Friday, August 29, 2008

Race For The Prize 8/29/08

We kick off the beginning of the 2008 Oscar season with the first "Race for the Prize" column of the year. With both the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals just over the horizon, I thought I'd throw out my first predictions (sight unseen for the most part) for this year's contenders. At this far out, things are a crap shoot of course, especially in a year with no established front runner. That makes things more exciting though, right? Lots of big names return to the dance this year (Eastwood, Howard, Lurhmann), but someone will undoubtably be left out in the cold. Figuring out which one and why is what these columns are for, and as always I'll try and do my best to keep personal feelings and biases out of my predictions. I'll return for a more in depth look once Venice and TIFF weed out some of the chaff. Until then, here's how things look in the Main Categories (in order of likelyhood of nomination).

Best Picture:
The Soloist
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Revolutionary Road

Five on the Fringe:
The Road
The Dark Knight

Best Director:
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Joe Wright - The Soloist
Gus Van Sant - Milk
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Baz Lurhmann - Australia

Five on the Fringe:
Clint Eastwood - Changeling
Sam Mendes - Revolutionary Road
John Hilcoat - The Road
Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight
Edward Zwick - Defiance

Best Actor:
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Leonardo DiCaprio - Revolutionary Road
Jamie Foxx - The Soloist

Five on the Fringe:
Viggo Mortensen - The Road
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Michael Sheen - Frost/Nixon
Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino
Daniel Craig - Defiance

Best Actress:
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky

Five on the Fringe:
Nicole Kidman - Australia
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Cate Beckinsale - Nothing But The Truth
Cate Blanchett - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Kristin Scott Thomas - I Loved You So Long

Best Supporting Actor:
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Robert Downey Jr. - The Soloist
Josh Brolin - Milk
Russell Crowe - Body of Lies
Kodi Smit-McPhee - The Road

Five on the Fringe:
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road
Eddie Marsan - Happy-Go-Lucky
Liev Schreiber - Defiance
Alan Alda - Nothing But the Truth
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder

Best Supporting Actress:
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Vera Farmiga - Nothing But The Truth
Viola Davis - Doubt
Kathy Bates - Revolutionary Road
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Five on the Fringe:
Catherine Keener - The Soloist
Amy Adams - Doubt
Debra Winger - Rachel Getting Married
Rachel Weisz - The Brothers Bloom
Elizabeth Banks - W

Best Original Screenplay:
The Soloist
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Synecdoche, New York

Five on the Fringe:
Rachel Getting Married
The Visitor
Nothing But The Truth

Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Revolutionary Road
The Road

Five on the Fringe:
Miracle at St. Anna
The Dark Knight

Best Animated Film:
Kung-Fu Panda
Waltz With Bashir

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sparks - Exotic Creatures of the Deep (***)

Sparks have always skirted the thin line between irony and flat-out joke rock, but never have they taken it to lengths they do on Exotic Creatures of the Deep, the 21st (!) album from the brothers Mael. Every one of the full songs presented here is performed with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The songs titles lay it out pretty explicitly: "(She Got Me) Pregnant, "Lighten Up, Morrissey", and the kicker, "I Can't Believe You Would Fall For All the Crap In This Song". You either get it or you don't, and Ron and Russell aren't waiting around for you get in on the joke.

The symphonic pop route they've been treading upon lately is overblown here, sometimes to the point of obnoxiousness, yet this is fun music played for the sole reason of playing fun music, no more no less. It's difficult to listen all the way through though, mainly because huge, massed choral vocals tend to grate after 13 songs, but each individual song is memorable and funny in their own way. It's nearly impossible to take Exotic Creatures seriously, and to their credit, Sparks aren't really asking you to dig too deep for meaning, so I suppose it's harmless. Even stodgy music bloggers need a break from all the seriousness associated with independent music sometimes, and every few years you can count on Sparks to deliver the goods.

Highlights: "Ive Never Been High", "Lighten Up, Morrissey", "Likeable"

"(She Got Me) Pregnant"

"Lighten Up, Morrissey"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

just a heads up...

I'm heading off to a killer Radiohead/Liars double bill down in Chula Vista tonight, so I won't be aound to update Stereo Sanctity. Content will return to normal on Thursday however, highlighted by a review for Sparks' typically ridonkulous new album, Exotic Creatures of the Deep. Take care...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lindstrøm - Where You Go I Go Too (****1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(August 24-30, 2008)

It's strange to think that in 2008, what with the ubiquity of blog-house and Balearic pop - and not to mention the emergence of French house in contemporary pop music - that one of the foremost modern electronic producers would just now be making his full length debut. At this point though, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is all but legendary among the blogosphere, his collaborations with fellow Norwegian Prins Thomas and his remix work for Sally Shapiro and LCD Soundsystem exalted to near mythic proportions. His 2006 compilation of vinyl singles, It's A Feedelity Affair, dented quite a few top ten lists that year, yet an actual, non-collaborative full length album had alluded him up until this, his epic space-disco masterwork Where You Go I Go Too.

