Like: Eminem’s RECOVERY

June 22, 2010

Eminem seems like he could be a sexist, homophobic, stupid, crazy person.

So why do I like him?

Because he’s compelling as hell.

Eminem is fully realized pop entity. Think about it: over long a career he’s shown us a full range of representations of himself, and unlike say, Madonna, Gaga, or other pop entities, Eminem has made his career on blistering honesty.  Whether he’s exhibiting his fully humorous cartoony-songs, his rap battle antics, or his deeply personal moments, they are all startilingly honest. To Eminem, rap is PERSONAL. Marshall Mathers is not a genius mind you, he isn’t carefully orchestrating his image with some calculating manner. He is working off his intuition. His work is visceral. He is painfully sincere to the point that he’s not even aware of how sincere he’s actually being and how remarkable that is (think about, how many other rappers are all about posture and the exhibition of cool?). The end result is that we’ve gotten to see the real “story” of Eminem play out in public; he’s all but documented it for us.

Believe or not, we know that story well. I’ve always considered myself tangentially aware of his life, but in sitting down to write this I’m shocked by how much I know off the top of my head: Marshall Mathers was a young man who grew up poor in Detroit. He suffers from Munchhausen syndrome by proxy, at the hands of his mother.  He begins rapping as a teenager and slowly builds his way up in the underground rap scene of Detroit. He features a unique penchant rap battling. He both embraces the complicated nature of his “whiteness” and yet doesn’t use it a crux. He is mostly just plain talented. He gains notoriety. He releases self-made EPs and a album. These allow him to hook up with Dr. Dre and they produce the Slim Shady LP. At first, he is first regarded as rap’s new silly jokester who tosses insults at celebrities. Then people hear the rest of the album. It’s dark as hell. Matricide, suicide, other “-ides.” Parents get upset. He owns the controversy. We start to get a picture of angry and confused young man, albeit one who is hungry to prove himself as an M.C. And he wants to prove himself especially because his whiteness is still regarded as one-off Vanilla-Ice-ism.

His next album, The Marshall Mathers LP explodes. The critical reception is enormous. He proves he is not a one-off trivial distraction. The first single continues his tradition of an obligatory jokey song, but the album actually shows depth. He gets angry. He gets border-line poetic. We get a bigger picture of his world. It’s clear he’s not in it for the money. In fact, he barely raps about money. He raps to prove how good he is. It’s pride. It makes all the difference. He stays true to his roots by taking up his old friends from Detroit and they form a side project, D-12. They have nowhere near his talent but he did it anyways, and they are marginally successful. From there the career goes on. He becomes increasingly complex. More brazen. He becomes more mature in some ways. He grows more frustrated and indignant in others. His albums continue to sell. They earn emmys. He stars in a movie by a uniquely talented director. The movie is a smash hit. It showcases a realistic portrait of where he comes from and what he values. Some of the songs from this movie are, without a doubt, his best work. He is on top of the world. He can do no wrong. He doesn’t know where to go now. He starts having weird reconciliations with his ex-wife. They don’t go well. He falls into problems with drugs. His albums suffer. He becomes lazy. He takes a hiatus.

… It’s a traditional musician’s career if we’ve ever seen one.

So what does this all mean? It means that since he documented all of turmoil  and “story” in his music (rather than do what most do and hide it, establishing a youthful and desperate front), he became a tangible, “known” figure. Unlike so many other figures, we really do feel like he we know Eminem. The very concept is insane, but he’s geniune. And even though what he’s saying might be crazy, it’s still fascinating. He’s an anti-hero. He’s Tony Soprano. You want to watch him even if you might not want to know him.

And now. Eminem is back. He’s off drugs. He doesn’t like the fact that he faded away. He doesn’t like the fact he released two sub-par albums. He’s vibrant. He’s hungry. He’s angry. He’s ready to go.

He first came out to play on this year’s “Forever”, a collaboration by Drake and Little Wayne. It’s actually a kinda crappy song. Then you get to Eminem’s verse. Take a listen:

Yup, awesome. Just awesome. The first thing that’s clear is that Eminem is still absurdly talented. The second thing you notice is just how ready he is take on the rap world.

Sure, he gets a lot of attention for his clowning-around-songs, or his more trite/preachy/”serious” stuff, but in my opinion Eminem is strictly his best when he’s angry and spitting venom.

Which is pretty much the entirety of RECOVERY.

This new album came out this week and I happen to think it’s fantastic.

A lot of folks have already taken a look at his first clunky (yet still kinda honest) song “Not Afraid” and made their conclusions:

Those conclusions fair in some ways. It falls into the previously mentioned “trite” territory… I don’t really dig the song.

