Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Replacements - Sire Reissues

Tim (*****)

Please To Meet Me (*****)

Don't Tell A Soul (***)

All Shook Down (**)

"If the Pixies are 7, then the 'Mats are 8..."

That tossed-off line, featured at the tail end of a cover of "Gudbuy t' Jane" - itself a play-on words from the Pixies classic "Monkey Gone to Heaven" - can effectively sum up the major label career of The Replacements. From the name on down, this was a band that knew they were second stringers from the day they formed. If their status was perennially underrated, the music they made over the course of a decade was anything but ordinary. The band's first three records (plus one EP) charted a rarely seen trajectory wherein a band of drunken misfits could hit upon something so singular and utterly devastating that they could literally shift the landscape of American rock music. Labels were taking note whether they wanted to or not, hoping the band could somehow reign in their wild antics to become poster boys for 80s soft rock. In the process, Sire Records got a little bit of both sides of the split personality of the 'Mats. For a while there in the mid 1980s, The Replacements were just as rowdy and raucous as ever, although over time the band would see their edge tempered in favor of a more streamlined sound. This yielded both gains and setbacks, but however you look at it, the four major label records The Replacements made from 1985 to 1990 were just as fascinating musical documents as their independent counterparts.

By the time of their major label debut, Tim, The Replacements were more or less a pop-rock band (before that sub-genre became a four letter word mind you). Their roots in punk and hardcore where still intermittently evident over the next few years, but the fiery intensity of their early years was never quite matched. With that being said however, The Replacements happened to be equally as great a pop band as they were a punk band. 1985s Tim houses a handful of the band's most beloved songs, making this by some margin their most popular album. "Kiss Me On the Bus", "Bastards of Young" and "Left of the Dial" were all college radio hits and continue to get airplay on your hipper modern rock stations to this very day. Frontman Paul Westerberg had completely taken the reigns of the band by this point as well, as he solely wrote each song here but one ("Dose of Thunder", perhaps not surprisingly the heaviest song on the album). Tim was a hit in underground circles and critics fawned over the band as they always had, yet mainstream audiences once again had little interest. Following the album's tepid response, original guitarist Bob Stinson was kicked out of the band. As the saying goes, and then there were three.

If 1984s Let it Be is the best Replacements album (and it is), then I have no problem calling 1987s Please To Meet Me my favorite Replacements record. After Tim failed to breakthrough, the 'Mats seemingly regained a bit of the restless abandonment of their Hootenanny days, as the resulting record saw the band incorporating their broadest swath of genres yet. Soul, jazz, pop, punk, anything was fair game to the 'Mats by this point, and as a result, Please To Meet Me may very well be the band's most underrated yet most likable album. The blistering "I.O.U.", the classic Big Star-referencing "Alex Chilton", the junkie's lament "The Ledge", the soft-as-silk "Skyway", and the pop culture classic "Can't Hardly Wait" are just a few of the standouts on a surprisingly deep record. This embrace of more palatable styles didn't earn the band any more listeners however, and as a result, Sire made it clear that their next record must be the one to catapult them to MTV fame or their days with the label were numbered.

And in a way, 1989s Don't Tell A Soul did just that. This was the record that finally featured The Replacements first true hit, "I'll Be You", after an 8 year career of churning out equally great pop songs. Slim Dunlap filled Bob Stinson's role on Don't Tell A Soul, and for better or worse, this was the first record to really stand outside of the core Replacements sound. That's not to say it doesn't house it's share of stellar moments. "Talent Show", "Back to Back", "Achin' to Be" and the aforementioned "I'll Be You" are all great latter day 'Mats songs. On the whole and as a complete record though, Don't Tell A Soul can sound dated and a little slight. The band began to experiment with vocal effects and new instruments, and by this time Westerberg had nearly fallen off the cliff into MOR oblivion. This was the last salvaged breath of the Replacements, a flawed but charming record that marked the end of the 'Mats in all but name.

The final album credited to the Replacements wasn't a Replacements record at all. 1990s All Shook Down was intended to be a Paul Westerberg solo album, as he wrote and recorded nearly all of the album by himself or with session musicians. The results, to say the least, were disappointing. Compared to the actual solo work Westerberg was doing at the time, particularly his wonderful contributions to the Singles soundtrack, All Shook Down merits little discussion outside of a couple of enjoyable but by-the-books pop numbers. Most all of the tracks presented here was sub-par even compared to the watered down Don't Tell A Soul material. Westerberg would go on to make some respectable solo records, but All Shook Down is both he and The Replacements collective nadir.

This career-long series of reissues from Rhino are among the most welcome and vital releases of the year. The selection of bonus tracks are, like the Twin/Tone reissues, mostly made up of alternate takes, demos and the occasional unreleased studio recording. Of the bonus material, the Don't Tell a Soul sessions seemed to yield the most interesting outtakes, including this review-spawning "Gudbuy t' Jane" and a wacky track featuring the inimitable Tom Waits . Nearly everything the 'Mats ever put to tape is worth owning though, and although they made an aesthetic out of being imperfect, the charm of their records lies in the fact that at no time have four musicians had as good a time making rock music as these four did. The proof is the pudding, and the Sire years in particular hold amongst it's ranks some of the most glorious pop music ever created.

The Replacements - "Bastards of Young" (live @ Maxwell's, New Jersey; 1986)

"Left of the Dial"

"I'll Buy"

"Can't Hardly Wait'

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Australia" Trailer

Our first look at Baz Luhrmann's typically gaudy looking (in a good way) new film, Australia.

Brightblack Morning Light - Motion to Rejoin (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(September 28 - October 04, 2008)

It's almost too easy to write Brightblack Morning Light off as mindless hippie drivel. This is a band whose debut album was sheathed in a 100% recycled material digi-pack, who name their songs things like "Star Blanket River Child" and who unironically encourage fans to bring crystals to their live shows. Add to that the fact that their hypnotic new record, Motion to Rejoin, was recorded with four solar panels "around rural herbal tents", and you'd be more than forgiven for distancing yourself from this duo's slow-motion, bloodshot psychedelic folk excursions. The thing is, these attributes and techniques come from two people who literally live this life of tent dwelling and rainbow watching. The accompanying music then, which seems to simply pour from the (no doubt altered) minds of Rachael Hughes and Naybob Shineywater, is a genuine attempt at conjuring some lost civilization where technology is nonexistent and buffalo roam freely amongst the indigenous people. It's strikingly original stuff, and even if their lifestyle and outlook seem almost naive in this day and age, it's almost equally impossible not to get caught up the music's sleepy grooves and comatose drift.

After a brief introduction, "Hologram Buffalo" announces itself as most direct song the band has recorded to date, while at the same time not straying too far from their instantly recognizable concoction of Rhodes piano and flickering, reverb drenched guitar. So their is incremental growth on display between Motion and the self-titled, although both records feel cut from the same hand woven cloth. This is music that takes multiple listens to fully absorb, and on casual listens can yield very little, if anything substantial at all. After prolonged exposure, songs and melodies begin to differentiate themselves. Guest backup singers Ann and Regina McCrary lend "Gathered Years" a gospel vibe, while trombone and clarinet saxophone color sporadic moments of others songs, particularly centerpiece "A Rainbow Aims".

