I've forgotten already

I have some very strong words about the new Regina Spektor album, Begin to Hope, but I don't want to sound like a bitch so I'll just leave you with two: absolutely forgettable.

I mean, what the fuck Regina? It sounds like Ani meets Michelle Branch meets a whole lot of uncharacteristic dribble.

But, I mean, I loved Soviet Kitsch so much. I just wish she'd been more adventurous. That's all I'm really going to say about that.


back and forth...forever

The same night I watched Last Days, I also rented Me, You, and Everyone We Know. I had very little idea what the film was about, except that the summary boasted something about the interconnectedness of life. I did know, however, that it won a bunch of awards at the Cannes in 2005, so I decided to rent it.

The film is basically a juxtaposition of the lives of a bunch of kids and adults who do various things with their lives but are all very much metaphysical, existential, and totally hilarious. I thought this movie was fantastic and I would highly recommend it to anyone who liked I heart huckabees, Elephant (although not in so dark of a way), or is a fan of Zadie Smith novels.

A couple of comments:

1. Most of the actors in this movie are below the age of 20 and they are all amazing. The two brothers, played by Brandon Ratcliff and Miles Thompson, really make this movie great. There is a specific scene (I won't give it away) that had me laughing for a really long time and still gives me giggles when I think about it. The little girl (Carlie Westermann) is also great. I am really interested in how good child actors become good child actors, especially when their roles present them with issues that are well beyond their years. These three are awesome examples of this. The two teenage girls (Natasha Sleyton and Najara Townsend) weren't great. I guess I have resentment towards people of that age group in general. Maybe they weren't so bad after all, but definitely not as impressive as the other three.

2. Pretty much every second of this movie is hilarious. Miranda July, who also wrote the screenplay (and I think might also have produced or directed the film) is amazing as this crazy performance artist who says and does really whimsical things and is somehow still adored by John Hawkes, who plays Richard. There are some other "serious adult" types in this movie that are almost as funny, if for no other reason than that their characters are utterly ridiculous and satirical.

3. Me, You, and Everyone We Know reminded me A LOT of my favorite novel, Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Not only does it deal with complex issues like biraciality, sexuality, and the meaning of life, it is entirely about connections between unlikely characters that literally define the most life-changing experiences you will ever watch or read. If you haven't read White Teeth, no matter who you are, I would recommend it. I don't know a single person who has not been able to relate to the book, and I think you'll feel the same way about this movie.

4. Michael Andrews, who also did Donnie Darko, did the soundtrack of the film. Although it isn't as dark, it is still essential in producing the whimsy of the film. Any other soundtrack would have given nearly every scene a completely different connotation, and probably would have made me blush a little.


Gus Van Sant's Last Days

While I'm on the topic of life-changing music, I thought I'd review a film I've had on my "to watch" list for quite some time. Gus Van Sant's Last Days is about the last days in the life of a rock star named Blake, who is supposed to be Kurt Cobain. Blake is played by Michael Pitt of Hedwig, The Dreamers, etc. fame.

Let me start by saying that Kurt Cobain was probably the biggest influence on my life, ever. Unparalleled by Stephin Merritt or anyone else that I have listened to religiously over the years. I studied his work, tried to decipher his poetry, and at one point knew more trivia about him than anyone that I have known. I wanted to watch Last Days because in my own mind, I have a very specific idea of what happened to Kurt and I wanted to see someone else's interpretation.

A few general observations:
1. Nothing happens. Van Sant effectively took all of the drama out of this film. Isn't that the point, you say? Well, yes, but if I wasn't such a fan, I would have found it boring. Yes, he does a great job of creating a feeling of numbness, but hardly imbues Blake's character with a sense of agency. He is a madman wandering the woods without any feeling. I find it hard to believe that this particular representation is accurate, given that he had recently left rehab. There is no pain in this film. No resentment or trauma. Nothing but a numb wandering man dressed in Kurt's clothes (which are replicated pretty well).

I am not sure what to think about this. We do not even see him die. We see him leave in peace. Perhaps he did, maybe he didn't. Who knows? Maybe I should stop wanting to see a dramatic death scene complete with the moment in which he breaks down and decides to do it. Maybe it is too hard for me to accept that perhaps he was already dead, floating around without a purpose in the world. Maybe the actual death was really not that important.

Ultimately, I appreciate this interpretation of the events. I know it is supposed to be somewhat fictional. But I appreciate it because it is almost the way that Kurt would have wanted the events to happen. Leaving in peace without much hullabaloo. Yes, it would have livened things a bit if his friends who were in the house at the time had cried a bit but that would have broken the numbness.

2. Michael Pitt does a fabulous job with this character. Not only does he look like him, but his movements and mannerisms are exactly as I would have imagined them. His cries are exactly as they probably were. This character was originally conceived of as completely silent. I refuse to believe that that is an accurate representation. Even the person who is too numb to feel cries out before collapsing from the exhaustion of life, and he does it very effectively. It is also more than cool for him that one of his songs made it into the film.

