I give you these 10 suggestions (from the 35 films I saw this year) to consider as eminently watchable and deeply worthwhile cultural experiences…
10. The Road: It was bleak and heart-wrenching and so difficult to watch…but it was unflinchingly truthful and often had a kind of tarnished beauty. An amazing film that I never want to see again.
9. (500) Days of Summer: I think I was dead center in the sights of this film’s demographic appeal. Indie soundtrack (& Smiths shout out to boot!), check. Ernestly romantic guy, check. Lack of ambition as virtue, check. Creative, non-linear, brain-teasing narrative structure, check. By all accounts, a non-conformist, iconoclastic, incredulous contrarian such as myself should have seen right through this. But I ate it up.
8. District 9: The Office with aliens. Original and touching beyond all expectation.
7. Avatar: Utterly predictable storytelling, but I was almost literally transported into the world of Pandora (course, I DID see it in IMAX 3-D, which made this almost a given). The mythic instinct come to life…
6. Adventureland: This film tapped into something pretty nostalgic for me, but it also is an amazingly honest portrait of summertime post-teenage angst in low-pay limbo. Performances from main & minor actors hit me in the melancholy bone…and the songs made me shudder with recollection of an adolescence lived to that soundtrack (ROCK ME, AMADEUS!).
5. Up in the Air: My only criticism of this very fine and relevant dramatic comedy is in the casting of non-leads: actual unemployed people as the victims of redundancy came off as schlocky & the hip actors (Zach Galifianakis, Danny McBride, Jason Bateman) in minor roles felt distracting (see The Invention of Lying for the most egregious use of this type of “pack casting”—i.e. “if I show up in your movie, that lets everyone know I’m in your crew”)
4. Up: I did not want to like this in order to resist the Pixarification of my soul, but alas my brain is fully washed and my heart is clay in the hands of these masters. I saw it once with my wife & once with my kids. So great & unforeseeably ingenious.
2. Where the Wild Things Are: Never was a fan of the book…creeped me out. Didn’t particularly want to like the movie, though I am a fan of Jonze & Eggars. But after viewing, I could not get it out of my thoughts for days. I feel like I lived that film somehow. Moved me in profound ways on many different levels. It will gain the recognition it deserved someday…
And in FIRST PLACE:
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox: The dialogue, the look, the details, the heart, the growling, the outfits, the voices, the humor, the pacing, the panache, the feel, the stillness, the child-likeness, the tears, the speeches, the GENIUS. I will see this film many times more before I die…
Note: It’s fascinating to me to see THREE (ostensibly) children’s films at the top of this list. Regression? Longing for a care free world? Return to innocence? My only response is to ask what the cross is between an elephant and a rhino.
Honorable mentions: I Love You Man, Watchmen (the credit sequence alone was among the best looking cinema this year), Star Trek. ADDITION: Zombieland !
Wish I could have seen: The Hurt Locker, Bright Star, Moon, A Serious Man, In the Loop, It Might Get Loud, The Informant!, The White Ribbon, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Thirst.
Biggest disappointments (and my respective “microview”—aka review with minimal words involving some sort of pun on the title):
The Brothers Bloom – The Brothers Wilt
Away We Go – Eww, Go Away
The Invention of Lying – The Venting of Denying
Ponyo – Panyo
Not as bad as everyone said it was:The Box(from Richard Kelly, writer/director of Donnie Darko): which had some genuinely creepy, intriguing and touching moments, solid performances, lovely sense of time/place, before it crapped out. And a score from (pretty much) The Arcade Fire!
I remained rather silent (for the most part) regarding my specific views of Sarah Palin. One might assume that because I typically espouse views that lean toward the left to varying degrees that I despise Palin on the grounds that she is a conservative. That is simply not so. Frankly, there are plenty of conservatives that I am far less irritated by. It is not my goal to lay out with great detail why I have this distaste for Palin, but I will mention several specific things, beginning with the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ and inspired this post.
Just this week President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Sarah Palin was interviewed by USA Today regarding his acceptance speech. Several news outlets (including USA Today) have expressed shock at Palin’s comment, “I liked what he said.” Unfortunately this comment was quickly overshadowed and devoid of all value with the follow-up comment:
I thumbed through my book quickly this morning to say ‘Wow! That really sounded familiar.’ Because I talked in my book too about the fallen nature of man and why war is necessary at times.
Of course. I must make sure that this is known: my grievance has nothing to do with my negative view of war. I could criticise that (and I do, not only against Palin, but also President Obama), but I must acknowledge the very broad acceptance of ‘Just War Theory’ (which was espoused both in Obama’s acceptance speech and Palin’s comments). The issue that I take with Sarah Palin’s comments revolve around her self-referential statements, which have become extremely familiar. Ever since she emerged onto the national political scene and into public’s eye it seems as if she has been shamelessly selling herself – and it’s getting really old. Palin went on to say that President Obama should behave more like President George W. Bush.
We have to stop those terrorists over there…We’ve learned our lesson from 9/11. George Bush did a great job of reminding Americans every single day that he was in office what that lesson is. And, by the way, I’d like to see President Obama follow more closely in the footsteps of George Bush and [Bush’s] passion keeping the homeland safe, his passion for respecting – honoring our troops.
