Friday, May 23, 2008

Mixing Things Up

The way I manage my iTunes library is this: I put songs into rough genres - Books & Spoken for spoken-word stuff; Children's Music for the kids' stuff; Choral for classical choral music; Christmas ; Classical for instrumental classical music; Country/bluegrass for anything exceedingly country-ish; Film Score ; Jazz for instrumental jazz; Musicals/Broadway for musical theater music (including stuff like the Beauty & the Beast soundtrack that is really musical theater); Opera; Pop for very poppy stuff, usually stuff the wife likes; Rock for most all rock/pop music; and Vocals for jazz vocals, standards, and stuff like that. For the Rock genre, I rate all songs, all 3,700 of them, and use 5-Star and 4&5-Star playlists to filter out the stuff I really like. I also have a "little-heard" playlist set up to grab all of the 4 and 5 star songs by artists who aren't the artists I listen to all the time (Dylan, U2, Elvis Costello, etc.) One-star is crap, two-star I don't like, three-star I enjoy, four-star I love, five-star I adore. Most songs end up in the three-star bucket.

So - I got the first of Lefty's Mixed Bag CD Project mix CDs (Lefty's own mix) the other day and have been listening. And the way I listen to albums now is to listen enough times to be able to rate the songs. This way, when I listen to my pre-set playlists, the songs I like will bubble up. And since these mixes usually feature lots of artists I've never heard of, it's a great way to get songs into that little-heard playlist, and a great way to listen to them and not forget about them.

Here's how I rated Lefty's mix:

1. "Soviet Connection" - Michael Hunter - 3 Stars
This is a film score piece really, from Grand Theft Auto IV (note to self - you need to re-label it in iTunes). Nice enough, but for someone who's never played the game, just OK.

2. "Fake Empire" - The National - 4 Stars
Love this one. Might move it up to 5 stars. Definitely need to check these guys out, especially since the singer is a bass, and as I've noted before, you don't see that much. Love the stately piano and the martial drums.

3. "Human" - The Pretenders - 3 Stars
I like the Pretenders fine, but I think this is their first entry into my iPod. A good, solid rock song, and Hynde can sing.

4. "Aretha Sing One for Me" - Cat Power - 3 Stars
This might move to a 4 Star. I like the easy groove, and the simple swing it has.

5. "Sloop John B" - Me First and the Gimmee Gimmees - 3 Stars
Never been a big fan of punk music. A fun cover though.

6. "Three Minute Marriage" - The Gentlemen - 3 Stars
Punk pop? Pleasant and fun, but not grabbing me hard.

7. "Cruel to be Kind" - Nick Lowe - 3 Stars
I had never heard the original (assuming this is the original). Good, but missing a little edge, or energy, or something.

8. "Hollow Man" - R.E.M. - 3 Stars
Reminds me that I need to get more R.E.M. Guessing this is off the one? Like the slow opening and jump into rock territory.

9. "Ride on Baby" - The Rolling Stones - 3 Stars
I just don't get the Rolling Stones, I guess. It's good, but this is the first Rolling Stone song to get into my iPod. And I'm OK with that.

10. "Better than Wine" - Derek Webb - 3 Stars
Another that might move to 4. A cool little acoustic thing.

11. "My Hero" - Foo Fighters - 3 Stars
I had no idea this was the Foo Fighters. I'm dumb.

12. "Sentimental Heart" - She and Him - 4 Stars
Great vocals, very personality-filled while still being pretty. Love the kind of resigned-hopeful contradictory vibe going on here.

13. "Is There a Ghost? - Band of Horses - 3 Stars
Enjoyable but not much more.

14. "60 Revolutions" - Gogol Bordello - 3 Stars
Mexican-sounding rave up. Fun.

15. "What Goes On" - The Beatles - 3 Star
Had never heard this. Beatles doing cowboy music.

16. "Be Easy" - Sharon Jones and the . . . . - 4 Star
Love this. It's that horn and bass riff that does it. So slick and smooth. I never think to get soul music like this when I'm looking for new music, but it's great.

17. "Speed of Life" - David Bowie - 3 Star

18. "Run" - Gnarls Barkley - 4 Star
My first Gnarls Barkley track. Awesome. Love the retro feel and the energy and speed. Might have to track down their first album.

19. "Room without a Window" - Operation Ivy - 2 Star
Is this ska? Not my taste.

20. "The Ocean" - Led Zeppelin - 3 Star
Believe it or not, my iPod's first Zeppelin. Another band I like but have no need to own. Maybe I've been desensitized by too much classic rock.

21. "Morning Is My Dearest" - The Merritt - 3 Star
Country-sounding song, reminds me of Lucinda Williams. Nice.

