Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Playlist, 60 Most Excellent Songs of 2011, 41-60

Welcome to the conclusion of the annual music list, just in time for the New Year.  It's a dreadful holiday, made slightly better by summarizing and compiling.  Today I thought about it as I ran through my morning routine and realized, however, that as much as I despise New Year's Eve...I may loathe St. Patrick's Day more: no glitter, but a lot of dyed products and shitty beer... is there a holiday more abrasively fratty?  I don't think so.  Anyhow, the last 20-songs are scattered a bit here and there, and unfortunately the playlist functions are scattered as well.  You'll only find the Charli XCX song, for instance, on the Youtube playlist.  Similarly, you should ignore the John Maus live clip on the Youtube playlist and only listen to it via 8tracks.  That's the way it goes.  Youtube just doesn't have everything, guys.  Happy New Year, and look for the movie list to be appearing on Love & Squalor sometime this next week.

Oh, and yeah, you're not missing anything...I've completely omitted Bon Iver.  Deal with it.  "Beth/Rest" almost got on there, but every time I listened to it I wanted a nap like halfway through.

41. UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA / "FFUNNY FFRIENDS"  Lightweight pop rock with a dense, gritty middle and vocals that sound like they should come from a petite Japanese rock queen instead of the dude (Ruban Nielson) pictured above.

 42. JOHN MAUS / "QUANTUM LEAP" I've heard John Maus is a performance art hot mess in his live acts, but on recordings, he comes across more like some reincarnation of Ian Curtis.  "Quantum Leap" sounds like a lost Joy Division recording and there's no way that's a bad thing...

43. DANNY! FEAT. DANNY BROWN / "THEME MUSIC TO A KILLING SPREE"  I feel like that title is deceptive...

44. JAY-Z AND KANYE WEST FT. FRANK OCEAN / "NO CHURCH IN THE WILD"  The beats.  Check them.  The beats: they stalk and prowl.

45. GRIMES / "VANESSA"  Grimes (Claire Boucher) calls herself a "post-internet" artist.  I have no idea what that means, but I'm intrigued by the sweet sparseness of the sound.

46. CHARLI XCX / "STAY AWAY"  She's been thrown around as everything from next year's La Roux to a slightly more poptimistic Zola Jesus.  Either way, the UK 19-year old has a dark, vaguely 80's gothic sound that I like quite a bit.

47. GIRLS / "VOMIT"  Oh, Girls.  One of the hardest band names to run a Google search on.  "Vomit" is a pit of Floydian despair that cracks open into a lovelorn revelation of guitars, big vocals, and distortion.
48. YUCK / "GET AWAY"  Hey like Pavement? Built to Spill? Dinosaur Jr.?  The Pixies?  Here is the Yuck album.  It is the brand new sound of twenty years ago.  If you're not a teenager anymore, don't worry...your inner 15 year old will be pleased.

49. REAL ESTATE / "IT'S REAL"  This is an exceptionally pleasant song by a pleasant band.  I like it quite a bit.

50. NICKI MINAJ / "SUPER BASS"  I don't want to hear this song all the time, but when I do wind up hearing  it, I'm amazed by how completely it captures all the instrumental noises I associate with pure bubblegum pop.  This song is a bag of Valentine's Day candy hearts, a meal made up of pop rocks and Cherry Coke, an afternoon of glitter nail polish and lip gloss, and all of that business. It's a just a huge sound made up of little tiny happy things.
51. COLD CAVE / "UNDERWORLD USA"  Cold Cave's Cherish the Light is even more 80's Brit Goth rock than the John Maus sound.  I would not be surprised if the band got together because they all had matching Sisters of Mercy posters in their childhood bedrooms.  WE HAVE INSIGHTS AND EMOTIONS, BUT THEY NEED MORE BEATS.

52. JULIO BASHMORE / "BATTLE FOR MIDDLE YOU"  You get why I like this, right?  Do I need to keep explaining it to you?  Did I not just post the RuPaul Christmas special last week?

