Conan: High Budget Low Brow Gold

January 22, 2010

Though I’m sad Conan O’Brien will not be carrying on the legacy of The Tonight Show, I feel partly vindicated that once O’Brien knew he would be off the air, he lightened up again, and his ratings soared.

If feels the new time-slot (ney, audience) forced him to be more buttoned up, less silly/absurd, which really is what made Coco the beloved goofball that he is.

Seeing a new clip this week reminded me of how far Conan had come from his self-admitted low budget late night gig.  Take for example, Whale Week, a week’s worth of skits from mid-era Conan in which they incorporated a giant whale costume because it was too expensive to use once:

Look how far we’ve come.  Earlier this week Conan claimed to be planning unfunny but very expensive skits, including this alleged $1.5 million prank of dressing the most expensive car in the world up as a mouse, while playing a rare Rolling Stones original recording.  Hilarious.

Check out the video here (as NBC has pulled it from their website).  First of all, it’s funny.  Second of all, it’s expensive (though prolly not $1.5 mil expensive, as you can borrow a car of the lot for the free pub).  Thirdly, it’s funny-cuz-it’s-weird Old School Conan.  The skit seems to reference his old absurdist one-offs I always loved (isn’t that right, Cactus Chef playing ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ on the Flute?).

Oh, Cony-cone-cone.  We still love you.  Can’t wait to see where you’ll wind up next.  Cabin Boy 2?


Lost is Back in the Future

January 22, 2009

Through the darkness of future past,
The magician longs to see
One chance out between two worlds:
Fire, walk with me.

-Twin Peaks

As all great shows do, LOST’s Season 5 began last night and answered a few questions (that most already knew) and added a whole bunch more.  So now, as great politicians do, I will pose questions for myself to answer:

 

Q: Why is Sawyer so tubby?

A:  Despite the amount of ‘Suspension of Disbelief’ required for LOST fans, I’m still dismayed by how doughy Sawyer looks.  That said, I guess I have to accept that Sawyer is played by a real human who is not stuck on a mysterious time-jumping island.

 

Q: Why is Sawyer obsessed with putting a shirt on for most of the episode, and why do they focus on him getting jabbed by a sharp bamboo stick?

A:  My best guess is that Sawyer (who was stuck in a giant Skinner Box during Season 2), will now start living through Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Need” theory.  In which shoeless/shirtless Caveman Sawyer can not become truly “self-actualized” until his base needs are met — Food, Water, Clothing, Shelter, Companionship… or as Sawyer would see it — mangos, beer, flannel, a tarp and Juliet(?).   In fact, as LOSTwriters are prone to do, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an unsubtle hint, like a character named “Maslow”, show up on the island.

 

 

Q: Did I catch LOST using both the titles “3 years Before” and “3 Years Ago” in the same episode?

A: I thought I did… bullshit right?  It feels like they’re being aimlessly deceptive.

 

Q: Does the ability of all characters to jump through time and space revolutionize the show?

A: Prettymuch

  

 

Q: Do Tell.

A: It’s a smart move on the writer’s part.  Any loopholes that previous seasons have created can now be closed by depicting their preceding events (in the past) that haven’t been shown yet (in future episodes).

Also, it’s a great storytelling tool that allows the viewer to be sympathetic to a character’s implausible plight.  In that way it reminds me of the film Memento, where moviegoers observe a hero with no long-term memory in scenes which run backward from end to beginning — thereby projecting the character’s brain issues onto its viewers.

 

Q:  Intriguing.  Please go on!

A: If you insist, good sir…  by telling the stories of the “past”, “present” and “future” simultaneously, at some level the viewer will be rattled by revelations that the characters themselves are experiencing.

Also, if you care to geek out about physics even more so (like I occasionally try to), good ‘ol Einstein showed that all “time” really runs concurrently.  (As well as fixed and unalterable as Daniel Farrady emphatically argues.)

So… viewing LOST in what David Lynch might call “the futurepast”, with all times going on at the same time, is actually just as valid as viewing a story from what we perceive, relatively, as the right way — beginning, middle, and end.  Ohhhh, Science — fucking with my brain again.

photo via the Chicago Sun Times

Q:  I feel dizzy and humbled by this new knowledge.  Does this have any direct implications within the reality of the show beyond clever and overly-smart script writing?

