In the documentary King of Kong video game rapscallion Billy Mitchell states, “When you want your name written into history you have to pay the price.” Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) pays the price in Whiplash to become the best jazz player in the world, but it’s the audience that reaps the rewards. Simply put, Whiplash is a hell of an experience.
Neiman bleeds for his art, but regardless, his talent falls far below the expectations of his incredibly abusive instructor Terence Fletcher, played masterfully by J. K. Simmons. Let us thank the Hollywood gods for whoever decided to cast Simmons. Fletcher’s methods are despicable, his ego is overblown, and yet his motivations and moments of vulnerability flesh him out as a real person who, in his own twisted way, cares. Simmons may have earned himself an Oscar, and at this pace, it won’t be long until the young Teller wins one of his own.
The antagonistic buildup between Fletcher and Neiman is so potent that Whiplash can be forgiven for slowing down a bit too much after an incredible midpoint climax. But the cymbals crash once more for a second, somehow superior climax that’s more cathartic than perhaps any film climax of the past decade. The blood Neiman sheds stains more than just his drum kit; it spills on the audience and calls into question the cost of art.
Nico Vega - chooseyourwordspoorly
Record Label: None
Release Date: April 3, 2006
Anyone who awaited the 2013 release of the stellar video game BioShock Infinite is probably already familiar with Nico Vega. The people in charge of the game's marketing wisely chose to use the band’s song “Beast” in their ads (watchthem). There’s a tribal energy to the song that could entice even mild mannered folks to pound their fists in response to the sharp guitar licks and pounding drums. And for those who immediately think of pop darlings like Taylor Swift when imaging female vocalists, well, lead singer Aja Volkman would like to kindly kick you in the teeth. She growls, she shouts, and she demands that you “love your neighbor, love your fucking neighbor, and let your neighbor love you.”
“Beast” is the best sound you’ll hear on Nico Vega’s first independent release chooseyourwordspoorly, but the other three songs certainly earn their keep. Fans of Karen O will appreciate Volkman’s more restrained side on “Rabbit in the Bag,” and “Let You Go” drips with a sad earnestness that crawls under the skin. Volkman hesitantly asks, “So do you see the way that I see you or do you just see me?” but rather than wallow in her quiet vulnerability for too long she uses the chorus to holler, “I wanna let you go, I need to let you go, I’ve got to let you go.”
Give Nico Vega the twelve minutes it takes to listen to chooseyourwordspoorly and they’ll win you over. The rock sound is fairly straightforward, but there’s not enough time for it to get stale, especially with “Beast” as the closer. Bonus Hollywood trivia: Mexican-American actor Michael Peña (End of Watch, Fury) is the drummer on this EP. ¡Muy talentoso!
I've seen Brand New a few times now (my all-time favorite show was off their tour with Hot Rod Circuit and Eisley), but I haven't seen them in quite a few years. As far as I'm concerned, Brand New can move as slowly as they care to when it comes to releasing new music and touring the country. Whatever it takes to maintain such a steady ship, I'm for it. These guys rocked the hell out of Austin.
The setlist included material from every album, and the band seemed to revel in replaying old favorites, which somewhat surprised me. But the surprise of the night had to be "Moshi Moshi." "Are you thinking of me when you're putting on your makeup?" Classic Lacey. The performances of "Untitled 01" and "Untitled 03" are what I'll remember best. The lyrics Jesse penned for those two songs are some of my favorite he's ever strung together. Of course, the crowd went nuts for "Seventy Times 7"; it's never been my favorite BR&New jam, but hey, I always appreciate a good throwback.
Visually, the light show came alive during the heavier bits (like "Gasoline"), especially when Vin roved the stage like a restless wildman, lifting his guitar to the sky while his hair flailed. There were a handful of moments when the crowd, excitable bunch we were, pushed forward for our chance to get closer to the action. And what action. I promise you this: next time Brand New rolls into my town, I'm seeing them. I love them today, just like this goofy kid loved them yesterday:
Financial hardship is a common conversation point these days, and I didn't survive 2010 unscathed. Part-time retail hours, a layoff, unemployment checks, and an unhealthy heaping of disillusion were all on my mind this year. What does that have to do with my end of the year list, you ask? Well, when you're living on PB&J sandwiches, you can't really spare money for music. But my musical drought has ended (60-hour workweeks... thank God), and I made a late run to devour as much music as I could. I didn't reach my goal of thirty albums, but twenty-five isn't a bad consolation. I know I missed some albums I'll fall in love with later, and you should tell me what I still need to pick up. Of course, if there are some albums on my list you haven't listened to yet, get on it! Cheers to the new year.
