Author Archive for Joel Angell

05
Apr
10

George Lucas to bring laughter back into the lives of remaining Star Wars fans

A Star Wars sitcom? Yeeeeeeeeessssssssssssss!!!!!!!

Being a Star Wars fan over the last decade or so has become something of an ever-escalating exercise in masochism, and dear old Mr. Lucas is doling out the feel-bads on par with Ichi the Killer. In news that is both surprising for its inherent absurdity, and therefore not the least bit surprising at all, Lucasfilm is reportedly in talks to produce a Star Wars comedy series.

Evidently unhappy with the fact that people associated Star Wars with memorable characters and action/adventure after the original trilogy, Lucas is  endeavoring to add fart jokes and bad puns to the stilted dialogue, boring characters, nonsensical plot points, and overblown CGI spectacle that we now expect from a Star Wars project.

And really we have no one to blame but ourselves, clearly everyone’s been clamoring for fresh comedic content out of the Star Wars universe, Lucas is just giving us all what we so desperately craved. I mean, remember the Star Wars Christmas Special and how hilarious that was?! No. Of course you fucking don’t, because that shit was absolutely retarded.

The creator-fan dynamic here is beginning to feel very much akin to that episode of South Park where the cops break into George Lucas’ house and find him raping a Storm Trooper. And just so we’re all clear: in this scenario, you– the Star Wars fan and consumer– are the Storm Trooper, so good luck with that.

"You can plan this shit, George, but you can't put in on TV."

And for those of you holding out a hope that the show might somehow– by wink and by prayer– wind up being remotely good, I’m sorry, but you’re stupid and you’re wrong (but I love you!), because Lucasfilm is teaming with the ‘people’ (for lack of a better word, wait…’chuds?’) responsible for Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken for this project. That may come as great news to many (Robot Chicken does do well in the ratings; so does Two and a Half Men by the way), but it’s cringe-inducing news for those that still enjoy Star Wars and/or comedy, as this is the kind of jocund hi-jinks the Robot Chicken tandem have already inflicted on the Star Wars faithful:

Wacky!

As if the dry wit of the Robot Chicken gentlemen wasn’t enough, one of the writers from the exemplary Frank TV is also on board (sample this classic bit, remember it’s supposed to incite laughter, not murderous rage towards Frank Caliendo)! This idea couldn’t possibly get any better! Please tell us more, close-personal-friend-of-Wilmer-Valderama, Seth Green:

“The ‘Star Wars’ universe is so dense and rich; it’s crazy to think that there aren’t normal, mundane everyday problems in a world so well-defined. And it’s even crazier to think of what those problems might be, since it’s all set in a galaxy far, far away. What do these characters do when they’re not overthrowing Empires?”

Brilliant! Who the hell wants to see Han Solo frag Greedo in some seedy bar when you can watch them sip espressos together in a Death Star cafe and complain about their respective dates from the night before? I smell an Emmy! Exclamation Point!

For now let’s all just pray that this idea fizzles out in the development phase, or, barring that, that George Lucas doesn’t attain the rights to The Legend of Zelda and continue his quest to relieve himself all over my most cherished childhood memories.

There might be more at The Hollywood Reporter if you actually care about this shit. I’m gonna go put on my Millenium Falcon-themed onesy and weep gently into a tall glass of rye whiskey.


04
Apr
10

sam amidon, “i see the sign”

The music world is replete with cross-genre cover songs and, as with most songs, some will work well, and most others will fall firmly flat. It’s even become a rather common practice in mainstream hip hop to cull from popular ’70’s and ’80’s rock or pop ballads. Typically this will involve a sample and a re-purposing of the original chorus for the new song’s hook (take Jay-Z’s recent “Young Forever,” a lousy song but a good example nonetheless).

And a number of acts have also covered hip hop songs. But whereas the hip hop artist keeps only the chorus and adds their own lyrics, the alternative artist will typically strip away all but the lyrics. This is where the hipster’s old reliable friend ‘irony’ comes into play. A track like Dynamite Hack‘s cover of Eazy-E’s “Boyz-N-Tha-Hood” transposes the raw lyrics of ghetto life by singing them softly over a few gentle guitar chords.

Here’s the problem: This is not a musical reinterpretation. They are not adding any of their own thoughts or ideas. This is not a commentary on the rapidly widening disconnect between white suburbia and inner-city slum life. It’s a comedy track. A joke. A shitty one at that; and one that straddles the line between cooky “hey-let’s-cover-a-rap-song” shenanigans and subversive racial insensitivity via a white rock band downplaying the plight of impoverished inner-city blacks by parodying a song which depicts said poverty.

