Star Wars Ep. 7 – An opinion piece.

 

So, the day finally arrived. Star Wars Episode VII has arrived in my lifetime and George Lucas has nothing to do with it! I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, but considering how I generally dislike the “prequel” trilogy of the early part of this century – I awaited this one with somewhat baited breath. While I am mostly pleased with what JJ Abrams gave us, there were some aspects that I feel could’ve been handled better and some that even exceeded not only my expectations, but anything I could have imagined on my own. Needless to say, its a landmark film for me for being the first 8am release day screening I’ve ever attended recreationally. At any rate, here are my thoughts on the details of the film:PLEASE NOTE – From this point forward this entire piece is one gigantic spoiler. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read further, unless you don’t give a fuck — then by all means continue.

I’m going to start by giving a general overview opinion and then a good, crap, and in between detail section. I’ll close with what I think about the future.

Let me start off by saying that I enjoyed the film very much. I took a few days after my initial viewing as I clearly felt I was on a bit of a “contact high”. As that receded, I began re-thinking some things and ended up seeing the film again a few days ago and was disappointed with a lot more than I initially was. While I feel Abrams and his entire team accomplished a great deal, the amount of plotholes, questions raised, and overall “feeling” of the film leaves more to be desired than I expected after my first viewing.

The overall critical aspect of the film is that it very much feels like a “rehash” or to be gentler, a “reboot” of 1977’s A New Hope. I agree with this generalization wholeheartedly and while I understand the reasoning for going this route, I think it was a bit disingenuous and may prove to be the series’ undoing as we move forward. Considering Disney is literally planning a Star Wars film for every year for at least the next 5 years, burnout is a higher possibility than ever before. Had this episode been coined a “A Newer Hope”, it would not have been a lie. At the end of the day, I think JJ Abrams played this episode entirely too safe, which was arguably necessary after the prequel trilogy. However, it’s a laudable achievement and not a bad film.

The Good:

Rey – I especially enjoyed Daisy Ridley’s portrayal of this plucky young scavenger from the planet, Jakku. She carried her weight impressively while onscreen with the icons and generally stole the scene almost every time she was there. I have very little to criticize about this character or performance, but on my second viewing I laughed out loud when she mind controlled the stormtrooper while she was a prisoner and not for the comedic value (although that stormtrooper was portrayed by Daniel Craig, which is kinda cool). Her Force powers were almost too refined. I assume we’ll get an explanation for this, but my initial thought is that it was just an easy way to get her out of those situations in the film.  That said, I was on the edge of my seat during the lightsaber duel with Ren, in a scene that was reminiscent of and a more frenetic version of The House of Blue Leaves scene in Kill Bill when Beatrice Kiddo duels O-Ren. (O-Ren/Kylo Ren) I wonder if that was an Abrams Freudian slip.

The Demise of Han Solo – I knew someone was going to die and my guess going in was that it was going to be Han. I was dreading the moment even though I did not know it was coming and I was pretty blown away with how it was handled. Considering the criticism I have over the introduction of Kylo Ren (below), this scene almost wholly reinvigorated my interest in where they’re going with Ren. Kudos to Harrison Ford for stepping right back into the iconic role one last time and proving he’s one of the most under-appreciated actors in terms of skill ever. He’s more than just a star. The only gripe Id make is that when Rey/Chewie make it back to Leia, Chewie non-chalantly walks by Leia without even a look. Maybe that’s how Wookies grieve I guess.

Technical aspects – The dogfighting sequences were outstandingly produced and the use of practical effects was seamless with the CGI. This was a well-crafted film technologically and I appreciated how it was paced.

Luke Skywalker – Perhaps the only way I was spoiled going into the film was that Luke had a very small role. His 2-3 minute long scene at the very end is easily my favorite in the entire film. From the moment you see him with the back turned to the camera I had chills and when “The Force Theme” is playing was just pitch perfect. I was disappointed initially with the minor spoiler, but the payoff ended up being fantastic. “Bring on Episode VIII”.

The Bad

General Hux – Domhnall Gleeson is a very strong actor who possesses a good amount of gravitas and nuance (see Ex: Machina), however his portrayal of this was so hammy and so over the top, he just lost me in every scene he was in. Was JJ yelling “More Himmler” or “More Heydrich” at him in between takes?

The First Order – The first episode of “The First Order” being the lead baddie was a bit eh. I did not find them very imposing and their whole existence in the Star Wars Universe is perplexing at this point. My guess? They’re a red herring. There’s something deeper going on here.

Starkiller Base  – This is in line with my previously mentioned and more fuel for the”A Newer Hope” criticisms. Oh, its just a REALLY BIG Death Star. C’mon guys. Please don’t build another one in time for Episode IX.

