This is my rolling spotify playlist of favorite 2014 songs, idk. If you have one pass it on.
Earlier this week we looked at how gender can affect music listening preferences. In this post, we continue the tour through demographic data and explore how the age of the listener tells us someth…
And this is even MORE interesting. What’s the crossover in tastes between a 13-year old and a 64-year old (who use the Echonest service)? About 35% as it turns out.
A weird thing about this article is how similar those photos of Roy Orbison and Skrillex are. The Skrillex one is photoshopped, but still - funny!
juanalikesmusic asked: What do you think of the new St. Vincent album? I know that you don't like how her career has progressed and since this new album is being highly acclaimed I was interested to know what you think about it.
I’ve only listened to it twice and, while I will listen to it more and form a stronger opinion, my snap judgment is that I think the downward trend is continuing with her albums. I think what you said in your earlier post about it being mega-St.Vincent but not really Annie Clark is very pointed; I think that even with the imagery surrounding the record (the publicity shots, the cover), she is kind of morphing into late-period Tim Burton, where it all comes off a bit too spastic and weird for the sake of being spastic and weird, disappearing into a character and losing track of the heart at the center. Maybe that’s the point; some of the album’s imagery suggests as much. I do like art rock and don’t want to suggest she not follow a more eccentric muse, but I think she found a nice balance between the art and rock two albums ago and I’m not wild about her adventures deeper down that rabbit hole.
Along those lines, it all reminds me of Station to Station-era David Bowie, which is not Bowie’s most-spastic album but arguably his most paranoid, coked-out album. Not saying Clark does cocaine, in fact she seems very healthy, but the album sounds like a cocaine album (and she does sing about snorting the Berlin wall which, now that I think of it, is imagery that has multiple late-70s Bowie layers). On that album, Bowie disappeared into the Thin White Duke persona and sang about fearing his TV. So Clark shrinking into an alter-ego and doing the same all seems kind of familiar. Would I have liked Station to Station if I was my current age in 1976, or would I have thought it was kinda full of shit? I dunno.
The glowing reviews have in general disappointed me. Not because the critics like the album (there’s clearly a lot there to like!) but too many of the reviews seem to be reviewing Annie Clark the person and not St. Vincent the album — the album itself is almost treated as an afterthought — which is always bothersome to me, whether it happens with her or Kanye or Justin Vernon or whoever. But I get all that; Annie Clark the person is great! Right now I’m listening to her on the Nerdist podcast and it’s a wonderful interview. She’s phenomenally talented and someone worth admiring — virtually anyone you can compare to Station-era Bowie with a straight face is worth admiring — I just wish I liked her current music more.
All this said, I do think “Birth in Reverse” is a cracking song. I just don’t want an album of it, at least for the time being.
I got a new phone two weeks ago, and was surprised to find it came with the phrase “lifelong companion” written in robotically elegant cursive across the top of the lock screen. Being a techno-idiot, I had no idea how to remove this, so I tried instead to find an image to match. I originally had a picture my son on my lockscreen, but that wouldn’t do. I swapped it out for a photo of my wife, which seemed the natural choice, but even that seemed really weird. You don’t necessarily want a reminder of your marriage vows and (by default) death’s inevitability every time you get a a text message. At long last, it occurred to me that the “lifelong companion” was not intended for the subject of a photograph, but for the phone itself.
That may have been the point of Her. I don’t know; I was too busy looking at the clothes. I’m skeptical of digital filming, projection, and HD in general — for a host of reasons — but one thing I love is how these tools frame clothing and fabric in such extreme focus that it feels like you can reach into the screen and run your hand across them. You can practically count the fibers in Her’s cardigan sweaters and high-waisted wool pants, and it’s the perfect film for to have that level of texture in it — it’s a course counter to Spike Jonze’s sleek, technologically advanced, near-future utopia.
Costume design plays a crucial role in every film, but it’s rarely laid out so plainly as with Her. Not only does the design add an impressive layer of detail (no denim, no leather) to the consistency and plausibility of this world — one can easily imagine entire catalogues that Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly may have shopped from — but also the wardrobes helped convey the film’s themes.
More on the clothes in a second; first, the themes. The “point” of Her is pretty much up for grabs, thanks to a script that spreads itself over a lot of thematic turf without committing heavily in one direction. It could be about love, tech, or gender. Or more. You hear how Phoenix’s character is an unlikable monster, and that’s true (if not terribly different from any protagonist of the Jonze-Kaufman-Gondry era of “indie” cinema). They all know they’re creating monsters. Her is the latest in a line of fairly typical movies in which an emasculated male seeks a woman who will save him without his having to apply much elbow grease, but who he can also feel superior to. That’s what a whole lot of “indie” rom-coms amount to, going back many years before Natalie Portman put those headphones on Zach Braff.
