Monday, June 30, 2008

Jay-Z at Glastonbury: Watch It

Following a much-publicized war of words with Noel Gallagher, Jay-Z kicked off his Glastonbury performance perfectly: by covering, in hilarious fashion, "Wonderwall." He proceeds to perform, with the help of Memphis Bleek for part of the show, such classics as "99 Problems," "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." And oh yeah, he raps over "A Milli" and says "Fuck Bush" at one point.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Record Review: Sigur Ros: Með Suð í Eyrum vVð Spilum Endalaust

The Icelandic post-rockers release their fifth album, whose title translates to "With a Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly."

Rating: 3.5/5

I have a friend, at the moment, who is deeply, hopelessly in love with a girl who doesn't love him back. She is effortlessly beautiful, and knowing full well how my friend feels, has lead him on with endless half friendship, half courtship. People that beautiful, if they choose, can spend their lives being told how beautiful they are, instead of realizing it for themselves.

The music of Sigur Ros was in danger of becoming that girl after Takk, which had over-refined the transcendent, glacial aesthetic to the point of becoming good rather than great. How could we critics and fans, hopelessly in love after Ágætis Byrjun (a hypothetical full batch of pies) see the difference? How could the band possibly make their "difficult record" when the music community accepted their early minimalist 10 minute gibberish epics with joy? How can the band throw off these suitors and realize their beauty for themselves?

If the album cover and music of Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust provide any clue, it is to get naked. Sigur Ros have basically said, "Fuck it, you can turn off our amps, and we'll sound great with a few acoustics," and they do. But the acoustic/unplugged approach isn't original, and the nudity analogy isn't either.

Sigur Ros prove that they sound wonderful with simple production and in doing so reveal, with the exception of the first track, "Goobledigook," the limits of "naked" approach. Even though the songs hold up under more simple arrangements, they have not done anything remarkable with those arrangements. At first, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust seems like a confident realization of the band's naked beauty, but the bands methods haven't actually changed. They've pulled plenty of instruments out of the mix, but the idea is still to build tension very, very slowly. "Goobledigook" and the second track actually explore new ideas, like a faster pace and full organic instrumentation hinting at something like Feels, but that's as far the band goes before it slips back into more familiar territory. "Festival" and "Ara batur," the two longest tracks, leave plenty of space before the songs get big, but we always know the kick in is coming.

It's not that any of this is bad, I just hold Sigur Ros to the high standard they've earned for themselves. So while Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust is direct and beautiful, it lacks the element of mystery that would deepen its effect. The direction suggested by "Goobledigook," where acoustic instruments are something to be experimented with, rather than left unadorned, is just more interesting than what unfolds.
-Matt Gasda

Monday, June 23, 2008

R.I.P. George Carlin

Carlin, widely considered one of the greatest and most influential stand-up comics of all time, died of heart failure on Sunday, at age 71. He may have been best known for his controversial, Supreme Court case-sparking "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" and for just being generally hilarious. Rest in peace, George Carlin.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Music: Clipse (Re-Up Gang?)

It's just Pusha and Malice on this one, but Malice spells R-E-U-P-G-A-N-G at the beginning of the second verse, which would suggest that this one's from the forthcoming Re-Up Gang LP (no, not a mixtape). The beat, provided by Scott Storch, is a decent enough synth-driven backdrop, over which Pusha T raps about "mov[ing] weight like sumo," and similar subject matter. It's not Hell Hath-caliber, but it will do.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Record Review: Coldplay: Viva la Vida Or Death and All His Friends

The massively popular British pop-rock band returns with its Brian Eno-produced stab at progression and (mild) experimentation.

Rating: 3.5/5

I was excited when the new Coldplay album finally leaked. I had, in fact, been checking everyday for a week for such an event. This excitement is against my well-cultivated critical and social instincts. Coldplay, my favorite band through my sophmore and junior years of high school are an embarrasment to my indie snobbery, and a weakness for my indie snob friends to poke fun at. Occasionally I'll turn on "Talk" or something, but only to mock the band's emotional populism in a half hearted attempt to atone for the days when I paraded the depressingly vapid X&Y as my favorite record ever.

So my eagerness for this record is at once hypocritical and revealing. I listened to Viva La Vida not as the pseudo intellectual critic but as the more open hearted teenager who still thinks "Clocks" is thrilling or "Don't Panic" is romantic. I write this review, having returned to my intellect from my heart, willing to give Coldplay and Viva La Vida a batch of 3 and 1/2 out of a possible 5 pies. May Chris Martin enjoy every bite of his success pie.

