Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quote of the Day

And it comes to you via Auto-Tune, which is to say it was spoken by Kanye West.

Are you ready for this? Are you sure? Okay, here ya go...

"Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book's autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books."

This is excerpted from an article describing that Ye has, ironically enough, written a book. Here is a description...

His book is 52 pages -- some blank, others with just a few words -- and offers his optimistic philosophy on life. One two-page section reads, "Life is 5% what happens and 95% how you react!" Another page reads "I hate the word hate!"

And if all that isn't enough, here's one more atrocity to throw on the pile... To get through 52 mostly blank pages, he needed a co-author.

I officially renounce my coronation of Late Registration as 2005 Album of the Year.

Zabriskie Point

They're re-releasing Antonioni's Zabriskie Point this week, and so in honor of that, I'm posting the original trailer, which so fascinated Via Chicago and myself back in the day that we actually sat through the two hours of mumbly nonsense that comprises the movie itself.

Zabriskie Point...Where a boy...and a touch...and BLOW THEIR MINDS.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Most Half-Hearted 9.0 in Pitchfork History?

On a lighter, more navel-gazing meta note:

I still haven't heard Veckatimest, so I'm reserving judgment on the Album of the Year of the week until I have. I think Grizzly Bear is talented -- Ed Droste has a great voice, I love their harmonies, and their music is interestingly textured -- but the other records of theirs that I've heard have been plagued by, how shall I put this, really boring songwriting. Some highlights, sure, but the whole meandering thing didn't really float my boat. But then with this new one, people (including some of our own Collective) have been going nuts ever since the existence of a leak was even contemplated, so I'm holding out hope.

Needless to say, Pitchfork, in particular, has been wetting itself for months, and I was curious what number grade they'd give it -- would it beat Merriwether Post Pavilion?!?!?!!oneelevenone!!!

As it turns out, no, it got a respectfully fawning 9.0 grade. But if you read the review, do you get the feeling that the writer is almost apologizing for giving it such a high grade? It's filled to the brim with weirdly passive aggressive back handed compliments. In fact, nearly every paragraph has at least one fairly negative note. Reading the review, you wouldn't think it adds up to 9.0. To wit:

Veckatimest ain't perfect; lord knows it tries.

What's perhaps the most remarkable thing about the truly remarkable Veckatimest, however, is how very exciting much of it is; no small feat for a painstaking chamber-pop record that never once veers above the middle tempo.

2007's Friend EP had me worried that Grizzly Bear's insistence on having everything in its right place had forced formula onto what had seemed to that point freewheeling and free-associative. For every inspired moment on Friend, there was another that fell back on the tried-but-true: a quiet intro bleeding into a big, harmonic midsection followed by an eventual denouement.

But this is Grizzly Bear, and despite an increased confidence in their pop sensibilities and an overall strengthening of melodies, they're still meanderers at heart. Highlights abound, but Veckatimest does sound as though it was conceived as a whole piece, and one must consider both the overall structure and the connective tissue between the abundant highlights to judge it a success. Save "Cheerleader" and the lilting "Ready, Able", the stretch between "Fine for Now" and "While You Wait" wanders a bit; certain moments, like Rossen's "swim around like two dories" line and the wispy, wheezing "About Face", hit harder than others. But you'll be looking for a while to find anybody who thinks the center of Veckatimest is as strong as the stuff surrounding it.

Beyond irking folks predisposed to slagging off intricate and, yeah, "sophisticated" music like this-- you stay punk, I'mma stay fascinated-- this trip down yonder to the minor key will doubtless be the big complaint about Veckatimest. But really, couldn't we say the same about Yellow House? [Ed. note: This line is the most curious to me -- if this is supposed to be the big record that takes them to a next level, how is it relevant that the flaws of the new one are no different/worse than the flaws of their last, relatively little-heard one?]

Yet the pop moments on Veckatimest feel even bigger after the slight deviation at its core; surrounded by a few sour notes and sidesteps, "Cheerleader" and "Ready, Able" becomes that much stronger, and even the less effective numbers ("Hold Still", "Fine for Now") seem only to cower a smidge as a result of the staggering heights they're placed next to. Out of context, they're every bit as good as the more sinewy stuff that wove Yellow House together.

Yeah, Veckatimest sounds worked-over, but in the best of ways; carefully embellished, stripped bare when applicable, full of the joy of sounds colliding with other sounds.

I get it; Grizzly Bear can come across to some as boring. Lord knows I could go my whole life never reading another Ed Droste Tweet about pho or seeing Chris Taylor use a neti pot. But this little microcosm of imperfection indie rock's been working through lately could use a foil like Veckatimest, a record that, in searching for perfection through meticulousness, feels beautifully flawed and gloriously off-kilter without either side serving as the entire narrative.

I ended up reprinting nearly the entire review, but that's the point -- almost every line in the review is a sort of apologetic acknowledgment that, while deeply flawed, the record does have merit.* That's fine for a review -- but a 9.0? What I find odd is that it reads as if the reviewer didn't love it but then they slapped the 9.0 on anyway. I don't subscribe to the conspiracy theories of Ryan Schreiber dictating number grades from on high, but this is one of the strongest disjunctions between score and text that I've seen in a while. That said, I look forward to hearing it finally and judging for myself whether Texplush's "Next Radiohead" prediction will bear out...

