Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Death Cab For Cutie: The Complete Discography

Calum Marsh

Death Cab For Cutie - A Movie Script Ending EP
Rating: 8.0

You know the scene: 'Movie Script Ending' is playing in the Cohen car when Summer disses the sound. "Never insult Death Cab", Seth quips, standing up, for the first time, to his obsession. It's a great single with an equally great B-Side ('Photobooth'); probably worth picking up even if you have the orignal LP.
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Death Cab For Cutie - Death Cab For Fiver 7"
Rating: 5.8

Surprisingly bad. Avoid.


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Death Cab For Cutie - Forbidden Love EP
Rating: 7.9

Though the two alternate version of album tracks available here (an acoustic version of '405' and an alternate cut of 'Company Calls Epilogue') aren't much to get excited about, the two brand new B-Sides, 'Technicolor Girls' and 'Song For Kelly Huckabee', are terrific. If you're interested in picking up some rare Death Cab EPs, this is as safe bet.
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Death Cab For Cutie - Plans
Rating: 5.2

Dreadfully disappointing. I know it's trendy to whine about Death Cab's latest LP, but it's not that they "sold out" - it's just that they stopped making good music. There are two, maybe three good songs on this disc - the rest is completely (and tragically) disposable. I miss you, Ben Gibbard.
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Death Cab For Cutie - Prove My Hypotheses 7"
Rating: 7.7

The title track is reasonably fair, but that's not why we're here: 'Wait', this single's B-Side, is one of the best Death Cab songs ever. It's amazing that it was excluded from the LP, but I suppose its rarity only adds to the charm.

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Death Cab For Cutie - Something About Airplanes
Rating: 8.2

It's not a particularly great album, but it's an enjoyable release from what may be a great band. When I saw them live last year, they played a track from this album. They prefaced it by saying "you probably won't know this song, it's an old one". I hope he's wrong, because it'd be a shame if Death Cab fans were ignoring the band's beginnings. There's a lot to like here.
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Death Cab For Cutie - Stability EP
Rating: 8.9

Though it's only a few short songs long, the Stability EP is the single strongest record Death Cab For Cutie have ever released. The Bjork cover ('All Is Full Of Love') is surprisingly tight, opener '20th Century Towers' is very enjoyable, and the previously unenjoyable 'Gridlock Caravans' is a lot of fun - but it's the title track, 'Stability', that steals the show. Though it appears on Plans as an alternate (and stupidly shortened) version, it's here, in its rough extended form, that it really hits home.
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Death Cab For Cutie - The John Byrd EP
Rating: 8.8

Death Cab fans looking for new material will be sorely disappointed with The John Byrd EP, but nobody can deny that this is probably the best collection of the band's material available. This works as both an excellent introductory course for new fans or a reasonably priced compilation for Cabbies on a budget.
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Death Cab For Cutie - The New Year 7"
Rating: 5.9

'The New Year' (the song, that is) works well as an album opener but falls weirdly flat as a stand-alone single. 'TV Trays', the otherwise unavailable B-Side, is an unfortunate disappointment.

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Death Cab For Cutie - The Photo Album
Rating: 8.4

Very, very good. Like Airplanes, it might not be a great album in and of itself - but I can't deny this record's wealth of fantastic material. Interesting to note is that most of this LP's strongest tracks can be found on various other Death Cab releases (most notably The John Byrd EP and Stability), which might be a smarter investment than this.
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Death Cab For Cutie - Transatlanticism
Rating: 8.8

Before Transatlanticism, Death Cab For Cutie whose songs you used to flesh out mix tapes and recommend to your friends. They were good, sure, but they wrote great songs, not albums. Oh, but this stands as an exception. It's near-perfect and uncharacteristically solid. I hope this doesn't go down as "the last great Death Cab album", but if Plans is any indication of things to come, it might.
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Death Cab For Cutie - We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes
Rating: 7.7

It's good, but not great. We Have The Facts lacks the quirky charm of Airplanes and the solidarity of Transatlanticism, and although there are some spot-on tracks scattered about here, they're widely available elsewhere.
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Death Cab For Cutie - We Laugh Indoors EP
Rating: 5.0

Two alternate mixes and a live recording are exciting to some people, I guess, but they're the kind of cuts you find online; you definitely don't pay money for them. Like the majority of Death Cab singles and EPs, We Laugh Indoors feels extraneous and, to be honest, like a waste of goddamn money. Pass.
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Death Cab For Cutie - You Can Play These Songs With Chords
Rating: 5.1

Totally pointless. It seems like the majority of Death Cab's releases are shameless rehashes of their older material - what's going on here?

