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Archive for March, 2009

decemberists

Well, if nothing else you have to give Colin Meloy this, he has zero intention of selling out. The Decemberists’ fifth album The Hazards of Love is as ambitious as it is bizarre. The ablum is something of a prog-rock-opera, telling romantic tale of the pregnant Margaret and her man only under the moon lover named William. So, yeah, not exactly your standard fare.

I can understand how critics have been so divided on the album, for there’s a lot both to love and be frustrated with here. Fans of The Decemberists will not be shocked to hear that the album is dense, that really has always been the nature of the work, they really started flirting with the concept album structure on their last record The Crane Wife. And like that previous album, The Hazards of Love is also steeped with fantastical mythology. (Remember that William guy? Well he’s a forest dwelling fawn in the daylight hours…) However, on this album an attention to plot and understanding of narrative is much more closely linked to enjoyment of the music than it has been on any of the band’s previous works. This isn’t to say that if you don’t try to follow the story that you won’t enjoy the album, in fact you will probably be saved some degree of frustration, you just also will be sacrificing the reaping of some of the rewards.

It should come as little surprise than that Meloy originally envisioned this as a stage play and a rock album just happened to be what grew out of it. I’m not going to talk too much about plot, partly because I don’t want to give anything away for people who are interested in discovering it for themselves, and partly because I’m not sure if I’ve gotten all the details right yet myself. I will say that while the general narrative is pretty simple (hint: things end darkly), matters are clouded a little bit by Meloy’s typically exotic language and the fact that he voices multiple characters. The overall result is a plot tangled enough that it would leave even Thomas Pynchon calling it a tad inaccessible. On the flipside, though, translating and unfolding The Decemberists dense work has always been part of the joy of their music, and that’s no different here.

Something that could get lost in the mix is the fact that the band does some stuff with their sound that we’ve never really heard from them before. When the album takes its dark turn into the second act, more specifically with the lead single “The Rake,” things get louder and more electronic in a way that you haven’t really heard from them before. By the time “The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing” rolls around you’ll be wondering if this really is the same folksy band that remember from the Castaways and Cutouts days. The band wears this more intense rock sound surprisingly well and the stretch of those middle songs was the most enjoyable portion of the album for me. It matches the turns in the story quite well and leaves you excited for what kind of potential evolutions you’ll continue to see in the bands sound. Also worth noting is the guest spots across the album from Becky Stark and Shara Worden. Both singers are put in the tough spot of being called upon to serve not just solid singers, but being convincing actors as well, and both perform admirably.

From a strictly musical standpoint the variety on The Hazards of Love is probably the best part of the album, but it’s also enjoyable in the familiarity that is at the core behind the drastic changes in pace that take place. There are two reoccurring tunes across the album in “The Hazards of Love 1-4” and “The Wanting Comes in Waves.” I found it particularly satisfying that in both cases that the songs were not only enjoyable in their first incarnations, but that Meloy was able to tweek the sound enough as the album progressed that you were excited to hear the familiar tunes creeping up again.  It almost feels as those the entire album is one long living and breathing song, and these two familiar refrains are it’s heart beat and chorus.  As such, I believe they provide the most distinct and long-lasting initial impressions for the listener.

I had initially held off on reviewing this album because I wasn’t sure what I thought of it after just a few listens. To be entirely honest I’m not sure if I’ve solved that problem yet. I will say that I haven’t reached a point of diminishing returns yet, every additional listen has resulted in an incremental jump in understanding and enjoyment. That being said, despite the strong overall product, none of the individual highs are quite as endearing to me as some of my previous favorite Decemberist tracks. The Hazards of Love is going to have to find a very specific niche of an audience outside of die-hard fans of the band, and I’m just not sure that there are that many fantasy prog-rock concept album fans out there to be had. But I guess that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? That’s what fans of the band love about them, their ambition and their originality, and though the album is hit and miss, there is plenty of both of those traits on display here.  We should appreciate a band that is sticking true to its principles while continuing to take risks deep into their career, even if they’re not knocking it out of the park every time.

SCORE: 3.7 out of 5.0

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Because I posted that link about the construction of the new WTC the other day, and because I’m generally pretty interested in language.  Here’s a link to a blurb from New York Magazine about the though process behind the name change from “Freedom Tower” to “One World Trade Center.”  It’s interesting how under the Bush regime even a word as innocuous as “freedom” can get politicized and carry some kind of stigma.  As far as I am concerned I like “One World Trade Center” better than I like “Freedom Tower” anyway, it is simple and equally classy.

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Here’s the trailer (embedded from traileraddict.com) for Spike Jonze’s upcoming “Where the Wild Things Are” adaptation that has been attached to the beginning of “Monsters vs Aliens.”   I have to think that there will be some knee-jerk reactions to this movie to start with, even before people see the trailer.  The book upon which it’s based is essentially sacrament to an entire generation of kids and such kid-turned-adult-movie-watchers are usually very protective of these childhood memories.  “Where the Wild Things Are” had been my little brother’s favorite book when he was a kid, so I personally always wistfully associate the it with the innocence of his childhood more than mine.  That being said, it’s not as though I was anxious to see a crappy movie version of a book that’s essentially been made into an essential piece of Americana.

When I first heard about the project, I immediately thought that Spike Jonze had an impish childlike quality about him that would would help him to pull it off, and do so without pretension.   His music videos and films have always had a grinning simplicity to them that’s made them enjoyable and his touch seems pretty light…  And then the movie went into reshoots after reshoot and years turned into, well, more years.  Now, it’s tough to tell a whole ton from a trailer, but I have to say that it seems like Spike has at least nailed the right tone.  I think the wild things look pretty great, somewhere between a real life monster and a creature out of a story book.   In the end there’s nothing here that would make me not want to see the movie, in fact there’s only encouragement.  That’s a good thing.  Take a look for yourself and let your inner kid run free for a minute or two.

