Archive for January, 2008

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Cloverfield

January 27, 2008

Since it opened in theaters approximately a week ago, I have seen Cloverfield three times. The people who work at the theater must think I’m pretty weird, because having also seen There Will Be Blood, I have been to the theater four times in the past week. Such behavior is for me unheard of, considering the price of movie tickets nowadays. In fact, I have been seeing most movies in theaters twice lately (Juno, Sweeney Todd). But three times? The last time that happened was with The Lord of the Rings: Return of The King, which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and was a movie event for the ages. Why, then, did I not have any problems dropping money on seeing a (comparatively) low budget monster movie not once, not twice, but three times? Either I really liked all the people I saw it with (an obvious truth), or this movie has had some kind of draw, some quality that I have never seen in a movie before.

The first thing you have to know about Cloverfield is it’s marketing campaign, which is among the most successful viral marketing campaigns ever unleashed. For around six months, the details of Cloverfield had been relatively unknown, all the way up until it’s release on January 18th. In fact, for over half of that time, the only thing that was known about it was what could have been inferred from a short, cryptic trailer. The movie was simply known by it’s release date, 1/18/08, and the title Cloverfield was not confirmed until a short time before release. All anyone knew was that it is about a group of people who originate from the same going away party for a guy in New York City named Rob, when a giant monster inexplicably decides to attack the city, and that the movie is directed by JJ Abrams. During those six months, marketing tie ins ran rampant, and information was slowly released about the film. What shocks me about it is that nothing significant leaked before the movie’s release. This is the nice thing about making a middle budget film. You have big time corporation backing so that you can’t be taken advantage of, but you are also working small and have the benefit of utilizing a creative campaign like this. Movie buffs and monster nerds anticipated the movies release, and the identity of the then unknown monster, until 1/18/08.

My initial assumption was that the final product would not meet the hype, but that didn’t stop me from being interested. I did lower my standards however, because I knew that it would be hard for a movie to match my inflated expectations, but little did I know that Cloverfield would rock my world. I’m not even sure that I quite knew how much I liked it until I saw it for the second and third times.

I walked into the theater expecting a monster flick. I’m a big fan of monster flicks. Old ones. It is a dying genre. The last monster movie I can remember seeing in the theater before Cloverfield is Godzilla 2000, and I don’t remember being impressed. But once we sit down and give ourselves in to Cloverfield, it flips everything we know about monster movies upside down and kicks them out the door. It is one of the most well written and well executed “flicks” I have ever seen, but it’s greatness is concealed, and it is either fortunately or unfortunately destined to be a cult hit.

The setup, as I previously mentioned, is simple and effective. The movie is filmed from the perspective of a handheld video camera, so we see what the characters see, and we know what the characters know. The trick is not new. The Blair Witch Project used it around the turn of the century, and it has been synonymous with that film ever since, but it is just as effective here. The screen is always shaky, and two of the people I have seen the movie with complained of mild motion sickness, but ultimately the shaky camera works, and we get a perspective on the film that is very realistic, and at street level. Cloverfield is not about the giant monster that is ravaging the city. It is about the people who are affected by it. And the characters are very realistic and believable. My father complained about how many scenes in the movie were not believable at all, but if you are looking for realism in a movie about a giant monster, you are fighting a losing battle. Most of the complaints were that even after the movie ends, the viewer knows very little about the monster or why it is destroying New York City. We are not supposed to know this. Ultimately, the only stock character in the movie is the monster itself, and it is very much a secondary character. Giant monsters don’t destroy New York or Tokyo for any particular reason, and if they do, it is stupid. I did not, however, hear any complaints from anyone about the characters themselves, except from a movie critic who said he was rooting for the monster by the time the movie ended. The only reason I can infer for this reasoning is to see more of the monster itself, but if you are even remotely paying attention during the movie, you will realize that this comment is utter bullshit.

