Archive for the ‘ reviews ’ Category

Martin Mull and Catherine O’Hara were in ABBA

The proof:

Have you ever seen them all in the same place? Please let me know.

The Decade’s Most Important Music

I really like what I wrote over at the All Songs Considered blog, so before it gets buried in everyone else’s nominations, I want to share mine here:

  • Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: The story of how this album was released puts this on any Historically Important album list.
  • Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun: Who would have ever predicted that music like this would sell out theaters across the US?
  • Sufjan Stevens – Illinois: This and Michigan highlight the folk/old timey trend in the best music of the 21st century so far.
  • White Stripes – White Blood Cells: Showed the world the brilliant talent of Jack White.
  • The Arcade Fire – Funeral: One of the first big blog buzz bands, making it historically important.
  • The Strokes – Is This It: Remember when rock was fresh and new again at the turn of the century? This album led the way.
  • Brian Wilson – Smile: At last!
  • OutKast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below: I know I’m supposed to pick the other one, but that one didn’t have “Hey Ya”.

Movie Stuff

Well, here we are. The season for good films has come and gone already. The Oscars are on Sunday, and although I’m excited, I can’t say what I’m excited for exactly. Hardly any films really captured me this year. But here’s a few that did.

The Visitor

As I already blogged, I thought this movie was amazing. I literally yelped with glee when I found out he was nominated — I wanted him to be recognized so badly. What a beautiful, subtle, and understated performance that too few big name actors could give. I watched it with my mom, and she called it the best movie she’s seen in a long time. I found a few holes in the plot upon my second watching, but I can look past that for such an original script.

Man on Wire

If it hadn’t actually happened, I’d never believe it. Whenever I stumble a little or lose my balance a bit, I think of Philippe Petit on the wire between the Twin Towers. How could he do it? It’s a glorious story with great meaning for so many reasons. Philippe Petit is absolutely crazy, but I’m thankful for his craziness.

John Adams

Though not a theatatrically realeased film, it’s the one that affected me the most. It’s astoundingly accurate, and Paul Giamati has won my respect once again for his brilliant performance. I hope he gets more roles like this…it reminded me of how good he was in American Splendor.

The Dark Knight

I actually forgot how much I enjoyed it at the time. It hasn’t held up for me mentally like the other three films above. I’m not a superhero girl at all, but this one and Batman Begins were really fantastic portrayals of that genre. I don’t think it should have been nominated for best picture, and I think any argument for such is pretty lame. It’s a great movie played by excellent actors, but it’s still basically an action/adventure film with more emotion than the average action/adventure film.

I’ve seen all but one of the best picture nominees, Frost/Nixon, though I plan to see it tomorrow. I’ve seen almost all the other acting nominees, except Doubt, The Wrestler, Frozen River, and Rachel Getting Married.

I assume the highly overrated Slumdog Millionaire will win it all. If the film hadn’t included the far-fetched love story, I would have liked it better. I also feel like it’s become the token foreign film for a lot of people.

Here’s the rest of my Oscar picks/wants.

Best Picture:

Pick – Slumdog Millionaire

Want – I really don’t care, but I guess Milk right now

Leading Actor:

Pick – Sean Penn. Sorry Mickey, but I think your “welcome back” was the Golden Globe

Want – Sean Penn or Richard Jenkins, but he obviously won’t get it

Leading Actress:

Pick – Anne Hathaway or Melissa Leo. I fully expect a surprise in this category since nobody wants to choose between Meryl and Kate

Want – I can’t say cuz I’ve only seen  The Reader, and I don’t think Kate deserves it

Screenplay, Original:

Original screenplays are always an important thing I look at. I’m a real critic of dialog, which is funny considering that my pick has hardly any.

Pick – Wall-e

Want – Wall-e, though I can’t say for sure since the only other one I’ve seen is Milk, which I don’t think should be in this category. Wall-e wasn’t perfect, but it was very original.

What are you picks? Who got snubbed?