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Download:
Death Cab For Cutie - Wait
Death Cab For Cutie - Song For Kelly Huckabee
Death Cab For Cutie - Photobooth

Buy:
Death Cab For Cutie - Transatlanticsm
Death Cab For Cutie - Plans
43 comments

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Xiu Xiu: The Complete Discography

Calum Marsh

People really have a problem with Jamie Stewart. I love Xiu Xiu, but I can understand that: this isn't easy music to like. It's abrasive, challenging, and it often sounds bad - that is, the sounds aren't very pleasant, they're cacophonous. But music that sounds pleasant isn't good by default (Coldplay songs sure are pretty, aren't they?), and, by the same logic, music that doesn't sound pleasant isn't necessarily bad. Think about painting: it isn't the job of the visual art critic to determine the value of a painting based on whether or not the work looks nice - there are ghastly, frightening, and indeed even ugly paintings that are masterpieces, and for good reason. There's more to art criticism - any art, not just visual - than aesthetics.

A lot of people don't buy that line of thought, I know. Many people - people whose opinion I value and intelligence I respect - think that if sounds bad, it is bad; if it looks bad, it is bad; and so on. And that's fair enough. But I think it's worth exploring things more deeply. It's like the discussions I have about the artistic skill: people always blow off certain forms of art altogether - mostly modern, abstract, Dadaism - because they think it's "easy to do". Someone will look at an abstract painting and scoff, "I could have painted that". To those people, a painter is only good if his work looks "realistic", if it looks like a photograph. Yeah, yeah - it's so easy to say that. Never mind that painting shouldn't have to approximate reality literally because we've got photography for that, never mind that it's often the goal of a contemporary painter to think beyond traditional modes of expression and attempt to represent ideas and emotions in other ways - no, no, that doesn't matter. What matters is that they could have painted it. That's all that counts. Hear that guitar solo? I could have played that - therefore this song sucks. If it isn't difficult to do, it isn't good. Sigh.

I don't want to get into this discussion (it gets me riled up), but it's just like Xiu Xiu: a lot of art - indeed, most of the best art - requires that you think about it, really think about it, far beyond surface qualms. It doesn't look realistic? It doesn't sound pretty? Okay, fair enough. But that isn't a good complaint. Ask why it looks unrealistic. Why did the artist do that? Why does that matter? What does that do? Keep asking questions, then maybe you'll get it. And if you keep asking questions and you're still not satisfied, then you've got something to criticise.

Okay, so, time to give Xiu Xiu another chance. Here you go:


Xiu Xiu - A Promise
Rating: 8.5

Though it doesn't quite reach the soaring heights of Fabulous Muscles, A Promise remains one of Xiu Xiu's most remarkable records. It's not without it's flaws and it sounds considerably less refined than his later work, but there are enough memorable moments here to warrant your attention.
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Xiu Xiu - Chapel Of The Chimes EP
Rating: 6.9

This brief EP was released only a few short months after Xiu Xiu's debut LP, and that rush hurts what could have been something much more definitive. A few of these tracks feel like album leftovers, but the surprisingly catchy (yes, a catchy Xiu Xiu song!) cover of Joy Division's 'Ceremony' more than makes up for those shortcomings.
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Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
Rating: 10.0

Utterly flawless. Fabulous Muscles is one of the best albums of the past few years, and has a firm place on my list of favourite records ever. I can't recommend this disc highly enough. Of particular note is 'I Luv The Valley OH!', Xiu Xiu's recognizable and well liked songs. I'm sure even Casey can admit to enjoying that one.
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Xiu Xiu - Fag Patrol
Rating: 7.8

This stripped-down acoustic LP finds Jamie Stewart temporarily retiring his trademark abrasiveness and instead expressing himself more, well, quietly. Anyone turned off by Xiu Xiu's tendency to be so damn weird will appreciate the surprising reservation of Fag Patrol. As much as I enjoy those classic fits of strange rage, it's admittedly much easier to enjoy Jamie Stewart when he's not scaring the hell out of you.
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Xiu Xiu - Knife Play
Rating: 8.5

It's bizarre and at times downright disturbing, but Xiu Xiu's debut album is undeniably unlike anything you've ever heard before. This record basically split indie kids into two groups: those that adored Jamie Stewart and those that wanted him to shut the hell up. See also: Calum and Casey.
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Xiu Xiu - La Foret
Rating: 8.0

Xiu Xiu's most recent recording is top-notch, but it's still a baby step back from its epic predecessor Fabulous Muscles. It isn't as immediately affecting as any of his earlier work, but it's considerably less flawed too. Probably the most "solid" Xiu Xiu record to date, and a sign of more good things to come.
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Xiu Xiu - Life And Live
Rating: 6.0

Though Xiu Xiu puts on a mesmerizing live show (the best I've ever seen, in fact), the simple fact that live albums are inherently terrible stops this from being any good. If you want to hear a Xiu Xiu show, see one.

