Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Clock

Imagine if Girl Talk's Greg Gillis, the "Maestro of the Mashup", applied his superhuman ability to films, dovetailing and rearranging clips to create a massive tribute to cinema. Now imagine that instead of making it the length of a typical LP (40 minutes or so), it was 24 hours long, and instead of a few hundred samples, it featured 10,000 (roughly) snippets meticulously threaded together. You would probably call this a staggeringly ambitious project. Now what if I told you that the entire "mashup", takes place in real time; that is, when your watch strikes 4, the clocks on the screen also strike four. When you start to get hungry around 6:37, the clips on the screen show people sitting down to dinner at precisely 6:37. That is what you can expect when you pull up a seat to watch Christian Marclay's "The Clock" at the MFA.

Perhaps I'm not explaining it well. Take a minute to view this clip to get a better idea of the incredible detail of this piece. And believe me when I say that the clip is woefully inadequate at expressing what makes the project so enthralling. Simply stitching the clips together would be a gargantuan effort, but Marclay was not satisfied with this simplistic endeavor. He constantly teases at certain scenes, just as a master DJ plays a tiny piece of a pop song minutes before he segues into it. While I watched it from 5:30 to 7 tonight, I was first confused when he showed Napoleon Dynamite in a van for no apparent reason, only to feel foolish 15 minutes later when Napoleon stood in a field looking at his watch waiting for Pedro to pull up. Certain films, like 1960's "The Time Machine" are the perfect tongue-in-cheek material, yet manage to pop up several times on their own merits, as George demonstrates the instrument to his friends over the course of a meeting.

The entire piece works on so many levels, it's a wonder no one had ever thought of it before. You can play "Name that Movie" with friends as films gallop by, you can sit back and enjoy as legend after legend flickers upon the screen (in my 90 minute session I saw nearly every movie star in film history*), or you can treat it like an actual film, as there is real drama and comedy in the film pairings and chosen scenes. People walking out of frame in one scene will be matched with people walking into a room in another. A knock at the door in one film will be answered in the next. When the clock nears the top of the hour, the loud music swells and the clips take on the gravitas that films usually do when time is running out for our hero. And of course, the complete work itself is an astute commentary on time and how we are both enslaved and liberated by it. It will inevitably mean different things to every person, but its net effect will be no less profound.

This blog post has gone on much longer than I expected, but such is my enthusiasm for this effort. If you have a chance to see it at the MFA, please do so before it leaves the city on December 31st. You won't regret it.

* Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Sean Penn, Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles, etc

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top 20 Songs of the Year

Why Hello There. Thanks for dropping by. Grab an agreeable beverage, pull up that Snuggie, and cuddle up for my favorite songs of the year. I'll try and keep commentary to a minimum here, and just get to business. There were many wonderful songs this year, of which I have plucked twenty to share with you. I am confident there will be some familiar characters, but probably a great many unfamiliar choices, of which I implore you to give a listen and keep an open mind. I listen to a lot of music, but the more I listen to, the more I learn that a great song is a great song, regardless of any real or imagined barriers that have kept them out of your ear.

Honorable Mentions:
Das Racist - Booty In The Air
Other Lives - Tamer Animals 
Wale - Chain Music
Wilco - Art of Almost
Wu Lyf - We Bros

20. Radiohead - The Daily Mail

Say what you will about "King Of Limbs", Radiohead's 8th studio album. Failed experiment? Brilliantly dense gem? No matter, as they saved their best song of the year for a December "single" release. Whether it didn't fit on King of Limbs or just wasn't ready, it's a fantastic tune that captures the dark atmosphere and flexible melodies that made Hail to the Thief such a disturbing listen.  

19. Cults - You Know What I Mean

Cults have surfed their own buzz to a contract with Columbia Records and a BNM crowning by Pitchfork. Their tight, gorgeous songs serve as brief time capsules that trigger an avalanche of grainy imagery and black and white photos. Who knows if people will tire of this nostalgia, but this song will never wear out its welcome on my iPod.

