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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Best films of 2007

This year proved to be a strange year for film for me personally. Taking so many film classes simultaneously made me want to watch more films, but also made me too lazy to see films outside of class because I spent so much time working on films in class. Yet, every time I saw a new movie my desire to see movies was reinvigorated. So with that said my viewing schedule was quite sporadic and I saw plenty of great films this year, but I don’t think I can comment on 2007 as a whole. So let’s jump into this list shall we?

(Note: This list is in order starting with ten then moving to number one)

10. Eagle Vs. Shark
This film is the anti-Napoleon Dynamite. Not that I didn’t like that film, but Eagle Vs. Shark is all about de-romanticizing the Nerd. In the last few years the Nerd has become a character whose social awkwardness, quirky wardrobe, and pointless obsessiveness have become in many ways very cool. Eagle Vs. Shark is a film that follows the rocky courtship of two New Zealand nerds in their mid-twenties. This film shows that being socially awkward and being an outcast is not something that is desired, it can be painful and the scars of high school are forever lasting. It’s about how people with destroyed self-esteems manage to go on living and how they need love more than anyone else in the world. It’s a beautiful film that survives by finding humor and hope in even the most tragic of circumstances.

9. Hott Fuzz
Seeing Edgar Wright’s second film Hot Fuzz in theaters with all university students would rank as the most fun I had at the movie theaters in 2007. A film about big time neurotic cop Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) being reassigned to a small town where things aren’t as they seem, its chock full of hilarious moments, big action and great characters. You don’t need to know the specific films that Mr. Wright is parodying. We all know what big action movies are like and this film hits all the notes perfectly while also being a wonderful film that stands up on its own. Seriously the most fun you’ll have watching a movie this year.

8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Someone said it best when they said Sweeney Todd is the anti-musical. Missing the grandiosity and utter insipidness of most musicals, Tim Burton using Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant play has constructed something truly cinematic, suspenseful and satisfying. A tale of a barber wronged who returns to seek revenge, Sweeney Todd (played by the always amazing Johnny Depp) is an example of when someone becomes so consumed with revenge it crosses the borders of reason. This film is tragic, darkly humorous and incredibly bloody. Also if there ever were a case for the return of German Expressionism this film would be it. Tim Burton has always flirted with it stylistically, but I feel Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is truly a reinvigoration of a genre thought to have died before 1930. It’s a big film that hits all the notes without falling into the trappings of other plays-turned-into-films and that makes me excited more than anyone.

7. No Country For Old Men
This film is the kind that gets better the more you think about it. Not necessarily the biggest Coen Brothers aficionado I’m not sure I am qualified enough to geek out about it. However I don’t believe No Country For Old Men requires any sort of fandom to fall into the world of West Texas in 1980 where senseless violence is around every corner and all people can do about it is react with a feeling of helplessness. And I think that’s where the power of this film appears. The brilliant Tommy Lee Jones as the old cop Ed Tom Bell always acts so lost at the absurdity of the bloodshed around him and I think while watching the movie we do too. And we should. No Country For Old Men is our world and even though there always is violence, we feel that world is getting darker. Is it because we are getting old or is this all really going to shit?

6. Juno
I came into Juno very cynical, but I really ended up falling in love with this film. I know the expression, “It has a lot of heart,” gets thrown around a lot, but this film needed it otherwise it would have ended up on the large pile of the entertainment industrial complex’s shameless attempts at tapping into the youth market. About a young witty girl who gets pregnant, Ellen Page shines, but so does the entire supporting ensemble. The interactions between Juno and Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) are something very new to film, but something very close to me. The soundtrack is of course great, but again the hamburger phones, semi-obscure movie/music references, witty dialogue, etc. would have meant nothing if these characters weren’t grounded and so damn likable.

5. Ratatouille
Possibly my favorite Pixar film, Brad Bird’s Ratatouille is brimming with so much. It’s a very strange film too. Generally speaking, it’s about a rat that wants to be a chef in Paris. Yet, it’s much more than that. It’s about having the courage to do what you love and to be creative in a time when creativity is scorned and ridiculed. It says we should be willing to be great if we try and that too often those around us limit our potential for greatness. It is also Pixar’s most gorgeous film truly refining and redefining the art of computer animation. Its not just about achieving realism, but a higher sense of reality that can better show the subtleties of the story at hand. Ratatouille is a revolutionary work in animation and a great raised fist for artists everywhere.
first teaser!

4. Into The Wild
I read John Krakauer’s Into The Wild when I was about twelve years old and although fascinating, I could not relate to it at all. Here I sit on the cusp of turning twenty-one with only a year of college left before graduation and after seeing Sean Penn’s brilliantly crafted adaptation, John McCandless’s story truly resonates. Although sympathetic to McCandless’s plight, the film strikes a subtle balance of emotions that hits you hard and makes this tragic tale even more meaningful. Emile Hirsch is sublime and Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack is a perfect compliment. This is a film for everyone, for all of us who think about the bigger picture and want to stand up and actually see it. Into The Wild shows us that to see, it requires risks, and even if it proves fatal, it can be worth it.

3. The Darjeeling Limited
I love that Wes Anderson is becoming more and more openly emotional. Easily one of his most moving films, The Darjeeling Limited, although covered in the usual shiny hipster veneer, it’s a film that constantly gave me lumps in the back of my throat. This film has all the usual Wes Anderson trademarks but is definitely more playful, not only in the script but in the shots themselves. About three brothers played perfectly by Adrian Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, they seek adventure and spirituality one year after their father’s death. This film kind of fell through the cracks at the year’s end and it makes no sense, but then again many people refuse to look below the surface and understand that beyond the beautifully shot, beautifully art directed film is a story about the pain we often inflict on ourselves and how we need to just be willing and open no matter what.