*And don't get me wrong -- I LOVE deeply flawed but ultimately rewarding albums. Those are often some of my favorites. But this review takes things to another level.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jay Bennett, R.I.P.

Looks like Drischord was more right than we knew....

Read about it here.

The moment in this video where Jay and Jeff headbang in unison always gets me...

There are lots of favorite Jay moments in Wilco songs, for me a personal favorite was always Someday Some Morning Sometime from Mermaid Ave. 2....Such a gorgeous song and I've always thought it represented the moment where the collaboration between Jeff and Jay was really beginning to blossom...

Star Trek

I just saw the new Star Trek movie, and really enjoyed myself. Movie snob that I am, there was plenty of Hollywood hackery that I could dismissively sneer at, but I also thought that the movie did exactly what it set out to do, and in many ways I was very impressed. I'll try to avoid putting any spoilers in here, but I thought firstly that they did a good job at setting up the movie as something more than a prequel, and I appreciated the inventive way that they chose to set up their story as quite literally an alternate-universe Star Trek.

And secondly, I'm enough of a Star Trek nerd to have picked up on (at least many of) the references which were thrown into the movie for hardcore fans, and I thought they pulled it off remarkably seamlessly. A few examples:

1. The first away team scene made hilarious use of the convention of a man in a red suit getting killed off immediately.

2. We got to witness the famous moment in which Captain Kirk became the only man to ever beat a certain Star Fleet Academy battle simulation by reprogramming the computer--and the scene was weaved effectively into the plot to move the story forward.

3. Several elements of the Captain Pike subplot were callbacks to earlier Treks, such as having him appear in a wheelchair near the end, which I have to believe must have been a reference to the fate of the original Captain Pike, just thrown in for superfans to enjoy.

Maybe I'm just a big enough Star Trek nerd that I was able to enjoy the silly ride of this movie for what it was, in a way that I'm usually not able to do with superhero movies and the like. I approve!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back to The Week That Was

I'm going to try to issue a few posts on albums from last year. It seems silly to declare "best of" lists and then just leave them to sit for time eternal.

First up is The Week That Was. I learned about this group from Tex Plush in either November or December, but was still taken by them to the point that they made the #8 spot on my list for the entire year.

I was already warmed up to them via School of Language, whom I spent the better part of the year drooling over. And while I don't think TWTW's album is quite as consistent as SOL's Sea to Shore, I think it contains the highlight of their combined output-- and Field Music's as well.

Here it is, "Scratch the Surface," which is the last cut on the album. Love it and weep, bitches...

Analysis: It still holds up, and probably still in the #8 spot where I had it last year.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Listening to the new Wilco album (now streaming on their website) my initial reaction the first time through was that it sounded fine, but that it was the first time I'd ever heard a new Wilco album and not been seriously surprised by some aspect of their sound. In that respect, I was disappointed, and wondered if they had now found a comfortable rut, and I could expect them to be sticking to it.

But I just played it through a second time, and while I only had it on the background while I worked, and didn't really give it a close listen, I already liked it more, and was able to pick out at least 3 songs that with a few more listens I'm pretty confident I'll grow to I'm going out on a limb to say that--as usual--this one's going to be a grower.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another little Townes gem...

I figured I'd take this opportunity to post a great gem of an interview with Townes Van Zandt...I may have forced some of you guys to watch this back in college, so it might look familiar. Watch as Townes explains to a star struck woman what his song Pancho and Lefty is "about".

(As for the subsequent performance of the song, I can only say that it's certainly not the definitive version. By 1984 his voice is already starting to go, and in my opinion the song could have done without the flute.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Steve Earle does Townes: only $2.99 right now on Amazon

I have a feeling this deal won't last long

Dirty Projectors Fever: Catch It!

Seriously, guys - this is the album to beat this year. You will ALL like it if you give it a chance. It comes out in June. I ordered it on vinyl and will welcome you all to my home for a spin.
In the meantime -
You can hear the first single, Stillness is the Move here
Even tastemakers such as Dr. Kittybrains admit that it is awesome!
You can watch DP collaborate with Bjork here
Read about said collaboration in the NY Times here
Face it, you're going to have to see if i'm right eventually. LISTEN TO THE SINGLE

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Jay Bennett Approaching Rock Bottom

More than anything, I just feel sorry for the guy.

He's suing for royalties from that 2001 documentary which stars him as a depressing guy who got fired from Wilco.

Friday, May 01, 2009

There's Nothing New Under the Sun

I've been exploring so much new music recently, (made possible in part by Eric's Academy Music recommendation: that place has an unbelievable hoard of dirt cheap used classical music) that I'm stumbling across all kinds of interesting things, and wanted to share one highly unexpected parallel.

I know next to nothing about the actual musical history involved, but I've been noticing that some baroque music sounds amazingly like 20th century minimalist music. Or to be more precise: sometimes Handel creates a nice effect by suddenly having his violins go into a very repetitious phrase for one section of a song...and Phillip Glass stole that one trick and made an entire career out of it.

Compare this selection from Einstein on the Beach:

with this from the Messiah: