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Friday, December 21, 2007

Limited Posting

Between now and 2008.

Happy 2008 everybody!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Design: Worktank's Holiday-O-Matic Spreads Cheer and Full Bellies

Worktank Seattle came up with a great way to help feed the hungry, support farmers, and sent cool and funny holiday greetings. It's the Holiday-O-Matic which allows for full randomization of this random holiday period. Every e-mail that is sent using the Holiday-O-Matic through January 31st generates $.50 to Rotary First Harvest, a program that acts as a conduit between local farmers and programs that serve the hungry in the Pacific Northwest region.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Design: Finally! A Dishwasher Safe Baby Blender!

OK so it's not really a baby blender. But it sure looks like one! In fact, it's a Tummy Tub, some sort of baby safe bath device designed in The Netherlands to "ease the transition from mother's womb." That all may be so but I still want to know if there is a puree setting.

TV: Party Mamas Episode Made Me a Self-Loathing Jew

Party mama Lisa

My beautiful and intelligent wife Tracy lived for years without cable television, subsisting solely on the 13 or so channels a shiny metal antenna could pluck from the ether. The introduction of full blown digital cable (with DVR) into our home was akin to European colonizers giving blankets to Native Americans. Where I possessed years of immunity to the depths of VH-1 and E!, my wife's neurological system was flooded with reality TV stimulus. The next step down the ladder here is a hardcore reality TV addiction -- and WE's (the women's entertainment network apparently) show Party Mamas is like the crystal meth of this particular genre.

Here is WE's own description of what they hath wrought every week:
" Gone are the days of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and pizza parties - it’s time to supersize! Spoiled and excess meet their match when these moms pull out all the stops to throw the best party ever for their little darlings. "

This is reality TV distilled down to it's purest form. Most reality TV falls into two categories predicated on two of the basest human emotions: pity and greed. Sometimes, as on The Apprentice there is a complex intermingling of the two. We either feel superior to the subjects and pity them, or feel inferior and want what they have.

The twisted harridans of Party Mama's fall squarely into the pity category (as do their helpless offspring) though for some people they could just as easily fall into the envy category which is where the show hit an especially tricky nerve for me.

The episode we were watching, titled "Lisa" after the nutso mom-du-jour concerned, centered on the Bar Mitzvah of her spawn Mitchell, a child with the bloated self satisfaction that comes from a steady diet of breast milk and moolah.

The sheer spectacular prodigality of the affair in question coupled with the oxygen depleting neediness of party mama Lisa unearthed a feeling in me as a rare as an a ACLU member at a Tom Tancredo fundraiser: Shame. Pure unbridled shame. I'm not a religious person. I don't wear my ethnic identity on my sleeve. But this episode of WE TV's Party Mamas made me ashamed to be a Jew.

I can't pinpoint exactly when it happened. Was it when Lisa browbeat her husband into a trip to the Jaguar dealership where they purchased a new Jag for her to offset the hefty sum they were laying out for their son's entry into manhood? Was it the son's lesson in hip-hop dancing, which he would put to use on a stage in front of 300-odd guests and backed by a group of professional dancers? Was it Lisa's counterstrike of hiring a voice coach and writing a godawful song about Mitchell growing up and learning about "Internet porn"? Could it have been Lisa's eager rumormongering that "Barbara" (Streisand, natch) was in town and just might make an appearance? Or was it the "money booths" filled with eager kids trying to snatch "money" swirling around them in a vortex -- the same fake money that would later come down from the ceiling of the cavernous space in which the celebration was held?

If I had never met a Jew and only knew what I saw on TV, I would imagine a money grubbing people who welcome their hand raised veal-like children into a privileged world with an orgy of currency porn and vapid self-gratification. I felt like Alan Keyes watching Pimps up, Ho's Down, or Mitt Romney after being subjected to a Big Love marathon. Well maybe not exactly like Romney.

Music: Belated RIP's to Dan Fogelberg and Stockhausen

Stockhausen and Fogelberg -- Jammin' in that great big band in the sky...

Two major names in music died over the last week, electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen and soft rock king Dan Fogelberg.

Stockhausen has had a profound influence on the outer edges of rock and even pop music starting with his seminal works of the 1950s -- "Revolution 9" on The Beatles White Album (aka the track everyone leaves off their personal one disc version of the White Album mixtape) was an homage to his tape loop based compositions, Eno and Robert Fripp were influenced by him as were Sonic Youth and Frank Zappa, and Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay of Can studied directly with him. The beats and loops and samples of folks like Timbaland and The Neptunes are descendants of his work. Stockhausen died of heart failure. Stockhausen gained notoriety following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, when his remarks were thought to have condoned the attack though the quote in full seems to refute this reading:

"Well, what happened there is, of course — now all of you must adjust your brains — the biggest work of art there has ever been. The fact that spirits achieve with one act something which we in music could never dream of, that people practise ten years madly, fanatically for a concert. And then die. And that is the greatest work of art that exists for the whole Cosmos. Just imagine what happened there. There are people who are so concentrated on this single performance, and then five thousand people are driven to Resurrection. In one moment. I couldn't achieve that. Compared to that, we are nothing, as composers. [...] It is a crime, you know of course, because the people did not agree to it. They did not come to the "concert". That is obvious. And nobody had told them: "You could be killed in the process."