I know you’re listening, Comcast

This week I finally broke free from cable TV. I bought a nice antenna, upgraded my Tivo, and decided to ditch cable since 90% of what I watch isn’t on it. I don’t care for reality TV and don’t get a kick out of watching other people make fools of themselves whilst drunk. At least not on TV I have to pay for.

I thought canceling cable with Comcast might be easy. I also thought it might interrupt my internet service, also purchased through Comcast. [After all, I had experience to back up this theory. My first cell phone was through Qwest. When I called to cancel my Qwest land line, the CS rep also canceled my cell phone. I had to call them back from a payphone in Perkins.]

The CS rep canceling my Comcast “video service”, as they like to call it, was very friendly and did not pressure me into anything. She warned me that my internet price would go up $15 since I was not bundling with another service any longer. Although the pricing is beyond unfair, I stuck to my guns.

A couple minutes after hanging up with Comcast, I went to my computer. My internet was down. I did all the things the reps have you do when you call in for help, but nothing worked. I knew it was something on their end. I wasn’t getting a signal from the wall jack. The nice lady fucked up my account.

So I called back. Unsurprisingly, the rep had me try all the stuff I’d already tried. I told her that everything worked until my video was canceled, but it fell on deaf ears. Instead, she had me turn off my antivirus. She insisted that she was sending signals to my modem. I told her that the correct lights were not on. Again, she ignored my information.

She continued to tell me that the last course of action will be to send someone out. I was fine with that because I figured at least that person might have a brain capable of listening and making intelligent decisions based on the information provided. I asked if I’d have to pay for the visit and she says that yes, there is a $24 fee. I insisted that I was not paying for a visit for a problem caused on their end. We went back and forth for a bit, then she graciously granted me a free month of the service plan so the tech visit would be free for me.

The next day, I tweeted about my issue to @comcastcares. Just a few minutes later, I received the following reply:

i apologize please emial we_can_help@cable.comcast.com your experience so we can not make this happen again.

Despite the horrible typos, I sent a message explaining everything I wrote above. I received a reply quite quickly. I emailed back and forth with Bonnie in her pink font and typos galore. She asked some good questions and pretty much admitted Comcast’s fault in the matter.

Little did I know that Bonnie escalated my ticket to Deb at the local Comcast office, who left me two voicemails in the afternoon. I don’t even remember what the first one said, but the second one said that she changed something on my account and can now get a signal to my modem. She asked that I call her back at a special number (not the number on the caller ID). I got home, futzed with the modem a bit, and miraculously got a signal. My internet was back up, as good as ever.

I called the special number (a line just for local escalations, from what I could tell) and got some dude. I said my name and explained why I was calling and the dude said, “Oh yes, Deb told me about you. I’m glad to hear everything works now.”

The moral of this story is clear. Actually, there are two morals.

1. Comcast needs smarter CS reps who actively listen and make smart decisions based on what the customer is saying instead of trying to fit everything into a troubleshooting tree. If they aren’t tech savvy, fire them. One size does not fit all when it comes to tech issue resolution.

2. To get Comcast’s attention, all you got to do is tweet about it. Set up a Twitter account now, Comcast customers, just in case you ever need to bitch about them. Comcast is obviously aware of their poor image enough to know that they can curb issues quickly via social networking sites. Now they just need to see the patterns in these issues, and turn them into information to improve their customer service.

Greats of 2008, part 5

And now, the final installment of the Greats of 2008 series.

Greats of 2008 Soundtrack

For the past two years, I’ve made a mix CD for friends featuring my favorite music of the past year. It’s not always songs from my favorite albums, but they are songs that I consistently rewound for second or third plays in a row. Here’s what made the cut this year.

No One Does It Like You – Department of Eagles: Best song of the year for me — absolutely no doubt.

Call It A Ritual – Wolf Parade: I love all the different ways he says the title. His enunciation intrigues me.