18. Justice - Helix

Justice's sophomore album was full of disappointments, but what salvaged their rock experiment and gave fans hope for the future was this wonderfully energetic diddy. Using the briefest of samples and an intoxicating guitar part, "Helix" was as much fun as anything on their debut.

17. LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem

I don't need to link this song, or even say anything about it, but I will. For those of you who think it is a terrible, manufactured, obnoxious excuse for a song, I am here to tell you that you aren't THAT old, and that you can still have fun. It was the song of the summer in my humble opinion, and still elicits a few instinctive shuffles before I can get a hold of myself.

16. Childish Gambino - Freaks and Geeks

The Gambino backlash is here. Camp has sold over 100,000 copies, Pitchfork dismissed his album with withering ferocity, and Community is on the ropes. Donald has always said he thrives on criticism and has dealt with haters every step of the way. I hope he keeps that hoodie pulled tight and ignores everything else, because this song is still amazing.

15. Lykke Li - Sadness is a Blessing

Something happened to Lykke Li. She was a cute, precocious girl who danced her way into your heart three years ago, in 2011, she developed a prickly side, one that eschewed her playfulness for a heart-to-heart. Sadness is a Blessing is as powerful as it is entrancing, and the video is a perfect compliment to the sentiments contained therein.

14. The Weeknd - The Morning

The Weeknd came out of absolutely nowhere (well, Toronto) to release two of the strongest R&B records of the year (for FREE). This 23 year old went from cooing into his laptop to getting hooks on Drake's album in 6 months, and he shows no sign of letting up, with even more albums set for release in early 2012. The Morning is the first song I heard of him, and the one that made everyone sit up and take notice.

13. Jessica Lea Mayfield - Blue Skies Again

People who lament the lack of "good" country/folk music these days, need look no further than Jessica Lea Mayfield. Seeing her live cemented her remarkable talent and stage presence. She sings in a feathery twang with wisdom well beyond her years. I can't wait to hear what she does next.

12. Florence and the Machine - What the Water Gave Me

Florence snuck up on me. I heard rumblings about her, but never made an effort to connect the dots until her sophomore album started collecting accolades and became undeniable. I'm glad I gave in to her charms. While I like "Shake it Out", some of her songs dance dangerously close to Sarah McLachlain territory. "What the Water Gave Me" is the perfect amalgam of her reining in her voice and the band picking up the slack.

11. Cut Copy - Take Me Over

I loved Cut Copy's "In Ghost Colours" more than I can express in a sentence, so I approached their newest release Zonoscope with trepidation, fearing they would try to shake things up dramatically and make fans run back to their first album. Thankfully, Zonoscope did none of that, as demonstrated by the masterful spring and build of "Take Me Over".

10. Architecture in Helsinki - Contact High

Architecture in Helsinki have yet to cobble together a GREAT album, but they can always be counted on for a few fantastic singles, and 2011 was no exception. "Contact High" and its hilarious is one of their strongest songs, and hypnotizing live. The more songs that keep Kellie on the keyboard and her voice in the background, the better.


9. Glass Candy - Warm in the Winter
I know very little about Glass Candy. I listened to some of their other music after falling in love with this song, and nothing grabbed me like this song. Usually, song titles are pretty dumb. They are just a snippet from a lyric in the song that people can yell out at a concert. But "Warm in the Winter" is something else entirely. It is the perfect descriptor for this song. I can see myself listening to it driving in the snow, or by the fire, and it was my go-to running song all year whenever I was feeling droopy. It never failed to warm me up and bring a dumb smile to my face. There's a version with lyrics and a purely instrumental. I prefer the latter.

8. St. Vincent - Cruel
St. Vincent had herself a very nice year, and although I can't say that I loved all of "Strange Mercy", I could not deny the brilliance of "Cruel". She has a stellar voice, and this song is the ideal stage for it.

7. Youth Lagoon - Seventeen
I just wrote about this song a few weeks ago, but it is still as devastating and inspiring as ever.

