Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Red Lights (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes asks how much do you want to believe?

In spite of a head lining Sundance Film Festival premiere in January and the presence of top-billed stars, Red Lights (2012) is a largely unheard of film that came and went earlier this year and that too, fairly quickly. Ignore the bad press, it is too bad because you may have missed a real treat, until now. 

Red Lights is the story of a two academic doctors, Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley(Cillian Murphy) who travel the country debunking and exposing fraudulent mediums, psychics and other paranormal charlatans. Matheson is especially cynical due to personal tragedies, whereas, Tom is cynical but has more of an open mind. He WANTS to believe, but so far he has not seen anything that makes him a convert to the para-psychological phenomenon. 

As Red Lights opens the two are investigating a home where it was claimed the ghost of a family member still haunts. After it is explained this place and it inhabitants are frauds, the two doctors hear of the great Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro) coming out of retirement. 

Simon Silver is world renowned psychic whose last performance ended in tragedy when one of his most ardent critics died of a heart attack. Somehow, Silver is all about show and has used the tragedy to celebrate his return, in a matter of speaking. Tom is adamant about investigating Silver, but Matheson is unwilling and would rather spar with her fellow alumni Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones) over funding for their college departments. Tom begins an affair with an attractive student Sally Owen (Elizabeth Olsen) who later becomes an intern for Tom and Matheson. Later, Tom begins his own investigation of Silver with dire consequences. 

Red Lights was written and directed by relative newcomer Rodrigo Cortes as this is only his third feature length film. His previous 2 releases include the similarly themed paranormal mystery Apartment 143 (2011) which he wrote and the Ryan Reynolds claustrophobic starrer - Buried (2010) which he directed but with Red Lights he thrusts himself to the top with an excellent and superbly crafted thriller. This film intrigued me from start to finish where nothing is as it seems and the adage 'be careful what you wish for', you might just get it; even the truth. 

Cortes has indeed done his homework for this film (apparently, he spent 18 months just researching the subject and writing the screenplay). He seems to know a lot of the ins and outs of how the the con-men are able to get a leg up on their subjects. Also, how susceptible we all are if we give in too easily to hope and answers that we look for to ease our own pain and anguish for our own personal tragedies. 

Red Lights is brilliantly acted by its four main stars. Each character seems to be involved for their own reasons but it is the tension between Murphy and DeNiro are at loggerheads. Is Silver a fake or can he do what he says he can? Is he an enigma? Or is he just like all the rest of the flim-flam artists? Olsen is sweetly naive and has no idea what she is in for when Tom and Simon go at it. 

Weaver is given top billing just after Cillian Murphy, but this is really Murphy and DeNiro tearing up the screen. Red Lights is a smart, intelligent and entertaining thriller and thankfully, it is now available on DVD. Red Lights - ***1/2 out of 4.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

No.1 Dance Hits - Radio Mix

Great Dance Music for your Saturday Weekend! 

Sexy dance tracks for the Saturday weekend featuring Lasgo, Sean Paul, Tinie Tempah and more including a great Nirvana cover. As always, like www.facebook.com/websnackerblog and please FOLLOW to hear more such awesomely delicious tracks!

You & Me - Issy feat. David Goncalves
Here with Me - Lasgo
Cotura - Lika
Celebration - Lumidee feat. Calibe & Beenie Man
Restart with Love - Alain Bertoni feat. Jimmy Slitter
Written In The Stars - Tinie Tempah feat. Eric Turner
Got 2 Luv U - Sean Paul feat. Alexis Jordan
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana Cover) - Rene Amez & Baggi Begovic 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cannabis High

The 40th President of the United States, actor turned politician Ronald Reagen once said "I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast" and went actually on a 'war against drugs'. 

A costly war that continues to this day, pursued by successive governments and costing millions of dollars of Taxpayer money. Yet, stats show that 40 million Americans and more have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives - for recreation, medical, experimental, spiritual and even religious use! And this is just in the US. 

While Cannabis aka Marijuana continues to polarize opinions, its now more famous than ever ! All said and done, its better and safe to always say NO to drugs!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

So Indie - Radio Mix

Melodic Indie Rock and Indie Pop Ear Candy!

Catchy Indie Pop and Indie Rock tunes from the likes of Beirut, Band of Horses, Bravery and more on the 8tracks Radio Station of Websnacker! Please remember to like the Websnacker fanpage at http://facebook.com/websnackerblog to stay connected with the good karma and hear more such great music! 

