Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Music Reviews: Death Cab For Cutie, My Morning Jacket, & Eddie Vedder

Today we saw albums released by Death Cab For Cutie, My Morning Jacket, & Eddie Vedder so here are my reviews of each. We begin with the winner and champion: Circuital by My Morning Jacket.

My Morning Jacket- Circuital

It’s not often one comes across an album such as Circuital, the most recent production from Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket, but it’s a glorious thing when it happens as the 10 tracks feel at first listen like a classic album deserving a place in the archives of rock-n-roll. The songs are musically complex, compelling in content and often beautifully melodic with singer Jim James soulful, far-off voice leading the way and stringing the tunes together cohesively.

The title track and first single, “Circuital”, is one of the clear standout tracks as it balances mystical, mellow passages with more assertive, brighter segments reminiscent of fellow southerners The Allman Brothers Band. This is followed by two more stirring, harmonious songs: “The Day Is Coming” which exchanges a lead guitar for a keyboard bringing a more popular music feel and the emotive, gorgeously sung and produced, “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)”. The album then changes gears with “Holdin On To Black Metal” and “First Light” both of which are louder, with a 1970’s inspired sound retaining an impression of a live show. This is followed by another brilliant grouping of songs: the upbeat “You Wanna Freak Out” leading directly into a bluesier “Slow Slow Tune”, followed by “Movin Away” which closes the album with a sorrowful, cinematic, slow motion wave goodbye.

It’s not just the songs themselves, it’s the spirit of the album and it’s insightful, inflective lyrics that really lift Circuital to the level of classics from bands like George Harrison and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

For: Short&SweetNYC

Eddie Vedder- Ukulele Songs

The ukulele is so hot right now and Eddie Vedder is part of the reason why. Vedder first used this instrument on the his first solo release, 2007’s Into The Wild soundtrack, and now he is following it up with an album that focuses exclusively on the instrument, Ukulele Songs. Whereas the first album leaned toward the triumphant, this one tends to linger in melancholy as Mr. Vedder’s musical exploration leads to an eclectic collection of songs. Despite it’s instrumental focus, both the covers and the original songs range in style, length, and content.

The 16-track album has a number of noteworthy songs such as “Without You,” a great cover of the classic “More Than You Know,” and the first single, “Longing to Belong.” Vedder maintains a sense of playfulness as he includes some very short snippets of music and mess-ups like the eight-second “Hey Fahkah.” He also winds up making some sweet songs sorrowful, like his darker version of “Dream a Little Dream” as well as some sorrowful songs sweet such as the gorgeous “Sleeping by Myself.”

The album also features guests such as Cat Power on “Tonight You Belong to Me” and The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard on a great rendition of the Everly Brothers song “Sleepless Nights.” Overall, the effort comes across as very personal as the Pearl Jam frontman strips down the production and leaves us with a collection of songs that are a balance of both heavy and light hearted.

For: Short&SweetNYC

Death Cab for Cutie- Codes and Keys

Transition abounds throughout the new Death Cab for Cutie album, Codes and Keys; the album focuses on some of the changes the band has been going through as well as marking a change in the band’s sound and approach with a very different and noticeably more positive outlook. Death Cab became well known years ago as the melancholic indie band from Washington with a dark romantic edge but after fourteen years and six albums it’s apparent things have changed.

The album opens with “Home Is a Fire”, a promising track that is reminiscent of singer Ben Gibbard’s side project, The Postal Service, with its quick digital percussive beats. While the Postal Service feel is welcoming, the song, and much of the album, embraces a new level of sonic echoed ambiance which the band has been delving into increasingly over the years. The result is a bit confused, while the song works it does seem to be lacking the emotional potency of what Death Cab has always been known for but it hasn’t managed to find some equivalent musical or emotional elements to give the music power.

This point is true of much of the album which dives deeper into the echoed 80’s pop, spacey sounds often with less success in songs like “Unobstructed Views” and “Underneath the Sycamore”. The irony is that some of the lyricism on the album is the bands finest and manages to salvage songs like “You Are a Tourist”, which is wonderfully written and worthwhile despite its unoriginal sound which brings to mind 80’s radio hits like Eric Johnston’s “Cliffs of Dover”. There are a few other songs on the album that work in a more complete sense such as “Monday Morning” which has a plethora of interesting guitar and synth sounds and is presumably about Gibbard’s new wife, singer and actress Zooey Deschanel of Elf fame as well as “Portable Television” which has a quicker tempo led by upbeat piano chords.

The overall result is confusion in terms of the album with a few good songs for fans and a few more radio friendly tracks for coffee shops and banks. With this transition the band has been going through, the new sound and feel appears to be more of a stopping point and less of a destination for the band, anyway, let’s hope so.