2. I'm Not There
This film is more about you and me than Bob Dylan. I don’t believe for a second you need to be a huge Dylan fanatic to fall in love with this film, you just are letting little details and facts get in the way of the bigger picture. I’m Not There, the postmodern masterpiece by Todd Haynes is so clear in its intent that it leaves you screaming, “Yes!” the whole way through. This is a film I related to instantly on every level and its execution is practically flawless. And fuck you if you say Richard Gere’s section doesn’t work, its utterly vital and the film would fall apart without it. I love this film so much. Every actor puts one hundred percent and although Cate Blanchett steals the show you cannot forget Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale and others. It’s more than just about one man who refused to be pinned down; it’s really about all of us who never want to be one-dimensionalized. There’s a way out, I’m Not There will show you the way.

1. There Will Be Blood
I thought I’m Not There was going to be my number one 2007, but There Will Be Blood wouldn’t settle for second best. Beyond what anyone will say or has said about this film, there is nothing else like it. I’ll say this again; There Will Be Blood is a film that will be remembered when film is as old as painting. We don’t matter to this film; you might be angry, in awe, jealous, surprised or anything else; it takes what it wants. Paul Thomas Anderson has raised the bar in art as a whole and Daniel Day-Lewis as oilman Daniel Plainview is one of the greatest performances in film history. Jonny Greenwood has also constructed a revolutionary score. There is something more at work here, beyond all these elements. The sum of its the parts is too great for anyone to handle. I am in pure awe of this film. It reveals humanity at it’s darkest, most pathetic and most powerful. There Will Be Blood will consume you.

There you have it folks, my top ten films of 2007, it definitely proved to be a year where the best films have now become some of my favorite films. And what would a best of list be without the worst film of 2007?

Spider-Man 3
Now I admit that the first two installments where fun slices of entertainment, but this film is atrocious. Tonally it never knows where it wants to be and no one in the film takes anything seriously. When they want to make jokes it isn’t funny and every dramatic scene is embarrassing. People talk about the “emo scene” and how, “It didn’t belong and it screwed up the film,” but really the scene would have worked if the rest of the movie wasn’t so fucking insipid and ridiculous. It was crammed to the teeth with so much that everything became pointless. Even the action was unremarkable considering there were THREE bad guys. There are talks of a Spider-Man 4, but without Raimi and crew. I hope that is the case.

Being a film major I actually see lots of student films and I couldn’t let out the little guys so here is a piece on all the great films coming out of my university, UC Santa Barbara. Now we aren’t a film tech school, mostly focusing on theory, but what we lack in equipment we make up in ingenuity, resourcefulness and an infectious level of excitement for making films and having fun while doing it. And 2007 was definitely the best year yet.

Short Films (Made with varying mediums between 14 and 30 minutes):

Best Leader
A genre picture about a man who goes on dangerous mission to save his wife, Best Leader was one of the more daring films made here at UCSB that packed a lot of content into fifteen minutes. Sci-Fi is always hard to do on a small level, but thankfully there were enough resources on hand to make it look authentic. The ending resonates quite eerily and overall became a film that still gets you thinking long after the static.

Open Toes
I really wanted to hate this film I’ll admit. Seeing the early stages of this UCSB oriented remake of West Side Story looked quite dreadful…until footage started coming in. Wow, I fell in love with it quite quickly. It was the actors for me personally that truly made this a laugh a minute riot. Every one of them just put tons of nuances into their performances that made new jokes appear every time I re-watched it. A fun fun fun fun film that pokes lots of fun at the typical UCSB crowd.

The Titan Sting
This film about Sean Connery and his granddaughter McKenzie’s adventures on a mysterious island and their quest for the Titan Bee truly had my heart last year. Cute, psychedelic, beautifully animated and featuring one of the best film scores of 2007, The Titan Sting is a great testament to the versatility of students at UCSB and definitely one of the most interesting animated films in recent memory.

16mm Reel Loud Film Festival Films (Between 2 and 6 minutes long and silent w/ musical accompaniment):

Internet Girl
A film starring yours truly, this cautionary myspace tale about love gone unexpectedly twisted is simple, funny, and disturbing. With two female directors and two male leads in slightly homoerotic situations I’m sure a case could be made for a new leap in feminist filmmaking, but I’ll leave that up for you to decide; you’ll enjoy the ride.
the film!

Jonathon’s Tree
A quiet, sad, but beautifully animated film, Jonathan’s Tree was one of the only serious films at Reel Loud this year and I think was gravely overlooked. About a boy’s tree and its fate in a future filled only with robots, it moves along quickly, but the score done by Too Dark For A Picture slows things and down and leaves you haunted by this tragic tale.
the film!

Love Muffin
Another slightly homoerotic tale (directed by a female) about a lonesome boy who bakes a muffin friend, this film got the most laughs at Reel Loud last year and deservedly so. It’s basically a montage of classic film scenes set to a cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” except imagine them happening between a nubile young man and a creepy looking guy in a giant muffin costume. You know you want to see it now.
the film, live!

This film did not get the kudos it deserved. Smartly written and even more cleverly executed, this fake infomercial (and the side effects) about a drug that allows you to repent all your sins in one easy pill said a lot more than any film at Reel Loud last year.
the film!

