Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Here is the trailer for the film, which stars Sam Waterston as Schanberg and Dr. Haing S Ngor (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) as Pran:
While compelling throughout, The Killing Fields is really marked by its incredibly touching final scene, where Pran and Schanberg are finally reunited in a Red Cross refugee camp after a four-and-a-half year separation. Pran had spent the separation imprisoned in a Cambodian labor camp (fighting a daily battle with malnutrition and torture), while Schanberg had been perhaps imprisoned in a different way, back in New York, still reporting on Cambodia and still searching for any word of Pran while wrestling with intense guilt over the fact that he had kept Pran in Cambodia to assist in reporting, even when it was clear that Pran should have evacuated with his family when he had had the chance.
It is cheap to show just the last scene, but here it is anyway. Joffe's song choice for the scene somehow works, even though it shouldn't. First, it violates the rule (which I just made up) that iconic Beatles songs (including iconic post-Beatles Lennon or McCartney songs) should not be used in film or even personal mixes (as they are too iconic to the point of distracting from the film or the mix). And second, the utopian nature of this song in particular seems just too direct and unsubtle given the political story. Somehow, however, it all works--and this scene, with this music, gets me every time. (One technique that works particularly well is the way the camera pivots to track Pran's face as he recognizes his old friend after so long, right after the music has moved from tinny mono to full stereo.) The result is a reunion that is searing:
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
"I Summon You" by Spoon
"Right Moves" by Josh Ritter
"One Horse Town" by The Thrills
"I Love N.Y.E." by Badly Drawn Boy
"Rebellion (Lies)" by The Arcade Fire
"Ageless Beauty" by Stars
"How Good It Can Be" by The 88
"They Never Got You" by Spoon
"Summer (Butcher Two)" by Matt Pond PA
"City Rain, City Streets" by Ryan Adams
"I Feel It All" by Feist
Also good to have would be a mix CD of Obama speeches.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Death Cab for Cutie
Three Doors Down
Seven Mary Three
Architecture in Helsinki (this may be the name I hate the most)
Toad the Wet Sprocket
Taking Back Sunday
New Found Glory
Puddle of Mudd
Linkin Park (wait, I hate this one pretty bad, too)
Band of Horses
I Am Kloot
Better than Ezra
Deep Blue Something
Porno for Pyros
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Two albums that have been around for a little while but that I recently bought and am currently giving a listen to are The National's Boxer (2007) and Band of Horses' Everything All the Time (2006). I saw part of The National's set at ACL 2007, and while they seemed good, I just didn't get around to buying their album until now. As for Band of Horses, I honestly just didn't like their name (based partly on my preternatural fear of horses). But I'm trying to be mature and keep an open mind. Though I will say that if there are a lot of songs about horses (or even donkeys or mules) on this album, then they can just forget it!
Okay, I made all that up. I was really just describing this movie I saw one time called E.T. It was pretty killer. Anyway, here's that song I was talking about:
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
Saturday, March 22, 2008
R. Kelly's "Real Talk":
Yellow Dog Mascot Dance Off (not music-related, but certainly genius-related):
Friday, March 21, 2008
Well, today may be even better, as I have stumbled across La Blogotheque, a truly outstanding French website that features its own commissioned collection of fly-on-the-wall music performances, collectively titled The Take-Away Shows (Concerts A Emporter). Blogotheque describes it this way: "Sessions are always filmed as a unique shot, without any cut, recorded live. We usually haven’t much time to record them, so the groups have to be spontaneous, to improvise, play with what they have with them, and with their environment, whether there’s a public or not." Look me in the eye and tell me that's not completely fascinating. Here, for example, is a page of recent videos of Stephen Malkmus languidly performing various songs on acoustic guitar, including some older R.E.M. covers:
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Uploaded by lablogotheque
Other interesting videos on The Take-Away Shows include performances by The Arcade Fire, Okkervil River, Xiu Xiu, Architecture in Helsinki, The Shins, The National, and literally dozens of others. Here is another video from the site, this time featuring José Gonzaléz:
S13.4 - JOSE GONZALEZ - How low
Uploaded by lablogotheque
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
While a fair amount has been written on what makes a good cover (see, for example, here and here), the true test for me is whether the song is simply believable coming from the covering artist. Some easy examples of covers that fail this test: H.R.M. Madonna's "American Pie" (what did Don McLean ever do to Madonna?), Macy Gray's "Walk This Way" (of course, I don't believe Macy Gray even when she sings her own songs), and Save Ferris's "Come on Eileen" (a particularly egregious act given the greatness of the original). For a good compilation of some of the worst covers of all time (with embedded videos to make life easier), see here.
