's some Sports

So I've got this friend. He's kind of a big deal. He runs Truth in a Bullet Fedora, one of the blogs over in the links on the right side there. He's what we call an "actual journalist" with a "job." He does a kick-ass job writing about the league most of America hasn't cared about ever since November 19th, 2004 : the NBA. Check him out on his own blog, or here.

For my money, nothing beats football of any kind. While my first love is the European brand which is actually played with feet and the greatest athletes in the world, I will watch any college or NFL game that's on television at any hour of the day, no matter who's playing. There's a reason the NFL is now the most watched pro sports league. MLB lags behind a little, and the NBA is struggling to keep its lead over the return of the NHL, but the NFL is surviving the Michael Vick scandal to continue its dominance over the other pro leagues.

In college football news, my Northwestern Wildcats managed to scrape a 36-31 victory over the Nevada Wolf Pack on Saturday, avenging a loss from last season and pushing their record to 2-0. We've got games against Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, and a Minnesota team that hasn't seen a great player since Laurence "Kool Aid" Maroney graduated, so we've got a decent shot at a bowl game... but currently we've got more wins than USC, and a win over somebody better than the University of Idaho...but we're gonna get killed by an 0-2 Michigan, Ohio State, and Purdue. It's really lucky that our schedule allows us to avoid Wisconsin and Penn State this year, because we'd get slaughtered there too.

I met coach Pat Fitzgerald when I was on campus for a visit last spring, and he seemed like a really personable guy, with a real will to turn a program that is usually competetive once every four years into a more feared spot on another team's schedule.


Moving onto the football across the pond, my beloved Chelsea lost at Aston Villa last weekend, keeping them from moving to the top of the EPL. Villa Park is the only stadium that Jose Mourinho hasn't yet commanded the Blues to victory in since he became manager.

Also, Germany is a little miffed at the handling of Michael Ballack. Considering how poorly he plays when wearing a Chelsea uniform, I don't really care.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Back From The Dead: End of Summer Movies

Okay, so I've been dealing with some pretty crappy circumstances the past few days. A power outage blew some telephone wires near my house, and my internet access went down. Then my family had the brilliant idea to switch to a much faster Comcast cable internet...which doesn't support Macintosh my brand new MacBook I am stranded on another computer, posting here for a little while before I leave for college at the end of the week.

However, after being gone for a few days, I'll delve into something that I've been pleasantly surprised by over the past few weeks.

My dad and I have always talked about how shitty movies get when August, September, and January roll around. It's like clockwork, what with box office numbers declining and quality of movies going downhill even faster. The idea is obviously that as kids start to go back to school, there is less money to be made, and thus less viable movies in theatres. It also means that studios dump crappy films into the release schedule hoping that nobody will go see them and their reputation can remain as clean as possible.

On top of all that, I hate August and September movies even before they come out strictly on the basis of their release date. Knowing what I know about how studios release and promote movies, I tend to judge a movie based on the release date at the end of a trailer. If it says it's coming to theatres in August or September, it already has a hurdle to get over in my mind before I give it a fair chance.

This doesn't come without some crappy summer movie-going experiences. Back in the day I had to suffer through horrific pictures like XXX in late August because nothing else better was out. Let me repeat myself: in that particular August, the best movie in theatres was XXX, so bare was the selection.

That is not to say that good movies do not get released in August or September. There's almost always one film that shines through the dreck, like Michael Mann's Collateral or Talladega Nights (give me a little leeway, it was good for an August flick). This year already had its one great film after July 31st: The Bourne Ultimatum. Yes, it was released on the first weekend of August so it barely counts, but it still came out in August and kicked ass. So imagine my surprise when another couple movies came along and were actually substantial movies getting wide releases late in the summer and early in the fall: Superbad and 3:10 to Yuma.


I loved Arrested Development. It was one of the greatest TV shows I've ever seen, and I followed each cast member after its untimely demise to see whether or not they could recreate any of that show's magic. Will Arnett has basically been playing GOB in every single one of his small film roles, from Blades of Glory to last weekend's bomb The Brothers Solomon, both of which oddly co-starred Pam from The Office, and she might want to avoid any other offers for Will Arnett films. The young Micheal Cera, on the other hand, landed a role in a movie I tracked for months before it opened: Superbad.

These kinds of movies aren't supposed to be this good. There hasn't been a teen film like this since American Pie, and even that is pushing the limits when you list great teen comedies. Much like every review of the film said, it is extremely impressive to me that Seth Rogen and his writing partner started the script when they were just 13, but I credit Cera and Jonah Hill for really selling the parts. Michael Cera has proven to be a great young actor, and I'll be looking forward to his next role in the upcoming Juno.

