Across the great divide, lies a podcast and that podcast is ROKK TALK! This week (more like this month), John and Colin revisit The Band’s classic final performance on Thanksgiving 1976 as captured in Martin Scorsese’s concert film, The Last Waltz. Listen, as your second-favorite rock-analysis-duo break down the film’s performances and rank them in a winner-take-all smackdown. Grab a drumstick, ’cause this one ain’t gonna be pretty. Happy Thanksgiving!
Right now, I’m in the middle of reading Mark Harris’ book Five Came Back, a sweeping story of Hollywood’s involvement in World War II, and the film directors that were hired to make documentary and propaganda films during one of America’s most trying periods. And considering the state of things right now, it’s hard for me not to think about the fact that during the depression in the 30’s and World War II in the 40’s, half of all Americans were going to the movies on a weekly basis, both as a way of escaping and engaging with the world. The same thing happened in the Vietnam and Watergate-ravaged ’70s, as I was talking about in my Network piece. And I think you very well could make the case that movies served as a great escape in the aftermath of 9/11, considering 2001 was the year that birthed juggernauts like the Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter franchises.
So I could be way off base with this — especially since any and all human-influenced predictions should be deemed irrelevant at this point — but I think people will be returning to the movies in the coming months. I know that may seem like a foolish prediction considering the dire state of the theater business in 2016, but I think the communal aspect of movies is what people need right now. Because I still think there isn’t another art form out there that is both as deeply humanistic and also as populist as filmmaking. There is no other art form that forces you to look another human being in the eye and understand their pain, their joy, their hopes, their dreams, and their failures the way movies do. And it’s hard to think of a better film that encapsulates that in 2016 than Moonlight. Continue reading
I’m sure like many Americans last night, I found myself pacing around my apartment at about 7 PM PST, while the TV played the dispiriting election results which showed that, good lord, Donald Trump might have a serious chance of being our president. Then, from some nearby house or apartment building, I kid you not, I heard someone yell the phrase, “I’m as mad as hell! And I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Which of course is the iconic line from Paddy Chayefsky’s script for the 1976 film Network, which for many years has been my favorite movie of all time, and is also a film that I kind of feel like I’ve been living through for the past year or so. Continue reading
Speaking of the late ’00s/early ’10s era of indie rock that marked my college years, Bon Iver was a pretty inseparable product of that era, and for that reason I wasn’t sure whether I should care about a new Bon Iver record. I guess it has to do with the fact that you could say Bon Iver was a pretty pivotal artist in the wimpification of indie rock that was no doubt started with Arcade Fire’s Funeral over a decade ago. But, at this point, that seems kind of irrelevant, because what the hell even is indie rock right now? It’s hard to say, but what isn’t terribly hard to say is that whether you like it or not, this a fairly bold and offbeat record that some people seem to like, and some people think is just too weird. And I can see why this is, though the more I listen to it, the more I’ve found that beneath its weirdness, 22, A Million has all the warmth and sensitivity that made white people fall in love with Bon Iver in the first place.
I could tell immediately that this was going to be a fairly experimental record, since on first listen, my reaction to 22, A Million was, “Yeah… I’m not really hearing any songs here”. Meaning there didn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason to the mix of electronic percussion, manipulated vocals, and intermittent use of more of traditional instrumentation that permeates the record. And I have to think on some level, that was Justin Vernon (aka Mr. Bon Iver)’s intention. He appears to be a guy who’s uncomfortable with the level of fame and attention he’s gotten since Bon Iver’s 2011 album, and looking at the album’s nonsensical track-listing, there was an intentional bucking of expectations going on here that made it feel like he was just screwing with people.
Or maybe 22, A Million was Vernon’s way of weeding out the phonies in his audience. Because Bon Iver does strike me as the kind of artist that your typical (I hate to use the phrase) hipster music fan is into, whether they actually like Bon Iver, or just feel obligated to say they like Bon Iver. On that level, I think Vernon has succeeded in creating an album that will test people’s patience, but will reward those that are patient enough to stick with it, and see that there’s a weird beauty to this album. I know I’ve talked about it before that music listeners nowadays seem less likely to really sit down and spend time with a challenging album, and this album’s embrace of that I’d say is more than welcome. Which in the end has made it feel like quite the opposite of the “fuck you” it initially felt like.
Favorite Tracks: You know, the ones with the weird symbols in them.
At this particular point in time, it’s getting very hard for me to think about anything other than the election we’re currently sitting on the precipice of, and the possible terrible ramifications we could be looking at. I mean, sure there was that Cubs World Series victory that just happened, which was nice and all, but doesn’t it on some level feel like an inevitable sign of the apocalypse? I know, that’s being a bit over-dramatic. Since clearly it was just a nice thing that happened to a long-suffering baseball team that by no other reason than bad luck had to wait 108 years to see their bad luck dissipate amongst the drunken roars of Chicagoans the world over. Either way, it seems secondary to whatever the hell will happen on Tuesday, and in a way most of what has happened in this unrelentingly long year (pop culture included) seems secondary to whatever fate awaits us on Tuesday (trust me, this’ll become an album review eventually).
So hopefully, very hopefully, on Wednesday, we can finally begin to look back on this year with some sense of normalcy, and see that yeah, there was some horrible crap to come out of 2016, but maybe we can look towards the future with some sense of hope. I guess I’m talking about the kind of hope we saw back in 2008, on that Wednesday after Obama took the presidency and it seemed like America could truly be a better place (which it kind of technically was, but also not really). And listening to an album like Hamilton Leithauser’s latest, it’s hard not to be reminded of the early part of the Obama administration, as it marks a collaboration between two artists whose bands were at their peak in the late ’00s/early ’10s, when Obamtimism was at its peak.
I guess another thing that was remarkable about Hamilton Leithauser’s The Walkmen and Rostam Batmanglij’s Vampire Weekend, is they were both the rare indie bands that were able to age gracefully. Because sure, The Walkmen’s Bows + Arrows and Vampire Weekend’s debut were no doubt ’00s indie classics that reeked of the kind of bratty confidence that could only come from young men in their 20s. But I think you could make a case that these bands’ “mature” albums — 2010’s Lisbon and 2013’s Modern Vampires of The City — were the best things that they ever put out.
So perhaps it only makes sense that these two New Yorkers would end up collaborating in 2016, freed from the constraints of their respective bands, and record an album that has an heir of maturity and calm, in a year that’s been anything but. While at the same time, I Had A Dream retains that vocal-straining recklessness that has always made Leithauser such a thrilling singer to listen to, while Rostam adds a sound that has all of the pristine flourishes of a very classic-sounding pop record. Also, much like any Walkmen record, the album does feature one absolutely perfect single with “A 1000 Times”. It quickly became one of my favorite tracks of 2016, and I hope when I listen back to it in the future, the song’s doe-eyed romantic optimism will remind me that, hey, 2016 didn’t turn out so bad after all.
Favorite Tracks: “A 1000 Times”, “You Ain’t That Young Kid”, “1959”