Modern Guilt – Beck: Lots of really great ditties on that album, and some so-so ones. I love the beat and the little electronic blips on this track. And of course I dig the 60s vibe.

Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur – Sigur Ros: Yes, they can be FUN!

The Re-arranger – Mates of State: Possibly my second favorite song of the year. A late find for me. I’m so glad they stopped shouting because they can make really beautiful music.

Two Ways – The 1900s: This is a version from Daytrotter that was recorded in February, though I think the song is from 2007. No matter, it’s a brilliant one.

Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend: I hated this song at first because I thought “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford Comma” was a stupid way to open a song. It is still, but the rest of the rich melody makes up for it. I love how he sings “put the chap stick on your lips”.

California Girls – The Magnetic Fields: I mainly included this song because I completely agree with its thesis.

Don’t Do Anything – Sam Phillips: Another favorite song of the year for me. It contains all that I love about songs as an artform — simplicity usually wins.

Weather to Fly – Elbow: I don’t like the beginning of this song, but I love how he goes “perfect weather to fly” then immediately follows it with another “weather to fly” sung higher in this almost churchly fashion. It’s like when you first hear a Brit say something but it sounds like they’re asking a question, because they end on a higher note. Love it.

Flume – Bon Iver: For some reason “Skinny Love” became everyone’s fave off the album, but the first track is the killer for me. I’m a sucker for weird droney feedbacky sounds.

Tiger Mountain Pleasant Song – Fleet Foxes: I mean, seriously. If this song isn’t entered in a time capsule for 2008, I’ll cry.

Among the Pines – A.A. Bondy: Another Daytrotter session. I’m not sure when this originally came out, but I think this Dylan wannabe has a lot of talent. No matter what all the mean, old folks at the Bondy/Heartless Bastards show said.

Acid Tongue – Jenny Lewis: I rarely fully memorize songs any more, mostly because I don’t understand lyrics very well and I don’t bother sitting down with the lyric book like I did in high school. But this one stuck to me right away, and I’m happy for that.

Librarian – My Morning Jacket: This song is about me and my kind. And I think it’s sexy when he says “duck into the men’s room” even though it’s probably the worst part of the song.

Sing the Changes – The Fireman: Just give it a try. I can say no more.

Sentimental Heart – She & Him: Yeah, everyone needs a little folk bubble gum on a mix CD. The version I included is actually a live take from somewhere, but you can’t even tell.

Happy Holidays!

Greats of 2008, part 4

Here we are at last – my favorite music of 2008. Like one of my comrades in music inspection, this was a hard one. I think it was a great year for music, in the sense that I liked and purchased a lot of albums. More than any other year, probably. But there were no real stand out obvious choices, except for my top one. But even then, it wasn’t like Sufjan Stevens or Midlake where I listened to the album every day and memorized the whole thing. Or maybe I’m just too old for that now.

10. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer: Although I’ve hardly listened to the second half of this album, the songs that are good are really innovative, and deserve recognition here. [For whatever that's worth.] I never paid attention to this band until I heard “Call It a Ritual” with its off-kilter piano this year and immediately loved it. These guys make great hooks with a mean guitar. I listened to Apologies to the Queen Mary to make up for lost time, but it felt empty to me. Still, I predict that Wolf Parade have a long and varied career.

9. Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs, The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: The last decade or so of Dylan’s career has seen a resurgence of his talent finally. Was it really gone or was he just putting his energy into something none of us understood (his Christianity and desire for shitty production)? Anyway, this set makes his voice sound great and showcases his amazing band. They are so tight, which from what I understand, is diffcult to do with Dylan. Greatest songwriter ever, so shutup you hipster haters.

8.  Sam Phillips – Don’t Do Anything: I’d never heard of this chick until Bob Boilen was gabbing about her Tiny Desk Concert at NPR. From what I read, I thought I wouldn’t be interested, but my gut told me to give it a try. Boy am I glad I have a smart gut. The sound of this album is really surprising — it’s just as full of distortion as the Magnetic Fields were in January, and the songwriting is almost of equal caliber. This was my biggest, and happiest, surprise of 2008 for sure. She’s certainly not for the hardcore hipsters though.

7. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: To be fair, I’d probably put this one higher if not for all the hype and subsequent backlash. Yeah, I can ride a bandwagon with the best of ‘em. But really, this is a clever album with sounds pop music hasn’t heard since Paul Simon’s Graceland. I’m hoping they’ll grow up with their next album, stop talking about the east coast and college, and even ditch the Afropop. They’ve got real potential. But they’ll probably just break up. Or pretend not to like The Strokes.

6.  Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue: She does it again, though in an only slightly less country way. She’s sly with her songs — you really need to pay attention. Ditch Rilo Kiley, Jenny, you’re better without them.

5. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid: This was my favorite album for a really long time, and I’m glad it won the Mercury Prize. But then suddenly all the sentimentality lost its luster, and I think a lot of it had to do with the totally lame video for “The Bones of You“, an otherwise brilliant song. Now I’m turned off by it, but I predict that it will become meaningful again in the future.

4. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago: I already included this in my Lists of 2007, but it deserves another highlight here. I’m so happy that Justin Vernon has made such a splash around the world with this gorgeous album. MOJO even interviewed him at home in Eau Claire (where I lived during college for 4.5 years)! And he’s following it up with an EP next month, so keep your ears peeled.

3.  Department of Eagles – In Ear Park: I can’t understand why this album is missing from so many lists this year. I’ve liked Grizzly Bear (both featuring Daniel Rossen), but never got as obsessed with Yellow House or Friend as I did this one. The soundscape on this album is miraculous. It’s what Brian Wilson wished That Lucky Old Sun could sound like. Heavenly…

2. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: Screw you, haters of this album. I love that the sounds are all over the place. I love that it’s overproduced in spots (that’s the only time you’ll ever hear me say that). I love the proggy sound (again, that’s the only time you’ll hear me say that). This album had nothing going for it in terms of my musical taste. But every song is amazing because Jim James knows how to sing, play guitar, and write fine songs. It’s as simple as that. It’s the Revolver of 2008. I hope MMJ make their Sgt Pepper next year.

1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes & Sun Giant [EP]: Best newish band of the year. Best live act for me. Best songs. Part Shins, part Midlake, all Northwest, pastoral, bearded goodness. While I was in Oregon earlier this year, driving through deep woods, my mind’s soundtrack kept repeating “White Winter Hymnal“. Absolutely perfect.

Greats of 2008, part 3

I was thinking of having a post about all the non-music things that I saw or got into this year, but I realized that it would involve a lot of research and memory. Plus, I haven’t seen too many movies this year, and I’m not used to reviewing plays, so I’m sticking to music.

Missed ‘Em

Here’s some music that I’ve seen on some best of 2008 lists that I’d like to spend more time with.

  1. Beach House – Devotion: I liked their last record, but I didn’t even realize that they had a new one this year. That’s what I get for paying more attention to NPR than Pitchfork.
  2. No Age – Nouns: Even Rolling Stone had this in their top albums. I can’t let Rolling Stone get the best of me.
  3. The Walkmen – You & Me: I have liked their stuff in the past (namely their Pussycats cover record), but they seem a little too macho. Like old school, sloppy “We’re dudes in a band! Let’s party!” types (The Hold Steady is another example). But I heard a couple songs from this album and really liked the mood they set.
  4. Deerhunter – Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.: I get all the “deer” bands messed up and I think I thought this was Deerhoof, who I do not like, so I skipped it. But then I happened to hear a song and was impressed. It was an acousticy number, which I find myself almost exclusively attracted to these days.
  5. Santogold – Santogold: So far not what I expected. Love that.

Nearly Favorites

And now, working up to my top 10, here’s the albums that didn’t make the big list. These are albums I did spend time with, or saw on tour, but didn’t really get obsessed with.

