Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Inspirational verse

I'm feelin' whatcha feelin'
No more hopin' and wishin'
I'm about to take my key and
Stick it in the ignition

Friday, January 25, 2008

Spank Rock - Fabriclive.33 (Fabric UK 2007)

Spank Rock are spotty. Their YoYoYoYoYo (Big Dada UK 2006) was, to me, far too one-note - and the note (sex) wore awfully thin over the course of an album. To paraphrase Simon Cowell during Idol auditions, they're not as clever as they think they are. Coming out of the B'more club scene, their take on hip-hop is guaranteed to be a hit with the hipster set, and just as guaranteed not to connect with the larger public. That's fine, but I'd hoped for more. On their addition to the Fabriclive series, they deliver.

Sure, there's plenty of nearly-driven-into-the-ground tracks on this mix ("The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight," Mylo's "Drop the Pressure," The Romantics' "Talking in Your Sleep," even Yes's "Owner of a Lonely Heart"), but trust me when I tell you that you've never heard the latter pair, in particular, in this way. Yes get chopped up liberally alongside, and sometimes with, Mylo, sliced'n'diced'n'julienned and spit back out as a sumptuous chopped salad loaded with ham and hard-boiled egg and cucumber and fresh romaine and spinach. Spank Rock's mix revels in unexpected pairings and surprising mixing: who else might think of dropping Rick Ross's "Hustlin'" verses into Simian Mobile Disco's "Hustler"? (Not to mention that they do it very, very well.)

"Hustlin'," by the way, shows up in the mix a full five tracks before it's listed, which is another of Spank Rock's tricks: songs enter and exit wherever they're needed, sometimes popping up long after you think they've vanished into the ether. This is a mix expertly stitched together, great for a dance party but just as fine for at-home listening, because it never fails to pique interest; this is an honest-to-God original mix. (Spank Rock's own crew of MCs also sprinkle the mix with their fair-to-middling raps which, while no great shakes, do serve to occasionally enliven the proceedings.) CSS, the Contours, Tangerine Dream, and Daft Punk all make appearances and do so naturally; they all belong in this world Spank Rock have assembled. This one's a keeper. A-

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oscarliciousness, 2008 edition

You know, you really can't call a year when films by the Coen brothers and P.T. Anderson each receive 8 nominations to be a poor one, nomination-wise. In many ways, especially near the top of the ticket, this is the least surprising batch of nods in some time, but it's also one of the best. I firmly, wholeheartedly believe that No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Michael Clayton are going to be fondly (or better) remembered 20 years down the road (though, sadly, it may be Clayton's destiny to be looked back upon as a superb genre film; it deserves better than its genre ghetto). (This is where I mention that I've not yet seen Juno nor Atonement.)

Actor: No complains, none. Haven't seen Elah but will never begrudge Tommy Lee Jones, who by most accounts does career work in it. The other four nominees (Clooney, Day-Lewis, Depp, and OMG first-timer Viggo Mortensen!) are all incredibly deserving; I would've put them in, had I been voting. Omissions? Maybe Sam Riley's incredible portrayal of Ian Curtis in Control, but he never had a chance, poor kid. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's Mathieu Almaric would've been a nice add as well, but who should've been left off? A very good year for lead (male) actors.

Actress: Screw the haters, Blanchett deserves her nod for the trainwreck that was Elizabeth: The Golden Age. The film was a mess, but Blanchett was her usual, can't-nobody-fuck-with-her brilliant self in her performance. (Also great? Samantha Morton, who deserved a supporting nod for her work in Control.) Direct line: Hepburn-Streep-Blanchett. She's that good. That said, Marion Cotilliard, in my estimation, deserves the award for her balls-out perf as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose - another instance of superb acting in a less-than-great film. (I think I gave it a B-. That sounds about right.) Haven't seen Christie, Linney, or Page's films, but I don't have trouble with their nods, especially Linney, who I tend to love every time out. That said, Wei Tang deserved a nomination for her astounding film debut in Ang Lee's very underrated Lust, Caution.