The web of characters writer Drew Goddard creates is impressive to say the least. There is a small amount of cheese in the platter, but that is to be expected in a flick. But the character development is subtle, in fact almost unnoticeable, although anything but undeniable. The core of the movie is spent with six characters. Rob Hawkins, as we know him, is the representation of a youthful, passionate America. He may or may not be nonexistant, but in any case he is the direction of the film, as it progresses. His goal is to rescue the girl, which is a movie staple that we are more than familiar with. It is old, but it works. Also present are the dumb but loveable cameraman Hud, Rob’s brother Jason and his girlfriend Lily, and the apple of Hud’s eye Marlena. The final character is Rob’s love interest, Beth. The characters are set up with great precision at the party, and as the movie progresses, they show their true character, intentions, and flaws. Jason is among the most impressive. He is presented right away as a problem solver, a funny person, and a caring individual. He is the kind of person you would want to have with you should you ever need to escape from New York, and even within the first ten minutes of the movie, we come to love him. He is killed promptly. I don’t know if it was to tug at our heartstrings, to prove a point, or to leave our characters with something to be distraught about, but in any case we know that this is a natural part of the progression of the movie. We didn’t want him to die, but he did, not because he was an unfortunate victim of a roller coaster ride of a movie, but because he chose to lead the party to the Brooklyn Bridge. The only reason that the other characters were not killed is because Rob received a phone call from Beth, which he pulled aside to answer among the crowd of fleeing citizens. The other characters stay behind with him, trying to pull him along, when we see Jason perched atop a figure in the distance yelling, “WHY DID YOU STOP!?” At this very moment, a gigantic arm strikes the Brooklyn Bridge.

One of the most important scenes in the movie is when the party flees the bridge and is mourning Jason’s tragic, untimely death. We get a shot of Rob’s shocked, empty face in response to this. Michael Stahl-David plays his part wonderfully, and we see him break down, silently, before our eyes, after which he trudges off to an electronic store. Rob has realized that the reason he is still alive is because of Beth’s phone call, and if he doesn’t try to play the hero and rescue her, Jason’s death is in vain. So he walks away. His walking is key. For the rest of the movie, he walks in a delusional limp, and this is a very important detail.

But perhaps the most impressively executed (literally and figuratively executed) character in the movie is Marlena, “the bitch,” who the innocent, sweet Hud tries to hit on multiple times. We don’t like her. In fact, we want her to die, just because of how rude she is to Hud, who we love. Then, after she saves his life, she begins to crawl out of her stock character and turn into a person we love. And then she dies, almost immediately. Her last words, a yelp of desire for Hud, are genuine, brought to the surface only by her subsequent death. These characters are brilliantly written because they are natural and realistic, which is strange, because we don’t go to the movies to see realism. We go to the movies to see giant monsters. Camquarter documentations of tragic events don’t have good character development. And yet the character development in Cloverfield is good. Very good. By at least the second time I watched the film, I started to ask myself what I even wanted out of the movie in the first place.

Well, I wanted a flick. And I definitely got a flick. I got scared to the greatest degree that a movie could possibly scare me. This is a well made movie, but it is also a fright fest that reminds us of why King Kong and Godzilla entertain us. We do, in fact, get to see the monster, in several terrifying shots. We had to, because if we hadn’t Cloverfield would just be another Blair Witch ripoff. The evil needs to have a face. Cloverfield has some love, some heroism, and some terror, all woven within one another nearly seamlessly.

Why this movie is so scary, and why it left me shivering uncontrollably after the first viewing, is questionable. Some of my discussions with others about the movie have uncovered facts and opinions that I would have never thought of otherwise. When I asked myself, “why did this movie scare me?”, the only answer I had was, “because it was scary.” But it can be easily realized that Cloverfield is an indirect nod to 9/11. This movie scares us as the events of 9/11 did, or as much as a movie can in that respect. For seven years, America’s greatest fear is an unexpected situation like our characters in Cloverfield have to encounter and deal with. Widespread panic, mass hysteria, martial law. This fear has been relatively untapped in the film industry, except maybe for Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.

Cloverfield scares the shit out of us because a low budget monster flick should not feel so realistic, or close to our fears. Later in the film, Rob holds the camera to his face and tells us that if we are watching this tape, we know more about the situation than him. What makes Cloverfield terrifying is that we really don’t know any more than him. In fact, we know EXACTLY as much as him, because we have been following him closely throughout the entire film. I would almost say that the main character in Cloverfield is the camera itself. The movie is a chain of events, but unlike those of most monster movies, it is a chain of events that we do not question. The fact that the movie is brilliantly written is obscured by the slew of highly memorable cinematic shots and realistic effects. It is well written, well acted (surprise), well filmed (bigger surprise), and it works on the interior and the exterior. An excellent movie experience.

