Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Actually Like: Flying Lotus' "Auntie's Lock/Infinitum"

This song is gorgeous. Drums like crickets in the mist, a quiet wooden flute in the background, lullaby-like coos. I haven't heard a song this truly peaceful in quite awhile. I like Flying Lotus' harder stuff too, but it all just sounds busy compared to this.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Misty and Me: "Cary Grant Never Signed An Autograph In His Life"

I've been working on music by my lonesome for years, but I've rarely made anything I ever wanted to share--until lately, that is. 

I humbly present, in musical equation, Burt Reynolds + German Psychedelic rock + proggy keyboard= Misty Beethoven's "Cary Grant Never Signed An Autograph In His Life."

Also, head on over to Fresh Cherries from Yakima for a remix I did of his song "Unofficial Anthem of the Suicide Girls" plus another track of mine entitled "He Knows Us Each By Name."
Fresh Cherries from Yakima is the nom de plume of Seattle's Douglas Martin, who also produces under the name Blurry Drones. "It's Saturday" is an amazing flip he did of a Blitzen Trapper song. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Listless: My Top Ten Albums of the Year

Without further ado (since I'm sorely lacking in "ado" these days), here are my top ten albums of the year (with a few mp3s scattered here and there like winter's gentle frost):

10. Okkervil River, The Stand-Ins
The Stage Names was a terrible album. Overworked and too clever by half, it was an album that thought writing a song where you just add one number to iconic rock songs with numbers in them (97th tear, 100 luftballoons, etc) would somehow create pathos. The Stand-Ins, however, is great. From the forgotten one night stand in "On Tour with Zykos" to the jilted boyfriend of a star actress (no Forgetting Sarah Marshall) in "Calling and Not Calling my Ex," the characters on the album have missed the party completely and now have spend their lives with the rest of us schlumps. When you're as self-conscious and literate as frontman Will Sheff, it's always going to be better to write from the perspective of the (relatively) losing end of the rock star-fan equation, because writing from the rock star's perspective, as he did on Stage Names, he sounded unconvincing and actorly.

9. Obsession, Various Artists
This psych compilation from Bully Records is the coolest. Featuring everything from Brazilian weirdoes Novas Bainaos to Turkish guitar shredders Ersen ("Gonese Don Cicegim") and Arif Sag, it highlights the insane wealth of music out there for fans of 60s and 70s psychedelic rock. Compiled by Mike Davis of The Academy Record Store in New York City, Obsession doesn't feel thrown together like so many other psych comps, where half the songs are foreign bands covering American hits.

8. The New Deal, Various Artists
I pretty much said it all here, but I still can't believe how good of a compilation this is. No DJ shoutouts, no throwaway freestyles over tinny beats, just one great rap song after another. Sure, this leans heavy on "hipster rap" and reeks slightly of Sparks and sweaty neon bandannas, but so what? With tracks as good as Wale and Brother Ali's "2nd Time Around" and Kidz in the Hall's "Cool, Relax," you can put neon shutter shades on me anytime (actually, please don't.)

7. Zilla Rocca, Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca
This technically isn't an album, but you could have fooled me. When you hear Zilla rhyme, something occurs to you: "Oh, so this is how great rappers sound, I had almost forgotten..."
The fact that a rapper this talented is also just a really cool and smart blogger is still kind of mind-blowing. Add the fact that all the other rappers on the mixtape, from Nico the Beast to 2ew Gunn Ciz to ASK? are all as good as Zilla and it seems almost unthinkable: a whole crew of great rappers unknown by the majority of rap fans? A sad of state affairs but one that can hopefully be remedied.

6. Saudade, The Hooded Ones
I downloaded this album like months and months ago off Saudade's blog, but, dumb me, I didn't start listening to it until now. They're from Portland, they play ambient/drone music reminiscent of Stars of the Lid and Grouper, and they're giving their album away for free--that's an embarrassment of riches. The song "Sleep's Walk" is painfully gorgeous, while the rest of the album is just plain gorgeous. 

5. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals
For as many reasons as there are to hate Greg Gillis (that stupid Microsoft commercial springs to mind), there are just as many thirty second mash-ups he's made that trigger childlike joy in me. I can't help it--the guy keeps pushing my buttons. "Popping Bottles" and Temple of the Dog's "Hunger Strike"? "Throw Some Ds" and Aphex Twin's "Boy/Girl" song? It's a Pavlovian response, I can't help it.

4.Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreak
I thought I was going to hate this album, but now I think it's the best thing Kanye's done since The College Dropout. Sure, the lyrics are pretty cliched, but emotions are real and raw and the songs almost uniformly catchy. I wish I hadn't found out that Kanye swiped the chorus to "Coldest Winter," my favorite song on the album, from Tears for Fears, but it's great nonetheless. I'm confident most rappers are going to learn the completely wrong lesson from this album ("the public wants more auto-tune, right?").

