Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dollhouse: Out With A Bang!

For some backstory for anybody who doesn't know but cares to, check out Mo Ryan's various writeups about "Dollhouse" here.

Ironically, I am of multiple minds about Dollhouse. I've gone into every episode with almost zero exceptions, been disappointed, been entertained, been put to sleep, but more recently been amazed, excited, and impressed. The first season of Dollhouse was pretty weak. I think even the producers and writers would cop to that. The show is a very highconcept sci-fi drama with many moral, cultural, and technological implications that were rarely touched in the first season. Instead, the show played up to the most base human instincts: sex, greed, power and violence.

In its second season, the show took a lot of those same ideas and fleshed them out and explored them in new and interesting ways. While the first season had maybe five episodes I would consider "successful," every single episode in the second season has come through and delivered, elevating what was just a "cool idea for a show" into a great series that will be missed. It was an incredible thing to watch this season and after every episode think, "That was the best episode yet!"

Once the ax went down and the series was unceremoniously canceled while not even airing (don't EVEN get me started..), the producers were given a chance to finish the series in a proper way. We should be thankful. Most shows don't get that chance. With Dollhouse, where the endgame was pretty obvious from the first episode (Echo gets out), the showrunners had a double task of pushing their premise to the limit in a condensed way.

So far: They've outdone themselves! The last six episodes of the series, played in doubleheader fashion, have been almost note-perfect. They've had just the right blend of action and adventure. They've touched on politics. They have not ignored the best characters in the show: Victor and Sierra. They even went all Eternal Sunshine and it wasn't cheesily-done.

There's now just two episodes left, airing in early January, and I have high hopes that this series will end better than most series ever get a chance to.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Elad's Top 9 Albums of 2009 (Updated!)

I know you've been waiting for it. And here it is! My favorite albums of this past year.

9: Alec Ounsworth - Mo' Beauty.

This late '09 release from the lead singer of the incredible band, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, is interesting and flawed at the same time. Though it lacks the rampant innovation that signifies Clap Your Hands, Ounsworth tries to create some truly unique rhythms with his strange voice and weird pacing. It's never boring, but it doesn't always work. A couple of the best tracks crib from his own previous hits, "Me and You Watson" especially sounds like "Satan Said Dance" but that's a minor thing in a overall very satisfying album.

Live performance from KEXP of the album opener:

8. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World To Come

The Mountain Goats have been creating some of my favorite music over the last few years. Their roots are in low-fi and acoustic guitar music. I prefer their most recent Sufjan-esque bombast and even the pop-friendly stuff from last year's brilliant Heretic Pride. This record was more of a return to their roots with John Darnelle alone with a guitar or a piano for most of the record. It's a beautiful piece of music, tied together with a loose biblical theme that I really don't get (New Testament stuff is lost on me). I just wish there was more variety. Still, this is some of Darnelle's most vulnerable music and it's an amazing thing to listen too, as always.

Live performance from The Colbert Report (I was there!!)

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Mountain Goats - Psalms 40:2
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

7. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)

These guys can not not make great music. While not as amazing as their last record, Sky Blue Sky, this is nonetheless another great record to add to the ever growing list. Standouts include "One Wing" (possibly one of the best Wilco songs ever written - Yeah, I said it and it's true!), the Fiest-collab "You and I," and the anthem "I'll Fight." A little more scattered than we've seen Jeff Tweedy in the past, this record finds Wilco a little more pop-friendly at some parts and more random in others (I did not think "Bull Black Nova" needed to be five minutes long). Wilco, in my opinion, is up there with Radiohead as one of the best bands of our generation.

Great performance from Letterman:

6. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Seems to be another breakout year for these French dudes. Cadillac commercials aside, they're still everywhere. Much deserved, of course. These guys know exactly what kind of music they excel at and they deliver pretty much every time they go into the studio. I feel like their last album, It's Never Been Like That, was stronger than Wolfgang on some levels, but you can't resist how catchy and memorable these songs are. The first two tracks could be considered for singles of the year, but it's the mesmerizing third track, "Fences" that's one of my favorite songs of the year.

Live performance of "1901" from SNL:

5. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

This one's a doozy. Another awesome outing from the Flaming Lips, this Double LP (1 CD) is a lot of music. A lot of great music. More distorted, dyslexic, and dysfunctional than ever before. I've previously called it Expert Level Music Listening. It's an amazing piece of music, but you have to be ready for such a musical onslaught. The Lips have definitely brought a lot of their signature "moves" together into one massive shout-out to their proggy influences and their huge back catalog. The interlude "freak-outs" can be a little much after many listens, but the honest-to-goodness songs are pure gold.

Check this crazy awesomeness out!

4. The Dodos - A Time to Die

This short record from the San Francisco trio is so full of incredible music, it's hard to believe it comes from a band whose fairly young and new to the indie scene. There's tons of variety here, from poppy ballads to Arcade Fire-esque epics, this is a band with so much to say, it's amazing they condensed the album into 9 songs. Their last album, the not-to-be-missed-by-any-chance Visiter, was almost overflowing with music: 14 tracks, some of them over eight minutes long. This new record is only 9 songs, about 45 minutes of music, but it feels bigger and grander than it seems on first listens. After listening to just one or the album as a whole, I always feel like I've just gotten a glimpse at the something truly original.

