Giant, Cloverfield-monster-sized disclaimer: Okay, so I'm basically a Music Writer. I'm hardly a Film Expert, and what's worse, I'm basically a total geek, which means my choices are, well, kind of nerdy. Also, I have an eight-year-old, meaning I see a lot of Non-Adult Films as well. But even though I was kind of tempted to put Stardust on my list (It's Neil Friggin' Gaiman, okay? Its way darker and more cynical than you'd ever think it would be!!!) I held back and tried to just put shit on there that I actually *loved*. Okay?
So let us commence.
1. Juno. Um, so, yeah. Let me just say officially, for the record, that even if I *hadn't* been previously attached to the screenwriter? I would still adore the living shit out of Juno. It's just a god-damned good film, full stop. The script is funny as hell (duh!), Jason Reitman's direction is sharp, clever, and stylish, and there isn't a single performance in there that rings even remotely false. The one I think the awards are missing is J.K. Simmons as Mac McGuff -- he's the absolute heart and soul of the film, and his gruff-but-lovable dad is exactly the kind of father I wanna be -- kind and sweet-hearted but kind of a hardass, like a hipper Red from "That 70s Show," yknow? I mean, and yeah, Reitman throwing in Kinks and Velvets on the soundtrack is so designed to tweak my hipster sensibilities, and it so does. Bravo, all 'round.
2. No Country For Old Men. I can't remember the last time I was this bowled over by a film. You know how shitty critics describe films sometimes as "edge of your seat enjoyment?" I was seriously literally sitting on the very edge of my seat, clutching my armrests until the knuckles turned white and fell asleep, until the credits rolled. I had no idea where it was going, and just when I thought I knew I realized I really didn't. Brutal, terrifying, and just perfectly written and directed in every sense. And Javier Bardem haunts my nightmares -- I had one a few nights ago where he was stalking me in an abandoned amusement park. Fucking crazy performance.
3. Hot Fuzz. I'm sorry -- if there's one comedy film (I guess it's a comedy, though it sort of transcends the genre by also being fucking cool and terrifying as hell) that deserved way the fuck more awards consideration this year than it got, it is this one. Edgar Wright is a director's director -- he's such a dab-hand at scene-framing and pacing, and can you fucking fathom how much footage he shot for all those crazy fast-edit transitions?? Brilliant. The script's a goddamn riot (*possibly* more laughs-per-minute than any other film this year), and if you don't love the Pegg/Frost team you have no fucking soul. The perfect example of how so-called "genre" films get woefully neglected because they're not (ahem ahem) Se-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-rious enough. Hogwash.
4. The Darjeeling Limited. And talk about underrated -- when was it collectively decided that Wes Anderson, like, wasn't cool anymore? Fuck that. This film was beautiful from top to bottom -- not only does it boast the best cinematography of the year (in a year with No Country that's a pretty fucking amazing honor, frankly) but it also boasts, I think, the best ensemble performance as well -- the combination of Messrs. Schwartzman, Wilson and Brody as three contentious, completely insane brothers was magnificent. I was, y'know, moved and shit. And yet, what I've described as the "Yawn-more-brilliance-from-Wes-Anderson-how-boring phenomenon continues apace.
5. and 6. (tie) Planet Terror (Grindhouse) and Death Proof (Grindhouse). Okay, apart from the critically lauded films at the top of the list, I guess I'm all about the underrated films this year, aren't I? Everybody, from your Uncle Ted to Roger Ebert, missed the point of this/these films. Are they deliberately shitty? Tongue-in-cheek or not? Are we supposed to love them or laugh at them? And what the fuck with Tarantino's thing, which is like a bunch of awesome conversations with horrible deaths in between? The point is they're all of the above like all great Grindhouse cinema, and excuse me, Death Proof is fucking too a magnificent film, which is about two things: a) fucking knock-out stunts and killer performances and b) Quentin's foot fetish, which to me makes for an astonishing 1.5 hours of cinema. Extra points for the trailers: my neighbor Danny Trejo is awesome in "Machete," Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" is hilarious and awesome (I had a dream on Thanksgiving night about watching a Grindhouse-style horror film called "Kill-Sumption") and Edgar's "Don't" is utterly accurate and what-the-fuck. Just a righteous thing top to bottom, this.
