Author Archives: R.H.

The Best Music of 2008

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2008 was a pretty good year for new music.

The Best albums released in 2008 (Album –  Artist):

  1. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark –  Drive-By Truckers
  2. The Evening Descends –  Evangelicals
  3. The Chemistry of Common Life –  F**ked Up
  4. At Mount Zoomer –  Wolf Parade
  5. HLLLYH –  The Mae Shi
  6. Hold On Now, Youngster… –  Los Campesinos!
  7. Liver! Lung! FR! –  Frightened Rabbit
  8. Ice Cream Spiritual –  Ponytail
  9. Jim –  Jamie Lidell
  10. Heretic Pride –  The Mountain Goats

“You! Me! Dancing!” by Los Campesinos!, from their debut album, Hold On Now, Youngster… (also found on the 2007 EP Sticking Fingers Into Sockets)

The rest of the best (in no particular order):

  • 808s & Heartbreak –  Kanye West
  • Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
  • Third –  Portishead
  • We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed –  Los Campesinos!
  • Vivian Girls –  Vivian Girls
  • In The Future –  Black Mountain
  • Distortion – The Magnetic Fields
  • Ferndorf –  Hauschka
  • Life…The Best Game in Town –  Harvey Milk
  • Cities of Glass –  AIDS Wolf
  • Microcastle –  Deerhunter
  • The Odd Couple –  Gnarls Barkley
  • Skeleton –  Abe Vigoda
  • The Midnight Organ Fight –  Frightened Rabbit
  • The Twilight Sad Killed My Parents and Hit the Road –  The Twilight Sad
  • Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea – Silver Jews
  • Methods: (EP) –  Imperial China
  • Sing Along (EP)  –  Caverns
  • Kittens! (EP)  –  Caverns
  • Music Needs You –  Ryan Blotnick
  • Red, Yellow & Blue –  Born Ruffians
  • A Certain Feeling –  Bodies of Water
  • Nouns –  No Age
  • Smile –  Boris
  • Pop-Up –  Yelle
  • Made In The Dark –  Hot Chip
  • Lost and Found –  The Dexateens
  • Long Gone And Nearly There –  Julie Ocean
  • Litany of Echoes –  James Blackshaw
  • Arm’s Way –  Islands
  • Magnificent Fiend –  Howlin’ Rain
  • High Places –  High Places
  • Flight Of The Conchords –  Flight Of The Conchords
  • Christmas On Mars (Soundtrack)  –  The Flaming Lips
  • Street Horrrsing –  F**k Buttons
  • Visiter –  The Dodos
  • Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us –  Death Vessel
  • Drippers and  Bonus Drippers –  Black Moth Super Rainbow
  • Rip It Off –  Times New Viking

Best Re-issue of 2008:

  1. Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul –  Otis Redding

– R.H.

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The Best Albums of 2008 :

1. Is it the Sea – Bonnie Prince Billy : Our favorite melancountry superstar delivers a live album that reminds one of his greatness while examining it in a whole new light.

2. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady : Working class is not a label that readily describes Craig Finn and co but their tales of townies and misguided teenagers are just as funny, touching and perfect in their own scrappy way as ever. The world’s best bar music as interpreted by indie elitists.

3. Glasvegas – Glasvegas : Melodic catharsis in spades delivered by four Glasgowians. This young band is not infallible as a whispered poem over Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata suffers in comparison to the original but they got spirit, energy and stories of absent fathers, wounded teens and overall angst that really should not work as well as they do.

4. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed – Los Campesinos : Cheeky and clever but much more than that. Nihilists on the outside but pop craftsmen at heart, their ruminations on youth’s assured end in dejected failure are all good fun until you stop and realize they’re telling you the party’s going to be over and there’s nothing you can do.

5. Microcastle – Deerhunter : There’s something ethereal about this band and especially this album. Playing with avant garde ideas without sacrificing listenability, these ambassadors of indie keep winning.

6. You and Me – The Walkmen : The Bob Dylan comparisons become ever more pronounced especially with frontman Hamilton Leithauser affecting nasally intonations. Still, their chief appeal is heartfelt, esoteric storytelling, aged and cackling.