For: Kevchino

Friday, May 20, 2011

FILM REVIEW: Submarine

The name Richard Ellef Ayoade may not be familiar to most Americans unless they are fans of the British TV comedy The IT Crowd, but cinephiles should learn the name and how to pronounce it (eye-oh-WA-dee) because his directorial debut, the dark, coming-of-age comedy Submarine, will soon be hitting the screens and it’s likely to make a big impact. The film, which was produced by Ben Stiller, is a smart and quirky take on a familiar story as it follows a teenager, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), as he attempts to get through high school without being beat-up or humiliated, get a girlfriend, lose his virginity, and save his parent’s relationship.

The film’s humor stems from its spot-on timing and accurate portrayal of the self-centered, anomalous realities of being a teenager but the film also balances the humor with a genuine teenage love story among the shallow, worn out adult relationships that surround it. It’s smart, witty, heartfelt, and at times downright cruel but honest and might be best compared with Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. The cinematography is as impressive as the writing as the well-composed shots often feel deserving of a museum wall. The songs, by Arctic Monkey’s front man Alex Turner, are wonderful in their own right. The characters are unique and the story is relatable even as it leans towards the eccentric at times. To sum it up in a word, one might borrow Ron Weasley’s catchphrase, “Brilliant!”

For: Short&SweetNYC

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Interview with director Chris Paine

Chris Paine is the director of the new documentary, Revenge of The Electric Car, a follow up to his 2006 film Who Killed The Electric Car. In addition to directing Chris has served as an executive producer on films such as William Gibson: No Maps for these Territories and 2003’s Faster. He also founded the internet company Internet Outfitters and co-founded Mondo-tronics, which produces robotic materials. I had the chance to speak with him out on the balcony of the new Trump SoHo Hotel shortly after his film premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival where it became one of the notable standout films.

How did in your interest in electric cars begin?

Well, my bicycle broke down and it was cheaper to get an electric car than fix my bike up. That’s my joke answer, but my real answer is that I wasn’t really that interested in cars but then I heard that Paul MacCready, who had done the Gossamer Albatross, the bicycle powered plane when I was just a kid in the 70’s, that he had designed an electric car and I’ve got to drive it. It was a pilot program and I applied to it through GM and I didn’t get in but then the cars went on sale about a year or two later and I bought one. The first day I drove it off the lot I went, “wow, the future’s arrived!” This car was like nothing else you’ve ever driven, it was every fantasy I’d ever had of what cars could be as a little kid and I just got, I drank the Kool Aid as they say. I think that’s why it’s so exciting now because people are finally going to get a chance to drive the cars, they may not be quite as fast as the General Motors EV1 was but even that Nissan Leaf, you can get that EV1 feeling when you’re driving, like “wow, this is so much cleaner and [there’s] just something about it, you feel it!” so that’s what got me in.

Watching your most recent film, Revenge of The Electric Car, really evokes a feeling of excitement about the possibilities of electric cars. I had watched the previous film, Who Killed The Electric Car, which ends on a disappointing note, so it’s so nice to see how things have changed in the last few years. How far away do you think we are from a real mass-market acceptance with electric car in America?

I think we’re probably looking at 5 years before the price comes down to where a lot of people can jump into it. I mean $32,000 before tax credits is still expensive for most people but there are so many markets that already put these cars up, I don’t think they’ll have any problem selling inventory especially with gasoline at $4 a gallon, they’ll be able to sell these cars and this will infiltrate. You’ll begin to see it kind of like the Toyota Prius [at first it’s] “oh, this stupid looking Prius and then 3 years later it’s like, God, there sure are a lot of Priuses around”. I think this will happen with the electric car, especially [because] it’s going to be everyone from BMW to Ford with their Focus EV, this is coming from a lot of directions.

It’s exciting. One thing I think, I thought about when I saw the film, having been to Japan and seeing Nissan’s approach in the film, is that other countries might step on the technology first and kind of drive America a little bit, just because they can put out the stations really quick and it’s less than of a “red tape” issue.

I think the station installation n the US is one of the fastest in the world. I keep expecting to see a station or an electric car off this balcony. There’s a lot of money in venture capital right now flowing into this stuff and the right wing wants it because they don’t want to be permanently dependent on a bunch of idiots and empower the Middle East. You can already see where the Libya disruption went and that’s a fair movement, it’s already hurt the price of oil and its way too much dependency for us. The left wing wants it because they know it can be cleaner and I don’t think the obstacles to getting infrastructure are quite as big as people think in the US. It’s true that places like Japan, China, and other countries, in theory, have the ability to do this thing the fastest but I bet you it happens here faster in the US.

