Saturday, December 22, 2007

Movies for Music
Lovers: Part Two

Click here for part one

My top 50 continues with documentaries and re-releases. This year, I'm including DVDs as part of the latter, since so many theatrical revivals these days are loss leaders for home video—assuming screenings are even part of the promotional plan.

Jim Jarmusch's debut, Permanent Vacation, for instance, appears as an extra on the Criterion Collection edition of Stranger Than Paradise, but wasn't accompanied by a theatrical run. Charles Burnett's My Brother's Wedding, on the other hand, also appears as an extra (with Milestone's Killer of Sheep), but did play some limited dates after its celebrated predecessor made the rounds.

While I'm at it, I don't mention any of the more elaborate box-
ed sets simply because they weren't sent my way—and I can't afford them—and not because I doubt the hype. I'm sure Ford at Fox, Berlin Alexanderplatz, etc. deserve every accolade they've been accumulating, but I've limited my list to the titles to which I had access. And since this was an incredible year for the digital format, I still had a lot of first-rate material from which to choose.

Links are to my Amazon, Siffblog, and Stranger reviews.

Top Documentaries:
Lake of Fire (Tony Kaye)
2. 51 Birch Street (Doug Block)
3. Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (Julien Temple)
4. No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson)
5. The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (Sophie Fiennes)
6. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Stephen Kijak)
7. Gypsy Caravan (Jasmine Dellal),
8. Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal)
9. SiCKO (Michael Moore)
10. Crazy Love (Dan Klores)

Runners-up: Tie: My Country, My Country
(Laura Poitras), The Devil Came on Horseback (An-
nie Sundberg & Ricki Stern) and Zoo (Robinson Devor)

Note: In a year of Knocked Up and Juno—two entertaining,
if unrealistic films about unplanned pregnancy—Kaye's epic, underpromoted abortion doc was a beacon of light in the darkness. If Law & Order and every other procedural on TV
can deal with the subject, why can't these seemingly hip rom-coms? Maybe because they're not so hip after all. (And recall
that I haven't seen Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.) To quote A.O. Scott again, "My wish for 2008 is that Diab-
lo Cody
, who wrote Juno, and Judd Apatow, the writer-direc-
tor of Knocked Up and producer of Superbad, collaborate on a hilariously naughty comedy promoting proper condom use."

Top Re-releases:
Breathless - Criterion Collection (Jean-Luc Godard)
2. Stranger Than Paradise - Criterion Collection (Jim Jarmusch)
3. Radio On (Christopher Petit)

Radio On review from Resonance:
As the Modern Lovers once exclaimed, "I'm in love with

the radio on / it helps me from being alone late at night."
In "Roadrunner," Jonathan Richman had 1950s America
on his mind; in Radio On, critic-turned-filmmaker Chris-
topher Petit transfers the phenomenon to 1980s England,
exchanging exultation for something more enigmatic.

The result is Get Carter gone
post-punk: TV actor David
Beames plays a London DJ
trying to unravel the mys-
tery of his brother's demise.
Instead, he meets a succes-
sion of travelers who share his
feelings of loneliness and loss.

Shot by Wim Wenders reg-
ular Martin Schäfer (Kings of
the Road), Petit's first film is a monochromatic road mov-
ie that captures a time of Bowie in Berlin, Kraftwerk on

cassette, Wreckless Eric on the jukebox and Police-era
Sting as an Eddie Cochrane-obsessed gas station attendant.

Radio On makes for the ideal double bill with Border
Radio, the restless debut from fellow Wenders acolyte Al-
lison Anders. Like the Anders film, which was co-directed
by Kurt Voss and Dean Lent, the journey trumps the destin-
ation (Bristol in the case of the former, Mexico in the case of
the latter). Petit's project may be chillier, but the patina of
time only makes it seem cooler than ever. K.C. FENNESSY

4. Vengeance Is Mine - Criterion Collection (Shohei Imamura)
5. Mala Noche - Criterion Collection (Gus Van Sant)
6. My Brother's Wedding (Charles Burnett)
7. Pierrot le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard)
8. The Landlord (Hal Ashby)
9. Border Radio - Criterion Collection
(Allison Anders, Kurt Voss, and Dean Lent)
10. Let's Get Lost (Bruce Weber)

Runners-up: Cría Cuervos - Criterion Collection, The Cub-
an Masterworks Collection
, The Silence of the Lambs - Collec-
tor's Edition
, Malpertuis, The Chocolate War (Keith Gordon's directorial debut), and Cinema 16: European Short Films.