15. As Tall As Lions - "Is This Tomorrow?"
14. The Swellers - "Do You Feel Better Yet"
13. Paramore - "Where the Lines Overlap"
12. Portugal. The Man - "Do You"
11. Nightmare of You - "Hey Sweetheart"
10. Jay-Z - "Run This Town"
09. fun. - "Be Calm"
08. Brand New - "Bought a Bride"
07. Audrye Sessions - "Dust and Bones"
06. Manchester Orchestra - "Pride"
05. Third Eye Blind - "About to Break"
04. Wale - "Shades"
03. Kevin Devine - "All of Everything, Erased" (this spot could be taken by any of the first five tracks off Brother's Blood)
02. P.O.S. - "Low Light Low Life"
01. mewithoutYou - "A Stick, a Carrot & String"
Artist of the Year
Best New Band
Most Disappointing Album
Say Anything - Say Anything
I Don't Get It
The Dangerous Summer - Reach For the Sun
Releases I Rocked in 2009 That Weren't Released in 2009
AFI - Sing the Sorrow
Alkaline Trio - Crimson
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
The Beautiful Mistake - This Is Who You Are
The Benjamins - The Art of Disappointment
Bush - The Science of Things
Butch Walker - Sycamore Meadows
Cartel - Chroma
Cary Brothers - Who You Are
Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head
The Early November - The Acoustic EP
Eve 6 - Eve 6
Frank Sinatra - Songs For Swingin' Lovers!
The Format - Dog Problems
The Format - Snails
Green Day - Nimrod
Gym Class Heroes - As Cruel As School Children
Incubus - Make Yourself
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
Jimmy Eat World - Static Prevails
John Anderson - Seminole Wind
Jonathan Vassar - The Hours and the Days
Lifetime - Jersey's Best Dancers
Midtown - Save the World, Lose the Girl
Muse - Absolution
MxPx - Teenage Politics
The Narrative - Just Say Yes
Ramones - Greatest Hits
Ramones - Ramones
Saves the Day - Can't Slow Down
Various Artists - La Bamba Original Soundtrack
Weezer - The Lion and the Witch
I went through a musical drought upon first moving to Austin because I couldn't really justify spending money on music (yes, I pay for music). Now I'm making up for it. Here are the albums I'm listening to now:
Hellogoodbye - Would It Kill You?
Johnny Cash - American IV: Ain't No Grave
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
These are the albums being shipped to me:
Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
The National - High Violet
Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto
And of course I had to take advantage of the sweet $1.99 deals going on at Amazon MP3:
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Sara Bareilles - Kaleidoscope Heart
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
Weezer - Hurley
The XX - xx
Finally, I was shopping for a new dress shirt at the Goodwill store and decided to flip through the records they had in stock. I found some good stuff, and at 99 cents a pop, how could I resist picking up six new records? I can't recall everything I bought, but I know I grabbed these:
JS Bach: Motets BWV 227 BWV 229 BWV 226
Elton John - Honky Château
Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Otis Redding - The Dock of the Bay
Various Artists - Christmas Is... Memorable Songs of Christmas By Greatest Artists of Our Time
My only regret - there was some Elton John that I left behind. Maybe I'll head back tomorrow to pick them up. Got 'em:
Elton John - Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player
Elton John - Elton John
Elton John - Madman Across the Water
Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection
There's still plenty of 2010 music that I'd like to listen to, and it's unfortunate that those unheard albums won't make it onto my end of the year list. But at least I have plenty of tunes to keep me warm this winter. Hallelujah.
I'm doing a diabetes walk this Saturday, and I'm thinking a few people who follow this blog will be glad to donate a few bucks to the cause. You can learn more about Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes right here. I've never done volunteer work like this before, but I thought it would be a positive, helpful experience, so if you can afford to donate some amount, please do. Thanks a bunch.
Oh, and I'm also joining in the Movember fun, so this is day one!
