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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Barbara Walters Goes To Hell

I've only seen and heard little blips and buzzes about it, but I have to admit that I am OBSESSED with Barbara Walter's recent investigative report on Heaven, in which she seeks the hard answers about the pearly gates from such experts as Maria Shriver, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Gere.

Huh?

Maria Shriver I can sort of see as an expert on the afterlife, since she allegedly drew from her experiences as a Kennedy and as Arnold Schwartzenegger's wife to write a book on Heaven (?!) and of course she also mildly resembles the Cryptkeeper; but Liz Taylor? Richard Gere?! Hang out with the Dalai Lama or Jacko enough and all of a sudden everyone thinks you're something special, I guess.

I missed the actual broadcast, but I wonder if she spoke with any actual theologans. Ms. Walters is a classy lady, so I'm guessing she was able to at least fit in a quick soundbyte from Deepak Chopra between ruminations by such spiritual luminaries as Mischa Barton, Hal Sparks, Cheryl Hines and Usher...or am I confusing the report with VH1's "I Love The Afterlife"?

(Upon further reading, I discovered the Dalai Lama was indeed included in the special; Barbara even goaded His Holyness to plant a wet one on her cheek, presumably with the come-on, "Wanna see Heaven? Give mama some sugar".)

I can imagine a long segment in which Barbara Walters chats with Ray Romano about the significance of George Burns' "Oh God!" movies, followed by a quick blip of Walters asking a prominent Vatican official, "Everlasting life...sexy?" And then we cut to a Mazda commercial.

What I really want to know is, did Barbara Walters interview Jesus? Did she make Him cry? Were there questions she asked that were too personal and that He refused to answer? Did He give her a tour of His heavenly crib and show off His fleet of Bentleys?


Barbara: Jesus Christ. Superstar. Do you get tired of the necklaces? The statues? The lawn ornaments?

Jesus Christ: Well, I'm not getting a cut of the licensing, if that's what you're asking.

Barbara: Does that hurt?

Jesus Christ: I'll be honest - I feel a bit used. It's hard to have a private life when everyone's asking you for fish and bread, you know what I mean? I have to tell you, I could do without the black velvet paintings. I'm your Lord and Savior - could we, like, not sell my image in front of gas stations? Thanks.


Of course, I'm a stoney-eyed realist, so I'm well aware Barbara Walters was not able to wrangle JC for her investigative hack piece on Heaven. In fact, what was she doing investigating Heaven in the first place? I'm afraid Babs may be starting to come unhinged. Don't be surprised if next week she's blowing the hinges off with her exclusive one-on-one interview with a bowl of spaghetti.


Barbara: Does it bother you when people eat you?

Spaghetti:

Barbara: Are there times you wished you were still sitting on a grocery shelf? Let's talk about your sex life.

Spaghetti:

Barbara: You. Are. Fascinating.

Personally, I'm waiting for Barbara's follow-up special in which she investigates Hell. There'll be no shortage of first-hand celebrity testimonials for that little piece of reportage pie, lemme tellya.
In fact, Barbara could even take a personal tour of the seven levels of Hell. I'm sure a lot of people have given her directions throughout her career, but let's keep things interesting and bring Mary Hart on as her tour guide.

Perhaps for the sake of expediency, she could take a detour through my workplace, thus bypassing the 4rd, 5th and 6th levels (and hey, we have free Flavia coffee in the breakroom). This would take her directly to the 7th Level of Hell, which of course would bring her full circle as we are introduced once again to Satan and the unholy minions.

Or, well, I guess I answered my own question. There's really no need for a television special on Hell...it's always only as far away as your remote control.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Kimya Dawson Interview That Never Happened

(Note: This is an interview I wrote at the beginning of 2005 for a monthly magazine. Due to a change in editorship, this story unfortunately fell through the cracks. Still and all, I spent the first half of the year working very hard on the piece, and I felt it would be a shame to keep it hidden in my hard drive until the end of time...so here is the "lost Kimya Dawson interview", so to speak. If you're a fan, I hope you enjoy the story. If you don't know who she is, I highly recommend checking out her web site. Enjoy.

KIMYA DAWSON
[SINGER/SONGWRITER]


“I WANT TO KNOW THE PEOPLE WHO WILL BE PUTTING OUT MY MUSIC. I MEAN REALLY KNOW THEM. I DON’T WANT IT TO BE ALL BUSINESS.”

