Monday, April 21, 2008

My Obsession - Nick Cave

Yet another new segment I will kick off. Simply titled My Obsession, I will take a look into my newest and latest musical obsessions. Every month or so I go through an obsession with an artist that I have long wanted to listen to. This month it has come down to that of Nick Cave.

My first brush with Nick Cave was only a few months ago. I've known his song "Red Right Hand" thanks in part to its usage in none other than the brilliant Dumb and Dumber. You know the scene. "The elderly, although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, still can serve a purpose."

Anyway, more legitimately, Nick Cave has come to mind when the amazing film The Proposition came out. He wrote the screenplay and did the soundtrack with Warren Ellis. The film is amazingly brutal, much like what I would find in Cave's lyrics, but something was enrapturing about it. The soundtrack is amazingly minimal and haunting with the strings of Ellis and the piano arrangements really bone chillingly beautiful. That was all I had of Nick Cave's until I recently got around to watching the masterpiece that is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Yet another soundtrack care of Cave and Ellis, it's the same simplistic beauty and grandiose minimalism of The Proposition (yeah I guess that's an oxy moron but it works if you listen to it.) I decided to take the plunge and look into some Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, his most enigmatic group. He is one Australian badass that captivates with quality music and quality lyrics. This proves to be the best move I made in a while...maybe since I became overly obsessed with Tim Buckley by randomly buying an LP of his in Lancaster, PA at an amazing record store on a whim (and on the knowledge of his being Jeff's father.... but I digress.)

My first line of attack into the affairs of Cave and the Bad Seeds was Tender Prey. The album is a haunting amalgam of sounds and jaunty tunes of gothic goodness. His signature track, "The Mercy Seat" is a phenomenal half spoken word, half desperately sung death row repentance track that is an amazing testimony to the stylistic qualities Cave can hit as well as the poetic nature of his lyrics. The music swirls and twists along like a train hurtling through the night. "Up Jumped the Devil" is my personal favorite track at the moment with a Tom Waits feel. jaunty pianos and growling baritone vocals tell the story of a damned man's life as the Devil waits in the wings to collect his soul.

At the suggestion of fans from the amazingly helpful wonderous website, I picked up Murder Ballads next in order to fulfill my need for more amazing tracks from Mr. Cave. What a brutal album, in the best way possible. "Song of Joy" is ironically joyless. His duet with none other than Kylie Minogue on "Where the Wild Roses Grow" is chillingly gorgeous. My favorite is the chewed up and spit out version of the traditional track "Stagger Lee." Enough grit is poured to give the repetitious traditional track a new life more brutal than it ever had. The album is obviously about the crimes of passion of sociopaths, but the poetic structures make it more of an existential statement than just a shock factor. It's artistic philosophy.

The charts on my page are sure to be crazy filled with anything Nick Cave next week when they update my weekly charts and that won't change until I get more of his albums and soak them up. His new disc Dig! Lazarus! Dig! has some great tracks, but I've only streamed it so far as I want to get into more back catalog before diving into the newest treats.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Weakest of the Best - Stanley Kubrick

Without fully seeing the early films of Stanley Kubrick, this seems a little unfair to be looking at his entire filmography and pointing out the weakest film. Undoubtedly, it's probably one of those early films that doesn't hold a candle, but let's be honest; from Paths of Glory to Eyes Wide Shut, that is when Kubrick was really a true auteur. That being said, Stan the Man only had 10 films to his credit from 1957 to 1999, and we all know Spartacus is not really Kubrick's (as he denounced it as his artistic vision as director.) So let's just say of the 9 truly fantastic Kubrick Film at hand, which one seems to be lacking the true greatness of the overall film making experience.

That being said, the selection we are working from here is as follows in chrono order:
Paths of Glory
Dr. Strangelove
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
Barry Lyndon
The Shining
Full Metal Jacket
Eyes Wide Shut

Looking at that list alone, I applaud the greatness of such a career. Yes it wasn't as prolific as say Woody Allen or Steven Spielberg, but at least none of these are truly awful. That said one is clearly not as good as the rest.

Bloated, boring and only redeeming in it's visceral brilliance, Barry Lyndon is the winner this time at Weakest of the Best. Barry Lyndon is a period piece that follows the story of Redmond Barry, a pathetic man-child, into the ups and downs of high society in 18th Century Europe. The long and short of it is, we get to follow the whimpy and poorly acted Ryan O'Neal (whose daughter, Tatum, won an Oscar which clearly has led him to be a jealous parent) galavant around in fancy dress and whine about his situation. His whole tale is dumb luck and everything that happens to him happens out of this lucky situation. That's basically the plot without running through the three and a half trudging hours of exposition.

