Thursday, January 29, 2009

Screengrab Review: Peter and the Wolf

A new edition of my ever-popular irregular column about children's movies! Here's what I have to say about Suzie Templeton's 2008 short Peter and the Wolf.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blog post on The Screengrab. Set Your DVR!: January 26 - 30, 2009. Recommended films this week:

  • Vincent and Theo,
  • Harlan County, USA, and
  • The Night of the Hunter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Screengrab List: Favorite Prison Movies

In the wake of President Obama's order closing Gitmo, our weekly Screengrab list focuses on prison movies. I wrote about The Grand Illusion in the first part, plus a few more movies in parts 4 and 5.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Best of 2003, Five Years Later

As a report card of sorts, here's the 2003 albums I liked at the end of the year and the ones I like now from 2003.

Best of 2003 (as published in Dec 2003):

1. The Decemberists - Her Majesty the Decemberists
2. Go-Betweens - Bright Yellow Bright Orange
3. Knife in the Water - Cut the Cord
4. Pernice Brothers - Yours, Mine, or Ours
5. Calexico - Feast of Wire
6. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - Hearts of Oak
7. Summer Hymns - Clemency
8. Okkervil River - Down the River of Golden Dreams
9. The American Song-Poem Anthology
10. New Pornographers - Electric Version

Honorable mentions:
Yo La Tengo - Today Is the Day EP
Consonant - Love and Affliction
Iron & Wine - The Sea & the Rhythm EP
Elf Power - Nothing's Going To Happen

Aaaaand, five years later, here's my favorite releases from 2003:

1. New Pornographers - Electric Version
2. Fiery Furnaces - Gallowsbird's Bark
3. The Wrens - The Meadowlands
4. The Decemberists - Her Majesty
5. Andrew Bird - Weather Systems
6. Pelican - Australasia
7. Go-Betweens - Bright Yellow Bright Orange
8. Sufjan Stevens - Greetings From Michigan
9. Nina Nastasia - Run to Ruin
10. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Hearts of Oak

honorable mentions
Television - Live At The Old Waldorf
Viktor Vaughn - Vaudeville Villain
King Geedorah - Take Me To Your Leader
Loose Fur - Loose Fur
Animal Collective - Here Comes The Indian
TV on the Radio - Young Liars EP
Lyrics Born - Later That Day
Four Tet - Rounds
Young People - War Prayers

This is either a sign of how much my tastes have changed or how long it takes certain music to work its way into and out of my ears. I mean, 6/10 of my original list dropped out. Many of those were too insubstantial to stick with me for long, the Okkervil River and Summer Hymns albums in particular. The Knife in the Water and Pernice Brothers albums features a few top-notch songs surrounded by some mediocre tracks. I still like the Calexico album, but I think I overrated it now.

On the other hand, the New Pornographers album is still among my favorites. I came to love The Fiery Furnaces (although with 2008's Remember album, I finally understand why so many people hate them, because it's godawful). The Wrens are always strong. If I'd heard that album in 2003, I may have put it at #1. As is, anything in the top 10 is a contender for #1, depending on how I feel. I do notice that my top ten is heavy on indie-folk-rock and most of the hip-hop and avant-rock stuff I like goes on the honorable mention list. Maybe that's a sign of weakness, I dunno. The Television album is a stunner. If it were a proper 2003 release, it would definitely be #1. However, I'd had a bootleg of it for years when Rhino released this beautifully clean version in 2003. Should be a special category for that sort of thing.

Overall, I give myself a C- for 2003. 4/10 isn't that great, especially when 3 of those move down on the list. But, hell, I'm trying. 2003 was the year we launched The High Hat, and it was the year I made myself a promise to develop my writing. 2008 was the year my first book was published. That's not too shabby, I guess.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Top Ten Albums 2008

Late to the party! Here's my favorite albums of 2008.

1 Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life/Year of the Pig EP. Fucked Up is a monster of a band. Their sound is endlessly creative, but distinctly grown from hardcore punk. Their singer, who has a style somewhere between Hank Rollins and Ian MacKaye (so, yes, very DC), keeps things punkish, while the band has taken the sound and gone all King Crimson on it. The Year of the Pig EP is mostly taken with the 18-odd minute title cut, 3 shortened edits of it (the UK version is my favorite), and a few toss-off tracks. Although Fucked Up has a bunch of prior EPs and one full-length, 2008 was the first year I heard them, and 2008 was the year of Fucked Up. This I say to you on the day that George Bush has left office.

