Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unbeatable, or Nearly So

1) If Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t win the Best Director Oscar next year, the glass ceiling will have another 18 million cracks in it, as a result of the sheer awesomeness of her achievement. Also, I will weep. Roger Ebert called The Hurt Lockera return to strong, exciting narrative” and “a film shot clearly so that we know exactly who everybody is and where they are and what they're doing and why.” That’s no small point, and I’m glad critics have been picking up on this. The Hurt Locker is not only the best-directed movie in a while, but also the rare action movie that seems to have been directed at all, rather than assembled from barely usable fragments in the editing room.

Note: I’ve just learned that Yogurt agrees, generally, though maybe not with all my wretched phrasings.

2) That a song as huge as “Funnel Cloud” was made by a trio (The Sleepover Disaster), and seemingly with a minimum of overdubs, is a fact almost more astonishing than the song itself. Here’s a perfectly patterned rock song, one that’s simultaneously monstrous and beautiful. It’s the best song this year and the crowning achievement on Hover, which alternately recalls a number of diverse vintage shoegazing bands, while always proving the musicians versatile and virtuosic, never generic. Rock.

3) I’m finally catching up with For Against’s Shade Side Sunny Side, which already strikes me, belatedly, as one of the best albums of 2008. For (not against) newcomers, the band formed in Lincoln, Nebraska in the mid 80s, sounding much more like the British post-punk bands of five years before (Chameleons, Comsat Angels, Cure, Sound) than like anything that was happening in America at the time. Blame it on Nebraska. 1988’s December is every bit as gloomy as that other Lincoln fable, Boys Don’t Cry. And I don’t mean the Cure album, though I would compare December to that band’s Seventeen Seconds, with its sharp melodies set against a dismal landscape. For Against always set their own style though. The drums with those super-tight toms; Jeffrey Runnings’ sweet, clear, choirboy voice.

Twenty years later, the band are contemporaries of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr, bands that realize that the dense, deep, intricate guitar rock of their youths is good enough to spend a whole life pursuing. All these bands have ceased pushing musical boundaries, but continue to explore new emotional terrain. And speaking of emotional terrain, Shade Side Sunny Side is a peculiar title. 2002’s Coalesced walked the sunny side, with its considerable jangle quotient, while the new disc seems all shade. It’s some of the most enveloping late night headphone guitar-drums-and-voice music I’ve heard in ages.

Note: All the aforementioned For Against albums are available from Words on Music, located down on University Ave in Minneapolis. Words on Music was also responsible for an attractive reissue of The Lucy Show’s Mania a couple years ago. The label doesn’t seem to do much more than re-release lost post-punk classics and release new For Against albums. But they do those two things very well, and they have a $5 summer sale.

4) I’m a bit surprised, but not too much, that an album with ambitions as modest as Jeremy Jay’s Slow Dance continues to be my favorite of this year. It has a winning romantic sensibility, and an idea about the world. It ostensibly takes place in some L.A. where it’s never very warm, where angels walk the streets and solemn couples dance by the fireplace (or where lonely men long to do so). Even so, and despite the album’s slick and simple pop songs, you might imagine Jeremy Jay hunkered down in the Chelsea Hotel in the mid 70s, looking out at the dark and lonely night and smiling about the loveliness of it all. There has certainly been more accomplished music released this year, but Slow Dance is a singular experience that can tell you what life is worth.

5) Wuthering Heights is weird, in all meanings of the word. Mostly those having to do with the supernatural, the strange, and the fated. I don’t know how to account for half of the violent and bizarre behavior in the novel (except as it relates to the incestuousness of life on the moors) but it bewitches me utterly. I picked the book up while reading The Book of Night Women, after realizing I was out of practice with older British prose. Marlon James’ style has much more in common with the books that would have been available to his characters, than it does with anything being written today.

6) My life has become consumed completely by the spectre of Bradford Cox. Despite not knowing the guy, I feel I can say what Catherine says about Heathcliff: “I am Bradford.” There’s this interview where he talks about his childhood and his loves, there’s his very cool blog, and there’s his new album cover, which is either brave or brazen, and very selective about what it reveals. His music is great, too.

Bonus: Three more rad songs

a) The Fiery Furnaces’ “Lost At Sea” has some of the best Pavement crunch I’ve heard in a while.

b) Rediscovering Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville has been groovy, especially now that I am the same height as the first song.

c) Lloyd Cole’s “Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?” isn’t the best song on Rattlesnakes, and I was initially suspicious of its oversold charms. But: its loveliness is ultimately undeniable. Highlights include the spot-on lyrics about cynical friends, and, well, the hook, after that opening guitar picking. Woosh.

Also, download this and get with this.


aaron said...

i agree about kathryn bigelow and "the hurt locker" wholeheartedly. with no small debt to "the wire", the film manages to be blunt and relentless yet very subtle. that first scene is a masterpiece all by itself.

theory: the (very awful) end of the film was tacked on/mandated by the studio. it seems very out of place, much more ideological and much dumber than the rest of "the hurt locker".

Geoff said...

You mean the minute or so after the return home? You're probably right. I don't think it's awful, but it does reduce a subtle (as you said) movie to a single message, and not the one I most wanted to take away.