Thursday, December 23, 2004

Top 10 Toons of the Year

Here are my top 10 songs of the year in no particular order:

LCD Soundsystem, "Yeah (crass version)" - the brilliance of this song has been well documented and I am just joining the majority pointing out the obvious but here goes: seamless amalgam of genres of "dance" music (disco, house, techno, funk, etc.) with some catchy lyrics and then a hyperbolic, freak out climax.
Annie, "Chewing Gum" - slick girly pop, the name of the song is so well used as a metaphor for men, and as a metaphor for the sticky nature of the song - it ain't coming out of your head any time soon.
Snow Patrol, "Spitting Games" - forget "Run" and the lighter in the air bullshit, this is the jam - perhaps my favorite song of the year - some sweet "ooos," some banging drums, and some serious synthesizer underscoring.
Franz Ferdinand, "Michael" - along with being the best track on Franz Ferdinand, if for nothing else, the controversy surrounding the lyrics - loved reading about fans that were made uncomfortable by the lyrics.
The Prodigy, Memphis Bells" - this album was not nearly as bad as the press had me believe before hearing it. It may be The Prodigy's worst album, but it has its moments and this track is the hardest, most evil thing I heard this year.
Jay Z, "99 Problems" - I can never study to rap, but should have listened to this to prepare for the bar exam - Hova certainly knows more about criminal procedure than I do.
Scissor Sisters, "Comfortably Numb" - I hated this at first because I only was hearing one of the remixes which just sampled "hello..." every time I went out; then I realized the disco genius.
Junior Boys, "More than Real" - jittery, playful and very pretty little song.
The Beta Band, "Out-Side" - a stomping rhythm with some great sound effects - dogs, trains, chipmunks singing - thrown in for good measure.

U2 , "Vertigo" - that commercial was omnipresent but, damn did it get stuck in my head...fuckin' catorce.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Top 10 Albums of 2004

Here is the list of albums - more coming later:

Wilco, A Ghost is Born - Great American ambient alt country.
Air, Talkie Walkie - Great French downtempo.
Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand - Great Scottish indie dance rock.
Ulrich Schnauss, A Strangely Isolated Place - Great German shoegazer rock on a synthesizer.
X-Wife, Feeding the Machine - Great Portuguese edgy 80s synth rock and a drum machine.
Snow Patrol, Final Straw - Great Northern Irish/Scottish sensitive rock with electronic production.
Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters - Great New York Elton John moves to Williamsburg.
Junior Boys, Last Exit - Great Canadian New Order meets microhouse.
The Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat - Great Chicago/New York sibling lunacy.

Beta Band, Heroes to Zeroes - Great Scottish/Northern English swan song.

Honorable Mention: Gomez, Split the Difference; Annie, Anniemal; Brian Wilson, SMiLE; The Hives, Tyrannosaurus Hives; Kanye West, College Dropout; The Streets; A Grand Don't Come for Free; Interpol, Antics.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Aerodynamic

The undisputed heavyweight champs of French house found some new disguises (or are just putting the robot helmets back on) and are ready to finally release some new music. Daft Punk, according to NME, are putting out their third studio release, Human After All, on March 21. I like Discovery (and the accompanying movie, Interstella 5555, is a lot of fun), I really like Homework (bang rating of 8), can't help but feel Thomas' side project Stardust and "Music Sounds Better With You," and even dig the live album, Alive. Now as long as there are no "One More Times" on this album (which is really the house equivalent of "Hey Ya" - a good song that was permanently tainted by oversaturation - I heard "One More Time" on last Sunday morning at a bodega!). Also, would it be too much for these guys to do something live, I mean they do have a live album. I have never heard of a live DJ set/performance/autograph session, nothing, involving DP, but their music tends to promote itself. There is nothing on their website about this except an exclusive opportunity to buy figurines from Interstella 5555, so check out NME for info...

http://www.nme.com/news/110884.htm

Monday, December 20, 2004

"You know, every homecoming party has a queen...well this one has 4!"

