Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Old Movies I Saw For The First Time in 2012

I'm going to give myself another week or so before I make my 2012 movies list.  I want to catch a few more titles first.  So I should be writing my 2012 TV roundup, but I find myself very uninterested in compiling all my random thoughts on Breaking Bad and Girls, so let's move on to something more fun.

1. The Clock (Vincente Minelli, 1945)

My curiosity about this movie was awakened by a post on the TCM blog, which I have spent the last half hour trying unsuccessfully to find.  The quote that got me interested was something like "Vincente Minelli choreographed this movie as painstakingly as he did his musicals," or something like that.  It had me imagining some kind of early version of Tati's Playtime.  At any rate, when I saw it listed on TCM, I TiVo'd it, and I'm so glad I did.

The Clock is a simple film about a soldier (Robert Walker) spending a few days in New York City before shipping off to Europe.  As soon as he gets off the subway, he meets cute with Judy Garland, they go on a date, fall very quickly in love, miss their connection and think they'll never see each other again, are reunited, resolve to get married before he ships off, encounter a host of obstacles to that goal, and so on.  Classic romantic comedy stuff.  The thing is, there's not really an air of comedy to this.  Instead, there's this atmosphere of foreboding weighing down on the whole thing.  This is 1945.  The war that he's about to go fight is a real thing, happening right now.  He could very well be dead in a few weeks.  When they are separated, and fear that they'll never see each other again, it feels like a deadly serious situation.  And in the final scene, when she sees him off at the docks, the camera pulls back and reveals scores of other couples saying tearful goodbyes.  It's a heavy movie.

It's also one of the all-time great New York movies.  The photography of WWII-era New York is fantastic, and fetishizes bits of the city that are hidden from view.  In my favorite sequence, the lovers somehow end up on a milk truck, and we follow them to the dairy where the trucks are loaded up for their daily deliveries at something like 4:00 in the morning.  It's a beautiful sequence, and I love how you see the guts of the city, guts of a system that doesn't exactly exist anymore.  

The other really remarkable sequence begins when they try to get married, and have to go through a nightmarish bureaucratic maze to get it done before the end of the business day.  It's like an early version of Brazil!

2. Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)

This British film, also produced during the height of WWII, is fascinating in its glimpse of small-town British life during the War.  It's also, occasionally, shockingly violent.  A group of Nazi agents are trying to take over the town and establish a sort of beachhead for a German invasion.  The townsfolk get wise, and set about stopping them.  For the most part, this is standard thriller stuff, but there are some shocking scenes, like an nice old lady murdering a Nazi with a hatchet over tea. Again, you see a different tone than you would in a movie that wasn't made in the middle of a war, because its a movie for an audience who's living through the horrors every day.

3. Design For Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933)

Lubitsch's adaptation of Noel Coward's play about two guys (Gary Cooper and Fredrich March) and a girl (Miriam Hopkins) engaged in (as the promotional material associated with the new Criterion disc puts it) a menage a trois.  Now, that word apparently didn't have quite the same definition in 1933 as it does now.  It's about two guys dating the same girl, but not, you know, all at the same time.  (Actually, it's more innocent than that: they will live platonically together, despite the triangle of sexual tension, or at least that's the plan.)  But watch the pictures without minding the dialogue, and the story seems a bit more explicit.  Lubitsch sets up plenty of masterfully framed shots of Hopkins framed by the two actors in vaguely suggestive poses, as if he's telling a different story with the pictures that he can't get away with telling in his exquisite dialogue.

4. The Miracle Woman (Frank Capra, 1931)

This one has been on my list for a long time.  Barbara Stanwyck plays a faith healer, a character supposedly based on Aimee Semple McPherson.  In a way, I had some disappointment with this, as the only real resemblance to McPherson, as far as I can tell, is that Stanwyck is playing a female preacher, but the movie is still more than worth seeking out.  It begins with Stanwyck giving a barnburner of a sermon against her father's congregation, who have recently fired him to replace him with a younger pastor.  From there, we see her getting into the flim flam side of the religion biz.  I would have preferred a much more cynical take--it ain't exactly Nightmare Alley--but without bitching about it not being a different movie, I loved the movie it was.

5. World's Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009)

I came away from hearing Bobcat on Marc Maron's podcast interested in the guy's body of work, including his movies.  I watched Shakes the Clown, and while I didn't like it much, it was way better than the movie I had been imagining all these years.  Encouraged, I proceeded to World's Greatest Dad, and was shocked to find that, a decade or so after Shakes, Bobcat had produced a dark comic masterpiece about a teen suicide who is subsequently transformed in everyone's mind from a nasty jerk to some kind of deep, misunderstood philosopher.  Robin Williams, whose presence in a film is most often a giant red flag for me, does amazing work here.  90% of the time, he's my least favorite actor in the world, but when a director understands how to use him, you remember how damned talented he is.  His great setpiece here is a talkshow appearance near the end, where he talks about his son's death, and the mask of dishonesty he's been holding over his face the whole time begins to slip off.  He begins laughing, but manages to pass it off as crying.  This is an old improv exercise that Robin probably had nailed down in the early 70's, and that skill pays off in one of the most brilliant comedy scenes in recent memory.  By the end of the film, when we see Williams' character literally letting go of all of his baggage, this dark comedy turns out to actually be something of a feel-good movie.