53. TUNE-YARDS / "POWA"  For real...I am not as in love with Merrill Garbus as everyone else on the planet is.  She's one of those acts people seem to insist has a joyful exuberance where I just here clattering with a voice like a brass instrument.  So, I can't listen to too much at once, and like huge parts of some songs while flinching through others.  "Powa" though, has real swagger.

54. METRONOMY / "THE BAY"  Everything about Metronomy seems a little smug in the retelling.  A little too polished, a little too carefully orchestrated, and just too neat for their own good.  Still, "The Bay" is cut from a lightweight fabric that allows for a summer breeze.
55. DUM DUM GIRLS / "COMING DOWN"  The Dum Dum Girls are a 60's girl group with a wall of sound that's been reinforced with shoegaze guitars.  Here, they slow things down with shimmering guitars and lilting vocals that feel borrowed from a comfortably worn in Mazzy Star track.

56. CULTS / "WALK AT NIGHT"  The Cults album is essentially a series of 45 singles in compact 2-and-3 minute bursts of echo-chamber pop and radio tinny vocals.  Listen to them all at once, and they don't do much.  Individually, they have a jukebox power.

57. AUSTRA / "THE NOISE" Austra had a strong debut earlier in the year and seemed to sort of evaporate into the ether.  What we have left are ghost stories like "The Noise".

58. SHABAZZ PALACES / "SWERVE...THE REEPING OF ALL THAT IS WORTHWHILE (NOIR NOT WITHSTANDING)  "Swerve" is sneaky.  It will make you want to choreograph things.  You're not good at that, though, so you shouldn't.

59. PURITY RING / "LOFTICRIES" Exactly the right kind of sound.

60. VERONICA FALLS / "BEACHY HEAD"  Bratty, driven rock with a Victorian surfer sensibility that seems to snarl at you and tell you to back the hell off even as it bops merrily along.

Honorable Mention: 
CUT COPY / "NEED YOU NOW"  What I've noticed is that you're either a Cut Copy fan, or you're not. When you are a Cut Copy fan, their music has the power to make you insanely, dizzyingly happy.  "Need You Now" is a slightly more lackadaisical track with warm, gooey vocals that reassure you like a lullaby with a high BPM rate.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Playlist, 60 Most Excellent Songs of 2011, 21-40

Yesterday you asked, today you shall receive.  In an effort not to clutter up memory space or freak out browser pages, you can find the Youtube playlist for this installment at the bottom of the entry - or- opt for straight sound / no visuals with the 8tracks option included right up top.  One more day and we're there...

21. BURIAL / "STREET HALO" Burial arrives back on the scene with an ambient sort of dubstep as true to his sound as ever.  I do love a sustained rhythm.  There you have it.

22. RADIOHEAD / "LOTUS FLOWER" and "CODEX"  The songs run up next to one another in a slipstream of Radiohead's trademark moaning melancholy.  "Lotus Flower" has a beat to it, but "Codex" is classic sad bastard music perfect for late nights, headphones, and ceiling-gazing.

23. FRANK OCEAN / "NOVACANE" On the less offensive and slightly more sophisticated side of OFWGKTA, we have Frank Ocean, the smooth operator of the rap clan who loads his songs with an overabundance of incidental information and seems to be trying so very hard to strike just the right pose.  This is a hip hop track called 'novacane''s totally about Frank getting with a girl who wants to be a dentist real bad...why else?

24. LANA DEL REY / "BLUE JEANS"  All that was said for "Video Games" can be repeated here. This song staggers, saunters, then flies.

25. FLORENCE + THE MACHINE / "WHAT THE WATER GAVE ME" Does anyone really hate on Florence Welch yet?  If haters do exist, I haven't met them.  Welch gets mainstream charts as close to fairy folk as they have been since, what, Annie Lennox? Kate Bush?

26. JAMES BLAKE / "LIMIT TO YOUR LOVE"  James Blake almost didn't make the cut.  He makes a fairly underwhelming first impression on most, especially if you've been pre-exposed to the vast amounts of hype afforded him.  Still, Blake makes for first rate insomniac listening; a fantastic score to projects, classwork, and writing of all sorts.  His songs are slow, sparsely instrumented, cautiously layered auditory collages that build at the same time that they deconstruct.  From another artist, this song would be a straightforward piano ballad.  Here, it's anything but.