I can hand the benefit of the doubt to Palin and assume that this interview was rather off-handed, but could she please use slightly more sophisticated language when speaking about such serious issues (“those terrorists over there…”). She speaks so vaguely. What lesson did American learn from 9/11 and how did President Bush do a “great job of reminding Americans [of that lesson] every single day that he was in office”? I am not necessarily disagreeing with her statement, but I want to know what she means. I suspect (as evidenced from her interviews and writing) that she doesn’t mean anything, it’s simply her default: empty rhetoric. Also, how does President Obama fall short of Bush’s supposed passion for “keeping the homeland safe,” and “for respecting – honoring our troops.”? Once again, maybe he does fall short (though I doubt one could really make a case for that), but how? Sarah Palin is not here to answer these questions (though Mrs Palin, if you’re reading, please feel free to enlighten us with responses), so I’ll move onto another recent irritation…
In a radio interview last week Palin was commenting on the recent news that former Arkansas Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee used poor judgment nearly a decade ago in his granting of clemency to a convict who went on to murder four police officers. Palin commented,
It was a bad decision obviously, but my heart goes out to Huckabee. I love him, and I feel bad for him to be in this position. But I feel even worse for the victim’s families in this situation. I do feel bad for Huckabee, but it was a horrible decision he made.
Way to stab Huckabee in the back while giving him a hug? In typical Palin fashion she went on to make sure that the listeners knew that during her gubernatorial service she never once pardoned or granted clemency to prisoners.
I don’t have a whole lot of mercy for the bad guys, I’m on the good guys’ side.
It’s strange for Palin to compare her two-and-a-half year service as governor Alaska to Mike Huckabee’s 10+ year service as governor of a state with more than four times as many people as Alaska. But strangeness aside, she did it and will continue to make statements like it. Also, it’s good to know that Sarah Palin is on the “good guys’ side.” We need more of the Bush-era absolutist ‘good vs. evil’ talk. I am not denying the existence of absolute goods and evils – they most certainly exist. What I am saying is that one ought to exercise a little caution and humility when placing other people (and even ourselves) into those two categories.
In the same interview Palin was asked about her political future. She didn’t rule out the possibility of running as an independent in the 2012 election, stating,
That depends on how things go in the next couple of years…There are enough Republicans who are realizing, ‘Oh whoops, some of us liberal Republicans have screwed up.’ And I’m not including myself in that group, but some liberal Republicans have screwed up. If the Republican Party gets back to that base, I think our party is going to be stronger and there’s not going to be a need for a third party, but I’ll play that by ear in these coming months, coming years.
Once again, Palin barrages the interviewer with folksy, inarticulate language, vague statements and self-referential moral absolutism (“I’m not including myself in that group, but some liberal Republicans have screwed up…”). How have “liberal Republicans screwed up,” and what does it mean for the Republican Party to get “back to that base.”?
I’m not suggesting that Sarah Palin thinks that she is perfect, but she is trying really hard to sell herself as such – morally unscathed, fighting tirelessly for the average American! When President Reagan didn’t have an answer he would respond with humility, yet confident in the conservative principles that he embodied. Like him or not, Reagan was true to his well-established core values. Palin is a very different story. The self-referential image she so desperately seeks to sell (her vastly [and terrifyingly] popular memoir is called Going Rogue – how many ‘rogues’ do you know and how many of them are self-professing rogues?) seems pathetic and empty.
Since Greg shared his more finalised version of the ‘Best Albums of 2009’ I figured it was as good a time as any to revisit my list. I would have simply updated the original post, but there have been some significant changes to my ‘Best Albums of 2009 (thus far)‘ list due to the release of several amazing records since I left America. I have therefore removed the following from my previous list:
Andrew Bird—Noble Beast
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
I must say that the four records above are worth buying, but in narrowing my list down to ten with the inclusion of a larger canon of new albums in 2009 (my previous list was posted nearly three months ago) I needed to revise my list. Therefore I give you my more official and updated ‘Best Albums of 2009‘.
10. We Were Promised Jetpacks—These Four Walls
I still stand by the excellence of this record, but it has slipped three slots (from seven to ten). Enjoy the incredible Scottish sincerity and steady flow of energy.
9. Atlas Sound—Logos
Bradford Cox (of Deerhunter) really did an excellent job on this record (released 19 October in the UK) with a little help from Noah Lennox (aka ‘Panda Bear’) and Lætitia Sadier (of Stereolab). Cox demonstrates his exceptional and deeply personal writing abilities and leaves room for many more excellent Atlas Sound records to come.
8. Times New Viking—Born Again Revisited
I first heard Times New Viking last year when they released Rip it Off. That album proved to be a great surprise (which was enhanced by the energy and precision of their live shows). This next record (released 21 September in the UK) proves to employ the same techniques – simple pop songs performed by a three piece band (drums, guitar, keys) and production that is intentionally downgraded for an extremely primitive and lo-fi sound. But the songwriting on this album represents a broader stylistic spectrum than their previous work which makes this record more accessible and even more listenable (for someone who usually enjoys what others have sometimes deemed ‘unlistenable’).
As I mentioned previously, this album was very surprising, and it has proven more surprising as I’ve listened on, securing it a rank of number seven (previously eight). At this point one might ask, “Wait, with this subjective switch aren’t your reviews worth the computer screens they are illuminated on?” Correct, the albums I deem worthy of listen are based upon my dynamic personal preferences. But in the end, we must wait for NME’s ‘Top Albums of the Decade’ instead of taking their top album from each year of the decade because of developing musical trends and tastes, so I don’t feel so guilty. This album deserves this spot and maybe even a higher one. This album possesses a near-perfect amount of creativity, innovation, skills and utter fun! A great improvement from Chris Cohen’s previous work on Asthmatic Kitty (Curtains).