With just 3 songs stretching past the 55 minute mark, Where You Go I Go Too is not for the impatient nor the faint of heart. The opening 30 minute title track alone touches on so many styles, absorbs so many influences and features so many awe-inspiring moments that had Lindstrøm chose to end the record there, then we'd still have a complete, satisfying listen. It's not hard to see "Where You Go I Go Too" as the culmination of every previous Lindstrøm idea blown out to full fruition. Of course, it doesn't end there, and in many ways what follows is even more fascinating for the ways in which the Lindstrøm sound is expanded and built upon in unexpected fashion.

Influences are unashamedly flaunted throughout Where You Go I Go Too, yet where Lindstrøm is most well known as a purveyor of all things even remotely related to Cluster, Neu! or Manuel Göttsching, the remaining two pieces see the producer reigning in sounds as diverse as Steve Reich, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and even more modern artists such as Studio or even early LCD Soundsystem. In fact, the latter provides probably the best conceptual cousin for Where You Go I Go Too, as James Murphy's Nike commissioned entry in the Original Run seres, 45:33, was more or less a 45 minute homage to E2-E4 as well. Blade Runner synths turn up in the relentless "Grand Ideas" (the shortest track here at 10 minutes), while closer "The Long Way Home" takes the Tangerine Dream fetish to near disgusting lengths (and I mean that in the best way possible).

Where You Go I Go Too will certainly not appeal to everyone. Anyone with an aversion to long form electronic music, minimalism, coke-fueled '80s B-movies or unwavering kraut-inspired grooves will leave baffled not 10 minutes in. For the rest of us though, those who have absorbed Music for 18 Musicians, Zuckerzeit, E2-E4, Phaedra, the Can discography and the far reaches of left-field electronic music, then Hans-Peter Lindstrøm has just released something of a masterpiece. The title of this lengthy excursion seems apropos, as anyone with the resolve and mindset to completely give themselves over to Lindstrøm and this collection of stargazing pop tunes, will not leave unmoved.

RIYL: Manuel Göttsching, Vangelis, Steve Reich, Studio, 45:33, Cluster

Myspace - Lindstrøm

Monday, August 25, 2008

Snowman - The Horse, The Rat and The Swan (***1/2)

The middle part of this decade saw a disappointing dearth in quality art-rock. Sure, there were Deerhoof and Liars each doing their part to inject a little unpredictability into a stagnating indie scene, but in the few years since those bands' respective peaks, each act has brought a structure and stability to their sound, resulting in a different (but in some ways equally admirable) set of goals. What's gone missing in the void then is a dangerous, take-no-prisoners band, an act whose sound is so unique and uncompromising that it's difficult not to take notice. I'm not sure if Snowman are the band to carry that particular torch, but if their new album The Horse, The Rat and The Swan is any indication, this is a band possessed with a supreme confidence and a truly menacing sound, just as capable of hypnotizing with a dark groove as pummeling with a shrill feedback explosion.

Hailing from Australia will do Snowman no favors in RIYL department, as much of their screeching axe work and tribal thud can be traced back to their Aussie compatriots Liars, and in particular their 2004 record They Were Wrong So We Drowned. There's much more going on here than Snowman originally let on however. There's a shrieking no wave edge to the many of the mantra-rich vocals parts - those being the parts that don't sound like a stoned Angus Andrew in falsetto mode that is. There's also a strong dynamic range to each individual song here that results in a varied and consistently disorienting listen.

Exploding with the eviscerating barrage entitled "Our Mother (She Remembers)", The Horse rarely lets up for it's first half. These shorter, louder, nastier pieces are positioned upfront apparently in an attempt to weed out the weak. The records back half, which follows the audio/noise-collage "A Rebirth", slows the Snowman sound down to a crawl, with droning guitar lines, martial pounding and ghostly, echo-chamber vocals careening through the mix like the soundtrack to unmade poltergeist film. The three 5-minute+ pieces that end the record aren't nearly as immediate as the throat-strangling blasts that they began with, yet at various points they are just as loud and primal, if not more rewarding. By then though, Snowman will have raped you of your innocence, leaving you gasping for air but somehow begging for more. Put simply, The Horse, The Rat and The Swan is one of my favorite discoveries of the year thus far, and if you have any interest in uncompromising art-rock then Snowman is your band.