A good song:
Is about truth.
Doesn’t kiss and tell.
Would make a dead friend smile.
Makes you a better person.

Kimya Dawson's music brings to mind a girl furtively singing into a tape recorder in the middle of the night, with blankets pulled over her head and a flashlight tucked under her pillow. Her music is both funny and mournful, often within the same song. She bares her soul and waxes irreverent in a drowsy tango that channels the fun and intimacy of a twilight slumber party confessional.

Kimya was born and raised in Bedford Hills, where her parents run a day-care center in their home. She was recording as a back-up singer for Ben Kweller and Third Eye Blind when she met Adam Green at a record store in Mount Kisco ten years ago. The two formed the Moldy Peaches, who recorded two albums and opened tours for Tenacious D and The Strokes.

The band became one of the more popular acts in the Anti Folk scene, which grew in the '80s as a series of festivals for to musicians finding themselves turned down in folk clubs for being too loud or too indecorous. Kimya says Anti Folk is simply a bunch of people who like to get together and play music: "The players write songs because the songs are in their souls, and so it is a less competitive scene that is closer to the true spirit of 'folk'."

She and Adam Green each released solo albums in 2002, and since then, she has recorded three more albums on her own. Two stealthily-released records - My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess and Knock Knock Who - were recorded at home and made available only at her shows and on the Web site of the small indie label Important Records. Her latest release, last year's Hidden Vagenda, is a larger affair, in which she took her songs out of her bedroom and into the studio.

Given her upbringing, it's no surprise that Kimya Dawson loves kids. Children's drawings are regularly included in her album art. On her Web journal, she's quick to announce new births in her friends' families. She recently recorded a duet with the sister of Hallie Geier, an 11-year-old who was struck by an SUV and killed last year, and whose family has since formed a foundation for community-based organizations in Hallie's name.

Fans can find Dawson's paintings, books of cartoons and hand-painted bags for sale at her shows and on her Web site. Among her most popular items is a T-shirt featuring her drawing of a kitten sniffing a flower, accompanied by the words "Kimya Dawson Loves Me".

This interview was conducted via e-mail and telephone in early 2005, while Kimya was in the midst of several shows on the East coast. The road coaxes her from beneath the covers, though she still wears bunny costumes when she performs.


I. “IT DOESN’T MATTER IF ANYONE LAUGHS, BECAUSE THEY ARE SONGS.”


THE GLEE CLUB: The first time I heard of Moldy Peaches was in a music magazine, which painted you as this wacky band that dressed up in animal costumes. While there's definitely a silly side to the band, there's also a very serious, thoughtful side. Is it cringe worthy when the band is described like a novelty act or is it just nice to be seen?

KIMYA DAWSON: I think that description was very accurate. I don't think all of our songs are wacky, though. Other than that, it's pretty right on. We didn't want anything, really ‑ we just wanted to be able to write songs and play songs, and have people who wanted to hear our songs hear them. We were never going to be fake to get press or anything like that. None of that stuff is anything to be ashamed of. We were having a great time. We definitely love our costumes.

GC: I read a review of one of your albums in which it said the only other person they could think of who could marry sadness and humor as successfully as you was Richard Pryor. Do you think of yourself as a humorist/musician?

KD: I did stand-up comedy before I became a musician. It's a way I deal with stuff, but I didn't like feeling as if the audience had to feel obligated to laugh at my humor, or like I had to make people laugh. I like that some things some people will get and some things other people will get, and some things no one will get but me. It doesn't matter if anyone laughs, because they are songs.

GC: A lot of your lyrics are about your family, and just from listening to your music, it's really obvious how important your family is to you. How have they reacted to the fact that you're writing songs about them and people are hearing those songs?

KD: It's all true. I think they like that I tell the truth, and that what I do is being me and being honest. My family is very real. My brother writes songs too, and his are about his truth. It's terrific. My mom listens to my CDs at least once a day, and my dad came to my show the other night. My brother has opened for me a bunch of times. They have all sang on my albums, so it's good. They see how writing my songs makes me a better person. I think when someone writes about you, it makes you be a better person, too.

GC: Where do you draw the line between what's private and what's public? Is that ever a problem for you, or do you have that aspect of your writing pretty much in check?

KD: I try not to bad mouth people who aren't politicians. I don't talk about who I make out with. Other than that, I will talk about just about anything.

GC: Are you ever surprised by the way people react to your songwriting?