The words of Jake Shears at Sunday night's fabulous Scissor Sisters gig at Hammerstein Ballroom (which according to Ana Matronic - the female member of the Sisters - is owned by the Moonies).

I saw the Scissor Sisters for the first time this summer at the Benicassim Festival (which will figure prominently in year end write up). Despite knowing very little by them at the time, they were electrifying - the Spaniards went mad for the campiness (not a surprise if you have been to Barcelona). This time around, they were as impressive, especially so when considering they were battling the cavernous Hammerstein box. The size didn't stop them from turning the place into a mad for it gay disco. Their big singles, "Comfortably Numb," "Laura," and "Take Your Mama" (which was during the encore) went off as among the big numbers from the night, in particular "Comfortably Numb." They followed it up with "Filthy Gorgeous," which actually kept the tremendous energy flowing. The show ended with a rediculous, over the top "Music is the Victim," complete with topless girls wearing pasties, and a variety of other dancers in all kinds of crazy get ups . Their torch song meets dub showtune version of "Take Me Out" was interesting but not something I would listen to more than a couple times.

Shears, the co lead singer with Ana Matronic, is a great performer. He takes all of the song and dance talent of a top Broadway performer but uses it to put on something completely dirty, unrepressed and fun. Matronic talked a bit too much during the mic breaks but it was interesting to learn she worked at a law firm in midtown a year ago.

The energy in the room was really astounding for the Hammerstein. The crowd, as expected, looked like it had been bussed in from Chelsea. I was half expecting to see the fab five in the VIP section.

There was a warm up dj between the sets that kept the disco vibe flowing. The Ewan Pearson remix of Goldfrapp's "Strict Machine," Moloko "Sing it Back," a mash up of Missy and the Cure, and of course Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" created a fun between set energy.

A quick word about the openers, Vhs or Beta. Didn't know them at all before last night but they were not bad at all. Very similar to The Rapture and The Cure (vocalist had a seriousRobert Smith thing going on, depite looking like James Iha, well at least from the back of the floor of the Hammerstein). Not a particularly original sound, but very listenable songs - curious to hear them. Apparently their album is going to come out on Astralwerks.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

As Cool as Kim Deal

Last night, I did what every New York music aficionado is doing this week, made the trip to the Hammerstein Ballroom to see The Pixies. There is something very impressive about this 8 show stand. The crowd was a bit older than the usual show; you had the sense that there were a lot of babysitters waiting for parents to return from it.

Opening up last night's show was Le Tigre, a very feminist electro-punk group led by Kathleen Hanna. The music was good but I think there is a limit to how bowled over I can be by a show where there is like nothing being played live; virtually everything looked pre-recorded, except for a couple of guitar bits. The girls did a few half-assed dances with hints of choreography but it looked more like they were making fun of that kind of thing than embracing it. All that said, the music was fun and "Decepticon" is a great song and I was glad they closed with it. There is sad irony in the fact that the thing I walk away from their set with is that Johanna Fateman (the curvy redhead) is hot.

The Pixies were no-nonsense and great. They strolled out at 9:15 with little fanfare and got right into an acoustic version of "Wave of Mutilation" (they played a full rock version as the final song before encore). The whole set was straight up music and no mic breaks or big breaks between songs, meaning they packed 25 or so songs into 90 minutes. They didn't even leave the stage before the encore - just waved a bit and then returned to the instruments (something very refreshing about putting aside all that bs). They were musically sharp but not too tight as to make it feel canned. Highlights: "Where is my Mind," (my HS band used to cover it) "Gouge Away," "Gigantic," "Debaser," "Bone Machine," "Broken Face," and "Here Comes Your Man," although everything sounded great.

I am not a Pixies obsessive but it's not hard to see why a lot of people are; they write simply great songs. It is also interesting how much their popularity has increased over the 13 year period they spent broken up - there is no way they were selling out 8 straight shows at a 3000 seat venue.

