Thursday, April 30, 2009

new (free) Wilco track

Free Wilco cover of a prescient Woody Guthrie tune for download here:

New album with a dumb name by Wilco due in June. I'm starting to get pretty excited.


I just realized that my philosophies for buying beer and watching movies are pretty close to the exact same. The two synapses never fired at the same time until I went to the Peoria Theater this weekend with a couple friends to see Adventureland. Peoria Theater serves beer and shows mostly indie flicks that would not have come to Peoria otherwise.

Anyways, here it is: The first few times I bought beer back in the day, it went like this, "Um, what the hell do we get? I dunno, might as well play it safe and buy Bud Light, that seems like the standard beer."

Then, after a while, you start to realize that there is nothing notable about Bud Light, Budweiser, MGD, Miller Lite or Coors other than the advertising. They have funny commercials and constantly update the graphic design of their labels. The drink is fucking watery, will not offend any sensibilities and barely tastes like beer (Budwieser full-flavor excluded). Then you start to notice, "wait a second, this shit is expensive is hell — not super-expensive — but pricey for flavorless beer nonetheless." These bland, lemming-following beers are the overblown, overrated middle brow cinema enjoyed by the Academy and boring housewives across America. It's your Benjamin Buttons, the Titanics, the Cast Aways, A Beautiful Mind, Dances with Wolves, Rain Man, etc. These are perfectly fine movies with nothing to say and mountains of hype.

So after experimentation with the popular domestics, empty wallets lead directly to Hamms, High Life, Old Style and PBR, all of which actually have flavor, don't worry about the graphic design of their labels, and know exactly what they are — American lagers not afraid of tasting like beer and showing flaws. (Sure, they've been bought by the same companies that own Bud and Miller, but whatever.) These are the B-movies, low budget indies and pulpy genre fare that litter my Netflix que. Films that take pride in working on a tight budget, and often have their tongues planted firmly in cheek.

When I show up at a party with PBR or Old Style, at least two people inevitably ask sarcastically if I'm "trying to keep it classy," or some other snark about not drinking Bud Light, etc. Then I just tell them at least I'm not the idiot that shelled out over $20 for a bunch of flavorless beer after seeing too many Bud commercials during football games. And if they are drinking Coors, I let them know that they probably don't like the taste of beer.

Finally you have the microbrews of the US, and imports. I don't have to go in depth, you get the metaphor — foreign films and art house films. They are good, but occasionally get a little full of themselves, just like the beer snobs who take the hops a little too seriously. I'm a snob when it comes to film in the same way. The directors and writers have something to say, and this is going to become tedious, so just write the rest of this paragraph in your head.

I just try to keep my movie and beer choices as far away from the middle (Bud Light) as possible. On the one end of the spectrum is PBR, and on the far other is Guinness, etc. The middle is boring, and at worst dishonest. If you are going to spend money, buy something with some flavor, but for the day-to-day, let's try and save some change and stick to cheap beer that actually tastes like beer. Blah blah blah.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I think this says it all:

  • 91 swine flu cases in US; child dies in Texas
three headlines later in small font:
  • Regular flu has killed thousands

Everyone relax and go about your business worrying about contracting the good ole regular flu before you go on a swine-flu fearing rampage.

In related news, the new Wilco album due this June will be titled "Wilco (the Album)."

I'm a huge, obsessive Wilco fan, but even I can't pretend that's a good album title, not to mention there's a track on the album called "Wilco (the song)", that was almost more than I could deal with itself.

Oh well, as long as the music is better than their last (no weather-channel guitar solos or anything that sounds remotely like "Shake it off"), I'll be happy. Sort of.

New Dinosaur Jr album due June 23

This new Dinosaur Jr. track from their forthcoming new album entitled "Farm," is great:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Memory soundtracking

Some songs are permanently linked to a film they appeared in, whether written for the soundtrack or not. Sometimes this builds upon the meaning to the song, other times it changes the original meaning completely, creating a new statement. Either way, all these tracks immediately conjure characters and dialogue in my head, at least.

