Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year.

Party well, but not too well, tonight, as we enter a new year. Remember how far we've come since that fateful night, ten years ago, December 31, 1999, when we all worried about Y2K.

See you in 2010.

Best Music of 2000 - 2009

In addition to concocting a list of my favorite songs of this year, I did the same for the decade. I offer the same caveat in my immediately preceding post regarding the best songs of 2009. Really, these are just some of my favorite songs, or ones that have stuck with me, since 2000. The rules were one song per year, though as you'll see, I cheated twice, for 2007 and 2008.

"Everything In Its Right Place," Radiohead (2000)
"Moment in the Sun," Clem Snide (2001)
"The Golden Age," Beck (2002)
"Maps," Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2003)
"Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," Arcade Fire (2004)
"Mr. November," The National (2005)
"O Mary Don't You Weep," Bruce Springsteen (2006)
"Nude," Radiohead and "Intervention," Arcade Fire (2007)
"Bible Days," Jessica Lea Mayfield and "Skinny Love," Bon Iver (2008)
"She Watches Over Me," Elvis Perkins (2009)

You'll note that I even made a change or two from My Life's Playlist, posted in December 2007, which features one song for every year I've lived. Honorable mention would have to go to Ray LaMontagne, whose 2004 album, Trouble, and 2006 album, Till The Sun Turns Black, were phenomenal, but songs from which did not make the list. Sorry, Ray.

Best Music of '09

How can a blog dedicated to wistful reviews of pop culture artifacts publish a best of 2009 list? Well, what else could I possibly publish on December 31, 2009? Y2K nostalgia? I think not.

Far be it from me to declare these the "best" songs of 2009, but they certainly are some of my favorites from this year. I limited the list to 22 selections, if only because the combined length of these songs would fill a CD were I making a mix CD (had I anyone to make a mix CD for).

Here goes:

1. "Marrow" - St. Vincent
2. "Blood Bank" - Bon Iver
3. "All for the Best" - Thom Yorke
4. "The Right" - Lou Barlow
5. "Rave On" - M. Ward
6. " I And Love And You" - The Avett Brothers
7. "Heads Will Roll" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
8. "Last Dance" - The Raveonettes
9. When the Night Comes - Dan Auerbach
10. "People Got A Lotta Nerve" - Neko Case
11. "Sing Sang Sung" - Air
12. "No Line On The Horizon" - U2
13. "Singing the Joy To The World" - Fruit Bats
14. "Words of Love" - Jessica Lea Mayfield
15. "She Watches Over Me" - Elvis Perkins
16. "Daniel" - Bat for Lashes
17. "While You Wait For The Others" - Grizzly Bear
18. "Velvet" - The Big Pink
19. "All Is Love" - Karen O and The Kids
20. "You and I" - Wilco
21. "1901" - Phoenix
22. "Black Cloud" - Morrissey

Interestingly, fifty years after the death of Buddy Holly, two covers of his songs (by M. Ward and Jessica Lea Mayfield) make the list. Technically, Yeah Yeah Yeahs appear twice, first with its "Heads Will Roll" from the It's Blitz album, and again in the form of Karen O and The Kids (which included both of Ms. O's bandmates from the YYYs). Morrissey earns a spot on the list, despite the fact that (a) his best work remains 1986's The Queen Is Dead (with the Smiths, of course) and (b) he is an insufferably pretentious tool. Thom Yorke, who would of course make the list, actually had three new tracks out this year, the other two being "Hearing Damage" from the New Moon soundtrack and Radiohead's "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)," released online. Really, Muse would have, should have made the list, but Glenn Beck's professed fondness for "Uprising," the first track off their 2009 album, "The Resistance," killed it for me. Alas.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Time Tunnel v. Sherlock Holmes

Back in February of 2006, Frank Decaro of The New York Times reported on the DVD release of the 1960s sci-fi television show "The Time Tunnel" (a series about which I know little, though I suspect that it has not aged well.). In profiling the series, Decaro described the philosophy of the show's creator and producer, Irwin Allen, which pretty well encapsulates that of director Guy Ritchie, whose new Sherlock Holmes flick starring Robert Downey, Jr. is now in theatres.

Decaro writes:
Later known as the master of such disaster films as "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno," Mr. Allen infamously considered his TV series "running and jumping" shows. To his mind, the stories didn't need to make sense as long as those screens were packed with action, smoke and flying sparks. "Time Tunnel" embraced substantially less science and considerably more fiction than its competition that season, NBC's "Star Trek."
(Emphasis added).

