Friday, February 18, 2011

Best of 2010 - 5-1

5. Vampire Weekend – Contra
I can’t think of a band more universally liked. Does anyone have a problem with VW? No. You know why? Because they’re infectious and fun and even the most hardened pessimist has to admit that they’re on to something. Something special. And, there’s no one else like them doing this faux-reggae/calypso/jangle-pop hybrid thing that they do. Contra is even an improvement on their first record because the sound, while staying basically the same, has evolved slightly with some electronic and brass elements that weren’t there before, which I’m sure were influenced by the Discovery side project. Keep ‘em coming, boys.
Nugget: “Run”

4. Jonsi – Go
This one took me a while to fully digest and is really only best appreciated through good headphones. Jonsi is the lead singer (wailer?) of Sigur Ros and he brings their trademarked cinematic lushness to his first solo album. This album is the sound of childhood, of innocence. It’s the sound of wonder and curiosity. It’s the sound of life seen through the eyes of a child who’s frames of reference are fantasy and magic. It’s fitting the Jonsi did a song for the film “How To Train Your Dragon” because he evokes the sensation of flight. Animated flight even. The colors are lovely.
Nugget: “Boy Lilikoi”

3. The Soft Pack – ST
There’s almost nothing better than the sound of a garage band grinding out fast and furious rock in the true DIY style. It’s perfect simplicity. That term may seem boring. Simplicity is so… simple. But, when done right, simplicity is also the sound of truth. That’s why true Pop music is such an amazing thing; it’s the sound of universal truth. It’s irrefutable. The Soft Pack don’t over-think things or stretch beyond their comfort area. They just thrash a melody, a chorus, and an ending all in a couple minutes. Pure and simple.
Nugget: “Down On Loving”

2. Underworld – Barking
I wrote off techno and Underworld years ago. It’s not really my thing anymore. So, imagine my surprise when one of the pioneers release something better than anything they’ve done in over 15 years, or since techno mattered. In their old age (they’re in their 50s!!!!!) they’ve matured. The silly experiments are gone and Barking is just plain warm and spirit-lifting, which is what the best techno always was to me. It’s the best workout music you’ll ever hear. When I’m really in the zone, I call it a bio-rhythm, the beats and my feet are movie together and my breathing is natural and normal. This album helps me get there. It’s a selfish pick because it doesn’t take over-analyzing. I just liked it. A lot.
Nugget: “Always Loved A Film”

1. Fitz and the Tantrums – Picking Up The Pieces
When deciding who to pick for #1 one, the biggest determining factor is “who do I want the world to fall in love with?” They are. My favorite music moment of the year was watching them perform with Daryl Hall on Live From Daryl’s House and see the alchemy between their modern version of retro soul and Daryl’s years of experience working the same retro groove. A torch was passed. Every song is a blood-pumping barnburner of classic soul with lots of horns and organs. Very Motown of today. I’m rooting for them above and beyond everyone else.
Nugget: “Moneygrabber”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Best of 2010 - 10-6

10. Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs
This is the comeback of the year (decade?) award. Wolf’s had an inimitable energy since his days fronting the J. Geils Band (“Centerfold”, “Freeze Frame”). It’s like he’s approached rock stardom with a wink and a grin, like he realized early on not to take it all too seriously. Bless him for it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make as much music these days, but Souvenirs is a classic bar band album of lived in cuts bathed in whisky and nicotine from a guy who’s been there and back and kept his sense of humor. He’s more rooster than wolf. In fact, he’s actually more peacock.
Nugget: "Tragedy"

9. Maximum Balloon – ST
This is basically a side-project for TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek to indulge in his mad professor-ness. Sitek handles production duties for TVOTR as well as other up-and-coming artists like Scarlett Johansson, and his style is layers upon layers of dense vibes and textures. You know a Sitek production when you hear one. Max Balloon is him turning knobs and twisting dials while a bunch of guests file through the booth making special appearances. Some of it is hip-hop, some of it is alternative, a lot of it sounds like a variation on Massive Attack. All of it kills.
Nugget: “Groove Me”

