Monday, May 28, 2007

Headphones: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists' Living With The Living/Mo' Living EP

Some albums are really great for a certain activity, which I made abundantly clear when I reviewed the new Kings Of Leon and said it was best for night driving. Ted Leo's new platter is great for mowing an overgrown lawn on a hot day. I know this because I'm sitting here, drenched in sweat, pollen clogging my throat, grass stains all over my jeans, and I still feel great. Thanks to Ted Leo. I think by being great for cutting the grass, and as cutting the grass is a pretty much experienceless, mundane activity, you could claim the album is good for anything, like say painting, or maybe throwing a molotov cocktail.

In a lot of ways, this new album feels like Ted's most personal, not because the subject matter is vastly different than previous albums, but because the recording and production is closest to the live sound of the band. It feels more like the front row than your couch, bed, or driver's seat. The Pharmacists road tested the material throughout the summer of 2006, before their fall recording sessions, so the kinks were worked out before hitting record. Highlights of the album that rank with Leo's best, tracks like "Army Bound", "Some Beginner's Mind", "La Costa Brava", and "C.I.A." all sound just like they did on stage when I saw the band at their near-annual appearance at the South Street Seaport in NYC last August. They played the bulk of this album that night, and I noticed that Ted & the boys have solidified a consistent sound while managing to vary their songwriting, and that shows on the album. Take the start of what would be Side 2 on vinyl: "Annunciation Day" blasts off like a Minutemen song-fragment before crashing into the Queen bombast of "Born Of Christmas Day". That's followed by the classic Reggae bounce of "The Unwanted Things", 7 minutes of "The Lost Brigade" which starts as punk/funk before unleashing a "Layla" coda, into the Cheap Trick-ish arena rock of "The World Stops Turning". Furthermore, the album would be even broader if the tracks from the Mo' Living EP were included; the band glides from the classic hardcore of "Living With The Living" to the 60's soul of "Already Too Late?" to a hurricane-strength take on Chumbawamba's
"Rappaport's Testament: I Never Gave Up" which recalls The Who at their Live At Leeds peak.

In this new varied approach, Ted wraps some of his usual political and social commentary, alternately weary and fiery. Leo has become sort of like the indie rock version of Michael Moore, but with one huge difference: Leo is eminently likable. I, or anyone else who has ever met the man, can tell you that he's so personable that you can go from thanking him for a great show to talking about Darfur to asking how his folks are. Where Moore beats his point home with sleight of hand editting, Leo simply says what's wrong in a way that you receive the message and want to get up, stand up. This has held true over the past three albums, but for the first time since his solo career really got rolling with 2001's Tyranny Of Distance, he finally boils over with frustration. On "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb", he spews lyrics like a machine gun, while on the Lennon-esque "The Toro And The Toreador", he plainly notes that "Everyone wants body counts, and I just want to cry." When taken with the varied surrounding tunes though, it doesn't seem like overkill. It's here that we can return to the belief that Leo isn't Moore with a guitar, but the man to carry on Joe Strummer's torch. Strummer could sings the praises of Motown or Dub as much as he could bleat over misguided politicians, and Leo follows this approach to the letter. Life is about more than The Man and The Powers That Be. It's about a girl named "Colleen" and having "A Bottle Of Buckie", and mowing the lawn. Ted Leo knows this. While The Pharmacists palette may not have as many colors as The Clash's yet, Living With The Living could easily be remembered as their London Calling.

Raz's Ratings
MUSIC: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists' Living With The Living/Mo' Living EP

Coming Attractions: Control

Holy fuck. This gave me chills and made me cry...
and I don't even like Joy Division that much...

I was very worried about this movie, like what does Anton Corbijn know about making a feature film? Excellent Depeche Mode videos does not movie make. But, beyond being one of the greatest photographers of the last 50 years, he was there. These were his friends, right? I guess you just replay the events in your head with actors. Looks like he succeeded.