6. Sleep Dealer (Alex Rivera, 2008)

This Mexican scifi film was barely noticed when it came out, which is a shame.  It deals with crucial, ripped-from-the-headlines issues like immigration, water rights, internet communication, government monitoring, and drone warfare, all in the course of a fun adventure.

7. My Dinner With Andre (Louis Malle, 1981)

Obviously, I've heard about this movie for a long time, but didn't really know much about it, other than (a) it starred that guy from The Princess Bride that also guested on every sitcom at least once in the 70's and 80's, and (b) it's title is pretty much used as shorthand for "arthouse."  Actually, I guess I was vaguely aware that the whole movie was just a dinner conversation between these two guys, but it turns out to be a fascinating conversation, so much so that I actually made my wife (who has perhaps less patience for this kind of film than even the average moviegoer) watch about half of it, and even SHE found it fascinating (it kind of went along with a lot of what she's writing in her book).  Plus, I really like all the business going on in the background with the staff of the restaurant. It's like they have their own separate movie that we can glimpse in the corner of our movie.

8. Yes, Madam (Corey Yuen Kwai, 1985)

Michelle Yeoh made her screen debut in this buddy cop film with Cynthia Rothrock.  This is the first Rothrock film I've seen (as far as I can recall), and goddamn, those high kicks!  Probably no need to talk much about this, just let the video speak for itself.

9. Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (Richard Pryor, 1986)

This is more or less an autobiographical film, with fanciful touches a la All That Jazz, written, directed and starring Richard Pryor.  It bombed hard at the box office, and its easy to see why.  This isn't what anyone was interested in seeing from Pryor, and it ain't exactly a great film either.  But this is a good example of how perceptions of a movie can change over time.  Seeing it now as targeting a small, niche audience who are deeply interested in Pryor, it makes a lot more sense. Because you're really getting a glimpse into the man's mind here.  There's not a lot of comedy, but what there is is gold: witness Pryor's recreation of one of his earliest bits, a magnificent pantomime performance of a baby being born.

10. Ornette: Made in America (Shirley Clarke, 1984)

It's funny how little we really know about Ornette Coleman, the man.  I mean, do you even have an impression of him?  Not as a musician, but just as a personality?  Most of the giants of jazz are remembered as BIG personalities: mugging showman (Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Waller), dapper gentlemen (Duke Ellington), erratic headcases (Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Albert Ayler), badass motherfuckers (Miles Davis, Jellyroll Morton), doomed and damaged wrecks (Billie Holiday, Buddy Bolden), introspective spiritualists (John Coltrane, Charles Mingus).  But Ornette seems a near non-entity.  And as soon as you see him on camera, talking about his music, you begin to understand why.  This is not a charismatic man, nor a wild iconoclast.  This short guy with asymetrical features and a thin, reedy voice, is all intellect (to the point that he tried at one point to get a doctor to castrate him so as not to be distracted from his work by carnal urges--the doctor talked him out of it).  He's a strange guy, but not in any flashy sense.  He's almost the prototype of the black nerd, a "type" that's barely recognized in society even today.

So it's fascinating to see Ornette on camera talking about his music, something that I don't even recall occurring in Ken Burns' Jazz series (maybe it did, and he just made so little impression that I forgot it).  We discover that he had a life-changing experience hearing Bucky Fuller speak, which makes a lot of sense--the conventional wisdom on Ornette (and free jazz in general) is that he's just blowing whatever comes off the top of his head (probably due to the arguably inappropriate significance the album Free Jazz is given in his discography), but his compositions are created through a logic that may defy my ears, but is certainly ever present.  Also some great coverage of his visits to the Master Musicians of Jajouka with Robert Palmer, some great contemporary (ie, 80's era) live footage, and some rather amusing footage of the audience at a gala opening of his symphony, trying very hard to give off the impression that they enjoy the music.

Some others that could have made the list (and I'm sure there were more that I've forgotten): Songs From the Second Floor, Deep Blues, All the President's Men, Quadrophenia, This is the Life: How the West was Won

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Guns!Guns!Guns! 2: The Sequel Post!