It's Not Your Fault - New Found Glory 
Dark Light Daybreak - Now It's Overhead 
Get Myself Into It - The Rapture 
Believe - The Bravery 
My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille - Beirut 
Silver Lining - Rilo Kiley 
The Great Salt Lake - Band of Horses 
Silently - Blonde Redhead 
Rhinemaidens - The Envy Corp


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dweeb Loneliness

Love, Philosophy & Hawking Radiation - A Websnacker Exclusive

I felt that what I was writing was wrong for this weather; I did not want to write of being alone. I wanted to write of meeting a woman, and we are necessarily alone on bicycles, even on tandems, so the trail was the wrong venue for the approaching storm. I wanted to be walking over grass toward a dim silhouette I had arranged to meet, an accidental Usenet reencounter with a childhood friend I never actually had. I wanted her to step out from under the tree she had been leaning on, so we could see each other more clearly, but it wouldn't help, because there was so little light; so we would walk toward each other over the grass, each wondering whether the other was the one we wanted. We would stop at two arms' lengths apart, and, studying each other's stranger faces, recognize not so much their features as a pathway to a memory we had not known still there, a pathway to a past thought lost. I have stumbled on such pathways from time to time down the years, and always am astonished at how much, forgotten, is remembered. 

She would be too. We would see each other's shock of memory simultaneously. There would be no rituals; we were not the type even to shake hands. She would have worn no makeup, not knowing or caring that I think this best. I always dress like a tramp; she too. Even that we then would smile together would not be to communicate; the smiles would each be private things, each smiling to ourselves at this rediscovery. 

We would walk at random over the grass, under the night overcast, through the smell of coming rain. No asking, just telling, what we now remembered, what we had done, what we had become. This would seem to satisfy; there is so much to tell about a life. The disjoint sentences we would trade would bring each happy speaker back to unshared ancient memories. 

Her arm would brush mine accidentally, and I would betray no hint of how this felt to me. At the next accident I would sneak a glance at her open grinning stare, put my arm around her waist, and she would respond in kind. We would try hard to understand each other's words, each other's memories. But memories are always private things. The astonishment of rediscovery is private, because each neural net is locked inside its skull. We would know that we were failing to communicate. The first big isolated drops of rain would fall by chance where tears might fall. 

There are abstractions though. These we can share. We would learn that we shared some already, having thought some problems through in the same way. Mathematics, logic, software: there is often beauty in these things. But if that were all we had to share, we could have shared it on the Internet. We had more to share: we felt it in the touching of our walking hips. 

So to philosophy, and the discovery that we each knew, we each already knew, the hopelessness of the attempt. Life, the memories of life, the rich detail of life, the precious peak experiences - gazing down from a high hill onto a placid river under a double rainbow--these memories go into our minds, and therein they are locked for far too short a time, and then are gone forever from the universe. These memories are what we cannot share. Sex is the closest sharing that we ever do, and it is nothing. Standing face to face under the accelerating rain, we pressed our groins together, and gripped each other's shoulders held apart, and stared into each other's shadowy faces with eyes as alien as asteroids.

We were both atheists, and both knew this would never change; our science knew the world too well for supernatural respite. The rain falls hardest a few minutes after it starts. It soaks our hair, it soaks our clothes down to our skins, we feel it trickling down our bare clothed skins. The sound of rainfall drowns out everything. A brilliant fork of lightning to my left illuminates each droplet on her face and is reflected in her corneas. The image is symmetrical for her. The thunderclap is instantaneous. 

This is Zeus at his literary best, trying with his thunderbolts to be a writer. And his team is on stage with him: that drenching downpour is a perfect setup for some Dionysian epiphany. But the gods have nothing to say! In the instant of illumination we see in each other's faces that we have thought our way from thought to thought to the same conclusion: this bony cage has no escape. We die incommunicado. The physics of Heraclitus and the physics of Hawking are similar enough that the difference makes no difference. We have made the same deductions, thinking our separate ways to utter hopelessness. Thought annihilates all meaning. Only, older than physics is biology, and hope can be defined not by belief but by behavior...

Ahhhhhh, that is no country for old men. There was no woman, just a storm. I was a cyclist on the trail. The linear trail, narrow, private, stroboscopic, soundless but for thunder, treads, and rain, anonymous, where each moving darkness is alone even passing other moving darkness in the dark, that is the country of my mind. We are each a black hole of mind. Life can never get back out. Words, the richest prose, the densest poetry, are only Hawking radiation. Will Mengarini

Monday, October 22, 2012

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Rewind to one of the Best Indie Rock Albums of the 1990's

When the dust settled across the music secen of the 90s, Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' was  recognized not only as one of the best Indie Rock albums of the 1990's, but as one of the best records ever made. 

