Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Clap Your Hands! (First post of many)

Great song alert:

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Over and Over Again (Lost & Found)

Continuing where The Arcade Fire left is is this smart little NYC band with a great name. This song embraces a lot of influences but with a carefree confidence that makes it feel fresh. This song is a highlight in an album full of bright points. The vocals take a little getting use to, (and are more grating on other tracks), but after just a few listens, they feel warm and inviting. The lyrics are almost impossible to discern, but I love that shadow of mystery and when you do hear a line perfectly, like the teasing, grinning, line, "You look like David Bowie," it can't help but bring a smile to your face.

Download and enjoy.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

On The Way To Maybe.

Blogosphere beware! New kid in town:

http://gettingtomaybe.blogspot.com/

Shawn and I decided to start up a group blog. Right now, we're the only contributors, but it's open to anyone who wants to join. And, obviously, anyone who wants to comment.

We really wanted to call it "Think!" because we're surrounded by idiots here in Florida and we wanted some intelligent conversation. But Blogger said "No." So, we decided on Getting To Maybe. We're not sure what it means. Help us figure it out.

(Oh, and I'm keeping this one for anyone who wants to read about my music ramblings.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Spoon - Gimme Fiction



Britt Daniels has the best voice in indie rock.

There, I said it.

"But wait!" you shout. "What about Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, what about your girlfriend's dream-boyfriend Ben Gibbard, what about your new favorite band The Mountain Goats' John Darnelle?"

"Well, yeah," I stutter. "Maybe I'm talking out of my ass. But I still stand by it!"

Okay: Britt Daniels has one of the best voices in indie rock (happy now?). It's deep and low most of the time, high and lilting when he chooses, and definitely the most powerful weapon in Spoon's arsenal. He has a wonderful way with words, too, his lyrics hanging somewhere in the limbo between literary and lazy poetry. He tells real-world stories, fictional to the extreme, with the occasional detour to something wild.

Spoon's fifth album, Gimme Fiction, has little surprises. But that's not bad thing when it sounds this good. Over the course of the last two albums, the band has jumped into the electronic world by introducing keyboard flourishes and beat-box percussion to their trademark indie rock sound. Their last album, Kill The Moonlight, embraced the electronic and rode that pony to wonderful success, both musically and commercial. With this album, they've returned to their big guitar roots of their first two albums to create a strange kind of middle-of-the-road equilibrium.

A lot of bands who started in the fractured wilderness of the mid-90's (post-grunge, pre-Britney) have released albums this past year and a half that have tried to summarize their careers up to this point without actually breaking any ground (Beck, Radiohead, Oasis) and now Spoon can be added to this mix. Track by track, Gimme Fiction seems to reference previous "sounds" in the band's limited repertoire. But is that a bad thing?

Not really. Coupled with Britt Daniel's wonderful vocals is a sterling production value that surpasses anything they've done before. Spoon albums have always sounded good, but never this clear, crisp, and powerful. A few of the joys: the interplay of rain-slicked guitars and thundering violins in "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine," the Midnite Vultures-groove of "I Turn My Camera On," the wild running-through-the-woods pace of "Sister Jack," and the relaxed head-swaying melody of "I Summon You." Every sound is in its perfect place, which is due to their skilled producer but also to the confidence and professionalism of the band. It's like reading the perfectly formed sentences of a master writer (Ursula LeGuin or Maureen McHugh) or the sing-song dialogue of a great screenwriter (David Mamet or Quentin Tarantino). I do, however, question their decision to include crunchy guitars on some tracks that would be more in-place in a Wilco album; it works on a few tracks, like the perfectly placed guitar solo in "The Delicate Place," but is distracting and, at worst, abrasive on more relaxed tracks like "My Mathematical Mind" and "The Beast and the Dragon, Adored." Still, it's another reference to the almost punk-like sound of their first two albums.

So, this is a Spoon album for Spoon fans. With indie rock bands exploding onto the mainstream at a pace of two or three a week (kidding), you have to hand respect to a band who could allow themselves to write an album of "Float On"'s to actually look back at their career and create an album almost exclusively for their fans. And if they pick up a few new ones on the way, all the better.


(Some other opinions: Allmusic, Pitchfork, Village Voice)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Batman Begins Anew

Batman Begins as good a movie as I hoped it would be. Usually when i walk out of a theatre these days, I feel cheated out of ten bucks. Movies that defy the viewer to actually think are the norm for Hollywood these days, so, in that context, and in the light of most of the recent slew of comic books (I've heard, from a reliable source, that Fantastic Four is a beautiful pile of shit), the new Batman is not only sucessful, but one of the best movies of the last few years.

The movie starts off strangely. The first half hour tells the classic backstory intersped between a series of fight and training sequences. We start to understand Bruce Wayne in a way the other films barely touched on. Sure, he's grieving, sure, he's depressed. But what's he doing about it? Oh, kicking ass. Okay. I can support that.

The look and feel of this movie is top-notch and sold me almost immediatly. The breathtaking mountain sequences, the futuristic Gotham City, the dim dojo darkness. The creepy darkness instilled an uneasy sense of dread in me which got stronger and stronger as the main story unfolded and this new Gotham revealed itself to be a throwback to New York City in the eighties, with the rich in their penthouse apartments and the poor in backalleys huddled around trashcans.

The main villains are equally inspired. Good choices all around and some wonderful, frightening, imagery. The fight sequences are strong and, after watching the distracted fight direction in Episode III, it was a breathe of fresh air.

Obviously, the acting was strong. The best in any comic book movie, ever. Christian Bale is perfect as a real life two-face, although his whispered "Batman" voice feels a little forced. Michael Caine, Morgran Freeman, and especially Gary Oldman all show up and actually act, instead of just smiling for the camera and collecting their paychecks. The weakest link is definitely Katie Holmes, a comptentent actress who gets totally outshined amidst her betters.