7. Skeletal Lamping – Of Montreal : The hype machine finally broke down and Kevin Barnes began to tumble critically while selling out shows. The music, however, is just as inventive and grand as it ever was. Though lacking the darkness of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Barnes’ latest is rife with the new ideas he keeps discovering and surely will stand more prominently in the cannon once the sobering influence of time takes hold.

8. Modern Guilt – Beck : The dream team of Beck and The Gray Album mastermind Dangermouse creates surprisingly ignored quality tunes. Beck is still haunted by his demons from Sea Change but he still finds time to offer Dangermouse jubilant, sampled pop ditties to wash down the depression.

9. Saturnalia – The Gutter Twins : An album that abounds with apocalypse throughout as two musical legends push each other to the limits of their sensibilities, one high the other low.

10.That Lucky Old Sun – Brian Wilson : A musical legend who seems to be experimenting with the harmonies and arrangements that have fascinated him throughout his career not for the audience’s benefit but his own. The results are as reliably stunning as ever.

Honorable Mention: 808s and Hearbreak – Kanye West, Untitled – Nas, A Larum – Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, The ’59 Sound – The Gaslight Anthem

– Vman

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Review: Valkyrie

United Artists

Courtesy: United Artists

Bryan Singer had  a lot of potential.

Pretty much everybody who cared enjoyed The Usual Suspects. Everybody praised his take on Marvel’s beloved gang of organized misfits in X-Men. And X2 was well-received, as well.

But he has squandered his talents on his last two films. Superman Returns? No thank you, sir. He can go back to where he came from. Spider-Man is helping us out just fine.

(Below is a tangent about Superman Returns. Feel free to skip this.)

One of the problems with Singer’s first entry in the Superman film franchise (Superman: Man of Steel has been announced for 2011) is that he made it more of an iffy love story than an action film. The movie was fine. But people do not go to see Superman get all mushy.

But let’s make this clear: It’s not really much of a love story. And let’s make this clear: The movie is a stinker. Kevin Spacey is horrifically campy, and that’s not always a good thing. Writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris need to quit the blockbuster film industry if this is the kind of drivel they are coming up with. A pathetic attempt at resurrecting a hero.

Spider-Man, Batman: they are real humans (at least as we know them). Superman is an alien. With a heck of a lot of superpowers (too many, if you ask me. Where’s the fun in being basically invincible?). What the kids want to see at a Superman show is bang! bang! wham! ka-pow! Not a whimper of a bang, some sentimental 1950s imagery and a bald Kevin Spacey. No. Superman was made a monster of unstoppable force so we could see him beat the bad guys up. Not worry about marriage.

In any event… (tangent over)

Valkyrie is another stinker. But disturbingly, it might be on par with Superman Returns in quality. But who knows any more. Both films are forces meant to depress; not worth anyone’s time.

As you might know, Valkyrie is about the successful assassination of one of the world’s greatest evils, Adolf Hitler. Or rather, that’s what it should have been about.

Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is the German officer leading one assassination plot against Hitler’s life. You can probably imagine the end result of their mission.

Unfortunately for Singer and company (Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander write the screenplay (and yes, this is “based on true events”)), the best portion of the film is when it seems like Hitler really is dead. Valkyrie could have been an infinitely better film if it became an alternative universe fantasy and killed Hitler off. And then the allies ride off on unicorns, etcetera, etcetera.

Cruise’s American accent is no fun when some of the Nazis have British accents, some have German accents I wouldn’t be too surprised if I went back and found a Russian accent.

Valkyrie manages to be captivating for about ten minutes. (and those ten minutes are fifteen minutes after you awake from slumber) The narrative might be more interesting if we felt some kind of compassion for the characters. But most of the audience seemed to be rooting for their deaths just as much as the head honcho Nazis.

Valkyrie will succeed in the mainstream, though. It’s all ready a mild “hit.” But don’t you worry. It won’t be invading art house cinema complexes any time soon.

This film deserves the assassination Hitler never got.

– – – – – – –

Let it be known, the below trailer is an early one. (Note the end: “Summer 2008.”)

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Review: ‘Liver! Lung! FR!’ by Frightened Rabbit

Live albums can be a tired product, devoid of any real valid excuse for existence. But when you get a hold of a good one, a really good one, you cannot help but to be excited.

