Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Music Review: The Raconeurs Broken Boy Soldiers

Lauded as "Jack White's other (insert 'better') band," stands poised to take the title of rock supergroup of the year. Who they're taking it from is another less interesting story.

Jack White (of the White Stripes) teams up with fellow Detroit native Brendan Benson for this collaborative effort which also features rhythm being provided by members of the Greenhornes, their personalities and names inconsequential. All we are concerned with is the genius of Jack White and the melodic wanderings of Mr. Benson.

I speak tongue-in-cheek, of course. Reading reviews over the last few months about this anticipated release has allowed music critics to let it slip that they would've always much preferred the White Stripes had it actually had a better drummer and a bass line. Shame on you all.

But we are here to discuss the Rac Pack...

Benson and White take a total 50/50 credit on the writing of these songs. Listening through the whole album, each of their hands is very clear. Knowing Benson's Alternative to Love and virtually all of Jack White's output, it is fairly apparent when one songwriter takes the helm from the other. Their styles are vastly different, but do work together to create a genuinely unique and unusual sound. Some of the songs harken back to an older generation, such as Store Bought Bones which recalls early psychadelia, or the closing track Blue Veins which is straight-foward blues.
The majority of these tracks, however, are truly a hybrid style of White's growling guitar riffs and howling vocals and Benson's melodic turns. Add to it the solid but never over-powering backbone from the Nameless Ones, and you have a collection of songs that really doesn't sound like anything else on the shelves right now.
On the track Broken Boy Soldiers, Jack White shows why he is still one of the best blues rock singers going at it right now. But this time, enough vocal damage has occured so that White sounds more like an old woman than a 31 year old man.
On the track Yellow Sun, Benson's ability to create a captivating melodic/chordal combination plays out nicely in a chorus that catches the ear every time.
Oddly enough, only three of the tracks on this disc start without any sort of weird ambient lead-in or studio noise. What's the deal? Also, the art design for the CD case is decidedly disappointing. The photograph on the front cover looks as though the band took a cheap polaroid photograph of themselves in poorly done makeup, with no attempt made to clean up the photograph, sharpen the image or to deify them in any way. The disc itself as well as a border around the photograph features a great deal of golden script filagrie which seems to have no pattern. In short, it's confusing to the eye and I found it more of a distraction. Often times I'm able to tell what sort of design influence a package has had, but with this album, I am confused. There seemed to be little thought put into the look of the bands image. Even looking at the band's publicity stills I get the sense of four men standing in frame together, but there isn't a cohesive sense of uniformity between the bandmates. If the band's intent is to remain a coalition of individuals, that is fine, but at least shoot the photographs in black and white so we don't have to enjoy your clashing choices of clothing.

The Grade: Music: B+ (Because of a few weak tracks)
Art Design: D

The T. has spoken.

Friday, May 12, 2006

I've Realized There are a Few Things I Could Do Now...

...now that I have the time...

...there are a few things I would like to try my hand at:

Learn Karate
Learn to Dance
Knife Fighting
Learn Guitar
Learn Drums
Learn the Stock Market
Juggling Axes
Raquet Ball
Bull Fighting

...I think I might keep myself pretty busy...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

This is my sister...

...and she is worried about climbing on an airplane?

The First Taste of Summer...
I felt it today as I was moving through my house.

You usually have to be moving in order to sense these sorts of things. If you sit still, the air itself can't breathe.

I felt it as I was going up and down my stairs. It was there.

That humidity. That sticky resistance between the skin of my foot and the wooden stair.

And I could feel it when I stood still.

The heavy stillness of air laden with summertime rain, waiting for the right moment to soak the earth.

I could smell it as I moved through my house. Flowers smell differently in the summer.

I enjoy it now because one day I will realize it is summer. It will be too warm and still, and I will go around with the perennial moist spots beneath my arms and between my shoulders.

I can enjoy this stillness now. I can enjoy it and I can see ahead.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

In effort to memorialize my current circumstances a little bit
...I ran around the house with my camera and snapped these pictures. Some of them turned out pretty well... the sum is more interesting than the parts. Enjoy


I'm Still Rather Proud of Myself...

Movie Review: Mission Improbable III

When will the super-spies learn? The minute you have a wife, girlfriend, children, puppy, sportscar, or a goldfish, your nemesis will exploit it and seek your downfall by holding your beloved hostage.
You would’ve thought that any of the other spy/thriller movies where the hero’s lover is taken prisoner and held hostage at the hand of some diabolical and fantastic instrument of death would begin to be a roadmap to destruction for the spies who would follow later. But as smart as they are, they don’t seem to learn. This leaves the helpless movie-going audience no choice but to shout out advice to the characters on the screen hoping they’ll learn from others mistakes.