Now clearly that wasn’t what Dynamite Hack was going for, they were just having a laugh and probably never expected the song to be a hit (and I realize that was a rather massive digression and certainly a round about way of opening a review for a folk album). But it’s a good example of the possible pitfalls facing Sam Amidon. His new album, I See the Sign, is composed primarily of covers of traditional folk songs, but also contains a number of soul and spiritual songs, and even an R. Kelly cover.

This is a dangerous thing, rarely is a cross-genre cover greeted in earnest– even if it isn’t meant as a comic reinterpretation (remember Alien Ant Farm’s take on “Smooth Criminal?”). But far from a silly remake, “Relief,” is an album highlight. Amidon takes to the song with the same genuine affection and respect that he brings to all his songs– not with tongue in cheek, but hat in hand. He reshapes it expertly, transforming R. Kelly’s bouncy, optimistic R&B into quiet, yet baroque, folk complete with banjo pickings, piano twinkles, fiddle twangs, cello swathes, just-audible horns, and flighty flute lilts– all accompanying Amidon’s smooth voice singing a slightly-modified version of Kelly’s original– removing a few verses (and allusions to God), and creating his own reverie on life and death and God by adding his own lyrics:

“I’m a long time traveling away from home,

I’m a long time traveling here below,

I’m a long time traveling to lay this body down.”

It’s a gorgeously crafted, and beautifully melancholic, take on the original, and certainly one of the year’s best songs.

The remainder of the album can never quite reach the same lofty heights, but comes close on a number of occasions. Opener “How Come That Blood,” with an equally elaborate arrangement and traditional Americana lyrics, is reminiscent of Bill Callahan’s recent work. And on “Way Go, Lily,” another marvelous cross-genre re-imagining (this time of a Spiritual), Amidon affects Nick Drake to a remarkable, and downright arresting, degree.

Far from making light of the songs he covers on I See the Sign, Amidon plays them with reverential aplomb– breathing new life into old standards and making each his own with the kind of dignity and love that few cover songs are afforded. Let’s just hope he fights the urge to try his hand at “Bump N’ Grind.”

I See The Sign is out now via Bedroom Community. Buy it here. Or produce a three-act play with a cast of hamsters.

03
Apr
10

new yeasayer video, “o.n.e”

It’s hard to imagine just one music video really encapsulating the experience of listening to a Yeasayer album, but the new video for “O.N.E.,” the second single off of Odd Blood, comes pretty damn close. Featuring crazy multi-colored early-‘9o’s-ish fashions, lasers, shape-shifting aliens and/or robots, dudes in fish tanks, some kind of space-age strategy game with triangles, choreographed Vanilla Ice-like dance routines, and a lip-synced performance from behind a chain-link fence courtesy of the band’s guitarist. It’s exactly the kind of weird/awesome thing that make Yeasayer so great and Odd Blood one of the year’s best albums.

Odd Blood is out now via Secretly Canadian. You should buy it here.  Or learn more about the great nation of Macedonia.

03
Apr
10

erykah badu goes back to basics with “new amerykah part 2”

Way waaay back in the good old days of 2008 (when the world was still blissfully ignorant of the evil forces of Glee and Justin Bieber) a friend of mine referred to Erykah Badu’s  recently-released, New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War), as being (and this is a direct quote) “on some ‘ol next shit.” As a white person, I had little idea what this meant, but interpreted it to mean “progressive but weird as fuck.” After purchasing the album myself, I concluded that to be a fairly accurate assessment.

Featuring a four minute ’70’s exploitation film-style intro, New Amerykah Pt. One was a bit out there, even by Badu’s standards (“My People,” for instance, features the lyrics “Hold on, my people” on a loop for three and a half minutes), featuring sparse, hip-hop infused beats and politically-charged lyrics, the album strayed farther from the more traditional neo-soul and R&B of Baduism and Mama’s Gun.

Badu’s latest release, New Amerykah Part 2 (Return of the Ankh), eschews the ‘next shit’ feel and features a much more retro, old-school Erykah Badu vibe. The album opens on a much more subdued note than it’s predecessor, with the quiet keyboard arrangement, slow pace, and mild heartbreak that comprise “20 Feet Tall.” The first lyrics of the song, “my love,” hint at the thematic change of direction that Badu is taking from Part 1.

This is an R&B album, pure and simple, and as such the primary focus is on love– whether it be absence from the one we love (“20 Feet Tall, “Window Seat,” “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long), unrequited love (“You Loving Me (Session)”), or a reverie on love and the way it affects us (“Umm Hmm,” “Love”).