Highlights: "Our Mother (She Remembers)", "Daniel Was a Timebomb", "She Is Turning Into You", "The Horse (Parts 1 and 2)"

RIYL: Liars, HEALTH, The Drones

"We Are The Plague"

Myspace - Snowman

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Frost/Nixon Trailer

Ron Howard's Oscar-screaming Frost/Nixon trailer has hit the web, and by the looks of it you can all but write in Frank Langella's name for a nomination. Howard is an Academy fave as well, so if the film takes off look for him, the picture and the screenplay (by one Peter Morgan) to be carried along for the ride as well. This Youtube tailer is fuzzy and has Danish subtitles, but Yahoo has the HD trailer streaming here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Stereolab - Chemical Chords (***1/2)

Is there a more appropriate title for a Stereolab record than Chemical Chords? Those two words practically define the London-based chic-pop band's entire sound. Since their inception in the early 90s, the Stereolab sound hasn't altered much - it's always been in the minimalist kraut-pop/space-lounge vein - yet each of the group's 11 records so far have managed to stand apart from the last. Wisely, chief composer and songwriter Tim Gane has a propensity for subtly tweaking their infallible sound ever so slightly between releases to avoid stagnation, so much so that I'd venture to call Stereolab the most consistently wonderful band of the last 15 years.

Their fantastic new record Chemical Chords again adds subtle wrinkles, presenting the band in a more concise and immediate mindset, with 14 hugely melodic songs each hovering around the 3-4 minute range. The defining characteristic of Chemical Chords isn't the welcome concision however, it's the horn and string arrangements which buoy the rubber band rhythms and seamlessly blend into the Lab's primary setup of guitar, bass, organ, drum machine and Moog synth. The high flying strings come courtesy of one Sean O'Hagan, who along with Nico Muhley and Owen Pallet have formed a sort of indie-rock triumvirate of string arrangers, and his work here provides a beautiful backdrop for the Motown inspired percussion & horn accoutrements that Gane had previously hinted at but never fully embraced.

As is most often the case however, Lætitia Sadier's heavenly French-lilt still stands out from whatever production tweaks Gane manages to throw against their core sound. She navigates her French and English lyrics with equal aplomb, coating Ganes' wonders of pop ingenuity with her glossy sing-speak while dolling out generous amounts of wordless hooks as if by second nature. The fact that this band has stayed so true to their sound while remaining so consistently relevant over the years is tribute to both Gane and Sadier's songwriting prowess, not to mention their always en vogue pool of influences. Right alongside 2001s Dots and Loops, I'd probably say Chemical Chords is best Stereolab record of the new millennium so far. However, if history is any indication, there is plenty more where this came from.

Highlights: "Neon Beanbag", "One Finger Symphony", "Valley Hi!", "Pop Molecule", "Fractal Dream of a Thing"

Video: Stereolab - "Three Women"

"Cellulose Sunshine"

"The Ecstatic Static"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Walkmen - You & Me (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(August 17 - 23, 2008)

Contrary to the very persuasive evidence of "The Rat", The Walkmen have never been a band to revel in grand gestures. This is a band that is almost frustratingly subtle, to the point where an album's, or even just a single song's, charm could take countless listens to fully parse. This has yielded both rewards and disappointments over the course of the last six years. The Walkmen's early success shouldn't seem unprecedented though, as the band seemed to spring fully formed from the ashes of Jonathan Fire*Eater, dropping two great records - 2002s Everybody Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone and 2004s classic Bows + Arrows - right out of the gate.

However, the intervening years have seen the band follow a stridently idiosyncratic path, one which has yielded both an overblown, bloodshot blur of an album (2006s A Hundred Miles Off) and a song-for-song covers record of Harry Nilson & John Lennon's 1974 record, Pussy Cats. The band would soon see their audience, many of whom where salivating for another one of the band's stellar early singles, dwindle to the point of near irrelevance. All of which is to say that The Walkmen's unexpectedly strong new album, while still fervently refraining from an out-and-out hit single, is evidence of a band in total control of their output, never content to pander to it's listeners. Instead, You & Me opts for 14 well sequenced songs of subtle depth and honest emotion.

The instantly recognizable haze that The Walkmen sift through is still evident throughout You & Me, yet in a nice change of pace, singer Hamilton Leithauser has thankfully abandoned a great deal of the mumbled Dylan-isms that crippled A Hundred Miles Off. It's refreshing to hear what the man has to say, as he has grown into a strong lyricist with an occasionally biting wit. The band's sound has grown so consistent over the years though that it can be difficult to take in a Walkmen album in one sitting anymore. I'd go as far as to say that You & Me is the band's most consistently strong record yet, but that defining characteristic is what oddly places the album a notch or two below their early recordings, which had incredible highs to offset the slow-grow moments. Those looking solely for another "The Rat" will certainly come away disappointed, but there are worst musical crimes than a uniform sound, and with You & Me The Walkmen have reestablished their relevance without giving an inch.