That would be interesting to see.

Yeah it is, you know we went to Japan to find the Mitsubishi iMIEV, they were originally in the movie and it was like it almost didn't exist. We finally found some, we spent a whole day looking for them, 8 or 15 cars parked at TEPCO, ironically, and we went, “wow, this is a lot of hype they're feeding into the U.S.!” I wish Mitsubishi every success, I think their car is really viable but the car companies use the electric cars to try and “green” the rest of their cars, this is what Toyota did with the hybrid. It's part reality and part bullshit but the lucky thing about the electric car, I think, is that it is such an upgrade for the total car experience that it won't go away, this time.

In terms of the film, I know that you're an enthusiast and you're also a filmmaker, but what comes first, where's the film going to go? Is it going to be a big theatrical release or do you just want to get it out there?

I just want people to see it. Last time we did a deal with Sony and once you sell it to a studio they lock it down in their own business plan. Sony did a decent job putting the film out there but what really helped that film was Internet adoption and people saying “hey, did you see this movie?” and to this day you can't even get that movie on Netflix streaming.

Yeah, I know it's shocking!

It's like, come on Sony, can you please do that? So our producers want to make sure that it doesn't get locked up again and if that means we miss a big theatrical release, it would be painful to me. I feel it now because we're buzzing right now, we're the hot movie today and tomorrow people don't remember us but I'd rather see us have more freedom with the movie than give it up to the man.

What made you choose TriBeCa as the place to premiere it?

Oh because this is New York, it's just, the media and you're here and Earth Day was here.

Yeah, it was nice to premiere the film on Earth Day.

We knew we could probably get Bob Lutz (Former vice chairman of GM) or Carlos Ghosn (C.E.O. of Nissan) and Elon Musk (C.E.O. of Tesla Motors) to all come here and if we had opened at South by Southwest, which was our other option, we may not have gotten that triangulation. I had an interview on MSNBC with one of the main programs and it was because it was Earth Day so…

Yeah, that sounds like good timing, it was nice having David Duchovny moderate the discussion with those guys after the film. How did Elon and the different people involved with the film feel about how they were portrayed?

Oh, they all liked it. Carlos wanted us to know that he wasn't betting “the whole” company on the electric car and you know Dan Neil (columnist for The Wall Street Journal), who's usually the guy who says the most inflammatory things, he's sitting in the thing and I'm sure Elon is kind of excited that Dan Neil's prediction that he's going to lose his shirt may not becoming true. As a filmmaker sitting in a room like that, that these people who exist on video screens for 3 years, like you're playing a video game, suddenly they are alive and breathing and interacting with you, it almost scrambles your brain

Yeah, I can imagine, it's exciting as an audience member to have the cars right on the street after you walk out of the film and see how real it is, it's amazing.

It's fabulous, fabulous

You started out as an assistant for a Michael Tolkin, a big writer in the film industry, how did you feel about that experience and what did you learn from it?

Well, he did The Player and I thought if I have to live in Los Angeles, I at least want to work for a smart New Yorker. I'm from San Francisco so we're all supposed to hate Los Angeles but I slowly began to really like LA, a lot of great people came from NY and Michael was the right person to work for, he's just in the zeitgeist of American culture in some way but what I also saw in working for him was that a project could get locked up with studios. He did a film with Judy Davis I worked on for awhile and it just became a very painful process, the movie business was like walking through quicksand and you know what's happening? The Internet is happening so I jumped ship and I went off to play the internet game for few years and it kind of refreshed me on two things- one, getting out of the baby boomer quicksand and two, picking up a younger generations energy for reinventing media
and so when I finally came back to filmmaking, I was lucky enough to have that double perspective and I didn't need to get totally beaten down by the film industry, which can be pretty punishing.

Yeah, actually it’s really interesting, I had read that you sold your internet company, and I guess that must give you a lot of insight into internet marketing and just knowing what’s out there. I mean the internet is the future of film in some sense.


It’s real, I’m a film teacher so I see the change in the students, Netflix has changed the world.

Yeah, and it’s really good for documentaries

Yeah, that’s what we find ourselves often watching.

Because a lot of times the studios hold back on what you really want to see on Netflix “oh, I’ve seen all those movies- oh that new documentary, okay, I’ll watch that” and that documentary, you’d never put on your list if you could’ve watched the new Harry Potter or something.

I also read that you co-founded a robotic company that you did work for the Mars robot?

Yeah, my friend Roger from high school got me involved with his company doing a Nickel-Titanium wire, like muscle tissue made out of metal and one of the designs he sold to a NASA group that did the Pathfinder. It was used to basically dump, dump solar panel, off of the top of the spectrometer because there is so much dust on Mars. I still think that was one of coolest things, something we touched is sitting on Mars

That’s amazing!

