The Best Albums of 2017

First, a few words about Arcade Fire.

I never thought the day would come that I would be ashamed to like this band. 2017 in music proved that possibly only Beyoncé is sacred. Anything that you liked yesterday could just as well be fodder for infinite Internet memes today and tomorrow. If you’re not saying or doing something important right now, do you even still matter? Just ask Taylor Swift.

With their fifth album “Everything Now,” Arcade Fire sought to satirize and critique that Internet culture. And where Father John Misty succeeded and generated the right kind of controversy, Arcade Fire’s album rollout was hindered by a marketing campaign in which the band issued phony reviews and literal fake news. At one point they halted the sale of “Everything Now” fidget spinners because they had their own fidget spinners to sell. And every Internet gimmick that in one artist’s hand would be genius in another would be U2 dumping “Songs of Innocence” on your iPhone.

Arcade Fire may have been good once, but they’re now in the same cultural doghouse as U2, Coldplay and even Nickelback, undisputed fair game for whatever labels and jokes you want to assign. I don’t know whether Arcade Fire was ever “cool.” Hipsters certainly do not like them anymore. But “Everything Now” was an excuse for all the haters to come out of the woodwork. “This band has been bad since “The Suburbs!” And they’ve always been overrated!”

The problem is that the music itself didn’t rise above the online reaction and marketing rollout. “Everything Now” is their worst album, and on the whole, it’s not especially good. The lethargic reggae beat of “Chemistry,” the arrhythmia that is “Peter Pan,” the generic punk and country of both “Infinite Content” tracks: this is the worst stretch this band has ever recorded. And yet as I’ve sat with this album more, it’s grown on me. Songs like “Put Your Money On Me” and “We Don’t Deserve Love” are dreamy earworms that linger in your mind, but they’re not the soaring rock anthems that have traditionally served as Arcade Fire album finales. The title track and “Creature Comfort” are two of the best singles of the year, the first an upbeat indie dance jingle with melancholy lyrics about media saturation, and the second a violent track with a club beat and a message about suicide.

So it pains me when I have to pretend as though I’m wrong to call Arcade Fire my favorite band, as though they belong to some other cultural entity that isn’t woke to what’s actually good. Arcade Fire were great before, and they can be great again, but it doesn’t mean they’re worth ignoring now.

As for what I most enjoyed in music this year, I’m not a good enough judge of what’s fashionable to know whether any or all of these artists are actually cool or important, but I refuse to be ashamed about any of them. These are the Best Albums of 2017.  Continue reading “The Best Albums of 2017”

2014 Oscars: The Most Popular (and Likely) Upsets

We’ve made all the predictions, but what would be real surprise this Oscar Sunday? Here are some likely upsets.

I’ve made my Oscar picks, and hopefully so have you, but anyone who has ever done this before knows that Oscar night ends up with pitiful looking ballots and people shouting at the TV (how in the world did that win?). So it actually makes sense to bet against the house in some occasions  and picking with your heart rather than your head is always allowed. So here are some last minute Oscar upsets to make to your ballot that a strong minority would both love to see happen and actually might.

Leonardo DiCaprio over Matthew McConaughey

People love Matthew McConaughey, but as I alluded to in this gallery, people really love Leonardo DiCaprio. A win for McConaughey is seen as justified, but only to commemorate a hot streak; it’s not something that’s obscenely long overdue as though an Oscar was the embodiment of Leo’s kids in “Inception” and he’ll never ever get to see their faces unless he’s caught in his own perpetual ambiguous dream world existence. 

Leo will win if the Academy convinces itself that somehow Leo gave the biggest, most physical and grueling performance of the year and his career by flailing like a fish out of water… a fish that has just done a ton of quaaludes and is trying to get into a Lambo. And yes, this will be seen as even more physical than McConaughey losing 40 pounds, Christian Bale gaining 40, Chiwetel Ejiofor spending 2+ hours getting whipped and hung and Bruce Dern being ancient.

Amy Adams over Cate Blanchett

I think everyone agrees that Cate Blanchett gives the best female performance of the year, but is anyone rooting for her? Is anyone rooting for anyone in this category?

Yes! It’s Amy Adams of course! She’s the only one in this bunch who doesn’t have an Oscar. But not only that, of all living actresses, only Glenn Close has more nominations and no wins than her (six to Adams’ five). Her split personality work in “American Hustle” is as complex as the movie itself, and her surprise nomination is evidence the Academy is already behind her and the movie. Continue reading “2014 Oscars: The Most Popular (and Likely) Upsets”

The Best Albums of 2013

Late last January I started working a full time job. I drive a half hour to and back from work each day, I get home late, some nights I go out and others I stay in and try and do nothing at all.

That schedule often does not include watching a movie each night. Suffice it to say, keeping pace with my new and old movie watching was a struggle this year, be it staying up late nights or making the long hike downtown to see obscure art films. Being a cinephile can be hard.

Being a music buff however can be easy. Those drives and those slow moments at work amount to a lot of hours, and the ability to access just about any music has never been easier. I DID listen to music every day this year, and as a result the process of writing my year end Top 10 list was as intensive as I know my upcoming film list will be.

The additional beauty about music is that even in a bad year, there is SO MUCH of it to discover. Music doesn’t operate in the bullshit summer and winter release cycles that film does, so there is not only an album worth streaming each and every week but likely one of these same bands coming through town on a cheap, $20 ticket. Throw in a six buck beer and you have yourself an evening.

2013 was thankfully a great year for music. Those who avoided the controversy of Kanye and Miley and Daft Punk and Arcade Fire were still treated to a plethora of debuts, dream reunions and follow-ups that those in the film and TV industries would relish.

No one is writing think pieces declaring music in a golden age, but no one is declaring it dying either (except maybe David Byrne).

So while I’m still not a music writer, I’m no longer a film guy who dabbles in rock. Music is now my other “thing,” and despite how populist, rockist or in poor critical taste my list turns out, I look forward to doing this every year.

Click through to browse the gallery and read each blurb Continue reading “The Best Albums of 2013”

Arcade Fire Sprawl 2 Interactive Music Video

Arcade Fire released the music video of their 2010 song “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” yesterday, and as I consider putting together a best music videos of the year list, this video unlike anything I’ve ever seen, or better yet experienced, just jumped to the top of my list.

It’s an interactive web based music video directed by Vincent Morisset (he also directed this year’s “Inni,” an art house concert film) in which the viewer makes the video come alive by dancing or moving in front of a web cam, and it can be found at www.sprawl2.com. It’s constructed using still frames and HTML such that as the user moves faster or slower to the song, the characters on screen move accordingly in their patterned choreography.

“For a long time, I’ve been wanting to do an interactive project without any interface. Something really primitive and fun. A web experience free of clicks or buttons,” Morisset said on his website. “The idea is to affect the pacing of the film with your movements. You are invited to dance in front of your webcam. There is no specific rules, no complicated “minority report” tricks. Just an invitation to move your arms or your butt on the music. The quicker you move, the faster the frames play. You slow down, the characters in the video slow down. You freeze and the video starts to loop on the beat, creating a new choreography in the choreography.” Continue reading “Arcade Fire Sprawl 2 Interactive Music Video”