Captain Phasma – They take the coolest looking stormtrooper EVER created and turn her into a pushover. Was it all for the trash compactor line? I find it hard to believe someone who is as seemingly badass as she would be pushed over like that. They have some work to do to fix this character.

As you can see, my gripes are almost entirely about the villains.

The Wait And See

Kylo Ren – An overly petulant Emo bastard who betrayed his entire family. The first half of the film I hated Ren and not in the villain/heel way. I just thought he was a shit character. His outbursts were comical (the scene where the two stormtroopers turn around while hes throwing a tantrum is hilarious though). He’s got something in common with Luke now though having killed his father. There’s something to be said though that from the moment he removes his mask, his character gets a lot more interesting and killing Han was the best thing to happen to his character.

Finn – So stormtroopers aren’t all clones now? John Boyega did an admirable job and overall his performance was inoffensive, but I can’t say I was impressed with him or his character. I didn’t hate or like Finn, but I am interested to see where they go with him.

Snoke – Terrible name and I doubt that’s his real name. I think Snoke has potential to go either way. It will be an interesting few years to see what else they have planned, but a bit too Palpatine-ish in his introduction. It was telling to me how he basically blows off the fact that Starkiller Base was destroyed and caring more about continuing Ren’s training. More fuel to my theory that “The First Order” is a bunch of showy horseshit.

Overall despite my gripes I did enjoy the film. I don’t think its a patch on Lucas’ original trilogy and I’m praying that Episode VIII is not a rehash of Empire. Rian Johnson is a very capable director and I have a strong feeling he can deliver. There’s a lot of questions to be answered. One other critique I read asked a question I have too. Did everything Luke, Leia, and Han accomplish in 4-6 end up being meaningless? They’re all miserable in Episode VII and rightfully so.

Grade: B+

In the hierarchy, I’d rank this one 4th overall in terms of quality. Better than the prequel trilogy, but not a patch on any of the original trilogy’s films.

 

Film Review: The Summit (2012 – Documentary)

220px-The_Summit_poster The Summit is a 2012 Irish documentary about an ill-fated K2 climbing attempt by a group of expeditions on the mountain in 2008. The incident is one of the largest losses of life on a 8000 meter peak and attained mainstream attention that had not been seen in mountaineering community since the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, which was chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s now classic, Into Thin Air.

I’d been looking forward to watching this film for well over a year when I first read that it was being released. As a very amateur mountaineer, I, like many of the people who are profiled in this film, are and were likely motivated by the great successes and failures of the mountaineers of history. This is a community of like-minded individuals where names like Hillary, Messner, Bonington, Scott, and Kukuckza are considered to be on the par of great athletes like Jordan, Montana, and Ruth. I myself have read countless volumes of literature describing both colossal successes and the amazing failures, the latter of which usually resulted in the loss of a life if not lives. There’s a reason why I’m on a first name basis, at least in the rhetorical sense with people like George Mallory (a hero of mine), Sandy Irvine, Toni Kurz, Andreas Hinterstoisser, Joe Tasker, Peter Boardman, and Wanda Rutkiewicz. Mostly because while I respect and have great admiration for what they accomplished in their lives (in every case very short), but because I want to avoid what happened to them on the great peaks of this amazing Earth like the Eiger, Everest, and Kangchenjunga. Herzog’s Annapurna is as gripping in its success as Into Thin Air is in describing the terrible tragedy that unfolded on Everest in 1996. I’ve been fortunate enough in the past few years to do some very minor climbing in the Alps and to stand at the foot of great Himalayan giants, knowing the history of who came before me and what had occurred, both great and terrible high above me.

The 2008 K2 disaster has long struck me as entirely avoidable as is the case with many mountaineering disasters in hindsight. There are 3 books that focus solely on the disaster that I’ve read (Bowley, van Rooijen, and Wilkinson) with another 2 that I’ve yet to read (O’Brien’s bio of Ger McDonnell, and Marco Confortola’s whose book has yet to be translated to English). That’s 5 books in 5 years, a somewhat staggering amount. I’m also sure (and eager) to read anything that Cecilie Skog may have to say, who is in my opinion among the most sympathetic figures to emerge from this terrible event in 2008. Needless to say, my respect and admiration for Cecilie Skog and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa, know no bounds.

The Film.

