Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Album Review: The Thermals "Personal Life"

FREE MP3 download: Cymbals Eat Guitars

Long Island upstarts Cymbals Eat Guitars are currently working on a new album. They played four songs from the upcoming record live in a BBC radio station, those recordings are available here for download (or to stream, left click):

Cymbals Eat Guitars "Wavelengths"

Cymbals Eat Guitars "Plain Clothes"

Cymbals Eat Guitars "Definite Darkness"

Cymbals Eat Guitars "Tunguska"

Monday, September 27, 2010

Free stream: Sufjan Stevens "The Age of Adz"

Sufjan Steven's new full-lengh "The Age of Adz" is streaming in its entireity over at NPR: 

"The Age of Adz" is out Oct. 12 on Asthmatic Kitty Records. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Book learnin'

Education makes you miserable. And I'm not even talking about some fancy-pants Ivy League — just some horrendously discouraging public education and then a mid-tier Midwestern university will do the trick —or even a library card. I suppose that's better than being scared — scared of gays, immigrants, wardrobe malfunctions, and Kenyan-Socialist Nazi Islamists and child predators sneaking into playgrounds.

Instead, havin' been eja-cated and such, I can't turn on the TV without thinking about some theory of Neil Postman's. I can't watch even a seemingly innocuous television program without sensing an "assault" of implications and consumerist subversion that soon leads to rants and high blood pressure.

During my daily commute accross the Illinois River, I can't help but think of all the literal shit that flows directly into the water every time it storms. I can't help but think of the pending lawsuit against the power plant on the river that spews it's angel-of-death pattern over the city. And the fact that, as it shortens the locals' lifespans, the electricity is sent to homes in sanitized Chicagoland 'burbs. As I step out of my car and whiff what swirls and combines with the other industrial waste, it's hard to breath without smelling the ripe scent of particulate matter.
I just love the smell of sulfer in the morning.

Then lunch — even if the beef in my food is from the grocery store, I know it contains parts of several different unhealthy cows that were sustained with feed they should never have been eating. I know every part of my meal was likely flown or trucked to Illinois from far away and that I am just another wasteful piece of shit that ruined the planet for a taco. The more you know, the less you wish you did.

Fuck you, college; I'm no smarter or happier but I know how to use a semicolon.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix Theater

The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man seems to be regarded as film noir by default only, as if it's simply the most convenient way to discuss the film. Of course it's always been a loose genre descriptor, and The Third Man fulfills plenty of the requirements — murder, intrigue, a mysterious woman and sharp, if not particularly hard-boiled dialogue. But the famous score, performed on a zither, tends to work against the cynical nature of the film, lightening the dark corners and shadows particular to the genre, often lending a more lighthearted feel, full of smirk and humor. The darkest, and most interesting element is the setting. Pulp novelist Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton) is drawn to post-war Vienna to meet a friend, Harry Lime, who promises work in the crumbled city. Vienna's bombed-out buildings are never too far off screen, lending an added weariness to the otherwise fast-paced mystery.

After the long flight in from the states, Holly arrives at Harry's apartment only to learn that his friend was struck and killed by a car the day before. The death was deemed an accident, but as soon as Holly starts asking questions, he learns of Harry's black-market entanglements and circle of bizarre friends who were present the day of the incident. Holly is now the main character in a suspense story seemingly ripped from one of his own adventure novels, and he intends to write the ending.

Allied-occupied Vienna is interesting for a reason beyond the bullet holes — it was divided into four regions following WW2 — United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and France, with all four bureaucracies and police departments butting heads and created even more difficulties as Holly tries to protect Harry's former lover, and crack the case. Orson Welles doesn't appear until just passed the midway mark, and does so with a wink and smile. His charismatic supporting role carries the film past the somewhat predictable twist, through a beautifully-staged climax in a massive sewer system and towards the inevitable conclusion. British director Carol Reed employs lot of off-angle and skewered shots, and the film is often incorrectly and casually attributed to Orson Welles. It has been ranked as the best British film of the 20th century, and it won some Oscars and the Grand Prix at the Cannes in 1949. I liked it a bit less than the hype, but it's good none-the-less. A-

