Saturday, January 13, 2007

The AIAC Awards: Music 2006

ok. This is probably the one topic I am the least qualified to talk about. I would just copy Phil's write-up about music on his blog and post it here (properly attributed, of course) if not for the fact that I am not cool enough to have actually heard of any of those people. So, I am just going to talk about my two favorite albums from last year, and then my favorite ten songs that I downloaded.

Because this was the year my entire approach to buying and enjoying music changed. This was the year of the ipod (yes, cue angellic music). Seriously, has there been a more important development in the music industry (industry, not art) that the proliferation of mp3 players ad legal downloading? No longer do you have to buy an entire album for the one cool song you heard. That said, there are some artists I love so much that I did download entire albums, or albums who had enough I liked I felt same buying them. For the record, here is that list: Jars of Clay, Good Monsters; Snow Patrol, Eyes Open; Jewel, Goodbye Alice in Wonderland; Indigo Girls, Despite our Differences; and Shawn Colvin, These Four Walls. There were a couple of e.p.s in there too, but I'm not counting them as full albums. For the record, I enjoyed all of these albums, there wasn't really a dud in the bunch, but two of them stood out from the rest.

Despite our Differences by The Indigo Girls.

How is it that two southern lesbians can write such truthful songs about love and God and Politics that they actual seem to be writing my inner monologue? These girls tell the truth about life, and they tell it beautifully. There is also in their music an acceptance of people, of loved ones, and even of their enemies that they can, even while they ask for what they want, understand how people are just people, and not every person is capable of truth, or love, or faithfulness, and on a basic level, that is ok. We are who we are.

You run/that's all you've ever done/that's all you know to do/I can't hold that against you
You flee/cause you're born to be free/and if you go, I'll understand/but you better get out while you can

They get political, as always. Pendulum Swinger laments the current state of things, while looking for more representation for women in positions of power in ever place in society.

What we get from you war-walk/the ticker of the nation breaking down like a bad clock/I want the pendulum to swing again/till all your mighty mandate was just spitting in the wind

Their music, unlike in past albums, notably All that We let in, avoids the morose. Nearly every track on this album has a nice drum-bass going on that moves it along. Some of the lyrics are sad, but the music is gorgeous, even on such songs as "Last Tears."

If we're a drop in the bucket/with just enough science to keep from saying "fuck it!"/Until the last drop of sun burns a sweet light/plenty of revolutions left to try to get this thing right...

I hope they're right, and I hope they're around for every one of them.

Good Monsters by Jars of Clay

All the Good Monsters open their eyes/to see the waste and where the home fires rise/and all the people shouting "why? why? why?"/do you know what you are/do you know what you are?

It us probably a surprise to no one that I am drawn to the apocalyptic imagery in this song. But more than that, it asks the question that I think is the most important. Do you know who you are? Answering that question, since we are all of us monsters in one way or another, is the first step in some of us becoming good monsters.

The song Light gives heat tempts the invocation of my "you lose it when you cue the children's choir" rule, but since the song is about Africa, and the way white christians often go in to "help" the natives with a condescending "we'll save you" attitude, and the choir in question is the African Children's Choir, it gets away with it. The song is gorgeous, and its message much needed.

Catch the rain in empty hands/save the children from their lands/wash the darkness from tehir skins/heroes from the west/we don't know you, but we know best/but this is not a test/you treat me like I'm blind/setting fires around the houses on a hill/but light gives heat/you segregate my mind/burning crosses from your fields/but light gives heat

The band, former teen wunderkinds now in their early thirties (like some other people who will remain nameless but who have blogs), write honestly about love and marriage in the songs Water under the bridge and Mirrors and Smoke.

I do not love you the way I did when we met/There are secrets and arguments we haven't finished yet/But it's only that grace has outlived our regrets/we're still here/maybe we can stay till the last drop of water flows under the bridge

There are times meant for breaking/and words to ignore/and we've bent to our souls/when our skin is at war/and if leaving were freedom/we'd both walk right out of that door/but we can stay/till the last drop of water flows under the bridge

and the years roll by/and you hold my hand/while the shdows stretch over the land ...crumble and fall in my arms and we'll struggle to hold on/ waters they rise and the carry our hopes and our dreams away, but we can stay ...

