Monday, March 22, 2010

First single from new Hold Steady streaming:

What do you guys think of the new line up? Singer Craig Finn seams to be trying a new, slightly-altered singing delivery .. and I don't think I like it, but I've only listened to it on crappy Apple earbuds, so maybe that's not fair. It's almost like he's trying to actually, you know, sing. I want rapid-fire, dense lyrics covered in spit and sweat. Without Franz on the keys, this almost reminds me of Finn's pre-Hold Steady outfit Lifter Puller, which took a lightly more angular and sharp, punk-inspired route, except this has more of a pop sensibility.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix Theater

A Serious Man (2009) 
In the trailer for the Coen brothers' latest, the sound of family man Larry Gopnik's head, thumped against a chalkboard, soundtracked two-minutes of impending domestic and professional disaster, eventually reaching a nearly unbearable tension relieved only by Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love." It was one of the most affective trailers I've ever seen, but stretch that feeling to 90+ minutes, and it feels more like the audience's head is the one being pummeled by the tragedy and travails of Gopnik's slowly disintegrating life. It's an effective pummeling, we watch as his family, career and Jewish religion methodically fall apart in 1960s small-town Iowa. We see one institution after another fail Larry, but after more than an hour of both subtle and not-so subtle misery, I ask, why in the world do I need to subject myself to picket-fence and chrome-fender hell? What am I learning here other than that some men are so ineffectual and nebbish that even when they're staring down the path of certain disaster they refuse to put a foot down?  I suppose the very fact that the Coens pushed me to a point that required asking these questions of purpose and life and art means that the bastards, once again, did their fucking job, even if that means filming one of the most nihilistic endings I have ever seen (or was it?) B+

Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
Co-directors Neveldine-Taylor's first Crank film was a gloriously over-the-top send-up (hopefully) of Mountain Dew-Xtreme-Doritos action movies. Crank 2 is more of the same, but the shtick has gone cold, and the depths they must plunge to continuously shock the audience often becomes just mean, ugly, increasingly bloody — and eventually just not fun anymore. C-

The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Director Rian Johnson doesn't completely fulfill the promise he showed with his endlessly inventive debut, the film-noir-via-modern-high school mashup Brick, but he shows increased range by replacing some of his edgier instincts with at-times nauseating whimsy and over-the-top production. As with Wes Anderson, Johnson constantly reminds his audience that this is a theater production, Ta-duh! His sets often look consciously like sets, the dialogue is, like in Brick, stylized and pointed, and the story is pure fantasy.

The Brothers Bloom follows two brothers who begin pulling cons before middle school. Older brother Stephen (Mark Ruffulo) writes the cons as elaborate stories where everyone gets what they want in the end, complete with the kind of symbolism found in "Russian novels," great betrayals, emotional climaxes and even a denouement. His brother, Bloom (Adrian Brody) is written into his cons as the charmer, the womanizer, the rogue. After decades playing games, Bloom is tired of living someone else's stories and vows, of course, to never pull another con again. Stephen drags Bloom back into the fold with one final con, the manipualtion of a beuatiful, rich shut-in (Rachel Weisz) who has never much left her parent's mansion, had any fun, nor shared her wealth with anyone else. 

The Brothers Bloom mostly avoids the dreaded She's All That moment — when the con man tells the woman "at first it was a bet, but now I really love you" — by leading the audience down that obvious path before cutting through several twists and turns. The Brothers Bloom is a story about stories, dreams and living the life you want to live, though at points it would have been nice to get lost in a film that doesn't constantly remind its audience that a story arc is nothing more than a magnificent con of manipulated emotions. B

The Invention of Lying (2009)
The premise is the movie here, with plot often an afterthought and character development not an issue because everyone is basically the same — mean inner monologues become out-loud conversations, and every insecurity and judgmental thought is spoken. The Invention of Lying often confuses over-sharing with honesty. If you think someone is ugly, keeping it to yourself is not necessarily lying, it's simply not talking. Of course, the brutally "honest" conversations during a date between writer/director/star Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner  — sample dialogue — "you are fat and have a snub nose, we will not be having sex tonight, and you probably won't get a kiss" provides a few laugh-out-loud lines but also a lot of cruelty. Often, the most enjoyable parts are the details. In a world without lies, advertising takes on a whole new strategy, movies are limited to narrators reading the most popular stories from the non-fiction canon, and there is no religion. But eventually even a premise-as-plot has to justify its run-time, and that's when the Invention of Lying strays into a half-assed, satirical parable of religion and it's function as the opiate of the masses. Gervias never makes a cogent argument for or against the ultimate lie of heaven and hell, instead landing occasionally clever jabs against the "man in the sky," and his followers. C+