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix Theater

Kick-Ass (2010)
I always wanted to see a dark, R-rated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — Leo actually uses his weapons to efficiently separate goons from their arms and legs, Donatello's bo breaks bones and Raph's sais are as sharp as his attitude. Like the comic books that inspired the source material, Kick-Ass indulges in the blood that a superhero would actually let — weapons don't always hit a magical "off switch" on the back of the bad guy's heads like in most comic book film adaptations — they do mortal damage. Simply put: this is a surprisingly violent fucking movie, and despite how real the blood and guts are, it's still pure fantasy. Sometimes that blood lust can be a little disconcerting when the bodily harm is inflicted by a martially trained 11-year-old girl, giddily using the identity "Hit Girl." Her father (Nic Cage in full-ham mode) is "Big Daddy," a batman-with-guns vigilante out to settle the score with NY's biggest crime boss, who's son (Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse) happens to be another budding superhero and unlikely heir apparent to the crime throne.

Meanwhile, high school comic nerd Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) buys a green wetsuit, yellow gloves and two batons to become "Kick-Ass," an untrained superhero wannabe with more "naivety and optimism" than strength or cunning. But, after one merciless beat-down, he becomes an internet sensation via a cellphone video of him defending a victim against three muggers. That notoriety makes him the prime target for said NY crime boss, who confuses Kick-Ass's burgeoning celebrity for the real Mongolians in his system — Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Lizewski's voice-over narration provides both snarky meta-commentary on the genre, and insight into the film's other major plot points in the high school sex-comedy realm. Eventually, all the major player's plot lines cross paths, with hyper-bloody showdowns resulting. The action scenes are exceptionally well choreographed, especially Big Daddy's magnificent warehouse slaughter-fest, mostly taken in one long and graceful shot. Even Kick-Ass's more ridiculous moments work, thanks to the self-aware and often satirical tone, that still reveal a love and reverence for comic book tropes and lore. I'm looking forward to the sequel. B+

Transformers: Rise of the Fallen (2009)
Growing up, did you ever go to a new friend's house, only to discover that the entire family talks to each other like a bunch of a retarded 10-year-olds? Every comment/question/statement shared between family members is stated in an argumentative near-shout, with inane responses and grating tone of voice the apparent norm, where just asking to pass the salt is shouted like a toddler in need of a nap? Watching "Transformers: Rise of the Fallen" places the viewer in the same uncomfortable territory. I was climbing a mountain of the worst in American culture — the most crass, consumerist, oblivious and unfunny people in the world, all trapped together for an excruciating two-plus hours.
My Everest-like climb to finish the latest Transformers film ended like every Sherpa-less traveler up the mountain — nauseous, weak and defeated. After three attempts over two days to make it through the film — the first aided by beer, the second with ibuprofen to fend off the on-setting headache, and the third by wine — I failed. The awful, ugly spectacle that is Transformers 2 literally frustrated me to to the point of feeling ill. The domestic-life scenes counting for comedy, the unwatchable, epileptically edited action scenes, minstrel-show robots .... I quit ... it's so fucking shitty I can't even form full sentences. This movie makes me hate everything. F

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) 
This documentary explores the MPAA's irrational and puritanical ratings board. Filmmakers document the history of the board and then attempt to unmask its secret members whose identity is a tightly held secret. I'm not kidding, the faceless censors who arbitrarily tell filmmakers to cut what they feel is obscene from art hide behind a veil of anonymity so thick it's comical. The film drags at points when following the PIs hired for the task, but really excels when showing how the system is favored for Hollywood pictures, works against indies and is one of the more insidious censorship bodies in the country — from working for war propaganda — to how scared it is of homosexuality and other sexual equality issues. The most glaring is how terrified it is of women actually receiving pleasure in a sex scene (and not just the man) — one film was deemed obscene because, in a mostly clothed sex scene, the camera lingered on a woman's face too long as she reached climax. Also of note: the ratings board's Washington connections, founder and long-time president Jack Valenti was a political insider and consultant for years before heading to Hollywood to begin censoring. Every cinefile should watch this documentary. A-

