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Archive for October, 2009

NBA Season Is Here

The NBA season has started and class is back in session.   This point is highlighted by Shannon Brown from my hometown Lakers throwing down a rebound with considerable force and urgency.   Enjoy.

Oh yeah, also, happy Halloween. I’ll be back and posting again on Monday.

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Los Angeles, stand up!  Well, at least Los Feliz stand up, I guess…  In any event, I am giving my city props because that is where No Age just so happens to hail from.  Recently they released an EP by the name of Losing Feeling, the video posted below is for the title track off that EP.  As you will see below, the video features some stop-motion mice (I can’t decide whether they’re cute or a little creepy), some interesting POV camera work, and an ending that’s, well, I’ll let you see for yourself.  The song is more of the same misty shoegaze that I have come to enjoy from the band, I strongly suggest that you give it a listen.  After you’ve done that, head over to the band’s MySpace page or even over to Sub Pop’s site to find out where and how you can buy and listen to No Feeling and where you can hear the band live.

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Apparently Joe Lieberman thinks that he’s just too damned liberal, or at least too popular amongst Democrats, because the Connecticut Senator is now saying that he’s planning on supporting a filibuster of any health care plan that includes a public option.  The reason behind his decision?  He says any such plan will cost the American tax payers too much money.

Now, if this were just a matter of Senator Lieberman sticking to his beliefs, however misguided, I would understand on some level.  As a matter of fact, I really wish I could just forgive him as sticking to his principles, even if he’s on the wrong side of this one (seems like he’s been backing the wrong horse more and more lately), I probably approach politics far too cynically as it is.   However, as this piece from The Nation is quick to point out, he’s not just wrong, he’s also pretty hypocritical. This comes from the piece;

“This from a senator who, as much as anyone, helped run up the national debt since 9/11 by pushing to raise the military budget to its highest level since World War II. It is a budget inflated by enormous expenditures on high-tech weaponry irrelevant to combating terror, such as the $2-billion-a-piece submarines–produced in his home state of Connecticut–that he claimed were needed to combat Al Qaeda, a landlocked enemy holed up in caves. The same week that he and others in Congress passed a $680-billion defense bill larded with pork of the sort he has always supported, Lieberman is worried about the impact of a very limited public option on the debt.”

It’s pretty hard to view the Senator’s statements as being a result of him sticking to his principles when some of his highest profile actions of late have gone precisely against the frugality that he’s now preaching.  What equally irritates me is the fact that the American public have consistently shown themselves to be in support of a public option.  I mean, it’s one thing for Lieberman to pat himself on the back for consistently going against the grain of the Democratic party, let’s face it, politics is politics.  But this health care reform is extremely important to the future of the country, the majority of the House and Senate support it, and more importantly, the American people support it.  What Lieberman is really showing himself to be is hypocritical and out of touch.  Personally, I think that we’ve already got quite enough of that in American politics.  Don’t you?

Be sure to take a look at the Nation article for yourself, as Robert Scheer makes a far more compelling case for why Lieberman’s words and actions are both baffling and frustrating than I ever could.

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Sainthood

I’m just going to come out with it, I think that Tegan and Sara might be one of the most criminally under-appreciated acts in American music today.  The reason that I say this as though it might be even a remotely controversial statement to make is because I’ve heard numerous complaints of the opposite, that they’re actually overrated.  The only possible explanation that I can come up with for this is that people somehow get wrapped up in all of the surrounding bullshit that comes with the band.  Perhaps some people can’t get past their Lilith Fair beginnings (a grouping that has always been a bit ill-fitting for their music), perhaps people are distracted by the fact that they’re identical twins, and lesbians…  and Canadians (I’m not messing with you, they’re really Canadian).   But to get wrapped up in any of this is pretty much pointless, as it doesn’t really reflect the music.  Hell, I’m not entirely sure what kind of music all that would reflect in the first place.  What Tegan and Sara have been consistently creating for six LP’s now is an ever sharper and more carefully refined body of music.  To casually dismiss it almost seems criminal.

On their latest release, Sainthood, the sisters Quin find themselves just a bit older than when we last heard them.  In fact, they’re rapidly closing in on thirty (when the hell did that happen), but if we’re to believe the music, they haven’t necessarily become to much wiser in love.  Like most of their songs past, the lion’s share of the tracks deal with love found and lost, and the joy and anguish of relationships.  While this may sound overtly tweeny, the skilled presentation and variety in musics layers prevent the content from ever becoming too formulaic.

For example, on the album’s opener, “Arrow,” you can hear that Tegan and Sara are adding a bit of an edge to their sugary pop.  The guitars just hit a little harder and the edges just seem a bit darker than much of their previous music.  This trend is continued on “Don’t Rush,” which adopts a similarly heavy electronic sound.   But the album really kicks off with “Hell,” which, in addition to be being one of the stronger tracks on the album, is Sainthood‘s first single.  The song features a much chunkier electric guitar than the first couple tracks and a catchy hook that sticks with you after the very first listen.  I was also struck by the confident sense of self awareness that’s present in the track’s lyrics and lines like; I know you feel it too, these words get overused.This trend is only more apparent on the very next track “On Directing,” when the song’s subject is asked to “go steady with me,” before wryly adding “I know it turns you off when I, I get talking like a teen.” The girls may as well have been talking about me as a listener, yet I was completely won over by the dry humor that they managed to cram in just between the lines.  (On a random but cinematically connected  note, I was similarly pleased to discover that the song “Red Belt” was named for, but not about, the fabulous David Mamet movie of the same name about a MMA fighter.)