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Xiu Xiu & Devendra Banhart - Split 7"
Rating: 7.8

Xiu Xiu's cover of Devendra Banhart's 'Body Breaks' is all well and good, but Devendra Banhart steals the show with his ingenious take on Xiu Xiu's spoken-word attack on the US Army 'Support Our Troops'. Hilarious but creepy.
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Xiu Xiu & This Song Is A Mess But So Am I - Split 7"
Rating: 2.0

Xiu Xiu's loves these guys, and why shouldn't he? They sound exactly like him - except, you know, they're terrible. Too bad, because Xiu Xiu's track (an alternate version of Rose Of Sharon, one of the best songs on La Foret) is great.
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Download:
Xiu Xiu - I Luv The Valley OH!
Xiu Xiu - Fast Car (Tracy Chapman Cover)
Xiu Xiu - I Broke Up
Xiu Xiu - Jennifer Lopez (Sweet Science Version)
Xiu Xiu - Ceremony (Joy Division Cover)
Xiu Xiu - Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw

Buy:
Xiu Xiu - Life & Live
Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
26 comments

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bright Eyes: The Complete Discography

Calum Marsh

Long ago in the world of indie rock, way before we could locate Illinois on a map, there was one man we could all turn to when we needed someone who understood why we were so sad (oh, how nobody understands). He knew that girls are mean and that George Bush is bad. He screamed a lot and tried to sing off-key. He looked like Winona Ryder. His name was Conor Oberst.

Conor Oberst - Bright Eyes, that is - used to be pretty well liked. He scrapped together a bunch of lovely records and promised us that everything was going to be okay. Things were going really well for him, too. He got his shit together and recorded a sort of sad-kid epic which was adored by fans and respected by critics, an album simply titled Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil Keep Your Ear To The Ground.

In 2005, Conor grew up a little. He grew weary of his trademark sad-boy bit and decided to change musical gears. Early that year he recorded and released I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, and album which was even more adored by fans and respected by critics than its predesesor. Conor was getting name dropped on The O.C., his songs were getting radio play, and his album was a huge financial success.

Oh, but indie kids are afraid of success. When their favourite band is on The O.C. (which they never watch, of course...), or on the radio (which they never listen to, either), or is, you know, making money, it's no longer cool to like them. Hipsters everywhere hid their signed copies of Fevers & Mirrors and made sure their hair didn't swoop over their eyes. They called Conor "emo" - a terrible hex, one with no discernable meaning and nothing but nasty connotations - and turned their backs on him forever.

Fuck those idiots. Conor's still awesome, and although he's not perfect, he's still recorded some seriously solid albums - and here they are, convieniently listed and reviewed for your reading pleasure. If you're not bothered about Bright Eyes anymore or if you've never given him a chance, I urge you to take a look at this list and give these records a spin. Remember: emo doesn't bite, it cries.

Bright Eyes - A Collection Of Songs
Rating: 2.8

A Collection brings together numerous tracks that Conor recorded before he, you know, knew how to write songs. 'Driving Fast Through A Big City At Night' is perfect as a segue track on any number of moody mix tapes, but this album doesn't have much else worth hearing. Pass on this one.
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Bright Eyes - Digital Ash In A Digital Urn
Rating: 6.2

Conor's attempt at electro-emo is mostly bland and uninteresting, though not offensively bad. It's not much overall, but a couple of solid tracks makes Digital Ash prime iTunes cherrypicking material.

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Bright Eyes - Don't Be Frightened Of Turning The Page EP
Rating: 8.2

It breaks down like this: three absolutely fantastic tracks ('No Lies, Just Love'; 'Going For The Gold'; 'You Are The Roots'), an okay one ('Kathy'), and two miserable piles of garbage ('Mirrors'; 'I Won't...'). It's your call.

