Posts Tagged ‘year-end list’

Kleeb’s 10 Best Films of 2010

February 27, 2011

Tonight is Oscar Night, which means I’ve been holed up watching all of the nominees. I have to say, I’m not really impressed with a lot of the front runners. Since we’re betting on the winners tonight, I’ll make my own predictions of the winners. However, I’m also going to list my favorite 10 films of the year, regardless of the Academy.

First off, I want to talk about films that didn’t make my list. I enjoyed The Fighter but it didn’t make my list. I still think Christian Bale is a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor and Melissa Leo has a good shot at Best Supporting Actress. I don’t think Russell will win Director, but he might have a shot at Original Screenplay.

127 Hours is the story of Aron Ralson (James Franco), who gets trapped while mountain climbing and is forced to cut off his own arm. While Franco was great, and I love Danny Boyle, I think the only person that has a shot here is AR Rahman, the guy who won all the Original Score awards for Slumdog Millionaire. Boyle brings him back for 127 Hours and I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll do it again. He may even edge out Randy Newman for Original Song for “If I Rise.”

I enjoyed The Kids Are Alright and Blue Valentine but I don’t think they really have a shot. Man, Blue Valentine is a depressing watch. Also, if you’re looking for a crazy mind-fuck of a film, go watch Enter The Void. I have a feeling I’ll like that one a lot more if I watch it a second time.

Okay, let’s get to the list:

10. The King’s Speech

Here’s everyone’s favorite period piece about King George VI’s speech impediment and his plebeian speech therapist. I’m not usually one for dramatic historical films, but I can’t deny that Colin Firth deserves the Best Actor award, hands-down. If, for some reason, Christian Bale doesn’t win, Geoffrey Rush might also scoop up Best Supporting Actor. I know this is one of the front-runners is every category, but it should only really get Original Screenplay and possibly Costume Design. I’ll be angry if this takes home Best Picture or Director.

9. Kick-Ass


Kick-Ass rules. It’s not an Oscar movie, but it’s more fun to watch than a lot of them. You’ve got a nerdy kid who wants to be a half-assed superhero, and also a weapons-crazed Nicholas Cage and his deadly daughter (Chloe Moretz). Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Mark Strong make for a deadly and hilarious Father-son team as the evil villains. For a comic-book movie, it’s pretty violent. This is also one of the few films where I don’t hate Nicholas Cage with a burning passion. He’s actually pretty awesome.

8. True Grit


Joel and Ethan Coen have me by the balls. I think they’re the best directors of our time, and will watch any film they make, whether it’s a mystery, comedy, or western. True Grit is a modern western done in the dry wit of the Coen style. Hailee Steinfeld should really take home Best Supporting Actress, but I think it’s a long shot. I’ve also got a place in my heart for Jeff Bridges as Best Actor, since his character is a cross between The Dude and Bad Blake. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are great as well. This is just an all-around amazing cast and if I was a little more into westerns, I might have liked it a bit more.

7. Toy Story 3


We watched all three Toy Story movies in a row, making it more like an epic Star Wars trilogy than an animated Pixar film. I have to say, I enjoyed Part Three the most, as Andy goes off to college and the toys struggle to stay relevant as donations to a nursery. Pixar has a way of tugging at your heartstrings, and while Toy Story 3 wasn’t as tear-jerking as Up, it has its moments (trash compactor, anyone?). This is definitely going to snag Best Animated Feature and most likely Best Original Song for Randy Newman’s “We Belong Together.” Also, for anyone who saw this in theatres, the short Day & Night is probably going to take Best Animated Short

6. Winter’s Bone


Here’s the surprise film of the year. Based on the synopsis, we put Winter’s Bone off until last, watching all of the other Best Picture nominees first. It’s the story of a young Ozarks girl raising her dysfunctional family’s two children because her mom is unresponsive and her father is missing due to involvement with a brutal drug ring. In order to keep her house and her family together, she has to figure out what happened to her father by probing some of the most dangerous mountain people in her area. Jennifer Lawrence deserves Best Actress for this breakout performance, but I doubt she’ll win over the big names in this category. John Hawkes is also intense as her dangerous, yet protective uncle.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World


A video game movie? Complete with extra lives, bosses, and 8-bit music? Oh man, you can imagine how many times I re-watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, vying for the heart of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In order to win her over, he has to battle all of her ex-boyfriends (and girlfriends), while simultaneously playing with his punk rock band, Sex Bob-omb. His battles become increasingly difficult, until he reaches the final boss, record producer Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman). Not really an Oscar contender, but it rules nonetheless.

4. Exit Through The Gift Shop


Mysterious street artist Banksy produces this hilarious documentary about graffiti, centered around French filmmaker Thierry Guetta. As Thierry follows around artists like Space Invader, Shepard Fairey, and Andre, it becomes pretty evident that he’s not really a filmmaker, and more like a guy with a camera. Whether or not this entire film is just an elaborate prank setup by Banksy, it still resulted in a moderately successful art career for Thierry, as well as an Oscar nod for Best Documentary Feature. I haven’t really seen any of the other docs, so it’s hard to make my own judgment call, but I love this film and would love to see how Banksy accepts an award while not revealing his identity.

3. The Social Network


David Fincher’s depiction of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to power is dark, intelligent, and ruthless. Jessie Eisenberg is fantastic as a young, opportunity-driven Zuckerberg, first cultivating his idea at Harvard, then moving out to California with the help of Napster founder Sean Parker (a hilarious Justin Timberlake). This is probably going to win Best Picture, and I bet Fincher takes home Best Director as well. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is also a sure win for Best Adapted Screenplay. If it’s between Social Network and King’s Speech, I’m hoping Social Network cleans house. It’s a modern story of betrayal, ruthlessness, and power. It would be sweet to see Trent Reznor also take home Best Original Score but that might be a long shot.