Cinema 16 review from Resonance:
Democracy rules in Cinema 16 as up-and-comers rub shoulders
with established filmmakers. Previous UK-only installments foc-
used on Britain and America. Now Warp Films widens their scope
to encompass an entire continent. Spread over two discs, this por-
table festival offers 16 shorts plus commentary. The earliest selec-
tions include Ridley Scott's ode to truancy "Boy and Bicycle" (1958)
and Jan Svankmajer's Lewis Carroll-inspired "Jabberwocky" (1971).

The rest are more recent, like Andrea Arnold's Oscar-winning
"Wasp" (2003), which packs all the emotional complexity of a feat-
ure into an economical 23 minutes. Cinema 16's combination of
big names and promising neophytes, like playwright-turned-dir-
ector Martin McDonagh (2004’s profane "Six Shooter”), serves as
an ideal introduction to today's art house—with nary a tightly-cor-
seted literary adaptation to spoil the fun. KATHLEEN C. FENNESSY

Top Events:
1. Béla Tarr restrospective (including Sátántangó)*
2. INLAND EMPIRE at the Cinerama (with David Lynch)*
3. Brand Upon the Brain! at the Cinerama (with Guy Maddin)*
4. Shohei Imamura restrospective*
5. Jacques Rivette restrospective (including Out 1: Spectre)*
6. Pedro Costa restrospective (including Colossal Youth)*
7. Kenji Mizoguchi restrospective*
8. Jacques Tati restrospective*
9. Tie: Noir City at Siff Cinema and Noir Series at SAM
10. Tie: 50 Years of Janus and 30 Years of Kino at SIFF Cinema

* All starred events sponsored and/or hosted by the Northwest Film Forum. Also, The Harmonic Resistance of Béla Tarr actually took place in late-2006...what can I say, it colored my entire 2007. All during this year's Pedro Costa retrospective, for instance, I kept thinking about Tarr, and the way these two filmmakers use the long take to transform the struggles of ordinary folk into visual poetry.

The Neverending Endnote: Before I go,
here are five films that
just missed my top 30: Atonement, Golden Door, Romance & Cigarettes, Running on Empty, and Starting Out in the Evening.

And 25 that tickled my fancy (in alphabetical order): 3:10
to Yuma, Alpha Dog, American Gangster, The Assassina-
tion of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (except
for that too-long epilogue), Avenue Montaigne, The Boss
of It All, Delirious, Diggers, First Snow, Joshua, Lights in
the Dusk
, The Lookout, The Namesake, Paris, Je T'aime,
Quiet City, Rocket Science, The Savages, Superbad, Ten Can-
, Waitress, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, The Witnesses,
The Year of the Dog
(mostly for Molly Shannon), You Kill Me,

and Bridge to Terabithia (my favorite family film of the year).

Also, I know I'm "supposed" to hate Fay Grim, Hal Hartley's
much maligned follow-up to Henry Fool, but I just couldn't
do it. And Wes Anderson's surprisingly divisive Darjeeling Limited? I kept my expectations low, and found myself pleas-
antly entertained—not enough to add it to my list, but still...

Image Credits: Tony Kaye (THINKFilm), Radio
On (Google Images), and Sátántangó (Filmkúltura).

Movies for Music Lovers: 2007 Version

Movies for Music Lovers

Click here for Songs for Swingin' Cineastes

I compiled the following list from the 350+ films I saw this year. As usual, I don't pay much attention to the big-budget extravaganzas released around the holidays, so you won't find many here. In fact, as of this date, I haven't seen
The Golden Compass or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber
of Fleet Street
yet. Though I'll probably pass on the former,
I look forward to seeing the latter in the coming days.

I missed a few other films, as well, like Live-in Maid and Ter-
ror's Advocate
, which had too-short Seattle runs. Sometimes real
life gets in the way, even if real life for me often equals reel life
(and I'll let you decide whether that's a good or a bad thing).

For several years, I would also compile a list of top disappoint-
ments, but I kicked the habit in 2003, so you won't find much
negativity here either. For the most part, I liked what I saw.

To quote A.O. Scott, "I know it’s hard to believe, but during
the past 12 months I some-
times went two or three weeks
in a row without finding any-
thing to mock, deflate or be
disappointed by, and my inner curmudgeon was frequently elbow-
ed aside by a wide-eyed, arm-waving enthusiast." I feel you, Mr. Scott.

If I haven't listed a film, it's because I didn't see it, didn't like it,
found it forgettable, or am still digesting it, as is the case with
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which I just saw yesterday.