Fogelberg wrote songs of such gentleness and unassuming nature that they made James Taylor sound like Motorhead. Discovered by super manager Irv Azoff (along with The Eagles and REO Speedwagon) and produced initially by Joe Walsh, Fogelberg had several big hits in the mid-seventies peaking with "Longer" in 1979. He began to record in the bluegrass mode as the 80s dragged into the 90s and the hits dried up. his influence was narrow but deep -- felt more in softer contempo country and in such confessional balladeers as James Blunt. He died of prostate cancer. His comments on September 11th are unknown.

Here's Stockhausen on Top of The Pops. Just kidding. This is his "Helicopter String Quartet":

And here is Dan Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang Syne" with a touching karaoke-like Christmas season accompanying video.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Art and Design: Last Minute Gifts for the Holidays

Well it's too late for Hanukkah but for those last minute gift givers may I direct you to two websites that are hawking some extremely nice items -- and better yet they are from friends of mine.

Typewriter - By Jessica Frederick
Why not give the gift of art? I've known Jessica Frederick since New Edition was the hot boy band and she is a very talented artist who has attracted commissions from a number of prominent corporations and private collectors. You can contact her to purchase a print online through the interwebs. Now that's progress!

Then of course there is jewelry, and Michelle Samson is like one of those crafty crows that can spot a nifty shiny object a mile away. Except you get to feather your nest with her finds. She says, "Jewelry should not be dull -- it should be a form of expression, a form of art." Check out her company Mademoiselle Jewelry here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Music: Worst Rock Hall Inductee List -- EVER!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced their 2008 inductee list and it took 600 'industry figures" to come up with a list this lame:

Madonna shares some love with younger husband Guy "Snatch" Ritchie

1) Madonna -- Not a surprise, the one shoo-in this year and deservedly so.

Cohen in his not so famous grey overcoat

2) Leonard Cohen -- Deserves a prize for schtupping Rebecca DeMornay surely, and he has done some wonderful records though "rock" is pretty loosely defined here.

Peter Noone and co. dispel those not-really-British rumours

3) The Dave Clark Five -- Insufferably twee third string British invasion band. Barely cool at the time with almost non-existent impact.

4) John Cougar Mellencamp -- I like Mellencamp fine but he's a Springsteen knockoff. He's being honored here for sales and longevity which I suppose count for something but aside from a few well-regarded late eighties albums there's not much here.

The Ventures pioneer business casual style

5) The Ventures -- Yes I love the "Hawaii Five-O" theme too, but should we put Harald Faltermeyer in here for having a synth-pop hit with "Axel F." from Beverley Hills Cop?

See my post on the shortlist to see some alternative acts that should have made the cut. Shame on the old fogeys at the Hall of Shame for such a depressingly uninspired list.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Music: Ike Turner Dead at 76

Musical pioneer and marital pugilist Ike Turner has died, leaving a rich legacy as a rock n' roll and r & b originator tarnished by his violent marriage to wife and singing partner Tina. Turner was there at the birth of rock playing guitar and contributing to the writing of "Rocket 88", an ode to Oldsmobile that many consider to be the first rock n' roll song. With Tina, whom he met in 1959, he found the perfect foil for his stinging guitar and hot arrangements. They would eventually cross over to mainstream rock by the end of the 1960's, scoring hits with covers of songs by artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival. Ike Turners heavy drug use and relentless abuse of Tina led to their musical and personal split in the 70s. While Tina would have a triumphant comeback in the mid 80s, Ike would always be identified with spousal abuse.

Here's a little Q and A with Ike and Tina and a live performance of "Feels Good":

Here they are doing "Get Back" circa 1972...dig the Ikette's moves!

TV: Mr. Feeney Out, Gob in as TV's new K.I.T.T.

Arnett practices his voice throwing

Mr. Amy Poehler, also known as Will Arnett, will give voice to the new version of K.I.T.T. on NBC's sure to be crap-tastic TV movie revival of Knight Rider. He steps into the shoes of the formidable William Daniels, a.k.a. as Mr. Feeney on the sickly sweet sitcom Boy Meets World, fussy super surgeon Dr. Craig on medical drama St. Elsewhere from 1982-1988 and of course Benjamin's father in the classic film The Graduate. Still, his career highlight, as it will be for Arrested Development and Let's Go to Jail star Arnett, will be voicing a super crime fighting car.
Also changed is K.I.T.T.'s brand identity from Trans Am to Mustang. Oh yeah, Hasselhoff will appear as old Michael Knight.

Here's William Daniels in one of my favorite films, The President's Analyst:

Music: The Best EP's of 2007

Here's my list of best EP's of the year. Do Extended Play releases even mean anything in the age of download-able music? Whether the idea is outmoded, there were at least five that were worth the time to find on iTunes or your local record store this year.

