Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Music Review: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks

"Ted Leo represents a convenient case study in what a punk-rock lifer must contend with as he moves from excitable young upstart to well respected (and still pretty darn excitable) journeyman. When Leo and his unstable band of Pharmacists landed on the now-defunct Touch & Go label a few years back, it seemed like his career had reached a plateau of sorts—or at least arrived at a crossroads, where Leo could continue to traffic in high wire guitar-pop without the pressure to produce any kind of grand artistic statement.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Music Review: Liars - Sisterworld

"For the past decade plus, Liars have spoiled us. It’s an embarrassment of riches: four wholly unique and unpredictable art-rock records, each one drastically and organically different from the last. This was enough to for me to proclaim, with complete conviction, that Liars are the best band working today. More importantly, their restless experimentation proved that at least some high profile indie bands cared more about progression and growth than their bottom line. ESG-referencing dance-punk, art-damaged noise, industrial post-punk, Detroit scuzz-rock—nothing seems off limits for this restless trio. And now, Sisterworld, the band’s fifth LP, arrives with expectations understandably geared toward the same kind of unexpected progression. But, wouldn’t you know it, it’s the band’s least surprising record thus far. In any other hands this could have been a problem—when your calling card is left-field changes in sound, anything less than total reinvention prompts debate over your artistic stagnation—but Liars have managed to refine the more ambiguous aspects of their thematic-based storytelling without upending the traits which are most associated with them as a group.

Podcast: End of Radio #20 - 'Through Hollow Lands'

"Returning after a brief hiatus, your End of Radio co-hosts Jordan Cronk and Jon Staph tap into the mellow side of their personalities, playing a selection of songs ranging from Laurel Canyon folk to mid-90s slowcore."

Music Review: Pantha du Prince - Black Noise

"The title Black Noise would seem to insinuate quite a bit about a minimal techno album. For example, one might expect something rather harsh, perhaps even a little grating, or maybe just something sonically overwhelming. If you stop and think about the actual implications of such a term, however, you’ll probably come to recognize just the opposite. If, in essence, white noise disorients through sheer volume and irreverent tonality, then black noise must by definition carry similarly dense sonic characteristics, only applied with much gentler, more humane strokes. As you can probably ascertain, realizing such a distinctive sound could prove rather difficult. Enter German producer Henrik Weber, aka Pantha du Prince, and his enveloping deployment of digital & analogue harmonics. After a three year absence in the wake of 2007's excellent This Bliss, Black Noise arrives on Rough Trade at a time when electronic music and its variants are sitting at perhaps their most visible perch in over a decade. Therefore, if anyone outside of maybe Burial was poised to make a record with such a vividly outlined aesthetic conceit, it would have to be Weber, who has spent the better part of the last half decade reimagining the range and scope of the typically stringent contours of minimal techno.

Music Review: Excepter - Presidence

"I’m not gonna lie, I had kind of given up on Excepter. There was a time just after the release of 2004's classic KA—and up until 2005's underrated Throne—that I considered the Brooklyn-based free-improv collective one of America’s greatest experimental noise units. According to their website, their goal has always been to “use the tools of dance music to esoteric ends,” yet their early work—while still pulsating with undercurrents of densely modulated low-end—was about as far away from sweat-drenched modern dance floors as one could possibly imagine. Subsequent records such as Self Destruction and Alternation consciously looked to incorporate more linear narratives, but were far less interesting as a result. In fact, at the time, their more fascinating music was being released via podcast on their website, though anyone with the stamina for what is now up to 67 unedited improvisations is more dedicated than I. Most listeners, then, were probably satiated with the 2007, 2-disc Streams compilation, though focus was understandably not a priority on such a fans-only release. Debt Dept. followed in 2008, and while their press page would have you believe that the album “seemed to predict the global economic collapse that followed its release”, there wasn’t actually much to be found in the album’s abbreviated electro grooves. They had moved so far from their origins—while still somehow sounding exactly as you’d expect more composed, dance-oriented Excepter product to sound—that when their live soundtrack/DVD package Black Beach arrived last year, I didn’t even bother to listen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Updated Best-of Lists

UPDATE 03.22.10: Both of my Yearbook pages have gone live over at InRO today, so if you prefer, you can check out these same lists in slightly spiffier formatting over there. Of course, the most up to date lists will always be available here at Stereo Sanctity, but the InRO pages should stay relatively accurate as I don't envision a whole lot of editing going on in regards to these lists. So go ahead and peruse my music Yearbook here, and my film Yearbook here.