This is of course not a particularly exhaustive review and I antcipate One Louder and Peephole will have better ones at some point soon...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A weekend of music, sports and cinema...

My biggest musical experience of the weekend was a shady loft party with Richard Fearless of Death in Vegas DJing - I was not there for particularly long, as I head to get up at a reasonable hour to watch Arsenal v. Chelsea, but the use of someone's apartment for a party of this sort reminded me a lot of the loft parties I used to go to in 2000/2001, which were a lot of fun back when trance/progressive house was not a dirty expression. Fearless, however, spun no trance - it was very danceable minimal house with electro melodies. No stand out tracks to speak of.

Speaking of the the London derby, I was again reminded this weekend why Thierry Henry a member of my extremely small pantheon of beloved athletes (with Kevin Garnett and Vlad Guerrero). He scored two goals: one absolute beauty off a back and forth with Jose Reyes within two minutes of the opening whistle and a second, which will undoubtedly be one of the most disputed goals of the season. While Chelsea lumbered their wall into position for a direct kick, Henry launched an offspeed kick through the unformed wall catching absolutely everyone off guard. Speed, talent, and gamesmanship - for the first time in my life, I am rooting for a team that has the best player in the league on it - I now know how it felt to be a Bulls fan in the 90s.

The real joy this weekend though came from what my dad might call "flicking out." On Friday night, in the midst of some crap weather, I saw Closer. A cool (as in icy, not like "cool, dude"), lurid examination of sex, relationships, and a really nice artist loft in London - I am not a Julia Roberts fan but I will admit, cast her as a photographer and put her in that apartment and I would date her. Four great performances from Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen, who was my favorite of the group. I have been a big fan of his since he starred in Croupier, another hard-boiled London film. A film to see with a significant other only if your relationship isn't fucked.


The other film I saw this weekend was Being There - Peter Sellers' last hurrah and the source of the title of the Wilco album. Sellers' performances in Lolita and Dr. Strangelove alone gave him HoF status, though recently my interest in him was piqued by the HBO movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, which was quite good and certainly did not paint the most lovable portrait but made him appear to be an interesting conundrum (although having Geoffrey Rush, a well known actor, play Sellers was hard to suspend disbelief on - generally with movies about celebrities, especially those that are alive or recently dead, it is probably better to have an unknown play the part). Being There is a very clever simple movie about a mentally handicapped gardener that is mistaken for an economic genius that conveys financial forecasts through gardening metaphors. The beauty of the film is the simple message that what we intend to communicate and what someone else actually perceives are not often the same thing (though maybe writer, Jerzy Kosinski, was trying to communicate something else). The other very interesting element of this movie is that Chance (an apt name for Sellers' character) had never left the estate that he worked on until "the old man" died, so when he approached the real world, already debilitated by being fairly slow, he also had absolutely no frame of reference - he walked into reality like a small child walking into the middle of a movie. That aspect of his personality played out in a couple of very funny interludes, including a scene where he exhibits no fear when he gets confronted by a gang and threatened. Forrest Gump looks extremely unoriginal in light of this far superior treatment of similar themes.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Celebrating the Festival of Lights in Hoboken...

Last night, I joined .5 of One Louder, Peephole in My Brain, and Statute of Frauds (and his girlfriend) and another guy that uses his time more productively than blogging at the third night of Chanukah with Yo La Tengo. I am not a big Yo La fan so I can't give an informed perspective of any kind, but I did really enjoy the show. The whole vibe around doing a set of Chanukah shows at a small place with specials guests has a very warm quality. There were even great Chanukah themed shirts - one with a nice Jewish boy skipping along carrying some Gefilte fish (Yeah hybrid fish meat!) and another with an Octopus menorah.