1) Yeah Yeah Yeah’s - Is Is

The meaning of Is Is depended on the listener. Recorded between last year's Show Your Bones and their debut LP Is Is splits the diff between the rawness of latter and the polished songcraft of the former. The blazing "Rockers to Swallow", the moody, driving "10 X 10" and the Banshees like "Down Boy" all rank among the band's best.

Here they are doing “Rockers to Swallow”:

2) Black Kids – Wizard of Ahhhs

Ah the free Internet download debut EP -- so much more convenient than Radiohead's "pay as you go" deal. The cringingly named Wizard of Ahhhs is delightfully tuneful and arch, an evocation of the glory days of early 80's britpop delivered with today's low-fi production that the kids like so much.

Here's a fan video for “I’ve Underestimated my Charm Again”:

3) Grizzly Bear – Friend

Grizzly Bear's "It Band" status lasted into this year with some freaky cool videos and this EP featuring heavily reworked versions of old songs and covers by the likes of CSS and Band of Horses. Here's a lamely static photo with “Little Brother (Electric)” playing over it:

4) Of Montreal – Icons, Abstract Thee

Everyone's favorite oft-nude marriage-challenged troubadour Kevin Barnes had enough tracks left over from his stunningly awesome opus Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? to create a companion EP of equal depth and arguably even more tunefulness. Angst you can hum to. Here's another dumb static image synced to “Miss Blonde Your Papa is Failing”:

5)Wire – Read & Burn 03
Wire is simply one of the most pioneering bands in rock, setting their own post punk course in 1977 that would reverberate through electronica, brit-pop, alternative, indie, and even math rock. Since the original band reformed earlier in the decade they have issued two other Read and Burn EPs (collected on Send) of hard edged churning guitar songs. This EP leavens the mix with electronic soundscapes more reminiscent of their mid -80's work while still keeping the spiky songwriting intact.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Design: The Best Automotive Designs of 2007

Yes its another eye-glazing car post from me... deal with it suckas! Here are my 15 best automotive designs of 2007. I've denoted which of these are production and which ones are concepts.

1. Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster (production)

I am a huge fan of Aston Martin's recent design language and the V8 has been the apex of their development. Chopping off the roof only adds to its raw appeal.

2. Chevy Volt (concept)

The Chevy Volt concept is soon to make production as the world's first plug-in hybrid electric and sadly, of course, the radically high shoulder line that cuts into the bowed window glass will not be making the cut. A wonderful calling card for a re-emergent GM design squad.

3. Maserati GranTurismo (production)

There is nothing radical here, just beautiful proportions and detailing. The theme of Maserati's outgoing Coupe is re-visited with a voluptuously sculpted prow and ducktailed rear.

4. Audi A5 (production)

Audi was a design leader in the late 90s but has since lost its way. They still have a great eye for detail but their knack for simplicity in theme and proportion has been sadly missing. The A5 comes as a welcome surprise then, with an alluring flowing accent line that extends from the top of the front fenders, a distinctively handsome roofline, and the best interpretation of the brands new face so far.

5. Ford Mondeo (production)

Ford Chief Alan Mullaly was so taken with the new European family car that he asked why it wasn't slated to be imported to North America. The well thought out relationships between shapes and detailing work on the tail-lights and side window lines brings to mind Volkswagen and Audi's late 90s design renaissance. This is a mid priced car that looks like a quality automobile.

6. Ford Flex (Production)

Last year the Flex concept debuted to much acclaim and this year Ford unveiled the production version. The Flex combines SUV, crossover, and minivan elements that suggest a new take on the old Country Squire station wagons of the 60s and 70s. The contrasting white painted roof is a clever steal from Mini.

7. Hyundai HND-3 Velostar (concept)

Korean design continues to mature by leaps and bounds. This clever and pleasingly shaped little coupe suggests what Honda could have done with their recent small coupe concepts.

8. BMW Concept CS (concept)

BMW's Chris Bangle is one of the most influential designers in the world today, even if his creations are not universally loved. The CS concepts suggests a retreat from the dissonant forms and challenging lines of BMW's like the Z and 5 and 7 series and suggests a more harmonious future. Still, like the Lamborghini Reventon and Dodge Charger, the design is not so much beautiful as it is brutally powerful, like a bullnose shark.

9. Toyota iQ (concept)

The iQ's subtle and fascinating interlocking forms are unusual as different elements take precedence depending on the angle the vehicle is being viewed at. Thus a full walk-around results in a shifting and undulating viewing experience that photos can't do justice to. Toyota was once one of the most conservative and boring design houses by they have been becoming bolder every year.

10. Kia Kee (concept)

The Kee is another cool Korean. Apparently the small coupe market, dead in North America, is alive and well in Asia judging from the plethora of Japanese and Korean concepts. The Kee's bold, simple lines are very appealing and the unusual "keystone" see-through panel that connects the side window and the rear glass is very well executed.