Supporting Actor: Sad that Travolta's Hairspray performance was overlooked (what impressed me most is the way he totally committed to the role - there was no winking at the audience, which he probably could've gotten away with), along with Paul Dano's work in There Will Be Blood (coming on the heels of his great, wordless work in Little Miss Sunshine, I wonder if he might be one of our next great actors). But Bardem (the closest thing to a lock there is this year) and Wilkinson (who would be the lock were it not for Bardem's performance-for-the-ages, possibly the most iconic screen villian since Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs) obviously should be here, and from what I've heard, so should Phillip Seymour Hoffman (love him). Casey Affleck I've no thoughts on (haven't seen his work), and without judging his performance or deservedness, Hal Holbrook clearly got the obligatory old guy nod here (there's always one: Alan Arkin, anyone?). I know that Universal was pushing Russell Crowe's American Gangster role here, which is silly; he should've been in lead (and deserved a nod there, too - great, great work). Robert Downey, Jr. should be here for Zodiac, and perhaps Mark Ruffalo, too.

Supporting Actress: I LOVE YOU CATE BLANCHETT. (And I'm v. pleased that Tilda Swinton's finally received her first nod, but really, this should be Blanchett-as-Dylan in a walk. If Amy Ryan's histrionics win, I will be pissed. Ruby Dee wasn't on screen nearly long enough for a nod, and I have no thoughts either way on the little girl from Atonement. As I said above, Morton should be here for Control, as should Zodiac's Chloe Sevigny.)

Director: Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is a great film, and a large portion of that credit should go to him. Though I haven't yet seen Juno, I'm still willing to dump Jason Reitman in favor of Lee. The question is who to dump in favor of Zodiac's David Fincher, who surpassed even his work on Fight Club here - what a singular, visionary (at times) director. I guess, with sadness and reservations, I'd leave out Clayton's Tony Gilroy, even though I love what he did with his directorial debut. (It's not right to do it this way, but I'd make the original screenplay award his consolation prize, which he deserves anyway.) Coens/P.T. Anderson/Diving Bell's Julian Schnabel? Master craftsmen doing career work.

Best Picture: Zodiac has in some ways stayed with me longer than any film of 2007. Lust, Caution deserves to be here, too. So dump Atonement and Juno and along with Blood, Clayton, and No Country, there's a helluva final five.

I'm not sure how brilliant I think Blood is, but it's certainly one for the ages, a film that will be studied and discussed 25 years down the road. More than he ever has - which is saying quite a bit - Anderson puts himself on the line for this one, with glorious results. This is audacious filmmaking like we don't see nearly enough of these days, especially in the studio system. Daniel Day-Lewis should (and likely will) win his second Oscar for his lead performance, but every single actor here does great work. The cinematography and editing are par excellence, and Jonny Greenwood's score (sadly and stupidly deemed ineligible by the Academy at the 11th hour for using too much "outside" music) is astonishing, on par with Bernard Hermann's incredibly effective work for Hitchcock or Nino Rota's iconic Godfather scores. It's utterly jaw-dropping and deserves every award that can be thrown at it. Blood isn't my favorite film of 2007 - that's still either No Country or the oh-so-underrated Sweeney Todd - but it might-just-might be the best, and it's certainly the ballsiest. (It gets an A from me.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Eating out

Restaurants I've recently eaten at and loved in greater Los Angeles:

-The Kitchen, Silver Lake: their chicken pot pie is sublime. US Southern cooking done unpretentiously for hipsters and friends.
-Pete's Cafe & Bar, Downtown: good burgers, good fries, good winelist, and open late late late.
-Spark Woodfire Grill, Studio City: lasagna done in an open-hearth oven? Oh hell yes.
-Senor Fish, Eagle Rock: hands-down the BEST fish tacos in the city. Their scallop taco is awe-inspiring.

Friday, January 18, 2008

2007: in review, + a few late-breakers

So firstly, here's my Idolator Pop Critics Poll ballot.