Timon’s Friendship Adventure
Probably the most successful film to come out of UCSB in this past year, Timon’s Friendship Adventure is a loose loose adaptation of a Shakespeare play, but is a hell of a lot more…bloody. It’s truly a silent film in the classic sense of the word while also being very akin to the type of b-movies of the 70s. And it stars the always-amazing Jason D. Scott as Timon, the man who was too kind, until…
the film!

Sadly I am away from UCSB for 2008, but I know that as a film department we are constantly making strides to get better and better. I am ecstatic at what lies ahead.

As we speak The Oscars are going on, but they are not broadcast here in New Zealand so I’m getting updates via IMDB. So far everything is going as predicted, but you never know…

Stay tuned for the final installment of my “best of 2007” lists. Cheers!

Orginal Reviews for about half of my top ten here!
Roger Ebert's top ten films of 2007
Awards Daily for all your award season knowledge
UCSB Department of Film and Media

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ghosts Never Die And Neither Will You!

I’m not sure if everyone knows, but Isaac of Blanketarms, Isaac Arms, The Spooky Ghosts, and the man behind the beloved Pop Monster Collective has called it quits. While I am deeply saddened we all do what we need to do and I’m just happy Isaac is letting the legacy live on by allowing us to post the entire discography onto CLLCT.com (or as much as possible). Today I personally put up Blanketarms’s masterful double album Sweet & Sour along with their side of the activist-minded One Small Fist split. I also put up Isaac’s solo record that I won’t shut up about. Russ of Tinyfolk is also working on uploading more material and if any of you have something that we might not have let us know!

I like to talk about how I got into lo-fi music a lot lately (or at least the events behind it) and I just remember Blanketarms being one of the first bands I listened to. The first song I heard was “Heartbreaker,” the version off of their tour CD-R (anyone have the entire disc?). I was transformed completely and utterly forever. I never heard something so raw, so honest and so unexpected. From that moment I had to find more. I was freshman in college and I was vulnerable and open and I wanted to consume everything lo-fi; luckily Pop Monster Collective was right around the corner. I immediately started snatching up records from Blanketarms, Tinyfolk, Real Live Tigers, Super Famicom, Jon Crocker; you name it I was listening to it. And not just Pop Monster either, but I would follow myspace top 8s to get to any artists that sounded like the perfect fit.

It wasn’t just about listening to all these wonderful artists, but it was about the spirit of DIY and how it didn’t matter if your guitar was a twenty-five dollar toy guitar, if it was broken, or if it was a thousand bucks. You could record your songs on cassettes using headphones, using iPod mics, or even the recording device that comes with windows; it didn’t matter. For the first time in my life I knew that if I made music someone would listen because in this community everyone was willing to give you a chance.

I mean I can honestly say that my entire train of thought was effectively altered forever because of Blanketarms, Pop Monster Collective, and all of you fine folks out there doing what you love no matter what. I grew up in place where most people had ZERO passion and suddenly discovering so many people who cared deeply about what they were doing inspired me to become a more driven and confident person.

So what I do is for all of you. I want to make Isaac proud, Pop Monster proud and all of you proud of what I do, you do, what we did, what we do and what we will do. We are all artists and no matter what, we always will be.

The legacy of Pop Monster Collective will never die and I suggest for those uninitiated check out every artist that was a part of that family.

Blanketarms-“Heartbreaker (Unripe Version)”
Isaac Arms-“Us Vs. Stuff”
Real Live Tigers-“No Regrets”
Tinyfolk-“Dear Apollo”
Rambling Nicholas Heron-“Only This And Nothing More”
The Spooky Ghosts-“Ghoul's Night Out”
Super Famicom-“I Evaporate”
LA Beard Club-“ Harder Than It Has to Be”

The Pop Monster Collective site
Pop Monster on myspace
CLLCT.com where the legacy lives on!

Blanketarms-"Ya Basta!"

Get up and out of bed and in your car and off to work

Complain cuz greatness passed and you're just stuck with common jerks

So you've been lost so long just like a cog it's not the end

And it won't kill you to destroy yourself and start again

But I refuse to believe that no one gives a shit

And I think we, we watch ourselves sink

Just because we're used to it

You know how nacho cheese it gets real stiff when you let it sit

Well I think your eyes are pale

And your soul is stale cuz you don't do shit

Just ride a bike or read a book or send a letter home

Or build a new friendship cuz we weren't meant to be alone

But I refuse to believe that no one gives a shit

And I think we, we watch ourselves sink

Just because we've given up

But enough is enough

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mp3 of the Week: “So Many Stars” by Watercolor Paintings

Over the past year Watercolor Paintings output is admittedly less prolific than her early days, but every month or so when she releases a new song I have to listen. “So Many Stars” is the newest one and I think may be one of my favorite songs of hers in recent memory. Mostly acapella, it reminds me of when I first met Rebecca. We were freshman and she would record songs onto cassette using headphones as the mic. She is inventive and has a keen ear for wondrous melodies and “So Many Stars” is a culmination of the things I like a lot about Watercolor Paintings. It bounces along the edge of sweet and melancholy à la the early version of “Happyships” or “Get Out of the Way or a Whale Will Swallow You.” The difference here is that there is an incredible sense of ambiguity and wonder that’ll have you scratching your head at first, but humming along in no time.

Watercolor Paintings-"So Many Stars"

Watercolor Paintings on myspace

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Top 15 albums of 2007

The year 2007 was the year of lo-fi for me. Although my favorite mainstream/indie artists released some good if not great albums it was the DIY folks that truly gave me something memorable. Soundtracks also made a huge, if not late comeback in 2007 reminding me why music is always the most important element in a film. All these albums are truly “albums” in every sense of the word.