27. DJ KHALED FT. DRAKE, RICK ROSS, & LIL WAYNE / "I'M ON ONE"  All of them folding into the Drake/The Weeknd populated realm of the decadent slow-burn.  This is an exhausted, weary, cynical party song.  It's great.

28. EMA / "ANTEROOM"  EMA made it on the merits of the work, and not particularly because I'd call "Anteroom" a favorite.  I admire it in all its lo-fi, angst-ridden honesty.  It has the sound of a depressive anthem, perfect for being a brooding teenager kicking rocks along the sidewalk, but just as good scoring an indie flick suicide attempt.  A little sad, a little angry, a lot stand offish.

29. DRAKE FT. RIHANNA / "TAKE CARE"  Drake and Rihanna pretty much show up everywhere. Here they are together.  It's like double trouble.  They're both interesting pop characters, and Drake continues to blur hip hop lines and shift between straight up R&B and trying to be a boy next door Kanye West.

30. PLANNINGTOROCK / "DOORWAY"  Planningtorock is the stage name of Janine Rostron, a woman who wears a facial appliance to perform and experiments in gender perception via her music.  If you listen to Planningtorock, the vocals have an androgynous quality that make them, for lack of a better word, terribly mysterious.  Rostron has created an enigmatic sound and style, and "Doorway" has a witchy quality that invites you in only to drag you under.

31. LADY GAGA / "AMERICANO"  The best songs on Born This Way are not the radio singles.  They're the dark, odd little dance tracks that seem to tread carefully in the direction of something other than the Top 40.  I could have chosen the 80's hair infused "Highway Unicorn" or the chanting, Germanic "Scheiße" --both of which I rather love-- but instead opted for the truly bizarre "Americano".  "Americano" is like the place where Rosemary Clooney, West Side Story, ABBA, and 2 Unlimited intersect with Madonna.  It's a trash pop masterpiece of tarantella gypsy beats, pounding bass, and platinum blonde grit.  As such...I love it.  I just love it.  I want to link arms and run in a circle as fast as I can to it until I get so dizzy I can't stand up.

32. THE FIELD / "IS THIS POWER"  Remember the part where I said I like sustained rhythms?  This is the cheery side of that.

33. THEE OH SEES / "THE DREAM"  If this was actually the result of time travel to a garage in the 1960's, I wouldn't be surprised.  Now would be the time to commence jumping about the room.  Throw a twist or two in (or some LSD, or some napalm) and you'll be good.

34.  SBTRKT / "WILDFIRE" Little Dragon's vocals remind me of Prince in Camille mode, with the synths just as exactingly orchestrated as they would be if the song belonged to the purple one.  SBTRKT takes the same bastardized R&B sound The Weeknd is working with and breaks it a little more...

35. CHILDISH GAMBINO / "L.E.S."  Childish Gambino is the stage name of the multi-talented Donald Glover, who you know as Troy on "Community".   Glover seems to be operating in a mode incredibly similar to his TV persona, loading up his homebrewed hip-hop beats with pop culture references and incredibly nerdy insults that seem to mock the titans even as it aspires to their level of flippancy.  As I recall, Pitchfork dismissed the album outright as a collection of sort of out-of-touch, self-centered joke rhymes, but I think there's quite a bit to enjoy here.

36. GIL SCOTT-HERON & JAMIE XX / "I'LL TAKE CARE OF YOU"  Jamie XX remixes an under-appreciated poet and gives the now late Scott-Heron a bittersweet farewell track.

37. ARAABMUZIK / "MAKE IT HAPPEN" The sort of tranced out electronica that's too big and atmospheric for its confines. Dripping with menace, perfect as an opener, potentially as powerful when blasted from giant speakers as "Ghosts N' Stuff."


39. TORO Y MOI / "STILL SOUND" Chazwick Bundick often looks, for all practical purposes, like the most grating hipster son of a bitch on the planet.  Those glasses, that sometimes facial hair, the tank top in this video...oy.  Also, I hate the cover of "Underneath the Pine" like a lot.  Yet, the album possesses a great retro sound that blends his signature chillwave with a tremendously charming spaced out lounge noise.

