Let the end-of-year lists begin! I usually listen to podcasts while working, but I started digging more into the world of instrumental records and scores this year than any other for a little wordless aural pleasure. Here are my six new go-to records when I’m in an instrumental mood.
The Enter The Dragon Score by Lalo Schifrin (1973)
I don’t think there’s much in the way of dissension when it comes to the idea that Enter The Dragon is a brilliant film. But, when watching this year, I also realized it’s got an awesome score by Lalo Schifrin. While making a purchase on Amazon earlier this year, I needed something to get up to free shipping and came across this score for a few bucks. Since then, I’ve been listening to this mellow, action-y, Asian themed music that allows my mind to wander and focus on either work or writing projects. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more of Schifrin’s work because he was so damn good.
The Budos Band by The Budos Band (2005)
Around the time that I got Enter The Dragon, I tweeted out something along the lines of “Are there any bands that sound like they recorded the background music in Dirty Harry (also by Schifrin) or 70s cop shows?” My pal Justin Aclin responded with The Budos Band and a love affair was born. There’s a certain quality I don’t have the musical vocabulary to nail down that makes this 2005 record sound like it was made back in the 70s by a bunch of guys in huge sunglasses smoking unfiltered cigarettes. It’s basically like Justin jumped in my brain, figured out exactly what I was looking for and then gave it to me. I love this record.
Enter The 37th Chamber by El Michels Affair (2009)
At some point in the year, I came across Truth & Soul records and one of their bands El Michels Affair. They’ve got this record called Enter The 37th Chamber which is actually a series of instrumental Wu-Tang Clan covers. It’s like a more bass and drum heavy, hip hop-infused version of Schifrin’s Dragon soundtrack, which is something I very much enjoy.
Vertigo Score by Bernard Hermann (1958)
The Vertigo score was one of the many cheapo Amazon MP3 records I picked up this year. I haven’t listened to it a ton of times because it really does get under my skin with it’s beautiful, epic-ness but it really did the trick the few times I was looking for that exact feeling. I had a similar, but more intense experience with Hans Zimmer’s Inception score and really haven’t listened to it since that first time. Vertigo is by for the most orchestral record in my collection.
Cannonball’s Bossa Nova by Cannonball Adderley (1962)
Cannonball Adderley is one my favorite jazzmen around. His track “Autumn Leaves” off of Somethin’ Else is one of my all time favorite songs. So, when I saw Cannonball’s Bossa Nova pop up on Amazon MP3 I just had to add it to my collection. Bossa Nova moves a lot more than some of the cooler jazz stuff of his I have, but it’s got great swing and makes for some nice, uptempo tunes to get through the day. This record makes me want to go on vacation REAL bad.
Downtown Rockers by Tom Tom Club (2012)
After reading Please Kill Me, I was curious about any and all bands with connections to that punk/New Wave NYC scene. So, when I saw a Tom Tom Club record for a few bucks and read that the band consisted of Talking Head members, I was in. Turns out, though, that Downtown Rockers is a newer EP with five vocal-and-music tracks, one remix and then those first five tracks without vocals. I like the versions with words, but the instrumentals are just solid, guitar/drum/bass/electronic tracks with a few organs and other layers thrown on top that make for quality voiceless offerings. So, just imagine the above video but without all that singing and you have an idea of what I mean.
I found myself in an interesting mood this morning. Feeling tired and sleepy, I decided to skip the usual morning podcast-listening session in favor of the recently purchased Mulligan Meets Monk record, a Thelonious Monk disc that found the master pianist teaming up with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.
The experience got me thinking about jazz and my relationship with that musical art form. Growing up, I didn’t hear much of it aside from pieces in commercials, TV shows and movies here and there. It wasn’t until high school that I had my first real exposure to one of the few, truly American art forms.
At the time I had a website — I was very intent on calling it a site and not a blog because I thought the word was silly (it is) — where I would trade bootleg recordings with people. Actually, it’s still up because apparently Angelfire is still a thing. Anyway, out of nowhere I got an email asking if I would be interested in putting a banner ad up on the bootleg trading page in exchange for some swag. I said sure, popped in some code and eventually got a package in the mail from this company I’d never heard of.