7. Superbad. Every year has a Pure Comedy that I love. Last year, it was so Clerks 2, and this year belongs to Superbad. I know everybody loved McLovin', and props to that performance, but for me, it was all about Jonah Hill as Seth, all bluster and false confidence and selfish assholeness. That was everybody I knew in high school. *I*, of course, was more Michael Cera-y, so I totally got his thing too, only if it was my life back then? Not a chance I would have ended up with any manner of hot chick at the end. Note: I am convinced that Judd Apatow, brilliant though he is, is actually advancing the cause of Closeted Gay Men. That glance at the end? Uh huh. See also: the MAIN relationship in Knocked Up, between Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd and, er, the MAIN relationship in 40 Year Old Virgin, also, er, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd.
8. Zodiac. The Serious Critic's Sleeper Film of the Year (see: Hollywood Elsewhere for some serious Zodiac drum beating. It's essentially a three-hour procedural, and there's so many false leads and weird turns and twists that you end up a bit confused, but fucking two million points for whipping up a serious atmospheric froth, and Jake Gyllenhaal is, like, note perfect as a nebbishy editorial cartoonist-cum-obsessed amateur detective (god, not to mention Robert Downey Jr. as a crazy-ass drunk reporter). About twenty minutes too long, but weirdly, at the end, I wanted another twenty minutes, I was enjoying myself so much. Fincher = awesome. That equation continues to hold absolutely true.
9. All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. An obscure Canadian (I think?) twist on Heathers, I watched this sucker as part of Diablo research for her forthcoming horror film, and kinda fell in love with it, as sick and disturbing and totally warped as it is. Popular girl goes on camping trip with friends, who start getting picked off one by freaking one in the most brutal ways imaginable. It sounds mundane but a witty script, some very dark direction, and some totally clever performances elevate it far above its subject matter. And there's a twist ending you'll see coming a mile off but still stand up and cheer when it actually happens, 'cause it rules. Its soul is black as hell, this one; if yours is too (like mine) you'll love the shit out of it.
10. Transformers. Okay, look. You go into a film expecting something, and so frequently you get something totally else and you come away thinking "man, I kinda wish I had my seven bucks back." I went into Transformers being promised GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING EACH OTHER. And what did I get? GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING EACH OTHER. So, like, I totally felt like my seven dollars were well spent. Value for money. Exact return on investment. The film sucked fucking balls, but I feel like I need to call it out for that alone. Oh, and the weirdest performance by the actor and actress playing Shia LeBeouf's mom and dad -- they were flown in from fucking 16 Candles or something. Fucking bizarre.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
NOW! With additional song and album artwork!!!
So: two years ago. I had it in my mind to write and record a group of songs as sort of a love letter to the country-flecked "canyon rock" I was listening to at the time (y'know, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds-circa-"Notorious Byrds Brothers," and most importantly THE MONKEES, the group that has perhaps loomed largest over my life, and country-rock pioneers whether you wanna admit it or not -- as well as 70s stuff like Bread and America that generally sends critics into paroxysms of agony).
I wrote and played the whole thing myself, for the most part -- the guitars, basses, drums, keyboards, and whatever other nib-nobs you hear in there are most likely me. I was helped by the fabulous Michael Gray of Minneapolis electro-rockers Mercurial Rage (on low harmonies) and of course Diablo Cody (on high harmonies), who made it sound less like I was a giant chorus of clones.
I had always intended to put together a band to record these songs, but instead joined the Autumn Leaves for one last hurrah before moving out to Los Angeles. Two of them are gonna appear on the forthcoming (and awesome) Autumn Leaves record in entirely superior form, so watch for that -- these are really demos. And now they've been supplanted by an entirely new group of somewhat more lyrically relevant songs (ha!) which I think are even better than these in a lotta ways (less deliberately derivative, certainly), and the chances that the Silvergirl album is ever gonna make it in front of people is slim to none.
So here you go. I'm even including a couple outtakes from the "sessions" -- including a nasty, stomping, Mud-like cover of The Archies' "S.K.O.O.B.Y. D.O.O."
Peace Like A River
I wanted to open the album Brian Wilson-style with a little snippet of an old Presbyterian hymn that I used to sing in choir. I'm also kinda deliberately aping the a capella countriness of the Dillards on "Wheatstraw Suite," where they start with a lovely version of "I'll Fly Away," an equally reverent little hymn.
Feels Like Rain / The Melancholy Train Whistle Blows
The first half of this omnibus opener is "Feels Like Rain," which is a cross between the Monkees and the ever-present Dillards, sung in my very best twang. The little cascading "raindrops" in the chorus make me especially happy. Again: watch for an even better version on the forthcoming Autumn Leaves record. The second half is a song called "The Melancholy Train Whistle Blows." Its kind of a "Notorious Byrds Brothers" David Crosby-esque little thing. I've always loved "train songs" -- written a scad of 'em in my time even though I've ridden a total of one train. And I've always loved Crosby's cool droney modal tunes that broke into gorgeous country choruses. Go Cros.