8. Cee Lo Green – The Ladykiller
Cee Lo has positioned himself as one of the most important artists active today. He’s written, possibly, the two best singles of the last 10 years, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and last year’s “F**k You”. His mind is twisted, he’s neurotic and paranoid. He’s like the musical equivalent of a Richard Pryor stand-up routine of the 70s, airing his demons for all the world to see. And whether he’s rapping or singing (that voice is a gift from God) he’s cutting to the heart of the matter with a devilish grin. The little fat man is a mad genius. And Ladykiller is a near masterpiece.
Nugget: “F**k You”

7. Joe Elliot’s Down N Outz – My Regeneration
So, Joe Elliot, lead singer of Def Leppard, gets asked to open for a back-together, Mott the Hoople, one of his rock idols. This inspires him to throw together a covers album of some lesser known Mott nuggets as a tie-in to the show, and to indulge himself of, I’m sure, a lifelong dream of fronting his favorite band while turning the world on to them. Joe attacks the project with passion and teeth. He takes what were already long-forgotten glam rock classics and “regenerates” them for today’s audience. The best part is, you can tell how much fun he’s having and it’s contagious. If only we were all so lucky.
Nugget: “Golden Opportunity”

6. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
How to describe Janelle Monae? I think of her as the modern day Prince. Her tastes run so wide and her abilities so limitless, it reminds you of when His Purpleness was at the heights of his uncontainable imagination during the 80s. There’s rock, r&b, jazz, opera, classical, all on the same album. And “album” is a key word here. There is no one song that defines who Janelle is. Over the course of 18 tracks, she morphs from one ArchAndroid to another, blowing minds along the way. She’s quietly setting a new standard of excellence. People will look back on this album for years to come and know “that’s when a shift was made”.
Nugget: "Tightrope"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Best of 2010 - 15-11

15. !!! – Strange Weather, Isn’t It?
These post-punk, hard funk, jazz-alternative geniuses are another band that can do no wrong. They’ve created a groove that is downright delicious and never gets old. I would almost find it hard to be in this band because the consistent level of funkiness displayed would have to be exhausting after awhile. Can anyone (or anything) be that funky? They’re working on it. Weather only gets docked a point or two for merely sustaining the funk, rather than elevating it to a new level. More please.
Nugget: "AM/FM"

14. Hoodoo Gurus – Purity of Essence
When one of your all-time favorite bands comes back with a new album after a loooong hiatus (one album in the last 15 years, no good ones in the last 20) the comeback better be good (I’m looking at you Howard Jones and Crowded House who both released junk last year). Thank God when it is! The Gurus started out with some of the most addictive jangle-pop of the early 80s, but then took a weird turn into almost metal for a while. Shame since they’re better at what they do than almost everyone. Purity returns them to the catchy songcraft of their early years, but with meatier hooks left over from their second half. The two sides combine for an excellent comeback. FINALLY!
Nugget: "Crackin’ Up"

13. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
I’ve never cared for this band’s brand of gauzy, fuzzy dream pop (if you can even call it “pop”). It’s too murky and shapeless. Halcyon Digest, however, is one beautiful piece of work. It’s still gauzy and, sometimes, murky, but with beautiful textures that stir true emotions rather than sounding like it’s all underwater and being made up on the spot. Some tracks are simple and languid, others build into an extended frothy jam. Both are good. Sneaky good. It’s the kind of album that worms into your skull and leaves a mark.
Nugget: "Desire Lines"

12. Film School – Fission
This is some beautiful 80s alternative in the mold of classic bands like Psychedelic Furs, the Primitives and Lush. They didn’t use to be. Always practitioners of the fuzzy distorted pop of shoegazer bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain, Film School added that priceless “chick singer” element (making for those transcendant boy-girl, Beach Boy-like harmonies) by putting the bassist’s voice higher in the mix, plus the occasional blip and bloop of 80s technology. They've warmed up the sound and improved the songwriting by simplifying the approach. Every track’s a keeper.
Nugget: “When I’m Yours”