2. Black Swan

If the Coen Brothers are the best directors of our time, Darren Aronofsky isn’t far behind. The fast-paced psychological thrillers Pi and Requiem For A Dream started him off on the path to make the sprawling The Fountain and 2008’s The Wrestler, where Mickey Rourke’s performance as an aging wrestler earned him an Oscar nod and put Aronofsky in league with names like Scorsese, Lynch, and Tarantino. Black Swan has a similar plotline to The Wrestler, in which an emaciated Natalie Portman plays a ballet dancer who will do anything to achieve the lead role in the Swan Lake musical, regardless of the tole it exerts on her body and her mind. Portman is a favorite for Best Actress and I’m sure Aronofsky’s creepy and disturbing imagery and fast-paced editing will earn him Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography. I look forward to anything Aronofsky has planned for the future, especially now that he is a household name.

1. Inception


I know, I know, you’re all thinking really??. It’s true, I’m a sucker for Christopher Nolan’s inner maze of the human mind. I saw Inception while I was in the midst of reading Godel, Escher, and Bach, a dense book about the “strange loops” involved in contemporary music, MC Escher’s artwork, and mathematics. While watching the “nested dream worlds” of Inception, I couldn’t help thinking I was in familiar territory. The plot was complex, but laid out in such a way that you couldn’t possibly get lost in the theory. Immediately, we are thrust into DiCaprio’s dream world as he applies for a job with Saito (Ken Watanabe). Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, and Dileep Rao fill out his crack team of mind-spies. Inception is a roller coaster ride through layers of action, as the team drives deeper and deeper into the mind of Cillian Murphy. While no one here is up for an Oscar, and it sure as hell doesn’t have a shot at Best Picture, I’m sure Inception will bring home Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It may even take Best Visual Effects or Best CInematography. Of course, most action films sweep the categories of special effects and sound. It’s rare that an action film has the complexity and intelligence of Inception, though.

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Kleeb’s Best of 2010 Mix

December 26, 2010

If you’ve been following my LiveJournal/Blogspot/Wordpress since like 2001, you’d know that I’ve traditionally posted my favorite 100 songs of the year sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. Well from here on out, I’m going to change the gameplan to something a bit more logical and practical. I posted a mix of my favorite tracks of the year. You can stream it at the link below:

Kleeb's Best of 2010 Mix

Kleeb's Best of 2010 Mix

http://8tracks.com/kleeb/kleeb-s-best-of-2010-tracklist

Or, since the mix fits on any standard 80-minute CD, you can download it here:

Download Kleeb’s Best of 2010 Mix

10 Best Films of 2009

February 22, 2010

Around February last year, I posted a 2009 Movie Preview, which took 10 upcoming films that looked the most promising for the upcoming year. I wrote a short review on each one, and except for Shutter Island, all were released to a wide range of expectations. Some were extremely impressive, some were terribly mediocre, and others were downright terrible (I’m looking at you Peter Jackson).

As the Academy Awards approach, I’ve been watching as many of the nominees as I can. Some were pretty great, others didn’t impress me very much. Though I did not get to see all of the movies I previewed last year (The Road, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Nine, Taking Woodstock), there were a lot of surprises this year. Also, I wasn’t so much a fan of Avatar as everyone else on the planet. It was entertaining to watch in 3-D, but I felt like the story lacked something. It gets an honorable mention here.

Honorable Mentions for 2009:
Avatar
Drag Me To Hell
The Hangover
The Hurt Locker
9
Up In The Air
Where The Wild Things Are

Here are my favorite ten films from 2009. Many of these won’t even get recognized at the Oscars, but I think they are all worth watching for one reason or another.

10. A Serious Man

A Serious Man

The latest Coen Brothers film, loosely based on the Biblical story of Job, follows Jewish professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) through a particularly horrible streak of bad luck. He fails to achieve tenure he’s been seeking, while dealing with a rocky divorce, and an unemployed brother who is under investigation for gambling fraud. Simultaneously, his son is approaching his bar mitzvah while habitually smoking weed, and his daughter complains constantly about her looks. As Larry seeks advice from three rabbis, he is frustrated that there is no meaning behind his run of bad luck. The film leaves off in pure Coen Brothers fashion, abruptly and with no resolve. It’s not my favorite Coen Brothers film, but it was better than a lot of the other films from this year.

9. Thirst

Thirst

One of the biggest tragedies in recent years is the downfall of the vampire film. Twilight has turned the entire genre into a teenage soap opera, and films like Underworld have done nothing but keep the goth subculture from dying. In 2009, Korean director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) brings us a twisted vampire saga worthy of revitalizing the genre. Thirst follows an infected doctor who deals with his “disease” by drinking the blood every night from one of his comatose patients. When his girlfriend learns of his plight, she sees an opportunity for revenge, and things start to spiral out of control.

8. Star Trek

Star Trek

Wow, I never saw this coming. I avidly avoided Star Trek as a kid, disinterested in the campy costumes and any association with Vulcan language or gestures. I even put off watching the 2009 film for the same reasons, until we were left with no other options. I’ve now seen the film 3 times and it is one of my favorite action films of the year. J.J. Abrams reinvents the series, with a reckless Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, and a respectable Zachary Quinto as Spock. The special effects aren’t distracting, and the plot is engaging. Who knew? Maybe I’m a Star Trek fan after all.