The Tops:
1. Away From Her (Sarah Polley)

There were so many surprises in Sarah Polley's first film as a dir-
ector, Away from Her. First, that still in her mid 20s—and in
a youth-obsessed industry—she chose to make a love story ab-
out an aging couple. Second, that she talked Julie Christie into
playing one of her leads, a woman at the onset of Alzheimer's
(a career high for Christie). Perhaps most surprising of all is
that the result is such a measured and moving film. But then
again, this is a woman who was allegedly blacklisted by Disney
at 12 for refusing to take off a peace badge at a showbiz function.
-- Cath Clarke, The Guardian

2. Into the Wild (Sean Penn)
3. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
4. Daratt (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)

Sissako also produced one of the year's best, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's devastating Daratt, part of the New Crowned Hope Series, which premiered at SIFF, and concerns reconciliation in Chad). This is hardly a scientific survey, but there were three people at the Saturday evening screening I attended, and three at the matinee a friend caught earlier that day, and SIFF Cinema seats 400. For some reason, African films don't tend to attract much of a local audience—it’s no wonder more don't come our way.
--From my Seattle Film Blog review of Bamako

5. Killer of Sheep
(Charles Burnett)
6. Control (Anton Corbijn)
7. Zodiac (David Fincher)

[A] deep reflection on the evaporation of truth...[and] a great film about disappointment and a mental labyrinth at odds with the myth of American efficiency...Fincher combines visual beauty and narrative virtuosity to arrive at melancholy drift that
has no equivalent in the American cinema of the last 20 years.

-- Thierry Jousse, Frieze

8. Tie: Once (John Carney) / Lady Chatterly (Pascal Ferran)
9. This Is England (Shane Meadows)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)

My Amazon review of No Country for Old Men:
In the finest Coen Brothers thriller since Fargo, they adapt Cormac McCarthy with fidelity and restraint. Not that there aren't moments of intense violence, but No Country for Old Men is their quietest, most existential film yet. In this modern-day western, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet who could use a break. One morning while hunting antelope, he spies several trucks surrounded by dead bodies (both human and canine). In examining the site, he finds a case filled with two million dollars. Moss takes it with him, tells his wife (Kelly Macdonald) he's going away for awhile, and hits the road until he can determine his next move. On the way from El Paso to Mexico, he discovers he's being followed by ex-special ops agent Chigurh (an eerily calm Javier Bardem). Chigurh's weapon of choice is a cattle gun, and he uses it on everyone who gets in his way—or loses a coin toss (as far as he's concerned, bad luck is grounds for death). Just as Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a World War II vet, is on Moss's trail, Chigurh's former colleague, Wells (Woody Harrelson), is on his. For most of the movie, Moss remains one step ahead of his nemesis. Both men are clever and resourceful—except Moss has a conscious, Chigurh does not (he is, as McCarthy puts it, "a prophet of destruction"). At times, the film plays like an old horror movie, with Chigurh as its lumbering Frankenstein monster. Like the taciturn terminator, No Country for Old Men doesn't move quickly, but the tension never dissipates. This minimalist masterwork represents Joel and Ethan Coen and their entire cast, particularly Brolin and Jones, at the peak of their powers.

Note: The links are to my Amazon, Siffblog, and Stranger reviews. In the case of No Country, however, I'm posting the original as I prefer it to the edit. For more reading, click here for an interview with Julie Christie in the LA Times, and here for The Guardian's picks and pans of the year. Until 2007, my newspaper of choice was The New York Times; I've since changed my allegiance to The Guardian (plus, their writers are allowed to curse with impunity).

(David Lynch)
12. I'm Not There
(Todd Haynes)
13. Talk to Me (Kasi Lemmons)
14. Letters From Iwo
Jima (Clint Eastwood)
15. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-Liang)
16. Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck)
17. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet)
18. Le Petit Lieutenant (Xavier Beauvois)
19. Blame It on Fidel! (Julie Gavras)
20. Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin)

Note: Interview highlights of the year include speaking with
John Sayles (for Seattle Sound) and to David Lynch (for Res-
). Long live true independents; as with my music list,
I tried to include as many of these folks as possible. Also, my
top 20 includes not one, but two—two!—films with exclama-
tion points in the title. And one spelled with all caps. HOORAY!

