Monday, December 30, 2013

Arctic Monkeys: AM

After two albums of sometimes impenetrable hype, and two that were patently "not for everybody" (myself included at times) we have one that absolutely hits the sweet spot. The album is called AM. It's not quite self-titled: it's an initial, a convenient shorthand that suggests all but doesn't tell. It's also an early part of the morning when you might be tiptoeing home from a conquest, or kept up wondering about a desired one's activities. Or maybe it's a throwback to the heyday of early 70's radio, before the internet diversified and compartmentalized everyone's tastes in music, when it paid to be the band who did it all best. As much as I love those first couple albums, this one doesn't work too hard to relive past glories, it doesn't sound much like anything else on the racks right now. And it rocks.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Being Kevin McCallister: Memories of Home Alone 2 Lost in New York

Why was this everything we wanted back in the early 90s? Why was there a mania for movies and TV shows about young, crafty, smart-alecky kids taking on the world of adults and winning? Whether it was Macaulay Culkin, Bart Simpson, or Zack Morris representing the high school segment. They seemed to be kids like us, but they had all the answers. They always knew what to say, but they never lost sight of the values a kid would hold. The ruse that Kevin McCallister uses to bluff his way into the Plaza Hotel past the likes of Tim Curry and Rob Schneider is impossibly convoluted, basically comprising a commercial for the Tiger Talkboy, which never could possibly live up to the shenanigans presented here (because, see, we weren't crafty and individualistic daring young kids like Kevin.) We wanted to be that smart.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How I Met Your Mother, "Bass Player Wanted"

Setting an entire season of TV around a single weekend, largely abandoning familiar sets and plots, is a pretty bold move. While I can basically understand any backlash the season has gotten, it's hard for me to point to any particular episode and not say "That was a great episode of TV." As much as you can argue that having Marshall spend half the season stuck in a car with Sherri Shepherd, even those scenes mostly justified themselves, episode-to-episode, with comedic punch. There's a rotten attitude that sets in around long-running series, when we've been spoiled with years of good television, and we're only able to compare the show to its highest points, rather than what else is actually on TV (still not much better than HIMYM.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sleigh Bells: Bitter Rivals

You're either in or you're out. No middle ground. To even debate it is pointless. To review a Sleigh Bells record as you would any other band's, to situate it in the context of regular-ass pop music, expecting hooks and hits singles is to completely miss the point. To try to graft your preconceived notions of what music even is onto one of these albums is a guarantee of failure. Sleigh Bells comes from out of nowhere, attacks from all sides, then disappears into the night leaving you rattled and afraid for your life: still breathing just enough to carry on somehow.

Is that overstating it a bit? Maybe, but its lack of critical vulnerability is no joke. It's not here to fucking please you. It's here to incite a mental and emotional breakdown, using intense rhythm, primal beat, every production trick in the book (and some new ones) and the lovely voice of Alexis Krauss. It's uncompromising bu not unrecognizable. After three albums of doing things more or less the same way, with subtle variations (album 2, Reign of Terror, was actually quite pleasurable) they still seem revolutionary and inspired. Sometimes they sound like sex, or war, or, on "Minnie," like the satanic church: all three viable inspirations for great rock.

It's a challenge to your sensibilities. Maybe you're already the type of person who would like this sort of thing. Me, I had to get used to it, and even still I find it a bit tough to chew, but it stands on its own with that mold-breaking mix of the ugly and pretty, the ragged and the clean, that strange chaos-embracing alchemy I have come expect, even love from these folks. They expose the madness that underlies noisemaking music but that our pitiful human psyches feel the need to put into sanitized, filtered order for consumption. "Fuck that," they say, and make all the racket they want. Even the softer ones seem like a bit of an assault.

You can take all this as a recommendation, or a warning. I think it's a fair summation of what this album, what this band, is an does. Me, I need a challenge now and again. I need to be rattled and shaken to my core. The day they fail to do that is the day I'll skip a Sleigh Bells record. This is the real.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant: What'cha gonna do, brother?

Oh no, is he really going to be talking about wrestling?

At its core, pro wrestling is a storytelling medium-slash-genre, where basic interpersonal problems are solved by fighting. It's a medium where plot (such as it is) of often shortchanged in order to satisfy the need for starpower and consistency, and where status quo is basically king. It is an ongoing, neverending soap opera with a rotating cast of characters that change personalities and allegiances on a regular basis, but the same few people always seem to be around in the spotlight. It's confusing and off-putting to start, and then too addicting to quit even when you hate it. It's also at its best exciting, visceral, funny, and unpredictable. In short, it has many of the best and worst qualities of comic books, another medium from my youth that still fascinates me as an adult.