That’s how you should feel listening to Frightened Rabbit’s first live disc, Liver! Lung! FR! Not only is it a wonderful collection of wonderful songs but the Scottish band’s live sound is worthy enough to capture and promote as a separate entity from their studio albums.

That last statement is especially notable when you register the fact that this live album is being released in the same year as Frightened Rabbit’s critically acclaimed second album, The Midnight Organ Fight (April), and the two releases share the exact same tracklist (save for two short songs ones from Organ Fight: “Bright Pink Bookmark” and “Extrasupervery”).

Recorded in July in a Glasgow (home to a great number of exciting acts) venue, Liver! Lung! FR! expands upon Organ Fights’ already adored songs by giving extra room to lead singer Scott

Hutchinson’s voice and the band’s concentrated playing. The tracks include heart-warming and swelling choruses followed by an innumerable number of “Cheers” said by the band, in addition to the applause from the enthusiastic crowd.

The songs, of course, are the greatest part of Liver! Lung! FR! (okay, maybe the album title is the greatest part). The album is filled with FR’s (as the band is affectionately known by fans and lazy music critics) earnest songs about relationships (love, sex, heartbreak, the whole shebang).

In Organ Fight single “Fast Blood,” Scott humbly sings, “And now I tremble/because this fumble/has become biblical.” Heavy stuff.

This live album is also justified by the fact that the record keeps intact some of the between song banter. Probably not all of the banter from the show is included (nor the songs, considering they probably played material from their first album, the also great Sing the Greys), but just enough is included to give us a taste of the band’s personality, in addition to a few laughs.

When frontman Scott invites fairly well-known (in those parts) Glasgow singer-songwriter Ross Clark onstage to help them perform “Old Old Fashioned,” it seems as though Clark stumbles in picking up his instrument. A verbal exchange results in the search’s conclusion: “A mandolin from Ross’ arse!”

The harmonies are more immediate and touching live, stripped of the studio’s hug (and this is not a claim against the record. The record is great and the harmonies on it are great, too.).

Songs like “Old Old Fashioned” take on an exciting and revitalized feeling when played live. The track goes from a “let-me-tell-you” type song to an anthem begging for the revival of the good things we seem to have left behind with our ever-consuming electronics biting at our feet: “I turn off the TV/It’s killing us/We never speak.”

And seeing them live is a whole other experience. Drummer Grant Hutchinson (brother of Scott) pounds on his kit with the intensity of a crazed industrial percussionist. You might even stop and wonder if that grimace on his face is healthy.

His drumming shines in the live sound too. Much like his performance and facial expressions in-person, his agile pounding propels the strong and, well, intense beats that come your way through the stereo.

Another valid excuse to have a live album: capturing something unique to the show. Along with the Ross Clark contribution, we’re treated to the beautiful voice of James Graham on the straightforward “Keep Yourself Warm” (sample lyric: “It takes more than f**king someone you don’t know to keep yourself warm”).

Graham is the lead singer of another Scottish band: the great Twilight Sad, who happen to be some FR’s best friends.

Graham’s emotive howl is a staple of the Twilight Sad’s songs, but taking on “Keep Yourself Warm,” he takes his voice to a falsetto fans have never heard before (perhaps we will hear more? The band goes into the studio to record their second album this January).

To repeat a common and well-informed sentiment: FR!

– R.H.

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Review: ‘Who Killed Harry Houdini?’ by I’m From Barcelona

Who Killed Harry Houdini? Mammoth-size rock band I’m From Barcelona try to answer that question on their second album (named after that particular question). Or, rather, they don’t. They just thought it would be a good title.

In any event, the question is irrelevant. I’m From Barcelona delivers another enjoyable record, even though it is considerably less happy and joy-filled than their first.

I’m From Barcelona broke out on the scene with its 2006 twee-pop debut, Let Me Introduce My Friends. And friends they have. Singer/songwriter Emanuel Lundgren leads the group, which had 29 members play on the band’s debut, a self-released EP made all in the name of fun. And none of the members of the Swedish group are from Barcelona (far as we know).

Let Me Introduce My Friends is a record that can simply and easily be described as a delight. After all, it is a (quality) twee record. Who Killed Harry Houdini? is also an enjoyable record but…the twee is gone.

