Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sound + Vision

No, this isn't a blog in honor of the genius of David Bowie, (although I would love to get around to writing that one)...
 What I'm talking about is the cerebral connection between the visual aspects of movies and their, (in my opinion), even more important auditory counterpart - the music. Even when I was a kid, it was the music in films that I grew up loving - not just the movies themselves. I remember the first soundtrack on a tape that I owned - "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Yep, an overzealous John Williams soundtrack, but a suitable one for a nine year old kid.
 And of course, over the years I've grown appreciative of the key part that music plays in movies - enriching the cinematic experience, etc...blah, blah, blah...
  But every now and then, you a see a movie where the director and whomever is organizing the sound track gets it perfect - an exact moment of cinema that is flawless and sends chills up your spine. Oftentimes this is most impressive when the music being used is an old pop song of some form.... And oftentimes, it hooks you visually to a form of music you may have never heard before.... Please allow me to digress...
  Awhile back I had the opportunity to finally watch Nicolas Wending Refn's "Bronson" which had a fantastic opening set to the tone of the Walker Brothers' "The Electrician", (in fact there are other such moments throughout, including a song by Glass Candy, and New Order's "Your Silent Face"). The song just blew me away, and I initially thought it was Nick Cave singing.... But after some careful (ahem... Wikipedia) research, I was able to track this song down and find out who sang it.
   But this doesn't stop there. Let's look at "Breaking Bad" and specifically it's final episode. Using Badfinger's "Baby Blue" was perfect and fitting for those final scenes. Who the hell didn't like that ending?
  How about "Lost In Translation"? Aside from numerous great scenes with an awesome soundtrack, the scene at the end with the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" playing along? That's movie magic there, not some blue-screened crappy CGI garbage (ahem... George Lucas)...
  Think about every Quentin Tarantino movie - those songs in the soundtrack don't set the mood for scenes - they're practically another character in the movie! There's a whole slew of director's who are following in those footsteps - Guy Ritchie and Edgar Wright being two of the most impressive ones.
  And for all you other geeks out there, think about "Donnie Darko" without all the cool 80's songs that really put it in motion. For instance, the scene of Donnie and Gretchen coming down the stairs to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart Again"?  Again.... Perfect scene, perfect song..
     Alright, so you can hopefully get my point. However, there is a downside - sometimes in the wrong hands, it doesn't work particularly well. Case in point, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie "50/50". While not a bad movie, and pretty likable, there is a part where Radiohead's "High and Dry" is played during a small montage - and for whatever reason, it feels hollow. Don't get me wrong, I freakin' love Radiohead, and "High and Dry" is my jam from my early teenage years. But it feels more like an after-thought, rather than a song that fits those scenes.
   There's plenty of other examples of this - numerous soundtracks that simply are a mixed bag of "hot indie" artists that are more for drawing in cash, rather than an integral part of the movie. For some reason, the movie "Garden State" comes to mind - but since I haven't actually seen it, I'm not going to weigh in whether it works cinematically - but this idea doesn't require lots of examples, you barely have to look farther than the "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" soundtrack. It's a marketing tool at that point. 
    Now, I'm not completely against these "cash-in" soundtracks. The problem is that these soundtracks generally have the feeling of being tacked-on to the movie. And usually the guys actually making the movie don't have the good sense to use the music appropriately....
   Alright.... That's it for my soapbox this week.  As always, I appreciate any feedback or comments - even if you disagree...
   See you next week...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Next Time I'll Bring More Beer... or... (How I Survived the Cascade Lakes Relay)

 Appropriate soundtrack to reading this week's blog, would be the Old 97's "Timebomb"
Where to begin? Well...

Friday, August 2, 2013: (Somewhere in Bend)
    So, we wake up around 7:00am, (we being Jacob and I), in my parents' RV, (whom were kind enough to let us stay the night with them), desperately hoping our rented/borrowed van hasn't been
A.) Stolen
B.) Broken into
C.) Towed away by the decent folks who own the Wendy's parking lot that we left the van in.

