Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Now Downloading: New Releases 07.31.07

It's a surprisingly thin week. I've been told it has something the fact that it's the last day of the month, whatever that means. A few releases haven't been scared away, including anticipated new ones from 1990s, Shivaree and Bat For Lashes' latest finally sees it's US release.

Playlist: New Releases 07.31.07


Album: 1990s - Cookies

1990s - CookiesFor the handful of dedicated Yummy Fur fans, this release is a long time coming. Formed from the ashes of that Glasgow band (which also at one time featured two current Franz Ferdinand members,) the trio 1990s incorporates much of the ascerbic wit of their former outfit, and all of the fun. The album was produced by Suede's Bernard Butler, and the infectious first single "You Made Me Like It" had the added production of fellow Glaswegian (and Teenage Fanclubber) Norman Blake, so they're certainly not afraid of a pop hook. Think of the lyrical bruntness of Art Brut, the swagger of T. Rex or the Rolling Stones along with the songwriting chops of Supergrass and you're getting close here. It all may bring frontman Jackie McKeown up from the level of "Cult Status," not that he needs it, as he relates on the track: "my cult status keeps me f*cking your wife!"

Free album stream from AOL


Album: Shivaree - Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs

Shivaree - Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight SongsThe (not so) inside joke in Shivaree's first album of covers (Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs) is that while it's an album of love songs, the original artists who performed the song don't exactly have a great track record on the subject. Songs from R. Kelly, Ike Turner, Phil Spector, Rick James, Gary Glitter, Chuck Berry and Michael Jackson are linked together not just through their content, but also through their originator's legal problems. Frontwoman Ambrosia Parsley and her cohorts tear apart the songs and present them in a barely recognizable fashion. Ike Turner's "My Heart Belongs To You" is imagined as a New Orleans dirge, Jackson's once funky "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" takes on a jazzy tone, and Motley Crue's "Looks that Kill" gets the James Bond treatment. It's a distracting first listen, but after awhile, all the pieces fit together and the underlying juxtaposition of misogyny and pedophilia against love raises the album to a level above just a fascinating listen.


Album: Bat For Lashes - Fur & Gold

Bat For Lashes - Fur & GoldI have to admit that I'm not sold on Bat For Lashes. This album came out last year in the UK and recently garnered a 2007 Mercury Prize nomination, so it has plenty of critical support, regardless of my ear. It's a stylized offering, to be sure, toeing the line between Bjork and Kate Bush, and the song "Wizard" can induce goosebumps, but it doesn't feel like there's as much running under the hood as those influences. Also, it's just hard for me to get past the new age-y fairytale lyrics running throughout, so knowing these things, I'm sure you can decide if it's for you or not. I'll pass on the crystal, thank you very much.

Free album stream from AOL


More going (or already in) the Sansa
Common - Finding Forever (Free album stream from AOL)
Josh Rouse - Country Mouse, City House (Free album stream from AOL)
Luka Bloom - Tribe
Oh No - Dr No's Experiment

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Speaking toddlerese

There's only two episodes left in this first season for John From Cincinnati, and one hopes many of the questions raised will at least be somewhat answered. One question on everyone's lips has to do with language, and how the characters communicate. The dialogue that David Milch utilizes to tell his narrative can be both breathtaking and frustrating in the same sentence.

Take the title character, John Monad (who we know isn't really from Cincinnati, and probably isn't named John.) His use of what Bill (Ed O'Neill) calls "parrot-talk" tells us he is more an empty vessel delivering his message, as he seems to only be able to repeat words he hears in order to communicate. This reminds me a lot of what's called 'toddlerese,' ie, the language of toddlers.

One of the leading theories dealing with communicating with toddlers (Happiest Toddler on the Block,) is the thought that these young people are really like neanderthals, who cannot understand our logic and reasoning. In order relate with them, as parents we must speak their language, which involves going down to their level and repeating back what they say using exaggerated facial expressions. Since we're all supposedly God's children, it's stands to reason that He might communicate with us in the same manner, and John's parrot-talk and delivery is remarkably similar to this. If we assume that John is a messenger from God, then perhaps we're all walking wobbly in poopy diapers when it comes to understanding His purpose? If we go back to John's sermon, it's essentially a neanderthal who first communicates with God using a circle and a line drawn on the wall. Perhaps God hasn't checked in on mankind in awhile and doesn't realize that he occasionally reads Proust?