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Bright Eyes - Every Day & Every Night EP
Rating: 9.2

This is without a doubt the Bright Eyes record. We've got five perfect songs that together encompass every thematic and creative idea Conor ever thought up. If this doesn't win over Bright Eyes detractors, nothing will.
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Bright Eyes - Fevers & Mirrors
Rating: 7.8

An interesting but seriously flawed sophmore album, Fevers definitely tries to do too much but has enough heart to overcome its own shortcomings. Some of the best Bright Eyes tracks can be found here.

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Bright Eyes - First Day Of My Life EP
Rating: 6.5

People are pretty crazy about First Day Of My Life's B-Side 'When The President Talks To God, but it doesn't really do it for me. It's excruciatingly heavy-handed and kind of boring, to be honest. You hate Bush, Conor? Save it for a Rock Against Bush compilation.
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Bright Eyes - Gold Mine Gutted EP
Rating: 7.0

'Easy/Lucky/Free' and 'Gold Mine Gutted' are the two best songs on Digital Ash, but the exclusion of any new material prevents this EP from being worthwhile. Why'd they even bother?
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Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Rating: 9.2

Conor's most recent record is also his finest. I'm Wide Awake made Bright Eyes a household name (slight exaggeration, yes), and rightfully so. The 'new Dylan' tag might have sounded silly before, but it may indeed be warrented now. It seems that Conor's future looks Bright - ha.
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Bright Eyes - Letting Off The Happiness
Rating: 6.7

I'd hate to describe this record as 'raw', but I can't think of a better word. Feeling like shit? Play 'If Winter Ends' loud enough and it all suddenly makes sense again. Sure, it's self-absorbed and dramatic, but that matters not when you're blue. Hmm, now where's my drink?

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Bright Eyes - Lifted, Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground
Rating: 8.8

Lifted is widely known as the "seminal" Bright Eyes record, and for good reason. There are a whole lot of great songs to be found here, and it's probably the best starting point for new listeners.
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Bright Eyes - Lua EP
Rating: 5.8

'Lua' might be the best song on I'm Wide Awake, but the other tracks found on this disc are just plain awful. It's a reminder that sometimes B-Sides are cut from the album because, well, they suck. Next please...

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Bright Eyes - Motion Sickness
Rating: 5.7

I very much enjoyed the Bright Eyes concert I saw last year, but I can't say the same for this live album. To be fair, live albums are very rarely any good; Motion Sickness is no exception.

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Bright Eyes - Take It Easy (Love Nothing) EP
Rating: 8.0

Digital Ash gives the impression that Conor can't make an interesting electronic song - strange, then, that this EP features two excellent electronic tracks that are both better than the majority of the material on the LP. 'Cremation', a lush ambient soundscape, is particularly stunning.

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Bright Eyes - There Is No Beginning To The Story EP
Rating: 4.0

'Messenger Bird's Song' is perceptive and pitch-pefect, but this an otherwise tiring expedition through characteristically whiny album leftovers. Boring, bland, and downright tepid - one of the shittiest Bright Eyes recordings ever.

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Download:
Bright Eyes - Going For The Gold
Bright Eyes - Drunk Kid Catholic
Bright Eyes - Silver Bells (Christmas Song)
Bright Eyes - Easy/Lucky/Free
Bright Eyes - Gold Mine Gutted
Bright Eyes - A Perfect Sonnet
Bright Eyes - True Blue
Bright Eyes - The Invisible Gardener
Bright Eyes - A Line Allows Progress, A Circle Does Not
Bright Eyes - Spring Cleaning

Buy:
Bright Eyes - Fevers & Mirrors
Bright Eyes - Lifted
Bright Eyes - Every Day & Every Night
23 comments

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Velvet Underground & Nico Revisited

Jonathan Migneault


The blogosphere has always had a tendency toward constant forward motion, only rarely ever looking back (and toward insular navel-gazing, of which I intend to commit herein). This is a direct side-effect of our easy-access to cheap or free music via current technology, and the vastly overpopulated blogosphere and competition that implies. As with most aspects of technology there is both good and bad associated with this.

On the positive side, the average person can be exposed to much more new music than ever before. An entire world of new and amazing artists is literally at our fingertips. The distribution and promotional side of things has also been democratized. Bands can now promote themselves through MySpace, personal websites, blogs and countless other means. The success stories of bands like Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah and Beirut are testaments to blogs' influential clout.

On the negative side, our listening habits have been relegated to a fastfood-like mentality. iTunes' success, for example, has shown that the average consumer is content with a larger quantity of low fidelity music. Let's face it, an MP3 file does not sound nearly as good as a high quality vinyl or CD recording. The days when people took the time to listen to their vinyl records on high fidelity systems have past for most, and even CD consumption will likely soon dwindle to inconsequential numbers. Only audiophiles will continue this practice while the average consumer will settle for the convenience of digital files. This convenience also makes musical longevity much more difficult. People are often far too happy to move on to the next big thing while they leave yesterday's hot act behind.