I chose these albums based on a variety of factors, but mostly if I like all or almost all the songs. Not much science to it so let’s get this underway:

(Note: this is in alphabetical order according to album title)

Tinyfolk: Bill
Original Post
Tinyfolk on myspace
Russ Woods and sometimes Meghan Lamb make music as Tinyfolk and with every release they offer something new, exciting and inventive. With the release of Bill, lo-fi music took a bold step in a wonderful direction and I don’t think Tinyfolk’s ever been weirder and more confident than here. This album is a testament to dreaming big while maintaining a striking level of intimacy. Tinyfolk’s lyrics often seem distant at first, but you will be struck often by how emotional they really are and more importantly how emotional you will feel. With Bill Tinyfolk completely sheds any comparisons and has created one of the most original albums of 2007 or any year.

Key Tracks:
“Dear Apollo”
“You Can Call Me Al”
“Really, Really Blue: A Tale Of Unrequited (Perhaps) Romance and Lizardry”

Bright Eyes: Cassadaga
Bright Eyes site
Why the newest album from Conor Oberst and friends is getting ignored is beyond me. I think the rest of the world still wants him to be bitter and an alcoholic. With Cassadaga, Conor grew tired of being tired and took some time off to gain perspective and insight to the world he’s blazed through in the last few years. The result was one of the best country albums in years and another step ahead of the pitchfork salivating crowd. Lyrically Conor has never constructed poetry better than here. Surreal, yet grounded, sentimental, yet insightful, sentences flow like the tide and roar with a level of assurance that shows an earned maturity. Musically Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott are permanent members proving that Bright Eyes can be a group effort. Here they shine, making the music an essential and often powerful accompaniment to Conor’s lyrics. Really, It’s a brave new world and that place can be found in Cassadaga.

Key Tracks:
“Four Winds”
“If The Brakeman Turns My Way”
“Cleanse Song”

Jon Crocker: Edison-Free Sediment Volume III
Jon Crocker on myspace
The third album in a trilogy of records that do not feature guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, or any form of electronic manipulation, Jon Crocker’s Edison-Free Sediment Volume III is one of the best releases in his catalogue thus far. The man, the myth, the beard makes best use here with his booming voice and versatile mandolin. If you haven’t heard Jon’s voice prepare to be blown away, I certainly have every time I see him perform live. Here he continues in the traditional fashion of storytelling featuring songs about re-imagined high school romances, the Mercedes as a center point for suburban excess and one of the best disses to Thomas Edison this side of my own twelve-page muckraking of the bastard. Each song encapsulates several moments in time and all together they weave a history of this shaky life held together by Jon Crocker’s commanding voice.

Key Tracks:
“How To Be Alone”
“Thomas Edison”

Kanye West: Graduation
Original Post
Kanye West's site
Most rap albums to me often feel bloated and unnecessary, but with Kanye West’s Graduation he cuts the fat and makes one of the most solid rap records in recent memory. Although I love him for his intricate sampling techniques that are aren’t as present on this album, he fills that gap with some of his best rhymes and solid hooks. And Kanye knows he has created some of the weirdest, yet accessible songs in his career. His ego has never been more troubling (to himself and others), but damn the man knows how say something and say it big. Graduation is packed with songs memorable beyond their years and promises to be the calling card for Kanye West from now on.

Key Tracks:
“I Wonder”
“Good Life”
“The Glory”

Paul Baribeau: Grand Ledge
Original Post
Paul Baribeau on myspace
I kicked off Foggy Ruins Of Time with a review of Grand Ledge back in August. Even if the review looks a bit rough now, everything I said still stands. This is a great album. Paul Baribeau is known for putting together messy, almost-too-personal, melodic songs that do not hold back. Grand Ledge is a step forward for Paul because the songs still retain everything great about his first album, but hit newer highs because of the focus and discipline that went in to constructing each song. To say something is calculated and raw might seem paradoxical but with Grand Ledge you can hear the sounds of a man getting a hold of his own immense talent by channeling it into nine brilliant songs that never let up.

Key Tracks:
“Nothing To Say”
“Hard Work”
“Better Than Anything Ever”

Rambling Nicholas Heron: Here In Dreamland
Orginal Post
Rambling Nicholas Heron on myspace
One of the last albums I heard for consideration on this list, I’m so happy I was able to get it before the end of the year. Here In Dreamland is an example of a great album that could have been potentially overlooked for how late in the year it was released. Rambling Nicholas Heron knows how to make an album and that craft is often lost in today’s “shuffle” age, but Here In Dreamland contains all the highs and lows necessary to make it an experience all the way through. Filled with tenderness, ambitions, hopes, kiss-offs, surprises and instrumentals, the name of the album can be taken quite literally and each song’s quality is even more highlighted by what comes before and after it. Start at track one and get whisked away, Here In Dreamland.

Key Tracks:
"Pillow Book"
"As If I Didn't Know It"
"Born To Sleep In The Sun"

Various Artists: I’m Not There
I'm Not There soundtrack on myspace
The soundtrack to Todd Haynes masterpiece I’m Not There may seem daunting at first and at thirty-three Dylan covers and one bootleg from the man himself (with The Band) you are bound to find one or two that you don’t like, at first. I particularly am a fan of covers and 2007 was a good year for them, but what makes this soundtrack great is that for hardcore Dylan fans there are new gems to discover, for first timers there are some interesting takes on the classics and for everyone there is a sense that there is a reason why Bob Dylan often rivals and eclipses the influence and song-writing power of The Beatles.