A: Absolutely maybe!  For the first two seasons we’d been watching (what we thought were) real-time events buttressed by compelling (and suspiciously coincidental) background stories that manifest themselves on the island.

The first twist was that Beardy Jack (and later other characters like Sun and Kate) were being shown in what we first thought were flashbacks, then concluded were flashforwards, but know now thanks to Season 5 (and Einstein, I guess) that the correct timing of events is all um…. Relative.  I mean, it would be a flash forward or backward only if you view the Oceanic 6’s time on The Island as the “present”.  (And now even that’s messed up.)

So, now that we know that they ACTUALLY JUMP THROUGH TIME AND SPACE, all the things that seem like ridiculous happenstance and coincidence could actually be an intricate and calculated set of events put into motion not by chance, but by necessity.  (And, as a further mind-fuck, possibly set in motion by their future selves in order to set-right the only future that wouldn’t unravel the Fabric of the Cosmos).  And now, if you’re keeping score, we’ve stumbled into Donnie Darko territory.  Break out the emo eyeliner.

More on this later… some thoughts on the future/past, and maybe a sprinkling of mind/body and dream/reality concepts.  So yeah, stuff you talked about while high, or in your Philosophy 001 class, or possibly both simultaneously.


Drugged-Up Pantless Wonder Wins the Hearts of America

January 13, 2009

#1 Song in the Country.  Jesus.

Lady Gaga was, um, a spectacle on The Tonight Show last week.  There’s something funny about a pantless poorly-cordinated bimbo staggering around stage, attempting to play a keyboard, singing about how she doesn’t know where she is and had too much to drink the night before while Thriller rejects bounce around her.  Roofie-Pop… so hot right now.

This will probably be pulled off of YouTube eventually (but you can see it on Hulu),  so here are my screencaptured highlights:

Lady Gaga strikes a pose:

Lady Gaga does a very loose Robot:

Lady Gaga does a very poor Charleston:

Lady Gaga paws at a piano held up by one of her backup-dancers:

Lady Gaga does the Charleston again, while 24‘s Mary Lynn Rajskub and Dustin Hoffman smirk behind her:


“Bored People are Boring”

January 9, 2009

If you’ll note, I recently started listing Events that I am interested in attending in the greater Chicago area entitled Bored People are Boring.  Because, yeah, there’s a ton of stuff to do in this area and what I post is a small, small fraction of possible events to check out. 

Most of these will be music shows, but I’ll also put up drink deals, art exhibits and other stuff if it piques my interest. I’ll update it at least once a week (changes will be in orange), and I’ll try to stay at least 4 weeks ahead to give y’all some fair warning.

Check out January and February which are up right now.


Well Why Don’t You Just TELL Me the Best Album of 2008?

December 4, 2008
She & Him

In trying to think of my favorite albums of the year, I was looking around on other sites to see what albums actually came out this year (why this tag info doesn’t come up in iTunes baffles me).  I’m trying to listen to as MUCH 2008 music as possible in the next few days in order to make some decisions, but so far my opinions were more like Steve from Coupling’s thoughts on Fabric.

So, because I like Excel documents, I grabbed a few of the top 50-or-so lists (Paste, Mojo, Uncut) which, btw, is NOT a good sample of publications…  so I grabbed MetaCritic’s “Top 30 Best Reviewed Albums” and added it to the list too.  With a straight average (regardless of how many times they were referenced), here is the top 10 w/ their average ranking:

  1. She & Him – “Volume One” 1
  2. The Last Shadow Puppets – “The Age Of The Understatement” 2
  3. Plush – “Fed” 3
  4. Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend” 4
  5. Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  6. Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  7. Neil Young  – “Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968” 5 (tie)
  8. Okkervil River – “The Stand Ins” 5 (tie)
  9. The Bug – “London Zoo” 5.5
  10. Shugo Tokumaru – “Exit” 6

After seeing this very odd top 10, I have to mention that 6 of the Top 10 didn’t make the top 50 of any other list.  How can this be?  How can the best album of the year (according to Paste) be completely disregarded by all other mags?  What does this say about the world of criticism?  Well, in my humble opinion, every magazine, despite all being able to listen to the same LP’s in 2008, need to have their own little “things”.  They all feel the need to champion records to exalt their superior tastes — whether this means gushing over a record no one went super-crazy for, or one no one else has even heard of.