I think I liked the film so much because unlike so many other lesser high school comedies, the film really isn't about high school at all. We spend almost no time actually at the school or involved in anything related to the school they attend. There's no football game, no teacher with a large supporting role, no fifty different funny kids to keep track of. The film is about leaving for college and what changes when that occurs. Seth and Evan are having a last hurrah as high school best friends, and I guess I latched onto that idea because I'm currently in the same transition.

I thought the script was totally believeable until the end, at which point I have to admit I agreed with one of my friends that some of the dialogue in Transformers was more believable than the final meeting in the mall. That aside, this wasn't a film that would normally come out in August, nor a film that would be so honest and heartfelt in its delivery. It's a credit to the Apatow school of comedy that something of this caliber came out of the film, and it was great for Superbad to turn out as good as we all wanted it to be.

3:10 to Yuma

When you direct an Oscar-nominated film, normally your next movie doesn't have too much trouble getting made and released with a big marketing campaign. That of course is unless your name is James Mangold, and you are trying to remake an old Western called 3:10 to Yuma. After years in development hell (the original stars were to be Eric Bana and Tom Cruise), this remake of the 1957 film of the same name was supposed to be released in October, the same month as Mangold's previous film Walk the Line was a few years ago. Then, LionsGate decided that the Brad Pitt-headlined flick about Jesse James would steal the western's thunder, and thus moves the release date up a month, hoping to make a little more money and get exposure at a time when no other westerns are in theatres. Also, DVDs will get released around early January, allowing LionsGate to attempt the same award campaign scheme that worked with a little movie some people out there might remember. It was called Crash, and was one of the first movies since The Silence of the Lambs to win Best Picture without a release during the October-January release window.

Just like with Superbad, movies like this released during September aren't supposed to be this good. They're supposed to be horrifically edited, or badly acted by one of the stars, or just mishandled by a studio and dumped into the end of summer movie graveyard. I guess the original October release date gives a little bit away about the quality, but I haven't seen a remake this good in years. Russell Crowe really gets back to some great acting, and Christian Bale continues his streak of wonderful performances following his lead role in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn.

I can't really understand any sort of stigma against this film. It's got two well-acted leads, a fine job by an Academy-Award nominated director, and one of the few good remakes to come around in about 10 years. I think all the people involved deserve a lot of credit, and anybody out there should give it a shot in theatres.


So I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of films during the end of this summer before I head off to college. Looking ahead, this fall is shaping up to be a good one, so I hope some of these films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival turn out to be as good as the initial buzz has been.

And another random note: The posts will get much thinner over the next 7 or 8 days, as I am leaving for Northwestern University. Once I get settled in, I'll be posting some more about the new music that got released on 9/11, the first couple weeks of college football and the NFL, and even some more movies if you're lucky...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mid-week Special: Glen Hansard covers Justin, Britney

Back in '03 Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears were two extremely popular recording artists in mainstream music. Now, only one of them is still actually active in the music industry. Britney premiered a new track recently called "Gimme More," which was basically her first actual new release in years. Some people have been giving it decent reviews, but it's such a lame song. It blends a terrible call and answer chorus with what sounds like a reject Hyphy rap beat, and it's beyond me how anyone would actually think this is worthy of a comeback. Meanwhile, JT has had monster success with FutureSex/LoveSounds, which is an album I don't particularly like, but can at least respect, unlike almost anything Britney ever released...

Which brings us to today's covers. In Ireland, the radio station Today FM has Irish artists perform covers live on the air. Over the course of a few appearances, Glen Hansard (frontman for the Frames) performed a song by each of the two pop stars. Both of them are pretty straight ahead serious performances of the songs, so the strength of Timberlake's "Cry Me A River" is much more evident. Let's face it, as much as you can hate Justin Timberlake, that song was just phenomenal. Hansard covers "Everytime" by Britney, and since it's not one of the much overplayed, overproduced, and overrated hits in her career, it actually sounds pretty good. Give them a listen, they're a pretty interesting duo of covers.

Glen Hansard - Cry Me A River (Justin Timberlake Cover)
Glen Hansard - Everytime (Britney Spears Cover)

Monday, September 3, 2007

Live: Rupa & the April Fishes

My sophomore year I began taking a black and white photography class. I had never really taken pictures as art before, but after only a few weeks I was so into it that by the end of the year I was turning my bathroom into a darkroom to develop my rolls of film. I haven't stopped using my old b&w film camera since, and I think I owe a lot of my passion for photography to my teacher that year. He was an undergrad at Northwestern, and his experience there discovering his love for photography got me somewhat interested in the school for the first time. He still takes great photos, a bunch of which can be found here.