ALBUMS (descending points, please, 15 through 5)
1. Jay-Z, American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella)
2. Jermaine Dupri, Y’All Know What This Is... The Hits (Island Urban)
3. Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3 (mixtape)
4. Kanye West, Graduation (Roc-A-Fella)
5. Freemasons, Shakedown (Loaded UK)
6. Kanye West, Can’t Tell Me Nothing (The Official Mixtape Mixed by Plain Pat) (mixtape)
7. Marcus Intalex, Fabriclive.35 (Fabric UK)
8. nine inch nails, With Teeth (Nothing)
9. Reba McEntire, Reba Duets (MCA Nashville)
10. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand (Rounder)

TRACKS (you mean "Singles"? I'm a formalist, sorry)
1. Rich Boy featuring Polow Da Don, “Throw Some D’s” (Zone 4/Interscope)
2. Kanye West, “Stronger” (Roc-A-Fella)
3. R. Kelly featuring T.I. and T-Pain, “I’m A Flirt Remix” (Jive)
4. UGK featuring OutKast, “International Players Anthem (I Choose You)” (Jive)
5. Beyoncé & Shakira, “Beautiful Liar” (Music World/Sony Urban)
6. Keyshia Cole featuring Missy Elliott and Lil’ Kim, “Let It Go” (Imani/Geffen)
7. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (Doggystyle/Geffen)
8. CRS, “Us Placers” (no label)
9. De Souza featuring Shena, “Guilty” (Ultra)
10. Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Upgrade U” (Music World/Sony Urban)

REISSUES (i.e. Greatest Hits, kinda)
1. Defected Presents Best of Def Mix (Defected UK)
2. Forever Freestyle (Razor & Tie)
3. Bob Dylan, Dylan (3-CD version) (Columbia/Legacy)
4. The Kay-Gees, Master Plan: The Complete Recordings 1974-78 (Castle/Sanctuary)
5. Led Zeppelin, Mothership (Atlantic)

1. Lil' Wayne
2. Beyoncé
3. Radiohead
4. Kanye West
5. Carrie Underwood

My ballot for the Nashville Scene Country Music Critics Poll was due two weeks later; I don't have it handy, but can tell you that during that interim I got hit by an album that topped both the Reba and Plant/Krauss on my album list - damn you, Soto - and that's Miranda Lambert's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

She sings better than you think she does, she writes better than she's got any right to, and she's got attitude for days - but not in a one-note, ahem, redneck woman way. (Gretchen, what went wrong?) Just as adept with tender love songs as with threatening manifestos like opener "Gunpowder & Lead," Lambert sounds like the real deal. I'd avoided her for a while; to be honest, the fact that so many of my rockcrit compatriots who don't typically care for country music were drinking her kool-aid made me skittish. But damn if she doesn't have the talent and the guts to go as far as she wants (except into hitsville? Will country radio ever give her a top 10 single?).

Other late-breakers (if I spend time blurbing all of 'em it'll be another damn week before I post this):
-Radiohead's In Rainbows: surprisingly rich, textured rock from Thom and co. Nigel Goodrich again proves himself fairly invaluable to Britain's best band.
-Music from the Motion Picture I'm Not There: even the people I typically can't stand (Cat Power, come on down!) deliver great Dylan covers.

Had Keith Urban's Greatest Hits: 18 Kids been old enough, it would've made my reissues ballot. Garth Brooks' The Ultimate Hits should've shown up somewhere. Keyshia Cole's Just Like You, a/k/a the last album I reviewed for Stylus, came thisclose to my top 10 (and is the R&B album of the year). Kelly Clarkson's "Never Again" almost made my singles list, as did DJ Khaled's ridiculously great ghetto anthem "I'm So Hood" (his album We The Best should be no rights be anywhere near as good-to-great as it is, either).

Here's the rest of what I sent Idolator:

Basic demo info:
Name: Thomas Inskeep
Age: 37
Sex: M
Queer as Folk
Location: Los Angeles
Spent most of '07 writing for Stylus (RIP) and my personal blogs (notably ohmanchester.blogspot.com and rockmetonight.blogspot.com)

COMMENTS ON 2007 (Ed. Note: incomplete, but at least it's something.)
Go figure - another sub-par year for hip hop (what happened to T.I.? Was it just hubris?), yet you wouldn't necessarily know it looking at my lists. 5 of my top 6 albums are hip hop, and 6 of my top 8 singles (including the mostly-rapped "I'm A Flirt" and the mostly-sung "Sensual Seduction"), plus Missy rapping on Keyshia's single and Jigga on B's. The thing is, when it's ON (and, proverbially, poppin'), nothing's more capable of getting me off musically, of setting all my pleasure centers alight. I was born in 1970, so I've grown up with hip hop; Public Enemy winning '88's *ahem* other poll was a BIG deal for me, akin to some kind of takeover. (And don't misunderstand, Daydream Nation is also in my all-time top 10. But Nation of Millions means more.) And when it comes down to getting me off, nothing hit my G-spot like "Thrown Some D's" this year. I first heard it in January, probably on BET's 106th & Park (which has kinda become must-see for new urban music) and pretty immediately went nuts for it - I even bought Rich Boy's mediocre album (essential not only for "D's" but for, um, the remix of "D's," featuring Jim Jones, Murphy Lee, Nelly, the Game, and the first of series of killer verses this year from Andre 3000 - who's also a significant key to the greatness of UGK's "International Player's Anthem" [Pimp C RIP], though credit also has to go to Three 6 Mafia's superb production job on it). Polow da Don, who runs hot and cold for me but more often hot (cf. Ciara's "Promise," my #2 single of '06), flips a Switch sample like the pro he's become, drops it onto a clattery percussion track, and adds some unzipping synth squiggles, all to support what's likely the greatest rap Rich Boy will ever write.

Kanye's Daft Punk-jacking is genius, taking Busta's "Touch It" to its logical extreme. And it was just the tip of Graduation's iceberg, an album that sounds better with almost each listen. I'd originally dismissed "Barry Bonds" as a throwaway but find that I can't get "Here's another hit, Barry Bonds" outta my head. Like ever. I'm even willing to overlook one of Lil' Wayne's weaker verses of '07 (more on him in a minute). "Good Life" almost made my list, too - what a perfect celebration (and perfect use of T-Pain's talents - it's my favorite single of his this year, with DJ Khaled's "I'm So Hood" a very close second). As for Lil' Wayne? Man of the Year, no question. Almost every verse he dropped this year was off the chain, especially a handful of his freestyles on Da Drought 3. He can't stop recording, 'cause he won't stop, and thank God for that. He hasn't made a great studio album yet, but I've still got hope. And if he doesn't, there's always mixtapes.

It's only right, now.

It's high time I went public with it: I dig '80s KISS. Not all of their work, mind you, but I'm sick and tired of their '80s tracks getting trashed in favor of their '70s heyday. Yes, they were better in the '70s; they rocked harder in the '70s. That's undeniable. But there's plenty of fun to found in their '80s pop-metal years, when they were (gasp) following the pack rather than leading it. (Case in point: 1988's so-bad-it's-good "Let's Put the X in Sex" wants to be Aerosmith's "Rag Doll" so badly you can almost smell the desperation on the mixing board.)

"Lick It Up" is of course the title track from their first post-makeup album. It's a pretty good, solid rocker (no pop here, really) that crucially reminds us that "it ain't a crime to be good to yourself." 1984's "Heaven's on Fire" is great trash - I mean, come on now - best for it's "I'm gettin' closer, baby, hear me breathe," followed by the sounds of Paul Stanley loudly exhaling. That's camp at its inadvertent best. "Tears Are Falling," from 1985's crap Asylum (even Paul and Gene think so, apparently), is a marvel, however. Written solely by Paul, this is an extremely well-crafted pop-metal nugget featuring strong playing and, on the chorus, fine vocal harmonies. Lyrically it's a bit messy, but then again it is a Paul Stanley composition, and lyrics haven't traditionally been, shall we say, his strongest suit.

Those are really the three totems (four, if you include the kinda-hilarious "X in Sex": "Then I saw those black lace panties and I knew that it was you," Paul does his damndest to sell), so perhaps saying "I dig '80s KISS" is a bit of overstatement. I dig some of their big videos/singles from the years after they took off the makeup - is that fairer/more clear?

Let me interject something, just so it's clear: you do NOT need a copy of KISS's last top 10 hit, 1989's "Forever" (co-written by Michael Bolton!) in your life. You just don't. To put a finer point on it: it's a KISS ballad that's not titled "Beth." If that doesn't help you, then I just can't help.

1988's Smashes, Thrashes & Hits conveniently collects the aforementioned quartet of t(h)rashy goodness alongside their biggest '70s singles (you know which ones) and ties them up in one easy package. Unless you're a big fan, apart from one of the good-to-great live records (I'll vouch for Alive II), it's basically all the KISS you need. And you do need some: there's always a time and place for "Love Gun." Or "Tears Are Falling."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

John Lennon - "Nobody Told Me" (Milk and Honey, Polydor 1984)

Inskeep: Is "Nobody Told Me" one of the hookiest things Lennon ever wrote, or is it just cos I was 13 when it was a hit?

Soto: Lennon's songs always had hooks, but "Nobody Told Me" sounds great because it's not as familiar (yes, Top Five hit, blah blah, but I never hear it) and his singing has grit and fire; and, let's face it, John had the most soulful of the Beatles voices.

Inskeep: Amen to all that. My favorite moment is at 3:14 (in the above video), the last thing Lennon sings: "Most peculiar, Mama - whoa!" It's the ease with which he tossed that kind of sly aside off that's a big part of what made him so great for me. I mean, yeah, great songwriter etc., though as Alf points out, he was also a great singer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Madonna - "Till Death Do Us Part" (Like A Prayer, Sire 1989)

You can diss the lyrical content all you want (some find it clumsy, I admire its heart if nothing else), but what's really striking about this song almost 20 years on is its sound: the jittery, overly caffeinated keyboard arpeggios, the sourly sweet guitar "solo" on the quasi-bridge, and one of M's more assured vocals (at the time). It's always been one of my favorites of her album tracks; I wonder if it could've been a hit, given how much of a superstar she was at the time.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Weekend inspiration

I went to a party last Saturday night
I didn't get laid, I got in a fight
It ain't no big thing

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Los Lobos - "Billy 1" (Music from the Motion Picture I'm Not There, Sony Music Soundtrax 2007)

Anyone else notice how much this sounds like Garth Brooks's "Two Pina Coladas"? (I'm particularly lookin' at you.) I mean, wow. I noticed it when it played during the film, but it's even more profound on headphones.

Monday, January 07, 2008


I got my mojo back, in case you were wondering.

Tina Turner - "One of the Living" (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Motion Picture Soundtrack, Capitol 1985)

Quite possibly - yeah, I'm gonna go there - my favorite Tina Turner single ever. Tough and aggressive (as befitting her character in the film, Aunty Entity) in a way she really hasn't revisited, this is Tina in full-on ROCK GODDESS mode - hell, check the way she stalks around with that Strat, yes Mama! Lyrically this slice of apocalyptica could damned near be a Trent Reznor composition (but it's actually Holly Knight!). Musically it thrusts and leers. This is perfect throwaway trash, and as an added bonus, here's the very hard to find 12" version (which Soto rightly points out cribs its "echoey" synth drums from Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You"). You're welcome.

Desert Island Discs (#4 in a series)

This was my #2 album of 2006, and at this point might-just-might be my favorite album of the decade. Journey Into Paradise... The Larry Levan Story isn't a comp of Levan's greatest remixes (still need one of those, please), or of his absolute most monster tracks - what it is, is a sampling of what made Levan the legend he's become (and, really, was in his time). It's a collection of some of his fiercest mixes (such as his Garage Version of Inner Life's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," for which the word "epic" was invented) and favorite tracks to play at the Paradise Garage, from Phreek's "Weekend" to Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime." They're all in one place, all superbly remastered, and provide a delirious, fascinating, joyous snapshot of what made Levan who he was. The opening of Change's "Paradise," which opens disc one, is enough to give me chills and thrills - that bassline, whomp! Excellently sequenced and put together with lots of obvious love, this may well be the definitive collection of late '70s/early '80s club music.

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