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Monthly Archives: December 2011

If you’re looking for a new show to watch in 2012 and you loved Summer Heights High, then you need to check out Angry Boys.

If you were a college student within the last three or four years, the DVD of a show called Summer Heights High might have been passed around your dorm. There were a few aspects to this hilarious show which really made it unique. First, Summer Heights High is an Australian show, so everyone has funny accents. Second, there are only 12 episodes, so the series has a definitive beginning and end. Third, the series creator, Chris Lilley, plays three very different characters– a snobby teenaged girl, a middle school bully, and an ambiguously gay drama teacher (Welcome to Mr. G’s room!).

Within contemporary television, the mockumentary has become a common format (The Office, Parks and Recreation, Modern Family, Trailer Park Boys). What separates Summer Heights High is the way Lilley is able to balance laughs with seriousness. The final episode ends on a surprisingly sombre note. But, what makes the show compelling is the characters. Mr G might be one of the funniest narcissists ever. Also, the show has one of my all-time favorite theme songs.

So, if you’re already a fan of Summer Heights High, then I have good news for you. Starting tomorrow, January 1, 2012, HBO will be airing Lilley’s next project entitled Angry Boys. The show was originally released this past May in Australia and is just now making it’s United States debut. Based on this trailer and Lilley’s previous work, my expectations are very high. It appears that Lilley will be setting the bar even higher by playing six characters. It also seems that by playing an African American rapper and a Japanese mother, Lilley might be trying to offend and even wider audience. I can’t wait. Tune in tomorrow night at 10 p.m. and see for yourself. Happy new year!

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Yes please!

I didn’t find myself buying as many new albums this year as I have in recent years, though that is not to say that 2011 didn’t offer its share of great new music.  The following are my favorite releases from the past year:

Yuck, Yuck

-This London band’s debut draws easy and favorable comparisons to groups such as Sonic Youth and Yo la Tengo.

Listen: “The Wall”

Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

-Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D are old, but they still have the dopest beats.

Listen: “Make Some Noise”

CAKE, Showroom of Compassion

-The elements of CAKE; Jon McCrea’s bizarre vocal syncopations, trumpet, and vibraslap, create a distinct sound that may never lose its appeal.

Listen: “Sick of You”

Dub Trio, IV

-Dub Trio has an incredibly full sound for just three dudes.  It’s not studio trickery though, as these guys flawlessly pull off the reggae meets metal meets electronic sound live.

Listen: “Swarm”

Ben Folds, Best Imitation of Myself

-Although this is not an album of entirely new material, it contains much of the best music “released” in 2011.   Plus, a Ben Folds Five reunion cannot go unmentioned.

Listen: Ben Folds Five, “Tell Me What I Did”

No thanks!

I didn’t find myself buying as many new albums this year as I have in recent years, and that’s at least partially due to these stinkers.

Deer Tick, Divine Providence

-I really like their first few recordings, but “Let’s all go to the Bar” is the next despicable beer commercial.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

-I don’t get it.

The Black Keys, El Camino

-If you like the raw blues-rock that this duo puts out, you may not like this album either.

The Weeknd, House of Balloons

-Despite all the hype, I can’t get excited about this album.  Good news though, that appears to be a breast on the album cover.  The album is free on The Weekend’s website, so (other than my opinion) you have no reason not to check it out for yourself.

Retort with your favorite/least favorite music of 2011.  Also, mark the calendar in your palm pilot for a new installment this time next year, as by then, presumably, we will have listened to another year’s worth of albums.

         -Bro Dimaggio

As I flipped through Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2011, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring mistake. The good people at RS have forgotten my favorite album of 2011, I’m With You by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even though they are one of the biggest bands in the world right now, critics always still seem to overlook how great this band is.

At first I was dubious of the thought of a new Chili Pepper album without John Frusciante on guitar. The man is a musical genius and was crucial to the band’s success because of his amazing songwriting ability. I highly recommend any of Frusciante’s solo albums. However, my doubts were eased when I learned that Frusciante would be replaced by Josh Klinghoffer. I had recognized the name because he appears all over Frusciante’s solo albums on drums and guitar. Rick Rubin described Klinghoffer perfectly in a Rolling Stone interview; “He’s not John…but Josh speaks John’s language better than anyone else, just from years of playing with him.”