22. "All the Old Showstoppers" - The New Pornographers - 3 Star
Never heard these guys. I like it. Has a sense of theatricality I could see getting into.

23. "Sayonara Rolling Star" - Unknown Artist - 3 Star
Japanese song. I can't quite get into pop music in other languages.

Overall, I like this mix quite a bit, especially the range of styles - it'll have me seeking out a few new things, that's for sure.

Until Whenever
Shooting the Rock in Iraq

I loved this piece at True Hoops about pick-up basketball games played by U.S. troops in Iraq. It's not sexy, or dramatic, but I love the attention to detail and the love of the game - the idea that the troops built the backboard themselves, and that the rim was made, not bought, and the fact that we learn what pick-up rules they play under. Good stuff.

Until Whenever

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What's the Catch?

his keeps getting better and better. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige talked a little about the upcoming Marvel slate at the Hulk premier, it seems, and revealed the following:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger will be largely World War II-set. This is exactly what I've always thought they should do with a Cap movie - start in WWII to establish that history, experience, weight, and only move to modern times at the end. Hell, I'd be thrilled if they ended the film with the fall into the arctic. And, given that the plan is for The Avengers to open six weeks later, they well might do this, with the Avengers starting with the discovery of the frozen Captain America.
  • Thor will be largely Asgard-set. Again, this is smart - lets us get used to the idea of a real Thunder God in context, so that when Thor gets to the real-world it all makes sense.
  • They are in talks to get Favreau on board for Iron Man 2.
  • That was Cap's shield, or an early prototype, we you can see ever-so-briefly in a scene in Iron Man.

I'm waiting for the eventual misstep. But so far it hasn't come.

Until Whenever

This Fall, on . . .

Time again to take a look at what the networks will be offering in the fall and try and predict what I will be watching.

The CBS lineup we've been enjoying for a few years now is largely intact, with one new sitcom, Worst Week, which sounds pretty limited (man tries to impress fiance's parents and keeps messing up - Meet the Parents the series?) Will DVR Sarah Conner since it was interesting enough this season. Will likely give up on Heroes completely, since the truth is that I simply do not enjoy it.

Will keep with House, which is always entertaining at the least, and since we both like Lost we might give Fringe a try. The Selma Blair/Molly Shannon sitcom sounds interesting, but we never seem to stick with half hour shows that are amidst other stuff we don't watch. Why that should be, in DVD-land, I don't know.

Very much looking forward to the return of Pushing Daisies, which was my favorite of last year's new shows., and no one is pushing us away from the Criminal Minds-CSI: NY block. I like Minds fine but don't enjoy the other really - but the wife likes it, so there you are.

Sticking with Earl, The office, and 30 Rock, and will probably watch the last ER lap. Will try and DVR Life on Mars though, since the drama, about a cop who may or may not have time-travelled to the 70s, sounds interesting.

Will see what the Crusoe promos look like. Otherwise nada.

Will try and catch The Simpsons.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Three by Three

Three things I liked about The Golden Compass
  • The effects and design work. This felt very much like a parallel universe, with simple things like clothes, buildings, bric-a-brac being different but not wildly so. They really did a very good job of world-building, which is essential for a property like this
  • Lyra - the actress was very good as Lyra, getting her stubborn willfulness and indignant morality just right. She also felt like a kid, not a small adult, which was very welcome.
  • The bears. Seamless CGI and as dignified, strong, noble, and heroic as the book suggested. And Ian McKellan, of course, was perfect.

Three things I did not like about The Golden Compass.

  • The length. There was simply too much story here and not enough space for it to breathe in. Part of what made the Lord of the Rings films so good was how epic they were, and how they refused to hurry the story to save time. And it's that time that let the stories breathe, that led the multitudes of characters and reams of exposition never get overwhelming. Here, we were continually being introduced to new concepts and characters (witches! airmen! bears! gyptians!) before we had absorbed the previous ones. So whereas the Rings films let us get used to the idea of hobbits, or elves, by letting us live within them for some screen time, here we got to minutes of one witch and then never saw them again to they came out of nowhere for the rescue.
  • The ending - partly because of that length, the ending - with the Uncle's betrayal and escape to another dimension was left for the next film. But that left this one feeling very incomplete.
  • The score - a bit too overly cheerful and Disneyfied for this film.

Until Whenever

He's Still Got It

"I put my hand to my head and begab to massage my temples: thumb in the left hollow, first two fingers in the right. It's sort of amazing that one hand can encompass so many dreams and so much pain. Not to mention the potential to hatch so much plain and fancy fuckery."

From Stephen King's new-ish Duma Key, which I am starting to like quite a bit.