Terminator Salvation (2009) 
Terminator: Salvation has a giant budget and the corresponding preference for big business over genre thrills. The latest and worst Terminator film blandly scrubs away any of the horror grime of the first film, the suspense of the second and the nihilism of the third, and trudges through the motions as an overly predictable and generic sci-fi action snoozer. How do you fuck up a movie where humans battle robots? Hire McG and whittle it down to a PG-13 rating. I miss the fucking the '80s. C-

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You lazy, cheap, good for nothin' trixters

Hear the new Deerhunter in its entirety, streaming thanks to those do-gooders and passive whisperers at NPR:

Deerhunter "Halcyon Digest"
Out Sept. 28 on 4AD

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix Theater

The Lady From Shanghai (1947)
               The Lady From Shanghai's more inconsistent elements become more understandable once you know a bit of history behind the film. An early-ish film noir, it was one of Orson Welles' several troubled projects following Citizen Kane. And, despite his pedigree, the studio yanked control of his original, two hour-plus cut and hacked it down to just short of 90 minutes. Despite shuffling any coherence or pacing it might have had, what was impossible to destroy was the daring camera work — extreme close ups, unnerving dutch angles and his always masterful framing of contrast and shadow.

Welles also wrote the film, and starred as a tough Irish veteran from the Franco wars in Spain. After a chance meeting with Rita Hayworth in a NY park, he's lured by the femme fatale
against his better judgment to serve as a deck hand on her husband's yacht. As the boat sails through one exotic locale after another, stopping for island excursions and picnics, Welles is sucked into the miserable life occupied by Hayworth's wealthy, defense-attorney husband and his law partner, who find joy in nothing but sitting around drinking and shoveling insults and pithy sarcasm on each other. Naturally, Welles appears to be the ideal escape for Hayworth, and the two begin to plot a future together as the two lawyers plot something different entirely.

Upon docking the yacht in San Francisco, the film's second half begins as a cynical court-room satire and spins into a disorientating jaunt through several elaborate set pieces, the most famous being a deserted fun house and its oft-copied hall of mirrors climax. The finale is done so well — it refuses to feel tired despite 60 years of copy cats — that the entire film feels better in hindsight. The acting is top-notch for the most part, save for Welles questionable Irish brogue. But the two best performances come from Everett Sloan's understated, devilish turn as the husband Arthur Banister, and Glenn Anders portrayal of his insane law-partner George Grisby. The two really give The Lady From Shanghai its joyous slime. B+

Friday, September 17, 2010

New to me - Knockin' off cultural blind spots

Some old CDs that I heard for the first time this year (with videos/songs).

New Order "Power, Corruption & Lies" (1983)
Does it make me a bad critic to prefer New Order to Joy Division? I don't really know New Order well enough to make that claim of course, seeing as the only albums I've heard are "Brothers" and "Power, Corruption & Lies," and the only Joy Division I own is "Closer" (yes yes I don't own "Unknown Pleasures," though I've listened to most of it.

New Order was formed after the death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, the remaining members creating the more danceable and upbeat (upbeat meaning the group's growing love for synths and the non-baritone vocals Gary Schoenfeldt, who took over singing duties. But, barely under the surface it's really just as dark and brooding as anything Curtis-helmed). It's also more pop-oriented, with dance-floor staple "Blue Monday" still reigning as the top selling independent 12-inch single in UK history.
"Power Corruption and Lies" varies it's sound way beyond "Blue Monday," which is far from my favorite track on the album. That distinction belongs to "Age of Consent," which includes a repeating, Peter Buck-esque riff until a guitar more indebted to Sonic Youth than Brit-pop takes over with some cathartic strumming. This record owns. 'Nuff said. A

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah" (2005)
Speaking of post-punk, CYHSY was one of the first bands to tumble through the spin-cycle of internet over-buzz in 2005, and was part of that wave of NYC post-punk revivalism. Despite all the ephemeral context, CYHSY's debut is solid. Really solid. Like a squalid, driving distortion of David Byrne's vocals, Alec Ounsworth's primal melodies are immediately accessible and catchy, even as he wails almost unintelligibly about the "skin of his yellow country teeth." A-

The Specials "The Specials" (1979)
The leaders of ska's second wave in late '70s UK (and owners of the record label 2 Tone that is now synonymous with the genre) The Special's debut consists largely of covers of Jamaca's ska originators from the previous decade. More than just band nerds finding a way to utilize their brass instruments, The Specials were down-right cool and fun, and had more in common with Mod culture and the  burgeoning '77 punk scene than anything in ska's '90s US third wave. Oh, and it was produced by Elvis Costello, so you know it's good.

The Buzzcocks - "Singles Going Stready" (1979)
I don't know The Buzzcocks as well as many of Punks' class of '77, but I know they are famous for having more melodic vocals than many of their peers.

"Singles Going Steady" is the only Buzzcocks record I own, and I've read it's all you really need unless you are a huge fan. They released a lot more singles and EPs than they did LPs, and it collects all the early singles and best songs. I haven't heard the other records. Listening to the Buzzcocks reminds how much of early Punk was indebted to garage rock and early rock 'n' roll. (Over-all B+, best songs A)

I hear the beach boys in this one, specifically:

GZA - Liquid Swords (1995)
All the adjectives usually used to describe RZA's production — murky, dark, violent, unforgiving, etc — apply here. This came out when the Wu was releasing solo efforts as easily as shit after coffee, and as with all Wu-Tang Clan projects, most of them make appearances. The whole thing is draped in Wu-mythology via old Kung-Fu samples. GZA always had the tightest, most straightforward flow of the crew, and occasionally the songs have a hard time distinguishing themselves from each other — but I suppose that's part of the appeal — this is a cohesive work, and a classic from Hip-hop's golden era. A

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Free MP3 Download: Black Mountain "Hair Song"

Black Crowes, meet Band of Horses, have children, name them "Wilderness Heart," the new record by Black Mountain.
I haven't heard all of "Wilderness Heart," but the group's last one sounded way more like Black Sabbath than the Black Crowes.

I dunno if the whole record strays in this direction, but either way, I dig it.

Black Mountain "Hair Song"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Free MP3 Download: Cults "Go Outside" and more

Hey! Check out this band!
Thanks, sister.

Free downloads of three tracks from the nostalgic dream-pop duo, can be had here.

Fans of Panda Bear, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound and other bloggity blogy-blog rock need apply.


The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908)
By G.K. Chesterton

This is the kind of book that, when nearing its final chapters, optimism takes hold and against your better judgment you nearly expect the resolution to explain the meaning of life and wrap things up in a neatly bundled plot. Of course that's a foolish expectation, especially with a book as absurd and full of paradox as TMWWT. It centers on a Gabriel Syme, a Scotland Yard detective who, upon engaging in a philosophical debate with a poetical anarchist, is led at-first unknowingly to the dynamiter's secret council headquarters, where he must protect his true identity in the midst of violent plotting. Chesterton's prose is full of puns and humor — incredibly well-organized anarchists are a hoot — and clever twists of phrase that push us further down-the-rabbit hole. This is an entertaining farcical mystery on the surface, but his comments on moral relativism, alienation, skepticism, human nature and the way individual impressions shape the world are one-of-a-kind and worth reading. The ending, specifically, is heavy on Christian allegory, but being a Christian is not necessary to enjoying the book (allow me as an example). He may not explain the meaning of life. But, after finishing the novel, people shine in a new light and for a few brief minutes, TMWWT removed my cynicism.  A

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2008)
By Stieg Larsson
This is the second novel in Stieg Larsson's "Girl" trilogy, and it's better than the first one. Not much to say: it's a quick reading mystery-thriller. Well written, plotted, paced and more character driven than your standard consumer fiction. Good stuff. I'm starting to understand why Lisbeth Slander is everyone's favorite new cyber-punk, as the events in this entry are a direct result of her troubled past. The best thing about the book as that it's not a sequel in characters only, i.e., it's not just Lisbeth and Mikael off on an unrelated adventure, but rather a series of consequences of actions taken in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. A-

Wednesday, September 1, 2010