3. One last thing, and maybe it is repetitive, but I feel like this film has an agenda: to give the finger to all of those who claim to "know" or "understand" Kurt, those who romanticize and theorize about his last moments. Van Sant refuses to do those things. I am frustrated by it but I appreciate it nonetheless because it doesn't leave room for interpretation. Things happened and that was the end of it. The woodsy backdrop of the film is a perfect reminder of this. Things grow and die and that is the end of it. There is no conspiracy, no other reality. It just happened and the film ends before the outcry even begins. It is everything in-between what we remember (Kurt's life and the drama of the aftermath of his death; copycats; vigils; Courtney Love).

Should you see it? Maybe, if you'll appreciate it. Otherwise you will probably find it lifeless and boring; disorienting; obtuse.


Hold onto what you've got

I can definitely say that the new Bouncing Souls' album, The Gold Record, is my favorite of 2006. There are several reasons for this that I think are evidenced in the song samples below.

First, I have a long history with this band. They were on my first Punk-O-Rama compilation and happen to tour with some of my favorite bands, including Tsunami Bomb and Against Me!. I have probably seen them live more than any other band. They have energy and passion. They can slow down and make melodiously sad ballads about growing up and leaving. They can be hilariously peppy. I am so psyched about this album, and you should be, too. Really, you should listen to the whole album repeatedly until it is buried in your memory because it is everything you wanted an album like this to be and more.

Lean on Sheena

This is my favorite song on the album. It wasn't until I looked for the lyrics that I realized it was a cover. Avoid One Thing released this song on Side One Dummy in 2002. Avoid One Thing is a decent band, and they've toured with some other decent bands, but I have to say, I was not impressed by their version. This isn't a case of liking the song I heard first so much as that after hearing the Souls' version, I think it sounds much better with their dynamic delivery, as opposed to the rawness of the beginning of the AOT version.

What do I love so much about this song? Lean on Sheena is sort of a smorgasbord of everything that is great about the Souls: their ability to deliver subdued, quiet, beautiful songs and then elevate and louden them in a way that is almost too graceful given the genre.

Midnight Mile

The beginning of this song is very reminiscent of the pre-Anchors Aweigh era, but it comes back slowly in the middle. I get the same imagery in my head from this song as I do when I listen to "Night Train"--a dark, moonlit night, a restless city, movement, departure, change, regret.

There are a ton of other great songs on this album that you should definitely hear. I highly recommend "Letter from Iraq," "So Jersey," and "The Gold Song." If you've never listened to the Souls, you my friend have some catching up to do.


Let me apologize while I'm still alive

I was holding out for these two albums before I reviewed anything else. Both of these bands have been life changing for me, and perhaps also live-saving.

Less Than Jake's In With the Out Crowd

I have a long history with this band. That is important to consider in reviewing this album, because I'm not sure if I would have liked it quite as much or in the same way if I had not listened to Less Than Jake throughout my adolescence. Hello Rockview will always be one of my favorite albums because it helped me transition from the world of dark adolescent grunge into the happy music-loving gal I am today. When I was 13, I knew nothing about ska, at least not what I know now, but I knew that the sort of poppy third wave "punk with horns" genre made me really happy, and spoke to me about issues that I thought no one understood. Songs like "Al's War," "Last One Out of Liberty City," and "Motto" defined my life as a 13-year-old. Songs like "All My Best Friends are Metalheads" shaped my ability to socially criticize the world around me and to articulate my struggles and values. Corny, I know.

In With the Out Crowd is not as thematically strong as the pre-Anthem era of Less Than Jake albums, but it still has a lot of catchy tunes. If I listened to the radio, and heard a few of these songs there, I would only be able to identify the band by Chris Demakes' voice, but I would otherwise think that it was just another pop punk band. I don't want it to sound like the album is bad. It isn't, it certainly has a few stand-out tunes, but, unlike a few of its predecessors, not every song is spectacular. Aside from that, what happened to the horns??? Nevertheless, I have been listening to it in my car the last few days and it has really grown on me.

Fall Apart

This song is repetitive, sure. But it's pretty damn catchy. It is everything I love about this genre and more. Maybe I like it because its substance is a more mature of the earlier angsty adolescent anthems I grew to love. Or perhaps I like it because its great to sing along with. Either way, the riffs are great and it is absolutely representative of the guilty pleasure I take in this genre: songs about depressing subjects that are so uppity that you can't help but dance and rejoice in their awesomeness.

Rest of My Life

Mid-life crisis? Perhaps. Who cares? I don't. This song is apologetic, slower than the rest and most certainly where I see this band's future. They are great at the faster, poppier songs, but this song is pretty Amazing with a capital A. The analyst in me thinks that I like this song because of its content more than the way it sounds, but it is beautifully melodic. "The Rest of My Life" takes me back to every wrongfully mistaken goodbye I've ever said, dissolves all of the angst and regret, and makes me feel like everything is going to be okay.

P.S. Shock the World

Finally, the horns make a comeback! It is sad, I suppose that this is the last song on the album. I feel like I'm getting a bit repetitive here because the great things about this song, too, are its ability to instill hope in a world of sadness and regret. "P.S. Shock the World" is a great way to end the album, although it is one of the strongest, because it points to new directions. I don't think we'll be seeing too much of Anthem or B is for B-Sides type melodies anymore, but a healthy fusion of new and old. This band has really matured over the last eight years (has it been that long?!?!?) that I've listened to them, and it is great to see that they are still going in interesting and cool directions.

Coming next--The Bouncing Souls' The Gold Album