EARLIER 2.21.10: If this whole end-of-the-decade critical process has taught me anything, it's that I don't much care for lengthy best-of lists. My own personal top 100s, while all in good fun, are in such a state of constant flux that anything after about a dozen or so selections and things start to get very ambiguous. So in lieu of attempting to continually re-structure a list of that breadth, I've went ahead and done anyway with all of my triple digit lists and instead focused on chiseling my individual year-end lists down to the essentials.

We already do this over at InRO with our Yearbook pages-- and Sam is of a similar mindset in this regard-- so since I am already familiar with that format, that's how I will list them here on the blog as well. It's not very complicated: top 15s for each individual year in alphabetical order (with the #1 for each year designated in red), plus a decade top 15, all updated as I continually discover and reevaluate new albums and films.

Like I've said before, I am only one man, but I am constantly scouring the archives for interesting films and albums which could eventually effect these lists. In the end, this is just an easy and honest way for me to keep track of things like this, and for those of you who are interested in such things to have up to the minute recommendations. I've listed the individual Yearbook pages below-- which will also be posted over at InRO in the coming weeks-- as well as broken them out in the sidebar for easy access. Hopefully this format will make it easier and less stressful for me, as well as lending me additional space to highlight some great pieces of art that inevitably slip between the cracks. Happy hunting.

Film Yearbook
2000 - 2009
200020012002 20032004
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009

Music Yearbook
2000 – 2009

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sad and Beautiful World...

When word came down late Saturday night that Mark Linkous had taken his own life, it hit me rather hard-- much harder than expected. Even with so many unexpected deaths as of late-- Jay Reatard, Jack Rose, Vic Chestnutt, etc.-- this news in particular rattled me as a fan. Fairly or unfairly, something about the troubled artist will always remain a romantic notion for most, but there's no denying that Linkous and Sparklehorse still had music and art to contribute to this world. Jon and I are already brainstorming a Sparklehorse podcast for the coming weeks, during which I will elaborate a bit more on my feelings about Linkous and his fragile persona. Below, however, is a video that really cuts to heart of Linkous' long-documented inner turmoil. Sad and beautiful indeed. Also, unforgettable. RIP.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

82nd Annual Academy Award Winners

It became fairly obvious early on that The Hurt Locker would be the night's big winner, and so month's of speculation and trepidation satisfyingly gave way to a result that should have been written in stone weeks ago. Anyway, I missed 6 categories in all, including all 3 of the shorts. So, depending on how you count, I either went 18/24 or 18/21. Not too shabby, and all in all one of the better years I've had recently. In the end, however, the only category that truly surprised was Geoffrey Fletcher taking Best Adapted Screenplay from Up in the Air. Frankly, I'm rather surprised that Gabby Sibide couldn't parlay that win into a Best Actress statue for herself. Makes you wonder how close she really was, what with the Editing nod and all. Anyway, things could have been much worse, and overall I am pretty content with how things unfolded. Now let's put it to rest and start handicapping next years winners.

(Winners via AwardsDaily; pic via Variety)
* Best Picture: “The Hurt Locker”
* Best Director: “The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow
* Best Actor: Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
* Best Actress: Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
* Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
* Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique in “Precious”
* Best Original Screenplay: “The Hurt Locker”
* Best Adapted Screenplay: “Precious”
* Best Foreign Language Film: “The Secret in Their Eyes"
* Best Animated Film: “Up”
* Best Documentary: “The Cove”
* Best Cinematography: “Avatar”
* Best Art Direction: "Avatar”
* Best Costumes: “The Young Victoria”
* Best Editing: “The Hurt Locker”
* Best Score: “Up”
* Best Song: “The Weary Kind”(Crazy Heart)
* Best Makeup: “Star Trek”
* Best Visual Effects: “Avatar”
* Best Sound Editing: “The Hurt Locker”
* Best Sound Mixing: “The Hurt Locker”
* Best Animated Short: “Logorama”
* Best Live Action Short: “The New Tenants”
* Best Documentary Short: “Music by Prudence”

This is Great

I honestly don't care at this point if Bullock takes the Oscar. This pretty much illuminates how ridiculous this whole awards process really is. Here is one person who gets it-- take it stride, enjoy the ride.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Final Oscar Winner Predictions (2010)

UPDATE: Best Cinematography prediction changed on 03.06.10. See below.

This year has slowed to a crashing bore here in Phase II of the Oscar race, but for every locked-and-loaded winner, there is a tight race to offset the fatigue. Which is nice, since I'd like to think that the last 12 months of research and debate could amount to something surprising in a few of the less static categories. There won't be a final "Chasing Gold" column this year (don't know if that feature is ever returning actually), but below you'll find my personal predictions (and preferences) for the 2010 Academy Awards.

