Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Quarterly Report - Albums

Yes, I'm still doing these. Apologies to Nachtmystium, Sugarland, Heltah Skeltah, Wire, Brightblack Morning Light, Rex the Dog, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Harvey Milk.

1. The Gaslight Anthem: The 59 Sound. Holy shit, I love this type of band. The straight-ahead belty raw-throated grown-man punk bands. The bands who don't sound like they're playing all that fast even when they are. The bands who don't play ironic punk covers of non-punk songs. (Occasional exception: Bouncing Souls). The first bands you call when you're putting together a Johnny Cash tribute album. Social Distortion. Against Me. Avail. Alkaline Trio, pre-eyeliner. Jawbreaker sometimes. Bad Religion at their most monosyllabic. The type of band where the singer eventually releases a terrible acoustic folk solo album. The bigass Gibson hollowbody bands. The at-least-two-members-look-like-mechanics bands. The whoa-oh backing-harmonies bands. I haven't seen the Gaslight Anthem live yet, but I already know what their shows are like: sweaty drunk brodown shoutalongs, the shows where you could lose your glasses or break your nose and not even be annoyed about it until three days later. It's not exactly inevitable that I'll love a band like this. (Smoke or Fire? Yikes. No.) It's just probable. And when these bands have these huge tearjerk choruses, the ones about dead friends and wishing you lived someplace else, it's a wrap. I'm done. The Gaslight Anthem are a little more florid and classicist than some of these bands. Nobody can ever resist pointing out the young-Springsteen fixation. Bits and pieces sound acoustic even when they probably aren't. They're almost heroically unashamed of cliche. There's one chorus about your hightop sneakers and your sailor tattoos, another about listening to Tom Petty, another about washing your sins away by the river's edge. There's one lyric about "no surrender, my Bobbie Jean," and not only do they mean it, they repeat it a ton of times. Not a damn thing innovative about any of this stuff. Most of the time, it's almost anti-innovation, and I couldn't possibly love it more. This is life-affirming shit right here.

2. Young Jeezy: The Recession. I really liked The Inspiration, sorry Al. It was lazy and uneven and a retread, yeah, but it worked on this infinite-repeat doom-metal level: straight uninterrupted epic evilness. But The Recession is just so much more thorough and realized. The thing about the whole recession theme, even though it's part red herring and part cynical PR ploy, it that it actually fits with the way most everyone I know is experiencing this whole apocalyptic economic mess. It's like: life goes on just like always. I go to work every morning, and Jeezy keeps talking about what a drug-dealing superhero he is, just like we were doing before. Except now the occasional practical concern surfaces (maybe I shouldn't have bought that watch, "I didn't know gas was gonna be a bill!"), and now there's this general overhanging sense of existential dread all over everything. And Jeezy's at an advantage there because that dread was always in his music. And because this is just a really great Jeezy album, that dread comes through way more sharply and powerfully than it did on the last album. During the best moments (I'm thinking "Welcome Back" and "Who Dat" as well as the obvious "Put On"), that dread becomes weirdly exhilarating. And even more than on the last two albums, Jeezy never interrupts that churn; Akon and R. Kelly never show up. Some of Jeezy's lines are great, and some of them are terrible, and at some point I lose track of the difference between them. But the whole thing captures a mood perfectly: things are going OK now, but they are going to stop being OK any minute now.

3. TV on the Radio: Dear Science. The live shows were always incredible, but I never felt like the last two TV on the Radio albums really fulfilled the promise of that first EP. More than anything that came later, Young Liars, the title track in particular, sounded huge: blaring hooky arena shit, done through some scuzzed-up post-Radiohead filter. The albums were way too turgid and depressed to get near that again. "Wolf Like Me" was the soundtrack to a training-montage scene in Never Back Down, but it's totally not training-montage music, and I think maybe the soundtrack coordinator was just trying to make people think he was cool or something. But now all of a sudden they sound like they're having fun. The songs still have those freaked-out falsetto yips and gangly Afrobeat horns and immaculately decayed guitar-sounds and everything, but they've also got big wailed choruses and itchy cross-rhythms and bad jokes. A few weeks back, I walked into the office when my boss was listening to this, and for a second I thought it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I'm not sure how exactly that's a compliment coming from me, but it totally is. Maybe it's just because Tunde was in a movie with Anne Hathaway, but these guys have finally loosened up. And now that they're having fun, TV on the Radio are practically the motherfucking Talking Heads at this point. They can do just about anything. Most of this album is just pure liquid joy.