  •  M83 – Saturdays = Youth: This is not my typical musical taste. I hate synths. I can’t stand most 80s/New Wave songs…it’s all so unorganic sounding. But for some reason — maybe it was the mystery each song leaves you with, or the fantastic trip the entire album takes you on — but this album was my work soundtrack for weeks. It sounded very familiar to me, but not trite, and that’s hard to accomplish.
  • Stephen Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash: I think Malkmus keeps getting stronger and stronger both as a songwriter and as a guitarist. This is no Face the Truth, but it says a lot that I actually love the long guitar solos on this record. Just good, raw guitar rock. Janet Weiss was a perfect addition to the Jicks. This might also be the only worthwhile Matador album of 2008. What’s up with them?
  • She & Him – Volume 1: I debated on not including this in any of my lists since Paste named it their album of the year. As I commented on Stereogum, I think this album is a step backward for music. I know M. Ward doesn’t mean it this way, but the idea of the album reeks of Ike backing Tina Turner or Phil backing Ronnie Spector. I suppose Zoey needed someone to legitimize her foray into music. She does have a great voice, and her songwriting chops are commendable. But it gets boring. It’s a step backward in music. It’s not like Fleet Foxes who have taken the folk history of rock and turned it into something beautiful and important for today. It’s just a bunch of simple songs that sound good. Lots of people can do that.
  • Magnetic Fields – Distortion: It was thrilling to hear the Magnetic Fields electrified, but then the novelty kinda wore off.
  • Sigur Ros – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust: I respect and admire Sigur Ros more than I actually enjoy listening to them. I love hearing the music, but it’s sometimes emotionally draining to hear it repeatedly. Even the happy songs feel draining. I’m glad they made a poppier record that remained true to themselves.
  • Spirtitualized – Songs in A+E: I was very briefly obsessed with this one, I guess because it’s so stark and depressing. But listening to it weeks later made me feel icky, which I think is intentional. The creepy romanticism I’ve always associated with him doesn’t work for me much any more.
  • REM – Accelerate: Thank God that one turned out all right.

Greats of 2008, Part 2

Updated – I forgot a few.

Like last year, I’d like to highlight the not-so-new music that I finally discovered or re-discovered since January. Between my list here and Pitchfork’s suspicious 500 Songs of the last 30 years, I hope some hipsters will discover some goodies over five years old.

  • Billy Joel – Glass Houses: I happened to hear Chuck Klosterman mention this album on MPR, so I used Rhapsody to check it out. If I had first heard that this is Joel’s attempt at new wave or punk-type sounds, I would have never listened. But it is his reaction to those genres, and I gotta say that I agree with him all the way. I spent time with other Joel albums this year, but I liked none of them as consistently as I liked Glass Houses. Piano Man comes in second.
  • Bob Dylan & The Band – The Basement Tapes: This is one of those albums I’ve read about for so long that I thought I had actually heard it. I love this impromptu sound — so gritty yet warm.
  • Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814: Of course I’d loved this album since junior high or whenever it was, but I got the Jimmy Jamm/Terry Lewis bug in May and just had to download this album. Why can’t hip hop production sound this good any more? Every song is so strong and original. Wake up, producers, and learn from your forefathers.
  • Bob Dylan – The Rolling Thunder Revue: It’s my second year of getting up to speed on Dylan, and as another item on this list already shows, I’m just getting started. As mentioned in a previous post, I could not get this album out of my head, especially the joyful version of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”. That tour sounds like magic.
  • George & Ira Gershwin: I suppose I’ve been a fan without realizing it. Songs from “An American in Paris” are among my favorites from that era. But it wasn’t until I saw an American Masters episode about George that I really got interested. Another one who died too young…
  • Elton John – Honkey Chateau: As mentioned in an earlier post, I think early Elton John is pretty gay rad. Love it. Any recommendations for another Elton album for me to check out (besides Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Empty Sky)?

