Music

The Graduate: Anhedonia

C. T. Heaney

The Graduate released one of the best, and most overlooked, albums of 2007. It surely would have ended up on scads of end-of-year lists, if anyone had actually heard it.


The Graduate

Anhedonia

Label: Icon MES
US Release Date: 2007-04-10
UK Release Date: 2007-09-10
Amazon
iTunes

2008 is passing, and just like they do every winter, music magazines the world over are busy furrowing through their piles of recent releases in order to compile the year’s best-of lists. Inevitably, they will miss a few things. History abounds with examples of albums which were initially issued to little fanfare but later saw critical acclaim. Few, if any, best-of lists from 2007 included the Graduate’s Anhedonia, which means that readers of last year’s summaries missed out on a top release.

Anhedonia is the Graduate’s debut full-length release, coming only eighteen months after their formation and a year after their self-released debut EP. It’s normal to expect inconsistency from a debut effort, but this album truly feels like an album: it has an ebb and flow, and the songs interlock gracefully, even though (for the most part) they eschew literal segues. Above all, it is an album of phenomenal intensity. Lead singer Corey Warning's voice is high and clear with little low-end weight, and he's able to belt out lyrics with surprising force -- but he has the judgment to know when to hold back, so it really stands out when he does. The musical accompaniment is always hard-hitting but never frenzied, passionate without ever sounding parodic, disingenuous, or hokey.

Anhedonia is filled with tiny musical gems -- almost every track has some moment where, suddenly and unexpectedly, the sky breaks wide open and the song transforms into something completely different and impossibly better than what it was before. "Sit & Sink", a song filled with glittering guitar work, kicks off its second verse with a series of bangs as Warning shouts out the first lyric and the band stop-times full-throttle on the opening chord. Just after singing a lyric filled with despair ("I've seen the bright lights shine on / Less deserving men before"), the bass and drums drop out and only a cavernously reverberating guitar is left to fill the entire sonic background as Warning sings, with a plaintive ascending melodic line, "Let's just drink / sit and sink / You've got so much to lose, but I don't". Such simple words would perhaps sound trite without such a richly textured musical setting; with it, they are utterly moving.

The consistently high level of songcraft throughout the whole of Anhedonia is thoroughly impressive. The ecstatic "Justified" is a barreling plea to a former love for a final night in bed that, in spite of the somewhat insipid subject matter, turns out to be explosively propulsive. "I Survived" reflects a crystalline sheen from the high-pitched melodies floating through the verse, but once the verse runs its course, the full weight of the song collapses into a drum fill, preceding a harrowing chorus which begins with the line "I don't want to die today!" The song is about getting the fuck out of Dodge, and it captures the feeling of wishing for the big city with fantastic acuity. "The City That Reads" begins with a wistful intro and then spreads out into a thick, echoing guitar fog, effortlessly painting lyrics about the Baltimore harbor. The song's chorus -- "So here's to being alone / To anyone on their own, if anyone's listening" -- is textbook emo. Throughout Anhedonia, the band sings constantly of loss and regret, of looking back with tears and looking forward with dread and terror. It should be depressing music, but it's not at all. The sparkling guitars and comforting background ambience suffuse the music with an unexpected bounty: hope.

In this, the Graduate channel U2, who, because they are a clear musical influence, also serve as a clear philosophical influence. The marriage of Bono's unrestrained yelp with the Edge's jangly, tintinnabulating guitar work yielded more than just a series of international hits; they spoke to ideas, and not merely to political ideologies, such as a peaceful Ireland. As U2 grew from post-punk firebrands to world-traveling anthem rockers, their music became identified with values which we take as common to the human spirit -- honesty, passion, monumentality, and, especially, hope. And it does not matter if you like U2 or not, any more than it matters whether or not you like the English language. This is not simply the critical message of U2’s musical syntax. It has become part of the grammar of modern popular song. The musical cues that course through albums like The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree are now, in the 2000s, staples of the musical vocabulary. They are indispensable to the evocation of certain emotional ideas. They mean concrete things, these high harmonics, rocketing pedal-assisted arpeggiations, warm washes of background synthesizer, simple ascending and descending chord progressions. U2’s direct heirs, Coldplay, couldn't exist without them, of course, but neither could bands in a host of other genres, from noise punk (Parts & Labor) to sad-eyed indie (Death Cab for Cutie) to Christian rock (Delirious?). As much as one might wish to disregard Bono as irrelevant, or maudlin, or arrogant, or simply foolish, what he does best is attempt to offer the world this hope, to translate it into a recognizable musical form.

The sound of the Graduate, too, is the sound of hope, but not of Bono's hopes; they're not nearly so preachy (neither the earthly nor the spiritual kind, and Bono is both). They don’t speak of grand worldwide dreams, or universal love, or war and peace, or the workings of nations and massive impersonal forces. Their hope is hope personalized, localized, in small towns and large cities, in individual people who love, lose, fail, crash, burn, and somehow get up the next day to live, if not to live well. It’s the hope of the downtrodden, the fallen, the wretched, and the bored. It’s the hope of people who have no reason to hope. They hope for something better; sometimes, they don't even know what kind of better. But though they may look forward with dread and terror, they still hope. Without it, how could they live?

9

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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