KD: At first, I was surprised by how many people could relate to what I was singing about. Now I know that there are a lot of people thinking and feeling the same things. It's relieving to know I'm not alone.

GC: From reading your Web site and your online journal, and just from looking at your albums and cover art, it's clear that kids are a big part of what makes you do what you do.

KD: It's weird, because a part of me thinks that I'm doing it for the kids, and another part of me feels like I'm still a kid. It's not like I became a grown-up and saw the artwork that kids were doing and thought, “Oh, I wanna be like them.” I feel like I've always done art the same way. It's not like becoming mature and becoming a kid again. I've always been around a lot of kids my whole life, so I think it helps to not let go of that aspect of your being.


II. “IT’S A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE EVERY DAY TRYING TO CHANGE THE MUSIC IN MY CAR.”


GC: Do you ever get kind of a weird vibe from people when you talk about enjoying something, like rooting for someone on American Idol, when you're thought of as this indie folk artist from a close-knit community of artists? A lot of people seem to think it's either/or. Either you're 100% part of the mainstream, or you have to rail against it completely.

KD: I don't think they're the same universe. I think that what I do and what that is are two different things. All of that is pure entertainment. I respect that for what it is. Well, not the business of it. I don't respect the business of entertainment, but I respect entertainment. I don't like the way radio is controlled, but I like pop music. I like going to dance parties and I like watching people sing at karaoke. I want to be entertained. I want to hear stuff that's fun. I want to watch stuff that's fun. I feel like if someone wrote something that's from their own heart and they're going on a TV show and being judged, I'd hate it. But they're singing other people's songs. It's just silly shit, you know?

GC: You had Daniel Johnston on your last album. How did that happen?

KD: I played a bunch of shows with Daniel and I toured with him a little, and we get along really, really well. We like each other's stuff. Basically, I just called our mutual friend who works with Daniel a lot, and asked if Daniel could sing on this song. We called him and just recorded him over the phone.

GC: There are a lot of people who call Daniel Johnston an outsider artist, but then there are others who say no, it's folk music.

KD: Yeah, I think it's just folk songs. I think if people didn't know anything about his emotional state ‑ if people never met him or saw pictures of him and just heard the songs ‑ they're just folk songs. They're really well constructed, emotional, pure folk songs. I think it's just because people know about him that they call it outsider music.

GC: Do you think “outsider music” is a dangerous label?

KD: It's one of those things where people take different things different ways. So on one hand, there are people who are turned off by a term like “outsider music”, but on the other hand there are people who are like, “Ooh, wow ‑ outsider music!” I think labels in general put you in a weird position. Who will even give what you do a chance?

GC: What have you been listening to recently?

KD: I'm an obsessive-compulsive music listener. I just did a bunch of shows with Jason Anderson, and he gave me his CDs. His shows were totally mind-blowing, so I've been going crazy listening to him. Also, I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of kids in Bloomington, Indiana who run a little label called Planet X. They have a bunch of bands like Ghost Mice, and a kid who I'm going on tour with this spring. Just a bunch of cool little folky, punk-type bands. It's funny, I just put iTunes on my computer for the first time, so I've been putting a lot of my CDs into the computer, and I'm hoping that at some point before I go on tour I can get an iPod. Part of me is against it, but another part of me tours 75% of the year, so it's really hard to have my music collection with me. I always have to pick and choose, and I drive myself to shows so I have CDs all over the car and it's a near-death experience every day trying to change the music in my car.

GC: I see everyone with the white earphones, and part of me says, “I don't want to be ubiquitous!” And another part of me says, “But I want 10,000 songs on me at all times!”

KD: I've got hundreds of records, and I'd love if I had the kind of life where I could sit around and listen only to vinyl. I do have a portable battery-operated record player in my car, and I have a box of records. When I stop places, I can listen to records. It’s like, I didn't want to be on Friendster, and I didn't want to get a cellphone, but it's all stuff that's made my life a little bit easier to manage, living the way I do.


III. “NOT EVERYTHING’S IN TOWER RECORDS.”


GC: Being on the road 75% of the year, do you tend to write more when you travel?

KD: It's hard for me to write when I'm not at home, but I can do it a little bit. Also, I spent so much time working on my last record that I took a break from writing for a while, which I think is normal. Then I started thinking, “Oh my God, I'm never going to be able to write songs again!” But now, all of a sudden, I'm writing songs again and they're just pouring out of me. I haven't had the patience to make another album, so I just keep putting them on my Web site.