6. The Rapture - How Deep Is Your Love?

The Rapture, like many buzzbands of yore (ahem, Strokes, ahem), spent 2011 trying to get their groove back, or at the very least a bit of that precious buzz. Well they did a pretty stellar job on their debut single, a jangling hand-clapper that was the first of MANY songs to invoke the saxophone this year. So what if the chorus sounds a little too much like "The Thong Song?".

5. Lil Wayne - 6 foot, 7 foot

As the biggest Wayne apologist I know (recently I've been seriously considering getting a YMCMB vanity plate), I was a little nervous at Wayne's prospects fresh out of the pen, so imagine my relief when I heard 6 foot, 7 foot for the first time. I can only liken it to the feeling you get when your plane lands safely. I know Wayne has been hit-or-miss the rest of the year, but at least this song proved to me that the old Wayne is still in there somewhere.

4. Adele - Turning Tables

I wrote about this song a while ago also, and while Someone Like You and Rolling In The Deep were massive hits, I still think this is her strongest song to date. Riveting and chilling, Adele is a talent unlike any other.

3. Drake - Headlines

Drake's "Take Care" improved on his debut album in every possible way. He handed off the singing to the capable The Weeknd, and focused his energy on his lyrics, evolving so fast and so completely that any prior criticism of him no longer stuck. Those who dismissed him were forced to take a second look. They found   a far more calculating and intelligent rapper than they expected, all of these new found skills evident on the amazing "Headlines".

2. Bon Iver - Holocene

I am happy for Bon Iver. He has a humility that few artists have. Sometimes it gets him into trouble (See Grammy comments), but mostly it keeps him honest and earnestly trying to improve. With his second album he has shaken off his Kanye-glow and his cabin-in-the-woods mythology, and finally it seems as though he has earned himself a clean slate. Holocene is a wallop of a song, and needs no introduction if you've ventured outside your rock.

1. M83 - Midnight City

Yes. I am aware that this is the exact same #1 song as chosen by the tastemakers at, and I am perfectly ok with that. It is a song that transcends pretension and turned up noses and sneers from jaded hipsters. It is a lit firecracker that brought all the mopes and pessimists on to the dance floor. The album itself is huge and nearly collapses under its own weight, but this song is enough to set it on the right course and give it a hearty boost.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 in Books

I'm excited to start squeezing out Year-End Lists, as it likely means I am done with finals and have the time/mental fortitude to list out some of my favorite things (No Oprah). I thought I'd start the festivities off with a list of the books I read this year, roughly categorized. Not counting textbooks, I read 15 books this year. Not a banner year, but I'm sure I missed a few and really shifted into high gear over the last couple months. After taking a while to get into the groove, picking up my Nook has developed into a satisfying habit that is in many ways better than paper and ink. Without further ado:


The Pale King - David Foster Wallace, 560p

Classic Feynman - Richard Feynman, 528p

TBC #32 - The Corrections- Jonathan Franzen, 576p


Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself - David Lipsky, 352p

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson, 672p

Steve Jobs- Walter Isaacson, 656p

TBC #27 - The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde, 178p

TBC #29 - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick, 210p

Moneyball - Michael Lewis, 317p

Awake In The Dark - Roger Ebert, 512p

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John Le' Carre, 400p


TBC #33 - Mao II - Don Delillo, 256p

Life Itself - Roger Ebert, 448p


TBC #28 - King Lear - Shakespeare, 384p
                                                            Looking good, Gandalf ;)

TBC #35 - Shadow Of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 487p

TBC #36 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot, 400p


TBC #30 - Monster - Sanyika Shakur, 400p


The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie
Sex At Dawn - Christopher Ryan
Common Ground - J. Anthony Lukas
American Prometheus - Kai Bird
The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach
Ernest Hemingway - The Sun Also Rises

I'm sure I forgot a few of them, but these are the books I could come up with after a cursory look around my room and my Nook. Some Great, Some Meh. Some I didn't finish for one reason or another. Doesn't seem like much when you cram it all into a blog post, but it shakes out to 7,336 pages all told, or 20 pages/day. Not staggering, but better than I would have expected, all things considered.

What have you read this year? Anything great? Any overlaps? Please share in the comments, I'm always itching for something new to read. Adieu!