There’s a flow here, an almost effortless quality– a feeling that was largely absent from Part 1 (with the exception of album standout “Honey“), an album that was, while forward-thinking and often brilliant, often too capricious and eclectic for its own good. And, to a certain extent, it feels like Badu is having more fun this time around: there’s the catchy and humorous interludes “Agitation” and “You Loving Me (Session),” and album standout “Turn Me Away (Get Munny),” a funky gold-digger-love song complete with sweet-voiced hoochie girl croon and lyrics like “Tickle tickle before stroke, I love your solid golds” and “I’ll be your robot girl, Come into me my world.”

My friend, by the way, loves the new album. “But you loved the lost album, this one’s completely different,” I told him. “Who cares? Shit is smooooth.” No question.

New Amerykah Part 2 (Return of the Ankh) is out now via Universal Motown. Buy it here. Or wash a neighbor’s dog for fun!

08
Mar
10

Freaknik: The Musical, a hip hop odyssey of awesomeness

T-Pain has in just a few short years become one of the most recognizable, and entertaining, stars on the planet. With a unique look (first motherfucker to properly rock a top hat since Honest Abe), a signature musical style (I think we all know what that is), a string of hit songs (including one of the best R&B songs, as well as one of the best hip hop songs of the past 3 years), and an impressive comedic turn (or perhaps just an earnest ode to boat occupancy), T-Pain has become something of a bejeweled, grilled, and dread-locked Renaissance man.

T-Pain as Freaknik, with Kelis as Tyra

And his legend will only grow with the premiere of Freaknik: The Musical, the best and funniest original content that Adult Swim has produced this year, and the greatest hip hop musical ever made (yeah, suck it, Carmen: A Hip Hop Hopera!). Featuring a legendary cast, an amazing soundtrack, a healthy knowledge of hip hop culture, and some very funny jabs at a number of “celebrities,” Freaknik: The Musical is the Citizen Kane of one-hour animated hip hop musical comedy television specials. And it’s the goddamn Holy Grail for animated comedy nerds who happen to love hip hop (Huzzah for me!).

Freaknik: The Musical is the Citizen Kane of one-hour animated hip hop musical comedy television specials

The plot is relatively simple, but absolutely inspired in its execution. When the ghost of fun-loving, positive message-spreading Freaknik is summoned back to Earth (by an elderly, wheel-chair bound Lil Jon no less), he sets up a rap battle which catches the attention of a young crew, the Sweet Tea Mobsters (featuring Rick Ross and Cee-Lo among others) who decide to take part. Their journey becomes an odyssey of sorts across hip hop’s legendary “dirty south,” with a stop in New Orleans and culminating in the mecca of southern hip hop, Atlanta. There’s also a few clever Odyssey references, including a group of sirens (AKA “lovely bitches”), lotus eaters (in the form of homoerotic frat boys, one played by Andy Samberg, with lots of alcohol), the crew is faced with a number of trials seemingly sent from on high (“It’s like God himself don’t want us to make it”), and the crew’s leader is named Big Virg, presumably short for Virgil, who wrote the Aeneid, a sort of Roman  version of The Odyssey (I’m stretching the conceit razor thin so you know I’m serious about this shit). Freaknik is also challenged by a group called the Boule, controlled by a megalomaniacal Oprah.

Lil Wayne as Trap Jesus

Here’s a few of the show’s highlights:

-Lil Wayne as “Trap Jesus”
-Charlie Murphy as Al Sharpton, who later is reborn as the Perminator, and fights a Godzilla-style mega battle with Freaknik
-The Perminator asleep on his bed with a half-eaten sandwich on his chest
-Rev. Jesse Jackson obsessed with cutting nuts off (ala this)
-Forbidden Planet soundtrack music at one point during a Boule council scene
-The “Ghetto Commandments”
-A Lil Jon “What? ” peppered throughout the show at various moments
-A reference to Mariah Carey in The Prince of Egypt
-An Asian skydiving Malcolm X impersonator
-An in-movie Squidbillies commercial
-Bootsy Collins and George Clinton as freaky space aliens from the Mothership
-Doela Man: “You pull over. I’ve seen this on The Wire, buddy.”

I stop Freakniks fa fun. Perminator out. Crash!

I do have to say, though, I am a bit disappointed that a show featuring voice work from Lil Wayne, Big Boi, and Cee-Lo would fail to use any of them in a song, considering they’re all legendary hip hop stars and this is a hip hop musical. It’s also rather mind-boggling to me that the premiere wasn’t accompanied by a full soundtrack. With such a huge collection of musical talent, and such a great assortment of songs, you’d think Adult Swim would want to capitalize on the investment as much as possible. Seems like a hugely wasted opportunity. “(I’ll) Save Ya” and “Freaknik is Back” are two of the catchiest hip hop songs of the year, and if just the six songs off the program were released it would be one of the best hip hop albums put out thus far this year (that says something about the sorry state of hip hop at the moment but that’s a topic for another time). And yet the goddamn songs aren’t even on iTunes. I can’t even download them illegally. And that’s my god-given right as a cheap, lazy internet nerd. It’s goddamn un-American! Or perhaps Trap Jesus was right about divine intervention: “He’s testing your faith, your loyalty to the game.” Well played, hip hop Zeus. Well played.