GC: That's another thing - I thought that you only had two albums, but it turns out there are four out there.

KD: Yeah.

GC: Two of them have been really hard for me to find.

KD: Those are on a really tiny label that just got better distribution. They're still not easy to find, but what's really neat about it is that if people really want them, they can either get them at my shows or they can get them at the label Web site. It's really cool because there are so many weird things on the label, that I like for people to actually go and see what this little community is that I'm a part of. The label (Important Records) is out of middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Here's this guy who likes what I do enough to put my records out, so you can check out the other stuff that he likes. His wife just had a baby yesterday. You can go see the picture of the baby. And a year ago, they found a box full of kittens and they decided to keep them. They have pictures from when they were just dirty little kittens in a box until now, where they're all big, full-grown cats. I like that kind of personal involvement. It's nice. Not everything's in Tower Records. You have to work a little bit to find the stuff.

GC: So you don't really sweat the distribution, as long as you have that kind of relationship. And it's true - when I went to their site to look for your albums, I started looking at all kinds of albums by artists I'd never heard of.

KD: They have some Daniel Johnston side projects, and some weird noise bands from strange places - all kinds of neat stuff. Sometimes people complain that they can't order things over the Internet, and I tell them they can just put a ten dollar bill in an envelope and send it. [Laughs] That's what I like about Planet X records - it's a mail order label, and he doesn't take orders over the Internet. You have to write him a letter and tell him what you want. He opens every letter and reads it and puts together the package for you. I know that with some labels, because of the demand, they can't be that personal all the time. But I think it's really special when it can be.

GC: When I was looking for those two albums of yours at the Important Records site, I was a little flabbergasted. When I selected the CDs, I got an e-mail from them and we started corresponding about your music. At first, I wondered if it was just a really smart automated response, or if these people were really that involved with their customers.

KD: John at Important Records makes my T-shirts. He has a big silk-screening set-up in his basement, and he hand-screens all the shirts for the people on his label. I sell a lot of shirts, so for the last batch I went up to his house and I silk-screened them myself. I was supposed to go yesterday and make some more, but, you know - they just had a baby, so they got the day off. [Laughs] When I was on tour with Daniel Johnston, we all went to a dairy farm and hung out, and wandered around in different towns in New England. It's really nice to be friends with the people who put out your stuff. It's like that with K Records, too. I want to know the people who will be putting out my music. I mean really know them. I don't want it to be all business.


IV. “THIS ONE’S FOR MY CHEESY HIPPIE ROCKER FRIEND WHO DIED.”


GC: So when you put your music together, what's your process like?

KD: A lot of the time, the music and the words come together. I was just thinking about that, because today I'm working on something new, and knowing that I have a show tonight, I've been tape recording every couple of lines, which I don't always do. I don't usually write my words down, because it's harder for me to memorize them. I usually just repeat it in my head over and over. But today, I've been more aware of the fact that I'm writing a song. Usually I don't think about it. I don't ever think about the structure when I'm making the song. It all just kind of comes out.

GC: You said a while back that you'd like to try recording a really produced-sounding album and name it Buy My Real CDs From Me Directly. Do you think that'll ever happen? I'd love to hear you go all glossy-disco-poppy for one album, then throw everyone for a loop by going right back to your 4-track bedroom recordings.

KD: I tried! Hidden Vagenda is a big production studio album with members of Third Eye Blind and Vanessa Carlton and Brain Mantia and Joe Gore on it. It still sounds like me ‑ I couldn't let it go too far, and no one wanted it to. Everyone just added to the me-ness of it, instead of trying to make it like them.

GC: You re-recorded your song "Anthrax" on your latest album, which you'd already put on a previous record. What made you want to re-do that song?

