Friday, March 26, 2010

An Embarrassment Of Riches...

Hard to remember a time when I've been more excited about all the new music coming down the pike. In the coming months, no less than three different artists who placed albums inside my Top 25 of The 2000s will be debuting their latest efforts... and in the past week alone, it seems like the Internet floodgates burst wide open. Here's a quick rundown of what's grabbing my attention, along with the official links where you can listen:

The National - "Bloodbuzz Ohio"

Exactly as dark and epic as you'd expect, with lyrics to match: "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees/ I never married but Ohio don't remember me." Based on the handful of tracks I've heard, High Violet—due on May 11th from 4AD—feels like the early frontrunner for album of the year. Stay tuned.

Download the MP3 from

The Hold Steady - "Hurricane J"

Not quite as gripping as "Stuck Between Stations," sure, but that final thirty seconds is pretty damn awesome. And how about that album cover? May 4th on Vagrant.

The Gaslight Anthem - "American Slang"

Three for three from the "The" bands. For myself and others, The '59 Sound was one of 2008's undiscovered gems, so here's hoping the third album from The Gaslight Anthem makes a bigger splash this time. For those of you awaiting a new Springsteen record, this'll do nicely in the interim. Out on June 15th from SideOneDummy.

Stream the track from the band's MySpace page.

Robyn - "Fembot"

How much do I wish this was the cover art for Robyn's first release since her self-titled breakthrough? No details on album title or release (June?), but you can stream the first single at her website right now. Deceptively simple, winkingly modern, and ridiculously catchy. More, please...

LCD Soundsystem - "Drunk Girls"

A bit underwhelmed by the leadoff single from James Murphy and company... but then again, "North American Scum" wasn't exactly representative of the magnificent Sounds Of Silver, either. Here's hoping this is the goofy throwaway on an otherwise worthy follow-up. Out May 18th on DFA/Virgin.

MGMT - "Flash Delirium"

And finally, speaking of deflating expectations: The new MGMT has already gone from "highly anticipated" to "epic collapse" in the brief time it took this baffling first single to dance around ye olde World Wide Web. Take all the psychedelic filler from Oracular Spectacular, remove any trace of what made "Kids" or "Time To Pretend" so invigorating, and you're left with "Flash Delirium." Oof.

In a bold—or foolhardy—move, the entire album, Congratulations, is now streaming at the band's website. Be advised, it doesn't get a whole lot better. Out April 13th on Columbia.

Friday, March 19, 2010

R.I.P. Alex Chilton

Like any good music geek, I discovered Alex Chilton through music magazines, the words of critics from a generation removed loudly proclaiming the genius of this great, undiscovered cult band called Big Star. I bought #1 Record/Radio City through one of those (now extinct) record-and-tape clubs without hearing a note of music. Arguably, it was the best blind purchase I ever made in my entire life.

Big Star's small, perfect body of work is older than I am, and yet it hasn't aged a minute in nearly forty years. They should've been famous in their heyday; instead, they became cult legends long after their break-up. You can hear their influence hang heavy over R.E.M., the Replacements, Teenage Fanclub, and almost any other melodic guitar band of the past two generations. Chilton's songs have been covered by everyone from Wilco to The Bangles to Jeff Buckley, and Cheap Trick's version of "In The Street" still blasts from TV sets every night in syndication as the theme to That 70's Show.

Alex Chilton changed the world before he turned twenty-five. Wednesday night in New Orleans, the godfather of power-pop passed away at the age of 59. Below are ten essential moments from the canon of Big Star, along with one of the finest tribute songs imaginable. Enjoy.

