Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Take Shelter” – Film Review

Powerhouse acting from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain makes this ambiguous exercise in visual poetry eminently watchable and compelling, but can’t save this festival fave Oscar bait from falling into the trap of trying to be too many things at once.

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain are easily two of this generation’s best actors, each on the verge of their own major breakout. Shannon has recently been seen stealing scenes in Boardwalk Empire and was an Oscar nominee for Revolutionary Road. Chastain became a household name in Hollywood following her turn as Brad Pitt‘s wife in the divisive Terence Malick film The Tree of Life. They show off why that’s the case here.

Shannon plays Curtis LaFourche, a man on the verge of insanity–his dreams of the apocalypse are genuinely scary (kudos to writer/director Jeff Nichols for pulling that off)–who, as a prototypical American dream father (loves his wife and kids, provides for them, keeps his emotions in check and leads them in all decisions), feels obligated to protect and stand by his family, begins to build a storm shelter in preparation for the storm that he thinks is about to come. The real storm, however, is Curtis himself, who spirals out of control into a deep obsession and sinks, or nearly sinks, his family with him (depending on your interpretation of the ending). Chastain plays Curtis’ normal housewife, who worries about him and loves him dearly, but gets angry at his impulsive actions and dreary attitude like anyone would. Her subtle, nuanced and very real portrayal deserves at least an Oscar nomination, if not a win.

Supporting performances are stellar. Katy Mixon, Ray McKinnon, and Tova Stewart bring a lot to the film in small doses; each does a good job of underplaying their characters to create a sense of normalcy in the craziness that’s unfolding before them.

It’s in the structure where the film doesn’t quite put itself together. As a series of shots, scenes, moments, sequences, the film is brilliant. It’s poetry. But this doesn’t make for a good story. Nichols, a talented and versatile director, makes several genres work well individually in the film–it’s a family drama, a supernatural horror, a psychological thriller, a gorgeous art film, and a character study at various times–but that’s where the problem lies. The film feels disconnected, and the climax felt odd and out of place; my friend (who also saw it) and I agreed that we thought the film was likely to end at one climactic point, but moved on and created an even more ambiguous epilogue. While compelling to watch with a very interesting concept–maybe this is just me–I didn’t feel that the film clicked.

The film’s score, by David Wingo, is highly intriguing, using a recurring major-dissonant-minor pattern that is disorienting to the viewer/listener. Tech credits are stellar all-around. For a low-budget movie, the effects are awesome, the cinematography (by Adam Stone) is gorgeous but not too intrusive, like Roger Deakins‘ best work, and Parke Gregg makes the film coherent, insane and at times incredibly scary through smart editing.

I’d recommend seeing it to decide for yourself. Most critics loved the film (97% on Rotten Tomatoes), and the acting is so magnificent, it’s quite possible that Shannon and Chastain could take the Oscars.

A song I was surprised to see missing from the film, which seemed to fit, was Piers Faccini’s “A Storm Is Going to Come”.

So here’s a download.

Left-Click Here


The Music of Afro Samurai

Do you like sex, extreme violence, and rap? Good, me too. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can talk about “Afro Samurai”. A not-so-widely-known mini anime series, Afro Samurai follows the character of the same name on his journey to retrieve the Number 1 Headband in hopes of avenging his father’s death. Originally written by Takashi Okazaki, Afro Samurai combines the themes of soul, hip hop and American Culture with a strangely fascinating Japanese spin.

Hands down, this show is great. There’s only 5 episodes and if you enjoy anime you should absolutely watch it. Even if you don’t enjoy anime, you should still watch. Frankly, you should just watch it. The show features the voices of Samuel L. Jackson (I’ll let you guess which character he does), Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy anyone?), and Kelly Hu. The series is dark and suggestive but hits incredibly close to home in a way that just feels right.