With that protagonist and overarching plot, along with a lush, melancholy tone similar to Beck’s sad-sack opus Sea Change (with a color palette not far from the album cover), Her seems like it should fall into that mold. And it does, but the science-fiction elements and the richer themes take it deeper than that. The standard arguments about gender can be shelved to some extent, because the movie is about the shifting of gender roles. It’s about the singularity — but not, as it seems on the surface, between people and technology (although there’s obviously that, too) but of men, women, technology, everything. There’s a harmony inherent to hypothetical utopian societies; a balance. The film explores what that means to the concept love.
This march to androgyny is apparent before you even enter the theater. The movie is called Her; on the posters, this pronoun is placed below a close-up photograph of a man drenched in pink and red, wearing a mustache so absurd-looking that it serves the opposite effect of the Ron Swanson. Looking at that poster, who are you supposed to think the “her” is referring to? The man is named Theodore Twombley — an oddly androgynous name, for reasons I can’t place (perhaps it’s the “womb” right there in the surname). He falls for a computer operating system called Samantha, a name that is often confused for a masculine name when shortened to Sam. Twombley writes other people’s correspondence for a living, no matter what the gender, race, or age of the letter’s intended author. He’s good at his job.
This is also where the fashion comes in. The ubiquitous button-downs, cardigans, and warm colors are worn by both genders, but it’s the much-ridiculed pants that are particularly fascinating. High-waisted pants have a unique place in the leveling of gender roles, having gained widespread popularity with women in the 1940s. The men were off in World War II, and women entered the blue-collar workforce to fill the vacancies. Pants were more practical, and furthermore, a shortage of money led many women to raid their husbands’ closets for clothes to wear. Coco Chanel was quick to hop on this trend, and began designing and marketing high-waisted trousers for women. The crew of Her captured this back for their own story about men and women inching closer still to equality.
The movie is more or less about everyone — including our technology, rapidly approaching artificial-intelligence levels — achieving singularity. The perspective that the film pushes the definition of love in the digital age is basically the same argument. That’s certainly where all the Buddhist imagery comes into play; there’s an old joke about the Buddhist monk at the hot-dog stand who says, “Make me one with everything.” And while that isn’t an accurate portrayal of Buddhist philosophy, there is some truth to it, and enough people believe it to be true that the repeated presence of Buddhism is a reliable signpost in your movie that is (ostensibly) about the singularity. Or maybe it is about Buddhism; all the reds, oranges, yellows, and pink in the fashion recall clothing worn by Buddhist monks. Life is long, and full of suffering, so it’s best to find companions where we can.
I’m going to write about some of my favorite movies of 2013 later in the week, but let’s start with my 8 least favorite.
- Before Midnight — Every generation is considered self-absorbed by those whose birthdays don’t fall in that arbitrary age-range — Millennials are labeled narcissistic selfie-shooters by Baby Boomers, who forever remain gluttonous society-ruiners. With Before Midnight, Generation X reminds us that it’s just as egotistical as any generation, disappearing up its own ass with the return of these vain and disgustingly entitled monsters (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who rub audiences’ faces in their privilege while whining about…oh, who cares. This series is like the Seven Up documentaries for people who didn’t realize Reality Bites was satire.
- Grown-Ups 2 — See the previous blurb, for the most part. Add poop, pee, and penis jokes.
- 12 Years a Slave — In which America’s darkest chapter is Britsplained to us through a thriller full of scenery-chewing villains, nods to torture flicks, vapid signifiers, celebrity cameos, needlessly showy shots, a climactic feel-good reunion, a hammy Hans Zimmer score, and Hollywood hunk Brad Pitt as the virtuous white guy who saves the day. That’s entertainnnnnment!
- Kick-Ass 2 — I can sort of see what they’re doing here, with a Troma-does-Spider-Man bit of irreverence and gore, but it’s much too hacky to even be a B-movie, with the uncomfortable hints of racist bullying left over from the first one and the comic book on which it’s based. No wonder Jim Carrey disavowed the film as soon as he saw the final product.
- Only God Forgives — I like pretentious things quite a lot, but only if it’s intelligent. This is dumb and pretentious, which is a cruel combination (see also: Arcade Fire’s latest). It’s too stuffy to be considered farce, and too immature to be taken seriously. People keep insisting that Ryan Gosling is not just a good meme but also a great actor. Are we 100% sure about this?
- The Purge — This cynical premise could have still made for a decent home-invasion horror premise but instead was a horribly executed and dull shoot-em-up. Nice year for Ethan Hawke.
- Epic — Now that computer animation is relatively cheap to produce, Hollywood is really letting some dumping some inedible slop in the family-film trough. See also, The Nut Job, currently in theaters.
- The Hangover Part III — I mean, do I even need to?