They have evolved from bland platitudes and easy stadium thrills without sounding labored. The album's most unusual quirk is that most of the songs contain several, essentially unalike movements. It reveals the strategy the band employed: they wrote 20 Coldplay songs and smushed them into 10 Coldplay songs. Is this a crutch belying the band's lack of subtly? Yes. Does it play to their strengths? Yes. Coldplay are never going to be a band a that explore one idea for too long without being boring. I don't think Brian Eno brought the David Byrne one chord playbook to the Coldplay sessions.

Martin is predictably big with his lyrics, but this time sort of like Neon Bible-era Win Butler, which constitutes an upgrade. It's also more palatable because of the Eno eclecticism, or whatever the hell you wanna call the band's new musical vocabularly. "Strawberry Swing" recasts the simple, pleasant feel of "Parachutes" as a touching African tune, while the title track is a barrelling highlight. These are both from the backhalf, which is brighter and more fun, starting with the mega epics "Yes" and "Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love." The darker fronthalf, from "Cemetaries of London" to "42," isn't a stylistic strength, but gives the album an excellent pace and build. Coldplay have done themselves a favor by putting these songs in a context. Lines like, "those who are dead/ are just living in my head" aren't classic philsophy, but in the dissonance of all the other impressions presented, something cohesive emerges.

No one, from Coldplay, to their record company, to Eno, ever intended to make Coldplay for Airports. Instead, they have made something like the album version of "Atonement." It's not the best picture of the year, but it has enough art-house tricks in to justify paying for another war epic.

-Matt Gasda

Coldplay - Violet Hill

Buy: Amazon Insound MySpace

Friday, June 13, 2008

News About My Two Favorite Musicians!

Well, not really. The two people? Chris Martin and R. Kelly! The former walked out on a BBC interview and the latter walked out of a courtroom. Follow the link to read the full account of Martin's tantrum, but really, there wasn't much provocation. Something about the interviewer "journalistically twisting" Martin's words...I don't know, seems like he overreacted, but you'd be uptight too the week before you were about to release what is supposed to be a career-defining record. While the man behind the soon-to-be-multi-platinum Viva la Vida has been a little tense, the man behind Double Up is feeling quite relieved since, as you may have heard...HE'S BEEN ACQUITTED! Woo-hoo! Apparently, one key piece of evidence was that the man in the video has no large mole on his back, and Kels does. Too bad that Wesley Snipes and Robert Blake couldn't get off the same way. Anyway, R. Kelly allegedly celebrated by going out and screwing a 14-year-old girl...expect a trial sometime around 2017.

Viva la Vida review Monday or Tuesday, Trapped in the Closet, Chapters 23-33 review as soon as I'm done arm-wrestling with 'Twan.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summer Movie Preview

Granted, we're a bit late to the party- we've already seen the good (Iron Man) the bad (Indy 4) and the disturbingly sexy (Zohan) sides of what this year's summer blockbusters have to offer. However, seeing as how summer isn't yet upon us from a technical standpoint, here's a look ahead at films you should definately check out- or avoid. One thing's for certain; after last summer's record-breaking parade of threequels, it's kind of refreshing to see some new franchises emerging- or rebooting, in the case of The Incredible Hulk

Most Anticipated Movie: The Dark Knight

As with Tim Burton's original Batman film, the star here is not the caped crusador, but the main villain. Heath Ledger's startling take on the Joker, a role that may have in fact led to his death, has been getting a lot of Oscar buzz, and based on trailers it's easy to see why. Through stained facepaint and a knowing grimace, Ledger's Joker is a far cry from Jack Nicholson's legendary portrayal, and a closer representation of the comic-book version of Batman's nemesis. Which isn't to say that Christian Bale's been completely sidelined; he should continue developing Bruce Wayne, a protagonist established with a darker origin in Batman Begins. We'll also get treated to the origin of Harvey Dent, with all signs pointing towards him becoming Two Face for the final chapter of Christopher Nolan's trilogy. But for a superhero franchise that didn't have enough humor in its first installment, Ledger has given us a villain we can root for. As he says himself- "why so serious?"

Least Anticipated Movie: The Happening

Early buzz indicates that Shyamalan's latest is anything but happening. With a twist-less plot that seemingly revolves around evil trees, zero suspense, and an uninspired performance by Mark Wahlberg, it seems that the gifted Shyamalan may finally be done. I stood up for Unbreakable and Signs- hell, even The Village wasn't that bad- but if what critics say are true, this is going to be his second straight serious bust in a row. After Lady In The Water failed to gross more than 45 million, M. Night really has to hope the moviegoing public has nothing better to do on Friday the 13th and suddenly hates seeing Hulk movies (not going to happen- get it? Happen?)