40. ACTIVE CHILD / "JOHNNY BELINDA" In one word: regal.  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Playlist, 60 Most Excellent Songs of 2011, 1-20

I've heard it said that the worst way to preface a "best of the year" list is to hem and haw on the subject of how difficult it was to narrow down.  We all know it's difficult, and we all know it's ultimately something entirely subjective. This is the third year I've decided to create this list and in each successive instance the total has increased by 5, not on purpose, mind you, but because in knowing that this is coming I become receptive to a wider and wider variety of music.  I wind up with a playlist like a time capsule.  I go looking for songs to fall in love with, and the result is that I wind up with a list of tracks that begins at a total around 125 and must be stripped of song after song upon repeat listen. Sometimes, whole albums feel like they should be included and narrowing the options down to a reasonable one or two stings a bit.  Sometimes a sound dominates, or, the need arises to include things that might be among the technical best, but not favorites.  Because at the end of the day this is just a personal blog, and not a major media outlet, I've opted not to make this harder than it already is.  Know that there is no particular ranking system at work.  While the absolute favorites have made it to the extreme top, number 50 is no less valuable than 25 on any given day.  On some of these too, you may wonder how one can be a favorite while another of something similar made it on the guilty list. Subjectivity, kids.  That's how it works...  

1. THE WEEKND / "HOUSE OF BALLOONS - GLASS TABLE GIRLS"  Slow down Siouxsie and the Banshees to a depraved crawl , mix with copious recreational drug use, a lethargic decadence, a splash of moral indifference, and add the slick R&B vocals of the mysterious Abel Tesfaye and you have the massive, achingly melancholy sound of The Weeknd; a group that can make rooms full of coke-addled wastoids into something beautiful.  Tesfaye and producers Don McKinney and Illangelo released three free mixtapes in 2011, this song is the title track of what is my pick for album of the year.  

2. LANA DEL REY / "VIDEO GAMES"  Chances are, if you frequent the internet, you've heard of Lana Del Rey. She's become a divisive name among hipsters and music nerds, a 20-something Californian sex kitten playing the role of tragic bombshell and growling her way through romantic slacker ballads.  "Video Games" is a gorgeous song with cinematic instrumentals that seem in opposition to Del Rey's oh-so current 20-something, stunted adolescent lyrics.

3. M83 / "MIDNIGHT CITY  M83 (Anthony Gonzalez) has long made dreamy, soaring electro-pop, the sort that releases some childlike urge to run across open lawns, through sprinklers, and over flower beds.  "Midnight City"  is one of Gonzalez's finest moments, bursting with howling, staccato synths and quiet, introspective moments. 

4. PANDA BEAR / "AFTERBURNER"  Pure 21st century, psychedelic disco.  The beats here are undeniable, sucking you into a sustained 70's sound that's been corrupted by a downed club drug into an overlay of beachy dream pop wails and cries from some delirious dance floor.  It's surprisingly fantastic.

5. PJ HARVEY / "THE WORDS THAT MAKETH MURDER"  This year, PJ Harvey returned with yet another album in yet another direction.  On Let England Shake, she took up an autoharp and spoke of war.  As usual, she succeeded. 

6. KAVINSKY and LOVEFOXX / "NIGHTCALL"  It's true that "Nightcall" was originally released in 2010.  If the Grammys can continue to nominate a two-year old Katy Perry album, however, then I can certainly list the song that made Drive's opening credit sequence so immediately classic.  

7. ANNA CALVI / "NO MORE WORDS"  Our other deeply cinematic sounding female vocalist this year was certainly Anna Calvi, whose sound is rooted in something glamorous and ghostly; red lipstick  and cigarettes burned across celluloid the world over.

8. JAY-Z AND KANYE WEST / "NI**AS IN PARIS"  Is this a game or a song?  What is the point?  We may never know for sure, but there's a reason they've been repeating it in encore loops as much as nine times in a single concert...