So I started this tumblr a couple years ago as “Tracks of Two Years Back.” I had some free time and wanted to stay sharp (and wanted to break free from the constraints of newspaper writing) and thought a weekly exercise would keep me disciplined and on a schedule. So every Sunday, I wrote about one song released that week two years ago. For the most part, it was fun and people seemed to like it and it produced some work I’m proud of.
Since then, I’ve accepted a new job, on top of business ownership and fatherhood and a freelance career, and I haven’t had the time or felt the necessity for a weekly exercise like that. Also, when the blog hit the two-year anniversary I was now writing about stuff that I’d already covered when it was current. So I’ve been lax with it all. I know some people followed me because of the weekly “two years” gimmick and I hope they’ve stuck around. I’m going to keep writing those, albeit more infrequently, along with current stuff and whatever else.
But since I just got done writing about 2011, I thought I’d conclude with a list of my favorite records from that year — a year that I didn’t and still don’t consider very good.
Here’s how I ranked things at the time. There are links to my essays on them, some of which are better than others (I like the tuneyards one the best).
- Destroyer, Kaputt (link)
- Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne (link)
- Eleanor Friedberger, Last Summer (link)
- Bon Iver, Bon Iver Bon Iver (link)
- TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light (link)
- The Roots, undun (link)
- Cass McCombs, Humor Risk (link)
- Okkervil River, I Am Very Far (link)
- Tune-Yards, w h o k i l l (link)
- Austra, Feel It Break
I don’t know about “best” but here is the order of albums I still listen to in 2014, ranked in order of how often I listen to them and how much I enjoy them.
- Eleanor Friedberger
- The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient
- Bon Iver
- TV on the Radio
- Cass McCombs
- Cut Copy, Zonoscope
That’s all I listen to (regarding the rap, I very rarely listen to modern rap albums more than 6 months after release). Not a very exciting, dynamic, or diverse list, which is probably why I don’t think 2011 was a very good year for music. That’s on me. But looking back at the releases from that year, that’s on the industry too.
Here are the other essays on 2011 I’m happy with:
Tracks of Two Years Ago
Cass McCombs, “Meet Me at the Mannequin Gallery,” released on Humor Risk, November 8, 2011
One of my favorite books as a child was a collection of ghost stories that I read in the back seat of my parents’ car until it fell apart. These were cheapie, campfire tales — a silent man is picked up by a carriage, disappears when the carriage passes over running water, stuff like that — but I believed them to be, if not true, then passed down from truth.
I can now only recall one story in particular. A man rents a house. He wakes up in the middle of his first night there and sees two white eyes staring at him at the end of the bed. The next evening: same thing. And again. Finally, driven mad with fear, he takes a pistol and shoots the ghost right square in the eye. And then he screams, his voice echoing over the cobblestone streets of the town. As it turns out, what he was seeing was not a ghost but his own feet sticking out from under the covers.
OK, it’s a dumb story. I was a kid.
Listening to Cass McCombs albums reminds me of reading that book. His songs are laden with shadows that don’t allow you to see the whole shape. If not true, they feel passed down from truth. Regret and loss poke at the edges of his stories, half-obscured in the fog in such a way that the ghosts his narrators are shooting at may just be their own feet. His choices of subject matter are unusual, and he never makes plain what it is about a subject that is compelling to him — you have to figure out what it is that is compelling to you.
Humor Risk is my favorite of his albums because I’ve figured most of that out. It’s ornate (more Henry James than Stephen King as ghost stories go), just like his other 2011 album, WIT’S END, but it’s more varied in theme and texture than that companion piece. Humor Risk is full of intrigue on songs like “Mystery Mail,” a ramble down Dylan Boulevard (“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” era, let’s say). The album even has its own ghost story: “To Every Man His Chimera” is a spaghetti Western of a song, a bride-done-wrong tale that feels like the open prairie but also has a background littered with answering-machine messages and barking dogs. More intrigue.
The whole album has held a steady place in my imagination since its release, but aside from the odd and opulent reflection on language “The Living Word,” “Meet Me at the Mannequin Gallery” — an odd an opulent reflection on beauty — is the song that returns to haunt me most often. Much of it comes down to the central, dreamlike imagery of a dusty old warehouse space full of vacant faces, but there’s also the hypothesis that “beauty” equates with “featurelessness” (something worth contemplating with the photoshopped-magazine-covers brouhaha that’s going on now), and I’ve always been struck by the phrasing of the chorus “meet….me…at the mannequin gallery,” which comes off like a tango in slow motion. And why does he want anyone to meet him there?
I don’t know. I also like that he removes all possibility that the “mannequin gallery” could be a metaphor for, say, a superficial party full of industry types. What would have been the fun in that?
