Where I Been? + Magical Movie Moments of 2010

I’m back. Or I’m trying to be back. Nothing gets a pop culture enthusiast’s blood pumping like the end of a calendar year: ’tis time to ponder the most exciting creations of the last 12 months.

Lists: they’re fun! But ‘best of’ lists are boring. So for this post, I will focus on the most magical movie moments of 2010, in no particular order.

To define my term: magical moments can be both literal and figurative; in all cases, the magical moments mentioned below are about the experience good movies offer when they draw you into the film’s universe, and help keep you there.

Magical Moment #1: the opening sequence of Mother. The very first scene of Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother is as fantastical a movie scene I saw all year, and involved no special effects or mystery-inducing narrative manipulation. The titular mother is first seen wandering in a wind-tickled mountain valley. She has a tired and blank expression on her face, and she looks lost. She then appears to draw resolve from some well of mysterious existential strength; music is cued, and mother hesitantly rolls her shoulder into what becomes a dance. She sways arrhythmically and occasionally stares into the camera lens; it’s a thrilling, totally disorienting scene. It’s also an instance of making strange that Bakhtin would have approved of, as it draws you from your complacency on the other side of the screen and makes you wonder what the fuck kind of movie you signed up for.

Magical Moment #2: the colors in Toy Story 3. Had Baudelaire been alive to see Toy Story 3, he probably would have written a ponderous 20-page essay on the correspondence between color and emotion in this movie. He would have titled it (in French, of course) “The Ecstasy of Color Synesthesia in Pixar Animations.” The characters’ hopes and dreams correspond with the brightness or droopiness of the colors shown; the new playroom at the day care center (the location of the toys’ last hope to be loved again) is a radiating palette of pastels, while Woody’s first brush with the seedy underbelly of the toy world in the vending machine comes in pukish hues of shadowy browns and sulphuric glowing yellows.

Magical Moment #3: the otherworldly & wintry environs of HP7. This movie had less wistful magicks than films past, and more grim, gruesome, and violent happenings. But the aesthetic of the other HPs was preserved and even heightened in some of the sweeping landscape shots of England. We find the downgraded (and Ronless) duo of Hermione and Harry on a craggy rock surface that looks positively lunar, a place that compounds the real isolation of our two young heroes. Later, after a near-death situation in Harry’s hometown, he and Hermione aspirate to a pastoral English forest, where virgin snows sits undisturbed on tree tops and an iced over stream. The best “environ” though, by far, is Dumbledore’s final resting place, which doesn’t have any of the mossed-over Anglosaxon charm of HP’s world, but instead looks like a monolith of Mies Van Der Roohean or Kubrickian provenance.

Magical Movie Moment #4: hallucinated ghost in A Prophet.

The ghost in A Prophet is the only surreal element in this brutally real film. Our hero enters prison as a petty thief and leaves it as a hardened criminal. The cost for this transformation was the blood of an inmate he is ordered to kill by the head Corsican mafioso. He slashes him up with a razor blade, and the scene is as messy with geysers of aorta blood as it is emotionally jarring. The ghost of the murdered man then appears to our hero throughout the movie, not as a moralizing haunter like, say, the ghosts of Christmas past or whatever, but as a reminder of what exactly it took to get in with the circles our hero runs with.

Magical Movie Moment #5: The vintage fonts in Vincere

Okay, no lies, I didn’t make it all the way through this movie. It more or less assumed its audience was Italian or scholars of Mussolini, jumping around the chronology of Benito’s life with no exposition or attempts to hand-hold you, leaving only befuddlement in its wake. This is what watching that movie was like: “Wait, why is he in a hospital bed? Who is that woman? Is that the one he was having sex with in the last scene? Oh, it’s not? This is three years later, he has a new wife, and he’s been injured in WWI? Oh, how did I not get that?” But the careful visual composition of each scene–with its blips of fascist browns, ornate wallpapers, silky bed clothes–almost made me keep watching. The best part had to be the somewhat hokey scene transitions, which often involved headlines from Mussolini’s first newspaper, “Il Popolo d’Italia.” The look of fascism, ripped straight from Futurist Manifestos of the time, was clean, angular, and severe. The vintage-style fonts in this movie remind us all that severe art and severe politics once combined to make for a world where sleek trains all ran on time.

