Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Putting Your Presents to Good Use

Maybe the best film ever showcasing what you can do with your Christmas Presents!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Year In Music

From my vantage it was a better year for songs than for albums, so here are my fave songs of the year. Listed in a vague order.

Statement by Boris
Absolute Stooge-worthy, string-shredding riffage from Japanese psych/stoner/metal overlords. The remix of this song, Message, is mighty strong as well. Tense, taught and bringing out the kraut.
Watch & Listen here.

Better Get To Livin’ by Dolly Parton
Over the past several years, people have been psyched by Dolly’s return to her bluegrass roots. But honestly, I got to say Dolly is at her best when she hauls out the pop gloss. Don’t deny it. You love Here You Come Again as much as any other song in her catalogue. Better Get to Livin’ may be one of her all time greats. I know her first tv show didn’t do well, but if they’re looking for an Oprah replacement or a new regular on The View, this song ought to serve as her job interview.
Watch & Listen here.

We Call Upon The Author by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
It’s a late career renaissance. The rock quotient is up and the growl and bite are back. This song is an erudite scorcher. Geez. An “erudite scorcher”. Not many acts can pull off that combo.
Watch & Listen here.

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? by She & Him
Sounds so old and so new at the same time. Killer combination of girl groupieness, country pop, and folk.
Watch & Listen here.

La Fin Du Monde by The Dirtbombs
Have Mick Collins and crew been spending time watching French Canadian tv on Detroit’s UHF channels? Not sure, but this French language entry steals the show on their latest We Have You Surrounded. It’s a hit in any language. The track surprisingly veers heavily into pop territory for these primitive rockers.

All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You) by Paul Weller
Paul Weller, where have you been for the last 30 years? His latest, 22 Dreams is one of the best of the year. It’s got the all the Weller stylings from Mayfield-soul to mod rockers. But damn it’s good.
Watch & Listen here.

The Cock Crows at Sunrise by Victor Krummenacher
Speaking of late career renaissance, former Camper Van man Victor K is on a roll. His latest album, Patriarch’s Blues, showcases this old salt getting a little feistier. Full disclosure coming. This tune features some killer vocals by my wife, Alison Faith Levy, and is a monster on cd and in their live set. They have a record forthcoming under the name McCabe & Mrs. Miller due out next year that's gonna be hot.
Listen Here.

Always A Friend by Alejandro Escovedo
Escovedo performed this one with the Boss. Check it out on YouTube. Pretty cool. And it makes sense. Real Animal is a roots rock record that moves a hint toward MOR/AOR territory, but I love it. I might add that local hot shot Chuck Prophet co-penned a lot of this stuff.
Watch & Listen here.

I Will Possess Your Heart by Death Cab For Cutie
Their set at the Bridge show and my son’s obsession with this band has won me over. Plus this song is just awesome.
Watch & Listen here.

Nothing Ever Happened by Deerhunter
Just picked this record up. Lots of indie rock influences all over the place. Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, Yo La. But somehow I’m not irritated. They bring a lot of their own to the mix. This track is simply classic expansive indie rock with lots of texture.
Listen Here.

Alligator Skin by Tilly and The Wall
Just got turned onto this band of oddballs from Nebraska. Fun Fun Fun. Channeling tap dancing, girl groups,The Mamas and the Papas, Katrina & The Wave, and The Go-Gos. It’s a party.
Watch & Listen here.

Aly, Walk With Me by The Raveonettes
Not such a scintillating record, but this song is sultry and sexy.
Watch & Listen here.

My Head by Times New Viking
When was the last time I counted down the days until a Tuesday release of a new record? Why that would be Times New Viking’s Rip It Off which came out this past February if memory serves me right. While I like this record a lot, it never called to me to put it on over and over like last year’s Paisley Reich record. But that said, lots of choice cuts like this one.
Watch & Listen here.

Senses On Fire by Mercury Rev
Was there a worse record made by a band I loved this year? If so, I never heard it. Overly precious, psychedelic, lite-rock. Yeesh. But this song approaches something called rock and roll and is well worth downloading.
Listen Here.

Dolly Hands Out the advice with help from Amy Sedaris!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas on Mars by The Flaming Lips

Christmas on Mars is a bit like Eraserhead in space or Vegas In Space on downers. Great sets, bizarre soundscapes, but scant on story or characters you might care about for most of the movie. The film pulls it together in a somewhat sweet way in the final 15 minutes, but until then, mood trumps story. And the mood is cold and lonely, just like space.