Now, go check out some more traditional best of lists here and here.

Greats of 2008, Part 1

We’ve finally made it. The US has a swell new prez, there’s more cute cat videos online than ever before, and Britney Spears may actually come back to some state of normalcy. It’s a great time to post some best of lists!

I’m starting with my favorite shows of 2008 because what I witnessed was amazing time and time again. Some shows were little, some big, but nearly all exciting and memorable.

Favorite Shows

  1. Fleet Foxes – 7th Street Entry, July 20: Whenever I think about the great shows I saw this year, Fleet Foxes is the first one that comes to mind. The intimacy was overwhelming. Being that close to the band made me aware of how rare it is for voices so beautiful to come together and make such wonderful music. Some bands are built for greatness, and I think Fleet Foxes is one of them.
  2. The National & REM – Xcel Energy Center, June 5: Maybe it was my great seats, or maybe it was the singalong factor that is so rare for shows I normally see, but Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, etc. really know how to pack a punch. Stipe is a vain clown on stage, encouraging you to have a great time. The National doesn’t quite work the crowd the same way, but they proved to be a big hit for the over 40-set. I was proud of them, in a strange way. Like, “Yes, the indie kids won over the oldies!”
  3. Sigur Ros – Orpheum Theater, September 25: An absolutely stunning show that left the girls behind us crying and me with goose bumps. I have never seen a concert like Sigur Ros. I expected a small orchestra for some reason, instead it was just a rock band making orchestral-caliber music.
  4. Magnetic Fields – Madison WI, October 11: If I was making a list of funniest shows of 2008, Magnetic Fields would be at the top. The opening PowerPoint presentations by Liz Clayton and Paul Lukas created an LOL ambiance seldom felt at presentations or rock concerts. The band’s musicianship is amazing — turning the songs from Distortion into little folk ditties you’d swear were from 16th century Ireland if not for the modern references.
  5. St Vincent- Cedar Cultural Center, February 22: Continuing my fascination with this singer/songwriter, St Vincent proved once again that her songs are better live than recorded. This time, she had a band, which I thought would diminish her strong presence. Instead it augmented her sound without pushing her aside. Hopefully I can see her again in 2009 and make it three years in a row.

More lists to come!

P.S.

I Voted in 89.3 The Current's Top 89 Albums of 2006

An extraordinary film

I saw one of the finest films I’ve seen this year, if not the best. A friend wanted to go, and I went with, not knowing much about it.

It’s “The Visitor“, and I suggest everyone to run out and see it. I’m saying this not because it could be a sleeper hit like “Juno” or “Once” last year or ev

en an Oscar contender, but because it is an amazing story told in an elegant way by fantastic actors.

It’s hard to tell who is visiting who. The story begins with a lonely widower professor (you’ll know him as the dead dad from “Six Feet Under”), bored with life and missing his wife. He’s forced to go to New York (he lives and Conneicut) for a conference, where he temporarily moves back into an apartment he’s kept there (and probably hasn’t visited since his wife died). Much to his surprise, a young mixed-nationality couple has moved in based on their friend Ivan’s say-so.

visitor.jpg

The professor allows the couple to stay at the apartment anyway. The young man plays an ethnic drum of some kind (please excuse my ignorance), and the professor gets into it (he’s already failed piano lessons). The men become fast friends. From there, the story takes two very interesting twists that seem so natural are dealt with so seamlessly, you hardly notice they are twists. It simply feels real.

I won’t give away any more except to say that along with a great story, this is also one of the great New York movies I’ve seen. It really shows New York in all its (sometimes shitty) glory. The subway, the street musicians, the gross delis, the ugly coffee shops, and most importantly, the diversity. It’s the New York I’ve visited, and I’ve never really seen it shown correctly in a film before. Perhaps “Annie Hall” showed it honestly as it was in the mid-70s, but I wouldn’t really know.

So, go see “The Visitor” — 9/10 stars!