Monday, September 28, 2009

Concert Review: The U.K. Rocks the States: Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks (A)

Last night I was able to catch two of Scotland's (and possibly Europe's) best indie bands: We Were Promised and Frightened Rabbit. I also got to catch The Twilight Sad. Since I don't like to criticize bands too much, I'll just say The Twilight Sad wasn't my style.

Fortunately, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbit put on two shows that more than made up for it. Frightened Rabbit has been around 5+ years, making huge waves with their critically acclaimed 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight. We Were Promised Jetpacks emerged this past summer after releasing one of my favorite summer albums-- These Four Walls. WWPJ cites Frightened Rabbit as a major influence, even thanking them personally in their liner notes. While overarching similarities between their sound are clear, but the band's live performances were quite different.

WWPJ's live show was high energy from the first song to the last. Frontman Adam Thompson was constantly jacked up-- frequently having to back up a safe distance before sing/yelling into the mic. Once they finished up, I was sure that the best band was the opening act, but I was definitely wrong.

Frightened Rabbit kicked it off with "The Modern Leper," probably one of their most popular upbeat songs. The crowd knew most of the lyrics and they got even more excited than with WWPJ. What really set Frightened Rabbit apart, however, was their ability to maneuver and craft a great setlist. Like a good mixtape that ebbs and flows, they executed the slow songs and fast songs brilliantly. I think they actually ruined the album version of my favorite track, My Backwards Walk, because their live version was so strong. Like the album version, it was vocally soft and slow, but with added synthesizer and four to the floor drum kicks.

Without going into too much detail-- I'll just say they also had one of the best encores I've ever seen. The band's main performance ended with Grant Hutchinson rocking out to a 2-3 minute drum solo. Instead of reemerging full throttle, frontman Scott Hutchinson came out alone, without a mic or plug in for his guitar. Everyone pushed towards the stage as he sang a completely un-amplified version of "Poke"... which sounds like an old Scottish lullaby (posted below). You could literally hear a pin drop, until the spontaneous humming of the crowd filled in the background to the song. Truly indescribable stuff.

Oh yea... then they reminded us they could jam out, and ended with "Keep Yourself Warm."

Enjoy some of these songs.
We Were Promised Jetpacks - It's Thunder and It's Lightening
Frightened Rabbit - The Modern Leper (Live)
Frightened Rabbit - Poke (Live Daytrotter Session)

Buy WWPJ's album here.
Buy Frightened Rabbits' album here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Video Round-Up

Here are some live performances by Passion Pit, Ra Ra Riot, Bon Iver, and Arcade Fire worthy of being posted. Somewhat unusual, very awesome. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Protecting The Blind Side

On November 20, Warner Bros. will release The Blind Side. Based on Michael Lewis's book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, the movie is based on the true story of current Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle, Michael Oher. With little hope of any kind of a future during his formative years (his father wasn't around and his mother was addicted to crack cocaine), Oher was tossed around from foster home to foster home. Eventually, he wound up at Briarcrest Christian School. There, he was discovered by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuhoy (whose daughter attended the school). The Tuhoys took Oher in, adopted him, and helped him turn his life around. Oher would eventually become one of the top high school recruits in the country, go on to be an All-American tackle at Ole Miss, and a first round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009.

Sandra Bullock (who has just been pumping out movies lately) and Tim McGraw will play the Tuhoys. Relative unknown Quinton Aaron (Be Kind Rewind) will star as Michael Oher. The rest of the cast includes Kim Dickens, mostly known for television work in Deadwood and Friday Night Lights (which is a fantastic series by the way -- do yourself a favor and netflix the first season; you'll be hooked), Lily Collins, and youngster Jae Head (Hancock and, oddly enough, Friday Night Lights). While the movie certainly has the potential to be over-the-top cheesy and disappoint, it's got a great true story to work off of and has potential. And it's hard to watch the CBS special on him and not want to see the story. Here's the trailer:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ryan Adams - The Most Talented Man... Well, Ever.

While Ryan Adams' indefinite hiatus from music is tragic... there are two silver linings.