Highlights: "In the New Year", "Red Moon", "Canadian Girl", "The Blue Route", "If Only It Were True"

"In the New Year"

"The Blue Route"

"Canadian Girl"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sonic Youth - SYR8: Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth (***)

Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth ("Another Side of Sonic Youth"), the eighth entry in the long running, widely experimental SYR series, presents the noise rock legends in collaborative mode, this time with the addition of industrial noise maven Merzbow on power electronics and Thurston Moore's Original Silence bandmates Mat Gustaffson and Jim O'Rourke equally contributing to the squall via saxophone and various brain-scraping noise toys. At this point in time (the 2006 Roskilde Festival to be exact), Jim O'Rourke was just ending his tenure as the fifth member of Sonic Youth, and his importance to the band's return to relevance in the early aughts simply cannot be overstated. His presence both live and on record was instantly noticeable and greatly appreciated.

So what we have here then is a send off of sorts, a single 57-minute completely improvised noise piece, with members of the collective slowly emerging on stage to add to the seductive maelstrom, only to subtly fade out one by one until only Merbow is left standing. Kim Gordon does take to the mic sporadicly, muttering sweet-nothings about a "heart in my hand", but for all intents and purposes, SYR8 is an all instrumental, free-jazz soaked art-rock piece. If your favorite SY record was Rather Ripped from the very same year, you probably won't have much of a use for SYR8 except for maybe as a coaster. If you're at all interested in the band's early no-wave inspired albums though, or especially their well documented collaborations with Rhys Chatham or as the aforementioned Original Silence, then it shouldn't be hard to see that Andre Sider is one of the strongest entires yet in what has turn out to be one of the most rewarding series of experimental music America has ever seen.

RIYL: Original Silence, The Thing, noise

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Finally, A Good "Body of Lies" Trailer

Considering that the first trailer looked like Ridley was taking cues from his bro Tony, it is nice to finally have this new and improved 2nd trailer for Ridley Scott's (now I can say) anticipated new film Body of Lies. Russell Crowe certainly has the juicier, more typically Oscar-type role, but DiCaprio looks to finally be thriving here without BFF Martin Scorsese. This trailer adds a heck of a lot more dialogue then before as well, switching our Oscar radar over towards the script of William Monahan. Remember, it was Monahan who took home the gold but two years ago for The Departed, so the man can write these "guy" pictures rather well. I was underwhelmed by American Gangster last year, and A Good Year is best forgotten, but here's to hoping for a return to form.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Endless Boogie - Focus Level (***)

Not many bands take 10+ years to release their debut full-length, but then again, Endless Boogie is no normal (or mortal) band. Formed in 1997 by a handful of middle-aged Matador Records employees, Endless Boogie have built up a powerful mystique over the intervening years through a series of ultra-rare 12" vinyl releases and even rarer live shows, every one at the behest of well-known peers such as Stephen Malkmus, Yo La Tengo and Dungen. Focus Level, a monstrous 70 minute acid trip of an album, will undoubtedly work as most listeners first exposure to Endless Boogie and their psych-wah-blues-rock. It may also be the last they ever want to hear of them, but I'm okay with that.

Gruff frontman Paul Major, a NYC record collector of equally mythic stature, takes the helm of Endless Boogie, growling, chanting and blurting wordless mouth ululations with all the scorched fury of Funhouse-era Iggy, while the band - whose sound is most thoroughly summed up by the title of Focus Level's stoned-out jam "Steak Rock" - lays down dinosaur riffs at an ungodly meditative pace. Like I said before, Focus Level pushes the boundaries of CD capacity (not to mention good taste), and with only 10 songs here, that means things veer toward the epic (some might say repetitive), with almost half the tracks clocking in at over 10 minutes in the length (penultimate track "Low-Lifes" topples out at the 17 minute mark).

So let's make something perfectly clear: there isn't a person in the world with enough weed to possibly attempt listen to Focus Level in it's entirety, but in two or three song chunks, this is some powerful and sickeningly single-minded blooze strut (Warning: if you at all have an aversion to guitar solos, Focus Level is not the record for you). If songs titles such as "Gimme the Awesome" and "Smokin Figs in the Yard" weren't influence enough to get up and buy this record though, then just know that you will be depriving yourself of "The Manly Vibe", quite possibly the best 10 minutes you'll spend with a record all year.