Second Runners-up:
21. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel Von Donnersmark)
22. Black Book (Paul Verhoeven)
23. El Aura (Fabian Bielinsky)
24. Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
25. Red Road (Andrea Arnold)
26. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa)
27. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)
28. Half Moon (Bahman Ghobadi)
29. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy)
30. Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog)

Note: I sense a pattern, i.e. films made by liberals for liberals that take liberals to task. Let's face it: it's time to look in the mirror and fix
what's broken. And rest in peace, Ulrich Mühe, the East Berlin-born actor from The Lives of Others.

Click here for part two (documentaries, re-releases, events,
and more random notes) and here for an alternate version

Endnote: This is a work in progress, subject to change at a moment's notice. The lock date is 1/12/08, day of the Axman's annual top 10 party. Other acclaimed films that haven't hit Seattle yet include 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (which opens on 2/8), The Duchess of Langeais (3/7), Persepolis (1/18), and There Will Be Blood (1/4). Also, Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon and Private Fears in Public Places. Click here for the tops of 2006.

Image Credits: Sarah Polley (© 2006 Capri Releasing), Aw-
ay From Her (Michael Gibson/Lionsgate Films), Killer of Sheep (Milestone Films), INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch...I guess),
and The Lives of Others (Hagen Keller/Sony Pictures Classics).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I'm Totally Wired (Overlooked and Underappreciated)

Had the following releases come out earlier in 2007—
or had I discovered them sooner—they might've made my top 30 for the year. Or maybe there was just too much good stuff from which to choose. (This list also includes records I haven't heard in their entirety, though I like what I've heard.)

In any case, they're my regrets. Note that I purposefully
excluded a few high-profile acts, like Band of Horses, Feist,
Go! Team, Iron & Wine, Elvis Perkins, and Kanye West.

I don't have a problem with any of those artists. They aren't my favorites, but I don't go out of my way to avoid them. They do what they do, they do it well, and I can understand why some folks
find them so appealing. Heck, after hearing a gracious interview with BoH's Ben Bridwell on KEXP recently, my esteem grew ex-
ponentially. Still, despite a fine cover on Grizzy Bear's Friend EP,
their music doesn't hit me where I live. Maybe someday.

[This list is not in order.
The links will take you
to my Amazon and And-
MoreAgain reviews.]

1. Wire - Read and
Burn 03 EP (Pink Flag)
2. Grinderman -
Grinderman (Anti-)
3. Robert Wyatt -
Comicopera (Domino)
4. Various Artists - Hot Fuzz [origin-
al soundtrack] (Universal/Island)
5. Goodnight Loving - Crooked Lake (Dusty Medical Records)
6. Aa - GAame (Gigantic Music),
7. The Clientele - God Save the Clientele (Merge)
8. Henry Flynt & Nova'billy - self-titled (Locust Music)
9. Various Artists - Deathproof [original soundtrack] (Maverick)*
10. M. Ward - Duet for Guitars #2 [reissue] (Merge)

Duet for Guitars #2 review from Resonance:
Now he's got Neko Case and Jenny Lewis calling him up for favors,
but singer/songwriter/producer Matt Ward was an unknown when Giant Sand's Howe Gelb issued his 2000 debut. According to Ward's liner notes, "Most of these songs were written in Chicago but the oth-
ers were figured out en route to or in Seattle, but they were all re-
corded in Portland." Duet for Guitars #2 proves his style was in place from the start: the warbly whispering, fluid guitar playing (occupying that sweet spot between Nick Drake and John Fahey) and odd turns of phrase, like "He asked me to be a snake and live underground." There's nothing as memorable here as 2003 breakout track "Helicopter," but with the aid of dulcimer, harmonica and a little humming, this 15-track set casts a sun-dappled spell. KATHLEEN C. FENNESSY

11. Von Südenfed - Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino)**
12. Capstan Shafts - Environ Maiden (Rainbow Quartz)
13. Battles - Mirrored (Warp)
14. Burial - Untrue (Hyperdub)
15. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah -
Some Loud Thunder (self-released)
16. Panda Bear - Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
17. Liars - self-titled (Mute)
18. Various Artists - Home Schooled:
The ABCs of Kid Soul (Numero Group)
19. Black Lips - Good Bad Not Evil (Vice)
20. Various Artists - Downtown 81 [reissue] (Recall)

* Another fine Tarantino soundtrack; too bad it's his worst film.
** Von Südenfed = Mark E. Smith and Mouse on Mars.