The Ghetto Commandments

Freaknik: the Musical will be out 4/6 on DVD via Warner Home Video. You should buy it. Or visit the beautiful Wisconsin Dells.

04
Mar
10

gorillaz “plastic beach”

Everyone’s favorite genre-blending virtual musical group has returned after a five year hiatus. This time out, Damion Albarn (former Blur front-man and all around musical legend) has gone it alone on the production duties and further shifted the group’s musical trajectory. Without the hip hop-heavy influences of former co-producers Dan the Automator and Danger Mouse (Gorillaz and Demon Days, respectively), Albarn has ventured deeper into electronic territory, crafting a synthpop album that is more “Dirty Harry” than “Clint Eastwood,” and without a doubt the group’s best work to date. There are still a few forays into hip hop this go round, but they seem almost out of place (with the exception of a couple of brief Mos Def verses), as does the album’s orchestral intro. And yet one the group’s greatest strengths has always been it’s ability to incorporate vastly disparate elements into a cohesive whole (fusing hip hop, alternative rock, and animation for example). And thus a guest-list which features Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, Mick Jones, De la Soul, and Little Dragon not only works, but works to brilliant effect (side note: Could be greatest supergroup ever. We’ll call them P,B &J and the Fun Dip Experience. Gold mine!). And though a few of the albums opening and closing tracks may seem a bit extraneous (ahem, worst Snoop Dogg cameo ever, with all due respect to Starsky & Hutch. This it is not.), the core of the album (tracks 4 through 14) ranks among the best music of the year. An absolute must own. So buy it already. Geez.

Highlights: “On Melancholy Hill,” “Rhinestone Eyes,” “Empire Ants

Plastic Beach is out now via Parlophone. Buy it here. Or eat a delicious english muffin.

03
Mar
10

new Ok go video, “This Too Shall Pass”

Ok Go have become something of an internet phenomenon since the mid ’00s, known more for their videos than their music. Returning from a lengthy hiatus, the band seemed to have switched gears somewhat with the release of Of The Blue  Colour of the Sky, their best album to date (featuring what is by far their best song). The focus then, would seem to be on the music rather than the visual presentation; a notion which the video for WTF?, the album’s lead single, seemed to have confirmed. The video is interesting, if unexceptional. And while good, it seems more an afterthought to the song (which is also pretty good, by the way).

This is, of course, as it should be, and, for that matter, the way most bands typically do things. It is, however, in stark contrast to Ok Go’s previous work, which– purposefully or not– placed the focus more on the action onscreen. The songs, in those cases, seemed more akin to a soundtrack, added as a means to punch up the choreography rather than the video’s reason for being. Here, for example, is the video for “A Million Ways:”

And the video for “Here It Goes Again,” which was so goddamn ubiquitous it even won a Grammy:

And while these are excellent videos– simple, clever, and original– and they’ve garnered the band millions of Youtube hits, they’ve hardly done much for their reputation as musicians. And though it’s obviously brought them some new fans, the caprice of internet fame is surely no comparison to the quality fanbase that a solid, well-reviewed album and a good tour would bring.

I was initially impressed by Ok Go’s apparent decision to focus less on their video-making. The fifteen minutes of fame had passed, and– it seemed to me– no good could come by trying desperately to recreate past successes.

That was, of course, until I watched their newest video for the song “This Too Shall Pass” and I realized I was completely wrong. Clearly Ok Go have a gift for making brilliant and original music videos and must by all means continue to do so with fervor. They may be a good band, but clearly this is the medium where they truly shine. Not every band can be Radiohead. If you excel at video making (and clearly that is where Ok Go’s true skill set lies) then you must embrace that.

The video, which you can check out at the end of the post, features one of the most complex Rube Goldberg machines I’ve ever seen along with some very intricate camerawork and choreography from the band itself, all culminating in a pretty goddamn awesome climax. It’s a phenomenal achievement and must have taken dozens of takes, and painstaking resets, to get right. ‘Awe-inspiring’ is probably the word for it, though I prefer ‘kick-ass.’

The video– and perhaps even the song title itself– also takes a shot at the band’s past internet successes with a brief moment in which a TV playing the “Here It Goes Again” video is smashed ruthlessly by a sledgehammer; an apt description for what is, in all likelihood, once again headed the band’s way. They’ll be ready for it, let’s just hope it sells them some albums this time.

Of the Colour of the Blue Sky is out now via Capitol Records. Buy it. Or go create a Mr. Belvedere-related meme on 4chan.




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