The openers for the night included a bunch of 13 year olds called The Pubes (who we didn't see), an opening set by The Shams, who had reformed for the night apparently (caught only a bit of that and can't give a particularly rich description), and a stand up comedy set by Patton Oswald. This guy was a genuinely good comedian, who cracked sharp jokes about The Pubes, as well on how hard Damn Yankess rocked (and did "High Enough" rock my world when I was in 7th grade and working on my mullet), and gave tips on to pitch a movie in Hollywood using references to porn.

Yo La was very good. I am not nearly well equiped enough to describe it, but they are a professional indie covering a range styles but all with an indie slant. They played a bunch of covers, including some by Jews (Blondie, and Paul Simon) with Wreckless Eric coming out to sing these during the encore. He was quite a character of a guest singer - had a late 70s irreverent English punk quality about him (like Ian Dury). Check out One Louder, and perhaps Statute of Frauds for more thorough write ups of the show, but suffice to say it was a very enjoyable night.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Kukuxumusu

This summer, while traveling through Spain trying to recover from the New York and New Jersey bar exams, I discovered a store called Kukuxumusu (which means kiss of the flea in the Euskadi - the language of the Basque region) . The store sells all kinds clothing and other stuff that carry their hilarious yet often extreme inappropriate illustrations, which contain plenty of sex, drugs and violence, but all in very lighthearted ways. A touch disturbing that in Spain, children's clothing would have pot leaves and other stuff that would make Senator Lieberman flip out.

According to their website's bio, the guys started making these shirts for the San Fermin festival (the running of the bulls) because they needed beer money and the shirts that had been made so far wern't that interesting - their San Fermin shirts usually have some variation on the themse of the bulls being the regular people and humans being the crazed animals that have been unleashed (here is a great example).

Another personal favorite shirt of theirs is this history of music, however, it might not look that great on the website (the best are the ska and techno/dance sheep).

Their website is here - worth a look.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Hip Hop Shabbat

My college roommate, a Jew from Oakland (which roughly translates to a thug that lights the Menorah this week) used to freestyle for us in college when the muse (and a lack of sobriety) was upon him. I won't say he was Jay Z, but at least he tried. Well, in the years since then he has not abandoned his occassional forays into MC-dom and now he has something to show for it. Producing under the name the OJGs (Original Jewish Gangstas), his crew has put together an educational hip-hop album called Hip-Hop Shabbat . The album's press release describes itself as a: "reform Shabbat service set to the beat of hip-hop, dub, and electronic music. The album contains all of the prayers necessary for a Friday night observance of the Sabbath, starting with the lighting of the Shabbat candles, and concluding with the breaking of challah bread and Passover bonus tracks."

Learn more about the OJGs and the Hip Hop Shabbat at www.hiphopshabbat.com (My roommate is "Beneezie" and he is the one on the far right in the picture - the one next to him is his brother, "Sam Smeeze")

I listened to "Bim Bomb" and "Shalom Aleichem" - and I didn't hear that much "electronic music" and no dub but it is quite an impressive effort though and worth checking out.

God Made it Easy on Me

Again this is a delayed write up about my weekend, which distorts and reduces some of my memory of the details. It was essentially a weekend of excessive boozing at bars with DJs, but one constant throughout the weekend was Shawn Ryder.

Friday night, my group made it to the Step On party (named after the Happy Mondays track) at Royale in Park Slope. It was a nice space that had very sensible late 80s/early 90s Manchester posters on the walls. The music reflected these times as well, along with all things British that have come since. Some Mondays and Stone Roses of course, along with Verve, New Order, Primal Scream, Blur, and I am sure a bunch of other things lost in the $2 Brooklyn Oktoberfest induced haze. Some of the posters on the wall were given away in a lottery, which we sadly did not win, but the guy that took the Happy Mondays poster of Shawn Ryder and Bez out of their minds was willing to talk shop, so it was purchased off him. Moments later, another guy at the bar started telling me about meeting Ryder in London month back at a panel with Tony Wilson right after John Peel had died. Wilson, ever true to form, apparently made some remarks to the effect that "Peel was great, but he was an asshole" and then Ryder shot back by saying "he was the first to place us..." Later on, this guy approached Ryder but said he was virtually indecipherable. A great party, but of course this was the last one - typical.