Interestingly enough, this movie managed to be just as entertaining as MI: II with only a fraction of the plot.

Thinking back, I can’t even remember what the plot was intended to be. Quite obviously, it was inconsequential. What was important was the elaborately conceived action sequences which effectively destroyed one-quarter’s worth of the gross national product. And then when they blew up all they could, they went to Shanghai and started chipping away at the Chinese industry.

The Premise: Tom Cruise revisits the ready-made American hero Ethan Hunt, star agent of the IMF (“Impossible Mission Force”? Does that really sound as retarded as it looks?) who is now training other agents to go out into the field. Apparently battling John Voigt inside the Chunnel just adds a few too many grey hairs. Know what I mean?
This time around Ethan has found a nurse that he wants to marry, so the early scenes are spent establishing Ethan’s relationship with her family at an engagement party. Ethan is eventually convinced to go back into the field to rescue an agent he trained. She dies in his arms (how poetic) and sends Ethan on a hunt to find the black market wizard Davien (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman before he got his Oscar) who is set to make a $800+ million dollar sale of something elusively called the “Rabbit Foot”, which we frustratingly never learn what it does. Since Ethan has disturbed Davien’s nefarious going-ons, Davien uses Ethan’s wife as leverage to get Ethan to find the Rabbit Foot for him.
The fact that this is the extent of the plot should give you a sense of how important probability and plausibility is in this film.
The first MI film was accused of being too confusing and too hard to follow, so director John Woo’s second installment was the antithesis, featuring an abundance of slow-motion shots of Tom Cruise walking amongst flames with doves slowly flying from beneath his feet…truly a poetic chaos.
The third film exchanges Woo’s graceful choreography for the currently popular hand-held camera use, which makes for grainy, out-of-focus and unsteady footage. Obviously meant to de-stabilize the film and add to the tension of the scene, it has been over used. Filmmakers need to uncover new techniques.
Early criticism of this film said that the character-building scenes were weak and just strung between one action sequence and the next. I didn’t feel that to be the case, though. You don’t sit down in this movie expecting to delve into the psyche of Ethan Hunt, we want to watch him blow stuff up. And on that bill, the film delivers.
To its credit, the action scenes did stay rather creative and memorable, and I could probably recall most of the individual scenes and mention something cool about them.

As far as the acting goes, we haven’t seen any new tricks out of Tom Cruise since the Last Samurai, (a good film) but now whenever Tom feels it necessary to truly be emotional, he puts on the same waterworks show combined with a heavy breathing. By this point, its not effective any more. Knowing Tom Cruise’s pride at doing all of his own stunts, and knowing his recent bizarre behavior, I found myself wondering if he ever took a nose dive off the roof of the Chinese skyscraper and the film crew just watched him go ‘splat’ on the ground 400,000 feet below. Everything we’ve seen at the film’s promotion is actually a cyborg, built out of state-of-the-art bionics and what they managed to scrape off of the sidewalk.
Philp Seymour Hoffman’s character has obviously been examined closely since his win for the film Capote, but I would have to say you would be disappointed if you were looking for a great film character to be born here. Hoffman’s character is sadly one-dimensional. The film knows that he’s there for us to hate, and we need not know anything more about him than that. His character actually devolves through the course of the film. His dialogue is more revealing and lengthy early in the film, and then by the end of the film he is reduced to the evil mastermind clich├ęs including kicking Ethan Hunt in the face while he’s laying on the ground.

Overall, the film entertains. It’s a popcorn muncher, and if its any indication of what the summer season will look like, then we’re in for another high-octane low-content season.
Eventual Grade: C+


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Quick Reviews of Music I’ve Chewed Through Recently
A lot of classic bands and their recordings that I really knew nothing about, and my valiant effort to try and rectify that.

Talking Heads: 77
I was attracted to the Heads’ music because of their place in the lexicons of rock ‘n roll. I kept running into their names and images during a casual flip-through of any “history of” book that I might find on a shelf.
So I get a hold of a copy of 77, which I didn’t purchase, thankfully, and I have to say, I just don’t think this is my bag, baby.
As I often tell myself, “as important as knowing what you like, is knowing what you don’t.”
I think I can safely say that I don’t find the music of the Talking Heads all that appealing. So this isn’t so much a review of the album as it is an impression of their music all together. Sorry Talking Heads…
Grade of all things Head Talking: D