Song: Roy Orbison - In Dreams
Blue Velvet
In David Lynch's unsettling '80s masterpiece, villain Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) demands the song be played during two awesome scenes. The first is at the homestead of a pimp named Ben. His ghoulish, white-painted face glows eerily over a worklight held like a mic as he lip-syncs, starting with the opening line about a "candy-colored clown." Frank takes a break from slamming a PBR while holding terrified college-age Jeffry hostage to enjoy the nocturnal ballad. Later, after a terrifying joy ride, Frank demands one of his goons play "the candy-colored clown" before beating the living snot out of Jeffry as one of Ben's overweight hookers dances on the roof of the car.

Lynch's films always play like disorientating nightmares, and Bue Velvet removes any comfort from Orbison's tune, making it as frightening as the deranged characters lurking beneath Blue Velvet's idyllic small town setting.

Song: Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street
Film: Jackie Brown
Though the characters in Tarantino's most underrated film bond over the Delfonics, no other track encapsulates Quintin's reverent throwback to blacksploitation cinema like this smooth-operating ode to hustling and the wah-wah peddle. The song not only gets stuck in your head, it packs it's bags full of scenes from the film for deposit in your frontal lobe.

Song: Geto Boys - Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster
Film: Office Space

I'm pretty sure Bushwick Bill, Scarface and Willie D never intended their jam to be synonymous with white-coller rebellion against the soul-sucking strife of cubicle culture, but its use in the film is effective either way. The track's inclusion is perfectly framed by scenes like the opening credit sequence, when a harmless Micheal Bolton is seen rapping to Scarface's "No Tears" like a real hardass, before nervously rolling up the window at the first glance of a black man. I'm not ashamed to admit that Office Space introduced me to the Geto Boys, easily one of the best rap groups of any decade whose influence goes way beyond posturing computer programmers.

Song: Bob Dylan - The Man in Me
Film: The Big Lebowski
The Coen brothers took this song, from one of Zimmy's unloved '70s albums, and made it the Dude's complete and utter bitch. You can't hear the "na na nana, na nana na" chorus and not think of Jeff Bridges floating through the LA sky with a bowling ball, pajama pants, jellies and all.
Kenny Rogers' "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In" is also forever altered by the Dude.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I will never get tired of Office Space, ever, and Idiocracy wasn't too shabby either. So I'm pretty damn excited about this, Mike Judge's return to the work place. This trailer is really funny:

Is Ben Affleck mounting a comeback? He looks funny in this. His 2007 directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, was widely praised, deservedly, his current flick in theaters, State of Play, has received fairly good reviews and did better at the box office than expected. Other than his shenanigans off-camera with Jenny from the block, and turns in a bunch of shitty movies, I thought the general hate for Affleck was undeserved. He'll always get my respect if for nothing else than his part as the ultimate douche bag in Mallrats.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wasted Postage - More reports from the Netflix theater

Synecdoche, New York (2008) - Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is disorientating, frightening and impossible to describe in a linear fashion. The plot involves Philip Seymour Hoffman's playwrite lead character who receives a genius grant to do with as he wants. He chooses to create a theater production perpetually stuck in rehearsal, with thousands of actors cast to play everyone he's ever met, including himself, to act out a performance in a model New York City. His character is obsessed with creating truthful art. At a certain point, even the actors playing people in his real life have doubles following them around, acting like the actors acting like real people (haha). His production blends and influences his real life, and it's often hard to tell when he is on or off stage. I can't make heads or tails of most of the plot turns, but somehow the emotions were real, and leave a lasting impact. It's an insanely ambitious film that requires repeated viewings, but I don't think I have it in me to see it again soon, maybe a year or two down the line.

Here's the best I can do with the film's themes:
Staring into the mirror and honestly seeing yourself. Staring into the mirror and seeing the rest of the world. Everyone is special, so no one is special. No one is an extra, everyone is the lead in their own tragedy. Finding the best that we can do as we hurtle towards death. We are a reflection, and dependent, of everyone we know - fuck everyone we know.
To get a better idea of the tone, Kaufman also wrote (but didn't direct) the meta-fictions Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovitch, among others. B+

Sex Drive (2008) - It's a teen sex comedy, but a pretty good one, like a small-caliber Superbad. It definitely angles for Apatow's version of comedy/awkward moments, which it's two main stars can almost pull off, but not to the level of Michael Cera. Seth Green's small supporting role as the sarcastic Amish gent was pretty great. B

Metropolis (1927)
"The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart."
In Metropolis, the metaphorical head is the capitalists, and the hands the work force. There's not much left to say about Metropolis, the classic silent film whose characters became archetypes and setting became a genre. It was special viewing Metropolis, the patriarch of my favorite genre - the dystopian sci-fi future - for the first time this week. And it's even more special and rare to see a film so old it doesn't borrow from wither Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World.