But I digress, on to the important part; the music. The soundtrack to Afro Samurai is done by a name some of you should hopefully recognize; The RZA (pronounced Rizza). Former leader of the hugely popular Wu-Tang Clan, RZA did not disappoint with this project. The whole soundtrack is a mix of jazz, soul, R&B, with japanese drums, horns, chords, and flutes thrown in here and there. All of this is put behind old school styled raps. Literally, imagine if a cool looking japanese guy’s (Okazaki) and Samuel L. Jackson’s Itunes libraries were smashed into a wall against each other and this soundtrack is what you get. The soundtrack has tons of features from incredibly under-rated artists such as Q-Tip, Reverend William Burk, and Suga Banga. Along with these are some amazing instrumentals with some sweet beats, too awesome to not dance to.

It pushes all kinds of buttons and just gets me going every time. I highly suggest watching the series and then downloading the soundtrack shortly after. You should also definitely check out the movie sequel and the video game adaptation. Each of these has their own set of music but they all share that same legendary feel to them. All of it has a great way of putting you into Afro’s shoes sandals. When listening to the soundtrack you can really feel Afro’s feelings and thoughts.

Both the series and the sequel movie can be found on Netflix instant watch. [Not for those offended by decapitation, bodies slicing in half, removal of appendages, or bears]


New Whitechapel

You might remember a review I did awhile back of a little record called A New Era of Corruption by Knoxville, TN group Whitechapel. I heaped praise on its intensity and its unflinching devotion to melody alongside brutality. Truly a fantastic death metal record.

Well, they’re back with a new song and it’s called “‘Section 8.” You can find it on their Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/whitechapelmetal

It’s not that great.

Phil’s retreated back into cookie monster unintelligible territory. On Corruption (byfar their best album), I understood nearly every single word he screamed or growled on the first listen, which is very rare for this kind of music. It was fantastic. Now he’s just gone back to a string of raaaahs, reeees and roooohs.

The drum work isn’t nearly as technical or inspired. Kevin Lane was a boss behind the kit and their new guy just sticks to genre tropes. He’s obviously capable, but doesn’t do anything that sticks out or really adds to the song.

The guitar work is the biggest disappointment, though. The song is a collection of chugs and basic progressions with a solo thrown in the middle. It’s completely devoid of the beautifully orchestrated lead lines and harmonies that made Corruption such an enjoyable listen. For a band with three guitarists, it seemed that they had finally figured out how to use them, but this is regression.

The total rage at the end of the song, where Phil belts out “YOU’RE ALL WORTHLESS” with blood-curdling intensity, redeems it a bit, but it’s a step down from previous work.

Come on, guys, I know you’re capable of more than this.


Tell All Thursdays- The Don’ts and Be Carefuls

Welcome to the seventh edition of “Tell All Thursdays”, where we seek to go beyond the song and find out more about the artist. Through conversation with the artist, perhaps we’ll obtain more insight about the songs we enjoy so much.

Today we’re talking with The Don’ts and Be Carefuls. A few weeks back we introduced them with their insanely catchy song, “The Still Favorites”. TDABC (Yeah it’s a lot to type out), a four piece band from Denver, Colorado. I particularly enjoy their little story to answer #1. I find that they are quite humorous and very chillax. I especially like their answer to #4 because it’s quite honest and real. Thank you guys so much for conducting this interview and I look forward to seeing the growth of this band for some time to come.

  1. Where and how did you guys meet?

When we were all kids, we worried about the corruption in the leadership of our school. After meeting secretly at safe house to discuss our problem, a strange man came out, and suggested that the superintendent is in fact the real corrupt one. While at first we were insulted by his claims, we soon found ourselves surrounded by the superintendent’s men, proving that he was correct. The strange man fought off the men in return for money, however after realizing that our principle could now be in danger, he decided to help us bring down the corrupt superintendant.  After we accomplished this goal, we were inseparable.

Er, wait, no it’s more like we met in college and around the Denver scene haha

 

2.     What are some of your musical influences? As a follow up, how do you take from these influences and make your own distinctive sound?