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, I spent at least a week reconsidering my previous position on gun control.  Since we apparently now live in a world where school shootings are a regular occurrence, it seems reasonable to reconsider these things.  Ultimately, I come away from it unconvinced that stricter gun laws would have prevented this tragedy, or would do much to prevent future school shootings, and I don't see much point in passing laws that don't solve problems.

There's also a political consideration here.  Like I said before, I don't think Obama won this election because a majority of Americans are particularly liberal.  Part of why the Democrats are doing well these days is because of an implicit promise that we're over the whole gun control debate.  We won't fuck with your guns.  It's the one truce we've actually been able to call in the culture wars.  Since the Clinton administration, liberals have laid off the gun control, which I believe gives us a lot of wiggle room for solving real problems, because Americans Love Guns.  And look at the position we're in right now.  With another four years of Obama, we get the Affordable Care Act fully implemented and institutionalized, to the point where no future administration is going to try to repeal it.  We are currently being forced to deal with the budget crisis, and with Democrats holding the upper hand, we can assure that cuts to programs that benefit the poor will be balanced out with cuts to Defense spending and tax increases in the upper margins.  If this gets taken care of, the primary argument for gutting social programs is neutralized.  It's pretty much a sure thing that we get comprehensive immigration reform in the next four years.  Gay marriage is inevitable.  Marijuana legalization is moving along on a state level, no thanks to the Obama administration.  Not to brush over Obama's failures to end the wars, or his fascist policies on civil liberties, but this all puts us in a very good position.  Come 2016, there's a lot less to worry about.  I'd maybe even vote for a pro-choice, pro-gay Republican if one were to run, and could convince me they were the better candidate.

That's a great set up.  I can't imagine why we'd want to throw that all away to have an election about gun control, which doesn't solve anything and is massively divisive.

On the other hand, the pro-gun side are not exactly offering much in the way of alternatives.  That is to say, all the suggestions we hear about what we should be doing instead of banning guns are all even worse suggestions than banning guns, and all require even bigger, more intrusive government (which kind of undermines the "small government" pose they take).  A national database of the mentally ill?  Not only is that a huge government program, I've yet to hear any practical explanation of how this database is to be used to prevent mass shootings.  For one thing, we're talking about teenagers here (most shooters are males between the age of 11 and 21).  What symptoms are we looking for?  Depression?  Isolation?  Hostility?  We're going to end up with a pretty huge database here.  And what are we to do with all these surly teenagers?  Medicate them?  Institutionalize them? Does the State now have the power to take involuntary action against anyone deemed too difficult or non-conformist?

Another suggestion is to make schools even more closely resemble prisons.  Armed guards, metal detectors, armed teachers...none of this makes for a healthy learning environment.  I believe I saw someone suggest our schools should be more like our airports, with kids having to pass through checkpoints, which just sounds like a nightmarish existence.  Let's try to make America look a little less like a police state, OK?

(I'm not going to deal with suggestions that we would have less of a problem if more people were armed.  I dealt with that last time, and it's a set up for an easy punchline, not a real argument.)

I understand the reasoning behind these suggestions, though.  America is panicky right now, and if you're saying gun control isn't the answer, you want to be able to point to something else that is.  Understandable, but a bad strategy.  The gun folk just need to be honest and say, "There is no solution.  We live in a world where, every once in a while, a crazy person shoots a bunch of people, just like we live in a world where earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes happen."  As far as I can see, those are the only two solutions: do something about the guns, or admit that there's nothing that can be done.  Because guns ARE the problem.  You don't have guns, you don't have mass shootings.  That's the one factor that made a difference.

So OK, I don't believe we can do much to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people.  I don't have any solution based on government intervention.  But I do have a suggestion that could prove helpful: more sex.

Because looking at the people that commit these crimes (er, not to mention a rather large portion of the pro-gun advocates out there), they have some issues.  And the place to resolve those issues is in the bedroom.  I'm advocating that gun owners, and would-be gun owners, have more BDSM sex.  Put on the leather boots, pull out the whips and ball gags, and work those issues out in private.  I don't know how successful this campaign could be, but potentially it could prevent not only some mass shootings, but (maybe even more so) a lot of these overzealous "stand your ground" shootings, or civilians being gunned down by trigger-happy cops.  The solution isn't gun control, and it isn't more guns.  As always, the solution is more sex.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Big 2012 Music Post!

You know the drill, the lists below don't represent an attempt at any kind of definitive endorsement of quality, just the records that I got the most enjoyment out of.  So let's start with my top ten albums. 

