" youth is wasted on the young ." - george bernard shaw
It's been a while. Two years actually since I posted a year-end list on this blog. Admittedly this blog was dormant for the past two years but it's definitely something I miss. Even if the readers may not. This has been a good year of music -- brilliant new albums from some of my favorite artists (Frog Eyes, Destroyer, Mountain Goats, Sufjan Stevens) and some brilliant releases from artists much newer to me (The World Is, Day Wave, San Fermin, Courtney Barnett). All in all, the top 10 is probably as strong as any year in recent memory and I would only say that perhaps the "depth" isn't as strong as it used to be... I only go 50 deep on this list, whereas in the past I used to go 100 deep, but perhaps that's due to my lack of time to pay enough attention to all the great indie music still out there in 2015. Anyway, here's the list:
Here's some non-holiday themed San Fermin at Bowery Ballroom from last week that I meant to post. Enjoy and have a happy holiday!
"The Woods" (actually much more a Halloween song)
"Sonsick" (off their first album)
My boyfriend is quite a bit younger than me, so he grew up on the prequels of Star Wars, not the original films as I did. As such, he doesn't have the warm, fuzzy, nostalgic love that I feel for the Star Wars franchise, mostly because those films are not, in the traditional sense, "good." But while I was a huge massive all-encompassing Star Wars fan as a child -- particularly the toys that came out of the films -- at some point in my adulthood, that fandom waned and I did not become a "Star Wars geek" like so many others my age. I can't even remember the last time I revisited the original films before these past few weeks, other than maybe "decades ago". Films I watched as a teenager rather than as a child -- the Indiana Jones movies, Terminators 1 & 2, Aliens, Jurassic Park, Ferris Bueller, these are the movies that I watched over and over in my teen / college / young adult years and recall fondly as my "favorites", more than Star Wars. For my boyfriend, it is literally an afterthought in a world of Avengers and X-Men and other comic book franchises that dominated his teen years. Not Star Wars.
So we watched A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back in recent weeks (or I did and he kind of played on his phone while half-watching and remarking on the bad special effects) and each film was as good as I remembered. I didn't think they would have aged well (and yes, some of the effects didn't) but largely, both movies brought up so much nostalgic joy, and Han Solo is such an amazing character, that I could forgive the long stretches of people walking on Tatooine in A New Hope or the horrible claymation snow monster in Empire because the plot and the story and the characters, my god what great characters, make these movies great. I didn't get to Return of the Jedi yet, but I plan to. And I'm glad I own the box DVD set of the original Star Wars, although I don't really know when I got it or if I ever even watched them because, like I said, it's been "decades" since...
Then we saw The Force Awakens, which I'll get to. But the following night, as a favor to him, we revisited Episode I: The Phantom Menace for my boyfriend. It was bad. Like really, really bad. Like one of my worst movie experiences in recent months and we see pretty much every movie that comes out these days -- including The Last Witch Hunter starring Vin Diesel, which you probably didn't even realize was a thing that existed but it is and it does and it was better than Episode I. I mean the movie starts with this extended sequence in which the "Viceroys" from the Trade Federation (and just uttering those phrases sends chills up the spine of any diehard Star Wars fan) attempt to kill two Jedis (Obi-Wan and Liam Neeson) with droids who are about as difficult to kill as ants, all while talking with a racist version of an Asian accent. The action isn't good, or interesting, the dialects are super-offensive, and the "plot" revolving around the Trade Federation taking over Naboo for "some reason" makes no sense. And this is the opening to the first Star Wars film made in 15 years (at the time). Boy it was bad. And frighteningly, the next sequence is worse... when they meet Jar Jar (cringe) and he actually says "Ex-squeeze me" (yes that's dialog in a Star Wars movie) and makes more bad jokes in his horribly racist accent (cringe even more) which is all followed by an underwater chase sequence that is so full of CGI it's almost embarrassingly obvious that Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are just sitting on chairs in a Green Screen environment trying to "act" around nothing. It actually looks like a cartoon, but a badly animated Saturday morning cartoon from the '90s, and it has not aged well. I fell asleep sometime after we meet the worst child actor on the planet playing a baby Darth Vader on Tattooine.
