Archive for October, 2009

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Thom Yorke – "Hearing Damage"

October 15, 2009
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Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

It has been a busy year for Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The band has released two new singles within the past three months: “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” and “These Are My Twisted Words.” You’ll hear neither on the radio. Yorke has also released two solo singles of his own, a cover of Mark Mulcahy’s “All for the Best” and a double A-side 12-inch of the songs “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses” and “The Hollowed Earth.” In addition to this, he’s started an as of yet unnamed new band with Flea, Nigel Godrich, and others.

You’ll hear a lot of varying opinions on said activity if you ask a bunch of Radiohead fans. Opinions are pretty divided, but the general consensus seems to be that the new tracks are nifty, even pretty good, but a bit of a disappointment. I personally agree, for the most part. In particular, “Harry Patch,” as pretty as it is, sounds streamlined, and so do “Twisted Words” and the Yorke singles, even considering their experimentation. To me, “All for the Best” is the one that sticks out as the best, a glowing electronic pop piece. With all this said, I’ve been playing all of these tracks fairly often recently, so my disappointment is obviously rather minimal.

The latest bit of Thom Yorke related news involves one of the stranger releases of this year, the indie/alternative rock star-studded “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” soundtrack, which contains the work of Grizzly Bear and Beach House’s Victoria LeGrand, Bon Iver and St. Vincent, Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, Muse and Thom Yorke himself, among others. Someone involved with the Twilight Saga clearly had a large wad of cash to blow and happened to decide that this soundtrack merited it.

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Mmm, mmm, kiss me Edward Cullen, kiss me lest I stain my petticoat with mine beads of anticipatory perspiration.

As you can expect from a cast like that, the disc is scattered in quality. It is split pretty much half and half between (and this is just one man’s opinion here) lame alternative-lite shit and moody, thoughtful pieces. Yorke leads the latter pack with his new song “Hearing Damage.”

As I write this, I’ve listened to the song maybe around ten times, and it is really beginning to bother me. I’m imagining Mr. Yorke would either take this as a bit of a put-down or a complement, and I should hope the latter. A lot of Radiohead’s greatest work has been willfully difficult and experimental, and every one of their albums within the past nine years have their artfully disturbing moments. Thom Yorke took the band’s electronic paranoia to another level with his excellent 2006 solo album The Eraser. Not many other artists have the ability to reliably get under a listener’s skin with their music.

“Hearing Damage” wouldn’t sound out of place on The Eraser, and for that reason complaints of Yorke not progressing his style beyond dark electronic music may be legitimate, but this also means that Yorke has really started to cement his own style as a solo artist, and we can tell that this is a Thom Yorke track immediately upon hearing it. The song still has it’s own thing going, though. It taps into something primal, and we can point to the pulsing, irregular rhythm for part of the explanation.

The piece seems to build and build and not climax, and it’s sonic identity is built around a shuddering, bassy synth. It is heard throughout the track, dipping in and out and warping as the song draws to a close, and is also mirrored by higher pitched synths throughout. In opposition to this inventiveness is that this track is slickly produced, as expected for a song on the soundtrack of a major motion picture. How complex and disturbing the song is contrasts with its immediacy.

As far as Yorke’s vocals and lyrics go, we are reminded here why he is still one of the best vocalists around. As we have heard on Radiohead albums as well as The Eraser, a little bit of echo goes a long way for Yorke, and raises his emotional momentum a hell of a lot. His singing here is hushed, also a lot like it was on the majority of songs on The Eraser.

The lyrics are, as expected, the heart of the song, and they solidify “Hearing Damage” as a classic cut. “You can do no wrong / in my eyes, in my eyes” may sound like sexy vampire type shit, but it’s got the typical Yorke sleeper effect, and when you really think about it, it’s pretty creepy. He switches back and forth between first and second person point of view here, and there is no short supply of affecting material. Even more harrowing: “A drunken salesman / your hearing damage / your mind is restless / they say you’re getting better, but you don’t feel any better.”

A slithering earworm, “Hearing Damage” crawls into your consciousness, stays there, and haunts you, like tinnitus. It’s no surprise that it is the odd duck out on this soundtrack, and nothing else sounds half as creative. Granted, its competition is lukewarm and straightforward, but the curiosity of how the song might be used in New Moon almost makes me feel like I could tolerate two hours of vampire smut to know. Well, not really. But it’s further proof that Thom Yorke still has the capacity to make great music in 2009, and paired with some of the other good compositions here, makes the soundtrack worth the price of admission.

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Admit it guys, pretty much the story of our lives for the past two years.

NOTICE: As you can see, all of the Radio Cure playlist posts have been deleted. Don’t worry, you can still view them on the “Radio Playlists” page, now accessible from the sidebar. I did this to open up space on the front page for more interesting posts, as the front page was getting cluttered with playlists that I post weekly and didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of content.

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Zombieland

October 11, 2009
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Zombieland

For a certain niche of b-movie enthusiasts, Zombieland is a dream come true. The film’s premise is that the entire globe is overrun by zombies, and few lone survivors remain in the mostly destroyed wasteland to kick ass and take names with giant vehicles, shotguns and a nearly endless supply of ammo. Let’s face it guys, and I’m talking to you fellow zombie flick fans here, you’ve wanted to be in a situation like this for your entire lives, and you have all of the plans written out in your head already. You know which neighbors have guns, you know where you would run to, and you have the rules of zombie busting remembered by heart. The characters in this film mention these things in an almost obligatory way, but for you, it goes without saying.

Part of the fun of the flicks which Zombieland plays off of are their predictability. People can draw mental prototypes about them because they have seen the elements hundreds of times, and rules like “Check the back seat” and “Double tap” are the kinds of things you wish you could tell characters in most zombie flicks. But these characters know them and, unlike most other zombie flick characters, are actually relatively smart, although they make a couple decisions that even the casual movie-goer would easily recognize as a bad idea (Doesn’t fleeing from zombies by riding the Giant Drop sound like a terrible idea the second you read it?).

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How can you not love this shot?

But that’s just about the only thing that sets them apart. These characters are built up well but also build from other familiar character prototypes: The soul-seeking youth, the southern tough guy, the independent babe and her spunky little sister. They have surprises, but like zombies, they are reliable and seem doomed to their lonely existence. All named after towns and cities in the U.S., the characters spend an awful lot of their time traveling, but find time to enjoy the little things in life, like building couch forts, bashing ghouls’ heads in with banjos and a never ending quest for Twinkies.

Actually, all three of those activities are primarily enjoyed by the aforementioned tough guy Tallahassee played by Woody Harrelson, who just steals the show in this film. His acting here reminds us of why he is a great American actor; his cool composition carries through his characters so strongly that when he does irregular things like have a temper tantrum and break all the windows on a random car or break down crying when he remembers his lost son, we are shocked but accept the vulnerability unconditionally. However, it does help him that he is sorely out of place among the other amateur actors here, namely Jesse Eisenberg (who is essentially Michael Cerra with a shorter resume), Emma Stone (who is essentially Megan Fox with a longer resume) and Abigail Breslin (who just might be the most hyped child actor since the Olsen twins). The only really solid acting to accompany Harrelson comes with the film’s jaw dropping cameo appearance, which I won’t spoil.

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Harrelson, designated badass/goofball since White Men Can't Jump.

…But I’ll level, everyone here brings the giggles more than a dozen times. Did I mention this film is a comedy? And it’s hilarious? I know many of you are probably die-hard Sean of the Dead fans and might imagine if another successful zombie spoof is possible. While Sean of the Dead was hilarious, it also had some subtly observant things to say not just about zombie movies but about people. The zombies in Zombieland might have a meaningful existence, but they need not justify the film. By now, zombies are as much a legitimate part of culture as vampires are, and we all know how current vampire appeal is.

Yes, Zombieland is also a satire, and this is good, because we laughed about elements like these when they weren’t even supposed to be funny. But when Eisenberg’s character Columbus wakes in the morning to find the cute girl from down the hall that fell asleep on the couch with him has turned into a flesh-eating monster, we giggle, and then full out laugh when he narrates to us: “The first time I let a girl into my life, and she tries to eat me.” He says it with some tired acceptance, as if it isn’t even a surprise. That’s hard not to both laugh and nod at.

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One of many of this film's moments which leave the audience screaming, for whatever reason.

But director Ruben Fleischer takes the elements of zombie film and runs with them, shamelessly having fun. Which is another thing zombie fans love: a little bit of unaddultered violence. For this reason it is more than a comedy with some of the funniest material you have heard all year. It is also an action flick, and there are more heads rolling (as well as doing other gross, over the top things) than there were in Sean. Within five minutes, the film earns its stripes when Columbus begins a long list of zombie busting rules over small vignettes of innocent bystanders getting munched, as well as his own ridiculous attempt at escaping two zombies at a gas station.

What makes this film a success is that it manages to be both familiar as well as surprising, funny in addition to cathartic, without losing its momentum. Yeah, there’s the obligatory bunt to first base and other such calculated cheese, but isn’t that something we see road films for? Why can’t this film be both of those, too? It earns all these rights somehow, be it through its funny writing, shameless shock tactics and a biting self-awareness. You’ll come out of Zombieland having experienced one hell of a synthesis of contemporary film, and it’s likely that you’ll be willing to see it again and again until you can cheer and recite the lines by heart.

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32. Enjoy the little things.