3. Grouper, Dragging a Dead Up a Hill
Liz Harris, where have you been all my life? Back when I was thirteen and idolizing scenesters in Smiths t-shirts, I could never have imagined such impossibly cool people listening to something so pedestrian as music with verses and chorus'. I figured they were listening to something like Grouper, something dark and beautifully vague, and too mysterious to come out and declare its intentions. If you can, listen to Grouper at work and see if doesn't turn your workplace into a strange and poignant place you've never been to before.

2. Valet, Naked Acid
Wow. This record is everything that's great about twenty first century psychedelic music. You've got your acid rock guitar workouts, your tape hiss symphonies, your mushroom-addled drones, your stoned nature walk ballad, your loop pedal junkie blues...This album is druggy and warped and perfect.

1. Vampire Weekend, S/T
Like the Strokes first album, I listened to this one over and over and over. Sure, it's made by a bunch of rich kids and the lead singer is a ham, but there's simply not a better collection of songs made this year. When it works correctly, pop music can temporarily transform your life, make it charmed and unique and bursting with possibility. During the first few weeks I was listening to this album, I had to go to a clinic to get my meds refilled because I had no job and no health insurance. Objectively, I wasn't in a great place, but inwardly, I felt as privileged as Ivy League kids with balls enough to declare Hyannisport, home of the Kennedy's, a "ghetto." That's the power of a great record.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Actually Like: The New Deal Mixtape

One of my favorite things about the internet is zip files of music. I just love the fact that you can download like sixteen or seventeen songs in one pop. Whether any of those songs are good is almost beside the point. This holds especially true for rap mixtapes. Lil Wayne's "Dedication 3"mixtape is pretty much awful, weighed down with too much autotune and weed carriers' empty boasts, but damned if I wasn't slightly thrilled to see the zip file icon pop up as it finished downloading.

So imagine my surprise when "The New Deal," yet another Kanye and His Hipster Friends mixtape, has some of the best rap music I've heard this year. Mixed by DJ Benzi and featuring production by Black Milk, Diplo, 9th Wonder, and Kanye, and rappers Kidz in the Hall, Blu, Skyzoo, Kanye, Common, Jackie Chain, and others, "The New Deal" is the perfect mix of great beats and great (or competent) MCs I so rarely hear anymore.

Here's some highlights (and a few lowlights):

  Benzi ft. Wale and Brother Ali- 2nd Time Around - While shimmering beats with soul samples are nothing new, it would be shocking if this song was bad.  However, Wale's flow always makes me slightly nervous, like he's always threatening to completely forget the beat. "I play the background whole time like Mario 3" is an instant quotable.

  Colin Munroe and Joell Ortiz- Piano Lessons (prod. by Black Milk) - This song brings up a make or break feature of the whole mixtape: hipster white dudes singing the hooks. If the whole idea of "hipster rap" or faux-indie white dudes/rap artists cross-pollination sickens you, there is no way you're going to like this mixtape. The beat from Black Milk is perfect: simple, melodic, and deceptively spare (the quiet keyboard underneath the piano loop gives the beat an airy feel you don't notice until you listen closely).

   Izza Kizza - Back to Miami- Bells, horns, and handclaps can make any decent rapper sound triumphant, so it's tough to give much credit to Izza Kizza for the song's success. The vocoder guitar phrase that appears around 1:55 is brilliant. Izza is apparently a Timbaland protege, so not getting in the way of the beat could be his road to riches (but I doubt it).

  Charles Hamilton -We Major freestyle- For all his talent, Charles Hamilton has one stilted flow. Most of the time he sounds like he's talking over the beat instead of rapping. Like Wale and Bishop Lamont, Hamilton is stuck in Interscope Purgatory and you and I know both know he's not getting out anytime soon.

  Wale and Daniel Merriweather - Pot of Gold (prod. by Mark Ronson) - Wale needs to rap like this all the time, i.e. on beat. Calling the beat "so Premier" is kind of dumb since it calls attention to the fact it's a straight Premier rip-off, er, I mean, "homage." 

  Kid Sister - Get Fresh- I feel slightly defensive about liking this song, but screw it, it's a great song. The keyboards on the hook remind of DJ Toomp and that's never a bad thing. Side note: Remember when Kid Sister was on the cover of The Fader after releasing like two songs? That was ridiculous.

  Kanye West ft. Big Sean and Mr. Hudson - Paranoid (remix)- Kanye:! Bad weed carrier...You left a mess on the remix..Look at the mess you left--look at it! Big Sean: (whimpers, adjusts scarf and fitted cap) Me: I still love this song.
 Common ft. Chester French - What a World - Did Common hit his head and forget how to rap? The "Rapper's Delight" flow is for rapping grandma's and middle managers at the company wide talent show.

 Donnis -Party Works - God, this beat is great. I'm not sure who produced it, but it has this amazing doo-wop sounding sample on the chorus that sounds triumphant and sad at the same time. Donnis is a generic rapper from Atlanta co-signed by Benzi.

 BlaqStarr - Get Off (produced by Diplo) - Whatever filter Diplo is using on the chorus is a monster. This reminds me a lot of the production on 808s and Heartbreak. I don't think Blaqstarr gets enough credit for how weird and moody his music can be.