7. The Informant!

The Informant!

Steven Soderbergh latest film, based on the true story of ADM and the lysine price-fixing scandal of 1992, couldn’t have been a bigger surprise. Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a pathological liar acting in his own delusional self-interests while working with the FBI and bringing down the heads of his own company. Whitacre’s fantasy is his downfall, as more and more scandals are revealed during his stint with the FBI. The audience benefits from his short attention span, and many times throughout the movie, a serious business meeting will switch to a Whitacre voiceover about polar bears or avocados. This was one of the funniest movies of the year, and Damon is brilliant in his fat, mustachioed role.

6. District 9

District 9

Half mockumentary, half sci-fi action movie, District 9 has a relatively unknown South African cast, led by Sharlto Copley as the bumbling alien correspondent for the local government. As he tries to relocate over a million alien “prawns,” he finds himself exposed to a strange fluid that begins to transform his body. While not a groundbreaking film, it’s a novel concept and an accurate parallel to the way our own government treats immigration today in some places. It also splices some entertaining action scenes between formal interviews of government officials and family members of the protagonist.

5. Moon

Moon

A little-known release by Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie, Moon starts as a 2001-esque story set in the future, where Sam Rockwell is a lone astronaut mining an important resource. His computer is voiced by Kevin Spacey, and he is approaching the end of his 3-year expedition. Before he can go home, he learns about a dark secret surrounding his mission, and not even his lighthearted robotic companion will tell him the truth.

 

4. The Cove

The Cove

My documentary choice of the year, The Cove tracks Ric O’Barry, former dolphin trainer on the set of Flipper and subsequent activist against the methods used to capture dolphins, due to the popularity of his own show, as he works to shut down a dolphin slaughterhouse in Taiji, Japan. Working undercover, against the local law enforcement, and using cameras hidden in rocks, he is able to show the graphic deaths of over 2,000 dolphins. Two months after the film was released, Taiji was actually shut down.

3. Up

Up

Pixar’s latest film has one of the most depressing moments in any animated film since Mufasa died in The Lion King.
Our abandoned protagonist Carl Frederickson departs all alone in his floating balloon house for South America. Or so he thinks. Annoying boy scouts, talking dogs, and exotic birds seem to be holding him back (in some cases literally) from reaching his destination. It’s such a feel-good film, and I said this after Wall-E, that I trust Pixar to tug at my heartstrings and make a damn good family film every year.

2. Zombieland

Zombieland

I know what you’re thinking. Number 2? The premise was a pretty basic archetype and the characters weren’t that deep, but damn this movie was fun to watch! Zombie movies get points for creativity, and Zombieland had some of the most creative kills I’ve ever seen: Banjo, hedge clippers, hammer, not to mention a variety of amusement park rides. It’s like someone proposed the idea of zombies in an amusement park, and they wrote a movie around that concept. The addition of Woody Harrelson as a disgruntled twinkie addict helps the plot, as well as a timid Jesse Eisenberg for Woody to rip into the whole time. Oh yeah, and there’s that cameo too.

1. Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Ah, refreshing Tarantino. After the pile of garbage called Grindhouse, he comes back and hits us with a witty rendition of the German occupancy of France. And who needs accuracy? Tarantino writes his own ending, the way everyone wants to see it. Brad Pitt plays another stellar role with Lieutenant Aldo Raine, a Tennessean with a drawl looking for one thing: Nazi scalps. He’s known as “Aldo the Apache” to the Germans. On the other side, Christoph Waltz plays an Oscar-caliber Hans Landa, the general of the Nazi regime. They call him the “Jew Hunter.” Simultaneously, Melanie Laurent is a fugitive Jew working in a movie theatre that plans to show a German propaganda film. As the stories converge in a mix of violence, witty dialogue, and a self-indulgent tribute to cinephilia (did you know that old nitrate film reels can be used to ignite a building?), the explosive ending is a triumphant end to the war – Tarantino style.

Best Albums of 2009

January 7, 2010

12/20/09

So it’s the end of the year and I feel compelled to list everything I enjoyed in the last 12 months. Music this year was all over the map genre-wise, but 7 out of the 10 artists are from Brooklyn. I guess that says something about this past year.

10. Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

My relationship with Akron/Family is back and forth. With 2007’s Love Is Simple, I fell in love with the spastic freak folk that fell in and out of chaotic improvisation. I looked into their back catalog, the phenomenal split with the Angels of Light, especially “Raising the Sparks,” ignited a small obsession with this band. In 2009, I saw them at All Tomorrow’s Parties as a three-piece, a big change from the 7-piece supergroup I saw at the Andy Warhol museum the year before. With Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, the group loses a lot of the magic of their previous albums. The percussive intro of “Everyone Is Guilty” shows promise, but the following tracks drift toward yawn-worthy territory. “River” has flashes of brilliance and then there are three tracks that lack any sort of surprise. Of course this album wouldn’t be on this list if it weren’t for tracks like “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon,” almost 8 minutes of elaborate Akron/Family greatness. It begins with a crescendo of flute and french horn that builds into chaotic guitar feedback and lyrical harmony that made songs like “Raising the Sparks” so good. After this obvious centerpiece, it’s hard to get excited until the final three tracks. “They Will Appear” has the contagious singalong ending that is hard to shake, followed by “Sun Will Shine” and “Last Year,” the build up and the denouement ending, respectively. Though I love this band still, I feel like about half of this album could have been cut. Still, I look forward to whatever territory they’re heading into next.