4. David Byrne and Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Not to get all emo up in here, but I heard this for the first time immediately after getting a really, really amazing bit of personal news, and I'm having a tough time imagining a better soundtrack for that particular moment. (This is vague as fuck, but I can't go airing out everything here. Those of you who know me well know what I'm talking about.) I don't know exactly what I was expecting from these two getting back together, and frankly in retrospect I'm surprised I even bothered to listen. I love Bush of Ghosts as much as everyone else, but it's not like either of these guys has been wrecking my universe lately. In any case, I definitely was not expecting a work of total optimism like this. This is just a gorgeously light and delicate record. Byrne's called it their "digital gospel" album, and I completely agree, even if it doesn't sound particularly digital or gospelly. There's a real lived-in warmth and contentment at work here. Sometimes it's awkward, like the fake bossa nova groove on "Strange Overtones" or pretty much all of "I Feel My Stuff." But I hope I'm still capable of this kind of loopy humanism when I'm as old as these two.

5. ABN: It Is What It Is. So apparently Z-Ro and Trae are beefing now? And this album was actually a contractual obligation, a bunch of random old tracks and freestyles slapped together with Rap-A-Lot house production? That's what I read on a blog or two, anyway. Really, who even knows what's going on at Rap-A-Lot. Z-Ro put out another new album a week or two ago, and I still haven't heard it because I still haven't found it. I'm sort of fascinated with Rap-A-Lot in general, this label with a vast history and a still-pretty-incredible roster, haphazardly chucking great albums like this into the void, like they're determined to maintain their air of mystery even if it means nobody ever hears their albums. Really, I could imagine It Is What It Is as a slapped-together outtakes collection, and I could imagine it as the masterpiece that these two locked themselves in the studio for months to make. Even if somebody just ProTooled old verses together, Z-Ro and Trae have this incredible chemistry, those two deep grumbly voices rapping ridiculously quickly about being mad at the world and then Z-Ro crooning these heartwrenching blues choruses. And that Rap-A-Lot house production fits them perfectly, gives them this cheap but melodic backdrop that gives their voices plenty of room to just sink into the tracks. And they're just point-blank great rappers, too. I love hearing them on UGK's "Three Sixteens" beat, giving a classic original a run for its money. In a way, I'm glad Z-Ro and Trae are on Rap-A-Lot, cranking out these great albums that nobody ever hears rather than languishing on a major label shelf somewhere like so many other great rappers. They might not be getting famous, but at least they're working.

6-10. Diplo & Santogold: Top Ranking, Lindstrom: Where You Go I Go Too, T.I.: Paper Trail, Glen Campbell: Meet Glen Campbell, Krallice: Krallice

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Does everyone else know about this? A black comedy where Jean Claude Van Damme plays himself as a washed-up straight-to-video action star? And then he gets taken hostage in a bank robbery? These are amazing times to be alive, and JCVD just catapulted right up next to Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler on my can't-wait list.

Best line on the new Heltah Skeltah album: "My gun game crazy, when the fifth spit I / Kill man, woman and child a la Chris Benoit."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The end-credits music to Lost Boys: The Tribe, the new straight-to-video sequel, is the Hold Steady, "Cattle and the Creeping Things" I think. I have no idea why that's the case. It just makes no sense at all, and it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. All the other songs on the soundtrack are unbelievably shitty and cheap nu-metal tracks, including one super-obvious and lame remake of the "thou shalt not kill" song from the first movie. In any case, the Hold Steady song is the best thing about the new Lost Boys movie, other than the gore effects, which come up constantly and are pretty cool. The vampires don't just bite people; they sort of eat them. And when they get stabbed, they don't burst into dust; they melt or explode or whatever. So that was good.

But holy God, the second-best actor in the whole movie is motherfucking Corey Feldman, and he delivers all his lines in this rumbling sub-Eastwood growl for absolutely no reason I can figure out. Corey Feldman! We're supposed to think he's a badass! (The main girl, who I guess was on the season of The O.C. that I didn't watch, is OK.) And the main vampire guy is played by Kiefer Sutherland's younger half-brother, and he gives this weird mumbly monotone performance that makes me think the director was scared to actually instruct him in any way on anything. He's supposed to be this charismatic cult-leader guy, and he's just barely there. He's cardboard. It's weird. There's also a lot of pointless extreme-sports stuff, and part of it seems to want to be Point Break: The Tribe. I don't know why I thought this movie might be OK.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I can't believe this. I really can't. I have no idea what to do with it. Suffice to say that this will be fucking me up for a long, long time.