Mp3s (get 'em before they disappear):

Monday, November 10, 2008

Portland's Got to Be Good for Something: Grouper

It's kind of embarrassing I've never seen Grouper live. She played PDX Pop Now this year on a Sunday afternoon, which, all things considered, is kind of a perfect concert time for a nerd like me. But the prospect of wall to wall people packed into tiny little Rotture just did not seem appealing in the least.

Grouper is definitely one of my favorite Portland artists, along with White Rainbow and Valet. Her music is not only gorgeous, but sounds almost exactly like how I used to imagine bands like the Smiths and the Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen (yes, I thought Echo and Bunnymen would be dark and mysterious) sounded before I ever heard them. When I was twelve and thirteen walking wide-eyed through Ozone Records on Burnside (RIP), I remember seeing all the band t-shirts hung from the ceiling like flags and imagining how weird a band like the Cure must sound just based on their t-shirts. I was slightly disappointed when most of the bands whose strange t-shirts I'd idealized turned about to be just plain old pop bands.

The music of Grouper is gauzy and full of tape hiss and layers of delay that makes it sound like if your plumbing started a goth band. I could probably come up with a more romantic analogy, like the fuzziness of old Super 8 film or "the warm, misty glow of distant memories" but there is, for me, a quality of rust and of sound traveling through tight, hollow places to the music that makes me think of plumbing.

I love the fact that you can barely hear the words in Grouper's music, but I'm sure not everyone will feel the same way. For me, the layers of echo and ambient noise create a sound that seems at once otherworldly and mysterious and as ordinary and comforting as the buzz of the refrigerator. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Actually Like: Deerhunter's Microcastle

Much like Deerhoof, I've tried to get into Deerhunter for a long time. On paper, the band sounds like perfection: signed to Kranky, weird, overbearing vocalist with a host of personal problems (not to sound callous, but this describes at least 75% of my favorite singers), equal parts shoegaze, psych rock, and ambient music. But shit, as they say, just did not add up.

Most Deerhunter songs start off interesting but go nowhere. Whereas a Guided By Voices song (and GBV are a good comparison since Deerhunter frontman/lead songwriter Bradford Cox is equally as prolific as Bob Pollard) cycles through an album's worth of hooks in one song, a Deerhunter song finds one pretty melody or one pleasantly cycling bassline and runs it into the ground. To convince the listener the song is progressing, liberal amounts of fuzz and echo are applied to every sound in the mix after, say, the 2:00 mark.

It's not like I'm sort of pop purist who can only enjoy songs with a verse-chorus-middle eight structure, because the Deerhunter songs I listen to the most are the droning, soft-focus intstrumentals. When it comes to ambient or drone or wallpaper music or whatever you want to call music that just sort of drifts by you, I love pretty much everything that doesn't sound like a Wyndham Hill compilation. But if you're going to write songs, please don't half-ass it and try to coast on one good idea.

Microcastle, unlike previous Deerhunter efforts, actually has songs that sound finished. Not to mention much more dynamic production, courtesy of Nicolas Vernhes. Check out "Never Stops" which has a wonderfully twinkling and sweeping chorus (a chorus?! who'd a thunk it?):

Despite my enjoyment of Microcastle, I find this hilarious.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Will Never Like: Deerhoof

Being someone who never wants to miss out on something good, I've spent years trying to get into Deerhoof. Since a lot of music and movies I like now I would have hated a few years ago, I had every reason to believe Deerhoof and myself were just bound click sooner or later. One day I would exclaim "I get it! I hear the great songs where once I only heard rote 'art-punk' and a tuneless Japanese woman screaming!"

It almost happened. After getting Apple O from the library for the third time, I opened my mind wide--Inland Empire/Captain Beefheart wide--and I heard something. There was an innocent and infectious energy in vocalist Satomi Matsukazi's voice that I hadn't heard before, and I became aware of the fact that many of the songs actually had nice little melodies, even if they seldom repeated. I dutifully placed the album on my iPod and got ready to embrace Deerhoof with open arms in a matter of weeks.

Of course that didn't happen. Apple O was one of those albums that never seemed to fit a mood of mine. Sure, there was the infrequent occasions when I wanted to hear something foreign to my normal listening habits, but even then I'd get sick of the album halfway through.

Certainly the Shonen Knife/Cibo Matto factor plays a part in my inability to enjoy the band. For those unfamiliar with either of the two bands mentioned, they were both symptomatic of the 90s hipsters tendency to fetishize cute Japanese people, especially cute Japanese girls. Cibo Matto were a duo who sang a ton of songs about food (Cibo Matto is Italian for "crazy food") and were fawned over by the usual suspects: Beastie Boys, Sean Lennon, Beck; Shonen Knife were a three piece all girl punk band who also sang about food a lot and were showered with praise by Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth, who treated them as if they were geniuses.

With Shonen Knife especially, this adoration reeked of patronization. Had the band been made up of three ordinary looking American teenage girls and released the same records, no one would have ever heard of them. It was the offensive notion that somehow Japanese people are purer and less self-conscious than us ugly Americans that fueled the fandom, and that I'm sure contributed to many of the performers at the first Pitchfork Festival referring to Satomi Matsuzaki as a "true rock star" when Deerhoof performed there a few years ago. In this specific hipster mindset, the worst crime would be to try to be a rock star, but a Japanese woman with boundless energy and stilted English certainly couldn't be trying to be anything but herself, right?

I don't want to make this the whole story about Deerhoof, but it's something that bothers me a lot and I find it hard not to imagine people enjoying the band on that level when I'm listening to them.

The new song "Chandelier Searchlight," whose video is above, is certainly less abrasive than a lot of the band's songs, and the chorus is charming, but ultimately it still leaves me feeling the same sort of blah as everything else I've heard from them. It's settled: I will never like Deerhoof.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come? Form-fitting, of course..

I was all excited to post about "Shape of Things to Come" from the movie "Wild in the Streets" until I read this on the song's wikipedia page:

"As of June 2006, the Max Frost & The Troopers version of the song is being used in an advertising campaign by Target Stores."

Apparently the shape of things to come will be "comfortable," affordable, and designed by Isaac Mizrahi.

But having the song used in a commercial is actually not blasphemous (you know, not like something crazy, like using "The Times They Are A-Changin" in a commercial for a billion dollar HMO) because the song isn't an actual rebellious statement, just a dramatized version of one. I think this is why I actually like it more than a real song by a real band about how "things need to change, man..."

If you're not familiar with "Wild in the Streets," it's about a pop star named Max Frost who starts using his influence with teens to get the voting age changed to fifteen. Once this is accomplished, he gets himself voted President (on the Republican ticket--don't ask) and sends everyone over 35 to LSD-fueled "rehabilitation camps."

The scene featuring "The Shape of Things to Come" comes right after crowds of teens engaging in a sit in at the Capitol have been fired upon by police. Max (on TV presumably) appears from behind two columns looking solemn and defiant and that great muted guitar begins to build the tension up, allowing the organ to sweep in, ringing and triumphant.

Within the context of the movie, the song's got this great feeling of inevitability to it, as if it's already far too late to stop the youth from rising up and taking total control of the world. But without watching the movie, the song has a epic feel to it that most garage rock songs from the 60s lack, though that might be because the couple who wrote the song, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, were Brill Building songwriters responsible for hits like "On Broadway" by the Drifters, "We Got to Get Outta This Place" by the Animals, and "Kicks" by Paul Revere and the Raiders.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Initials BB

Look at Serge Gainsbourg. What a typical Frenchman. Smoking a cigarette and acting too cool to stand up. Who does he think he is?

"Initials BB," Gainsbourg's tribute to Brigitte Bardot, is easily my favorite song of his. The chorus is hypnotic, like some sort of brainwashing tool: "Repeat after me--B initials B initials B initials BB." It's easy to imagine a giant neon sign flashing B in time with the beat.

Most Gainsbourg songs irritate me. Either he talks through most of a song (probably because he was too hungover in the studio that day) or Jane Birkin (Gainsbourg's longtime girlfriend and "musical" partner) does her famous "I don't need to sing, I can just exhale" act, causing the song to expire in a fog of Gitanes smoke and Gallic superiority. But "Initials BB" is perfect.

As a public service, here is what happens when you're too cool to stand up in your own music videos.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Rising Storm

Please please please, I'm begging all 3 and 1/2 of my readers (I'm the 1/2 reader, because--to paraphrase Bret from Flight of the Conchords--"I'm not really a fan"), check out The Rising Storm blog. For fans of psych-rock, country-folk, prog-folk-psych-country, or just plain old rock and roll music, no blog can introduce you to as many forgotten but amazing bands as "The Storm."

The video above is of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, an artist I'd never have heard of without The Rising Storm. Below are two more songs you can find on one of best blogs around:

"Slip Inside This House" The Thirteen Floor Elevators

"Gather Round" Love

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Can't Hear The Noise Over Your Yelling

I got a Prurient CD at--of all places--my local library. I've been slowly trying to dip my little toe into the muggy green swamp that is noise music. I like noise when it's used to add texture and dissonance to melodic music, but I'm unsure if I can listen to nothing but shrieking feedback and static.

My friend Sam from high school used to brag about listening to Nurse With Wound's high pitched feedback on his Walkman--he said he found it calming, but maybe that had something to do with his ADD. At the time I thought he was nuts, but more and more I think I understand what he was talking about. If you listen to music looking to be endlessly surprised and inspired, sooner or later you realize the well has run dangerously dry. I find the more I listen to really poppy records (the most recent example being the Vampire Weekend album), the more they break down into their component parts. First I like the whole song, then just the chorus, then just the bridge. After a week or two, when a song off the album pops up in my iPod shuffle, I skip it, knowing its been basically emptied of all pleasure at this point.

Not so with noise music. There is nothing instantly pleasurable about what sounds like between-the-stations radio static played over a smoke alarm running low on batteries. The ear's first reaction is "Hey whoa, what the hell--get that away from me!" But stay awhile with the sound and you cross a threshold. Your ear starts to get acclimated to the strange, unpleasant noises coming out of your headphones. Your heart rate drops. You submit to the noise and calm travels throughout your body.