Overall, a brilliant display of virtouous directing, writing, and cinematography. With much props to the production designers. I'm buying this DVD.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Beck - Guero

I wrote this months ago, to send to Say...'s new reviews section. I intended to do another draft that I liked better but procrastinated and never did. So, I'll post it here and maybe send something else to them for a new issue. I was trying a more legit "reviwer's voice" as opposed to the usual slapdash rambling I do here. What do you think?

Beck - Guero

Music makes me happy. For every one dark, depressing, album I own, I have three that consistently succeed to put a smile on my face. Beck's new album makes me very happy. It has a unique groove, somewhere between B-boy-rap, harmonica- touting cowboy, and a funky time-traveler. Dancing guitars and passionate percussion compete with old-school beats and Beck's gorgeous, slurpy, raspy, voice, coming together in a frenzy of unadulterated joy.

Guero kicks off with a rocker of a track, "E-Pro." Using a Beastie Boys beat to set the stage, a guitar that sounds like a baby's rattler hovers at the forefront, almost drowning out Beck's vocals in the grunge-era noise. But when Beck "Na-Na-Na's" his way through the chorus, all is well with the world. This is Beck returned, rejuvenated, and with a kick in his step. The second track, "Que Onda Guero" is a long lost cousin to Beck's breakout single, "Loser," complete with a chorus line in Spanish and a lazy rhythm popular about ten years ago. The song is a time warp, reminding me of gym classes in the Bronx with Puerto Rican kids shouting "Hey, putas!" and MTV videos that were more than just ego-trips. Listening to this song you are instantly transported back to a simpler time, when terrorism was a distant, foreign sounding, word and when someone said the word Bush I thought of the band.

"Girl" and "Missing" comprise the emotional heart of the first half of the album. Juxtaposing a Nintendo beat and a head swaying melody, "Girl" is classic Beck. Even the banal lyrics of "Yeah, I saw her, my girl" take on an anthem-like power sung with strength and conviction. And the Nigel Godrich-mixed "Missing" combines the best Sea Change flourishes with a hypnotic beat and a very personal message.

"Black Tambourine" is the best smile-inducing track on the album. A seductive melody counterpoints somber lyrics and that rattling guitar again. When Beck sings, unable to mask his grin, "My tambourine is still shaking," a shaking tambourine pounds out a bridge and you know you're listening to a confident master, not afraid to be a little cheesy in his old age. "Earthquake Weather" also references Sea Change with horns and violins that screech and moan. Producers The Dust Brothers add their craftsmen's' touch all over the album but especially here: Crystal clear beats and complicated arrangements do justice to the mature songwriting. Still, I can't help but feel Beck holding back some. We know from his wild changes of tone with each album that he's capable of "letting it all hang loose" or "wearing his heart on his sleeve" (to use entirely accurate clich├ęs) and so I can feel that final step not taken, that reeled back finale to each track. Maybe he's saving it for the next one.

Another smiling highpoint comes with "Hell Yes," sounding like something off Midnite Vultures and working best stoned or drunk or a pleasant combination of the two. A robotized girl voice intones, "Hell yes… please enjoy," while Beck sings about dancing and "cleanin' the floor" and "skeleton boys hyped up on purple." After two minutes of dance floor beats and 70s' grooving, a fractured harmonica takes over the song, bringing it to a raucous climax.

Critics are split on this album, some praising its postmodernism and confidence while others bemoan more of the same-old, same-old from this adventurous artist. I take the middle ground. Yes, a lot of the singles sound pre-packaged and unemotional, and yes, the last third of the album is muddy and dull, and yes, there's nothing really new here, but! This is an enjoyable album for people who like enjoyable albums.

Take Beck's heartfelt advice: forget the world for forty minutes... and please enjoy.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Um.. (Rambles)

I was at this panel at Wiscon for like ten minutes, "The Racial Politics Something-or-Something," and there was some discussion about the effects of political action and science fiction writing. And it got me thinking about all these grand ideas I use to have about my own work, like, "Influence some minds and opinions, one person at a time," or other such wild and ridicilous ideas.

And then, today, driving to work, I thought about the power of music to influence people. About Woodstock and how subtle political lyrics in otherwise straightforward music can deliver messages of progress without being overt to a young mind at a crucial stage of development. I don't know about you, but I spent a lot of time growing up in my parents' house alone in my room listening to music. And that music - as angry as it sometimes was - had an impact on the way I see the world now, a decade later. Tool's macabre poetry is permanently infused in my writing, the cynical tourist protagonist of Radiohead's songs is as close to my worldview now as it was in my more "radical" days, and the dark reality of Nirvana manifests itself in my work.

But then I think, well, what about all those Democrat concerts that swept through the country last year, what about all those rallies on college campuses with leftie celebrities trying to get kids to vote for Kerry? How effective was that? (Granted: I still think Bush stole another election, albeit with more subtlety and less news coverage.) So, can creativity - music and literature and poetry - really influence people and, in turn, politics? Or can creative people only influence other creative people?

If so, are we going to be stuck in the same place as we are now in fifty years time, bitterly divided about such base things as how people should live, love, and die? Or can decades of musicians influencing writers influencing musicians finally come to a head by changing an opinion of, say, a future President sitting in his room right now listening to Bloc Party?

The first line of the Bloc Party record, Silent Alarm, is "It's so cold in this house." That song, "Like Eating Glass," is about a relationship gone sour, but with the pseudo-political tone of the rest of the album, I can't help but cast that line in the context of a political statement. That we, the World, are trapped in a limbo of broken heating and broken promises and misbegotten dreams. But there is hope! What do the therapists say? Identifying the problem is the first step on the road to recovery.