Friday, March 19, 2010

New Music Roundup

Oh man, I can barely keep up with 2010! Thankfully I've been spending a lot of time in my car lately and have had a chance to listen to a lot of new tunes. Some of my favorites:

The Radio Dept - Clinging to a Scheme
Third proper album from this amazing indie pop band out of Sweden. Their second album was a disappointment after the amazing debut record, "Lesser Matters." This new one, while not quite as huge and ambitious as that first record, is full of brilliant beats and soothing rhythms. They seem to have found a really happy medium between the static noise they experiment with in their EP's and the more traditional rock/pop stuff.

I've been a fan of these guys forawhile. Their hushed vocals right above the music reminds me of Broken Social Scene (to wit: one of the songs below features some out-of-nowhere horns that rock!) and their lush sound puts them in line with some of today's best new music.

Check out some music-only videos below:

Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto
I'm not overly familiar with this band out of Wasilla, Alaska, but this new album is pretty amazing. It's fairly consistent throughout, employing heavy drum and bass that equals head bobbing awesomeness. Apparently they have employed a lot of different styles over the course of their five studio records since 2007 (wow!). There's a confidence in these songs that make me go back for a listen again and again to relive those slick moments, abounds in the two tracks I've highlighted below. Listen and enjoy! (I'm sure you will.)

Jason Collett - Rat a Tat Tat
Broken Social Scene member and Bob Dylan impersonator, Jason Collett's followup to one of 2008's best records is not quite the step forward in Semi-Acoustic Singer Songwriter History that I had hoped it to be, but it's still quite awesome. If anything, it's too consistent. On his last record, "Here's to Being Here," Collett seemed to look at all of straight-up Rock N' Roll, find the best stuff, and cram them all into one record (this was especially unique because, with BSS, he does the reverse: Throws traditional Rock N' Roll out the window and tries different approaches..but anyway). With this new album, it's a lot more straightforward: Love songs, songs about Canada, anthems, the occasional non-whiny ballad. Basically, an old fashioned rock and roll record. It's a nice change of pace from the psychedelic dreamscapes of Beach House (which you should be listening to.)

The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers
I'm just going to be upfront this time: I love The Album Leaf. I love their mostly instrumental sound. Their beats and boops and blips mixed with rising and falling (fake) strings. Vocals - let alone an actual chorus! - was rare in previous Album Leaf records, but this new album is more of a "band" record, using the actual touring band for The Album Leaf. As such, there's a definite shift in the sound, from the laptop electronica of the past to a more Indie Rock flavor. And I'm on board! James LaValle's singing voice is not the most dramatic, but the rising tension of these songs creates some great power, while still holding onto the laidback atmospheric sounds that fans of the band have come to expect.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

LOST - 6x07 "Dr. Linus" Review/Reaction

I find it fascinating to read the day after reviews of recent LOST episodes, mainly because it seems like everyone agrees. It's a strange thing that Lost, a show that attracts hardcore SciFi fans, causal TV viewers, and pyscho Alternate Reality game-playing Lostpedia-addicted rampaging uber-fans (*cough* guess which category I fit into?), can all agree that this week's "Dr. Linus" was one of the best episodes of the season, if not the series itself.

I wouldn't go quite so far as to say this ranks up there with "The Other 48 Days," "Flashes Before Your Eyes," or "Through The Looking Glass," but as a pure character study on Ben, the most conflicted and complex character on the show, this episode shines with a brightness that eclipses even the spectacular "The Substitute" from earlier this season.

Let's start with the flashsideways: Ben is a perfectly believable history teacher. One of his strengths is that he doesn't look like a villain. He looks like a braniac (especially with those tiny tiny glasses) who can use his wit and cunning to outsmart opponents. Now, the Ben we know as Leader of the Others was also murderous, ruthless, and a pathological liar. As we learn throughout this episode, him and his father somehow left the Island and created a new life in Los Angeles. Though Ben is unhappy in his life, he is fairly content, until a certain wheelchair bound John Locke implants the idea of becoming a principal into his head.