The film takes place in the year 2027 (I think), and the set designs and mural backdrops are jaw-dropping depictions of an imagined future, both informed by the art deco skyscrapers in vogue at the time and the industrial steam-and-steel that ground the proletariat to shreds. I won't get into detailed plot mechanics, but it involves a capitalist who has a robot created to lead the proletariat on a rebellion that he can then justifiable respond to with violence to re-assert his dominance. The capitalist's son, who tries to mediate between the "head" and the "hands" is the main character. The modernized class struggles born by the industrial revolution that defined so many political theories of the 20th century drive the dynamics here, and the fact that those class struggles still define our western democracy today is frightening.

The camera work, special affects and creativity, blended with the previously mentioned future-city design are an accomplishment for any decade, let alone the 1920s. You can see Metropolis's influence in Tim Burton's style, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Alex Proyas' Dark City, and every piece of science fiction today. All this gushing is not to hide the fact that yeah, it's a silent film made in the '20s, and must be appreciated as such. It isn't an edge-of-your-seater, but something to be appreciated. A

Quantum of Solace (2008) - This was tedious. It had a really hard time keeping my attention, the conspiracy was mundane and the villain not entirely hateable, nor complex. The action scenes were cut so fast that coherence wasn't a requirement, and the hotties managed to be dull despite obvious good looks. Oh, and it's about fucking water, I think ... D+

Re-Animator (1985) - Re-Animator is a self-aware B-movie where two medical students develop a serum to revive the dead, and violence ensues. Netflix summarized it as a "campy send up." Light-hearted over-the-top gore is always welcome, but this dragged a little bit, and it wasn't always as tongue-in-cheek funny as it thought it was. On the other hand, serum-induced zombies are pretty bad ass. C+

Intolerable Cruelty (2003) - The Coen brothers (Fargo, No Country ...) are my favorite contemporary filmmakers. So, for some time I avoided seeing Intolerable Cruelty because of its reputation as their only foray into more conventional Hollywood fare, with less eccentric story telling, etc. I didn't know who I was kidding, of course even a Coen brothers "Hollywood" flick would still feature their instantly recognizable style. It did actually retain much of the dark wit, and, ahem, cruelty perpetrated by their trademark moronic (and oblivious) characters. I'm not gonna ramble, but I will say this isn't my least favorite Coen brothers movie, that title belongs to the only film of theirs I can't stand - The Ladykillers. B

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Unintentional Teabagging

If you haven't heard, it's national teabagging day. Befuddled conservatives across the country are apparently irate over ... George Bush's tax code?
  • Via Fox News: Anti-tax "tea party" organizers say they will deliver one million tea bags to a Washington, D.C., park Wednesday morning -- the kick-off to a day of protests expected across the country by people who say they are fed up with high taxes and excess spending.
Republicans, vaguely angry over over tax rates under the Obama administration are attempting to take a page from our revolutionary forefathers' book and tea bag their congressmen. Apparently none of these people have ever heard of, or said "teabag" around anyone under the age of 25.

Besides the unfortunate choice of the word "teabag," the whole thing is embarrassing for discerning conservatives and the country as a whole. Considering the only "new" tax Obama has brought was the cig tax to fund children's health care, all these idiots are protesting a federal tax structure largely based on former hero George W. Bush's '01 and '03 cuts.

Not to mention the average tax return is up some $200 this year, and the recently upgraded real estate tax deductions and the first-time home buyers tax credit and increased Earned income tax credit. But AHHHHH SPENDING IS OUT OF CONTROL. Well, when you are handed a recession "out of control," some complimentary spending is necessary to dig out, even if the bailouts aren't perfect, at least I'm not threatening to tea bag anyone.

The "spontaneous" eruptions of dissent are more fueled by Fox news' fair and balanced reporting, I watched a few hours of it yesterday, and everyone from Greta Van Susteren to Sean Hannity did their best to get the word out to the base to teabag their congressmen. The whole protest is anything but spontaneous, and as much of a creation by Fox News as it is the usual suspects of conservative organizations and millionaire campaign-financiers.