But, luckily, that’s not the good stuff. The best song without a doubt “No Love” which shows of Lil Wayne’s obtuse stylings followed by what may be Eminem’s best verse in his entire career. Yes, it’s just more of the typical rap-boasting “look how awesome I am! You suck!” stuff, but that’s most of rap. We’ve come to accept it. The key is it’s freaking engaging. It’s paced perfectly. It’s (more) mature. It’s interesting. It’s fast as freaking hell. It gets your blood pumping. There’s  a reason Daniel Day Lewis picked Eminem to get his blood boiling in the mornings when he played Bill The Butcher in GANGS OF NEW YORK. Really, it says it all.

“No Love” Take a listen to the whole song, but especially Eminem’s part:

And then “Won’t back down” is a little more silly and try to ignore Pink, but it’s just as speed-laden addictive:

There’s a lot more to boot: “Cinderella Man”, “Talkin 2 myself”,”25 to Life”,”Love The Way You Lie””

All very good.

Eminem has recovered. And he’s spitting venom, just the way we like.

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Like: TREME Episode 3 “Right Place, Wrong Time” … and the effects Malcolm Gladwell framework from “The Tipping Point”

April 28, 2010

On the plane to New Orleans this past week I finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” I’ve been meaning to read it for years and so when I saw the paperback in the airport bookstore I bought it as an impulse purchase. This moment I consider to be a bit serendipitous.  It ended up providing a fascinating sociological framework with which to approach my visit to N’awlins.  For those who haven’t read it (like me, last week) the basic conceit of the book is that little, seemingly trivial details can push huge trends and epidemics in the community wildly in one direction or another.  Of course it’s a lot more nuanced than that, but this specifically applies to the idea that context and environments play a huge role in terms of our actual behaviors, far more than we previously believed. One example he explores in great detail is the dramatic turnaround of crime prevention in New York City largely being a matter of physically cleaning up trash and graffiti on the subway. The idea: an environment that accepts simple lawlessness and petty crimes will therefore accept/encourage harsher crimes. So they changed the physical environment and crime plummeted. Context rules.

But what about more specific community traits? For example, Fist-Fighting in Boston is a largely tolerated cultural; two knuckleheads would beat each other up, the cops would show up and ask who started it, and then they’d go to the can for a night and be released. No one would sue anyone else. This happened all the time. The first thing I noticed when I moved to Los Angeles is “where are all the dudes fighting each other in front of bars?” There weren’t any. And if they did, someone for sure was getting sued. Same laws. Same country. It’s just that one place is more culturally tolerant of a behavior and the other is not. But Los Angeles is a city five times the size of Boston and bars are everywhere, so how does this happen? Maybe it’s the kind of people who live here. Maybe it’s the nice weather putting everyone in a better mood. Maybe it’s because people are wearing less clothes. Maybe it’s because people are afraid that the other person is gang affiliated or something and maybe carrying a gun (the violence situation south of the 10, and east of the 5 is far different after all). Either way, I’ve seen hundreds of fist fights in four years in Boston and none in five years in Los Angeles. The difference is the environment, and therefore the context. And context rules.

So what if the difference is about positive behavior? What if a city had a context of joy and indomitable spirit? Would the context of that that spirit really hold sway over the city’s constituents? Over the tourists? Can the overwhelming joy and kindness of a city be as contagious as Gladwell argues? My conclusion was yes. After all, context rules.

By the way, that city is New Orleans. I spent the last four days there and, prompted by the Gladwell read, I spent the entire time being fascinated by the context/environment. Every single person I met was relentless positive, affable, and engaging. Not just the cab drivers, bartenders, hotel managers and assorted folks whose jobs it was to be cheerful and welcoming. And not just the citizens of New Orleans, who always seemed to manage to say a friendly hello as they walked to work, or strike up a conversation as they stood in the doorways to beat the sweltering sun. But what contagiousness argues for best, is to look at your fellow visitors. What mood do the Tourists and the Party Folks take upon their visit? By all accounts, they were likewise celebratory, kind, affectionate. People who you couldn’t imagine dancing on the street would do just that. One wonders how so much (relative) good behavior happens with so much alcohol involved, but it’s a function of the environment. People are there to drink, enjoy music, and have a great time. It’s a kind of debauchery that lacks the animosity that seems to characterize much youthful partying these days (think woodstock 99, etc).  Especially after the storm, where it seems the desire to embrace and reignite the things that make New Orleans special have become priority #1. The environment is now one of healing and pride. And it’s frickin’ contagious.

After all, Context Rules.