Until Whenever

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How We Watch

James Poniewozik notes at his Time blog that the big theme of the upfronts was the shifting audience - with DVRs and on-line viewing skewing the numbers something awful. So he asks his readers to fill in this little questionnaire about viewing habits. So:
  • Watch live: CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds, The Office, Lost.
  • Watch the same night, but delayed enough to skip the ads: How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, 30 Rock
  • Watch within a night or two: Scrubs, House
  • Pile up on my TiVo and watch eventually: Battlestar Galactica, The Simpsons, Rules of Engagement, Sarah Conner: The Terminator Chronicles
  • Download and watch on the subway: None (although when I had a DVR that let me burn DVDs I watched The Sopranos and Big Love this way).
  • TiNo (Tim Goodman's coinage for recording but pretty much never watching): None.
I find it at least a little interesting how some habits are driven out of necessity - I let BSG pile up because the wife doesn't watch. We watch shows the same night on delay, not specifically to avoid ads, but because we start watching after the kids go down. Nonetheless, the overall big question - how is all this going to affect TV in the next 5-10 years, given that is an ad-driven medium - is very interesting.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Random American Idol Thought

When Paula, she of the frightening incoherence and slurring, gave David Archuleta, he of the smooth and strong voice with no idea at all of how to use it, Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" last night, I thought she might have been pretty cunning actually. The whole point of "And So It Goes" is that it be sung softly, with a weary, sad, defeated resignation to it. Which means no belting. No power notes. No loud notes. Which is something Archuleta can not do at all. And sure enough, his rendition was overbearing and completely tone-deaf. See?

But then she said she liked it. And i realized that she thinks this is how it should be sung.


Until Whenever

From Jaq, I steal this book meme, the point of which seems to be to list books typicaly bought but never read - "good intentions" books. The drill is thus:

Bold means I've read it
Underline means I read it because a teacher made me for class
Italics mean I started but didn't finish
Red means I have no desire to read it
Green means I really think I will read it someday
Blue means I would like to read it but probably won't

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Very good so far. The new Stephen King is getting in the way, but I do believe I'll finish this one)
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel (I keep seeing this on shelves, butr haven't grabbed it yet.)
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote (One day . . . )
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice (If life were longer . . . )
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin (Genius. I keep forgetting that I need ot read more Atwood.)
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian: a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons
The Inferno (and Purgatory and Paradise)
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes: a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People's History of the United States: 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake: a novel
Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down (and will again)
Gravity's Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Lists like these depress me. Remind me of how relatively close death is.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

At Long Last

Ever since I first heard of YouTube I've been searching for this, always saddened and surprised that it wasn't there.

Now it is.

And all is right with the world.

Until Whenever

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ten Reasons I Loved Iron Man

  1. Robert Downey Jr. was pretty much perfect - he had the smarter-than-the-room attitude, the stunned moral awakening, the sense of delight in creation, the ladies-man vibe, and, of course, the goatee.

  2. The special effects were never too ridiculous to be believable. The Iron Man suit in action had weight and heft and looked like you'd always imagined it would.

  3. Jeff Bridges is awesome.

  4. They laid the groundwork for sequels with winks subtle enough to be fun - like Rhodey's wistful "maybe next time" as he wistfully eyed the Mark II

  5. It took its time - it's well into the second half of the film before we really see the suit in action We sense that this thing took time to invent.

  6. The use of A.I. Jarvis was fun and not cheesy. It really could have been cheesy. And the somewhat personality-driven robot arms never got too cutesy.

  7. The commitment to the whole "armor keeps Tony's heart working." It's a great bit from the original concept, and one I feared they'd shy away from, modern heart technology being what it is.

  8. That the sadly obligatory paid-ad (for Burger King) managed to mock the product a bit.

  9. The sense of the larger Marvel Universe they (now that Marvel is making the films themselves) can finally start hinting at - the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were great.

  10. The coda. Seeing Samuel Jackson pay out the implied promise in Ultimates #1, from close to ten years ago, was just cool as hell.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Problem with iTunes

In recent days I've bought:
  • "Roar," the Cloverfield score piece
  • John Adams, the score
  • And, just this morning, Momofuku, the new Elvis Costello album.

Which is pretty much way over my personally set music purchasing budget for a few days' span. But, I thought, I was OK, given that I didn't plan on buying any more music until Aimee Mann's new album is released in early June.



I see today that iTunes also has for purchase the score for the third season of Lost. The first two season score releases are two of my favorite albums from the last few years. And, it's a double album, and so almost $20.

Stupid iTunes.