Thanks for reading!

love, daftpop

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Daftpop Track Reviews

Jeezy feat. Clipse: “Illin

Jeezy’s got a new mixtape out, for anyone who cares. I don’t, but I stumbled upon this track, and was taken aback by its sonic otherness. “Illin” features an insanely warbled, gnarly violin sample; it’s something from your nightmares, or maybe a zombie debutante ball in Baton Rouge, 1914. Jeezy’s husky, lumbering flow rarely conveys much of anything; the content of his rhymes is often self-aggrandizing bullshit, sometimes heart attacks, and one time about black presidents and blue Italian sports cars. But here, Jeezy is forced to hustle a little due to the presence of his guests, the every-day-they’re-hustlin’ rappers of Clipse. Jeezy + Clipse makes for a visceral clash of personalities; Jeezy’s verse is essentially about how effortless being him/being rich is, while Malice and Pusha sound anguished and paranoid, per usual. If only Clipse could learn a little something from the dumb self-assuredness of Jeezy, and Jeezy could maybe get a little writerly ambition from Clipse… then everyone would win.

Robyn: “Dancing On My Own

Apart from being Swedish, looking sorta gay, and having hot shit producers, there is yet one other element that separates Robyn from the baser spectrum of pop. This is the vulnerable and self-aware emotional center of her lyrics. I suppose this center does not always hold, especially when you consider the embarrassing lyrical content and rapping affectations of “Konichiwa Bitches,” which would have benefited from some self-awareness. But in her best songs–”With Every Heartbeat,” “The Girl and The Robot,” and now “Dancing on My Own”–Robyn acknowledges, in uncomfortable detail, the desperation and various humiliations involved in being a lover scorned. She dances on her own in this ditty, whose narrative concerns going to the club in order to see her recent ex get busy with his new woman: “yeah, i know it’s stupid/but i just got to see it for myself.” She then gets shit faced and, after stumbling over some broken bottles in stilettos, the world starts spinning off its axis. By song end, it ain’t hard to imagine our song’s heroine falling flat on her lovely YET STILL REJECTED face. My suggestion is that Robyn get with also-frequently-embarrassedly-in-love/fellow Swede Jens Lekman, and then they can make sweet music together until they die.

M.I.A.: “XXXO”

What I learned from the Hirschberg v. M.I.A. media shitstorm was that Maya Arulpragasam performs her role as musician-provocateur with perfect canniness. She is an artist, not a politician or policy-maker, and artists are allowed to provoke us in ways mysterious, inconsistent, or even morally unsavory. If art was not ambiguous, well, then we wouldn’t call it art.’ M.I.A always has a lot to say, even if it doesn’t cohere to a very orderly cultural analysis, and her new single, “XXXO,” clatters on in this same strain. The song contains a vague commentary on the identity-eroding properties of modern telecommunications; iPhones and twitter are name-dropped, while otherwise some whining ensues with the lines: “You want me be/ somebody who I’m really not.” Both the song title and the clutch of letters meant to represent a kiss are M.I.A.’s shorthand for the ways we are dehumanized by this technology; seduction and the possibility of love have been reduced to a mechanization, a screen touch, a tapping away on T9. Or so I’ve deduced. The song is a surprisingly conventional banger, and most of the lyrics are more suggestive than they are straight-up—but it keeps the listener guessing, and isn’t it better that way?

Let Me Tell You ‘Bout This Country Shit

k.r.i.t. has practically been on my blog

Now granted, I of all people am not an authority on country shit. Sometimes I get confused and think my time in Southern Indiana gave me some sort of cred, as after four years in the area my Great Lakes accent faded and I stopped talking out of my nose 100% of the time, downgrading to about 90%. I occasionally said “pin” when I meant “pen” and “flowrs” instead of “flow-ers.”