Unlike its predecessor, Houdini has no songs about treehouses or chicken pox or oversleeping. Possibly, for just this reason (the lack of happy), Houdini is not as good a record as Friends. But to be fair, it is a good album that stands on its own.

Starting off a bit spookily, album opener “Andy” evokes Halloween imagery. These images are not a result of the lyrics but of the atmosphere of the song.

The song asks the Andy in question to join the already huge band: “Andy, you really want to go there?/They’re messing up your hair…/We could need someone like you in our band/Andy/No audition and you don’t have to pretend.” These lyrics display the classic silliness of I’m From Barcelona (so long as you translate “They’re messing up your hair” as a silly line in a serious-sounding song).

The happy that fans of I’m From Barcelona were so enamored with from the first album still exists in Houdini; it is just not as abundant.

“Paper Planes” sounds joyous with a cavalcade of voices singing (albeit about being surrounded by strangers). The song does not promise to take your money but rather dissects the art of “throwing paper planes to clear [one’s] head.” Sounds like therapy we could all use.

The somber side of the album shines on “Gunhild,” featuring vocals from French singer and actress Stéphanie Sokolinski, known in the music world as SoKo. A sweetly melancholy song, “Gunhild” is the first track in I’m From Barcelona’s catalog to really spotlight the sincerity in Lundgren’s kind voice. SoKo’s backing-into-lead vocals are a nice addition and play well alongside Lundgren’s vocals.

“Mingus” is an obvious album highlight with its bouncy use of the glockenspiel (a favorite instrument of the band).

On “Houdini,” there’s more darkness. Or at least, it sounds that way. To the undistinguishing ear, we hear “You’re like a demon!” when really, it is “You’re like Houdini!” Or maybe it is all a trick, and we cannot distinguish the truth any which way.

While the album is darker than I’m From Barcelona’s first, this does not detract from the record a great deal.

I’m From Barcelona is still sweet. But there is no need to brush your teeth.

– R.H.

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2,000 Hits!

On October 11, 2008, Two Silenced Voices received its 2,000th site visit!

Thank you!

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Review: ‘Ferndorf’ by Hauschka

Ferndorf, the title of Hauschka’s new album, translates to “distant village.” That might just be where you end up after listening to the pleasantly soft, ambient album.

Or, you might just stay right in your place; only accompanied by the careful tunes of Hauschka. Ferndorf is very good as ambient music after all, not a sweeping epic to transport you but rather a guide to your self.

Best known as a pianist who likes to play with electronic instruments, composer Volker Bertelmann (recording as Hauschka) adds a string duo into the mix for most of the songs on Ferndorf. And it works.

Ferndorf is the German composer’s fourth full-length as Hauschka and the strings truly are a big deal. It is hard not to get hypnotized by the piano but the string accompaniment becomes not just accompaniment but a major player, transfixing ears right alongside the piano.

Bertelmann has become known for his use of the prepared piano, an instrument which he dedicated an entire album to (2005’s appropriately titled The Prepared Piano). His use of this instrument emphasizes his categorization as an experimental, avant-garde artist. A prepared piano is simply a piano but with assorted objects stuck inside and affixed to the piano’s strings; the modifications to the classic instrument create another world of sounds.

Ferndorf is also notable for its album-as-one-piece mentality. The record works on a whole, as no songs dare stray from the vocals-less, experimental chamber pop aesthetic Bertelmann marks as Ferndorf’s.

The album also flows beautifully. Only a few songs on the record do not transition seamlessly with one another (and this only due to a break in music, not poor juxtaposition).

While a plus with this album, some might consider the seamlessness a drawback. Because of Ferndorf’s fluidity there are no stand-out tracks. All the songs are quality ones but none of them will be making the year-end best songs list. That’s because this is an album.

It’s not a collection you can categorize in the “buy one song from iTunes, discard the rest” trash bin. Ferndorf is a piece meant to be consumed as a whole.

Not that you cannot enjoy the songs individually, for you certainly can. You just won’t be walking away with a brilliant pop hook stuck in your head.

All the songs on the 12-track disc are given German titles, save for the opening and closing songs.