 We started off being very influenced by bands like Wolf Parade and LCD Soundsystem, but as we’ve progressed, we feel like we’ve shed those influences, and other specific influences for a less focused, more intuitive sound.  Meaning that we put more energy into feeling out the songs as opposed to planning them out. 

3.     What’s the story behind your name?

The Don’ts & Be Carefuls was the street name for a list of rules and regulations on film from the early age of film.  We appreciate the attitude that was developed by those who had to work around the list in order to continue to make movies of any worth.  It’s an ironic name for us.  Because of our goal to make high energy, fun music, we felt that the evocative juxtaposition of our music with that band name would, frankly, be fun and humorous. 

4.     Did you/you guys ever have any kind of crystallizing moment that sticks out in your history as an artist/band?

Each time we reach the completion of a new song, there’s an air of exuberance that could be likened to a crystallizing moment.

5.     Why do you make music? What is it that drives you to create?

Speaking for myself, my mother asks me every once in a while how much we made at a show, and I always laugh and tell her that “you don’t get into this kind of thing for the money,” and I stand pretty firmly behind that.  We do it because we can’t not do it.  

6.     What is it that you want most out of your musical experiences? Is it the ability to get out of those 9-5 jobs, or is it something you do for the sake of a creative outlet, or what?

We don’t all work 9-5 jobs, and it’s not exactly that we do it for some sort of scheduled amount of weekly creativity.  There are cultures/languages/etc. that don’t really have a word for “art,” because it’s just another part of life, there’s no need to “make time” for it, their creativity comes out when it does. We work in a similar way.

7.     When looking through your guys’ own music libraries, do you mostly have music that resembles what you produce yourself?

We all come from such varied musical backgrounds that we barely have music libraries which resemble the other member’s haha.  There are too many wonderful things in the world to just focus on a certain type of music, and it’d be an injustice to ourselves to allow ourselves any limitations.  That said, of course we all have our own preferences haha.

8.     If you guys could see any band or artist live, who would it be and why?

Answering solely for myself on this one, Tom Waits and Laurie Anderson are always near the top of my “want to see” list, because they rarely come through and I’ve yet to have a chance to see them.  If you need a why, then all you’ll need to do is look up any song by either, then you’ll be sold. 

9.      Sound engineer shout out (or any venue that gave you great sound)

This town has an amazing group of sound engineers in it.  I suppose the most recent one we worked with that we have always loved is Matt Daniels who did our sound down at the Meadowlark more than a few times.

10.  If you could give a shout-out to another band, who would it be?

An almost infinite amount of bands deserve shout outs.  Our collective, Hot Congress, is home to some incredible bands, so, with just one shout out to give, I’d say everyone connected to Hot Congress and the bands we play with all the time … those are the bands you should check out haha.

Thanks!
Luke Hunter James-Erickson

The Don’ts and Be Carefuls 


“Calling” – Short Film Premiere

I was not involved in this project outside of watching it being filmed. The fantastic Will Merrick directed and co-wrote (with my good friend Cameron Evans) this dramatic short, which starred two very talented actors in Taylor Dearden and Ian Elmaleh. Scored beautifully by Troy Armstrong and shot with grace and beauty by Gus Bendinelli, this film is certainly worthy of your attention.

Thanks to director/co-writer Will Merrick and co-writer Cameron Evans for allowing us to premiere this film.


UW Fall Fling Concert 9/26

Fall Fling 2011

Fall Fling is the traditional kick-off concert for fall quarter at UW. This year’s concert  featured Pickwick, Fences, Champagne Champagne and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on Red Square. With an all Seattle lineup, you know that the concert was bursting with Seattle pride, especially with Macklemore at the end. How fitting it was to stand in the rain during the concert then. After the concert, I could not be more enthused about the benefits given to me as a student of the University of Washington. Almost worth the tuition hikes too. Almost. Let’s get right down to it and reflect upon the performers.