Well, maybe it won’t be so amazing in 50 years when Elon Musk is landing on Mars with his family or something. So yeah, like what you’re doing, that Joseph Campbell thing about “following your bliss” and not just hitting your head against the wall, I’m just lucky that the passion happened to line up with what I like doing…at age 50.

Well, it happens, you know? I understand, many people don’t ever have that so it makes a difference, it’s great to see this film is out there. There is a big jump from your previous film, the production value is so much nicer, the title sequence is terrific, it’s a sleek movie. I thought its nice because the content of the original film was so good, that now with the new film, the production value really matches the content.

Yeah, and we had the luxury of technology moving ahead in the last 5 years, we didn’t have the budget for that the first time. Plus, the first film depended on, as you said, a lot of investigative type camera work which means shitty cameras and this time we go well “we have our one day with Carlos here so I’m going to rent camera that’s $2000 with a beautiful lens with a camera operator that know how to operate it” and it makes a difference, you know, it’s hard to get stuff like that on an iPhone 4 video camera.

How did you manage to get the access that you did? I was shocked that someone like Elon was willing to put himself out there in the way that he did, it actually makes him look stronger in a sense because you see him bounce back, it makes him more human as opposed to a lot of the corporate people who are just “corporate faces”, how did you manage to get that?

Well, I met Elon Musk at like Burning Man or something years ago and he’s just a remarkable guy and I think he had seen the first movie and I think he felt the same way about what happened to the EV1 and he had the means, after Tesla I said “I’d like to track your story, if you’re serious about Tesla, I’ll buy one of your damn cars” and he make an instinctual choice that I wasn’t going to fuck him over and let me in. After you film for a couple of years people just begin to trust you. It was dicey for him, especially with some of his communication people when they got into their IPO because if things got out, that could’ve really adversely effected the IPO pricing. Our deal was nothing gets out until 2011. Elon is just brave, but you know, Bob Lutz is brave too.

Yeah, I was surprised with how honest Bob was.

Yeah, that’s why I put in that whole thing about risk adverse communications, whenever Lutz was doing stuff, his handlers were all around him and they’re like “oh Bob don’t hit on the girl at the Detroit auto show while you’re on camera”. Bob doesn’t give a shit, he knows that people are attracted to raw charisma even if they sometimes don’t do something PC or whatever.

It’s refreshing to see especially form someone from like GM, we’re so used to seeing the opposite where it’s just closed down.


Yeah, and I have to ask what cars you’re driving, I know you bought a Tesla from the movie.

I bought a Tesla 3 years ago. They had my money for a whole year and that’s why I was worried about putting a scene in the movie because it makes me look like some rich guy that just buys electric cars but I go well, I am a true believer, you know, I might as well out myself so there I was. I’ve since bought a Volt and had to pay full retail price for these fuckers and they are nice cars and part of the reason I did it was, I don’t believe in spending all your money on cars but because I do college tours and stuff like that, everyone and their brother calls me [and asks] “what did you think of that car?”, I didn’t want it to be just based on a movie, I wanted to see and it’s kind of expensive but it is worth it. That Volt is a much nicer car than I thought even when I finished the film I’ve had it for 2 weeks now and I’ve driven about 500 miles on it, in California and used a gallon of gasoline and I think I’m understanding a little better why a plug in hybrid will work for so many more people than an electric car out of the gate, you know, you have to grow to an electric car for a certain kind of person.

Is it like a weaning process?

Exactly and it doesn’t mean its bad, the Prius is a weaning process, selling a Prius and buying a plug in hybrid is kind of a great moment.

Yeah, you know it was exciting watching the movie, I thought to myself, well maybe this is the last gas car that I will have and I’m looking into it and understand the fears you have as a consumer but it’s exciting to see that it’s only a few years away.

And I had a dear friend who she hates cars and she’s like, if I’m going to have car, it’s going to be a Zipcar, I don’t need to have a huge factory spend all this energy to make me my personal car and in fact, I took her into my electric car garage in California to impress her, “look it’s all solar powered, I’m all sun powered here” and she looked in the garage and there’s a Tesla sitting here and my old Rav 4 EV and she goes “don’t you have any bicycles?” Not one comment about solar energy or anything like that so I think that’s a great thing about generational change, you don’t need to own.

From: Short&SweetNYC

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Katy Perry's Firework, High School style

As a art and media teacher I appreciate the crazy amount of work that must've gone into putting this video together without edits, pretty impressive school spirit! It comes from Magnolia High School in Texas, apparently the cheeriest place in Texas.