11. Lamborghini Reventon (production)

One of the year's most controversial designs, the low production Reventon takes traditional Lamborghini cues and applies a carpenters plane to them, creating a complex origami of folded edges and sharp contours. The effect is akin to a stealth fighter -- a deadly-looking lethal tool. The effect is heightened by the well chosen matte finish on the reveal version.

12. Ford Verve 3-Door (concept)

If the next Ford Fiesta is close to this, they will have the best looking hatchback around. Bold geometric shapes flow and meet with each other giving the car a powerful stance without seeming overly busy. The 4 -door trunked version of the concept that appeared at the Shanghai show was a major letdown so Ford can't be counted on to recognize all of the elements that work here.

13. Mazda Taiki (concept)

Mazda had a strong series of concepts this year but the Taiki took their emerging design language to the level of art. Folded aquatic lines seem hewed out of a solid block of soft metal left to be molded by a strong ocean current. The detailing all around is exquisite.

14. Suzuki X-Head (concept)

A cool Tonka toy for grown-ups. The bold rugged lines are like a toolbox with wheels.

15. Nissan GT-R (production)

The GT-R is a hodge-podge of vents and angles, with a strange open-mouthed face that looks as if the surrounding bumper was cut away to reveal the understructure. Yet it is utterly distinctive and unusual for a supercar.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Music: 52.5 Records -- Charleston's Best Record Store

As some of you may know, Cletus and I were in Charleston, South Carolina last week. Across from our hotel was a large record store called Millennium Records. Millennium seems like it was started by someone who saw the movie Empire Records and opened a store to impress Robin Tunney, yet has no real appreciation for music. Most of the stock in the cavernous aisles seemed like castoffs from the acres of small college record stores that folded between 1993-1998. Multiple copies of Blind Melon, Juliana Hatfield, and Toad the Wet Sprocket abound, tons of lame-o CD singles (especially the one song college radio promo type) and a few token bits of "cool" vinyl thrown in. According to their iPod centric website they were voted Charleston's best music store. Say what?

I asked the cool looking clerk where the good record store in town was and she looked around dubiously before telling me "There is a place called 52.5, but it's weird."Do tell! "It's a lot smaller than this..." she said doubtfully. After procuring directions to 561 King Street location I set out to see what Charleston had to offer.

52.5 was simply one of the best record stores around anywhere -- well stocked, intelligent, with a great side selection of interesting DVD's (music and non-music) books and zines. All in all, this would have been the envy of Greenwich Village back when the rents were payable by actual people. I found a wealth of great discs at very good prices (4 CD Hank Williams set for $25!), both new and used. The proprietor Clay was on hand and the personal touch was a reminder of how vital and important these stores are. They also had as small area set up for performances in the back. As their website says: "Our goal has always been to provide a good selection of music, focusing on artists outside of the commercial mainstream. While we don’t exclude artists based on commercial success, a hit on the radio certainly doesn’t guarantee a space on our shelves."

I highly recommend a visit when in Charleston, and Charlestonians -- vote for this store!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Film: Pineapple Express Preview

This clip brings back some seriously hazy memories. I'd say the research involved in the upcoming film Pineapple Express from the Judd Apatow hilarity machine was positively Method-like. Also, dig on James Franco getting deep into character. This is to Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams as Tarantino's Death Proof was to Smokey and the Bandit II. The release date is a distant August 8th 2008 so hopefully memory loss will help keep this fresh. Inhale!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Limited Posting Through Monday December 10th

I'll be out of town in lovely Charleston, South Carolina without access to much in the way of blogging tools. In the meantime enjoy our best-of lists!

Music: The 40 Best Albums of 2007 4-1 !

Here it is-- The final four!

1) Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are you The Destroyer?
This is the best concept album ever about moving to Norway with your new wife only to find your marriage falling apart. Lest you think that's faint praise, this is a disgustingly good album, fun to listen to with it's mash up of Beck circa Midnight Vultures white electro-funk and Neutral Milk Hotel crunchy goodness.
Here’s the video from “Gronlandic Edit”:

2) The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
No album has suffered from more backlash-itis this year than Neon Bible. Yes it's achingly sincere, almost to the point of square. Yes it's overstuffed with church organs, violins, choirs, and god knows what else. Its also one of the year's best albums. When people are talking about it that much -- you know they have done something.
Here’s the footage that caused thousands of Arcade Fire fans to weep like little babies – Springsteen live with Win and Regine doing “Keep the Car Running”:

3) Radiohead – In Rainbows
Another great record that is already receiving backlash. Even beyond their innovative pay what you choose Internet release, this is some of the band's best music -- Yorke's voice is given a crystalline setting and the complex arrangements of guitars and strings are expertly handled.
Here’s a video that sets “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” to footage from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver:

4) Les Savy Fav – Let’s Stay Friends
Les Savy Fav returned from a long layoff with their best album yet, bursting with ideas and inventive songs.
Here’s the video for “Patty Lee”:

Music: 40 Best Albums of 2007 9-5

5) LCD SoundsytemSound of Silver
What sounds like a mish-mash initially gels into a fantastically varied collection of songs. Rock dynamics married to electronic beats and all of it married to great choruses.
Here’s the video for “All My Friends”:

6) Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
One of America's best bands does it again. There's nothing radically new here for Spoon, just meaty songs with lots of space.

