Lead track off Vampire Weekend’s Contra

•October 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Cover_contraHead on over to Vampire Weekend’s website to get a free download of their new song “Horchata”, the lead track off their sophomore effort Contra. I really enjoyed their self titled debut, and regardless of your opinion you’ve gotta admit they don’t really sound like anyone else; with that said it’s nice to see that they seem to be playing with some new sounds for album #2.

If this lead track is any indication, Contra will encapsulate the feeling of a mid-term break, as opposed to the last-dash party cynicism of their debut. “Here comes a feeling you thought you’d forgotten”, and that is just sitting around, drinking horchata, happy that your not at the party anymore but relaxed enough to remember it fondly. This album should be a great mid-winter gift (it’s out January 12th), and check out this fantastic album art.

Charles Hamilton: “This Perfect Life”

•October 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

charles_frontcover“Y’all know my name (Charles Hamilton)” said Mr. Hamilton at the beginning of his than breakout hit “Brooklyn Girls”, a statement that wasn’t quite true, although he was very well on his way to becoming ubiquitous. He was featured prominently on the XXL “Freshman Class of ’09” issue, and the placement of “Brooklyn Girls” in an episode of Entourage only helped to fuel the flames of the “Hamiltonization Process”, a seemingly never ending assault of mix tapes in collaboration with DJ Skee, with one truly memorable tape (‘Outside Looking’ the one with “Girls”) hosted by DJ Green Lantern.

In the age of the internet, this all seems like a very long time ago; and it’s easy to forget how different things were less than a year ago: Charles Hamilton was the oddball underdog who had just landed a deal at Interscope, and Asher Roth was the white boy with skills, poised to “blow up” at any moment. Yet in the current hip-hop landscape heading into a new decade the entire “class of 09″ have been vastly overtaken by the (for a while) constantly underrated actor-turned rapper Drake, Asher Roth is doing just O.K. with the rest of the “class”, and Charles Hamilton has been dropped from Interscope amidst a flurry of bad decisions and awful luck in quick succession, his debut shelved indefinitely.

Despite the fact that his big record deal seemed a bit premature in the first place, the situation Charles Hamilton has landed himself in may actually be a blessing in disguise, because it doesn’t take long to realize that there is really no place for him in the mainstream, although that is no reflection on his talents. Truth be told Charles Hamilton is one of the most unique and talented hip-hop artists to emerge since Kanye West, and he’s a young enough man with a large enough following that if he doesn’t let this whole fiasco get him down too much, he will have a pretty healthy career ahead of him.

As for now, it should come as no surprise that his debut album has quickly found it’s way to the internet, and after a couple listens it’s easy to see why Interscope lost their faith in Mr. Hamilton: he was never going to play by anybody’s rules but his own. Now a lot of rappers talk this talk, but few truly walk the walk. It’s easy(er) to create your own lane when that lane is long overdue, but what about when your a young man who practically worships Sonic the Hedgehog and literally says whatever the fuck he wants at any time, isn’t afraid to battle anyone anywhere, and puts so much of his soul into his music it’s practically embarrassing? Add this to the fact that even his most ardent supporters probably just didn’t care enough to listen to the ridiculous amount of music he was putting out for a while. By the time it was ready for the album to be released there seemed to be an underlying consensus of: what else can he say?

Well for those who are still paying attention, and those who quit, “This Perfect Life” is on the internet in all it’s glory (although it does sound like it didn’t get mixed quite good enough before Interscope gave up) and as someone who suffered from major Hamilton Fatigue I can confidently say: I’ve been playing it pretty much nonstop, and it’s one of the best hip-hop releases of the year.

Many people are probably going to write it off the second they see the album cover, although I suspect if it was an MF DOOM album they would be praising it as a bold statement on the perception of black culture by the mainstream white media despite their astounding achievements, or something like that. Anyway, the album as a whole is pretty much how Charles himself explained it: “Everything you’ve come to love and hate about Charles Hamilton”.