Brightblack Morning Light is still a band in no hurry to go anywhere. This is a 9 song, nearly 50 minute record with very little dynamic range but with enough narcotic guitar lines and entrancing beds of organ interplay to transport listeners by sheer will (no drugs required, although I'm sure they wouldn't hurt). Comparing Motion to Rejoin with it's predecessor is dead end discussion, as this feels like the perfect continuation of a already fully formed sound. Motion may be a little looser, a bit more funky, but never anything other than Brightblack Morning Light. With a sound this particular, there was never really a reason to change things up too dramatically, and with Motion to Rejoin - sure to be one of the autumn month's best records - Brightblack Morning Light have quietly and unassumingly unleashed another haunting collection of sleep deprived psychedelic blues.

Highlights: "Hologram Buffalo", "Oppressions Each", "A Rainbow Aims", "Past a Weatherbeaten Fencepost"

"Hologram Buffalo"

"Oppressions Each"

"Gathered Years"

Changes coming.....

Just thought I'd give a heads up to those consistent followers of Stereo Sanctity (you know who you are, and I love you). As of this week I am a contributing critic to Film In Review Online and Music In Review Online. What does this mean for the future of Stereo Sanctity? Not much, except that most of my new music and movie reviews will be published at one of those two sites. When this happens, I will still post the review here, but I will also identify that the review is available at either Film or Music In Review Online. Plus, since SS grades out of 5 stars and these sites grade out of 4, you may see a slightly different rating (you can now see which way I was leaning in particulars reviews).

Beyond that, I will be contributing co-written monthly Oscar columns, entitled "Chasing Gold", similar to what I do here with "Race for the Prize" (the first one is up now). This is probably where you'll see the most change for SS, although if there is a big shift in momentum, I may bring "Race for the Prize" back out unexpectedly. I will continue to update the Oscar Predictions sidebar however. Since FIRONLINE's columns are monthly endeavors, the best way to see my current predictions is still the sidebar. So stay tuned.

So anyway, check it out. Not too much will change on your end, except that you can now follow me at two sites. I encouraged you to check out both Film and Music In Review Online outside of just me, as there are many talented writers contributing. I'll also be linking to stuff I find interesting that I feel you should read as well. Anyway, here are the links. Bookmark the sites and check back regularly. Thanks.

Film in Review Online

Music In Review Online

Friday, September 26, 2008

High Places - High Places (***1/2)

Hot on the heels of this year's excellent singles collection 03/07 - 09/07, the eagerly anticipated self-titled debut full-length from Brooklyn's High Places finds the experimental indie-pop duo in roughly the same aesthetic world occupied in 03/07 - 09/07, only this time the haze has been lifted slightly to reveal a more focused songwriting team then previously expected. There is no mistaking this band for anyone else currently going, and although there are incremental increases in production value here, Mary Pearson and Rob Barber traffic in the same iridescent, beat-oriented indie pop they always have.

As the band steps out of the fog, Pearson's childlike voice becomes a clearer and more distinct weapon. Her range is limited sure, but her timing and emphasis work surprisingly well with Barber's toy store's worth of gadgets, bells, samplers and noise makers. What makes this music so fascinating to listen to though, is the fact that their influences are so hard to peg. There is of course a recognizable Beat Happening vibe in the more upbeat numbers, while Barber's greatly improved use of electronics have roots in IDM, techno and even more modern electro-pop, yet to their immense credit, High Places feel almost like a genre of one. Their early work did have a tendency to blur together, as Pearson's unemotional voice ran unimpeded over Barber's static, watery beats. Yet this was a minor fault. On High Places however, every one of the 10 songs stand as their own unique entities. Even the two ambient interludes carry with them a distinct and memorable palette of colors and sounds.

High Places is a wonderfully consistent record, and at only 30 minutes in length, it doesn't stick around long enough to expose any glaring flaws. Even parsing individual songs seems a fool's errand, as each piece feels woven into some broader tapestry of wide-eyed glee and childlike euphoria. Taken in conjunction with the 03/07 - 09/07 material, High Places have left a modest but unique imprint on 2008 indie-pop. These two will probably never bowl you over with some huge anthem or epic statement record, but if you listen close and let the splashes of sound wash over you, the music of High Places can prove to be a nostalgic wonderland of beautiful melodies and transcendent sounds.

Highlights: "The Storm", "Vision's the First...", "Namer", "From Stardust to Sentience"

RIYL: Beat Happening, Sugo Tokumaru

"Vision's the First..."

"From Stardust to Sentience"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

TV on the Radio - Dear Science (****1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(September 21 - 27, 2008)

Few modern bands have exhibited as much growth over such a short period of time as NYC art-rock collective TV on the Radio. They seemed to spring fully formed from the underground with their nearly flawless 2003 debut EP Young Liars (still arguably their greatest work), and from there they have rarely stayed put. Their debut full-length, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, was a solid continuation on the EP's sound and themes, but it was 2006s epic Return to Cookie Mountain that shot TVotR into the stratosphere of great bands. It was an overwhelming, thickly layered masterpiece of production, where you could barely make out who was doing what, but the overall effect was consistently stunning at a guttural and near instinctual level. With nowhere left to take that particular sound, TVotR have turned a corner on Dear Science, opening up their claustrophobic sound with a new found clarity and spryness.

Return to Cookie Mountain was producers wet dream, as musical mastermind David Andrew Sitek buried the ever harmonizing vocals of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone under sheets of shoegaze guitar and heavy synth washes. Dear Science on the other hand, while still undeniably a masterclass in production, weighs more heavily on the songwriting of Adebimpe and Malone. The lyrics were always there, but parsing the noise for their meaning became almost an afterthought on previous records. With Dear Science however, Sitek has opened up the band's sound, placing the vocals right up front, while clearing space for some seriously funky guitar work and, at times, an almost danceable sound. This alone should attract a wider audience, although Dear Science doesn't feature anything as instantly anthemic as "Wolf Like Me" or "Staring at the Sun". Everything this band has ever done could be consider a "grower", but Dear Science is by far the most immediate work they've done.

From the opening notes of "Halfway Home" things are recognizably different, with a bed of hand claps underpinning a robust interplay of guitar, synth and drums (from the ever more prominent Jaleel Bunton). Horns and saxophone play a big part throughout Dear Science as well, carrying many of the tracks to unthinkably catchy heights that the band only previously hinted at. The Parliament/Funkadelic influence that was just beneath the surface of previous record comes to full fruition here as well, with stinging guitar phrases providing funky counterpoint to the band's usual sonic melange (see the breakthrough axe stabs of "Crying"). TVotR still excel when they slow things down however, and both "Stork & Owl" and "Family Tree" seem like logical extensions of Young Liars standout "Blind".