9. A Place To Bury Strangers – Exploding Head



Little did I know what I was getting myself into moving into Death By Audio. I had not even listened to A Place to Bury Strangers beforehand, but was instantly absorbed into the wall-of-sound lifestyle perpetuated by Oliver Ackerman and his custom-designed guitar pedals. With names like “Total Sonic Annihilation” and “Fuzz War,” the pedals almost describe the feel of Ackerman’s live show: epileptic lighting accentuated by massive amounts of fog, overwhelming ear-shattering guitar, projections of television static, and a pulsing drum and bass to drive each song. “Keep Slipping Away” could probably be the radio single, with its catchy riff and vocal line, but I think the best song on this album is the dark “Ego Death,” loaded with enough noise to be a viable advertisement for Death By Audio guitar pedals.

8. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors has one of the most unique voices and guitar styles I’ve ever heard. On his earlier work, he showcases these almost inaccessible time signatures and warbling that verges on annoyingly shrill. With Bitte Orca, it’s hard to think he hasn’t compromised for a more mainstream sound. Still, “Temecula Sunrise” doesn’t subscribe to 4/4 time, and “The Bride” drifts around a steady tempo before breaking into a solid chorus, so they’ve stayed relatively true to form. Of course, this is before the Nico-influenced “Two Doves” (“These Days,” anyone?) or the superb call-and-response of “Remade Horizon.” Longstreth’s trio of female vocal accompaniment has always added a refreshing alternative to his sometimes grating voice, and they show their full potential here. The stellar “Stillness Is The Move” is almost a Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera pop-diva single. Seeing it live, with Amber Coffman stealing the show away from Longstreth and showcasing an unbelievable vocal range, was jaw-dropping.

7. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

I’ve had a long relationship with The Flaming Lips, and like a long girlfriend, we’ve had great times and rough patches. The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots were the good old days. Psychedelic rock with catchy melodies, live shows with balloons and confetti cannons, Wayne Coyne in a giant hampster ball. It was too good to be true. Then came Zaireeka, which was a valiant attempt at something interesting. Then, as other bands entered my life, and the Lips released At War With The Mystics, I was almost certain our time together had come to an end. The hampster ball was old news, Coyne was recycling music, and they were playing “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” live, as if it were on par with “Do You Realize?”

Then came Embryonic, and like a romantic weekend together, the Lips and I were rekindled. Buried in fuzz and overprocessed drums, Coyne comes at his music from a different angle. It’s like every song was recorded at max volume through iPod headphones but still retains the majesty of Coyne’s voice. “Convinced of the Hex” and “See The Leaves” prod along like a 1970’s Can album. Then there are spastic instrumental tracks like “Aquarius Sabotage” and “Scorpio Sword.” Of course, with 18 tracks, there are a few that fall short. But by the time we get to “Watching the Planets,” coupled with its shocking almost-porn music video, we know the Lips have outdone themselves yet again.

6. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

As a drummer, I was never a big fan of bands that keep the drummer subdued. I like loud, raw drumming that is in the foreground and as unprocessed as possible. Maybe that’s why it took a long time for me to like Grizzly Bear. The slow tempo and mellow vocals started out as “working music” or “going to sleep music,” and then I slowly, slowly started to really like this band. Veckatimest has a few really great songs. I don’t think I have to talk too much about “Two Weeks” or “While You Wait For The Others,” both amazing standout tracks that have received almost too much praise this year. I think the album closer “Foreground” made this album for me, a simple piano melody with a subtle bass drum. Or maybe it was the chaotic end of “I Live With You,” or the bass-driven “Southern Point.” If the whole album were as consistent as these tracks, this could be a viable #1 album of the year. I think there are still too many points where I just yawned and shrugged.

5. Jeff the Brotherhood – Heavy Days

“This will be your new favorite band,” I was told when I moved into Death By Audio. Jeff the Brotherhood, by name and birth parents, are a guitar and drum duo from Nashville. With only three guitar strings and a three-piece drum kit, these guys manage to put on one of the most rocking live shows I’ve ever seen. Influenced by 1960’s garage rock, Heavy Days is raw, catchy, and loud. The title track fades in with the sound of a swarm of bees and breaks down into an instrumental chorus full of crunchy guitar and syncopated drums. Sticking with the theme, “Heavy Damage” is a singalong that encourages the crowd to learn the words “I got so much to do/ Can’t even talk to you/ Gotta go do a thing now baby/ We can hang out next week maybe.” There’s even a ballad (“The Tropics”) and an instrumental complete with a metal breakdown (“Heavy Krishna”). The poppy “Bone Jam” would be almost cheesy if the lyrics weren’t “I’m gonna grind your bones to make my bread.” Closing the album is “Mind Ride,” a slow, sludge-metal track that suddenly warps into double speed and repeats itself before catapulting into an ending smothered in wah-pedal glory. Catch this band live if you have the chance.

4. Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

On the other end of the spectrum is Bill Callahan, or Smog, however you want to refer to him. He’s been under the radar for quite some time. Monotone and short, he is almost talking more than he is singing. Still, he is never off-key, and he floats his baritone voice over beautiful compositions of orchestral strings and acoustic guitars. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle opens with “Jim Cain,”as Callahan states “I started out in search of ordinary things” and how he “started telling the story without knowing the end.” The dark “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” starts out bitterly before morphing into a nonsensical chorus full of made-up words. “The Wind and the Dove” alters beautifully between major and minor chords while “Too Many Birds” is a simple 1-4-5-minor6 progression. Over both of these tracks, Callahan is singing about what he sees. As with much of the album, the songs are descriptive and mostly about observation of nothing in particular. The closer “Faith/Void” has a stroke of insight, as Callahan repeats, “It’s time to put God away” in an atheistic anthem. If Callahan has accepted the fact that the void exists, maybe he’s just become content singing about birds and trees. I’m perfectly fine with that.