My real country friends are quick to remind me that even my Hoosier cred is sorta in doubt; the main stealer-of-my-IN-cred is a friend named after a Bible personage and has a big, red, Amish lookin-beard. He grew up in a town where it wasn’t unusual to see dungareed men out with horse and buggy, and where the kids hung out at the gas station on Friday night, as it was the happenin’ place to be. Indeed, I don’t know nuthin’ about one gas station towns.

Anyway, someone who can tell u bout country shit is Mississippi producer Big K.R.I.T. About a week ago, everyone in the hip hop blogosphere went bat shit for his new album. Since I am a little slower to these things, it is only since yesterday that I have been bat shit for it. K.R.I.T. WUZ HERE (<—download from that link!!!) is an album of sweaty cruisin, bass thumpin, dirrrrty southern-ass beats. It’s laid back and breezy, and maybe a lil’ dank. Which is to say, it sounds like a day in Mississippi probably feels.

Everyone keeps heralding K.R.I.T. as Pimp C (of UGK) reincarnate, and that’s fine and all, but to me he sorta sounds like T.I., sans the fury. The tune “Country Shit,” a stuttering, bouncy, and at times, str8-up heroic declaration of what they got down thurrr in the South. He begins by inviting the listener into his narrative and elucidating some properties of country shit: “Let me tell ya bout this supah fly/dirty dirty/third(???) cold/muddy waters…” (I apologize for the question marks–sometimes this shit is so country, I can’t understand what is being said.) This is followed by an imperative: “Shorty, pop that pussy! If you wanna.” I appreciate  the ladies have a choice in the matter. Seriously.

Big K.R.I.T. is one of many Southern rappers who has immortalized his geography & lifestyle in a deeptrackkk. Other wonderful songs within this genre that come to mind are Outkast’s “ATLiens,” from the 1996 album of the same name. Obvs, ATLiens was an appropriate title for the ATL resident weirdos. Many hallmarks of Southern life are noted within this song, including an archetypal Southern meal: “If you like fish n’ grits, n’ all dat pimp shit, everybody let me hear you say oh yeah-yer.” Oh yeah-yer.

Clipse, ever despairing, have a down-trodden song dedicated to their home state: “Virginia.” It begins:  “I’m from Virginia, where there ain’t shit to do but cook.” Later, it is noted that “there ain’t shit to do but look.” In addition to cooking and looking, drug dealing and murder also happen in this song.

Overall, I’d much rather learn about country shit from K.R.I.T. or OutKast than from Clipse, but I guess it just depends on how fucking morbid and misanthropic your worldview is.

Anyway, wanna hear these songs? Here is a jank-ass myspace playlist of them.

Several Songs Daftpop Enjoys Right Now: The Series, Part II

Young Jeezy: Only like Malcolm X if his motto was "buy any jeans necessary"

Well gee, it’s been a minute since I wrote on this blog. I’ve been sitting, thumbs a-twiddle, waiting for bloggerly inspiration to come for weeks now. Finally I realized that I of all people should know that blogs need not be the medium for deep thoughts (for instance, my last post was about Clash of the Titans).

In accordance with my lack of inspiration, and perhaps my recent lack of sophistication, I will discuss some notable songs of the moment… Ahem.

Welcome to Several Songs Daftpop Enjoys Right Now, The Series! (It needs a better title, but I’m working on it. Woman can only do so much in between work deadlines, smoke breaks and caring for needy dogs.)

1. Jeezy feat. Clipse: “Illin

Jeezy’s got a new mixtape out, for anyone who cares. I don’t, but I stumbled upon this track, and was taken aback by its sonic otherness. “Illin” features an insanely warbled, gnarly violin sample; it’s something from your nightmares, or maybe a zombie debutante ball in Baton Rouge, 1914. Jeezy’s husky, lumbering flow rarely conveys much of anything; the content of his rhymes is often self-aggrandizing bullshit, sometimes heart attacks, and one time about black presidents and blue Italian sports cars. But here, Jeezy is forced to hustle a little due to the presence of his guests, the every-day-they’re-hustlin’ rappers of Clipse. Jeezy + Clipse makes for a visceral clash of personalities; Jeezy’s verse is essentially about how effortless being him/being rich is, while Malice and Pusha sound anguished and paranoid, per usual. If only Clipse could learn a little something from the dumb self-assuredness of Jeezy, and Jeezy could maybe get a little writerly ambition from Clipse… then everyone would win.

2. Freddie Gibbs: “Crushin’ Feelins

To some, Freddie Gibbs is some 2009 hype; to others, he is the future of hip hop. To make a long story short: Gibbs is from Gary, but currently lives in LA. He is something of a classicist gangsta rapper. His beats aren’t all that dope, but he can double-time it like Twista and spins the most eloquent of street elegies. And oh yeah, he’s performing at P4k this summer. Weird!!! It can be hard to know where to start with 3.0 rappers like Gibbs–dude has no proper studio album or radio singles, just some mixtapes, all of which are epic in length–so where to begin? Start here, with “Crushin’ Feelins.” In less than four minutes of breathless, glorious raps over the fucking smoothest guitar ever, Gibbs tells you everywhere he’s lived, states his life goals, talks up his skills, and most importantly, explains everything you need to know about him: that he can “easily bring you defeat with [his] vernacular” and is “too deep in the streets to be beefin’ with other rappers.”

3. Drake: “Over

I never thought I’d cop to liking a Drake song, but here I am. While I don’t relish the concept of “Over,” (which is yet another navel-gazing extravaganza and features several of his fucking imbecilic non sequitur couplets) the scuttle-shuttle of the beat that drops at 30 seconds is as beautiful a thang I’ve heard on the radio in a while.

4. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: “Beverly Kills

Pop bliss! “Beverly Kills” is a scatterbrained but marvelously melodic ditty recalling psychedelic Californian summers, like an acid trip at someone’s 60’s hippie party in L.A. Or something. Anyway, AP’sHG might be poster-children of lofi-ness, but a friend recently commented to me that there is something very deliberate in their aesthetic; lofi for them is not tossed off or motivated by a sort of punk recklessness: it’s a production choice , a wonderful mindfulness of what is being evoked by certain sounds. This song is yet another good example of this phenom; plus, it’s just good, silly fun.

5. M.I.A.: “XXXO

I love M.I.A. so much that I get sort of befuddled when I have to talk about her. Ever a monitor of the postmodern condition, M.I.A. here comments on the identity-eroding properties of modern telecommunications. I am glad I received this warning from M.I.A.,  because I almost wrote this entire post in internet lingo and emoticons. JK! She sings in a lifeless monotone against a backdrop of menacing (if somewhat conventional) electropop. “XXXO,” both the song title and the clutch of letters meant to represent a kiss, are M.I.A.’s shorthand for the ways in which we are dehumanized by technology. The lyrics aren’t very cohesive, but the whole is suggestive: “you want me be someone who I’m really not,” “cuz everytime we try to get close/there’s always something I’m  thinking about,” “if you like what you see/you can download and store.” Seduction and the possibility of love have been reduced to a mechanization, a screen touch, a tapping away on T9.

6. Robyn “Dancing On My Own

Apart from being Swedish, looking sorta gay, and having hot shit producers, there is yet one other element that separates Robyn from the baser spectrum of pop. This is the vulnerable and self-aware emotional center of her lyrics. I suppose this center does not always hold, especially when you consider the embarrassing lyrical content and rapping affectations of “Konichiwa Bitches,” which would have benefited from some self-awareness. But in her best songs–“With Every Heartbeat,” “The Girl and The Robot,” and now “Dancing on My Own”–Robyn acknowledges, in uncomfortable detail, the desperation and various humiliations involved in being a lover scorned. She dances on her own in this ditty, whose narrative concerns going to the club in order to see her recent ex get busy with his new woman: “yeah, i know it’s stupid/but i just got to see it for myself.” She then gets shit faced and, after stumbling over some broken bottles in stilettos, the world starts spinning off its axis. By song end, it ain’t hard to imagine our song’s heroine falling flat on her lovely YET STILL REJECTED face. My suggestion is that Robyn get with also-frequently-embarrassedly-in-love/fellow Swede Jens Lekman, and then they can make sweet music together until they die.