Where Barry Lyndon falls flat is the story and the acting. From Ryan O'Neal's uninspired Barry to the long and disjointed plot of his life just adds for a recipe of boring film making. Long films don't have to feel long. The Deer Hunter is over three hours long and that film is riveting from beginning to end. But that's because plot wise, the story is enrapturing. Even other films of Kubrick's that are longer, like 2001: A Space Odyssey at least create a world so different and interesting that the long run time doesn't drag. The characters in Barry Lyndon are just so downright boring that watching them for over three hours just doesn't work. I will give it to Kubrick that his visuals are outstanding. The vision he has is pure art. The idea of moving picture has never looked so good. But the best films know how to take that idea of art and add entertainment and story to it. This is where Barry Lyndon fails.

Some may argue that Eyes Wide Shut is his weakest film, but here is why I didn't say that. The acting in Eyes Wide Shut is far superior and this makes you intrigued by the story, even if it tends to drag at times.

I've heard some people say that Barry Lyndon is what they qualify to be Kubrick's best film, and I dare ask you what it is that you say makes this film his triumph over, say, Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Next time on Weakest of the Best, I will jump back to music and attempt to find the weakest song on Led Zeppelin IV.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Summer Movie Yestival

I'm not one to usually be super stoked about Summer Blockbusters, but let's be honest here. May alone boasts some goodens. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are some awesone movies on the horizon that are at LEAST going to be enjoyable theater experiences let ALONE possibly awesome experiences.

I will let the trailers do the talkin' here.

1. Speed Racer - If you are going to make one of the greatest Japanime cartoons of all time a live action flick, you BETTER go for the gusto, America. And who better to try that than the Wachowski's. Not gonna lie, I can't wait. Could suck, but I think it'll at least be a visual fest.

2. Iron Man
- Tony Stark + Robert Downey Jr. = Best Casting since Christian Bale as Batman.

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - I don't care how Old Harrison Ford is, he is still a more badass hero than James Bond or any other fucker that comes along. He never did his stunts in the other movies, so who cares if he doesn't do them now. Shoo La Booo will rule this 40 times more than the shitty Transformers abortion.

4. The Dark Knight - Do I need to even say why this is going to be amazing?

5. The Incredible Hulk - Thankfully they nailed Bruce Banner as a whimpy guy with the casting of Ed Norton.

6. Pineapple Express - How could I forget this gem. James Franco looks ridiculous and the premise, altho ridiculous as well, will lead to an amazing comedy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Weakest Song on the Best Albums - OK Computer

One way to rile up the blogger community is to state your opinion on something and get people to voice their opinion's back. And since I focus on music and movies, I am starting another round of posts called Weakest of the Best where I will look at an artist's best album and pick the weakest song and say why or a great filmmakers weakest film and say why it's the weakest in hopes to hear what you think. Easy enough.

And where better to start than with Radiohead! Lord knows everyone and their mother has an opinion on Radiohead. Whether you think they are overrated crap or one of our generations best, you have to admit they have quite the loyal following and easily one of the most important albums of the 90's to their credit. That album is far and away OK Computer which has some great musical moments and some of the most interesting arrangements. There is no doubt that every song on the album is of high caliber goodness or at least intriguing in it's composition. This is the bridge between their rock sound and their electronic sound to come in the Oughts. Nevertheless, the point of this post is to try and figure out which song on this classic album is in fact the weakest. And for me, it's not that hard.

Many people that I know point to "Let Down" as the weakest link, but they'd be wrong. Others say "The Tourist" is too slow and boring, but after such a workout that the album puts you through, the melancholy closer is a welcome swell of gorgeous songwriting. It's also easy to look at "Fitter Happier" as a non-song, but that isn't the case. It is a song and it is quite dark and twisted. If anything it is the saving grace of the weakest moment on the album.