3. Woods – Songs of Shame

Surprise, Brooklyn again. Woods have perfected a very specific sound: their entire folk band and creepy high-pitched vocals of frontman Jeremy Earl are recorded with super lo-fi equipment. It’s to the extent that the band sings through old radio microphones when they play live. Earl sounds like he’s singing into a tin can. The drums are barely audible, and occasionally a distorted guitar appears out of nowhere, strikingly louder than the rest of the instruments. It was so striking that I originally thought Death By Audio was testing out pedals the first time I played this album. Haunting melodies on “The Number” and “Down This Road” sound like eerie campfire songs, while the low fi rendition of Graham Nash’s “Military Madness” bounces along like a 1940’s transistor radio hit. “Rain On” is one of the best tracks on the album, a spiteful anthem showcasing the vocal range of Earl, his high-pitched melodies reminiscent of Neil Young. I think this album is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with this band.

2. Antlers – Hospice

Brooklyn’s Antlers, fronted by beautiful lyricist Peter Silberman, were introduced to me by my roommate April back in February. Their third album Hospice tells the tale of a man meeting a bone cancer patient at a clinic, then falling in love with her, and eventually watching her die. “Kettering” starts the tale, as Silberman almost whispers the description of the hospital room and the hopelessness of the situation. His voice trembles as he says “I didn’t believe them when they said there was no saving you.” This album isn’t all quiet, as “Sylvia” follows with an explosive waltz, a call for compromise, to “let me do my job.” The metaphorical “Bear” is my favorite track, comparing the cancer to something that’s “living inside your stomach” and has been “kicking from within.” The wavering chorus alters between “We’re too old” and “We’re not old at all,” a perfect description of facing death at an early age.

“Two” dates back to childhood, spending youth in a cancer ward and not eating. It follows Peter and Sylvia as they move to New York and are abandoned by their friends. It has the most optimistic chord progression with probably the most depressing lyrics. With Sylvia’s death in “Shiva,” the aftermath of “Wake” showcases Peter’s depression in a depressing 8 minute anthem. As the melody from “Kettering” comes back in “Epilogue,” we can feel the pain of the funeral, waking up alone, and the lasting memories of the hospital. Beautiful, depressing, almost too painful because it’s true. Hospice is a masterpiece of 2009.

1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

Surprise! This album stands miles above the rest of 2009, a landmark for Animal Collective and a culmination of their entire careers, from Brian Wilson-esque lyrics to layered samples, to insane time signatures. Combine this with live shows utilizing giant projection orbs and huge sets involving a flowing ocean with sharks and tiki heads and you have one of the most innovative and creative bands of our time. I can’t say anything about Merriweather Post Pavillion that hasn’t already been said. Just listen to “In The Flowers” at about 2:30 and “you’d smile and say I like this song.” The album doesn’t let up, either. There’s the catchy chorus of “My Girls,” the driving pulse of “Summertime Clothes” and the 5/4 (I think?) verse of “Daily Routine” which gives way to a draaawwwnn-out lyrical ending. When seen live, this culminates into fifteen minutes of brilliant crescendos and cymbal crashes, a majestic centerpiece to the album.

Merriweather Post Pavillion could almost be viewed as our generations’ Pet Sounds, the layered instrumentation and vocal harmonies that dubbed Brian Wilson the genius of his time has been modernized. Samples, both digital and analog, combine with reverb-heavy vocals to make a beautiful, layered masterpiece. This is miles away from the low-key abstract folk of Sung Tongs that brought Animal Collective their initial acclaim, and many will say they’ve catered their sound to a mainstream audience, but with progression comes change. Instead of recycling this style, they’ve managed to build upon it with each album. Finally, everything has fallen into place with an accessible album that doesn’t compromise originality. Isn’t that the most important thing?

Kleeb’s Top 10 Films of 2008

January 7, 2010

2/22/09

Oscar night is upon us, and before we see any of the winners, I wanted to post my picks for the ten best films of 2008. Granted, I haven’t seen them all but I really did try. I hope we’ll see a reflection of this tonight:

10. Tropic Thunder



I expected nothing from this film. I expected a crappy Ben Stiller comedy with no intelligent plot or character development. I got a hilarious, innovative comedy mocking the war genre. Robert Downey Jr. is amazing as the overdramatic Kirk Lazarus, unable to get out of character as a blackface lieutenant. Nick Nolte and Danny McBride provide an amazing side plot. Tom Cruise is the best asshole I’ve ever seen. Matthew McConaughey is back in his best pot-smoking form. And Ben Stiller, as much as I loathe him and his movies, is fantastic. His post-panda attack attitude is great, and I think that scene alone makes this movie worth it. Surprise of the year. I don’t think it will get any awards tonight, but it deserves some attention.

9. Waltz With Bashir



On a more serious note, war is not a joke. Even if war movies are. Waltz With Bashir is an account of the Lebanon War in the early 80’s. Ari, the lead character, cannot seem to remember that part of his life. Specifically, the Beirut massacre. He talks to old friends to try to piece together the puzzle. I think this is a definite Best Foreign Language Film. Dazzling animation as well. The whole film is just artistically amazing. Think Waking Life, but a little more detailed.