So upon arriving home, I watched TREME episode 3, with a sense of… is there a word for “immediate nostalgia?” So as far as cinematics goes, here’s the good and the bad…

Good:

-Wendell Pierce plays the best drunk ever. This is inarguable.

-The episode struck me as funnier than the previous two.

-Khandi Alexander is poised to win some serious awards. Maybe? She’s putting on a clinic.

-I remembered that John Goodman can do subtlety. We’re always wrapped up in his usual gravitas and Walter Sobcheckian-yelling that we forget just how acute he can be too. The scene on the porch between him and Zahn is priceless, “Just piano lessons.”

-Melissa Leo, high marks all around. She’s perfectly cast.

-Zahn. Not as manic as the first episode. A bit more manic then the second. But still finding balance and had some real nice moments. Even his doucheyness is starting to be charming, which seems to be the point. He mostly works as a great foil for Kim Dickens.

Bad:

-Meanwhile, Sonny is the douchiest douche in douchetown. How are we supposed to feel about him again? Are we supposed to like this guy? Because he’s giving hipsters and even badder name. Drinking his girlfriend’s birthday present because she got a surprise big-deal-gig and just happened to be busy for a little bit? And Sonny got to go to the gig too?! What is he, fucking five? Shut up Sonny you whiny little brat. For the record, I find most complaints of hipsterism and/or emo to be inane, simplistic, and often just plain irrelevant, but dear lord Sonny. Come on man. You’re actually justifying all of those diminutions. And yet, because this is David Simon, I will wait patiently. Maybe we’re suppose to hate this douchebag in the long run. My guess though is that his seemingly pretentious stories of saving people in his boat (the ones that people can’t seem corroborate) will actually end up being true. And really he’s just working out his shit or some other backstory. I dunno.

-His girlfriend Annie is far more tolerable, except she makes a face when playing fiddle that looks like she’s passing stones.

-There’s a fine line in film/tv between something that feels real and something that feels forced. This seems obvious, but authenticity is such a rarity in entertainment that we’ve learned to embrace the ridiculous as an alternative. Meanwhile, Simon’s shows (Homicide, The Corner, The Wire) have built a reputation on being authentic above all else. So in regards to the scene in episode 3 where the cops suddenly go ape-shit on Antoine for, like, no reason… well, it immediately set off my bullshit detector. Which is odd, because I’ve seen that exact same kind of horror go down in real life multiple times. But if it is something that’s painfully real, what’s the problem? The problem is the “how” of course. Since DO THE RIGHT THING(1), we’ve seen the no-reason-police-beating many, many times in our cinematic experience, and many of these immitations are often done for contrived/imitative/knee-jerk reasons. Unfortunately, we can’t help but bring all those negative connotations with it. This scene in episode 3, however, builds up beautifully; Antoine drunkenly sings with Annie and Sonny as the police car slides carefully into the backround. They finish their song. He starts to drunkenly walk forward. You slowly feel it coming. It’s perfect film-making. Then the second his horn taps the cop car, the police are instantly on top of him and within a second are beating the shit out of him, spewing the kind of dialogue we see in “evil cop” movies. Even the style of the scene changes, as it ultra-edited and with multiple angles to accentuate the violence.(2) You sense the filmmakers wanted to show how quickly things can turn and how impacting real police violence can be, but in doing so they’ve created a scene that achieves in the exact antithesis of what it was achieving when it started. In this culture of stylistic violence you need to be doubly careful. Even the shaky cam has a action-movie connotation now. You need the same kind of unblinking de-stylization that made the action of The Wire so heartbreaking.

Anywho it’s just something to look out for in future episodes, as it’s the crux of what makes a David Simon show work.

And I swear I’m going to have have another “It’s not just who but when” post up this week, it’s almost done.

(1) – It goes back further of course, but the scene of Radio Raheem remains the last major touchstone for a lot of us.

(2) – In comparison to the normal Simon standards, not, like, Michael Bay.


Love: Treme

April 13, 2010

“Won’t Bow. Don’t Know How.”

On the suface, we understand the meaning immediately. It is an unrelenting decree. A manta for city defined by an impassioned will to continue, despite having a litany of reasons to simply stop.

It is not just a tag-line. The words are uttered by Albert Lambreaux (played by the magnificent Clarke Peters A.K.A. Lester Freeman from THE WIRE) as he stands fully clad in his Mardie Gras Chief outfit: decadent, impeccable, absurd. No, Albert is not marching in Mardi Gras, but instead arriving at the door of a friend three months after the day their city drowned. This friend happens to a hauling business, and Albert dances and chants in his magnificent get up asking proudly if this friend will help clear the debris of a bar down the way. Albert’s reason is not practical; he needs a place to practice his Indian Chief routine in anticipation of the next Mardi Gras. His home has been destroyed and there is nowhere else to do so but his old abandoned stomping grounds. The debris just needs to be moved…  The friend has no reason to help. He’d spend that time earning desperately needed money clearing  for FEMA and more significantly, he swears his oath to another Mardi Gras chief.  It would seem to be a sacrilegious act.