Best Picture:

Here it is, the David vs. Goliath showdown. In any other year, I'd say Avatar would have little chance here, but with the Academy's very vocal intentions of making this the most popular Oscar telecast in years has me bracing for an upset. Nevertheless, I think the newly instated preferential balloting will work in the favor of The Hurt Locker, which in my view is pretty easily the most widely loved film in the race. In other words, it doesn't help to be divisive, which Avatar and dark horse contender Inglourious Basterds most certainly are. It's art vs. commerce in the strictest sense of the terms, but just this once I believe (famous last words) the Academy will do right by artistic-- as opposed to technological-- advancement.

Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: A Serious Man

Best Director:

No matter the outcome of the Best Picture race, the stars have aligned perfectly and Kathryn Bigelow will become the first female to take home an Academy Award for Best Director.

Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)

Best Actor:

This category has had me uneasy for a while. If The Hurt Locker does clean up like I think it will, who's to say that Jeremy Renner won't get swept up in the love. All I'm saying is I wouldn't rule it out, but at the end of the day, Jeff Bridges is long overdue and has won every important precursor thus far, which should lead to a welcome standing ovation come Sunday.

Will Win: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
Should Win: Colin Firth (A Single Man)

Best Actress:

The most hotly contested of all the major categories will likely come down to the wire. The only person you can legitimately rule out at this point is Helen Mirren. It's the season-long struggle between Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock that could lead to an upset however. For months I've been riding the Carey Mulligan bandwagon, and if it wasn't for the presence of Gabby Sibide, I honestly believe she'd be a shoo-in (young, hot and British is the equivalent of Academy cat-nip). Instead, I think the two newcomers split their votes, while America's new sweetheart Sandra Bullock forces Meryl Streep to wait for her 18th nomination to secure another victory. It won't be a popular win, but the Oscars are all about momentum, and Bullock and her unexpected Best Picture vehicle The Blind Side unquestionably have it right now.

Will Win: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
Should Win: Carey Mulligan (An Education)

Best Supporting Actor:

The two supporting races have been written in stone for months. Once again, villains will rule the Kodak.

Will Win: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Should Win: Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)

Best Supporting Actress:

In which Mo'nique calls Lee Daniels a genius for the umpteenth time this season.

Will Win: Mo'nique (Precious)
Should Win: Mo'nique (Precious)

Best Original Screenplay:

Another likely battle to finish, but this time between The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds. It could honestly go either way, but here's my theory: Tarantino has a writing Oscar already, and Waltz is a sure-fire winner in the supporting category. Plus, I don't think the Academy at large will get on board with yet another irreverent Tarantino script. In the cases of the competent, workmanlike script vs. the "hip" displays of writing prowess, the Academy almost always opts for the former (think Gosford Park over Memento, The Pianist over Adaptation, or even Milk over the handful of others deserving winners just last year).

Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: A Serious Man

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Up in the Air has taken every single precursor thus far, and Sunday should prove no different. This is the night's most obvious consolation prize.

Will Win: Up in the Air
Should Win: In the Loop

Best Animated Film:

I really don't think Up is quite as safe as people think it is here. It would be just like the Academy to finally award a animated film a Best Picture nomination, only to snub it in this ghetto category. Nevertheless, the love for a couple of the other films, such as Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox, seems to be spread out rather evenly, so I doubt a consensus upset will emerge.

Will Win: Up
Should Win: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best Foreign Film:

This will probably be my favorite category of the night. Obviously, The White Ribbon should win this, but Haneke's cold, emotionless style is just about the exact opposite of what voter's look for in this category. A Prophet, then (very good in its own right), would seem like a logical winner, though that's films bracing bursts of violence will likely turn a few stomachs as well. Plus, for whatever reason, being super acclaimed in this category tends to not do the nominees any favors, leading me to think that these two powerhouses split up their share of the votes. The Milk of Sorrow also seems a little too risque for this straitlaced branch. So that leaves Ajami and The Secret in Their Eyes. Ultimately, I'm going to go with The Secret in Their Eyes, despite having not seen it myself, since all reports point to this as the category's most palatable and moving of the nominees, two words that seem to attract votes in mass.

Will Win: The Secret in Their Eyes
Should Win: The White Ribbon

Best Documentary:

The Cove and Food Inc. are obviously the most popular of the nominees here, but the doc branch likes to throw curve-balls more often than not as well. Problem is, there isn't another film that seems to have the weight to upset these two front runners. Therefore, I think The Cove should prove to have just enough entertainment-to-activist value to become the consensus winner here.