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Sigur Ros – Heima

January 23, 2008

As Sigur Ros bassist Georg speaks in the tour diary included in the second disk of the Heima DVD, up until the release of this film, Sigur Ros fans had not really been given a visual document of the bands work and spirit aside from the album artwork, which is perfectly pleasant and beautiful on it’s own terms, but does not really give fans the kind of concert experience that they have always wished for. Heima is a film about Iceland, and the islands most popular band, Sigur Ros, on a short unannounced tour throughout the country. Heima means “at home,” which means that the band is in their most comfortable environment, their own home country with all of it’s beautiful, homely charms.

The majority of the film is presented in the form of live concert footage and footage of Iceland’s beautiful natural landscapes. It is divided into passages concentrated on different towns, villages, and cities, and personal concert experiences from each. The idea that this could turn into a dull, Discovery Channel documentary is immediately disproved, as the band proves that they are among the most innovative and consistently interesting performers in a long time. In fact, Sigur Ros turn what we know about documentaries, let alone music documentaries, upside down. Within the first fifteen minutes, we are shown live footage of the band performing one of the better songs off of Takk while completely silhouetted by an earthen cloth that takes up the entire expanse of a stage. The entire song is performed under shadow, reminding us that the music of Sigur Ros is as much about what is not there as what is there. This may seem pretentious, but we must remember that this is a band that released an album with blank pages in the sleeve meant for fans to produce lyrics of their own, a counterpoint for the fact that Sigur Ros vocalist Jonsi almost exclusively sings in a babel that does not belong to any language.

Almost every song is performed in a unique way or in a unique place, and although some of the performances do not add anything new to their studio recordings, they all resonate with warmth. This may be partially due to the inclusion of the band’s supporting strings section, the all girls band Amiina, that has served Sigur Ros very well within the past ten years and act as family both professionally and personally.

Another switch-up is employed very early on in the naturalistic segments. Footage of running water from streams and waterfalls is reversed. I could tell you that this represents Sigur Ros moving backwards in it’s own footsteps in the snow, back home, to where things started, but then I would sound like I’m looking for reasons to praise the bands every move. This kind of over-analysis from fans is what has given the band their pretentious reputation. What we need to remember is, water running backwards in gorgeous high quality just looks impressive. And the ideas of Sigur Ros are not always as complex as we may think. The band keeps their music close to the human condition, and closer to the human ear.

What Sigur Ros have done are bring us into their world, into their home, and showed us what their music is about. Heima is as much a testament to Iceland as it is to Sigur Ros and their live repertoire. Throughout the span of the film, the band play songs in desolate regions such as in the middle of a forest as well in a slew of other places that I will not mention so to leave the majority of the movie a surprise. These performances are either pretentious or completely genuine, and we struggle with this question until after the performance of the final song, when Jonsi describes an interesting family tidbit which I also cannot reproduce here, in risk of it losing it’s effect. We are also shown footage of the people of the different Icelandic villages living their everyday lives, as well as indulging in the concerts, which they seem only half as impressed about as we do. A local marching band accompanying Sigur Ros onstage seems to them to be completely natural, as unique as it is. Moments like these are not few, and I struggle to not reveal more of them because of how interesting they all are. But shots of the natural beauty of Iceland are just as important and moving as the happenings the people that inhabit it. This seems to be part musical documentary, and part natural documentary, both areas approached in lighthearted and honest ways.

Intricacies aside, Heima is a solid live concert experience. The songs are performed very well, although they do not differ much aurally from the original album cuts. The DVD is put together very nicely, but at times the interactive menus can get a bit confusing and tiring, despite their creativity of their presentation of an elderly map of Iceland, which are probably much more navigable to Icelandic people. The extras are quite interesting and are enough to keep fans’ appetites quelled until the band’s next release, whenever that may be. There are a couple different versions of Heima that you can buy, namely the standard two disk DVD as well as a deluxe edition with an art book, but both releases have the same two disks and are only cosmetically different. My complaints of the film are only in my desire to have seen some of my personal favorite songs performed, specifically Gong, Saeglopur, and Svefn-g-englar, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and none of the song selections here are wasted efforts. I was especially impressed with the performance of Meo Blodnasir, a magical little interlude on Takk that would not normally be seen as anything more than filler. Even for casual Sigur Ros fans, Heima is essential, and it is surely the apex of Sigur Ros’ career thus far. Easily the best music documentary I have seen, and a highlight of 2007 in both music and film.