It was Blue Note, the biggest jazz label around. I had no idea. Anyway, this happened twice and I wound up getting some records that might not have made it into my regular rotation, but definitely primed the pump for my later love of the genre. I remember getting Soulive’s Doin’ Something, Karl Denson’s Dance Lesson #2 and Charlie Hunter’s Songs From An Analog Playground.
I still listen to these records and am glad that they were the first ones I came across because they opened me up to the idea of new jazz. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s a genre of music that is perceived to be mostly ruled by dead musicians. This is still a vast, evolving art form that new people are doing amazing things with.
I remember being blown away by the way Denson incorporated a DJ (DJ Logic to be specific) into his compositions, Soulive kept things fun and funky and Hunter brought in singers like Mos Def and a pre-fame Norah Jones to help bring his songs to life. There’s a vibrancy to those records that make them worth listening to and also built an interesting foundation for what jazz could be in my mind. This is not a stagnant form and it should not stay static. Art doesn’t work that way, museums do.
The first classic jazz record I ever picked up was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. That jazz/rock fusion album probably wasn’t the best place to dip my toe in for either the genre or Davis’ fantastic catalog, but one of my favorite magazines at the time Guitar World, did a huge feature on it and I was interested. Unfortunately, the acid washed improvisation wasn’t something I was quite ready for yet so I only listened to the full double album a few times before shelving it.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college at Ohio Wesleyan that I really continued my jazz journey. I’d pretty much nailed down all my required classes to graduate and decided to take it easy on myself both class and schedule wise. That translated into a very relaxed schedule that included Jazz 110 at the music building, a place I’d only been a handful of times in my college career (it was in a completely part of the campus).
The class seemed split between people like myself looking to get an easy credit and others who were legitimately into this kind of music. And, honestly, it was a pretty easy class. The hardest part came when we were played various instruments and had to write down what they were. That’s not my strong suit and I think I bombed that quiz pretty hard. But the rest of it was pretty basic stuff with a mix of history — tracing the music back to New Orleans — and memorization. For the final I remember listening to a long list of songs because we’d have to name them on the test after hearing a snippet. I’ve always been bad at remembering non-obvious song names, so that was tough too.
The songs themselves all came from the Ken Burns Jazz box set, which we had to buy for class. A lot of kids burned or downloaded it, but I got one (well, my parents got me one along with my other text books which I did feel a bit bad about because I was actually excited about the purchase. Still, I got a good deal on a used one). If you’re even remotely interested in jazz, that box is a great place to start because it takes a chronological look at the form going from old school New Orleans brass band stuff all the way up through Weather Report. In other words, it’s a great sampler.
One of the big things I learned from that class were the different subgeneres of jazz. You’ve got everything from New Orleans and bop to blue, swing, acid, fusion and even jazz-rap. There is a ridiculous amount of music out there that, but the nice thing about the Ken Burns set and the Jazz: The First 100 Years textbook we used is that I got an idea of the form’s spectrum. From there I was able to zero in on the elements and subgenres that interested me most. For instance, I remember reading about Cecil Taylor’s crazy piano playing and then gave him a listen on the box set and realized I wanted to listen to more of that. You can do a lot of this with various websites and YouTube these days, but that’s not where my musical journey took me.
From there, I started exploring the greats. I picked up a couple Benny Goodman records — including one that’s a two disc full concert — got more into the biggies like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly and Charles Mingus. I’ve also branched out into some of the odder stuff like Us3, a hip hop group that only sang over sampled jazz licks.
One aspect of jazz that I fell in love with pretty quickly was how dramatic and comic book-like the whole scene was for a while. When I got into comics, I just dove in and started learning all I could about these characters. Eventually I built up a pretty solid mental database of who did what and when various characters teamed up. There’s a lot of that in jazz too. All of these people had these big personalities and crazy backstories. They were part of a band (team) for a period of time and then either moved on to another one or started their own. There’s also all kinds of team-ups all over the place. There’s a drama to the whole thing that sparked my imagination and helped me get interested in not just the music, but the people as well. Projects like The Quintet or Duke Ellington recording with Louis Armstrong hold a lot of appeal for me.
