How about “The Sun Goes West” by The Faraway Places?

(The video below is apparently someone’s visualizer and at least three songs. Weird.)

Brian Wilson was famously credited with saying he was trying to craft “teenage symphonies to God” with his more ambitious recordings with the Beach Boys. It’s a mix of the epic and the simple— “I’m picking up good vibrations,” or “God only knows what I’d be without you”—matched to complex music layered like a classical symphony.

Which leads me to one of my favorite recordings of the year (so far) is A.C. “aka Carl from the New Pornographers” Newman’s “Get Guilty.” Like most pop tunesmiths, Newman is frequently compared to Wilson, though he doesn’t seem to be quite as crippled by his melodic gifts. (A lot of these pop guys seem to go nuts trying to replicate that perfect hook that only they can hear and that’s always bouncing around their brains.)
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Watchmen is a curious beast, a big budget move that’s either the talkiest, most action-free action movie ever or the most absurdly pumped-up character-based drama ever. If you’re a firm believer in “adaptations must look exactly like their source,” it should be a revelation; if you’re of the mind they should reflect the concepts and ideas as much (or more) as the literal look, it might leave you a wee-bit wanting.

[Many spoilers after the break.] (more…)

Oh Neko, you crazy, crazy awesome chick

Great CD cover, or greatest CD cover?

Oh Neko, why did you move to Vermont after I left? And didn’t you once live in Seattle? I’m starting to think you’re avoiding me.

He's had a very bad year

Music, movies, TV, whatever. It’s all pop culture to me. If I throw everything from 2008 into a pot, it seems like various TV shows keep bubbling to the top.

“The Wire” wrapped up its final season, and while I never watched the show while it was in its run, I plowed through the entire series in a one month run and yeah, it’s probably the best show ever made… even if its final season was perhaps its weakest. (Give me season 2 for drama and plotting and 4 for the devastating inevitability of failure for all of the kids trying to make it on the street.)

“Mad Men” is the most unique show on TV, and continues to dazzle.

For comedy, you have “30 Rock” and “The Office” being the two funniest shows on TV.

But the very best thing of 2008, regardless of media? That was easy. It was 90 minutes of pure awesome.
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Yeah, this one is obvious

There were a normal number of good movies released in 2008, but very few great ones. In fact, I’d only argue for my number one pick being a movie I’ll keep revisiting in future years.

OK, more ground rules: I didn’t see (yet, if ever): Milk; Synecdoche, New York; Rachel Getting Married, and god knows what others I might have liked.

So, here’s the list:
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http://blog.manic-pop-thrills.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/muzak.jpg

I think I spent more time in 2008 catching up to music I missed in 2007. I ended up with 11 recordings, but as with last year, cheesed-out and combined 2 of them into number 10.

I was actually surprised by how ambivalent I was toward a lot of the stuff I bought, and I think it has something to do with downloading everything from amazon.com’s MP3 store. I think you take purchases much more seriously when it’s a physical item; you just don’t connect as much to non-physical items. When you have to remove the CD from the case and place it in the CD player, it represents more of a commitment than just adding it to your iTunes library and having it randomly pop up during “shuffle” mode.

Anyway, on to the list. Here are the ground rules: I like three-minute pop songs, so this isn’t exactly comprehensive and varied. I like what I like, that is all. I’ve attached occasional videos and live performances, except for ones from Warner, which pulled all of its videos from YouTube. Fuckers.
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Be Kind Rewind

“Be Kind Rewind” is a charming mess of a movie, but a mess nonetheless. It’s a typical story about how Jack Black’s magnetic urine—indie band name alert!—erases the entire inventory of VHS tapes in a small thrift store in Passaic, New Jersey, which forces Black and Mos Def to re-film every movie until the evil holders of copyright stomp out their creativity.

Director Michel Gondry is an inventive filmmaker and one of the most creative guys on the planet, but he needs a blacker soul like Charlie Kauffman to keeps his tendency toward icky whimsy in check. “Be Kind Rewind” feels like it’s mostly improvised, with Black doing his manic Jack Black thing, Mos Def mumbling a lot while trying to be a geek instead of a cool rapper, Danny Glover playing the Danny Glover character, and other people sort of coming and going. Its version of Passaic takes place in some sort of alternate universe, where there exists these kinds of perfectly quirky, idyllic neighborhoods full of contrived eccentric people who get along way too well. And it has a typical message about the evils of yuppies and condos and Starbucks.