2 Boris – Smile (both US & Japanese versions). I was unprepared for how much I would love Boris, who combine the best in slow Black Sabbath-y metal, psychedelic avant-rock, and a solid rock heart. Smile is one of their most accessible albums yet, but it still brings the rock and the trippy noise. The Japanese version is a little bit better. Although both albums feature mostly the same tracks, the Japanese version features different mixes and different running times for several tracks, which gives it a slight edge.

3 Oneida – Preteen Weaponry. The creative souls in Oneida have brought their experimentalism to bear on Preteen Weaponry, a single-song, three-track album. The sound reflects the band's kitchen-sink aesthetic of krautrock, garage-rock, Brit-folk, no wave, prog-rock, post-rock (which is really just prog-rock redux, right?) and god knows what else. It's immediately arresting.

4 The Instruments – Dark Småland. Echoing Nico and John Cale's early solo albums, the Instruments are Elephant Six psychedelia through the ears of a cellist. It's utterly beautiful.

5 Why? – Alopecia. One of the leaders of the ethereal hip-hop-ish collective cLOUDDEAD, Why? is resistant to genre, to say the least. I wasn't as taken with TV on the Radio's Dear Science as 98% of the other reviewers out there. Alopecia is the album that I suspect many reviewers wanted Dear Science to be: post-genre, post-everything, and creative as hell.

6 Robert Forster – The Evangelist. When this first came out, my friend William Ham talked about how choked up he got on hearing it. I know what he means. Every song aches in the absence of Forster's fellow Go-Between Grant McLennan, who passed away in 2006. Forster's solo work has never been quite as rich as resonant as it is now.

7 The Hold Steady – Stay Positive. Doesn't move the band forward much, but the (slight) sense of adventure in the production is a welcome new chapter for the band.

8 Black Mountain – In the Future. Everything old is new again. Doesn't mean it's bad, but definitely, defiantly retro.

9 The Dexateens – Lost & Found/The Distant Seconds – Spectral Evidence (tie). The Dexateens album was online-only, but it killed. The Distant Seconds album came out at the very end of the year. And it killed.

10 Earth – The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull. If Samson was Clint Eastwood and he joined a band instead of shooting people.

11 Deerhoof – Offend Maggie. I feel like I should have loved this more than I did. Their previous album, Friend Opportunity, had diminishing returns for me, and I'm afraid some of that rubbed off on my feelings for Offend Maggie.

12 Harvey Milk – Life… The Best Game In Town. A late discovery for me, Harvey Milk plays art-metal that is sometimes something completely different. I like 'em now, and think I'll eventually love them.

13 Destroyer – Trouble In Dreams. Dan Bejar's band continues to get better. Here, they improve on the emotional turmoil of Destroyer's Rubies.

14 The New Year – The New Year. Why is the third New Year album the self-titled one? Perhaps because it's a little more open and naked than any of their past work. The Kadane brothers are getting older, but losing none of their edge.

15 Ponytail – Ice Cream Spiritual. I didn't even know that Captain Beefheart had children.

16 Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. A mite bit overrated by some, but very good, nonetheless.

17 Earthless – Live At Roadburn. If ZZ Top played krautrock. Not as good as their last two albums, mainly because this album consists of two 30-odd minute live versions of older songs. So points for awesomeness, but points off for stasis.

18 Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes/Sun Giant EP. I like the Fairport Convention and the Band, and I like these, too.

19 Torche – Meanderthal. More metal that's halfway to indie rock. Very entertaining.

20 Vic Chesnutt – Dark Developments. Vic Chesnutt's always a clever and fun songwriter. Having the sometimes-fun/sometimes-profound Elephant Six band Elf Power back him up was a brilliant stroke, and this is his best album in a few years.

honorable mentions

Ruby Suns – Sea Lion
Titus Andronicus – The Airing Of Grievances
Au – Verbs
Dr. Dog – Fate
Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...
Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
TV On The Radio – Dear Science

I liked all of these, but I couldn't move any of them into the top 20. Maybe with more time, I'll feel differently.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Music Library: Blumfeld, BMX Bandits, Bo Diddley + Abe Vigoda, AC/DC, Akron/Family, City of God, Bill Evans, and Black Keys

Blumfeld - "Jet Set." Punky song somewhere between The Fall and, I don't know, the Electric Six.