Another aspect of the form — at least the stuff I seem to be drawn to — is that it can be listened to on various levels. I can put something like Monk’s Alone In San Francisco and flow in and out of it while I do work or get some writing done. But, I can also sit and really explore these records, noting how they twist, turn and play with the form. I’m not nearly musical enough to get too in depth with this stuff, but I like a record that you could potentially sit in a dark room with and just experience. A lot of the jazz records I’ve listened to can be that.
While I still check out the jazz section of any used record store I find myself at, the main source of recently purchased records comes from Amazon’s MP3 store. Every month they put 100 albums on sale for $5 each and there’s usually a jazz album or two in there. That’s where I got Mulligan Meets Monk and a few others like Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’, Cannonaball’s Bossa Nova, Miles Davis’ seminal Kind Of Blue and even the Willie Nelson, Winton Marsalis and Norah Jones Ray Charles tribute called Here We Go Again.
It’s kind of wild to think that I’ve only been into this form of music for 8 years or so. Sure there were those first few Blue Note records, but those could have easily turned into outliers in the statistical equation of my music collection, a funny story to tell from my online past. What’s even stranger to think about is how separated this kind of music tends to be in the world of pop culture. Jazz just isn’t out there in the pop world as much as other forms, so it’s possible to completely miss it if you’re not looking for something new and different. Now that I think about it, that’s another common theme between jazz and comic books. Anyway, I’m hoping to remedy that a bit with my kid and expose her to this stuff at an early age. I hope she digs that swing!
I haven’t read the Panels on Pages Wizard Alumni Where Are They Now interviews featuring Ben Morse, Chris Ward, Jim Gibbons, Brian Cunningham and Rick Marshall just yet because it looks pretty long, but I did skim it and yes, I did get mentioned and do appear in a photo or two, so it’s worth looking at.
Speaking of Wizard buddies, Josh Wigler has loosed himself upon the world of freelance again! I assume this will mean fewer jobs for myself, but he’s a good dude, so that’s okay.
One last plug for my friends, but world renowned toy animator and my number one walking-around-NYC-post-NYCC companion Alex Kropinak now has a blog. Go read it, fool!
There’s an “Avengers of horror” in the works starring Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Mr. Hyde and seven other horror icons. Could be interesting. (via THR)
Justin Timberlake’s records have never been as appealing to me as his SNL hosting gigs, but Jody Rosen’s Rolling Stone review of his new album The 20/20 Experience sounds more up my alley.
I love me some eboy. His cityscapes are amazing and somewhere in the depths of my ToyFare-acquired toy collection I have a Hugh Hefner figure based on his artwork as well as a poster. I literally said, “Whoooaaaa,” when I saw this cruise ship image of his. Super neat!
Jack White talked to Rolling Stone about new solo tracks, new Dead Weather and the rad sounding blue Reissue series from Third Man Records. Give it a look.
THR says that Kurt Sutter of Sons of Anarchy fame is creating a horror/timetravel series at FX called Lucas Stand. I haven’t seen SOA yet, but have only heard good things. This sounds like an interesting concept and FX hasn’t steered my wrong yet, so I’ll give it a watch if it actually happens.
THR also made a list of 15 interesting bits of information discussed by the Big Bang Theory cast and creators at Paley Fest. There’s some fun stuff in there for fans.
I’m actually kind of happy these days when I see Mondo posters I’m not into because I know I probably wouldn’t be able to get one and don’t have the scratch to spend on one anyway. However, this Beetlejuice one by Ken Taylor as shown over on Bad Ass Digest is spectacular.
Sylvester Stallone tweeted that he wants more humor in Expendables 3. Not sure how I feel about that considering the hackie jokes were the worst part of 2. I’m still in, though, even more so if Jackie Chan’s involved. (via Collider)
Have you tried Nicolas Cage Roulette? It’s a website you can go to with many Nic Cage faces. You click whether you want it to chose any movie from the actor’s filmography (at least what’s on Netflix Instant) or just the action movies. I tried “All” four times and got Face/Off twice, Season of the Witch and Adaptation. Fun stuff!