9. WASHED OUT / "FAR AWAY" and "EYES BE CLOSED"  In the original list, I ran these songs as separate entries.  In listening to them repeatedly since the summer, however, I kept coming back to the thought that they were of the same breath.  Washed Out has found a polished version of their shimmering, transportive sound.  Have these songs been used in car commercials yet?  Because, I mean...listen to them.  They scream: we are going away now and it's going to be great and we're traveling in style.

10. BEYONCE / "COUNTDOWN"  In a repeat of what has already been noted by many, I will say that the beauty of "Countdown" comes from its unbridled enthusiasm.  Beyonce is absolutely in love with being in love, she's thrilled about everything, and she seems to have found the place she wants to be.  She's happy, and it's a happy that makes you happy too.

11. PICTUREPLANE / "TRANCEGENDER" Dark wave electro with a techno bent that feels more like a mechanized autoerotic heaven than an obnoxiously thudding dance track.

12. THE RAPTURE / "HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE?"  The disco strikes back with a title that cribs from the Beegees and a jangling piano that screams early 90's while keeping in stride with the band's new wave, dance punk roots.  I could dance to this song like a million times.

13. NEON INDIAN / "POLISH GIRL"  Neon Indian's debut album was a mixed bag for me that still sits largely untouched in the library list of my iTunes.  Which, of course, is why I must admit that I was a little bit surprised to find I liked the bleep-blooping robot sounds of "Polish Girl" so much.

14.  ST. VINCENT / "CHEERLEADER"  Hitherto, St. Vincent had not impressed me.  I found her pretty boring, if we're being honest.  Strange Mercy, though, blew me away.  On the album, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) seems to have finally dropped any hint of naivety or unassuming presence and gone with the dark id that hid at the surface of her earlier works.  "Cheerleader" is a grinding assertion of place in which Clark lackadaisically dismisses societal expectations and digs her heels into the earth.

15. DESTROYER / "KAPUTT"  I'm sorry, have you heard this song?  How can you not like this song?  Even your mom will like this song.  Mostly because it's masquerading as mellow gold.

16. LYKKE LI / "I FOLLOW RIVERS"  This song sounds like a summer music festival.  Do you hear that little spiky steel drum beats?  That's the sort of sound that just cuts through the heat and makes it alright that the gigantic drunk bro dude in front of you keeps spilling beer all over your shoes.

17. BRITNEY SPEARS / "HOW I ROLL"  No, it wasn't a radio single.  This is a good thing, because you would never get it out of your head if you heard it constantly.  "How I Roll" is the other of the two songs that could be called "I Wanna Go" on Britney's Femme Fatale...and it's a fantastically simple pop song built off of easy sentiments, building schoolyard rhymes, and sonically dense layered bubble sounds.  If you don't like it the first time you hear it, don't will.  You will.

18. CANT / "TOO LATE, TOO FAR"  CANT is actually Chris Taylor, one part of Grizzly Bear who has been spending time experimenting with sounds of a slightly different variety.  I love "Too Late, Too Far" not for what it begins as, but for what it becomes in its second half...

19. GANG GANG DANCE / "MINDKILLA"  One of the oddest dance tracks around. All the pieces are there, but they're broken, dismembered, and burned until the ashes can be scattered across galaxies.

20. THE WEEKND / "THE MORNING"  As you may have gathered, it was hard to limit myself to only a couple offerings from The Weeknd's three mixtapes.  The album is seriously good, I can't say this enough.  I almost went with "Loft Music" or "The Party & The After Party" but decided to just opt for the hazy sounds of "The Morning" - a track that sounds like the tail end of a very long night.

Stay tuned....part II will appear tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Playlist: The 10 Guiltiest POPtimist Pleasures of 2011

I hate calling something a guilty pleasure.  Despite my deep cynicism, I'm a firm believer in poptimism and owning up to the crappy bubble gum noise I enjoy.  I believe that if you like something, you like it.  Yet, in spite of this, with some of the songs listed here, I do actually feel like I'm hiding a shameful secret when I listen to them.  If this isn't the textbook definition of the phrase guilty pleasure, I don't know what is.  Certain artists on this list make me grimace a bit.  Sometimes it's because I can't stand their personas or radio singles, and yet I have that one track or so that I really like listening to every now and then, usually because it wormed its way into my head and hearing it is the only way to exorcise the beast.  Like everyone else on this planet, my pretentious facade can be broken down by a catchy dance hook, for better or worse.    Because I don't really care if you judge me, I now present for your perusal the 10 songs of 2011 that brought the most shame upon my house.  Own up to liking them.  Deal with it.  And dance.

What you don't see here may show up on the full 'best of' list, don't panic.

10. Coldplay ft. Rihanna / "Princess of China"  Seeing as how Coldplay is about as mainstream bland as it gets, it's almost hard to call this poptimism.  They're fairly boring, completely unoffensive, and if you call them a guilty pleasure you sort of just wind up sounding like a total elitist. Unless, of course, you're me and your social group has somehow concocted an elaborate, unfounded inside joke revolving around some latent secret super fandom I have for the band.  I mean, I liked them as much as the next person around the time Rush of Blood to the Head was out, but that phase passed.  But, yes, guys, I did listen to MYLOXYLOTO and no, I have no idea how to pronounce that properly or what the hell it means.  I also don't know what Chris Martin is talking about when he calls Rihanna "the best singer in the world."  Also, I agree that this song has a terrible title.  It's really just awful. Still, I like the shimmery synths.  

9. Avril Lavigne / "What the Hell"  Why does Avril Lavigne still look the same?  How has her style not changed?  Are we not like a decade in the future now?  Why is this still happening?  Is that a commercial in the middle of her music video?  What the hell?  Yes.  Admit it: you liked "Girlfriend" and you like this song.

8. Ke$ha / "Fuck Him He's a DJ"  No, this wasn't a radio single.  I kind of wish it had been.  Instead, it's snuck onto her remix album I Am the Dance Commander + I Command You to Dance, where it wastes time pretending not to be worth listening to very loudly in your car as you tear down the highway.   There were a couple days in the summer where I would play this about three times in a row and revel in its anthemic sleaze.

7. Rihanna / "We Found Love" and "S&M"  For the purpose of this list, we are merging these two songs.  "We Found Love" has fallen into honest favor with a number of critics.  There are more than a few respectable sources who have claimed it to be a legitimately great song worthy of true "best of" status in 2011.  Obviously, I'm not sure I completely agree.  I've grown to like it, as I rather like the raunchy sentiments in "S&M."  Both songs revolve around a very Eurotrashy re petitive buzz bass, a sound that seems to compliment the bleating qualities of Rihanna's vocal range.  Yet, they get old fast...

6. Maroon 5 ft. Christina Aguilera / "Moves Like Jagger"  This song is disgustingly catchy.  Seriously, it's like an infectious disease that's just dripping its slime all over the place.  If Maroon 5 made pop tracks this dancey all the time, I might have to pay more attention to them.  It cannot be denied, even if now the radio plays it every five goddamn minutes.  Do you not love singing "and it goes like this" though? In that sort of half growl? It's a good time. My tiny cousins call the song "Moves Like Cheddar" which sort of makes it even better.

5. LMFAO / "Sexy and I Know It"  LMFAO does not make good songs.  They seem to make purposely bad songs that are really just novelty tracks good for drinking and playing loudly prior to drinking.  We need to all acknowledge that though "Party Rock Anthem" can be fun, that song overstays its welcome by about three full repetitive minutes.  "Sexy and I Know It" isn't much better, but what it lacks in lyrical innovation, it makes up for in absurdity.  How can you not smile at a song that has a refrain of "wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah"?  No, really. How?  Because I'd like it to stop.

4. Chris Brown ft. Benny Benassi / "Beautiful People"  I would have loved this song without incident at age 17 when I was deep into my house/techno phase.  As it is, I'm rather fond of it.  The guilt here comes from the fact that it's Chris Brown and Chris Brown, in my opinion, still falls on the morally questionable side of things.  As I recall, Rihanna may have forgiven him.  Still...

