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Archive for February, 2010

Billie Joe, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool are insolent fools and just be punished for their sins against alternative music. I know that Green Day has grown momentously popular ever since their American Idiot album won all sorts of prizes and critical acclaim, no doubt about that. A dirty little punk band from California made it in big league, yippity do da, group hug anyone? I’m one of their Nimrod-era fans; was thrilled that they made pop punk an alternative sound to college rock. Then they took that nice catchy sound and forced it to watch Ben Hur, Troy, and King Arthur thrice without blinking. Out of this cruelty came delicately orchestrated, intricately-woven rock music that made tattooed kids feel a lot less pansy for crying. You might as well listen to My Chemical Romance. Or wait for some brutally bad R&B tribute to Michael Jackson.

*****

I love Wilco because they don’t care about the audience. Not the Foo Fighters-types who would let their prospective CD buyers decide the level of experimentation or wussification they dabbled in. Wilco has made music for Volkswagen, Apple Inc., given up alt-country for avant-garde folk and even released a 15-minute track of droning ambient noises, conquering my heart by casually hinting, “Everyone will probably hate it”. They’ve jammed with Richard Lloyd (Television), Feist, Fleet Foxes, Nels Cline and pledged their allegiance to Woody Guthrie, John Cale and The Band. Don’t hold Wilco’s Grammy nominations and wins against them; these guys know and make great music. Their current line-up along with their self-titled album’s unabashedly swooning melodies is my second favourite incarnation of the Wilco sound, next to only the glory days of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s pop psychedelia. Bull Black Nova, a fantastic garage jam drunk on electronic blips, is a great place to start if you have never given the sextet a try. If you don’t like it, no harm done…that makes seven people who don’t really care.

*****

Maybe it’s the Indian inside screaming for cultural relevance or maybe I just like kooky band names, but I can’t have a band called Bombay Bicycle Club go past me without taking notes. I came across one of their tracks – The Hill – heard it for two minutes and quickly wrote them off as Coldplay on amphetamines. At around the 2.25 minute mark, guitarist Jamie MacColl and drummer Suren de Saram break free and start jazzing it up, getting a great groove going as vocalist Jack Steadman brings back the chorus of “alright lets go outside, and rise, rise, rise, to the meaning of life”and somehow everything sounds infinitely better this time around. Hopefully there are other gems to be discovered on their How We Are album that are as exquisitely crafted. Now if only other bands like Congratulations on Your Decision to Become A Pilot and When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water sound as good as their names do.

*****

If you thought Johnny Cash’s version of Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage was badass, I suggest you listen to Pastor Patrinell Staten Wright belt the hell out of their Jesus Christ Pose. Apart from being one of their heaviest slabs of psychedelic metal, Jesus Christ Pose also seemed like one of their more not-to-be-messed-with tracks. Pastor Wright sidesteps such humble assumptions and blows the roof off gospel style – with a bunch of fantastic musicians courtesy of Wheedle’s Groove records backing her up. This, my minions, is so much better than you could possibly imagine.

Download

Pastor Wright with Wheedle’s Groove – Jesus Christ Pose

Watch

Green Day – Walking Contradiction

Wilco – Bull Black Nova

Bombay Bicycle Club – The Hill

Buy

Green Day’s Insomniac

Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Wilco’s Wilco

Bombay Bicycle Club’s How We Rise

Seattle’s Finest in Funk & Soul 1965-75: Wheedle’s Groove

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100,000 bottles of beer on the blog

Forgot to mention this last month.

Uhmm thanks, I guess.

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Music succeeds where people fail whenever confronted by moments of superfluous depression. The sort that settles in when we realize that given a chance we would drop our identities sooner than a disgusting habit. We can sound like a sad bunch of orphaned sunflower children sometimes. Mentally dressed in precious little tutus and prancing around, begging someone to make sense of this dull pain we call discontent yet never once trying anything meaningful to fix it. Abandoning the life we lead and going in search of our version of the truth might sound enticing and we all have seen at least three films about it, but actually going through with it requires a beautiful sort of reckless abandon and the truth is, most of us are so pre-conditioned towards idle comforts that we would lose track and end up worse off than before. Pshhh we can be such wussies.