I've always had a complicated relationship with David Foster Wallace's fiction, his way of concealing these beautiful glimmering gems of soul-expanding human insight and empathy in artfully arranged layers of total showoffy confusion and obfuscation. Those novels and short story collections felt like chores. I'd read them, always, and I'd spent most of the book feeling like a complete idiot, like I was missing something and it was my fault, which is not really a good mode for fiction-consuming. But there'd be these sentences or brief asides here and there that just killed me. Still, I never quite forgave Infinite Jest for forcing me to plow through 1100 pages of tiny type and then not quite giving me an ending.

But DFW's nonfiction pieces, his experiential postcards (his term) and essays and whatnot, these things were pure gold. Most of the best pieces I've written were pretty much just my most accurate ripoffs of Wallace's style in these pieces. Just last week I reread "Up, Simba!," his 2000 McCain campaign piece, for the millionth time because I felt like I needed a reason to feel OK about McCain. That didn't happen, but I've still never read a better piece of political writing. This guy, at his best, was just so far beyond everyone else writing words in English that comparisons don't seem fair.

And beyond the unparalleled facility for arranging words into sentences and paragraphs, I've always read a sort of deep and emphatic hope at the heart of these pieces I've reread however many bazillion times. Like, for instance, there's the last couple sentences of "The Host," the profile of a snarly right-wing talk-radio guy he wrote for the Atlantic a couple of years ago. He spends a couple tens of thousands of words depicting the intricate apparatus behind this bile-distributing agent, and he ends it thusly: "Because one can almost feel it: what a bleak and merciless world this host lives in - believes, nay, knows for an absolute fact he lives in. I'll take doubt."

And this guy committed suicide by hanging? I'm sorry, I don't know what was going on in his personal life or whatever, not sure I even care. Suicide by hanging. That's about the most extreme rejection of doubt I can imagine. I cannot accept this.

If you haven't already, read this today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I had no idea and nobody sent me a gally copy, but apparently the anthology Rock and Roll Cage Match is out and has been out for a couple of weeks. This is the book where different rock writers say someone is better than someone else. Unless someone cut it out of the book, I wrote the Nas vs. Jay-Z chapter. (Spoiler: Jay wins.) And unlike my Brand Nubian entry in Marooned, I though this piece actually turned out really well.

I'm 29 today. This is something I'd rather not think about.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Things I learned watching Gossip Girl:

Tanya Donnelly has meetings! Isn't it a little late to try suing Hype Williams for rights to the word "belly"? (Um. That's it.)

Notes on the VMAs:

- Pretty good this year! Or better than last year's hotel-suite clusterfuck silliness, anyway. The whole thing moved fluidly, most of the performers got to do complete songs, and not one single performance bored me. Judging by last night's performances, virtually all of the non-Disney pop universe seems to be trying to make stuff that'd fit on the soundtrack to The Crow: Rihanna, Kanye, Christina Aguilera, possibly Wayne and Paramore. I approve.

- The Hollywood backlot thing seemed cheesed-out and gimmicky at first, but they really figured out how to make spectacle out of it. The Jonas Brothers' Sesame Street act bored the hell out of me at first, but I laughed like a fool when the building opened up and all the screaming people ran out. I knew they'd have to finish big, but I didn't think they'd finish that big.

- Russell Brand crashed and burned like a motherfucker. I'm glad they had an actual host; it really gives continuity to the whole spectacle. But holy fuck. He started out bombing, getting no laughs at all, and he just got worse from there. If I wanted to see elaborately-haired cokeheads flailing around for attention, I'd take the train over to Williamsburg. I've decided to retroactively stop liking him in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I liked seeing Jordin Sparks snap on him, though. Next year, they should just let Jamie Foxx host the thing. He'll get drunk and go off script and cuss a bunch and ignore the schedule, but at least he'll be funny and charismatic, you know?

- I couldn't be happier about Rihanna's Road Warrior fetish-gear move. It's like she looked around, realized that there was no basic equivalent to circa-95 Trent Reznor out there these days, and she decided she'd be it. It's awesome. She's also getting dangerously authoritative onstage. She just completely overwhelmed T.I., and that guy is a great performer, at least in person.

- T.I.'s performance was the only one where they should've just let him go nuts onstage, like when he did the "Top Back" remix at the BET Awards a couple of years ago. That whole live-video thing did not work at all: Tip just standing around looking bored while a video chick buys stuff, guh. I like the song, though.

- Christina Aguilera as Batman, ripping off Goldfrapp: a good look!