Contrast this toddlerese with the rich (to the point of cryptic) language that Milch employs for the rest of the characters, and it can be even more frustrating. For example Bill's interrogation of John (or "I got my eye on you" as Bill calls him) is set up to fail when Bill demands there be 'no parrot talk.' John looks lost and finally can only stab himself in the stomach to make his message heard. This exchange is really the centerpiece of the episode, and it takes place in Room 24, the room mentioned in the sermon ("Room 24 will give up its dead, and the dead will be forgiven.") That the lawyers meet in there as well is not an insignificant point.

John isn't the only one communicating with a higher power, though, as Freddy has a vision in a dream of Shaun going missing, and Barry has his own epileptic vision featuring Shaun and a couple orders of Roy Rogers (short and tall.) Here David Milch uses his own voice to deliver the verbal insults over the jukebox while it played "The Tennessee Waltz," in a very Twin Peaks-like encounter. Barry envisions a theater here, and I could't help but think of the final season of Deadwood and imagine Brian Cox's Jack Langrishe appearing with his players to finish what they started on Milch's other series.

Like The Sopranos' David Chase, Milch also likes to employ music to add to the communication. Take the end of last week's episode, which ended with Matisyahu's take on John Lennon's "Watching the Wheels," which contains the verse "people asking questions lost in confusion / well I tell them there's no problem / only solutions," which sounds like Milch answering early criticism of the show. This week, there was even some more subtle references, like when Cissy shows up at Snug Harbor ruining a plan to keep the 'Shaun is going to be gone' message from her for now. Dwayne says, "Mick is right again," referring to the Rolling Stone's "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

For the end credits this time around, JFC finds more religion, albeit Bono's version of it, with U2's "When Love Comes to Town." As the prophet Bono wrote:
I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
If John could hear his father's word through Bono he might stab himself in the stomach again. Toddlers sure have a tough time being understood.

Playlist: John From Cincinnati - Ep107-108
1. "Watching The Wheels" - Matisyahu - closing credits (Episode 107)
2. "Tennessee Waltz" - Patti Page - Barry's vision in the bar (Episode 108)
3. "When Love Comes To Town" - U2 - closing credits (Episode 108)

Previously: Logic is a limping stepchild (Episode 106), In the soup with John (Episodes 101-103)

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Ear On TV: Week of July 30

This week, it's all about the main players in the indie film/musical Once, as Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova appear not once, but thrice on evening talk shows. They'll both perform and sit down for an interview tonight on Leno, Wednesday on Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, and then Friday on Last Call With Carson Daly.

Hansard is already a rock star in Ireland, being the lead singer/songwriter of the hugely popular The Frames, and had collaborated previously with the then 17-year old Irglova on the album The Swell Season. The duo are touring in support of the film and soundtrack currently, under this moniker of The Swell Season.

The film, directed by ex-Frames bass player John Carney, was initially written as an excuse to use some the songs from that collaboration and had cast Irglova opposite actor Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Sunshine) in the lead. Murphy ended up backing out because of Irglova's inexperience, which opened the door for Hansard to step in and sing the songs he was already writing for the role. While the lead characters remain nameless throughout the film, Hansard and Irglova inject them with something more: reality. It's a love story shot almost like a documentary, and during the filming and shortly after, the two found themselves falling in love, despite their nearly twenty year difference in age. They've since gone back to being friends and collaborators, but it speaks to the magic spell that the film casts, that it affected the performers as much as the audience. Here's their live performance in Washington D.C. that NPR webcasted last week.

Playlist: Picks for the week
Monday, July 30
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: The Bravery
CBS: Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson: Nellie McKay
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Tuesday, July 31
ABC: Jimmy Kimmel Live: Common
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Gogol Bordello
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: Tegan & Sara
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Lily Allen
Wednesday, August 1
CBS: Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Thursday, August 2
Friday, August 3
ABC: Jimmy Kimmel Live: Rooney
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
SYNDICATION: The Ellen Degeneres Show: John Mellencamp
Saturday, August 4
PBS: Austin City Limits: Ozomatli, The Polyphonic Spree (REPEAT)

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Disparate Housewives

If the preferred drink of Mad Men's pilot was a straight up martini, last night it was the vodka gimlet, as the ladies get (wolf-)whistled up to center stage. Since Betty Draper (January Jones) was left out of the pilot until the (not so) surprising twist at the end, last night we got to play catch up with Don's lovely lesser half.