Soon after, Ben gets a visit from Alex Rosseau, his adopted daughter in the original timeline. The first scene with them together was very strange, almost creepy. But the respect that Alex has for Ben is so apparent and interesting, considering the girl we knew resented and hated her father for all he had done. I didn't think the writers would use her so much and despite these flashsideways being full of Guest Stars, the appearance of Alex surprised me. My first reaction was, "Wow. They went there."

Later, Alex confides in Ben that she overheard the principal getting it on with the school nurse. This opens a door in Ben's mind for some clever machinations and with the help of Leslie Arzt (who is EVERYWHERE apparently), he sucessfully initates a blackmail plot on the principal, played with typical Asshole Facial Expressions by That Asshole Reporter from the Die Hard movies. But there's a catch! If Ben completes his blackmail, the principal will not write a recommendation letter for Alex to Yale.

This poses an interesting choice for Ben. In the original timeline, he sacrificed his daughter on a whim. He believed he could trick Martin Keamy into thinking she didn't matter to him and thus spare her life. He failed and Alex was murdered in front of him. Here, he has a similar (but not quite as dramatic) choice to make and he chooses not to blackmail the Principal. He sacrificed his own ambition for Alex. Unlike Sayid in last week's flashsideways who realized redemption was beyond his capabilities, here Ben chose the right thing to do.

Although this is a different Ben in a different reality, the essence of the character remains, not a villain as we've come to know, but an honest man who was led on the wrong path by Jacob and the Others.
On the Island, Jack and Hurley come across Richard (thanks Lost for answering my question from last week) who leads them to the Black Rock. He says he's there to die and he needs Jack's help. Much like Michael, the Island will not allow Richard to kill himself so he asks Jack to light a fuse on one of the sticks of dynamite (man, there was a lot of dynamite on that boat!). Jack agrees, lights the fuse, and sits down next to Richard and says, "Now let's talk."

Awesome moment! Jack believes (whoa!) that Jacob or the Island has a purpose for him and would not allow him to die meaninglessly here in the Black Rock. It's an extremely tense scene and succeeds in every level, including Hurley freaking out everytime Richard touched the dynamite. He even references Dr. Arzt! Well, Jack's gamble worked and the dynamite doesn't go off. Amazingly, it seems like he just recruited Richard to his team.

Finally, the bulk of the episode was taken up with Ben's conflict with Ilana. Early in the episode, Miles reveals that it was in fact Linus who killed Jacob which pisses off Ilana. Lacking anywhere to go, they decide to head to the Survivor's Beach and wait there until they can figure out what next to do. This is interesting because during last season's time travelling adventures, the survivors, led by Sawyer, were always heading back to the beach but never quite made it because they kept getting sidetracked in the jungle. This season, there's very little action taking place between destinations and after the first commercial break, they're on the beach.

It's always a sad/interesting/cool thing to go back to "where it all started" and see the state of the camp. Where once it was full of life and people, all of that is gone and only wreckage remains. It's a poignant reminder of how far this story has come, from the quests for fresh water and food early in the series to the attack by the Others that practically destroyed the beach camp and all the insanity since then.

Others have commented that it's a shame Ilana is not more fully developed. She's actually been on the show since mid last season yet we know very little about her except that she's been touched by Jacob, which is not very much. So while she created an interesting situation by forcing Ben to dig his own grave, it lacked the intensity it would have had if he had been forced to do that by Jack or even Richard.

I loved the scene with Miles coming to visit Ben. Would have liked to see a similar scene with Sun and Lapidus, final goodbyes so to speak.

Alas, Ben's comeuppance was not meant to be (yet). Fake Locke showed up and freed Ben with some magic Q-like hand movements. He told Ben there was a rifle waiting for him in the jungle. So Ben ran and Ilana followed in a classic Race Through the Jungle sequence which ended in Ben holding the upper hand against Ilana with a drawn rifle.

