Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009 (and Top 5 Albums of the Decade)

Since everyone has come down with Best-Of-List fever, I guess I’ll hop on the bandwagon.

Top Five Albums of 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
This band continues to evolve their sound without sacrificing what makes them great.

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
While not as mesmerizing as Fox Confessor, this is a solid album with plenty of high points.

Various Artists – Dark was the Night
It's amazing how many artists got involved in this project. Full of gems that create a perfect mood together.

Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
The idea of a rock-opera could turn out to be hilariously bad, but the Decemberists manage to make an inspired experience. Vivid imagery and great music.

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Critic darlings of the moment but it's deservedly so. I don't consider this among the best of the decade as some lists have it, but they are definitely on the cutting edge of the music scene right now.

I left off Grizzly Bear, not because I don't like them but I think the album is weaker than most care to admit. It's the best mediocre record I've heard in a long time, but not worthy of being in my top five.

How can anyone try to compile such a concise list for the decade? Thus most sites I see are doing a list of hundreds of albums. I was resistant but gave it a shot anyway...

Top 5 Albums of the Decade

Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
This one’s on the top of a lot of lists and justifiably so. After the opus of OK Computer, my anticipation for a new Radiohead album was never higher than for Kid A. Even still, I was unprepared for what they created. What a great way to kick off a decade in music and set the bar high for everyone else.

Sigur Rós – Ágætis byrjun (2000)
Astonishing... Beautiful... Brilliant... These are words that come to mind.

The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)
It was a tough call between this and Elephant but I have to go with the one that introduced me to this duo. This album shows them just as they’re hitting their stride. The vibrancy that’s captured on this album was a refreshing change from everything around it at the time.

Beck – Sea Change (2002)
This came out of nowhere for me. I fully came to respect Beck’s genius as a musician because of this album. Even after endless listens, my heart aches at these songs. Raw emotion like this is rarely captured so completely.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (2003)
This is pure, unabashed sonic fury that you only hear once in a while, like Nirvana's Nevermind ten years before.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"New York, I Love You", I like you but I don't love you



Perhaps it's not fair that I judge this film. I feel so close to the source material for the movie that it's hard to not have preconceived notions of what it should be. Then again, maybe that's why I feel as if I know what I'm talking about.

Like "Paris, je t'aime","New York, I Love You" is a collection of short films based on and in the city of New York. Or should I say Manhattan because only one of the segments is set in one of the other boroughs. And the people worth showing seem to almost exclusively be rich, white people.

To me, that's one of the crippling flaws of the movie. New York is a city swathed in diversity, not just racially, but also economically and ideologically. But here we see a gentrified Asian (who happens to be a hooker) or another Asian girl who only serves to be fetishized by a white guy.

Whereas the Paris installment was wonderfully diverse in its subject matter and approach, this film rarely strays out of it's comfort zone. It's as if the filmmakers were drawing inspiration not out of the city but of what they've seen on "Sex and the City".

The actors and directors all seemed too self-aware. Thus the effort at creating random, chance encounters comes off as contrived. Hayden Christensen's character pick-pocketing Andy Garcia's character only to court Andy's girlfriend resulting in the two guys pick-pocketing each other again was too intricate and perfect of a mobius strip to not have been written out to happen exactly that way.

Another scene that had me rolling my eyes was when two smokers outside of a restaurant interact when the beautiful woman looks over to the disinterested man and kicks off a conversation with "You know what I love about New York?"

Uuuuuugh! When does a conversation like that happen except in a movie touting what it loves about New York?

The one segment that really worked for me was of the elderly couple in Coney Island. Their bickering and banter rang true to me, and it was refreshing to see a setting not in the middle of Manhattan.

The short that attempts to subvert the predefined roles is the Natalie Portman directed story about a Hispanic male nanny and his little girl. Another effort at cross pollination of races also involves Portman but the effect is dulled by the overly dramatic and sappy revelation.

But these highlights were too little and too late.

During the film, I kept waiting to see parts of the city that I consider to be the genuine fabric of the New York experience. Where were the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, or even Harlem! Where were the street vendors and subway performers? When has a cabbie ever expressed any interest in your profession? Where were the masses of hipsters crowded in a pizza parlor at 4am? Where were the Puerto Ricans playing dominoes outside their buildings? Where were the insane bike messengers? Where were the restaurants where each table was speaking a different language than the next? I even missed the Park Slope stroller brigades. Where was the freaking Brooklyn Bridge???

In the end, the film to me was a good attempt and a safe, fuzzy view of a small slice of the city. But it failed to dispel any preconceived ideas or convey any genuine experience of New York.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

No more Reading Rainbow!

I'm extremely sad to hear that after 25 years, Reading Rainbow is going off the air. Like the passing of Mr. Rogers, a part of my childhood is gone.

Wholesome and unassuming, the show was a complete antithesis to today's prototypical programming which usually has to have some sort of hook or attitude. But I recall even years (or decades ago) when watching, I sensed that it didn't try to have any kind of edge or gimmick to compete with Sesame Street or other shows.

I had heard years ago that the show was in danger of being cancelled and LeVar Burton begged and pleaded for funding. I feel such disappointment for the passing of a great program that fostered a love for reading. I'm sad not just for my own sense of nostalgia but for the kids today who are going to miss out.

And who's mind wasn't blown when you first saw LeVar in a Star Trek uniform?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Quick thoughts on a couple of albums

I'd always been more of a casual fan of The Decemberists. I liked the music but never got excited enough to really pay attention to them. I think Colin Meloy's vocals aren't the easiest thing to absorb. Nonetheless, I'd collected a few of their albums.

So when The Hazards of Love was released, I didn't notice. I heard a few positive reviews and was willing to check them out until a friend gave it a thumbs down. Months later, I casually click on a track on an online music site, Lala. I gotta say, I immediately fell in love with the album.

The story goes that Meloy wanted to create a rock opera. And that he did. Parallels to Pink Floyd's The Wall are inevitable. Both tell stories utilizing various characters and musical themes. Meloy one-ups Pink Floyd by bringing in other singers to help create more distinct characterizations. I especially like the lower timbre of Shara Worden, from My Brightest Diamond, for the Queen.