8. Burn After Reading



Since we’re on the subject of movies that didn’t get the attention they deserved, the newest Coen Brothers film was ignored completely this year, by practically everyone. This is a great tale of stupidity, promiscuity, and blackmail. Brad Pitt and George Clooney are hysterical. John Malkovich is at the top of his game. Every character is just so utterly ridiculous and stupid that J.K. Simmons’ character says it best: “What a clusterfuck!” This also won’t win tonight, hell it isn’t even nominated. But it’s fantastic.

7. WALL-E



I love Pixar. Every movie they make is intelligent, funny, and accessible to all ages. Their latest release is one of the best they’ve made. It is a love story, a reflection on American consumption, and an entertaining action movie, packed with nostalgia. The score and much of the robotics are from Brazil. Even the main enemy is straight out of 2001:A Space Odyssey. The best part about this film is probably the lack of dialogue for over 50% of the film. What an entertaining film. Best Animated Feature.

6. Slumdog Millionaire



I’m probably the only person that doesn’t LOVE this movie. I think it’s great and very well-done. It will probably win Best Original Song for “Jai Ho” or “O Saya” and Best Original Score for A.R. Rahman. I’ll give Danny Boyle Best Director because of the fantastic acting of all the mostly inexperienced cast. The story is fantastic too, so I’ll also vote Best Adapted Screenplay. I think this is a fantastic film, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great love story, it’s innovative, and the cast is relatively unknown. However, I think it’s riding a pretty big wave of hype right now, and there are other films that deserve a bit more attention.

5. Frost/Nixon



Ron Howard’s depiction of the battle between former President Nixon and then-trivial reporter David Frost is engaging and powerful. It is like watching a political boxing match, where Frost is getting crushed for three rounds, and somehow comes out in the fourth round and knocks out the champ. Since Nixon had been pardoned, there was no need to pry into the Watergate scandal. Frost’s interview was able to pull a confession out of Nixon, get him to emotionally apologize on national television. It was considered the trial that Nixon never had, and Frost became a celebrity afterwards. Frank Langella deserves something for his emotional portrayal of Nixon, but I think he has too stiff of a competition. This film is great, and definitely worth watching, but I think it will go home empty-handed tonight.

4. The Dark Knight



The summer blockbuster is somehow getting better every year. The Batman franchise has been reinvented with the combination of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale. The Dark Knight is the best superhero film I’ve ever seen, with the help of Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and of course Heath Ledger. Best Supporting Actor by far, Ledger has far outdone the previous Joker performance by Jack Nicholson, one I strongly considered one of the best performances by one of the best actors of all time. Surely, they wouldn’t try to outdo Nicholson? Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is sinister. There’s no jack-in-the-box or whoopee cushion. The Joker is not practical jokes as much as he is just mentally unstable. The way his tongue darts around as he talks and his tone of voice just bring an air of uneasiness to the scene. It is troubling to watch the Joker, and even more so now that Ledger has passed. You could almost believe, if the rumors are true, that this character drove him over the edge. And THAT is scary. This will probably also grab Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.

3. Man On Wire



I love documentaries. The crazier the subject, the more I enjoy it. This particular tale is about a crazy French tight-rope walker who absolutely will not stop attempting to walk between the towers of the World Trade Center. He is passionate and probably slightly insane, but the film follows his struggles and practice leading up to the great feat. His two teams must wait in the towers for hours as security guards patrol, then set up their camp on the roof. To get the wire across, they shoot an arrow attached to a fishing line. By morning, he is on the wire and he walks across eight times before they catch him. It is a story of dreams and passions and someone who will stop at nothing to achieve them. Best Documentary Feature.

2. The Wrestler



Growing up, all my friends were into professional wrestling. I couldn’t stand it. Once I found out everything was staged, what fun was it? It was a lame show of masculinity with a predetermined winner. Who cares? After watching Aronofsky’s moving tale of a washed up wrestler played by Micky Rourke, my attitude changed. Rourke had no other life than pro wrestling, and when he got too old, there was nowhere to turn. Marisa Tomei is fantastic, playing his closest friend, a frequent stripper. Evan Rachel Wood is also great, playing his estranged daughter. We see firsthand what Rourke is going through as he tries to find emotion in his life after his passion is impossible. I am split on the Best Lead Actor category for this reason, because Sean Penn has an equally compelling performance in…

1. Milk



Best Picture by far, Milk tells the tale of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and his struggle to win gay rights. He starts as a small business owner and slowly builds his community until he is elected city supervisor. Penn has transformed himself for this role, becoming the strong advocate for gay rights that Harvey Milk had been. I’d be content with either Penn or Rourke taking home Best Lead Actor because they both deserve it. I am also voting for Milk to win Best Original Screenplay. The supporting cast in this film are amazing too, with Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin in captivating performances. I can’t say enough about this film, it was truly my favorite of the year.

Now, I have a little bit to say about other movies I’ve seen. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was great. It reminded me a bit of Forrest Gump, and I could see why it’s getting shunned by everyone, but I still think it was very moving. Because Pitt and Blanchett played the same characters for an entire life span (except children), I’m giving Best Makeup, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design to this film. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I think everyone should give it a shot. It’s really not bad.

In Bruges was a fun action film, something I haven’t seen without it being terrible. I wouldn’t be upset if it took home Best Original Screenplay.

Benicio Del Toro is amazing in his depiction of Che Guavara in Che. Though the movie is two parts, and I only got to see Part 1, I can still say that he was great. This is another film that got completely shunned at the academy.

There you have it, my analysis of 2008 in film. We’ll see how I fare tonight during the awards.

Kleeb’s Top 10 Albums of 2008

January 7, 2010

1/11/09
Ahh the legendary end of the year albums list. In years past, this was a well-written lengthy article covering the nuances and details of twenty albums, justifying their place on this list. However, I’ve come to notice that many of the albums that land in the top five will often fizzle out of memory, while albums near the end of the list will sometimes make a lasting impression, solidifying their place in my music library forever.