September Gurls (from Radio City)

Thirteen (from #1 Record)

In The Street (from #1 Record)

Back Of A Car (from Radio City)

Kanga-Roo (from Third/Sister Lovers)

You Get What You Deserve (from Radio City)

The Ballad Of El Goodo (from #1 Record)

What's Going Ahn (from Radio City)

Nightime (from Third/Sister Lovers)

Watch The Sunrise (from #1 Record)

The Replacements - Alex Chilton (from Pleased To Meet Me)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ten Thoughts On The Glorious Train Wreck That Is The New Lady Gaga Video

With over half a million views in the first 12 hours (and the official YouTube vid rapidly closing in on 18 mil as of this writing), Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video is officially The Biggest Pop Music Event Of 2010 Thus Far (TM). Below, the not-remotely-MTV-approved clip itself, followed by ten (mildly snarky) observations:

10. Is product placement less annoying when it's funny (a la 30 Rock)? The advertising of Miracle Whip and Wonder Bread garnered a chuckle; crass positioning of Virgin Mobile, not so much.

9. Nice shout-out to the "Gaga is a hermaphrodite" controversy there.

8. Caution tape as wardrobe? Not remotely clichéd at all. (And yes, I know this is probably just an ironic comment on caution tape as cliché, or something...)

7. Like another multi-platinum dance diva before her [Obvious Madonna reference #1], Lady G is not a good dancer (but dances constantly), is not particularly attractive (yet still insists on shedding her clothes on a regular basis), is not an especially gifted singer (which is why she writes to her strengths), and wears outfits that no human on earth could pull off convincingly (although she comes close). So why is she the biggest pop artist on the planet? Attitude.

6. Beyoncé, despite her outward appearance as the "anti Gaga," is far more convincing in this video than in any of her actual "acting" roles. And to think this was almost Britney....

5. While we're on the subject: Why is the word motherf**ker "bleeped" when uttered by Ms. Knowles, but not Miss Gaga? Does Honey B have a Disney movie coming out in the third quarter or something?

4. Is this all just an elaborate plan for Lady G to sell 400,000 copies of the "Telephone" video on VHS DVD Blu-Ray for $9.99? [Obvious Madonna reference #2]

3. And shouldn't she have ponied up the extra cash to hire the director of Kill Bill, rather than the director of "Smack My Bitch Up" and "American Life"? [Obvious Madonna reference #3]

2. Cost of 56 dancers and extras: $200,000.
Cost of film crew, lights, and locations: $375,000.
Cost of Gaga wardrobe: $12.50 (approximate).
Seeing Beyoncé driving the P**sy Wagon: Priceless.

1. Yes, it's an overlong, extravagant, nonsensical, Day-Glo mess... but give Lady G some credit: When was the last time there was this much attention paid to a single music video?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscars Edition Part 2: The Best Under-The-Radar Films Of 2009

While I certainly don't catch every movie released in a given year, I do watch my fair share... including a handful of stellar efforts that didn't have the benefit of lavish studio campaigns or hefty promotional budgets to draw attention to themselves. Not one of these films grossed over $5 million in America; some of you might not even be aware of their very existence. Now easily available on DVD and Blu-Ray, each is well worth seeking out.

In The Loop

This British effort, released through IFC Films in the U.S., is easily the smartest—and most uncomfortably accurate—political satire since Wag The Dog. But don't let that scare you off, because In The Loop is also violently, profanely, jaw-droppingly funny, with so many quotable lines coming fast and furious, multiple viewings seem almost a necessity. A well-deserved "Best Original Screenplay" nomination, plus the presence of James Gandolfini (as an American general crunching troop numbers via a talking toy calculator in one priceless scene), should entice those who like their comedy smart and adult, but the film's secret weapon is Scotsman Peter Capaldi; as British communications chief Malcolm Tucker, he wields obscenity like a saber, precise and gut-splitting.

Bonus Features: Unlike most "Deleted Scenes" extras, these bits are actually worth watching. Trimmed off the film's original four-hour (!!) running time, they're every bit as hilarious as anything in the final edit.


In a perfect world, Sam Rockwell would've scored multiple awards for his one-man tour de force in Moon, a thought-provoking meditation from first-time director (and son of David Bowie)Duncan Jones. The film itself is a winking nod to 2001, right down to GERTY, the HAL-influenced computer voiced by Kevin Spacey. But where Kubrick strove to blow your mind apart, Jones is content to let his feature unfold quietly, allowing Moon's twin themes of loneliness and corporate greed to sneak up on the viewer, unannounced. The result ranks amongst the best science fiction of the last decade, proving that bold execution trumps big budget every time.