The trepidatious lyrics are what separates Dear Science from the fold though. These are songs that collide head-on with war mongering, destitution and straight-up fear. Only with closing sex jam (seriously) "Lover's Day" does the band ever let up on the all encompassing dread that permeates the album's slick (at least for them) veneer. TVotR have always been a political band (see Desperate Youth's "Bomb Your Country"), but never have Adebimpe or Malone mined the depths of cultural and political upheaval as they do here. So Dear Science, despite it's musical clarity and clap-along structures, carries with it an undeniable air of solemnity. True, only those willing to sit down with the lyric sheet will be able to notice this future-shock anxiety, but as an added aspect to TVotR's already idiosyncratic sound, these words can cut through nearly anything Sitek throws into the maelstrom.

Once again, it's impossible to tell where TV on the Radio will go from here. This is band, like Radiohead before them, that seems unwilling to pander or veer middle of the road. In widening their sonic palette, they've opened up lyrical avenues that were heretofore ignored by only the most astute of listeners. Now, as they are set to be propped up on their biggest and most visible pedestal yet, they have released their bravest, boldest and most searing work to date.

Highlights: "Halfway Home", "Golden Age", "Family Tree", "Red Dress", "DLZ"

"Halfway Home"

"Golden Age"


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Notorious" Trailer

Kind of a slow news day today (although I do have a sorta big announcement about this blog which I'll save for next week), and I doubt we will be talking about this film come Oscar time next year, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a least interested in how Notorious B.I.G's life would translate to the screen. I can't say I'm disappointed at all with this early trailer either. Derek Luke was the perfect decision to play Diddy, while Jamal Wollard, well, let's just say he has his work cut out for him. He's got the look down though. There have been some good films about rappers in recent memory as well, so if Notorious is half as good as 8 Mile or Hustle & Flow, then I'll be satisfied.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scott Walker - 'Til the Band Comes In (Reissue) (***1/2)

I guess at this point you could say that every out-of-print album, lost masterpiece, or 70s hippie bedroom recording will be reissued, repackaged or re-released at some point, whether the marketplace (or audience) calls for it or not. You've got to admit though, some are more expected (and more welcome) than others. You knew eventually Pacific Ocean Blue would see release, but then there are those completely out-of -left-field reissues such as Scott Walker's long forgotten and unfairly maligned 1970 album 'Til the Band Comes In. After dissolving the Walker Brothers in the mid 60s, Scott took a stroll down the path of idiosyncratic baroque pop, emerging with a series of four increasingly strong and unique records (titled simply, Scott 1 - 4). Then, as the story goes, he fell off big time as the decade turned, pandering to mainstream audiences with a stretch of sappy MOR pap that fans of the man's recent dive into the avant-garde would much rather forget. What's missing in that limited trajectory though is 'Til the Band Comes In, a very strong assemblage of a record that carries with it a reputation not unlike it's 70s counterparts, yet for the sole inclusion of 5 questionable covers, you'd be hard pressed to find much sub-par material here. With the benefit of hindsight, it's not easy to see the 10 originals featured on 'Til the Band Comes In as some of Scott Walker's strongest solo work.

Perhaps in a knowing acknowledgment of the cover songs' sub-par nature, the record is sequenced with the 10 originals right up front, complete with a prologue and epilogue, just as you'd expected from a Scott Walker album from the period. So then, taking these original tracks as a stand-alone release, you'd have another nearly great Scott Walker album. These tracks may not feature the adventurousness that was on display on Scott 3 or 4, but there is still plenty of the beautiful, crooning lounge balladry and lushly orchestrated folk pop that fans had come to expect from Walker. "Little Things", "Thanks for Chicago Mr. James", "Cowbells Shakin", and the title track in particular, can all stand up against the best of Walker's first wave of solo material. Even the covers, which are far from essential, offer at the very least some interesting takes on some established classics. The main offender is pretty clearly "Reuben James", but outside of that, I wouldn't say anything here is particularly bad, just a little forgettable.

I certainly wouldn't recommend this over Scott 3 or 4, but it holds up nicely with 1 and 2 (both of which contain some slight covers of their own), and, most importantly it provides the last glimpse of first-phase solo Scott Walker. His jump into sickeningly obtuse post-punk and difficult avant-electronic from the 1980s on (all of which still stands as his best work), holds little in common with the jazz inflected martini music of 'Til the Band Comes In. Yet this is of little concern when a handful of some of the best tracks from one of America's most fascinating musical and artistic figures finally sees the light of day once again.

"Thanks for Chicago Mr. James"

Monday, September 22, 2008

Shugo Tokumaru - Exit (***1/2)

As the first widely available Shugo Tokumaru album, Exit will probably stand as most listeners first exposure to the Japanese multi-instrumentalist. With a background in full band collaboration with his band Gellers, Tokumaru's break into solo experimental pop music feels organic and pure, as if his restless mind just needs an outlet for his constantly spewing pop melodies. Comprising elements of classic twee, lightly strummed folk-pop and smooth electronica, Tokumaru fits in nicely with lo-fi pop compatriots by the likes of High Places, Arthur & Yu and Cornelius. Listening to Exit you get the feeling that Tokumaru's endless supply of twinkling instrumentation and shifty arrangements could threaten to collapse in on themselves, yet Tokumaru's gentle vocals, wrapped as they are in numerous moments of perfect pop melodies, often provide the sweetest accompaniment imaginable for these subtly complex arrangements. Breaking away the language barrier around every turn, Exit finds Shugo Tokumaru in fine form, turning this into one of the most enjoyable 40 minutes you'll have with a pop record all year.

Highlights: "Parachute", "Button", "Sanganichi", "Hidamari"

RIYL: Cornelius, Arthur & Yu




"Revolutionary Road" Trailer

I, unlike a lot of you out there, truly believe Sam Mendes hasn't made a misstep in his short career thus far. Granted, he has yet to scale the heights of American Beauty yet again (a lofty task for anyone to be expected to fulfill), but both Road to Perdition and Jarhead were well above average films in their own right. His newest film Revolutionary Road looks like a return to the suburban dread he so perfectly captured in American Beauty, except this time relocated to the spit-shine glow of 1950s Connecticut. It's also the reunion of Kate and Leo (swoon if you must), which alone will put butts in the seats. From the looks of this trailer though, this certainly isn't a Titanic-sized love story. In fact, it looks like the complete opposite. Leo is on fire here, while Winslet is primed for yet another Oscar nomination. This trailer will warrant the film a slight bump in my next Race for the Prize column, as this is now firmly on my most anticipated list. And correct me if I'm wrong, but is that Antony covering Bowie I hear? (thanks to Awardsdaily for the heads up)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Deerhunter - Microcastle (****1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(September 14 - 20, 2008)

A lot has changed in the year and half since Deerhunter's breakthrough sophomore album Cryptograms, not least of which is frontman Bradford Cox's exaltation to bonafide indie-rock icon. The thing about Deerhunter though, is that when they release an album, it's a full band album, and not just an outlet for Cox's outsize persona (you can see Atlas Sound for that). So it goes with their surprisingly direct third record, Microcastle, which places Deerhunter - as a complete unit - among the most elite, innovative and inspiring of modern bands.