1. Neneh Cherry and The Thing - The Cherry Thing

Those who knew me in college are well aware of my disproportionately passionate love of Neneh Cherry's 1989 pop-rap single "Buffalo Stance," although they probably mostly think of it as an eccentric personality quirk.  In my personal mythology, I first heard the song on my 21st birthday, when I saw the trippy video several times over the course of an all-night acid trip (every house or dorm room we visited had a TV tuned to either MTV or one of the Friday night video shows that were popular at the time),  but I think in reality I was already into the song before that.  I even bought the cassingle!  Haven't really kept up with Ms. Cherry since then (I do seem to remember hearing a song on WUOG in the 90's where Neneh was singing about fish, and Michael Stipe was rapping about gun control--can that be right?), but I came back to her in a big way in 2012, when she released what is unquestionably my favorite album of the year, a collaboration with Scandinavian free jazz combo The Thing.

There are at least three all-time badass tracks here.  On the opening track, a Neneh Cherry original called "Cashback," the band swerves and screeches with the exhilaration of a Hollywood car chase.  Their cover of Madvillain's "Accordion" is amazing, with Neneh transforming MF Doom's bugged-out rhymes into abstract, beatnik poetry.  And their skronk-drenched version of "Dirt"--and please know, I absolutely do not say this lightly--is a strong contender for the best Stooges cover of all time.  There's also a gorgeous take on Suicide's "Dream, Baby, Dream" that easily bests the original, and a tough cover of Martina Topley-Bird's "Too Tough to Die" that anchors the album in solid bedrock, covers of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry (Neneh's dad, apparently--you learn something new every day), and an original instro by The Thing.

2. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music

From track one, R.A.P. Music is as aggressive and in-yaw-face as any rap album in recent years.  The opening minute of "Big Beast" reminds me of Wu Tang's "Bring the Rukus" in terms of announcing its arrival.  The thing just BLASTS out of your speakers.  El-P's harsh, powerful beats, like the double-kick drum that comes in after a few bars, compliment the aggressive raps, especially on the nasty, near-industrial "Reagan."  Mike's cynical take on The System and the 40th president (never enough anti-Reagan songs, am I right?) is just about the harshest sonic assault of the year.  (I like what he says about it in this amazing interview, basically saying that it's more about him than it is about Ronnie.)  But my favorite track is the title track, a great tribute to "Revolutionary African Peoples' Music."  The only problem I have--with both the song and the album--is the generic title.  Both should have been called "The Opposite of Bullshit."

3. The Flaming Lips - Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends

The Lips' album of collaborations,with everyone from Lightning Bolt and Yoko Ono to Ke$ha and Bon Iver, is spectacular.  I'm not sure to what extent their various collaborators actually contributed to the compositions (they're very clearly singing Wayne Coyne lyrics, unless they actually are familiar enough with the band to have written Flaming Lips parodies), but I'm amazed by how this band continues to put out great stuff.  How long has it been since the Butthole Surfers stopped putting out great albums?  Hell, how long has it been since Sonic Youth put out something top-ten worthy?  And here are the Lips, still blowing my mind every time out.  OK, they have their ups and downs, but I keep thinking they're at the end, and they keep proving me wrong.

4. Plug One and Plug Two of De La Soul - First Serve

I'm not sure why they decided to list the artist in such an awkward way, but let's put that aside.  Kendrick Lamar probably put out the more impressive rap concept album this year, but (to my ears) First Serve is the more enjoyable.  It tells the story of a rap group's rise from striving nobodies to big stars to egotistical backstabbers.  OK, not a particularly original story, but the strength here is what has always been the great strength of De La Soul: their unconventional approach to rhyme, which allows them to weave a story through dialogue while flowing so nice that you don't even notice what they're accomplishing if you don't listen closely.

5. Jack White - Blunderbuss

A fine classic rock album, Jack's first solo joint is warmer, mellower and more varied than anything he's done in the past.  Maybe it's his Led Zep III. It even climaxing with a Zeppelin-esque epic, "Take Me With You When You Go" (I was gonna say "Stairway"-esque, but that's laying it on a bit thick.  It's a minor epic, more like "Over the Hills and Far Away" or "What Is and What Should Never Be").  My favorite is the title track, which is written in some sort of archaic language, as if to invoke some old poetry or an ancient folk ballad or something (I still can't figure out what he's describing in that corner exit), but hitting on some real emotional truths ("Such a trick to pretend not to be doing what you want to/But that's what everybody does every waking moment").

6. Ondatropica - s/t

Quantic's career arc is pretty cool.  He started out as a DJ/producer who incorporated global music in his tracks, then began leading the Quantic Soul Orchestra in creating original music in this vein, focusing on Latin and Caribean sounds, and gradually focusing tightly on the music of Colombia.  Last year, he curated the collection The Original Sound of Cumbia for Soundways records, a huge, two-disc set of Colombian recordings spanning the decades.  So the logical next step was Ondatropica, where Quantic and Mario Galeano (Galeano seems to be the prime mover here, I'm only focusing on Quantic because I'm more familiar with his work) brought together a bunch of veteran Colombian musicians to record.  The styles are varied, and while some of the music is strictly traditional, other songs incorporate elements of hip hop, dub, rock, and whatever else floats through the room.  Actually, who am I kidding?  I don't know if any of it sounds like "traditional" Colombian music, but I do know that all of it sounds great when you're sitting in a kiddie pool trying to beat the heat on a summer's day, and this is the album that was rockin' my tiki bar all summer long.