In the ongoing metastory of World Wrestling Entertainment, some 44 individuals have held their highest position, as WWE Champion (eight of the 25 men who have held the equivalent World Heavyweight Championship never held the WWE Championship, but most of them count as evidence that the WHC hasn't been equal in years.) And yet, no matter how often the title changes hands, most of its holders are just temporary fillers between some great superstar that comes along once in a generation: "The Man," whose presence guarantees tickets sold, merchandise moved, and eyeballs on TV sets. Some of the best names in the company history, despite being champion at some point, weren't "The Man," but just there to provide him with support and/or worthy opponents. And for the most part, they aren't even contiguous: the old Ric Flair axiom that in order to be the man, you've gotta (woo!) beat the man doesn't always hold up. Sometimes the company has spent years trying every different direction before it finally finds one for this generation.

Every so often, on this blog, I'll indulge my inner 12-year-old (who started out on the internet rambling about wrestling before getting bored of that, and finding other things to get bored of,) and take a look at a moment in wrestling history from a storytelling perspective, with an eye on questions of who, exactly, the story belongs to, how it was built, and what the outcome was.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Does it Rock: Pup, "Reservoir"

I haven't been stirred by a punk song in a long while, but watching the Pup guys cut loose like this makes me feel like this is the way punk should be done: screaming, unifying, triumphant, scolding, lashing out, taking no shit and offering none in return. Not to mention, they manage to wrap it all up in a pretty fuckin' awesome chorus. Love this.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Five: Opening Tracks (The SOTW Years)

Between 2011 and 2013, I reviewed like a hundred or so albums at Sound of the Week and even though I'm less than a month into my new endeavor I'm totally not above recycling content from it just for kicks. Actually, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of opening tracks, how to really get an album started off on the right foot, and here are five of my favourite ones from the albums I reviewed there during those years.

Tokyo Police Club, "Favourite Food" from Champ

Champ was one of the first albums I had heard in years that I could listen to compulsively from beginning to end. That icy dialtone buzz that opens the track is a neat trick, leading into a strummed, slacker-philosophical vocal that marks the band's trademark, then ramping up the kinetic energy. Read More

The Strokes, "Machu Picchu" from Angles

I'm a big advocate for the Strokes' fourth album (and their second and fifth... the first doesn't need my help and the third knows what it did.) Its opening track sets the pace for the album immediately, gratifyingly between hard rock and danceable futuristic funk. Read More.

Foo Fighters, "Bridge Burning" from Wasting Light

Wasting Light was a no-bullshit hard and heavy rock album that wasn't too far into any one genre to cut off its mainstream accessibility. Almost all of its tracks managed to walk the line between off-the-wall rock and clean-cut radio formula, and at a certain point, so long as you can still rock out to it, you've gotta respect it. And brother, you can rock out to this. Read more.

Jack White, "Missing Pieces" from Blunderbuss

The opening shot from Jack White's solo debut asserts both his new band-oriented direction, his lyrical voice, and his twisted sense of arty humour. It's a slinky, sly, paranoid track that's both cynical and silly. Read more.

Japandroids, "The Nights of Wine and Roses" from Celebration Rock

The sound of crackling fireworks opens this opus, an ode to drinking and losing time screwing around and living in the present. I've never figured out whether Japandroids were serious or critical in their depictions of "the good times" but at a certain point it doesn't matter. They dedicated their album to the cause of the shout-along chorus, and by God did they stick it. Read more.

Monday, December 2, 2013

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Keep Loving The Room (The Disaster Artist Review)

Tommy Wiseau has said that the thesis of The Room is a line he delivers in the film, that "If a lot of people loved each other, the world would be a better place to live." Greg Sestero, who plays Mark and has now written a book about his time with Wiseau, offers an alternative meaning from one of Mark's lines: "I just can't figure women out. Sometimes they're just too smart. Sometimes they're flat-out stupid. Other times they're just evil." That attitude toward women pervades the film, and its illogical combination of thoughts basically comprises its entire aesthetic. Thousands of articles have already been written over the past decade about how The Room is an amazing once-in-a-lifetime cocktail of all the different ways a film can go wrong. Forget "so bad it's good." The Room is so awful it's amazing. Unsurprisingly, The Disaster Artist, Greg Sestero's account of its production, is a fascinating read that is loaded with unbelievable details, and extremely well-told.