Albert: “Won’t Bow. Don’t Know How.”

And with that, the friend consents. After all, these aren’t ordinary times in New Orleans.

This is TREME (and writing in general) at it’s best. It’s a scene steeped in a culture we barely know, but we are made familiar by a sense of osmosis. And yet those familiar with the culture can assure the authenticity: It’s researched. It’s cerebral. It’s cinematic. It’s deeply affecting. Better yet it is wholly analogous to the thematic mission statement of the show. It’s this kind of multi-dynamic that allows moments in TREME to soar. One might counter that there are a few weird moments in the show where we are treated to somewhat banal, cliche-ridden speeches on the unrelenting spirit of the people of New Orleans, but slyly these speeches are often come from the white upper class folks of the city. They love their city dearly all teh same, but simply lack the “real stakes” of devastation.  The kind of poor where you don’t have time to give two shits about semantics. So it’s reasonably understandable when the upper class falls back on these basic platitudes of decency and hardship: it’s in their nature and comes from a place of love. And it’s the kind of observation of meta-semantics that reminds you that you’re in the hands of a writing genius.

And David Simon is most certainly that. Fresh off of his run on the greatest show of all time, THE WIRE, one could say there are certain expectations. Being held in such high esteem could be daunting for some show runners, but David is could not seem to to care whatsoever about expectations. It’s actually that very disinterest which allows the politics of being “the show after” to handle itself nicely. TREME is not THE WIRE, nor is it ever really trying to be. It’s a bit more of an emotional piece. More about tone and character; less about systemic realities and institutions (though there certainly is shades of that). If we’re going to use a metaphor, imagine THE WIRE as an intricate diagram connecting you with human stories in the mire of institutional hell, while TREME instead tries to paint a portrait of personal stories in what might be a physical hell of post-katrina New Orleans. I’ve seen a few folks throwing around Altman comparisons (specifically NASHVILLE) and they are rather apt. But as is Simon’s nature, this is largely based on observation and documentation: an attempt to be honest about New Orleans. About music. About food. About class. About wealth. And about responsibility. And if we’re going to get all technical, this isn’t really Simon’s 2nd act to THE WIRE. That was already the astounding GENERATION KILL, though one might imply that since it was a mini-series it doesn’t count. But none the less we need to come to grips with what it is.

So do Mardi Gras Indians really matter that much? Truth be told, I only knew vaguely what they ever were before the premiere of “TREME” and certainly didn’t know what they were about. A little vague reading on the show beforehand lead to a little more reading, and to answer the question, yes they are important. They are superfluous. Their origins are obscured in hearsay. Their known history is mired in ugly racial tensions and perhaps criminal activity. Yet their real value is in the currency of deep cultural symbolism. They are now universally adored presences during the celebration, but their real lives are often secretive. No one has any real authority over them and each group,  referred to in TREME colloquially as “gangs,” works with a different chief perhaps helping with the amazingly decorative outfits and planning the rigorous planned performances. How does something so, again, superfluous gain such adoration? Because that’s the nature of these things. Silly traditions are often the most beloved because there’s no real reason to dislike them. The ugly side of tradition is often done away with in the name of pleasantries. And New Orleans has indeed had an ugly history. Places don’t become melting pots in the nicest of circumstances (Scorsese tried to tackle that less than flattering history in GANGS OF NEW YORK), but when a place has a strong sense of identity and pride those things can often melt away in the name of something better, usually something fun.

But Mardi Gras Indians are important enough to turn down FEMA dollars. This so much we learn.

“Do You Know What It Means?”

That is the title of the pilot and I can think of none more appropriate. Do you know about Treme (pronouced Truh-MAY), the neighborhood and titular inspiration for the show? Do you know about the Mardi Gras Indians? Do you know about beignets, and… Do you know? One gets the feeling that someone with thin skin would quickly counter that all this “do you know?” is nothing more than hipster bullshit. “I know about the real New Orleans. I got the cred,” and such and such. No. That could not be a more inane interpretation.