In "The Wanting Comes the Waves/Repaid", she sings "And so..." with such a looming, low voice that I get chills every time I hear it.

There's a nice, in-depth interpretation of the album's opera story for anyone interested.

The album's been getting some mixed reviews, and I can assuredly predict that several of my friends won't be as impressed as I am. Maybe I have a soft spot for the epic, theatrical romance.

It's not like The Decemberists are inventing anything new here. But in the day of YouTube and shuffling playlists, it's refreshing to hear a band that is attempting a cohesive, long-form musical experience rather than a hit single.


----

The Dodos have released a new album and I caught it much quicker than The Decemberists. The Dodos' latest, Time to Die, is yet to be released on CD but is widely available digitally.

Much of it will be familiar to existing fans, but I was definitely surprised by some of the sounds on the album. I need to spend more time with it, but I sense more of a vibrant, energetic approach.

I keep reading that "this isn't Visiter" which is universally accepted as a great album. I agree it's not. There are fewer standouts on Time to Die, but it's got enough nice elements to make it worth the time to hear.



Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Menswhere : London Calling



Love the look of the new Drykorn line for Winter 09. Something about the British/Euro look that has always appealed to me.

Not sure if I have the guts to pull off plaid pants. Although it's not like I haven't worn crazier stuff out in public.

My recent unemployment (and resulting poverty) has derailed any attempt at styling up my wardrobe, which depresses me. Ragged t-shirts and jeans it is!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Met: "The Pictures Generation" and "The Model as Muse"



So much for expectations. I had anticipated seeing The Pictures Generation at the Met for weeks and of course inexplicably put it off. I was determined not to wait until the very last minute again, so was able to go view the exhibit yesterday.

The problem was that I had assumed I knew what the exhibit was about. I imagined something similar to the format of the MoMA's Into the Sunset show which was a large spectrum of photography. But the name "The Pictures Generation" was much less literal than I had guessed so egg on my face.

The exhibit was composed of various media and many well known artists. I never get tired of viewing Cindy Sherman's work, and discovered some pieces by Barbara Kruger that I hadn't seen before. Robert Longo's striking images of men in business suits composited over blank backgrounds made me wonder if they were a source of inspiration for the Mad Men opening visuals.

There was lot to take in on just one viewing, which is characteristic of the Met. The show and the museum practically demand multiple visits.


A show that I unintentionally stumbled upon was The Model as Muse, an anthology of fashion photography.

It was interesting to see the progression of styles and evolution of trends throughout the eras. Though I admit to having trouble focusing on the exhibit while surrounded by a crowd. Maybe that's why I prefer to wait until a show is at the end of its run. An empty gallery is much more welcoming to me.

The most memorable moment was walking into one portion to find blacklit graffiti and Smells Like Teen Spirit blasting. It was the era of Generation X and grunge. Kate Moss was hailed as the unconventional beauty and thus the embodiment of the anti-establishment movement.

This irked me somewhat. When this was all happening, I recall the bemusement of everyone at how grunge was plagiarized by high fashion. How was anyone supposed to take it seriously? Elite fashion designers were mimicking the look of thrift store flannel and ripped jeans. That practice still exists today but on a somewhat more subtle level (ahem, Urban Outfitters). Seeing models strut down runways in grunge gear was a farce.

All my friends and I could do was shake our heads and laugh at how companies cluelessly tried to turn this alien trend into a commodity. The epitome had to be the Grunge Speak incident.

In retrospect, it was just another example of the revolution becoming the establishment. Nirvana upended Michael Jackson at the top of the charts and it signaled a changing of the guard. The dilemma of any underdog-turned-champion is that you lose that outsider persona and take on the mantle of the status quo.

Not sure how much I really got out of this exhibit but I think it's worth viewing. I've seen more intimate shows at the FIT galleries that I enjoyed more, but again the Met is all about grandeur of scale. Check it out, and prepare to be overwhelmed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

One blog just wasn't enough for this brain. Not sure yet what it all means for this blog. Maybe I'll get a real job soon and immediately ruin the purpose of the new blog. (Doubtful.)


Monday, July 13, 2009

Wrong is the new right

My instincts are all wrong. That's what I've learned these last few weeks.

Due to my newly limited financial income, I decided to go to a new, cheaper place for a haircut. It's always a fearful leap of faith for a glasses-wearer because you just have to put your trust in the stylist while you stare into your blurry reflection.

The end result was a way shorter haircut that I had anticipated or was comfortable with.

The thing is, I've been getting a lot more compliments on my new haircut than I'd ever gotten before. Now maybe my friends are just being deceptively nice.

Or maybe the decisions or instincts I've had about my hair have been wrong. It makes me wonder if I've been making bad decisions for other things in my life. Like George Costanza, what if every thing I've ever chosen was the opposite of what I should've done?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bose Pacia: "After Color"

There is something striking about black and white photography. The lack of hue punctuates the separation from reality. It's a reminder that what is being viewed is a representation. Yet, it allows the viewer to observe qualities that might otherwise be lost, such as the contrast of the deep shadows and the bright lights. There's a level of abstraction that allows the artist to direct perception and emphasize certain details.

After Color is an exhibit at the Bose Pacia gallery which examines the use of monochromatic photography through different styles, subjects, and formats. Although a number of artists were commissioned for the exhibit, the number of work by each was kept minimal. Possibly due to the limitation of space, this nonetheless helped contribute to a tight, focused exhibit that tantalized viewers rather than overwhelm them.


Arthur Ou's oversized trio of photos was the most immediately impactful work. The Untitled (Test Screens) portrayed various beach settings which were obscured, almost violated, by large blotches and splatters which were apparently applied in darkroom. The effect was dramatic, reminding the viewer that what were observing is several layers removed from reality.