Contrast those bad covers with, say, Stevie Wonder's "We Can Work It Out," Sinead O'Connor's version of "Nothing Compares 2 U," Alien Ant Farm's "Smooth Criminal," or The Bangles' take on "Hazy Shade of Winter." A list of some of the best covers (which shares some entries that are on the list of worst covers) can be found here.
An example of a pretty enjoyable cover that has been floating around the internet for the last year or so is Mat Weddle (of Scottsdale, Arizona folk/pop group Obadiah Parker) singing his version of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" This performance, recorded at an open-mic night in Scottsdale, was put in heavy rotation by Arizona radio stations and then gained a lot of popularity via Youtube. It is now available on iTunes.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
As for over-the-ear or on-the-ear headphones, I have been pretty satisfied with the SR325i's from Grado, which I've had for a long while now. They don't look nearly as cool or sound as good as Grado's GS1000 headphones, but the GS1000's cost $995, and I have not yet decided to become a coke dealer. As it is, the SR325i's offer more than enough performance, even without the use of a headphone amp.
For a good resource on earphones and headphones, including very in-depth reviews, look no further than Headroom.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Fact #2: "Summertime" by The Sundays is also a fantastic song.
Fact #3: After careful listening, it is clear they are not the same song and are completely unrelated.
Fact #4: It is tempting to declare the DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince song more rad, but The Sundays' song is actually radder.
But my favorite song titled "Summertime" at the moment can be heard here.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
The second collection of music videos--Pitchfork's "100 Awesome Music Videos"--includes fare that is more middlebrow, but precisely because it comes from Pitchfork, the middlebrow-ness of the videos only serves to communicate the studied highbrow-ness of the compilation. (See inclusion of "Super Bowl Shuffle" by Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew, "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister, "Hello" by Lionel Richie, etc. appearing next to "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads, "Dirty Boots" by Sonic Youth, and "Shady Lane" by Pavement.) Nonetheless, this list is worthwhile because it does put a lot of good, embedded videos in one place.
One omission in both compilations is the 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque video for Radiohead's "No Surprises" (from OK Computer) directed by Grant Gee. Both the song and the video are incredible:
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
When R.E.M. was younger, Michael Stipe had a 'fro, Peter Buck shook and jived convincingly, Mike Mills looked like a middle-schooler, and Bill Berry probably had no idea how to spell "aneurysm." And they were the coolest band in the world to me. Here they are, in their national television debut on October 6, 1983, playing "Radio Free Europe":
Here's basically how it works: a band will pre-record various parts of their performance, usually on a computer hard drive, that they cannot perform live (for whatever reason). Such parts may include additional guitar riffs, synthesized music (like percussion, organ, strings, or horns), soundscaping, and even additional backup vocals. The band will then perform their songs live in time with the pre-recorded material. How do they coordinate the live performance with the recorded one? Usually through the drummer, who has an earpiece that plays a metronome-like "click track." The click track indicates when the backing track's music will begin, allowing the drummer to count his bandmates into the song to fit the backing track. The stage lighting is often also matched with the click track, so that the lighting effects are timed exactly to the songs.
The result is a live sound that is a full and perfect re-creation of the studio recording found on the album. This is why, for example, with only four members, U2's live performances--featuring numerous guitar parts, synthesizers, and additional vocals--sound so good. This is also why Keane can get away with having only one singer (who plays no instrument), a drummer, and one keyboard player, with no bassist or guitarist in sight. And it's not just modern, synth-heavy bands. Many traditional rock groups, such as The Who, rely on backing tracks. The undeniable fact is, for a very large number of touring acts, much of the "live" show was recorded long before the band took to the stage.
This 2001 article from Onstage Magazine, which refers to backing tracks as "the dirty little secret in the world of live performance," offers an interesting how-to on using backing tracks effectively. But isn't it cheating to use pre-recorded music when the show is billed as "live"? Doesn't the use of backing tracks mean that sometimes the band is no better than a karaoke act? Or are backing tracks simply necessary to satisfy concertgoers' expectations that their favorite bands' stage performances sound "just like the album"? The answer, no duh, is Yes.