BMX Bandits - "Let's Go Where The Action Is." Neo-garage/neo-bubblegum song.

Bo Diddley - "Who Do You Love?," The EP Collection, and "Road Runner." There's some that's just plain infectious about the beat to these songs. I wonder what it could be?

Catch up:

Abe Vigoda - Skeleton. The children of Deerhoof and ADHD. I like 'em!

AC/DC - Black Ice. This up-and-coming band might be around for a while.

Akron/Family - Live at Sin-e 1/9/2005. I love me some Akron/Family, but they were still working on their sound when this was recorded. It's entirely lacking in the surprise and catharsis of their studio work.

Antônio Pinto & Ed Cortês - City of God Soundtrack. Standard-issue Brazilian folk music, from the sound of things. Nothing as revolutionary as the tropicalia stuff or Tom Zê, but pretty enjoyable for what it is.

Bill Evans - The Complete Live At The Village Vanguard. Freakin' awesome. Maybe I'm the only one, but I sure dig Bill Evans.

The Black Keys - The Big Come Up and Attack And Release. Okay blues-rock.


Next time: a heaping helping of Bobby Zimmerman.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Tonight on IFC: Last Night At The Alamo

Set your DVR! Here's what I wrote about this over at the Screengrab.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

She's As Beautiful As A Foot

I can't believe I wrote a review of my BÖC albums without mentioning my old friend Mike Nix, whose love of the band sparked my interest in them, the Minutemen, whose covers definitely fed my interest, or the immortal line "hornswoop me bungo pony dogsled on ice," which I can guarantee will be the password into any speakeasies that I may come to own or operate during my lifetime.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Music Library: Blasters, Blind Boys of Alabama, Blind Idiot God, Blonde Redhead, & Blue: _Ash, _Hawaiians, _Mountain, _Oyster Cult, _Rodeo, _Shadows

The Blasters - American Music. Man, I love the Blasters, but this is all I need. They're really not that creative of a band (being Sun Records fetishists and not much else), but they are a lot of fun.

The Blind Boys of Alabama - "Way Down In the Hole." Sounds like Season 1 of The Wire.

Blind Idiot God - s/t. All-instrumental, brilliantly creative avant metal that was on SST back in the 80s. Their healthy interest in dub and 20th century compositional music put them into a completely different place than most metal bands of their time. You can hear some of the early origins of Pelican in this.

Blonde Redhead - Misery Is A Butterfly and 23. Dreamy indie-pop. Used to be a noise-rock band, but they've gone all swirly psychedelic.

Blue Ash - "I'm A Bad Actor." Power pop of unknown origin.

The Blue Hawaiians - "Jockey Full Of Bourbon." Only-ok cover of the Tom Waits song. Hey, that's two Tom Waits covers in this batch.

Blue Mountain - Dog Days and Home Grown. Folksy band from Oxford, MS. I saw them open for Son Volt back in 1996 and they blew Farrar & co. away. Both of these albums are mostly wonderful (both have fluff, too), but I've had a hard time keeping interest in the band since I grew a little bored with the No Depression scene.

Blue Öyster Cult- Blue Öyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation, Secret Treaties, and The Essential. Jeez, BÖC is the nerdiest of nerdy rock bands of their era. These songs are all about the sci-fi references and gawky double-entrendres. And the music is spastic, with odd, angular structures and soaring choruses. This is the first three albums plus some tracks from a collection that a friend gave me. Strangely enough, 90% of the songs on the first three albums are more essential than the songs on the collection called The Essential.

Blue Rodeo - Just Like A Vacation. A gift from a Canuck friend. Definitely in the No Depression vibe.

The Blue Shadows - Christmas EP, Rockin' EP, On The Floor Of Heaven, and Lucky To Me. A gift from the same Canadian friend. This stuff is more Everlys-ish, and I'm always happy when a track shuffles to the front, but I never want to stretch out and listen to a whole album, either.

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