Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kenya Bound

In a miraculous turn of events, I just found out today that I will be going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Kenya, Africa in February 2006! My wife and I will be in Kenya (Nairobi, Kisumu and the Highlands) and possibly Uganda for about two weeks, the first of which will be work-related but the second week will be purely leisure. I am still in complete shock. More to come later.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

Just caught Brokeback Mountain on Sunday. With all of the press on this film lately, my expectations were pretty high. It did not disappoint. I can now say that the film deserves all of its recent acclaim. To tell you the truth, I didn't find the whole "gay cowboy" subject matter all that groundbreaking or controversial. Maybe it is brave for a mainstream Hollywood movie. But the fact that these two characters who fall in love are men is besides the point. The real theme of this story goes beyond the particulars and is quite universal; and therein lies the anguish and power of the film. I'm referring to the denial and repression of one's passions (e.g. a true love, a career ambition, a dream of any kind) and how doing so just ends up eating you alive, until all you are left with is regret and bitterness. And then 20 years go by and you end up alone, in a trailer park, in Wyoming!! Heavy shit, right? This repression I'm talking about here is amazingly captured by Heath Ledger's tortured character. I didn't think Heath had this kind of performance in him, but it is a revelation. I know I'm prone to a bit of hyperbole, but I'm not kidding here, it is up there with some of the great acting performances of all time. He'll win the Oscar, believe you me. Anyway, go check it out.

Lists Galore!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Let Down

When I hear a song for the first time, I find that I usually ignore the lyrics and focus on purely sonic elements such as the instruments, rhythms, melody, repetitions and variations, etc. I imagine this is pretty normal. Other than the chorus, how many of us truly know the lyrics to the songs we listen to? Or maybe we know the verses and even have them memorized, but how many of us think about a particular song's lyrics as a whole, as a stand-alone text or poem? If you're a writer, especially a songwriter, this must sound outrageous. But in my experience, most people do not consider lyrics as a crucial component of a pop song. Sure, you want lyrics to be there, it's nice if they rhyme and even better if they feature a repetitious chorus. However, by and large, I'd say most people don't care one way or another what load of shit they're being fed. I'm guilty of this all of the time. If it has a catchy hook, it is easy to let bad lyrics slide.

Since I do tend to ignore the lyrics on the first go-around, I routinely trick myself into thinking I've found some great song, only to learn that the lyrics are gibberish of some sort or another. I'm trying to come up with an example for you, but I'm at a loss for now. Feel free to give me some...the point I'm trying to make is that I like well-written lyrics. That's all. A simple concept. I don't have any criteria except that I look for communication of a subjective experience, mood, message or story. The possibilities are endless. I love obtuse, abstract lyrics that say Stephen Malkmus might be inclined to write just as much as the baroque storytelling of Tom Waits. It is all so subjective, and that's what I like about it I suppose.

Anyways, I've decided that every once in a while, I'll post lyrics from a song that strikes me in one way or another. In the future, I'll avoid the long-winded preface above. Feel free to offer up your own suggestions or examples of great/awful lyrics. This weekend, I found myself listening to this...

"Let Down" (Radiohead, OK Computer)

Transport, motorways and tramlines,
starting and then stopping,
taking off and landing,
the emptiest of feelings,
disappointed people, clinging on to bottles,
and when it comes it's so, so, disappointing.

Let down and hanging around,
crushed like a bug in the ground.
Let down and hanging around.

Shell smashed, juices flowing
wings twitch, legs are going,
don't get sentimental, it always ends up drivel.
One day, I'm gonna grow wings,
a chemical reaction,
hysterical and useless
hysterical and

let down and hanging around,
crushed like a bug in the ground.
Let down and hanging around.

Let down,
Let down,
Let down.

You know, you know where you are with,
you know where you are with,
floor collapsing, falling, bouncing back
and one day, I'm gonna grow wings,
a chemical reaction, [You know where you are,]
hysterical and useless [you know where you are,]
hysterical and [you know where you are,]

let down and hanging around,
crushed like a bug in the ground.
Let down and hanging around.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

JTM's Best of 2005, Part II

Part I of JTM's Best of 2005 was dedicated to new music released this year but in making said list I realized that my absolute favorite single of 2005 was not from any of my top 10 albums. Unacceptable. So for Part II, I'm keeping it brief. In fact, you will not even find a list, just a single definitive choice for the best song of the year.