Okay, this one is pure Nez -- Michael Nesmith has always been one of my very favorite songwriters, and I think he's never really given his due as a country rock pioneer -- some of the stuff he did on the first couple Monkees records is as Cosmic and American as anything Gram Parsons ever mustered. Kind of a silly lyric, but again, written in kind of the light-hearted song-storyin' favored by Mr. Wool Cap.
This song is about, to be very oblique, two girls who have always been incredibly important to me, in different ways at different times. Very oblique, eh? At the time I wrote this, one of them was in Los Angeles and one of them was in New York, and I missed them both -- and they happened to share a name, kind of, so I wrote a very Stones-circa-'66 madrigal ballad with harpsichord and mellotron strings for them. Michelle #1 takes vs. 1, and Michele #2 takes vs. 2, and the chorus covers 'em both. THEY know who they are.
Laurel Canyon Drive
I've always been obsessed with Laurel Canyon, as any Los Angeles-in-the-sixties fan oughta be. There's something so cool about the juxtaposition of this rustic setting and the hustle-and-bustle of West Hollywood, and I used to take comfort in thinking about it. This jazzy song rips off both Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" and, yes, another song by the Dillards which shall remain nameless. It also, as many songs on the album do, has a certain Crosbyness to it.
A cover of the amazing Carole King's "Spaceship Races," a surprisingly rocking tune found on her first solo album, "Writer." I figured: if the Monkees did Carole so well ("Pleasant Valley Sunday," which I think we can all agree is one of the finest moments in pop history) then why not me? You'll forgive me the fake horns -- I tried re-doing them with real ones and I actually liked the sort of muddy mass-horn-section-sounding sound of the synth. Weird.
My daughter's favorite song. Ironically: not one of mine.
Another Monkees-style tune -- you could slip this sucker onto "Headquarters" quite neatly and nobody'd ever notice any difference. That jangle-guitar riff up atop is one of my favorite things I've ever written.
What country album would be complete without a boozy, swingy, whiskey soaked song about a breakup? The real star of this song is the harmonies -- Mike in left channel and Diablo's Emmylou Harris-like soprano in right. And the word "ass" sung with deliberate emphasis always makes for a good laff.
Summer Sunshine Girl
Okay, this sucker is pure Bread -- by way of Glen Campbell if that makes any sense (it's those tuned-down vibrato licks during the riff! Jim Webb would be proud). You'll see this one on the Autumn Leaves record transformed into a Hollies-esque pop tune, but in its original form it was very much a Canyon Rock tune in its purest form. I think its my favorite song on the album, probably.
Waltz For Diablo
Pretty self-explanatory. Worth mentioning, however, that there was not at the time, nor has there ever been, an actual fireplace at the house -- it's called poetic license. That sort of bugged the song's subject somewhat, but, y'know, "by the glow of the ugly lamp in the living room" doesn't sound as cool.
Girl From Wyoming
This song is a sort of prescient tune about people changing, and about trying to get back to a beautiful time that's just a memory, but never being able to quite do it. It's based around a one-chord organ drone, with an awesome Roger McGuinn-ish backwards guitar solo, and listen all the way to the end, okay? There's kind of a special surprise there. Another one I've always been really proud of.
Before I wrote "Summer Sunshine Girl," I was kind of reaching for one more perfect pop tune that would complete the album. So I wrote this little ditty in tribute to Degrassi hottie Ellie Nash, played by the awesome Stacey Farber (yeah -- I watch Degrassi. Wanna make something of it?). It sounds a lot (too much!) like "The Girl That I Knew Somewhere," and the verse melody is ripped off WHOLESALE from a song called "Going Nowhere" by my Shatterproof compatriot Jay Hurley that appeared as a b-side on a single we put out. So he shares songwriting credit on this one, as its almost an exact lift.
Feel So Fine (S.K.O.O.B.Y.D.O.O.)
At one point just after the album's recording, I became obsessed with the music of the Archies. Rightly so -- the amazing Jeff Barry (whom Diablo just met -- jellus) penned for them an astonishing collection of songs that should be heralded as pop classics. This was their first single, if I'm not mistaken, and I've sort of morphed it into a neo-glam rocker that sounds halfway to Mud or Slade or something. I always intended to record an entire album, or at least EP, of Archies covers, but like most of my projects, I never really get around to it.
So there you go, folks. Enjoy. Trade amongst your friends.