Here’s the video for “The Underdog” by Spoon:

7) Black Francis – Bluefinger
Pixies frontman and formerly monikered Frank Black, Black Francis puts all he knows about rocking, tight tunes, and crazed singing into this killer concept album.
Here’s a fan video for “Tight Black Rubber”:

8) ElectrelaneNo Shouts, No Calls
Electrelane goes out on top with what looks like their last release. Throbbing pulsing guitars and stacked vocals means they come on like a more warm and organic Stereolab.
Here’s a fan video for “Tram 21”:

9) Caribou – Andorra
Sounding like The Hollies if the Hollies grew up wanting to be The Chemical Brothers, Caribou uses electronics to evoke echoes of British invasion sounds. A stunningly beautiful album.
Here’s the video for “Melody Day”:

Music: Top 40 Best Albums of 2007 14-10

10) M.I.A. – Kala
M.I.A. brings it on with an incredible array of beats and a heady stew of third world power anthems and clever references.
Here’s the video for “Jimmy”:

11) Battles – Mirrored
Prog rock was never this much fun. Battles puts the groove and beat into the genre, making for a giddy stew of tempo changes and twisty-turny songs.
Here’s the video for “Atlas”:

12) Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity
Deerhoof moves further away from their hard guitar sound and into the world of exotic rhythms and springy arrangements.
Here’s the video for “The Perfect Me”:

13) Feist – The Reminder
Feist does the cool iPod commercial chick thing well, becoming this year's Regina Spektor. But her album is full of curveballs like the blazing jazzy "Sea Lion Woman".
Here’s the video for “My Moon, My Man”:

14) Jay-Z – American Gangster
Jay-Z took a few moments out of his busy day job as atop music exec to lay down his best rhymes since the Black Album.
Jizza chats with David Letterman and then favors us with a performance of “Roc Boys”:

Music: Top 40 Best Albums of 2007 19-15

15) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band– Magic
Springsteen returns with his most vital and enjoyable disc since the mid-80s.
Here’s the Boss doing “Living in the Future” live in Madrid:

16) Low – Drums and Guns
Low found tempos in the midrange on their last album and continue to poke at their old slowcore sound on Drums and Guns. Drum machines and spare construction give the songs a skeletal beauty that's new for this band.
Here’s the video for “Breaker”:

17) The National – Boxer
Less immediate than its predecessor, Boxer is a grower that unfolds its knotty lyrics and subtle songs on repeated listening.
Here’s the video for “Mistaken for Strangers”:

18) The New Pornographers – Challengers
This may not be their best album but there are some great songs and performances here, augmented by bigger arrangements and half an orchestra.
Here’s the video for “Challengers”:

19) The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
This was a whipping boy for plenty of critics but the strong melodies and the variety of approaches kept me coming back to it's Kinks-y goodness.
Here’s the video for “Australia”:

Music: Top 40 Albums of 2007 24-20

20) The White Stripes – Icky Thump
Jack and Meg return with a classic rocker that brings the songcraft.
Here’s the video for “Conquest”:

21) Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
What felt like a retreat at first opens up to reveal intricacies that deepen with each listen.
Here’s the video for “What Light”:

22) Various Artists – David Shrigley’s Worried Noodles
A sampler of great indie rock featuring artists from Franz Ferdinand to Grizzly Bear to David Byrne to Final Fantasy marrying Shrigley's clever lyrics to great songs.
Here’s a video promo for the album featuring Shrigley’s artwork and the band YACHT:

23) Future of the Left – Curses
Mclusky fans look no further. Ex Mclusky members team up with the bassist from Jarcrew. Driving anger fueled rock with snarky lyrics follows.
Here’s the video for “adeadenemyalswayssmellsgood”:

24) Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Nation
The Pavement aping album cover and a few of the songs on this debut album suggested a cover band called Debris Slide trying to write originals for the first time. In reality there is more than meets the ear with pastoral folk, and freaky-deaky indie that hews its own course.
Here’s the video for “Devil’s A-Go-Go”:

Music: Top 40 Albums of 2007 29-25

25) Ween – La Cucaracha
Ween are method musicians... doing blissed out techno pop for "friends", haunting balladry for the truly screwed up "Object", sneery post punk for "Shamemaker". Like DeNiro in his prime, they believe it, so we believe it. Oh yeah and David Sanborn guests. That's commitment.
Here’s the video for “Friends”:

26) Robert Plant and Alison KraussRaisin’ Sand
Mummified Led Zep wailer Plant and beloved bluegrass warbler Krauss seem like an odd couple setup. But when those voices start a-twining and a-pining on these great songs the proverbial magic happens.