I don't say this to snobbily provoke people who still haven't heard of this then obscure but now famous group, and I certainly don't say this to somehow stroke the ego of its frontman Jeff Mangum, whose gentle brush with quasi-fame was more than enough to scare him into seclusion, corresponding with the outside world every now and then just to tell them there will never be another Neutral Milk Hotel album. 

I say it because it's one of the few things I sincerely believe about music, and because I feel, strongly though probably naïvely, that if everybody owned In the Aeroplane Over the Sea the world might magically turn into a better place. I'm not the only one who feels this way. In fact, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea commonly inspires reactions like this in people (reactions, incidentally, which horrify its creator). 

For a very small group, the figure of Jeff Mangum brings out a level of devotion similar to that inspired by literary figures like William Blake and Walt Whitman. Like Blake, Mangum references a deeply personal mythology that roots surreal imagery in emotional realism and is built on mystical themes like reincarnation, otherworldly beings, and the holiness of freaks and outcasts. Like Whitman, Mangum's words all flow out in a rapturous stream of lines and lines. And like both writers, Mangum's work is composed equally of an enveloping compassion for people and a horror at their hatred and violence. 

One of the things that's so amazing about this album is that it's so ambitious it seems like it should have been a total, laughable failure. Using acoustic guitar, drums, a heavily fuzzed bass, bowed banjo, theremin, zanzithiphone, uillean pipes, and Salvation Army clarions of trumpet and trombone, Mangum and co. attempt an epic psychedelic folk-punk concept album about Anne Frank's life, death, and subsequent reincarnation through the art of her diary, which causes its reader to create an elaborate fantasy about forever protecting her by being reborn fused to her as a Siamese twin. And it works. 

Mangum sings about dead dogs dissolving and draining away, semen staining mountaintops, bridges bursting and twisting around, shrouded and rose-eyed ghosts watching the earth from an orbiting comet, bottled fetuses tapping on jars, their hearts filled with singing needles, couples alone in afternoon rooms pushing fingers through each others' mouths, through notches in each others' spines, into each others' souls. 

It all sounds ridiculous, but it's dead-serious and indescribably moving, because actually Mangum is singing about the horror and beauty in the world, and about transcending that horror by allowing that beauty to annihilate you. He's singing about love, but much bigger than love between a boy and a girl; he's singing about loving the world that surrounds you and even loving those who try, and succeed, to destroy you. And he's also singing about something else, something that can't really be put into words, but that is true and living and moves through his unlikely imagery and sonic tapestries, glowing brighter with each successive listening. 

Everyone I know who has this record treasures it. It has helped my friends sunk in depression, I've been to weddings where selections have been used as the first dance, I know people who want it played at their funerals. And I understand why Mangum, emphatically humble and self-effacing, must be terrified by the level of devotion this little collection of songs inspires, but I also understand that devotion. 

In a world that constantly seems crass and cheap and mean, where cynicism is the dominant philosophy and sarcasm the dominant conduct, where what matters most is showing off what you can buy, where the most popular television programs encourage us to laugh at ordinary people willingly allowing themselves to be publicly frightened and humiliated for money, this record shows you the world trembling with beauty, transparent, enveloping, able to be redeemed or destroyed by how much love you bring to it, and, ultimately, holy. Will Robinson Sheff  

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Recalling the Original 'Found Footage' Horror Pioneer

"In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found." Those are the opening words of the independent Horror cult hit of 1999 The Blair Witch Project. A horror film is probably the easiest type of film to make, and the hardest to make right. This one belongs to the latter!

For all the horror films I've seen (and on occasion enjoyed) only a few live in my nightmares, and those are the ones I respect. The Exorcist, with its suggestions of the babbling, malignant chaos slithering under the surface of human personality, comes to me sometimes when I'm trying to sleep. Day of the Dead, and to a different degree, Dawn of the Dead invades a disproportionate number of my nightmares, with the stink and rot encroaching, approaching, and unstoppable. 

Those films were joined by The Blair Witch Project, an experience - not just a film - of ever -tightening, suffocating dread and terror. The film shot primarily on video, with some black and white 16mm footage, is ostensibly the footage that was recovered a year after the disappearance of the three student filmmakers, director Heather Donahue, her cinematographer Josh, and her sound guy Mike. 