KD: I wrote that song right after September 11th. We had a Moldy Peaches tour scheduled, and we were going on tour with The Strokes and had to leave that month. Everyone was wondering if we were going to do the tour or if it was going to be canceled. Everyone was freaked out and didn't know what was happening. Then, we agreed that the best thing for everyone, for the country at large, would be to just play music. People would just feel better if they could come out and see the show, instead of sitting at home and feeling like all good stuff is called off because of this horrible thing that happened. Then Adam got tendonitis in his wrist and couldn't play anymore, so we hired our friend Aaron Wilkinson to come on tour with us and play for Adam. Within the first week of the tour, like it says in the song, our van was broken into and our stuff was stolen. So we just sat up in the hotel all night and talked about what it meant. We just cried about our stuff for a while, and we talked about being grateful and appreciating everything that we have. A week after that, I went to Seattle and learned that my friend Gabe had died of a drug overdose - he's the “angel named Gabriel” in the song. There's just a lot that happened on that tour that's in the song. Sitting on the bank of the Mississippi River with Julian from The Strokes, talking about what we're doing, and what does what we do mean in the big scheme of things, and what does it mean to be judged by people who don't know you ‑ because they were just starting to get huge. It's just a lot about dealing with yourself on the planet. So I put that on my third album. Then, about a year and a half ago, Aaron died of a drug overdose. A lot of the time on that tour, we just listened to a lot of cheesy power ballads, driving through Wyoming listening to crazy solos ‑ so I thought it would be nice to get a lot of his closest friends together and do a really rippin' version of that song. Part of me knows that there are people will ask why I did that, because it was good the way it was. But it isn't for you or for me. This one's for my cheesy hippie rocker friend who died. This one's for Gabe and Aaron, and I don't want it to sound sad and pathetic.

GC: I want to let you get back to writing your song. Is there anything that you don't get asked in interviews that you wish you did get asked?

KD: Something has been on my mind a lot lately. I hang out with a lot of circles of musicians who are on different levels of playing music. And I have done a lot of really big tours, and now I'm doing mostly house party tours. I think that sometimes people think that I must really miss playing in big clubs. I’d like to make it clear that I don't like to do things any other way than the way I'm doing them. I really love going to different towns and meeting kids and making friends. I'm really happy where I am, and it's a really ideal situation for me. Nobody should feel sorry for me, because I chose to do it this way. I don't know if that sounds stupid.

GC: It doesn't sound stupid at all. So where are you right now?

KD: I'll be in the middle of a big tour this spring, but if anyone wants to see me, check my Web site. A lot of shows I play aren't really the kinds of shows you'll see in the paper. I get e-mails from people all the time asking, “When are you coming to LA?” I've been to LA six times in the past year, but you don't know because I've been playing outside of a coffee shop.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

15 Albums That Didn't Suck in 2005


1. Kate Bush, Aerial

I waited over a decade for this, and the years of wondering if there'd ever be another Kate Bush album paid off. This is a gorgeous piece of music that everyone should hear. It's a rare case of a lush, complex, big-sounding album which concerns itself with happiness, contentment and the small things in life. This certainly won't endear me to the obscurer-than-thou indie rawk jetset or the passionately contrarian iconoclasts out there (why would they read anything I have to say anyway?), but I consider this album to be one of the true enduring classics of this decade...so far. Nothing I've heard in many years has been both as endearing and as challenging to my ears as this album.


2. The Decemberists, Picaresque

Until Aerial came along and shattered my world, I was content to consider this album my favorite of the year. I wasn't always so taken with The Decemberists - on first listen, I thought of them as a bit twee and overly jangly, with a nasally vocalist who might be better suited for telephone operator work. But what can I tell you, Picaresque is a grower. The music reveals itself with each listen, until songs like "16 Military Wives" and "The Sporting Life" embed themselves in your memory and won't let go. The lyrics are also unlike just about anything else being written in pop music right now. Intelligent without appearing too self-impressed. I liked this album enough to see The Decemberists twice this year...each time strengthened my love of Picaresque that much more.

3. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

Fine, whatever, I'm a bandwaggoner. I didn't know who Sufjan Stevens was until this album came out this year, but HEY: I knew who the Danielsen Famile was, and I've even seen them perform once, so TECHNICALLY, I've seen Sufjan Stevens perform pre-Illinois (maybe. I think. I really can't remember him, other than I remember one guy in the band who didn't look like a redheaded Von Trapp child). And, okay, I thought the CD cover was cute and I heard about the flap over the Superman image and since, you know, I live in Illinois, I figured what the hell, might as well get me a little indie-rock collector's item.

So I got the CD. And I listened to it. And I love it. The man definitely has originality and style that could carry him through to a larger audience. I think these are the days that his fans will be able to say "I was into his music way back when..." - if Beck can become a household name, Sufjan is proving his inevitable pop ubiquity with this album. Very entertaining live performer, too - his voice is as beautifully simple on stage as it is on CD.