She seems the idyllic housewife of the time - two kids, a successful husband - but like many women, it all feels like a trap. Triggering these feelings she can't yet name is the death of her mother, just three months past, and the stress is making her hands go numb. She brings up her mother's death several times and the only empathy she gets is accidental (a bathroom attendant says "I'm sorry..." but then goes on to inform her that she needs to move so others can use the mirror.) When she tries to get Don to talk about his upbringing, hoping this will draw him into her situation, all he can say is "I was raised to believe that talking about yourself was sinful pride," which shuts Betty up. Then later in bed, he again averts the question "Jesus Betts... it's like politics, religion or sex... why talk about it?"

Meanwhile, Peggy again spends much of her day fending the sexual advances of her co-workers. While Pete (Angel's Vincent Kartheiser) is off on his honeymoon, she befriends Paul, a copywriter working under Don. He seems nice, giving her a witty grand tour, while smoking a pipe, but when she ends up in his office, the mask comes off and he's just like the others. Paul brings up The Twilight Zone, and this is not just a setting device here, it's also reminds that shows during that time like tackled these issues through sci-fi metaphors, and that Mad Men can somehow be even creepier at times just showing it 'how it was.' Speaking of sci-fi, Peggy's secretarial guardian angel (and office slut) Joan is played by Christina Hendricks, who is probably most famous for playing Saffron, or "Our Mrs Reynolds" on Firefly. That makes two Joss Whedon alums on the show.

This is supposed to be about the music, though, right? Well the first selection of music comes pretty late as Peggy watches a montage of co-workers oggle walking by her desk. The Andrews Sisters' "I Can Dream Can't I" plays and it hits both the mark on Peggy's (unfortunate) fixation on the married and misogynistic Pete, and on the unspoken dreams of Betty, who delivers her sad story to a silent psychiatrist.

The client this week is Right Guard, and Don's revelation for a tagline comes as he unconsciously is trying to figure out what his wife wants. First he suggests a trusted cowboy, who always brings the herd in (Marlboro Man?) but sees that he's only projecting himself on the campaign. It won't work for Right Guard, but can he see it also won't work at home? It's a post-coital conversation with his beatnik mistress Midge (who apparently has her own collection of cowboys who bring the herd in) that gets him to think of the perfect answer to the question 'what do women want:' "Any Excuse to Get Closer." It works for the campaign, but can he put it to work at home?

In the end he's on the phone with Betty's psychiatrist, reminding us this is before doctor-patient confidentiality extended to the husband. As he closes the door for privacy, The Cardigans' "Great Divide" plays, further suggesting that beneath this typical suburban family's surface, there's a sinister divide taking place:
There's a monster growing in our heads
Raised up on the wicked things we've said
A great divide between us now
Something we should know
And since I missed it last week, I've included the theme song, from RJD2 ("A Beautiful Mine",) which goes so well with the Saul Bass homage of the opening credits (video.)

Playlist: Mad Men - Ep102
1. "A Beautiful Mine" - RJD2 - opening credits/theme music
2. "I Can Dream, Can't I?" - The Andrews Sisters - Peggy watches as the men wink at her / Betty on the psychiatrists' couch
3. "Great Divide" - The Cardigans - Don talks to the psychiatrist on the phone / closing credits

More: Some scenes on this show make you amused at how we all made it into adulthood. When Betty's daughter runs in with a plastic bag over her head, her mother's only concern is about the dry cleaning that was in the bag prior. And there wasn't any seat-belts or child seats, as the kids jump back and forth from the seats, and end up on the floor giggling after Betty crashes into the neighbor's birdbath.

Previously: Band of gold (episode 101), Martini Lunch and a slap on the ass (preview)

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Spoon vs the kids

It's this time every year that I pontificate on the busiest weekend in Seattle. Seafair is ratcheted up to it's highest level with the Torchlight Parade, the Capitol Hill Block Party, and the Ballard Seafoodfest all converging on Saturday night. In the past I've justified staying close to home by portraying a battle of a crowded noisy concert (CHBP) against a quaint drunken neighborhood carnival (BSF.) This year, I can't even pretend. CHBP this year has Spoon, Blue Scholars, John Vanderslice, Viva Voce, Silversun Pickups, the Blood Brothers and more, while BSF has... well... The Squirrels (as always) and polka. Now I always loves me some Squirrels, but how do I convince you that polka should win out over Spoon?

Playlist: Capitol Hill Block Party 2007
Playlist: Ballard Seafoodfest 2007

If it were just music we were talking about, it's no contest. But there's other considerations here, and it's all about the kids. When you add puppet shows, toy boat making, fireman shooting their hoses in the air along with giant inflatable whales, trucks and slides you got something to compete with. Just add the Squirrels (pictured left) and a beer garden for daddy, and the only Spoon I'll be seeing is the one shoveling Biringer Farms Strawberry Shortcake into my mouth.

