In celebration of today's 10th anniversary of the release of Sigur Rós's Ágætis byrjun, sigur-ros.co.uk has put up a mini-site with memories, outtake sound clips, and videos. I first heard "Svefn-g-englar" in 2000 and immediately ran to the long-gone Other Music in Harvard Square to pick up an import copy. It completely blew me away in a way that I don't think an album has in its first listen since. If you haven't checked it out yet, now's the time.
(4) # 6/12/2009
Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood hanging out and finger-picking Portishead's The Rip. The track has a Radiohead vibe already -- I think they should do a studio cover.
(0) # 4/2/2009
Recent song I like: the semi-eponymous Röyksopp Forever (not an official video). It reminds me vaguely of the 1978 disco-/rock-opera Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, another favorite of mine.
(1) # 3/31/2009
For his recently released album Bromst, Dan Deacon and his crew programmed a player piano to play musical lines much faster than humanly possible, although still within certain mechanical limits. Pitchfork TV made a neat behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the album -- here is the section going into detail about the MIDI-controlled player piano. (I was a big fan of his last album Spiderman of the Rings -- Bromst is a denser listen, but it's growing on me.)
(0) # 3/25/2009
I missed a few things in my "Notable 2009 consumptions, so far" post, and have one update, so here they are:
I saw this only a few weeks ago and I've already forgotten most of the plot points, but this movie was worth it solely for the gun shootout sequence near the end (for which director Tom Tykwer built somewhere in Germany a full scale replica of New York's Guggenheim Museum) -- one of the best scenes of its kind I've seen since perhaps Heat. I felt bad for screenwriter Eric Singer, though, who said in this podcast interview that he hoped the film didn't come off as a feature-length set up for that one scene -- to me it sort of did. Along with Children of Men, Clive Owen is now the master of well-shot action scenes.
Important Things with Demetri Martin
I haven't enjoyed a sketch comedy show this much since Mr. Show. You can view clips on the Comedy Central website.
The Hazards of Love (The Decemberists) (update)
Last night, The Decemberists played this entire album live and in full at SXSW, and NPR has the whole thing up on their site. It's not quite as tight as the album (not surprisingly for its live debut), but the energy is there. One odd thing is that the stream has pre- and post-show commentary by NPR hosts, although it was interesting to hear that the crowd didn't get fully into the performance until Shara Worden came on stage.
I haven't been posting much recently for various reasons, and I can't honestly say whether that will change or not. But one thing I haven't done here recently is mention a few things I've read/seen/heard in 2009 that are worth recommending/commenting on. So here goes:
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
I read this earlier this year and was alternately floored and bored by it (mostly the former) -- which is not all that surprising for a 900-page novel split into five tonally unrelated parts. It's such a brutal book to read at times, especially the fourth part which describes in clinical detail the murder of hundreds of women in a Juárez-like city in northern Mexico. But it's been a long time since I've read a book that immediately after I've finished compelled to me to skim through the entire book again right there, even at that late hour. And I had to go on an Internet quest after finishing it as well, enjoying especially this Nation article which delves into Bolaño's real life obsession with the Juárez murders.
I missed this seven-episode miniseries when it aired on HBO last summer, partially unmotivated by its military subject matter. But I should have never underestimated David Simon and Ed Burns -- the team that brought us The Wire. The same keen dramatic eye they brought to the city of Baltimore is played out here in the more narrowly-focused world of military command, and with the sheer power of realism they have created some of the tensest war scenes I've seen. I probably don't have to add that there's some subtle and not-so-subtle political commentary as well.
The first season of this HBO series suffered from several flaws, including a half-hearted attempt to be a Mormon polygamist version of Desperate Housewives. It's still a flawed show, often teetering on the edge of contrivance (sort of like Six Feet Under), but the current season has gotten a lot darker, and more willing to explore the lesser known aspects of Mormon culture.
Real Time with Bill Maher
Sometimes this show has the best political commentary on TV (like the first episode this season with Chrystia Freeland, Tina Brown, and Rep. Maxine Waters on the panel) and sometimes it's painful to watch (like Friday's episode with Michael Eric Dyson and Andrew Breitbart). But on average, it makes even the best of cable news embarrassing to watch.
This is probably the least consistent show I've ever watched to completion. I can't wait to see the season finale this Friday so I never have to watch this show again.
On the other hand, Lost is really good! It faltered during seasons 2 and 3, but they've found their voice during the past two. This is the only solid sci-fi entertainment I can find right now. (Please, help!)
Those of you who have read my thoughts on Beowulf 3D know that I'm a big promoter of 3D cinema, and Coraline 3D just took it to another level. Since it was filmed with stop-motion animation, watching it felt like I was miniaturized and placed into its fascinating world. And the story and art design are very good, surpassing The Nightmare Before Christmas, I think.
