Archive for February, 2009

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Shugo Tokumaru – Night Piece

February 27, 2009
Shugo Tokumaru - Night Piece

Shugo Tokumaru - Night Piece

Miles Davis once said, “Don’t play what’s there – play what’s not there.” Shugo Tokumaru’s debut album Night Piece seems to do just this, perhaps not in the exact way that Davis described his musical philosophy, but much like a wood block painting where musical subtleties are outlined by vast expanses of empty space that jut off into infinity. Tokumaru’s lean, twenty five minute micro-music album, however, is quite finite at first listen. It seems to be over as soon as it starts, and just a few listens reveal just about everything the album has to offer. Why, then, does it demand the close attention and repeated listens that it does? Night Piece reaches a sort of equilibrium where sweet melodies and subtle irregularities balance each other out. For this reason, the album is completely engaging and ambitious, but simultaneously warm and comforting. The humble melodies are often left bare and full, so that each pluck fills the massive space it inhabits and each rhythm takes confident control. It is difficult to describe the simple command that the album has, but once it hooks you it doesn’t let go. Every song is a musical haiku, completely satisfied with its own simple beauty. Once you get comfortable with Night Piece, it might as well blanket your thoughts and really just make you extremely HAPPY for an indefinite number of plays.

Shugo Tokumaru

Shugo Tokumaru

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Aesop Rock – Labor Days

February 26, 2009
Aesop Rock - Labor Days

Aesop Rock - Labor Days

One of the things that makes Aesop Rock’s third full album of mystic urban tale-spinning so consistently fascinating is that it seems to narrate the struggles of millions. This is the album that perfectly characterizes your job, whatever it may be. Struggling to get out of bed in the morning, trudging to the subway station, riding the bus, stuck in traffic, driving the steamroller, disintegrating in the cubicle, waiting for the train home, and collapsing in the bed, muscles throbbing. The fact that Aesop Rock was working full time as a waiter during the creation of Labor Days makes its overall concept all that more genuine, but it is the execution of the album that is truly impressive. Aesop’s delivery is stark, uncompromising, funny, intelligent, and without match in flow. Pick a line – “I smoke cigarettes down to filter smoke the filter down to space / now I’m gonna roll this question tight and smoke that shit up in your face / now if you were to alter masks every time fame circus approaches / do you really think your maker wouldn’t notice? (Think about it.)” Aesop’s brilliant, philosophical, often cross referential lyrics seem endless, and are held up by a rock solid albeit rough foundation of production from Aesop himself. The subtle eastern flavor and harrowing dynamics of the music highlights his mystical, burning representation of the plight of the working person. Every song is classic Aesop: the shocking delicacy of “No Regrets,” the dragging heat of “Daylight” and the flowing zen of “Battery” only scratch the surface of the album’s highlights. One would be hard pressed to find a more challenging and rewarding hip hop album than Labor Days, in any era.

Aesop Rock

Aesop Rock

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Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous

February 24, 2009
Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous

Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous

I’ve always had a nagging feeling that everything I write about music could be destroyed with four words: “I don’t like this.” All the objective analysis I do of music really doesn’t matter when it comes down to personal taste. I barely ever listen to Rilo Kiley in my free time, because their style of music doesn’t interest me. I’m not much for their genre of “alt-country” that I have heard them described as, although they are probably beyond being pinned in a particular genre at this point. And yet every time I have listened to any of their albums or seen them live, I’ve had my ass kicked. As far as the albums go, this is the one in particular that deserves the brownie points on merit alone of being the most literate and lyrically complex album that I can ever remember hearing, relentless and challenging in its content. Songs ask innumerable questions and provide evidence that can only lead the listener towards their own answers. Trains of thought double back before reaching conclusions, fairy tales of falling in and out of love are spun, and both life and death are celebrated and mourned. Musically this is the strongest disk in the bands catalogue and their strongest display of melodicism, every song memorable. This is an album that I simply could not dismiss how hard I tried, and it didn’t take too long before I didn’t care to anymore. At the first Rilo Kiley concert I went to, I felt like I was the only one not singing along or dancing to the band’s fun, rocking songs. I believe somewhere around the end of the show, Jenny Lewis looked in my direction and may have winked at that sorry looking teenager in the third row (or at least my sorry teenage ass would have wished to believe), before singing another breathtaking chorus. The ride home was at this point was not unfamiliar to my experiences of listening to a Rilo Kiley album. It feels good to be idiosyncratic. I do love this.

Rilo Kiley

Rilo Kiley

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Oscar Thoughts: Slumdog Millionaire Deserves it All

February 23, 2009

I made a bit of a big deal out of the Academy Awards last night, and without much reason, really. I barely saw any movies last year, at least compared to previous years, so I could not fairly make judgements on most of what was nominated. I am a bit embarrassed to say that I did not see four out of five of the films nominated for Best Picture last night. The only reason I made such a big deal out of it, and why I invited all of my friends over to our dorm room to watch the event, is because I wanted to see the performance of a single film and all of those involved with it.