I first heard the track “Hellhole Ratrace” back in August. It was raved about by Pitchfork and Stereogum and I found the track very enjoyable, but not as incredible as the reviews were claiming. I bought the record soon after its release on 22 September and gave it a listen. By the second listen I was hooked. Think of a more nihilistic and energetic Elvis Costello circa 1977, with a hint of Buddy Holly.
5. Camera Obscura—My Maudlin Career
This record (along with Cursive’s new record) slipped a slot entirely due to the release of my new number three record of the year. As I’ve mentioned previously, this is probably my favorite release from Camera Obscura. The more I’ve listened the more I appreciate the record and also the more sure I am that I didn’t simply “love it so much because Belle & Sebastian hasn’t released an LP since 2006.” Well orchestrated and executed indie-pop, with plenty of Scottish wit. Even if there is a hint of my love for B & S in this pick, the album (and the band) stands on its own through musical precision and artistic maturity.
4. Cursive—Mama, I’m Swollen Mama, I’m Swollen probably seems to be an odd pick for this number [four] slot, but I will always have a soft spot for Cursive. This is not to say that this album is undeserving of praise. Cursive is not interested in being another experimental freak-folk-electro-post-rock-cross-genre-remixed piece of overproduced crap like so many other groups are becoming (namely Dirty Projectors). They are faithful to their expressive indie roots, this album being far less poppy than Happy Hollow. It reminds me of Domestica even. Tim Kasher is still obsessed with refuting a theistic/morally superior worldview, but he does it with so much passion and angst I can’t help but be stirred. Cursive encourages us to realize the failure of our Enlightenment/modern ideals and to accept our animalistic/primitive nature. I don’t buy it (but not because it’s not packaged well). I say we drop the Enlightenment and read more Kierkegaard and Barth.
3. Converge—Axe to Fall
After all these years Converge is still bringing ‘it.’ What is ‘it?’ ‘It’ is unrelenting energy. Of all of the bands on this top ten album list, Converge is by far my favorite. This album (released 20 October) is both extremely heavy and true to Converge’s metal roots while remaining very accessible (like 2001’s Jane Doe). Axe to Fall has also made its way into my top three all-time Converge records.
2. Animal Collective—Merriweather Post Pavilion
Retaining its number two slot, Merriweather Post Pavilion – though it is more accessible (think Pet Sounds) than their entire repertoire (a bad start in my odd musical sense) – is very unique, big (to the point of breathtaking at times), and yet more cohesive with itself than any other Animal Collective album. The songs don’t leave you asking, “When is this going to end/how does that even fit?”
1. Grizzly Bear—Veckatimest
I raved about their performance in Glasgow earlier this month and I stand by this pick as the ‘Best Album of 2009.’ My first listen of this record was a positive, but not profound experience. Only two tracks really stuck out to me: “Two Weeks,” and “While You Wait for the Others.” I was even a little disappointed with the album version of “While You Wait for the Others,” at first (compared to their incredible live performance I saw on Morning Becomes Eclectic last year). I sat with the album for another month and at that point it hit me. This is by far (maybe I’ll get harassed for saying that) Grizzly Bear’s best record. By best I mean that they demonstrate great maturity and excellence both in writing and execution, two points that have always seemed to miss one another by an ever-so-slight degree. This record is certain to remain among my favorites unless I fully give myself over to jazz-fusion or something.
Our own brilliant Elijah Wade Smith posted his favorite new albums of the year a bit early this year (August) [ELIJAH ADDS: and with a stated reason for doing so…], but I’d like to pick up where he left off and share some favorite albums from this year, along with my definitive songs of 2009 and one marvelous musical discovery…
Since Elijah already listed 4 of the albums I would have chosen (We Were Promised Jetpacks, Cass McCombs, Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective), I will use this space to highlight 10 other albums (3 of which earned an honorable mention from my esteemed colleague). Between my regular CD purchases and my beloved eMusic account (which I was not paid in any way to mention), I was able to purchase around 50 albums this year, but I still feel like I have certainly neglected many more releases that should have been heard (e.g. I have not heard one note of the new Muse album).
Sadly, this year some of my favorite artists only turned out middling efforts at best (Andrew Bird, Jeremy Enigk, Imogen Heap, Patrick Watson) and deeply disappointing at worst (Doves, Pete Yorn, Morrissey). The jury is still out on the new Swell Season album (feelings are ambivalent–is it too derivative or a purposeful homage?) and I intentionally neglected to include U2‘s album, as I am unable to evaluate their work in isolation from their status/body of work. A final note: though Sufjan Stevens‘ “The BQE” was released this October, it feels like it belongs to another year (2007, when it was initially performed)…I will say that I LOVED his “You Are the Blood” on the Dark Was the Night compilation, and of course, I admire his work in general more than anything else I’ve ever heard, so I’m sure any appraisal of it would be unfairly elevated as well.
Without further caveat, I give you (alphabetically listed) the best, with my best…
TOP TEN ALBUMS (not on Elijah’s list):
• Lou Barlow—Goodnight Unknown: I would include Barlow amongst the best living American songwriters. His stylistic range is somewhat limited (he’s practically copyrighted a particular kind of staccato down strum), but if it isn’t broke…(I couldn’t force the “ain’t” in there). He’s lyrically sentimental on some songs, but it’s the tender truthful sort, and then in other places he’s brutally insightful. A beautiful, rich album: see “Gravitate,” “Too Much Freedom,” and “Modesty.”