Previously: Punk vs Circumstance

Squirrels photo via Rancho Canyon Music

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Now Downloading: New Releases 07.24.07

It's been a few weeks and I'm still not caught up on all the releases that happened while I was away playing daddy with my latest addition (baby Zane,) so we're just going to start fresh this week, which has plenty of fine albums to squawk about. This week features the latest from Tegan & Sara, Bishop Allen, Prince and Alamo Race Track, along with a slew of reissues including Sebadoh's classic The Freed Man.

Playlist: New Releases 07.24.07


Album: Tegan and Sara - The Con

Tegan and Sara - The ConThese Canadian identical twin sisters have improved their songwriting and sound with every album, and The Con builds on that. This time out they hone their sound with producer and Death Cabber Chris Walla twiddling the knobs, boiling it down in the manner that Britt Daniel and Jim Eno have done so well with their Spoon albums, endlessly tinkering with a song's rhythm and instrumentation. Take the first single "Back in Your Head," which starts with the simple Spoon-like tinkling piano over a driving rhythm. The subject matter has the twins sounding both more mature and more quirky then on So Jealous, building upon that last album's upward momentum.

Free album stream from AOL


Album: Alamo Race Track - Black Cat John Brown

Alamo Race Track - Black Cat John BrownThe quiet buzz surrounding this Amsterdam band may not be deafening, but it's there just the same. A living room live performance of the bluesy acoustic title track made it's way on to YouTube exactly a year ago, and slowly spread via word of mouth. The song even (oddly) made it's way into an episode of Grey's Anatomy (episode 319, "My Favorite Mistake.") They're kind of a more louder, dirtier Peter, Bjorn & John, with the classic reverb'd vocals and indiscriminate accent - it's sometimes hard to tell just what they're singing about. Take the wonderfully titled "Lee J. Cobb Is Screaming a Lot," which has a great Gang Of Four feel to it. It's infectious and you rise to meet the band's energy, but what it's all about remains a mystery. If it's this much fun being in the dark, I'll just hang out here with my headphones on.


Album: Bishop Allen - The Broken String

Bishop Allen - The Broken StringLast year the Brooklyn band had the ambition to release and EP for every month, releasing a total of 56 songs for the project. The ambition was met with awe and praise from the blogosphere, and here finally is the full-length fruition of that endeavor. For The Broken String, Bishop Allen re-recorded 10 of the 58 and added two new compositions to fill out only their second album. As a result, there's an added variance to the songs, yet the tracks work together. A little Shins-like pop here ("Butterfly Net,") some Mountain Goats-like lyrical turns here ("The Chinatown Bus") and even Bonnie Prince Billy like bareness ("Shrinking Violet.") "Click, Click, Click, Click" was a mix-tape staple for me last year, and surely has a camera/HP Printer commercial in it's future, it's that catchy and appropriate. Take a picture now, though, before they blur into their next ambitious project.

Album: Sebadoh - The Freed Man

Sebadoh - The Freed ManIf you still have the original cassette, you're cooler then me. I got an edited version of it, a mixtape that cherry-picked the favored songs of a good friend after I'd fallen for Sebadoh's III.

Listening to it again makes me feel creepy, like I'm looking through the window into my old college room - seeing me stoned, in my underwear, trying to penetrate the tape's mystery. I find myself wanting to either lecture or join this sorry sap. The longer I listen, the more I forget what the lecture would be about though.
Screw it... let's bake some cookies!


Wished I could talk about, haven't heard (not in Rhapsody:)
Prince - Planet Earth
John Vanderslice - Emerald City (Free album stream)


More going (or already in) the Sansa
Robbers On High Street - Grand Animals
Portugal.The Man- Church Mouth (Free album stream from AOL)
UNKLE - War Stories (Free album stream from AOL)
MF Doom - Mm...Food (Reissue)
Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness
Harvey Milk - The Pleaser
Chromeo - Fancy Footwork
Jacob Olausson - Moonlight Farm
Peter Himmelman - The Pigeons Couldn't Sleep
Against Me - Up the Cut
Silverchair - Young Modern
Tiny Vipers - Hands Across the Void
The Dilettantes - 101 Tambourines
The Lonely H - Hair
Manic Street Preachers - Send Away the Tigers
Bobby Bare - Bobby Dare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies (And More) (Reissue)

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Ear on TV: Week of July 23

This week, to make things simple, just set your digital video recording device to record Letterman every night, as Paul Shaffer and the Late Show Band will be hosting a must-see act every night, bookending the week with two acts I'm particularly excited to see: Grinderman and Buffalo Tom.