  • Organizers say they're steamed at government spending since President Barack Obama's administration took over.
Remember when W inherited a surplus from Clinton? Where were the "fiscal conservative" outcries to teabag Big Gov. when W increased spending and built a monstrous deficit?

These people don't even know what they are specifically angry about. At least cite some meat and potatoes about Obama's budget, please, and stop embarrassing everyone. As news coverage has gorwn over the protests, they have taken a slightly more specific turn towards the bailouts, but I have still yet to find a cohesive message, other than "wah."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wasted Postage: More reports from the Netflix theater

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) - In a country where the MPAA didn't collectively lose their shit every nominating process, Slumdog could have remained a intense feel-good indie flick, fan favorite, and unassuming success. But when a film wins best picture, a certain sense of self-importance is injected post-facto, mutating the tone into something a bit harder to reconcile with the film itself. It also invites increased scrutiny — if a film is championed, it requires close analysis. I wish I would have seen this before the movie was adopted as their own by everyone from People magazine subscribers to self-serious film critics, because, frankly, it didn't (and there's no way it could have) live up to the hype. It plays like City of God's timid and romantic little sister, capturing the hyper-dense and fast-moving slums of a third-world hell hole, while slowly building back story, character history and plot. It is director Danny Boyle's airy, love-letter treatment of the characters' nightmarish and atrocity-packed formidable years that have received the most criticism, some of it deservedly. Boyle created a fairy-tale, but that doesn't mean he should white wash some serious ugly business.

The plot involves an orphan teenage slumdweller who's suspected of cheating on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, because officials dont believe an uneducated "slumdog" could know all the answers. In a series of flashbacks he reveals his upbringing, and how during key moments of his life he leanred the answers to the eventual questions. The central riff in the flashbacks is a developeing love story, and his relatinship with his cruel brother.

The film does best developing some aspects of the characters, does the worst when relying too heavily on its game show crutch. It spends too much time on set of India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and not enough time showing the initial bond that the main character, and his love interest, shared. What made the early bond worth fighting a lifetime for? We don't know, but we do know that Boyle put a lot of energy into making the WhoWantsTBM host the biggest douche in India. Grade: B

Dead Alive (1992) - Peter Jackson is one sick twisted bastard. Dead Alive is a Zombie/comedy/horror flick in the vein of Shaun of the Dead for the first half, gory gross-out freak fest in the second. You will never look at lawnmowers, dinner parties, monkeys, priests or New Zealand the same ever again. This is probably the goriest movie I've ever seen. After seeing Dead Alive, I realized quite a few a scenes/jokes in Hot Fuzz (made by Shaun of the Dead people) were direct references to this flick. B

Body of Lies (2008) — Fairly run-of-the-mill action/suspense spy game starring Russel Crowe and Leo DiCaprio, directed by Ridley Scott. The plot is fun and interesting, if not wholly believable, and the action is top notch. The whole thing ends kind of suddenly and doesn't leave much to linger around. Eventually you realize, "I think I've seen all this before." B-

Appaloosa (2008) - This Ed Harris directed western is serviceable, if not entirely forgettable. It features a fairly run-of-the-mill oater plot — tough law men (Ed Harris, Vigo Mortenson) are hired to clean up a rough town. Jeremy Iron's rancher villain is terrific, but Renee Zellweger's love interest role derails the whole thing. C-

Once (2006) - A musical for people who hate musicals (me) — a love story without sex, musical numbers without choreographed dancing and prancing. The music is earnest and sometimes devastating, and the plotting is realistic and honest. If you like earnest folk-pop, you'll want to download the soundtrack, and the albums by lead actor Glen Hansard's Irish band The Frames. A

Body Heat (1981) - Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed this '80s throwback to film noir. Femme fatale Kathleen Turner convinces womanizing attorney William Hurt to murder her rich and distant husband. Lots of steamy sex, stylized film noir dialogue and a 100-degree Florida summer setting create a distinct mood. A

Pineapple Express (2008) - I wanted to see this in theaters and never had a chance, and then Netflix wouldn't ship me the damn movie until this week, even though it has been #1 on my que since January. It was funny, but, I'm gonna sound old here - loud. Seth Rogen is increasingly revealing himself as a one-note funnyman, same comedic rhythms, same inflections, similar jokes, but for the most part he is still goofy and funny. Franco nailed all the pot-head aloofisms, disorientation and spaciness, and was probably the film's saving grace, along with Danny McBride, whose passive-aggressive tough guy with a violent streak was wholly original. The slapstick gore and violence was funny, but again, it felt like Rogen was yelling through the half the move. Relax a bit maaaaan, I thought this was supposed to be a stoner action/comedy. The plot was a bit thin, even for a buddy flick, but I do give Rogen bonus points for putting new spins on stoner flicks, action/comedy movies and the buddy comedy, so much so that it's hard to define exactly what category the movie fits into without slinging all of those words one-after-the-other. B