Will Win: The Cove
Should Win: The Cove

Best Original Score:

This is an odd category. Avatar has a big swelling score that is pretty obvious awards bait, but James Horner has written this same score before and with better results. The Hurt Locker has awesome ambient/noise accompaniment that will probably prove to high-brow for widespread taste, though in the likelihood of a sweep, who know what could get carried along. And then there's Up, with a score that pulls the heartstrings and becomes a kind of character in and of itself. That spells victory in my opinion.

Will Win: Up
Should Win: The Hurt Locker

Best Original Song:

The music branch is as screwy as any branch in the Academy, but seeing as how they didn't screw "The Weary Kind" out of a nomination, I don't see how it can lose at this point. Plus, it helps that this is far and away the best song in competition.

Will Win: "The Weary Kind" (Crazy Heart)
Should Win: "The Weary Kind" (Crazy Heart)

Best Cinematography:

UPDATE: 03.06.10 - I'm gonna shoot myself for doing this, but I'm changing my cinematography prediction to Inglourious Basterds. My reasoning: this is the only film in contention that doesn't have something working against it. In other words, votes should dealt pretty evenly between Avatar, The Hurt Locker and The White Ribbon, leaving Basterds to stand alone atop the fray. Or not, who knows.

EARLIER: There are a handful of categories that remain up in the air, but none more so than Best Cinematography. Seriously, I could see any of these films outside of maybe Harry Potter feasibly winning this thing. Avatar would seem to be the front runner, however, but will the Academy at large snub the film like the ASC recently did? More than any other category, the winner of this category may signal the future direction of the Oscars. On the other hand, when categories are as scattered as this, it usually pays to go with the Best Picture front runner (if nominated). So if all goes according to plan, that should be The Hurt Locker, meaning it could clean up here as well. Of course, a win for such blatantly un-pretty cinematography would be very unlike the Academy. Meanwhile, The White Ribbon has deservedly picked up the lions share of the precursors so far, but I have a feeling that not enough people will have seen the film to properly reward it here (think Jesse James). And then there is Inglourious Basterds, which could pose a real threat if the two leaders split the vote. At the end of the day, however, I think that The Hurt Locker has enough galvanizing stand-alone images and kinetic flair to speak to the many who aren't ready to award the advancements made by Avatar. It's going to literally come down to the wire. This is the category where many an Oscar pool will be won or lost.

Will Win: Inglourious Basterds
Should Win: The White Ribbon

Best Costume Design:

On paper this category may seem tighter than it actually is, but The Young Victoria has shown enough below-the-line strength to make me think it has this one pretty well locked up.

Will Win: The Young Victoria
Should Win: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Best Art Direction:

This category could pose a problem similar to Best Cinematography, and often times the two go hand in hand. Therefore, with The Hurt Locker not nominated here, that should leave Best Pic runner-up Avatar to collect this prize. Plus, I don't think enough people care about the nuts and bolts of a film's construction-- so much as the finished product-- to actively vote against it here.

Will Win: Avatar
Should Win: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Best Makeup:

A part of me wants to say that Il Divo pulls this one out since it has made it this far already. But at the same time, Star Trek would seem to need to win something, somewhere. So this seems logical.

Will Win: Star Trek
Should Win: Il Divo

Best Sound Mixing:

Common sense may say that Avatar takes both the sound categories in a walk, but just as Slumdog split last year, I'm thinking The Hurt Locker takes at least one-- and this it. Plus, the CAS went for The Hurt Locker, so who am I to argue.

Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: Avatar

Best Sound Editing:

See above.

Will Win: Avatar
Should Win: Avatar

Best Film Editing:

The Best Picture winner will take this award, there's no doubt in my mind. So we should have a clue about which way the votes will have swayed by the time we get into the meat of the tech awards. If Avatar wins this, all bets are off and you can throw all these predix out the window.

Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: The Hurt Locker

Best Visual Effects:

Signed, sealed and delivered.

Will Win: Avatar
Should Win: Avatar

Best Documentary Short Subject

All these short categories are a shot in the dark, but these are my best guesses after some research into voting patterns and what-not. So with that being said, I think the recent Haiti disaster could lead to some good will for this Sichuan Province short.

Will Win: China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

Best Live Action Short Film:

See above.

Will Win: The Door

Best Animated Short Film:

See above, but how could you not vote for a movie with that title?

Will Win: A Matter of Loaf and Death