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Clark – Body Riddle

January 21, 2008

With Body Riddle, Chris Clark makes a unique album and indicates his personal detachment with the emission of his first name from his personal label. Such a move is brave, even pretentious, but luckily for him, “Clark” as we shall so call him is skilled enough in driving electronic beats in synch with beautiful, organic melodic passages to compare to his superior Richard D. James. He is, however, more comparable to the ballsier but inevitably more pretentious Autechre, but as he proves with Body Riddle, you probably can’t really compare any two artists on the Warp label to one another, let alone to anyone else in the music business. Body Riddle is a box of tricks, wrought from forgotten machinery scattered throughout decades, with as much influence from a depression era steel mill as an elderly Mac Book. However, just because an electronic artist is unique does not mean they are good. Being expansive, innovative, or iconoclastic does not mean immediate quality. Clark could easily have overextended his grasp and made atonal insanity, but instead, he opts to scramble the beats, and interestingly enough, to a point where they are recognizably synchronized and hypnotically catchy and no farther. The insanity is still here, but it is controlled. Canyons of jagged sound, sharp skrees, music boxes, and a wealth of other tricks dress up every song, but for the most part, the chords are contemplative and relaxing, if not a bit uneasy at times. But even when he is at his most violent, Clark is compromising. His beats are only backdrops to consistent sonic beauty as seen most clearly on Matthew Unburdened with a very steady, memorable string section. Throughout the album passages are interrupted, but comfortably, making Body Riddle a piece of work that slowly unhinges and opens itself up upon repeated listens. A musical resolve is always present, always obscured, and ultimately just out of reach. Psychological resolve is there however, but slightly difficult to achieve. As they say, watch a chicken, never lays. It’s not fantastic, or innovative, but Body Riddle ends up being one of the most accessible albums that advertises itself as being willfully difficult. This is not a fatal vulnerability, but instead a concealed invitation into the mind of an electronic artist that knows how to deliver the goods. There is order to the madness.

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Alcest – Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde

January 10, 2008

The past few years have been very good to shoegaze fans. Not in terms of number, but in terms of singular, unique albums that actually add something to the genre, which has been an elusive breed since the days of old when My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Ride pioneered their immensely popular and unique styles. 2005 saw the self titled debut of Serena Maneesh. 2006 also had a winner, Asobi Seksu’s Citrus. We have yet another winner this year with newcomer Alcest’s Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde, roughly translated from French as “memories of another world.” Such a title is appropriate for an album that, like any shoegaze album, is flooded with details and dreamy soundscapes. Yes, I know, you have heard it all before. It’s another garden variety shoegaze album that doesn’t really try anything different, isn’t it?

Actually, that might be true. Much like it’s guitar effects, shoegaze is a genre with highly distorted boundaries which are often pushed for the sake of trying something new instead of making quality music. When rabid experimentation is not present, excessive imitation is often the alternative. Souvenirs doesn’t really do either, and it succeeds just by being a pretty album. Alcest is essentially the work of one man, Frenchman Neige, whose roots are with such French black metal acts such as Peste Noire and Mortifera. A lot of people seem to be pinning Souvenirs as a black metal album, but if it is, I’m going to have to read into exactly what Black Metal is, because this is as much of a pure shoegaze album as I have ever heard. But what is strange is I can’t trace the roots of it’s sound back to any shoegaze bands of old. The closest it gets to is to Ride, and even then the resemblance is only vague.

In this way, Souvenirs is unique but not really engaging in a sense that although this sounds new, the style is fairly familiar. That is to say, big distorted guitar sounds arranged with sweeping melodies, glowing seven chords, simple beats, lots of cymbal crashes, and glazed ethereal vocals. Even shoegaze fans will admit that the trick has been overused. Some figure that if they drown a simple chord progression in distortion that it will somehow bloom and be beautiful, but really, you need a nice melody to really make something work. Neige knows how to write pretty, simple melodies, but he also knows how to play the shoegaze cards as well. Perhaps the most interesting fact in respect to Alcest’s style is that Neige claimed to have not listened to any shoegaze music prior to making Souvenirs. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but in any case, this album has a strong, grounded core of memorable, pretty melodies. The fact that it works in the shoegaze context only makes it all the more unique.