Key Tracks (It’s a double album so it gets six!):
Jim James & Calexico-“Goin’ To Acapulco”
John Doe-“Pressing On”
Iron & Wine With Calexico-“Dark Eyes”
Karen O & The Million Dollar Bashers-“Highway 61 Revisited”
Sufjan Stevens-“Ring Them Bells”
Antony & The Johnsons-“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

Radiohead: In Rainbows
Original Post
Radiohead site
It took me a long time to get my head around this album and I’m still not completely sure I get it. While I see the usual praises for Radiohead’s return to simplicity or whatever I’m not convinced of that reaction. That is a reason why some scoff at the album and whatever camp you fall in I don’t believe you have given it enough listens and you may simply be writing it on or off based on your initial, intellectual reactions. However, In Rainbows operates on a higher plane than any of us and that’s how I still feel. Every song moves a certain way, but we aren’t seeing the entire picture. I can sense the hidden pieces every time I listen and I can feel it in my skin, in my heartbeats, and in my throat. Radiohead have constructed something quite extraordinary, extrasensory.

Key Tracks:
“15 Steps”
“House Of Cards”

Tinyfolk: Little Mice And Other Things That Go Skitter Skitter
Original Post
Tinyfolk on myspace
Formally released in 2007, Tinyfolk’s Little Mice And Other Things That Go Skitter Skitter is an album that contains the parts of Tinyfolk I was first introduced to and the parts of Tinyfolk we know now and beyond. It runs the gamut from sweet to melancholy with lyrics that make you laugh sweetly or fall into a deep sense of longing. Its diversity is startling and Russ Woods writing has never been as straightforward as it is on this album. I think that’s what makes this a worthy rival of his album released later in 2007, Bill. Both show an amazing level of intimacy, but while Bill is grand and epic, Little Mice And Other Things That Go Skitter Skitter still shows Russ Woods messy, doubtful and with a deep hunger for making the best music he can make.

Key Tracks:
“Love Is A Thing”
“Emma’s House”

Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
Arcade Fire site
This is the only music by Arcade Fire I have heard and as an album Neon Bible works incredibly well. There is no weak link in the chain and the orchestra behind this wall of grand noise is something to behold. Its grandiose yes, but unlike most emo-epic bands, there lacks that smirk and sense of self-consciousness that makes those bands too transparent to take seriously. This album is incredibly intricate and I wish I had a better set of headphones to soak in the ocean created by each song’s church choir-like approach to playing. Yet, nothing is supplemental; whatever you are hearing or not hearing is carefully laid out to rush into your ears like a cold shower. Neon Bible hits the ground running and tackles all the big issues, but it’s a big band and they handle it.

Key Tracks:
“Neon Bible”
“(Antichrist Television Blues)”

Isaac Arms: Old Artificer
Original post
Isaac Arms on myspace
Old Artificer may be my favorite album of 2007. Released quietly and without little commotion even in the lo-fi community, Isaac’s little solo album will break your heart and put it back together again. He used to be part of the twosome Blanketarms (which we all hold dear in our hearts), but even without Leila Grey, her presence is still felt all over this album. His love for her is the thing that holds him together and every song is for her even if it may seem like he’s trying to get something for himself. This album is fragile, messy and wondrous. It goes by too quickly and it makes me mad that very few copies of this album exist, yet those extraneous thoughts get thrown out the window while I’m listening because there is nothing like pure love to break you, shake you and change you for good.

Key Tracks:
"Us Vs. Stuff"
"800 Days"
"Old Kentucky"

Shelby Sifers: Run Around, Run Around
Shelby Sifers on myspace
I heard so many rumblings about this girl I couldn’t resist a chance to check her out and without a doubt I have never fallen in love with a record/artist so quickly before. Run Around, Run Around is her second album and it’s remarkable. Her voice is unique, almost child-like and the production very minimal as to highlight her voice even more. Every song starts off small and quiet, but they build and build until their seething to escape and pollinate their wisdom to the rest of the world. It’s albums like this that rejuvenate my faith in the power of music. Like Shelby, our self-doubt should only be used to figure out this strange place. We should follow her example and Run Around, Run Around.

Key Tracks:
“Try To Understand”
“Start Taking Naps”

Jonny Greenwood: There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Blood soundtrack on wikipedia
Fuck the Academy for denying the score to 2007’s best film There Will Be Blood from consideration for this year’s Oscars. Jonny Greenwood has taken the film score and turned it upside down and inside out. To paraphrase Pitchfork, “Jonny Greenwood basically is playing an orchestra like he plays his guitar.” And that is exactly what is going on here. Dissonance is the ruler in this landscape, not the fields, but inside the mind of lead character Daniel Plainview with ambition so unparalleled that it can only appear terrifying and frightening to many. Yet, beauty peaks through and it tantalizes us to come join him, to want to succeed in his place. What Greenwood has constructed is a revolutionary leap forward for film music. Never has chaos been so welcomed with open arms.

Key Tracks:
“Open Spaces”
“Future Markets”
“Proven Lands”

A Drum And An Open Window: There Will Be Fields For Us
Original Post
A Drum And An Open Window on myspace
I want to explode when I listen to this album. The first time I heard A Drum And An Open Window play I had no idea who they were or what they were about and I left that show so inspired and bursting with creativity. On There Will Be Fields For Us the music and words are so joyous so infectious there is nothing that will stop you from wanting to go out into the world and make something of it. The twosome have created an interesting dynamic singing together that is never obvious or overstated. Both sing the parts they need, harmonious together on choruses and just doing what they do well. There is nothing convoluted here but they manage to throw in some cool melodica and xylophone solos as well as some beautifully constructed singing parts in several songs. This whole record exudes so much confidence, not in the “I know what I’m doing sense (even though they do),” its more about how much faith they have in themselves to express themselves regardless of whatever is around them. I think ultimately that is what There Will Be Fields For Us is about, the chance for every soul to say that yes, I will be heard.