Due to limited internet access, I haven't kept up-to-date with the latest and greatest music releases. So, what new albums/bands should I be listening to? How about you let me know your favorite 2010 releases, so I can get nice and caught up. I did pick up the new I Can Make a Mess album, which I've been enjoying. I'll always accept more Ace Enders into my library.
For anyone who cares to know, I recently relocated to Austin with a good friend of mine. That good friend has since moved back home, so here I am with an empty room to rent (I've received a couple humorous responses to my ad) and plenty of city to explore. It'll be interesting to see where I'm at a year from now, because my future is pretty wide open. Have you noticed how coming back to a cherished album after a long absence is like embracing an old friend? I found a burned copy of Interventions + Lullabies in my car and was very happy to say hello to the music. "On Your Porch" is one of my favorite tracks, and some of its lyrics hit close to home:
"'Cause what's left to lose?
I've done enough.
And if I fail well then I fail but I gave it a shot.
And these last three years,
I know they've been hard,
But now its time to get out of the desert and into the sun
Even if it's alone."
Executive Producers: Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman
Release Dates: March 14, 2010 - May 16, 2010 (USA)
Every Sunday night beginning March 14th it was imperative for me to turn off my phone, turn on the TV, and tune into HBO. The reason for this obsession was the World War II action-drama The Pacific, a ten-part miniseries executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Gary Goetzman. Unlike their 2001 project Band of Brothers, The Pacific turns the attention away from the European battles and focuses on the Pacific theater of war. It tells the stories of young American Marines sent to small specks of land they can’t pronounce the names of. Upon landing, the Marines discover that the only thing more unforgiving than dense jungle and excruciating heat is the Japanese soldier, a fearless warrior who welcomes death if it means he can take an American life along with him. Over the course of the series, the Marines learn the shocking realities of war through banzai attacks, sleepless nights, and dehumanizing brutality. It’s a bitter lesson, and the audience is constantly reminded that even if one is lucky enough to survive life in hell, innocence is always a casualty.
Eugene “Sledgehammer” Sledge
For anyone wondering, this isn’t Band of Brothers II. Rather than stick to one company, The Pacific follows three real-life 1st Division Marines who have minimal contact with each other: Eugene “Sledgehammer” Sledge, Robert “Lucky” Leckie, and John Basilone. Sledge and Leckie would later write memoirs describing their time at war, and Basilone would be honored with monuments, a “Distinguished Marine” postal stamp, and the Navy destroyer USS Basilone. Episodes regularly focus on only one of the main characters, and if another character is shown, it’s only for a brief moment. As such, the story is not perfectly woven together to create a straightforward narrative. This method of storytelling is acceptable because it helps build the characters as individuals, and it also adds a dose of unpredictability to the action. Its only real downfall is the supporting characters sometimes seem expendable. When they are out of sight of the main characters, the audience loses them as well. This is understandable given the limited points of view used in the series, but when we have to wait until the epilogue to find out whether a Marine lived or died, it just doesn’t sit right.
Robert “Lucky” Leckie
As expected, The Pacific rises and falls based on the strength of its cast. Sledge, played by Joseph Mazzello, is introduced as a wide eyed teenager eager for the adventure of war. Though Sledge is too complex to be deemed an everyman, his deep and impressive character arc shows exactly why World War II veterans are haunted by their experiences. Leckie is a quick-witted intellect who develops a sort of cheerful cynicism in the face of death. James Badge Dale brings an abundance of charisma to the role, and Leckie provides valuable insight on the effects war has on a person’s psyche and religious beliefs. After his first firefight, Leckie gazes upon heaps of Japanese bodies and sees an injured Japanese soldier use a grenade to kill himself and the two American medics attempting to treat him. He later writes, “There are things men can do to one another that are sobering to the soul. It is one thing to reconcile these things with God, but another to square it with yourself.” Jon Seda does an adequate job playing the heroic figure Basilone, but the character is simply not as engaging as Sledge or Leckie. He’s an amazing sight to behold on the battlefield, but the audience is not given as many opportunities to sympathize with his hardships or learn his beliefs. Perhaps if Basilone had written down his thoughts on the war, his character would have been better fleshed out. Regardless, each of these characters provides a unique point of view on the various environments and dangers Marines encountered in the Pacific. And when Sledge and Leckie both happen to take part in the invasion of a heavily fortified island, the cinematic payoff is extraordinary.