Bonus Features: Several strong "Making Of" documentaries, which capture Jones' charming enthusiasm and shed light on how to produce top-notch effects with a (relatively) shoestring budget of $5 million.

The Damned United

Thanks to standout roles in Frost/Nixon, The Queen, and now The Damned United, Michael Sheen is fast becoming one of my favorite actors to watch in practically anything. Taking on the real-life role of legendary football manager Brian Clough, Sheen unveils a complicated, complex, and utterly fascinating character study, aided on all sides by stellar British ensemble acting from Colm Meaney (AKA the great Gene Hunt of Life On Mars) and Harry Potter "alums" Jim Broadbent and Timothy Spall. Like most Americans, I have no real interest in soccer, no knowledge of Leeds United or the European Cup or First Division standings... and yet, I was completely enthralled for all 98 minutes. Here's betting you will be, too.

Bonus Features: Strong, fully-produced deleted scenes, plus documentary footage of the real Brian Clough, every bit the character of Sheen's portrayal.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oscars Edition Part 1: My Favorite Films Of 2009

With the Oscars coming this Sunday, here are my (extremely late) picks for my favorite movies of 2009. A few caveats: I have yet to see Crazy Heart, Precious, and both of the Man films (A Serious and A Single), so adjust your expectations accordingly. And before anyone asks, Avatar is definitely in my Top 10 for the year; I'm not sure it's worthy of a Best Picture accolade, but the sheer 3-D IMAXed spectacle of it certainly left me entertained for 162 minutes. (I also wish Oscar had found space in its ten nominations for two more equally enjoyable choices, Star Trek and 500 Days Of Summer.)

5. District 9

In a great year for sci-fi, this debut from director Neill Blomkamp stands the tallest, an equal balance between crowd-pleasing popcorn flick and astute social commentary, delivered with eye-popping effects that bely the (relatively) miniscule $30 million budget. And throughout, its scrappy energy leaps off the screen, making District 9 one of the best "genre films" in years.

4. The Hurt Locker

Talk about tension; The Hurt Locker delivers in spades, to the point where the atmosphere itself—all desert grit and stinging sweat—practically becomes another character. Credit Jeremy Renner's knockout performance and Kathryn Bigelow's claustrophobic, near-documentary direction for making this one the odds-on Best Picture favorite; while it's not my personal pick, you won't hear any objections from me if The Hurt Locker walks away with the big prize come Sunday.

3. Up In The Air

After coming close with Thank You For Smoking and Juno, director Jason Reitman finally knocks one out of the park. Up In The Air is, at its heart, a small character study writ larger by uncomfortably prescient current events, with a core trio of completely natural performances—from Clooney, of course, but also Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick—giving the film a quiet sort of honesty... and ultimately, its heartwrenching power.

2. Inglourious Basterds

Not just the best Quentin flick since Pulp Fiction, the wild, woolly, and devilishly funny Inglourious Basterds is also the most Tarantino-y of all Tarantino pictures, a movie drunk on its own go-for-broke enthusiasm and deeply in love with language: dialogue, accents, and everything in between. Quentin's fascination with all things cinematic seeps into every second, and with Col. Hans Landa, Christoph Waltz has crafted a villain for the ages; like Anton Chigurh or Hannibal Lecter, you can't take your eyes off him.

1. Up

I've watched Pixar's masterpiece on four separate occasions since its release in the summer of 2009, and damn if that (now justifiably famous) ten-minute stretch didn't move me to tears every time. Up was as exuberant, beautiful, and hilarious as anything I saw last year, with an added emotional resonance that no other film—animated or otherwise—could match. Bravo to Pixar for topping themselves yet again, and bravo to Up for providing a fitting cap to the studio's remarkably consistent decade.