Slumdog Millionaire dominated the Awards, winning eight out of the nine Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, in addition to the four Golden Globes and countless other accolades it has recieved, and earned completely. Watching the massive cast and crew on the red carpet as well as accepting the awards and having a great time was an incredible feeling. It makes me extremely happy that this film has gotten the recognition and appreciation that it has, because I honestly believe it is one of the greatest movies to be released in years, and an all around inspiring and incredible film experience.

I first saw the film when I was in a very bad spot. I won’t say exactly what was on my mind, but it was that kind of agonizing feeling that someone just can never shake immediately. Slumdog Millionaire didn’t get rid of that feeling, but it certainly reminded me that my situation was natural and a part of a bigger picture. As you probably already know, the film is combination of many genres including drama, comedy, coming of age, adventure, romance, and perhaps an element of fantasy. I can scarcely say anything about it that hasn’t already been said, so I won’t even try. It is probably the best looking film that I can remember seeing, gorgeously filmed and directed, by the wonderful Danny Boyle, no less. Musically it is a revolution, a beautiful combination of Indian classicism and modern music from A.R. Rahman. The acting is superb, from an enormous cast, some of which are well known Indian stars, and the child roles handpicked from a school in Mumbai. But the script is what really stands out. The storyline and the characters in it put so much at risk, everything that they have, in fact, and the results are nothing short of stunning, a celebration of the trials and rewards of living.

If you haven’t seen Slumdog Millionaire, make a point to do so immediately. I will in turn see Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler and the rest of the films who recieved the recognition of not only winning Oscars but also nomination as soon as humanly possible.

Also, a huge congratulations to everyone else who won last night, especially to Wall-E’s win for Best Animated Film and Heath Ledger’s win for Best Supporting Actor.

Much love all around.

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Arcade Fire – Funeral

February 23, 2009
Arcade Fire - Funeral

Arcade Fire - Funeral

For me, the definitive moment of Arcade Fire’s debut album has always been the middle stretch of “Haiti” where Regine Chassagne sings over the album’s catchiest hook “in the the forest we lie hiding/unmarked graves where flowers grow/hear the soldier’s angry yelling/in the river we will go.” It seems to embody the spirit of the album, that is, an incident frozen in time, either explicitly explained or implicitly suggested, where someone is there, living, loving and learning. Indeed, this happens on more than one occasion. A lover decides to dig an impossible tunnel to his lover’s window, a power outage wakes up a sleeping teenager who runs out into the night, a man on a horse muses of burned out streetlights and his loved one’s eyes, and an estranged first son named Alexander causes police lights to shine (being an only child named Alexander, this one seemed completely life changing at the time). While the album is named Funeral, it primarily recognizes death as a necessary component to life, and this puts all of its ambitious goals on a song by song basis into perspective. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Funeral is easily one of the catchiest, lushest, and most romantic albums of the decade, and no one ever questioned whether or not it would be the greatest album of 2004 upon release. Like other necro-centric modern masterpieces, Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise and Hal Ashby’s film Harold and Maude, the Arcade Fire’s album Funeral is another step closer to society moving away from crying in agony at every funeral and instead rightfully in ecstasy.

Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire

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Akron/Family – Akron/Family

February 22, 2009
Akron/Family - Akron/Family

Akron/Family - Akron/Family

One of the most representative artists in the neo freak folk movement was Brooklyn based Akron/Family, and their self titled debut is one of the most memorable folk albums of its time. The concept is straightforward. Accompany simple campfire melodies (some of the best melodies on record, as it happened), with sharp contrasts in electronics and production. The results are intriguing; the often bizarre idiosyncrasies make the songs distinctive and memorable, yet still warm and comforting. From the R2D2 bleeps and bloops of the opening “Before And Again,” to the lush synthesizers in “I’ll Be On The Water,” through the splashes of reverberation and recorded natural sounds on “Afford,” all the way to the crooked horns and vocals on “Franny/You’re Human,” Akron/Family is loaded with highlights that feel like fragments of great folklore with surreal modern contexts. Although quite strange, an album as warm and intimate as this is a rarity.

Akron/Family

Akron/Family

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The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

February 21, 2009
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

The Soft Bulletin may have been the most accomplished album by the Flaming Lips, but it certainly was not the last great album by the bizarre troubadours. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is the most advanced the band’s sound has ever been, and yet another wonderful set of songs that meld together into a grand, cohesive album. But also in its possession are some of the bands most immediate and touching  singles, which The Soft Bulletin does not quite deliver in as great a breadth.  “Fight Test,” “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1,” “Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell,” “It’s Summertime,” and of course the timeless classic “Do You Realize?” are all in the run for both catchiest and most sophisticated pop songs ever. The lyrical content is miraculously quite universal. The opening “Fight Test” introduces an immediately challenging moral dilemma which even philosophers might have a tough time wrestling with, while many of the album’s other songs deal with both the robotic and human emotional sides of the said Battle. Only one of the world’s most talented bands could ever make an album about such magical content so heartwarming and close to the human condition.

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips