C.A.T: Transatlanticism

Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism (2003)

As the year comes to a close, I take the opportunity to recognize our last “Classic Album Tuesday” of 2013. For this distinct honor, I have chosen Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism to celebrate its tenth anniversary… which happened last October. I spent a good span of the summer listening to this album again, which was brought to a thrilling finale when I saw Death Cab play the entire album live at the last Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle. For that, Transatlanticism will always possess my heart.

The album kicks off with the very appropriate for this post, “The New Year” fueled by powerful chords and a pulsating beat. From there on out the mood shifts back and forth between optimistic indie rock and moody, low-tempo lullabies. The feeling is intimate on somber tracks like “Title and Registration” and “Tiny Vessels”. On the other side of the spectrum there’s “The Sound of Settling”, one of the most joyous and lively cuts in the entire Death Cab discography. All of this is brought to a climactic standstill with the album’s title track. I’ve never been to a show where Death Cab did not play the nearly eight minute powerhouse, “Transatlanticism”. It may not be the album’s finale but it’s certainly not an easy song to follow.

What is Death Cab without its individual members? The hypnotic bass lines of Nick Harmer, the steady rhythm of Jason McGerr, the polished production of Chris Walla and the soaring siren song of Mr. Benjamin Gibbard. There are few bands that I feel as close an emotional connection to and share such a strong a hometown pride with. Hopefully there will be many years of Death Cab to come.

Favorite Tracks: “Expo ’86”, “The New Year”, “The Sound of Settling”

P.S. “Transatlanticism” is a hard word to spell.

2013 Music Rundown: New

Paul McCartney – New

Last October, Paul McCartney released the sixteenth solo album of his career. The man that has already given the music world so much decided it was time for something new. New, Yeah right. New sounds like every McCartney album ever made. Still, I admire McCartney, he’s given the world so much quality work so he more or less gets a pass on anything. What I didn’t anticipate was the infectious nature of McCartney’s songwriting. On first listen I immediately wrote off New. As I have continued, I don’t know, I’m starting to… Feel things. Maybe this album is better than I thought?

McCartney worked with multiple producers to diversify his output on New and though I’m not sure it’s even noticeable to the listener, it does show McCartney being very receptive to collaboration. The album opens with the uptempo rocker “Save Us”. I like the hard cutting guitar and the energy. It’s followed by “Alligator” which drops off the energy but keeps the edge. There’s something about old McCartney when he’s melancholy that works so well. Perhaps when someone has lived a life like him you tend to hang on to his words a little more tightly. “Early Days” is an excellent example of that same idea. McCartney’s songwriting is still filled with captivating messages and beautiful melodies.

We can all agree on one thing though, McCartney’s old. His singing voice isn’t nearly where it used to be 40 years ago. Which makes me ask myself, if these songs came out in the early 70s, would I like them more? I think I would. So maybe it’s not the songs that initially threw me off, rather my aversion to hearing a senior citizen sing rock and roll. There’s some artists I have an easier time accepting as old. I always say Neil Young is as good as ever because he was just as cranky in his 20s as he is now. McCartney on the other hand is one of those artists you always want to remember as young, someone timeless. Once I got past all that I began to enjoy these songs just as songs, that just happen to be sung by a man who likes like a seventy-year-old Lesbian gym teacher. New isn’t new but it’s still something to cherish.

Favorite Tracks: “Alligator”, “New”, “Save Us”

You’ve Seen the Best, Now Here’s the NES

NES Remix

On December 18th, an online Nintendo Direct presentation revealed lots of exciting info on some upcoming titles. Particularly, a new Zelda game built in the mold of a Dynasty Warriors game. They also announced and released a new game, “Nes Remix” that day on the Nintendo eShop. Developed by indiezero, Nes Remix is a compilation of classic Nintendo games presented in rapid fire mini-game fashion. Much in the vein of Wario Ware, Nes Remix has a wide variety of different challenges with a rising difficulty. Though most importantly, Nes Remix gives players a greater appreciation of the titles that helped make Nintendo what it is today.

Comprised of 204 challenges from 16 classic NES titles, including remix challenges that combine games, Nes Remix has enough variety that it can be hard to put down. Titles include: Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Balloon Fight, and Clu Clu Land to name a few. Challenges can be as simple as, “Kill all the enemies” in a Mario Stage or as difficult as guiding Mario through a remix stage where the platforms are now invisible. The original games are presented just as we remember them, even Ice Climbers retains its shaky controls and infuriating challenges. Why not improve on these old games? Because that would kill the nostalgia. Part of the charm of playing these old games is embracing the learning curves and still coming out on top. I may be pissed that Donkey Kong Jr. dies from such a small fall but when I take him to the top, it’s the best.

Classics like Mario and Donkey Kong are always fun but I found the most pleasure in playing the overlooked classics. I now have a great deal of appreciation for “Wrecking Crew”, which may be my favorite game in the compilation. Even Golf can be addictive once you learn the controls, or lack thereof. It can be frustrating but also very satisfying as you advance. The addition of collectable 8bit Nintendo stamps is more incentive to do well on stages. On any given mini-game you can be rated on a 1-3 star rating, which adds plenty of replay.

For anyone familiar with most of these games, the best reason to pick up Nes Remix is for the remix stages. Trippy effects can be added to classic stages, a player might be asked to play several different games in succession, or even play a mashup. Ever imagine what it would be like if Link was in Donkey Kong? This is the game for you. It’s hard to say whether this whole collection is worth $15 dollars but if you’re a diehard Nintendo fan this game will leave you all smiles.

The Banks Job

Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks was a movie I was ready to hate from the get go. Another one of those overly sentimental late December releases begging for your consideration. It didn’t help that the trailer made it look like a big Disney puff piece. Of course this was only intensified by casting America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks. Yet, when I sat down to watch Saving Mr. Banks I genuinely got the feeling that this was a story that someone wanted to tell. Maybe the story was slightly distorted and maybe there was a bit more sugar than necessary, but I liked the story. The story of Mary Poppins difficult transition from book to beloved film classic is indeed a story worth telling.

The film is set in 1961, where Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has finally convinced the very stubborn author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to travel from London to L.A. in hopes to turn her book into a movie. Working alongside a peppy screenwriter (Bradley Whitford) and two energetic songwriters (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), Travers isn’t too keen on handing off her beloved characters. Particularly, Travers is concerned about the direction of the Mr. Banks character, the father of the children on the novel. The reason this stirs up so much controversy is because this is a character that Travers has based on her own amiable at times, alcoholic father (played by Colin Farrell in flashbacks). The result is an emotional game of cat-and-mouse with Disney and his dwarf-like men on one side and the emotionally closed off P.L. Travers on the other.

The setting and tone here is pitch perfect. There’s whimsy around every corner in the Disney Studio of the 1960s, highlighted nicely by a musical score made up of variations from the original Marry Poppins soundtrack. The mood is light and warm hearted, only delving into true drama when Travers recalls her ailing father as a troubled child in rural Australia. Emma Thompson plays the kind of character you love to hate. Travers is bitter and uptight to the nicest people, but you still feel sorry for her for losing her pappy. Plus, there’s never any doubt that Uncle Walt ain’t gonna turn that around with his Disney magic. Somehow this is actually problem I had with the movie.

Walt Disney is too damn nice. I have trouble believing that anyone, let alone the tyrannical Walt Disney could have been this warm hearted to someone who was so uncooperative in such a crucial business transaction. The man built an empire and I have a lot of trouble believing he did that by being all puppies and sunshine every day of the week. This movie portrays Disney as a saint with no sins. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Hanks is great, but this movie feels like an enchanted facade. Had this been an entirely fictional story about a fictional book becoming a fictional movie, maybe I wouldn’t have a problem. Unfortunately, I do have a problem. I feel like if a movie is advertised as biographical, it has a certain responsibility to give us the truth. Maybe they got Travers right, but no way in hell they got Disney right.

Does Saving Mr. Banks deserve Oscar nominations? No, I wouldn’t put it at that caliber. It is a very polished movie with likable characters and an engaging story, but had it come out in June no one would care. The truth of the matter is it has been roped into Awards fair because of its convenient release date and has a great chance of getting nominations. That’s the way of this small world after all.

Laugh Like a Ventriloquist Dummy

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

How many great comedy sequels have there been? It’s hard to think of many. Were any of them better than the original? Despite our lengthy tradition of long-running comedy series on TV, that just doesn’t seem to work in cinema. What’s worse, if you do try to make a comedy sequel, you run the risk of diminishing the specialness of the first film or making such a dud people have to pretend it doesn’t exist, like Ghostbusters 2. It’s just really hard to tell the same joke twice or more. Nine years after the first Anchorman, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are back to try just that.

Set in 1980, Anchorman 2 picks up where we left off, with Ron (Will Ferrell) and Veronica (Christina Applegate) having become co-hosts on a nightly news show in New York City. Through a series of mishaps, bafoonery, and brazen stubbornness, Ron ends up joining his old team of Champ (David Koechner), Brian (Paul Rudd), and Brick (Steve Carell) at the nation’s first 24-hour news network. As the landscape of television news reporting is radically changed, it is these four morons that end up shaping what’s important and not in this new America. And also a bunch of extremely wacky hijinks happen.

The biggest problem any sequel faces is bringing back enough of what made the first movie work while doing enough new stuff to keep it from getting stale. It’s super easy to look back and get reductive about what made the first movie successful, and reduce it down to key elements. Characters become a collection of specific attributes instead of people. Catchphrases emerge. Certain beats have to be hit again. I mean, look at The Hangover sequels. Success ruined any chance of those being good – they tried too hard to do the first one again.

And you can see that happening in Anchorman 2. The jazz flute, Baxter the dog talking to animals, something inappropriate making it through the teleprompter, all the familiar wells are drawn from. Similarly, the cartoonish main characters of the first movie are dialed up to even further levels of absurdity. Brick, already incredibly stupid in the first movie, is no longer a jab at TV weathermen and now like an alien trying to assimilate into human society. But you know what? It’s funny.

Not just Brick’s weirdness; Ron’s bizarre way of talking, Champ’s repressed homosexuality, Brian’s sleaziness… This is still an amusing world to be in. McKay and Ferrell came up with a bunch of amusing scenarios to put their characters into, an the cast is talented enough to make it work. I was laughing throughout the movie, no more than at a particular sequence at the end the belongs in the high halls of comedy legend. My brother said that scene alone is worth the price of admission, I don’t disagree.

What’s a shame is that the new stuff they actually did try mostly falls flat. Ron’s cable news show is a thinly veiled critique of the media that is neither particularly insightful or ever especially clever. A romantic subplot between Ron and his boss, played by Meagan Good, gives the writers an opportunity to deal with both Ron not being the one with power in a relationship, and the issue of interracial relationships. But it doesn’t really go anywhere except toward awkward racist jokes. This discomfort humor clashes with the goofiness that makes the rest of the movie fun and is just kind of a bummer.

But I liked Anchorman 2 about as much as I could hope I would. And I’m optimistic about it too; it took a few viewings before I began to really love the first movie. If I already like Anchorman 2 this much now, just imagine how funny I’ll think it is down the road. Now that’s exciting. You stay classy, Internet.

The Best of Top Ten Thursdays: Vol. 4

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the web. A podcast was ready, to enter your head. Yes, it’s Christmas Eve and what better way to celebrate than with “The Best of Top Ten Thursdays: Vol. 4″? This collection of comic gold includes Matt, Sean, John, and Colin talking about; beard snacks, sleeping 14 hours, Super Smash Bros, pee bags,”The Curious Case of Spermin’ Around”, and More! So click the download link below and let those bells ring!


2013 Music Rundown: Obsidian

Baths – Obsidian

Did I really never write anything about Obsidian? I feel like I’ve been listening to it all year, even though it came out in May. Well, what can I tell you about it? It’s the second album by Baths, another talented young electronic one-man show. It’s kind of like the lush synthy stuff I tend to listen to, but way darker. This Baths guy, he’s dealing with a lot of stuff like the reality of adulthood, who he is, and his place in the world. But it’s also really pretty and totally one of those albums that can really suck you in if you give it a chance. Obsidian has been one of my go-to albums for the bus ride to school all year, and I still think it’s really good all these listens later. So expect to hear about it again… Even though Colin is totally unmoved by it.

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