First up tonight is the Nick Cave-led Grinderman, which is essentially a stripped-down version of The Bad Seeds. It's driven by the raw sounds of Cave playing electric guitar for the first time in his life, and is a sort of return to the post-punk roots of his early eighties band The Birthday Party. His lyrics and delivery are more off-the-cuff and like his guitar scratches, completely raw, which almost always translates into a great live experience.

Tuesday night, Letterman welcomes critic darlings The National, featuring the lyrical poetry lead singer Matt Berninger, who's baritone delivery is understated magic. Wednesday night, country legend Porter Wagoner stops by and shows how country music should be done, even at 80 years of age. Thursday brings the garage-punk sounds of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Karen O's stage presence will surely produce beads of sweat on Paul Shaffer's balding head.

And ending the week in style, the Boston-based trio Buffalo Tom return after nine years with a new album (Three Easy Pieces) and easily join the upper ranks of the indie rock reunion circuit. Funny to think that the last time they played a talk show (in support of 1999's Smitten,) it was closing out the final show of The Jon Stewart Show on MTV (see video.) Bringing it full circle, one of Stewart's guests on that final show was David Letterman.

Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention that PBS is re-airing the infamous Guided By Voices appearance on Austin City Limits, documented on DVD in full earlier this year. That their cohorts in the episode are Modest Mouse only adds to the necessity to tune in (again.)

Picks for the week
Monday, July 23
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Grinderman
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Common
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: Dr. Dog (REPEAT)
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Dolores O'Riordan (REPEAT)
Tuesday, July 24
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: The National
SYNDICATION: The Ellen Degeneres Show: Lynyrd Skynyrd
Wednesday, July 25
ABC: Jimmy Kimmel Live: Editors
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Porter Wagoner
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Stephen Stills
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Ben Kweller (REPEAT)
Thursday, July 26
ABC: Jimmy Kimmel Live: T.I. (REPEAT)
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
SUNDANCE: Live From Abbey Road: Massive Attack, Dr. John, LeAnn Rimes
Friday, July 27
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Buffalo Tom
CBS: Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson: The Cribs
IFC: The Henry Rollins Show: The Good, the Bad & the Queen
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Silversun Pickups (REPEAT)
Saturday, July 28
NBC: Saturday Night Live: Snow Patrol
PBS: Austin City Limits: Modest Mouse, Guided By Voices

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Band of gold

AMC's new series Mad Men premiered this past Thursday night, and took the form of time travel, taking us all back to 1959. The urge to pour myself 3-fingers of single malt scotch was met and yielded to soon after the episode began, the setting was that strong. (I still have a bit of a sore throat from all the imagined cigarette smoke.) Helping set the scene was strong music choices, including classic tracks from Don Cherry and Vic Damone.

Sometimes when a new series starts, it's hard to know whether the music is playing a larger role then just setting the scene, and this is the case here. But since creator Matthew Weiner is a Sopranos vet, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. "Band of Gold" from Don Cherry kicked off the series, and it's that opening that set the tone for the show in so many ways. The song is about marriage, which may hint at the 'surprise' ending, but it also suggests loyalty. This plays to mad man Don Draper's conversation with his African-American waiter Sam, who explains why he's loyal to his brand of cigarette (Old Gold, fittingly enough.) I also believe 'band of gold' in this context refers to the filters that were being added to cigarettes at the time, as health risks began to come to light. All this is just the backdrop, though, as the whole scene between Draper and Sam helps set the series up - a little bit of racism, sexism ("women sure love their magazines,") and a lot of smoke. Even though there is some underlying racism in the setup of the conversation, Draper truly is interested in what Sam has to say, because when you're selling something, the only color that matters is green.

I can imagine many folks having a hard time with the misogyny, racism and antisemitism portrayed in the series, as it's initially shown here without filter or background. Until you get to know the characters, some will find it difficult to stomach. Thank goodness for cable, because if Mad Men were on network television, I feel like we'd already have to start a letter-writing campaign to insure it's survival. For example, a visit to the gynecologist produces several comments like this one:
The prescription [birth control pill] costs $11 a month. Don't go thinking you have to be the town pump just to get your money's worth.
And when the head of a Jewish department store comes for a meeting, they scramble to find a member of the tribe to put the client at ease. "Have we ever hired a Jew before?" asks the partner. "Not on my watch," deadpans Draper.