This is my album of the year, and is the best album of Jars of Clay's already long career.

and now, my top-ten songs of the year. They had to be from this year, not older songs that I discovered:

10. The Guy that says goodbye to you is out of his mind by Griffin House
you don't need to change/a thing about you, Babe/I'm telling you, from where I sit, you're one of a kind/relationships, I don't know why, they never work out/they make you cry/but the guy that says goodbye to you is out of his mind

9. Gotta have you by The Weepies
grey/quiet and tired and mean/looking at worry and seeing/tried to make you mad at me/over the phone/red/eyes and fires and signs/I'm taken by a nursery rhyme/I want to make a ray of sunshine/and never leave home/no amount of coffee, no amount of cryin'/no amount of whiskey/no amount of whine/nothing else will do/I gotta have you.

8. Good Monsters by Jars of Clay

7. Hate Me by Blue October
I've got to block out thoughts of you so I don't lose my head/they're crawling like a cockroach leaving babies in my bed/dropping little reels of tape/to remind me that I'm alone/playing movies in my head that make a porno feel like home

6. Here Comes Now by Jakob Dylan
meet me out in the open sky/a perfect storm is on the rise/beyond the city moving/it is planned/something comes from a strange land/the trail of dust on the building tops/it's everything you've wanted....Here comes now/ready or not/the future comes round/much sooner than you thought/here comes now.

5. Tuff Kid by Shawn Colvin
My mama had me, but she didn't get me/I think I broke her at the age of five/My daddy hit me/but he couldn't quit me/we taught each other how to feel alive ...

4. I Believe in love by the Indigo Girls
I want to say that underneath it all you are my friend/and the way that I feel for you/I'll never fall that way again/I still believe despite our differences/what we have's enough/and I believe in you/and I believe in love.

3. Light Gives Heat by Jars of Clay

2. Hands Open by Snow Patrol

It's hard to argue when/you won't stop making sense/but my tongue just misbehaves/and keeps digging my own grave

with my hands open/and my eyes open/I just keep hoping/that your heart opens

Why would I sabotage/the best thing that I've got/well, it makes it easier/to know exactly what I want....

It's not as easy as wearing it all to be right/gotta be more than hope when it's right/I want to hear you laugh like you really mean it/collapse onto me tired with joy ...

1. Half-assed by Ani DiFranco

You start tripping/and I start slipping away/I was taught to zip it/when I got nothing nice to say/and down in the texas of my heart/driving really bug truck down a dirt road/my love is scrunching up it features/through really big eyes, big lips, big nose

show me a moment that is mine/its beauty blinding and unsurpassed/made me resent every moment that went by/and left me so downhearted 'cause I felt it so half-assed

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Things I'm looking forward to in 2007

Taking a break from the AIAC awards for as minute. As in any new year, we have plans. I mean the collective we. My school. My family. The world. These are the things that are being planned that I'm actually looking forward to. I realize by posting these, I am tempting a karmic pre-emptive strike on them almost as stupidly as if I found myself in a horror movie telling the much more attractive main character how I plan to go home, marry my girl, open up that coffee/book shop I always wanted to, just as soon as we kill that fucking monster/undead slasher/alien. so be it.

The February break trip to San Antonio. Just me and Kate. no kids.(believe me, you don't want to spend any time with those two on an airplane). No real reason, we just want a fun trip, and to spend time, you know, together, as a couple, without having to break up slap-fights and referee toy/seat/blanket/TV-sharing. And don't ask "why San Antonio?" Because it's there, ok?
The rest of Season 1 of Heroes. This show has gotten seriously under my skin. Lost? What is this Lost you speak of? (Sorry, Phil.) And I demand to see Hiro and the Dinosaur now! And bring me Christopher Eccleston as the Invisible Man!

Finishing the fucking book. Yes, that is its official name now. And if I continue to meet my deadlines, and the plot doesn't balloon out of control (yes, again. does this story really need to be 500 pages? apparently) I will be done February 10th. I content myself with the knowledge that on February 10th I can just type "and then everybody died" and end it one way or the other.

Spider-Man 3! Does this one really require an explanation? Seriously ...

Continuing to design and starting the plans to build our new house. Yes, it's next to the in-laws. Yes, this frightens me. I'll cope. At least there will be goats to "accidentally" release to trim down the front lawn.
Watching my daughter go through first Communion. As a fairly recent Catholic, it's great having this opportunity to revisit some of my lessons from RCIA back in 2000. And it's great watching her learn about her faith and learn to take it seriously.

Learning about life as an American in the Netherlands from Tuppence's blogs. Of course, mitigated by the fact that we now have to find a new realtor.

Furthering my plan to turn my son into a geek! He has recently, against his mother's wishes, developed a power-rangers obsession and refuses to take off his spider-man boots, even when he sleeps. I couldn't be more proud.

Starting my next fucking novel. Because I never learn ... and this one's even bigger and more epic. Sigh ...

Friday, January 05, 2007

The AIAC Awards: Books 2006

btw, it's pronounced IKE. My wife doesn't agree, but it's my blog, so there. The IKE awards.

anyway, I wish I has read more this year, but I'm going to go ahead and put up my picks for book anyway. Most of these were published before last year, but I at least read them last year, and they were in recent release when I did, so I'm still counting it. Here goes (as if anyone cares):

3. Blue Shoes and Happiness/Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith.

The latest installments in Smith's two "mystery" series, one set in Botswana, one set in Edinburgh. I say "mystery" because these might technically qualify as those, but the mysteries are not the point here. They're not even particularly mysterious. What they do so well is gently reveal the worlds of the main characters, and present characters that form a community based on a comman sense of morality. These are very life-affirming books, as much about forgiveness as they are about catching people doing wrong things, whether they are dishonest doctors, meddling advice columnists, or self-absorbed wanna-be wine connosoirs. No murders here, just people trying to do the best they can to get along.

2. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Ok, there are some murders here. Big ones. Presidential murders. This is the most hysterical book about Presidential assassinations ever published, I feel safe in saying, even though I have not read widely in the field. Sarah Vowell, historian, blogger, This American Life contributor and the voice of Violet Parr in The Incredibles. chronicles her travels visiting various historical sites associated with the assasinations of Lincoln, McKinley, And Garfield (the president, not the cat. Don't worry, Kim, the fat orange cat is not dead. sadly). Part travelogue, part biography, part rumination on presidential history, part contemplation on the relationship between assassination and memorial sainthood, every part of it is deep and funny, a difficult combination to pull off well.

1. Perdido Street Station/The Scar by China Mieville

I could not choose between the two of these, nor would I want to. In these two books China Mieville introduces a world that is hard to define. Is it fantasy? Science fiction? Arguments can be made for either, but it is all brilliant. Brilliant and dark, not a place I would want to live, but a place I am a better person for having gotten to know. The city of New Crobuzon, where strange creatures live together and even stranger alchemies take place beyond closed doors, and mad scientists unleash their creations on the world and in the process become Gods and Devils all at once. And the city of Armada, that floats with the waves, providing haven for transformed exiles wishing to find for themselves something of a humanity that has been beaten out of them. BOth books involves a quest, the first two destroy a nest of murderous psychis moths, and the second to cross the great dead ocean and find the scar in creation, from where energies can be released that might transform the world. Both novels really defy simple descrpition(obviously) and theose The Scar takes place after Perdido Street Station and involves a character connected to the main hero, it is not a direct sequel.

And with these books, Mieville becomes an author whose work I will seek out and absorb. His writing is so good, it's a joy just to read. He has another book out set in this world, and it will probably be my favorite book I read this year as well.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The AIAC Awards: Movies 2006

Ok, back to stupid stuff. I always like to pretend I'm a critic,and have decided to institute the AIAC Awards on this blog, which I'm sure will be coveted after for years to come. So, here's the first installment of the AIAC (As If Anyone Cares) awards. First up, movies. Books, TV, and music will follow. And yes, I realize I am not actually qualified for this. But I was an English major and we're used to writing papers and pretending our opinions mean something.