“Do You Know What It Means?” is really an invitation. We’re being asked if we would like to come along and discover what it all means. Simon’s loved the city for decades and acknowledges that it is become a part of him. He invited friends and natives of the city to help him create the show and share what “makes New Orleans” with people who may not know; to share it with us. It won’t be in an authoritarian way. They won’t beat you over the head with it. They won’t spoon-feed you. TREME opens with title card simply saying “New Orleans, Louisiana” and then “Three Months After” as even mentioning the subject of Katrina isn’t necessary. It’s redundant. We’re using a shorthand, but it’s a familiar one. It’s just another way of inviting from the very beginning. It’s always an invitation with David Simon. That’s why I will watch everything he ever does.

I may have never seen the Mardi Gras Indians, but I’ve seen New Orleans. I visited just a few months before Katrina struck and it was the highlight of my extended trip across the country. Beautiful. Honest. Gothic. Vibrant. Inspired. Food to die for and that’s from someone who probably loves food more than anything. And good god the music really is everywhere you look. I come from more of a blues background (my older brother is obsessed and I spent my entire childhood watching him develop into a rather good blue guitarist), but the roots of blue are everywhere too. I’ve been to hundreds of cities on this planet across four continents and even after a brief trip to New Orleans I can tell you with strict confidence that there is no other city I’ve seen with such a singular identity. It is the literal uncanny.

So when I watched on TV as an American City was sunk underwater, I knew we were on the verge of losing something much greater than some realized; something I barely had a taste of, but seemed know instinctively. I watched a days worth of horrible news footage when everything was still hazy; they were reporting on the horrible things perhaps occurring in the Superdome, not to mention the indignation of lacking government aid was so outrageous and the efforts put forth so nonsensical, that even Fox News Reporters were actively gnawing their teeth at the Bush administration. It was gut-churning in a way that was aesthetically different from say the complete and total shock of 9-11. It wore on me, but if you ask those around me I’m not the emotional type.  I tend to analyze rather than emote (e.g. 1500 words and counting on a single tv episode), but it really wore on me: the sight of a city destroyed. I took a car ride. It was a hot summers day in los angeles with golden sunshine and seemingly no reason to think about something over 2,000 miles away. At one point a black SUV pulled in front of me. I was looking down so I noticed the license plate first: “Louisiana.” Above it on the window, which had been covered in a fine layer of pollen, soot, someone had used their index finger to write just five simple words:

“Please God Help Our N’Awlins”

And right then I lost it. I cried in the kind of violent, uncontrollable fit that I hadn’t done since I was 7 years old. I’ve cried in movies, sure, but usually just a little eye watering. Nothing even close this. There were times I didn’t cry in moments of genuine personal tragedy. Thus I barely understood it. It was surreal. It was atypical. I sat there in traffic bawling for a minute and then finally got a hold of myself. I spent the ensuing months following it closely. A year went by and progress was still nowhere near where it deserved to be. It served as a critical humane juncture in the Bush Administration as his previous best quality was that he was thought to be “rescue/crisis handler” type of president, and his teams handling of New Orleans stands as one of the great monumental failures of American Government post WW2. Spike Lee handled much of it beautifully in his documentary “When The Levees Broke.” Today, all reports seem to indicate that things have taken a turn in the right direction. The uptick in tourism. The economy rebounding (though the economic crash was yet another roadblock for them). Even The Saints magnificent resurgence and eventual Superbowl run. In two weeks, I’ll find just how different it really is in varying degrees myself when I return to visit with some old friends. I can’t wait. We’re getting a chance to go jazz fest too. Yes, it’s the corporatization/bastardization of something normally so humble (something being the New Orleans jazz scene), but there are going to be A LOT of great acts all out and about around town. By all accounts it is definitely one of THE times to be there. It’s going to be wonderful.

So what does all of this have to do with the pilot again? What’s all this have to do with showing the country all the hardships in New Orleans “3 months after”?

We almost lost one of the best cities in the world. Maybe all that TREME is asking is do you really know what that means?


Like: ROX, “My Baby Left Me”

March 9, 2010

I just realized I don’t do many posts about music. That’s kind of a shame. And this isn’t a post or analysis but just a little tidbit recommendation.  I like to pretentiously think my tastes are pretty eclectic, but most of my favorite stuff tends to be alt rock. But every once and awhile I do like singers in the traditional pop arena.

And so I really like what I hear from a young lady name ROX out of the UK, particularly her single “My Baby Left Me’. Her clear reggae and soul influences go a long way in terms of my admiration, as I adore those sensibilities.

Check it out here to listen

http://images.dailyradar.com/media/uploads/music/story_large/2010/01/25/rox_side.jpg

And there’s some other songs you can listen to.

Enjoy.


Don’t Like, Worst of the Decade (Music): All These Awful Followup Albums… with one band in particular.

