Sunday, January 4, 2015

Six Older Songs I Discovered in 2014

Following up on my previous post about my favorite 2014 songs, here are six old songs I discovered last year.

1. Barenaked Ladies: Another Postcard (2003) - It's fun to find an unheard album from a band one likes for $0.50 and it turns out to be good.  Full of BNL's funny lyrics and undeniable hooks.

2. Ben Folds Five: Boxing (1995) - I saw Ben Folds solo, for the first time, this spring, and I highly recommend it if you get the chance.  Kind of like a Harry Connick, Jr. show except with more rock music being pounded out of the piano, but just as entertaining.  Heard this one for the first time at the show, about Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell.

3. Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford: Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song) (2013) - The most prominent song from Inside Llewyn Davis, which was the best film I saw in 2013 in part because of the music, which recreates the early '60s New York City folk era so well.  I almost chose to go with "The Ballad of Queen Jane" instead, but you need to see the film before watching the video of it.  The scene where it is played is the high point of the film, one I couldn't get out of my head for days.

4. Michael Penn: This & That (1989) - Despite liking "No Myth" when it first came out in the '80s, I had no idea Aimee Mann's husband and Sean Penn's brother was such a good pop songwriter.  His cult following has apparently known for some time.

5. Perfume Genius: Dark Parts (2012) - The album is full of spare arrangements that sound like modern-day Elliott Smith to me.  That's a good thing.  I went with this song over a couple other excellent ones on the album partly because there's a dog in the video.  People love dogs.  (And dogs love trucks.)

6. Vampire Weekend: Obvious Bicycle (2013) - I was late to the party on these guys too.  Planning to check out the back catalog in 2015.

My Favorite Songs for 2014

Who says all cliches are bad?  If it weren't for year-end lists, I wouldn't find half the new music I do.  Maybe you'll find a few you'll like too in my third-annual favorite songs of 2014 list.  As before, my list includes both songs that were released in 2014 and earlier songs that I didn't find until last year.  This year I've put 'em in two different posts, though.  (The others are here.)

First, my ten favorites from 2014, listed alphabetically by artist (My two favorites are probably 7 and 8):

1. Beck: Morning - Beck's newest album "Morning Phase" is justifiably compared to his 2003 break-up album "Sea Change," which is still the best album I've heard from the last decade.  The new one isn't as good, not having any five-star songs to compare with "Lost Cause" or "The Golden Age," but it's solid throughout, and this might be the best one.

2. Bleachers: Like a River Runs - Bleachers' bombastic pop album is one of those where I like every song but no one of them stands out.  This is as good as any of 'em.

3. Leonard Cohen: Samson in New Orleans - I've loved some of Cohen's work, like "Famous Blue Raincoat," "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," and "Everybody Knows," but gotten frustrated when a quality song was clouded by a bad arrangement. The man wrote a great song in "Hallelujah," but his version can't hold a candle to Jeff Buckley's, for example. I was pleasantly surprised by his new album, which included a nice piece about New Orleans & Hurricane Katrina.

4. Imogen Heap: The Listening Chair - I knew nothing about Heap before about a month ago other than her memorable name.  My impression now is she's a smart, eccentric singer-songwriter, which suits me pretty well.  A fun, single-shot video to go with it doesn't hurt.

5. OK Go: The Writing's on the Wall - As a kid who grew up in the golden age of the music video and watched a lot of them, OK Go has created the best ones ever made, by a mile.  I could argue they have made half of the top 10, with "Needing/Getting," "This Too Shall Pass," "White Knuckles," and this year's how-did-they-do-that "I Won't Let You Down" as great examples. Let You Down's video was better, but this one's a better song.

6. Sinead O'Connor: Dense Water, Deeper Down - I've never been a big fan (or critic), but she's still making albums, and this one is pretty good.

7. The Preatures: It Gets Better - Doesn't this sound like what ABBA might be doing today if they were just starting out?  One of my favorites from the year, along with the next song.

8. Temples: Shelter Song - A top-flight modern take on late '60s psychadelia. Tough to decide between this and "Keep in the Dark," which really should be on the list too.