Cox spoke in detail leading up to Microcastle's release that he wanted to work in a more concise and direct manner than the band's previous work (the album title itself hints as this new direction). The resulting record then is Deerhunter's most blatant "rock" album to date. To be sure, there are none of the 8 minute ambient-drone experiments that anchored the first half of Cryptograms, and none of the noisy pysch excursions that many unexpecting listeners couldn't stomach. So I guess you could call this Deerhunter's pop record, although outside of a couple of legitimately awesome anthems, Microcastle finds the band mining quieter, more pastoral waters.

After the short introductory fanfare of "Cover Me Slowly" comes the first full song, "Agoraphobia", and instead of Cox's high, trembling vocals, the first voice you hear on Microcastle is from guitarist Lockett Pundt, reinforcing Microcastle as a full band effort. Pundt's voice isn't too far removed from Cox's otherworldly falsetto to be honest, and while neither have a whole lot of range, their light, evocative vocals lend the fainter hues of Microcastle an air of beauty that Cryptograms touched upon on it’s 2nd side but never fully embraced. Cox returns on the following track (and first single) "Never Stops", and it’s a hugely melodic and anthemic rock song that easily ranks as Deerhunter's most accessible moment to date. It's an album highlight and one of the great indie-rock songs of the year so far.

Deerhunter have always been in the business of crafting complete albums to be listened to from start to finish however, and similarly, Microcastle ebbs and flows naturally, with the record's middle section dissolving into near nothingness. This is where Cox's desire to strip songs to there bare essentials comes to fullest fruition. Following the eerie "Little Kids" and the dynamic title track, comes a three song stretch of songs that average just over minute in length. "Calvary Scars", another of Cox's examinations of religion in adolescent society, begins this transition, segueing into the barely-there duo of "Green Jacket" and the muted piano keys of "Activa". Judging by recent live performances though, this concision was a conscious decision by the band, as these songs weren't always so short - each one in fact has been stretched to much greater lengths on various demos and radio sessions.

This is just the calm before the proverbial storm however, as the lulling quietude of record's first side gives way to a fuller, more fleshed out 2nd side, beginning with the epic "Nothing Ever Happened". Where Cryptograms saw Deerhunter mining 80s psych and noise rock by the likes of Spacemen 3 and Sonic Youth, Microcastle updates these sound with their 90s counterpoints, with songs such as "Nothing Ever Happened" sounding very close to Goo-era Sonic Youth, and in some cases even early Breeders. This is certainly new territory, and not just for the band, but for Kranky, who have never released anything quite so rock oriented into their predominantly drone-based catalog.

From there, Microcastle stretches it's legs even further, with "Save By Old Times" ranking as the record's most experimental moment, although a vocal collage by Cole Alexander of the Black Lips doesn't register so much as "out there" as slightly out of place. Cox's new found optimism really elevates the song though, and as he sings the titular refrain, it becomes clear that Deerhunter are a continually evolving beast, never content to rehash old ideas or play it safe, no matter how much more listenable Microcastle is as a whole.

And so, as it stands, I wouldn't even say Microscastle is a step toward accessibility so much as another unique facet of the band. The fact that these songs are more direct and approachable says nothing of the band's motives or increased visibility following Cryptograms. It could also be attributed to the loss of original guitarist Colin Mee (whose replacement, Whitney Petty, does not appear here), although more probably, Microcastle is just the next step in Deerhunter’s progression as one of modern underground music's most creatively restless bands. The impossibly gorgeous closing duo of "Neither of Us, Uncertainly" (again with the vocals by Pundt) and "Twilight At Carbon Lake" speak to their constantly rebuilding creative energy most directly, with the disorienting panning guitar effects of the former shielding a lovely melody, while the layered shoegaze climax of the latter ends the record with it's most triumphant and cacophonous swirl of noise.

Microcastle is a very different, yet nearly as rewarding a listen as the amorphous and slow-growing Cryptograms. It may even attract a new legion of fans that will cling to a few songs and disregard the band's more avant tendencies. Of course, this problem faces many a great band, yet there is no doubt that Deerhunter are more than equipped to persevere the attention, and Microcastle is just the third in what is looking to be a long and fervently respectable career for the band. The fact that it's also one of the great records of the year so far is almost beside the point. Deerhunter are a bastion of hope in these indie-infiltrated times, and as one of the few pure independents currently going, these guys (and now girl) are something to truly hang your hopes on.

Note: Microcastle is currently available via iTunes, with a physical release due in October. The physical release comes with a companion disc entitled Weird Era Cont., and Stereo Sanctity will review this disc when it becomes available.

Update: Read Stereo Sanctity's Review of Weird Era Cont. Here

Highlights: "Agoraphobia", "Never Stops", "Nothing Ever Happened", "Neither of Us, Uncertainly", "Twilight At Carbon Lake"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Synecdoche, New York" Trailer

Synecdoche, New York has been one of my most anticipated films of the year for months and months. Today we finally get the trailer though, and to the least, it does not disappoint. Yep, it's Charlie Kaufman alright - strange, dark and more than a little askew. I knew Phil Hoffman was the centerpiece of the film, but what I guess I never realized was that he has been surrounded with one of the strongest female casts in recent memory. But, as is always the case with Kaufman, his script seems to be the best shot at Oscar recognition for this film. Although, for a directorial debut this certainly looks well made. (Thanks to Incontention for the tip-off)

Yahoo has the trailer.

Update: Here's the Youtube trailer for those of you who are lazy:

Sun City Girls - You're Never Alone With A Cigarette (Singles Vol. 1) (****)

If there was ever a band ripe for reconsideration in the 21st century, it would have to be the sorely missed Sun City Girls. Their 25+ year career proved that every band - even one as prolific and unclassifiable as the SCG - has to, at some point, come to end. Sun City Girls came to an unexpected and premature end though, when in 2007, beloved drummer Charles Gocher died of cancer. Instead of push on unimpeded, remaining members Alan and Richard Bishop decided to retire the SCG banner and close the book on one of the cloudiest yet most rewarding bodies of work independent music has ever seen. Sadly, almost all of the prime late 80s/early 90s SCG work remains hopelessly out-of-print, and in many cases has never seen CD release at all. That's where You're Never Alone With A Cigarette comes in. Collecting a smattering of super rare 7" singles from the same sessions that birthed their cult classic LP Torch of the Mystics (currently going for $90 a pop on Amazon), You're Never Alone argues for SCG as one of the most innovative and unjustly overlooked bands of the last 30 years.

The band's music - a grotesque, ad-hoc mixture of east Asian drones, raga, noisy psych-rock and dense folk reconstructions - is startlingly original to this very day. As a result, You're Never Alone, even at only 9 songs, covers of an amazing amount of ground. And this being the SCG, songs range anywhere from 45 seconds to 12 minutes in length. Three tracks here are completely unreleased though (not that many people outside of complete die hards have heard any of these songs anyway), so even though this is only an appetite-wetting sample of the power the Sun City Girls can wield, that Vol. 1 up there in the title at least holds out reason for hope. In a perfect world, this would be only the beginning of the SCG vault clearing, and since they are no longer on ongoing concern (at least not under this name - Alan & Richard Bishop both have formidable solo careers underway), many more labels would do right to shine a light on this under documented institution.