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Great Album Coverocalypse of 2010 / Spring music preview

April 13
This date shall for ever be known as The Great Album Coverocalypse of 2010, for it was the month of April when an aging Brit guitar hero and two snotty indie kids unleashed ocular atrocities of which the world had never seen. Behold: Jeff Beck's "Emotion and Commotion," and MGMT's "Congratulations." In school your children will read historical accounts of the artwork's creation. They will fear it, learn from it, have nightmares about it. They will, in fact, be changed by it. Simply viewing the acerbic covers will change your epigenetic "marks," mutilating the genetic traits you will pass onto your poor, poor children.

If you gaze upon the "Emotion and Commotion" artwork for too long, your progeny will arrive from the womb predisposed to both British jazz-rock noodling and the airbrushed-artwork commonly found on aging conversion vans.

View MGMT's ironic Sonic-inspired cover and your children will never learn the ability to earnestly love anything, wallowing instead in the shallow undercurrent of ironic detachment. They will also feel the strange need to buy a Sega Genesis, curiously.

And, drum roll please ... the rest of your spring music preview:

March 9
Broken Bells [The Shins' James Mercer and Danger Mouse] - Broken Bells

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks
Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks

March 16
Drive By Truckers - The Big To-Do

March 23
She & Him - Volume Two

April 6
Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame

May 4

New Pornographers - Together 
Broken Social Scene - [Title TBA]
The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever

May 11
The National - High Violet

May 18
The Black Keys - Brothers
LCD Soundsystem - [TBA]

Thursday, March 4, 2010

LCD Soundsystem announce new record

Looks like I'll be buying at least an album or two every week this May.

LCD Soundsystem finally revealed the street date of its still-untitled third full-length album. It will arrive May 18 in the states.
James Murphy has been more than cryptic during interviews and tweets (ugh) about what the record will sound like [you know, the kind of have-it-both-ways stuff intelligent rock stars love to regurgitate to irritate fans and confuse critics: "it sounds less like LCD Soundsystem that you'd expect, but more like an LCD Soundsystem record than you're expecting" (he didn't say that exactly)].

The nine-track album runs 65 minutes, according to an interview with band mastermind James Murphy that Pitchfork posted yesterday.

Track list:
Dance Yrself Clean
Drunk Girls
One Touch
All I Want
Pow Pow
Somebody's Calling Me
What You Need

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Black Keys announce new album.

How many good songs does Dan Auerbach have in him? Hopefully at least 15 more. Dude released two albums in 2009 — the indie-rock-hip/hop-collective debut by Blakroc and his solo debut. Drummer Patrick Carney released the debut by his side project, Drummer, in '09 too, but the duo is back together and announced its next release, named "Brothers," out May 18. This was a surprise to me, and I'm guessing for everyone else who follows the band closely. Pitchfork is reporting that they are producing all but one track themselves, which will be produced by Danger Mouse. Danger Mouse produced the group's last outing, the considerably slicker "Attack and Release." Here's hoping this is a return to the rougher sounds of "Rubber Factory," "Thickfreakness," and "The Big Come Up."