Endnote: One of the more pleasurable encounters I had with Wire this year came while watching the trailer, followed by the film, of Pedro Costa's Ossos. The former is choreographed to the anxious beat of "Lowdown." The same live version plays towards the end of the movie. Costa doesn't use much music, but when
he does—he makes it count. Click here for my take on the Costa retrospective at the Northwest Film Forum. For more informa-
tion about Wire, please visit their official website from which I swip-
ed the 2006 image up top (credited to Malka Spigel, AKA Colin
Newman's significant other). Grinderman cover art from URB.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Into the Prine: Part Two

Click here for part one

I've been working up the courage to perform "Angel From Montgomery" as a sort of tribute to Into the Wild. Call it a party trick (everybody needs one). My practice regim-
ine involves singing along with Bonnie Raitt. It's a fool's game, really. I can do it, but not half as well. Maybe a third—if that.

I'd like to think John Prine's words will carry the day. And maybe they will. Either way, here's a live duet between Prine
. The video doesn't feature their performance, but rather
still images illustrating the lyrics. This is songwriting at its finest.

I'm not alone in that assessment. Check out this post for more tes-
timony. Into the Wild is my #2 pick in what has turned out to
be a fantastic year for film. It's my friend Sean Axmaker's #1.

For more on Axmaker's picks and pans, please visit his blog.
For more on the ItW soundtrack, click here. Just be forewarn-
ed that it doesn't include Emile Hirsch and Kristen Stewart's
"Angel" duet. Eddie Vedder's songs, however, do include contrib-
utions from Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker and guitarist Kaki King.

Oh, and offering further proof of their continued irrelevance,
the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, i.e. the Golden Glob-
es, failed to recognize Into the Wild with a single nomination—
not even for Eric Gautier's indelible cinematography. (Mssr.
Gautier is a longtime associate of Olivier Assayas.) Fuck 'em.

1/9/08 update: I overstated my case. Eddie Vedder received nom-
inations for best original score and best song ("Guaranteed"). Due
to the writer's strike, however, the ceremony won't be broadcast.

Endnote: Into the Wild is currently playing in Seat-
tle at the Metro and Meridian Cinemas. The film didn't
have the big box office opening some prognosticators
were expecting, so it's nice to see it making up for that
soft premiere with a long run. Image from Fandango
(Hal Holbrook and Emile Hirsch), video from YouTube.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Songs for Swingin' Cineastes!

This year marks the second an-
nual Idolator Pop Critics Poll
(formerly "Jackin' Pop"). The fol-
lowing represents the bulk of
the ballot I'll be submitting.

As the deadline isn't until 12/21
at 5pm (EST), I've been working
on this thing off and on ever since
editor Michaelangelo Matos made the announcement on
11/16. I reserve the right to tweak these lists a time or two be-
fore the deadline. The links are to my Amazon, AndMore-
Again, Siffblog, and Stranger reviews and/or previews.

[Updated on 12/10/07. Top 10 order changed and singles list expanded.]

Top Albums:
1. Lavender Diamond - Imagine Our Love (Matador)
2. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (DFA/Capitol)
3. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (Republic/Universal)
4. M.I.A. - Kala (Interscope)
5. C.S.S. - Cansei de Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)
6. Various - The World Is Gone (XL Recordings)
7. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
8. Wax Tailor - Hope and Sorrow (Decon)
9. Stereo Total - Paris Berlin (Kill Rock Stars)
10. Menomena - Friend and Foe (Barsuk)

Hope and Sorrow review from Seattle Sound:
On his noirish debut, JC Le Saoût united the hip-hop
heads with the film buffs. As his handle suggests, the
French DJ/producer stitches disparate elements to-
gether—hypnotic beats, luscious strings and snatches
of movie dialogue—to create a stimulating cinematic
whole. His follow-up sticks to the same winning formula.

Singer Charlotte Savary and rap outfit the Others are back for the
attack, while Ursula Rucker (“We Be”) and the unstoppable funk
force known as Sharon Jones (“The Way We Lived”) serve as wel-
come new party guests. The latter shines by channeling Shirley Bas-
sey in Goldfinger mode, but without the gloss (here’s hoping the Bond
producers hand her the reins for 007’s next outing). Hope
and Sor-
row charts a sunnier course than last year's Tales of the Forgotten
Melodies, but it’s every bit as enchanting. KATHLEEN C. FENNESSY

Top Reissues:
1. Miles Davis - The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Sony Legacy)
2. Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth and Collected Works (Domino)
3. The Gist - Embrace the Herd (Cherry Red)
4. Joy Division - Closer [Collector's Edition] (Rhino)
5. Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures [Collector's Edition] (Rhino)

Colossal Youth review from Resonance:
Originally released in 1980, Colossal Youth is the musical
equivalent of Charles Laughton's expressionist masterpiece
Night of the Hunter. The British actor never directed another
film. The Welsh trio never recorded another album. No matter.
In retrospect, it was a brilliant move to quit while they were a-
head—there’s no way they could’ve topped this post-punk classic.