In this performance of "Where the Streets Have No Name" (from the very important! black-and-white concert film Rattle and Hum), count the personnel on stage and then count the instruments heard. And notice the headphones on drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. who counts the band into the song. Also, try to read the subtitles. Whoever wrote those has the worst penmanship I've ever seen!
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
But there are those who love Rockin' Robin. Why? The answer is simple: given its location, equidistant between River Oaks and the West U./Southampton area, a lot of Rockin' Robin's customers simply have more money than experience (or time) to know any better. The clientele comprises mainly doctors and lawyers or their floppy-haired kids. (I know--growing up in West U. and frequenting Rockin' Robin when I was younger, I recognize my own kind when I see it.) Rockin' Robin thus smartly caters to a middle-aged, bourgeois imagining of what a guitar store should look like: poor lighting, torn concert bills and posters on the walls, amps lying about, peeling stickers on old rotten door frames, employees with long hair and rock-n-roll snarls. I guess the look is right (for those expecting their guitar shops to look like something out of Guitar Hero), but everything else--involving the actual buying of guitars--is wrong.
In contrast, the best guitar shop in Houston, also locally owned, is Fuller's Vintage Guitars. Located near 610 and Shepherd, it has an impressive selection of new and vintage guitars, hung neatly and logically throughout the store. The prices are as low as any you would find on the web, and the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful. They're basically guitar nerds, and with their large inventory, they pretty much have to be. Fuller's apparently has one of the largest Rickenbacker collections in the country, and when shopping for a Gibson ES-335 last year, I had my pick of about six in the store. That's admirable. One important advantage Fuller's seems to have is its relationships with the major guitar manufacturers; it is, for example, one of only twenty-six shops in the U.S. designated as a Gibson Original Dealer. As someone with no affiliation with either Fuller's or Rockin' Robin but who has spent a lot of time in both, the difference between the two is night and day. One is an actual, working guitar shop; the other is a clichéd cartoon of one.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
A lot of this seemed related to the material: with the band's newer songs (including a healthy dose of songs from the upcoming Evil Urges, which includes "Highly Suspicious," where Jim James sings like Prince!), the emotion seemed somehow programed into the performance, as if a connection with the audience could be dialed in with something as simple as a volume knob on the engineer's console. So while loud, there was sometimes distance and sterility, even on some old favorites like "The Way That He Sings." Which was a shame because I love that song.
On the other hand, MMJ's performance of their other older material was exactly what I had hoped for--alive and immediate--even though it suffered a little human error (like occasional poor mixing of vocals or guitars). "One Big Holiday," for one, was ridiculously good, and "Run Thru" had the crowd completely. So there were definite high points on Monday night, but I will say that the last MMJ show I saw--at ACL Festival 2005--had, if less volume, then definitely more rawk. One consistency between the two shows, though, was Jim James's voice (from the I'm-singing-at-the-bottom-of-a-well school of rock, whose alumni also include Hope Sandoval), which soared.
Another plus from the show was that I didn't see any whored-up soccer moms dancing among the crowd. I did see a really tan dude with lots of hair product in an untucked, striped shirt with fancy jeans, though. And that made me a bit sad. But then I thought of him being a male hooker who was perhaps broke, and that made me feel better. I win again!
On the Youtube page for this video, there is one commenter who wrote, "Fo shizzle yo--Notorious BIG and DJ Jazzy Jeff HOOOKED IT UP in this one!" I can't lie: I wish I had written that.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Here they are, performing "Wolves at Night" on Letterman last September:
Sunday, March 9, 2008
As an aside, the Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack is worth getting for the other songs as well. Included is a slightly peppier (and more satisfying) version of "The Hardest Walk" by The Jesus and Mary Chain (compared to the version found on Psychocandy) as well as a very '80s sounding cover of The Rolling Stones' "Miss Amanda Jones" by The March Violets.
While there is no shortage of confessional singer-songwriters armed with acoustic guitars, Brooklyn-based Kevin Devine is simply more special--and more likable--than most. His set at the 2007 ACL Festival, in which he was accompanied part way through by Atlanta-based (and enviably young and talented) Manchester Orchestra, was one of the highlights of ACL for me.
I'm surprised I haven't heard of this before. I feel a bit guilty for wanting one.