The Bug

I cannot claim to be completely informed about new music, but it does annoy me that 3 of the top 10 artists:  The Last Shadow Puppets, Plush, and Shugo Tokumaru; I haven’t heard peep about until now.  You can chalk that up to me living under a rock, or, as I’d rather; chalk it up to critics keeping their favorite records a secret and then sticking an obscure album way high in their Best-Of List, thereby solidifying their status as super cool, music insider/outsiders.

So, to get rid of the Let’s-Mention-an-Album-No-One-Else-Will epidemic, I will eliminate all albums mentioned only once in all four Year-End lists.  THEN, our top 10 looks like this:

  1. Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend” 4
  2. Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  3. Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  4. Neil Young  – “Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968” 5 (tie)
  5. Okkervil River – “The Stand Ins” 5 (tie)
  6. The Bug – “London Zoo” 5.5
  7. Shugo Tokumaru – “Exit” 6
  8. Paul Weller – “22 Dreams” 6.5
  9. Girl Talk – “Feed the Animals” 7
  10. Sun Kil Moon – “April” 8

This works more like DEMOCRACY!  Or, more like parliamentary procedure, like, you know, when one guys like “I move to nominate Girl Talk”, and then some other dude in a headband and American Apparel short-shorts is like “I second that!”…  The Girl Talk motion passes!

  

Now, we’ll cut the fat again, here is a list of albums that made three of the four 2008 Best-Of Lists (in an act divine intelligence, there are exactly 10 albums that did this):

  1. *Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  2. *Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  3. *Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!”  9.25
  4. Portishead – “Third” 10
  5. *The Hold Steady – “Stay Positive” 12
  6. Drive-By Truckers – “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” 17.33 (tie)
  7. Randy Newman – “Harps And Angels” 17.33 (tie)
  8. Sigur Rós– “Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust” 17.33 (tie)
  9. *TV On The Radio – “Dear Science” 19.25
  10. MGMT – “Oracular Spectacular”  30.33

*Appeared in all four Year-End lists

You can of course argue that reducing editorial content and criticism to averages strips the rating of any validity… I would probably agree with you. 

But here’s what the list above does:

  • It devalues the one-offs that a critic just had to put in the list for rep’s sake. 
  • The obligatory high ranking for the band that posed for your cover is marginalized. 
  • What emerges are albums that were universally liked — albums that you “buried” deep in your top 50 because they were too obvious, too mainstream, or were afraid to rank too highly.

What we have with this bottom list is 2008 albums that found favor with a diverse amount of critical publications — two iffy “rock” mags, a singer/songwriter obsessed one, and a computer aggregate site.  The result is LPs that span an array of tastes despite the gerrymandering that may effect one individual publication.

I’ll put my personal faves up later this month, and follow-up with a revised page when Stereogum, Pitchfork, and Tiny Mix Tapes, Coke Machine Glow, PopMatters, etc start to mention their favorites.


Muttering Retreats Say Something, then Depart

November 10, 2008


The Muttering Retreats  – Originally uploaded by thegrue76 /TDAOC

This little Q&A with The Muttering Retreats‘ Tim Thornton unfortunately did NOT make it to (Internet)press on time, but far be it for me to deny you insight on this Cleveland-based little band that could.

Aside from playing their first Chicago venue show earlier this summer the day before Pitchfork, TMR has stayed busy this year… dropping their first proper LP (complete with adorable Wes Anderson-y art direction) and recently releasing a cover of Belle & Sebastian’s “Sleep the Clock Around” (Mediafire) — one of my personal favorites twee-as-fuck songs.  They also just learned a bunch Beck songs to perform as America’s Most Acceptable Scientologist for a Halloween show at The Beachland.

If you’re in the vicinity of Ohio in the next few weeks, make sure you stop by to catch Muttering Retreats open for Casiotone for the Painfully Alone; the band that wouldn’t stop touring, on 11/22 at Beachland.