“Blue Bicycle” starts the album off with a classy piano refrain that swells into evolution as the strings come into introduce Ferndorf as one you will not mind playing again and again (perhaps in the background, but nonetheless).

“Weeks of Rain” closes the set on a mildly somber note. The reflective piano of the song would not be classified as twee by anyone with their emotions in order. The song simply ends somewhat abruptly without any finishing grandiose flourishes. You might not even notice the album is over.

But when you do notice, you press repeat.

– R.H.

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Review: The Wackness

A really great movie.

The performances are great. The film often looks really beautiful. There’s one shot, near the end of the film, that is just plain gorgeous. We see the characters of the excellently mopey and teenage Josh Peck and the brilliant Sir Ben Kingsley (Why hasn’t he overtaken Jack Nicholson yet? (or has he?)) sitting on the beach. The shot is from above, characters’ backs to the camera, and we see the ocean and the skyline… It’s a beautiful shot composed of such tone… Just how well-made a film The Wackness is is hinted at throughout the film, but when you see this shot (and the entire late-in-the-film scene on the beach), you know. Definitively.

As mentioned, all performances are really well-played. Famke Janssen plays Kingsley’s bored wife. It’s a small role, but it’s a depressing role if there ever was one. Not cry-depressing, but “Geez! Open up the blinds! Let the sun shine through your windows!”-depressing. She obviously gets this point across well. Method Man plays a drug dealer’s drug dealer (literally) and plays it convincingly, even carrying an authentic-sounding accent. Olivia Thirlby gets past her somewhat annoying Juno character and nails it as Kingsley’s privileged step-daughter. Even Mary-Kate Olsen does a good job in her brief role. And of course, Kingsley: Check. Josh Peck is known for his performances on children/tween shows on Nickelodeon.  In movie-land it might be possible that you know him for two roles. His one as a New York City teenage drug dealer in The Wackness and his role as a cruel and annoying potty-mouthed bully (when he was a large prepubescent kid) in 2004’s Mean Creek. Both, more or less, “indie” films. (Mean Creek much more so) And he does a great job in each of these roles.

You know protagonist Luke Shapiro (Peck). Or at least have experienced one of the things he experiences in the film. You must have (or will). This is life. The guy just graduated from high school for Pete’s sake. You don’t remember that? Or the stuff that was going on in your teenage life? Youth! Youth! What a time.

The Wackness details Luke’s summer months between high school and college as he deals pot and deals with life. Kingsley is his fairly eccentric psychologist, trading sessions for marijuana. The Shapiro family is having troubles, key among them, financial troubles. Luke sets out to help his family with his pot dealing profits. He also deals in order to save up money for college. That’s a real person right there. Real. (albeit, feelgood movie-esque)

Thank writer/director Jason Levine for an excellent film. As we’ve discussed, we know the film is a well-made film and all the performances are terrific. But you know we have a great film on our hands when we recognize that The Wackness has a great script. It’s magnificent. First love, heartbreak, hip-hop, drugs, being young and alive; all these themes are authentically touched upon. The film is set in 1994 and, yes, Levine accurately brings us back. Biggie is up-and-coming, Luke references Pearl Jam and we get to hear A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Can I Kick It?”

This film makes you smile, laugh, recognize, feel, think. Yes! This is a funny movie! One of the funniest and most sincere films of 2008 so far. This is an excellent, excellent movie. It’s dark. It has substance. It has meaning. The meaning of life! Luke and Kingsley’s shrink talk of the meaning of life and how to live. This is brilliant. The Wackness is a brilliant film (or at least really good). Go see it.

– R.H.

Vman’s Take:

Jonathan Levine is definitely an auteur to watch out for. Easily one of the best movies of 2008, The Wackness captures the essence of the mid ’90s with a perfect combination of hip-hop, drugs and heartbreak. This film reminds us once again of the promises of the indie film movement, in that it allows certain filmmakers to create highly personal and startlingly original works of art. Do not be put off by seemingly clichéd characters such as the depressed, drug-addicted psychologist played by Ben Kingsley or Olivia Thirlby’s bored and extremely promiscuous (what a combo) rich girl. Levine adds nuance to these archetypes and charms the viewer with his humor, allowing him to deliver an emotional wallop in the film’s bittersweet conclusion.

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