“…Curse your branches is his masterpiece — a beautiful, passionate, profoundly courageous work of art that deserves and will reward your close attention. It is a deeply personal, frankly autobiographical dispatch from the front lines of a crisis of faith. Song after song peers deep into the abyss of insoluble mysteries and comes up with something far more useful than answers.”
Do I agree? Maybe. Still, it’s light years better than any of the shite that makes millions these days.
• Neko Case—Middle Cyclone: One day, I drove my sister-in-law Megan’s truck up to LAX to pick her up and this CD was in the player. Love at first listen. I knew her voice from The New Pornographers (lovely, fierce, voluptuous), but her singing her own melodies and lyrics = twisted longing & lovely loss. The experience was so intensely moving I ended up listening to all 30 minutes of the last song–which is only the sound of crickets in the field outside her studio.
• Hayden—The Place Where We Lived: He was on my top 10 last year…how in the heck did he put another little gem together so quickly. I will say that he may be an acquired taste, so do give this album a test run before you trust my quirk-happy palate.
• Lightning Dust—Infinite Light: I have no recollection of where I came across this album, but it’s a rare flower: timeless (and therefore similar to what has come before) and unique (the quaver of the singer’s vibrato–again, may not be to all tastes–and her wry, experienced, and [creepy to say it] sexy delivery…kind of a Chick Jagger if you get my meaning).
• Passion Pit—Manners: The sound of this album is like eating a substantial meal of sweets. I’m not sure if people can keep from loving this band…it is my kid’s number one choice off my iPod. Unbelievable hooks, propulsive beats & a mystifying falsetto…
• The Low Anthem—Oh My God, Charlie Darwin: I’m just going to admit that before two weeks ago, I knew only the name of this band. I am so seriously excited about looking more into this band, past & future…go to iTunes and listen to the first three songs (then skip the next two) and tell me you can’t hear the talent. I’m anxious to figure out the evolution (if you will) of the lyrical themes, but it’s work I look forward to.
• Matt & Kim—Grand: Another admission–I only discovered this band because of the placement of their insanely catchy song “Daylight” in a Bacardi ad. BUT these two performers give me hope for the next generation of bands…and they DIY’d it without the help of a guitar, fueled only by raw passion and teen spirit.
• The Mountain Goats—The Life of the World to Come: Every song is named after a passage from the Bible, but just listen to the lyrics and you’ll know you’re not in Jesusland: “I became a crystal healer and my ministry was to the sick / Creeping vines would send out runners and seek me in their numbers / I sold self-help tapes.” I would strongly recommend “Hebrews 11:40,” “1 John 4:16,” and “Deuteronomy 2:10.” I haven’t yet looked up any of the scripture references, but I think that the passages will probably function in a way similar to the inspiration of the 10 commandments in Krysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue. Perhaps this could be a topic for some student of theology & culture…in Scotland?
• Regina Spektor—Far: This album almost didn’t make this list due to the dolphin noises she makes at exactly 2 minutes into “Folding Chair”–she needs a naysayer in her entourage. But she can write a pop song or melancholy ballad with her piano and lovely, funny voice like nobody’s business (see “Laughing With,” “Human of the Year,” and “Genius Next Door” along with most of the other cuts…though “Machine” is a bit awkward as well). She’s really amazing…
BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR:
I made an iMix of these which can be found by pasting the words “Sgt Grumbles Best Songs 2009” into the iTunes iMix search box…570 seconds of goodness at least.
“Charlie Darwin”: The Low Anthem/Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
“Hard To Be”: David Bazan/Curse Your Branches
“Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)”: Monsters Of Folk/Monsters Of Folk
“Ten Thousand Words”: The Avett Brothers/I And Love And You
“Laughing With”: Regina Spektor/Far
“Too Much Time”: John Vanderslice/Romanian Names
“Two Weeks”: Grizzly Bear/Veckatimest
“Little Secrets”: Passion Pit/Manners
“My Girls”: Animal Collective/Merriweather Post Pavilion
“Wondering What Everyone Knows”: Lightning Dust/Infinite Light
“Daylight”: Matt and Kim/Grand
“Modesty”: Lou Barlow/Goodnight Unknown
“The Pharoahs”: Neko Case/Middle Cyclone
“Deuteronomy 2:10”: The Mountain Goats/The Life Of The World To Come
“The Executioner’s Song”: Cass McCombs/Catacombs
“An Almighty Thud”: We Were Promised Jetpacks/These Four Walls
“I Want You Back”: Discovery/LP
“Let It Last”: Hayden/The Place Where We Lived
“Lille”: Lisa Hannigan/Sea Sew
• The album The Texas/Jerusalem Crossroads by the band Lift to Experience. I don’t completely know how to describe how important this album has become to me. It is simply one of the most fascinating ALBUMS ever recorded, as in a musical composition where everything is working together towards one purpose/theme on EVERY LEVEL IMAGINABLE. You listen to it, and you must listen to in IN ITS ENTIRETY & you feel like you are in some run down warehouse listening to them play, no CREATE–right there and then–this mad, apocalyptic masterpiece of beauty and fierce passion that is flowing in some profane mixture of Ahab-esque monomania and true divine inspiration. I don’t have the inclination to ruin the bizarre experience of discerning the “tale” of this one-of-a-kind concept album, but here is a formula that may help give a sense of what we’re talking about here:
Jeff Buckley + Explosions in the Sky + My Bloody Valentine (the book of Revelation/ fundamentalist preacher’s kid) + Texan pride/outsider art (messiah complex) – worst album cover art ever (it looks like it was designed on Microsoft Word!) = one of the greatest albums ever
I was going to include some books, but I’ve asked enough of your time. I will be back with more later…
Suddenly everyone is a Los Angeles fan. I’m talking baseball, of course.
