Friday, January 02, 2015

Très 2014

Hallo there.

Another year.  Been a momentous one for me, but enough about me already.

It appears to me to have been another lackluster year in movies and music, and I thought about consigning it to my age, but when I poll young folks, they agree.  Not much to crow about.  There was some great TV, at least.  (The Blacklist.  OMG.  I haven't been this rapt with a show since Twin Peaks.)

With music, we're probably finally experiencing the true fallout of the dissolution of distribution model for commercial music that's been around since roughly since the late 1920s, but really kicked in when rock and roll shook its pelvis into the mainstream.  The record companies did a great job of protecting their market by controlling the distribution medium until their attempt to keep control fell apart when MP3s became widely available.  (They were hoping for a slam-dunk squash like DAT, but DAT still had the limitation of needing to be carried from place to place rather than sharing the series of tubes filled with cats when they're not clogged with facebook or movies.)

I still think if they had avoided DRM (Digital Rights Management) things would have gone much better, because when people realized they couldn't move their music around the way they wanted (since the major advantage of MP3s was portability), and that most DRM schemes fundamentally changed the way their computer played media, they decided "free" (and stolen) was so much easier.  DRM-free MP3s came a little too late in the game, and most modern albums are full of filler due to the decade where the only game in town was a $17.95 CD with one, maybe two, good songs on it - a bad habit the companies got into, but can no longer sustain when you can cherry-pick the songs you want.  

So, an average of $3 retail sales for most new releases (assuming 2 cherry-picked songs) does not support the business model they had for nearly a century.   There are artists like Taylor Swift and the Foo Fighters who are doing their level best to release an entire album of good stuff, and mostly succeeding, but that's still the exception.  (Paul McCartney had predicted the music biz would devolve into nothing but the sales of singles someday, and it only took six decades for him to be right.  And that's a good thing, because we wouldn't have Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road - or Tommy or the The Wall - if he'd been right back then.)

I think the only way the music industry can crawl back to something close to what they used to have is two-fold:
  1. All albums, even new hot ones, are $5, tops.  $6 if you want them to send you a CD in addition to the MP3 download.  I see that with Neil Young's push to deliver high-fidelity digital files (, they're back to asking about $20 per album (on, too), even ones we have bought 5 times previously, like Rumours.  However, if they were to offer those at $5, that would do wonders.  Won't happen though.  I loves myself some audiophile-quality music, but the difference in quality is so small, it's not worth that premium price.  Just a fact, mang.
  2. Go back to radio formats where all genres are played at once.  That means along with the good rock and pop, there will be an occasional country song, a boy-band song, and (heaven forfend) a rap song.  But it would re-vitalize the market with cross-pollination, as it did in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Imagine audiences hearing how good Brad Paisley is when played alongside Iggy Azalea or Ariana Grande.

Here's the stuff I thought was the best of 2014:

George Ezra's single "Budapest" has got me bashing the lever in my proverbial rat cage (which is in the form of streaming the YouTube vid over my Roku stick) to deliver the retro goodness of this buttery tune to my stereo whenever it's convenient.  I lerved first time I heard it (and I always have a "Kennedy Moment" when I hear a song I love immediately - I can recall the street I was on and what the Christmas lights looked like).  From the voice I imaged some dread-locked soul dude from one of those countries that not a one of us Americans could pick out on a map, so was shocked when it ended up being a British white dude with an office-appropriate doo.  I anticipate this album like I do a new Foo Fighters, Elvis Costello, Donald Fagen, Rickie Lee Jones, or Dwight Yoakam.  Can't hardly wait.  (And to thwack the music biz a bit more, this was released in the UK in June.  Why in the holy sideways hell did they wait for Jan of 2015 to release it in the US?  I could download a stolen copy right now.  Why would they purposely undermine the likely scant sales with such a brain-dead release schedule?  Are they aware the internet does make things truly, easily international?  The only thing I can think of is maybe they think the YouTube revenue will outdo the sales; in case you were unaware, YouTube pays the music companies a royalty for each play of a music vid.)