Here’s the video for “Gone Gone Gone”:

27) Nellie McKay – Obligatory Villagers
McKay has always been on the right side of the Crazy/Hot graph for me. She surprises here with a relatively compact set of songs but the arrangements and delivery shout out "Broadway!"
Here’s the delectable Nellie McKay doing “Zombie” :

28) The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes are The Dark Horse
Where Arcade Fire uses it's broad expanse of sound and musicians to create a communal vibe, Besnard Lakes is insular and brooding. Gripping and engrossing.

Here’s the video for “For Agent 13”:

29) Mark RonsonVersion
Ronson is the uberproducer responsible for last years great album by human trainwreck Amy Winehouse. Here he imagines britpop gold (and Britney Spear's "Toxic") as products of the Motown era.
Here’s a 40 sec. pop of Mark Ronson and Lily Allen’s cover of Kaiser Chief’s “Oh My God” (Columbia records, like a number of major labels, are too stupid to realize that videos are PROMO and not PRODUCT – so no full version to embed. Dumb wankers.)

Music: Top 40 Albums of 2007 34-30

30) The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
Musical chill pill - hypnotic repetition builds Philip Glass like patterns -- some of which you can dance to.

Here’s “The Little Heart Beats so Fast” live at Monterrey

31) Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
The Kings get complex -- Lynyrd Skynyrd force fed Pixies dynamics with lyrics that lead you down the garden path.
Here’s Kings of Leon doing “On Call” on Letterman:

32) Mark Olson – The Salvation Blues
Welcome to 1970. Superior country rock from ex-Jayhawk with sparkling melancholic tunes.
Here’s Mark Olson doing “Carol” live in Toronto:

33) Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
Sam Beam broadens his folky palette taking in elements of afro-pop, Deadhead jams, and tempo variations. His best yet.
Here is Iron & Wine on Letterman doing “The Devil Never Sleeps”:

34) Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
Contempo freak jammers continue to add songcraft to their Beta Band on acid crazy quilt:
Here’s the video for “Peacebone

Music: Top 40 Albums of 2007 -- 40-35

35) Josh RitterThe Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter does nothing fancy -- just straight ahead well-written rock songs, an expansive success where so many other artists (like Ben Harper) have come up short.
Here’s Josh Ritter performing “Mind’s Eye” live:

36) The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever
Famous friend Alex (Franz Ferdinand) Kaparos produces and tuneful spike britpop follows. What's not predictable are the sheer excellence of the songs or a collaboration with Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth doing his beat poet word association thing.
Here’s the “Men’s Needs” video:

37) DeerhunterCryptograms
Tangent happy experimentalists recall Swell Maps in disregard for song structure and fascination with off-putting textures. Moodily mesmerizing.
Here’s the video for “Strange Lights”:

38) Mary Weiss – Dangerous Game
Hot cougar Mary Weiss was lead singer for 60s girl group legends The Shangri-La's. Her voice is a little huskier but no less alluring on this fine collection of new songs. Here's the video for “Don’t Come Back”…cougar-licious!

39) Devin Tha Dude – Waitin’ To Inhale
Marijuana enthusiast Devin gets with some slinky low down tracks on his latest album. Surprising and hilarious rhymes combine with killer grooves.
Here’s the Video for “I Can’t Wait” preceded by a silly crank call :

40) El –P - I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
EL-P is pissed at the dystopian universe -- so he raps about it. The music is twisty and complex and so are the tales he tells.

Here’s the video for “Flyentology

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Music: 2007's Best Re-Issues

Here are the best re-issues and archival releases of the year according to yours truly. Each of them would make a fine Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Ramadan or Zoroaster's Feast gift:

1) Various artists (including Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations etc. )- The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 7 1967, Vol. 8 1968
These were two of the sets in Motown’s continuing series of box sets charting every single ever released by the famous label, including b-sides and pulled singles. These two years were pivotal in popular music and Motown’s music machine was firing on all cylinders. The hits are all here of course with revelatory sound quality and the obscurities and alternate withdrawn versions make these invaluable.

2) Robyn Hitchcock – I Wanna Go Backwards
Hitchcock was the leader of The Soft Boys, purveyors of surreal post-punk capable of aching melodies and strange twists and turns. I Wanna go Backwards boxes three of his early solo discs with a two disc rarities comp. He moves from the wonderful Soft Boys-like Black Snake Diamond Role into even stranger and sparer territory, along the way inspiring bands like Of Montreal and Neutral Milk Hotel. The liner notes are often quite funny, including his tale of “negative synaesthesia” in which a bacon sandwich eaten to a Bryan Ferry solo album turned Hitchcock into a vegetarian. Here’s Hitchcock doing “I Often Dream of Trains”:

3) Arthur Alexander – Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter
Arthur Alexander was a brilliant songwriter and musician who was sadly under appreciated even after his death in 1993. His “You Better Move On” was covered by The Rolling Stones and “Anna” was a staple for The Beatles. He drifted away from the music business in the 70s and 80s until Nonesuch Records convinced him to record his swansong, Lonely Just Like Me. This strong set showed what the world had been missing and was released to wide acclaim in 1993. It was while touring behind it that he succumbed to a fatal heart attack. Hacktone Records reissue includes demos and live tracks, as well as a re-sequencing designed to reflect Alexander’s original intentions. A real country soul gem.