Myspace - Sun City Girls

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Race for the Prize: Festival Fallout - 9/16/08

This year, perhaps more than any in recent memory, has taught us not to prognosticate these Oscar proceedings too early, and certainly not before the big September festivals. With a lack of hyped studio pictures, this year both TIFF and Venice left a number of independent contenders in their respective wakes, with a few bonafide locks thrown in for good measure. A number of still unseen films have unleashed their trailers since the last RftP column as well, which we will use as guides for potential movers and shakers. I will break down individual categories, seeing as how we are now knee deep in the season. (Contenders ranked in order of likelihood of nomination)

-Best Picture-

Roaring out of the festival circuit was Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, provoking seriously strong reactions and universal praise. Outside of The Wrestler, it has made the biggest waves over the last couple of weeks. Will it's lack of big names hurt it's chances? Maybe, but if it pulls the heart strings as strongly as some say, it will be hard for the Academy to resist. The Soloist trailer dropped last week, and while I was slightly underwhelmed, it looks just sappy and middle-of-the-road enough to retain it's front runner status. And I'm not fully buying into the knee jerk reactions to the 20 minutes of Benjamin Button that was previewed a couple weeks back. It moves down slightly, but I still expect great things. Beyond that, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino remains the big question mark of the season. This could turn out to be a Million Dollar Baby surprise or a total anomaly. Time will tell. For now though, it's Clint, so it has very good shot (to say nothing of Changeling).

Predicted Nominees:
The Soloist
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire (NEW)

Five on the Fringe:
Revolutionary Road
Gran Torino (NEW)
The Wrestler (NEW)

Dropped Out:
The Dark Knight
The Road

-Best Director-

Danny Boyle and Darren Arofnosky were obviously the two biggest beneficiaries of this year's TIFF, while the top three spots seem more secure by the day. Revolutionary Road could go either way for any number of it's hopefuls, so I remain slightly skeptical of it's chances. And then there's Clint.

Predicted Nominees:
Gus Van Sant - Milk

Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Joe Wright - The Soloist
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire (NEW)

Five on the Fringe:
Darren Arofnosky - The Wrestler (NEW)
Baz Luhrmann - Australia
Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight
Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino (or Changeling)
Sam Mendes - Revolutionary Road

Dropped Out:
Edward Zwick - Defiance
John Hillcoat - The Road

-Best Actor-

The talk of TIFF this year was undoubtedly the comeback performance of one Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. He catapults to the top of the pile of potential nominees, while in a category switch-up, Robert Downey Jr. has now taken his co-star Jame Foxx's spot in the lead acting race. And I hold fast in my belief that if enough people see Che, then Benicio will make it in.

Predicted Nominees:
Micky Rourke - The Wrestler (NEW)
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Robert Downey Jr. - The Soloist (NEW)
Benicio Del Toro - Che (NEW)

Five on the Fringe:
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino
Viggo Mortensen - The Road
Leonardo DiCaprio - Revolutionary Road
Michael Sheen - Frost/Nixon

Dropped Out:
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Daniel Craig - Defiance
Jamie Foxx - The Soloist

-Best Actress-

Kristin Scott Thomas was met with raves for her work in I've Loved You So Long (filling what many are calling the Marion Cottilard slot), while Anne Hathaway was (to a lesser extent) met with much admiration. They both push forward. Jolie stands firm at the top, and judging by the trailer, she could be the one to beat. Streep seems virtually locked as well after that great Doubt trailer hit the net last week.

Predicted Nominees:
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kristin Scott Thomas - I've Loved You So Long
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky

Five on the Fringe:
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Nicole Kidman - Australia
Kate Beckinsale - Nothing But the Truth
Michelle Williams - Wendy and Lucy (NEW)

Dropped Out:
Cate Blanchett - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

-Best Supporting Actor-

With Jamie Foxx jumping categories to supporting, it seems as if he may be looking a Collateral-type situation with a big supporting role in The Soloist. Phil Hoffman has made a leap into the fray as well with the release of the Doubt trailer. And on a personal level, I can't wait to see what Christian McKay does as a young Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles.

Predicted Nominees:
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Jamie Foxx - The Soloist
Kodi-Smit McPhee - The Road
Phillip Seymor Hoffman - Doubt (NEW)
James Franco - Milk (NEW)

Five on the Fringe:
Michael Shannon - Relotionary Road
Christian McKay - Me and Orson Welles (NEW)
Russell Crowe - Body of Lies
Eddie Marsden - Happy-Go-Lucky
Liev Shreiber - Defiance

Dropped Out:
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Alan Alda - Nothing But the Truth
Robert Downey Jr. - The Soloist

-Best Supporting Actress-

Mickey Rourke wasn't the only performance in The Wrestler to make waves. Marissa Tomei has earn the biggest round of applause of her career for her supporting role as well. Perhaps she will land a nod after being criminally snubbed last year. Penelope Cruz remains the one to beat however.

Predicted Nominees:
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Marissa Tomei - The Wrestler (NEW)
Tarji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Viola Davis - Doubt
Rosemarie DeWitt - Rachel Getting Married (NEW)

Five on the Fringe:
Catherine Keener - The Soloist
Vera Farmiga - Nothing but the Truth
Elizabeth Banks - W
Esla Zylberstein - I've Loved You So Long (NEW)
Kathy Bates - Revolutionary Road

Dropped Out:
Amy Adams - Doubt
Rachel Weisz - The Brothers Bloom

-Best Original Screenplay-

Some movement here, but these 10 names seem pretty strong at the moment. Close your eyes and pick 5.

Predicted Nominees:

The Soloist
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Rachel Getting Married

Five on the Fringe:
I've Loved You So Long (NEW)
Synecdoche, New York

The Visitor
Gran Torino (NEW)

Dropped Out:
Nothing but the Truth

-Best Adapted Screenplay-

Again, Slumdog Millionaire gains ground, while The Reader sits as one of the biggest dark horses of the season in many categories. For now though, I'll give it some love here.

Predicted Nominees:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire (NEW)
The Road

Five on the Fringe:
Revolutionary Road
The Dark Knight
The Reader (NEW)
Body of Lies (NEW)

Dropped Out:
Miracle at St. Anna

-Best Animated Film-

These three should stay the same from here on out.