I saw Sherlock Holmes on Christmas Day, its opening day, and I was underwhelmed. Although there has been some critical commentary noting the chemistry between Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law), I saw nothing of the sort of screen. We are thrown into the dying days of the detective pair's working relationship, and action flicks with lazy back stories are dangerous animals, indeed. (To boot, we are instructed to take note of the past relationship between Holmes and Irene Dalton (the vacant Rachel McAdams), although there is little interesting there, either.). Essentially, what Ritchie has produced is a steam punk procedural cop show, a CSI: 1891 London, in which Holmes and Watson solve one relatively boring case - which may or may not have supernatural implications - over the course of two hours. There are the requisite number of explosions and fisticuffs for a movie of this sort, but nothing visually innovative. Ritchie throws at the viewer the action, smoke, and flying sparks, thrown in with some soot to suit the era, just as Irwin Allen would have done. Downey is given the unenviable task of carrying the film and distracting the viewers from the various plot holes and inconsistencies in the screenplay. (Was the thinking that because he was so fun to watch in Iron Man that he could play any quirky anti-hero and audiences will show up to the theatre in droves?) Big budget Hollywood films based upon larger than life characters should be a joy to watch, not an exhausting afternoon of forgiving narrative mistakes and omissions. Yawn.

Of course, I was greatly amused to see one reviewer on Twitter, David Hogarty a/k/a The Lexiphane, remark that Downey's portrayal "owe[d] more to Bill Pullman's Daryl Zero in 'The Zero Effect' than Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes." He's got a point there.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

El DeBarge - The Ultimate Collection?

Question One: Is El DeBarge really the type of performer who deserves a compilation billed as an "Ultimate Collection"? (Wow; the album even has its own Wikipedia entry.). Question Two: What songs would need to be missing from this disc for it to lose its status as "ultimate"? Question Three: Surely, if "Who's Johnny" was not included, the record could not maintain this distinction? Question Four: How can the compilation truly be considered "ultimate" without "Rhythm of the Night," the biggest hit for DeBarge, the group in which El DeBarge once sang with his siblings? Question Five: How might the record buying public resolve this dilemma?

The answer: Purchase both the El DeBarge Ultimate Collection, and the entirely separate and distinct Ultimate Collection by DeBarge, the band of which El DeBarge was once a member.

Problem solved.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Resquiat in pacem: Sam Peckinpah (1925 - 1984)

Peckinpah, pictured above with the actor William Holden.

Famed Hollywood director Sam Peckinpah, known as "Bloody Sam" for his violent films of the 1960s and 1970s, died twenty five years ago today, on December 28, 1984. Perhaps his most famous work is 1969's The Wild Bunch, featuring William Holden and Ernest Borgnine in one of the best representatives of the revisionist Western genre. If you've not seen it, do so promptly. Other stellar works include 1975's "The Killer Elite," 1973's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," and the disturbing 1971 film, "Straw Dogs." Most of his work is on DVD, and some, including The Wild Bunch, is now on Blu-Ray. He would not live to see how much of an influence he had on Quentin Tarantino, whose first heist film was released eight years after Peckinpah's death. Tarantino's rise to fame in the early 1990s brought Peckinpah's work to a new generation of eyes, including many who are now making films themselves. Rest in Peace.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nostalgia for My Bloody Valentine

The far better nostalgia blog Slicing Up Eyeballs has written about the coming reissues of My Bloody Valentine's albums from days of yore. (That's right, shoegazing fans, you'll have to shell out your hard earned cash yet again in January to obtain these newly remastered versions of records you've probably bought at least twice by now. Maybe even once on cassette.). As I begin the enterprise of this blog anew, I think to myself, my goodness, if only I could have seen the MBV reunion shows back in 2008. That would have been something, no?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Christmas Playlist

Nostalgic pop culture writers have made it a cliche to lament the death of the mix tape. Oh, well. Whatever the case, I recently stumbled across this Christmas "playlist" I made a few years back for a friend. It's actually heavy on modern rock, making it somewhat inappropriate for a site dedicated to earlier years, but I offer it to you, dear readers, for your amusement:

1. F__k Christmas - Fear
2. Christmas - Beat Happening
3. It's Christmas Time - Yo La Tengo
4. That Was the Worst Christmas Ever - Sufjan Stevens
5. Christmas at the Zoo - The Flaming Lips
6. The Christmas Party - The Walkmen
7. Christmas Song - Mogwai
8. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon
9. Christmas Bop - T. Rex
10. Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis - Neko Case
11. Christmas - Leona Naess
12. Merry Christmas from the Family (Live) - Robert Earl Keen
13. No Christmas While I'm Talking - The Walkmen
14. A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn't So) - The Flaming Lips
15. What Child Is This Anyway - Sufjan Stevens
16. Christmas Steps - Mogwai

Please know that I listened to it yesterday, on our most commercial of holidays.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas with the Devil

Judith Owen and Harry Shearer perform the immortal Spinal Tap classic holiday tune, "Christmas with the Devil." Shearer, of course, plays in Spinal Tap under the name Derek Smalls. The original version of the song appeared on Spinal Tap's 1992 album, "Break Like The Wind."