My other go-to single lately has been "Shit Shots Count" by the Drive-by Truckers, off their album English Oceans.  I like the album as a whole, but my first love is this lead-off song that belches out a stew of gut-bucket country rock with amusing lyrics (that ultimately don't make much sense) only to up the ante with a horn section coming in to drive the song home.  "Wow," I think every time as it fades out and have to pull my socks back on. 

The best album of the year, hands down, is Turn Blue by the Black Keys.  This is a true play-it-all-the-way-through experience.  Sometimes it sounds just like Pink Floyd, other times it sounds like Weezer, it waxes Beatles-esque, but all the while has a unique sound that is the Black Keys.  Wonderful stuff.  I get lost in it every time.  The only other albums as mesmerizing to me are Physical Graffiti by the Zep and Animals by the Floyd.  It's a wunnerful thing when a new album busts into my permanent top 20. 

Oh, by the way, Pink Floyd themselves (sans Waters) did the thing bands suffering from dead key members have been doing: pull some tapes out of the vault they all noodled on and finish some of the songs.  The result, The Endless River, is interesting.  It’s like a trip through soundscapes that recall past hits all kind of run together (like a river {snerk}), which is essentially what it is, since they used scraps from the ends of other known songs.  It’s not an earth-shattering Floyd album, but it feels good – audio comfort food if you will.

[Sigh.] Well, dammit anyway, the latest U2 album that caused so much tumult by automagically appearing on everyone's iTunes is one of their better albums, with that fact being obscured by it virtually coming with every box of Tide - to recycle the Wayne's World jab at Frampton Comes Alive. 

For those of you who are at a loss as to why anyone would give a flying star-spangled fuck about getting an album for free, it's essentially about the way iTunes behaves - which, as far as I’m concerned, is badly, and why I don't use it, even on a Mac.  iTunes tries to learn your listening habits so that it eventually foists songs, genres, and moods at you in what its algorithms have worked out by the listening frequency and personal song ratings that fit your general gestalt.  Well, for moody bastards like me, it's almost always an affront when iTunes tries to guess what I'm in the mood for.  And especially if your tastes run to speed metal, rap, screamo, hipster, country, or anything outside of basic anthem/dad rock, Bono's "Song for Someone" is the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. It's a wonderful song as far as I'm concerned, but if I was Mastodon's number one fan, I would probably wreck my F-150 trying to hit the "skip" button.  And it would throw off all the hard work I'd put in making iTunes predict my ultimate mix.  iTunes makes it very hard to completely delete songs, and even once they're deleted, they still stain the "favorites" algorithms forever.  Oh, and if you're a music Purist, bless your heart, it's even worse. 

I, however, was so tickled that Songs of Innocence was mine for a song {koff}, I could barely contain myself until I could burn a CD and slap it on the good deck at home.  (Now that I have my stereo back in my full control, it has again become my favorite means of listening to music, rather than a set of great headphones or in the car when I happen to be by myself.  My commute to my new job is a long one, so I've switched to books on CD for the car environ.) In my personal ranking, this is number three after Actung Baby and All That You Leave Behind.  "Every Breaking Wave" and "Song for Someone" both move me greatly.  I love the line in "Song": "You've got a face not spoiled by beauty."  It's like the perfect bookend to the Talking Head's "You've got a face with a view" from the song "Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place)."  Throughout Bono is on a roll with lyrics, a lot of them reflecting on getting full of himself and then being brought down.  Final irony, if you will.

The other album I've been playing regularly is Stockholm by Chrissie Hynde (of the Pretenders for those of you who are all about that bass).  When artists have been pickin' and grinnin' as long as Chrissie, their "mature" albums are often full of wandering tunes that are essentially chord changes and navel gazing (since it's so much closer due to belly expansion), like Jackson Browne when he's not pissed off (he still writes primo political and protest songs when he gets down to it, check his latest release), or they hit full IDGAF mode and do songs they've always wanted to do, even if it directly conflicts with their previous output. (I suspect that Kurt Cobain was essentially going to put together what would amount to a late career Beatles album and along with a bad marriage, chronic stomach pain and addiction, that was just too much to bear for the purist at his tender age.)   For example, the first song could have been a Connie Francis song, and of course Chrissie with that voice bats it out of the stadium.  But by song 4, we've got Neil Young arc-welding the song together with his signature guitar sound.  It's a fun set all the way through.