At eleven songs and clocking it at under an hour, it’s a tightly structured album with no weak spots, truly stellar and wholly original production (almost exclusively by Charles himself), and it’s lyrically one of the better albums this year. Every song has a clear purpose, and although there is no real concept to speak of, the fact that the album starts and ends with a “coin collected” sound effect and the “SEGA” theme respectively is a playful nod to his “Sonic the Hamilton” persona.

A lot of people seem to be annoyed with Hamilton’s flow, and throughout his litany of mixtapes he did seem to often employ a lazy, nearly falling asleep kind of flow that could easily get taxing. That style is implemented on “This Perfect Life” frequently, but his lyrics and flow always match the tone of the song, and as a whole his rapping is extremely focused; the most simple example of this would be the purpose behind Lil Wayne’s voice on Tha Carter III compared to his lazy drawl on most of his mixtape material.

Most of the beats on the album employ masterfully chopped samples, and yes, he sings most of his own choruses. This is something you’re either a fan of that or your not, but as someone who fell somewhere in between I can honestly say none of the choruses were anywhere near grating, and some are just damn memorable.

The song topics range from racism to depression to fucking and everything in between. Towards the end of “Reminder” he is practically screaming at us to “leave me alone! Just go away, I just want it to stop, just go away…” which leaves me with the impression that it may be a good thing for him to never see true stardom. Yet the very next song is ‘Tears of Fire’ with Crooked I, one of the only two features on the album along with Show Tufli on the very next song, the Regina Spektor sampling and truly beautiful ‘Long Socks’. The former is one of the hardest tracks of the year, the latter a perfectly sampled epic.

I could go through all eleven tracks in detail but that would be redundant; Charles is a true artist and one that deserves to be heard, despite all the bullshit that pushed him from the front of the class to the very back. In all honestly if you’ve ever enjoyed a few Charles Hamilton songs you owe it to yourself and the artists to give “This Perfect Life” a listen. As there is no way to physically show your support for it just “obtain” it however you can. Go into it with an open mind, and I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed, in fact, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

Director Spotlight: Greg Mottola

•October 6, 2009 • Leave a Comment

greg_mottola_0401I love unexpected surprises, who doesn’t? A few nights ago I was at my friends house whom I hadn’t seen in a while and we casually decided to watch Adventureland, expecting a decent background comedy while we caught up. Here was a film that seemed to come and go rather quickly at the box office, and although my interest was always slightly piqued by the fact that it was directed by Greg Mottola, the “director of Superbad, it just wasn’t something I was rushing out to see. Needless to say, before the credits were over conversation had quickly dwindled and our focus was firmly on the second major film by a director who I truly believe can and will go on to do great things.

Superbad instantly registered as one of the funniest movies I have ever seen; and in it’s own odd way one of the truest to the teenager condition since Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. It’s dialogue was like a Judd Apatow film on steroids, characters squeezing every last drop out of their lines, strangling each scene until they’re positive that somebody is laughing. Now this method of comedy can become taxing, but when it’s in the hands of a competent director (this is the reason Apatow’s own comedy’s don’t flounder under their own “look at me” weight) and told with the right actors it can be brilliant.

Jonah Hill and Michael Cera were the perfect comedic duo for the story Mottola was telling in Superbad, add in the hilariously uncomfortable Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who proved his acting chops in the completely underrated Role Models) and you had a dream trio of teenage gross out humor with enough sincerity to make it work. SuperbadBut a lot of the success of that film  had to do with the direction, and Mottola didn’t disappoint. The focus was always on the jokes, notice their is rarely ever an edit in that film where the camera cuts away as a character is telling one: as elaborate as they may be (“I peaked too early, I’m like the Orson Welles of getting pussy!”) Mottola lets the camera rest on them until they finish. Sure, nobody talks like that, but if they did, wouldn’t you want to hear it?

Given his steady handed direction that helped Superbad become an instant comedic classic, it’s really no surprise at how well he has handled a (slightly) more serious story in Adventureland, which he also wrote this time out.