4) Aretha Franklin – Rare and Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign of The Queen of Soul
Though the title sounds hyperbolic, Aretha really was the queen of soul in the period between 1967 and 1973 this set covers. In fact she was one of the greatest artists in an era of greats. Though none of the recordings here feel like unjustly missed opportunities, they do give a behind the scenes look into how Aretha and her team at Atlantic records devoured songs regardless of genre and worked hard to find the best matches for her. Along the way she manages a wonderful take of The Beatles “Fool on The Hill” and an interesting pass at Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, along with stripped down demos of her own songs and a passel of Motown covers. A must for serious soul fans and Aretha fanatics.

5) Ike and Tina Turner – The Ike and Tina Turner Story 1960-1975
Ike and Tina Turner’s story had more amazing highs and lows and byways than even Tina’s famous book and biopic could encompass. Ike was there at the birth of rock, penning and performing on the 1948 hit single “Rocket 88” which many music historians consider to be the first rock n roll song. A string of bad luck kept him from making much of a recording impact during the 50’s until hotshot belter Anna Mae Bullock grabbed the mic at a performance and blew the roof of the joint. By the time of their first recording session she had been dubbed Tina Turner by Ike (despite not being married to him at the time). During the 60’s they recorded a burning hot set of hard r & b singles led by Ike’s stinging guitar and Tina’s raspy rich vocals. In 1966 they would work with nutball producing genius Phil Spector on “River Deep, Mountain High”, meant to be a comeback for Spector as a producer. Instead it flopped (it’s sadly not included here except in a live version) but both Spector and the Turners found solace in the rock sounds that flourished at the end of the decade. While Spector produced The Beatles, Ike and Tina got bigger than ever covering acts like Creedence Clearwater Revival and opened for The Rolling Stones on their 1969 tour. They got funkier in the 70s even as they became a bit too reliant on covering famous rock songs. This set has almost all the highlights, and includes a bonus live disc. Here’s Ike and Tina doing “Nutbush City Limits”:

6) Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth/Singles and Salad Days
Domino Records did the music world a service by compiling Young Marble Giant’s entire brief recorded output across two discs, ostensibly as a reissue of their classic first album. This is one of those bands who are unclassifiable in time, they could exist anytime after 1970 or so…their sound is utterly unique. Alison Statton’s chilly vocals and the spare arrangements are riveting. Here’s Young Marble Giants doing “Credit in the Straight World”:

7) Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
Sonic Youth continued their ambitious deluxe reissue series with this two-disc version of their best album, 1988’s Daydream Nation. Daydream was a last middle finger hoisted at Reagan’s America and a battle cry in the midst of the synth decade that the guitar was not dead in rock. The songs are ambitious, sprawling, tuneful, anthemic, challenging. The bonus tracks run the gamut from weak to wonderful, with the inclusion of “Computer Age” from the Neil Young tribute album The Bridge a particular highlight. Disc Two is packed with fiery live versions of every song on the album. Here they are doing “Silver Rocket”.

8) Dynamics – First Landing
Hacktone records continues to unearth lost treasure with this great forgotten soul album from 1969. Terrific singing, great arrangements and a surprisingly deep cache of solid songs made this a very unexpected surprise. A must for any soul or r & b lover.

9) Sly and The Family Stone – The Collection
The Collection boxes Legacy’s superior remasterings of Sly and The Family Stone’s classic catalog. The sound is illuminating, scouring the depth of the muddy murk in There’s a Riot Goin’ On and polishing up all the bright arrangements on Stand. Not all of the albums are great and a few key singles could have been added as bonus tracks but this is some of the most vital music of its era. Here they are doing “M’Lady” from 1973:

10) Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers
Recorded in 1972 but not officially released until 1976, The Modern Lovers’ one and only self-titled album set the blueprint for what would one day be called indie rock. “Roadrunner” served as a calling card for the members of The Sex Pistols to prove they liked the “right” kind of music to each other, and still served that purpose today reconfigured by M.I.A. as an eclectic electro dance anthem on her latest album Kala. Jonathan Richman’s subsequent albums as a solo artist led him down a less Velvety path but this made his reputation. The reissue includes several early demos.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Culture: 70s Icon and Canyon Foe Evel Knievel Jumps The Big One at 69

Spangled cape wearing motorcycle stuntman extraordinaire Evel Knievel died today after suffering from a variety of ailments including pulmonary fibrosis. In his prime Knievel jumped buses, sharks, and Pepsi delivery trucks as well as a whole bunch of cars. He often broke bones. His most famous stunt was the unsuccessful jump of Snake River Canyon on a rocket propelled motorcycle. Yes kids, the 70s were a different time.