The film is a good documentary that is composed very similarly to the wonderful “Storm Over Everest” (2008), made by the inimitable David Breashears about the 1996 Everest disaster. It has both actors re-enacting key moments on the mountain, actual footage, and is narrated mostly by the participants both there and those that were waiting for their loved one (in this film’s case, only Ger McDonnell) back home.  It starts at the very beginning of the trek into K2 with very brief background information and then thrusts right into the climb itself. Its a very tight 97 minutes. I’m not the spoiling type, so I’m not going to go over the minutiae of the story. One of the real joys of this film is seeing and hearing from the Italian great Walter Bonatti, one of the greatest explorers this world has ever known and who was a member of the first K2 expedition that reached the summit, but he himself did not, however, I am critical of this inclusion below.

What worked.

The use of actual footage in this documentary cannot be understated. The mountain views are truly spectacular and legitimate. You see the actual climbers in the midst of their climbs, 11 of which did not return. You see the beauty and the grim. Hearing from Ger McDonnell’s loved ones was truly touching and you can feel their agony and the weight of their loss in these words. On a whole, its a fairly meticulous project that years obviously went into. Hours after my viewing, I will not forget the sound effect of a serac calving into an avalanche, which is a sound that will stick with you whether you climb or you don’t.

What didn’t work.

-Bonatti, through no fault of his own. It was clear that the filmmakers were trying to convey the history and weight of the mountain with the inclusion of the Bonatti interviews, but the cuts and interjections he provided took away from the story this film is trying to tell in both content and the way they were cut into the film. It was truly remarkable to hear from this man, who lived a life that volumes have been written about and to see actual footage from the 1954 expedition was amazing. I do not feel that it added to the 2008 story. Bonatti’s story could and should be a documentary on its own. In my opinion, the 1953 American Expedition would’ve been better served as a historical waypoint as the Bonatti expedition was a success save for the controversy that followed.  It’s arguable that Pemba Gyalje’s actions on K2 during these days is “up there” with Pete Schoening’s miraculous belay. I was truly excited to hear and see this man in this film, but the purpose of his inclusion is never fully understood as there’s no real similarity between the expeditions. There is a distinct disconnect concerning the historical connection the filmmakers are trying to make.

-The entire story was not told – I understand the limits of film making. However, this film as a documentary briefs over far too much important and in some cases, incredible detail. As its an Irish-made film and had the full participation of the McDonnell family, I knew it was to be “Ger-slanted”. This is understandable and respectable, as I gained even more admiration for him as a person through this film. However, I felt that the lack of detail of Pemba’s actions, Wilco’s incredible ordeal to survive, and the all too brief explanation of Hugues’ and the Koreans deaths were a disservice to the viewer and to their memory. The explanation for Mr. Kim not being heard from is appreciated.  Not hearing from Maarten van Eck or Heleen van Rooijen was disappointing. I hope that a “director’s cut” is one day viewable as the entire story of these days in 2008 deserve to be told. The detail is paid to one member of the expedition more than any other, which again, is understandable considering the source but a bit of a disservice to the rest of the members of the expedition and to the viewer. The end comes all too swiftly.

Should you see it?

Yes. It’s a well made and thought out piece for both the non-mountaineer and mountaineer alike. The actual footage is extraordinary, the interviews are cohesive and plotted well. If this is your introduction to the story, there is a lot that isn’t covered that deserved to be. It’s not definitive, however I feel that the promotion purports it to be. It’s focus wants to be wider, but in the end it’s narrow and not quite all encompassing. It feels incomplete in many respects and its slanted towards one member of many who perished in this incredible tragedy.

Grade: B-

My Favorite Albums, Tracks, and Gigs of 2013

As you can tell by now, I don’t post on this blog as much as I did when it first started. Living in the metropolitan NYC area has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is finding time to sit down and blog. I do miss it, even if my activity doesn’t show it, and I’m ever hopeful that the coming year will see a resurgence. That being said, this is my favorite time of the year and there’s really no way I could not make a Best Of post.

In respect to the music of 2013, I found 2013 to be exceptionally strong. While I personally felt it was missing that one “grab you by the balls – never forget me” record, I believe that the year on whole was great. Last year, I felt that it was a strong year for debuts, this year was more established acts regaining/maintaining footing.

Enough jibber-jabber, here’s my list(s):

ALBUMS

4d1b2902#1 Mazzy StarSeasons Of Your Day – I struggled with my #1 choice this year. By the time I published this past I wavered between the top 4 and felt strongly with each choice that it was the right one. However, when push comes to shove, I have to go with my favorite and that is this sublime album after a 17 year absence. Rarely do acts that decide to take such a long break come back with an album this strong, but Hope Sandoval and David Roback et al. did. This album has more in common with Hope’s work with the Warm Inventions than it does the Mazzy Star most know from the early 90s in that it’s more stripped down and laid back, but with tracks as great as “I’ve Gotta Stop” & “California”, it’s perfectly understandable.