4. Sinéad O'Connor, Collaborations

It feels nice to wax enthusiastic about Sinéad's crazy ass again. Sadly, I wasn't at all thrilled with her collection of new recordings this year, but this CD reminded me of what I love about Sinéad when (in my opinion, anyway) she gets it right. Ol' Sine-Aid wraps her banshee pipes around a bunch of other artists' songs. This collection of her appearances on other people's albums is refreshingly diverse and varied - kind of a hijacked iPod tracklist. Save your money on her reggae album - this CD is Sinéad's finest comeback attempt yet.

5. Princess Superstar, My Machine

If every gay guy's gotta have an obligatory diva figure to serve as some kind of pop culture familiar in his life, let's just get this out of the way right now: Concetta Kirschner is my Cher. Girlfriend's a rapper, a DJ, a comic genius, a fantastic stage performer, and let's not forget she plays a mean guitar when she's in the mood. She's the only bikini-wearing hip-hop D.I.Y. sexpot ever to cite Fugazi as an early influence, I can tell ya that much.

Her 2005 release was an overwhelming feast of new songs wrapped up in an over-the-top sci-fi concept piece centered around the pursuit of fame in a dystopian future. Sounds a little heady, but the Princess manages to keep it light and fun. I've never been a fan of skits and segues, and such is the case with this album - too much babble bums my buzz - but it's a necessary hassle to illustrate My Machine's nightmarish Warholian world. Meanwhile, there's some pop music on here that I'd say should be getting airplay, but on second thought, no - the good stuff on this album is too good for radio.

6. Out Hud, Let Us Never Speak Of It Again

This album is an odd duck - it's a bit art rock, a bit funk, a bit electronica, a bit indie rock - it's whatever the band wants it to be at any given time. When I listen to this album, I hear a little bit of Prince, a lot of Tom Tom Club and a WHOLE lot of !!! - which stands to reason, as there are members of that band who contribute here. Don't let the ugly (and I mean UGLY) album cover fool you - what's inside is challenging and refreshing dance music, with old skool meeting the new stuff in one big party.

7. Beck, Guero

This is the best of Beck and the worst of Beck. How can you top a classic album like Sea Change? Maybe you can't. But you can still have fun trying. This album was a return to the playful, irreverent, retro-kitsch-obsessed Beck of Odelay fame. It also has some introspective tracks reminescent of Mutations and Sea Change. This is fine, though Beck's desire to have it both ways - both pensive and absurd, both quiet and raucous - makes me wonder what it is the guy's really on about. The last person to give a clue is Beck himself. Contemplating his art too much leaves me cold, but when I try not to think about it so much, Guero is a great time.

8. Saint Etienne, Tales From Turnpike House

Sarah and the boys turn in a cozy, pretty little album about the day in the life of people who live in a particular building in a particular part of London. Nothing more, nothing less. But they sure make it sound like a good life. This was a tasty blend of StEt's love of Brian Wilson and '60s pop, married with their ongoing sonic experiments and atypical arrangements. The group keeps their sound interesting, but they don't get in the way of Sarah Cracknell's kittenish croon.

Also, the bonus e.p. of children's songs was a nice added touch - I liked it more than the proper album on first listen! I think the band and their label need to reconsider their decision not to include it on the U.S. release in 2006 (in other words, it's well worth the extra bucks to pick up the UK import version).

9. Nouvelle Vague, s/t

I bought this CD in the throes of a bossa nova kick I'd been going through earlier this year, and figured what the hey - this collection of new wave classics interpreted Brazilian pop-style was probably going to be nothing more than a schmaltzy novelty album. I'm happy to report that my expectations were largely wrong. If I hadn't heard the original versions, I'd enjoy this as a nice modern bossa nova record. Great rearrangements, wonderfully smooth vocals, and a treatment of the material that more than suggests a sincere love of both the original songs and the style they've chosen to explore. Great stuff for new wave casualties and lounge lizards alike.

10. Brian Eno, Another Day On Earth

He hasn't released a "proper" pop album with vocals in years, but this album came and went quietly all the same, in true Eno fashion. His solo work manages to blend into the shadows of what's popular in music at the time, slowly releasing itself into the bloodstream of modern music and emerging later in the textures of young bands trying to cross over into "serious artist" territory. Bless Eno for keeping things interesting. This album is quiet and unsettling, celebratory and disturbing. It draws as much from his '70s solo albums as it does from the wealth of music he's produced for the likes of U2 and David Bowie. It's big sound masquarading as something intimate.