And Dominick Pernow, AKA Prurient, starts yelling.

I don't want yelling in my noise music. I live in a city and take public transportation, so I get my daily fill of yelling no problem. And if for some reason I don't, my kindly neighbors help out and scream at each other in the courtyard outside my apartment. I'm sure all that yelling is super cathartic for ol' Dominick but I suggest he invest in a pillow--it works wonders.

Also, as the above video illustrates, yelling your guts out looks and sounds ridiculous. I know noise fans would answer that with the retort that I must not really like noise music if I can't appreciate such displays, but I think too many of them are hung up on how extreme and "evil" noise is, which I think is missing the point entirely. Noise music shouldn't be a contest of who can sound the most fucked up, because, let's face it, that's an easy contest to win. At its best, noise challenges the ear to listen and appreciate sounds it usually cringes at.

That being said, a lot of the Prurient album was quite good. When Fernow isn't yelling, his music is hypnotic mix of drones and noise that soothes through repetition (this description describes 99% of drone music, but that's an issue for another post). So the lesson here is: Shhh...let the noise speak.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Could We Interest You In a Tasteful Tote?

I found this tote bag following an ad on Pitchfork for Sufjan Steven's record label Asthmatic Kitty's new "pomegrante friendly" grocery tote bag. Check out the site for yourself.

I'm trying to understand why seeing this tote bag and reading it described as "large enough to haul as many veggies and yummy goods as you'd need for a perfect dinner" brings out a hatred in me that should be reserved for actual bad things, i.e. the Bush administration, sweatshop using corporations, homophobes and racists, American Apparel ads, etc.

Firstly, there's the name: Asthmatic Kitty. It conjures up images of a bunch of super skinny hipsters decked out in scarves and striped sweaters (full disclosure: I own three such sweaters) ladling pity on poor little weezing Mr. Kitty as he huffs and puffs with his cute little lungs, trying to desperately to secure the bare minimum of air to survive for the next second or so. And that's not a good image.

Secondly, Adam Gnade, the author of the first vegan recipe zine included--for a limited time!--with the tote bag is described as a "storyteller." No one who tells good stories is described as a "storyteller." For the record, "storytellers" are failed children's book authors. They haunt local libraries, telling stories too cliched and lacking in humor to interest anyone under four years old (oh, and how it makes their blood boil when a precocious four year old figures out the moral to the story when they're in the middle of telling it. "Well, let's just wait and see if that's what Simon the rabbit learns..")

Thirdly and finally, not to make a big generalization, but the kind of people who use the word "yummy" and brag about handwriting and illustrating their vegan recipe zines are passive-aggressive monsters. I'll allow that humans can be kind and empathetic and sensitive, but they can't be that way all the time. Your anger and frustration have to get expressed somewhere, and if you fetishize sweetness and cuteness, chances are you're not one for facing conflict head-on. Instead you patronize and condescend, hiding behind the flimsy excuse that you "didn't intend it to come across that way." Asthmatic Kitty and co. don't hate you, they just think some of the things you do are stupid and destructive and it'd be majorly cool if you could stop doing those things like right away.

In conclusion, asthmatic cats needs vets, not your sympathy; "storytellers" secretly hate your children, and anyone who buys the above tote bag is passive aggressive (or in need of a tote bag).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Evil That is "Turkish Star Wars"

To all who watch this, view with caution. While you, the naive, the unitiated, the childishly curious, marvel at how blatantly the filmmakers of "Turkish Star Wars" have ripped off footage from the real Star Wars, remember this: I sat through the whole f'in thing.

Believe me, this sequence made even less sense to me that it will make to you, and I saw all that preceded it. Sure, the evil turkish Darth Vader rip-off wants to destroy the earth (and he does, thus the footage stolen of the destruction of Leia's home planet Alderan), but that has nothing to do with a) F-Wings trying to blow up the Death Star, b) storm troopers getting shot at, and c) the hero trying to wrest the sword away from TDV (Turkish Darth Vader), who is both simultaneously blowing up planets and fighting our hero in the desert.

And while the countless jumps during the fight scene are charmingly absurd (my brother swears he can hear the trampoline squeaking on the soundtrack), by the time I could have appreciated them I already had a violent hatred for everyone involved in the production of the movie in any capacity (yes, even the best boy).

"Turkish Star Wars" is not a movie so bad it's good, it's a movie so bad it will corrode your soul.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"I'll Try to Just Solve the Reds.."

Six Reasons Why This is so F'n Funny (No, pointing out why something is funny does not make it less funny, it just pisses off people without analytical minds..):

1. The "Catch It!" adline from the ESPN commercials. Because you can't advertise sports without a sports metaphor/pun. Also, scary question: what if they don't catch it? Watch out, Butterhands, that's not just some pigskin, that's the May 1976 match up between the Bengals and the Packers, featuring the Bengals' secret weapon halfback, Donald "Burroughs Adding Machine" Raymond.