   Somehow the van is still there, along with all our belongings. It's looking to be a nice day, and our first legs of the Cascade Lakes Relay start in the next few hours.
     By now our other half in Van #1 have already started off the line, and we're due to be down near Diamond Lake in a short time frame. We start things off by picking up most of our 6 person team, and then hitting up breakfast at the Original Pancake House - narrowly avoiding a peanut allergy incident in the process. I end up chugging a large quantity of coffee, and then we're off picking up our last 2 team members from the south side of Bend.
     Then, it's all road till Diamond Lake. We'll be doing a relay that's approximately 216.6 miles with a team of 12 people, split between 2 vehicles. It looks like this:
My team in Van #2 lucked out in having the 15 person van, filled to the brim with supplies, protein bars, PB&J sandwiches, Gatorade and water bottles, and 1 twelve pack of Blue Moon.
      We pull into the first van exchange point. Van #1's team hands off the relay wristband to Rob, who kills the first 5.54 miles easily. And then it's me...

Bear in mind, I've only started running in the past 4 months or so. Not exactly an athlete. But I've gotten to the point where I can run a good 5.5 miles, and not die... So I figured I could give this relay a shot. 
    My first leg is 3.98 miles long - easy. 
    Not so. The elevation of our location is a factor. A clear difference in the altitude is the first thing that hits me in the the first leg, along with the blistering heat at 2:30 in the afternoon. Thank God for random other teams with insect sprayers filled with what I assume to be water, standing along the roadside to spray runners. 
    I make it to the next exchange point, and hand off to Erik who breezes through the next leg.
    I'm thirsty and a bit exhausted, but I chug some water and Gatorade, and we're good to go. 
   We follow our Van #2 teammates as they run their legs, occasionally spraying them with water from our bottles, and always cheering for them before meeting them at the next exchange point. It looks more or less like this:
     We also find that our borrowed van has been tagged by the other teams. We end up with a painted turtle on the back of our van, along with some blue doodle on the passenger side window. Even better, there is a sticky moustache that is placed on the front hood of the van as well. 
      Nearly all of the vans/vehicles of teams are decorated with some theme or statement regarding their team name. We see a team with a giant turtle on the top of their van, with speakers attached, blaring Avril LaVigne at one exchange point. Another team is an all-female group wearing fake moustaches and driving a van that states they give "free moustache rides", thus our moustache tagging, I'm sure.
       Our van is plain white with a Christian-based company's logo emblazoned on the side, so our options of making our vehicle cooler are severely limited.

     The sun is beginning to set as our last 2 teammates finish their legs. It's a continuous stop-and-go routine, in which we intermittently sit along the wide shoulders of the road with our van, (careful to not get too far into the loose gravel along the edges), and take in a bit of the scenery.
    We hit Silver Lake and then proceed on an expressionless 50 mile drive to La Pine. The only signs of civilization out here is a creepy mini-mart that has "Deliverence" written all over it. We wisely continue on without stopping, only to find a few miles further a sign pointing off to a secluded dirt road towards "Cabin Lake." We all find this amusing in it's cliche horror-movie title, but again wisely elect to not stop and check it out.
    Sometime closer to 8:30pm we arrive at La Pine High School, where we find our temporary lodgings. There are cots in the gym and showers available for a donation. Most of us elect to just stink, and begin preparing for a couple hours of sleep while Van #2 continue their legs. 
     Erik, Jacob, and I slept in the seats in the van, and woke up more or less at the same time and found it time to get moving to the next van exchange point - a good 30 minute ride away. Everybody gathers up their stuff and we're off again. 
      There's a bit of a joke regarding the showers at the La Pine gym,
which looked more or less like these:

     I think it was Joey who referred to this style as "Locker Rooms Designed by Jerry Sandusky"... 