01 Everlasting Light
02 Next Girl
03 Tighten Up
04 Howlin' for You
05 She's Long Gone
06 Black Mud
07 The Only One
08 Too Afraid to Love You
09 Ten Cent Pistol
10 Sinister Kid
11 The Go Getter
12 I'm Not the One
13 Unknown Brother
14 Never Gonna Give You Up
15 These Days

..... and an old clip to hold you over ...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix theater

Moon (2009)
Would you enjoy hanging out with yourself? I probably wouldn't. (I'm offering a spoiler alert here, though this review wont spoil the ending, or reveal anything not available in the trailer. But the film's twist about 25 minutes in is also its premise, and makes it nearly impossible to write about without being revealing. You're better off seeing Moon without seeing the trailer, or knowing too much about it. I'll the save you the trouble of reading an entire review here: it gets an A-. Go see it.)
Moon starts out with Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), eking out the final two weeks of a three-year contract alone on a corporate moon space station. So Sam is on the moon, all alone, starting to lose it a bit, his only companion a H.A.L.-like assistance robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Sam starts seeing things, burns his hand, gets clumsy, and after he awakes in the medical bay after crashing a harvester, Sam's corporate parents suddenly lock the doors. Sam doesn't remember the accident. So he tricks GERTY into letting him out of the base, where he finds his own body still sitting in the harvester. Turns out that one, or both, of the Sams is a clone ... or then again maybe Sam's totally lost it. The remaining hour finds the two fighting, eventually coming to terms with their predicament, and then trying to find a way to the truth of their origins and maybe away off the moon before the "rescue team" arrives. Moon is infinitely clever, and as with the best indies, a low budget forces film makers to cut fat and make a movie worth seeing. A-

The Hurt Locker (2009)
The Hurt Locker removes politics, and ... makes the first decent Iraq war film. But The Hurt Locker is more than decent, it is masterful suspense film making, rendering the soldiers as soldiers and not political mouthpieces. It makes the Iraq War into Everywar, with soldiers dedicated to their country, each other, but still honestly miserable — war is hell, whether its an urban environment or a beachhead. Not every soldier is miserable, though. Jeremy Renner plays SSG William James, an adrenaline-junkie bomb defuser who's dismantled hundred of IEDs without losing a finger. It's the one thing he loves, and when you see him in a supermarket between deployments, it's a terrifying out-of-place surreal moment akin to seeing Ray Liotta in Goodfellas picking up the newspaper in suburbia thanks to the witness protection program. A

Gamer (2009)
The Running Man-meets-Avatar premise held promise to provide the genre thrills every sci-fi nerd craves. Dystopian future? Check. Evil technology/Luddite pandering? Check. Inmates killing for redemption? Check. 'splosions? Check. Repugnant, insulting-on-several-levels, pilfering unoriginality, feeds-off-the-same-ills-it-criticizes mess? Check. Gamer is a repulsive film.

Gerard Butler stars in the Schwarzenegger role, a military man (presumably) falsely imprisoned for 1st degree murder. He must make it through 30 rounds of a real life first-person-shooter video game named "Slayer," where he is controlled by a gamer sitting at home. Through some pseudo-science jabber (always my favorite part), we are told how villain Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall from Dexter) created a kind of microbiological computer processor that's implanted into the inmates brain's cells, allowing players at home to control their every action in the "game." Inmates use real bullets. Heads explode, bodies are ripped apart. Through interviews and media clips, we learn how Castle became both famous and beloved and the richest man on the planet after he invented "Society," a Sims-like video game using the same technology as "Slayer," in which gamers at home inhabit the bodies of actors in various settings. "Society" allows its players (shown as morbidly obese sweat-sacks dipping finger-food in syrup) to act out their most heinous and carnal fantasies —blood, sex and ugly behavior being the main attraction. Gamer uses "Society" as its excuse to parade ugliness on the screen, criticizing our internet age with one side of it's mouth while titillating the audience with the other. These are the kind of titties you do not enjoy.

Back to the action, co-directors Neveldine and Taylor take the chopped-and-screwed approach to editing — fast-motion cuts to slow-mo — before the screen distorts and flashes static to remind audiences that it's watching a video game. The effect is epileptic at best. The shaky camera and bazillion cuts per second make it impossible to enjoy the giant action set pieces. Not that the action follows any sort of logic. JUST GIVE ME A GODDAMN ENJOYABLE POPCORN FLICK. Why is this so hard? Also, Ludacris plays the film's desperate attempt at a cyber-punk, leading the future's hacker elite resistance to Castle and his dehumanizing virtual-reality empire. And, of course, the evil secret from Castle's past that could end the whole nightmare resides in Butler's skull. Luda wants it, and his best hacker has dreadlocks, etc.  F