2. Why is Brian Dennehy a) on heroin or b) hanging out Robert Evans? I'm pretty sure Dennehy spent the 70s guest starring in poorly rated cop shows, not hanging out with the coked-out producer of the Godfather.

3. Where the hell does he come up with the Rodney Allen Rippy reference? Rippy was a Gary Coleman-esque child actor who did ads for Jack in the Box in the 70s, as well as starring in the short lived Harlem Globetrotters saturday morning show, "Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine." Kudos to Patton for not only picking a hilariously named 70s child actor, but for picking one so obscure that research about him will lead to the "Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine." YouTube Rippy and you will also find video of him admonishing Sally Fields for swearing at the Oscars. Icing on the cake, I tell you, icing on the cake...

4. I've just learned a "cigarette boat" is a sleek speed boat with a characteristic "v" shaped hull, known to reach up to 80 knots in calm waters and 25 knots in those crazy five to seven feet Caribbean waves. Boy, Mac, those Montego Bay waves are doozies, ain't they?

5. It's not so much the acts described as the celebrities involved. Tom Wopat, also known as Luke Duke from the Dukes of Hazzard. Gil Gerard, from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The aforementioned Rodney Allen Rippy. There is no way these D-listers would be hanging out on Robert Evans' boat, but their names are so funny sounding it hardly matters.

6. The word "solar plexus."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Small Angry Germans with Guns: Watching Stroszek

- Stroszek is supposedly the film Joy Division front man Ian Curtis watched hours before his suicide. I find that fact odd, since the film isn't so much depressing or gloomy (though it has elements of both those moods) as it is bizarre. I suppose the film has a fundamental strangeness to it that could spook somebody in an agitated and despairing state. Suffice to say, do not watch this movie high.

-Bruno Stroszek is played by Bruno S., a street musician who was born to a prostitute and spent most of his life in an asylum. Director Werner Herzog used him in his earlier film The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, and according to the book Herzog on Herzog, he wrote Stroszek specifically for Bruno when Bruno found he'd lost his part in Herzog's version of Woyzeck to Klaus Kinski. Herzog also mentions in the book how odd and wonderful Bruno's way of speaking is, and though I don't understand his German, there is something perfectly expressive about his voice; he almost sounds like a character on a kids show.

-One of the two pimps who harass Bruno and his prostitute friend Eva looks like he's in a Hawkwind cover band. Or more likely a roadie for a Hawkwind cover band. The dude is tall and blond with a handlebar mustache and a wardrobe of silk shirts and gold jewelry. I think getting roughed up by a guy who looks that tacky has to hurt your dignity, because you keep thinking "If He-Man was a pimp, this is what he'd look like!"

Hawkwind Does Not, I Repeat, Does Not Endorse Pimping

-Bruno S. is a little too charming of a street performer for my taste. Aren't street performers supposed to be kind of shitty? That way when you drop a dollar in their guitar case, you can think "Man, how great could they be if they didn't have to perform on the street?" If you're charming and talented as Bruno is, with his xylophone and accordion, people on the street are going to think "Wow, he's good. I bet he makes a ton of money," and then not give him a cent.

-In a truly bizarre scene, Bruno meets with his former doctor from the asylum, who, after hearing of Bruno's troubles with Eva's two pimps, takes Bruno to the premature baby ward. There he shows him a small baby and illustrates its strong reflexes by sticking his finger out and letting the baby tug itself upright. Then the doctor picks up the baby by its legs and lets it hang there and cry, as if this is also supposed to be a profound, enlightening experience for Bruno. This is a difficult scene to watch especially because it's clear we're watching a very real premature child.

-After the three (Bruno, Eva, and Scheitz) move to Railroad Flats, Wisconsin (actually Plainview, Wisconsin), we meet Scheitz's "nephew" who may actually be someone he met in the Air Force. The only words the nephew knows in German are "the dog is loose" and he explains at least two or three times that the town is called Railroad Flats because of, you know, all the railroads. In one of the funniest scenes, the nephew does a bizarre dance/sex-simulation where each pelvic thrust is a coin. When he moves his right hip, he says "nickel," when he moves his left, he says "dime" and when he thrusts forward, he says "quarter." He keeps repeating it until it becomes a mantra: "nickel, dime, quarter, loose change, nickel, dime, quarter.."

Chapter 14: The Loose Change Technique

-Man, the guy from the bank who comes to take Bruno's house looks like Stephen Merchant from the British Office and Extras. It's just...uncanny.

-When the bank forecloses on Bruno's house, Scheitz grabs a shotgun and declares that he'll kill everyone involved with the conspiracy to take his home away. The two drive downtown to the bank, but when they find it's closed, they rob a haircut place instead. Scheitz berates the barber, shouting "I know you're in on it too!" As disturbing as this sounds, there is something so hilarious about a small German man with a shotgun ranting about a conspiracy against him that I almost hoped the rest of the movie was just going to be Bruno and Scheitz riding around robbing people, while Scheitz screamed about the vast machinations of the conspiracy against him.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ol' Fred Krueger: Watching Nightmare on Elm Street

Since I'm incapable of writing two or three essays a week about movies, I think I'm going to switch to the far easier bullet point format. Enjoy.