The Los Angeles Angels took the American League West division and faced-off against the wild card Boston Red Sox.
The wild card, for those who don’t know, is an opportunity for the number two teams in both the American and National Leagues to enter the playoffs. This is supposedly justified by the fact that there are teams in competitive divisions (like the AL East featuring the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Toronto Blue Jays – though the Yankees and the Red Sox are the only two “competitive” teams in the AL East as if evident from the six wild card slots that the Red Sox have garnered since its introduction into MLB in 1994) that will not get 1st place, but will end the regular season with better records than other division clinchers in the same league (see my previous baseball post).
Well, in a very non-Boston Red Sox playoff appearance, the Red Sox were swept by the Angels. Historically, Boston has consistently dominated the Angels in the playoffs. Last season the Angels went to the playoffs as the winningest team in baseball and were defeated in the first round (in four games) by the AL East champion Red Sox (the Red Sox went on to lose the ALCS against the Rays). But this season the Angels accomplished a clean sweep and will face the New York Yankees, the best team in baseball history and the winningest team of the 2009 season (103 wins) for the American League Championship Series – the most coveted pennant. From the looks of it the Angels will not pull through, but I’ll be rooting for them over the Yanks.
Now onto the National League…
Out of the four division championship series three have been divided by a sweep (four division championship series = eight teams: AL East, Central, West, wild card; NL East Central West, wild card). The Yankees swept the Twins (as I predicted: “the Twins…move on to an immediate elimination during the first round of the playoffs…have no chance…going up against the Yanks in the first round…“), the Angels swept the Red Sox, and the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the St Louis Cardinals. Currently the Philadelphia Phillies are leading 2-1 in the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies. The winner of that game will go on to play the Dodgers for the NLCS. [UPDATE: Phillies win NLDS and move on to face the Dodgers for the NLCS.]
The Dodgers spent a significant portion of this season with more wins than any other team. But in standard Dodger fashion they lost momentum after the All-Star break. By the end of the season their record was 3rd in the MLB (1st: NYY, 2nd LAA). Still, they took their division and will most likely take the NLCS.
If the Angels can win the ALCS (unlikely, but you never know when it’s Angels vs Yankees…) and the Dodgers can win the ALCS, the World Series will pit the Los Angeles Angels against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a first for Los Angeles. How exciting it is to have that as a possibility this late in the season! Deep down inside every Angeleno wants to see the two teams play one another in the World Series. Sure, they play interleague “Freeway Series” during the season, but that feud pales in comparison to the rivalry that would develop during a World Series. And with this possibility I find that many of my once-indifferent friends (there are many people that are indifferent toward baseball…) are suddenly the biggest Dodgers/Angels fans. I don’t necessarily blame them, but do you know what I am? I’m a Detroit Tigers fan.
PS. If by some odd chance there was an Angels/Dodgers World Series, my allegiance would be with the Dodgers 100%.
Not even a year into his presidency and Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. He didn’t even need to make a documentary. And it will look good between his two Grammys.
There will most certainly be both many praises and many criticisms floating about regarding the bestowal of this honor upon the young American President, but I really must say that my first reaction was overwhelming joy. Why? I simply believe that while standing up for what he believes America needs, President Obama still retains a considerable amount of respect from the rest of the world (or at least from those who vote for the Nobel Prize).
Once again, I am working from the assumption that two-way communication with the rest of the world is a positive thing. From my view I would say that President Obama is not bowing down to the demands of the ‘enemies‘ of America (part of the reason for his winning of the Nobel Prize is the fact that he has really amped up calls for nuclear disarmament and human rights).
Still, while I am filled with joy, I wonder how the President of the United States could have won this award after only being President for roughly eight months (let me also add that the nomination proceedings for the Nobel Prize took place before he had even been in office for one full month). [But let’s not also forget that one need not be a President to be awarded a Nobel Prize, i.e. he could have received it (in theory) even if he had not won the election.] And in the back of my head is the thought that perhaps President Obama simply looks so much more attractive to the rest of the world in contrast to the administration that he followed…
Either way, I hope that people won’t get nasty about this award: Obama didn’t ask for it. This is meant to be a gift from the Norwegian Nobel Committee to someone who has contributed significantly to the cause of peace. I think it would be difficult to defend the belief that President Obama has yet to actually impact the global political climate/landscape. Even North Korea is changing its tune (for now).
Whether or not the world is unanimous in approval of President Obama’s receipt of this award, we can all agree that a world where peace flourishes is a good goal; may we hope and pray that President Obama would continually make decisions that point the way (in as much as one man can) to that goal.
