Sunday, March 22, 2009

Five Albums That Shaped Me

So, I saw this on Facebook, and I figured it was worth talking about here rather than being another nuisance on that increasingly cluttered site.

Really, I'm approaching this as albums that made me rethink how I approach and interact with music. I am cherry-picking here, obviously. I had a lot of shortcomings with regards to taste in high school, so I'm self-editing my own history. But in reality, these albums truly do ring true with a sort of renaissance of discovery during my life, and that not-so-surprisingly coincides with my college years.

While writing this, I quickly discovered that it also happened to be incredibly chronological. This was in no way intentional, but it's interesting how it worked out like that. I guess it's the whole notion of recency vs. relevance. But the older albums have obviously had more staying power. On the whole, these albums were watershed moments that immediately redefined how I viewed music.

5. The Mars Volta - De-loused in the Comatorium
During my freshman year of college, my friend Stephan, in a hazy living room, would play this album ad nauseum. I never knew what Cedric was saying, but the music was so engaging, transporting all of us to a broken down landscape of exoskeleton street cars or whatever he was talking about. It was my first foray into music I had never heard of, as college, and life still today, served as a kiosk for introducing me to unknown music. It was, however, the last album of theirs that I would truly like, but that album still rings of autumn 2003.

4. Sigur Ros - Ágætis Byrjun
After a free screening of The Life Aquatic at the Midtown Art Cinema, I recall being taken aback by the beauty of one of the songs in the film, "that song by that Swedish band" I think I labeled it. Eventually, Katie nudged me towards this album, which became the go-to album for listening to late into the night. I would just sit at my computer, turn the speakers up, and let "Svefn-g-englar" completely envelope and swallow me whole. It was, and still is, wonderful.

3. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
This was the first 'indie' album I ever had, introduced by my friend Amber, the first cool film student I became friends with. She was, and still is I'm sure, obsessed with this band and Kevin Drew's dreaminess. For me, it was an album that possessed a lot of energy that immediately resonated with me, even if I wasn't fully sure why. The culminating moment occurred when one spring break we all danced to "Anthem for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl." And then Katie and I saw them live, which just solidified the level of transcendence they enjoyed. "Lover's Spit" is another favorite, so bold and naked and primitive. "I'd like it all that way"

2. Mastodon - Blood Mountain
I never thought I would listen to music with a bunch of screaming in it, but that's kind of what happened. I'm pretty sure Wesley introduced me to Mastodon while we were living together. Then, this album came out, and I distinctly remember listening to it on my iPod, walking through Midtown, when I realized that I fucking loved every second of it. The screaming was not just some indicator of genre or ploy for manipulating the listener; it was an asset being utilized, a layer of music on top of everything else, augmenting the emotion that exists in their writing and exposing it. But mostly, their music just sounds really fucking cool, and I am super proud that they're from Atlanta. And I totally met the guitarist at Kroger.

1. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
I think I have Julian to thank for this one. I honestly thought, before writing this post, that this album came out in 2006, but I guess that's just how memory plays with us. This album feels like it's been with me for a lot longer than a mere early 2007 release, and I think that can be attributed to the fact that it basically provides the soundtrack to so many of my memories of East Atlanta and the Blake house. The incredible pop sensibilities mixed with the powerful storytelling (the semi-coherent kind lacking from their latest, but anyway) was something that clicked with me right away. I understood exactly what Barnes and co. were doing with this, and every facet works. Every transition, juxtaposition, whim, and contradiction feels perfectly aligned here. Not to mention that a lot of what he goes through over the course of the album rang true with a lot of how I felt. I'd never really connected with a musician through what they were exactly trying to say. That's probably why Weird Al spoke to me more than anything else growing up.