Iconic Corbijn:
- Joy Division: "Atmosphere"
- Depeche Mode: "Personal Jesus"
- U2: "One" [version 2]
- Nirvana: "Heart-Shaped Box"
- Rollins Band: "Liar"
- The Killers: "All The Things That I've Done"

Saturday, May 26, 2007

2006 Recap: My Top Albums (Haha!! Better Late Than Never!)

So here it is, almost June of 2007, and I’m giving you my list of the best albums of 2006. It might seem weird, but I wasn’t comfortable rushing a list out in January. These past months have allowed me perspective, to decide what music can stand the test of time (and our world, which is seemingly made up of all A.D.D.-sufferers). The accelerated taste-making of the internet and its effects on the music business shows in the way we love our albums now. How many discs from the past few years do you cling to like a life raft? I find that a safe average is 5-7 per year. That may seem like a lot to your everyday person on the street, but for a music obsessive like me, it’s damn near tragic. It makes you nostalgic for years like 1994, when you can name 10 classic albums, and still have 10 left over. Even the first few years of these double-oughts were great, but since 2003, it’s been a bit of a drought. That’s the way it goes nowadays; iTunes has taken over our minds, and in some cases affected lesser bands’ ability to make an album that’s good front-to-back. More people can come up with their 10 favorite songs of the year than their one favorite album. Actually, my intense love for certain singles, and the heavy rotation they got on my iPod, caused their accompanying albums to fall off this list, a list that has gotten shorter and shorter every time I work on it. I just don’t feel like listening to them; I burned myself out. Is it The Buggles all over again? Did the iPod kill the Long Player? What was the first song bought off of iTunes, so I can know it as a piece of trivia, for posterity and continued Trivial Pursuit dominance… It’s almost time for Wapner. I digress. These are the albums that struck me as especially mentionable, for their artistic merit & entertainment value. They are still the ones I want to pull off the shelf instead of playing the highlights on my iPod. And so, I share with you the few discs worth your gas money, and you should pass them on if you enjoy them. Music’s not as good if you can’t tell someone about it. I guess that’s also why some musicians make it in the first place.

I hope you like what I write. And I hope you keep reading. Have a fun-filled holiday weekend.
“Live well and with love, Friends. May your times be good ones.” – Comets on Fire (whose Avatar nearly made this list)

Return To Cookie Mountain
Artist: TV on the Radio
Label: Interscope
To me, as I survey the music landscape of 2006, awarding this album the number one spot is very anti-climactic in its obviousness. It was pretty much guaranteed the honor from the second it leaked, months before its proper release. Even as the blogs and message boards waited with baited breath, it exceeded expectations. How, after all these months of living with it, and after all that’s been written about it, do I put into words the greatness of this astonishing song cycle? The album, like the band that made it, defies easy classification. The hints of influence are from far corners of music history. How do you tell someone that an album somehow reins in pieces from the artistic expeditions of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, the passion of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, the warmth of Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound girl group productions, the assault of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, the color of Brian Eno, the grooves of Fela Kuti, the depth and detail of Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral, the cut-and-paste boom bap of The RZA, the rough edges of Stax colliding head-on with the playful melodies of Motown? How on Earth do try and tell someone what “Playhouses” sounds like? It may be impossible. And still the result sounds like virtually none of these things. It is its own entity, completely fresh and unheard of, until now. Standing atop Cookie Mountain is like saying you stand atop a mammoth mound of love letters to rhythm and noise.
- TV On The Radio website

The Body, The Blood, The Machine
Artist: The Thermals
Label: Sub Pop
Gather ‘round children, and hear the tale of The Thermals, Hutch & Kathy spreading the good word of independent thought, faith in self, and spiritual rebellion against a society built on fear and paranoia. This story is short, but endlessly quotable; double-take wisdom sure to wear out countless replay buttons. TBTBTM does everything that American Idiot did, but better; it’s smart, clever, with a sharp bite and a venom-spewing bark. But the best part is that it’s lean, like a punk rock classic should be, not weighted down to the point of sinking with 9 minute song-suites and MOR ballads. Don’t assume though that The Thermals are too focused on speed and bluster; the lump-in-the-throat longing pouring out of Hutch Harris in songs like “An Ear For Baby” or “A Pillar Of Salt” is powerful, and the frightening visions in “I Might Need You To Kill” and “Power Doesn’t Run On Nothing” are severe warnings of a possible future none of us want. So listen to what The Thermals are telling us, and go with them if you want to live.
- The Thermals website

Artist: Ghostface Killah
Label: Def Jam
I have to admit, I was initially disappointed by this album. I had set the bar so high because of my intense love of 2004’s Pretty Toney Album. But the difference that I was too impatient to appreciate is that that album is a party album, and this album is a street hustler’s album. It’s dark and nihilistic, but also with a sharp sense of humor poking holes in the dumb narratives of other Scarface-obsessed rappers. Ghost is too mature for that kind of clichéd and empty boasting. He’s 36. He’d rather give you hyper-detailed storytelling, like on the mind-blowing “Shakey Dog”, “Crack Spot” and the dream sequence of “Underwater”, than give you just another club joint about big asses (though the Pete Rock-produced “Be Easy” could fill a floor). This is also a massive album, a 20 song masterpiece that doesn’t feel overlong but all-encompassing. I recently read Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers called "Hip-Hop's Sgt. Pepper's"; I think Hip-Hop might have just gotten its White Album.
- Ghostface on Myspace

The Warning
Artist: Hot Chip
Label: DFA/Astralwerks
What Hot Chip accomplish is a difficult balancing act: they’re managing to make interesting dance music that doubles as pop music. Neither the lyrics nor the beats suffer because of the attention paid to the other, leading to accessible new music that still gets accepted by electronic genre purists. Add in far-flung influences from Prince to Aphex Twin, from Anti-Pop Consortium to New Order, and this could end up being a mess, but it doesn’t. This feat is a testament to the brilliant songwriting and arranging of co-lead vocalists Alexis Turner and Joe Goddard. They rise and fall with the synth arpeggios and rubbery bass, linking up as a new millennial Simon & Garfunkel; Goddard juxtaposes his post-everything jadedness and boredom, moaning and muttering, while Turner’s heartbroken voice floats over the top of the music.
- Hot Chip website

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Label: Domino
Through all the hype and backlash, I say this is still a classic. You argue if you want, but if you mention a song title from any of these songs, I can hum or quote almost all of them. That’s an admirable feat for a band on their first album, or at least it seems that way on paper. Then you hear them. The Arctic Monkeys emerge from the ooze fully formed, tight as the young birds they’re trying to pull at the clubs on Saturday nights. This is the handbook for the youth of today, in the same way that Mike Skinner caught a certain zeitgeist 4 years ago. Alex Turner and his mates just slapped together the garage band version, but in the transition, lost none of the swaggering rhythm, priceless punchlines, whispered asides, or overheard secrets from the next stall over. The boys always cited Oasis as a major influence growing up, and while Turner has the Liam sneer down, Noel never had lyrics this knotty and thick.
- Arctic Monkeys website

Mo’ Mega
Artist: Mr. Lif
Label: Definitive Jux
It’s getting increasingly difficult to write about good Hip-Hop in the 2000’s, because so much of the genre is disposable and low-brow that most of the young generation have never had the chance to feel the magic of the true art. Mo’ Mega is one of the few recent albums that put Hip-Hop’s best foot forward. It’s so packed with wisdom that it feels aggressive even when it’s lighthearted. Mr. Lif continues to be one of the most intelligent and well-informed MC’s currently blessing mics, and he has skills to match. There aren’t many MC’s today that could get up on stage and match the fire of Golden Age figures like Rakim, KRS, or Chuck D, but Lif is undoubtedly at the head of the short line. By boasting a core of six varied yet flawless tracks, from the great single “Brothaz” through “Long Distance”, Mo’ Mega somehow manages to be better than 2002’s excellent I, Phantom. With the sad state of Hip-Hop music nowadays, you owe it to yourself to support the real deal; as Lif says in the liner notes, if you don’t find him…He’ll find you.
- Mr. Lif website