Michael Vahrenwald's photos of lightboxes punctuated the idea of light and dark, further emphasized in black and white. In what I'm not sure was deliberate or serendipity, the photos were framed in highly reflective glass, creating another layer of light play. With such dark material displayed, the glass allowed for a great amount of reflection of the viewer and the environment. At certain angles, the photographic subject would be obscured by the viewer's own reflection, in essence creating a black and white version of the viewer. Again, luck or genius... I'm not sure. I'm possibly reading into things too much.


Matthew Gamber's reproduction of scarred and weathered chalkboards seemed to make the biggest impression on viewers. On one level, the viewer is left to imagine the countless words, numbers, and drawings once recorded on the boards, only to be wiped away, sometimes leaving a permanent trace of their existence. One could also stare into the dark void of the images and conjure up anything at all. The black abyss was like an empty canvas for the viewer. The patches of scratches and smudges were the only guides, sometimes creating allusions to x-rays, black cloudy skies, mammography, or video static.

I thought the exhibit overall was impressive, limited in size but not scope. Which parallels the exploration of the absence of color: that restriction can also become a liberation, allowing for more interpretive freedom.

The exhibit is up from July 8 through August 21.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Music

I don’t know what it is, but I just haven’t been able to find much these days that really catches my... um, ear. I’ve been resorting to a lot of stuff in my established collection such as Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Buena Vista Social Club, the Clash, David Bowie, and Hercules and Love Affair.

Goldfrapp
The ambient, chill-out feel of Seventh Tree is beautiful and hypnotic but I still love the up-tempo Supernature. Favorites have to be Ride on a White Horse and Ooh La La, but I love every song on that album.

Grizzly Bear
I’ve only heard their latest album, Veckatimist, but I like what I hear. They seem more of a traditional setup for a band, not employing so much electronica, which is sometimes refreshing in today’s scene. Two Weeks is my favorite which, of course, has a great harmony hook.

Juana Molina
An Argentenian singer/song-writer that has surprising elements in her songs. Vivé Solo starts off as serene and pastoral, then becomes an interesting beat of scatting, shouting and clapping. Dar is another excellent example of the somewhat sparse sound, layered with her voice and a driving yet subtle beat.

TV on the Radio
I wasn’t too impressed with this band until their recent release, Dear Science. I was able to see them live at Central Park Summer Stage, which is a terrible venue... especially in a down pour. Their latest album is an array of different sounds that really grabbed my attention. Golden Age and Shout Me Out are stand out tracks.

The Phenomenal Handclap Band
I’m still very new to this band, but think that they will be a group that you’ll hear a lot about once their debut album is released. They’ve been getting rave reviews for their energetic live shows and I can easily imagine them from the album. The songs are bursting with enthusiasm. The sound recalls 60’s prog rock and some disco. I want to list sound influences but honestly, each song on the album seems to be rooted in a different band. Sometimes they sound like The Doors, and one song I swear is a long-lost Foghat tune. You have to hear the album for yourself, particularly 15 to 20 (which Ting Tings fans will love).

David Byrne
I was lucky enough to see David Byrne play a free show in Prospect Park and I was reawakened to his genius. The guy puts on a seriously good show; very entertaining and vibrant. Since then I’ve been combing through his collection and needless to say, I’m a fan. I hope I age as well as this guy has.

Gomez
There’s a place in my heart for these guys, but I can’t deny the decline of their music over the years. Their first two, maybe three albums were incredibly fresh and diverse. But since then, they’ve catered more and more to safe, radio music. Their latest release, A New Tide, is such a disappointment for me that I didn’t even bother importing it into my iTunes. A sad day indeed.

Fiery Furnaces
Another band that I gave a lot of goodwill towards for the sheer genius of prior releases. Blueberry Boat and Gallowsbird’s Bark were works of art. But practically everything since has been an exercise in tolerance. It doesn’t help that they pump out so much music that you lose any excitement over hearing their name. I usually pine for as much music I can get from a band I like, but in this case, there can be too much of a good(?) thing.

TV

An area where I’m probably not ashamed of saying that I haven’t had too much exposure in lately...

Lost
I just want this series to be over, and with some sense of satisfaction. My roommate sat in on one episode and said “Oh! This is THE episode about the plane crash. Cool.” And I had to explain “Um... No, this is ANOTHER plane that all the main characters get on, that is going to crash. On the same island. And there’s time travel. And unexplained ghosts/appearances of characters.” It’s a show that’s managed to pile on the crazy just slow enough to not make it noticeable until you sit up and recount everything that’s happened. Sigh, only one season left, I can make it.

Mad Men
The most highly praised show in recent history among my friends. I have to say that the accolades probably sullied my opinion of the show. The bar was just set too high. Being a part of the advertising world is a double-edged sword for me. In some ways, I like that a show is giving exposure to things that I do, and yet, I felt somewhat insulted by the lack of effort at their jobs. In the pilot episode, the main character at the last second comes up with the entire ad campaign, pulling ideas out of his ass. Okay, so sometimes inspiration hits you like a lightning bolt, but I would’ve rather the world see how much thought and effort goes into coming up with solutions for clients. I guess the argument is that that doesn’t exactly make for exciting television. And the blatant sexism and racism in the show is somewhat off-putting. I know it’s a reflection of the era, but it’s such a heavy element of the show that it seems glorified. I gotta say though, that I love the ties and suits. We lost something in the times of polo shirts and khakis.

Strangers with Candy
A friend let me borrow her DVD collection and I have to say that this show is brilliant. I admit that I didn’t pay attention to the show when it aired, I’d like to say mainly because TV just wasn’t my focus at the time. But I probably wouldn’t have fully appreciated what the show was about. A dark satire way before it became the accepted norm, this show is still surprisingly cutting and off-beat. Genius is never understood in it’s day.