My Old Kentucky Blog's recent string of cover-related posts gave me the idea to return to a nostalgic time (long before I was born, mind you) when the idea of the album prospered. I decided to go back in time to what I believe was the most important year in the history of rock n' roll. The year was 1967, the summer of love. It was a time that boldly redefined America's cultural and musical landscape. Among the notable albums released that year were the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Doors' debut self-titled album, Jimi Hendrix's Are You Exprienced and Cream's Disraeli Gears. One album, however, challenged people's conceptions of popular music more than any other. That album was The Velvet Underground & Nico.

Sometimes called the "banana album", due to Andy Warhol's quirky cover art, the album had an enormous influence despite its poor sales. It seemed that the few people who listened to the album all started their own bands (there's truth in every cliche). Of course, the Velvet Underground gained the recognition it deserved in the 1980's and their debut is now firmly entrenched as a cult masterpiece.

Lou Reed's dreamlike lyrics, Nico's transcendent vocals and the numerous exotic influences incorporated into the album made for a psychedelic experience that was way ahead of its time. Every alternative strand of rock music, from punk to post-rock, can be traced back to The Velvet Underground & Nico. Nirvana, Bjork, and every artist in between has been, at the very least, indirectly influenced by The Velvet Underground.

To post the original album in its entirety would be an exercise in futility (not to mention ethically questionable) as I'm sure most people reading this have listened to the album ad nauseam. Instead, I've decided to post my own covers mix of The Velvet Underground & Nico, featuring all the songs from the original album in the same order. The artists in this mix are as diverse as the band itself. All the bands bring their own sensibilities to the classic songs yet, for the most part, remain true to The Velvet Underground's sound.

I can think of no better way to illustrate The Velvet Underground's resounding influence on music today.

Download:
1. Belle and Sebastian - Sunday Morning (Live)
2. David Bowie & Lou Reed - I'm Waiting for the Man (Live)
3. R.E.M. - Femme Fatale
4. Jim O'Rourke - Venus in Furs
5. Echo and the Bunnymen - Run Run Run (Live)
6. Iron and Wine with Calexico - All Tomorrow's Parties (Live)
7. Billy Idol - Heroin
8. R.E.M. - There She Goes Again
9. Swarm's Arm - I'll be Your Mirror
10. Smile Kick - The Black Angel's Death Song
11. The Olivia Tremor Control - European Son

Buy:
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico
18 comments

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The State Of Things To Come

Geoff Trainor

Washington StateI don't know how I came across it, but I was browsing Wikipedia the other day and came across a list of bands from the state of Washington. Sure, some of them I knew of; there was of course that whole Seattle scene back in the early to mid 90s. There were others though that I had no clue. So, I'm bring the Washington State music scene to you in yet another Mocking Music list.

Yes, I am aware I left out a lot of bands. I tried to steer clear of obvious choices such as Nirvana, Soundgarden or Hole and present to you artists which aren't necessarily known for the scene they belong to. I also left out some indie favourites, but I am comfident with these 10.

Jimi Hendrix

10) Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze (MP3)
Years ago, me and a couple guys at work were talking about Hendrix and a girl came up and asked who he was. To which another said something along the lines of, "Oh, he's one of the Beatles, isn't he?". The sad thing is, she wasn't at all joking and the other one sort of took that as "Oh okay, yeah, I know him". That memory always sticks out whenever I think of him now.

9) Pretty Girls Make Graves - The Nocturnal House (MP3)
As I said previously, I am a sucker for a good band name. That means Pretty Girls Make Graves had points with me before I ever listened to them. Although I suppose it isn't entirely fair, as it isn't entirely original. But it has been proven that anyone can be inspired by a song title. Fortunately, they live up to their name...I mean in the sense that it is a fun name and they are a fun band.

Pretty Girls Make Graves

8) The Microphones - Samurai Sword (MP3)
There is something about this song that I've always liked more than any other from the band. I am a sucker for names/titles. Names of bands, titles of albums, or titles of songs. If you can hook me with a title, I am in. So what is special about the title Samurai Sword? To tell you the truth, I don't know what it is, perhaps the mystique behind the Samurai culture. Beyond that, I enjoy the barely audible vocals as sort of the background to the instrumentals.