First, if you are a fan of art or poetry... then you may be happy about his break from music. He has currently released two books full of short stories and poetry entitled, Infinity Blues and Hello Sunshine. I'd say the vast majority of the material is strange/weird/involves unnecessary profanity (e.g. " Cinderella between the legs where the balls are, thats the wink, thats the fucking subway rattle, so fuck you."). Hmmmm. Still, there are flashes of genius that rival the lyrics to his songs.

Apparently, he has also directed some of his talent towards painting, again proving why he is truly a prolific jack-of-all-trades. Just yesterday he had an art opening at Morrison Hotel Gallery in NYC (thanks to Stereogum for this story). I'm no art critic, but these look pretty legit to me. If you wanted to get your hands on one, however, be prepared to shell out thousands.

The second silver lining is the extra time he's given us to brush up on his numerous unreleased sessions that we may have skimmed over. The guy usually releases material at an alarming rate. Just think back to 2005-- a year in which he released three full studio albums including: Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29.

Since I can't post all the sessions (there are literally tons), here are a few from Fool's Gold (an unreleased session circa-2001).
Ryan Adams - Cannonball Days (link removed)
Ryan Adams - Fool's Gold (link removed)
Ryan Adams - Sweet Black Magic (link removed)
(Ok, I'll admit "Sweet Black Magic" sounds like it should be from O Brother, Where Art Thou?... but its addicting)

Below are some pics from his art exhibit:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Once Upon a Time...

If you were born anytime after WWII, odds are you've read/been read Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are at some point in your life. And on October 16, Warner Bros. if giving everyone a chance to revisit their youth. Catherine Keener (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Into the Wild, The Soloist) and Mark Ruffalo (The Last Castle, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Zodiac) will lend their talents to the movie, and relative unknown Max Records will star as Max, the young boy whose imagination provides the basis for the tale.

But the real star power of the movie comes from the strong cast of actors playing the voices of the various Wild Things. Names include a personal favorite of this blogger, Chris Cooper (American Beauty, Breach, Adaptation), as well as James Galdolfini, Forest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), Catherine O'Hara (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), and Paul Dano (The Girl Next Door, Little Miss Sunshine). I have a feeling that many of you are like me and will go see this simply because it's tough to say no to a film adaptation of a childhood classic like this. Let's hope it's actually worth seeing. Here's the preview (notice how beautifully "Wake Up" by the Arcade Fire fits with the trailer):

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I wanna be liike Miike...

I love "Miike Snow." No. It's not a person, it's a band. And, yes. It's "Miike," not "Mike."

The band, which hails from Sweden, was created from a merging of Andrew Wyatt and Bloodshy & Avant. Frontman Andrew Wyatt sings, composes, plays multiple instruments, produces, and dabbles in experimental mixing. With his seemingly endless talent, there was probably no need that he team up with Bloodshy & Avant.... but we should all be glad he did.

Bloodshy & Avant is the Swedish producing duo that has worked with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Madonna. As I don't like any of those artists, it's easy for me to say this is probably their best work. If you are a fan of those artists, however, you should still dig Miike Snow. Their sound consists of heavily, and cleanly, produced pop. Sometimes it's more electronic, sometimes it's more alt-indie, but it is always good.

Here's the video for their first single: "Animal"

More tunes:

Buy Miike Snow's cd here.

A Name to Know -- Ellie Goulding

One of most talked about artists this past year or so has been Ellie Goulding. Even though she hasn't released a full length album or EP yet, she is clearly on the brink. She has recently been signed by Polydor Records (UK), and is set to have her first single "Under the Sheets" released in the next few weeks. If you haven't heard of Polydor Records, they have signed the Pussycat Dolls, Jonas Brothers, Gavin Rossdale, the Cure, Snow Patrol, etc...

Ellie's sound might best be described as folk meets electronic-- thanks to her collaboration with Starsmith and Frankmusik. Her unique covers of Bon Iver's Wolves and Passion Pit's Sleepyhead are arguably as good as the originals, and her cover of Sam Sparro's Black + Gold is unquestionably. Her original material is even better... thanks to her smooth vocals and wide range. Don't take my word for it. Take a listen.

Ellie Goulding - Guns + Horses (link removed)
Ellie Goulding - Starry Eyed (link removed)
To listen to some of her tunes check out her myspace page here.

I would say "buy the cd here" -- but she hasnt released one yet. No worries. I'm sure its coming soon.