artworks-000049298070-f0ntn6-t500x500#2 HeliotropesA Constant Sea – Despite my opening dribble before presenting my list, this year was not short of strong debuts. Heliotropes excel in wielding their influences as weapons. This is an album dripping with strong hooks and melodies that bring back memories of greats like Ozzy-era Sabbath and Nirvana (their fantastic cover of Nirvana’s Negative Creep here), but at the same time putting their own spin on things and doing it their way. Gorgeous frontwoman, Jessica Numsuwankijkul‘s strong vocals and awesome guitar help propel this record from top to bottom and there’s not one skippable track. The first 2/3 of the record are mostly heavier tracks with the riff heavy “Psalms” and pulsating “Quatto/Joy Unfolds” being among the highlights, but the album takes it easy on the listener at the end with more laid back tunes, basically an aural come down.  An absolutely strong first impression and a band to keep an eye/ear on.  “One of these days I’m gonna jump riiiight out of my skinnnnnnnnnn“. Damn right, Jessica.

Arctic-Monkeys-AM#3 Arctic MonkeysA.M. – Alex Turner is the greatest songwriter of his generation. There, I got that out of the way. There is simply no other way to put it. Arctic Monkeys released their 5th album in 2013 and unlike the previous two releases (2009’s Humbug & 2011’s Suck It & See) both solid listens in their own right, this one seemed to step away from their great formula and add a bit more to the stew. This was the album I debated with most in terms of its ranking. A great listen from top to bottom, this is the band’s best effort since their sophomore release, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Tracks like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High”, lead single, “Do I Wanna Know”, and the lovely “Fireside”, all help add to an already long list of great songs. I’m still waiting for Arctic Monkeys to release their masterwork, but at the very least the wait is bearing some great fruit.

2013TheNational_TroubleWillFind600G210313#4 The NationalTrouble Will Find Me – I find a lot in common with the #3 and #4 acts on this list. While playing different styles of music, the career arcs are similar in that both bands are regularly releasing very strong albums over the last decade plus and have not had a dud yet. The National arguably saw their largest surge of popularity this year and they released this gem of a record. What I found most pleasing about this was the way the band used their guests. “Don’t Swallow The Cap” w/ Nona Marie Invie adding a backing vocal that confounded me with “WHO WAS THAT” for about five months before I found out it was her. The great St. Vincent on “Humiliation” & Sharon van Etten who appears on multiple tracks. I loved the addition of adding female vocals to The National’s glorious melancholy. Again and similarly to #3, this is a band that has found a formula and have stuck to it for the most part, but are not afraid to add to the stew and improve what they’ve already got going.

166444#5 TOYJoin The Dots – This is the latest album released this year that I’ve listed and I’m ranking it so highly because I’m so damn excited by this band. Not suffering from a sophomore slump, the UK’s TOY bring forward an excellent record that evokes the best feelings about shoegaze/psychedelia and has me championing this band as their career really starts to gain traction. This is an excellent effort with an absolute blinder of a title track and most of all, understand that an album is a cohesive piece of art, rather than just a hodgepodge collection of songs. Strong musicianship and another band not afraid of their influences, if there is one band out of the UK that has emerged in the last two years that I’m excited by, it’s TOY.

#6 The Love Language – Ruby Red

#7 Camera Obscura – Desire Lines

#8 Bill Ryder-Jones – A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart

#9 Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin

#10 Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe

#11 Caveman – Caveman

#12 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

#13 Still Corners – Strange Pleasures

#14 Rose Elinor Dougall – Future Vanishes EP (technically an album teaser for 2014, but ranking it anyway)

#15 The Asteroid #4 – The Windmill of the Autumn Sky

#16 Anna Calvi – One Breath

#17 Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

#18 Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Specter At The Feast

#19 Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1

#20 Veronica Falls – Waiting For Something To Happen

TRACKS

GIGS

#1 Richard Hawley – The Troxy – London, UK  – 2/23/13

#2 The National – Mercury Lounge – NYC  – 5/21/2013

#3 Mazzy Star – Terminal 5 – NYC  – 11/10/2013

#4 Fleetwood Mac – Prudential Center, Newark, NJ – 4/24/2013

#5 Queens of the Stone Age – Brooklyn Masonic Temple – Brooklyn, NY – 6/7/2013

#6 Clinic – Le Poisson Rouge – NYC – 4/20/2013

#7 Jessica Pratt – Union Pool – Brooklyn, NY – 6/1/2013

#8 Esben & The Witch/Heliotropes – Mercury Lounge – NYC – 3/22/2013

#9 The Love Language – Glasslands – Brooklyn, NY – 8/1/2013

#10 Mikal Cronin – Bowery Ballroom – NYC – 6/20/2013

The Best of 2012 – Albums, songs, gigs!