Two albums that are still so new to me I haven't formed an official opinion are the new Foo Fighters' Sonic Highways and Spoon's They Want My Soul, both of which have my favorite albums covers for the year. 

They Want My Soul

Sonic Highways
I think "Soul" will be my computer wallpaper at some point in 2015.

Other albums I've enjoyed and can recommend parts of are Sheezus by the incomparable Lily Allen, Lazaretto by Jack White (his first solo offering that I've honestly liked and didn't feel the necessity to like because everyone keeps calling him a frickin genius), Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence, Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot! All Original, and Weird Al's Mandatory Fun, "Tacky" and "Word Crimes" being my newest on-forever-rotation favorites, though "Party in the CIA" and "Gump" will remain my top faves of his.  She's not my cup of tea, and this one I'll just admit it's because I'm an old fart, but Taylor Swift's 1989 is a solid set, and when my daughter plays it, I dig much of it, but I'll never play it on purpose.  (My daughter's back into country since pop songs for a while threw in an incongruous rap portion after the second verse on every single song, which put her off completely.  I think they've stopped, but mainstream pop radio was unbearable for those couple three years.)  

Ones I had high hopes for but have ended up in the Meh column are Tom Petty's Hypnotic Eye and Jason Mraz's Yes!  I mean, they're serviceable and I wouldn't change the station if any of the tunes came on the radio, but I'm not driven to pull them from the shelf and spin them.  Next time, guys.


On more than two "best movies of the year" lists, the critic has started out with something like "it's not as bad a year as many feel it was," which of course is not just whistling past the graveyard but drunkenly screaming a karaoke song as one staggers by.  This. Year. Sucked.  (Now I haven't seen Calvary since it got the George Ezra treatment (not for you, 'Murica), and Boyhood as it got the art house treatment, so it was NOT in a theatre near me, and I suspect those will be ones I'll really like.)

The only two I enjoyed (no looking at the time, mentally composing grocery lists, etc.) were Guardians of the Galaxy and Gone Girl. 

Were I not jaded by having seen so many elements of Guardians of the Galaxy in previous movies, I would've ecstatically fan boy'd all over myself.  Still, what a great romp, and the Groot character was fun (Ents in Spaaaaace!). The music is, of course, right in my sweet spot; however, I was aghast at several reporters whose beat is supposed to be entertainment calling it 80s music. (It reminds of the entertainment reporter who began interviewing Samuel Jackson thinking he was Laurence Fishburne.  "Oh hail no!") Were I the editor, I would've had those bozos in my office to ask if they can perform a Google search to actually get the dates correct. [mild spoiler]The ending was yet again a retread of Independence Day and War of the Worlds - we defeat a seemingly unbeatable foe by infecting them from within and their ships crash into everything.  [end mild spoiler]  I did get a bang out of the fact that the big bad guy was The Pie Maker. 

Non-franchise movies that have star ships in them end one of two ways: 1) if they're attacking, they're brought down and there's a big crash, 2) if they're here to Klaatu our asses, it ends with a big space ship lifting off to swelling music whilst those still on the ground look up with moisty eyes.   Enough already. 
Gone Girl was splendid.  I'd read the book (more splendid), and was looking forward to Fincher's interpretation and thought the casting was ideal.  Rosamund Pike will face some typecasting because she embodies the role so well (and if she doesn't have a bf she may have trouble finding one, notwithstanding her considerable beauty), and Affleck was essentially typecast.  Doogie did his part perfectly, but we NPH fans always face some ennui when he doesn't get to chew some scenery.  (It's not a matter of if he'll get an Oscar someday, it's going to be what movie provides the vehicle.  Personally, I think his reaction in Harold and Kumar during a traffic stop when he begins tripping balls and sees himself on a unicorn should've at least gotten a best supporting actor nomination.)