Predicted Nominees:

Kung-Fu Panda
Waltz With Bashir

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Doubt" Trailer

This Doubt trailer hit a few days ago, but I thought I would weigh in regardless. First off, I think this film looks outstanding - right up my particular alley. It's origins as a play place in squarely in the Closer vein however, and I don't see many nominations coming outside of the acting categories in it's future. Streep looks fantastic (as always), and I have no problem predicting her sight unseen for her, what, 14 (!?) nomination. Phil Hoffman hasn't garnered any heat yet, but this trailer peaks my interest that he could hold at least dark horse status in what is turning into a very strong year for lead acting. Amy Adams seems perfectly cast here as the innocent nun as well, although Streep still feels like the surest thing to me. Perhaps the screenplay could pick up some momentum as reviews begin to role in as well, although this film may split critical opinions. Looks great from this end though.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Flying Lotus - Los Angeles (***1/2)

Flying Lotus' debut album, 1983, had a hard time separating itself from the crowd. It's limpid use of hip hop beats and smeared samples bore comparisons to everyone from MF Doom to Boards of Canada. His approach hasn't change much on the surprising Los Angeles, but everything here is just flat out better. Pavement cracking beats, labyrinth sequencer patterns, blaring melodies, strong guest spots, it's everything that 1983 hinted at but failed to deliver outside of a few choice moments. His slight move away from hip hop and into full bore IDM has helped matters considerably as well. There are moments on Los Angeles that Boards of Canada wish they had thought of first. Speaking of BoC, Geogaddi is a nice touchstone for Los Angeles, except the fact that this is way heavier and at times even darker and more sinister.

At 17 songs and just over 40 minutes, Los Angeles is a tighter listen than 1983. Most songs clock in at about the 2-3 minute mark. They hit quick and hard, they leave you reeling and wondering what hit you. You'll stick around for the melodies though, and nearly each of these songs has a memorable one. The deftly integrated samples never overpower the songs, each lending just the right amount of contrast to the producer's frightening beat constructions and liberal use of static noise. The guest vocal spots are sequenced at the end of the record, with Dolly, Gonja Sufi and Laura Darlington all lending great, unobtrusive (but memorable) vocals. If you're not down with instrumental hip-hop or left-field IDM, than you need not apply. If you can stomach what Lotus is serving up throughout Los Angeles though, you're in store for one of the very best records of it's kind.

Highlights: "Beginners Falafel", "Golden Diva" GNG BNG", "Riot", "Parisian Goldfish"

RIYL: MF Doom, Anticon., Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin



"Parisian Goldfish"

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Top 10 Best Picture Winners Since 1980

Sasha over at Awardsdaily has started a thread on the elite Best Picture Winners since 1980. Can't say agree with all her choices, or the way she went about choosing them. My list will be put together slightly different. These are my favorite Best Picture winners since 1980. I could care less about cultural significance or how "important" each was, although I'd argue that my #1 pick is one of the bravest and most significant picks in the Academy's history. Feel free to weigh in yourself. Here we go then:

10. Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg; 1993)
9. Amadeus (Milos Forman; 1984)
8. Rain Man (Barry Levison; 1988)
7. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood; 1992)
6. The Departed (Martin Scorsese; 2006)
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson; 2003)
4. Platoon (Oliver Stone; 1986)
3. No Country for Old Men (Joel Coen; 2007)
2. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme; 1991)
1. American Beauty (Sam Mendes; 1999)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Changeling" Trailer

Enter Clint. Enter Oscar.

Okkervil River - The Stand Ins (***)

From the very beginning, Okkervil River's music has revolved around concepts; lyrical, artistic, thematic, everything the Will Sheff-led indie rock collective has recorded thus far has had a unifying theme and purpose. These themes have been spread across not just whole albums, but have also spilled over into follow-up records. Their third (and best) record, 2005s epic Black Sheep Boy, took the Tim Hardin song of the same name and spread it's loose themes across an entire LP. Later that year the band issued an fantastic appendix EP which expanded on the stories and characters established on the full length. This is all a long way of saying that more often than not, Sheff has too many ideas boiling over in his head to contain to any one record. Last year saw the release of the band's breakthrough record, The Stage Names, which was originally conceived as a double album, and in similar fashion to the Black Sheep Boy Appendix EP, we now have The Stand Ins, which shifts the narrative focus from the celebrity stage to a seedy rock club. Everything from the album titles to the connecting artwork to the overlapping thematic concerns will intrinsically link this album with it's predecessor.

So if The Stage Names was great, then The Stand Ins should be equally great as well, right? Well...not exactly. To be sure, there are a number of great individual songs on this record, most sequenced towards the front of the album (the first quarter of the record in particular is quite brilliant), but no matter how hard the band wants this record to stand on it's own, it's impossible not to compare and contrast it with it's parent album. Sheff has never been one to write huge choruses, and outside of "Pop Lies" there probably isn't a song here that has the potential to attract new or previously unimpressed listeners (see the irony there?), so I certainly wouldn't recommend it for the uninitiated (start with an original full length). And at 11 songs, three of which are sub-one minute transitional pieces, The Stand Ins can ultimately register as a little slight.

There is, however, a great EP contained within The Stand Ins. "Lost Coastlines" and "Singer Songwriter" in particular can easily equal the best moments from The Stage Names, while "Blue Tulip" pulls the heart strings harder than anything Sheff has written since the Black Sheep Boy days. But with songs such as "On Tour With Zykos" and the closing "Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed On the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979" bogging down the final half of the record, it makes you wonder why this wasn't trimmed down into a manageable EP. I certainly wouldn't want too be to hard on The Stand Ins though. Make no mistake, Sheff's songwriting is in top form throughout, with some of his most insightful, poignant and thoughtful lyrics yet scattered across this record. And even if some of these songs are nothing more than gussied up B-sides, Okkervil River B-sides are still more worthwhile than most band's singles. Beyond some slight misgivings though, The Stand Ins still ranks as another essential piece in this band's continuing saga of self reflection and pop culture misgivings.

"On Tour With Zykos"

Myspace - Okkervil River

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"The Soloist" Trailer

Finally we have the official trailer for Joe Wright's Oscar baiting The Soloist. Reports say Robert Downey Jr. could go lead with this role, but if Jamie Foxx goes lead as well (as has been expected), things could get ugly. It's time to pick sides.

David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(September 7 - 13, 2008)

It's not really surprising that former Talking Heads leader David Byrne would again collaborate with ambient-electro legend Brian Eno. After all, their first record together, 1981s My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, is a stone-cold classic, a pioneering work of art that really has yet to be matched for sheer sonic ingenuity and forward-looking experimentation. What is surprising though is that it would take 27 years (!) for a follow-up, especially in light of Byrne and Eno's continued relevance as solo artists and producers even into the new millennium. What's even more odd is that the resulting record, entitled Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, is nothing at all like it's predecessor, not in tone, ambition or sound. Whereas My Life can lay claim as the first sample-based electronic record of it's kind, Everything That Happens is much more modest in intention. There's nothing inherently wrong with that mind you, and over time Everything That Happens should reveal itself as a perfectly modern record from two of the most special musicians this world has ever seen.

Around the time of Talking Heads' 1980 watershed Remain In Light, Brian Eno could feasibly be considered the 5th member of the band, as both he and Byrne had collaborated on nearly all facets of the band's music beginning as far back as 1979s classic Fear of Music. I have a feeling that many of those put off by those resulting records, which forayed deep into African poly-rhythms and indigenous music, will find quite a bit to latch onto here, as Byrne's distinctive vibrato is mixed front and center over Eno's slyly shifting soundscapes, which incorporate loads of more typical "rock" instruments, while still finding room for downtempo beats and left-field compositional touches. It really is like the best of both worlds, a strong melding of the minds that both More Songs About Buildings and Food devotees and Before and After Science fans can enjoy equally.