Happy holidays from Chronological Snobbery.

So This is Christmas II

SAD CLOWN CHRISTMAS 2007: Two years ago today, Christmas Day 2007, Horus Kemwer posted on his blog, Against the Modern World, an entry that one commenter described as "perhaps the greatest blog entry [the] site [had] ever seen." See it here.

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS II: Also two years ago, today, this blog was in its infancy and it had not yet lapsed into the lengthy coma that has characterized its last 18 months. But on that day, Christmas Day 2007, this site explored the immortal punk band, Fear, and its 46 second song, "F_ck Christmas." Ah, Christmas. You can access that 2007 post here.

As previously reported, the six year old blog, The League of Melbotis, closed its doors last week, just a few days before Christmas. If you feel you must recognize the yuletide season (or if you are being forced to against your will), then you can peruse his Christmas posts from these years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Alas, readers of The League of Melbotis will not get to see a Christmas 2010 post.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

David Lee Roth's "A Little Ain't Enough" (1991)

It is possible to calculate the exact moment in the career of David Lee Roth when he sank from puerile hard rock showman to utterly irrelevant self parody. It was January of 1991, when his new album, A Little Ain't Enough, hit record stores. Perhaps it's unfair to opine that the record suggests a total lack of self awareness; perhaps Roth, even at his most silly, knew exactly what he was and how he was to be perceived by the ages. But it is startling to note that this record, released in the first month of 1991, arrived only eight months before Nirvana's Nevermind. According to Wikipedia, the video for the title track was banned from MTV, but nearly 19 years later, surely no one remembers that fact, or much else, about this record.

By 1991, six years had passed since Roth had left the mighty hard rock outfit, Van Halen. But even after that, he showed some promise as a rock star. In the mid to late 1980s, he had pieced together a respectable hard rock band, with guitarist Steve Vai and bassist Billy Sheehan, (both of whom played with Roth on his 1986 album, Eat 'Em and Smile, as well as its 1988 follow-up, Skyscraper). But by 1991, Vai and Sheehan were no longer a part of Roth's band, and neither appeared on this, his third solo record (his fourth, actually, if you count the 1985 EP, Crazy from the Heat, which for these purposes, we shall not).

On paper, A Little Ain't Enough might have seemed like a good idea when it was planned and recorded in 1990. In that year, after all, heavy metal and hard rock were still dominating both the airwaves and MTV, and few foresaw the rise of grunge. Produced by Bob Rock (who had produced two popular 1989 albums, Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood and the Cult's Sonic Temple, and who would later produce Metallica's 1991 self tittled album, to be released in August of 1991), and featuring up and coming, but ultimately ill-fated, hard rock guitarist Jason Becker, there might have been at least some reason to be optimistic. But in the end, it was Roth's last attempt at relevance, and it failed, in part, because 1991 was, as they say, the year punk broke.

Listening to this record in 2009 is like watching awful exploitation flicks from the 1970s; it's difficult to look away at something that is so representative of a dying genre. Certainly, it is characterized by the excess of hard rock, with loud riffs, huge amps, and, of all things, horns. Some of the songs remain catchy, but they can only be the guiltiest of guilty pleasures.

The Internets alert me that there were three singles from the album that charted, those being "A Lil Ain't Enough" (which can't really be called the title track if one word is spelled differently), "Sensible Shoes," and "Tell the Truth," but I can only recall the first two. Surely only the most devout fans of Roth can identify anything he did after 1991 (with the possible exception of the two new tracks he contributed to the Van Halen greatest hits album in 1996). And so it was.

A sad footnote: Becker, the young guitarist, would be diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease shortly after joining Roth's band and was unable to tour in support of the album.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Resquiat in pacem: The League of Melbotis (2003-2009)

From 2003 to 2009, the League of Melbotis offered commentary on popular culture, music, comic books, and even, occasionally, the social issues of the day. Its author retired this past week, and thankfully, he elected to leave the site's seven year archive online. It was a good run, and that blog shall be missed.