7. Grimes - Visions

This album is just so kooky.  By all logic, it should not exist, and certainly shouldn't be a "hit."   The combination of experimental/weirdo music and chart pop is bizarre, but somehow feels logical.  It's so crazy it just might work! I think what really won me over to this album is watching the videos.  Seeing this cute, fresh-faced girl who could easily be a pop star, and basically acts and dresses like a pop star in the videos, just puts it over the edge.  The video for "Genesis" could so easily be a Ke$ha or Lady Gaga video, but it's a video for this weird, ambient composition.  But the fact that I'm even talking about it as if there's a difference between pop stars and weirdo musicians shows how outdated my mindset is.

8. Animal Collective - Centipede Hz

Centipede Hz is a masterpiece of modern psychedelia, all trippy tape loops, swirling organs and clattering percussion.  If that sounds like every Animal Collective album going all the way back to their early, experimental works...well, you're not wrong.  But their focus is tighter now.  They're not experimenting.  They know exactly how to go about creating these songs, and they put that experience to hard service in creating the definitive statement of their career.  There's probably not a single song here that's as impressive as "Summertime Clothes" or "Brother Sport," but song-for-song, this is a much more solid effort than even Meriweather Post Pavilion

9. Redd Kross - Researching the Blues

THE choice for driving with the top (or at least the windows) down on a Saturday night.  This is the first album Redd Kross has put out in 15 years, and they pick up pretty much where they left off on Show World: playing perfectly constructed power pop songs on a foundation of hard, sweaty rock.  I won't front, my ongoing affection for this band probably factors heavily into their inclusion on this list, but I never get tired of watching these guyss evolve.  They started out as a punk band who would talk about how much they loved KISS and The Partridge Family, then became a band that did semi-ironic send-ups of KISS and The Partridge Family, but, they're just a band that sounds like a cross between KISS and The Partridge Family, because that's what they want to sound like.  This is how I see the McDonald Brothers: they grew up in the 70's, obsessed with music from a very early age, but being young, they experienced all the music they were hearing as one thing: from big arena metal bands to AM radio easy listening pop, from punk and glam to Godspell and those weird bubblegum songs that used to play during the chase scenes on Scooby Doo, Where Are You? was all one thing to them.  And that's the sound of Redd Kross.

10. The Dirty Projectors - Swing Low, Magellan

The Dirty Projectors work their way through a lot of styles on this, their most solid album, from heavy metal and garish 60's psychedelia to slinky soul and Appalachian-based Deadhead sounds, but they never sound like anything other than The Dirty Projectors, with their signature weird harmony vocals.  (Well, I guess the title track is an exception to this, an almost-creepy Lou Reed impersonation.)  I always like the way bands like Sonic Youth and Deerhoof can take their weird experiments and, over the years, begin applying them to focused pop songwriting, and that career arc is certainly applicable to this album.

Best Album I Bought in 2012: v/a - This May Be My Last Time Singing
This is the second massive collection of gospel on Tompkins Square records compiled by Mike McGonigal, and it's even better than the last one (Fire in My Bones).   70-something tracks ranging from 1957-1982.  Yes, '82--there's one track here with a drum machine, although besides that detail it still sounds like something that could have been recorded in the 60's.  There are so many greats on this collection it's impossible to know where to begin.  Each of the three discs contains a version of the title song, my favorite being Brother Will Hairston's on the last disc.  It's not on YouTube, so I uploaded it to DivShare just to give you a listen.  What happens around 2:45 is just unbelievable.  BUY THIS ALBUM!!!!

Punk Rock Heroes of the Year: Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot are not really a band.  They're a performance art collective who are most famous for what you could say is a performance as a band of Bikini Kill-like riot grrrls, protesting against authoritarianism, patriarchy, Vladmir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.  For their troubles, they were sentenced to hard labor in a Siberian gulag.  They've gotten plenty of attention, not least because they are great self-marketers with a great name and image.  Let's hope that the international attention to their plight can be spread into countries like Iran, where singing a protest song can get you fatwa'ed, or Mali, where simply singing secular music will get you arrested and probably executed.

MVP of the Year: Erykah Badu
She sang the best song on Flying Lotus' new album.  She contributed the climactic rendition of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (performed in heavy Sabbath slo-mo) on the Flaming Lips record.  Plus a great rendition of "Afro Blue" with Robert Glasper, and some really cool space funk with Rocket Juice and the Moon.  