But this story isn't about him; it's about his wife. Two years ago he married a former physician and now musician named Rupa, who fronts the band Rupa & the April Fishes. A couple nights ago I went to the opening of an exhibit of photos taken by my high school classmates about the issue of immigration, and Rupa & the April Fishes played a set at the end of the night. I'd heard good things about them, but I never imagined anything like what they played. While any person could easily say the band falls under the painfully general "world music" label, I found them to be more of a genre-bending group, incorporating jazz, latin, and indian styles into their songs. My favorites of the night were "La Cocinera" and "The Elephant", which created a perfect sonic image of a herd of elephants walking next to the crowd.

The picture above shows the entire band, with one guest on the far right. Rupa sings and plays a nylon string guitar, and she's backed by drums, trumpet, bass, cello, and accordian. She sings in French, Spanish, and English, which I think really added a bit of flair to the set because you didn't really know what you were going to get until she opened her mouth. I was only able to find a few samples of the band's work around for free, but these two songs come from the band's own site, where you can buy their debut CD. Give it a listen, it was a really interesting live set, and they're playing some dates up and down the coast of California in the coming weeks if you're in the area so check them out.

Rupa & the April Fishes - Un Americaine a Paris
Rupa & the April Fishes - C'est Moi

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Dying Summer: Best Albums

Summer officially ended on September first, so as Labor Day Weekend bids adieu to the warm season, I thought I'd put up a list of my top records released over the course of this summer, ranked in no particular order. Some may come as a surprise, and a few actually surprised me with how long they stayed stuck in my head and stereo these past few months. There are a few samples of the records, but they are all great, so go out and buy one for future enjoyment.

Under the Blacklight - Rilo Kiley

Okay, so I've now gone back and listened to Rilo Kiley's earlier albums, and I think I'm starting to understand why longtime fans are pretty upset over the departure this record is from their previous sound. That being said, I still think its a half hour masterwork of pop music. I can't skip a song, even the fan hated lead single "Moneymaker". The last couple songs are pitch perfect, as is my favorite track, "Breakin' Up"

Once Original Soundtrack

Every summer I used to attend a big music festival in the Bay Area and make a great personal discovery in the form of a band I'd never heard of before the concert. This year, for the first time in many years, I was unable to go, so I had to turn elsewhere to get my summer fix. Then Once came along, the indie film sensation, accompanied by its soundtrack, a collection of collaborations between the film's two stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I love every single track, just like I pretty much adore every scene in the movie in some way. "When Your Mind's Made Up" and "Fallen From the Sky" come from the studio scene in the movie, which was far and away my favorite in the whole film.

Interpol - Our Love to Admire

When I was in 8th grade, I saw a festival the day before I graduated middle school. Interpol was on the bill, but I had never heard of them. After their half hour set, I was breathing heavily from having endured pounding sound waves to my chest because Carlos D's bass was turned up so loud and hammered out of the speakers at the crowd; in other words, I was hooked. While their debut Turn on the Bright Lights remains my favorite album, I still like this album, their 3rd release. I'll have another post up in the future about my exact gripes with the album, but they boil down to a lack of Carlos D and drummer Fogarino on the tracks. Even still, "No I in Threesome", "My Chemistry", and lead single "The Heinrich Maneuver" are standouts enough to keep this album on constant rotation for me.

Is Is EP - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

The first time I saw YYY's live was like a religious experience for me. Karen O was going nuts onstage, Zinner was freaking out on guitar, and the crowd was going wild. I just love the band, and especially their second album. I've been a fan since their EPs a couple years back, but Show Your Bones really got me listening heavily. This EP, much like reviewers have been saying since its release, sounds a bit like a combination of SYB and their debut Fever To Tell, which is more of a compliment than a criticism in my mind. It has the catchy melodies and riffs like SYB and a dash of the raw energy on FTT, and it was over much too quickly for my tastes. Yes, it's an EP instead of a full length record, but as far as summer releases go, this one is a winner.

Riot! - Paramore

Normally, I would only indulge in this kind of music as a guilty pleasure. I got started listening to Paramore after becoming a fan of Be Your Own Pet, sort of a raunchier, dirtier version of this band. They've got somewhat of the same dynamic, passionate, outgoing female lead singer, but something on this record struck a chord with me and I've been listening to it over and over throughout the summer. I don't know why, but it just works for me when it's pumping through my stero while driving through the heat or just chilling out around the house. By the time a year-end list rolls around, I doubt whether this record will make the cut in my mind in terms of "best quality music," but in terms of summer entertainment value, Riot! acts like a kick-ass summer blockbuster flick, and seriously rocks out.


Rilo Kiley - Give a Little Love
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Rockers to Swallow
Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova - If You Want Me (Once Soundtrack)