The Detroit Tigers (arguably the best team of any sport in world history – I couldn’t argue this in good conscience, but I wish I could) were in the lead in the AL Central (arguably the best division of any sport in world history – I couldn’t argue this in good conscience, but I wish I could) for the vast majority of the season until the unthinkable happened. The Minnesota Twins began to win, and they didn’t win many games, just enough to catch up. Let me emphasize how pathetic the AL Central really is:
MLB 2009 Season Leaders by Division
AL East: New York Yankees – .636
AL Central: Minnesota Twins – .534
AL West: Los Angeles Angels – .599
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies – .574
NL Central: St Louis Cardinals – .562
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers – .586
To take a division with .534 is pitiful, what is even more pitiful is a look at all of the teams with better records than the Twins that didn’t clinch their division:
AL East: Boston Red Sox – .586 *wild card (more discussion on this practice in another post…)
AL West: Texas Rangers – .537
NL East: Florida Marlins – .537
NL Central: Chicago Cubs – .516 (let’s face it, the MLB Central divisions are awful)
NL West: Colorado Rockies – .568; San Francisco Giants – .543
So last night I had to go to sleep in Scotland (which is five hours ahead of EDT) with the tie-breaking 163rd game of the season to determine which team – the Tigers or the Twins – would move on to an immediate elimination during the first round of the playoffs looming over me (let’s face it, both teams had/have no chance, especially since they are going up against the Yanks in the first round…). What a thrill! Two teams that barely won over half of their games this season fighting for the coveted AL Central title. But alas I had no television and decided it would have been better to check in the morning after the damage had been done.
The game itself was rather epic though. The Metrodome (Minneapolis) was packed and the teams fought for nearly 12 full innings! If I had watched it I might have had an asthma attack or died instantly of a broken heart.
So the Tigers, being the historical team that they are, have become the first team in history with a three-game lead and only four games to go in the regular season to totally drop the ball. Better luck next decade.
This post, in partial attempt to push my last post under the radar, is more in my line of pseudo-expertise and at least non-inflammatory interest…
On 6 August 2009 Elliott Smith would have turned 40 years old. Instead, on 21 October 2009 we grieve six years without him. Readers may or may not know who Elliott Smith was (or is), but if you’ve heard the film soundtracks for either Good Will Hunting,Hurricane Streets, American Beauty, Keeping the Faith, Antitrust (sadly),The Royal Tenenbaums,Thumbsucker, Georgia Rule (unfortunately),The Go-Getter, orParanoid Park, or if you’ve played through Guitar Hero 5, you’ve been exposed to at least a portion of his work. If you’ve not heard any of that, maybe you saw the 70th Academy Awards (1998) and caught his performance “Miss Misery,” which was nominated for best original song (losing to James Horner and Will Jennings for “My Heart Will Go On,” from the film Titanic). Though he never experienced a great degree of commercial success, Elliott Smith has left a legacy of what I believe are some of the best pop/folk songs ever written.
Elliott Smith’s singing voice can be characterized as a tenor-whisper (which is also doubled in most tracks – Elliott is among the finest/if not the finest doubling singers I’ve ever heard). When I first heard his unique voice I didn’t know what to expect regarding his looks. The first time you see a picture of Elliott after hearing his voice you might ask yourself, “Really?” Yet when you see a live performance (something now only possible through video recordings) the deep honesty of his voice is a perfect complement to the deep honesty of his weathered face.
Lyrically Elliott is typically rather dark, which typically leaves his listeners ultimately unsurprised (though devastated) when they learn of his suicide. His lyrics often feature the themes of existential despair, love (or the absence of such) and the looming prospect of taking one’s own life (“Instruments shine on a silver tray | Don’t let me get carried away | Don’t let me get carried away | Don’t let me be carried away” – last lines on From a Basement on the Hill‘s ‘King’s Crossing’, one of the last songs he ever wrote).
But contrary to accusations I’ve often heard against it, Elliott’s music is not a tool for thrusting oneself into despair. I cannot precisely explain the emotional quality that draws me into Elliott Smith’s music, but it is not one that is dismal so much as it is honest. When I listen to Elliott Smith I find an advocate, a counselor, one not above the darkness, but in its midst. Like the Psalmist, Elliott cries out for me when I have no words. And that is what gives Elliott the edge in my musical library: he is so substantive and of this earth. His passions, his pains, his loves, his hates, his strengths, and his weaknesses are all laid out with the utmost artistic integrity. I truly believe every word that comes from his mouth, or at least I believe that he believes what he is singing.
If you’re looking for shallow comfort listen to The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’, one of my favourite pop songs of all time. But if you want to experience someone’s heart laid out before you and if you want to taste both the sweetness and bitterness of a true artist, give Elliott Smith a listen, a long intentional listen.
Elliott Smith Full-Length Releases
Let me first say that I consider every Elliott Smith album an excellent album, and I don’t award such praise lightly (at least I don’t think I do…).
From 1991 to 1996 Elliott sang/played guitar in the alternative rock band Heatmiser. While in the band he began his solo career, resulting in 1994’s Roman Candle, nine tracks (the last one instrumental) that Elliott had not actually intended on releasing in album form. With this in mind, Roman Candle is much less cohesive than Elliott’s later releases, but still showcases his exceptional musical/writing ability, as well as the signature lo-fi production that characterizes most of his music.
Elliott released his self-titled album in 1995, like Roman Candle, while still in Heatmiser. This album includes the track, “Needle in the Hay,” featured in the film The Royal Tenenbaums.
Either/Or, released in 1997, follows in the same vein as Elliott’s first two releases. The title comes from Søren Kierkegaard’s book, Enten ‒ Eller. Several songs from this album were used in the film Good Will Hunting (though “Miss Misery,” the song for which Elliott was nominated for an Academy Award, was written specifically for the film and saw no studio album release).