Any hesitations I had about this album were immediately washed away by the power of the first song, “Monarchy of Roses.” It’s the perfect track to open an album– droning bass, muffled vocals, chaotic guitars. The disorder builds to a roar, until a snare drum hit brings us into a crystal clear chorus driven by a nasty funk bass riff. Just like that, I knew the Chili Peppers were back.

Another song that sticks out is “Brendan’s Death Song.” According to interviews, the song was one of the first written for the album and it is meant to commemorate that death of Brendan Mullen, a close friend of the band. The ballad begins with soft acoustic guitar and builds into a driving funeral march. The repetition of the chorus is haunting but beautiful; “Like I said you know I’m almost dead, / You know I’m almost gone. / And when the drummer drums, / He’s gonna play my song, / To carry me along.” In acknowledging the inescapable realities of death, the song affirms life with with an instrumental celebration at the end.         

My favorite track on I’m With You is called “Did I Let You Know.” The song is based on a latin rhythm and carried by an addictive guitar riff. It also has a strong chorus which features Klinghoffer singing a high harmony reminiscent of the beloved Frusciante. The icing on the cake is the trumpet solo. Other key tracks include “Police Station,” “Meet Me on the Corner,” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.”

Lyrically, the albums is just what you’d expect from Anthony Kiedis. The lead singer often chooses words for their musical quality rather than coherency.  Take this verse from “Factory of Faith” : “Gunnin’ for the glitter, / Every hot and heavy hitter, She was never really there so I couldn’t really get her.” It don’t try to over-think it– just appreciate the words for the way they sounds together. However, not all of Kiedis’ lyrics are nonsense. “Police Station” describes the pain of remembering old love. Kiedis sings, “I know you from another picture, / Someone with the most conviction. / We used to read the funny papers, /Fool around and pull some capers.” Tracks like this showcase an honesty that reflects back to songs like “Under the Bridge.”

If your knowledge of the Chili Peppers is limited to what you’ve heard on the radio, then don’t let the first single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” speak for the rest of the album. It seems like Chili Peppers choose the first single for each album based on what is easily accessible to a wide audience. However, the single is typically one of the weaker songs from on the album. “Around the World” from Californication, “By the Way” from By the Way, and “Dani California” from Stadium Arcadium are all good songs, but they aren’t great. These songs might be radio-friendly, but real Chili Pepper fans know the best songs are deep cuts. “Rain Dance Maggie” does a good job of showcasing Flea and Chad, but the guitar takes a backseat and the lyrics are nonsensical and don’t really do anything for me.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m With You is a tremendous album. I can’t think of many bands that still sound this original after 10 studio albums. This new incarnation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers definitely has its own unique sound. Don’t expect any epic Frusciante guitar solos or angelic falsettos. Klinghoffer’s style is much more ambient and subtle. Listen for the way he layers guitar tracks. It’s more indirect, but still powerful. Also, don’t judge this book by its weird cover.

It usually doesn’t work out well when comedic actors try to cross over into the realm of music (Exhibit A). Thankfully, this rule does not apply to Donald Glover. You might recognize him from Derrick Comedy or NBC’s Community where he plays Troy. Since 2008, Glover has been releasing music for free online under the alias Childish Gambino. On November 15, 2011, Glover released his first full studio album entitled Camp.

For someone who’s known for having a hilarious personality on TV, the overall tone of the album is dark. Glover addresses heavy themes like heartbreak, insecurity, and what it means to be black or white. The concept of race can be found behind almost every track. He speaks as though he is a man living in two worlds, and neither of them accept him. He sarcastically refers to himself as “the only white rapper who’s allowed to use the n-word,” and “the only black kid at a Sufjan concert.”

The album’s biggest commentary on race is found in the song “Hold You Down.” Here, Glover defends himself against those who think he isn’t “black enough.” He raps, “Culture shock at barber shops cause I ain’t hood enough / We all look the same to the cops, ain’t that good enough?” The song also contains a line that always surprises me because of how sad it is. Glover says, “This one kid said somethin’ that was really bad / He said I wasn’t really black because I had a dad / I think that’s kinda sad / Mostly cause a lot of black kids think they should agree with that.” This statement demonstrates what is wrong with how we try to define “blackness” and shows a problem with how black people see themselves. Growing up without a father shouldn’t have to be an expectation.