Whoa! Do I suck at blogging or what? Oh, well. I have learned to get used to this fact as time has passed and I will at the very least post a best-of list. I find it kind of funny that my previous year’s best-of is still on this front page. I guess being busy in life is a good thing, so I will go with that as my excuse.

2012 has been a fairly lackluster year on first glance. While I’ve felt there have been some very strong debuts and good stuff from some familiar faces, it seems to have missed that one amazing release that I listen to 10000 times. I usually have my favorite records of the year decided a month in advance of this post, but this year has been remarkably different. I’ve been neglecting putting this piece together simply because I wanted to listen to more. This list is definitely shorter than years past on this blog (2010 & 2011 lists), but it’s definitely got some quality. I am most impressed by the amount of newcomers this year.

And with that, let’s get down to business…

ALBUMS

By The Sea#1 By the SeaBy The Sea – By The Sea’s debut offering is a wonderful slice of shoegazey Britpop. A band out of that somewhat famous village, Liverpool, these lads served up nine songs that cohesively form my album of the year. Strong melodies and hooks with a unique “hush” quality to the lead vocals carry the listener through a wonderful menagerie of delightful sounds. Tracks such as the title track and lead single “Dream Waters” are among the standout highlights, but it’s rare with a debut to go from top to bottom and never have a skip. An excellent first foray and arguably the album I was most looking forward to prior to its release, so in that respect, it definitely scored well.

Young and Old#2 TennisYoung & Old – This is one of those albums that kind of snuck up on me. When it was first released earlier this year, I did not give much time to it. I was left a bit lukewarm after seeing the band perform live and I wasn’t prepared to give the follow-up to Tennis’ excellent 2011 debut, Cape Dory, the proper listen it deserved. When I finally came around to this record around September, I was extremely glad I did. This record takes the formula that made their debut so strong and made it even better. With some genuinely fantastic pop-rock tracks like “Origins” & “Petition”, Tennis makes a statement that says they are going to be around for a bit longer. Now if only the live performance matched the studio output, this would be a band to be reckoned with. Alaina Moore possesses a unique vocal timbre that is wonderful when its fully utilized, and I’m eager to hear what they do next.

hvnlp94cdgfwt300x298#3 TOYToy – This is another debut from another excellent English band. Led by Tom Dougall (brother to darling of this blog, Rose Elinor Dougall), Toy are a band in the vein of The Cure and the New Order line of bands. Brooding new wave rock and roll with a mysterious edge to it. The release on venerated UK label, Heavenly Records (home to Doves) is a terrific album that has a mood and mystique to it typically associated with acts that have been around longer and have larger catalogues. The band were not afraid to go 7 minutes long on superb tracks like “Dead & Gone”, as well as releasing some online-only nuggets like the great “Clock Chime”. Along with the #1 on this list, TOY were one of the most exciting discoveries of 2012.

The Spyrals#4 The SpyralsThe Spyrals – Yet another debut and another self-titled one at that! This time the psychedelic offerings of San Francisco’s, The Spyrals.  This was the first release I heard in 2012 (it was released on New Years Day) and was played to about death throughout the spring and summer (still going strong). Chock full of classic psychedelic sounds, blistering lead guitar, and a fantastic lead vocal, The Spyrals have yet to make much noise outside of their own genre, but hopefully that will change soon. With thumpers like “The Rain” and the guttural and hypnotic closer, “Evil Kind”, The Spyrals are able to take a sound very familiar to just about any rock and roll fan, and create new magic.

xlpz9u#5 Tame ImpalaLonerism – Australia’s Tame Impala did something not a lot of bands do this day in age, that’s better their debut album! Lonerism is an exciting psychedelic concoction that exemplifies studio wizardry and songcraft in one fell swoop. If I was able to give an award for “Best Mixed” or “Best Produced” record, this surely would get the nod. This is the type of record that rewards multiple listens, yet the melodies are crafted so well that it has the ability to hook you right from the word go.  They also have a wonderful ability in making the live versions special yet not losing their sonic magic. Songs like “Mind Mischief” & “Feels Like We Only Going Backwards” exemplify the best in merging new sounds with the old. This is a band that has a long career ahead of them if they keep thinking forward and taking chances with their creations.

uvjvb7#6 GOATWorld Music – Goat are incredibly hard to describe, but I will do my best. Smoke a bowl of the best hash or weed you can get your hands on; turn the guitars up to 11; get some chicks to sing harmony, put in a bowl. Press puree. Do it again for good measure. Once you have done that, you might just be able to get an idea of the music of Sweden’s GOAT. Another psychedelic cocktail, this group does it their own way and by the time you finish your first listen, you’re queing it up again, just because. It’s not even worth suggesting tracks to listen to, because they all belong together. Besides, who woulda thunk “Disco Fever” following the double whammy of “Goatman” and “Goathead” would work so damn well?