The Office
What can I say, I still love this show. No, it doesn’t seem as fresh as it did a few years ago and probably gets overshadowed by the brilliant 30 Rock, but I have such a soft spot for The Office and can’t fully explain why. I recently viewed the BBC version again and noticed how the NBC show has migrated so far from it over the years. Most noticeable is how more vibrant the color palate has become and the characters more joyous. The stories have gotten more sitcom-y and outrageous, which is disappointing, and the monotony of work that pervaded through the BBC version is lost. You don’t get cutaways to fax machines and people simply working anymore and I miss that. But the writing and humor are still top-notch, if not in an altered way. I’m a fan of the Jim and Pam characters, even though they’re more tailored to the safe, wholesome ideals of American television heroes. I’m impressed that the writers have managed to maintain the interest of the relationship long after the “will they, wont they” tension that most shows live and die by. Equally admirable is the show’s history of never being afraid to shake things up. Placing Jim out of the office in Season 3 was a bold, risky move and it’s hard to imagine many other shows with the guts to make it happen. The show generally pulls back into the status quo, but I’m interested in seeing where they put Pam in the next season. Plus, Jenna Fischer is just so hot.

Art

Another area of neglect. I used to take part in the Gallery Openings in Chelsea which salved my cultured side but haven’t been able to make it to any exhibitions in a while.

Aernout Mik at the MoMA
Impressive video installations of various stagings, shown in multiple angles. At times overwhelming, it was nonetheless interesting to view a scene in an almost omniscient perspective. In media, we’re so used to being shown the focus of an event or scene that when presented with an un-narrated view it feels foreign. The viewer is left to decide where to focus attention and which story and character to follow. Multiple things are unfolding in each environment and each subject has his or her own trajectory. Reflective of our world, where we each play the lead role in our tale but take part in an interwoven, larger mesh of stories.

Into the Sunset at the MoMA
An expansive exhibit highlight photography in the Western U.S. Although impressive, this show just felt unfocused to me, probably due to the sheer magnitude of the artists, subjects and styles. The goal seemed to be more about grandiose scale. Still, it was worth a look.

Tangled Alphabets at the MoMA
I wanted to be more impressed with this show than I actually was. As a designer, I have a special reverence for typography and it’s symbolic power, but left the exhibit feeling unfulfilled.

I have yet to view the Pictures Generation exhibit at the Met, which I am highly anticipating. A photography collection centered around New York artists.

Books

I shamefully admit to have not been reading much lately...

2666
The highly praised final work of Roberto Bolaño. It’s an engrossing, slow burn of a read, that I was drawn into, but somehow got sidetracked. Divided into four parts, I only reached the middle of the third section which chronicles the grisly deaths of young girls. I think that’s what did me in. I was reading the book in the evenings before bed and this section really fucked with my head to the point where I couldn’t sleep and had to stop reading. I need and want to finish the book, which I’ll try to undertake next week.

Naked
I’ve been in dire need of catching up on the genius of David Sedaris so started with this one. How can he so masterfully portray his life of quirky, dysfunctional behavior in such an entertaining, humorous way? I feel that if I undertook this, I’d just come off as sad and disturbing.

The Fountainhead
Another in the long line of books that I just inexplicably missed out on in my past. This book was actually the perfect thing for me to read when recently laid off. The exploits of an artistic genius who unflinchingly faces obstacles and adversaries, and comes out triumphant with his soul and integrity intact definitely inspires a person like me. I’ve fought several artistic battles in previous jobs and have always suffered with the mediocre compromised “solutions” so can cheer on a character like Rourke, even though he’s an obviously idealized image of man. As romantic as the story is, I have to wonder how successful his approach would be in the real world. This book merits multiple readings, especially at times of waivering on my beliefs and goals.

Movies

Star Trek
Okay, I admit that I enjoyed this flick. My dad was really gung-ho about seeing it, in IMAX no less. It was a good, fun movie that treated the existing canon with some reverence while being unafraid of putting it’s own spin things. I’ve discovered that casual viewers liked it much more than the fans. There were definitely parts of the plot that made no sense to the point of insulting my intelligence. And maybe that’s the biggest crime against the fans, who were always drawn to the brainier aspects of the shows.

Wolverine
My cousin was really gung-ho about seeing it, and I wish I could go back in time to punch him in the face for it. Insanely stupid, and saddening to know that it was a blockbuster hit. Sigh.

Frost/Nixon
Wow. I started it with a friend who basically apologized in advance, saying it was probably going to be slow and boring. Yet I found it to be a great, interesting story, with superb acting. I’ve always had a soft spot for History and really got into the story. It showed Nixon in a new light for me, and reaffirmed my belief that politicians, no matter how slimy they seem, are often very charismatic and charming people when seen up close.

Man on Wire
Like Frost/Nixon, what could’ve been a relatively straight-forward and dull account of an event, was expertly portrayed. There was tension and suspense (sorry no tight-rope walking puns intended) to the manner in which the film unfolded.

Up
Even in a tight financial situation, I couldn’t pass up seeing a Pixar movie. As usual they not only deliver, but manage to amaze me with emotional storytelling. The actual plot and action portions didn’t exactly impress me but the sheer amount of emotion that Pixar managed to invoke within me caught me by surprise.

Manhattan/Annie Hall
I finally finally saw these Woody Allen movies and have to say that I missed out by not seeing them years ago. I enjoyed Annie Hall more, particularly Diane Keaton’s luminous performance. I feel primed to see Whatever Works now, but am worried that the criticism of Woody Allen’s filmmaking decline will be much more noticeable to me after seeing these two great films.

Blah Blah Blog



Whew. So much happens in a month, which is probably reflected in the neglect of this blog. Turning 30, getting laid off... These things tend to hog my time.

I contemplated 30 as a pivotal point, including deliberating over abandoning this blog that I’ve kept for several years. It’s seen me through a lot, but at the same time, I considered whether or not it would feel appropriate to help me “move onwards” by letting it go, like my 20’s.

The fact of it is that this was always intended to be a personal forum and not exactly something to broadcast to others. Yet something happened over time; the blog became much less anonymous and therefore less personal. In reviewing the past few posts, I had definitely steered away from personal issues and more towards just tidbits of news and entertainment. I still feel that it’s a valuable mode of expression for me, since I enjoy how it allows me to formulate more complete opinions about the music and whatnot I get exposed to. But I miss the journal aspect of it. I had forgotten much of the older content so was pleasantly surprised to rediscover what is probably my favorite post of the blog: Toy Story.