What stands out first on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is just how huge the hooks are on nearly every song. Choruses explode from loose verses, only to recede slowly and relaunch into equally catchy bridges. Highlights are scattered throughout: Opening cut "Home" epitomizes the record as a whole with it's sing-a-long chorus and towering structure (many of these tracks easily pass the 5 minute mark) , while the nearly Beck-like "I Feel My Stuff" features one of Byrne's best vocal performances to date. In fact, Byrne's voice is a revelation throughout, as he displays a range that will have long time Talking Heads fans head's turning. There's even room from some moody Eno soundscapes, as Wanted for Life" and "Poor Boy" both ably demonstrate, reiterating that the teacher does in fact still have some surprising tricks up his sleeve. There isn't a glaring error in judgment anywhere on this record in fact. It's is a remarkably consistent listen, patched together (literally, as Byrne wrote and sang his lyrics over Eno's separately recorded compositions) by two guys who haven't exactly been churning out classics in the last decade plus. Nobody asked for a second full length collaboration between these two living legends, but I'll be damned if this record hasn't consistently impressed me with each successive listen. Groundbreaking or not, what more could you asked for?

Note: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is available exclusively though everythingthathappens.com


"Strange Overtones"

"Life is Long"

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Clientele - That Night, a Forest Grew EP (***1/2)

The slow, strikingly consistent career trajectory of the Clientele away from the gauzy haze of their late 90s material and into the bright, clear (yet still plenty reverb-y) skies of the late 00s has been one of the more rewarding musical journeys any listener could hope to make in this day and age. Their tiptoeing in this direction was premeditated and deliberate, helping to keep the classic Clientele sound intact while audibly growing in both songwriting and musicianship. I'd argue that in the process they've lost some of the blurry-eyed charm of the early work (Suburban Light is still untouchable), yet they've more than made up for it with some of the best pure pop songs of the past few years. They're 2007 album, God Save The Clientele, was their most widely heard record yet, as it saw the band adopt a new found rhythmic restlessness, leading to the wonderfully dance-y single "Bookshop Casanova". Their equally wonderful new 4 song EP, That Night, a Forest Grew, continues down this road of immediacy, as it features a couple of the most accessible and upbeat tracks the band has ever recorded.

The lyrical subjects that long time fans cherished have made a nice return here as well, with singer Alasdair MacLean ruminating on such tried -and-true subjects as weather, nature and the numbing effects of lost love. Lead track "Retiro Park" keeps things close to home as the titular London setting helps set the mood - hopeful but with a menacing hint of dread - for the ensuing songs. "Share the Night" follows, and I can say rather confidently that this is the most accessible Clientele song to date, with it's Josef K-esque stutter-step rhythm and honest-to-god guitar solo. "George Says He Has Lost His Way In This World" is, as the title would suggest, classic Clientele. In fact, it would have fit nicely on 2005s Strange Geometry. The show closing title track hearkens back even further, with bassist James Hornsey's soft, spoken-word vocals draped beautifully over top a bed of creeping instrumentation. There really is nothing to complain about here. New fans will find plenty to latch onto, while die-hards will be satiated by the band's commitment to what brought them to the dance. Once again, the Clientele have managed to impress.

Note: That Night, a Forest Grew is currently available exclusively through Emusic

RIYL: Luna, Beach House, The Field Mice

"Share the Night"

"George Says He Has Lost His Way In This World"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Brian Wilson - That Lucky Old Sun (***1/2)

"At 25 I turned out the light cause I couldn't handle the glare in my tired eyes, but now I'm back, drawing shades of kind blue sky"

That poignant lyric from "Going Home", the fantastic penultimate track from That Lucky Old Sun, Brian Wilson's first album of all new material in over a decade, can succinctly sum up the entire rise, fall and subsequent rise again of the former Beach Boy leader. Emerging from the abyss to finally record his long lost masterpiece SMiLE in 2004, Brian reestablished himself as one of the true geniuses of modern pop, and although nothing could compare to the original bits and pieces of SMiLE that were scattered across various 70s-era Beach Boys records, the album revealed a man with an ambition and sensibility that was still welcome to fans almost 40 years after what is generally thought of as his prime. In regards to solo Brian Wilson though, the stakes have always been low for anything outside of SMiLE material, yet here sits That Lucky Old Sun, one of the year's most unexpected and gratifying musical gifts.

As has always been the case, Brian has crafted an album with That Lucky Old Sun, with 13 pieces stitched together with short spoken word narratives concerning the album's premise as a long forgotten vision of Southern California where the sun is always shining, love comes easy, and the beach is just a short walk away. These narratives wouldn't work on their own, as some are rather cheesy, but here within the framework of the record, they work as the glue and the guiding force to propel the album forward. And as much as I enjoyed SMiLE, it was mostly just nostalgia tugging at the heart strings, whereas with That Lucky Old Sun, there are numerous tracks that have already established themselves in the here and now as great Brian Wilson compositions. "Morning Beat", "Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl", "Midnight's Another Day" and "Going Home" are songs that easily equal to the work Brian was doing circa Surf's Up, and even the lesser tracks ("Mexican Girl", "Oxygen to the Brain") hold enough charm to endear this as probably the best official work any member of the Beach Boys has done away from the group.

Musically, That Lucky Old Sun is cut from the same cloth as SMiLE, with ornate pop arrangements buoying Brian's rough but still often times gorgeous vocals. Van Dyke Parks makes a return here yet again, although he is relegated to the narrative pieces in favor of Scott Bennett, who co-wrote nearly every full song with Brian. As a result, That Lucky Old Sun isn't quite the lyrical labyrinth of the Wilson/Parks SMiLE collaborations, yet the album's free flowing vibe wouldn't have meshed well with Parks' dense wordplay. I'd hate to credit That Lucky Old Sun's success with diminished expectations, yet I feel this record will live on in fan's minds as late career triumph from a man who many felt had written his last great song in 1971 with "'Til I Die". However, if Brian can continue to produce at this level then there will be no reason to cautiously await future endeavors.

Highlights: "Morning Beat", "Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl", "Midnight's Another Day", "Going Home"

"Morning Beat"

"Going Home"

"Midnight's Another Day"

Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" Wins The Golden Lion

It is being reported by Awards Daily (via Reuters) that The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to his highly divisive future-shock masterpiece The Fountain, has taken top honors at this year's Venice film festival. The Wrestler has been simmering under the radar for weeks now, but with this unexpected win it has officially established itself in the year's Oscar race. Mickey Rourke, in what is said to be the comeback performance of a lifetime, seems like the film's best shot at major Oscar recognition, but don't be suprised if this likely critics darling makes a push in the screenplay and director categories.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue (Legecy Edition) (***1/2)

Outside of Brian Wilson's SMiLE, no solo artifact from any of the Beach Boys was sought after as much as middle brother Dennis' first and only venture into solodom, Pacific Ocean Blue. When a record languishes in obscurity for as long as Pacific Ocean Blue has - it was released briefly on CD in 1991, only fall back into the hands of collector scum shortly thereafter - one tends to over inflate said album's status. I'm not going to sit here and exalt POB as some sort of lost masterpiece. It certainly was lost, and it certainly is good, but in all seriousness it can't hold a candle to prime Beach Boys or even Brian's belated SMiLE resurrection from 2005. What it is then is a solid singer-songwriter record from an unfairly overlooked member of one of the greatest bands in the history of pop music. And for that reason alone, it deserves to be heard.