uwtgk3#7 The VandellesStrange Girls Don’t Cry – The best way to sum up The Vandelles are “surf punk with 60s style pop stylings”. That’s definitely the only way to describe The Vandelles’ latest. An excellent power pop record from top to bottom, Strange Girls… features some really fuzzy guitars, excellent “gnarled” lead male vocals, and some pretty girl harmonies on the back end. Tracks like album opener “I’m Way Ahead of You” are stomped right into you from the beginning of the experience, through the fire of the title track, and right into its closer. The Vandelles take a formula and add their own twist to it very well. Like Tame Impala, a band that takes its album releases seriously, and can also deliver live as well.

CS464372-01A-BIG#8 Stealing SheepInto The Diamond Sun – Another Liverpool act. Another Heavenly Records act. Stealing Sheep do it a bit differently though. Comprised of 3 girls who sing close harmony, this is an indie pop act with some songwriting and composition chops. Very much in tune with other “kitschy” sounding acts like The Talking Heads, Stealing Sheep have a sound all their own and have a quality that is very easy to fall for. Single “Shut Eye” is a excellent tune with a singalong chorus and a wonderful build.

q8xp2u#9 Jake BuggJake Bugg – Well, look at this. Another debut. Another Englishman. Only this time its an 18 year old! I didn’t know what to think when I first heard of Jake Bugg. I was a bit “yeah right” that he was any good considering his age. Whoa, was I wrong. Bugg’s scoring well beyond his years with this  cracker of a debut. Evoking classic singer-songwriters from his own country like Nick Drake, Bugg has that uncanny ability to paint a picture with lyrics that make you think you’re right there with him. He’s also able to incorporate other influences, ranging from Dylan to Bowie throughout a debut that I believe will be remembered 10 years from now for starting a career that has the potential to be very special. He also is able to make the classic sound modern like fellow troubadours in this vein, i.e. Ryan Adams. Personal favorite “Simple As This” is also on my favorite tracks list, and one listen is all you need.

jessica-pratt1#10 Jessica PrattJessica Pratt – Oh? Another debut? Another self-titled? What the hell? And guess what? This is another youngin. I fell in love with this record from moment. It’s a very simple, yet evocative, folksy debut from 19 year old Pratt who like the aforementioned bug has the same gift for lyricism and storytelling in her music. The thing about Pratt that is so captivating, is her very mature sounding vocal. Bathed in mostly the sound of an acoustic guitar, Pratt’s 60’s style folk sounds echo only the very best in this style. You know, the ones who can go only by one name. Joni. Bob. This is an eye-opening debut from someone I expect very big things from. And now I’m off to listen to “Casper” for the 193rd time and cry some more.

11. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

12. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

13. Cosmonauts – If You Wanna Die, Then I Wanna Die

14. Swans – The Seer

15. The Walkmen – Heaven

16. Rose Elinor Dougall – The Distractions EP

17. Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge

18. Sharon van Etten – The Tramp

19. Beach House – Bloom

20. Ren Harvieu – Through The Night

SONGS

1. I Already Forgot Everything You Said – The Dig

2. The Night – Rose Elinor Dougall

3. Nancy From Now On – Father John Misty

4. The Way In – Porcelain Raft

5. Simple As This – Jake Bugg

6. I’d Rather Be Lonely – The Black Angels

7. I Wanna Go – Summer Heart

8. Adventures In Your Own Backyard – Patrick Watson

9. Dodecahedron – Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny

10. Take Us Alive – Other Lives

GIGS

1. Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs – 12/8/12 – Union Pool, Brooklyn

2. Tame Impala – 11/7/12 – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

3. Other Lives – 11/28/12 – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

4. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – 8/25/12 – Webster Hall, NYC

5. Swans – 10/10/12 – Bowery Ballroom, NYC

6. Sigur Ros – 7/31/12 – Prospect Park, Brooklyn

7. Spiritualized – 5/7/12 – Terminal 5, NYC

8. The Vandelles/Jesus & Mary Chain – 9/13/12 – Irving Plaza, NYC

9. The Amazing – 11/7/12 – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

10. Chelsea Wolfe – 8/18/12 – Highline Ballroom, NYC

The March 2011 Mixtape

March 2011 Mixtape

It’s been a while, but today I got the itch and decided to bring back the mixtape feature I once took pride in doing. I recently have gotten into Soundcloud, so I’m going to be using that whenever I publish a mix. My mixtapes are basically things that are inspiring me over the last bit of time and this one is no different. A full tracklisting is available by going to the link below.