11. Warpaint – The Fool
Think Deerhunter, only girls. Warpaint create these dreamy, dirge-like layers of sounds that penetrate deep in the heart and bring meaning to dark corners of the soul. It’s the kind of album you can put on and get lost in. That seemed to be their M.O. while making it, since many of the tracks just liftoff to jazzy improvisation that always serve the overall mood. Put it on and tune out the rest of the noise in life. Or, as John Legend would say, "Get Lifted". Did I mention they are girls? Maybe it’s sexist of me, but that's significant in my book. Of all the bands I've played for friends this past year, Warpaint got the strongest response.
Nugget: "Undertow"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Best of 2010 - 20-16

20. Nada Surf – if I had a hi-fi
They’re probably my favorite band of the last 10 years, but even I’m not a big enough homer to rank this cute album of covers any higher. Is it as essential as 2002’s masterpiece Let Go? No. (I won’t rest until everyone hears and loves that album). But it is the thinking man’s covers album, especially for our generation, when the interpretations include Depeche Mode, Kate Bush and the Go-Betweens run through Nada’s unique brand of warmth. Put it this way, everything they do is good. Even the stuff that is most disposable.
Nugget: "Enjoy The Silence"

19. Tie - The Roots – How I Got Over / Wake Up!
The Roots. The Roots. The Roots were on FIRE last year!
Not only did they release their strongest and sleekest album in over a decade (Over), but they teamed up with John Legend to reinterpret some classics of jazz and blaxploitation cinema (Wake) for today’s r&b lover. Over holds the edge of the two ever-so-slightly because of the strength of the material (great originals has to trump great covers) and the assemblage of out-of-nowhere collaborators (Joanna Newsom?!). But, Wake Up brings excellent, forgotten classics to the masses. Which would you choose?
Nugget: Over – “How I Got Over” : Wake – “Compared to What”

18. Elton John and Leon Russell – The Union
When was the last time Elton did anything worth anything? Not in the last 20 years at least. Is it a coincidence that it took bringing his idol Leon Russell back from the dead to inspire him to produce one of the greatest things he’s ever done? The last 10 years has seen Elton trying to go back to his earlier, rootsier stuff and none of it has hit. But match him with Russell and the two kill it. Proof you must sometimes go back in order to move forward. 10-1 says John’s next solo album goes back to sucking though.
Nugget: "Hey Ahab"

17. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
Prog rock for the modern rock lover. The Lakes build these intense, majestic soundscapes, like tidal waves crashing in the night, that never veer off into noodling weirdness, and always nail the target head on. Almost every track is a complete journey with a slow build (or a fast one, but always a build), a goose-bump-inducing middle, and a post-orgasmic comedown. Think Sigur Ros with hair on its chest.
Nugget: “And This Is What We Call Progress”

16. Massive Attack – Heligoland
It’s been a while since MA have come close to reaching the galactic heights of perfection that they managed to reach with 1992’s Mezzanine. But, Heligoland comes closer than anything they’ve done since, and near perfection is still pretty damn good. The dark, milky intensity remains with that beautiful black undercurrent of dread lurking in every shadow, and who would want it any other way. They’re always one of the most intensely gorgeous musical experiences you can have.
Nugget: "Girl I Love You"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Best of 2010 - 25-21

25. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Experimental music done with soul, these guys craft some of the strangest, yet affective, melodies around. Normally, when you describe music as “experimental” or “risky” it’s synonymous with “imprenatrable” and that isn’t any fun. Yeasayer can move your heart and mind. It's the sound of creativity let loose. It'll be interesting to see if these guys can maintain or if they lose sight eventually.
Nugget: “Madder Red”

24. UB40 – Labour of Love IV
After over 30 years of churning out nearly the same pseudo-reggae vibe over and over again, UB40 remain one of those welcome constants in life. They never change, they always sound good, and it always feels right. Sometimes, change is overrated. Plus, they don’t sound any different with new lead singer Duncan Campbell (brother of former lead singer Ali). Do they ever sound any different? Nope. And that's goooood.
Nugget: “Bring It On Home To Me”