Coming from a Hollywood movie that thanks companies like Apple in the credits, that rings a little hollow. Maybe if they replaced the ramshackle thrift store with an Apple store—all those poor people need iPods and Macbooks too!—everyone would be happy.

Ignoring the fact that they could probably re-purchase the entire stock of VHS movies for like $1, the re-filmed—or “Sweded,” as the movie calls them—movies are really funny. Gondry is known for his love of low-budget, analogue effects (see the extras on the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” DVD), and some of the ways they re-create “Ghostbusters,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Rush Hour 2,” “The Lion King,” “Robocop,” “2001,” and others are incredibly cool and creative. I can’t wait to see the low-fi versions of them on BluRay.

(They missed out on an opportunity to Swede “Lethal Weapon,” though, with Black and Def doing Mel Gibson and Danny Glover… or maybe Danny Glover would do Danny Glover. Or better yet, he’d do Joe Pesci.)

Still, it’s hard to wrap your brain around how people recreating existing Hollywood blockbuster movies are an alternative to Hollywood blockbuster movies. But it makes it kind of a cousin to the other YouTube movie of the moment, “Cloverfield,” in that the YouTube generation is supposed to be making stuff and sharing it with others. The touching ending of “Be Kind Rewind”—where the neighborhood gets together to watch the first “original” film from the cast and neighborhood residents—is a stark contrast to the reality of showing original works. In the movie, everyone loves the amateurish creation; in the real world, someone posting something that lousy on YouTube would be savaged. Instead of supporting and rewarding originality—even if it’s kind of sucky—YouTubers are brutal. The criticism you get is just off-the-charts.

A friend of mine was doing a public access show in Vermont, and she edited together all sorts of things, created original segments using Barbie dolls and various other craziness, and started putting them up on YouTube to much derision. (And praise too, but I think the negativity took her by surprise.) People criticized her looks, complained about her being too old… it just got nasty.

Sensitivity to criticism and fear of sucking in public keeps me away from sharing most of the things I create, but my friend sticks with it because, as she says, you have to suck if you’re ever going to be good. And if there’s anything to take from “Be Kind Rewind,” it’s that if you’re going to suck, suck doing your own thing.

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As some people who followed the Computer Games Magazine saga are aware, we finished our May 2007 issue in the first week of March, sent it to the printers, and were then told it wouldn’t be printed and were all laid off. (And by “all of us,” it was mainly myself and our art guy at that point. Other people stayed around longer to shut things down.)

Anyway, our featured review that month was of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, the oh-so-controversial big MMO of early 2007. We had a tag-team, three-man review of the game, by myself, Tom Chick, and Kelly Wand.

I was rummaging through some files and found the text. I think it was a lot of fun to read. (It was especially fun to do; at least it was when Kelly wasn’t getting me killed.)

So, here it is (hah hah, Tom Chick gave it 4 stars):
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Cloverfield

Cloverfield is an an OK version of Godzilla, where the Japanese people are replaced by the most diverse collection of people assembled. We have generic 20-something hot guy, generic 20-something hot girl, generic 20-something hot girl 2, generic 20-something ethnic hot girl, and generic 20-something not-so hot but funny and endearingly goofy guy. There’s the 20-something athletic guy, the 20-something kind of athletic guy, the 20-something arty-looking but athletic and good looking guy…. These people probably exist in some alternate universe in Manhattan, but for the normal people of the world, this is an alien culture of attractiveness and perfect teeth. (There isn’t a single gap or yellowed bicuspid on display.)

The first 20 minutes are torturous. They’re literally watching someone’s home movie, which is as boring and mundane as the real thing. No one’s interesting, no one seems to have a brain, no one is particularly funny… it’s just, “Oh, Rob, you’re so cool.” “Oh, that girl is hot.” “They slept together.” “OMFG, NO WAY!” It’s like the movie version of The Real World or Laguna Beach, without the contrived drama.

And then the contrived drama shows up, in the form of a giant lizard thing that attacks Manhattan. (more…)

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