Peephole wrote it up here and there is also a write up and pictures on the host of the party, Tony Fletcher's site

Aside from the Step On party, I got the Mondays second album, Bummed. I have only given it one listen so far but it was quite good. "Lazyitis" is essentially what we all do to our favorite songs - change up the lyrics to utter nonsense (they rework parts of "She's Got a Ticket to Ride"). "Wrote for Luck," which is one of the only songs on the album that I knew before is a classic Mondays track that it is impossible to not imagine Bez freaking dancing to. I will give this a more proper write up at some point but it fit nicely with the theme of today.

I also had my first Ryder siting on Grand Theft - he was being interviewed on the radio because his character, Maccer, is the lead singer of a band from Manchester (a bit of a strech for Ryder, who has also acted in the remake of The Avengers).

Monday, December 06, 2004

Not just the Resurrection, but a v cool bloke as well...

I haven't had a chance to do a full write up of my weekend, but one is coming shortly - in the meantime, a quick note:
On
Underworld Live today, Karl indicated that he met Ian Brown (lead singer of The Stone Roses) this weekend, and according to Karl, Ian "took time to talk v cool bloke"
Always nice to see love amongst the great ones...

NB: the UW Live page/Karl diary updates every day but removes the content after that, so if you go to that page on a day other than December 6, 2004, you may find no reference to Ian. The NB thing has been getting a lot of use lately - I suppose I could use the PS on some occassions, but if NB is good enough for Pulp liner notes (explanation: on every Pulp album, there is an NB that says you should not read the lyrics while listening to the album), it's good enough for me.

Choon of the Week - The Chemical Brothers "Electronic Battle Weapon 7 (Acid Children)"

If you love music, there are probably a handful of gimmicky sounds that always elicit happy vibes from you like a Pavlovian dog. There are a bunch of musical trademarks I respond to, one of which is the furious loop of The Chemical Brothers. The Chems sound has a variety of elements - sometimes propulsive acid hooks, sometimes airy melodies, but almost always beats that straddle the line between hip-hop and house - and when I hear it, invariably my knee jerk reaction is a fist in the air.

The Chems have many devices that I have been sold on over the years, one of which is their Electronic Battle Weapon series. If Tom and Ed have a track ready to be played at clubs prior to an album's release, or an alternate version of an album track that they are itching to unleash, the form is usually the EBW - a white label limited edition of the track that goes out to their favorite DJs and record shops. Prior to the P2P phenomenon, getting your hands on one of these was like finding breakbeat gold - there was no way to hear these tracks unless you got the 12 inch or you were out in a club. Over a year before the release of Come With Us, you could hear the Chems themselves spin "It Began in Afrika" as "Electronic Battle Weapon 5."

With Push the Button coming out in January, it has been preceded by "Electronic Battle Weapon 7," which is also known as "Acid Children." The track opens with a minimal yet up-tempo kick-drum and keyboard combo similar to "EBW 6," which was a hepped-up version of "Hoops" from the last album. After a handful of bars comes the vocal sample - a Freddy Kruger taunt of "you are all my children now…" The real meat of this track is the acid melody line and the disco hi-hat (have Tom and Ed been listening to disco-punk?), which keeps rolling in and out, brought back in each time with an anticipatory sharp monster squelch (you'll know what I mean if you hear it).

"EBW 7" is proper Chems that has already joined the live repertoire (it was just plain scary the first time I heard this in
Benicassim this summer). It fits very nicely into the canon: sure there is a little bit there to think about (the demonic and seductive power of house and all of us succumbing to it) but ultimately this song is meant for banging. It's not on Push the Button, so go scour the record shops and ebay if you want 12 inch, and for all of the turntable challenged of you out there, get on P2Ps and find it.