25 great fucking songs (I'll go easy with the embeds):

M.I.A. - Bad Girls
Slammin' beat, and a great video to boot.  I assume, although I've never heard M.I.A. say so, that the video is a show of solidarity for the Saudi women who protested the ban on women drivers last year.   Either way, it's a striking visual.

Angel Haze - Cleaning Out My Closet
This is from a free, 5-song mixtape that Angel Haze released on the internet of her rapping over other people's beats (this one being based on the Eminem song of the same title).  The tape opens with a take on Lupe Fiasco's "Bitch Bad," wherein Angel expresses a deep understanding of domestic violence and misogyny, and closes with this track, where she describes her own childhood sexual abuse and the psychological aftermath.  It's as difficult to listen to as Tori Amos' "Me and a Gun," and it's the most powerful performance of the year.

Fun. - Why Am I the One?
This song bedevils me, upending my already-confused feelings about 80's pop.  Fun. are deeply rooted in 80's radio.  Sometimes their sound recalls horrible bands like Simple Minds, Tears for Fears or Def Leppard.  Other times, they sound like even more horrible bands, like Chicago, REO Speedwagon or Toto.  In fact, they borrow from so many 80's groups that it's impossible to really nail their sound down.  Their big hits, "We Are Young" and "Some Nights," sound like songs you'd find on the soundtrack of something like St. Elmo's Fire, but "Why am I the One?" is the one that's really grabbed me (like a lot of this list, I got the song off of Fluxblog).  It's sounds like...well, like every fucking song I hated when I was in high school.  But things change.  This sort of music is no longer being shoved down my throat by radio and MTV, and I no longer feel an ideological need to divide music into warring factions to affirm my identity, so now that horrible 80's sound is just one more sound.  It's not what I generally go for, but I no longer see anything inherently wrong with it.  Instead, I just hear these beautiful, intertwining melodies that get so pleasantly stuck in my head.  Every time I listen to it, I feel like I'm stabbing my teenage self in the back.  But my teenage self was a horrible person, so fuck 'im.

Titus Andronicus - In a Big City
2012's victory anthem, the sound of crossing the finish line, a beer commercial waiting to happen.  In a year this exhilarating, it just feels right.  Patrick Stickles reminds me of Patterson Hood in the way he sings shit that is obviously beyond his ability, but it sounds compelling to hear him trying to hit those notes, and his almost-hitting them is like the minor victories at the end of movies like Rocky and The Bad News Bears.  Plus, it's a New Jersey anthem in a year when Jersey could seriously use an anthem.

BJ the Chicago Kid w/Kendrick Lamar - His Pain
Thanks to Soul Sides for posting this song, that I would otherwise not have heard.  Kendrick's album is fantastic, and I was trying to decide whether I should include it on my list, but this song is almost like a microcosm of the album, and that smoky jazz loop hits my buttons more than the neon-noir sound of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.

Amanda Palmer - Melody Dean
This song needs to get the fuck out of my head, like NOW.

Flaming Lips w/Ke$ha and Biz Markie - 2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)
Adele - Skyfall
Well, it's morning of 12/21/12, and as far as I know, the world hasn't ended and the singularity has not been achieved, but at least two great songs came out of it.  Ke$ha does a great Stooges parody about taking acid and enjoying the apocalypse (prepping for her duet with the man himself), and Adele turns in the best Bond theme since..."Live and Let Die," maybe?

Japandroids - Nights of Wine and Roses
Was there a more rousing rock song than "In a Big City" this year?  Well, yeah: this one.  And they work well together (I have them back-to-back on my 2012 playlist), "Nights" being a song about that period in your life when you think you can expend the energy of your unfocused ambitions on drinking and howling at the moon.

Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Couldn't find this song on YouTube, so the link goes to "Big Beast," which is almost as good.

El-P - The Full Retard
Since the late 90's, El-P has been creating harsh hip hop that merged the noisy soundscapes of The Bomb Squad and The Rza with their obvious analogues in industrial music--say, Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy.  The results have been pretty amazing, but they've rarely really been much fun to listen to (at least since the first Company Flow EP). So his new album really stands as a great achievement: he still manages to conjure a Bladerunner-esque urban distopia, but now it's one you can bob your head to.

Zebra Katz w/Njina Red Foxxx - I'ma Read
Unrelenting minimalist rap with a creepy-ass video that looks like something out of some Japanese horror flick.

Sleigh Bells - Demons
Sleigh Bells take everything that was actually cool about 80's hair metal, turn it up to 11 and run it through the filter of today's laptop-based music.  Their first album was fun for a listen or two, but couldn't really hold my interest long-term.  This time around, they fleshed out their sound, with Alexis Krauss not just screaming demented cheerleader routines,  but also cooing sweet lullabyes.  This adds a lot of dimension to their sound, and while this song is not really the best example of it, it does have the most classic metal riffage.