Be Your Own Pet
Artist: Be Your Own Pet
Label: Ecstatic Peace/Universal
This album is fuckin’ trash! And it’s terrific. It’s wild abandon. It’s hilarious. It’s raw. It’s fun with 6 u’s, and it grows on you like a rash from the gym class showers. It’s just about the best album you’re likely to get from the 17 year old punks hanging out in the parking lot of your local 7-11. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore thought so when he signed them off the strength of their fucking Myspace demos. The boys knock out sloppy thunder (“Bog” makes my head spin every single time), as singer Jemina Pearl ends every line with exclamation points. The impending doom that opens “Thresher’s Flail” gives way to innocent teens throwing their all into a Sunday afternoon all ages show at your local community center, playing at being rebels, but really just scratching their names into their math class desks. If you know anyone that either (a) was pissed that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs cleaned/grew up on their new album, or (b) constantly talks about early 80’s punk rock like it’s the best shit ever, then tell them to get this album.
- Be Your Own Pet website

Everything All the Time
Artist: Band of Horses
Label: Sub Pop
One improper trend in the hyperspeed world of music blogs is the need to always be jumping on the newest freshest sounds, and I think this stems from the new generation of college-aged kids being raised on eclectic albums like OK Computer, Odelay, and The Soft Bulletin. Their taste for boundary-pushing art is insatiable to the point where they might miss a good old Rock band like Band of Horses. It is then to BOH’s credit that they made a spectacular enough record for people to heap praise on them last year. Everything All The Time wouldn’t really sound out of place in 1973 or 1993; it doesn’t break any new ground. It’s simply excellent. The songs are tight, from the stutter step of “Wicked Gil” to the shuffle of “Our Swords”, from the indie-Stairway crescendo of “The Funeral” to the Crazy Horse upward spiral of “The Great Salt Lake”. In the video for “The Great Salt Lake,” the band sits in the back of a pick-up, singing along to their own song, wind blowing in their hair, and that carefree spirit pretty much sums up this great album.
- Band Of Horses website

If you have extra cash, spread it around on these...
Asobi Seksu: Citrus
Belle & Sebastain: The Life Pursuit
Brand New: The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me
Clipse: Hell Hath No Fury
Comets On Fire: Avatar
J Dilla: Donuts
Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere
The Hold Steady: Boys & Girls In America
Junior Boys: So This Is Goodbye
The Rapture: Pieces Of The People We Love
The Walkmen: A Hundred Miles Off
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones

Coming Attraction: Knocked Up

While taking a break from writing, ya know, real posts for my neglected little site here, the YouTube gods saw fit to give us this hilarious outtake from Judd Apatow's upcoming Knocked Up. I wanted to see this movie, and then I think I got bored with waiting, and maybe got afraid that after the success of 40-Year Old Virgin (One of my favorite films of the last few years) the comedic team might soften their approach to keep the mainstream attention coming. But now after seeing this clip, I want to see it again.

Oh, and my other 2 reasons I want to see it are because (a) Alan Tudyk is in it, and (b) in the trailer, Seth Rogan is singing along to the Wu-Tang classic "Shame On A Nigga", and I want to see if he uses the N-word.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Heads Up: More QOTSA

The new video for "Sick Sick Sick", featuring the two new band members, Mike Schuman (bass) and Dean Fetita (keyboards). I think the girl is actress Kathleen Robertson.

And seven minutes of fun with Josh & Joey

Monday, May 7, 2007

Six Degress of

It's funny what you can learn by playing six degrees of I was watching both The Sopranos and the 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead tonight, and it occurred to me that one of the feds on the beloved HBO show was also head security guard CJ in DOTD. I fuckin' love that movie, in case anyone was wondering; great performances, especially by Jake Weber, and a great screenplay by James Gunn.