However, while his melodies are simple, Alcest manages to cover a wide range of melodies within single songs. Of the six songs on the album, not one dips under the six minute mark, and most songs are segmented into smaller, distinguishable movements. This keeps the songs interesting, but at times hard to pin down, much like Sigur Ros’ progressive post rock. And yet, while every song is bathed in electricity, they all feel organic too, and typically have an acoustic guitar and piano at their core. The two songs that impressed me most in this respect are Ciel Errant and Tir Nan Og. Ciel Errant is a lovely little acoustic guitar based ballad that somehow reminisces of The Smashing Pumpkins just as much as Sigur Ros or Ride. Tir Nan Og is the real winner though. The gentle piano leaps and acoustic guitar strumming in conjunction with a simple rhythm makes it sound like as much of a rural folk song as a dreamy urban shoegaze song. A perfect way to clinch the album.

Whatever Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde is, it’s beautiful, and you can expect more of this, because according to http://www.alcest-music.com, Alcest has signed to the Prophecy Productions label for a five album contract. Yeah. This wasn’t a one time shot. No matter what direction Alcest takes with any albums in the future, I’ll remember this one as one of the best of 2007.

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Bjork – Vespertine

January 7, 2008

It’s sixty degrees outside. Why is it sixty degrees outside? I live in Chicago for Christ’s sake. It’s January. It should be sixty degrees lower than it is. Although I suppose I shouldn’t complain about not being miserable every time I leave my house. But something about listening to Bjork’s Vespertine makes me feel like it SHOULD be cold, and snowing. Vespertine is as much a work of art as it is a force of nature, a call to the skies for snow, a summoning of a white blanket. This is not Bjork’s best album. Homogenic will most likely never be ousted from that position. But it is certainly the second greatest, and the most consistently themed, a chilling representation of Winter. This album makes the season of death come to life. Songs are blanketed in steady, warm, electronic beats and subsequently dressed up in soaring vocal harmonies and strings. Hidden Place kicks things off with a call to the unknown, represented by a mysterious melody that climbs and gently cascades back down a choral harmony. It’s Not Up To You is similarly immediate but this time more happy, also given string treatment in addition to well placed harp glissandos. As with most Bjork albums, the best songs are utterly unstoppable. Hidden Place, It’s Not Up To You, Pagan Poetry, and Aurora all deserve places on any Best of Bjork compilation yet to be released, as they all either match or trump anything on Post in terms of poppy fun. But the fun hardly stops there. There are several other fun songs, namely Frosti, Crabcraft, and Sun In My Mouth, all worth getting to know on their own chilly and beautiful terms. Also like most Bjork albums, good and bad, Vespertine has several clunkers and is prone to being uninteresting. Particularly, Cocoon and Undo have uninspired melodies that cannot be saved simply by being dressed up. In this way, Vespertine is far from the best it could be, but all things considered, it is a very pretty album that is to be respected as an album that suceeds on its own terms and creates lush, sophisticated styles that make it completely memorable.

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Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings

January 3, 2008

Almost exactly seventy years ago, a man who was then known as Robert Johnson passed away. He was poisoned, presumably by a houseman/barkeep whose wife had been flirting with him on an August Evening. Around the same time, a king pin of the then small, homely music industry sent out a middle man to find Johnson, in hopes of striking a record deal. It took until almost a year after Johnson’s death for word to get back to the industry that Johnson was, in fact, deceased. This is not a surprise, considering that the spread of news at the time, let alone in poor black Mississippi (or really, where ever he may have taken up residence at the time), was reserved to word of mouth.

Why then, does this fact interest me so much? I don’t know. I almost find it a little bit funny. It took almost an entire year for word to get back to New York that one of blues’ most popular artists had died. Today, it would have taken the better part of five minutes, for two phone calls to have been made, at quickest. Back when America wasn’t heavily wound in telephone lines, we could apparently have fascinating folklore like this. That kind of distant, legendary intimacy is no longer present.