    Again, Rob is the first to go on the 2nd leg, and has to tackle 7.34 miles that on a topographic map seems oddly reminiscent of the outline of Mt. Hood: straight freakin' up, and then straight freakin' down. It's around this time I realize it's ridiculously cold, somewhere in the 42 degrees range.
     It's 2:15am, and I'm running out under a bed of stars. It's beautiful and absolutely clear, and it's just me, a flashlight, and an envelope of darkness. Probably the coolest run I've ever done - 3 miles, easy. 
    Well, easier than my first leg at least.

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013:
     Next van exchange, and it looks like this outside:
   Our next sleepover point is at Elk Lake, and we take what seems like hours to arrive there. At one point I'm leaning forward with my head against the seat in front of me, and then I'm awake and the sun has fully come out.
    We arrive at Elk Lake and again, half the team sleeps outside - and the other half stays in the van. I take a quick picture,
 and then become comatose. I end up sleeping in the front passenger seat, and surprisingly this works out well.
   I wake up close to 10am, and down a wonderful cup of coffee. It's around this time that it's noticed that several of the mass port-a-pottys are out of toilet paper. This is a bit discouraging, but being that I've been living on a steady diet of protein bars, granola, Gatorade, and water - it doesn't make much of a difference to me.
    My leg this time is 4 miles and is graded as "Very Hard", (as my previous ones were "Easy"), and it goes up a hill with a total elevation of 918 feet over that distance. At the van exchange point, one of the "Moustache girls" asks "Who pulled the shit straw for the next leg?"  The rest of the team points to me and chuckles. Sure, the weakest link in Van #2 gets the brutal uphill leg - but that's fine, I signed up for this and I'm going to do it - or keel over in the ditch.
     My parents show up before I start the last leg, and then by-pass me on the road, along with my team in Van #2 - yelling encouragement at me. Somewhere around two and half miles, they've pulled the van over and are waiting for me to pass. Using a series of charades that indicates to them that I need water and a gummi bear or something, they hand them off as I continue uphill. I attempt to masticate a couple of Swedish Fish, but my mouth's so dry that they eventually just end up goobered like mortar in teeth, and I'm at risk of aspirating a piece of gummi candy. Using the water bottle in my hand, I manage to break through some of the build-up in my mouth and continue pushing on.
     I finally make it to the exchange point, and take a moment to not fall over.
We're now down to the last 4 legs. It's all downhill from here - sort of.

    Joey is a little over half way into his leg, and we pull the van over onto the gravel portion of the shoulder. We yell and cheer as he passes us. We pack into the van to head for the next exchange for Jacob......And disaster strikes.
     The driver's side back wheel digs a hole nearly 6 inches into the gravel, and we're stuck.
    We try pushing, and all that does is dig us in further. Luckily, Jacob brings out a trusty camp shovel to use and dig the wheel out. In the meantime, Jacob runs up to another vehicle from another team pulled over and bums a ride to the next exchange, (and luckily they're kind enough to do so).
    But, that leaves the 4 of us to somehow get this van back onto the concrete. After a series of failed attempts at placing chunks of road-side wood under the tire and pushing, we're running low on ideas.
One final time, we find a large trunk of wood and use it brace the back-end of the van like a lever, and gently accelerate over onto the previous chunks of wood - winding up back on the pavement, and narrowly missing a mile-marker.
    With a ridiculous amount of cheering from the 4 of us, (and after definitely earning our "Man Cards" for the day - per Peter), we pile in the van and race to the exchange to pick up Joey - who's wondering where the hell the rest of the team is.
    Jacob and Peter run their final legs, and by 3:30pm or so, it's over. We meet up with the rest of Van #1, and cross the line with Peter.