December 11, 2009

First off, obviously there are much worse albums than any of the following I list in this little post. Lest we forget that this was a decade that saw the release of albums by Paris Hilton, Kelly Osbourne and Lindsay Lohan. I think Vanilla Ice even released an albm this decade, but I must have made that up. I’ve also talked about my “fall of western civilization signifying-band” called Brokencyde here before, so yeah… that happened.

But all these “musicians” are are obvious in their badness. The history of music is littered with these kind of feeble wannabe talents and confused cross platform ego trippers. And we get why they happen. Peopel see dollar signs and go for the imitations and possible built-in audiences. It’s heinous, but I’m more or less fine with it. Even in popularity, folks recognize the fact that these acts simply do not matter to anyone. Even anything they provide easy targets of ridicule which make us feel better about ourselves.

No, the thing that  is undoubtedly worse for music is when a good band who has made a nice splash with a good album or series of albums follows it up with a nice, hot, steaming turd.

It happens more than we’d like and it’s always disappointing. To wit, The Darkness came on the scene as an insatiably fun throwback to metal glam rock and even managed to  toss out a few songs with nice arrangement. They were a blast to see live, which is usually that special something that allows a band to grow legs beyond having a good studio album. Everything was going for them. So when they followed up that first major international album, with  “One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back”, an album so boring, repetitive, and half-assed it managed to render their “the next big thing” status into nothing more than a historical footnote. Sucks for them. Similarly, there’s the Kaiser Chiefs’s who had a nice debut entry into the neo alternative landscape with about nicely laid out brit pop album chock full of catchiness and energy. They followed it up “Yours Truly Angry Mob” which was nothing more than a pale imitation of their first album, and you can practically sense their collective desperation to find some sort of hook that even approached the quality of ANY song on their first album. It was sort of sad. Admittedly, both of these bands were sort of “of the moment” and their demise isn’t significant in the grander scheme. Call it personal dissappointment.

Of course, there here is the much more spectacular failure of Axl Rose’s “Chinese Democracy”. And I refuse to call that album a Guns and Roses album for obvious reasons. I mean seriuosly, can we just stop for a moment and reiterate exactly how much of dick you need to be to” reunite” a band with ONLY YOURSELF as the original member?!?! It’s legitimatelydick-punch worth. And it certainly makes the awfulness of “Chinese Democracy” all the more hilarious. It probably would have been much more sad were it not for the fact that the album was already a joke, having been delayed for near a decade due to sucking. It came. It went. Not even a whimper.

Eventually one comes the sad realization that there is a stunningly obvious answer to the central question at hand:

The worst album of the decade is… every single Weezer album from 2000 on.

Go back to 1999. Weezer is a much beloved band who has made an undeniable imprint on the music landscape. They strandled the transition from grunge and alternative, while never really belong to either and existing as their own unique brand of popular music. They actually embody a group of music fans, who emulated them not out of mere imitation, but because they already were like them. Even if they were evasive in personalitly, they were still beloved because of it. Oddly enough, I find it to be identification at the most honest level. By that point, even the initially tepid reception to their sophomore album Pinkerton, had finally subsided, as everyone seemed to come to their senses and realize it was a complete masterpiece. Yes it was straightforward pop rock (like all their work) but the egnimatic lyrics and slightly-more-lose arrangement created one of the more original, addictive, strange, and enjoyable records on the planet. Of course, the damage from the initial reaction may have already been done. Rivers Cuomo’s much pulbicized breakdown and public withdrawl perhaps killed his sense of fu, but that’s purely conjecture. Still, in 1999, Weezer was coming back and had a new record in the works. Their fans were collectively shitting their pants and fumbling their nerdy glasses in excitement. (I would also like to point out the fact that Star Wars fans were going through the exact same sense of excitement at that point, and were also setting themselves up for nerd related heartbreak).

Make no mistake, everything from The Green Album on fucking sucks. Believe me, over the years I’ve tried as hard as I can to truly like them. I can probably name you about fifteen songs from these albums that are fun and catchy, but I can’t do so without acknowleding their haunting generic quality as well. Sure they don’t SOUND a whole lot different from The Blue Album and Pinkerton, but where the hell is Nightcrawler? The half-japanese girls? Jonas on strike? The waterslide of escape? Where are the host of strangely-life-specific details that defined those first two records? Instead, Weezer’s work has become definied by faux badassery, generic cinecism, and irony drenched-posing. It’s hollow.