Key Tracks:
“The Mount Eerie Show Song”
“Make Things”
“There Will Be Fields For Us”

John C. Reilly: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Walk Hard soundtrack on wikipedia
Even thought I still have mixed feelings about the film itself, it’s the John C. Reilly’s stunning voice that I really fell in love with. Yet, its also the writing team that constructed some flawless parodies that run the gamut from being outright absurd to transcending parody and actually become genuinely great songs. For me personally it’s the latter category that keeps me coming back for more, but I can’t help but laugh at the incredibly accurate parodies of Bob Dylan or the hilarious “Let’s Duet” with lines like, “I’m going to beat off all…my demons.” Again, John C. Reilly really has a commanding presence that I’m inexplicably drawn to and its also the versatility to jump styles from Roy Orbison to Johnny Cash to The Beatles that makes this soundtrack rewarding, even though I felt this versatility ultimately hampered the film itself. You don’t really need to see Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story to find plenty of continually rewarding gems in one of the best soundtracks of the year.

Key Tracks:
“A Life Without You (Is No Life At All)”
“Royal Jelly”
“Black Sheep”

So those are my favorite albums of 2007, but wait! There’s more!

Honorable Mentions (In alphabetical order):
Adam Faucett: The Great Basking Shark
Blues and country at it’s most intricate. Get haunted by Adam’s amazing voice and his original attack at many familiar themes. This is something timeless even though Adam’s sensibility is perfectly modern. A weird and beautiful record.

Eddie Vedder: Into The Wild
Poetic sketches of an internal score in Christoper McCandless’s head, you will have your faith renewed in Eddie Vedder and rock music as film score (Screw the Academy for not nominating this score either!). Also there is nothing like driving down Highway 1 blasting this along the edges of the ocean.

Maria Taylor: Lynn Teeter Flower
The second album from former Azure Ray songstress, this go around features Maria Taylor more confident, subtle and fierce. It’s a fine record and one of the best that Saddle Creek had to offer in 2007. Maria Taylor’s rise to glory is only just beginning.

SXEZSKOZ: The Titan Sting
Quite possibly the greatest student film score ever and one of the coolest film scores ever, Alfredo Barraza, as SXEZSKOZ, has created a beautifully nostalgic score that fits the psychedelic atmosphere of The Titan Sting (An equally fantastic student film at UCSB). About Mackenzie, Sir Sean Connery’s granddaughter and their adventure on a dangerous quest for the Titan Bee, the score works appropriately as a reminder of all the great videogames from yesteryear, but never suffers as a novelty. Again, another new step in the right direction for film music.

Rilo Kiley: Under The Blacklight
This is an album that people will get many years from now. I don’t expect anyone to love or even like it right now, but all I know is that I “get” it and I can’t help but really dig this album. Rilo Kiley’s John Wesley Harding if you will, Jenny Lewis sheds the convoluted lyricism of past album and gets right down to the dirty essentials.

So that’s it for the best albums of 2007, but I had to include this final note as well. It’s a special category:

Albums I Really Want To Love, But Are Somewhat Forgettable To Me:
Icky Thump and The Reminder

So I love The White Stripes and that’s not an understatement, but I just can’t get behind Icky Thump all the way. It’s not that the songs aren’t great, they show an amazing versatility by The White Stripes I have never seen before, but none of these songs seem to stick in my head. I don’t know what it is, but hopefully I’ll come to appreciate this album soon.

As for Feist’s second album The Reminder, this album suffers from the same problems as her first record; for such an amazing voice, the music is so incredibly bland and uninteresting. With the exception of songs like “I Feel It All” and “Brandy Alexander,” most songs fall flat when they should soar. Maybe it’s the disjunction between her voice and where the level of music production should be, but even with that voice it’s hard to sustain an entire album on its own.

So that’s it on that folks, even as we speak I’m finding other 2007 albums that I really enjoy, but alas, the list is as it stands for right now. These are some great albums (with the exception of the last two!) and I suggest you support them all and check them all out. Stay tuned for the best films of 2007 and a final best of round up!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Motifs: Matches (2007)

Japan does things to people. The first thing I remembered while listening to Matches was my own times spent traveling through the beautifully surreal landscape that is Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and more. Then I thought that this album could be a summation of music Scarlett Johansson’s character Charlotte would make after her experiences in Lost In Translation (my favorite film). What Alexis Hall of The Motifs has in common with Ms. Johansson and I, is that she also spent some time in Japan and it clearly shows on Matches. Keyboards wash through your ears and acoustic guitar strums echoes for miles. Bits of handclaps, harmonies, and xylophone-like instruments add flourishes and resound quite cleanly and dream-like. “Your’s And Mine” is sung with hushed vocals and its not that the words don’t matter, the harmonies speak for themselves and quite beautifully I must say. I bit of finger picking in the background brings out a nice dynamic that echoes that strange nature of being surrounded by stark, but absorbing skyscrapers. The track “Matches” is atmospheric and terrific. Again an acoustic guitar holds the beat steady while the keyboard here is amazingly intricate yet sparse; it’s used in all the right places. “This Side” is so clear it sparks quite a jolt to the system compared to the rest of the album. It isn’t to say that it doesn’t fit, au contraire my friend, it is the perfect closer. It’s a realization and a reflection on the entire journey. It’s semi-cathartic, but down to earth and dreamier than anything. The Motif’s Matches displays an amazing ability to capture a moment, a fleeting time in a different world where chaos and beauty coexist quite harmoniously.