No one sings quite like Alison Statton, who recites her strange
tales in lightly-accented deadpan. Around her, Stuart and Phil
Moxham's carnival-esque organ, unhinged bass and rickety drum
machine fade away and radiate. Their spare songs play like messages
from another world. Disc two features the original album, while two
features 26 single, EP and demo tracks. Colossal Youth is every bit
as essential as Gang of Four's Entertainment and X-Ray Spex's Germ-
Free Adolescents—but far more unsettling. KATHLEEN C. FENNESSY

Top Singles:
1. LCD Soundsystem - "Dis-
co Infiltrator" (DFA/Capitol)
2. LCD Soundsystem - "Someone Great"
3. Amy Winehouse
with Ghostface Killah -
"You Know I'm No Good" (Republic/Universal)
4. Amy Winehouse - "Rehab" (Republic/Universal)
5. M.I.A. - "Paper Planes" (Interscope)
6. C.S.S. - "Let's Make Love
and Listen to Death From Above" (Sub Pop)
7. Björk - "Declare Independence" (Atlantic/WEA)
8. The Cave Singers - "Dancing on Our Graves" (Sub Pop)
9. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings - "Be Easy" (Daptone)
10. Black Lips - "Veni Vidi Vici" [Diplo remix] (Vice)

Liner Notes:
I realize I shouldn't apologize for my list, but I will anyway.
It represents the best of the music I heard this year, but I was-
n't able to hear as much as I would've liked. Further, I've been writing more about movies than music lately. If space, time,
and money weren't considerations, I'd be buying as much now
as I did in the 1990s—at least I can sample more new releases
on-line—but they are, and I can't. Plus, I haven't worked in a record store since 1992 (or at a radio station since 1998).

On the other hand, I saw over 350 movies, so my film list
provides a more accurate reflection of my taste. And speak-
ing of which, this has been an amazing year for movies about music, whether as text (Once, Control, I'm Not There) or sub-
text (This Is England, Talk to Me). And how about all those mus-
ic documentaries (Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten,
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, etc.) and all those music-satur-
ated re-releases (Border Radio, Radio On, Killer of Sheep, Let's
Get Lost
, The Landlord, etc.). For me, that's where 2007 was at.

So, that's what I liked. Then, there are the disappointments,
or those artists who fail to move me anymore. To quote
BB King, "The thrill is gone." The list includes Animal Collec-
tive, the Arctic Monkeys, the Hives (though the new single's
not bad), the New Pornographers (except for Dan Behar's
"Myriad Harbor"), PJ Harvey, the Ponys, Radiohead, the Shins,
the White Stripes (riffs and jams do not an album make), and
Wilco (an acquaintance's "dad rock" quip about sums it up).

Once upon a time, these acts found their way on to past top
10 lists. Not all of them released bad albums; in some cases, they've moved on. In others, I have. I'm simply looking for something different. Something more exciting, and at the same
time, more idiosyncratic. No doubt Polly Jean Harvey, for in-
stance, intended White Chalk as a personal statement, and I'm
sure it comes from the heart—I never doubt Harvey's sincerity—but in attempting to reinvent Blonde Redhead and Asobi Seksu in her own image, she sounds less like herself than ever. The results are strangely impersonal. So, for those who wrote off Lavender Diamond as hippie-dippy—well, they are. But at least Becky Sharp isn't trying to sound like something (or someone) she's not.

With that, here are my runners-
up: Keren Ann - self-titled (Metro Blue/Blue Note), Clinic - Visita-
tions (Domino), the Willowz - Chautauqua (Dim Mak), the Bird and the Bee - self-titled (Metro Blue/Blue Note), the Fiery Furnac-
es - Widow City (Thrill Jockey),
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings -
100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone),
Baby Elephant - Turn My Teeth Up! (Godforsaken Music), the He-liocentrics - Out There (Now Again), Nicole Willis & the Soul In-
vestigators - Keep Reachin' Up (Light in the Attic), Grizzly Bear - Friend EP (Matador), Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall (Reprise/
WEA), Various Artists - I'm Not There (Sony), Nino Rota - La Strada/Nights of Cabiria (El/Cherry Red), Vashti Bunyan - Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind (DiCristina), Frederick Hollander - The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (El/Cherry Red), Scout Niblett - This Fool Can Die Now (Too Pure), Greg Ashley - Painted Garden (Birdman), Thee Ohsees - Sucks Blood (Castle Face), Jenny Hoy-
ston - Isle Of (Southern), and Belinda Carlisle - Voilà (Rykodisc).