Chuck Klosterman tried to address the subject in his a great essay on weezer (and other things). I was going to link to it but it’s not online, but to paraphrase [rivers cuomo hasn’t changed at all. He has always wrote completely literal songs about things in his life and now that he’s rich and in california he’s writing about that stuff and not about playing in garages like young high school kids do]. It’s an interesting article but I think Klosterman misses one crucial point: being able to relate in music matters. It matters substantially. Rivers might still be being completely honest about his emotions, but his emotions were no long filtered through the distinct cultural references and life specifics that made him so accesible in the first place.  Plus I don’t fully buy that his songs are as honest as he things. Literal? Yes. Honest to the point of writing a heart-breaking and completely weird song dedicted to a 14 year old girl in Japan? No. Instead we get Buddy Holly ripoffs like “O Girlfriend”, which might as well BE a 50’s song. Considering that Rivers already wrote Buddy Holly, which was the perfect pop dedication to the man and trenscended the sound into the modern alternative, you can see the problem. And even the weird lyrics are unitelligible and boring. An thing that gets close just comes off more like wordy nonsense “cheese smells so good on a burnt piece of lamb” and whatever the hell “franks and beans” was saying. There is virtually nothing distinct, original, or strange in the songs of any of these albums.

And that WAS Weezer in the 90. Distinct, original, and strange. With that, I’ve come to the sad realization that I wish they never came back from that late 90’s hiatus. It’s the kind of nonsensical statement about people I will never know and have no authority over, but because music can be such a weirdly personal enterprise we feel the freedom to make it.

But still, I will be the first to admit:

I  hate Weezer, but only because I will always love Weezer.


Like, Best of the Decade Edition (Music): ILLINOIS by Sufjan Stevens… and where the hell is his next for reals album?

December 10, 2009

Note: So I wasn’t going to do the whole best of the decade thing that’s become a big fad, but what the fuck? It’s fun.

I started thinking about my favorite album of the decade at some point a few months ago and I realized something strange. I’ve sort of stopped listening to new music in the last two years. This is inordinately strange for me. I used to scour ravenously for new bands and sounds and constantly badgered my friends who had similar inclinations. And now I find myself suddenly, well, disinterested. For two years, I’ve been listening to the same music I’ve always listened to (which granted, is a metric-fuck-ton) and revisiting albums I’d left behind.  It prompted me to picture myself in the future, 20 years from now, sitting and listening to some old Flaming Lips albums the way my dad still listens to his old reggae albums on vinyl (yay Ja Spirit!). Music’s like this train that rolls right along and you can go as long as you want. But when you stop to get off, you’re off. And right now, I’m off… I’m also content with this.

This is relevant to my point for one reason, which sadly involves another tangent: If you were to ask me what my favorite album of the decade was, I would have instantly answered Radiohead’s Kid A for some self-obvious and tangible reasons. For starters, it had a profound affect on me, both in terms of taste and how I physically listen to music. I still maintain that the album serves as the great Rosetta stone for how to listen for sub-sound and sub-melody. To boot, it just sounds so god-damn advanced. Like it’s made by those gastro chefs who can turn gasoline and cake batter into a some kind of edible ice tart. Which is not to say that’s what matters it music, just that it’s an easily tangible way to identify genius. So I started constructing lists and arranging stuff in my head and just always sort of assumed Kid A would be at the top of my list.

So now then, over the last month I’ve been listening to a bunch or albums from this era that I liked, and I found myself listening to Illinois by Sufjan Stevens over and over and over (I spend a lot of time in a car and still use good old fashioned cds. I’m not a luddite it’s just my Ipod was stolen forever ago and I’m still bitter about buying a new one. That shit’s expensive). And it was like some remarkable rediscovery of the album, far from it, it was something else entirely:

I realized: I listen to Illinois all the time.

I got the album when it first came out and it has never left my car. It has never been far off my Itunes. I routinely throw songs from it on mixes. I find myself whistling little bits from it. Most of all, I write to music and and I seriously can’t think of a better album to listen to while writing. I realized I literally don’t go two weeks without listening to a song from that album, and I’m not sick of it. And it’s been five god damn years folks.

I don’t consider myself to be predisposed to liking Sufjan Stevens. There’s a kind of inherent preciousness to his music that just begs for a nice reactionary/illogical criticism. But I have no interest in playing that role. I’m highly aware that there’s already a heckuva lot of, nay unanimous critical praise for the album, but it rolls off my shoulders. I really don’t care what people think of it. It’s really good and everyone knows it’s pretty good. It’s just I’ve merely been unaware of how much I truly loved it. Debate if you will, but I have nothing invested in this argument. It’s not like I’m trying to prove why it’s good, or relevant, or lovable, or sucks, or any of that nonsense we try to do when arguing about music.

It just is.

It’s an album that’s exists out of all other contexts for me. Something I enjoy on the most basic, if largely subconscious level for so many years. Unlike Kid A, which immediately go into my head and in my heart, Illinois has done than far more impressive feat of getting in my bones.