I enjoyed many parts of this movie, but overall the experience was ruined for me by Zack Snyder's ham-handed directorial style, especially the musical selections and over-heightened sense of violence. Surprisingly, I thought the acting was solid, and the story was handled somewhat well. I'm afraid this is the type of movie which makes viewers less likely to read the source material, which is unfortunate as Alan Moore's comic book is a subtler read.
The Hazards of Love (The Decemberists)
I've heard some good music this year, but I want to comment only on this new album from The Decemberists for now. I absolutely loved The Crane Wife, partly for its operatic rock feel. I was disappointed with my first listen to The Hazards of Love, partially because I found the subject matter fairly uninteresting for a pseudo-rock opera, but it's really grown on me with several listens, particularly the parts with Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond singing the role of The Queen.
This New Yorker profile on Will Oldham AKA Bonnie "Prince" Billy (who made my #4 album of last year) is an interesting read, and not just because I learned that he played the father of Baby Jessica in the TV movie about her fall into a well. (I had already seen him in John Sayle's Matewan anyway.) (via @Schenkenberg)
(1) # 1/5/2009
As I was struggling to rank my top albums of 2008, I read Roger Ebert's top twenty films of 2008 where, finally giving up winnowing his choices down to just ten, he wrote:
If you must have a Top 10 List, find a coin in your pocket. Heads, the odd-numbered movies are your 10. Tails, the even-numbered.
This served as a moment of inspiration. Rather than ordering twenty albums, I thought, I would put them into two tiers and then write a bit of code to randomize their ordering within the tiers with each page refresh.
Perhaps luckily for my readers, in the end I decided against this. As I started to write my little blurbs, momentary preferences started to sink in. But I admit they are just that: momentary preferences. I still like my number one album from last year, but man that Spoon album, which I ranked #16, sure has been getting a lot of play this year.
So here it is: a snapshot of what I currently think are my top twenty albums of 2008. Last year, some of the recommendations in the comments became new favorites, so please tell me where I went astray.
20. Kanye West -- 808s & Heartbreak
When I heard the first singles coming from this percussively stripped-down and AutoTune-obsessed breakup album, I was expecting throwaway tracks, some filler before his next proper album. But it turns out that this is a proper album, with only the live freestyle on the final track meriting the skip button. It isn't quite Kanye at his finest, but it just goes to show that we all benefit by his persistent sincerity.
Favorite tracks: Paranoid; RoboCop
19. El Guincho -- Alegranza
Yes, it sounds like it was produced in exactly the same way as an Animal Collective album, but on Alegranza the loop components come almost strictly from the tropical realm (think steel drums and maracas). But it's never exhausting in the way Animal Collective can be, and it's surprisingly danceable throughout.
Favorite tracks: Antillas; Fata Morgana
18. Coldplay -- Viva la Vida
While I've always had a guilty pleasure like of Coldplay's singles, their past albums have been filled with aimless, tiresome songs. On Viva la Vida, they still wear their influences on their sleeves (along with colored ribbons), but the songs are rarely boring and benefit from Brian Eno's light touch.
Favorite tracks: 42; Death and All His Friends
17. Gang Gang Dance -- Saint Dymphna
How to describe this eclectic album? I could say Pure Moods meets Battles, but that really only describes a few tracks on here, and doesn't manage to explain the electronic touches or dancefloor moments. I guess I'll give up and say this is the best compilation album of 2008 by one band.
Favorite tracks: First Communion; House Jam
16. Hercules and Love Affair -- Hercules and Love Affair
Yes, 2008 was the breakout year of new-wave/disco (see also Cut Copy's In Ghost Colours). And it's not even "retro-influenced" anymore -- much of this album sounds straight out of the 70's, with the exception of Antony's voice, which has finally found a comfortable home. It started with the Junior Boys a few years ago, but I've been a sucker for this stuff ever since.
Favorite tracks: Hercules Theme; Blind
Saul Williams talks about Niggy Tardust, one year later. He seems rather happy about how it turned out (even though Trent Reznor was disheartened by the numbers), but isn't sure yet how he'll release his next album.
(0) # 11/16/2008
In support of Barack Obama -- and Early Voting, which starts this Saturday in Nevada -- Joanna Newsom will be giving a free concert at UNR on Monday, October 20th. I saw her excellent orchestral show in Grass Valley, CA last year, but she's great when it's just her and her harp as well.
(0) # 10/16/2008
By November 23rd, we may have the nation's first Black President-elect, and Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy will have been released. What a world.
(3) # 10/9/2008
Boards of Canada are coming out of hiding, sort of, producing a few tracks by Scottish band The Sexual Objects. You can listen to one of the tracks, "Here Come the Rubber Cops," on MySpace. It's the first track in the list, labeled as "The Sexual Objects" -- the one with the The-Man-Who-Sold-the-World riff. (thx, endepth08)
(4) # 9/22/2008
The making of Darren Aronofsky's next film, The Wrestler, keeps getting more interesting, to the point where I can't imagine what to expect: Aronofsky blogs that Slash participated in the recording of Clint Mansell's score. (Mansell did the music for Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, the last of which with Mogwai.)
(0) # 8/8/2008