The plot is fairly straightforward, and interestingly enough set in the late 1980’s. James Brennan’s (Jesse Eisenburg) dad has just been demoted at his job, leaving them unable to help him fund his trip across Europe for the summer before he moves to New York in the fall for graduate school. His friend who he was supposed to go on the trip to Europe with gives him a bag of weed to occupy himself with for the summer, as he lights up a joint in front of both their parents (“Won’t they smell it?” “Who them? No they’re clueless”).

Forced to move back to the town he grew up in, and armed with a resume unfit for just about any job, he is forced to get a job working the games at the shoddily run  Adventureland, where he meets a variety of well defined characters, most notably Em, played by Kristen Stewart with a surprising amount of depth. She always looks uncomfortable doing publicity for the unfortunate “Twilight” series, and now it’s obvious why: she knows that franchise is far below her talent, and the lackadaisical look  she usually supplies must be a result of contempt for the material.

James is a virgin, Em definitely isn’t, yet they both see something in each other that they’ve been missing in themselves, and it quickly becomes apparent that their budding interest in each other is the meat of this film. adventureland-1There is also James childhood friend Frigo (Matt Bush), who sports a shirt that claims “I’m Frigo Kapeesh?”, the awkward Joel (Martin Starr, who deserves more praise than I have time to give him here) and the repairman Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds, who proves once again that he can act), a failed rock star who’s claim to fame is that he apparently once “jammed” with Lou Reed.

Now the 1980’s  setting isn’t presented as a gimmick, it seems to be an integral part to the story: aside from the fact that it gives Mottola an excuse display one of the best soundtracks in recent memory with music from Husker Du, The Velvet Underground, Yo La Tengo, and David Bowie among others; it places the characters in a time and place before everybody was in constant communication with each other, further driving home the point that these kids are stuck at a shitty summer job…and that’s that. No escape.

Both Superbad and Adventureland showed a confidence in it’s subject matter, combined with smooth editing and a mature composition not seen in most comedies. The latter especially, is edited with a gentle velocity that mirrors the lazy rush of a crappy summer job. It’s too bad that Miramax didn’t really know how to market Adventureland, as it is much, much more than just a Superbad offshoot, as the adverting suggested. If they had more faith in the material, they could have had a legitimate sleeper hit on their hands.

After the success of Superbad, it would have been easy for Mottola to pick just about any run of the mill comedy, the fact that he chose to wrote and direct his own, combined with an obvious talent and style, proves that he is the real thing. He is currently working on Paul, a film written by and starring Simon Pegg, which also features Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman and Bill Hader among others. I’m excited at the prospect of this film, in which Pegg and Frost’s characters travel across country and find an alien voiced by Seth Rogen at Area 51; but after Adventureland I’ll be more interested to see what he decides to write and direct next, and I hope more people start to take notice. It’s not often that a director comes along that mixes comedy and subtle honesty as well as Greg Mottola, luckily for the rest of us he’s just getting started.

Scorscese’s second Shutter Island trailer

•October 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“It’s as if she evaporated…straight through the walls”

This looks absolutely fantastic, and I guess this trailer is a decent replacement for the fact that we should all be seeing this movie around right now! It got pushed back to February for reasons that I’m sure make sense for someone down the line, but for the rest of us not in the industry this is a damn shame. Oh well, this trailer should help to hold everyone over until February 10. Although I’m sure this would be an Oscar contender if released this year, at least we’ll have a potentially great movie to check out in the usual dry spell that occurs right after awards season.

I haven’t read the book, but the cast is fantastic and it looks like Scorsese is in top form here (as usual). He has been pretty over the top this decade, and to wonderful results. I’m not sure if it’s his paring with DiCaprio that brings out his eccentric side but whatever it is nobody seems to be complaining. Now I hope that whatever Marty has lined up next includes DiCaprio and DeNiro, a pairing that was rumored to come to fruition for Gangs of New York with Bobby DeNiro as Bill the Butcher, but in hindsight it’s pretty hard to imagine anyone filling Daniel Day Lewis’ shoes for that role.