I haven’t figured out definitively the fate of this blog. I may let it fizzle out, or it may live on as the less personal review site.

For now, there seems to be a backlog of music, movies and such that I want to just unload out of my mind so that’s what the next few posts will feature.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Fab!

The animation style on the new Beatles Rock Band trailer is beautiful. I love the stylized look of the guys, especially their elongated figures.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Mo Mod

The redesigned site for the NY MoMA looks great. I’m a fan of the design, especially the interactive Exhibition Calendar (pictured below). Although they may still have some kinks to work out. It took me forever to find a particular film screening, even though I was 100% sure of the screening date.

Still, it’s a fresh, bold look that fits the aura of such a great art institution.

Friday, April 10, 2009

5-10-15-20

Pitchfork has an ongoing feature which highlights artists who then pick out influential songs at 5 year intervals in their lives to see if it reveals anything about them and the music that they wind up making. I thought it was an interesting idea and wanted to turn it on myself to see what I listened to at those points in my life...

Age 5: Michael Jackson, Thriller

I still recall unwrapping the vinyl album for my birthday and listening to this endlessly. It was also paired with a Beach Boys double-vinyl of hits. I was pretty much listening to whatever my dad had on the radio which was golden oldies like CCR, the Beatles, and the Temptations. But MJ was the first music that I really gravitated towards that wasn’t because it was just what my dad was playing. I even had the Thriller Music Video and Making Of VHS which also had the Beat It video and Billie Jean live performance.

Even today I listen to vintage MJ on my iPod. The music he was making was unparalleled, which makes his descent into the crazy house so sad.

[Video on youtube]


Age 10: Whatever other kids were listening to.

Music was not a huge part of my life at this point so I pretty much missed out on all the 80’s music that everyone nowadays can’t get enough of. I was much more into cartoons like The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At this time, every girl was obsessed with New Kids on the Block and I probably heard more of their music than I care to admit. I think it was also around the period of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, both of which I had cassette singles of their hits.

[Video on youtube]



Age 15: Nirvana, Unplugged in New York

The gap between 10 and 15 is immense. My tastes in this interval were admittedly questionable. I had CDs of Boyz II Men, Color Me Badd, and Mariah Carey, hahaha. Then came Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit video. I didn’t have MTV as a kid so when a friend showed me the video, it was a revelation. I was immediately a convert to the whole Alternative scene. Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple and Pearl Jam’s Ten are all incredible albums, but nothing came close to Nirvana.

At age 15, the year was 1994 and Kurt Cobain had just committed suicide. I remember vividly where I was when I saw the MTV breaking news segment. It’s probably my generation’s John Lennon death moment. I was haunted and mesmerized by Nirvana’s Unplugged performance. I’m thankful they released it on CD because that thing didn’t leave my CD player.

[Video on youtube]


Age 20: Radiohead, OK Computer

Again, the interval of 15 to 20 is so large, it’s hard to feel that one album manages to encompass the whole period. I was still firmly rooted in Alternative, but was definitely poised to branch out into less mainstream offerings. Electronica was starting to seep its way into my CD collection, with Thievery Corporation and Portishead leading the way. I also rediscovered The Beatles in a big way. The Anthologies came out, as well as an All-Beatles, No-Commercials radio station, which was unheard of in the pre-internet streams days. Collecting the entire discography was a long, hard mission.

Like Smells Like Teen Spirit, seeing Radiohead’s Karma Police video felt like a turning point. OK Computer remains one of my top 5 albums of all time and I wore out the CD and had to buy replacements.

This was before Radiohead really blew up and became the backbone to pretty much everyone’s Favorite Bands list. Not to sound like a music snob, but I remember a time when even just meeting someone who had heard of Radiohead became my instant friend. Kid A had yet to come out and my anticipation was at a fever pitch. This is when music became an obsession rather than a hobby.

Gomez also sprouted up as a heavy weight in my CD collection. Their first two albums, Bring It On and Liquid Skin, are still their best. Their varied and versatile body of work included delta blues, electronica, psychedilia, and Beatles-esque melodies. I hunted down bootleg copies of their live albums, which was tough in the pre-Bit Torrent days.

[Video on youtube]


Nowadays, I’d like to think that my music tastes are as varied as ever. My playlists incorporate old school country, lots of indie, electronica/dance, 80’s, 70’s, classical, jazz, hip hop, bluegrass and “world” music. I’ll admit that music is more accessible today than ever, but there was a sense of accomplishment to actually digging around and discovering something new.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A guy’s guide

Valet has a nice compilation of handy tips for guys. Some are more useful than others. Hey, I learned about the Sweater Stone and how to get one for virtually free.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It's Blitz



It’s easy to forget how life was before the information-saturated days of the internets. Those days, the only way to satisfy my anticipation of a new album was to physically go to the local music shop and check the racks. Unless a store had it together enough to display a dry-erase board with band/album names next to their release dates. Being left in the dark about the upcoming albums was excruciating, yet the gratification of untainted discovery was always well worth the wait.

Cut to the modern days, when music sites, blogs and message boards were all bracing me for the ominous horror of the next Yeah Yeah Yeahs album which features more electro-synth pop with dance beats and less iconic Nick Zinner guitars. Several sites had the lead song, “Zero”, available for streaming as evidence. Hell, even the entire album’s up for grabs a full two months before the intended release date.

The onslaught of warnings and rants resulted in my fully coming to terms with the “new sound” of Karen O and company going in so I absorbed the album with pleasing results. Still, I can’t help but wonder what my experience would’ve been like if I had hit PLAY on my iPod and dove into It’s Blitz completely fresh and unprepared. I imagine it could’ve been shocking, scary, surprising and deeply satisfying.

“Zero” is an appropriate lead-off since it features many of the elements that are the topic of controversy. Clearly synthesized beats open the track. But not a full 10 seconds passes before Karen’s recognizable voice eases to you into the rest of the album. Throughout the album, her voice is the trusted guide through their new landscape of sound. She has an unmistakable sound, however she manages to showcase it in many ways before the album’s end. Her trademark screeches and growls are kept to a minimum, replaced with girlish squeals and breathy whispers. It’s Blitz does a wonderful job of displaying how versatile and talented Karen O is, and not a one-trick wailer.