They are heading into the woods to explore the myth of the so-called Blair Witch, whose legend has been linked to several horrible killings and other sorts of weirdness. Soon enough, the three find themselves lost in the woods, with personality conflicts mounting, and with ever-stranger terrors coming to visit them late at night. The tension that builds is almost unbearable, as we, like they, come to dread the approaching nightfall and what it may bring. 

The fear these fine young actors display is very authentic, helped along no doubt by the improvisational guerrilla style of the shoot (directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez basically sent the actors out in the woods with minimal instructions, few provisions, and then came around at night to set up scares for them). 

If I have anything negative to say about the film, it might be that the three seem at times a little too intrepid. There wouldn't be a way in hell you could have gotten me out of my tent after that first night. But that's a small complaint in comparison to what you usually get in the genre, and besides, when a film's this good, I'll forgive a lot more than that. 

When I say "now", I'm going to talk a little about the film's progression to its ending, and the ending itself. I'll be very general, so you should be safe to read it, but if you STILL haven't seen the movie, and you're a viewer like me who doesn't want the slightest hint of a clue, you might want to stop reading NOW. 

The dilemma for the filmmakers with the way this picture is structured is that there are only so many ways it can end. Eventually, the cameras have to stop rolling. Does that mean provide some sort of big bang for the end, which would almost certainly be a disappointment considering the buildup, or else handle it more honestly, in which case it would sort of peter out? 

But this problem is solved ingeniously, with a final shot that's a brilliantly subtle shocker - so subtle, actually, that most of the post-movie conversation I heard was people explaining the last shot to their friends and dates. The Blair Witch Project was a reminder that there are still some great things going on in American cinema. It's indeed scary as hell. Kerry Douglas Dye

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Raven (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes finds this tell tale thriller disappointing!

If you have ever read any of Edgar Allan Poe's writings, you would agree that he was a gifted writer of the morose and the macabre. I have found only H.P. Lovecraft's writings to be more darkly demonic that Poe's. Poe at least enjoyed some of what life had to offer; the love of a woman and booze. Plenty and plenty of booze. 

As the film, The Raven opens we are told that Poe's last three days alive were sketchy at best and no one seems to know how his death came about on October 7, 1849. All we are told is that he was something of a sleuth assisting the local police in finding a serial killer using Poe's own writing to commit murder. This movie expands on that premise!

John Cusack plays Poe and for the most part he does the best he can. But I could not help to wonder if maybe he was miscast. He certainly LOOKS like Poe, but there seemed to be something missing for me to really buy Cusack as the tortured writer. John Cusack is a fine actor and one of my favorites. I think the script written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare is so scatter-shot that after a while I began to piece together the mystery and had figured out who the killer was about halfway into the film. 

There is a strong cast to support Cusack though. They include the awesome Brendan Gleeson as the father of Poe's fiance, Emily who is taken by the killer. Alice Eve plays Emily and she is decent enough but, again it seems that the script is underwritten in its character so that everyone seems to be trying too hard to sell the story. 

I found myself wanting to go back and watch Murder By Decree. A great film about Jack The Ripper and Sherlock Holmes with Christopher Plummer as Holmes. The Raven only made me want to watch other films that were better. 

Is then The Raven a bad film? No but it is a lifeless one as uninteresting characters plod through a muddled serial killer plot we have seen done before and better. Director James McTeigue has some moments where the film works particularly when Luke Evans as Detective Fields is on screen. Fields seems to like Poe, regardless of Poe's nonsense. Poe spends most of the film broke and blathering about, yet Fields seems to understand Poe's problems and sympathizes with him. But, overall I was disappointed with The Raven. At the film's end we know nothing more about Poe and his brilliance other than what we have been spoon fed in literature class. The Raven-** out of 4.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Up Close and Personal (1996)

Enjoyable A Star is Born reboot! 

Some say this movie was originally intended as a biographical film about Jessica Savitch but I disagree. Anyway, everyone should have seen this one coming. The first movie version of A Star Is Born was made in 1937, with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. In 1954 it became a musical with Judy Garland and James Mason. In 1976 it became kitsch with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. 

And in 1996, for no apparent reason other than Hollywood tradition or script bankruptcy, we were given the obligatory 20-year remake by director Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) - this one with the beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer and (an aging) Robert Redford as the lead pair along with Joe Mantegna, Stockard Channing and Kate Nelligan in able supporting roles. 