Inglourious Basterds

•October 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

inglourious basterdsConsidering how long Inglourious Basterds had been gestating inside Quentin Tarantino’s head (improper spelling and all) it isn’t that surprising how quickly he wrote and directed the film, all under the pressure of meeting the deadline for it’s highly anticipated debut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Yet with that said, it does add another item to the list of achievements that Tarantino’s new film encompasses.

As anyone who’s seen the film knows by now, the beautiful hand drawn poster visible here is much more representative of the film as a whole than the “in your face” marketing that had been hyping up Basterds as a once in a lifetime experience to see war “through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino”. Admittedly, a Tarantino war film would surely be a unique sight, but maybe we’ll get that some other day, because Inglourious Basterds certainly isn’t it.

What he has delivered instead is a wholly unique, vividly written and masterfully shot character study on an epic scale in a historic time, by one of the worlds greatest directors; who in the eyes of this reviewer is only just beginning to reach his prime.

Some viewers were angry that the film was in only a small part about the Basterds; blame that partly on the marketing but mostly on a serious lack of patience in the mainstream moviegoers, a problem that only seems to be getting worse, but that requires another entry altogether….

As the poster so eloquently points out, the entire narrative of the film is trapped inside of the character of Shosanna, a Jewish girl who’s entire family is murdered in the virtuoso opening scene, which also handles the nifty trick of introducing one of the great screen villains in recent memory, Col. Hans Landa Shosanna. Shosanna, played wonderfully by Melanie Laurent, may only be a factor in the overall story of Inglorious Basterds, but her image lingers on the screen (quite literally in one instance…) the entire time.

Landa, also known by the none too subtle nickname “The Jew Hunter”, is played with zealous infection by Christoph Waltz. His opening scene is one for the history books, and every scene he’s in afterwords is infected with an air of  joyously demented suspense. “I like my unofficial title precisely because I have earned it” he says in his introductory scene, wherein he trumps his opponent not only verbally but visually, in one of the films funniest sight gags. One of the joys of his character is that he seems to constantly be ahead of everyone, and in each scene he’s featured in he seems to pull another trick out of his bag; an interesting set of morals and a constantly expanding grasp of world languages are among his delights.

Brad Pitt’s Basterds are a just plain fun, and it works to their advantage that they are spoken about more than seen, although when they do make an appearance they leave a lasting impression. As opposed to the rest of the film, where Tarantino seems to be showing some form of restraint, he mostly lets loose in the sequences with The Basterds. An out of left field sequence with narration by Samuel L. Jackson somehow manages to work, and sets up his voice for a more vital sequence later in the film, yet by that point the entire story is beginning to reach such a fever pitch that anything seems possible…and we soon find out that in Tarantino’s universe pretty much anything is.

I’ve seen Inglourious Basterds twice now and I am relieved to say my initial reaction was correct: this is a more than worthy addition to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography and one of, if not the, best films of the year. It’s less a masterful homage to spaghetti western and more of a full bodied piece of art, once that is arguably (in his own words) Tarantino’s masterpiece. Reservoir Dogs was a kick to the nuts, Pulp Fiction was the early masterpiece, Jackie Brown the proof that he wasn’t a two trick Pony. Kill Bill in it’s entirety was pretty much a genre fan’s wet dream, but Inglourious Basterds is the real thing; transcending genre conventions and creating a fully realized world that could only exist in the movies.

In lesser hands this film would’ve been a never ending bloodbath, like Kill Bill Vol. 1 without the mastery of pure style and energy; but viewed through the lens of Tarantino, the story of the Basterds has evolved into something I doubt even he had imagined a decade ago, when serious talk of this film first started. Inglourious Basterds is an epic in small doses, a beautiful homage to cinema, a wildly imaginative take on history, and beyond all undeniable proof that the auteur theory is more than just a theory.

“In France, we respect our directors” a character says at one point. Out of context this sounds wildly pretentious, but in the course of the film it just manages to put a smile on a film lovers face, as if Quentin is patting us all on the back and saying “don’t worry, I’m one of the few we have left, and I’m not going to let you down, even if that means I have to burn this motherfucker to the ground.”