“Heads Will Roll” continues to pile on the evidence that detractors could turn to for how the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have abandoned their old sound for clean-cut dance beats. While it’s true that “Heads Will Roll” is the most purely dance song on the album, it’s easy to look back to songs like “Y-Control” or “Cheated Hearts” to prove that the band has always been dance-floor friendly.

Which is what the album ultimately tells us. While they traverse new territory, the group hasn’t lost the sensibilities that made them successful in the first place. Rather than recycle a known formula, they forge ahead and test new waters. Isn’t that what we all want out of bands? Critics (and bloggers) are in an easy position. A band tries something new and are detracted for forgetting what made them successful. Yet another band could release an album of similar material and be scoffed at for being stale or unimaginative. It’s hard to see many bands coming out of that minefield unscathed. Even the Beatles garnered head scratching and queer looks when their mustached faces appeared, singing the weird and un-fab “Strawberry Fields Forever”.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs certainly took their lumps as well. The aura of sophomore slump hung all over Show Your Bones, evident in the disappointing sales and lukewarm reviews. But after the initial shock, I grew to love that album as much as Fever to Tell. They didn’t replicate the raw, visceral ferocity of the debut album, but that possibly goes to show how special and great Fever to Tell was.

I applaud the band for not trying to recapture that moment in time. That doesn’t mean that the band can’t rock when they want to. Show Your Bones was full of bombastic moments, such as “Phenomena”, “Déjà Vu”, or even “Gold Lion” which deceptively grows into a beast of a song. People also forget that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ breakout hit was the soulfully quiet “Maps”. Show Your Bones stands apart from Fever to Tell in a relative manner that It’s Blitz is positioned from the two. Equidistant yet related, they each show a different side of this band and it’s impressive to hear.

I love how Karen O is able to let us into every aspect of her persona. She deftly glides from a fierce fire-breather to a fragile poet while keeping it genuine and uncontrived. I’m sure there’s much to dissect from the album cover and it’s implications but I’ll spare it in order to keep this review from mushrooming out of control.

I’ll come out and say that I listened to the leaked album in advance, but I have also bought the official digital and physical offering. The music industry may finally be figuring out how to cope in the world of illegal sharing by offering exclusive incentives such as live tracks on iTunes or b-sides on the actual physical specimen. That works out for me since I’ve always made it a point to buy the CDs and love hording rare and live songs. Those familiar with the brilliant acoustic rendition of “Gold Lion” or Karen’s Native Korean Rock wont be surprised by the bonus songs on the deluxe It’s Blitz version, but it might shed light for more casual fans.

“Zero” is obvious single material, “Heads Will Roll” and “Dull Life” will be popular, while “Little Shadow” and “Runaway” harkens back to the intimate and emotive “Maps” and “Warrior”. I personally love “Dragon Queen” for it’s sleek sexiness. The twinkling guitar is something I would’ve never expected from a band that created Fever to Tell, but that’s the point. The acoustic and orchestrated version of “Little Shadow” goes a little too far for me into the realm of mushy, bland soft-rock. But it’s a bonus song and a minor quibble to a fantastic album.

The track, “Shame and Fortune” was particularly interesting to me. It seemed to be the most direct response to the anticipated criticism. The song is composed of many “typical” YYYs tools: distorted, chugging guitars; Karen’s menacing vocals; and strong, rapid drumming from Brian. All this reinforces the message within the lyrics: Shame, it’s soft and same/Lose when I play your game/Come if you call my name/All the fortune on the floor. This band is obviously not interested in cashing in on their known commodity and that’s why I fucking love this band. I’ve said it before, this band embodies so much of what I loved about Nirvana: blisteringly loud, yet beautifully tender inside; unpredictable and a little bit crazy; and rebellious in a completely sincere manner.

I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Dragon Queen

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour at Le Poisson Rouge, 03/22/09



I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when attending The Asteroids Galaxy Tour show at Le Poisson Rouge. I usually don’t go to shows so blind, not knowing what the band is about or at least more than a handful of songs. But this Danish group doesn’t have a lot of material out there yet. Their debut album, Fruit, is due out in May so all we’ve had to go on so far are an EP or two and of course that iPod Touch commercial.

Honestly, I was expecting to see a lot more similarities between them and The Ting Tings, another guy/girl duo with an Apple commercial in their résumé, who I saw less than a week ago at Terminal 5. Surprisingly, they have very little in common. First of all, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour didn’t present themselves as a duo, rather a full band with a couple of horn players. Whereas The Ting Tings fully fall into the Eighties pop revival with infectious dance songs and colorful hipster clothing, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour seem to draw more from 60’s soul and psychedelia.

Not that I didn’t enjoy The Ting Tings, but I knew what I was in for going into the show and they didn’t disappoint. The venue was also a factor. Terminal 5 is an impressive, large, modern space, but Le Poisson was much more intimate and inviting. I was literally a foot away from the drum set, which made not wearing earplugs a mistake.

My initial reaction to The Asteroids Galaxy Tour taking the stage was “Wow, the lead singer, Mette Lindberg, is REALLY petite.” which quickly gave way to “Wow, that’s one giant voice coming out of her!” During the show, I kept trying to recall who her vocals reminded me of. My brain went immediately to Shirley Bassey and other 60’s female vocalists with room-filling voices. Yet that doesn’t quite describe fully Mette’s distinctive sound.

The band as a whole had much more of a funk groove than I expected. Around the Bend is an obvious pop single that gets people’s attention, but as usual, it wont be able to adequately represent what this group is really about. The Sun Ain’t Shining No More or Bad Fever more likely embody the jazz over pop sound that the band employs. I think it helped immensely to have a horn section, strengthening that 60’s soul influence. It’s my opinion that most bands should have horn sections in their show rather than try to replicate them with synthesizers. The sax and trumpet added so much to The Asteroids Galaxy Tour that I can’t imagine what their live act without them.