And that’s what I think matters. I could talk to you about the intensely personal song writing, the epic tone and feeling of the music, it’s rich sense of atmosphere, it’s alternating of upbeat with aching melancholy, while often slyly fading with its use of both at once. But all that sort of feels irrelevant. Music is the most intensely personal form of art you can relate with….

And this one got me in my bones.

-mgss

Addendum:

-I went with Illinois and not “Illinoise” because it’s intentionally confusing withthe album cover/actual naming.

-SERIOUSLY, when the hell is he going to make another for real album and not some crazy mixed media thing or unreleased B sides? I’m jonesing.

-Honorable mentions:

Kid A by Radiohead – reasons aforementioned

Funeral by The Arcade Fire -I can’t think of a better debut album off the top of my head. Just amazing awe inspiring stuff.

Good News For People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse – sure it’s the popular album. So what? I’ve seen nothing but a long list of critics looking for reasons to include the other MM albums on their best of lists and I don’t get it. It’s great top to bottom, why can’t we acknowledge that there’s a reason this album hurled the band into the big time for a reason? I love The Moon and Antarctica too. Hell nobody love Sad Sappy Sucker more than me. So why do we have to pretend this one wasn’t even more awesome again?

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips – w/ this and MM, it’s the 2000s, otherwise known as when great bands that had been together for a decade got popular.

Late Registration by Kanye West – I’ve seen college dropout on more lists than this. Why? Because not as many people were into him then? There’s probably nothing more pretentious then a pretentious rant about critics being to pretentious, but seriously I don’t get this. The Jon Brion produced(!) Late Registration is just a superior, incredible album.

Others: Kala by MIA, Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio, Stankonia by Outkast, Z by My Morning Jacket, White Blood Cells by The White Stripes, Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol, Sea Change by Beck.


Like: World’s Greatest Dad

August 27, 2009

I’ll keep this short.

World’s Greatest Dad is a funny movie. Perhaps more surprisingly, it is also a very good movie.  You can’t say this is a total surprise, as the film’s director, Bobcat Goldthwait (yup, the Police Academy guy), already established a nice little foundation of indie/tv work: the profoundly messed-up Shakes the Clown, the great ruse Windy City Heat, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Chapelle’s Show, but most most of all his 2006 feature Stay, later retitled Sleeping Dogs Lie. Admittedly I have yet to see that last one, but all reports indicate it was surprisnigly nice little film about honesty and (in his words) “a tasteful amount of beastiality.” So WGD seems to be a nice little evolution in his career. (For example, it looks pretty good. Sleeping Dogs Lie was shot on some pretty low quality video, so Bobcat seems to make the leap to 35 with a surprising amount of guile. It’s not flashy or anything, but it’s got real steady feel to it).

Robin Williams gives easily my favorite performance of his since “The Genie” in Aladdin (yes this includes Good Will Hunting) . Even if the situation around him gets a little crazy, he plays it straight. His down to earth, good-natured-but-understandably-frustrated dad just rings very true. Even when things get very crazy and he takes his inner desires to some pretty extreme places. But it works.

But most of all Bobcat has crafted a wholly focused movie; all it’s trying to do is say one true thing (even hinting at this goal by quoting the famous Hemingway axiom of “one true sentance”). It’s an underrated and under-attempted quality in a movie and I found it admirable.

There’s actually a nice little moment that encapsulates this aforementioned one true thing. That moment is when Krist Novoselic shows up. The name Krist Novoselic is an intersting one, because he’s one of those unrecognized yet incredibly influential people. How do you know him? He’s “the other guy” from Nirvana. And his appearence in the movie is completely appropriate. He’s friends with Bobcat and when the director asked Krist to be in said scene, Krist asked “Just what is this movie about anyway?”

(WARNING THEMATIC/KINDA PLOT SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THE BLURP SO TURN AWAY NOW) Bobcat answered: “You ever know that situation where someone dies and a bunch of people who didn’t know him talk about him, and turn him into something else that has to do with their own wants and needs, and push the people who actually knew him and cared about him off to the side?” Krist apparently smiled “Yeah I think know something about that.”

So yeah. The movie is basically about that. And it leads to Bobcat’s “one true sentance” (which is wonderfully enough the first sentance he wrote down and the starting point for a movie… thematically working backwards is also a wonderfully under-represented thing in movies). Here’s the paraphrased quote: [People think the most terrifying thing in the world is being alone, when really the most terrifying thing in the world is being only with people who make you feel alone.] And the movie earns the right to say it.

I’m looking forward to more Bobcat movies.