This review is already running too long to really delve into the cast of supporting characters, but one name deserves special mention: Merriell “Snafu” Shelton. It’s possible that Shelton would have been an interesting character no matter who played him, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have done a better job with the role than Rami Malek. Malek successful steals just about every scene he appears in. With his Big Easy accent and weasel-like appearance, Snafu is a disturbing warrior who uses death to his advantage by ripping the gold off of Japanese soldiers’ teeth. War has warped his humanity, and he knows it. That is why he’s quick to keep a fellow Marine from walking down the same path and throwing away whatever innocence he has left. Snafu is all these things: repulsive, hilarious, caring, and absolutely captivating. Malek displays the kind of acting that wins awards, and he makes The Pacific an even more rewarding series.
Merriell “Snafu” Shelton
The Pacific is about more than its massive budget or heart-pounding battle scenes. I can only speak for myself, but when I used to think about World War II, my attention immediately turned to Nazi Germany. I was terribly ignorant of the sacrifices Marines like Sledge made fighting the Japanese, but The Pacific has provided enlightenment. The series is a personalized story of the men on the ground. They don’t know where they’re being sent, military intelligence sometimes fails them with devastating results, and they’re just trying their damndest to stay alive. The occasional glimpses of joy or romance punctuate the great ordeal Marines in the Pacific suffered through. Mazzello has said that playing Sledge is the most important acting role he’ll ever take on. It sounds like a naïve thing for a twenty-six-year-old actor to say, but after experiencing The Pacific, I’m inclined to believe him.
I'll accept a late pass for this one, but this month I finally read The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution by Dave Kusek and Gerd Leonhard. Every serious music fan needs to read this book. It's all about how people who love music can - and will - take music back from big business and turn it into a service (like a utility payment) rather than a static product (see: overpriced CDs).
Record sales may be plummeting, but people are listening to more music now than ever before. As Kusek and Leonhard explain, the time is ripe for entrepreneurs to give music consumers exactly what they want - all the digital music they can listen to, anytime they want, for as little money as possible. Convert the millions of file-sharers into paying customers with a low service fee and incredible soft/hardware that makes music easy to find and share. Even if the flat fee is as low as $1 a month, the result will be an immense pool of money that reflects just how important music is to us.
Kusek and Leonhard cover a lot of ground with The Future of Music, and it's inspiring to imagine the possibility of "music like water." That is, music that surrounds us as a readily available resource that we hardly think twice about consuming. If I was part of the antiquated and uncompromising record industry, the ideas presented in The Future of Music would haunt my dreams. They'd also motivate me to sign any flavor of the week that just might turn a quick buck. But that's part of a rapidly dissolving present; it's time to look to the future.
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Release Date: May 7, 2010 (USA)
Iron Man 2 should have been great. Robert Downey Jr. has proven he's the perfect actor to play charismatic billionaire Tony Stark, and with the predictable origin story out of the way, the sequel was free to move forward in any number of directions. So what went wrong? Iron Man 2 does present a number of new changes and challenges for Stark, but they are jumbled together to create the kind of story you can find in an average (not extraordinary) comic book. The lull that sets in during the middle of the movie could be explained as a dark period for Stark, but this is a Marvel movie; any kind of seriousness is undercut by inherent corniness. Humor does have a place in the Iron Man franchise, with the best comedic moments coming from RDJ's dialogue as the always witty Stark. It's unfortunate that Sam Rockwell's character, Justin Hammer, shoulders much of the comedic weight in Iron Man 2. One-liners just don't have the same impact coming from a Tony Stark-lite.
There are more shortcomings that can be singled out (including the Black Widow), but lets just sum it up. Iron Man's adventures aren't as fun the second time around, and the sequel's complexities don't amount to depth. Since the first Iron Man has been the most promising Marvel movie to date, the mediocrity of Iron Man 2 makes me at least a little less excited for the Avengers movie that Marvel loves to tease us with. At least there is one thing that Iron Man 2 gets very right - War Machine looks like a complete bad ass.
I just finished watching Conan O'Brien's first interview since the colossal Tonight Show clusterfuck that ended with Conan losing the show, and Jay Leno taking back the reigns. I followed that fiasco closely, and it's still very disappointing to me that Conan lost a job that he cared for dearly. Conan is one of my favorite people in the entertainment industry (put him on a stage with Tom Hanks and I'm giddy), so of course, I only want the best for him. Even though Conan is a class-act, and he urged fans like me not to feel cynical after the Tonight Show outcome, I'm definitely still upset with NBC and Leno. Especially after I hear Mrs. O'Brien's comments on Conan losing the show:
"This was just really really hard for him. It was watching someone's heart get broken."