It is during these moments of introspection and a whole lot of head-nodding I wonder what I do without music. I mean, you can’t talk to people about this sort of shit. Chances are your close friends have their share of failed dreams they haven’t yet shared with you in morbid fear of ending up like you, feebly fighting both insecurities and delusions of self-importance. So the best thing to do is to put your butt on the bed and double-click some media player icon on the laptop. It doesn’t even have to be that song that you have drank or cried to a zillion times before. It could be something left to rot on some self-indulgent blog or a theme song of a Wim Wenders film. Matter of fact, you don’t have to look for it; like some cheap advertising catchphrase, it will find you.

Ahhh music, (cue melodramatic theme song), if you ever leave me, I will find you and kill you.

Watch/ Listen/Download
Whatever finds you before Dr Phil does

Buy
If the musicians aren’t owned by a major label

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Few things make living in Chennai seem consistently worthwhile. Its residents are so eager to camouflage their identities with silly colours and wanton tributes to socio-cultural diversity that nobody really knows what to make of us, Chennaites, anymore. Even product companies with their infinite market researched wisdom and soul-exchanging contracts with Satan can’t seem to figure us out.

Thankfully, a vast coastline, with tiny beaches suckling at its teat, snarling at the city from the outskirts is one of those silver linings that distract us. All the rubbish, the unruly derelicts and the annoying Hare Krishna foreigners quietly fade into the background, giving way to the glory of buttery chicken sandwiches, crumbling architecture, cigarettes, the sea, and good company.

She paints beautifully over my weekend’s canvas…

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Beautiful: These “dark side of suburban families” films are getting a bit tiresome. The depressingly ordinary Ordinary People and American Beauty influenced loads of young directors to come up with a slew of storylines about lenses being lifted from normal upper-class families to reveal tortured souls screwing with each other’s heads. I’ll have to disagree with Tolstoy on this one, I don’t think unhappy families are unhappy in their unique way all the time; at least not the ones featured in films such as Dean O’Flaherty’s Beautiful. Technically I have no qualms about it other than its constant use of tried and tested downer clichés. We have the quintessential loner who’s too befuddled to qualify as geeky, residential sexual deviants, emotionally-scarred parents and a whole lot of dirty secrets. Some of scenes in this tip their hats off to movies like Blue Velvet, Donnie Darko and Happiness so feverishly that it blurs the line between being influenced and plagiarizing. Quite sad, considering that Beautiful has a decent-enough storyline going for it ( So 14-year-old Danny (Sebastian Gregory) goes on a super serial secret mission for the psychotic 17-year-old Lolita – Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi) – to discover the hidden filth that lurks in the living room of their neighbours).

A good hour into the film the director starts messing with the twists and turns, finally leaving us with one that leaves a sour taste in our mouths. The colourful photography and navel-gazing music makes Beautiful live up to its name in parts. Orchestrator Bryce Jacobs and art director Tuesday Stone have done a nice job capturing the film’s chilling moments, letting us comfortably breathe as the rest – the actors, the script writers, the director – bring it down a notch. One of those indie films that make you sit through them, but evoke little else than a “meh” reaction at the end of it. Watch it once if you thought American Beauty needed to be a bit more screwed up.

Thumbsucker: Director Mike Mills has a knack for defying logical conclusions. He makes a documentary on uber-suave electronic pop duo Air seem listlessly dull and lifeless yet creates another called “Does Your Soul Have a Cold?” that investigates the impact of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals on the depression level of the Japanese and makes that look interesting. In the 2005 film Thumbsucker, he continues to bewilder us. Make no mistake, this is a good film, just that it leaves you with an odd feeling when you realize why exactly you liked it. Lou Taylor Pucci, despite looking like Kristen Stewart’s twin sister grappling with a minor case of lycanthropy, actually makes thumb sucking look like a genuine medium of existential malcontent and doesn’t reduce playing a Ritalin addict to annoying American stoner shenanigans. Then there’s Benjaman Bratt, who starred in some of crappiest films of the 2000s (The Next Best Thing, Miss Congeniality, Catwoman), standing out in Thumbsucker as one of its definitive highlights; he’s incidentally funny and consummately fucked up as Matt Schramm, the charming actor and hapless junkie.

Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of Perry Lyman, the spaced-out orthodontist, is so good that it jumps out of nowhere and slaps you in the face, screaming, “bet you didn’t expect it”. Much of the shock can be traced to the fact  that Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly was released only a year later, so as of 2005 – the world had no reason to believe that Keanu had any acting talent whatsoever. Also the character itself called for an air of nonchalance and a sense of disconnect that only guy who has no clue what he’s doing can accurately convey.