Which brings us to The Force Awakens. (I know, sorry for the long buildup). It was great. No spoilers here so feel free to keep reading but it was great. The new cast sparkles. The old cast is a welcome addition. The action sequences are as strong as ever and it's beautiful on screen -- even from the third row in an IMAX 3D theater where the edges of the frames were blurry because I was too close, but it was beautiful. We got there early for a 10:30 pm show, but not remotely early enough, and the line wound through the theater and then outside along the building all the way around the corner. There were showings every half hour or so but the IMAX screenings were only a few (there was only one screen) so yeah, Friday night IMAX showing when I had to wait outside in the freezing cold was not a wise idea (it's been unseasonably warm all December here in NJ so this was bitter cold and I wasn't dressed for it). But it was all worth it. Fuck it I need to tell some spoilers, or at least some plot details so stop reading here and I'll put the rest below the jump.
Back in college at Syracuse (yes, that's where I went, ask anyone, except those who attended Rutgers College of Engineering in the early 90s), one of the many joys I experienced was my nascent discovery of what was then called "alternative rock" and probably used to be called new wave or punk and is now called indie rock if anything. That music and its antecedents (is that an appropriate word, wait I'm an author so I should know the answer to that, but let's move on) has given me unknown joy over the past 25+ years, and Dinosaur Jr. were right in that initial wave of college discovery -- well not the first wave, the first wave were mostly new wave acts from the UK who peaked in the 80s but I didn't discover until college in the 90s (The Smiths, New Order, The Cure) but that second wave, bands that were actually putting out amazing new albums but also reached back into 80s for their start, these bands were really the bulk of my college memories, or later college memories, my sophomore and junior and senior years (there were less memories during senior year after I fully discovered a separate joy of punishing my liver for its years of sobriety) but anyway these bands and those albums and that music is to me inseparable from my memory of college -- The Jesus & Mary Chain, Pixies, R.E.M., The Replacements, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Husker Du, Buffalo Tom, Pearl Jam, and on and on. I remember sitting in my room for hours between classes "studying" while listening to a copy of Automatic for the 38th straight time, or prepping for a night out of drinking with my roommate Dan's copy of Pearl Jam's Ten cranking throughout our tiny upstairs apartment on Robinson Street (I'm sure there's a Robinson Street in Syracuse, NY -- don't Google it...). And it was there, in college, that one band stood above all the others, right up top, with the double shot of early 90s releases Green Mind and Where You Been. No song to me says college to me more than "Out There."
"I feel OK
Back in 2005, when I was but a wee lad, Okkervil River released its third full-length for Jagjaguwar, titled Black Sheep Boy. Although the album came out in April, I'm fairly sure I didn't hear it until the fall, when lead single "For Real" made it into my earwaves and wound up the Vague Space #3 song of the year behind only heavyweights Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens. Of course, I didn't know much about Okkervil River then, this was the first time I'd heard of Will Sheff and friends and my mentions of him from a decade ago talk about how "dark" and disturbed the music on Black Sheep Boy is, particularly the striking artwork. And the album only made it to #15 on my album of the year list (I wrote about the album here, with the release of additional tracks in January 2006). But now, ten years later, Okkervil River has marched steadily up my list of favorite bands of all-time, and if you were to ask me today, they would make it into my top 5 favorite artists ever, behind only Superchunk, Pavement, Sunset Rubdown, and Modest Mouse, so now they are one of the heavyweights, on the strength of a catalog of nonstop great records and tracks and several amazing live performances. But Black Sheep Boy is their best album, bar none, and along with the Appendix (the additional tracks recorded at the same time), include fully four (4) songs in the Vague Space Top 100 songs of all-time. So yeah, I guess I underrated it in 2005, but now consider it an all-time great, and it was with much anticipation that I went to the Bowery Ballroom last night to see Will Sheff and friends perform the 18 tracks of Black Sheep Boy and the Appendix, live, in order, for the 10-year anniversary. And it was as perfect as I could have hoped.