Highlights: "Smokin Figs In the Yard", "The Manly Vibe", "Steak Rock", Coming Down the Stairs"

RIYL: Blue Cheer, Hawkwind, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, drugs

"The Manly Vibe"

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

King Khan and the Shrines - The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(August 10 - 16, 2008)

If garage rock wasn't dead, it was on serious life support as the first decade of the new millennium crested sometime around 2005. It was around this time however that a small but dedicated fan base started embracing a refreshing brand of neo-fuzz rock, a movement that was punk in spirit and occasionally in sound, but with an added dose of 60s pysch and Raw Power intensity. Artists such as Black Lips, Jay Reatard and No Age pilfered the past gleefully and shamelessly, wisely embracing the spirit of bygone genres while still adding individualist touches to help the all important cream rise to the top.

And then there was King Khan, a wild Canadian singer who had spent time in The Spaceshits around the turn of the decade, but now, under various names (the Shrines, the BBQ Show, the Sensational Shrines), began to pick up accolades from the aforementioned like-minded acts such as Jay Reatard and the Black Lips (who's own Jared Swilley even provides gushing liner notes here). Last year's European-only breakthrough What Is?! finally helped establish Khan as one of the scene's leading lights though, and on the back of this recent wave of hype, he and his Shrines have been snatched up by Vice Records here in the States. The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines collects highlights from What Is?! as well a numerous rare singles and various ephemera.

It would be rather impossible to pick just 5 highlights from the 14-song What Is?!, but Supreme Genius does a commendable job, grabbing "(How Can I Keep You) Outta Harms Way", "Land of the Freak", "I Wanna Be a Girl", "No Regrets", and the unimpeachably great "Welfare Bread", one of the best songs of the past few years. The remaining 11 songs don't reach quite the same heights, but there are a number of standout moments. Album opener "Torture" stays closest to the sound of What Is?!, and remains one of Khan's most ferocious shout-a-longs, while sitting there in the two slot is the side-splitting "Took My Lady to Dinner", with the year's oddest yet most perfect chorus line: "My baby/she's fat/she's ugly/she's fat/she's ugly/but I love her/I love her".

Khan's interest in funky James Brown horns and 60s soul shines through on a good deal of the remaining tracks, illuminating just how far the man's influences reach. The Shrines really are the best band of the current cop of garage rockers, tight beyond belief, but with a loose, ramshackle vibe that keeps the listener guessing as to where each song might curve off to at any given moment. The 4-star worthy What Is?! should still realistically be your first King Khan purchase (the record is available digitally in America), but as a sampler of the well, genius, of King Khan, this compilation is golden.

RIYL: Black Lips, Jay Reatard, The White Stripes, James Brown

Highlights: "Torture", "(How Can I Keep You) Outta Harms Way", "Welfare Bread", "Live Fast Die Strong"


"Sweet Tooth"

"Welfare Bread"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Black Kids - Partie Traumatic (*1/2)

I'll admit it, Partie Traumatic was behind the 8-ball before I even heard it, committing my personal cardinal sin for debut full-lengths. A cursory look at the tracklist reveals that multi-racial indie-popsters Black Kids carry over all four songs from their 2007 debut EP, all re-recorded here by Suede's Bernard Butler, who cleans up and smooths out the edges of the Kids' endearingly shaggy productions. It wouldn't bother me as much if maybe the band chose two of the better songs to represent the EP (that I can forgive), but all four songs from a great stand alone document seems excessive, especially in light of Partie Traumatic's slight 10-track runtime. And it would be negligent of me not to remind the forgetful that the Wizard of Ahhs EP (SS's 31th favorite album of 2007) was a free download. So now essentially Black Kids are attempting to milk their audience a full price tag for six new songs, whose quality ranges from forgettable ("Love Me Already") to downright horrible ("Listen to Your Body Tonight", a new contender for Worst Song of the Year distinction).

Add all ten up and it becomes doubly sad that the Butler-ized versions of those four Wizard songs are actually downgraded from their stellar lo-fi indie-pop incarnations on the EP to decent sing-a-longs marred by ridiculous productions flourishes on the full-length. So one-star for the fact that this band's knack for melodies is undeniable, if just a little misplaced here, and a half star for the fact that it would be impossible for even Butler to screw up something as giddily morose as "Hurricane Jane" (although he seems to be trying pretty hard).