Now, here's the scene that to me, precludes this episode from becoming part of Lost's "Best Of." Although Ben's speech is well written and brilliantly acted, I did not buy Ilana's change of heart. She went from ready to murder Ben to accepting him into her posse in a matter of minutes. It felt...forced. As if it was, much like Sayid's joining of Fake Locke, masterminded to pit some of the best rivalries on the show on opposite sides in the coming battle. The Ben I know would not accept Ilana's change of heart so readily. In response to her "I'll have you" comment, he should have said something like: "Thank you. But I don't know you won't try to kill me tomorrow." And shot her in the head.

So that scene rang false for me and undermined what was otherwise a great episode. Michael Emerson won an Emmy last year for his portrayal of Ben Linus. This episode made him a easy favorite to win again.

The final scene, with Charles Widmore on a submarine heading to the Island, is perfectly timed with the endgame of the series shaping up. Now, where the hell is a kickass Desmond/Charlie episode??

Thursday, March 04, 2010

LOST - 6x06 "Sundown" or "How Badass is Sayid? Let's count the bodies."

Oh, tricky Lost writers. You tried to fool us! By simply naming your episode after one of your main characters, everyone in Internet Lost World thought this was going to be a Jin/Sun episode and continue the pattern of copying the episode focus from the first season! You had me, for sure. I was ready to hear some Korean, read subtitles, and get all teary-eyed at the inevitable reunion. Instead, we got a episode focused on Sayid and poses the question we've all been wondering: "How many people can Sayid kill in one episode?" The answer: "Lots!"

First of all, I just want to point out how awesome Sayid is. During last season's finale, Sayid (carrying a nuclear weapon on his back, BTW) was shot by Roger Linus. Things looked pretty grim for our tortured torturer. In fact, as "The Incident" ended and no main characters had met their violent ends, I was very worried that the writers might actually kill Sayid. Now, Sayid hadn't had such a major role in the show since his employment by Ben post Oceanic Six, so it made a little sense that they might write him off the show (and by writing off the show, I mean getting shot in the stomach [see: Ana Lucia, Libby, others]). But thankfully they didn't! And he's been very important this new season so an episode devoted to him makes sense at this time.

Still, the flashsideways story of this episode left me a little cold. Here we have Nadia, Sayid's long lost love since the beginning of the show, married to Sayid's brother and with a couple of kids. Now, I didn't have an issue with Jack having a son last week, yet I find this sudden appearance of characters that did not exist strangely jarring. With Jack's son, David, I understood why the writers chose to pursue that storyline. Here, the appearance of a brother reeked of an excuse to get Sayid to do what he does best: Kill a bunch of people.

On the flip side, the flashsideways story may have been to remind the viewer about Sayid's deep-rooted love for Nadia and how much his life has sucked since she got hit by a car in Season 4. That explains why he so quickly goes with Fake Locke... but I'll get to that. Lemme just say, that despite the appearance and subsequent death of Keamy (awesomeness. hate that guy and his smirk!), I feel like this storyline would have been better if it dealt with AltUniverse Sayid encountering one of the other 815 passengers (Jack or Charlie quickly comes to mind) and having some kind of interesting adventure. But I guess that's coming..

On the Island, interesting stuff abounds! After Jack and Hurley split (way to not leave anyone behind, Shephard!) a confused Sayid confronts Dogen about why he has tried to kill him a couple times now in the span of a few short episodes. Dogen gives him a spiel about Good vs. Evil, scales and balance etc, basically a quick thematic summary of the entire series. And then they engage in the best fight scene ever! Dogen, somehow, wins the fight and has the opportunity to kill Sayid, but stops when his baseball, dislodged during the fight, hits the ground. I'm not exactly sure of the significance of that, but it saved Sayid's life and Dogen banished him.