Elliott followed Either/Or with 1998’s XO, his first release through DreamWorks and thus his first release on a major label. Elliott’s earlier philosphical/aesthetic sentiments are present, but begin to manifest themselves differently through this album, which features more instruments and better production.
Following in the same musical/productive trajectory of XO, Elliott released Figure 8 in 2000. This album is simply incredible. The cover photo was taken in front of the A/V repair shop Solutions in Los Angeles by photographer Autumn de Wilde. If you’re in Los Angeles you can visit and leave a message on the wall (located at 4334 W. Sunset Blvd.), which has become an unofficial Elliott Smith memorial.
At the time of his death, Elliott was still working on this album, which was released posthumously in 2004. Though we don’t have Elliott’s final product here, his former producer along with his girlfriend compiled this album from the material he had been working on in the studio. They did a good job.
This album is actually a compilation of B-sides, outtakes and rarities generally from the self-titled and Either/Or sessions, and the style/production is predominantly reflective of that period. It was released in 2007.
For more information on Elliott Smith visit Sweet Adeline, his official website.
I saw the film Inglourious Basterds the other day, upon the recommendation of a number of friends. I left the theater feeling two simultaneous and somewhat contradictory feelings (in a word: ambivalent). On the one hand, I “enjoyed” the film: the tension-building dialogues exploding in a climactic release (apologies for the sexual undertones there), the hip, “anything goes” approach to style (anachronistic soundtrack, insider cameos, visual homage, etc.) and the powerful archetypal film characters (the bad ass soldiers, the avenging victim, the brilliant psychopath, etc.). It was an incredibly well-made film, but it also gave me exactly what I would want (on one level) from a movie about people taking on the Nazis. [SPOILER ALERT] The Nazis get SLAUGHTERED! The good guys win, and even if some of them died in the process, it was heroically in the act of destroying some of the most evil people in history.
But this is where the contradictory feeling came in. It felt wrong to enjoy the massacre of Nazis. (There was some part of me that felt like I was watching Team America: World Police without realizing it was a satire of American military arrogance.)
The scene that came back to me as I was reflecting on the film & realizing my ambivalence was when Hitler, Goebbels & the Nazi elite were watching the film within the film about the young Nazi war hero who killed 300 Allied soldiers from a tower. Repeatedly, we watch the Nazis applauding scenes of the sniper picking off his attackers (probably Americans) and we scoff at this propagandistic depiction of violence against the enemy, portrayed as inhuman, anonymous targets for the hero to destroy. Even the young Nazi hero seems to feel disdain for the way this is portrayed…
Though I did not find it ironic at the time, subsequently, we as the audience are treated to the sight of these Nazi filmgoers being burned to death & shot down like fish in a barrel by Jewish soldiers (along with a highly fetishized moment of actor Eli Roth ripping Hitler’s face apart with a hail (heil?) of bullets). It seems implicit that we will cheer this on, indeed, the whole film feels like a set-up for a moment that we can hardly believe could end this way (knowing actual history as we do). Of course, it was an “alternate history” reality we see occurring, but it felt so much more satisfying than what actually happened. However, I began to wonder how we as the filmgoers were much different from the Nazi movie audience cheering the death of Allied soldiers.
This led me to see the director of IB, Quentin Tarantino, as a sort of Joseph Goebbels figure of American populist cinema (depicting simplistic good/evil characters, giving an audience what it wants, using techniques–such as the score, B-movie conventions, etc.–to tap into the collective audience subconscious and manipulate them to the filmmaker’s ends), which oddly then, would make Harvey Weinstein, a Jew, the Hitler figure…although I suppose it’s not completely surprising as he has been seen as a bit of a fascist dictator in the filmmaking business.
The film had a number of role reversals of Nazi for Jew (Aldo referring to Nazi’s as “not human”, the brutal beatings/casual executions of German soldiers, all of the Nazi’s being burned to death similar to the crematoriums), which made me feel like I was being set up/propogandized to applaud the same thing for the Nazis which I lamented for the Jews. I may be seeing something that is not there at all, but it seems like to take this film simply as a “revenge fantasy film” for Jews (see reactions from descendants of Holocaust survivors and Rabbis here) lacks a certain amount of incredulity that a savvy director such as QT would expect. Am I supposed to resist my enjoyment of this slice of fantasy justice, or give into it and become implicitly akin to the Nazi filmgoers?
Anyhow, regardless of whether I have appropriately interpreted this sequence of scenes, I would recommend anyone else who “enjoyed” watching all of the Nazis get killed as inhuman representations of pure evil to watch a film like Stalingrad where the audience follows young German soldiers, who don’t seem as gung ho about the 3rd Reich as we usually see in films, heading to the Russian front where they are led like sheep to a slaughter. Anyone associated with the Nazi regime certainly finds themselves on the wrong side of history, but we may need to be careful to allow ourselves to be duped into seeing ANYONE as less than human…even those who we feel like are the worst people in history.
It’s late August and I’ve already got a top ten list for the best albums of the year. As I pointed out in an entry last year, it isn’t really my thing to jump on ‘new’ music per se. I am typically balancing myself between ‘new’ music and ‘old’ music that’s ‘new’ to me. This year I wanted to challenge myself to listen to more “new” music (i.e. music that has been/will be released in 2009).