RIYL: Los Campesinos!, The Cure, The Boy Least Likely To, I'm From Barcelona

"Hurricane Jane"

Myspace - Black Kids

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Oneida - Preteen Weaponry (***)

The first installment in the proposed Thank Your Parents trilogy from Brooklyn's Oneida, Preteen Weaponry can be described easily and distinctly as a single three-part, 45 minute (mostly) instrumental track. Not many bands can get away with such pretension in this day and age, but not only can Oneida pull it off, they are one of the few that can succeed wonderfully at it. Everything this 3-piece has dabbled with in the past is on display here, from kraut grooves to psych-ramblings to free-squall. Perfectly paced and meticulously executed, Preteen Weaponry runs the Oneida gamut, ebbing and flowing through three distinct sections while staying firmly anchored to the band's core sound.

As on every Oneida recording, drummer Kid Millions is absolutely on fire here, hitting everywhere but the pocket on "Part 1" while laying down a heavy martial beat throughout the entirety of "Part II", only to reawaken for the clipped crashes of "Part III". The upcoming second entry in the series (due early next year) is reportedly a 3-disc set, which helps put Preteen Weaponry in an initial sort of context. This is a band that had grown a little stagnant coming into '08, following the release of the solid, if a little repetitive, Happy New Year from the year prior. They are clearly working with a sense of purpose here though, and if Preteen Weaponry is just a taste of what's to come, then we have a lot look forward to.

RIYL: Parts and Labor, Liars, Gang Gang Dance, Lightning Bolt

Myspace - Oneida

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst (***)

If any artist was in desperate need of a change in moniker, it was Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst. The Bright Eyes name has so many negative connotations associated with it at this point that it's almost become a four letter word in indie circles. It's a name synonymous with "emo" of course, and no matter how many change-ups Oberst threw under that banner (I'm thinking primarily of the electronic one-off Digital Ash In a Digital Urn), there is no possible way to outrun fan associations. Conor Oberst isn't the first record he's recorded under his given name, but it is pretty easily the most high profile and widely available thus far. And if this self-titled effort isn't a landmark shift in identity, then it is at least a promising transition that does away with a lot of the signifiers that have hampered recent Bright Eyes offerings.

First things first: the length. This is by far the most concise record Oberst has managed, with just 12 songs skimming the 40 minute mark. By virtue of this simple fact, it also happens to be his most consistent record since I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (still his strongest work to date). The blaring self consciousness of his prior work is also abandoned for a breezy run-through of laid-back country tinged ballads and saloon-stomp rave-ups, with thankfully very little of the vocal histrionics that had become cliches of themselves long ago. The biggest difference and most rewarding aspect of the record though is Oberst's new songwriting style. In the past, almost 100% of his lyrics were told through first person narratives and it was kind of getting old. Here, nearly everything is laid out as story songs, documenting people ("Danny Callahan"), places (Sausalito"), and for a good portion of the record, religion ("Lenders in the Temple", "Moab").

The record starts off uniformly strong, with the opening four song stretch consisting of some of the most ambiguous yet interesting writing of Oberst's career thus far, peaking with Desire-esque "Get-Well-Cards". The middle of the album does sag slightly, with a couple innocuous sing-a-longs, but Oberst rebounds nicely with the strong closing trifecta. "Moab", with it's "there's nothing that the road cannot heal" mantra, nicely encapsulates many of the thematic elements presented, while "Souled Out!!!" features an infectious counterpoint chorus which works as a wonderful climax for the closing alcoholics lament "Milk Thistle". Conor Oberst isn't one of the year's best records by a long shot, and this is only a slight recommendation, but this is a beacon of light for fans and for the future of Oberst. If it were up to me, there wouldn't even be another Bright Eyes record. That way Oberst could operate comfortably outside of expectations to (hopefully) produce concise and infinitely more listenable albums such as this.

Highlights: "Cape Canaveral", "Get-Well-Cards", "Lenders in the Temple", "Souled Out!!!"

"Cape Canaveral"


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Rachel Getting Married" Trailer

To be honest, Jonathan Demme's new film Rachel Getting Married hadn't really been on my Oscar radar up until this week. Then this trailer dropped and a mild groundswell of hype has arose, and by the looks of it, there may be very good reason. This looks like an interesting film no doubt, but more specifically it looks to be a total showcase for the underrated Anne Hathaway, who's role looks very baity. Plus she's young and hot and Oscar loves that. I'm certainly exited to see where she takes this performance. Oh, and for today's WTF moment, TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe co-stars in the film.

Brendan Canning - Something For All Of Us... (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(August 3 - 9, 2008)

It wasn't quite as apparent at the time of their arrival as it is now, but Broken Social Scene truly are a supergroup of the very highest order, a collective of well over a dozen musicians who all seemingly split time in their own very interesting and very worthwhile side projects. Breathe deep: there's Metric, Stars, Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton, Apostle of Hustle, Jason Collett, Do Make Say Think, and, oh yeah, Leslie Feist (you may have heard of her). Actually, there are quite a few more related projects as well, but up until last year, Broken Social Scene's two main songwriters - Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning - despite both spending time in previous bands, had kept a pretty low profile, at least in comparison to their band mates.