If there's worry about losing advertisers, I think this is one show that can get away with more. Not only is it about advertising, but they've also come up with a pretty good way to get folks to watch the ads instead of just forwarding/skipping through them: contextual placards of advertising trivia placed before each ad. For example, before a spot for Jack Daniels (one of the show's controversial sponsors,) the text is "Oldest registered distillery in the U.S. - Jack Daniels." Sounds dull here, but they're done stylishly (more then the Coke-sponsored ones at the movie theaters) and I found myself not skipping through the ads as much - and it takes a lot to get me to not skip.

The song that plays through the surprise reveal that Draper is married with kids, is Vic Damone's take on the My Fair Lady song "On The Street Where You Live". The sentiment of the song makes it feel like Draper adores his family family, but is really just visiting, and his real home is back in the city, which appears to be the case. And let's not forget My Fair Lady has a woman giving up her dreams of a career to marry an emotionally stunted rich man, something that the secretaries at the agency all seem to aspire to.

Playlist: Mad Men - Ep101
1. "Band Of Gold" - Don Cherry - Draper talks to waiter in bar
2. "Shangri-La" - Robert Maxwell - burlesque show
3. "Caravan" - Gordon Jenkins - men commute home to the suburbs
4. "On The Street Where You Live" - Vic Damone - Draper with wife and kids/credits

More: The theme of sexism and advertising around 1960, brings to mind another classic television show, Bewitched (1964.) Darrin, a 'mad man' himself, spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep Samantha from using her powers, and make sure she's a normal housewife.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

First impressions of Mad Men

I'd started a post about my reactions to the show and the music (Don Cherry, Vic Damone,) but my 2-year old's running a temperature of 103, so I have to table it for now.

Anyone watch it? I'm scared that some folks won't be able to get past the portrayal of misogyny and antisemitism of the time... thankfully we're assured 12 episodes (gotta love cable over network tv for that blessing.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A martini lunch and a slap on the ass

I don't know about you, but I'm very excited about the premiere tonight of the new AMC series Mad Men. It takes place in 1960 on Madison Avenue, the center of the advertising world, where ad men are the magicians who figure out ways to sell you something you don't need (or, in the case of cigarettes, could kill you.)

Plenty of swinging jazz, cigar smoking, drinking, cocktails and cigarette smoking by men in slim suits gawking at women in pointy bras nestled under tight sweaters (did I mention smoking?) If it sounds like nostalgia, that's merely the packaging to sell you on the product, as the men are misogynist bigots that at times make Neil Jordan's characters seem chivalrous in comparison.

Creator Matthew Weiner created some buzz with this script, enough to land him a job with David Chase on The Sopranos (he wrote the great penultimate episode "Blue Comet.") It's a slick production (with amazing lighting and set design,) but like The Sopranos, it's not the lighting that brings you back. In the few dazzling glimpses I've had at the pilot, I'm already hooked for good. Hopefully, there will be some great music to profile in the coming weeks for it, as the ads for it feature Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good."

Topping it all off, it features Vincent Kartheiser (Connor on Angel - yes, that's who is pictured above) answering a question I'd nearly forgotten I'd asked ('where is he now?')

More: The main advertising client featured is Lucky Strike, a brand which was associated with a 1950's idea of masculinity (see television commercial from 1959.) . Their market share began to fall in the 1960's with the advent of rock and roll, and womens liberation. It's the perfect parallel to the Mad Men character, who faces his own fall later in the 1960's.

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All hail the 'Jew Chief'

Rescue Me has been treading water this season, mostly resting on it's (always funny) firehouse banter to carry the viewer along it's journey through soap opera-like turns. The story lines have been disjointed and have mostly been attending to mopping up last season's messes. I've just about given up on it, but I'm holding out hope that they can turn a corner with the addition of a new chief played by Jerry Adler (Hesh Rabkin, from The Sopranos.)

When Chief Reilly committed suicide a couple episodes ago, it was a questionable move, and one that the actor playing him (Jack McGee) took umbrage too. In interviews, McGee called Leary a coward for not coming to him with the news, and claims the wrong character died (Leary's Gavin should be the one.) We all know that wouldn't work, but his point that the Chief wouldn't go out like that had some merit. It seemed that Leary and co-creator Peter Tolan had just done all they could to the character and had to get rid of him (much like Charlie on Lost.) The way they initially handled the aftermath of the Chief's death last week was pure grace, though. A montage set to Randy Newman's "Dayton, Ohio 1903" beautifully captured the sadness of the moment intertwined with the funeral of Probie's mom. The song's theme of remembering better days added the right amount of levity to the comedy. Then Lou and Tommy defend the chief's decision, with Leary's character referencing his firefighting days while "the bronx was burning," a winking plug for the EPSN mini-series The Bronx Is Burning which features Daniel Sunjata (Franco) as Reggie Jackson (boy, did ESPN ruin that premiere by tacking it on the end of the home run derby, or what?).