The medium sized venue was packed with enthusiastic fans, which is pretty amazing considering their relative newness. It was a pleasure to be able to see them in a smaller space as opposed to the wildly popular Ting Tings, and for only $10. This experience probably wont last once their album debuts. Already, they’re generating buzz from NPR’s All Songs Considered for putting on a great show at SXSW last week.

The Sun Ain’t Shining No More



Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Prim and propaganda



I ventured into the Saks store last weekend and was shocked to see the boldness of their new advertising campaign. Playing off heavily on a constructivist era aesthetic, the entire store was blanketed with the signage and installations. I applaud Saks for the guts to go with such a strong visual style and to do it whole-heartedly. Though I have to wonder how effective the campaign is and how it speaks to their target audience.

I became familiar with the design style in school and had attempted to incorporate elements into my work several times. The usual response is the client or art director freaking out. I would’ve loved to have sat in on the concept pitch and see how the design studio got Saks to OK the direction.

This economy probably has companies resorting to more extreme measures to attract consumers, and I’d be interested in seeing how this look works (or doesn’t work) for Saks. As a designer, it’s always great to see something different and daring, but when there’s no substantial reasoning behind the approach, the effect is fleeting. I love the style and how solid the implementation is, but know that it has connotations to people that don’t necessarily promote a positive shopping environment.

Kudos to NotCot for digging up the backstory and visuals behind the campaign.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone

There's no denying that Neko Case is a force of nature. Her voice is unmistakable and her songs are haunting, which makes it all the more astonishing that she didn’t take up singing until into her 20’s. It’s almost a crime.

Her latest release, Middle Cyclone, shows off a clear progression in her songwriting abilities. Comparably, the tracks off of Blacklisted, just a few years past, seem more simplistic and straightforward.

With her next effort, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Case created lush and epic landscapes full of abstract and fantastic stories. At times gothic and looming, she presented tales of “make-believe monsters” and big bad wolves. For my money, there’s nothing quite as moody and atmospheric as “The Dirty Knife”. Musically, she upped the ante, using more textures and beautiful cascading harmonies. Whereas Blacklisted firmly established Neko Case as a soulful, alt-country star, Fox Confessor was an ambitious, exploratory album which could be viewed as her Sgt. Pepper’s.

However, I sense that with Middle Cyclone, she’s found a middle ground (no pun intended) between her work on Blacklisted and Fox Confessor. Neko has absorbed all the lessons she’s learned before and utilized them all to create a much more deliberate and tempered album. Not as dark or serious as Fox Confessor, yet more complex and progressive than Blacklisted.

The themes have shifted as well. She isn’t as introspective as in Blacklisted, or intimate as with Fox Confessor; Middle Cyclone’s story is less about a specific person and more about mankind. Or specifically mankind in relation to nature. A first-person account by a tornado, descriptions of being mauled or eaten by animals, and blatantly saying “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” all show the fragility of man and that nature is a force to be respected.

In “Next Time You Say Forever”, Case reminds us that we are mortal and that what we create can be swept away with the lyrics “To be the dangling ceiling, from the roof came crashing down, peeling in the heat, vanished in the rain. The next time you say forever, I’ll punch you in your face.” Later on, she sings about the “Cistine Chapel painted with a gattling gun”, telling us that even the most prized accomplishments of man are temporary and perishable.

However, Case doesn’t present these ideas as a scare tactic. I mean, how serious can she be when her cover art features her crouching on the hood of a Mercury Cougar holding a sword? In fact, as serious as her subject matter is, I feel that this album is far less foreboding than Fox Confessor.

She presents the idea that we affect and are affected by nature equally. We’re not diametric forces, but rather harmonious ones. As the tornado, Case croons that she/it loves you, and later on points out that man is also an animal. And we can’t claim individual insignificance with “I didn’t know what a brute I was... And I drag the clanging notion I was nobody, nobody.”

Of course, it’s a Neko Case album so there are bound to be several beautiful, beautiful moments to be heard. “Vengeance is Sleeping” is an achingly gorgeous song. “Magpie to the Morning” showcases how Neko’s voice can soar like no other.

For the final track, Case allots nearly half the length of the entire album to the ambient sounds of frogs and other backyard creatures. It’s a fitting, final point to her message of having respect for nature.

What I come away with in the end is more respect for Neko Case. With each release, she shows noticeable growth as an artist. Fox Confessor was almost a collection of fairy tales and short stories, but Middle Cyclone demonstrates a much more calculated theme throughout. Like old school country artists, Case is a storyteller that creates characters with her lyrics, rather than relying on simpler, autobiographical lines like other modern vocalists. She’s a poet that uses complex imagery and metaphors that invite us to interpret them. Who’s not going to eat up lines such as “I love your long shadows and your gunpowder eyes”?

Like that tornado, her power and love commands our respect and makes us love her back.

Check out Neko’s MySpace page to hear some of her new songs.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Metal Couture at Fontana’s

Burlesque, metal bands, and a fashion show with chicks in torn fishnet... Who could ask for anything better? More pics on Flickr.











Thursday, March 05, 2009

Wii Can Work It Out

Oh man!

Can’t. Wait.

Whoever determined the release date is a genius who obviously knows his Beatles lore.


APPLE CORPS LTD., MTV AND HARMONIX ANNOUNCE "THE BEATLES: ROCK BAND," WORLDWIDE RELEASE SET FOR 9/9/09

New York, NY - March 5, 2008 - Apple Corps, Ltd., Harmonix and MTV Games, a part of Viacom's MTV Networks (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), today announced the 9/9/09 worldwide release of The Beatles: Rock Band (http://www.thebeatlesrockband.com). The music-based video game, an unprecedented, experiential progression through and celebration of the music and artistry of The Beatles, will be available simultaneously worldwide in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other territories for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PLAYSTATION 3 computer entertainment system and Wii(TM) home videogame console from Nintendo.

The Beatles: Rock Band will allow fans to pick up the guitar, bass, mic or drums and experience The Beatles' extraordinary catalogue of music through gameplay that takes players on a journey through the legacy and evolution of the band's legendary career. In addition, The Beatles: Rock Band will offer a limited number of new hardware offerings modeled after instruments used by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr throughout their career.

