Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Advance Review - The Shins: Wincing the Night Away

The Shins are back...or I should say, they will be back when the new album, "Wincing the Night Away" hits stores on January 23rd.

The Shins captured everyone's heart in 2004 by virtue of Natalie Portman saying, "You gotta hear this one song, it'll change your life, I swear," in Zach Braff's film Garden State. The perfect placement of Shins tracks in key portions of this film inspired many new fans to check out the band's 2003 album, "Chutes too Narrow."

Following a rigorous touring schedule with an elongated break for writing and recording the new record, The Shins latest album will come 39 months after the release of "Chutes."

"Wincing" was leaked to the internet this past weekend, and this tech savvy reporter/Shins fan quickly obtained the illegal files for early review purposes. (It's not stealing if you intend to buy the album on release day, is it? Let's see if good intentions hold up.)

In regard to sound, this album is far more diverse than Chutes or the previous full-length "Oh! Inverted World" which relied fairly heavily on vocal driven tracks that drew comparisons to Coldplay (what?) from such reputable mags as Rolling Stone and Spin. "Wincing" is more diverse in that it allows the complex instrumentation to drive songs forward and allows the voice of lead Shin James Mercer to fill in the gaps.

For any Shins fan, this record will more than satiate a new album desire, and it avoids any of the third album (though they've recorded several EPs and an album under the name Flake Music prior to becoming The Shins) pitfalls, such as falling into a rut or dismantling
completely in an effort to "stay fresh."

Key Tracks: Sleeping Lessons (listen), Sea Legs

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (Though the album does have Top 5-2007 possibility, unless they rush the release after the leak, then 2006)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Top 5 Soundtracks

Following through on last week's post, I thought I might suggest a Top 5 Soundtracks. This list is not based on their integration into the film (which is of course key in the initial evaluation of a soundtrack), but rather on their continued function as collections of great songs:

5. Philadelphia

Although the Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young tracks alone makes this a worthy album for regular rotation, the remaining cuts flow perfectly from one to the other to form a great evening-at-home soundtrack.

4. Pulp Fiction

A number of Tarrantino soundtracks contend for placement on this list. Pulp Fiction stands out not just for its cultural impact but also its breadth in terms of genre and era, which can be contrasted with the more stickly 70's material of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Jackie Brown."

3. Saturday Night Fever

You might hate disco, but if you want some in your rotation (even if for strictly historical reasons), here is the one-stop shop for all your disco needs. Of course, the dancers among us have further reason to enjoy a little Fever.

2. Forrest Gump

There is no album out there that better tells the story of rock music from its beginnings in Elvis to its fragmentation in the early 80's. Although The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are conspicuously absent (for copywrite reasons no less), in some way it is better that the general movement of the periods is not overshadowed by its genre- and period-busting giants. Note that "Dazed and Confused" and "Almost Famous" are great introductions to classic rock, but are too narrowly 70's in content to compete with the narrative breadth of Forrest Gump.

1. Trainspotting

Trainspotting not only enshrines the best of Brit Pop during its heydey, it also includes selections from earlier artists with even wider influence such as Lou Reed, New Order, and Iggy Pop. More importantly, its just an excellent collection of songs compiled in the perfect order for a late night drive.

Note: I have excluded from this list soundtracks to Concert Films, as these are more approriately categorized as Live Albums. I have also left out the Single-Artist Soundtrack, where one artist supplies original music for the entire soundtrack. This sub-category is deserving of its own list. But since I may never get to it, I will mention Tom Petty's "She's the One" and Aimee Mann's "Magnolia" as conteders for placement on this list.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Thank You for Singing

First, please ignore the silly "Warning" label on this product and buy it...or at least rent it.

Second, this post really IS about music.

As I watched this film I was interested in the story, I laughed at the comedy (Adam Brody brings "Seth Cohen" to the big screen with hilarious results), I smirked at the satire, and I was entranced by the acting (save for the vapid Katie Holmes) -- BUT -- It was the soundtrack that did me in.

There are things that a soundtrack should do -- it should be able to go unnoticed for 85 minutes of a 90 minute film and make emphatic statements in the five minutes it is noticed -- but most importantly a soundtrack should punctuate the sentence of the film. The "Thank You for Smoking" soundtrack does all of the above with style.

If you have had the opportunity to see this film, you will understand. Anyone who recognizes one song from this film without google is a musical Rainman (definitely, definitely Patsy Cline...Three...Three Cigarettes in an, an Ashtray) -- but look at the tracklist from the CD. Not only do all but three of the titles refer to smoking or cigarettes, but these songs invoke the memory of a time when the world held an entirely different view of cigarettes. This is the job of our protagonist (Aaron Eckhart) -- to bring us back to that feeling. If only big tobacco could pipe (unintentional pun, I assure you) The Mills Brothers "Smoke Rings" into every convenience store and magazine stand, we'd all be smoking right now.

Thank you Rolfe Kent and Jason Reitman for this lesson in score and sountrack...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

From the Wall Safe: Minus the Bear - "Menos el Oso"

This album was released in August of 2005, over a year ago, but I'm dusting off the disc and giving it a fresh review.

Actually, Minus the Bear is in the "new to me" category -- they're one of those bands that you say, "I've heard OF them" so as to not look completely dweebish while speaking with a fellow rock snob. For me, this album came as a result of a foiled attempt at free eMusic downloads that locked me into a 40 download with $9.99 fee, I followed some RIYL links and ended up listening to one track online..."Good enough for a cheap download," I thought.

Then I imported into iTunes, burned a CD and plunked it in the car on my way to the beach. The first track "The Game Needed Me" (listen) sounded so different from anything I had heard...

Once I got over the initial thrill of listening to something different -- I ran the checklist. Music - solid, lyrics - amusing (and not trite), voice - style AND sincerity, and something I'm always secretly hoping to hear - a little bit of yelling.

I think I'm in love.

Every time the CD would run through I'd reach for the visor CD holder and think..."nah, one more time through." It's been a month...

Here is a sampling of the lyrics that cause either an ironic chuckle or conjure an unmistakable image:

  • "Would you ever miss your desk's caress?"
  • "The wind on the boat's deck is a cold hand on the neck."
  • "That night we laid on the floor of the desert, but I could barely sleep, I had this dream, there was a man in a black car, with a man in the backseat, and I woke up in a cold sweat with her lying next to me."
  • "I drive too fast at night, because accidents happen to other men and not me."
I just realized that I've written all of this and not given the reader much of an indication as to what they should expect to hear. I guess this sounds like the superior offspring of a loveless marriage between papa The Appleseed Cast and mama Fugazi...but the kid really looks an awful lot like uncle Rush (if you know what I'm sayin').

Click the listen link and enjoy...my new favorite band.

RIYL: My Morning Jacket (read - Band of Horses), The Mars Volta, Broken Social Scene...etc