Most Anticipated Comedy: The Foot Fist Way

With all due respect to Judd Apatow products Pineapple Express and Step Brothers, Danny McBride is about to become one of the biggest names in comedy. Coming off a hilarious role in Andy Sandberg's equally hilarious Hot Rod, McBride finally gets to see the release of this film, which originally premiered at Sundance in 2006. As long as its limited release doesn't bomb, it can only be a matter of time before this martial arts parody makes its way to multiplexes.

#1 Reason Everyone Loves Pixar: Wall-E

If Wall-E isn't the most adorable thing ever created, robot or otherwise, then I don't know what is. The concept seems to be slightly more daring for Pixar- less dialogue, less markatable characters aside from the protagonist- so don't be surprised if it doesn't make the big bucks (in Pixar standards- it will still come in at a comfortable number one, but I don't see it chasing Finding Nemo's enormous 340 mil), but once word of mouth spreads, it should see its fair share of green. Ratatouille, for example, had the second worst opening weekend of any Pixar Movie, but fell behind only Nemo and The Incredibles when all was said and done.

Most Under The Radar: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

In this summer of big-name superhero flicks- Iron Man, Batman, Hulk- it's easy to forget the little guy. This little guy, however, just happens to come from the mind of coveted director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage). Hellboy 1 was entertaining enough, but here, Del Toro looks to incorporate more of the whimsy that made Pan's Labyrinth such a classic to Hellboy's styalized action scenes. Seeing as how far he's come from his days directing the original and Blade II, and taking the inspired performance of Ron Pearlman into consideration, Hellboy 2 could sneak up and become the film of the summer.

Also worth attention: Hancock, The Promotion, Midnight Meat Train

Avoid: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emporer, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Disaster Movie, Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Monday, June 9, 2008

Record Review: Lil' Wayne: Tha Carter III

'Bout damn time.

Rating: 4/5

It’s here! Yes, music’s most divisive figure has finally released his long-awaited/long Tha Carter III, and it’s arriving in a big way: badass/hilarious cover art, #1 hit single, guest appearance from ex-Best Rapper Alive and a slew of beats from, uh, Best Producer Alive, pre-release leak controversy, and so on. Most fans either love him or hate him, and with the indie crowd, there’s generally more animosity than worship.

Admittedly, I have traditionally resented Mr. Carter’s off-kilter rasp, crunk-ish beats, and insistence on rapping on every single newly released hip-hop album (and that last one’s really only a slight exaggeration). However, with all the massive hype that built up around TC III, I had to give Lil’ Wayne a chance, approach his music with an open mind, set aside my East Coast bias for 80 minutes to try hear what all the fuss is really about. After all, when a guy’s proclaiming “Hip-hop, I saved your life” (on the jazzy, rapper-as-doctor metaphor “Dr. Carter”), and people don’t laugh him out of the room, it’s hard to ignore.

And certainly, now is the time to either jump on the bandwagon or get out of the way. Yes, Lil’ Wayne’s absurdly prolific, truly triumphant 2007 brought him a huge wave of critical acclaim, but it left something to be desired. Namely, the proper follow-up to his breakthrough Tha Carter II, the much-anticipated full-length that would truly cement his position as an all-time great (at least in eyes of Weezy himself and his followers). In this sense, the portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-child album cover is fitting: Tha Carter III is supposed to be Lil’ Wayne’s Illmatic, his Ready to Die, the classic needed to justify Wayne’s insistence that “when you mention Pac, Biggie, and Jay-Z/Don’t forget Weezy, baby!”

Well, it’s nowhere near the level of either Nas’ or Biggie’s best work, nor that of Jay-Z, nor that of 2Pac. However, consider me somewhat of Wayne convert: the disarmingly clever rhymes, inventive cadences, and outside-the-box voice inflections showcased on TC III are always refreshing and, when Weezy succeeds, damn near irresistible. The beats don’t always live up to the rapper, and the album would be better at three quarters the length, but the record, though far from perfect, is ultimately a success.

As far as standouts go, the Just Blaze-produced, Jay-Z-assisted “Mr. Carter” reigns supreme, the kind of sweeping, lush work Blaze has been doing for nearly a decade now, with the two highest profile MCs on the planet dropping inspired, top-notch lines over top. While Common’s Finding Forever and his own Graduation LP seems to have depleted Kanye West’s bag of tricks, the several beats he provides here are nonetheless exceptional, and Weezy tears them up: the sparse, solemn, deeply soulful “Tie My Hands,” which finds Lil’ Wayne reflecting on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on his hometown of New Orleans, is to TC III as “Roses” was to Late Registration, while “Let the Beat Build,” though a relatively unimaginative use of an strong initial sample, is welcome contrast to the some of the more ringtone-sounding, non-sample-reliant production on the album. “A Milli” finds Lil’ Wayne dropping some of his best rhymes (my favorite being “I don’t owe you like two vowels”), and he sounds just as razor sharp on the strange, Weezy-as-alien “Phone Home,” a track that would be a truly WTF moment for any other rapper, but is a perfect character sketch for this particular artist.