NB: This posting has been ready to post since 10 this morning but the stupid internet has been down at my office all day.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Wedding day + cask ale + hat rack = bad combination...

A non-music entry but this is based on another great link from my London connection:

I am not sure if I learned this nugget from travels or just from common sense but one of simple truth in life is this: really bad behavior by someone else is a lot more embarrassing when you share something with that person or group than when you don't and when you don't, it is often very entertaining. An example is needed - when I was in Iceland a while back in the pool at the Blue Lagoon (which is one of the most relaxing places on earth, along with La Perla in San Sebastian/Donostia - both are highly recommended!!!), a bunch of American kids that looked like they were on some kind of international soccer tour were acting like complete jackasses in the water - splashing around and all that. Their shrill American accents that accompanied their idiotic behavior made me pretty miserable to be from the U.S.A. at that moment. Now when I am in London on the night bus, which objectively should be a miserable experience as it is the all night bus in London filled with some of the most obnoxiously drunk people on earth, it is absolutely an entertaining culture experience - of course, every Brit I know absoultely hates the experience and is mortified riding the bus with visitors.

On the related note of Brits being publicly drunk and non-Brits finding it very entertaining (though even an anti-public drunkness Brit should find this one amusing), check out the link below to read about what sounds like a very typically English wedding. I suppose this is the best example to use if you are one of those people that thinks it is not a good idea to drink at your wedding party.

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/041202/323/f7qxe.html

Thursday, December 02, 2004

That thing you put on me...it broke...

Europeans are a funny lot sometimes. Recently, a Security Mom (you know, a Red voter in part out of fear of 9/11 happening in a suburb) sitting next to me on a flight called Europe a "socialist paradise" or something to that effect. One would think in that great paradise, everyone gets along, with the EU and all but nationalist pride still occassionally kicks in and jokes are made about other places. An English friend of mine loves to make fun of Germans for drinking creamy Cappuccino rather than the more refined Espresso that Italians (his favorite EU people) prefer - humor that an American boor like me can't get their head around.

This pal sent me a link this morning, clearly motivated by his antipathy for the Teutons, that has to be shared - http://uk.news.yahoo.com/041201/80/f7p2o.html

Apparently German men overestimate the size on their Johnsons...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Greatest Casts of All Time: Short Cuts, The Cannonball Run, San Andreas...

I am generally not a video game obsessive - haven't been this hooked since playing EA Sports games on my Genesis. GTA San Andreas is something else though; it a perfect blend of excellent game play/controls, entertaining story line, tons of side frolics to be taken alongside the main story plot (way too many to go into here), and a brilliant soundtrack. The folks at Rockstar have accomplished one other impressive feat: a ridiculous cast for a video game.

Highlights include: W. Axl Rose as a classic rock DJ, Sly and Robbie as the DJs on the dub station (talk about authentic), Michael "BIV" Bivins (of Bell Biv Devoe) as DJ on the soul station, Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Penn as corrupt cops, and then the following in parts I have yet to encounter in the game: Ice T, Chuck D, Peter Fonda, Andy Dick, David Cross, Christopher Plummer, James Woods, Charlie Murphy, and the one I am most looking forward to coming across…Shaun William Ryder (for those of you not in the know, SWR was the lead singer of the greatest shambolic dance rock band of all time, the Happy Mondays, and without question ranks among the top 10 musical louts of all time - for more on this great/messed up band and the musical scene in Manchester over the last 25 years, see the essential movie 24 Hour Party People)

Full cast listing can be found (appropriately) at IMDB - check it


NB: Charlie Murphy's trivia section on IMDB reads as follows "Often plays the nemesis of Dave Chappelle's character in 'Chappelle's Show,' most famously getting bitch-slapped by Rick James (as played by Chappelle) and getting crushed at basketball by Prince (also played by Chappelle)."