And there it is. "Karma Police" is by far the albums weakest link. Maybe it's unfair to give the albums biggest single as the weakest song because you might think I am saying it's weak because I heard it a million times on Y 100. No. it's the basic structure of the song that really kind of makes it the weakest track. Truth be told, this song was the reason I didn't really get into Radiohead until a few years later. Not that I hate the song, by all means I don't. It's just that in the grand scheme of the album, it comes at a point where I'm expecting more. "Airbag" is a strong opener, "Paranoid Android" leads you to believe nothing is going to get better. "Subterranean Homesick Alien" proves the listeners wrong in what is a gorgeous song of texture and melody. "Exit Music (For a Film)" is a melancholoy epic of love and "Let Down" is a wall of sound. "Karma Police" puts a stop on the wonder and awe effect and let's us hear a more standard track. A more typical song than the rest of the album boasts. It's not a bad song, it's just not as good as everything else. It's a tad bit boring, predictable and generic. And the video? Meh. Kinda cool I guess but nothing spectacular.

No that's said and done, let's hear it. Weakest song on OK Computer other than this. Try it.

Next time on Weakest of the Best, I will take on Stanley Kubrick.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Five Brilliant Film Scenes Made By the Use of Brilliant Music

I watch a lot of movies and listen to a lot of music so when the two come together, I truly get moved. Here are five scenes from five movies where the music and images work together perfectly to bring forth a brilliant moment in cinema. In no particular order.

1. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Sigur Ros "Staralfur"

This movie, although not one of most people's favorite Wes Anderson movies, has easily one of the most hauntingly beautiful scenes I have ever seen. At the climax, Zissou and crew finally get to see the elusive "Jaguar Shark" and in a moment in which you think Steve will get satisfaction and want revenge, his human side finally cuts through the masculinity and ego that he possesses throughout the film. And they say there isn't as much character arc in this movie. You are all fools for thinking otherwise. And although Mark Mothersbaugh does phenomenal soundtracking, it was a stroke of genius to use this piece of brilliant music.

2. Boogie Nights - "Sister Christian"/"Jesse's Girl"/"99 Luftballons"
This scene alone is amazing, but the deliscious 80's goodness of both songs amps it up and juxtaposes the tension of the scene brilliantly. PTA is another amazing director who knows how to use music so well to up the ante of an already awesome scene. Alfred Moline at his best? And any mention of mixtapes makes me happy.

3. Mulholland Drive - "Llorando" Rebekah del Rio

This scene is the answer to the movie's mystery. David Lynch is the master of deception and mystery and this scenes sheds massive life on a movie many can't grasp their head around. And the vocal performance is so hauntingly beautiful, I can't help but shake when she hits those high notes.

4. Reservoir Dogs - "Stuck in the Middle" Steelers Wheel

Like this wasn't going to be on here! I could have used many many other Tarantino scenes featuring amazing songs, but this one here is the creme de la creme. Brutal, yet comically dark. Madsen shows us who is boss in a twisted way. And I still stand by Reservoir Dogs being Tarantino's finest film to date.

5. Goodfellas - "Layla" Derek and the Dominoes

The list isn't complete without Marty. Usually, a great Scorsese scene involves The Stones, but the best is far and away this montage put to the outro of "Layla." It starts 2:40 into this video and ends before the video really ends, but it's the penultimate montage put to the penultimate outro of any song ever written (no offense, "Hey Jude".)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Album of the Week Vol. 5 - Gods of the Earth

I hate that I have to bring it up every time I listen to The Sword, but Thank you Guitar Hero.

That said, let's stick to the band itself. The Sword hals from music wondertown Austin, Texas although they sound as if they charged off the gangplank out of their Drekkar fresh from warfare somewhere in Reykjavik. Heavy heavy riffs, bone crushing drum work and tribal vocals scattered the shattered landscape of their music. The Sword's first outing Age of Winters is a doom fest that boasted some of the sludgiest metal some have heard in a while although rife with outstanding catchy riffage that shines through the muck and mire. From the standard "Freya" to the epic instrumental "March of the Lor", you get sucked into their furious dynasty of rock.

The new album, Gods of the Earth, follows up with yet another bone crushing punch. The formula doesn't change. The riffs are so monumentaly epic that one can only assume these guys are reaching for the mythological at all turns. The album never ceases to be as intense as it can. Even when they pick up some acoustic guitars here and there, it's never to slow down the war machine. The album opens with a stunning minute and a half instrumental "The Sundering" before plowing into "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" which totally slays. The first single, "Fire Lances of the Hyperzephyrians" is just as it sounds: brutal. The riffage is fast and furious and the drums are especially kinetic. A more polished version of the previously released "Under the Boughs" appears on the album, but the new additions and the polishing of the song is a definite plus. Other standouts are "Lords" and "How Heavy This Axe." If anything, this is a not miss album for fans of heavy metal music.

If that post apocalyptic video doesn't do it for you, then I don't know who you are.