Robert Johnson is arguably the most important, influential, and respected blues artist of all time. Back in the days when Johnson was still with us, recording equipment was sparse. Johnson recorded a grand total of forty one cuts, twelve of them alternate takes. All forty one cuts are included in this box set, in the highest quality that they could possibly be in. Along with the two disks of music is a very nice booklet containing a factual essay outlining the events of Johnson’s life with as much accuracy and objectivity as possible, and including details of his relationships and musical repertoire. A small essay on the style and spirit of his music is also here, but I contend that it is mostly opinionated trash. Also included are two short essays by Keith Richards and Eric Clapton regarding Robert Johnson, and complete lyrics to each recording. The booklet is altogether rather nice. It also contains both known photographs of Johnson, one of which is on the cover which depicts the man posing rather nicely for the camera, his somehow appreciable lazy eye punctuating his generally handsome face, and his long fingers grasping his guitar. The other picture is arguably the better one. It depicts Johnson once again grasping a guitar, this time very close to the camera, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

Even considering all this, it almost seems extravagant to have made The Complete Recordings a box set. The release could have easily been packaged into a double compact disk format, and released that way. In any case, this box set is bar none the most complete means of getting to know Robert Johnson and his repertoire, or at least what remains of it in the public knowledge today. It’s rare that you can gain such a complete portrait of an artist in one fell swoop. You drop fifteen dollars on this collection, as it costs on amazon.com, and bam, you are a Robert Johnson fan. That’s all it takes. Unbelievable.

What I learned about Robert Johnson in the weeks since I received The Complete Recordings for Christmas is that I have never owned a more important, rewarding box set in my life. That may be a rather premature statement, considering I have only ever owned four other box sets in the first place. Those are the 1990 Led Zeppelin box set, the James Brown Star Time box set, The Complete Studio Recordings of Led Zeppelin box set, and the Nirvana box set With The Lights Out. All of these other box sets would cost a pretty penny on the market today. And yet, this one for a Delta blues singer who was born nearly one hundred years earlier and is no where close to a household name like the other said artists are is better. It just is. And it costs fifteen dollars.

What the fuck?

The surprise is that, essentially, Robert Johnson is one of the most important American musical artists of the past one hundred years, and you know him already whether or not you recognize his name. From what these recordings play, there is and probably never was a more respectable blues singer in the business. What you hear here is his deceptively complex guitarwork and versatile and soulful voice, on all forty one tracks. Highlights are not few. Kindhearted Woman, Sweet Home Chicago, They’re Red Hot, Terraplane Blues, Phonograph Blues, Walking Blues, Last Fair Deal Gone Down, and Me And The Devil Blues are my personal favorites, but this collection is a treasure trove. When I try to tilt my head and look in at the music from as outside of a perspective as I can give it, this music should bore me utterly. Most all of the songs are made in the same twelve bar structure, and yet on my first straight through listen, I was never bored. Johnson’s unique switchups and naked guitar style enough to keep each cut fresh, even the alternate takes. For a music fan who for the most part isn’t into blues at all, I find myself in awe at what I hear in Johnson’s recordings.

And what I find even more interesting is that upon listening, I can pick many riffs and lyrics from other songs that I already know. As Keith Richards and Eric Clapton indicate, Johnson had an immense influence on The Rolling Stones and Cream, but I hear both of my Led Zeppelin box sets in this music as well. I marveled at Led Zep’s Traveling Riverside Blues for many years, and I always wondered what gave it so much power and energy. I now realize that it mostly comes from Robert Johnson, with John Bonhams crushing beats added. I know a wealth of Red Hot Chili Peppers fans. I mean, almost too many. They would be happy to hear the original cut of They’re Red Hot, which makes the humorous cover seem like a sin to modern recording.

On any given listen, these recordings can be seen in a wealth of different lights. On one listen they may sound happy and uplifting, fiery on another, and solemn and breaking on another. This is blues music at it’s finest.

Basically, you owe it to yourself to acquire the recordings of Robert Johnson somehow, and this is the best way. Fifteen dollars. That’s it. That’s all it takes, and then you have the complete recorded works of one of the single most important musical artists of the past one hundred years. Johnson is indirectly responsible for the development of blues and the creation and development of rock and roll since the 1950s. Robert Johnson is an essential figure to American music and culture. You owe it to yourself to save your lunch money for this one.