9. Jack White: Alone in My Room - Every album of White's that I've heard has been excellent, including this one.  This one (seemingly) about cutting oneself off from other people is a good example:

10. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Word Crimes - Is it one of the best songs of the year? No, but it has a great video (really!), it parodies a very good pop song, and I wholly sympathize with the subject matter.  And how cool is it that he came out with his most popular album something like 34 years after his first one?  Like a bad movie villain, he can't be killed off.  In a good way.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Marauding Picts

Rolling Stone has a good interview with George R. R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series.  You should read it here, but only if you don't want spoilers on the show so far.

One passage stood out:

How did you come up with the Wall?  
The Wall predates anything else. I can trace back the inspiration for that to 1981. I was in England visiting a friend, and as we approached the border of England and Scotland, we stopped to see Hadrian's Wall. I stood up there and I tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman legionary, standing on this wall, looking at these distant hills. It was a very profound feeling. For the Romans at that time, this was the end of civilization; it was the end of the world. We know that there were Scots beyond the hills, but they didn't know that. It could have been any kind of monster. It was the sense of this barrier against dark forces – it planted something in me. But when you write fantasy, everything is bigger and more colorful, so I took the Wall and made it three times as long and 700 feet high, and made it out of ice.

As it happens, I had this exact experience in 2006, albeit without coming up with a major plot element for a novel in the process.  Being a big history guy, I drove out of my way to visit the wall, built by Emperor Hadrian in the first century, that kept out the marauding Picts out of the old Roman Empire.  Despite the sheep milling about me, I felt just the same emotions as Martin.  You're looking down into a valley and some dark woods that you must have known held all manner of treacherous, vicious barbarians, and you were the watcher on the wall, keeping civilization safe.  The sense of historical import was weighty.

I thought I had a photo of the exact view, but it may not have turned out.  This is from the site, though:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My first film

Hi all,

So, I’m producing an independent film – feature length, no less.  Who would've thought?  Anyway, I've learned that one of the producer’s jobs is to make sure their film actually gets made.

In reality, “producer” overstates my importance, but I am helping the writer and director, my friend Nathan Williams, however I can. That typically means securing permission to shoot in various locations, researching ways to make the production go more smoothly, or giving a different perspective on the many decisions that need to be made.

The main point to make is that Nathan has a script and plan for what could be a great film, and those of us associated with it need to make sure it gets made. We’ve already raised over $40,000, but we aren’t there yet.   We’re doing a crowdfunding campaign on Seed & Spark, which is a bit like Kickstarter, except it focuses on films.  You should check out the page here, which tells you what it’s about (an entertaining, provocative thriller shot in real time, meaning that during the roughly 90 minutes you spend watching the film, 90 minutes pass for the characters too):

You can also see an interview I did with Nathan at the link below, where we talk a bit about how he approaches making movies, and some nonsense from me.  If nothing else, it is proof that I am correctly advertising my role here, and that I might want to make an effort to dress up a bit next time I’m on camera.

What can you do?

There are a bunch of things that you can do that would be very helpful for us, the underdog independent filmmaking types:

  1. Watch the short video that tells you about the film at the top of this page:

  2. Go to the Seed & Spark page and click on “Follow” to get updates on the film

  3. Go to the Facebook page below and click on “Like”

  4. Forward this e-mail or one or more of the links to your friends, family, or enemies, or post it on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

  5. Donate on the Seed & Spark page. Even small donations help.

You can also see some of Nathan’s earlier short films here.

Thanks to everyone just for looking, and to those of you who have already donated and posted some of this stuff, my eternal gratitude.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ice cream on a cold day

A post today on New York Magazine's site is incredulous that anyone would buy cold food on a cold day:

But on the coldest January 7 in New York City since 1896, what kind of maniac would buy fro-yo or ice cream?

This logic has never made much sense to me.  I decide what eat mostly because of how good it tastes, not to regulate my body temperature.  If I'm craving chili, I don't really care if it's 95 degrees.  Whether it's hot or cold might make a minor adjustment to what I want, but overwhelmingly it's about what I'm hungry for.  I realize I'm in the minority here, but is it really too hard to understand that ice cream is always awesome?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Best Music of 2013

My most popular post by far last year was my top 10 songs of 2012.  That is, the best songs I became familiar with that year, regardless of when they came out.