If you've not seen Gone Girl, please avoid any articles that are anything other than a review.  The opinionators out there keep trying to make it about a commentary on marriage or smart girls or generally things it's not about at all.  Each and every one of these articles is an utter waste of your time and an embarrassment for the author - save both of you the angst.

After the movie ended, as we all stood up to cattle on out, the guy in front of us turned around, put his hands in his pockets, and said, nodding at his wife, "Welp, I guess I'll be leaving her here."  Much laughter.  Maybe too much from her…

Here are mini-reviews of the rest I've seen:

Meh.  The production value was amazing, but this trend of telling the bad guy's tale and turning them into the true secret hero is a tough one to pull off.   The musical (but definitely NOT the book) Wicked was/is fantastic and does pull it off, but its saving grace is that it's really the story of two people (thanks to a pushy Kristin Chenoweth who by sheer will enhanced the story of the good witch enough that she changed the overall intended plot) and that makes it all the richer. 

X-Men: Days of Future Past
A nice diversion, and we don't get so bogged down in every mutant's back story, for a change.  You just get the time to think, "oh this one does that." The centerpiece scene where the mutant Quicksilver saves everyone by zipping around the room pushing bullets out of lethal trajectory and arranges our foes punch themselves while listening to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" is worth the watch alone (though you can see it on youtube if you don't want to do the whole movie).  [spoiler] The overall plot is practically identical to J.J. Abram's reboot Star Trek though.[end spoiler]

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I remain amazed that they make such a straight-arrow, patriotic (in the historical sense, not the current fucked up partisan one) character compelling and true to himself.   It dragged a little to me, but mostly fun was had.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The original set of movies is still so recent these movies just seem like an exercise in greed and lack of creativity.  [spoiler] The only striking part is when Gwen Stacy bounces off the floor with a sound that probably took the sound designer much tweaking to get just right.  Visually, it's perfect, the way her damaged body hangs in the web.  Again, probs a trip to youtube will save you the time if you don't wanna commit to the couple hours.[end spoiler]

I had a blast at this flick as the emotional and dramatic tension are perfectly calibrated to keep you from breathing correctly and munching popcorn.  Though, after the fact, only the droll robots stick to one's memory.  The auto-destruct gag is one of the best ever.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
I saw a lot of fanboy pleas that this movie be considered a contender for the best movie Oscar and not just in the animated feature category, therefore I was skeptical going in, even though I really liked the first one, which remains a favorite of my 9 year old daughter.  I'll be damned if it wasn't a grand time; one of the few sequels as good as the first.  The side-story of the teenaged girl's unbridled lust for the hunksicle bad boy was a hoot, all of her lines golden. [spoiler]However, the plot was a retread of the Lion King and Bambi, so while still good, not that original in the end.[end spoiler]

Edge of Tomorrow
…Tune in next week when Tom respawns from being a clone in Oblivion, only to pay the Ramis estate royalties for lifting the plot of Groundhog Day, and having to manage a slightly bitchier Andie MacDowell; and what about Aunt Martha?…    Still, it was a fun popcorn movie.  Some of the deaths were as funny as those in Groundhog Day.  You wonder if Tom got approval of the specific crunch sound made by his body when crushed.

Vying for the most unneeded remake with Spiderman, the same story with different actors.  And it removed the element that lent the most pathos to the original: this Robocop can remember his past.  See the original in the Director's Cut (or not - the original edit is a touch peppier).

The Lego Movie
I see why a lot of folks liked this flick, but I was mostly bored by it.  So was my young one.  The twist at the end was cute, though. 

The only interesting thing about this movie was the personality they gave Godzilla.  It would've been a decent short movie, say as a short before the main feature like Pixar does.  Perhaps we'll get a fan edit that cuts it down to that little slice of perfection.

22 Jump Street
Jonah Hill is a freaking genius and Channing Tatum is underrated as an actor because he's so damn hot.  If you loved the first one, like I did, you'll like this one a lot.  Don't deprive yourself of the credit sequence at the end; it's a masterpiece unto itself.