The Hidden Cameras put out a new album this week, and I don’t recall seeing much coverage outside of a “Pitchfork Advance” run. In a way I get it; at this point they’re the kind of band that surprises you with a new release. Not because they work in secrecy but because they can’t possibly have enough fans to support a decade-plus career, and yet here they are again, with another reliably strong album. Good for them.
In 2004, I saw them open for Arcade Fire at the Bowery Ballroom. Funeral was just a month or two old, and the show was littered with industry people seeing what the fuss was about. This is usually the setting for the kind of unimpressive and unimpressed gig that is not uncommon in New York and Los Angeles, but Arcade Fire was so unbelievably strong back then — a band on the cusp of never having to worry about anything again and just going for it — that they basically worked the room like a pinball table. It was impossible to act unimpressed; you left the show thinking they were playing Madison Square Garden within a year.
I didn’t think The Hidden Cameras were going to achieve Arcade Fire-level success but I thought they were going places. Impressive in their own right, The Hidden Cameras had a big sound and communal vibe that was going around at the time. They were playing in support of Mississauga Goddam but the set (as I recall) leaned heavily on their subversive, anthemic, beautifully raunchy 2003 album The Smell of Our Own. They opened with “Golden Streams” (it’s about what you think it’s about) while tossing yellow streamers on the crowd. There was a lot of dancing on stage, stripping, wrapping each other up like mummies. It was loud and energetic, bracing and original, bacchanal and pansexual (frontman Joel Gibb refers to his band as “gay church music” for what it’s worth). I’m not sure why they never took off. Maybe it was the songs about urine and body odors.
I’ve seen Arcade Fire in concert once since then, on the very last concert of the Funeral album cycle, on a much bigger stage, and I thought it was only OK. They looked tired. I think Reflektor is a flatly terrible album, of the kind that makes you reassess what you liked about the band to begin with. I’ve never seen The Hidden Cameras again; I’ve wanted to but it’s been a time/place thing. Their albums stayed at a steady level of quality, and while Age may be slightly less exciting than the others, Gibb’s voice is still in golden form. I’m glad they stuck it out.
Carlos Reygadas’ 2012 film Post Tenebras Lux is generous with memorable imagery in a way that few films are. I mean, check out this trailer. It speaks for itself. If you’re interested, the film was released in the US last year and is now on Netflix Instant. There are many wonderful, awe-inspiring moments in this tale of a quietly broken family trying to keep the splinters together. These moments don’t quite add up to a solid whole — perhaps a reflection of the central family — but if you hunger for new images the way I do, that hunger should be satiated.
What I remembered most, however, was not any of the images but a bit of music. The mother (played by Nathalia Acevedo) sits at the piano and plays Neil Young’s “It’s a Dream.” She’s not much of a piano player and even less of a singer, but that makes the scene work much better than if she was. It’s not like Neil was ever much of a piano player or singer, but the cracks are what endears him to everyone. Every Neil Young song has a broken quality to it; every Neil Young song is sentimental. Only love can break your heart. Virtually all of Neil’s songs that aren’t 17-minute Crazy Horse jams beg to be played at a family piano by people who don’t sing well. There is no way to see that scene and not be moved.
The choice of song was also fascinating. Neil’s 2005 album Prairie Wind is not exactly well-loved (though it did lead to the well-liked concert film Neil Young: Heart of Gold), but I love it. Recorded after the death of Neil’s father and just before his own life-threatening aneurysm, this is the first album that made fans consider a world without Neil Young in it — much like Time Out of Mind was for Dylan fans — and it was a sobering thing to contemplate. Or at least it was for me. At the center of the album was “It’s a Dream,” a song that is clearly about noticing that time is running out, looking back on the time well spent, and living in the time that is currently slipping away. It’s got a bunch of hokey, aw-shucksy Neil Young imagery about fishin’ and trains and such, which only adds seasoning. Even the almost-saccharine Nashville strings make your heart grow.
This song is my favorite Neil Young song of the last 10 years, and something of a secret. To see and hear it cut through to the heart in a little movie from Mexico feels like a knowing wink from a stranger passing through the darkness.
1. Judy and the Dream of Horses
2. If She Wants Me
3. Lazy Line Painter Jane
4. The Boy With the Arab Strap
5. The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
6. Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying
7. The Blues Are Still Blue
8. Come on Sister
9. The State I Am In
10. The Stars of Track and Field
11. I’m Waking Up To Us
12. I Know Where the Summer Goes
13. I’m a Cuckoo
14. Funny Little Frog
15. The Ghost of Rockschool
16. I DIdn’t See It Coming
17. Your Cover’s Blown
18. Sleep the Clock Around
19. Another Sunny Day
20. I Don’t Love Anyone
It’s a snowy day and I’m cleaning and this is what I’m doing. That top ten pretty much stands with any band’s top ten.