-In the movie's first nightmare, as Fred Krueger chases Tina through a boiler room, a lone sheep appears, running down a hallway and bleating its little head off. I know Krueger is a sick man and all, but you've got to be pretty perverted to keep sheep around just to watch them run terrified through a dark and humid boiler room. Regardless, sheep bleating is incredibly creepy, and thus should be featured wherever creepiness is absent.

- When ne'er-do-well Rod runs into Tina on the way to school with her friends, he tells her "I had a hard-on last night with your name on it." You've got to love a line that stupid, as well as the fact that it's spoken by a character named Rod.

-You can see even in the first movie how lame of a character Freddy Krueger was going to become. All it was going to take was some idiot screenwriter or producer watching the first movie and thinking "That Freddy...He's the real movie. Let's give him some quips and catchphrases." And in that tragic moment was born the seed that would become Freddy vs. Jason.

-Nothing spells action like John Saxon:

"You might remember me from such films as Cannibal Apocalypse..."
-When Krueger kills Tina in her dream, we see her stomach cut open and her body dragged to the top of the ceiling, leaving blood all over. Since Rod was the only one in the room with her, he's the only and obvious suspect. However, forensically, shit just don't make sense. If you stab someone to death in their bed, blood is not going to end up on the ceiling. Life is not a samurai movie; when stabbed, people don't let out a geyser of blood. The Springwood CSI unit has a lot of explaining to do..

-You've got to love the spunk of kids from 80s horror movies. When they hear weird sounds or see pools of blood, they don't hesitate--they investigate. Sure, they're doubling their chances of getting brutally killed, but they'll be just kicking themselves for days if they don't find out where that horrible, horrible sound is coming from.

-After Rod is killed in his jail cell (Freddy makes it look like he hung himself), Nancy's mother takes her to one of the crappiest sleep clinics in the nation. Not only does their sleep-monitoring program look like accounting software, but when Nancy wakes up from her dream with cuts on her arm and Freddy's hat, the only conclusion they can come to is that she's nuts. Hey, guys, when she got into bed did she have a brown fedora with her? No? Then where did it come from? It's kind of hard to hide one of those in a hospital gown. I bet a bunch of of the doctors got a drink after work and just kept repeating "A brown fedora hat? I mean, what the fuck?.... I mean, seriously, what the fuck?"

-Nancy's alcoholic mom's drink of choice: Bacardi, baby!

Destroying lives since 1862
-When Johnny Depp's mom asks him what he's watching on TV, he tells her "Miss Nude USA." Excuse me, but no such pageant exists. And if it did, it would be lucky to last a half an hour, what with no evening gown or swimsuit competitions. Let's all be good people and not imagine the talent portion of the show..

-Seeing Johnny Depp's bed eat him, his television, and his tape player, and then spew out a giant geyser of blood a few seconds later is so awesome it hurts. Screw a sunset, that's the true definition of the sublime.

-Why does Krueger's sweater go from red and green to red and black? Because I have a perfectly good red and black sweater that might not have been ruined had the movie stuck to its original color scheme. Now I have to be the jerk who says "Freddy Krueger's original sweater was red and green" every time someone refers to my sweater as "the Freddy Krueger sweater."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cat O'Nine Tails: Grave-robbing Ain't A Thang

Call me a snob if you want, but nobody makes horror movies like the Italians. Granted, American horror movies are often better paced, better acted, and actually make sense, but so what? Give me the aging prints, the bizarre but wonderful obsession with using a different color filter in every set, and--last but not certainly least--the wood paneling.

The wood paneling is in full bloom in Dario Argento's "The Cat O'Nine Tails," a giallo and the second in his "animal trilogy" (along with "The Bird with Crystal Plummage" and "Four Flies on Gray Velvet"), "Cat O'Nine" stars Karl Malden as blind ex-reporter searching for a vicious killer alongside hot shot reporter Giordiani (James Franciscus). The plot, involving a team of geneticists and their research on the bizarre XYY gene pattern and its connection to criminal behavior, is hilariously lame (how can any human being have an extra chromosome?) but part of the fun is how bereft the movie is of actual thrills.

Don't get me wrong: "Cat O'Nine" has plenty of gruesome deaths (though they're a little tame by Argento standards). For fans like me, who haven't been "thrilled" by a movie since they were they were fifteen, the true worth of any horror movie rests on the amount and the quality of the gore.

But much of the joy of "Cat O'Nine" for me comes from its cheesiness, its implausibility. For a blind man and a desk reporter, Malden and Franciscus have incredible access to everyone involved with the murders, from the head of the genetics team and his daughter (who Giordiani hooks up with) to the mysterious gay German geneticist that Franciscus finds in the quintessential 70s gay bar. Few of the players balk at answering questions only the police have business asking. Silly as well is how the two sleuths brush off the brutal deaths of the people they've interviewed with a "Well, who do we talk to now?" nonchalance.