The Beatles: Rock Band will be offered as standalone software and hardware as well as a limited edition bundle. The game will be compatible with all Rock Band instrument controllers and other current music-based video game peripherals.

The Beatles: Rock Band marks the first time that Apple Corps, along with EMI Music, Harrisongs Ltd, and Sony/ATV Music Publishing, has agreed to present The Beatles' music in an interactive video game format. The Beatles: Rock Band will be published by MTV Games and
developed by Harmonix, the world's premier music video game company and creators of the best-selling Rock Band. Electronic Arts will serve as distribution partner for the game. In addition, Giles Martin, co-producer of The Beatles' innovative LOVE album project, is providing
his expertise and serving as Music Producer for this groundbreaking Beatles project.

Exclusive content created by Apple Corps, MTV Games and Harmonix will be made available to fans over the next few months who participate in a pre-order campaign through major retailers. More details on The Beatles: Rock Band game and pre-order will be revealed in the coming months.

###

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hot knot

Who knew there were so many varied and wonderful ways to tie a scarf around one’s neck? Props to this site for the find. Can’t wait to try it out!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Breaking the bank

Once again, This American Life comes through for us all by taking another look at our faltering economy. Whereas the previous episodes focused on the buildup to the Wall Street meltdown, this episode tries to break down what’s going on with the banks and why they’re all in such trouble.

In order to provide clarity to financial laymen like myself, they make it an emphasis to explain things in as direct a manner as possible. The result is as enlightening as it is infuriating.

Basically, what you get out of it is that people have largely been irresponsible by taking out loans that they weren’t qualified for, the banks were greedy bastards by approving all these bad loans, everyone is looking to the government to bail them out, which means that honest, poor joes like you and I are going to get screwed no matter what. Wonderful.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Examined Life

The IFC Center is currently showing a documentary showcase of several modern philosophers called Examined Life.

Filmmaker Astra Taylor does a good job of adding kinetic energy to the stream of (essentially) lectures by putting each subject in a public area, mostly around New York. Topics of philosophy touch on consumerism and ecology, but the threads are mainly connected by the idea of meaning (or lack thereof) in existence and the individual’s connection with society.

Although certain theories such as Social Contract are alluded to, Taylor manages to steer clear of getting mired in a historical survey of philosophical thought. That frees her to let the subjects focus on their own modern ideas.

The film succeeds in keeping the speakers focused, without diverging on too many tangents. While it shows that the filmmaker has the skill to converge it all into a tight film, it’s hard not to feel like there wasn’t enough meat to the exploration. Each person had 10 minutes to get across their entire philosophy, when it's easy to see how they could’ve gone on for hours and hours. Thus Examined Life comes across as an overview of ideas, without being able to really explore the depths or details of those ideas. I suppose that’s not a knock on the film but more an observation on the limitation of the format. Taylor herself admitted to the amount that had to get cut out.

Afterwards, my friend wondered aloud if the people in films just talked endlessly about philosophy. My guess would be yes, but I took issue with some of the subtle allegations in the film that there is no middle ground in between being a deep thinking, cerebral citizen of the world and the mindless, uncaring, consumerist automaton.

While waiting for the showtime, my friend and I were drinking beers talking about plans for our next pub crawl. Is that not okay? Do we have to be dissecting the nature of man every hour of every day? I love philosophy and examining our nature, which is why I thoroughly enjoyed this film, but I don’t feel compelled to have to do that exclusively. I take enjoyment in mindless, stupid things as much as deep, thought provoking matters. I think it’s in our nature to have those dichotomies and juxtapositions.

One of the topics that I enjoyed the most was Cornel West speaking that there is no definitive goal or meaning in life, and what that means for our concept of “failure”. And while each philosopher had his or her own concept of “meaning”, whether there is one or not, they seemed to agree that we are social creatures who have an intrinsic need to interact.

As an only child who has always had strong loner tendencies, it made me wonder about my own views towards the nature of society. I’ve come to whole-heartedly believe that we need that interaction and contact to live “meaningfully”. Living in New York City, I can’t help but be constantly exposed to people. I wondered what my inclination are towards people I meet or strangers on the street. Do I automatically have trust and respect in those I don't even know?

Several of the companies I’ve worked for have a philosophy of making sure you do your work on the assumption that other people are lazy, slow, incorrect or dumb. Expect that clients will not give you the correct information, or predict that the printer will be late in fulfilling the order. That inherent mistrust for others seemed awkward for me. Although there were instances which proved that theory true, I have a feeling that those negative, paranoid thoughts had much to do with my unhappiness at those jobs.

My thoughts also led me to my parents, who more than anyone I’ve ever known, believe that the default inclination of human beings is to be good. They put trust and faith in people to points which make me uneasy. Yet my mom will still clutch her purse with a deathgrip at restaurants, even upscale ones. It reminded me again of our often contradictory thinking.

Not sure where I was going with the end of this post, but the film got some of those mental gears turning, which is the point of the film, and why I enjoyed it so much.

But Coraline in 3-D was also pretty awesome.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hell Yeah!



Thanks Pitchfork for letting me know that the next Yeah Yeah Yeahs album is finally coming! My Karen O crush can continue.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama

The day is here! Everyone I know is ecstatic and amazingly hopeful about what we’re about to embark upon.

It’s still hard to believe that it’s happening. New York City is an amazing amalgamation of people, but politically it’s been largely pro-Obama. During the race, I heard so many people wonder aloud “How is Obama not going to win? There’s so much support for him!”

But I knew better. I know that not every American has the same mindset. So I’ve tried hard to keep a wider perspective and find out what people who differ from me are thinking.

This American Life has a great episode which attempts to do the same thing: take a cross-section of the country and hear the spectrum of viewpoints. It’s enlightening, frightening and somehow reassuring. Take a listen...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fleet Foxes on SNL

I have mixed feelings about the boys appearing on SNL, but love that they played Mykonos.