Not surprisingly, Pacific Ocean Blue holds little in common with Brian Wilson's "teenage symphonies to God", as it instead sees Dennis embracing a litany of genres rarely touched upon by the Beach Boys, those being mainly blues and soul, and nicely setting itself apart from his more well known band's pop nuggets. While Dennis was mostly relegated to touring drummer for the Beach Boys (Hal Blaine work the skins in the studio for the most part), POB features Dennis mainly on keys, with the occasional percussion duty if and where he saw fit. Opener "River Song" nicely encapsulates Dennis' approach to songwriting with it's bluesy strut and gruff vocals - years of heavy drinking and substance abuse took a greater toll on Dennis' vocals than just about any other Beach Boy - while the numerous ballads ("Thoughts of You", "Farewell My Friend") strike a heartfelt and soulful chord for a man more associated with surfing safaris and hot cars than introspection.

A second disc amended to this Legacy Edition rounds up a load of tracks from Dennis' actually lost Bambu project, which he never had a chance to finish. Dubbed "The Caribou Sessions", these tracks glimpse a different, and in some ways more rewarding, direction Dennis looked to be taking with his music. Finishing off Disc 2 is an instrumental track entitled "Holy Man", in which Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins provides newly recorded vocals. This could be construed as blasphemy amongst the diehards, yet Hawkins' voice is pretty spot on for this recording and seeing as how the original instrumental is included on Disc 1 as a bonus track, it registers more as a respectful gesture than embarrassing revision. For being over 30 years old, Pacific Ocean Blue still stands up quite well on it's own, and hopefully this reissue can shed some much needed light on one of the unsung heroes of the Beach Boys. As long as you temper what for some have surely become outlandish expectations, then Pacific Ocean Blue should yield a number of great rewards.

"School Girl" (from the Bambu sessions)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"Milk" Trailer

Milk, Gus Vant Sant's first full-fledged Oscar bid since Good Will Hunting over a decade ago, finally has a trailer, and....wow! Just knowing who Harvey Milk was (this one, not this one) and the vivid life he led nearly guarantees the great Sean Penn will return to the Oscar fold again this year, 5 years after winning his first and only (sigh) Oscar for Mystic River. He'll have some stiff competition this year from Frank Langella, Benicio Del Toro and Brad Pitt, among others, but don't be surprised if before long we are referring to him as the front runner. Josh Brolin is said to be quite spectacular here as well, and this, following his high profile but sure to be heavily critiqued role in W, seems likely to push him deep into supporting category. (via Awards Daily)

Truckasauras - Tea Parties, Guns & Valor (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(August 31 - September 6, 2008)

In the field of electronic music, the re-contextualizing of old gear for new purposes is nothing new - in some cases it is expected, while some artists have actually made an entire career out of it. With that being said, it's been good long while since I've heard vintage gear shot-through with such a modern touch (and without drawing any attention to itself) as it does in the hands of Seattle's Truckasauras. Their early demos and basement shows made everyone from electro-pop fetishists to techno freaks to dancehall enthusiasts stand up and take note: no matter how goofy the name, how stupid the song titles, how ridonkuolous the videos (and now that album cover, yikes), Truckasauras are up to something very serious. With their debut album, Tea Parties, Guns & Valor, they've welded a mighty confluence of all the above genres (plus a few more for good measure) and come away sounding unlike pretty much anyone else out there.

Live and on record, Truckasauras stack a folding table's worth of vintage TR-808s, Commodore 64s, jerry-rigged effects pedals, tweaked-out gameboys and duct-taped megaphones into a small space, blaring their mini-anthems with a welcome sense of disregard. What belies this offhand nature is the band's attention to detail, which stashes amongst it's tech-head beeps and bloops a number of perfectly played samples, countless ear worm melodies, and most importantly, an overarching sense of real emotion. Now don't get me wrong, this isn't Music Has The Right to Children or anything, but when was the last time some Nintendocore band could make your heart swoon?

So if I had to compare Truckasauras to anyone, it would probably be Wham City! maestro Dan Deacon, who's own 8-bit electro squiggles can just as easily incite spontaneous dancing, despite the fact that many of the elements on display are not easily digestible on their own. Yet not even Deacon plays with a sense of melancholy like Truckasaurus do. Tea Parties, Guns & Valor is the rare album that can work equally well on the dancefloor as it can on headphones (I'd argue that it is even more impressive in quiet solitude), but no matter it's classification, this is one of the season's most special records.

Highlights: "Fak!!!", "Angels Sound Like Bottle Rockets", "Super Copter", "Porkwich"

RIYL: Dan Deacon, Dan Friel's Ghost Town

Video: "Fak!!!"

"Super Copter"

"Angels Sound Like Bottle Rockets"

Monday, September 1, 2008

Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (***1/2)

For an album so quiet, methodical, and downright spooky, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill sure has a lot of sound in it's mix. The first ten seconds of the record represent probably the only period of complete silence on the album, belying the fact that this is one of the quietest records of the entire year. Of course, it's nothing compared to Liz Harris' (who is the sole member of Grouper) previous two records. This was music that was haunted with high levels of ambient noise and fuzz box drone, barely containable melodies buried under layers of static hum. So Dragging a Dead Deer marks an abrupt change of pace for Harris, as this record sees her all but abandoning the wall-of-noise to reveal the beautiful skeletons that were always lurking beneath her compositions. An acoustic guitar, field recordings, and a healthy dose of ambiance is all Harris needs to transport you into her self contained world.

This is music steeped in the droning 4AD tradition (check that amazingly evocative album cover - how 4AD is that?), where bands such as the Cocteau Twins doused their pop songs in dollops of drifting, droning noise. Harris' voice cuts through the mix crisply here though, unencumbered by any extraneous elements. This is a very consistent, if a little homogeneous, listen over the course of it's 12 songs and 50 minutes, but standing out amongst the shadows is "Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping", the most entrancing Grouper song to date, and easily the most wistfully melodic and downright beautiful thing Harris has ever laid to tape. It's one of those songs which warrants the album an entire purchase on it's own, yet make no mistake, this is an album first and foremost, and one of the most haunting and enveloping of all of 2008.

Highlights: "Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping", "Disengaged", "Fishing Bird (Empty Gutted In the Evening Breeze)", "We've All Gone To Sleep"

RIYL: Valet, This Mortal Coil, 4AD, Espers

"Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping"


"Fishing Bird (Empty Gutted In the Evening Breeze)"