Meanwhile, Fake Locke convinces Claire to give herself up to the Others in the Temple in order to deliver a message. He wants Dogen to come out to talk to him. When she walked into the courtyard was an awesome moment in the history of Lost. It's too bad there weren't more of the regular Losties around to witness it. Imagine Hurley trying to give her a big bear hug!

Dogen doesn't want to go out to get himself killed, so he sends Sayid instead, with instructions to kill whoever appears "as someone who has recently died" immediately. Sayid, in a bit of Locke-like innocence says "Sure, I'll do that!" He runs into Kate on his way out of Temple and soon enough encounters Locke/The Smoke Monster. As ordered, Sayid attempts to kill him by stabbing him in the chest with a ceremonial-looking dagger that Dogen gave him. Fake Locke removes the dagger from his chest and says, "Now why did you go and do that?"

Fake Locke recruits Sayid to his cause by claiming that he can give him anything he wants, specifically (in Sayid's mind), Nadia, alive again. Does this mean that Fake Locke can somehow tap into other universes where people who have died are still alive? Is that how he uses the bodies of those who have died as vessels in this world? The internet is abuzz with theories about that, connections between the flashsideaways reality and regular reality. It's good fodder for discussion.

Meanwhile, Kate has entered the Temple and Miles tells her that Claire is here! Kate immediately goes to find her in a hole in the ground and tells her about Aaron. Unfortunately, this scene, which had a lot of potential, falls a little flat because of Claire's lack of reaction. Other reviewers online have claimed that she's under the influence of the Smoke Monster and not really herself in this scene, but I'm not so sure.

In another dramatic entrance, Sayid returns to the temple to deliver The Smoke Monster's message. For some reason, all the Temple Others are hanging out outside, including Cindy the flight attendant from Flight 815. He tells them that Jacob is dead and those who want to join him and leave the Island should leave the Temple and join him before sundown or stay here and die. It's an ominous message, delivered with intensity by this new, powerful-willed Sayid. Some of the Others listen and leave, while some (including Dogen) stay.

Once again, Sayid goes to confront Dogen in the Pool Room. Dogen gives some backstory about his son, but it's not enough to pacify Sayid who drowns Dogen in the same pool that Dogen's people drowned Sayid in the season premiere. Dogen's right-hand man, the talented actor John Hawkes, rushes to the scene only to have his throat slit by Sayid.

Apparently, Dogen was keeping the Smoke Monster away so by Sayid killing him, he becomes responsible for all the deaths at the Temple. If you add the gangsters Sayid killed in the AltUniverse plus all these people, you have the answer.

The attack on the Temple finally occurs and it's as bloody and dark as we've come to expect when the shit really hits the fan on Lost. In the middle of the chaos, Ilana and Ben's team show up in an attempt to rescue Jack and Hurley, but all they get is Miles. Ben tries to get Sayid to come away with them but Sayid refuses and Ben walks away slowly wearing a frightened expression.

The last few minutes of this episode is really weird. And I mean that in a strange, not so great, way. There's a lot of slow motion and shots of people giving each other serious stares and it's all very dramatic, but it left me wondering: Who were all those people around Fake Locke? They didn't look like the Others who left the Temple. Actually, they looked like pirates, maybe from the Black Rock, all longhaired and sunburnt. (Which reminds me, Where the heck has Richard been??). Also, Fake Locke gives the "Go Ahead" stare to Claire and Sayid... and then Kate? That doesn't really make sense. If he's been recruiting people to his army, why would he let in this civilian?

I will say, however, that is looking like a showdown between Fake Locke's people and Jack's. This is reminiscent of Season 3, when the survivors of Flight 815 split based on their opinion about the freighter people. That led to some very interesting scenarios and a lot of changing of loyalties (always interesting.) Wild guess: Kate convinces Sawyer (maybe Sayid?) to change sides to Jack's side sometime soon.

So, while I quite enjoyed most of the episode, the last few minutes (including Ilana's sudden appearance) were quite jarring and left me more than a little confused. But that's not necessarily a bad place to be mid-season on Lost. Ten more episodes left...