  • The Muttering Retreats – “Sleep the Clock Around” MP3
  • The Muttering Retreats – “The Capitalist & The Communist Vie For Our Hero’s Affection” MP3 (c/o  A Cloud of Starlings)
  • The Muttering Retreats – “Pastiche” MP3 (c/o I Rock Cleveland)

 

 

And now to go back in time to late July when Tim discussed “crusty” recording, album cliches, and being in a band while also living actual lives with 9-to-5 jobs…

Arms, Distance (Brian): First of all, congrats on the release of the self-titled full album! Though, this technically isn’t your first official release — The Muttering Retreats released a limited edition tape last year didn’t you?

Tim Thornton of The Muttering Retreats: Yes. Our initial release was also technically self-titled, but it came to be known as “The Letter Tape,” due largely in part that the alphabet was a bit of a concept with the tape. [The original “pressing” featured music on side A which was then played backwards on side B. The second batch was labeled side C and D, and so on].

Roughly two weeks before our first show in April 2007, I decided that we absolutely needed some sort of product/souvenir of the show, so we cobbled together 15 minutes of audio … and we made a super lo-fi collage and put it on a 30 minute tape. The other side of the tape are those same 15 minutes, only backwards. We did three runs of the tape … but we only have a couple copies left and aren’t making any more. It’s a real ramshackle affair, I wasn’t expecting to keep it in print this long.
As for the choice on the format, it was just a foregone conclusion by that point. We wanted to have something really simple and charming that was also an artifact of a certain point in the band’s career. The super-crusty sounds on that tape really sum up what we were early off.

AD: I wanted to touch on that, actually. It seems that the use of dated technology, like the cassette tape, fits well with the aesthetic of the group. Aside from the nod to indie pop history, making tapes instead of CD-R’s is just one of the voluntarily analog, or organic, or like you said “crusty”, processes The Muttering Retreats seem to take in crafting music. Was this cultivation of your sound just a natural process, or more of a back-to-basics type manifesto?

T: It wasn’t at all a statement about analog or digital or sound clarity or any of that. All of the material on the tape had entered the digital realm at one point, so it wasn’t purism in any form. Rather, it was done as a reminder to the audience that the material on the tape wasn’t meant to be taken so seriously, as it was something cobbled together in such a short amount of time that we couldn’t really even begin to approach it as a traditionally commercially viable product.
 
AD: How does that compare to the new CD?

T: We went a totally different route. We tried to make the full length more cohesive, more of a full length statement. We really went out of our way with what might seem like minor details, such as sequencing.

We didn’t want the album to sound like we had one or two ‘singles’ and put them first on the album. We didn’t want to have a slow, sappy closer. We still fell victim to a couple of sequencing cliches, but we’re still happy with what we came up with. Also, there are a few things about the physical CD that can’t be translated over to a digital format. I won’t go into detail as to what they are, but they are all compact disc specific “Easter eggs.”
 
AD:Sounds very cool, and a nice reward for buying the actual album instead of getting a leaked copy. Hmmmm, what’s the worst sequencing cliche you can fall prey to?

T:I think the biggest faux pas is putting your weakest song as the second to last track … I’d say that putting some of your best stuff on the second half of an album is such a great reward for listening to the whole album. One example I looked to for this album was the newest Spoon record. “The Ghost of You Lingers” is the kind of track most bands would put as the second to last track, but they put it as the second song! Such balls! Even though they put such a difficult song as track 2, they put (arguably) the best song as the second to last. “Finer Feelings” is by far my personal favorite on the record… it’s such a great example of how thought out sequencing can help an album a lot.

We really tried to emulate that brave approach, putting an atypical song as the first track, then putting a completely opposite song as track 2 and so on.

AD: To that point, it’s obvious T.M.R. has put a lot of thought into this album. From how you’ve progressed as a band, to the sound production nuances, to the art direction and liner notes. Is the release of this album a turning point for the band? … Any thoughts about the progression of
this project?
 
T: Well, the band is still relatively young. We officially formed on the second to last day of 2006, and didn’t play a show until April of last year. Releasing this CD isn’t really a huge step, but rather our biggest project so far. We’ve already got a few new, small projects in the pipeline already. We’re planning a couple of new small-run releases, including a quasi-live cassette collecting a bunch of our favorite performances and adding new material right on top of it. Also, we’re contemplating a possible collection of remixes and a 7″.