Here's Knievel wiping out at Caeser's Palace in Las Vegas:

Here's his ill-fated Snake River Canyon jump:

And here he jumps a bunch of vans in Portland circa 1973:

Music: Kids Are Cool -- Keeping Scratchin' in The Family

Cool kids like this aren't just made by accident you know...

Thanks to POS(AS) pal Andrea for alerting me to the pint size turntable terrors below. It's tough to raise your kids hip -- you run the risk of turning out investment bankers or Republican committee chairpersons. I bet their parents dress like Regis and Kelly and scold the tykes for ruining the record collection, but its all part of their reverse psychology. Observe, DJ's Sara (8) and Ryusei (5):

Design: Freaked Out By Robots Friday -- Sanrio in Fembot Frenzy

Sanrio, perpetrators of Hello Kitty, have decided that infantalizing young women with Hello Kitty handbags and accessories doesn't push their world domination plans far enough. They are also building a line of supremely creepy female robots through their Kokoro division. Kokoro is apparently Japanese for "Seriously, please don't stick your penis in the robot, ok?" First up we have Actroid, an awfully chatty robot receptionist who is like Pam from the office after a Stepford Wives style lobotomy.

Freaked out yet? You will be by Simroid -- the dental simulation robot. Rather than fiddle with a human volunteer Japanese dental trainees can bang their tools around Simroids robotic mouth. She even has a gag reflex! Best of all, she doesn't file a lawsuit when she comes out from under the gas and her blouse is mis-buttoned. Here's some disturbing video of Simroid showing her...I mean it's, IT'S, range of facial movements:

All of Kokoro's fembots are available for rental (bachelor parties?) and are described by the company as,"Elegant, feminine, and lively at all times…" More to the point, they suggest "You are attracted by her girlish gestures!"
Perhaps this image from the website says it all: "She is robot working girl." Indeed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

TV: The Best TV of 2007 Part Two

Here's the final 5 of my best of the year, televisually:

1) Mad Men (AMC)
I resisted this show mightily, mainly because its on AMC. AMC once stood for American Movie Classics but now stands for Always Mostly Crap. Once it was a haven for commercial free Hollywood classics very much like Turner Classic Movies but the braindead money grubbers came in and added commercial breaks, curtailed black and white movies, and traded in fare like Bringing Up Baby for Jaws 3. Ratings went down but no doubt profits went up as the commercial coffers filled. The last step in the MTV style brand denaturing that every cable channel seems to be falling for is the lure of original programming. It’s therefore sweetly appropriate that Mad Men takes place in the world of advertising.

What’s confounding is that Mad Men turns out to be a phenomenally great show, with a brilliant cast and top notch writing and production values. In a perfect world, HBO would have picked it up to replace The Sopranos. Set in 1960, Mad Men recreates the man's man's man’s world that James Brown sang about, red meat eating chain-smoking drinking and driving wife-is-at-home-cooking-dinner yesteryear. But under the surface there are secretaries aching to be copywriters, wives bored out of their skulls, and men’s men who really are men’s men in every sense of the word.

Jon Hamm, as brilliant and mysterious adman Don Draper, is mesmerizing. John Slattery as his womanizing rake of a boss does the best work of his career. I rooted for Elizabeth Moss all year as a secretary who starts to rise above her station and January Jones is beautiful and startlingly complex as Betty Draper.

Here’s Hamm as Don Draper pitching Kodak:

2) The Shield (FX)
The Shield is the most edge of the seat show on television. Even 6 seasons in, the ensemble cast of cops dirty and clean headed by Michael Chiklis is riveting. Every episode ratchets up the tension and like The Wire (which doesn’t qualify this year) the entire season feels like a satisfying novel. Loyalties will switch back and forth as characters reveal new depths but devotion to this show has a way of becoming total. Here’s the promo for last season:

3) It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Like NBC’s The Office, Sunny spent its third season by expanding several episodes to the hour mark with sometimes mixed results. When they were firing on all cylinders this is the funniest envelope pusher on TV. The gang at Paddy’s bar spend their days undermining and backstabbing each other and anyone who crosses their paths. Along the way they dress up like cops, get hooked on coke, rig a dance contest, and exploit a baby found in a dumpster. Here Dee and Charlie try to sell cocaine:

4) The Office (NBC)
This has been a strange season for The Office. Jim and Pam are now officially A Couple (usually the sitcom kiss of death), and hour long episodes have led to more weird ennui and awkwardness rather than jokes – not necessarily a bad thing. This was a show I was prepared to hate, having loved the original brilliant BBC series. However the great cast and writing crew has made this a real gem. Enjoy the bullhorn dance:

5) 30 Rock (NBC)
Here’s another show that looked like a dog even through it’s first few episodes, but has grown into a real pleasure. I was never impressed with Tina Fey or Tracy Morgan on Saturday Night Live but the writing and performances on 30 Rock make them look good. The real key to the show are Jack McBrayer as a goody-two-shoes NBC page and the incomparable Alec Baldwin as the head of the network. Baldwin steals every single episode. Here's clips: