Sunday, March 29, 2015

Handful of Old Movies Get a Look in My Queue

I've been catching up on some old movies lately. Some classic, some a little less than classic.

Funny Farm: This is a relatively terrible Chevy Chase flick from 1988, the downside of a time when he was arguably the funniest movie-comedian in America. Gene Siskel once called it Chase's funniest film, a serious stretch for one that has a few laughs but is pretty badly dated by now. I had never seen it. Must have been going to too many Boston and AC/DC concerts that year.
**1/2 out of ***** stars

Dazed and Confused: After my favorite movie of 2014, Boyhood, I had to go back and watch Richard Linklater's other great Texas epic. This one was named Quentin Tarantino's 10th favorite film of all time for good reason. Beyond star-cameos galore, this view of high-school life in Austin captures the ethos of an entire generation of kids growing up in the 1970s and 1980s.
***** out of ***** stars

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure: I somehow never saw this, although I recognized the numerous catchphrases that still hold strong today ("I know you are but what am I?"). It's pretty funny and even educational stuff, and, as my 7-year-old said, "Pee-Wee makes funny faces."
**** out of ***** stars

The Man With Two Brains: Steve Martin comes nowhere close to The Jerk or Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid in this completely wacky script. Playing a neurosurgeon with an unpronounceable name (in the grand tradition of Chase's Fletch), Martin is nevertheless still funny and this one is still worth watching.
***1/2 out of ***** stars

An Affair to Remember: Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr star in this exceedingly romantic film, which suffers just a bit because Grant's typical comedic touches are largely missing. Instead, he is very George Clooney, meaning suave and very handsome, as he becomes friends on a passenger ship with Kerr between Europe and New York before slowly falling in love even amidst some traumatic setbacks.
***1/2 out of ***** stars

The Object of My Affection: The acting talents of Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd are pretty raw in this 1998 film. But it's entertaining enough and is pretty important in bringing societal acceptability of gay relationships to a more mass audience.
*** out of ***** stars

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Flaming Lips' Journey From Long John Silvers to Madison Square Garden

As part of my ongoing series of highlights from my expansive personal rock'n roll library:

It's pretty cool that music-journalist Jim DeRogatis' Staring At Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma's Fabulous Flaming Lips opens on New Year's Eve 2004 when the band played Madison Square Garden with Sleater Kinney and Wilco. Because I was there too.

A teamster working backstage said he had never seen anything like the display the Lips put on that night, which included a giant inflatable sun, clouds of smoke, a barrage of lights and video, and a non-stop New Year's rain of confetti.

It was a long way from where leading Lip Wayne Coyne had come from since the 11-year stretch years ago he spent as a fry cook at a fast-food fish restaurant.

Turns out, Coyne grew up with five siblings and, when he was less than one-years-old, his family up and moved from Pittsburgh to Oklahoma City. When he was nine, his dad was accused of embezzling funds from his business, but was acquitted. Nevertheless, it was a trying time in the Coyne family history.

Organized sports in high school didn't really suit Coyne. Instead, he and his brothers and their friends formed to sandlot football team called the fearless freaks, a name that would later be associated with some of the Lips' musical output, some of which is my very favorite psychedelic pop ever produced. Anyway, Coyne says they would listen to Pink Floyd, smoke a joint, and then go play sandlot football.

Beginning his sophomore year, he worked as a fry cook at Long John Silver, which Coyne actually credits as being pretty productive in that it helped him think about his life. Although he has never done that many drugs, he did sell pot while he worked at Long John Silvers.

Next up: a look at part of the early years of the Velvet Underground.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Top 40 Albums of 2014

This may be the latest "year-end Top 40 Albums of 2014" list of all the countless others. But since you were so overwhelmed with these back in December and January, I figure you all must be just about ready to actually absorb this list and relive 2014 one last time.

  • Honorable Mention: The Whigs - Modern Creation: This isn't the best release by this band, but I still like their Athens style of garage rock. Foxygen - ... And Star Power: Still one of my very favorite new bands, but this release tips the scale way too much towards the "psych" instead of the the "pop." An unfortunate misstep.
  • 40. Band of Horses - Live at Ryman: Live and still beautiful.
  • 39. Pixies - Indie Cindy: Some catchy numbers are scattered throughout, but this should be higher on the list as a comeback release with so much anticipation.
  • 38. Broken Bells - After the Disco: Groovy little understated dance jammer.
  • 37. Taylor Swift - 1989: This has a couple of the most catchy tracks of the year on it, with it's main drawback that Swift sounds a little samey over much of this long-player.
  • 36. Bob Mould - Beauty & Ruin: Another high-quality solo effort that shifts effortlessly from rock of Husker Du to power-pop of Sugar.
  • 35. J. Mascis - Tied to a Star: Think of Dinosaur Jr. in quiet mode and that's what this solo release is all about. Great for background and would be higher if it didn't feel like Mascis has kind of already done this.
  • 34. The Both - The Both: It's really hard to argue against a partnership of songs by Ted Leo and Aimee Mann.
  • 33. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye: If you like TP, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this collection, which only suffers from having no clear-cut mega-hits.
  • 32. Cheetahs - Cheatahs: Like the second (or third) coming of early Dinosaur Jr./My Bloody Valentine. Wailing guitar pop. Picking up where Yuck started the 1990s indie-noise-rock revival of a few years ago.
  • 31. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Days of Abandon: Not as good as their earlier albums all the way through, but some of the perfect rainy, Sunday-morning tunes at the start make it a keeper.
  • 30. JEFF the Brotherhood - Dig the Classics EP: This two-piece is really good at recording pop, punk, metal tracks, even if this collection is just a bunch of covers.
  • 29. Fugazi - First Demo: This gem is not a lot different than the eventual final products, but to have heard this lively and great-sounding demo must have blown the minds of all who heard it firsthand.
  • 28. The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams: This might be the best HS release for simply putting on in the background and enjoying and grooving with all the way through.
  • 27. Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues: The amazing story behind this band and its transgender lead singer plays out in full punk glory throughout this disc.
  • 26. Sweet Apple - The Golden Age of Glitter: GBV meets Cobra Verde ... literally. And it sounds like it. Lead-off track "Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)" is one of the best pop-rockers of the year.
  • 25. Dean Wareham - Dean Wareham: In solo name only, this mellow release feels every bit as good as if it were a new Luna offering.
  • 24. Drive-By Truckers - English Oceans: After a few less-interesting albums, these alt-country shit-kickers make a great set of stompers and ballads.
  • 23. Stars - No One Is Lost: A bouncy soul-pop album that is probably the most dance-y thing on this list.
  • 22. Bishop Allen - Lights Out: This band continues to offer pleasant pop with a few standouts that could be big hits in a fair musical landscape.
  • 21. Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal/Content Nausea: Carrying the torch of Lou Reed and The Strokes. Rocking the NYC streets.
  • 20. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lose: This is the best emo record of the past several years, and even descends into Archers of Loaf, psychedelic territory at times. A real surprise.
  • 19. Comet Gain - Paperback Ghosts: British indie rockers who go from Syd Barrett psych to beautiful Bell and Sebastian-like pop. The melodies really pick up in the second half.
  • 18. Jenny Lewis - The Voyager: Stevie Nicks for a new generation, this album by a former child TV star and Rilo Kiley leader is a Laurel Canyon, laid-back delight all the way through.
  • 17. The New Mendicants - Into the Lime: Joe Pernice and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub lead this new supergroup. It sounds just like what you would imagine, which is perfect.
  • 16. Nude Beach - 77: Tom Petty for a new generation, and one of my very favorite bands these days.
  • 15. The Vaselines - V For Vaselines: A second comeback album from one of Kurt Cobain's favorite bands continues to display how this band has basically never released a less-than-very-good song.
  • 14. Guided By Voices - Cool Planet: I don't care how many albums they've released. This is still better than 99% of the stuff out there. And possibly their last ever.
  • 13. Guided By Voices - Watch Me Jumpstart: Ditto. And possibly their second-to-last ever.
  • 12. Doug Gillard - Parade On: Three-in-a-row GBV-related releases. Former guitarist is a masterful power popper in his own right.
  • 11. Miniature Tigers - Cruel Runnings: This one took me by surprise. I've liked the Tigers for years, but this is a different kind of dance-pop joy (all about a breakup) from them.
  • 10. Bart Davenport - Physical World: This pop troubadour has been putting out great albums for more than a decade, with this slow grower verging into of Montreal and Ariel Pink meets 70s soft rock.
  • 09. Pink Mountaintops - Get Back: Punk classic-rockers continue their under appreciated run of great albums, this time with actual J. Mascis solos sprinkled liberally.
  • 08. King Tuff - Black Moon Spell: Chorus to song called "Headbanger:" "Bang a little head." Nuff said.
  • 07. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Wigout At Jagbags: Even with a seemingly lesser Malkmus release, this one has enough weirdo detours and pop classics to chart pretty high on this list.
  • 06. Spoon - They Want My Soul: Typically great-all-the-way through Spoon record, spanning weirdo to mellow to rocking to good-mood, this is one of my favorite Spoon releases, which is saying a lot.
  • 05. New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers: Yet another near-perfect album from this supergroup. Leader A.C. Newman divvies out the song-writing credits nicely to his compatriots.
  • 04. Beck - Morning Phase: It's kind of no fair for all these other artists in these year-end lists whenever Beck decides to issue a release in a given year. Some complained that this was Sea Change Part 2. If that's the complaint, I hope 2015 brings Sea Change Part 3.
  • 03. Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else: By far the best alt-country release of the year. Her third release puts her amongst the Ohio greats like Guided By Voices and The Pretenders.
  • 02. FREEMAN - Freeman: One-half of Ween returns with a new project that might just be the best thing Ween never released. Weird and beautiful pleasures.
  • 01. Ex Hex - Rips: I've always been a fan of leader Mary Timony, but nothing prepared me for how absolutely enjoyable this album is. It almost renders all other power pop punk before it unnecessary.