Here is a clip of a new song, "The Writer," that Ellie is working on with Starsmith.

New Vampire Weekend album! 1.12.2010

In keeping with every other music site in the world... I am glad to report that Vampire Weekend has stated that it will release their new full length album (entitled "Contra") on January 12, 2010.

Here is a live version of one of their new songs "White Sky."
Vampire Weekend - White Sky (Live on Late Night w Jimmy Fallon)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Be Informed

I'll keep this review short so I don't waste your time like going to see The Informant will. I know the movie has been getting great reviews. And I know Matt Damon has made some great movies (Good Will Hunting, The Bourne Triology, The Departed, etc.) . And I know Steven Soderbergh has as well (Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Traffic; Ocean's 11, etc.). But this just isn't one of them.

Damon plays Mark Whiteacre, a bipolar whistleblower who works as an informant for the FBI for about 3 years. And in his defense, he does do a pretty damn good job in this movie. He really does. But, despite a few funny moments when Damon is narrating the film through Whiteacre's inner monologue that remind me of listening to some Demetri Martin standup, I constantly found myself just wishing the movie was over. It's slow and boring and, as a friend of mine who saw it with me noted, you really just keep waiting for something cool to happen, but it never does.

Bottom line: Don't bother. (D)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Any Cormac McCarthy Fans?

While most readers have heard of and/or seen the film adaptation of McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, a smaller number probably knows any of the author's other works. And it's a shame. Do yourself a favor and actually read a few of his books. The All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plains trilogy is great. But his best work is probably the Pulitzer Prize winning The Road. It's the tale of a father and his son struggling to survive in post-apocalyptic America. And it's coming to theaters next month (October 16). After No Country for Old Men, it's hard not to be at least a little bit excited about this movie. Viggo Mortnesen and Charlize Theron will star. Here's the trailer:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The (In)Glourious Basterds

Yet another late post. Sorry. I was in South America and/or moving for most of the last month. But I was able to catch Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds when I returned. And I was definitely glad I did. I should admit. I'm a huge Tarantino fan. I think the man creates some of the most memorable movie scenes (see Kill Bill 2's "The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz," Reservoir Dogs' earless torture scene, and Pulp Fiction's "I accidentally shot Marvin in the face" scene) of recent memory. And conversations (see Pulp Fiction's closing conversation in the diner and the "Royale with Cheese" conversation and True Romance's conversation between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper) in his movies have a strange ability to capture an audience like few writers can.

Basterds (by the way, Tarantino has no explanation for the title's strange spelling) is no exception. In fact, it may be Tarantino's best written work to date. Of course it should be since it took him 10 years to write. But it was definitely worth the wait. The opening scene, "Chapter One: Once Upon A Time... In Nazi Occupied France," is one of the best he's ever created. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the movie, including the film's finale and a palpable-tension-filled confrontation between undercover allied forces and German soldiers in a tavern basement, are just as brilliant, and, despite their Tarantino trademark gore, are really beautiful to watch.

The cast is perhaps Tarantino's strongest since Pulp Fiction. Brad Pitt is surprisingly hilarious as Lt. Aldo "The Apache" Raine. And his character's attempts at speaking Italian are sure to please. Eli Roth (of Hostel fame) also shines as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, a Jewish soldier who uses a baseball bat as his weapon of choice. Referred to by German soldiers as "The Bear Jew," Roth's Donowitz is greatly feared throughout the German ranks. Notable performances also include Melanie Laurent as a young Jewish-French theater owner who is on the run after witnessing the murder of her parents and Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark, a famous German actress working as a spy for the allies.

But the best performance of the movie is almost undoubtedly Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, "The Jew Hunter." From the moment he steps on the screen, he becomes that character that you absolutely love to hate yet can't imagine the movie being without. He plays a smooth talking, well educated, and awkwardly charming German officer who earned his nickname for obvious reasons. Tarantino reportedly wanted Leonardo DiCaprio for the role, but after seeing this movie, it's difficult to imagine anyone other than Waltz (whose performance was rewarded with a Best Actor award at Cannes) in Landa's shoes.

Bottom line: If you aren't turned off by all the gore (which is actually not that bad in this movie when compared to other Tarantino films), you should absolutely check this movie out. A must see (especially for any Tarantino fan). (A)