An album of Elvis Costello recording with The Roots sounds rad. Maybe THAT record will get me to finally get back to writing Supergroup Showcases. (via Rolling Stone)
IDW’s collection of Silver Age Superman comic strips looks pretty neat. Looks like they’re also doing Batman and Wonder Woman strips. I didn’t even know there WAS a WW comic strip! (via Robot 6)
I’ve had this Boing Boing link about 22 Pixar storytelling rules saved for a while, but only recently read through them. It’s interesting how many of them I wound up following in my recent comic script.
This Toledo Blade article about some of the fancier restaurants from my home town’s past was incredibly interesting.
Ron Marz’s latest Shelf Life column over on CBR is about his one experience with comic writing stage fright, but he also talks about some behind the scenes stuff when it came to DC Versus Marvel and Amalgam, two ideas that captured my imagination when I was kid.
My buddy Jim Gibbons reposted this rad piece of Star Wars Mike Mignola art over on his Pizza Party! Tumblr. So rad.
My buddy Brett White offered an excellent companion piece to his CBR piece about why Orson Scott Card shouldn’t be writing Superman about the real comics community. He’s right and it’s important to remember that the negative side of the internet is most often the very vocal minority.
Here’s another piece about the OSC/DC debacle from The Carnival Of The Random that explains why this is not a freedom of speech or legal issue, but a moral one.
We need more movies that utilize hyper details models instead of bad CGI. These Star Wars folks know where it’s at.
I’ve been a fan of Ashton Kutcher’s since That 70s Show, but haven’t followed him much since the series ended. It was fun catching up in this lengthy Tom Chiarella article on Esquire.
So many of Script’s 7 Deadly Dialogue Sins drive me bonkers. Worth a read for all writers.
Hackers changed my brain when it came to computers. Chris Sims’ Wired piece “What We Supposedly Learned About Technology From 1995’s Hackers” is hilarious and dead on. I can’t wait for ones about The Net and Sneakers. Damn, now I want to watch Hackers and Sneakers again…
I’m a huge fan of Todd Philips’ Old School starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, so I’m pretty jazzed for their upcoming movie The Internship.
Greg Pak writes very enjoyable comics, so I’m curious to see what his first DC work Superman/Batman with Jae Lee will be like. (via USA Today)
I would very much like to see a Jay-Z/Justin Timberlake show. Anyone want to buy me tickets to the show at Yankee Stadium? (via Rolling Stone)
I’m gonna end with the Jack Kirby artwork that’s tied to Argo as seen on Buzzfeed. Hope that film winds up on Netflix Instant soon.
Pitch Perfect might be far from perfect, but I still thought it was a seriously enjoyable film. The only thing I knew about this movie going in was that it was about a group of female singers and that’s pretty much it. I had no idea it was set in college — most of the women in the film are nearing or over 30, though that doesn’t really bother me — or that Anna Kendrick was the main character or any of that. Yet, I still really enjoyed this movie.
I wonder, though, if you might have to be predisposed to this kind of flick to enjoy it. It shares more than a passing resemblance to Bring It On. In fact, I’d put those two movies in the same sub-genre with Fired Up and Stick It and that’s a group of films that I enjoy. I guess it’s basically just a sports movie featuring women and sports I’m not familiar with handled with a solid sense of humor. I’m not sure what this sub-genre should be called, but someone should coin a killer term.
Anyway, Kendrick’s a college freshman who wants to move to LA and start paying her dues in the record industry so she can eventually become a producer. Her dad’s a professor who wants her to get an education. For a while she has no interest until he makes her a deal saying that if she joins some kind of campus group and still doesn’t like it, he’ll help her move out and follow her dream. She winds up joining the school’s all female a cappella group, the Barden Bellas, and things move on from there. They have a rivalry with the all-male group (The Treblemakers) that gets interesting when Kendrick’s love interest joins that group. There’s also the Glee-style structure of hitting regionals and semi-finals and whatever.