With the trusty aid of musicblogs, Lala, random databases, and Greg I’ve been able to become exposed to a larger body of ‘new’ music this year and I decided that before I leave to Scotland and my postgraduate occupation with a large number of books, I would compile a list of my top ten albums of the year. Who knows, maybe this will be my final top ten list for the year (though it has been altered a bit even in the last 24 hours).
10. Cass McCombs—Catacombs
Cass McCombs reminds me of T Bone Burnett and Neil Young more than ever. He remains very unpretentious and sincere, perhaps on this album more than his previous records. Two tracks to reel you in: “You Saved My Life,” & “Lionkiller Got Married.”
9. Andrew Bird—Noble Beast
I really thought I would hate this album. I’m not much of a fan of Andrew Bird’s music. I’ve never enjoyed his voice. Perhaps Noble Beast’s inclusion on this list is a response to how much I tolerated it as opposed to how much I loved it. But I am leaning more toward its inclusion because I thoroughly enjoy listening to this album. Two tracks to reel you in: “Masterswarm,” & “Not a Robot, But a Ghost.”
This album was very surprising. I hadn’t been very impressed with Chris Cohen’s work with Curtains on Asthmatic Kitty, so I didn’t expect a lot. I saw Cryptasize for the first time with Danielson last November and they didn’t leave a very strong impression, but this album really brings out their strengths. It has a great mood—unpredictable but not irritating (like the Dirty Projectors’ new album…). Two tracks to reel you in: “Blue Tears,” & “Gotta Get Into That Feeling.”
7. We Were Promised Jetpacks—These Four Walls
Thanks to Sgt. Grumbles for this suggestion a couple months back. It reminds me of high school, in the best way possible. Enjoy the lovely accent, the token glockenspiel, and the incredible sincerity—one of the most important qualities I look for in an artist. Two tracks to reel you in: “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning,” & “An Almighty Thud.”
6. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
American faux-Brit pop never felt so great! It’s delightfully reminiscent of The Smiths, Jesus & Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. Two tracks to reel you in: “Young Adult Friction,” & “A Teenager In Love.” Note: the album cover bears a ridiculously close resemblance to Belle & Sebastian’s 2006 album, The Life Pursuit:
5. Sunset Rubdown—Dragonslayer
This album is a great step forward for Sunset Rubdown. It’s not obnoxiously poppy like Shut Up I Am Dreaming tended to be. There’s a lot going on musically, yet no component is overpowered by another within a song. Two tracks to reel you in: “Silver Moons,” & “Idiot Heart.”
4. Camera Obscura—My Maudlin Career
Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for Scotch indie-pop. This is probably my favorite release from Camera Obscura. Maybe I love it so much because Belle & Sebastian hasn’t released an LP since 2006. Even if there is a hint of my love for B & S in this pick, the album (and the band) stands on its own through musical precision and artistic maturity. Thank you Tracyanne Campbell for your exceptional wit. Two tracks to reel you in: “French Navy,” & “My Maudlin Career.”
3. Cursive—Mama, I’m Swollen Mama, I’m Swollen probably seems to be an odd pick for this number three slot, but I will always have a soft spot for Cursive. This is not to say that this album is undeserving of praise. Cursive is not interested in being another experimental freak-folk-electro-post-rock-cross-genre-remixed piece of overproduced crap like so many other groups are becoming (namely Dirty Projectors). They are faithful to their expressive indie roots, this album being far less poppy than Happy Hollow. It reminds me of Domestica even. Tim Kasher is still obsessed with refuting a theistic/morally superior worldview, but he does it with so much passion and angst I can’t help but be stirred. Cursive encourages us to realize the failure of our Enlightenment/modern ideals and to accept our animalistic/primitive nature. I don’t buy it but not because it’s not packaged well. Two tracks to reel you in: “From the Hips,” & “Let Me Up.”
2. Animal Collective—Merriweather Post Pavilion
Though it is more accessible (think Pet Sounds) than their entire repertoire (a bad start in my odd musical sense), this album is very unique, big (to the point of breathtaking at times), and yet more cohesive with itself than any other Animal Collective album. The songs don’t leave you asking, “When is this going to end/how does that even fit?” Two tracks to reel you in: “My Girls,” & “Summertime Clothes.”
1. Grizzly Bear—Veckatimest
My first listen of this record was a positive, but not profound experience. Only two tracks really stuck out to me: “Two Weeks,” and “While You Wait for the Others.” I was even a little disappointed with the album version of “While You Wait for the Others,” at first (compared to their incredible live performance I saw on Morning Becomes Eclectic last year). I sat with the album for another month and at that point it hit me. This is by far (maybe I’ll get harassed for saying that) Grizzly Bear’s best record. By best I mean that they demonstrate great maturity and excellence both in writing and execution, two points that have always seemed to miss one another by an ever-so-slight degree. This record is certain to remain among my favorites unless I fully give myself over to jazz-fusion or something. Two tracks to reel you in: “Two Weeks,” & “I Live With You.”
Compilations worth mentioning Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison – a compilation of George Harrison’s solo music spanning his entire post-Beatle career. Dark Was the Night – a compilation release benefiting the Red Hot Organization. Royal City – a Royal City B-side compilation released by Asthmatic Kitty. God Help the Girl – a music/film project written Stuart Murdoch, the singer of Belle & Sebastian. Members of Belle & Sebastian with guest vocalists. CD Booklet features a short story that goes with the music.