Predictably, the story changed to the world of 90's TV news, with Pfeiffer getting groomed for greatness as a reporter by veteran newsman Redford, whose career has nowhere to go but down. It's superficial and predictable stuff, right down to the tuneless Celine Dion hit that adorns the love montage - "Because You Loved Me" which was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Original Song! 

Nonetheless (and to my own strange amusement), I found Up Close and Personal to be a slick, happy and watchable piece of romantic entertainment. It's probably a nice date film too. Of course, I'm only guessing!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Battleship (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes returns with one more great review !

Battleship (2012) as all of you should already know is based on the Hasbro game of the same name but, other than the name and a few details it is a film that defines summer; a big, dumb fun popcorn movie that I liked. 

Battleship stars Taylor Kitsch as Alex and Alexander Skarsgard as his brother Stone. Alex is a trouble maker and after several brushes with the law, is forced into the United States Navy by Stone. Their Commanding Officer is Admiral Shane, played by the always reliable Liam Neeson. As expected, Alex falls for the Admiral's daughter, Sam played by Brooklyn Decker.

Alex gets into more trouble than you could shake a stick at while he is on active duty in the Navy and gets warned with dishonorable discharge when all hell breaks loose (while the fleet is on maneuvers at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii). It seems evil aliens have intercepted a communication from one of our satellites and have decided to invade earth and annihilate the planet. 

We have seen all this before, but I liked how the film was constructed from this point onwards. If you have ever played the board game Battleship, you will instantly recognize how the film makers have thought out how to pay homage to the game but create their own film. Battleship has plenty of energy, style and lots of fun action. Is it silly? Yes. But Director Peter Berg (The Rundown) and writers Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber pepper the film with diverting subplots that give us a break from the action, enough to get into the characters. 

Berg, being an actor himself for a long time, knows how to construct an action film but still not overwhelm the viewers with pummeling special effects and one dimensional characters. I was into this movie and actually enjoyed it more than any of the Transformer films, (if that gives you a frame of reference). The acting is decent and even singer Rihanna is actually able to hold her own against the other leads though some of the dialogues and the plot may seem all cliche!

The ending however is so far fetched that I laughed out loud at the level of entertainment that the makers were going for. I know this hardly seems to be a sparkling recommendation for a film. All the reasons I have listed USUALLY are reasons to stay away from a film like this. Yet, for all of it's bombastic ludicrousness, Battleship is one of those awkward films that caught me in the right mood. Is it going to win awards? No. Is it Shakespeare? definitely No. Did I have fun? A big Yes. Battleship is bug, dumb, fun. Nothing more. Nothing less. Battleship is now available on DVD. Battleship-*** out of 4.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

10 Best Bob Dylan Songs to Die For !!

Undoubtedly the 10 Best Classic Bob Dylan Hits ! 

The former Robert Allen Zimmerman is an icon. A legend. No doubt on that! Not just under-appreciated and over-praised, the man we know as Bob Dylan manages to be both derided and worshiped at the same time. Fans and critics alike, both prone to over-analysis, often render his music impotent with their endless blathering dissection. Let us try not to go there. It is fun though.  

Bob Dylan has recorded around 35 albums. He has written hundreds of songs. Many of them are mediocre or even terrible, but the amount of greatness that has sprung from the mouth, mind, guitar and soul of this one man is astounding. So here is a list of  ten favorite Bob Dylan songs. (Ask again in 6 months, and it's likely that at least half of them will have changed.)

No matter. Here they are. They are lovely, poetic songs. Some are funny. Some are loving. More are hateful (though often still funny) and even murderous. Bob Dylan wrote them all, and thank God for that.

10: "Oh Sister" - I came across the Desire album pretty late in my Dylan appreciation, and after a brief infatuation (and quick burnout) with the directness of songs like the upbeat rocker with a message that is "Hurricane" and the over the top melodrama of "Joey," I still can't get this countrified, incestuous lament out of my head. Dylan at his creepiest.

9: "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" - Mean Dylan! Mean Dylan is still probably my favorite Dylan. This one's classic, because he acts as if he's being civil and fair and cordial and all that, but he's really just pissed off.

8: "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol" - People give Dylan a lot of shit for his social protest songs, often implying that they were insincere and opportunistic. Maybe so, but they're still damn good songs. This one's more of a 'ripped from the headlines short-story' type affair anyway. This is one of those Dylan songs that I like because, after innumerable listens, I still can't figure it out.