The three of us have very normal lives with the responsibilities that go with them, including 9-5 jobs, student loans, and upcoming wedding plans. [Tim and Cari are currently engaged]. We can’t live the life of a ‘career’ band, at least not in the sense that you can expect us to pack up and go on tour for weeks on end.

Right now we’re happy to play Cleveland regularly and make day trips out to surrounding cities. With gas prices the way they are, we might even be trailblazing a whole new model, but we can’t really say that it was our intention.

As far as “progression” in the band, the CD is a definite raising of the bar for us. I’m already looking forward to the next one. But we even know it’s not time to quit our day jobs.

AD: Wow, lots of stuff in the works. That is an interesting point, too — that the cost of a “proper” tour must be astronomical now with gas prices. Maybe gas sticker-shock will foster stronger musical communities, supportive hyper-local scenes, etc.

So, you’re multi-tasking this weekend too — attending the Pitchfork Music Fest while you’re in town. What bands are you most excited about seeing? Which of the bands on this year’s docket would you most want to play with? Besides Spoon I guess.

T:Personally, I would really not ever want to play with Spoon, they’re just too good. I’m excited to finally see Spiritualized. They’re a perfect example of the kind of band we’re trying to be … Spiritualized can make their songs work with a 100 piece orchestra or just a guitar and a vocal. We’re really interested in that sort of songwriting.

An obvious choice would be The Apples in Stereo, but it’s warranted, they’re a great band. Most of the bands I’m really excited to see are the ones who dare try to pull off something really unique live. Health, High Places, Animal Collective, Atlas Sound, !!!, Caribou, etc etc… all of these bands have a lot of nerve to go up and try to present (to a festival crowd, no less!) a really unique live set, and I really hand it to them for that. It’s hard enough to try to play a simple pop song to a crowd, let alone a song/set of something completely different.

Oh, and Public Enemy… just because that set is going to be the most fun moment of the summer.

AD: It’s going to be a nice three+ days of music (and people watching).

You mentioned Spiritulized songs can work simply or with lots of components–in that way, how does a Muttering Retreats set work? Your music has elements of both straight-up pop but I know you’re also big into sound experimentation. You feature a fair amount of guest instrumentals and some of the production can also be quite dense: how does all this work live?

AD: Well, sometimes it just doesn’t work. But we try, honest. Our live setup at the very beginning was very convoluted and complex, it just led to a lot of technical difficulties. We had a laptop up there, midi controllers by the drums, wires everywhere, headphones… all this stuff. That didn’t last long.

Our live set depends on our resources. Sometimes there’s a drum set, sometimes not. Sometimes we’ll need a sax, other times a clarinet will do. Recently, we’ve even been messing around with completely re-arranging songs… adding new parts, having someone else sing, playing it faster/slower/on different instruments…

A lot of bands are out there with six or more people up on stage and we simply aren’t one of those bands, though I could see people making that assumption listening to some of our songs. Every once and a while we’ll get someone extra to come up and play drums or trumpet or something, but it’s less often than you might assume by listening to the CD.

We’ve all been getting into the business of making a bit of a soundscape under our songs. There’s a bit of that on the record, but it’s something I like to create in a live setting using loops and such. Chris is currently working on a setup that will allow him to make loops/soundscapes of his violin and piano, but that project is still in the works.


Awkward, but with Poise

August 13, 2008

©Ruthie Hauge | Lightstalkers I see a bit of Sally Mann here, and a bit of Rineke Dijkstra. 

(photo by Ruthie Hauge)

I see a bit of Sally Mann here, and a bit of the awkward with attitude posing that reminds me of Rineke Dijkstra.  Hauge is employed as a newspaper photojournalist, but her journalistic endeavors also give us a chance to see some impromptu slices-of-life.  When you think about it, both a photojournalist and a photographer try to capture the moment, except that a photojournalist can’t tell you to do it again. 

Hauge’s online portfolio is available here and check her forays into video reporting here. (Type “Hauge” into the search video box for all of her pieces.)

Dijkstra

Mann