2007 brought with it the release of the first Broken Social Scene Presents album, entitled Spirit If.., courtesy of defacto BSS leader Kevin Drew. All bets were now off, as if we needed more material from this ridiculously deep well of Canadian musicians. It was by all accounts however, a smashing success (Stereo Sancity's 30th favorite of 2007 in fact), due in large part to the fact that in was nearly impossible to tell it apart from a proper BSS record. The second entry in the series, this time from underrated co-leader Brendan Canning, goes a long way toward proving that Drew isn't the sole mastermind behind BSS, despite being portrayed as such in many press related materials and/or reviews.

Compared to the bombastic and exhausting Spirit If..., Something For All Of Us... is a much more modest and low key affair, it's smooth sounds echoing BSS circa You Forgot In People and as opposed to the in-the-red self-titled from a few years back. As a band, BSS doesn't get the credit they deserve for the amount of genre hopping and experimentation they flirt with, and thankfully that same restless spirit is on display yet again with Something For All Of Us.... Like most BSS product though, the record feels of unified piece because of the immaculate, cavernous production that has become almost synonymous with the work of this group of artists. To wit, the highly melodic, early-90s indie rock guitars of the title track bare little in common with the brezzy, vaguely Elliott Smith-like whispers of "Snowballs and Icicles", which in turn are a complete 180 from the discofied strut of "Love Is New". The latter track in fact is probably the only out-and-out immediate track here, and unfortunately a few impossibly pretty songs such as "Chameleon" may slip through more impatient listeners fingers.

Like everything that comes out of the BSS camp though, Something For All Of Us... is a album's album, meant to be absorbed in a single listen. If this were my record though, I probably wouldn't have sequenced two 5-minute plus ballads to close out the album, yet both "Been At It So Long" and especially "Take Care, Look Up" work well on their own. That's a minor quibble though on a record that rightfully ousts Brendan Canning as Broken Social Scene's secret weapon and a star worthy of accolades in his own right.

Highlights: "Something For All Of Us", "Hit the Wall", "Love Is New", "Possible Grenade"

RIYL: uhhhh, Broken Social Scene

"Something For All Of Us"

"Love Is New"

"Possible Grenade"

Monday, August 4, 2008

Torche - Meanderthal (***)

In what's turning into a stellar year for heavy music, what with Life...The Best Game In Town, Smile, Nude With Boots and The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull all carving sizable dents in the underground community, Miami-based metal heads Torche actually seem the most capable of crossing over. Previously grouped into the sludge and doom metal camps, Torche has streamlined and beefed-up it's sound on the appropriately named Meanderthal, a fiery headlong blast into pummeling rhythms, juiced guitar parts and hyper-melodic vocal lines.

In what's become a sort of rule for the more accessible strains of metal, Torche put forth their most immediate foot first, with none of the first 10 tracks here eclipsing the 3:17 mark. The final 3 tracks see Torche stretching their legs a bit musically however, and while these songs don't punch the gut the way the preceding tracks do, they are ultimately more rewarding listens, particularly the fantastically catchy vocal portion of "Fat Waves" and the thunderous stomp of the closing title track. Torche weren't ever the most original band, and if anything, Meanderthal is even more derivative of it's influences. But what this band does do, they happen to do very well. There's something to be said for straight-up, unfussy guitar chug, and with Meanderthal, Torche have produced a pretty convincing argument.

Highlights: "Grenades", "Across the Shields", "Fat Waves"

RIYL: Melvins, Big Business, Rwake, High on Fire


"Across the Shields"

"Fat Waves"

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Earth - The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull (***1/2)

Let's hope this never happens, but if some ambitious filmmaker ever decides to remake Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull would make the perfect soundtrack. This, the sixth record from drone metal legends Earth, is still impossibly slow and scarily evocative, yet the band's newfound melodic range, first hinted at on 2005s comeback record Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, has separated Earth from the myriad imitators (most notably Boris, Sunn O))) and Sleep) that sprang up in the wake of Dylan Carlson's retreat from the spotlight in the late 90s.