Jay-Z: The Blueprint 3

•September 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Blueprint_3The Blueprint 3. Say it in your head a few times, hell say it out loud, I’ve been letting the whole thing marinate since it leaked; making sure that my immediate positive reaction wasn’t an exercise in “stannery”.

Most of the music journalists on the planet pretty much had their mind made up about The Blueprint 3 before it was even released, I wanted to make sure I didn’t look as foolish as most of them will in a year or two; because while most people are inexplicably hung up on the lack of rapping from Drake, a few “sub-par” (and this is truly a relative term here) Timbaland beats, and Kanye Wests fingerprints pretty much everywhere, I’ve comfortably settled into the realization that this is Jay-Z’s best CD since the Black Album: full of the cocksure grown man talk he was trying to perfect on Kingdom Come, and far more progressive than the fun but completely unnecessary crack rap of American Gangster.

Before I can really get into the album, I have to address the aforementioned complaints against it. Firstly, Drake; to put it bluntly, get off his fucking dick. Drake is extremely talented, he is without a doubt going to be one of the leading voices in the next generation of rap and his debut CD will undoubtedly be huge, but people complaining that he was “relegated to chorus duty” on the (not at all disappointing) Timbaland produced “Off That” should just quit writing about hip-hop. Jay-Z is Jay-Z, Drake is the hottest new thing in rap. There is absolutely no reason Jay should feel it necessary to go head to head on a track with him. For gods sake there was less complaining when Lil Wayne was pushed to the same chorus duties on American Gangster.

Secondly, Timbaland’s production is dope, end of story. Especially Venus vs. Mars, a quiet little trip that reminds me of his heyday with Missy Elliot. And Kanye West. Yeah, he’s fucking everywhere on this album, but considering he had his version of The Blueprint 3 ready and sequenced for “Big Brother” around the time of 808’s this should come as no surprise. He gets not one, but two guest apperances, both of which make sense thematically.

His standout verse on “Run This Town” early on the album is the perfect ending to that victory lap of a song, which acts as the introduction to Roc Nation. Any further evidence of the monster trio collaboration being successful has been displayed twice in the past week, as they performed on Jay Leno’s premiere and at Jay-Z’s spellbinding Madison Square Garden 9/11 benefit concert. Later on the album, Ye’ and Jay address the haters on “Hate”, a Kanye produced joint that has them trading verses like practically nobody does anymore.

So yeah, conceptually speaking The Blueprint 3 is nearly half a Kanye West album; but considering the not so slow transition of power to Kanye and Lil Wayne during the past couple of years this is more endearing in the “Big-Little Brother” sense than a sign of weakness. And when you look at the way Jay’s presences was all over “Graduation”, and looking further back at the first Blueprint as Kanye’s big introduction to stardom, it’s as if the mentor-trainee relationship has come full circle.

But god, at this point I’m starting to feel like Jay-Z. I’ve spent so much time addressing the narrow minded complaints I’ve barely had time to show off how great most of the album is. The high point may be “Empire State of Mind”, in which Alicia Keys lets her vocal chords go completely off to give Jay an instant classic. You also have to admire the way Mr. Hudson plays it straight with “Young Forever”, not a smirk of irony in sight, and Jay almost dips back into his old double time flow before reverting back to his new ways,a wink and a nod at the fact he’s still got “it” at nearly the age of 40.

Elsewhere Jay calls up a few old friends and requests their best work. Look at the surprisingly awesome Swizz Beatz produced and assisted “On To the Next One” or the welcome Neptunes addition “So Ambitious”, which is one of  those beats that you forget they are even capable of anymore.

I’ve barely covered half the CD: Kid Cudi gets a great chorus,  J. Cole gets the star treatment on the aptly titled “A Star is Born”, in which Jay both runs down the accomplishments of his peers since his debut in ’96 while at the same time anointing his new potential superstar. There’s also an exhilarating Young Jeezy collaboration, which was supposedly primed to be Jeezy’s first single off Thug Motivation: 103.