7: "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" - More Mean Dylan. But this is different. It's Too-much-acid Mean Dylan, and you can't beat that. The scene in Don't Look Back where he punks young Donovan by singing this number is one of the most sublime moments of cool in the history of film. Or music. Or sublime moments of cool in general.

6: "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" - Funny Dylan on Drugs. This is some amazing freestyle (or 'stream of consciousness' as the eggheads call it) business. Imagine being right there when he came up with this one off the top of his blunted head. Genius. And the false start still feels authentic no matter how many times you hear it.  

5: "Idiot Wind" - Really Mean Dylan. This one is so mean it morphs into a kind of self-loathing, even without the 'it was me all along' final line. What the hell all that "shot a man in Italy" stuff is about though I just don't know. Ideas?

4: "Tambourine Man" - Yes it's some kind of Yuppie Rock Standard by now, but so what. This is as beautiful and arresting a portrait of drug addled loneliness as could be. That "take me disappearing through the smoke-rings of my mind" verse is pure poetry, and gets me every time.

3: "Positively 4th Street" - I'm really not a hateful person. I swear. And neither is Dylan. It's just that he's really good at writing Mean songs. "I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, you'd know what a drag it is to see you." Ouch. Yes. Tell 'em Bob, let 'em have it. Aren't you glad Dylan never wrote a song about you?

2: "All Along the Watchtower" - From the under-appreciated John Wesley Harding album. The first four songs on the first side of this record are just amazing. ("Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" really freaks me out though. I think it's about homosexuality. No?) Anyway "Watchtower" may have arguably been done better by Hendrix, but it's as subtle and intriguing a bit of lyricism as exists in rock. It's like the first chapter to a great book that was never written.

1: "Girl From the North Country" - Is this the same melody as "Boots of Spanish Leather" or is it just me? This is my mom's favorite Dylan song. (She's still pissed at me for stealing all her records. Thanks mom.) What can you say? It's a heartbreakingly beautiful ode to love lost. The version with Johnny Cash off of Nashville Skyline is good too, if only because you get to hear Cash say "breast." robert whiteman

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sigur Ros - Ágætis Byrjun (1999)

Remembering the breakthrough album by the Icelandic Superstars 

Its no secret that Iceland’s post-rock ensemble Sigur Rós have inspired from the music media some of the most effusive praise in recent memory. Melody Maker gushed “they sound like God weeping tears of gold in heaven,” Rolling Stone called their second album Agætis Byrjun “a magical hour of shimmering melancholy,” and self-anointed indie oracle Pitchfork, (in one of their characteristic self-important rants) fulsomely called them “the first vital band of the 21st century,” praising their “chrome swirls of tinnitus,” and “that godly amazing voice [that] scrubs souls pure with the black volcanic sands from the beaches of Vík.”

What has compelled these ordinarily dour critics to bend themselves into awkward linguistic knots lavishing superlatives on this band? One reason could be that in Sigur Rós’ lushly orchestrated, emotionally wrenching epics you can hear all the many reaching threads of post-rock experimentation being woven, for the first time, into a tapestry into which they all fit with stunning elegance. They may be the first band to make a post-rock record in which every minute works, a post-rock record which, though it’s nothing resembling “poppy,” you can almost imagine being a breakthrough, genre-defining hit. The fact that the group has become superstars in their homeland and beyond only makes them - and Iceland (a country, by the way whose imagined landscape of snowy plains and mossy verdure is impossible not to picture while listening to this group) - more endearing.

The other probable reason for all these critical laurels is that 1999's Agætis Byrjun is one of those records that sounds almost magical. The band’s omnivorous instrumental palette and its mix of grand gestures (like a full orchestra and choir) with intimate ones (like close-miked unplugged electric guitar and singer Jón Thór Birgusson’s breathy falsetto) makes for a record so beautifully otherworldly that, at times, it’s almost difficult to believe the music is coming to you from without and not from within.

Agætis Byrjun is one of those records, like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks or Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, whose scope of ambition is only exceeded by its realization of that ambition; here is an incurably arty record of icy, ambient epics, sung mainly in a fake language, Hopelandish, made up by the lead singer - and it’s amazing. Also like Astral Weeks and In the Aeroplane…, Agætis Byrjun is possessed of an emotionally expansive, deeply compassionate feeling, a moving magnanimity that you don’t need fluency in Birgusson’s private language, or any language, to instinctively grasp.

It’s very, very rare that a record so transcends critics’ descriptive powers that it leaves them helplessly fumbling for words and wallowing in strained hyperbole, but maybe this points towards what the most evocative, visionary music is supposed to do: leave speechless.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...