7) Bikini Kill - Reject All American (MP3)
Back in the day, Casey & I took part in an extra curricular activity. Part of the group branched off into some sort of activist cheerleading, which we were all up for. Any excuse to wear a little red mini-skirt. Bikini Kill's brand of riot grrl is definitely the type of music we would warm up to. Except that we didn't warm up to anything. We did use cheers stolen from what should have been Oscar-nominated, Bring It On. Back then, there was some plans kicking around for a game of Anarchist Soccer or something where we took over a busy Charlottetown street and played soccer. Too bad that never materialized. [Casey: I'm not sure if the complete vague-tangent style of this summary makes it sound better or worse. The skirts were not mini, the legs were not bare, and the protests were hardcore. Thank you.]

Sleater-Kinney

6) Sleater-Kinney - Buy Her Candy (MP3)
Sleater-Kinney recently opened for fellow Seattle natives Pearl Jam. I was planning on going to see Pearl Jam when they were in Halfax last year, but tickets sold so quickly I never got the chance. Too bad, if I did I would have got to see Sleater-Kinney which would have been more worthwhile for me than Pearl Jam. I remember glaring at one Mocking Music visitor and sometimes commenter, Moe, when I had learned she was going. If you are reading this Moe, I am sending you the same icy glares.

5) Minus The Bear - Just Kickin' It Like A Wild Donkey (MP3)
This band is new to me, I liked their name and checked them out for the purpose of this article. I don't know what it is about Minus The Bear, but I really love them. The dry vocals are offset by vibrant beats and catchy hooks. This will be a band to watch for me.

Minus The Bear

4) Vendetta Red - Shatterday (MP3)
It has been a while since I listened to Between The Never And The Now, the band's last great album. The group broke up recently, perhaps due to the fact that they suck now. Well that isn't true, but their latest, Sisters of the Red Death was certainly not very interesting. Still, if you've never checked it out, I urge you to give "The Never..." a listen. You won't be disappointed. If you are, Casey takes all responsibility. [Casey: ?]

3) Pedro The Lion - The Fleecing (MP3)
I've been a fan of David Bazan's one-man, Pedro the Lion since the first time I heard Winners Never Quit, which was the first Pedro album I had been exposed to. While Control was a great album, it wasn't until Achilles Heel came out that I had been more happy with the band. Ester Drang and James McAlister are a welcome addition and help create what is one of my top ten album's of 2004. [Casey: The one band man is over, yo. Dead. Done.]

Pedro the Lion

2) Death Cab For Cutie - Sound of Settling (Acoustic) (MP3)
When talking about the best in indie rock, three names seem to be at the top of the list. Sufjan Stevens, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, and Death Cab's Ben Gibbard. I talked about Gibbard side-project, Postal Service, in a previous list. Gibbard's flagship band and has received a lot of recognition, including being the favourite band of OC character Seth (who really makes the show), and for good reason. That said, I still find it embarrassing that I don't own any Death Cab albums . . .

1)
Harvey Danger - Wine, Women & Song (MP3)
Harvey Danger used to be one of my favourite bands back in high school with their debut, Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?. Sure, Flagpole Sitta having as much airplay as it did, probably had a lot to do with it. The band is still released great albums though. Their latest, Little by Little was released for download, complete with liner notes, on the band's official website. So if you don't want to pay to check them out, just take a look around their website and spend the couple minutes (depending on connection speed) downloading Little by Little. If you like what you hear, buy it. [Casey: Just say no.]

Harvey Danger Cooking Up A Storm

It seems I've been saying this at the end of all my lists, but I think this one has definite potential for a follow-up. Besides the fact that there were a ton of bands I didn't include, there is also the possibility for other lists based on location. I suppose the obvious choice would be Montreal, but that is not something I'd like to do for the same reasons I left out the Seattle scene bands. Thoughts?

Download:
Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze
Pretty Girls Make Graves - The Nocturnal House
The Microphones - Samurai Sword
Bikini Kill - Reject All American
Sleater-Kinney - Buy Her Candy
Minus the Bear - Just Kickin' It Like A Wild Donkey
Vendetta Red - Shatterday
Pedro the Lion - The Fleecing
Death Cab For Cutie - Sound of Settling (Acoustic on Henry Rollins May 20th, 2006)
Harvey Danger - Wine, Women & Song

Buy:
Pretty Girls Make Graves - Elan Vital
Minus the Bear - Menos el Oso
Pedro the Lion - Achilles Heel
Harvey Danger - Little by Little