2010 Art Times: BEACH HOUSE

Beach House's album cover is a very light beige Zebra print; I decided to just show you some Zebras in love.

I am taking a break from telling you about my favorite things from 2009 to tell you about my new favorite thing from 2010.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote music reviews for my college newspaper. I had the honor of reviewing Beach House’s Devotion, way back before I even knew or cared about them. Here is what I said. I am only posting it to give you an idea of why this band is great:

“Hopelessly Devoted”

Beach House’s 2006 debut found a loyal fan base among fans of low-key, off-tune, ambient imitations of White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground. Critics, however, were less eager to embrace the monotonous, long, and messy first album.

Devotion, the newest release by the Baltimore duo, refines the bands original formula of fuzz and shimmery clutter, creating a happy marriage of atmosphere and melody.

Channeling Yo La Tengo or the Cocteau Twins, Victoria Legrand (singer/organist) and Alex Scally (everything else-ist) create a dreamy soundscape that is at once comforting and alien. It takes more than a few listens to break through the album’s shadowy reverb world; but a patient listener will discovery the many virtues of Devotion.

Victoria Legrand’s resonant alto recalls the deep world-weariness of Nico. But Nico comes from some cold Scandinavian future where feelings are no longer required; Legrand still has a heart to be broken. Her pathos opens like a wound in the pleading chorus of “Gila,” or the lovelorn la la la’s of “You Came to Me.”

Alex Scally jangles tambourines that were pop instruments in a former, happier life. When guitars appear, they’re sliding down into minor keys as mournful additions to the low-tempo blues of songs like “All the Year.” Elsewhere, harpsichords, wind chimes, organ, and a soft tap-tap of the bass drum all undergo the dust-wash of Beach House’s production style, lending the album the feel of a fresh discovery sitting in musty box of your parents’ 60’s vinyl.

And therein lies the genius of the album: all the songs possess a 60’s pop sensibility, and would be radio-ready if only they traded organ for guitar, low tempo for fast. A perfect example of this is the deceptively brilliant and understated, “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.” in which Legrand busts out an old pop staple by spelling the chorus, and takes the listener on a soaring, pulsating journey with an optimistic organ and twangy guitar.

As Legrand tells one of her ghosts on the album-opener, “You came to me/in a dream,” so too comes the estranged, beautiful, and mysterious cousin of pop music Beach House offer on Devotion.

Grade: A-

More like, GRADE A+ FOREVER!!!

Now, Beach House has bequeathed to the world Teen Dream, a perfectly-titled, perfectly written, perfectly beautiful album. It is saving my life, it is making me believe what music is for again.

Nigel already did a great post on this album, and likened the experience of listening to the album to falling in love. And I think he was dead on–it seems pedestrian and rude (rude like uncouth) to talk about this album in regular music review terms.

We can agree, perhaps, that it is the duty of the critic and of the writer to articulate why something is great. But is there a time when something is so great that words don’t really do it justice? Is it a fucking cop-out to say that? Well, yeah, I’d say normally it is. Whenever a sentence starts with “Words fail to describe…” (here’s lookin’ at you, Stephanie Meyer!) you know that the writer is just too dumb to think of the right words. But music and its mystical qualities seem especially poised to evade capture by words.

Walter Benjamin wrote an essay called “The Task of the Translator.” It’s pretty crazy, and he talks a bit about forests and trees in a belabored metaphor that probably only he really understood… But the point is, he discusses the choices and analysis of translating a text from one language to another. Exact equivalencies between two languages don’t really exist, so the translation becomes some further evolution of the original work.

Writing about music is like translation. The writing is a separate entity than the music it is describing, and it takes on a life of its own in words. In the case of translating Teen Dream to words, I might have written a short story about loss in the winter time, or maybe typed out a scene from Anna Karenina (perhaps the one where Levin is looking at Kitty ice-skating–it’s full of hope, longing, joy and sadness, all at the same time!), or maybe I would have written a poem about my little wooden cabin, or something. The point is, a music review wasn’t gonna cut it when discussing this album.

Let me know if this makes sense, I had two glasses of wine while writing this.

love,

anna