But when all is said and done, amongst the numerous features, crazy beat selection and 13 years of legacy to live up to Jay comes out on top this time. It’s still undeniably his album, and it’s a full bodied one at that, one that looks towards the future, concerning a man who is worth half a billion dollars and still genuinely trying to be an artist. It’s inspiring really. How I’ve gone through this whole review without quoting a single thing is pretty shocking, but it’s no reflection on the quality of his lyrics; its just that with Jay-Z there’s so much more to talk about, but it’s probably best to just press play and let him tell it.

U2- No Line On The Horizon

•February 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Amazon-iTunes_packshot2 “We knew the world was ready to receive the heirs to The Who. All we had to do was to keep doing what we were doing and we would become the biggest band since Led Zeppelin, without a doubt.”- Bono

U2 had to become the biggest band on the planet, that much they were sure of. For how long, I don’t think any of them, in their wildest dreams, would have imagined that over thirty years later they would still be releasing music on their own terms.

“No Line on the Horizon”, the groups 12th album and first since 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, also happens to be one of their finest. Not bad for a group of guys, one of which has faced ongoing criticism for his outspoken views on world affairs, who are a lot closer to 50 than 40.

But U2 isn’t new to playing against conventions; despite becoming the dart board for post millennial cynicism they haven’t lost what made them great in the first place. In fact, they are still finding new ways to at least sound like the greatest band on the planet, a pleasant surprise given the stagnant content of their previous album.

Though it was a disappointment at the end of the day, “Bomb” contained one of the greatest anthems in their catalog, the soaring “City of Blinding Lights”. NLOTH never reaches the anthemic heights of that song or the glorious pop excess of 2001’s “All That You Cant Leave Behind”, but as a whole it is easily their most coherent album since 1991’s Achtung Baby. It also happens to be their best.

“Horizon” features U2 at the top of their form, helped in no small part by the superstar production trio of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite. Eno in particular has helped the band craft alot of their greatest work; most notably their two masterpieces, 1987’s The Joshua Tree and the aformentioned Achtung Baby.

Here he helps the band find sounds that must have surprised even themselves, in fact the repeating motif of the album is “let me in the sound, meet me in the sound”.

That lyric comes towards the end of their current single, the heavy dance track “Get On Your Boots”, as Bono wails against a mountain of drums and reverb. It was an odd choice for a single; it’s far from the albums best track and it’s really not even close to it’s most radio ready.

That honor would probably go to “Magnificent”. After about fourty five seconds of electronic buildup (oh yeah, theres a lot of that all over this album) the band jumps straight into one of the only song on the album that sounds like “vintage” U2, whatever that means.

On the opposite side of the experimental scale is “Fez-Being Born”. Named after the city in Morocco where the recording sessions begun; the song starts with an ethereal choir with Bono repeating “let me in the sound” way back in the mix, before a descending synth riff destroys it all so the band can re-build from the floor up. Revolving around a non-chorus of wailing and loose playing all around, it’s the freshest the band has sounded in years.

But the entire album is filled with great moments like that. Be it the unexpected arena  rock detours on the chorus of “Breath” or the equally surprsing electronic flourishes tucked away in every fold of this album, “No Line on the Horizon” is the U2 album U2 fans have been dreaming about for a very long time.

Than theres “Moment of Surrender”, a nearly eight minute slow burner that occupys the place on this disc for that one U2 song that nearly breaks your heart every time you hear it. The song was reportedly done in one take, with production effects added in with the mix later on.

“It’s not as I believe in love, it’s that love believes in me. At the moment of surrender, I fold onto my knees. I did not notice the passers by, and they did not notice me.”

U2 has gotten lot of flack over the past decade. Cynical hipsters scoff at their classic rock earnestness, and audiences as a whole seem to find the pill tougher to swallow than when they did in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when the band truly sounded vital.

But isn’t a group who’s been around for more than thirty years, hasn’t suffered a single lineup change, produced numerous classic songs, and a couple truly great albums still vital?

I believe so, especially when they just released their best album in nearly two decades.

 
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