Until Whenever

Monday, May 05, 2008

Captain America: The First Avenger

Hot on the heels of Iron Man's $100 million+ opening weekend, an exuberant Marvel has announced that 2010 will see the release of Iron Man 2 and Thor, with summer 2011 seeing the release of Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. I have not yet seen Iron Man, but all reports are glorious. So the big question becomes - can they extend that success to Captain America and Thor? I'm a bit giddy at the concept, truth be told, and have very high hopes that they'll be able to pull this very ambitious plan off. And it won't be easy. Thor is going to be a hard nut to crack balance-wise, especially given what I understand is the relatively realistic feel of Iron Man. How is a living, breathing Norse God going to fit into that world? Or are they going to denude the concept and not have him be the actual Norse god? Or will they take a page (after already taking several in Iron Man) from The Ultimates and have his godhood be ambiguous? And Captain America is no easier - the eye candy and sfx-porn that are naturals for Iron Man, the Hulk, and Thor won't really help Captain America - this is, after all, just a guy who can fight really, really well. And he is in many ways the most old-fashioned superhero Marvel has - the quippy modern sarcasm that fits so well for Iron Man or Spider-Man won't fly.

So - lots of challenges. Real challenges. Challenges facing a company that has made one film. That I haven't even seen. So why am I so optimistic?

Until Whenever

Friday, May 02, 2008

100 Favorite Songs - #s 61-70

70. "Gone" - U2
Maybe my favorite "rock" song of U2's. It's got a great, big, fat song with a heavy beat and a beauty of a reaching, desperate chorus, along with some artfully deployed piano. Bono's voice was a bit shot on Pop, and more so on the tour, but he still manages to do some great vocals work here, the rawness in his voice only adding to the feel of desperation.

69. "Brand New Day" - Sting
I love the quiet and slow build of the opening, with some soft background keyboards and spare guitar figures playing around before the main guitar figure comes in, and a few moments of that kind of peacefully repeating before that great Stevie Wonder harmonica. I like how the song, which is after all a pretty standard kind of thing about the possibility of new openings, is so understated about it - it's not grand or dramatic but almost happily resigned.

68. "Love and Happiness" - John Mellencamp
A pretty (for Mellencamp) distorted guitar and urgent drumbeat kick things off. And things stay pretty spare, with just that distorted riff and quick beat playing over the verse and chorus. A second guitar kicks in for the chorus, but it's all very stripped-down and spare, Which makes the blaring, high, high trumpet line that comes in out of nowhere for the bridge so wonderfully unexpected. I remember reading somewhere that it was born out of Mellencamp's dissatisfaction in the studio when it was suggested that the obligatory guitar solo would be inserted for the bridge.

67. "Alibi" - Elvis Costello
An epic, 6:43 song from Elvis about the multitude of ridiculous excuses modern society has developed to justify any bad act it wants. Basically a list song, with all of the "alibis" listed one-by-one. A slow, deliberate bass and drum line with some typically wonderful Steve Nieve organ lines providing ample color.

66. "Po' Boy" - Bob Dylan
A sweetly slow, countrified old-fashioned sounding song from Dylan's late period. You can feel the breeze on the porch, and see the band up there, in old, comfortable lockstep with each other. The mix of the band's remarkable tightness and the easy and free way Dylan plays with the beat musically is just delicious.

65. "Just Like a Woman" - Bob Dylan
Classic Dylan, with a lyrical harmonica over a sweetly waltzing guitar line. Live, he often takes this song much slower, but it really works in the studio version's quicker pace with the speed kind of offsetting the melancholy.

64. "When the Deal Goes Down" - Bob Dylan
A beautiful, late-period bookend to "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." There are lots of meditations on death in Dylan's last few albums, but maybe none as quietly beautiful as this one. "Tomorrow keeps turning around/We live and we die/We know not why/But I'll be with you/When the deal goes down." Gorgeous.

63. "Human Wheels" - John Mellencamp
What could have been just a standard three-chord mid-tempo rock song is made extraordinary by a piquant mandolin and probably Mellencamp's best-ever vocals, suffused with tired, weary resignation and sadness.

62. "Veronica" - Elvis Costello
Elvis' tragically bittersweet song about an old woman with dementia, inspired by his grandmother. This is the first Costello song that attracted my notice, back when I actually used to watch MTV (and when they used to play videos).

61. "Pink Houses" - John Mellencamp
Probably Mellencamp's best song, a stubbornly defiant thing with some very simple, yet very wise, lyrics about the ways in which we deceive ourselves. Featuring one of my favorite all-time lyrics: "And there's winners/And there's losers/But they ain't no big deal/Cause the simple man baby pays for the thrills/the bills/and the pills that kill."

Until Whenever