Flash forward to last night's episode, though, and the Chief's mourning is officially over. The boys take a peek in and joke about his ashes, while Franco even (unknowingly) puts out his cigarette in the urn. That's got to be a not so subtle jab at McGee from Leary, and we can now forget about seeing the his character come back as a ghost (the dead always seem to come back.) Having Adler as the new chief (Chief Feinberg,) one assumes religion will get some more attention, as Leary's Catholicism is running thin. Already nicknamed "Jew Chief" (and "Well Hung Chief" but I'm not going there,) the new head honcho is already interjecting yiddish phrases into the house banter (much to the confusion of the gang.) Meanwhile, Lou and Franco have recruited a new Probie (a 'brother' for the basketball team) who says "assalamu 'alaykum" as a goodbye. So lets see... they're adding a Jew Chief and a Muslim probie to the firehouse? Once again, not so subtle.

As far as music this week, The Black Hollies song "Tell Me What You Want" was used to help conclude 'the imasculation of Tommy' storyline, as Nona (Jennifer Esposito) throws Tommy around the backseat of her truck while fooling around. While Tommy is able to finally 'perform' again, he's still a ways from being able to give Nona what she wants, and her seemingly unnecessary character is now hopefully gone from the series.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Logic is a limping stepchild

With this latest episode of John From Cincinnati one has to imagine that JFC could very well be short for Jesus F*cking Christ - both the prophet and the exclamation. Towards the end of the episode, creator David Milch calls David Lynch on the surreal, and raises him a sermon on the mount, with John (as astral projection) delivering what very well could be the Rosetta Stone of the whole series.

Without spoiling it too much, it sheds more light on the interconnectedness of the ensemble, and features 'my father's words,' lots of ones and zeros, the dawn of man, details of the Yost family's past, present, and a hint of future - "we are coming 9/11/14." Which begs a few questions: Did Milch just announce the date of the second coming? Does that mean the series requires seven seasons to get us there? Is it a coincidence that it's marked by the 13-year anniversary of the attack on the twin towers? Or is this simply a reference to the Bible passage Hebrews 9:11-14, which details redemption through Christ? And finally, can GILF Cissy Yost (Rebecca DeMornay) "show me how it's done?"

As to why JFC refuses to progress in logic fashion, Milch recently said: "The tactics of fictive persuasion have nothing to do with reasoned discourse." Furthermore:
The important point that I'm trying to make is that storytelling has nothing, whatsoever, to do with logic. Logic is a limping stepchild of the true processes of the spirit. It's an illusion. It's a defective little parlor trick. Associations are the way that we perceive. Electrical connections caused by the juxtapositions of experience. That's the way we are really built, and storytelling takes into account that truth.
Meanwhile, the show is anchored by John Coltrane's heated version of "My Favorite Things", which ends the episode. The song is the perfect metaphor for JFC: Something that is simple at it's base, yet it's given incredible complexity for the audience to chew on (even if most wind up spitting it out initially.) Freddy also plays the song on his tenor sax, exclaiming "this is how I relax!" Actor Dayton Callie actually used to play sax for a living, so his rendition, while a tad rusty, was his own stunt. Similarly, during John's surreal sermon, Ed O'Neill (as Bill) is actually throwing down some licks on the harmonica, jamming with Callie on the sax. So there's more music on the set then just Milch's dialogue.

For those that passed on this series after a couple episodes, they're showing the past three back-to-back-to-back this Thursday. If you're a fan of Lost, Twin Peaks and Deadwood and haven't stuck with the show, consider yourself warned. The disparate characters and their oddball speech are like the million of actions that come together to form a perfect wave that crashes on the beach, and it's quite beautiful now that we're able to pull back and see it coming. Even it takes seven years.