So, I've put together my top 10 for 2013.  My rule is, no artist can have more than one song on the list, even though one guy could easily have gotten a few on it this year.  Most of the songs here came out between 2011 and 2013, but I'll reach back to 1965 for one amazing song I found in a video game of all places, and another from 1970 that came from an Oscar-winning film.  This year I have not ranked the songs, just sorted them by artist name.

Hope you find a couple new ones in here that you like as well.  Love to hear your favorites in the comments or on Facebook.

The Black Keys: Gold on the Ceiling (2011)

I was a bit late to the party on these guys and am happily catching up.  First heard this one on the sound system of a notable local pie place.  Was it apple?

Elizabeth Cotten w/ Brenda Evans: Shake Sugaree (1965)

Cotten was discovered in her 60s doing domestic help for the famously musical Seeger family in the 1950s and went on to make some great records into the '60s.  I was playing Bioshock Infinite, and all of a sudden I pass by three young street urchins playing this song for donations.  The game, by the way, is one of the best I've ever played, and one of a number of reasons is the great music.  Here's the original song from the game footage.

Fatboy Slim: Brimful of Asha (2006)

The original song is by Cornershop, but was wisely remixed by Mr. Norman Cook into a nice dance track.

Father John Misty: Well, You Can Do it Without Me (2012)

One of the catchier numbers off a solid first album from the alter ego of the Fleet Foxes' drummer.  Here's a live version.

Michael Kiwanuka: Lasan (2012)

One of several tracks I could have picked off what was easily the best album I heard last year, Home Again.  The debut for the Brit is well worth a listen.  Here's a live acoustic version of the final track on the album, sung on a street corner in Brussels, complete with random sirens midway through.

Mumford & Sons: I Will Wait (2012)

I really liked the first album, but no one song stood out as amazing.  This one stood out on the also high-quality second album.  The boys in the band always look like they're having a great time when I've seen them play it.  Here it is from Saturday Night Live.

Josh Ritter: Thin Blue Flame (2006)

The Animal Years was a gem hidden from my sight until this year.  It has a couple of amazing songs on it, which I mean literally.  I sat several times absorbing the lyrics on this long track, which steadily builds in a most satisfying way.

It's a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die
Where even Laurel begs Hardy for vengeance please
The fat man is crying on his hands and his knees
Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage
Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage

Lead pellets peppering aluminum

Halcyon, laudanum and opium
Sings kiss thee Hardy this poisoned cup
His winding sheet is busy winding up
In darkness he looks for the light that has died
We need faith for the same reasons that it's so hard to find

Man.  If that's too much of a downer for you, it gets more optimistic after that.  Give it a once-through.

Rodriguez: Crucify Your Mind (1970)

Searching for Sugar Man is a documentary for people who don't like documentaries.  The film, which won best doc film at the Oscars last year, tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit musician who recorded two critically acclaimed albums in the early 1970s that didn't sell.  He faded into obscurity everywhere but South Africa, where his music achieved massive success, becoming an integral part of the national consciousness during the fight over apartheid.  Problem is, Rodriguez never knew he was famous there, and many South Africans thought he was dead.  Until two fans tracked him down in Detroit.  Seriously, you should see the movie.

The main album isn't the revolutionary piece of work the film almost necessarily portrays it as, but it's quite good.  This is the best track.

Sleigh Bells: Bitter Rivals (2013)

The band's third album doesn't have a superstar song like Reign of Terror's "Crush," but it's a stronger collection overall.  I actually like "Tiger Kit" a bit better, but I can't find a good version of it on YouTube, so here's the title track.

Richard Thompson: Saving the Good Stuff for You (2013)

Thompson somehow is able to write great songs well into his 60s.  Maybe not reached a certain level of great fame keeps one focused.  This is one of three excellent tracks on Electric, and the one likely destined to be a live favorite.

Last song cut from the list: Shake it Out, Florence + The Machine, an excellent song about moving on.

So, what were your favorite discoveries this past year?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tonight's Tab Dump

How long has it been since I've done one of these?  Clutter needs to be sorted.

The correct number of babies who should be named Cheese is zero.

"Think computers made the world a better place?  Maybe you should listen to this slandered physicist."  Create your own with the Upworthy random headline generator.

Is no wonder they have ambition of tick on coma victim.

And, Captain Picard sings "Let it Snow":