Almost made it: Mogwai - Mr. Beast/Rock Action; Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold, Dead Place; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah self-titled; The National - Boxer; M83 - Saturdays=Youth; and anything by The New Pornographers.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Actually doing

Had some incredible epiphanies tonight. Most people would rather strive towards a goal than actually get there. Wanting to do happens more than actually doing. In Paul Thomas Anderson's words, we're all too concerned with building the boat when we could just be building the boat. I think in a way people set themselves up to constantly be headed towards their goal instead of actually achieving it. They don't want people to tell them how good they are, they just want to dream about that (maybe because dreaming can last longer). It's sort of what the American dream is founded, the idea, the notion, that you could get to the top. What happens when we get to the top? We could be told we're great or that we suck, and we'll fall right back down. We cushion ourselves from the acme of success, we're always struggling.

I hope the same sense of profundity sticks with me. I can't just write this off in some practical way.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Imaginary Stimulus

So, I've been trying to get into the habit of writing this year, and it hasn't happened yet. I haven't been good about setting aside time everyday, like Anne Lemott tells us, or even Martin Amis. I've gotten some time freed up now, but it seems to go to other endeavors (like blogging. Pfft, if only I were that diligent). I've been carrying a notebook, and that does help. I get a few funny jokes in there. I have thought of a few good ideas but none in solitude.

Which makes me wonder. Most of the good jokes/ideas I've ever come up with are in the presence of someone, be it during conversation and joking around or being inspired suddenly by a combination of words that set your mind a-wondering. When I wrote by myself in college, weed often played a role in getting my mind wandering and thinking. But then again, as Julian and Dr. Boozer could tell you, my screenplay sophomore year sucked horribly. I think what I take away from the experience is not that my ideas were so bad, but I just need to practice the craft itself.

The structure of school definitely helped. Being able to boast that I wrote 60 pages of a screenplay is one thing; reading it is another. The idea of turning in assignments, being forced to create, for better or worse, at least got me writing. Nabil and I came up with the idea of pitching each other ideas, and that in itself was a great exercise. Do we want to write any of those ideas? Not necessarily, but it's getting those areas of the brain lit up (if we ever had scans, I'm sure there would be some blah blah blah going on).

But there's a lesson in there. Discipline, practice, honing one's abilities. Having been good at school, you get used to being good at everything the first time around, because you can fake your way through the motions of a lot of things. Film papers are like this. You read one article, you can really wrap your head around the diction and lingo and write like a critic. I've been wanting to read screenplays of films I've admired for a while, but the problem is most of them are shooting scripts, lacking the rough quality of a piece of literature and containing camera movements. But then again, I've never bothered to read those either, so my objections are pointless.

Katie and I, along with some of her lovely family, are going to the beach on Thursday. I'm going to set aside some time (hopefully) and flesh out one idea I've had for a while now. And nothing too intensive, just thinking about some characters and coming up with some story ideas. But this brings me back to my original point: what can I really come up with on my own? I'm still trying to figure all of that out. I guess it's the fear of not having an immediate audience to judge whether your idea is good or not. When talking with friends, you can sense that approval, and you have the confidence to move forward with that idea. On your own, that's another story.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Top Ten Films of 2008

1. Revolutionary Road - What a powerful film. Maybe it's because I'm young, recently married, and thinking about my own future that this film was so painful for me. Kate cements herself as possibly the best actress working, and Leo finally gets a role that impressed me. I mean, he's coming off the screen at certain points, it's incredible to watch. Sam Mendes has crafted some transcendent cinema.

2. The Wrestler - This is Darren Aronofsky. There's been plenty said about how this film is a complete change of pace for him, and I think it's wonderful to see that behind all of his incredible ambition, he's got that passion and talent for, yes, a wrestling movie. I mean, what seemed at first like a joke (going from The Fountain to a wrestling picture), now he's gotten his actor nominated and he's even fighting to get wrestlers SAG protection. I love how small, bare, and unpretentious this film is.

3. Tropic Thunder - I never ever would've thought that such a big summer comedy would make it on here, but I was really surprised. Not only is it hilarious, but it's a good film too! Robert Downey Jr. is a fucking genius, despite his idiotic opinions about Iron Man and The Dark Knight, but whatever. It's such a wonderful satire, this movie was the stupid kind of funny without being stupid.

4. The Dark Knight - Duh, this was just awesome.

5. Pineapple Express - Much like Tropic Thunder, this was another comedy that I didn't think I would love so much. It's a stoner comedy without being stupid. Another film in which a director, David Gordon Green, applies his talent to something completely different, and pulls it off wonderfully. The escalating absurd action here is done so well.

6. Let the Right One In - Best vampire movie ever. It's scary and brutal and raw, which are all magnified by a billion because it's about children.

7. Speed Racer - Yeah, that's right. This movie was so much fun and visually amazing. The critics just jumped on the bandwagon. The Wachowskis really innovate here with really cool fight scenes and badass races.

8. Doubt - Yeah, this was good too. The acting's great, I'm not crazy about it. But it was good. If it were a better year, this probably wouldn't be here.

9. Synecdoche, NY - I've thought about this film a lot since seeing it, but I still think it was a bit of a miss for Kaufman as far as directing goes. The ideas behind the film are compelling, and it's really funny in spots.

10. Loaded Guns: The Movie
- Um, hell yeah this is here. If you made a movie, wouldn't you put in your own top ten? This is way funnier than any other bullshit that came out this year and way more interesting that Benjamin Button or whatever other crap got nominated. I stand by this film.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Academy Award nominees

I cannot believe how boring and worthless the Academy Award nominees are this year. I mean, normally it's not without its share of awful choices, and I haven't seen The Reader or Frost/Nixon, but it seems like they were especially negligent in their decision-making this time around. Revolutionary Road (which I will write about at length soon) got some attention at the Golden Globes, which normally fails at generally any standard of taste, and here it's totally snubbed except for one category - Best Supporting Actor. This is the one category that actually makes sense and brings attention to some amazing roles.

Josh Brolin in Milk really stole the fucking show, and Michael Shannon is incredible in Revolutionary Road. I think it's goofy but awesome that Robert Downey Jr. got nominated, because he was so good playing the multiple roles in Tropic Thunder. It's funny because he's playing the Australian actor who brings weight to the movie in the movie, but Downey actually does anchor the picture with his talent and elevates it beyond what could be just watching someone do a goofy impersonation (e.g. Tom Cruise).

If the rest of the nominees had been like this one category, we'd have an interesting year. But we don't, and I'm not going to watch 3-4 hours of Benjamin goddamned Button clips.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I have a goal for this year

(Edit: Fantastic Fest would be amazing, too. I knew I was forgetting another Austin festival. Much cheaper than SXSW.)

I would love to go to a film festival. Preferably SXSW, which would also fulfill visiting Austin this year. I just realized Sundance started and I had totally thought about going this time last year. SXSW would be great.

If I had five cities to go to this year, they'd be:

Washington, D.C.
San Fransisco
(New York, again)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's in store

2009 is a very vague year. New president, yeah, of course. 2007 was the year of graduation, 2008 was the year of getting married. This year is blank and unwritten. It's a year without expectation, that's going to carve itself into whatever it is and be defined by that. Promise, yeah, but not the scary kind. When...

Sorry, just had an awkward conversation with a coworker. I was in a good headspace, but I guess he wasn't ready for candor and a tinge of mania. Anyway.

When you have a bit of motivation, I guess you just go and see what you can do.

I noticed I did better reading than keeping up with music last year, and even better than I did with movies (which I'm still catching up on). I feel like I'm on course to get those three balanced, which'd be grand. I don't think we ever stop being students, which is pretty obvious. For me, all of this is about enrichment. I don't want to go back to school, because the discovering is the fun part. Going out and feeling it out. Your friends are your teachers, introducing you to something new and explaining it. And teaching yourself is a lot of fun, too.

2009 has an air of freedom to it; we can really do whatever we want. Things feel new. I'm about to finish Money by Martin Amis. I'll finish it on the bus ride home. It definitely swirved and avoided where I thought it was going. Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion has that new feeling to it. And these shootings, yeah, they're new territory as well.