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Ear on TV: Week of July 16

After 40 years in the music business, singer-songwriter Nick Lowe knows how act his age, and his latest album (At My Age - his first in six years,) plays to the strengths of his 58-year old voice. In his younger days, Lowe was known as "The Basher," but when he plays Conan tonight, you'll surely note it's less bash and more sashay, with his turn toward a more casual croon. It's a career move not unlike the great Charlie Rich before him, mixing pop with country and jazz, all with his trademark lyrical bite. Lowe knows that he'd be fooling himself to try an appeal to a younger market, and unlike another aging left-handed bass player I could name, Lowe could care less if his fans adored him or not. And that somehow makes him even more endearing.

Elsewhere, you don't want to miss Teddy Thompson on Letterman Wednesday, as the son of famed folk legends Richard and Linda Thompson has set his sights in the sorry state of country music. Says Thompson: "It's literally the same song that could be produced for a bad pop record, except that it has Carrie Underwood on it and a pedal steel guitar. It's appalling." Tomorrow Thompson releases his album (Upfront & Down Low) of classic country covers, and the album features arrangements by Robert Kirby, who's most famous for his work with folk legend Nick Drake. While Kirby likely won't be there, I'm sure Paul Schaffer has jotted down a few notes.

Picks for the week
Monday, July 16
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Minnie Driver
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: Nick Lowe
SYNDICATION: The Ellen Degeneres Show: Justin Timberlake (REPEAT)
Tuesday, July 17
CBS: Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson: Bright Eyes
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Ryan Adams
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: The Cribs
SYNDICATION: The Ellen Degeneres Show: Beyoncé (REPEAT)
Wednesday, July 18
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Teddy Thompson
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Deerhoof
Thursday, July 19
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: Fountains of Wayne
Friday, July 20
IFC: The Henry Rollins Show:
Shane MacGowan
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Mims
Saturday, July 21
NBC: Saturday Night Live: Justin Timberlake
PBS: Austin City Limits: Franz Ferdinand, What Made Milwaukee Famous

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Baby's first words

How appropriate that Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga came early just like Zane did. Both are stripped-down crowd-pleasers that you only grow more fond of over time. And both obviously have a similar vocabulary (at least in title.) This effort is far more acoustic-based then past efforts, and the punctuating rhythms that acoustic steel strings offer are the key to the effectiveness of a lot of the stronger songs, like "The Underdog" and "Rhthm & Soul." The other highlights we're sure to hear on tv in ads and series include "Don't Make Me a Target," "Don't You Evah" and "Finer Feelings."

Album: Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Time will tell if it surpasses past efforts, but like a new baby, it's Spoon's latest, and you can't call it anything but special.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Introducing Zane

This is really the only new release I'm paying any attention to this week. Plenty of 'Loud/quiet/loud' moments to test this ear's dynamic range.

Born July 2, 2007 at 2:04 PM
Weighing 6 lbs, 13 0z

Life is good.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Ear on TV: Week of July 2

If you're still jonesin' for some fireworks after the 4th, look no further then this Saturday night for Austin City Limits' rerun of a triumphant performance from the Pixies. Recorded in 2004 at the tail end of their reunion tour, this episode catches the band at their full (reunited) fury. You'd think that it would've warranted a DVD release by now, but aside from bootlegs, this is your only source for the performance, so see it again (or see what you missed.)

Meanwhile, over at Sundance, this week's Abbey Road features the honey-kissed voice of Ray LaMontagne, along with Shaun Colvin and The Zutons playing in the legendary studio.

And finally, my second son is scheduled to be born later today, which should explain the brevity of my commentary (along with my absence in the coming week.) Happy 4th all!

Playlist: Picks for the week
Monday, July 2
ABC: Jimmy Kimmel Live: The Bravery (REPEAT)
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Rufus Wainwright (REPEAT)
CBS: Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson: Sinéad O'Connor
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Kings Of Leon (REPEAT)
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: Arctic Monkeys (REPEAT)
Tuesday, July 3
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Lucinda Williams (REPEAT)
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Bloc Party (REPEAT)
Wednesday, July 4
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Dr Dog (REPEAT)
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: The Bird and the Bee, Henry Rollins (REPEAT)
Thursday, July 57
SUNDANCE: Live From Abbey Road: Ray LaMontagne, Shaun Colvin, The Zutons
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Kelly Clarkson (REPEAT)
Friday, July 6
IFC: The Henry Rollins Show: Placebo
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Elvis Costello (REPEAT)
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Rihanna (REPEAT)
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: Tom Waits, Snoop Dogg (REPEAT)
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Joseph Arthur (REPEAT)
Saturday, July 7
PBS: Austin City Limits: The Pixies
Sunday, July 8
Waaaaaaaaaaaaa (what I'm probably listening to anyway)

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