Turn My Teeth Up! review from Resonance:
Classically trained keyboardist Bernie Worrell was
the unsung genius of Parliament-Funkadelic—the
magic ingredient that elevated the Motor City crew
above the other groove merchants of the 1970s.

Consequently, Baby Elephant isn't just a meeting of
the old school funk (Worrell) and modern hip-hop minds
(producer Prince Paul and drummer Newkirk). Turn
My Teeth Up! represents a chance for the former child
prodigy to strut his stuff. Sometimes, his magic fingers
mimic the sound of a spaceship ("Baby Elephants N Thangs"
with George Clinton), sometimes a horror movie sound-

track ("Crack Addicts in Love" with Nona Hendryx).

Other guests include Yellowman, Reggie Watts, Shock-G
and a barely recognizable David Byrne (Worrell logged
time with the Talking Heads in the 1980s). Though these
11 tracks vary in quality, Worrell's beautiful bleeps and
bloops make every one worthwhile. KATHLEEN C. FENNESSY

Next Up: Part Two (more runners-up)

Endnote: While I'm at it, here's my top 10 film list (as it cur-
rently stands): Away From Her (Sarah Polley), Into the Wild
(Sean Penn), Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg), Daratt
(Mahamat-Saleh Haroun), Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett),
Control (Anton Corbijn), Zodiac (David Fincher), Tie: Once (John
Carney) / Lady Chatterly (Pascal Ferran), This Is England (Shane
Meadows), and No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen).

Those 11 titles comprise 36.7% of the full tally. Every
year, I compile a top 30, which I'll be working on until
the end of the year. Two not-yet-released contenders:
Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and P.T. Anderson's There
Will Be Blood. There have already been three Seattle press
screenings, but I wasn't able to make it to any of them.

Finally, the title of this post is, of course, a bastardization
of Frank Sinatra's 1955 platter, Songs For Swingin' Lovers!
Click here for last year's music list. Images from the official Lavender Diamond website, Live Music Blog, and Blue Note.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

December Reviews

Bad Santa (December Reviews)

These are the reviews and other as-
signments I'm working on this month.

Amazon DVDs: Breathless -
Criterion Collection
(special feat-
ures), Romance & Cigarettes (dir.
John Turturro; starring James Gan-
dolfini and Kate Winslet), Naked Boys Singing!, Amy Winehouse - I Told You
I Was Trouble: Live in London
When Night Is Falling, and State of Play [two-disc set] (with Bill Nighy and James McAvoy!).

[Romance & Cigarettes has been taking some serious critical hits,
but I gotta say: I enjoyed it. If you're at all curious—take a chance.]

Amazon Theatricals: Starting Out in the Eve-
(Frank Langella and Lauren Ambrose) and
Married Life (Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson).

Now playing: Click for I'm Not There, How to Cook Your Life, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Gone Baby Gone, and Lars and the Real Girl.

Idolator: Contributed my lists to this year's Pop Critics Poll.

Resonance DVDs: Breathless and Mala Noche.

Click here, here, and here
for my previous Godard re-
views, and here for an alter-
nate version of Mala Noche.

Seattle Sound: Best of Seattle 2007 film feature
and an interview with produc-
er Alexis Ferris (Police Beat, Cthulhu).

Seattle Film Blog: Still Lives - The Films of Pedro Costa, top 30 list,
and revamped versions of Mouchette (new images and for-
matting) and a chat with Robinson Devor (new images).

Endnote: Bad Santa isn't my favorite holiday movie,
but it comes close. At the very least, it's the most foul-mouth-
ed and least sentimental. My favorite? It's a Wonderful Life.
Sentimental perhaps, but Capra earns every tear. Images
from The Sydney Morning Herald and Cinema Scope.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Vibes, Vibes and More Vibes: On Blue Note's Droppin' Science

Various Artists, Drop-
pin' Science: The Great-
est Samples From the Blue
Note Lab, Blue Note [2/18/08]

What happens when funk
meets jazz? First of all,
you get the compilation
Droppin' Science.

More importantly—since most of the sourced recordings
are readily available—you get sheer auditory bliss. At least
if you're into body-swaying beats and musical virtuosity.
And vibes. Vibes for days. Vibes for miles. What's not to like
about vibes? They move, they groove. They float and they fly.