If you’re itching to see this, I recommend watching Cory McAbee’s The American Astronaut (2001) instead. American Astronaut is a black and white, low-budget, inventive-looking, sci-fi epic made by a musician. Same deal, but really good. And if people tell you, “But Christmas on Mars has an amazing scene with a marching band with vaginas for heads,” don’t worry. American Astronaut counters with a beautiful musical number called The Girl With The Vagina Made of Glass. Like I say, same deal.

Optimal viewing experience for Christmas On Mars is to see it unwittingly on a tv monitor at a bar with the sound off. You’ll stare transfixed thinking it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen. You’ll ask the bartender, “What is this? It looks amazing.” If you’re lucky, she’ll say, I’m not sure. And it will stick in your mind as a beautiful memory.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Books On My Night Stand And Other Literary Ramblings

Get Up: A 12-Step Guide To Recovery For Misfits, Freaks & Weirdos by Bucky Sinister
Poet, and good friend, Bucky Sinister sets his sites on recovery in this self-help book for outsiders, misfits and artists who need to get their act together and embrace the 12 Steps. Anyone who has read Sinsiter before knows that this isn’t going to be be a new age self-help affair. It retains Sinister’s wit, irreverence, sharp insights, and pop culture references. Need help setting and reaching your goals? Just look to Lee Marvin in Point Blank for help. Need to figure out what kind of recovering addict you are? Just take inventory of the characters on the A Team and you’ll figure it out. All kidding aside, this is a heartfelt book that digs deep emotionally and philosophically. I’d recommend Get Up even if you don’t need help in recovery. There’s a lot to be gleaned here for folks just trying to reassess where they are in their life, for folks who feel they are at a crossroads, and for folks who feel they aren’t living the life they hoped they would. A good read to start the year.

Porchlight Storytelling Series
For those of you not from SF, Porchlight is a storytelling series put on by local author Beth Lisick and literary impresario Arline Klatte. The event has been going on monthly for the last 7 years. I attended the other night and had a little epiphany. Porchlight is the ultimate who’s who of the art scene. Writers, musicians, filmmakers, tv personalities, artists and scenesters step to the mic to share their stories, grouped around a monthly theme. It’s cool. It’s not just literary types stepping to the mic. Sometimes the stories fire on all cylinders, sometimes they ramble and wobble around. Regardless, it’s great to see people step out of their comfort zone and lay it out there.

This month, guest Chuck Prophet brought along a friend from Nashville, Jace Everett. Jace is a good ol’ Southern boy from a red state. Offhandedly he said, “Wow, this is just like walking onto the set of NPR.” Not exactly, but in a way he was right. Certainly not as stuffy and East Coast, but the more utopian, S.F. version of NPR. Porchlight is full of erudite charm, boho swagger, with a hint of self-deprecation. It’s the good kind of institution.

Sherman Alexie Live at Herbst Theater
I’ve been obsessed with Sherman Alexie this year. Read several books and a collection of poetry. Had the good pleasure of seeing him read at SF’s esteemed City Arts and Lecture Series last month. It was a great event. Essentially, Alexie opened with a 20 minute comedy set full of observations about people on airplanes and the like. Not what I expected, but pretty brilliant in its way. From there he did a short set of poetry. Great, narrative-based, easy to follow pieces, filled with grit, humor, and humanism. Given that I had just finished a poetry section with my high school students, I couldn't have been more delighted. The event was co-sponsored by a S.F. poetry program for teens called The WritersCorps. The Corps sent out three teens to follow Alexie’s set. Pretty daunting, but the youth handled it with aplomb. Currently an exhibit of the WritersCorps work is on display at SF Arts Commission Gallery. It’s a great exhibit. How do you showcase written work in a gallery setting? Go to the show and find out. Expertly laid out. The exhibit is on until January 24, 2009. I highly recommend wandering over and checking it out.

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
A fever dream of brutality spreading across Mexico and the Southwest. At times the journey unfolds like a beautiful silent film. Vast impressionistic landscapes, with heaps and heaps of description and details of the debased journey. It crawls with filth. A little long in the tooth however. When the action and dialogue kicks in, Blood Meridian is marvelous. But some overly long descriptive passages combined with the phantasmagorical narrative made me a little antsy and distracted.

Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
If you're like me, you don't like to bail on a book, but unfortunately, that's exactly what I did here. 2 weeks and only 90 pages worth of progress I decided to cut my losses. Not sure if I wasn't digging the book or the book had the misfortune of dropping into my life when I was crazed, frantic, and busy. Not sure if any book would have stood a chance. But that said, after a summer of Sherman Alexie, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and an intertribal Pow Wow, I just wasn't feeling this. It seemed like a glimpse into Native culture from an outsider. Granted the early portions of the book are told from the standpoint of a 12 year old boy with a lot of negative pre-conceptions about native culture who is thrown into that world in a severe way. So maybe that's the stylistic of the first chapters and the book would have born fruit had I stuck it out. Maybe I'll revisit.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Omen On My Shoulder

My good friend Becky Haycox has an awesome blog called Hamblog. You should check it out. This month she has a groovy Advent Calendar going with holiday-ish offerings from all her friends. She posted a story from me today. If you have a minute check it out. If you have two minutes, check out all the offerings. Good stuff.

Here's how my offering is described. "Today’s Hambox Advent Calendar Window: December 18, 2008 — Avian Omen! Danny Plotnick recounts the fateful day that a New Year’s miracle flew into his family’s life, and out just as fast. Not to mention an appearance by the ever-trembling Hanukah Guinea Pig!"

To get to my post, go to the advent calendar and click on the number 18 (since my entry occurred on the 18th). Here's the link.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hit It & Quit It: My Week at My Stereo

Mercury Rev Snowflake Midnight. Wow, was there a worse album made by a band I really like this year? If so, I haven’t heard it. I’m a big Mercury Rev Fan and I think their last album Secret Migration was a real return to form. But this one? The fey, psychedelic-lite is a little too precious for me. Senses On Fire is worth downloading, but outside of that, it’s a syrupy slog. I gave it a couple of spins and was straining through it the second time around.

Dungen 4. Love the Dungen I’ve heard, but haven’t picked up an album since their first. This one is all over the map. When the Swedish psych-pop starts getting heavy and outrĂ©, I’m all over it. I likes me a little grit. At times, especially early in the cd, things are a little lite and precious. I feel like I’m being transported to a spa in Stockholm in 1976 and I’m a little frightened. I guess I’m having trouble digesting lite and precious psychedelia these days. Pretty good all and all, though.

Vivian Girls. Wow. Don’t get the hype on this one. Can’t sing. Can’t play. It’s like third rate Heavenly or Tiger Trap! Maybe if I was 19 I’d find this charming, but I’m old and crusty, and not even the lecher in me is moved. One or two of these songs might be nice popping up in shuffle, but even in its brief 25 minute entirety it overstays its welcome.

Deerhunter Microcastle. Based purely on hype I picked this one up. I’m apparently one of the only idiots left in America who can’t find the time to listen to something free on MySpace, Youtube, Pitchfork or wherever. But whatever, I still make the rash, blind purchase. I suppose it keeps me young. After two listens, I got to say, I’m down. Definitely heavily influenced by 80s/90s indie rock. I hear a lot of Sebadoh(?!), Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Stereolab. But in small doses, mixed in with some freshness as well. Not overly produced, lots of interesting sounds and textures mixed in with some good songs. Occasionally weird. Occasionally expansive. Not precious. I like.

Neil Young Sugar Mountain. I’m a fool for Neil digging through the archives. This one is from Ann Arbor 1968. All acoustic, immediately post Buffalo Springfield. The great numbers are great. Amazing versions of Birds, On The Way Home, Mr. Soul. Some of the lesser songs are lesser, but hey, it’s Neil. It’s all good. His between song banter, which is plentiful, is goofy, weird, self-effacing. He’s still honing his persona. Don’t know if that’s a good thing, but there it is. I listened to it on DVD as well. Apparently the audio is better, but I don’t know if I’m rigged for primo dvd sound. But, I will say, I checked out the “trailer” for the monstro $300+ archive release forthcoming. And the trailer is awesome, awesome, awesome. Funny. Great looking footage. Even Journey Through The Past looks good, which it must not be. I’m a cheapskate, so I doubt I’ll plonk down for the archive, but yow, it looks great!

Deerhunter, Nothing Every Happened

Mercury Rev remixes the rock out of the best song on their record!

My Favoite Dungen Song from the first album.

Not the Neil Young trailer I saw, but still!