In one of the most movie's most implausible scenes, Malden and Franciscus break into a tomb to find the secret contents of a necklace of a slain dead girlfriend. There is no discussion of how they're going to explain to a police or anyone else how they acquired what's in the necklace, just a singled-minded focus on solving the case that apparently allows for popping open a casket or two.

I sort of have a soft spot for this sort of implausibility and lack of explanation in older horror movies and thrillers. Nowadays, great lengths are gone to to make silly situations plausible, with the end result still seeming contrived. Malden and Franciscus could have dressed in gravedigger uniforms or bribed a cemetary worker to keep watch and the scene still would have seemed far-fetched.

Argento's use of POV shots from the killer's perspective is both cheesy and artful. Instead of quick, jumpy cuts that tell us exactly what the killer wants, Argento follows him down halls and behind doorways. When he beats up a security guard, we see him lock the man in a room and look nervously down at the man through the locked door's window. On the soundtrack, we hear the killer's labored breathing. While POV shots are often standard in slasher movies, Argento's use of them humanizes the killer.

As a thriller, "Cat O'Nine" is meh, and as a horror movie, it doesn't reach the great heights of gore of Argento's masterpieces "Inferno" and "Tenebrae," but its charm rests in its very weaknesses: outdated plot devices, implausible scenes, and clunky pacing.

In the special features of the DVD, there is a trailer for the movie that shows us quick shots of the movie's most salacious moments: the geneticist's daughter disrobing, a victim choking, the killer's fall down an elevator shaft. With Ennio Morricone's dissonant jazz score playing and a voiceover intoning that "Cat O'Nine out-psychos Psycho," you almost believe the movie was more exciting than it actually was.

But that, ironically, is why I liked "Cat O'Nine Tails": the charm of how far away it was from being what it claimed to be.

Addendum: My girlfriend Jessica has pointed out to me that not only is it possible for humans to have more than two chromosomes, but the XYY gene is real and associated with overly aggressive behavior (apparently many politicians have it too).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Big Trail: Worst Western Ever?

"The most important picture ever produced"? Maybe if you're being sarcastic. "The Big Trail" leaves a big trail of something.

But I'm jumping ahead. Lately my brother has become obsessed with movie westerns, especially those directed by John Ford and Howard Hawks. Not a big fan of the genre myself, I'm always wary of watching his newest rental, and movies like "The Big Trail" just validate my distaste for westerns.

Notable as not only the screen debut of John Wayne, "The Big Trail" was also one of the first movies to be filmed in the then new 65 mm wide-screen format. Directed by the talented ("Big Trail" aside) Raoul Walsh, the movie tells the story of the travails of a California bound wagon train. And it is also a big steaming pile of cinematic dung.

Exhibit A: John Wayne's acting. Rarely have I seen an actor so completely out of his element. Wayne's line readings are tone-deaf and exaggerated, summoning up the image of a man just ten minutes away from being flat-out drunk. As my brother Ethan has rightly pointed out, Wayne's singular skill as an actor is to portray confidence. Take that away from him and it's like the star quarterback fumbling through the lead part in a high school play. Or better yet, imagine Wayne's acting as the avant-garde saxophonist in a straight laced jazz quintet. Man: "No one's ever made to the Oregon territories.." Wayne: "Skree--onk! Well, I reckon--schreeby-bop schreeby-zoo!"

Exhibit B: The dialogue. Take a look at some of these memorable exchanges, courtesy of

Red Flack, Wagon Boss: Well, if it ain't Bill Thorpe, hey? I always thought you was hung and planted, I expect.
Bill Thorpe: No, my time ain't arrived yet.
Red Flack, Wagon Boss: But it looks as though it might be drawing close.
Bill Thorpe: Well, I've been promised a hanging bee if I don't get out on the Penzy Belle, and the Captain promised me a necktie party if I set foot on the boat. It's a case of nowhere to go.
Red Flack, Wagon Boss: It appears to me you do your shooting by daylight with too many people looking on, hey?
Ruth Cameron: They say you're going to hunt down Flack and Lopez.
Breck Coleman, Wagon Train Scout: That's what I aim to do.
Ruth Cameron: But you can't do this awful thing - take two lives.
Breck Coleman, Wagon Train Scout: Frontier justice.
And my personal favorite..

Gussie: Zeke, did you hear that terrible crash?
Zeke: Hear it? I seen it! That was your wagon!
Gussie: Was my mother-in-law in it?

Yee-ha, that's some solid screenwriting! But to be fair, it's really the delivery of the actors that captures that elusive "Hee-Ha" dialect essential to your crappy western. I don't care how large and borderline-offensive you read the above lines, you're going to miss some of magic in the original readings.

Exhibit C: Tyrone Power. Looking like 80s wrestler The Barbarian, Power's performance channels only the best in cliched melodrama villains, with an extra helping of aloofness and barely disguised contempt for the material. The latter is explained if you believe the legend that Power was beaten brutally by Raoul Walsh after the former tried to force himself on leading lady Marguerite Churchill.