Jersey Boys
They should've employed a director with a bit more snap in his step.  Eastwood makes nice, lean flicks, but this one needed more pizzazz and less exposition.  An appropriate pace would've made this movie a classic.  It's still OK, but you'll be glancing at your watch/cell phone between the songs.

Sex Tape
A great premise that dissolves into a series of chase comedy/romcom clichés.  As though you can get back something once it hits the internet.  Ask all the actresses whose nekkid pics were hacked this year about that reality.

One of three ScarJo movies in a row where she transcends current physical reality to become something beyond (the other two being Her and Under the Skin).  It's a mildly fun action flick once you get past the preposterous "uses more than 10% of the brain" and that a chemical concoction could cause physical transcendence.  Youngsters should visit the 80s flick Altered States for a much better exploration of this territory. 

Dumb and Dumber To
Nowhere as good as the original but still worth your time if it's a cheap rental.  Like the last one, it's a series of comic set pieces that don't really interconnect.   It still gleefully blows past the "that was sick and wrong" barrier a couple times, so at least there's that. 

I've grown tired of dystopias, so I might have to disqualify myself on that regard alone.   This is The Hunger Games, Wool, A Boy and His Dog, and/or Elysium on a train.  If you dig those, you'll dig this.  I was entertained during, but again, enough with the dystopias. 


As mentioned at the top of the post, (scripted) TV shows have the most entertainment value anymore.  Personally I'm into The Blacklist and my daughter got me into Supernatural. 

Supernatural has a grand sense of humor and the pop culture references have not been done better elsewhere.  Also, they go "meta" a couple times, (the main characters complaining about the "meta" episodes, going third-level meta), which are laugh riots.  The musical put on by their teenage girl fanbase* is a classic, as far as I'm concerned. (And personally, I like it that the creators of the show don't shy away from Judeo/Christian concepts, like the new "biblical" movies about Noah and Moses.  Judas on a Vespa.)
*Which is massive.  Ask any teenage girl if she knows what a '67 Chevy Impala is, and you'll see her eyes light up, and the names "Sam" and "Dean" will surely come up.

James Spader just owns The Blacklist with his backhanded "Here's where I would keep a fuck, if I gave one" stance.  And then the stories are all damn good.  I don't know where they found this stable of writers, but they'd better keep them in hay and apples. 

I'm too provincial to enjoy the salty sexuality of Orange is the New Black; I would squirm with free-floating embarrassment in the adjoining room as my (adult) daughter and her best friend binged on it during fall break.  I could never get the timing right to make a run through the kitchen for a soda without encountering a screen-full of lesbian sex.  Oy.  The bleakness of the rest of it completes my alienation from the show.

I have several other shows I'm waiting to hit Netflix or Hulu. Halt and Catch Fire looks like it will be good (and it has The Pie Maker!).  I officially cut the cord this year when I moved, and now get my movies and TV shows through Roku, the library, or a digital antenna. I've also found several full-length movies on Youtube, as well.  I can find better uses for that $1,450 a year that cable/dish companies charge for even the cheapest packages.  

Ain't this so true?  Statuses Netflix needs:

'Til next time!



Whisky Prajer said...

I've debated setting up my own "What I saw/read/watched/heard" list, but I get tired and a little depressed when I think of trying to say something about it all -- especially movies. Man, I can't decide if this is the year I stopped caring about movies, or if this is the year movies stopped giving me anything to care about.

I did enjoy Snowpiercer, however. Drove into the big bad city to watch it on a big bad screen, even. Reminded me of how I felt when I first saw The Road Warrior all those years ago. Coming out of the theatre and walking back to the car, I had to remind myself at every traffic light that I wasn't going to charge into the knot of pedestrians witlessly facing me on the other side of the street.

Yahmdallah said...

Whisky, It was just a sucky year for movies. I finally got around to reading a few more professional critic's list, and nearly all of them are filled with little indy movies they saw at festivals. Maybe 1 mass-release film in every other list. Hollywood spliffed it this year.