Related:
Cover Concerns? Call Casey (867-5309)
Can I Have That On The Side, Please?
Songs In The Key Of M
This Is A Long Song For Someone With Nothing To Think About
Sunny Days...
Who Are You Calling A Narcissist?
Jesus, Mocking Music Loves You Too
Yes, But Is It Heart?
The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
No Pan Troglodyte Business Here
Everything Is Automatic
8 comments

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Richard Kelly La La Loves Pixies, Radiohead

Calum Marsh

I sure do love when popular music is used in a movie. Southland Tales, the new Palme D'or-nominated feature by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), is set to feature a reasonably solid soundtrack of popular indie tracks from the past twenty years. Kelly, in a move that might seem just a tad excessive, is currently writing six Southland Tales prequels (they're graphic novels, not films, but still), one of which just happens to be titled 'Wave Of Mutilation'. I'm still waiting for Donnie Darko II: Where Is Your Mind?.

Here's the soundtrack so far:

Radiohead - Planet Telex
Pixies - Wave Of Mutilation
Blur - Tender
Jane's Addiction - Three Days
The Killers - All These Things That I've Done

Hmm. One of those doesn't quite fit. Okay, let's settle on Donnie Darko III: Hot Fuss.

Download:
The Killers - All These Things That I've Done
Radiohead - Vanilla Idiot (Mash-Up)
Pixies - Where Is My Mind?

Buy:
The Killers - Hot Fuss
Radiohead - Kid A
Donnie Darko - DVD

Related:
Settling The Score
8 comments

Settling The Score

Calum Marsh

I read an interesting article this morning over at Stereogum regarding the fall of the great movie soundtrack. They argue that while films of the nineties used popular music well (Pulp Fiction, High Fidelity, et al), recent examples are harder to think of. They're indie kids, so, of course, they commend the use of music in The Life Aquatic and Garden State, but go on to complain that few other directors are bothering to work good music into their movies. Now, I might not know much about music (though I certainly pretend to), but if there's one thing I do know, it's film. The same can't be said for the guy who wrote the Stereogum article - are The Life Aquatic and Garden State the only movies with good soundtracks, or are those the only two trendy indie movies this guy has seen? I'm guessing the latter.

I can think of plenty of contemporary movies that use good music, but I'll get to that later. I have a different problem with Stereogum's article: they assume it's okay to praise a movie strictly because it uses music that you're familiar with and enjoy. The question Stereogum is asking is "why are there no good movie soundtracks?". Better question: Is using licensed music in a movie such a good idea in the first place? Maybe not.

Consider a discussion I had recently with some friends about this very idea: My pal Laura notes that while music certainly can be used effectively, it runs the risk of ruining an otherwise engaging piece of singular art. A narrative fiction film can draw the viewer in, masking its own construction in order to make the viewer respond to its conventions; for two hours, reality gets put on hold and the viewers invest themselves - emotionally and otherwise - into the fictional world of the film. A recognizable piece of music, however - let's say, a single from your favourite indie rock group - can work against this effect; a song you know and love swelling on the soundtrack at the height of an emotional scene, for instance, can completely remove you from the moment - you're suddenly made aware that you're watching a film, and although that sort of thing can be done intentionally and quite well (yes, Godard), it's more often completely unintentional and ends up detracting from the film experience. An emotionally gripping scene demands the attention of the audience in order for it work - you need to be in that movie moment or it's just not going to resonate. If a character dies and Sigur Ros is playing, you're probably thinking, even for a second, "I love this song" - and by then they've already lost you.

I can think of a few examples of films that use music poorly. Last year's The Squid And The Whale, by newcomer Noah Bachbaum, was an interesting and reasonably good picture that was almost ruined as a result of its soundtrack. The song selections were solid and, for the most part, appropriately chosen, but so insistent was Bachbaum that every scene by underscored with these tunes that it was nearly impossible not to concentrate on it. Scenes which would have otherwise been emotional and interesting on their own were accompanyed by totally unnecessary musical assistance. It's as if Bachbaum feared that his images couldn't stand alone, opting for emotional overkill over confident standalone filmmaking. This is a classic case of cheating your audience. Instead of establishing a mood or a tone with powerful images or interesting writing, the filmmakers just throw on a song that has that mood or tone already built in. Want to make the audience weep? Better use some somber love ballad. Sure, and expert artist might make a challenging and rewarding cinematic experience, but who has the patience to bother with thoughtful craft? Well, that might be a tad harsh, but I'm convinced that the climax of The Life Aquatic, wherein the Zissou crew finally finds their Moby Dick to the sound of Sigur Ros's Staralfur, is only touching and moving because, well, Staralfur is a touching and moving song. This is all somewhat understandable, though - these are young guys who love music, and what better way to show off - er, I mean, show your love for hip music than by peppering your soundtrack with it?