Therefore, I’m basing this year’s list on the albums I can see myself listening to in the future. I’ve cut this down to ten, and I hope these ten will be cream of the crop for years to come. Some I’ve been listening to all year, others I just received a few weeks ago. Due to the theft of my laptop, there are many albums I did not get a chance to listen to. Some of these are DJ/Rupture, Nick Cave, Bon Iver, Portishead, The Bug, Deerhunter, and many more. There are other albums that people got really into that I can’t seem to like as much. Frightened Rabbit, M83, No Age, Vampire Weekend, and Crystal Castles were some of these. Regardless, I want to represent the ten best without filler. Here we go:



10.Black Mountain – In The Future


This spot had a lot of candidates. Wolf Parade and The Hold Steady were very close. The Islands new album was good, but not half as good as Return To The Sea. Boris is great, as always, but not impressive enough for the top ten. I was impressed with the new Death Cab, and The Black Keys matured a lot on Attack & Release, but both albums just didn’t strike me as much as previous work. However, In The Future by Black Mountain is a great record. Reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, but modern enough to avoid the cheesy aspects of Wolfmother. “Tyrants” is enough to make this album worthwhile, clocking in just over eight minutes. Guitar solos and breakdowns aside, this album is pretty great. It has some class that a lot of modern Zeppelin rip-off bands do not have. However, it is still kind of a Zeppelin rip-off. What can you do.



9.Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules & Love Affair


We’re going to take this one with a grain of salt. I try not to jump on this bandwagon of retro-dance bands that are causing people to shuffle their feet and shake their shoulders awkwardly. However, I am a DJ occasionally, and I can tell when something is good enough to get people to dance. This is one such album. There’s something about the 80’s that is present on this album. There’s something about Antony Hegarty’s voice (Antony & The Johnsons). There’s something about the consistent beat and the horns and the synths that really get to me. It’s like someone took the overgrown indie-dance genre and infused it with disco or house and came up with Hercules & Love Affair. However, this album is going to spawn a plethora of spin-offs that will drive this sound into the ground, and in a few years I’ll probably delete this album because I just can’t stand the style anymore. For the moment, though, I can respect this stuff and I’ll consistently DJ it until I’m sick of it.



8.Lindstrøm – Where You Go I Go Too


Last year, The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime placed at #19, but continued to be one of my favorite albums for most of 2008. The minimalistic trance was always great music to put on while working, hanging out with friends, cleaning, driving, etc. I would call it the dawn of my interest in background music. Lindstrøm works in this vein as well, except with a little bit more punch. Where You Go I Go Too is only three tracks, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes, but it grows and flows in ways the Field does not. Where From Here We Go Sublime broke into different patterns and tracks, Lindstrøm keeps his beat going, embracing a house-style fusion of disco and trance. Where The Field was not quite upbeat enough to play at any dance party I was DJing, Lindstrøm will hold his own among the modern disco hipsters, eager for a synthesizer and a pulsing beat. It is difficult to say one is better than the other, since I have yet to delve deeper into this album, but I am sure this will be a consistent play well into 2009.



7.Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes


Surprise! The Fleet Foxes land on every year-end list for good reason. I even came into this album with a bias against folky, reverb-heavy vocals (see: Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, The Shins). After hearing “White Winter Hymnal” 800 times, I was sure I was going to get sick of this one. Not so. This one just keeps getting better, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the amazing harmonies. Maybe it’s the songwriting. In any case, this stuff is addicting. I can’t get enough of it, and even “White Winter Hymnal” is still good, 800 times later.



6.Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing


I heard this album a few times and wrote it off as a wall-of-mediocre-sound. I think it took a live performance in Chicago at Pitchfork Music Festival to truly appreciate what this duo was doing. This is a new breed of music. Laptops meet various types of synthesizers and MIDI controllers, mixed with gameboy samples and children’s toy microphones. “Ribs Out” combines an eerie delayed vocal scream with an interesting percussive beat on a floor tom and random hardware. However, the majestic element of this band is the crushing atmospheric sound exhibited on the opener “Sweet Love For Planet Earth.” The swells and drawn-out pulses of feedback are what drives this album, and it must be listened to in full. The only complaint I have is the performance – exactly the same as the album. I guess you can’t do much when you’re working with all samples, but I’m interested to see what this duo is going to come up with next.



5.Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust


There are a few things I can count on in life. My Nissan Altima will never break down, Israel and Palestine will always be at war, and Sigur Rós will always put me to sleep. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 2002’s ( ) is one of the most majestic and beautiful albums I’ve ever heard. Well, at least the first four songs are. I’m usually out by the fifth. But hey, it always helps to have those bands around. Films like Vanilla Sky and The Life Aquatic wouldn’t be nearly as breathtaking without Sigur Rós, so let’s give their new album a shot. And in it rolls! Holy shit is this Animal Collective? Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust blasts off with “Gobbledigook,” a jangly percussive track, driven by acoustic guitars and hand claps. The tempo is about forty times what we’re used to, and perhaps this time Sigur Rós has taken off in a new direction. They follow this with the glockenspiel-heavy “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur,” complete with horns. However, it seems after the sprawling “Festival” (which would have made a great ender, in my opinion), the band reverts back to their old method. I hardly ever make it through “Ára bátur,” complete with a single vocal and piano line for almost ten minutes. Again, not that this is a bad thing. This is the Sigur Rós we’re used to. At least this album shows a lot of promise for the future.