The Coup - The Magic Clap
"To Homeland Security, we are the bomb!"

Redd Kross - Stay Away From Downtown
If you need proof that these guys should be taken seriously, this should do the trick.

Of Montreal - Spiteful Intervention
This may be the best song Kevin Barnes ever wrote.  He can't sing it for shit, but it's a great fucking song!

Animal Collective - Today's Supernatural
"Let let let let let let let let goooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The Internet - Cocaine
This song is so smooth and seductive, just like the drug itself.

The Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger
I got nothin', other than this is a beautiful song.

Nas - A Queen's Story
Lyrically, the themes here are pretty standard, but it's possible that they've never been done better.  The tone of bittersweet victory, the way the extended chorus takes on a darker tone the last time around, the cascading piano on the final verse: classic Nas.

DJ Eleven w/Mike Baker the Bike Maker - Every Freakin (Illo Keam Remix)
Great stupid lyrics, and the remix gives it a great roller disco beat.  Thanks to Mixtape Riot for posting this!

Flaming Lips w/Bon Iver - Ashes in the Air
Best lyric of the year: "You and me/We thought we were so smart/We thought we could outrun them/But they had robot dogs."

Mystikal - Hit Me!
"Even the white people sittin' up in this muthafucka do nothin' but say Wow!/Hear that Helen?/He's tearin' it up, that fella!/I'd like to get my hands on those a capellas/That nigga sicka and slicka than lemon lime Jell-ah/We on the one/Me and the band gellin' like Abbott and Costellah/Stanky and smellah/Tummy and bellah/Peanut butter-jellah!"

Skrillex w/Wolfgang Gartner - The Devil's Den
2012 was the year that my generation collectively said "Oh, that's what dubstep is?  It's fucking horrible!"  Well, I kinda like this Skrillex dude in small doses.  I like how he basically plays heavy metal solos on...whatever it is he uses (Turntables?  An iPad?).  I went with his most "metal" song--even has a totally metal-porn video!

Kelly Hogan - Daddy's Little Girl
A very odd tribute to Sinatra(s) from the former siren of Atlanta.

Best Cover Song Not by Neneh Cherry and the Thing: 
Field Music - Terrapin
A great Syd Barrett song becomes a great T-Rex song.

Pour one out for:
Adam Yauch
Davey Jones
Donna Summer
Robin Gibb
Etta James
Dave Brubek
Doc Watson and Earl ScruggsRavi Shankar (the most amazing performance in Monterey Pop, if you ask me)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Year of Standing Up

 So at this point I've been doing stand up comedy for about a year now.  I'd done it before--in fact, Bobbie and I had met doing stand up in college--but I never really went at it full time.  It had been about 12 years since I'd gone up in any capacity.  Around that time, I tried going up a few times at the Unurban Coffee House open mic, and had even done one booked show, but I had such intense stage fright that I kept freezing up and forgetting words.  Besides which, I didn't seem to be generating material fast enough.  Obviously, the correct solution to all this would have been to buckle down and put in the work, but mentally, I guess I just wasn't ready.  It's funny: part of me feels like I wasted the last 10 years not pursuing it, but then part of me thinks that I spent those years preparing.  This blog (and other internet outlets) got me exercising my writing muscles, and then taking an improv class and performing sort of eased me back onto the stage without the intense pressure of stand up.  (Which is a funny side note: to me, improv is very low pressure.  It's basically just doing what you would be doing anyway, but doing it on stage.  Other people, including Bobbie, find it much more stressful than stand up.  Stand up stresses me out, because it's all on you, whereas in improv you can always pass the ball to someone else.  But having to rely on other people, and work without a script, is much more stressful to some people.)  I'm getting pretty good at it, but I'm just beginning. From the evidence below, I believe I have about 30 minutes of new material, plus the 6 minutes of topical stuff on the election.  But actually, there are a couple other topical jokes in there, so probably not quite 30 minutes of useable stuff.  (There was also one routine about the whole Eddie Murphy/Brett Ratner/Oscars fiasco last year, but I could never really get it to work, so I didn't end up using it.)  I'm not sure how many of those are long-term keepers, though, so let's say 15-20 minutes of solid "A" material.  Below, I've conveniently compiled all of my stand up performances from the last year.

11/14/11 So this was the first time I performed stand up in about 12 years.  Jokes about A Separate Peace, Denny's, Pussyfuckers.  I was surprised at how well the A Separate Peace joke went over.  For a while, the Denny's bit was the one everyone identified me with, so I stopped doing it.  Making fun of shitty food isn't exactly edgy, and I didn't want to be known for a hack bit, but I guess it's pretty funny anyway.

2/16/12 This one is all about the Republican primary, so extremely topical. In fact, it was already a week or so out-of-date when I recorded this.