PICKWICK

Besides Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Pickwick was the one I enjoyed the most. They have a soulful, pop rock sound that was nice to listen to. I only caught the end of the concert, but this song stood out for me the most.


[Bandcamp]

FENCES

Fences only had the lead singer perform because the rest of the band was over in New York.  Upon playing the first song, this one man show felt hallow, as the guy suffered from mic sounds or perhaps a lack of vocal melody. It felt kind of sad at first watching him perform by himself as the crowd noise escalated in restlessness during the first song (which only further pronounced the visual effect of the singer standing in front of the big Macklemore banner looming above). Granted, the songs performed by Fences did improve as time went on, but I just can’t help feel that it wasn’t all that great. Chris defended the guy by stating that he was matched up in a setting that sets him up to fail, considering that he’s playing in a venue in which no one knew his stuff. However, he did agree with me about the numbness of the opening track. The most notable moment of the performance came from the song “Sadie”, where the crowd helped (kinda) sing the chorus “It’s really getting too old for this kid”. Perhaps the crowd wasn’t as involved in that song because there were some mentions about drowning while the crowd stood in the rain…In a more accommodating environment, it would be safe to say that could have been a great moment. I’m curious to see how the sound of Fences change with the full band, seeing how the guy did alright off on his own.

Fences – Sadie (MP3)

CHAMPAGNE CHAMPAGNE

The very embodiment of hit and miss. Chris absolutely hated the band’s periodic attempt to have the fans chant their name twice (reminded him too much of Sol’s mannerisms at Bumbershoot I suppose). Some songs I couldn’t hear anything because of the bass distortion. Maybe it was a benefit not to hear all the lyrics, because there were some lame verses. For example, “I don’t care who you are / I am a carnivore” and a Michael Vick dog fighting reference that was relevant a few years ago. I didn’t like the song “Peer Pressure” because although it had a good beat, the lyrics invoked a wtf response from me. However, the song immediately afterwards had a reference to Starfucker, and I’m down with that. Sitting back and reflecting upon these guys, I believe that the energy these guys brought to the stage made up for their weak rhymes and occasional ill-fitting song choice, and definitely help smooth the transition over to the show everyone was waiting for.

MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS

 

Are these pictures enough to explain to you? Things went crazy during the place, especially when Macklemore hit the crowd with a 1-2 punch of “My Oh My” and “Can’t Hold Us”. See that earlier picture of him in costume? That was him decking out for crowd favorite “And We Danced”, where the audience literally surged forward and pushed everyone closer to the stage. At that point the crowd surfing got started. I believe he had the same set list as he did at Bumpershoot, but with a few included UW specific riffs AND OH MY GOD HE PLAYED MY PERSONAL FAVORITE “I SAID HEY”! What an awesome time.

A few years, Macklmore said he had played at Fall Fling, though he wasn’t the headliner. Now flash forward today, he’s been touring down in California, headlined the Bumpershoot main stage on Sunday, and was the big attraction at UW Fall Fling. The ascent of Seattle’s Son is in progress, and I can’t wait to see how far he’ll go.

 

 


Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony

With Chris’ ties to the classical field, there’s no small wonder he’s holding a very keen interest regarding the on-goings of the Seattle Symphony. However, he has recently expressed hope in the direction the symphony has taken, as evident by his earlier post, “The Layperson and Classical Music (Go See a Symphony Dammit!)”. I was reading The Stranger yesterday and came across a feature that deals directly with what Chris articulated in his earlier post. Give it a read (and go see a symphony dammit).

Part of the exciting promise of Morlot’s leadership is his desire to expand audiences and reach younger people. Everyone 18 and under is free? Awesome. Open rehearsals? Awesome. These are real concrete choices that help to break down that wall that often times separate the average guy from attending these performances, simply because there is a social connotation on who actually goes to these performances.

[Link]

Now I’m not the guy who you should turn to at all for information regarding classical music, so I’ll just post a video of a rehearsal led by Ludovic Morlot. Let Chris break it down for ya sometime.