The western twang and drawn out melodies of Bees doesn't hold much in common with Earth's reputation as purveyors of doom metal, yet having already perfected their brand of earth swallowing drone, the group has forged a new path, equally interesting and far more listenable. Earth has never released anything so instantly likeable or purposefully beautiful as Bees, and the 7 long form pieces included here (most hovering around the 7-8 minute mark) flow with an ease heretofore unheard from a band so closely associated with "heavy" music. From it's opening chord, Bees paints a desolate picture, full of bleak expanses and apocalyptic wastelands, yet stays surprisingly fascinating despite it's dedication to minimalism. The rebirth of Earth has been one of the decade's great surprises so far, and with The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull, Carlson has proven his ambition as an artist continues to grow almost twenty years after he lulled the Pacific Northwest to sleep with the drone of a single open chord.

Highlights: "Omens and Portents 1: The Driver", "Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine)", "Engine of Ruin"

RIYL: Sunn O))), Melvins, Boris, Sleep

"Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine)"

"Rise to Glory"

Friday, August 1, 2008

Be Your Own Pet Break Up!!!

Sad faces all around today as Be Your Own Pet, one of the most energetic and dangerously silly modern punk bands, called it quits after just a few years and two stellar albums. 2006s brilliant self-titled kick-in-the-crotch announced their arrival on Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label. It was a full throttle assault on the senses that still stands one of the best pure rock albums of the last half decade. This year's sorely under valued Get Awkward was more of the same, except darker and more violent, so much so that Universal, Ecstatic Peace's parent label, cut three of the records best tracks because of violent content (these songs later surfaced on the Becky EP).

It's always sad to lose a band still on the rise, yet Be Your Own Pet accomplished quite a bit in their short tenure, blazing a trail of noise and leaving a trail of debris everywhere they touched down. Two of dudes continue on in the underdeveloped Turbo Fruits project, but it will be most interesting to see what becomes of Jemina Pearl, the acid throated, barely twenty year old lead singer who could out Karen O Karen O (seriously). So I leave you with this, a visual history of a group teenagers with a host of influences but few real contemporaries.

"Bunk Trunk Skunk" w/ Thurston Moore (Live at ATP's Nightmare Before Christmas 2006)

Video - "Food Fight"

Video - "The Kelley Affair"

Video - "Bicycle, Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle"

Video: "Adventure"


Bodies of Water - A Certain Feeling (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(July 27 - August 2, 2008)

In a year that saw both Neon Bible and The Fragile Army receive enormous amounts of praise, 2007 also quietly held the work of a group just as bombastic, ostentatious and dedicated to the form as both of those indie-rock heavy weights. Bodies of Water debut album, Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink, nearly defined underrated, as the two-boys/two-girls band corralled their gospel-pop tendencies with a stadium sized sound and an infectiously buoyant energy that made a strong first impression for a few attentive listeners. Their second record and first for Secretly Canadian, A Certain Feeling, is an equally rewarding experience that's a few shades darker than it's predecessor and even more indicative of this band's penchant for choral vocal harmonies and prog-fingered arrangements. And what do you know, it's also one of 2008s most under appreciated records.

On A Certain Feeling, brother-sister co-leaders David and Meredith Metcalf stir a heady mix of genres into their musical stew, alternately evoking Yes, Danielson, Fleetwood Mac and of course, the Arcade Fire. But where Neon Bible went somber and apocalyptic, A Certain Feeling goes dark, tempering some of the band's sunny feverishness displayed on Ear Will Pop with an equally massive sound but with an altogether bleaker outlook. You wouldn't know it by most of the music featured here however, which is just as lively and intricate and before, with an even steeper dose of prog than previously hinted. 7 of A Certain Feeling's 9 songs clock in over 5 minutes, and each is constructed in multiple movements for dozens of instruments, most notably the organ, which acts as the backbone to many of these tracks.

With so many ideas and sing-a-longs and left turns, A Certain Feeling can feel overwhelming at times, and to be honest, my most rewarding listens have come in chunks of two or three. There isn't a throwaway moment here though, and the high points represent some of the most gloriously communal music of the year. Their peers may garner the accolades and the headlining tours, but Bodies of Water have proven their staying power with A Certain Feeling, a scarily assured second step for a band with an infinitely promising future.

Highlights: "Gold, Tan, Peach and Grey", "Under the Pines", "Water Here", "Darling, Be Here"

RIYL: Arcade Fire, Danielson, Polyphonic Spree

Early "Che" Trailer

Che has been one of my most anticipated movies for the last 3 years. Ever since the announcement of the film, this seemed like the perfect marriage of subject, director (Steven Soderbergh) and star (Benicio Del Toro). It remains to be seen whether the film will be split into two films (The Argentine and Guerilla) or stay in it's current four hour Cannes version, or even if it will arrive in 2008. This trailer is for The Argentine half, but I think it's pretty arbitrary since nothing has been announced yet. Either way, this looks to be quite the showcase for Del Toro. He is all but assured an Oscar nod whether the film is embraced or not.