The music that is being improperly used is singular, in that it stands as a piece of commendable art all on its own, as sound that evokes images rather than being tied to specific ones. Music invites the listener to imagine the world of the sound, and the emotion comes from a combination of sonic and lyrical artfulness. Sound plays a role in film, but only as one convention of many. The sound should compliment the images, it should be a layer no different than lighting or set design.

There are, of course, many movies that use licensed music well. Here, then, are ten songs which are used excellently in a movie.

The Five Best Instances Wherein A Song Is Used Effectively In A Movie...ever!

05. The Movie: Buffalo '66
The Song: Yes - Heart Of The Sunrise
How It's Used: Vincent Gallo's brilliant debut is pretty much perfect throughout, but the climactic shooting at a strip club, set to Yes's rollicking 'Heart Of The Sunrise', is a cut above the rest. Yes's song is already cinematic, in that it builds and bombasts like a throbbing action score, but it's recognizable a tune enough to warrant apprehension about its use on a soundtrack. It's fortunate, then, that the intense arthouse action sequence is striking and memorable enough to match the audacity of the song, allowing the two to blend seemlessly and, even more surprisingly, unforgetably.

04. The Movie: Boogie Nights
The Song: Rick Springfield - 'Jesse's Girl'
How It's Used: P.T. Anderson may be known for his grandiose filmmaking, and that's all well and good, but it's his acute attention to detail, quite surprisingly, that I respect about his style above all else. Consider, for instance, a miniscule moment in the epic Boogie Nights: Dirk Diggler (Mark Walhberg) sits in the living room of a bizarre drug lord (Alfred Molina), who is dancing and singing to Rick Springfield's gloriously cheesy 'Jesse's Girl'. Diggler, dazed, sits silent on the couch as the song blares from the nearby stereo. The camera stays on him, observing as nothing happens, for what seems like ages, unwilling to pay attention to anything else. It's a memorable digression, made all the more intruiging and, well, hilarious by the music and Alfred Molina's drug-affected singing.

03. The Movie: Mulholland Drive
The Song: Roy Orbison: 'Crying'
How It's Used: To be honest, this really shouldn't work - but it does. Who knew a Roy Orbison track, belted out in a foreign language by a mysterious stranger and a late-night club, could be so damn moving? The beautiful yet haunting sequence turns downright chilling when the singer collapses on stage in the middle of the song - and the vocals carry on without her. David Lynch, the film's director, recognizes that recognizable songs affect the viewing experience, which is precisely why he's chosen a foreign rendition of such a recognizable track; the audience knows the song, but it's dramatically different. The result is a disturbed familiarity, like a half-remembered dream - the perfect segue into the film's twisted third act.

02. The Movie: Stranger Than Paradise
The Song: Screamin' Jay Hawkins - 'I Put A Spell On You'
How It's Used: I know I talked about this earlier in the week, but I couldn't exclude one of my favourite movies, especially when it uses one particular song so well. John Lurie's lonely hipster lifestyle is thrown off when his younger cousin visits his apartment in New York. She carries around a portable cassette player but seems interested in only one song: 'I Put A Spell On You', which John Lurie hates. "It's Screamin' Jay Hawkins", she announces, in broken English, "he's a wild man, so bug off".

01. The Movie: Blue Velvet
The Song: Bobby Vinton - 'Blue Velvet'
How It's Used: How is it used? Well, for starters, it's the title of the movie. Then, of course, it's sung quite beautifully (and creepily) by star Isabella Rossellini, in a scene you won't soon forget. This goes beyond simply using a song on the soundtrack. Here we a film that is so fervently tied to one song that it's totally impossible to think of the two seperately. The essence of that song seems to pervade the entire movie, seeping out of every shot and soundtracking every sequence (figuratively, that is). Put simply, this is just how it's done.

Download:
Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Put A Spell On You (Live)
Bobby Vinton - Blue Velvet
Roy Orbison - Crying
Rick Springfield - Jesse's Girl
Yes - Heart Of The Sunrise

Buy:
Buffalo '66 - DVD / OST
Boogie Nights - DVD / OST
Mulholland Drive - DVD / OST
Stranger Than Paradise - DVD / OST
Blue Velvet - DVD / OST
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