3. Katy Perry / "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" If I have to explain to you why this is a guilty pleasure, you may be one of the brainwashed masses.  You should get that checked out.  "Last Friday Night" is a rehashing of every sentiment Katy Perry has already written.  It's another checklist of poor decisions made while on the verge of blacking out and thus very similar to "Waking Up in Vegas".  We get it, Katy, those parties were totally crazy!  For some reason, though, I quite enjoy this song.  Amazingly, what I seem to like the most is the cheesy, overtly ironic saxophone break.

2. Eminem ft. P!nk / "Won't Back Down" Ugh. Here's where actual guilt comes in. I don't want to like this song, I really just can't stand Eminem for reasons outlined at length in my after the fact review of 8 Mile over at Love & Squalor.  The rhymes on here are typical of what we expect of Eminem, and occasionally completely, phallocentrically inane.  Yet, while I wish this had been rapped by almost anyone else, this song is fantastic in any number of situations: driving, being angry, trying to exercise (meh), getting amped up for whatever, etc.  While I realize this song is from 2010, I never would have heard it if it hadn't been used in that very well edited Mission Impossible trailer.  Now I can't unhear it, so I just need to accept it...

1. Selena Gomez and the Scene / "Love You Like a Love Song" and "Whiplash"  Is there anything more shameful than Disney Channel pop?  I'm going to vote no.  And that, my friends, is why Selena Gomez -- the girl you may only know as the girlfriend of Justin Bieber -- falls at number one on the Guilty list.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

When I read the novel sometime last year, the greatest mystery inherent in Steig Larsson's bestselling The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was how it managed to become so wildly popular.  Here was a very basic cut-and-dry detective story overrun with lifeless prose, rambling paragraphs, and moments of surprisingly bland sexualized violence.  I'd never read a rape scene so clinical or a revenge enacted with such restrained language, and yet, somehow what I found dull to the point of impenetrable was resonating with millions.  The reason, it's safe to say, lies not with the quality of the writing (apologies to the deceased Larsson, but, it's terrible), but with the ferocious, seductive draw of its enigmatic heroine.  Lisbeth Salander is a character deserving of a prominent place in the pop culture canon...

finish this review @

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: Young Adult

A dark comedy done right is a thing of terrible beauty.  When the mean-spirited, black heart of a deeply cynical film can be effectively punctuated with sharp, stab wound laughs, it becomes impossible to look away.  In Young Adult, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody team up for the second time to bring us a nasty, brutish, and short portrait of a train wreck. While the formula is a familiar one built from rom-com cliches of boyfriend snatching and pining old flames, the script is phenomenally fresh and, frankly, outright ballsy. Cody has been criticized in the wake of Juno, accused of overwriting dialogue and ushering in a new era of overly glib screenwriting (amongst other sassy twee annoyances).  Yet, while I tired of Juno's cutesy teen pregnancy long ago, I have found myself admiring Cody's tenacity since.  She has a way of making us interested in unlikable characters.  "United States of Tara" frequently toed the line between good and evil in each member of its fractured family, making us hate them even as we sympathized.  Jennifer's Body dared to make a cheerleader queen bitch both villain and victim.  Young Adult goes the extra mile with Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron)...

finish this review @

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Guys, we need to talk, ok?  Just, like, take a seat or something so I can try to explain to you how this works: can we please remember that Guy Ritchie's version of Sherlock Holmes is not a fancy BBC adaptation?  It's just, well, it's just not.  Can we please also remember that the first Sherlock Holmes (while your memories have shaded it positively) was far from a great film at the time of its release. It was a good film. It was a fun film.  It had two men who shared a surprising amount of on-screen chemistry. was also meandering, murky, long, and Rachel McAdams was supremely irritating.  Still, what it was really about, that is, what you likely really took from it was Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law having a grand old time being a bantering, turn of the century odd couple.  Now, use your powers of deductive reasoning, my dear naysayer, and know before you go that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is more of the same.  It is not out for plainclothes espionage, sleuthing and skulduggery.  It is an extension of the first installment, but, like nearly all of Ritchie's films, has staged its characters for full-force engagement in rampant bad-assery and sharp, silly dialogue.  That is, essentially, all it's about...