11. Paul McCartney, Chaos & Creation in the Backyard

I dropped in on this one a bit late - early December late, in fact - but I instantly fell in love with these songs. This is the Paul McCartney who was my favorite Beatle when I was a little boy. This is the guy behind all those catchy songs like "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "Blackbird". When one thinks good thoughts about Paul's past work, that's the kind of music you'll hear on this album. Finally.

12. LCD Soundsystem, s/t

Hit or miss, but with two discs of dance chaos, there's a lot to hit and a lot to miss (or not). LCD Soundsystem is the latest uber-catchy electro outfit to have its album picked apart by television ad folks and repurposed into car and stereo jingles. Still, there's plenty on this album that's a bit too edgy for Honda and Sony...including a painfully funny song mourning the loss of one's edge. This is essential booty-shaking material, if only for the two mixes of the song "Yeah" on the bonus disc.

13. Gorillaz, Demon Days

Notable, but nothing truly exciting from the cartoon alterna-waifs. Damon Albarn's pet project still recalls the Banana Splits after too many tokes of the peace pipe, but that's not entirely a bad thing. Fun guest vocalists abound, and Gorillaz still know how to marry hip-hop and post-punk for a nice, finger-snapping journey into laid-back dance pop.

Wow, that was a lot of hyphens. I'm glad they don't cost anything.

14. New Order, Waiting for the Siren's Call

If you like New Order, there's no reason not to like this album. It's New Order being New Order in their typical New Orderly fashion. There's no reason to be truly overwhelmed by this album either, because there's nothing really new happening here - but if you got into this band expecting radical departures, you would have been sorely disappointed years ago. Still, this one manages to satisfy consistently from beginning to end in a way that easily trumps their previous album, building tempo and momentum from the first track to the end, and dropping off with a nice chill-out tune before treating listeners to a bonus remix at disc's end.

15. Sigur Ros, Takk

More pretty orchestration and wow-neato noisescapes from Iceland's finest stoner-rockers. I like this album, but I can't help but feeling that owning their three full-length studio albums entitles me to say I've heard everything this band could possibly ever do in the future. And considering I've heard Sigur Ros is disbanding after their current tour, I guess that's a good thought for me to have. Delightful music for sleeping/reading/watching the snow fall.

Monday, December 12, 2005

We Done Saw Us Some Narnia This Weekend

We did. And I liked it - a lot - but I didn't love it.

I'll admit, I'm a bit of a Narnia geek - I read all the books last year and I went off on an obsessive study of the books for a while - so I might be a tough crowd for a modern-day Disney big-budget adaptation. I was impressed with the amount of detail they put into the film, right down to the bluebottle dying on the windowsill. I think the intention was to make a film that was painfully true to the book, and I think they more or less succeeded.

Tilda Swinson was MAGNIFICENT as the witch. She was like a shark or a snake - just pure heartless predatory hate on legs. Her costumes were amazing, her makeup was sexy and horrific at the same time, her eyes were cold, evil and dead. She was 1,000 percent VILLAIN.

The kids were great, too - too often, kid actors = annoying and shrill. The four Pevensie siblings were actually charming and moody, kind of like actual human beings instead of pamperered child actors. Go figure!

Also, the CGI wasn't terribly distracting, though at times some of the talking animal characters would lapse into the realm of the cutesie (particularly Mr. & Mrs. Beaver, which I suppose couldn't be helped). The unicorn, griffins, phoenixes, tree spirits, etc. were all gorgeously done.
My biggest complaint - and for a movie I otherwise really enjoyed, this complaint is a bit of a whopper - is with the lion of the hour: Aslan.

The lion looked great - the CGI and the puppets/dummies blended well to give a seemless illusion of a real talking lion. Liam Neeson was a good choice for the lion's voice. Technically, they did a fine job. But Aslan wasn't "big" enough. In the book, his roar was terrifying and deafening. In the movie, it was simply loud. In the book, his affection for the children was intoxicating. In the movie, yeah, he got along with them fine, but the connection never really happened.
In the movie's 2 and a half hours, we were given enough time to be in awe of Aslan as the leader of Narnia, but we weren't given the opportunity to grasp why we're meant to be in awe of him. And what a freakin' playground of character development he is: a Christ metaphor in the form of a talking lion who rules a magical land of fairy tale creatures. GO WITH IT! The book succeeds in this. The film attempts and, in my opinion, fails valiantly.