The Motifs-"This Side"

The Motifs on myspace
Buy the record on Wee Pop! Records

Friday, February 8, 2008

YouTube Video of the Week-"They're Taking The Hobbits To Isengard"

I am a sucker for Lord of the Rings parodies and I haven't seen any good ones in awhile. Being in New Zealand at the moment just makes it even funnier. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Top 30 Songs of 2007

Note: I apologize for the lack of updates, but I've been buzzing here in New Zealand. Alas, I haven't forgotten about all my beloved readers and this will be the first in a series of best of lists. Cheers!

I firmly believe in doing “Best of” lists after the year has completely ended because so much great stuff comes out in December and I don’t want to short-change those albums or films.

For the first installment of Foggy Ruins Of Time’s Best of 2007 lists I will be listing my top thirty songs of 2007. What I wanted for this list was a series of songs that to me, stuck in my head and found as much plays as possible. Also songs that truly felt right on every level. Without further ado I present to you:

(Note: this is in alphabetical order according to song title)

Cave Babies-“Asparagus Green”
Helmed by 5…4…3…2…1 radio host and Watercolor Paintings band mate Josh ‘Hoshwa’ Redman, Cave Babies is a sensitive project and “Asparagus Green” is the perfect song in describing feelings of adoration and longing. A simple chord organ riff with splashes of trumpet makes lines like, “My heart is on fire cuz you are so pretty,” even more tender and beautiful.

SXEZSKOZ-“Balloon Ride (Ghostwalking)”
Alfredo Barraza’s electronica project SXEZSKOZ provided the score behind one of UCSB’s best films, The Titan Sting, and “Balloon Ride (Ghostwalking)” is one of the most memorable songs off of that film. Containing layers upon layers of sound but relying on a smile haunting melody, I cannot even come up with the words for how pure and perfect this song is to me. I wish I could have it looped in my brain forever.

Paul Baribeau-“Better Than Anything Ever”
In the lo-fi world, the wait for his second album Grand Ledge seemed like eons, but with songs like “Better Than Anything Ever” it was well worth the wait. This song is adoration at its purest and honest. I know in my life I’ve felt this way about someone.

Marc With A C-“Classic Country Wasn’t Multitracked In ‘61”
Florida’s own Marc With A C released his best album yet in 2007, Normal Bias, and this first track hits hard and delicious. Containing one of the strangest hooks in a long time, there is something so utterly infectious about it. It’s the kind of song that’ll be sung around campfires someday.

Maria Taylor-“Clean Getaway”
She has only begun her reign of glory as former Azure Ray band member released her second album last year, Lynn Teeter Flower. This song echoes with a quiet longing that straddles the line between fragile confidence and sad irony. What does, “I finally made it/I made a clean getaway,” really mean? What does it mean for you?

A Lime Tree-“Cup of Love”
John Collector may be young, but under his moniker A Lime Tree he has started making music that clearly shows he has talent in every sense of the word. The song is startlingly amazing and the lyrics show so much wisdom and so much poetry. And to top it all off it’s incredibly catchy.

Dave Matthews-“Eh Hee”
One of the greatest physical representations of how the world feels to me right now. As I said in my original post, this song is a breathe of fresh air, not just for Dave Matthews fans, but for pop music in general.

The Darlings-“Emily”
Wow wow wow is all I can say; I can’t stop listening to this song. The Darlings are just getting started and “Emily” is quite an anthem to begin with; quite a sweet snarl if you ask me.

Angels & Airwaves-“Everything’s Magic”
The lead single off their second CD I-Empire, “Everything’s Magic” is a great song that proves through all the romantic angst of Tom Delonge, he can still channel some great poetry that packs an emotional punch.

Bright Eyes-“Four Winds”
When I first heard this song I felt like I could conquer the world. The first single off Cassadaga, this song shows Conor Oberst finally being able to grapple heroically over the senselessness of the world we live in. “Four Winds” is pure country at its core, one of the finest hooks in years, killer violin solos and my favorite Bright Eyes song.

Jonny Greenwood-“Future Markets”
Taken off of Jonny Greenwood’s revolutionary score for PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, “Future Markets” is representing a man on the prowl, or the kill. The wild staccatos by the violins remind you of a horror film, but with a sugary edge. It’s about a man who sweetly decides to take advantage of you and even if you see it coming you comply anyways.

Jim James & Calexico-“Goin’ To Acapulco”
One of the starring songs in Todd Haynes’s great deconstructive biopic I’m Not There, “Goin’ To Acapulco” reminded us all in the power of Dylan’s words, but it also showed even the uninitiated what a great fucking singer Jim James of My Morning Jacket is. Don’t forget those beautifully nostalgic trumpets by Calexico. One of the greatest Bob Dylan covers ever I’m sure.

Kanye West-“Good Life (Feat. T-Pain)”
One of the greatest summer anthems in ages, Kanye West mixed the right amount of flash and style with a huge splash of nostalgia, hopes and dreams. We all don’t have the same aspirations as Kanye, but I think this song really taps into a core part of all us that wishes for a grand life before any really world cynicism sets in.

Eddie Vedder-“Hard Sun”
This is pure bliss. From the Sean Penn directed Into The Wild, “Hard Sun” is a song that represents a feeling that is almost always escapable and never lasts too long. It only happens when we look down from mountains (all kinds) and see our entire life stretching back. Eddie Vedder tapped into the moment when we realize how great the view is all around us.

Flight of the Conchords-“ Hiphopapotamus Vs. Rhymenocerous”
The song has existed in some form for a few years, but when it came time to adapt it for their HBO show they took it in a great new direction. Featuring cheap hip hop beats from the late 80s/early 90s it only highlights their actually somewhat fantastic rapping skills. Did you read that right? Just listen to the song and you’ll understand.

Fragile Fawn-“Indian Giver”
This is an epic self-probing lo-fi song by one of my newest favorite duos Fragile Fawn. Labeled “demo” on their myspace I can’t even fathom what else they could do with it. It’s brimming with sounds and surprises, but has a wild melody that’ll have you beaming considering the subject matter.

Mike XVX-“ Inner City Blues”
“This song is about graffiti and how great it is,” says Mike and with that he jumps into a fast declaration of political dissent. It’s simple, honest, eye opening and so much fun to sing along to. It’s the pure spirit of DIY and true anarchy.

The Lonesome Architects-“Julie Vignon”
I don’t want to be her that’s all I know. Off of The Lonesome Architects second record The Ocean at Night, “Julie Vignon” probably exemplifies their brand of “folktronica” best, but it really doesn’t matter, the hook is biting and the beats even more so. Who knew folk music could be this visceral?

John C. Reilly-“A Life Without You (Is No Life At All)”
This song represents the kind of bombastic love songs that we all wish someone would sing about us. John C. Reilly’s voice shines here and the songs melodrama is perfect. By the time lines like, “I want to cry rivers of blood” come along you are so sold by the song you sing along without batting an eye.

A Drum And An Open Window-“Make Things”
I was so moved by this song when I first heard them sing it at Muddy Waters in SB. It legitimizes everything us artists do beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s a call to arms for everyone to be creative and an assured hand that what we do really does mean something.

Rambling Nicholas Heron-“Only This And Nothing More”
This song is smooth, warm and comforting. I love this song with a passion and I feel like it’s all going to be all right when I listen to it. There is something about Rambling Nicholas’s voice that really grabs you and has a confidence that appears tender. This song is one for the ages.

Regina Spektor-“Real Love”
With all the Dylan covers going around this year it’s easy to forget that there was a Lennon cover album released too. I can’t speak for the rest of the songs off Instant Karma, but all I can say is Lennon’s “Real Love” was a perfect match for Regina Spektor. Her quirky voice brings out the uniqueness of this song like never before, and feels even more earnest. It is quite an accomplishment; its beyond that even.

Tinyfolk-“Really, Really Blue: A Tale Of Unrequited (Perhaps) Romance and Lizardry”
Released on Tinyfolk’s epic lo-fi album Bill and the Wee Pop! Records release Pizza Under The Sea, “Really, Really Blue” drips with nostalgia and longing. It is a new level of poetic mastery by Russ Woods and musically his most accomplished. It’s a sensory trip that brings up too many feelings to comprehend at one time, but Russ manages to channel it all quite beautifully.

This is the Radiohead song we’ve all been waiting for. Released on In Rainbows, the level of emotional outpouring is shocking, almost frightening. It is the song that is perfectly harmonious with Thom Yorke’s voice and uses it to its fullest advantage. “Reckoner” is the summation of everything Radiohead has ever done before this, and shows supremely one the greatest bands of all time at the top of the world.

Adam Faucett-“Salton Sea”
I was lucky enough to play a show with this fine fellow from Arkansas and this song really capitalizes on what makes Adam quite unique. The intricate plucking of acoustic guitar with a touch of organ highlights his soulful country voice. Even though he’s never been there you won’t be able to escape this song anytime soon.

Rilo Kiley-“Silver Lining”
The opener to Rilo Kiley’s much debated Under The Blacklight, “Silver Lining” is simple, pretty and a great gospel number. It’s cleansing because it marks a new direction for Rilo Kiley lyrically, communicating a lot with very little words, “I never felt so wicked/As when I willed our love to die.” Did I mention the handclaps, Jenny Lewis’s prime voice, and Blake Sennett’s harmonious and warm guitar licks?

Beirut-“Sunday Smile”
I’m not that qualified to talk about Beirut (like some people I know), but this song’s waltz is quite beautiful and with the shower of voices and the accompanying trumpet there is something special going on here. Off of their second album The Flying Club Cup, “Sunday Smile,” is an example of a song where no individual part outshines the other, the elements work in harmony.

Shleby Sifers-“Try To Understand”
Shelby Sifers seems quiet, but this song hits hard. “Try To Understand” literally took my breath away when I first heard it. There is so much wisdom in it for how fragile Shelby’s voice sounds. It’s her way of trying to deal with life and living itself. We are all tender creatures, but we can make it if we try.

Isaac Arms-“Us Vs. Stuff”
This isn’t just the best song of 2007, but quite possibly my favorite song of all time. The second song off of Old Artificer, “Us Vs. Stuff” is everything I want in a song and more. I can’t even begin to describe how it makes me feel, but I well up every time. It’s a manifesto to the world that the love between two people will prevail no matter what.

Desmond Reed-“When I Met Michelle”
Desmond Reed is a pop genius. All he needs his acoustic guitar to tell cute, dorky stories with great choruses and smart lyrics. “When I Met Michelle” is his best song yet about how he fell in love with a girl Michelle. It makes me happy that those feelings were reciprocated because I felt exactly like he did when I first had a girlfriend.

So that’s my list for the thirty best songs of 2007. Stay tuned for the best albums, films and more!