I started perusing the actors' IMDB pages, and then checked out director Zach Snyder, who recently hit the Hollywood jackpot by following up my favorite zombie movie with the Frank Miller adaptation, 300. I guess 300 gives him free reign to pick his next projects, because he's been attached to direct the 1986 comic book classic Watchmen from before the Grecian epic was released (even going so far as to include a single frame test shot of Watchman Rorschach into the R-rated trailer for 300). Watchmen is considered one of, if not THE greatest work in comic books of all-time, and its languished in movie development for years, long thought to be too difficult to direct. Directors from Terry Gilliam to Paul Greengrass to Darren Aronofsky have dropped out over the years. But it was written by Alan Moore, and that's a fine reason to keep trying.

For years, Alan Moore has kept Hollywood at arms length. Having your classic works "butchered" by greedy weasels in suits will do that. Moore wrote the comic books From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, both of which didn't get adapted to film so well, with the public reacting accordingly (not to mention the latter making the great Sean Connery want to retire). He also wrote V For Vendetta and some of the "Hellblazer" material that the Constantine film was adapted from, but famously demanded his name to be nowhere near the credits for the blockbuster hit movies after an emotionally draining lawsuit involving the LXG screenplay; he now maintains that his name not be associated with the films based on his books, saying he wants the profits to go to the artists he worked with.

And yet, so far, Moore's name is on the IMDB page for Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen, due in 2008. He isn't writing the screenplay though- that task falls to Alex Tse (who wrote Spike Lee's little-seen Sucker Free City), based on an earlier draft by a man named David Hayter. Hayter, it turns out, is one of the most fascinating people in Hollywood that the everyday person has never heard of.

The most mainstream thing he's done is write the screenplays for the first two X-Men films as well as the Rock vehicle The Scorpion King. He also submitted unused screenplays for Ang Lee's Hulk and The Chronicles Of Riddick. There were plans for him to make his directorial debut for Marvel on a film based on super heroine Black Widow, but that fell through. According to IMDB, his script for Watchmen is a whopping 324 pages and sticks remarkably well to the source comic. To give you an idea of how huge a screenplay that is, the average length is 90-110 pages (which would usually work out at about a page per minute of film). That would make Watchmen either super-detailed on the page or 5 & a half hours long.

OK, so he's a screenwriter, right. Actually, no. His bread is really buttered with voice work. He's been doing English dubbing for Japanese anime since he was ten years old, and has dozens of credits; also, anytime you see Captain America in the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons from the mid 90's, that was Hayter's voice. And finally, there's his real claim to fame: He is the voice of geek-worshiped Metal Gear hero, Solid Snake. Hayter has been Snake's voice in nine games, with the tenth, Metal Gear Solid 4, coming out later this year. To top that off, he's supposedly the only MGS actor to actually play and beat the games. So, when Rorschach & the Watchmen hit the big screenin 2008, just thank Tony Soprano for wanting to rat out some Middle Easterners to CJ from Dawn Of The Dead so that you can know that some of the dialogue in the movie was written by Solid Snake.

- Read more about the film adaptation of Watchmen [Wiki]

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

My Return / LCDSS part 2

People are clamoring for my return. Who knew? I've been back for 10 days or so, and so you say why haven't I posted? Well, friends, because life is hectic, and also because I'm working on a massive installment of "Happy Accidents" that will cover my entire trip. Just typing out the list of the 500 or so songs from my iPod's "Recently Played" playlist took me 4 or 5 days worth of spare time. Also, I have a bunch of album and film reviews on deck. It's just a question of what to write first...

So to hold you over, I return to what I left you with - my LCD Soundsystem album review, and news while I was gone that my favorite track on said album, "All My Friends" is the new 2nd single. The video is excellent, starting with a minimal approach before dropping theatrical reveals on yo ass. And by the climax at the end, just the simple act of James Murphy standing up out of his chair will break your heart.