  So, in a nutshell, it was worth it. The lack of sleep, the money, the expended energy. And the more I think about it, I'm pondering doing another one... One day... Maybe...
  But if I did again, I'd do a lot of things differently. First of all, I'd pack a lot less stuff, (i.e. extra clothes, extra pair of shoes, etc..). Packing the bare essentials would be more ideal.
    Second of all, I'd pack more beer, too. For all those lonely exchange points and sleepover areas, there's no better way to get your carbs post-run.
    Third of all, we would need to decorate our van up with crazy stuff, at least giving it some sort of graffiti to set it apart from the other 100+ white vans involved in the relay.
    Fourth, and last, of all, I would make an effort to not forget Jacob's camp shovel along the shoulder after using it to dig out our tire.
   That is all.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Top 10 Albums of 2012.... (A Day Late or So)....

   So, at long last I'm returning to blogging by getting a quick top 10 list in at the last minute. (But hey, better late than never...)
    Now, I will admit my list is not a perfect example of everything that got released this last year...  I'm sure I'm missing some key good albums of the year, but I strictly compiled this list of albums that I bought and that got many repeated listens from me.
     And another thing, let's be honest here... This wasn't a fantastic year for new, cool music anyway... Sure there's lots of little indie bands who are awash in synths, or sounding like Of Monsters and Men, the Lumineers, Avett Brothers, etc... But not much has moved me this year. However, I have found at least these 10 that were quite good - if not a bit eclectic.
    So without further ado.... Here they are!

 Bloc Party - Four
    This definitely got the most plays from me this year.   
     Now, I'd always been a fan of Bloc Party since their debut, and continued to do so through their subsequent albums. After hearing this band stretch their sound from post-punk angularity to dappling in full-blown electronica, you found a band that was breath-takingly experimental and original. But also a bit difficult to listen to in one sitting. 
        But this new album finally brings back a bit of balance to the Rock Vs. Experimental ratio. Truly a fantastic return to form, and certainly their most cohesive since their "Silent Alarm."

 Fun - Some Nights
      Oh, yes.. The album you couldn't escape from over the past year.... I'm including this pick begrudgingly. Not to say that this is a bad band - they certainly have solid song-writing and good chord changes.  It's just that I have an aversion to auto-tune, and this album has a bit too much of it for my taste. So, it makes my listening experience less enjoyable.
       However, it is hard to deny the hooks of all these songs, and it's all done in a pretty smart way with a clear, pop production style.  While I certainly don't like everything about this album, I can say that it is a well-crafted pop album, and the vocals of Nate Ruess soar in a way reminiscent of Freddie Mercury, (which makes the use of auto-tune on the vocals all the more redundant and/or ridiculous, in my opinion)
        So, although you, me, and nearly everyone else on earth is probably sick of hearing "We Are Young" or "Some Nights", it should still be noted that these guys did make a good album that is undeniably catchy - which, I assume, was really the point.

 Odd Future - The OF Tape Vol. 2
      Alright, I'm the first to admit that I have very few rap albums in my collection. So this one is the odd-one-out in my top ten list. But it's pretty freaking awesome - as far as rap albums go.  We've basically got a collective of hip-hop stars, (i.e.  Tyler, The Creator, Hodgy Beats, Earl Sweatshirt, Domo Genesis, Mike G,  Frank Ocean, etc...), making a cool mixtape here.
         I don't have any truly great reason why I like this album, (rap is still an underexplored territory for me...), but it's a cool release, and enjoyable on repeated listenings.

 Muse - The 2nd Law
     About two albums ago, I kind of began losing interest in Muse. I still liked them, but they were moving in a direction focusing more on synths, and bit less on the guitar work. And then, "The Resistance" came out and more or less proved my suspicions right. 
     So, I approached another album by them with some trepidation, (specifically with "Madness" as a lead-off single).  However, after giving into my curiosity, I found a pretty good album here. A little bit of everything - "Panic Station" sounds like a Faith No More pop song, "Supremacy" sounds like a Led Zeppelin rip-off, "Survival" sounds like Queen and..... well.... Muse for that matter.  The only parts where this album falls short is in it's odd flirtations with dubstep, which sorta feel like a cop-out, (like a good band trying to sound relevant). While others have disagreed with me on this point, I stand by my opinion. Though, with that minimal amount of  short-comings the whole album does give a good and interesting  listen.