- Another good look: the girl from Paramore doing the Bruce Dickinson foot-on-the-monitor pose.

- The whole thing, at least in terms of awards given out, was basically constructed as a big institutional apology to Britney for throwing her under the bus last year, which was pretty nice I guess. She looked OK, anyway. She said the exact same thing every time she accepted an award.

- Travis Barker and DJ AM: gas face.

- Having McLovin join Slipknot was one of those ridiculous and dumb award-presentation things they do every year, but I still thought it was funny as shit, mostly because of McLovin's Slipknot mask with the pipecleaners on it.

- It was nice how they let the bad guy from Never Back Down present something. He was a pretty good bad guy. If he plays the exact same character in Twilight, maybe I'll watch Twilight.

- Pete Wentz looks more glazed every day. It's almost amazing.

- Wayne's solo performance was sort of great on sheer energy alone, and I appreciated the fake-classy touch of Leona Lewis and the string section. Wayne's ability to take a standard prestige-trope like that and make it ridiculous is one of his great gifts. But his cameo during Kid Rock's thing? Hoo boy. I'm obviously not one to toss around minstrelsy accusations, but he had to know something fucked up was going on there. The big grin, the bowing to Kid Rock, the one line I could make out being about watermelon and fried chicken? Yee.

- Hard to say since that stupid blinking heart thing was distracting me the whole time, but Kanye's new song sounded pretty good!

- I'm still not entirely certain exactly what a Tokio Hotel is.

- Pink fucking ruled, for real. "So What" sounds better every time I hear it, and her whole juvenile breaking-shit thing is great because she's got serious physical-comedy gifts. Weird how she's somehow a star again.

- Worst video bumpers ever.

- Can't think of anything else. Felt amazing to not be taking notes during one of these things for once.

Friday, September 05, 2008

So no, you can't use "community organizer" as a dis. It doesn't make any sense, and someone will call you on your bullshit. Thanks.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The general absurdity of the whole Sarah Palin thing might be a lot of fun, but there was one moment during her speech last night that just made my gut seize up with revulsion: when she told parents of kids with disabilities that they'd have a friend and an advocate in the White House. She has a kid with Downs Syndrome (currently being held up as evidence of her anti-abortion cred), and that's a tough thing to deal with, sure. She also drastically cut funding for school for kids with disabilities in Alaska. Speaking as someone with a whole lot of disabilities in his family, this is absolutely the most loathsome form of vote-grubbing unscrupulous bullshit, and I hope the pundits of America have enough soul to call her out on it. Fuck this lady.

Another RNC thing: why does Joe Lieberman chuckle quietly every time he finishes a sentence? Even when he says something that could never, ever be interpreted as funny? That kind of thing just bugs the fuck out of me. But at least he can sleep soundly knowing that he did absolutely nothing on Tuesday night to help John McCain win. If he turns out to be a Democrat mole bringing the McCain campaign down from the inside, I'll forgive the whole chuckle thing.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

This Sarah Palin thing gets more amazing and insane by the hour. Seriously, I'm sitting in an office full of people constantly watching the political blogs, and every fifteen minutes or so someone pipes up about some new absurd shit in this lady's history. At this rate, we're going to find out by Thursday that she bathes in moose blood and has a rapture-shelter in her backyard. If you haven't seen it, this fake Sarah Palin blog is some hilarious shit. Also: this.

The Democratic Convention made for a pretty incredible week of TV, but I ended up watching a whole lot of it on CSPAN because the actual news networks were barely showing any of it. I like some of MSNBC's talking heads and all, but I don't really need to hear them endlessly rehashing the (fake) PUMA controversy while people are actually making what might be important and substantive speeches. I mean, John Kerry! They wouldn't let him talk on TV! It was weird. One person who did get to talk on TV a whole lot: Will.I.Am. Somehow I watched that guy get interviewed like four times. And every time, he went on some surprisingly heated tangent about McCain's campaign making fun of Obama for being a celebrity. He is one pissed-off spokesman for maligned celebrities, and I have to wonder about that. You think maybe Will.I.Am is so mad at the constant hate aimed his way that it's actually come to affect his views on presidential politics? I have no doubt that his support of Obama is sincere, but I also think he might see McCain's campaign staff as angry blog commenters, which is sort of hilarious. Apparently the sans-Fergie Black Eyed Peas showed up at the LA stop of Rock the Bells, did a set of "Joints and Jams"-era bullshit, and got soundly booed. Do those boos echo in his ear every time a network reporter shoves a mic in his face? And can network reporters please stop shoving mics in this face?