I will say this, however: the stone table scene is as heartbreaking as a PG film can get.

My other gripe with the film was its ending - specifically, the ending credits. If you stick around for a minute, you'll get a little blip of epilogue between the Professor and Lucy. Sure, it was in the book, but the way it was tossed in the credits came off as superfluous and insulting to me. Also, do we need to end something as timeless as a C.S. Lewis adaptation with Alanis Morrissette songs? Hell, even Enya would have been a better choice.

Minor quibbles though...even the semi-defanged Aslan doesn't quite ruin the film as a whole. It's a great, intelligently-made holiday fantasy film that the kiddies will love (though Tilda will scare the crap out of them).

Friday, December 09, 2005

23,023

The Glee Club is officially more or less back in business again!

Woo. Yay. See?

I abandoned the blog last month in order to focus on an avalanche of writing projects - namely, my sketch writing class at Second City, and my second go at completing 50,000 words of a new story in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month.

The title of this entry lets you know how well that went.

I fell a mere 27,000-ish words short of the goal, but I don't consider the experience a failure. I had a story idea swimming around in my head for most of this year, and I was able to get it on the page and explore it for a month. I was able to focus on storytelling without constantly humoring my internal editor - I pushed through 60 pages of plot without laboring through countless consultations with Mr. Strunk & Mr. White. I started a story that I will most likely be picking back up once the effects of NaNoWriMo burn-out wear off.

And honestly, I don't see how the champs of this challenge do it. For me, writing 5,000 words a day is a pretty hefty chunk of effort. Writing 2,000 words a day isn't exactly haiku corner either, lemme tellya.

Still, I saw some folks hit their 50,000 word goal within two weeks. When I checked the NaNoWriMo site around Thanksgiving, some folks were up to 80,000 words...I saw one who had over 100,000 going on. Now, to someone like me who was struggling just to hit the 20,000 word mark, flaunting a six-figure word count was out-and-out sadism!

Do these people have jobs? Do they have families or responsibilities? Do they live in a cabin somewhere untouched by outside stimulus? These 100,000 word count people, do they live in lead-lined safe houses, typing their tomes inside a plastic bubble? Who are these people? How can I become more like them? I want answers!

Meanwhile, I am giving great consideration to lodging a modest letter of request to those nice NaNoWriMo people. I think part of my problem with getting 50,000 words written in 30 days is the particular month in which we are given the challenge.

I mean, really. November?

My job was absolutely insane in November. After a day of hacking away at a computer all day in the office, the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit my tired butt in front of a keyboard for the rest of the evening.

And of course, Thanksgiving is in November, along with all its familial obligations and travelling torment...though I shouldn't complain too much about trying to travel and write, considering the fact I knocked out a good 4,000 words waiting for my post-Turkey Day flight home. Still and all, November brings distractions aplenty.

I mean, really. How about August? September? Any month with longer daylight hours and less holidays? I could write in the park or on the beach. I could get a cute little suntan with laptop shaped marks across my legs. I'd create characters who don't wear black cloaks or suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. It would be great.

Or, you know, maybe November was decided upon by a team of scientists in the writing laboratories of Switzerland and the real problem is that I'm just a slow-writing schmoe. Which, really, could be the long and short of it all.

Anyway, all that is over now, my last week of writing class is tomorrow, and I'm ready to spread some damn mirth.

So welcome back to the Glee Club. Don't track in any mud in or else I'm handing you the mop.

Outtakes From A Sufjan Stevens Album


  1. O Majestic Gurnee! Shower Us With Your Many Beautiful Gifts!
  2. We Won't Ignore Ya When You're in Peoria
  3. My Mother, My Father, I Have Left Home To Embrace The Ancient Cryptic Calm of Shaumberg
  4. Look To The Left! Look Up! Look Behind! Hello, Winnetka! Hello!
  5. Don't Worry About Me! My Broken Heart Was Mended At Hoffman Estates! (or, The Day Billy Corgan Delivered A Litter Of Kittens)
  6. Dear Lisle, I've Got Nothing For You. Sorry, Lisle. God Bless, Sufjan
  7. CTA, Carry Me Away...The Breeze, The Flowers, The Beauty of The El
  8. Excuse Me! Can't You See? Kankakee!
  9. Clap Your Hands! Smile! Be Very Happy! This Song Has Nothing To Do With Illinois! Now Spin Around! Clap Some More!