3/11/12 Bulldiving, Pop Tarts, Moment of Clarity, and a sort of rebuttal to Bobbie's "Sex Rules" routine.

3/12/12 This one is from the following night, slightly different set: Drug Tests, Pop Tarts, Moment of Clarity.  The drug test routine is my favorite.

6/4/12 I Don't Trust Life, White Chocolate, Mushrooms.  I've abandoned that first bit, it never really worked that well, and besides, I watched Sleepwalk With Me last night and discovered that Mike Birbiglia has a similar routine.  But I like the other two jokes.

8/27/12 Taco Bell, Pluto, Survivalists.  The Pluto bit has kind of replaced the Denny's bit as my calling card.

9/9/12 This one is a slightly longer set.  The audience was small, and wasn't really feeling me, so I lost a little nerve.  (There is also, unfortunately, a bit of me giving Sally a birthday cake at the beginning, which I probably should have edited out.)  But there were some jokes that I had written for the first round that I never got around to recording, and I wanted to get some of them on tape.  Plus, I was trying to unify everything conceptually.  Rejecting nostalgia is a recurring theme that I enjoy, so I like this set. Mitt Romney, Simpler in the 70's, Dangerous for Kids, 80's music, Pop Tarts, Pluto.

11/18/12 I meant to have more new stuff for this one, but I got busy with other projects, so you get about 4 minutes of new, topical material about the election, then I ended with the Denny's material that I had premiered one year earlier.  Legal Marijuana, Tod Aikin, Chik-Fil-A, Hurricane Sandy, Denny's.

6/3/12 At some point, Bobbie and I decided to take her sex material about me, and my "rebuttal," and combine them into a double act.  It's kinda like an NC-17 version of George and Gracie.

Bonus videos: Bobbie and I doing a commercial for MEAT Clown brand meat-based meat products, and a painful video of me trying stand up at a high school talent contest. One last chance to see me this year, at Bar Lubitsch this Sunday night (December 23rd).  Come out and have a drink!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Psychedelicatessen Radio, Episode 3.11: LIVE from the Eagle Rock Comedy Festival!

You can download it here, or look for it on iTunes.

We recorded a live, 2-hour-plus podcast last Saturday night at our favorite hangout, Dave's Chillin' and Grillin' in Eagle Rock, as part of the Eagle Rock Comedy Festival.  We shared the mic with whomever came by, including comics Tom Lewis, Erika Innes, Mat Biller, Jason Parker, Ed Galvez, Sally Mullins, Cyrus, Rick Wood, Aiko Tanaka, Charles Murray, Dave's owner Dave Evans, and a live, acoustic performance by Buckshot Bill.  Enjoy it!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Eagle Rock Comedy Festival 2012

Working hard on the Third Annual Eagle Rock Comedy Festival, kicking off in just a few days.  Everything is free (although you need to rsvp for workshops and the roundtable).  You can find more information at the website, but I'll highlight a few things below.

Wednesday, December 5th from 8 to 10, Bobbie Oliver is moderating the Women in Comedy Roundtable at the American Legion Hall.  A panel of women from all areas of the comedy biz--comics, managers, sitcom writers, club owners, teachers and road dogs.  What will they talk about?  Whatever they want to, and whatever the audience asks.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening will be FREE comedy shows at businesses up and down Colorado Blvd. and Eagle Rock Blvd., including Swork Coffee, Dave's Chillin' and Grillin', Corner Pizza, The Coffee Table Lounge, The Capri, Colombo's (in the small room) and Brownstone Pizza.  There will also be a free open mic on the back patio of Swork each night.

Thursday, December 6th, from 8 to 10 (or so), I'm hosting a video shorts show at The Coffee Table.  My improv group, The Chaotiques, will perform live, then a great program of shorts, including the World Premier of our new web series, Saving Face, starring Bobbie Oliver and Sally Mullins, and directed (rather poorly) by yours truly.

Friday, December 7th from 8 to 10, there will be an improv jam at Corner Pizza, open to all who want to participate and hosted by John Fontaine.  This will include a second dose of The Chaotiques.  I'll be around for most of the night, although sometime late in the evening, Bobbie and I will perform as The Olivers at Dave's Chillin' and Grillin'.

Saturday, December 8th, there is a free meditation workshop at The Akido Cultural Institute from 1:30-2:30 pm, followed by a free improv workshop by John Fontaine from 3:00 to 5:00.  From 6:00 to 8:00, Bobbie Oliver will give a free Tao of Comedy stand up workshop at Dave's Chillin' and Grillin'.  And from 8:00 to 10:00, Bobbie and I will record a live Psychedelicatessen Radio episode at Dave's Chillin' and Grillin'.

And Sunday night, we have a wrap party at Flappers in Burbank, with a most impressive lineup: