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Monday, Dec 10, 2007

Throw together some top-shelf bluegrass, some cornball humor, and some cooking tips. Stir in praise of Martha White’s lip-smacking plate of biscuits. Add the general store and log cabin backdrops. And for a bit of spice, include a dash of the fact that the Nashville address they display for recipe requests doesn’t even include a zip code. Then let the music heat things up. It all makes for a delicious set of shows.  As the announcer says, “Goodness gracious, it’s good!”


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Monday, Dec 10, 2007

Liberian drums, soca and dancehall rhythms from Jamaica, Bollywood disco, and even Baltimore club beats: it’s a new sonic world. M.I.A. boasts repping the “World Town”, which mainly stems from her time spent in Liberia, and Diplo’s work with the Australian Aboriginal kids for his Heaps Decent project. By combing the world for material but staying true to what interests her of its own accord, M.I.A. has managed to create another LP full of innovative, endlessly pleasurable songs.


M.I.A. - Jimmy



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Monday, Dec 10, 2007

I used to make the mistake of thinking that people with a small record collection had no particular taste in music. I’d assume that they just didn’t care about music or else they would be going about assembling an encyclopedic collection. If they knew how much good music was out there, they would know they should have a lot more. Now of course, this is hardly indicative. Anybody can borrow a hard drive from someone else and amass instantaneously a music collection that would dwarf anything even the most astute record collector would have had circa 1996. 


In the old days, a small collection seemed to suggest indifference, as though the discs in the collection were just so much flotsam and jetsam that drifted into their possession—random birthday gifts and impulse buys and the like. And sometimes that is the case. I often forget that not everyone is afflicted with the anxiety of a collector—the secret egoistic suspicion that if something is not in your possession, it might somehow cease to exist or worse, reveal a weakness, a vulnerability in your base of knowledge. They don’t have the peculiar sense of responsibility of needing to have anything you could possibly think to play for someone on hand and ready. Instead they are content to take music as they find it, trusting in the many DJs out there to supply something reasonably entertaining when music is desired, which for a substantial number of people, I’ve discovered to my absolute shock, is not particularly often.


But other people with spartan music collections are not indifferent; they are just operating with a much more stringent filter, working with assumptions much different than the ones I usually have about music. I’m typically guided by curiosity, and since I am listening to music almost all the time, I can make the time to hear anything, no matter how annoying or uninspired, just to know what it’s about. Part of this is to maintain enough familiarity with what is out there to continue to pass as a credible music snob, along with the sheer pleasure of simply knowing things, regardless what it is. But part of this is also indifference, not holding the music you’re hearing to any standard. Falling prey to the sort of consumerist thinking I often complain about, I find I prefer hearing something new to something good. I want to consume novelty rather than appreciate music.


So it often seems like I have no particular taste in music at all, as I will listen to anything, and what comes up on the shuffle of my iTunes gives no indication of the music that I actually think is best. Some find this incomprehensible—why not listen only to the music that you really are into? They are confounded at the idea of spending any time listening to something patently awful or second rate and can’t countenance it. Their collections, a few albums in heavy rotation, explain a lot about their taste, which is revealed to be distinct and well-formed. Meanwhile I maintain a protective distance from anything so definite, always hiding my true feelings behind a mask of comprehensiveness.


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Monday, Dec 10, 2007

Hollywood is obsessed with the epic. They can’t get enough of the ‘bigger is better’ mindset when it comes to moviemaking. At one time, a $100 million budget seemed unthinkable, then condemnable. Now it’s near the low end, especially in light of $200 to $300 million mainstream monoliths. Of course, with such an outlay of cash, all avenues of financial recoup need to be explored - and that includes the inevitable soundtrack/orchestral score release. Be it the work of the actual composer, or a selection of songs provided by name rock bands, a blockbuster film or franchise almost always mandates as many merchandisable paradigms as possible. In this latest installment of SE&L’s Surround Sound, we will look at how Michael Bay, the studio behind the Saw series, and New Line’s continuing obsession with a certain celebrated hobbit, continue to provide CD shelves with an endless stream of tie-in fare. Some is good. Some is grand. And others represent the lower depths of movie music marketing. 


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - The Complete Recordings [rating: 9]


In the realm of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classics, there is no such thing as ‘enough’. Everything involved in the billion dollar earning trilogy - the settings, the effects, the films themselves - move beyond the scope of normal cinema to turn into a universe all their own. As a result, production house New Line has found as many ways as possible - with and without the auteur’s input - to continue the seemingly constant revenue streams. In this case, we have the third in a continuing CD series hoping to bring every note Howard Shore composed for the films to soundtrack lovers everywhere. The Complete Recordings for Fellowship of the Ring came out two years ago, and Two Towers shortly thereafter. Now, it’s the Oscar winning installments turn to shine, and as with anything associated with Jackson, Tolkien, and the famed film franchise, it represents the best the specific medium has to offer.


Spread out over four discs (with a fifth DVD-Audio presentation offering Advanced Resolution Surround, Advanced Resolution Stereo, Dolby Digital Surround and Stereo), we get 53 separate tracks covering everything conceived for the film - epic battle backdrops, tiny connective inserts, full blown orchestrations, and incidental sounds. There’s Annie Lennox singing the song “Into the West” (found on disc four), and snippets from the film itself. For completists, it’s a gem, the kind of complementary treasure one rarely gets from a studio. On the downside, much of the material here is recycled from previous parts of the triptych. When Frodo needs an aural cue, it’s the same one that’s been following him since Part One. In addition, Shore’s sensibilities have since become quasi-cliché: the mixing of musical genres, the overtly Celtic Enya-like drones, the moments where the music becomes as manipulative as the sequences on screen. Yet the overall impression is one of size, heft, and massive dramatic weight - just what Return of the King requires. And since it has the Jackson seal of approval, it’s a worthy component of the Rings legacy.


Transformers The Score [rating: 7]


Sometimes, the bigger the project, the smaller the score. While many would argue that blockbusters require bombast, it’s also clear that some composers want subtlety to sell the mood, not amplified orchestral chaos. Someone should tell this to Steve Jablonsky. As the man behind the music for The Hitcher, The Island, and the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, his aural pallet runs to the grandiose and the shapelessly suggestive. When you hear a Jablonsky backdrop, the action inherent in a stunt sequence is evident, the wall to wall wonder of an F/X moment is practically painted in your mind. This is old school film music, the kind that wants to be an entity in and of itself while also functioning as a integral part of the movie’s overall experience. Yet unlike those he freely mimics - John Williams, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard - there’s a bit of false bravado here. It’s as if Jablonsky the composer sat back, listened to the complete catalog of his industry idols, and created a sound that followed their formulas implicitly.

Anyone looking for oversized motion picture sturm und drang will definitely find it inside these enjoyable, bass heavy symphonic soundscapes. Both “Autobots” and “Decepticons” introduce the characters it was created for perfectly, and the last act tracks “Optimus vs. Megatron” and “No Sacrifice, No Victory” do a nice job of selling the mechanical melee that occurs. It’s the same experience one gets from “Soccent Attack”, “Downtown Battle”, and “Sam on the Roof”. There are very few quiet moments here, times when the music modifies a lesser situation in the narrative. Of course, this could be due to the fact that director Michael Bay doesn’t really do ‘small’. Yet “Sam at the Lake” and “Witwicky” have a little less oomph than the other extravaganza supporting material. In the end, your enjoyment of this compilation will depend mostly on how fond you are of the movie they modify. If you loved Transformers, you’ll really dig this overly dramatic backing. If you think Bay and his brethren are scope without substance, you’ll find this score equally empty.


Saw IV Music from and Inspired By [rating: 4]


Apparently, when one thinks of the Saw franchise, their mind instantly turns to Metal - and not just any heavy rock retreads but full blown balls to the wall death, thrash, and other extreme guitar workouts. If you like your sonics loud, fast, and in your scarred face, you’ll love this 19 track aural assault. Granted, it is as repetitive as the symbols of Satan, but one has to admit that the decibels describe the actions in the never-ending horror series quite well. The chugging, growling, primal scream nature of this score (actually, a collection of songs used in, and finding their muse from, the movie) matches the torturous, gross out glee of Jigsaw’s various games, even if after the first 15 or so tracks you want to drive a drill bit into your cerebellum. The raw anger inherent in the musical genre placed outside of the cinematic screamfest’s context does make for some heavy metaphysical lifting, but if you’re prone to howling at the moon or spending you nights cutting yourself, this album will definitely sync up with your psyche.


Many of the names here are less than mainstream or memorable. While Nitzer Ebb, Drowning Pool, Ministry, and Skinny Puppy all have identifiable cred, bands like The Red Chord, The Human Abstract, and Dope Stars Inc. come across as ‘formed for this project’ style oddities. One thing’s for sure - no one here will be winning an award for their lyrics anytime soon. The recent DVD release of Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse has more memorable - and believable - sentiments than the blood, sweat, and fears offered throughout. Still, tracks like “Life is Good”, We’rewolf”, and “Shame” offer a terrific mix of musicianship and the macabre. This is not a collection for the casual fan of Scandinavian shrieking or German grind pulses, however. This will be headache inducing for the uninitiated, and too much of a terror trip even for those who love their Metal unrefined and unprocessed. Don’t be confused - this is not the work of series composer Charles Clouser (he is represented once here). This is a standard CD tie-in. 


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Monday, Dec 10, 2007

While Radiohead itself is being cheeky about how much dough they’ve piled up over their latest album, Paste magazine’s similar pay-what-you like experiment has definitely paid off.  Editor-in-chief Josh Jackson maintains that they added 30,000 new subscriptions thanks to this gambit.  I’ll have more details in my year-end round-up for music scribing but for now, you gotta be impressed with numbers like those, especially when they’re dropping most everywhere else.  Yet another lesson the music industry has to teach the print industry?


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