finish this review @

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: Shame

What you know about Shame is that it's an NC-17 portrait of a sex addict.  To a teenager (or those who have never watched an Almodovar film) the taboo rating signifies something immediately forbidden.  There will be nudity, there will be sex that somehow qualifies as "more adult" than the MPAA's R-rating.  In all likelihood: there will be boobs.  It's true.  But, you know, where aren't there boobs?  So, the thing is that there will also be a penis flopping about somewhere. If you're lucky, it won't belong to Harvey Keitel. What gets overlooked, often times, is that simple body parts do not an NC-17 rating warrant. In the case of Shame, and, in my experience, the case of a great deal of NC-17 'serious' films (versus 'unrated'), anatomy is sullied.  Sexualized content is rarely sexy.  It will be somehow dirtied up, plot relevant, and often horribly unpleasant.  What this really means, apparently, is that when an NC-17 film actually makes it into a theater,  the combination of these elements will prove a great annoyance. Personally?  I was carded multiple times before the film started, the theater management felt the need to post detailed warnings as far out as the parking garage elevator that Shame contained content of a graphic nature, and that the final usher to check my ID muttered "Good luck" as I walked in.  "Don't worry," I assured him, "I won't ask for my money back."  

finish this review @

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Award Season: Golden Globe Nominations!

The nominees for the 69th annual Golden Globes were announced in the morning half-light earlier today.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the silent The Artist came in as nominee front-runner with  just a nomination more than The Descendants and The Help.  Of course, the Globes famously break down their categories between genres, opening up more spaces for films that likely won't meet Academy standards.  Still, in such a solid year, it's surprising to see a drama as weak as The Ides of March back it into the Best Picture category.  It's similarly surprising to see a film like 50/50 nominated at all where critically applauded darlings like The Tree of Life, Beginners, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Drive, Contagion and Melancholia have failed.

On the television side of the nominations, there are much larger upsets, however.  American Horror Story and The New Girl have both snuck into Best Series and acting nominations where cult hits like Breaking Bad and Dexter are notably absent.  As someone currently on the American Horror Story bandwagon, I'm pretty pumped its listed so early in the game.  Yet, you know, conflicted...

Also, I was really hoping someone would step up and give Community the recognition it deserves.

The full list of nominees is below...

Merry Christmas, Super Models...

It's a Christmas miracle: RuPaul's 1993 VH1 Christmas special has appeared on Youtube and even though I'm only 10 minutes in as I write this, I must gift it to you early.  Over the top camp, ridiculous segues, completely random guest stars, and yes, a full backup cast of club kids as bit players.  It's probably my new favorite thing and I haven't even gotten to the special guest appearances by Elton John, Boy George, and...Nirvana.  CHRISTMAS SPIRIT, BITCHES. [via Vulture]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Awards Season: SAG Nominees

The Screen Actors Guild nominees were announced the other day and if this is what we can expect from the Oscars, it's going to be another milquetoast year.  The Help scored the expected slew of acting nominations for Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain (noticeably unrecognized for Tree of Life).  NC-17 critical darling Shame has been snubbed in favor of Weinstein bait My Week with Marilyn and Eastwood's J. Edgar.  And, yeah, you know, it's a lot of things that were good but bland.  Hey, though, at least Tilda Swinton made it on there this time.  So, that's a win.

The telecast will air on Sunday, January 29th. 

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Midnight in Paris
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Paul Giamatti, Too Big To Fail
Greg Kinnear, The Kennedys
Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce
James Woods, Too Big To Fail
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Diane Lane, Cinema Verite
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Emily Watson, Appropriate Adult
Betty White, Hallmark Hall of Fame: The Lost Valentine
Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Patrick J. Adams, Suits
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law
Glenn Close, Damages
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Steve Carell, The Office
John Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Betty White, Hot in Cleveland
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire
Breaking Bad
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
30 Rock
The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family
The Office
Stunt Ensemble Nominations
Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
The Adjustment Bureau
Cowboys & Aliens
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
X-Men: First Class
Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series
Game of Thrones
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
True Blood
Screen Actors Guild Awards 48th Annual Life Achievement Award
Mary Tyler Moore


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