Ultimately, Camp is a story of identity in which our narrator tries to look back on his childhood to discover who he really is. My favorite two songs on the album are “Outside” and “That Power” because they are the first and last songs. “Outside” introduces us to who Glover is by telling us about his parents: “Mom and dad wouldn’t listen / They left the Bronx so I wouldn’t be that / All their friends in NY deal crack / It’s weird, you think that they’d be proud of them / But when you leave the hood they think that you look down on ’em.”

My favorite part of the album is the spoken-word outro on “That Power.” Glover tells a deeply personal story about a bus ride home from camp when he was 13. Our young hero is bitterly betrayed by a girl, and learns a valuable lesson about life. “I wish I could say this was a story about how I got on the bus a boy and got off a man more cynical, hardened, and mature and shit. But that’s not true. The truth is I got on the bus a boy. And I never got off the bus. I still haven’t.” If nothing else, Camp is honest.

Fleet Foxes “Sim Sala Bim” on Jimmy Fallon 5/20/11

This video illustrates two important points. First: you can always count on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to have great musical guests. Second: Fleet Foxes are amazing live. Their studio recordings have layers and layers of vocal harmonies and instrumentation, and you would think it must be nearly impossible to recreate their songs in a live performance. But, the guys from Seattle make it look effortless. I love the dramatic changes in volume and tempo. “Sim Sala Bim” unfolds like a story, instead of the same old verse, chorus, verse chorus.

Foo Fighters “Rope” on Letterman 4/12/11

The Foo Fighters dominated 2011. Since the release of their seventh studio album Wasting Light last April, the band has been touring non-stop. They also made a documentary called Back and Forth, headlined just about every major festival this year, and protested against the Westboro Baptist Church. Quite a year. In a world where most hard rock bands still sound like Nickelback, the Foo Fighters keep making great music.

Childish Gambino “Heartbeat” on Conan 11/15/11

Last weekend I watched all of Season 1 of Community on DVD. Needless to say, Childish Gambino (also known as Donald Glover) is now one of my favorite rappers. His personality and sense of humor are infectious. But, don’t expected same cheery voice from “Troy and Abed in the mooooorning!!” Glover’s lyrics can make you squirm.

Louis CK on Letterman 7/28/11


I know this isn’t a musical performance, but Louis deserves attention. I watch a good deal of late night talk shows, and I’m always disappointed when they have a comedian on instead of a musical guest. Sorry, but they’re never funny. I feel like it’s a rarity to see an already established stand-up comedian actually do stand-up on a late night show. I also give Louis credit for coming up with material that was clean enough for network TV. If you aren’t familiar with Louis CK, check out his show Louis on FX. He writes, directs, and edits the whole thing himself. It’s about a stand-up comedian in New York City, so it’s basically like Seinfeld, but a lot darker.

The Strokes “Taken for a Fool” on Letterman 3/23/11

I thought 2011 would be a big year for The Strokes. In April, they released their big comeback album entitled Angles. It was an album I really wanted to love and I kept it in my car for about a month, hoping it would take hold. But, it never really struck a chord with me. I like my Strokes songs to be short, sweet and to-the-point. I think by discovering The Vaccines, it filled that void in my life left by The Strokes. “Taken for a Fool” is one of my favorite songs off the album because it sounds like a Strokes song. If you’d like an example of a weird Strokes song, check out this version of “Games” which they performed on Conan.  They all just look bored playing it.

Stephen Colbert and The Roots “Friday” on Jimmy Fallon 4/1/11

In 2011, the world was introduced to Rebecca Black, the 14-year-old girl who made one of the worst music videos to ever hit Youtube. Within weeks, people realized the song “Friday” was so horrible that it was actually kind of catchy. Youtube works in mysterious ways. During the frenzy, there were many “Friday” tributes and parodies, but the all-time greatest was done by Stephen Colbert with some help from The Roots. Also, be one the lookout for some cheerleaders and the creepy guy with the grey hair from American Idol. If the world ends in 2012, at least we’ll never have to hear this song again.