I’m eventually going to expand the mix to a podcast and would like to get my ducks in a row before doing that and will hopefully bring on co-hosts and that sort of thing. This is strictly a music mix.

Without further ado, the March 2011 mixtape.

You can also download the mix for on the go by clicking the little arrow icon in the stream bar.

My favorites of 2010 – Albums/EPs/Songs/Gigs!

2010 was a banner year for me. I started this damn blog, listened to more music than I probably ever have in my entire life, saw some amazing gigs, went through some fucking insanity, and moved to the big bad New York City area. Needless to say, I’m a bit tired.

That said, 2010 was a fantastic year musically. I discovered some artists that are easily near the top of my favorites lists and had a grand ole time in the 2nd half. I’m thrilled to end 2010 with this list and get myself amped for 2011.

Albums….

1. The Love Language – Libraries: I remember the day I first heard this record. June 5th, to be exact. It was the day that Merge Records made it available to stream and it just so happened to be the day I saw them live for the first time when they opened for an all-time favorite, the lush and beautiful, Camera Obscura. The album hit me in the chest like a wrecking ball taking out old Giants Stadium. Stuart McLamb and company’s vocals, lyrics, and musicianship rings with me to this day since first hearing it (I’m listening to it as I type this). It was almost fate that it achieved this spot. A truly personal album from McLamb and an album I related with immediately. Thank you guys. I am eager to hear what’s next and to see you again.

2. Rose Elinor Dougall – Without Why: An album of pop confection that only a beautifully talented English girl could produce. Fantastic lyricism, a voice that sticks with you, and the SONGS, such excellently crafted songs that you can listen to over and over. Rose sounds like Morrissey’s long-lost daughter. Tracks like “Come Away With Me” and “Carry On” have a personal tinge to them that anyone over the age of 15 can relate to. Formerly, Rosay Pipette, Rose Elinor Dougall steps out into the forefront in a major way. Tantalizingly, she’s already teased some of her upcoming material and it’s only getting better.

3. The National – High Violet: One of my favorite bands both on record and live produce arguably their most accessible record to date, but also an album of depth and poetic nuance that is in my humble opinion, the best and most complete record they’ve ever created. Matt Berninger possesses a baritone vocal that is both awesome and enviable. Songs like “Little Faith” blur the line between religion and love. This is a record that the band will be judged against going forward. It’s a testament to their already strong catalog and a fine addition to anyone’s collection. A record to be proud of.

Since my list is long, I’ve kept the write-ups minimal. Here’s the rest of my favorite albums, EPs, songs, and gigs that I attended list.

4. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

5. The Black Keys – Brothers

6. The Walkmen – Lisbon

7. Philip Glass- The American Four Seasons

8. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

9. The Black Angels – Phosphene Dream

10. The Coral – Butterfly House

 

11. Agent Ribbons – Chateau Crone

12. Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

13. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire

14. The Radio Dept. – Clinging To A Scheme

15. Moon Duo – Escape

16. Foals – Total Life Forever

17. Best Coast – Crazy For You

18. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker

19. Holy Fuck – Latin

20. The Blue Angel Lounge – Narcotica

 

21. The Dig – Electric Toys

22. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo

23. Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws

24. Grinderman – Grinderman 2

25. Clinic – Bubblegum

26. Women – Public Strain

27. Christian Bland & The Revelators – The Lost Album

28. Versus – On The Ones And Threes

29. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)

30. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

 

31. The Morning Benders – Big Echo

32. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat The Devil’s Tattoo

33. Beach House – Teen Dream

34. Sharon Van Etten – Epic

35. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

36. I Am Kloot – Sky At Night

37. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

38. Janelle Monae – The Archandroid

39. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

40. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

 

41. Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern

42. Wavves – King of The Beach

43. DJ Shadow – The DJ Shadow Remix Project

44. Jonsi – Go

45. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – I Learned The Hard Way

46. The Roots – How I Got Over

47. Exit Calm – Exit Calm

48. Mark Ronson & The Businesss Int’l – Record Collection

49. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – III/IV

50. Jenny & Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now

 

EPs

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Horse Power

2. Richard Hawley – False Lights From The Land

3. Justin Jones – The Little Fox EP

4. Tennis – Baltimore

5. hilly eye – Fireworks

 

Tracks

1. Best Coast – Our Deal

2. Rose Elinor Dougall – Come Away With Me

3. The Love Language – This Blood Is Our Own

4. The Radio Dept. – Never Follow Suit

5. Asobi Seksu – Trails

6. The National – Little Faith

7. The Black Keys – Too Afraid To Love You

8. Mark Ronson & The Business Int’l feat. Rose Elinor Dougall – The Night Last Night

9. Kanye West – Monster

10. Foals – Blue Blood

 