The hook is this: These tracks have all been sampled by hip-hop artists. Repeatedly, in some cases. So, even if you haven't heard the numbers in their entirety, you may have heard them in their sliced and diced ("competition's paying the price!") manifestations.

A Tribe Called Quest - "Can I Kick It?" (1990)

After Moby issued Play, a similar set hit the streets. It's a great idea, and I hope it continues. It's one thing—a rather significant thing—to pay the original artists royalties; it's another to give
their music the chance to stand on its own. They deserve no less.

That said, I use the
word "original" loose-
ly. Lou Donaldson's "It's
Your Thing," for instance,
is a cover of the Isley Broth-
ers' classic. As much as I dig
his expansive rendition, I prefer the vocal track. Yet it makes sense that DJs and producers would opt for the word-free edition.

Examples include Brand Nubian (“Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down”), De La Soul (“Bitties in the BK Lounge”), Lox (“Get This $”)—even pop stars, like Madonna (“I’d Rather Be Your Lover").

The same goes for Lonnie Smith's take on Blood, Sweat and Tears' "Spinning Wheel." Those who've taken advantage: A Tribe Called Quest (“Can I Kick It?”), Pete Rock And C.L. Smooth (“Act Like You Know”), and, um, Brian Austin Green (“Didn’t Have A Clue”).

There are other covers besides. Thankfully, none are simple Karaoke knock-offs. As for A Tribe, they've sampled three
other Droppin' Science tracks. The roll call: Ronnie Foster's
"Mystic Brew" ("Electric Relaxation"), Donald Byrd's "Think
Twice" ("Footprints"), and Brother Jack McDuff's "Oblighet-
to" ("Scenario"). I have a feeling Ali Shaheed Muhammad
boasts a jazz-funk collection to rival Gang Starr's DJ Premier.

Though I consider myself a fan of funk, jazz, and psychedelia—"Oblighetto" has a pleasingly lysergic quality—the majority of these tunes were new to me.

Consequently, I can't predict whether potential listeners will find Droppin' Science redundant or revelatory. That
said, even a crate digger who owns every one of these 1960s
and 1970s recordings may still appreciate the convenience
of having the 10 tracks packaged together on one CD (the
digital and LP incarnations add three bonus selections).

Of the line-up, my favorite cut is Jeremy Steig's "Howling for Judy." While vibes, organ, bass, guitar, drums, and horns dominate the rest of the disc, "Judy" revolves around the flute. And I knew in an instant where I'd heard it before. Here's a clue, "I'm Like Ma Bell, I've Got The Ill Communications." That's right, it's the main building block behind the Beastie Boys' "Get It Together."

As much as I love vibes, the flute is an underrated funk instrument. Just consult Herbie Mann, Wax Tailor (the
French DJ counts a flautist as part of his arsenal), or com-
poser Lalo Schifrin (Bullitt, Dirty Harry, etc.), who'll be
making a Seattle appearance next year, for further proof.

Finally, here's a list of the original albums, in the order in which they're represented: Lou Donaldson - Hot Dog (1969), Ronnie Foster - Two Headed Freap (1972), Donald Byrd - Stepping into Tomorrow (1974), David Axelrod/David McCallum - Music: A Bit More of Me (1968), Jack McDuff - Moon Rappin’ (1969), Joe Williams - Presenting Joe Williams and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra (1966), Grant Green - Alive! (1970), Lonnie Smith - Drives (1970), Jeremy Steig - Legwork (1970), Ronnie Laws - Pressure Sensitive (1975), Monk Higgins - Extra Soul Perception (1969), and Donald Byrd - Places and Spaces (1975).

[Amazon lists every title, except Legwork and Extra Soul Perception.]

I've tried to stop listening to Droppin' Science, but I just
can't do it, so don't say you haven't been warned. It's a head-
nodding hurricane of vibes, vibes and more vibes—and flute!

Endnote: The title of this post is a riff on the Allen Tous-
saint track "Tears, Tears and More Tears," recently covered
by Toussaint and Elvis Costello on The River in Reverse.

And in case you're wondering, the David McCallum listed ab-
ove is indeed the same gent who starred in The Great Escape and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. His Music trilogy is completed by A Part of Me (1966) and It's Happening Now! (1969). Images from Amazon, Blue Note, and Sing365, video from YouTube. Note that Ad Rock (Adam Horowitz) is sporting a claddagh ring—and that my tagline is "Where the shillelagh meets the hood." Case in point!