Sunday, February 28, 2010

Writer’s Jukebox – This Ain’t Your Top 40

Try to recall the last time you saw a jukebox.  Maybe it was an old-fashioned, scroll-through-album cards one in a skeezy diner.  Or perhaps one of those obnoxious touch-screen fiascos populating bars these days (the kids do hang out in bars still, right?).  Whatever it was, I can guarantee you it did not contain what we’ve on tap this week.

Gene’s jamming to some Afropop, a genre I didn’t know I needed until he brought it to my attention just now.  Pankin evaluates the Oscar nominees for Best Original Score.  I’ve done my fair share of griping about the Oscars (mostly unabashedly ill-informed whining about the Best Picture category), but I’m at peace with the Best Original Score lineup.  I’m happy to see someone articulate what each score does so well.  And Jordasch’s been listening to crazy amounts of my favorite radio news quiz, Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

Try and find that kind of variety in your bowling alley’s Tim McGraw-machine.

Gene – Indestructible Afropop

I know I'm a little late to the game, but I found a copy of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto Vol. 1 over the weekend and have been listening to it ever since.  It's really no wonder why Afropop has become such a lodestone in popular music recently; every track on this compilation is standout.  It hit the US in 1986, the same year as Paul Simon's Graceland, and became a bigger commercial success than anyone imagined, probably in no small part because Ladysmith Black Mambazo contributes the final track.  Shanachie Records was kind enough to included translated lyrics and considering how joyful the entire album is, it's amazing how many songs deal with marriage, anxiety about getting married or woes about marriage rituals.  Newlywed or not, it's definitely worth your time.

Pankin – Oscars, A-hoy!

Seeing as we’re smack dab in the middle of Oscar season, I’ve decided to check out the music that was nominated in the Best Original Score category.

Avatar (James Horner, 8 noms, 1 win): Horner creates a recognizable riff to represent a sense of unbelievable wonder, which is woven together with his best take on otherworldly tribal rhythms and textures. The rest of the score is well-developed (if thematically pretty standard) symphonic background fare.

Sherlock Holmes (Hans Zimmer, 7 noms, 1 win): It’s nice to see an old Oscar favorite branch out into something different. I’ve always enjoyed his music, although a great deal of it he straight up pirated from himself. But his score for “Sherlock” is bouncy, quirky, melodically driven, and almost totally devoid of the bombastic-ness for which he’s known.

Up (Michael Giacchino, 2 noms): A masterwork of theme & variation, Giacchino takes a simple waltz theme and smoothes it out so as to either tug mercilessly at your heartstrings or beefs it up to go seamlessly with an action sequence. This one’s my pick in terms of pure musical and emotional merit.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Alexandre Desplat, 3 noms): This delightful folksy romp perfectly captures the sensibilities of the children’s book on which the film was based while also staying true to the overall feel of a Wes Anderson project. The music can perfectly underscore a touching moment or let you know the characters are in danger without ever becoming unsettling.

The Hurt Locker (Marco Beltrami, 2 noms, & Buck Sanders): Eerie and dissonant sounds abound in this haunting score. I’m not sure whether it’s supposed to represent the barrenness of the desert or the sense of loneliness and terror accompanying such a harrowing profession, or both. I am sure that it’s pretty darn effective.

Jordasch – Wait, Wait…Don’t Chow Me!

Why is all the music I listen to not actually music?

Because I was never given specific orders to cease discussion of my non-musical listening-habits, I'll continue to write about the stuff I listen to that doesn't involve singing or melody (I guess that could include metal/industrial noise, but I digress).  My glorious return to a menial job stuffing envelopes has allowed me to listen to that GIGANTIC backlog of podcasts I have in iTunes.  Actually, "had" is closer to the truth, since I chowed through my roughly 15 hours of Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! episodes from the past few months and am now in the process of making This American Life my bitch.

Wait, Wait seems to epitomize everything that's sublimely unhip about NPR: it's a game show (lame) featuring comedians/panelists,Hollywood Squares-style, (lame lame) telling topical jokes (more like Lame, Lame...Don't Tell Me!).  But with its listener limerick challenges (led into by host Peter Sagal saying something like, "It's time for [announcer] Carl Kassel to dust off a copy of his favorite book, Rhyme and Punishment"), cheesy faux-journalistic theme music, and often inexplicable guests (Neil Sedaka?), Wait, Wait achieves a sort of perfect uncoolness.  Where other modern game shows actually delude themselves into thinking they might be cool (see Howie Mandell's John-Travolta-in-his-last-two-movies goatee on Deal or No Deal), Wait, Wait goes straight for the dork jugular, wringing the guilt out of a guilty pleasure (the panelist comedy game show) simply by being self-aware.  Sagal loves nothing more than a bad pun, except maybe poking fun at how "indoor" NPR listeners are ("Youth is wasted on you people").  Plus, instead of Whoopi Goldberg or that guy who hosted America's Funniest Home Videos who isn't Bob Sagat, we get writers for Real Time with Bill Maher,brilliant dysfunctional comedians, and the president of the Authors' Guild (who, incidentally, sounds like a drunk cowboy).  And they're all weird-lookin', 'cuz it's radio!  NPR, I could kiss you.

Oh yeah, and even though my iTunes seems to indicate I haven't been listening to shit that isn't a podcast lately, I seem to remember listening to some Sigur Ros and Randy Newman (Sail Away is my SHIT).