Also, I’ll answer the inevitable question by saying that the song in the trailer is “Wake Up” by The Arcade Fire.

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more about ““Where The Wild Things Are” Trailer“, posted with vodpod

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Well, in all fairness, that’s not exactly what they said.  But it is kind of the moral of the story.  This quick little story reports that a 4.8 earthquake rocked the eastern shore of the Salton Sea in Imperial County in the early A.M. on Tuesday.  This follows 42 smaller quakes that occurred between a 48 hour period from Saturday to Monday, a fact that appeared on the website yesterday.  Why is this of particular note, you ask?  Well, apparently scientists have been watching closely because they believe that these smaller quakes along California’s San Andreas fault could potentially trigger the nigh-apocalyptic “big one” and destroy much of Los Angeles.  My favorite part is that the blurb subtly points out that the 4.8 took place right near the end of the fault line.  So again, what’s the moral of the story?  We’re all gonna die.  Ignore the zombies and please plan accordingly.

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I can’t believe I failed to mention this in my post about The Wire the other day, but just this last week Idris Elba started his character arc on The Office.  Before I gush about that, here’s a link to a quick little interview he did with New York Magazine.  My favorite part is where he discusses the day-of creation of a certain infamous scene from The Wire.  Could I possibly be more obtuse?

Okay, so back to The Office and Idris.  He was really good as Steve Carrell’s new boss and foil, in particular, the scene with Idris looking at Jim through the blinds almost had me in tears!  I mean, first I had to get over the fact that Stringer Bell was standing across from Michael Scott (such is the burden of playing an iconic character I guess), but once that was done it was all smiles.  Hopefully, this will get Idris some more roles that aren’t opposite Ali Larter and Beyonce.

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Over at The Nation’s website there’s a pretty great feature about the decay of American newspaper’s and the potential demise of the medium.  While this doom and gloom is pretty much par for the course these days when it comes to discussion of the printed word in America, what makes The Nation’s article notable is the fact that it not only makes a case for why we need newspapers, but also possible solutions for the problem.

The first thing that John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney (the features authors) do is to make a case regarding the utter need for the professional journalist.  This is something that I personally have long shouted about from atop my soapbox.  The simple fact of the matter is that we need journalists to be the independent watch-dogs of government, and as the writer’s point out, nowhere was this more evident than in the Iraq invasion and the free-pass that the government received on the potential WMD’s.  This is not meant to say that there are not things to love about new media and the blogisphere, but it simply can’t serve as a proper replacement for the good old fashioned professional journalist.  It is quickly pointed out that on the web and in blogs often what happens is articles that originally existed in the written form are linked to, and thus, almost completely relied upon (hmmm, make you think of anything in particular?).  And even wonderfully professional and comparatively well funded projects like The Huffington Post simply don’t have the necessary resources or legs to fill the role of traditional printed newspapers.  Here’s the quote that really jumped off the page for me; “For all their merits and flaws, these fixes are mere triage strategies. They are not cures; in fact, if there is a risk in them, it is that they might briefly discourage the needed reshaping of ownership models that are destined to fail.”  I think (and the feature points out) that the bankruptcies of major publications like The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times indicate just how real and immediate this problem has become.

Now, like I said before, all of this hand-wringing most likely won’t be too new to anybody.  What is really great, though, about this piece is that it makes a spirited stab at coming up with a solution to the problem.  Nichols and McChesney make a case for the importance of federal support for newspapers, as well as practical ways in which it could be practically carried out, while at the same time acknowledging the nature of the line that would have to be toed in a government supported “free-press.”  The question, then, is how to go about this.  Nichols and McChesney say that “in the near term, we need to think about an immediate journalism economic stimulus, to be revisited after three years, and we need to think big.”  Some of the ways that they discuss going about this are elimination of postal rates in some instances, and tax credits for people who devote a certain amount of income to newspapers, among others.  It’s all actually on a very manageable scale, and one that could likely be applied pretty immediately.

Where that leaves the battle, in my mind, would not only be in selling this to the government, but to the American tax-payer who I’m positive is certainly beginning to turn on anything remotely near the phrase “bail-out.”  The only way to do that is to sell the utter indispensability of the American newspaper, and I feel that the only way of going about doing that is for the cause to be championed in articles such as this one.  Hopefully, this is will be a trend which we start to witness before the problem gets too out of control.

I really can’t do the feature justice in a few paragraphs, so head on over to the link and check it out for yourself.  It really is a great read, and more importantly one that is actually providing practical solutions to the problem instead of just proclaiming the inevitability of failure.  I’m glad that I have the opportunity to link to it.   Well, for now at least.

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I’m not trying to turn this into a music-only blog, but in the spirit of South By Southwest I wanted to throw this video up.  While this song isn’t exactly new, it comes off the band’s Chunk of Change EP that was released at the end of last year, it seems that Passion Pit is still under a lot of peoples radar.  I’ve been listening to the EP non-stop for about a week now and especially love this song.  Apparently, they played a packed show at SXSW earlier this week, so I guess word is starting to get out.  There’s a cool little story about how the music started, but I’m going to save that anecdote for when I review their upcoming full-length debut Manners, which is supposed to drop in may.  So for now, check out the video and pick up the EP on iTunes.

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