Cool performance of one of the stranger tracks on the record, "Two Medicines"

3. The Appleseed Cast - Sagarmatha

You may never have heard of the Appleseed Cast but they've been around for a long time and have been evolving for awhile. From an emo band with pretty straightforward music, they've morphed into a post-rock outfit with an overwhelming power. Fans of pure guitar-bliss music (Interpol, My Morning Jacket) can not let this record go by without listening. Though steeped in some oldschool metal influences, the interplay of what sounds like dozens of guitars (but isn't) is so addictive, you'll want to listen again and again to pick up all the subtleties. The album feels like a roadtrip album with long meanderings songs in the beginning and tighter more accessible stuff towards the end. This is the kind of album I'll be listening to years and years from now.

(Had a little trouble finding a video for these recluses. Here's the first track from the album on youtube. not very interesting visually, but an incredible song.)

2. The Handsome Furs - Face Control

This band is a husband and wife team. The husband, Dan Boeckner, is the co-leadsinger of the amazing Canadian band Wolf Parade, one of my favorite new bands of the last few years. Unlike the expansive music of Wolf Parade, I look at this record as simply great indie rock done in a new and interesting way. Heavy on beats and the incredible guitar licks of Boeckner, this albums feels like a neverending well of head-bobbing awesomeness. Themed together under the guise of a Russian occupation, the songs on this album blend together better than any other tracklist I've seen since probably OK Computer. The album is fairly quick and to the point with some of its best tracks, "Officer of Hearts" and "Radio Kaliningrad", at the end. Face Control is an amazing achievement that is not getting enough recognition this year.

Weird, kinda gross, but kinda awesome "Thriller"-esque video to single, "I'm Confused"

1. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

This is not entirely unexpected to those close to me. I've been in love with Andrew Bird's music since I first stumbled across his records in 2006. I put him on a pedestal as one of the most amazingly innovative artists to ever grace our fair planet. His latest record, Noble Beast, is the next step in his incredible career. Discarding conventions like song structure, Noble Beast has the feeling of a dense novel full of delightful diversions into a man's confused pysche. It puts me in mind of Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but less weird.

Andrew Bird made it a point to keep this record a little less "sprawling and erratic" (his words) as his last one, the (once again) not to be missed Armchair Aprochyra, but in creating a more unified piece of music, he leaves the listener with the distinct sense of restraint and unresolved passion. The album has no big climax, no dramatic finish, and I think that's entirely intentional. A couple of songs are worth pointing out as standouts though the whole record, in any context, is an amazing piece of music: "Masterswarm," a brilliantly executed song from beginning to end, "Effigy," a long sprawling work with some of the most vivid images Bird has ever written and a violin-based chorus that sounds like something off Beck's Mutations; "Not an Robot, but a Ghost" with its otherworldy chrous and haunting lyrics; and the creepy "Anonanmial" (below).

For those of us who are looking for something new in music, Andrew Bird provides a dozen new ideas in every song.

Official Music Video for "Anonanimal"

Honorable Mentions:

Bon Iver - Blood Bank EP. Brilliant title track, if the rest of it was as good it would have definitely made it onto the list.
Islands - Vapours. Third effort from yet another Montreal-based band. Definitely more accessible (less dark) than previous works. It's fun in a surprising way.

One final note:
2010 looks to be another incredible year for indie rock music. New albums by Spoon, Broken Social Scene (!!), Arcade Fire (!!), Interpol, Midlake, Band of Horses, and The National (among others) has already got me extremely excited! See you next year. :)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Yes, please.

How awesome does this game look????

So, the full title is a mouthful. It's Final Fantasy: The Crystal Chronicles, The Crystal Bearers. But you could just call it the Crystal Bearers.

I've been following the development of this game for about two years, ever since I got the Wii. It's not the first Final Fantasy game on the Wii. The company, Square Enix, created a pseudo-exclusive series within Final Fantasy, The Crystal Chronicles, for Nintendo. So there has been a few Crystal Chronicles games for the GameCube, the DS, and the Wii, as well on WiiWare as well, the brilliant My Life As A King/My Life as A Dark Lord games. It's kind of cool because even though Square has a contract with Sony to develop the bigass Final Fantasy games for PS, us lowly Wii owners have gotten a lot of sorta off the beaten path style games.

But now we have this massive game that looks incredible. The developers have tried utilizing the Wii's unique motion controls to the max and pushing the graphical limits of the system. That combat you see on the previews is all motion based, which sounds incredible. The game comes out next month and so I haven't played it yet, but all early previews show that the developers succeeded in creating an experience unlike anything else seen before, which is pretty amazing when we're talking Final Fantasy, which probably has more games than Mario.

I'll be pre-ordering this game and playing the hell out of it for a few months, so expect some posts.