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Saw the Hold Steady in Champaign last night. Went with two friends, entered the show with a few drinks in me, left the venue completely drenched in sweat, through my wallet, through my shirt, just drenched, and completely sober ... even though we had a pint of Jack between us during the show. One of the best shows I've ever been to - in a curious venue. For a band nicknamed the "best bar band in the America," seeing them in a "dry" facility was interesting.

The Courtyard Cafe is in the student Union at U of I on Green Street. The cafe is just like a sectioned off area with a little performance stage. So to say makeshift and intimate would be annoying and an understatement. For a band that usually plays to thousands, seeing them with just 450 other people was awesome. And those 450 people were fucking nutz, all-pogoing, all crowd-surfing and all mashed together in unison, everyone could use a little cathartic concert now-and-again. Any shared experience is so rare, and when you're trapped with a few hundred other like-minded people for two hours, it can be a little life-affirming. Something as ultimately silly as rock and roll can reset the brain.

Today my neck is sore, it felt like I ran five miles last night. When it was over I had to (see the rationalization here) buy a tour T shirt cause I didn't have a clean shirt to wear after the show.

We went to a couple bars, but were so exhausted, we just headed to the beer garden immediately to have a few quiet beers and talk about the show.

The tunes mostly came from their last two albums, but they also provided a few deep cuts from "Separation Sunday' and "Almost Killed Me."

I remember several moments distinctly, but the rest of the show blends together - mostly because the band plowed through their catalog, often without break between songs - which actually worked well 'cause the momentum just kept building.

Distinct moments:
When "Stay Positive" got to the heart of what this country needs at this exact moment, when the machine-gun guitar attack of "Party Pit" started annihilating ear drums, the climactic bridge of "Stuck Between Stations" and opening chords of one of the loudest songs I have heard in years - "Hot Soft Light."

We drink and we dry up Then we crumble to dust
We get wet and we corrode and now we're covered up in rust

I don't have video of the show, but here's some miscellaneous Hold Steady youtube clips for those uninitiated in the unified scene:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

When you're in the little room

Music obsessives like myself, while laying in bed at night, like to make-believe the kinds of bands they wish they were in. Mine typically sound exactly like this.

Get Yo Shit - Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears

Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears were brought to my attention Thursday, thanks to, like almost everything I know, the AV Club. Their debut album was produced by Spoon's drummer, whose last album "Ga ga ga ga ga" featured their first foray into a some neo-Motown sounds.

Let's see the check list, which has existed in my head every time it's too hot to sleep, and I'm imagining the "musicians wanted" flier.

1.) Singer in vein of Otis Redding (soul shouter)
2.) All-tube, vintage garage rock guitarist with more distortion than traditional R'n'B
3.) Bassist fully versed in the Stax catalog, but also the Nuggets box set
4.) Any drummer
5.) Keyboardist owning a Hammond B3 organ
6.) This isn't on my list, but it's in Joe Lewis's band - horn section

Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears are a fairly straightforward R'n'B band (in the southern, Stax mode), but as with all indiesnobs, old sounds made new are best when slanted grimy, and Black Joe Lewis knows how to keep things in the garage.

The Greenhorns fulfilled my need for this sound (minus the horns) the last couple years, and before that it was the Dirtbombs, and their garage punk attack on "Ultraglide in Black," a collection of loud covers of '60s soul tunes. Going back to high school (and to this day), the Black Keys and White Stripes kept the garage-blues side of my brain happy, the Keys on the more traditional side of things and the Stripes splattering indierock bone marrow onto candy-striped memories.

I'm happy that Mr. Lewis and Co. will now fill that void until I finally get my make-believe band put together.

"Well you're in your little room
and you're working on something good
but if it's really good
you're gonna need a bigger room
and when you're in the bigger room
you might not know what to do
you might have to think of
how you got started
sitting in your little room" - The White Stripes