This 1980’s and New Wave-inspired pop is far from entirely new to the band.  In fact, much of Sainthood is almost indistinguishable from Tegan and Sara’s last album The Con. However, there’s undoubtedly some further fine-tuning and tweaking going on here.  Some of the credit has to be due to the continued influence of Chris Walla (of Death Cab For Cutie fame) as a producer on the album, considering the fact that the production is extremely tight from beginning to end.  As such, it’s also far from shocking that some of the peppier and more plainly pop songs are where Tegan and Sara really thrive.  Tracks like “The Cure” and “The Ocean” are immediately listenable and infectiously catchy.  What’s impressive about both tracks is how they are able to subtly deconstruct the typical break-up song without losing any of the clever lyrics or soaring hooks in the process.  I can’t but help suspect that Tegan and Sara are secretly grinning as they unleash lyrics like; “All I said to you, all I did for you, seems so silly to me now” and “So, it’s been so long since you said, ‘well I know what I want, what I want’s right here with you.” This is the real beauty of their music, how they’re able to continue to tone their sound and elevate the subject matter without ever explicitly changing it.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t given in to the urge to break down the music into “Tegan songs” and “Sara songs.”  One reason for this is that I’ve never found the practice to be completely useful when evaluating the music.  On another note though, Sainthood also contains the first song that the girls cowrote with one another.  The song, “Paperback Head,” is plenty enjoyable, even if it’s a bit dense lyrically (I’m not exactly sure precisely it is that they’re trying to strike upon when they invoke the image of the “material girl”).   But even more importantly, it’s not all that strikingly different from any of the other songs on the album!  In fact, I would say that the divide between Tegan and Sara’s styles is narrower here than it has ever been.  Gone are the days when I could identify who wrote each song upon a single listen.  Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that the last two songs on the album, by far the two best, were each written by a separate sister.  “Sentimental Time” is a result of Sara’s songwriting, yet the lyrics are less gloomy and more playful than hers have been in the past, the hook a little more sweepingly uplifting.  Meanwhile, “Someday” comes from the Tegan side of the pair, but features plainly adorable lyrics that contain a Moldy Peaches type of frankness that simultaneously display a level of layered pop sophistication that Kimya Dawson has yet to touch upon, all this despite the fact that Sara has always been the sister more celebrated lyrically.  This is all a sign that the pair is continuing to grow musically, and that they have managed to keep a tired musical formula from growing too monotonous or stripped too bare just yet.

SCORE: 3.9 out of 5.0

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“Green Zone” Trailer

Paul Greengrass has been on a real roll his last few times out of the gate.  He took over the helm of the Bourne franchise from Doug Liman and tweaked the winning formula for big returns with the Bourne Supremacy.  Then he turned his lens to real-life events and despite cries of “too soon,” he crafted an anguishing and artful film with United 93.  Last time out, surpassed his first Jason Bourne movie with the super popular (originally supposed to be last) Bourne Ultimatum.  Well, based on what I see out of this Green Zone trailer, the director is still operating in peak form.  Now, anytime Greengrass and Matt Damon get together, it’s bound to be some entertaining film, but doesn’t this look to be a particularly special brand of kickass?

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John Kerry is back in the public eye in a big way these days, largely due to his role in helping to deal with the hotly contested elections in Afghanistan.  As the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and with Afghanistan very much on President Obama’s mind, Afghanistan is a topic which Kerry is very much towards the center of, and according to Monday’s Washington Post, Kerry rejected plans for a troop increase in the region, finding such a surge to be too drastic and premature.

From the Post:

“Kerry said that additional U.S. troops should not be committed to new areas of Afghanistan unless three conditions were met: that there were enough reliable Afghan forces to work with; that there were effective local leaders; and that civilian teams were available to follow the troops and provide development assistance.”

While these conditions seem to be a reasonable set of criteria for an effective troop surge, they don’t seem the kind of criteria which are going to be met in the near future.  At the very least, with the admission that Afghanistan’s recent election was illegitimate, it would stand to reason that there at least needs to be another runoff election before any of these conditions could seriously be considered reachable.  It’s still unclear with the President’s goals for the region, which on the surface would indicate a pending escalation, how Kerry’s advice will influence President Obama’s decision.

Kerry’s thoughts were somewhat at odds with the recommendations of General McChrystal, who has been calling for more troops.  Also from the article;

“A confidential analysis by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal obtained by The Washington Post last month argued that the eight-year U.S. effort in Afghanistan probably would fail unless more American forces were dispatched soon. In a separate report, McChrystal offered a range of possible troop levels, but he said the president’s goals were most likely to be met if 30,000 to 40,000 more military were deployed.”

Now, it’s hardly a unique occurrence for a General to be seeking more troops and more support on the ground, let’s face it, that’s his job.  However, Afghanistan has been somewhere towards the front of the President’s foreign policy plans, and as pressure builds from the public for the President to start yielding some results on that front, it will be interesting to observe the pace at which manpower increases on the ground.  One thing that does seem certain, though, is that John Kerry’s political star is very much back on the rise, even if the effect that this will have on the future of American relations with Afghanistan is still very much yet to be determined.

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We can go ahead and add the band whose name we do not say to the list of groups that have released really solid albums this year.  After the success of Street Horrrsing (“Sweet Love For Planet Earth” is pretty epic, right?), there was going to be a lot of pressure heaped onto Tarot Sport, especially given the close proximity of the release.  Fortunately, though, the Fuck Buttons (shit, I went and said it) were up to the task.  This video for “Surf Solar” has been around for a while now, but the song is really good, so I’m belatedly posting it anyway.  The video is directed by the Andrew Hung half of the band, and pretty much fits the theme that you’ve seen from their album covers and other music videos to date.  It’s definitely worth a watch and a listen.  Whence finished watching, head over to the band’s MySpace page, their official site, or the site for ATP Recordings to buy Tarot Sport or find out where you can hear the band live.

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