 The Darkness - Hot Cakes
     Who expected these guys to come back? I sure as hell didn't. After the less than triumphant arrival of "One Way Ticket to Hell.... and Back", and the subsequent trip to rehab for Justin Hawkins, I'd pretty much written off this band - thinking, "Hey, at least we got 2 cool albums out of these guys before they disappeared."
     And unexpectedly, arrives this album several years later. Imagine all the best parts of AC/DC, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, and Journey all rolled into one band - and that's these guys. Each song is filled with back-to-back, air-guitar solos and high-pitched vocals that will quench your thirst to rock. 
       Yeah, it's cheesy. Yes, it's over-the-top. But nobody does it better than these guys. Don't believe me? Check out the cover of Radiohead's "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" which not only gets an Iron Maiden-like workout, but also a guitar-solo break that pulls from the solo in Radiohead's "Just" - Absolute genius!
        You could say it's not serious music, and you'd be right - but it's non-serious music done by serious musicians. Check it out....

 Big Pink - Future This
     This is a pretty surprising follow-up for this band. Whereas their debut album was equal parts electronica and shoegazer guitar-drone combined, this new album focuses more on a sound very much akin to their only breakthrough US single "Dominos." So, really upping the ante of pop hooks here without going completely into near-self-parody, (like, the Fun album mentioned earlier), is the name of the game.
      However, this album has a great feel to it, and it's easy to lose yourself in it's swirl of synths and guitar-feedback. Think of it as an electronic rock album with a psychadelic touch.
 Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror
     Beats. Fuzzy, high-gain power chords. 
     That's the backbone of what Sleigh Bells is. Oh, and the chick lead singer. 
     All that aside, this album is a more than worthy follow-up to "Treats."  Granted, there's no "Rill Rill" on this album, but it's got an awesome track list, and it's fun. With the razor-sharp guitars, and speaker-rattling beats - this album can become hard on the ears at times, but with Alexis Krauss' vocals and it's short length, this album doesn't overstay it's welcome.
    Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
     There's plenty of information on the web about how good this band and album is. So, if you don't already own it, you really should go out now and pick it up.  No other band mixes up rock and soul like this, and sounds so natural.  Pick it up. You need this.
 Santigold - Master of My Make-Believe  
      It's a mix of world music, hip-hop, reggae, etc... A super-fine pop album - This is the kind of album Gwen Stefani wishes she could make. Every song is great, but specifically check out "The Keepers" for it's odd, new-wavey vibe. Oh, and a guest appearance by Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeah's? Count me in....

 Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
       Another odd one for me, (in fact I've found more interest in the odd pop albums being released this year than the standard indie or alt-country bands I'm more inclined to like.... It really has been a sad year for music when the mainstream pop albums are more interesting than the latest Mumford and Sons album)...
 But I digress...
       Sure, I hadn't listened to Lana Del Rey until reading internet chatter about how crappy her performance on SNL was earlier this year. I watched it. It wasn't great, it wasn't horrible. It was just an excuse for people to bitch about something, (like most internet chatter...).
       No matter. I read a Rolling Stone review of this album as well before buying it. At the very least, they were uncomplimentary of it. I picked it up anyway.
       It's clear from the outset that her songs are cool little noir dramas that are way more interesting than anything by Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, or Lady Gaga, etc... Plus, these songs all feel like they were pulled from a soundtrack to a David Lynch movie - all 50's/60's Americana with large amount of darkness and absurdity. 
       ...(Lana Del Rey also recently released an EP with a cover of "Blue Velvet", which adds even more to the Lynchian motif she has going on with her type of pop music)...
         So, maybe the critics dislike it - maybe some of her fans were disappointed in her live performance... blah blah blah...
         What is important is the strange, sleazy world her songs create in one sitting. And as far as that is concerned, this album's pretty damn cool.