You can tell from watching this movie, that the director’s cut was probably about four hours long. It feels robust and full, but also like some bits might be missing. We never quite find out why Kendrick is so mad at her dad (though it is better explained in an extended version of a scene on the Blu-ray). There were also scenes with the sexy English or Australian upperclassman DJ at the school radio station and a few other dangling plot points, but even with all that, I still found this to me an incredibly entertaining and fun movie. I’m also okay with not having every single possible detail about a person’s life even though I’m watching only a 2 hour segment of it. That’s how life is and I feel talked-down-to when every small detail is laid out for me.
I have a confession to make that might also contribute to my liking of this film: I was a pretty big fan of my college’s a cappella group the Owtsiders (we went to Ohio Wesleyan University, which was often shortened to OWU, get it?). Just about any time they had a concert I’d go. They always seemed to be having such a good time, it made me wish I could sing. I think the filmmakers did a good job of capturing not only that onstage presence, but also the kind of weird fandom a group like this can engender (seeing the smallest hint of myself in Benji was a little creepy). The sense of fun I got from the Owtsiders was on screen both in the performance scenes and the one where Kendrick breaks and reveals that she, like me, knows the words to Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The USA.”
More than being clever and funny, the movie makes me want to care about Kendrick’s character. I can relate to people with walls up who don’t want to let anyone in for fear of being hurt. I can relate to trying to be so self reliant that you actively shy away from interacting with people. I get her as a character to the core, of course it helps to understand her when all her favorite songs are about being bulletproof.
There was one funny thing I noticed about the cast of this film. While the women are all doing their things and doing it awesomely (Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp and Hana Mae Lee kill it), the dudes all reminded me of more established actors. Adam DeVine is doing Jack Black in his performance as Bumper. There wasn’t a moment he was on screen that I wasn’t thinking about Barry from High Fidelity, but douchier. The bigger guy that plays McLovin’s sidekick (I’m still not clear what either of them had to do with the clubs as neither of them was actually in one of the groups) was doing his best Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family impression. Even our two sympathetic mail leads at least seemed like existing characters. Jesse (Skylar Astin) looks like Dane Cook and Shia LaBeouf’s love child and Ben Platt has a minor Napoleon Dynamite thing going on as Benji. I’m not saying these guys all tried to be like other performers, but these things popped out to me while watching the movie. Lastly, Utkarsh Ambudkar looks exactly like my friend Kevin which is a little creepy.
So, no, Pitch Perfect is not a perfect movie. It’s not completely original, the cast is way older than it probably should be and some scenes were probably kept in in service of song and dance numbers instead of story, but as a whole I think it really works. If you’ve been burned by the unevenness or downright silliness of Glee, don’t let it keep you away from this movie. If you love Glee, well, you’ll probably dig this movie too. Also, if you like fun, you should dig Pitch Perfect. After writing this, I actually kinda want to watch the movie again…
I’m going to toss out a few caveats right at the top of this post. First of all, I’m a huge fan of Amazon’s MP3 section and how they sell 100 different albums for $5 every month. That’s where I bought all of these records except for one, which I bought from the band themselves. The only problem with this easy, cheap access to records is that I can get behind in what I’m listening too. Plus, if something might not be appropriate for tiny ears, I have to hold off on listening to that particular record. Holding off can mean I don’t listen to something nearly as much as I should or want to. As such, I haven’t given these records the attention they deserve, but I really enjoyed what I heard. As in years past, I’ll have multiple lists of favorite records. This one is albums that actually came out in 2012. I’ll also have a much longer list of New-To-Me records I bought in 2012 and even one of the best greatest hits, soundtracks and compilations I picked up and enjoyed in 2012. But now, here’s the new stuff. I’m not super tapped into the music world anymore. The extent of my knowledge mostly comes from reading Rolling Stone’s website, following @amazonmp3 on twitter and scoping out the new, cheap Amazon MP3 records on the site. As such, I didn’t know about K’Naan’s latest record, Country, God or The Girl until it wound up on one of those three radars (or possibly all three now that I think about it). K’Naan made the list back in 2009 with Troubador, my first exposure to his hip hop stylings and I’m happy to say that this record has more of the same absorbing, thoughtful and fun tracks. For the longest time I didn’t have much of an opinion of Willie Nelson. Country music wasn’t really my thing, but I thought his cameo in Half Baked was pretty funny. That was the extent of my exposure. Then I listened to him in The Highwaymen and eventually picked up Stardust, a beautiful record that made the New Old list for 2010 and I was in. This year, I picked up two more of his records, The Complete Atlantic Collection and Heroes, both of which made lists. Heroes not only features Willie’s sons Lukas and Micah, but also songs that jump effortlessly from soul searching to hilarious. Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson also lend their considerable talents. Yeah, that’s right Snoop Dogg, marking a great Half Baked reunion on “Roll Me Up.”I wasn’t hugely into the garage revival of the early 00s. I never bought a Strokes record and the Vines ones I did buy were kind of disappointing. Others felt like three or four singles wrapped up in 8-10 extra tracks of padding. But, I really liked The Hives’ Veni Vidi Viscious. It was a rocking good time that played fast and loud and didn’t take itself too seriously. I didn’t keep up on the rest of their records, but when I saw their latest, Lex Hives, pop up for a few bucks, I had to check it out. I’m pleased to say that this record has that same energy with songs that make you want to get up and dance. Better yet? Lucy liked the jams too and danced along with me! Also, I don’t say this much anymore because I don’t see them nearly as often, but I really dig that cover. As regular readers might remember, I saw Van Halen with my dad in March of last year. The worry going into something like that with any older band is that you don’t know if everyone still has their chops. Luckily, that was an unfounded worry when it came to the band. Even with that in mind, I had similar fears when sitting down to listen to Van Halen’s new record A Different Kind of Truth. I mean, how many records from 70s bands that have come out in the past five years do you really listen to? Again, I was happy to discover that this new record had a lot of the goodness found on classic Diamond Dave-era VH tracks. Sure, they’re often goofy tunes about tattoos and whatnot, but it’s okay to have a little fun with a record. It definitely helped that most of these songs actually have their roots in the group’s writing sessions from the mid 70s. My pals Alex Segura and Elizabeth Keenan-Penagos are in a band called Faulkner Detectives with Meg Wilhoite and Vanessa Lopez. Because they are my friends, I bought their seven song EP titled The Modern Handshake, but that’s not why they made the list. There’s no room for nepotism on UnitedMonkee! Alex is actually the person who, when I was a Wizard intern, got me into The Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. Not surprisingly, his band has a somewhat similar vibe to those bands, which is something I don’t have enough of in my life.I realize it might be kind of weird how I keep explaining how I came to an album. I just think the reason you buy something plays an important role in both your expectations and how you react to the material. I found Bob Mould by way of The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light which he did one track on. That got me to Husker Du’s Zen Arcadewhich melted my brain last year. Then, when Bob Mould’s solo record, Silver Age, came out earlier this year and was discounted, I was sold. I just listened to this one again and I just love it. I admit, I have difficulty figuring out exactly why, I just dig it. It’s good rock and roll music by a guy who knows what he’s doing after years of experience.
I realize after writing this that nearly every album on here is by an artist or group that I was already familiar with. Most of the bands I listened to for the first time this year were older bands and will show up on my New-To-Me list later this week. A few days before the end of the year I even picked up The Vaccines’ Come of Age, but still haven’t listened to it yet and therefore it can not make the list. I also picked up the first two of Green Day’s three new albums this year, but haven’t listened to them yet. I also grabbed Soundgarden’s King Animal and while I liked it, I wasn’t as blown away as I wanted to be. Maybe I’ll have more time next year…
It doesn’t feel completely accurate to say that my wife and I like Christmas music. We freaking love it. We both come from homes that celebrated old school classics as well as newer material. As a result we have a pretty solid and impressive collection of Christmas music. In fact, we actually have an iPod dedicated specifically to Christmas music. When my wife got a new iPod, we took her old mini (which very appropriately is green), cleared out all the old stuff and loaded it up with holiday tunes. As soon as Thanksgiving’s over, we pop that bad boy on and dig those tunes until Christmas. I figured it would be a good time to lay down a list of some of my favorite records to listen to around this time. Hit the jump to dig these crazy tunes. Continue reading Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time