23. Manic Street Preachers – Postcards From A Young Man
These guys bring a level of melodic ferocity that’s unique compared to the younger practitioners of power-pop that are out there. It’s more lived-in. Earned. Considering what they’ve been through and how long they’ve been at it, they deserve respect as the elderstatesmen that they are. Politics + Pop + Power Chords = Perfection. Why are the Brits so much better at this than we are?
Nugget: "Some Kind of Nothingness"

22. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Nobody makes entire albums like Kanye. Love him or hate him, the man IS the genius he claims to be. Fantasy has topped most music critic’s Best of 2010 list, but I don’t love it as much as Late Registration. For all the creativity (and it’s massive), there are fewer hooks and singles. Still, Kanye’s music is more like wild slabs of colorful paint on a canvass than any other artist out there. Those itching to crucify him will have to keep waiting.
Nugget: "POWER"

21. Court Yard Hounds – ST
Having never listened to or paid much attention to the Dixie Chicks, I don’t know how closely related the two bands are, since CYH are basically 2/3s of them. If the Chicks’ output is as beautifully sunny as the Hounds, then I’ve been missing out. Every track sounds like singer-songwriter folk rock of the 70s that was written and recorded in the gorgeous hills of Laurel Canyon. You know that pap Sheryl Crow keeps trying to sell you? Buy a better version here.
Nugget: "Ain’t No Son"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sundance: Day 3

"The Son of No One" was another complete waste of time and yet it was the one with all the stars! You got Al Pacino, Ray Liotta, Channing Tatum, Katie Holmes, Tracey Morgan, and yet it's total garbage. I should have known this because it was directed by the guy that did "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints" another Sundance hit that I saw and hated passionately. This guy's style is lots of brooding and insular tension with a completely overwrought score. Lots of scenes of actors looking glum and intense. Hate that.

And, it had my biggest pet peeve in movies, that thing where if the main character just talked about the problem or told his secret, there would be no point to the movie. Like "I'm going to get close to this person for an article I'm writing on love and then not tell them until I do fall in love with them and they hate me because I kept it from them and they feel our relationship is a fraud and based on inorganic motivation". Whatever. I hate that so much. In this case, Channing Tatum grows up in the projects and accidentally kills a couple of druggies, but Al Pacino lets him get away with it because he was partners with his dad and that's what cop friends do for each other. So, he grows up and decides at the age of 30 to be what? A COP! Of course! But, someone knows his secret and begins leaking it to the paper and the police and it ruins Channing's life and marriage because, of course he's never told his wife, Katie Holmes, any of this. Anyway, the ending is just as stupid as the whole rest of the movie and no one acts or behaves in a way that makes any sense at all. This movie comes out later this year, so maybe you'll see for yourselves. Score: 1

By this point, I'm getting pretty frustrated. Too many disappointing movies in a row is a drag, especially in one 24 hour span. I need some good news and I need it now before I go postal on one of these lame ass directors. And, just like that, it came!

The movie I had wanted to see more than any other was a documentary on A Tribe Called Quest by actor Michael Rapaport called “Beats, Rhymes, and Life”, but all shows were completely sold out. We had a few hours to kill and a lot of movies we’d like to see all starting at around the same time, which meant going all in on the one we stood the best chance of getting into and wait in line. If we didn’t get in we had two hours to waste until the next round (and it meant not getting into anything else we may have wanted). We decided to go with Tribe and take our chances and the bet paid off. We were the last group allowed in and got to meet Michael and shake his hand, our first star sighting. He was very nice and appreciative, humble and funny.