But first, in order to build some sense of community, which is sort of the idea behind blogs, I kindly ask that any readers out there post back with their own picks for best song of the year. If you can't pick just one, list several, I don't care. I'm just curious to hear some of your opinions. Don't be shy. I know of at least 3 people who read this somewhat regularly, so I hope to god that I get at least 3 postings out of this. If not? Well, I guess it doesn't matter. I'll keep blogging away.

So back to the task at hand.
JTM's Best Song of 2005 goes to...

"Grass" - Animal Collective (from Feels LP)
Listen to mp3 or watch the Quicktime video

I could try to describe this song and why I love it so...but I'll just leave it to Stylus Magazine's Ryan Potts, who explains it perfectly below...
For a slight moment, it’s completely predictable: the chiming guitars sound like faceless indie rock and the vocals are sweet and smooth. It sounds like, well, a real single. But before long the pop façade is stripped away to reveal four eccentrics frantically beating drum kits, shrieking erratic harmonies, layering birdcalls, and sticking a chorus of wordless yelping and shouting in the middle of everything. With “Grass” they play tug of war between typical pop dynamics and the skewed perspective of experimental music, and start a fight with messy, absurd musical ideas and the guise of conventional formulas. Which side wins? We do.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Today marks the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death and needless to say, the Beatles have been on my playlist all week. My favorite Beatles' album, you say? I thought you'd never ask. A tough call but, I'd have to say the White Album. I mean, Rubber Soul. Or Sgt. Peppers? No, it is definitely Revolver. Like I said, the White Album. And that's not even considering Lennon's strong solo material.
Well, whatever your taste, here's to John. May you enjoy the endless tributes on radio and television broadcasts throughout the week, featuring irresponsibly repetitive loops of "Imagine."

I haven't seen it on tv yet, but take a look at Pardon Our Dust, a riotous new Gap ad directed by the brilliantly ironic Spike Jonze. The way I see it, you can interpret this in two ways: 1) that Gap is redesigning their stores and look or 2) as a ferociously subversive Fight Club-like attack on consumerism, or more specifically the uniformly generic, bland, mass-produced culture of style that chain clothing stores like Gap represent. In fact, #2 is probably the more obvious message of the ad. And with that being said, you'd wonder why Gap would go along with this, right? Or maybe Gap just wants to be seen as knowingly clever and "in on the joke" so that idiots like myself will talk about it and further their advertising agenda. Damnit! That sounds much more likely. Well regardless, it's a fine example of good advertising. Have a lookie.

The Grammy nominations came out this morning. I'm not sure why I even bother mentioning it. Have you ever known an award show or group that is more out of touch with the field it judges? The Oscars aren't far behind, but my god...

Stylus Magazine presents their Top 50 Singles of 2005.

And lastly, as a former Austinite and Longhorn myself, let me take this moment to congratulate the University of Texas football team for its remarkable undefeated season. As everyone probably knows, the Longhorns will be playing the formidable #1 ranked USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl BCS National Championship game on January 4th. Anyone with spare tickets, please contact me immediately. Ok, to be honest, that's the only reason I am posting this. Please, anyone, I want two tickets. Thank you for your time.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

JTM's Best of 2005, Part I

To all of you shameless, pop-cult addicts out there...you know who you are...each and every one of you are undoubtedly looking forward to the infinite number of "Best of" lists rolled out this time of year. Am I right? Come on. Tell me I'm not the only one. Nearly every newspaper, magazine, webzine, independent critic and lowly blogger will soon be rolling out their definitive choices, and this being my first opportunity to publish such a list, do you think I'm gonna pass this up? Lucky you, all three of you.

As I'm writing, the more I'm realizing this will have to be a series of postings. For example, there are far too many movies this year I haven't seen yet to compile any sort of self-respecting film list. And I have some other "Best of" categorical ideas to toss around as well. Fun, fun!! So Part One will be solely dedicated to music released in the year of our Lord, Two Thousand and Five. Of course, just to the right you'll see I've already been running a list of my favorite albums of the year, so you can't expect too many surprises. But do read on, as this list will be in sequential order and feature brief, critical commentary!!

And so begins the 1st Annual JTM's Best of 2005.

10. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm

The only debut album on the list wins the prize for highest percentage of catchy pop songs (see #5 for close second). I dare you not to tap your finger! The release was preceded by the British media's standard parade of hype, but they were pretty much on target this time.
Favorite track: Price of Gas

9. Gang of Four - Entertainment! (Re-release)

Originally released in 1979, Entertainment! continues Rhino Records excellent run of re-releases by putting out this re-mastered version of the Gang's highly influential post-punk (funk) album. The sound is fantastic, the extra tracks are worth a new purchase, indeed the entire album holds up amazingly well...perhaps even more so considering how so many of the current crop of indie bands completely ripped 'em off (see #10 as well as Franz Ferdinand, et al.)
Favorite track: Anthrax

8. My Morning Jacket - Z

Z marks a significant move in a new and exciting direction for My Morning Jacket; much more varied in style than prior releases and all the better for it. But their trademarks such as Jim James' otherworldly voice remain front 'n center and a few of the tunes climax in mesmerizing guitar jams, though much more abbreviated. A huge step forward for an already great band.
Favorite track: Lay Low

7. Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now

That Voice!! What else can you say? Sparse songs, sorrowful yet hopeful lyrics, and that fucking amazing voice. A slew of guest stars including Boy George, Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed! This album was my first exposure to Antony and I was blown away. Missed him when he came to town, but I won't next time.
Favorite track: Fistful of Love

6. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow

More produced than his previous efforts and the songwriting keeps getting better and better. Comes across as a bit more rockin' than his usual low-fi folk tunes and as such, is probably all the more accessible for those unfamiliar to his music. I've been playing this one non-stop since its release and seeing Devendra perform many of these songs live only increased my adoration.
Favorite track: Long Haired Child

5. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

The supergroup from across the border has released yet another album of hook-filled pop epics. As infectious as pop music gets. Every member, including my personal favorite Neko Case, makes a strong contribution while not letting their influence overwhelm. Alternate title: "Pop Hooks for Dummies." If only they hadn't canceled their show in Minneapolis!!
Favorite track: Sing Me Spanish Techno

4. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday

They may call NYC their home base now, but Craig Finn (formerly of Lifter Puller) isn't shy about his Minneapolis roots. Raucous rock 'n roll guitars combined with Finn's distinctive talking-in-stream-of-consciousness singing style...it all sounds remarkably fresh amidst other current rock acts. Plus, its always fun to identify as many Twin Cities references as possible.
Favorite track: How A Resurrection Really Feels

3. The Fiery Furnaces - EP

I'm still trying to warm up to the Furnaces'...shall we say difficult, 2005 release Rehearsing My Choir. But in the meantime, I can't stop playing their EP from earlier this year. In actuality, EP is a full-length compilation of older songs including leftovers from the Blueberry Boat sessions. LEFTOVERS?! Regardless of the context, this album plays like a greatest hits that never were and is by far the most user-friendly of their catalogue.
Favorite track: Single Again

2. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

Sure to be seen on many "Best of" lists this year, and deservingly so. How to best describe? Lets try : grand, epic, folk vaudeville by multi-talented singer/songwriter/intrumentalist. These types of brazen concept albums can often result in nothing but a swollen ego gone wild, but then again, they can also produce instant classics such as this. He can't do all 50 states, can he? If anyone can, Sufjan can!
Favorite track: The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!

1. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods

Already legendary in the world of indie music, with several great albums to their credit, Sleater-Kinney wasn't expected to surprise anyone at this point, right? They had already established an outstanding style of invigorating and politically charged, punkish tunes. So it goes. Along comes their Sub Pop release, The Woods, produced by David Friedman (of Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev fame among others) and reportedly influenced by the like of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix. Is that a classic rock influence?!?! Is that an 11 minute song?? Are worlds colliding? But still, the chicks from Washington state somehow still sound so much like themselves, the fury and passion they bring to the table here is incredible. I was already a big fan but for me, this came out of nowhere, shook me by the collar and frankly, hasn't let go ever since. And that is what makes it THE best album of 2005.
Favorite track: Jumpers

Honorable Mentions: Animal Collective - Feels; Spoon - Gimme Fiction; Stephen Malkmus - Face The Truth; Silver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers; Lucinda Williams - Live @ The Fillmore; Iron & Wine - Woman King (EP); Deerhoof - The Runners Four; Wilco - Kicking Television: Live in Chicago; Wolf Parade - Apologies To The Queen Mary; Mogwai - Government Commissions (BBC Sessions 1996-2003); M83 - Before The Dawn Heals Us;