What shouldn’t have made the cut? The Busta Rhymes/Brisco-assisted “La La” is irritating from the start, and becomes a complete trainwreck after Wayne finishes the opening verse. “Playin’ With Fire” lays the piano/synthesized guitar melodrama on unbearably thick, while Weezy spits some bullshit about being like assassinated like MLK or something. The Juelz Santana/Fabolous-assisted “You Ain’t Got Nuthin’” is listenable but boring and unoriginal, and the last six minutes of 10-minute closer “Don’t Get It (Misunderstood),” during which Wayne criticizes (speaking, not rapping) Reverend Al Sharpton, is worth one listen, but no more.

And then there’s “Lollipop,” which I have tried so hard to hate and dismiss as 2008’s “Crank That,” but simply can’t. The song features little rapping (and it’s some of the worst on the album), but the refrain is just sooooo irresistibly catchy. It’s doesn’t have a whole lot of staying power, but my feelings on “Lollipop” pretty much represent my feelings on Lil’ Wayne in general: the more I listen, the more it sucks me in, strangely alluring, totally unparalleled…it’s good thing, then, that, as Weezy asserts on “Mr. Carter,” “two words [we’ll] never hear…‘Wayne quit’.”

Monday, June 2, 2008

Record Review: Fleet Foxes: s/t

The much-hyped indie folk five-piece follows its excellent Sun Giant EP with its excellent full-length debut.

Rating: 4/5

Here we go again. Another artist who blew up (using the term “blew up” liberally) through MySpace…yet, it doesn’t seem so interesting, weird, or trendy anymore. It’s a good talking point for an intro to album review, but it says very little about the band. In this case, the band is Fleet Foxes, a much blogged about Seattle-based five-piece and, yeah, they’re good, which seems to be the key thing MySpace Stars have in common. (except for Kate Nash ;) )

If you’ve heard that Fleet Foxes sound like Grizzly Bear…well, those comparisons certainly have some merit, as the former’s debut record often recalls the harmonious, bucolic psych-folk of the latter’s fantastic 2006 effort Yellow House. Drawing connections between Fleet Foxes and a more middle-of-the-road contemporary like, let’s say, Band of Horses isn’t totally out of left field either, and to backtrack a few decades, parallels to artists like Neil Young or the Band could be drawn as well.

And the list goes on for pages and pages, if you wish. If you’ve heard FF’s Sun Giant EP, you know that the band isn’t out to revolutionize modern music. At the same time, if you’ve heard Sun Giant, you also know that Fleet Foxes are one of the most promising bands around, and that a band need not explore some new musical frontier if they can roam the old ones with such mastery. On both the EP and the LP, Fleet Foxes excel through golden harmonies, homespun, inviting warmth, and a flawless sense of dynamic, an impeccable ability to quickly but seamlessly build from skeletal balladry to full band jam and drift back down to earth with ease.

Dynamic songcraft is the band’s most important element, the one that separates Fleet Foxes from other up-and-coming bands and gives their songs unpredictability and uniqueness. Late album gem “Blue Ridge Mountains” is one of the best instances: it begins with quiet acoustic strums and faint harmonizing, a sort of bare, meditative stillness, but soon singer Robin Pecknold’s vocals emerge with crystal clarity over top a much crisper, quicker guitar-piano backdrop. It’s not long before the track ascends again, this time to the infectious climax, with Pecknold crooning poetic lyrics like “In the quivering forest/Where the shivering dog lies” while the band moves as a unified, propulsive unit behind him. Before you know it, it’s over, and you want to experience it all again.

Elsewhere, the previously released “White Winter Hymnal” gets a welcome reprise (albeit in a slightly truncated form), and, in the context of the album, nicely sets up the fuller, more up-tempo “Ragged Wood.” This type of one-two punch occurs frequently on Fleet Foxes, where understated, stripped down hymns set the table for straight-ahead rockers (okay, nothing on this record really “rocks,” but you get the idea). Like on “Blue Ridge Mountains,” the sense of dynamic is key in keeping an album fresh and engaging that could have easily fallen into a rut, a simple, unimaginative rehash of traditional folk, baroque pop, and the handful of other genres that comprise Fleet Foxes’ style.

Yet, for all of its deliberate shifts, nothing on Fleet Foxes seems even remotely labored or unnatural. In fact, it will likely be one of the most effortless and sincere records we’ll hear in 2008. Honestly, it doesn’t have any moments that completely knock my socks off, but Fleet Foxes exhibits a band with a distinct, rich sound and consistently strong songwriting. MySpace or no MySpace, what more can anyone ask for?