Album of the Year (2011): Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues

Seattle band Fleet Foxes quickly became one of my favorites upon my first hearing their self titled debut album.  Thus for myself, and I suspect many others, the release of their second full length LP was not without great anticipation.  Upon learning of the release date of this record I had hopes and dreams and expectations that it would contend for a spot as the best album in 2011.  The eventual decision was easy.

It seems to have the refreshingly simple elements and characteristics that were so appealing in their first recordings (including the Sun Giant EP): folk rock instrumentation, and strong vocal melodies and harmonies.  The subject matter, however, is markedly different.  Their previous album evoked visions of mountains and woods, you know, lumberjack stuff.  Helplessness Blues, as the title suggests, conjures thoughts of existentialism and Camus. This isn’t necessarily to suggest that lyrical depth has an effect on listening pleasure; it was just a remarkable difference.  The title track’s lyrics are subtle however, compared to the melody, “If I had an orchard, I’d work til I’m sore,”  a line repeatedly stuck in my roommate’s head (and thus mine).

Songs “Lorelai” and “Battery Kinzie” offer an upbeat pop feel, while “Bedouin Dress” downright grooves.  The album occasionally intensifies as “Sim Sala Bim” and the title track display ferocious strumming by singer/songwriter/guitarist Robin Pecknold.  A high point on the album for me occurs during “The Shrine/An Argument,” which showcases the band’s rhythmic expertise, as the triplet plucks of the acoustic guitar remain consistent while the band transitions flawlessly between even and odd time signatures.

Here you’ll find a good sample of these songs live from an NPR broadcast (Fleet Foxes live at the Newport Folk Festival is another gem offered by NPR).  I had the opportunity to see these gentlemen over the summer while supporting this album, and was delighted to find that these songs were just as strong live as in the studio.  Not too fancy and certainly no auto-tune, these songs, this band and this album are top notch.

-James K. Folk

This week, I went to go see The Descendants directed by Alexander Payne. The story is set in the beautiful paradise of Hawaii, but Matt King (played by George Clooney) let’s us know right away, “Paradise? Paradise can go fuck itself.”

Payne paints us the portrait of a man trying to keep it all together as his world suddenly begins to fall apart. We first see our protagonist, Matt King, in a hospital room while visiting his wife, who has been in a coma for 23 days following a boating accident. With his wife slowly recovering, King faces the challenge of parenting his two daughters. He calls himself the “back-up parent.”

Eventually, the doctors let King know that his wife’s condition is not improving, and due to a stipulation in her will, they have to take her off life support. As King breaks the news to his older daughter, Alex, she reveals that her mother had been having an affair. This is where The Descendants really picks up because it briefly becomes a road-trip-adventure movie. King, his two daughters, and Sid (the comic relief surfer bro meathead) have to figure out who this mystery adulterer is and confront him before the wife dies.

There’s also a parallel plot involving a giant piece of land, of which Matt is the trustee. The trust is comprised of Matt’s cousins, and they’ve decided it would be best to sell the land to developers. Matt’s choice of whether or not to sell the land is supposed to reflect his choice of how to react to his wife’s affair. Can he hang on to his piece of paradise? Can he confront the man who slept with his wife? Should he just give up on the past, or can he rebuild?

Overall, The Descendants is worth seeing based on the quality of George Clooney’s performance. Clooney is one of those great actors who radiates confidence and charm. Whether he’s playing Bruce Wayne or Danny Ocean, you always get the sense that he’s in control. But, it’s not often that was see him in a situation of being completely powerless. What I loved about his character in The Descendants was that he really seemed vulnerable. Clooney might not look like an ordinary guy, but in this movie, he did a great job of acting like one. Actress Shailene Woodley also deserves attention for her portrayal of Alex. The scene where she’s crying underwater is really powerful. I’ve seen this movie categorized as a comedy and a drama, but if you’re looking for laugh out loud comedy on a Friday night, I would skip this one. It’s a pretty sad movie, but definitely one worth seeing.