On the flip side, firstly we have Vince Vaughn, overrated in big-budget comedies but perfectly fine in gently fucked up films like these, not living up to his reputation. I almost hoped that Will Ferrell would at some point appear in a cameo and give him some on-screen chemistry to work with. Then we have Tilda Swinton, arguably one of the finest actresses to grace our screen, surprising us here with her half-hearted portrayal of Audrey, Cobb’s doleful mom by day and a slightly less retarded Nurse Betty by night. There’s a scene in which she confronts Schramn at the hospital and Benjaman Bratt actually out-acts her; normally this would signify the end of the world and the cruel demise of all its living things, but thankfully it all makes sense, considering this is a Mike Mills movie. Good film, but the surprises might kill you.

Everything Is Illuminated: Most of my love for Liev Schreiber’s Everything Is Illuminated stems from the all the wonderful music it introduced me to, right from the gorgeously eerie themes that Paul Cantelon stirs up to the insanely catchy gypsy-punk harmonies of Gogol Bordello and Tin Hat Trio’s whimsical acoustic chamber sound. Of course, there’s Matthew Libatique’s breathtaking cinematography; I can only assume that sunflower fields and meadows in and near Prague have never looked prettier.

It only lately occurred to me that everything else pretty much illuminates (see what I did there? High-five?) the film, as well. Elijah Wood, who plays young Jewish bloke looking for the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II, Eugene Hutz, his American pop culture-obsessed Ukrainian guide and Boris Leskin, Eugene’s disgruntled semi-blind, anti-semitic grandfather, are all fantastic in their roles as quirky characters yearning for that elusive ray of guiding light to make sense of their lives.

Somewhere down the middle, Everything Is Illuminated pans out to resemble one of those soul-searching road trip movies, but stays strong in its course to become something less pretentious, thanks to its actors and a tight screenplay. Few of the scenes (this sequence, for instance) in fact have the perfect combination of sound, sight and thought, something so rare that Steven Spielberg, having accidentally stumbled upon it during the mid-portion of Jaws, convinced three generations thereafter that it wasn’t a fluke despite all signs pointing otherwise. The film also boasts of great one-liners that are thankfully more Coen-esque than Borat-ish, (Alex: I am unequivocally tall. I do not know any women who are taller than me. The women who are taller than me are lesbians, for whom 1969 was a very momentous year). Humour is often lost in translation, especially from well-written novels, but kudos to Schreiber for bringing in the whimsies and the subsequent giggles. Just so you know, Jonathan Safran Foer’s original novel based on which the film was made is really good too. If I fawn over this anymore, I’d actually salivate.

Igby Goes Down: Take out all the overacting courtesy of Susan Sarandon and you have a pretty good film in Igby Goes Down. She almost sinks Burr Steers’ film with a loud performance as Mimi Slocumb, the manic mum. I remember her as a talented actress during the early Nineties; I guess Chris Columbus and his masterpiece of suck – Stepmom – just went ahead and killed her enthusiasm for a good script. Her incessant grunting in the opening scene, intentional as it might have been, would have certainly rivaled Avril Lavigne’s voice as the most irritating shit you could hear in 2002, but what’s worse are her sycophantic over-delivery of dialogues that really stretches our nerves. Having said that, fear not for the other actors turn into superheroes and rescue Burr’s debut from her clutches.

Kieran Culkin is fascinating to watch as Igby. Not that he awes us with skull-crushing intensity or bone marrow-sucking awesomeness; it’s just that every time I see this dude act, the more I am convinced that he uses negativity to scare the actor out of him. It almost amazes me when people who have led screwed up lives or closely been around those who have end up doing nothing worthwhile. Isn’t pain the greatest muse of all? Both him and his talented younger brother Rory are or at least seem competent at trying to channel the crap that once surrounded the Culkin name and turn it into their lady muse.

In Igby Goes Down, he tunes in a good performance as the lead role, a post-modern, coffee-house Holden Caulfield struggling to grow up despite being taught only to self-destruct. Jeff Goldblum is predictably great in his portrayal of Igby’s sleazy and stylishly suited step dad, only outdone by another actor who has been consistently fantastic for the past three decades – Bill Pullman, who plays Igby’s dad by birth. He is sparingly used, but whenever we do see him, there he is…wallowing in self-decay, mumbling inconsequential truths about life and looking fucking terrific at it! Amanda Peet, Claire Danes and Ryan Phillippe are given shitty dialogues to work with, so nothing to shout about there, but they certainly don’t harm the film. In fact I wouldn’t  have believed that Claire Danes could pull off Faustian one-liners but dam she proved me wrong in this film. So there you have it, an entertaining film about a family’s collapse and a kid trying to make sense of it by running the hell away. I bet you’ll like it…you, sick freak, you.

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Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee: Shane Meadows has quietly gone ahead and revolutionized the medium of cinema as we know it. He has created one of the best indie  comedies ever in five measly days. Five fuckin’ days, people. James Cameron must have spent five weeks, feeling the roughness of the Avatar’s prosthetic skin against his cheek. Kollywood directors would spend at least five months convincing veteran actors that nobody in their fan club has ever heard of male pattern baldness. Chances are Paul Haggis will probably spend the next five decades, researching the impact of racism on zebras. Here, Shane Meadows has given us a million outrageously funny one-liners, fantastic music, cameos by Arctic Monkeys and a brilliant performance by Paddy Constantine (who has previously worked with him in several films).

Shot in the vein of An Incident At Loch Ness (in which we get the impression that only half the crew are aware that it is a work of fiction), it is a mockumentary that chronicles the adventure of Le Donk (Paddy), a self-obsessed roadie/failed musician who has delusions of grandeur and Scor-zay-zee (Dean Palinczuk playing himself), a white rapper he saves from a cholesterol fatality, that ends up on the main stage of an Arctic Monkeys concert. Paddy Constantine’s timing is off the hook and makes every gag look funnier than it ever could; fewer times has plain disdain for any sort of decorum seemed funnier. Even the all-too convenient feel-good factor that plays peekaboo towards the end is pleasantly digestible. Shane Meadows and the rest of the crew deserve every bit of praise they’ve been getting for this one. In case somebody has anything harsh to say to them, they can just snicker, “Fuck you, man…we shot this in 5 days.”

Men Who Stare At Goats: George Clooney suddenly becomes watchable when his character loses his mind, and finds a moustache. The films in which he’s not terrible – Welcome To Collinwood, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and Oh Brother Where Art Thou – have him playing moustached weirdos. Grant HeslovMen Who Stare At Goats is no different in the sense that it uses facial hair and many wonderfully weird characters to divert our attention from Clooney’s mediocre acting. The storyline is so absurdly enjoyable that you would have to be French or seriously miserable in life to dislike it. It has a foolhardy reporter (Ewan McGregor) teaming up with a former psychic spy (Clooney) to fight military oppression, governmental secrecy and an evil-as-fuck Kevin Spacey. The film epitomizes how absurdist humour cuts an actor down to size and enemas (can that be used as a verb?) the A-list aura right out. McGregor, Clooney and Spacey, actors I normally laugh at and not necessarily along with, are all funny; and it isn’t that they have witty dialogues to work with, it’s just that watching grown men do elaborately silly things is a hoot.

Men Who Stare At Goats would have stayed quiet in the “you can watch it once” category if it weren’t for the lately awesome Jeff Bridges. He plays Bill Django, leader of the New Earth Army, the man who once vowed to fight the war with love, yogasana and drugs and he is absolutely fucking funny. He channels the Big Lebowski character in all its glorious hippiedom, only this time dropping LSD stamps instead of guzzling white Russians. His “join me in this vision” look is a thing of beauty and should be stored alongside Steve Buscemi’s “I loved my wife like a mother and a hooker” face in The Imposters and Bill Murray’s “I’m sick of these dolphins” expression in Life Aquatic to serve as a guide to future comedians. Entertaining film this is; come for the silliness and stay for Jeff Bridges.

Daybreakers: Vampires fascinate me. Charming, heartless, and focused fuckers. They have even made me sit through many soulless Hollywood films that promised a bite or two. As I sat through Michael Spierig’s Daybreakers in its entirety and lit a cigarette when an ugly black getaway car and Placebo’s Running Up That Hill brought the film to a screeching end, I realized that this was the second-worst vampire film I have ever seen. It sucked because I had gone in with lots of expectations. When a film promises a post-apocalyptic wasteland of vampires, mutated and otherwise, a villainous Sam Neill, and Willem Dafoe in vigilante mode, I expect it at least save itself from this level of crap. No such luck here; Daybreakers, with its quasi peace propaganda and stunted storyline, is just horrid. Irritatingly fast-paced, unimaginatively shot and emotionally-jarring without an ounce of respect for continuity.