But the past is done, and this interview, along with "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour," is a funny, honest, self-deprecating bit of closure before Conan returns to TV. Conebone, we're ready to welcome you and your ridiculously awesome pompadour back into our homes at night so you can keep us entertained. Wait - that just sounds weird. You know what I mean.
As for NBC and Leno, well, they made their decisions and I hope they're okay with them. "It's just business" is not a phrase I put a lot of stock in. Money rules the world, but good men shape it in the best of ways.
Story: Various | Art: Various
Publisher: Poseur Ink
Publication Date: June 3, 2008
Back in April 2007 I was introduced to Poseur Ink and a graphic novel titled Side A: The Music Lover's Graphic Novel. To quote myself, "[Side A] chronicles the experiences of over thirty music lovers as they come to musical consciousness and ponder past events set to specific soundtracks. These short stories are presented panel to panel in comic book form and range in style from goofy and cartoonish to vividly realistic."
Well, Poseur Ink decided that releasing a Side A without a Side B is just wrong. So a year later, Poseur Ink once again gelled together music, doodles, nostalgia, and humorous anecdotes for Side B: The Music Lover's Comic Anthology. If you've read and enjoyed Side A, Side B will be a welcome return to form. Once again creative thinkers with various artistic styles tell short stories, revolving around music, through comic panels. The story topics range from the discovery of a beloved artist to a prehistoric love story that concludes with two dinosaurs humping (like this). When reading this collection, it's not easy to guess what might be coming next. In this way, the book's cover art - a hip looking female standing before a mountain of assorted musical instruments - is indicative of the reading experience. Digging through the comic panels, there are stories that will hit close to home, while others may be tossed aside without a second glance - it all depends on the reader.
At this rate, I can imagine Poseur Ink churning out Side C, D, and on and on as the years go by. But I think a change-up would be nice. How about a graphic novel focusing on awkward high school years and the music that helped the comic writers through it all? Or one devoted entirely to the punk rock show experience, in chronological order, from the Dead Kennedys to Blink-182? Rather than sticking with the hodgepodge approach, an overarching theme like this could bind the stories together in a stronger way. But no matter what Poseur Ink decides to publish next, you can bet they're doing it for the love of music.
A black and white film focusing on twelve men in a room, simply talking. There's a bit of shoving, and some physical demonstrations, but as far as production value is concerned, 12 Angry Men is as bareboned as dramas come. I have to admit the set-up for this 1957 film doesn't sound too enticing, but it's almost unbelievable how well 12 Angry Men has aged. The dialogue, the blocking, the wit of the insults (I laughed out loud and "ooooh'd" on multiple occasions), the production minimalism - it's all film gold. It's a real shame that this film didn't win Best Picture; I'd pick it over The Bridge on the River Kwai. I wonder if this tale of twelve jurors debating the fate of a young man will still be this captivating for someone fifty years from now. I'm betting on yes.
"Green Day sucks, they should've stopped making music before they started."
"Rock Band sucks, why don't people play real guitars?"
Complain about Green Day's three-chord songs all you want, and while you're at it, don't forget to trash on the Ramones' simple guitar riffs and lack of solos. The way I see it, Green Day has been making quality mainstream rock music for sixteen years. They deserve their success, and if they want to release their own video game, more power to them. Besides, you don't have to listen to the band or play their video game. But still, people whine whine whine.
And here's a newsflash: Rock Band is a video game. It's not an art form (at least, playing it isn't). Playing video games is usually an easy kind of enjoyment you can share with friends, family, or even strangers. Video games let you pretend you're fighting a war, racing a car at 200MPH or rocking the world with bandmates at your sides. Some people don't want to devote time and effort to playing real guitar. They don't want to become the next Hendrix or Slash. They want to have fun. What's wrong with that? I've never heard anyone say, "Why are you wasting your time with Modern Warfare? Why don't you go fight in a real war?" Sounds pretty moronic, doesn't it?
On a related note, I found this quote amusing and a nice change of pace:
"not a green day fan... but more people should play these games instead of playing real instruments and starting really shitty bands."