Black Sabbath: Paranoid
Discovering the classics is so much fun.
For those of you who read my luke-warm review of Wolfmother a few days ago, we all have this album to blame. Had I encountered Wolfmother a week before I discovered Sabbath, Wolfie might’ve been spared its C+ songwriting.
From the authoritative and extensive search I did to find the greatest Sabbath album I was lead to Paranoid, which was the first release by the band with a younger, more entertaining Ozzy Osbourne on lead vocals. Guitarist Tommy Iommi created some of rock’s most memorable and inextinguishable riffs on this album, and he did it with only two actual working fingers.
The story behind Sabbath’s sound is really a fun one to tell, but its too long for this moment, so if we ever get really bored on this blog, perhaps I’ll endulge you all…
As with any study, its important to know your historical timeline, so that the beginnings and endings of things can be traced.
Knowing that Sabbath was the first in so many musical styles and tastes really makes you appreciate their altering of musical taste all the more. So many bands owe their sonic palette to Black Sabbath, its amazing.
Aside from their inventive stylings, the thing that stands out was how quickly they mastered their new-found toys. These songs are really fun to listen to and despite an obviously limited style, their songs never get old.
Grade: A+

The Yardbirds: Roger the Engineer
More classics…
I mostly picked this one out because it’s the Yardbirds. Another band that has its place held in history for them. If for no other reason, than certainly to be known as the starting place for the likes of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck
Of course this record has their hit Over, Under, Sideways, Down, but what I found myself listening to the most was the stylings of guitarist Jeff Beck on songs like Jeff’s Boogie and the Nazz are Blue which really showed off the young guitarist’s ability, and ultimately foreshadow music’s departure from the Beatles formula of song-writing.
Entertaining, yet does not engage you song-for-song the way even an early Beatles album still can.
Grade: B-

Jamiroquai: Emergency on Planet Earth
Hands-down the best name of any band I’ve listened to recently. (Pronounced Jam-ear-o-kwai)
Known for back-to-the-roots funk stylings, Jamiroquai has been turning out dance hall hits for quite a while now. This album, released in the earlier ninties is perhaps one of the better samplings of Jamiroquai’s talents and abilities. Even jogging to this music made me step a little bit faster and higher. Reminiscent of the by-gone days of the discotheque, Jamiroquai has perfected a recipe for funked-out disco that combins the Bee Gees with James Brown. Not a bad idea. . .
Grade: B

Motion Picture Soundtrack: The Life Aquatic
A musical supervisor has one of the most overlooked yet influential roles in a movie’s construction. Pick the right tunes, and a simple scene of dialogue can have unexpected tensions or emotions that would otherwise never be explored.
Wes Anderson’s Causteau-esque comedy about washed-up and washed-out oceanographic explorers features some of the most unique music I’ve heard in a while. What attracted my ear most was the tracks contributed by Mark Mothersbaugh, who wrote all original tracks for this film. Mostly of narrative nature, his tracks have titles like “Let Me Tell You About My Boat” or “We Call Them Pirates Out Here” and are used in specific moments throughout the film. His signature use of electronic sounds used with great restraint and control makes his music feel very controlled and tense, even though they are tremendously fun to listen to. Round out the soundtrack with several selections from Seu Jorge, a French singer who covers only David Bowie sung in French, and you have a zany collection of familiar and not-so to accompany perhaps Anderson’s best film.
Grade: A

T. out...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Music Review: Wolfmother

I mentioned this band a few months ago as the greatest thing to come out of Australia since kangaroos or something, but I wish now to make ammendments to that statement.

They are almost the greatest thing to come out of Australia in a while.
Today is the release date of Wolfmother's first full-length album in the U.S.
If my information serves me correctly, they've already had one release overseas, which received warm reviews. This U.S. release is a lot of reassembled materials from that first album, plus a few tunes from their already released EP.

Now that we've covered their history, its safe to say that Wolfmother is still a relatively new band. We're not talking about a band that has had three albums cut already. This is why I have great expectations for Wolfmother in future years. I expect their songwriting to only improve and their music to gain depth and breadth.
This is a fun, easy to listen to taste of retro-rock, but all of this is said to imply that this album falls short on a few key areas. Mostly, that of creativity and exploration.

Wolfmother has a built-in fan base by choosing to make music in a style alike Black Sabbath or the Who or Led Zeppelin or any other number of bands that have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years (partially due to crummy contemporary music, and partially because everyone's been wearing Stones' t-shirts, someone finally decided they should actually know what their music sounded like.)
This being the current trend, Wolfmother could very easily play off as opportunistic and kitschy if they're not careful.
The problem with this album is that the songs don't show the musicians actually having any fun with what they're doing. The songs all sound formulaic and scripted. It's a fun ride, but in another year or so, I doubt many people will be listening to this, simply because its not that creative or interesting.
I will look forward to their next release. If the trio is going to stretch it legs at all, this will be their opportunity to show us what they're capable of. But if they stick with the reciepe-for-success formula, watch their album end up in the $5.99 bins within 12 months.

Final Grade: Catchy, bubble-gum rock with no bitter after-taste: B