The ending makes no sense and is just an excuse for the director to incorporate some John Woo-style action to aesthetically elevate his passive patriotism (seriously, who the hell does that?). The film is so bad that even Ethan Hawke can’t be blamed for it despite being on the screen for 90% of film’s duration. Having said, he still miserably fails as a vampire. Reality bites, Ethan…I welcome you to the club for Uncharismatic Actors Who Suck The Life Out Of Vampire Films…Population, you and Hugh Jackman.

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If sobriety and music are bedmates you don’t cuddle up next to, chances are you’ll get a kick out of the Pittsburgh-based Black Moth Super Rainbow. Their Dandelion Gum album has fragility clinging to its every note, malcontent and mumbling about sleepy summers and lost flowers; agreed not exactly the most breathtaking of concepts, but the music certainly carries it to places very rarely tread even by indie music standards. Hell, Black Moth Super Rainbow is too indie to be called indie; they’re beautiful noisemongers because as discordant as you might think the music is, you’d have to be deaf to miss out on the how gorgeous it sounds. Neon Syrup For The Cemetery Sister, with electronic fuzz washing over it and Untitled Roadside Demo, a space gospel amongst other trippy things, are highlights. In fact I’m yet to find a track of theirs I could do without on a rainy Saturday afternoon; even Rollerdisco gently coaxes my ears despite staying true to the second part of its name. I’m feeling giddy thinking about The House of Apples and Eyeballs (their collaboration with the fantastic pop-tronic band The Octopus Project). Check out Pop Matters’ review too.

*****

Broken Bells has Danger Mouse, uber-producer and one-half of Gnarls Barkley, hooking up with James Mercer, lead singer of indie stalwarts The Shins, creating great music for us to feel the wind in our hair and wag our tongues out of the car window to. No, seriously…this is the stuff that makes road rage a fleeting thought. This is music that sounds feel-good and shockingly also makes you feel good, mostly because it never stoops to down to lows like dipshit happy choruses that rhyme “high” with “why” or fancy guitar solos that never serve any purpose but getting the lead guitarist decent head or better coke. Broken Bell’s debut is scheduled for release in about three weeks (don’t be a dick by downloading the album now) so for now, gorge yourself on the single – the tremendously synth-tastic The High Road.

*****

A British supergroup comprising Damon Albarn (Blur), Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve) and Tony Allen (an Afrobeat legend) released an album called The Good, The Bad And The Queen in 2007 that was very fucking listenable. They decided to remain unnamed as of yet but I doubt it started off as a gimmick considering how lackadaisical each song is towards grabbing our attention. I think that the album remained rather obscure (or maybe I was too busy listening to Anselmo’s side projects in 2007) because it never quite lived up to the reputation of its musicians. While I’m game for musicians letting their legendary status rot in a trophy case rather than stroking it in the recording studio, still a punk icon, two British alternative rock stalwarts and one of the greatest drummers ever could surely have come up with something more than a bunch of dainty, bouncy, and vaguely refreshing melodies neatly packaged as “indie music to look out for in 2007”. The title track however is epic and not because it goes on for seven minutes; it’s a track that puts the spotlight on their collective brilliance. Albarn hurriedly whispers, “It’s the blessed routine, for the good, the bad and the queen, just moving out of dreams with no physical wounds at all” as the rest revisit great Eighties pop briefly with their instruments and then move into a frenzied post-grunge guitar section before calling it a day all hush-hush. Good stuff.

*****

The Raah Project, where do I start?  clears throat and gets knocked down by a silhouette). Ahem, from Scholar’s The More I Make Revolutions, The More I Want To Make Love, “No matter what kind of what music you dig, I hope you’ll be adventurous and give this joint a listen. It’s a cross-section of so many styles that it would be problematic to faithfully paint a picture with words…just an insanely beautiful piece of music.” Yes good man, YES! I can stop overplaying Cool Calm Pete’s remix of Sharon Jones’ Stranded In Your Love; this, my simians, has the smoothest groove I have heard in a long time.

Watch

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Neon Syrup For The Cemetery Sister, Untitled Roadside Demo

Broken Bells – The High Road

Untitled – The Good, The Bad And The Queen

The Raah Project – All Of Your Things (or download it from Souled On)

Buy

Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Dandelion Gum

The Good, The Bad And The Queen

The Raah Project – Covered Up In Stars

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