The movie was your basic Behind the Music episode, which is fine for me since I’m a sucker for that. I love that band and I loved getting to know them better. Taken all together, however, it made for the highlight of the trip and epitomized exactly what you want from a Sundance experience. Seeing stars who are cool and nice, seeing a movie you’re dying to see that is a hot ticket, and taking a bit of a risk to make it all happen. Perfect. As a cherry on top, before we left the screening, I spotted TJ Miller, who is an up and coming actor/comedian from films like “She’s Out Of My League” and “Gulliver’s Travels”. He walked by and I grabbed his shoulder and said “you’re hilarious”. He introduced himself by saying “Hi, I’m TJ” to which I replied “I know” and then thanked me very emphatically and then said hi to Farrah. Again, just what it’s all about. Score: 8

From here it was back to Flippin’ Burgers for some amazing chili cheese fries (Farrah couldn’t get enough) and a little down time with the Tippets before closing out the night with two more shows.

First up was a British film we had very low expectations for called “Perfect Sense”. The description didn’t sound like our thing, but it had Ewan McGregor and Eva Green and sometimes, after a while, you just want to see something with people you recognize. Good thing we did. It was an extremely unique spin on a disaster/virus movie where people all over the world suddenly get very depressed, then lose their senses one by one. Ewan is a chef and Eva is a doctor who meet when it's just starting and come together as the virus slowly takes hold and it all makes for one of the most human, sexy, inventive and captivating movie experiences I’ve had in a while. A lot of that is due to my low expectations and general disinterest in this kind of subject matter. But, it showed me that you can’t underestimate the visceral power of beautiful actors and a unique idea. It’s gold. If/when this comes out be sure to track it down. A hidden gem. Score: 8.5.

A quick note about seeing stars. In the crowds of people that show up for these movies, you’d swear half of them are small character actors. It’s like looking through dense fog at people you may or may not have gone to junior high with. Every now and then you see a face and think “in a different context that may have been that one person from that one show”.

Our last tickets of the festival were for whatever film won the best documentary prize. Last year it ended up being “Restrepo” which was just nominated for an Oscar. There were many in the running that we really wanted to see, especially one about the guy behind Elmo. We were bummed when the winner was announced to be “How To Die In Oregon” about people who take advantage of the physician-assisted suicide that is allowed in the state, one of the ones we were not jonesing for. However, it ended up being extremely heartfelt and involving. One of the primary participants is a sweet lady named Cody Curtis, a 50 something year old mother of two who has stomach cancer. We follow her for about a year as she prepares to die, says goodbye to friends, gives her belongings away, and even lives longer than she was initially told she would which causes some consternation over whether to go through with the suicide or when. You come away feeling very blessed that you got to get to know this amazing woman during her last days on earth and feel of her love and spirit.

I have issues with documentaries that don’t adequately or fairly show the opposing view of whatever the topic is. Interestingly, the director of “Oregon” didn’t even bother to tell both sides of the issue. It’s pretty fluffy overall and would probably be a big hit on Lifetime at some point. But, I didn’t care. I was pretty overwhelmed by it all (not to mention I completely agree that people should be allowed to have these suicides if they want to). I’m glad I saw it. Score: 8

So, that’s it. Another successful trip to Sundance. We plan to make this an annual event, as long as family or friends are able to watch the kids, which we’re so grateful for and couldn’t do it without. It’s truly an experience any film lover should take part of at some point in their lives. And, now that we’ve turned on the Tippets, we’re hoping we can add a friend or two each year. Makes it that much sweeter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sundance: Day 2

Friday and Saturday ended up being 14 hour marathons of movie indulgence with several highs and lows along the way.

We kicked off Friday morning with Joe and Leslie at an early morning showing of "A Family Portrait in Black and White" which is the story of a Ukrainian woman named Olga that raises orphans, especially colored and mulatto children that society has completely rejected. The first half practically builds a case for Olga to receive sainthood with the life and love she provides to these unloved and unwanted children (27 of them in all in a house with no toilet or hot water).

However, as the story continues along, you see moments where Olga is actually sort of suffocating these children and thwarting their progress. She won't allow most of them to attend schools that are away and would help them get a good education. The kids all have foster families they visit in the summer, many of whom would like to adopt them, but she won't allow it until the kids are 18, even though these families could provide a much better home for them. So, it's all a big dichotomy - what she offers is certainly better than what an orphanage would provide, but she stubbornly stunts their growth in the process. In her words "birds may fly away, but a bird only has one nest".