4.TV on the Radio – Dear Science


When I first heard this album, it was the best thing I’ve ever heard. The second time, it was the best album of 2008. Then it was second best. I wasn’t sure why. I think it’s the lack of those powerful elements that made 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain so groundbreaking. The driving pace of “Wolf Like Me,” the percussion of “Let The Devil In,” and the aura of “I Was A Lover” are absent from this album. I think it’s maybe the angst that is gone. Dear Science is based around “Golden Age,” a time where Obama is president, things are looking optimistic, and the songwriting seems a bit forced. The lyrics are a bit questionable on “Lover’s Day” and “Red Dress.” Even my favorite track “Crying” is reminiscent of Prince. Regardless, it’s still a great album, but it could have been better. “Family Tree” is a beautiful song. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in “DLZ” and “Shout Me Out.” I guess I was looking for something on par with Cookie Mountain, and Dear Science seems to just fall short a bit.



3.Spiritualized – Songs in A&E


A front-runner for 2008 since its debut in January, this album is great from beginning to end. I guess it was the right place, right time. I had just rediscovered Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and was eagerly awaiting a follow-up. The performance at Pitchfork was enough to convince me, with gospel singers on “Soul on Fire” and a very Kill The Lights-esque ending that involved J Spaceman kicking his half stack over and throwing his guitar. The whimsical “Baby, I’m Just A Fool” starts off with a tropical-island xylophone melody. The foreboding “Borrowed Your Gun” is a depressing insight into Spaceman’s childhood. In fact, since this entire album was written on his death bed, it’s easy to see how Songs in A&E is full of layered emotion and orchestration. A beautiful record indeed.



2.Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali


I know, this is a risky pick at #2, but I’m going to stand by it. I just got this album a few weeks ago, but in a weak year for music, I think this album can hold its own at #2. I don’t know much about Amadou & Mariam, but here is what I’ve learned: They are blind. They are traditional African music, very rhythmic. Much of the album is produced by Damon Albarn. Yeah, THAT Damon Albarn. Plus, this is an albums list, and this is an album I can enjoy thoroughly from beginning to end. It is as if someone took traditional African music, with lots of chanting choruses and driving percussion and added a Western guitar player with a hint of American pop music. I’ll admit, there are a few cheesy parts of this album that seem like they were suggested by Justin Timberlake, but these are overshadowed by an overwhelmingly accessible African sound, with traditional instruments involved in a modern, Western project. This truly is the East meets West mashup. Finally, musicians who are rooted in a traditionally communal music culture competing with the producers and pop stars of the West. Maybe Amadou & Mariam will be household names by their next album.



1.The Dodos – Visiter


Of course. The only album that firmly cemented itself as a mainstay of 2008. The only album I can truly say is the best album of the year. The one that was left off of almost every critics’ list. The album I introduced to friends who obsessed over it as much as I did. The album that salvaged 2008 from a year of mediocrity. The Dodos. Two guys from San Francisco. Drums and acoustic guitar. Simple. Rhythmically, it’s outstanding. Logan Kroeber on drums, with a history of metal bands. Meric Long on guitar, with training in West African Ewe drumming (do we see a pattern here?) As a drummer, this album is groundbreaking. The time signatures change multiple times throughout songs. Tempos speed up and slow down and break into chaos before emerging again in a new pattern. All the while, vocals are split between angelic melodies and reverb-and-distortion heavy screams. And the best part? There are no breaks on this album. Each song flows into the next, so seamlessly and smooth. The opening track “Walking” showcases a mandolin and guitar duet before exploding into “Red and Purple,” a rhythmic orgasm. I could spend at least five more paragraphs dissecting the rest of this album, from the genius of “Fools” to the two-part “Joe’s Waltz,” complete with a driving blues guitar. The melancholy “Winter” is followed by the anthemic “It’s That Time Again.” This album is a masterpiece, and I’m sure anyone I’ve introduced to it will say the same. Give this one a shot, it’s the sleeper of the year.

For such a great year in music in 2007, 2008 was pretty weak. If you want to suggest any music I may have overlooked, I’ll gladly listen to it or tell you why it wasn’t included. Otherwise, thank god for 2009. Merriweather Post Pavillion is already one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. Look for a separate post addressing this album once I hear it a few more times.

Kleeb’s Top 25 Songs of 2008

January 7, 2010

1/4/09

Up until this year, this list used to be the top 100. However, my Macbook was recently stolen and I have fallen behind on current music. 100 songs also seems illogical, as a simple playlist can be made out of 25, and it is the cream of the crop.

1. Sigur Ros – Gobbledigook
2. The Mountain Goats – Sax Rohmer #1
3. The Dodos – Walking/Red and Purple
4. Spiritualized – Soul on Fire
5. El Guincho – Palmitos Park
6. Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
7. Animal Collective – Water Curses
8. Wolf Parade – Kissing the Beehive
9. Amadou & Mariam – Ce N’est Pas Bon
10. The Dodos – Fools
11. Sigur Ros – Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur
12. MGMT – Electric Feel
13. Amadou & Mariam – Sabali
14. Fleet Foxes – Your Protector
15. Black Mountain – Tyrants
16. M83 – Kim & Jessie
17. TV on the Radio – Crying
18. The Hold Steady – Sequestered in Memphis
19. Animal Collective – Street Flash
20. MGMT – Time To Pretend
21. Magnetic Fields – California Girls
22. Fuck Buttons – Sweet Love for Planet Earth
23. Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules’ Theme
24. Beach House – Gila
25. Islands – The Arm

Top 10 Albums on the way!