Gigs

1. Kanye West – Bowery Ballroom 11/23

2. The National – The National (Theater), Richmond, VA 4/22

3. Explosions In the Sky – ATP, Monticello, NY 9/2010

4. The Love Language – The National, Richmond, VA 6/5

5. DJ Shadow – Irving Plaza, NYC 11/15

6. The Walkmen – Terminal 5, NYC 12/2

7. The National – Brooklyn Academy of Music,  Brooklyn, NY 5/15

8. Camera Obscura – The National, Richmond, VA 6/5

9. Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions – ATP Festival, Monticello, NY 9/2010

10. Grinderman – Best Buy Theatre, NYC 11/14

 

Goodbye, 2010. Thank fuck you’re (just about) over.

Gig review: When the openers outshine the headliners – Young Buffalo, The Dig, Chief – 12/7/2010 – Bowery Ballroom, NYC

A really shitty picture of Chief from the balcony at the B. Ballroom

There are a few times I can recall an opener outshining a headliner, rarely can I say that the two openers outshined the headliner and did so in a big way.

This is the case with what happened at the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday night. Los Angeles/NYC band Chief was headlining a gig in support of their 2010 debut, Modern Rituals. I first heard the album a few months ago and while not particularly moved one way or another, they were good enough to give an evening to, as the tunes are definitely pleasant.

This review will be in reverse order because of the quality of performance.

The night started late (natural at this venue) so when Chief finally took the stage, the only thing we could think of was, “It’s about damn time”. Chief, while very capable seemed to lack any fire in what they were doing and even their strong tunes, such as set closer “Night & Day” came off very weak and extremely M.O.R. (middle of the road).  I almost wanted to leave in the middle of their set I was so damn bored. They (namely the wack-ass drummer) tried to get the place going with cliched calls from his kit, but the attempts were laughable. Positively, Chief excels in bringing back the mid-70s big arena sound combined with Fleet Foxes-esque harmonies. The bassist (who’s name I am having trouble locating due to the band name) was quite good and seemed to really get into the gig. Needless to say, I was quite unimpressed with this band who have come across a lot better in sessions that I’ve viewed and listened to online. The songs fell flat on this night.

Prior to Chief was NYC’s “The Dig“. I had never heard this band before and I was very impressed with their tunes and live chops, especially bassist and lead singer Emile Mosseri’s vocals.  Songs like “Penitentiary”  and “You’re Already Gone” were impressive with Mosseri driving the tunes and really getting into it. I liked the hand off of the lead vocals to guitarist David Baldwin on some tunes, however, unlike Mosseri, Baldwin’s voice seemed to lack any real power behind it. I would suggest Mr. Baldwin get a vocal coach because his vocals are not unpleasant and are quite fitting backing, but comprise a very weak lead, especially when he’s following a Mosseri led song. The Dig set the table nicely for Chief who promptly delivered a Shit Sandwich to the table.

Prior to The Dig was a band I had never even heard the name of before and had no idea what I was in for when they took the stage. Oxford, Mississippis, “Young Buffalo“.  Prior to them taking the stage, I noticed a guy meandering about the very empty at the time venue floor, turns out this was one of the bandmembers who did not look like a bandmember. In fact, if you saw any of these guys on the street, you’d never guess they were in a band. Well, lets just say they started the night and set the fucking building on fire with their short, but completely awesome set. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Young Buffalo were the best opener I have witnessed this year for any band.  Upon returning home, I looked to find as much as I could on them, but aside from some Bandcamp demos (most of which are on their Myspace), there is not much out there.  I did learn that they have a record coming out on Fat Possum in “early 2011”. I am definitely excited to hear what they can do in the studio because these kids rock.

One of the most interesting aspects of Young Buffalo was the constant shuffle of personnel (hence no names are used since I have no clue who is who). One would play drums one song, the next song that same guy would be on guitar. It was really refreshing to see this kind of musicianship, especially w/ a band that is pretty much unknown and so young. I was disappointed their set had to come to an end and I’m eager to see them again in the future. Kudos to their fantastic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” to close the set and pitch perfect three-part harmonies. Think Fleet Foxes with a harder edge and less “ethereal” (I love the Foxes btw) and you’ll get an idea of Young Buffalo’s sound.

Here’s a great video of Young Buffalo tune, “New Beat”, which absolutely soared live.

Ratings:

Chief: 2/10

The Dig: 7/10

Young Buffalo 9/10

The true definition of a show that started immensely and went downhill and hit a big ass boulder at the bottom of the ravine.

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