I have not seem very many movies in the theatre because unless it's animated or has some type of talking animal or another we usually don't get to the movies to see them. But that hasn't stopped me from assembling my list of the best movies of 2006. I'm only choosing three this time, because choosing 5 would put an inordinate percentage of the movies I actually saw on the list.

3. Happy Feet

This one is on the list despite the fact that I actually missed the last ten minutes of it because my son was getting a little restless. It wasn't that he didn't like it. He's just ... like that. Anyway, this one received the ire of the baptists for many reasons, so I was, therefore, predisposed to like it on that basis alone. So, basically the child of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe just wants to dance. Only, he's a penguin and he's the type of penguin that mates for life by matching its song to the song of a penguin of the opposite sex, and finding their rhythms blending together. But this penguin CANNOT sing, he dances instead, so he goes on an epic quest throughout Antarctica to find himself, to win his love, and to eventually save the continent from the human oil despoilers. There's also a valuable message in here, both about environmentalism and also about how we treat people who are born differently from everyone else, including those whose differences are found in the mating process (this is the part that pissed off the Baptists. Because ... in a children's movie? How dare people preach acceptance to children! It's an outrage! Oh, come on, Baptists, I kid because I love. Actually, not really. Except for you, Jennie! And possibly Kim! And my parents! )

This movie does have, as a very mixed blessing, Robin Williams as the voice of not one, but two saucy latin penguins, and the most gorgeous animation ever produced for film. And it takes a cuddly sea otter and shows it for the vicious predator is actually it. It's preachiness does get overwhelming at times, especially in the ending, which I missed, but see this one. And no, the lead penguin is not gay. It's a metaphor.

2. Superman Returns

Yes, I finally saw it. And I wished I had seen it in the theaters because the first time i saw it was on our little computer monitor in the bedroom and with the non-visibility and the strings and the sleeping child on my lap, I must confess I went to sleep. Like, a lot. And at first I blamed the movie, but then watched it again and realized that no, it wasn't the movie. And yes, It is probably too long, and bit ponderous, and Brandon Routh is not ... quite ... right somehow, as Superman. It's not the performance, he just looks too young, I guess, but the movie really works for me. Especially as I had recently re-viewed Superman 2, which is this actually a direct sequel to. It takes those first Superman movies, so wonderfully campy, and updates them, and you get to see the tragedy of Superman having finally gotten what he wants, Lois, and having had it taken away, and taken so far away that she doesn't even remember what happened. Hence the kid, who was confusing for a lot of people.

This kid could have been the most annoying part of the movie. I was actually not a fan of this plot development when I first heard about it, but in the movie, the kid works. Mostly, I think, because it provides a reason for Lois not to just go running into Superman's arms. And the actor who played the kid was really good. I usually don't say this about kid actors, but he hit all the right notes. I still wonder how that math works out for the kid to be the age he is, but I am also good at fanwanking, so it's not that much of a problem. Kate instructs me that I am good at constructing bridges so that the massive trucks don't fall into the plot holes. It's a gift.

But it was a good Superman movie. It looks beautiful and there's a lot of emotional heft there.

1. Stranger than Fiction

The ultimate meta movie about the relationship between writers and their characters. It has Will Ferrell, which is usually an for me, but it also has Emma Thompson. And the trailer did its job of honestly showing me what kind of movie it was. (most of the audience I was with did not pay enough attention and had expected another Talledega Nights. They were annoying.) But the story of Harold Krick and the author who created him, and who is suffering writer's block because she can't find the right way to kill him off, mostly because she doesn't want to, is a hysterical metafiction detailing the relationship between art and humanity. And the performances of Ferrell and Thompson seem totally flip-flopped in their relationship to their regular filmic personas. Thompson is manic, panicked, and over the top and Ferrell is quiet and restrained. And all the characters are named after famous scientists, for some reason, which I sure was a level of commentary I was not getting. It made me feel smart to notice that. Actually, It made me feel smart to understand it when my wife pointed it out to me.

It's a sweet little romance as well, as sweet as it can get between a boring, lumpy IRS agent and a tattooed, angry-grrrl baker, but I will never look at flour in the same way again. (I mean -- who knew there was more than one kind?)