The film was fascinating and heartfelt, if slightly formless. Many scenes could have been cut easily. Also, all the filming took place during the summers, which is fine except that it would have been interesting to see how everyone endures a Russian winter in a house with no hot water. Still, well worth seeing. Score: 8

Next up was the movie I was most looking forward to of the whole festival- "Black Power Mixtape". It's a Swedish documentary on the Black Power movement covering the years 1967 - 1975. This is a topic I've found fascinating for years and have always watched anything I could get my hands on. Well, this was a slight disappointment.

First of all, I should have been tipped off more that the film is Swedish. Not that it matters too much, after all Swedes can tell the Black Panther story too, but it felt more like some footage that had been laying around and turning it into a film gave it a reason to exist. It's basically a composite of news reports filed by Swedish journalists reporting back on the American equal rights situation. That's fine, it just amounted to an ultimately serviceable, but not crucial, telling of the Black America story. A unique trick they used that I wasn't a big fan of, was having modern day commentators like Angela Davis, Talib Kweli, and Melvin Van Peeples talk over parts as if it was a DVD commentary. Nice idea, but I'd probably rather see these people's faces as they told the story. Maybe that's nitpicking. Overall, it was fine, but not essential. Score: 5.5

From here we went to another drama called "Benevidas Born". It's the story of a high school female power lifter in a largely Hispanic Texas town who is trying to find a way out, not just out of town, but out of her culture and the life she knows.

A film about a female power lifter sounded fascinating to me and it was, despite the very amateurish acting and film making, for the first 30 minutes or so when that was the focus. All of a sudden the film begins taking turns and the lead begins down a path of self-destruction that seems so foreign to the premise and character we were investing in. She goes from pursuing her goal to taking steroids, quitting the sport, starting a fire and going to jail, transporting illegal aliens, and pushing her boyfriend and family away. It just didn't ring true. It was like the filmmakers wanted to throw in any obstacle a poor Hispanic family would come up against and throw them all at this girl. I didn't buy it. Score: 4

We saw this with Joe and Leslie too and afterwards we went to Flippin' Burgers for some dinner and to meet up with Jon and Natalia Anderson, our good friends from our ward that moved to Park City last year so Jon could go to work for Skull Candy. It was so good to catch up with them again. It doesn't hurt that Jon has a cool job and brought some schwag for us, including some sweet headphones at a discount, some cds, stickers, and hats. Love those guys.

The last movie of the day was another I had high hopes for called "Knuckle". It's an Irish documentary about some interrelated Traveler families (think Gypsies) that have been in a heated battled since a fight broke out at a wedding in '92 and someone died. Since then, every few months a member of one clan will challenge someone from another clan to a bare knuckle fight for a purse of money. The winner basically claims bragging rights, but since these fights just keep going and going and younger generations have begun to adopt them, there isn't an end in sight. In fact, they've become a tradition and part of their new heritage.

All very cool, right? You'd think. As cool as the fight scenes were, there was almost no sense of narrative. The director had been following them for 12 years, but never really tells a story. It just goes from one fight to another. The Q&A afterwards was way more informative than the film itself. For instance, he starts out by saying "I assumed when I made this that everyone would know what Travelers are, but I'm learning no one does. So, let me explain..." No kidding! It didn't occur to him to explain that? Another example - two guys fight and the younger, fitter guy breaks the rules and bites the other guy several times so the fight is called. They do a rematch nine years later and in the Q&A, the director explains that the one guy had been embarrassed for the biting and been living in regret ever since. Don't you think that's exactly what an audience would like to know so they can add some context to these fights? Overall, a real missed opportunity. The fights are cool to watch, but there's nothing else there. Score: 4

We finally get home Friday night around midnight and have to be up by 6:30 Saturday morning to get to our first movie, "The Son of No One". I mention this because it's what these trips are really like. A few hours of sleep and then a movie marathon, eating when/if there's time, and then back to bed for a bit to do it all over again the next day. Can't be beat!

Also, notice I've yet to mention any star sightings. That's because there haven't been any. Kinda disappointing.