Thursday, July 28, 2005


So if you're one of those who have ambled about the webosphere, drunkenly and quite randomly typed in you have duly arrived here. Congratulations. I preface that sentence with 'one of those' because I'm quite sure I've utterly turned my friends off due to my extremist political views (I'm not a republican, nor do I have much money, the two things that make it okay to be opinionated in this country... see what I mean?) or nonsensical essays on critiquing movies and karaoke. At any rate, I waste a great deal of my time reading books and listening to music, mostly indie music. If you similarly have an interest in music and for some reason don't visit websites that employ actual professionals to peddle it, I have some suggestions for an initiate.

Really, you should be going to Hold your nose for some of the "conceptual" reviews and just look for some interesting sounding bands.


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (self-titled)
You can join this bandwagon at the ground floor - nobody, and I mean NOBODY has heard of them yet. Well, by nobody I mean anyone who doesn't read Pitchfork or buy music at Like the ensuing band, CYHSY's (lame as it is to make it an acronym, but a step above a kind middle-aged lady I once knew who actually referred to agriculture as 'ag.') sound harkens back to an 80s band you don't much see namechecked anymore. In this case I detect the Violent Femmes, who, aside from some Milwaukeeans who won't let the dream die, don't seem to get much respect these days. To be honest, I never really listened to the Violent Femmes, and I don't plan to anytime soon, but we all liked 'Blister in the Sun,' right? The point is, CYHSY sounds somewhat like the Femmes, but not to the extent of, say, the Killers and something Morrissey crapped out in the late 80s. The LP starts off with a track called 'Clap Your Hands' and damned if it doesn't sound like some bizarre carnival of self-pity, with a demented ring-leader urging those around him to 'Clap Your Hands,' to which the reply is 'But I feel so lonely' and 'But it won't do nothing.' It's so weird yet so insanely catchy. I especially like the double-barrelled pounding whenever the clarion 'Clap Your Hands' is tossed out.
Bill Simmons, not a music critic, of course, but I guess you could peg him as a cultural critic or fetishist or whatever, if you wanted to, has said basically the Killers and Franz Ferdinand are the only bands that still sound like 80s bands. This is not entirely true, and I'm sure a real music critic would correct anyone who said as much. The Killers blatantly riff the 80s, almost to the point of self-parody (some might argue that they already are a self-parody, even if they are not aware of it), right down to the cheesy sci-fi keyboards. Other bands successfully choose to emulate the stripped down, raw sound of some of our favorite 80s groups, and I think the comparison to the Violent Femmes is apt in this vein, especially. You don't come away with the sense that Steve Lillywhite or Nigel Godrich were incessantly weighing down the sessions with calls for reverb and overwrought vocals. Ah, just check out Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Tim Posnanski highly reccomends them.

The Boy Least Likely To (Best Party Ever)

I can't say much more than what I thought was a well-written pitchfork review on this album. Maybe I'll just weakly echo it. If you're like me, you're a 23 year old man child who rarely leaves the house and/or showers. You also have misgivings of adults everywhere and, while you don't wish to revert back to childhood (when boobs were a shadow of a promise from an episode of Moonlighting... or Facts of Life) you don't want the responsiblities, nay, character flaws that inherently come with your lot in life. So you opt for complete deniability, the better with which to rebuke your peers. I've mastered this technique myself, and my social life has suffered because of it. It's okay, we don't need others anyway, you and me, we manchildren of nuclear capitalism, for we have music. Anyway, The Boy Least Likely To has released an album echoing our misgivings and has given our ennui a sound. And it sounds like Dexy's Midnight Runners. Don't laugh. The opener is "Be Gentle With Me," and you 80s culture whores can pick out the strains of Dexy's, but I prefer the utterly sweet-sounding xylophone and lyrics that recall the slowly dying superstitions of youth - "I'm happy because I'm stupid/scared of spiders/scared of flying" and the emotional fragility of being on one's own when we're really supposed to have our shit together by now - "My heart gets broken so easily/ so just be gentle/ be gentle with me." There's also a line in the refrain - "I'm not as young as I was" that gives me pause. I remember in third grade, Barry Daniels called me an asshole. I threw rocks at him. In sixth grade, Erica Stimac said she wouldn't go out with me because I "[am] a dog." I went out with her best friend. Now if someone calls me an asshole I revert and stop talking for an hour. If a girl turns me down, well I have about twenty different reactions, none of them what a student of the DSM 4 would call "healthy." There's an emotional (if not physical) resilience in childhood that we lose, at least I do, as we get older. I love how thoroughly The Boy Least Likely To evokes this. Another song that caught me is "Monsters," about a town full of monsters that turns out to be run of the mill adults. These aren't used-van drivin', circus clown bein', stuttering head-cases, but married, child-rearing suburbanites. For example: "people I used to love/are turning into monsters/ getting married and having babies/ telling me how great my life is/ and how happy I would be if I could just be more like them." If you liked Calvin and Hobbes, you may like "My Tiger My Heart," and the astonishing thing about this song is that it evokes the strip despite the band never having heard of it. Another thing I appreciated were matter-of-fact hilarious lyrics such as "I just wish I could still/ see the world sometimes/the way I saw the world when I was young" which is followed by the refrain "sleeping with a gun under my pillow" in the song "Sleeping With A Gun Under My Pillow." Even the cover art of the album is evocative, with childish doodles of animals carrying instruments and apparently taking part in a birthday party. They also adorn the disc, and to be honest and not at all ironic, it is the sweetest thing I've seen all year. I suppose you could write a treatise on some of the doodles and their relevance to some songs, much like the artwork on Andrew Bird's new release The Mysterious Production of Eggs, but jaysus, what a load.

I've worn out. This was supposed to be two paragraphs. Oh well, some short takes on some not new at all albums:

Satanic Panic in the Attic by Of Montreal - fucked up, stoner psychedelia that lazier souls would outright compare to the sonic stylings of the Beatles. Now you must ask, was that a meta-joke?

Fuzzy Logic by Super Furry Animals - start with Guerilla or Rings Around the World. The CD jacket is a red herring and hilarious, though.

Some Cities by Doves - Okay, Jimi Goodwin's voice might suck, but he does not fucking evoke Christ Martin, you got that? Doves emerged at the exact same time as Coldplay, and have always been superior. Anyway, I remember Goodwin saying in an interview how he would love to score a David Lynch movie. This CD sounds like such a score. The music is outstanding, the vocals are bearable.

In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster by Shining - a Norwegian band that plays sessions-jazz... fucking, I got bought this CD?

Okay, it's actually quite interesting.

Sam Prekop (s/t) - pales in comparison to his much more recent "Who's Your New Professor" with what I think are standard vanilla jazz sessions but jaysus, the closer "So Shy" just fucking soars. Not literally. Just hear the song, and I defy you not to picture the summer passing you by.
In the Kingdom of Kitsch, normalcy is the monster, but in the land of normalcy, real normalcy is also the monster. Agree? I've worn out my welcome.

Monday, July 18, 2005

So Maybe We Should Stop Critiquing Movies

If your local film reviewer is anything like mine, he likes to use phrases like 'exercise in passivity,' or 'bathed in pathos.' He may also wear a fedora (and if there's anything I've learned, Joe Williams, it is that a fedora does not extend your credibility. Quite the contrary, quite the contrary.) He will also critique movies in a hardboiled fashion, gleefully taking out bits and holding them up as 'critiquing modern norms,' and so forth. I am starting to think all of this method of reviewing is bullshit.

The fathers of modern cinema were John Ford (Stagecoach, the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Howard Hawks (Scarface, Rio Bravo), Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M), Alfred Hitchcock, etc. This is nowhere near a complete list. After reading interviews with them in Peter Bogdonavich's book "Who the Devil's In It," I've recognized a common thread - none of these men own up to the artistic flourishes they are credited with. This is not to implicate them and say they are not deserving of the credit they are duly given, each of these filmmakers was incredibly talented. But, for instance, John Ford (who does not appear as an interviewee in the book, but is the subject of a number of other Bogdonavich projects), says that most of the brilliant things you see in a movie happen by way of accident. Howard Hawks stonewalls Bogdonavich whenever the latter asks if he was trying to make a wider, political point with his movie, or if he sees his craft as an art. Hawks says he never believed film was about art, but about fun and entertainment. He also, by way of a number of great stories, shows the archetypal nature of movies - you need a character like this, a character like that - a drunk is played for laughs or as an underdog, not necessarily as this overarching societal character in need of redemption. The main 'themes' in movies that most critics point out tended to happen by accident, or unconsciously in the work of these directors. Hawks repeatedly points out to Bogdonavich "You're looking too far into it."

A movie critic was the person who turned the way we look at movies into an art form. Paulene Kael, I believe it may have been (but could be completely wrong) started critiquing movies as an artform sometime in the fifties or sixties. If I'm writing this, I should probably have looked into that, but this is a blog. Who cares. Before this, movies were just entertainment, purile in many cases.

Is it possible that since the changing of the critiquing guard half a century ago, that filmmakers have become far too aware of criticism? Do they make movies anticipating it, do they look to appease people who want art? "This represents this represents that" is, of course, acceptable for reviewing books. But is it reliable for movies?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Greatest Story Ever Told Was 'Hamlet'

Christianity is not under fire in this country. I know this because one can say they believe everything that happened in the Bible and not get laughed out of the room. I don't think that counts as religious intolerance, though I have seen people accused of such by saying as much. I suppose I'm a bit elitist, since I'd rather not believe everything in the bible - if I did, I'd have to see the human race as 6 billion inbred hicks. With the way democracy's been going, maybe that's not saying too much. I do not believe Jesus was born on Christmas. A very smart friend of mine who is now going to Med school called this a heresy and refused to talk religion with me anymore. Christmas, Dec. 25th, used to be a Pagan holiday. I love how Christians scream at those denying their right to set up a gaudy Nativity scene outside of the local Post Office, but can turn around and criticize minorities for 'complaining too much' about their plight. In fact, I've met a few people who've said of blacks, "We free them and this is how they repay us?"

Thusly, I dislike many Christians and most white people. This is not to say that I don't dislike people of other colors as well. I'm equal opportunity when it comes to finding others distasteful. People who would like to blow me and my family up with an improvised suicide bomb? I dislike them (I have been implicitly accused of aiding and possibly abetting them). Crazy asian dicatators with a harem of unwilling blondes and a finger on the doomsday device? I dislike him, as well. Asians who think Americans are fat? Well, they hurt my feelings, more than anything else. Notice these are subsets of people - some of them very select (the Asian dictator, for example).

I don't like blanket statements like "Black quarterbacks are dumb (extrapolate this into black people altogether, if you have not already), and therefore cannot win Super Bowls." A friend said that and backed it up by saying if people really knew him, they'd know there was no way he meant it. He is also from Minnesota and the most interaction he's had with a black person this past year has been a solemn nod whilst passing each other on the sidewalk, to let them know he's not afraid of them. Facetiously racist jokes are still racist, even if they're facetious, which really means violently self-implicative. My friend is also Christian and believes in the trickle down theory of economics. Not to make a blanket statement about Xtians, though. My friend is too good for them.

Some whole Church communities in the United States believe that homosexuality is evil and must be stamped out. Doesn't this make them hate groups?

My family is Catholic and I sort of still am. I don't find this to be a conflict of interest. Catholics used to burn Jews and Muslims at the stake and wage land wars to steal from unsuspecting, nonviolent middle-easterners. Now they just molest small boys and enjoy convocations. This is progress.

Hitler was the worst murderer, next to Joe Stalin, in the 20th century. Neither was a practicing Christian. See? I can be even-handed.

I think Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise are equally nuts, though Mel Gibson had a head start of fifteen years, an ultra conservative religious conversion, and a fake Australian accent.

If it's better to go with the devil you know than the devil you don't, does that mean an evangelical pastor would rather hang out with Lucifer than the organizer of the gay pride parade?

Yes, I believe your religion is a joke, but I will fight to the death for you to be able to practice it.

I still like the Jesuits.