Archive | May, 2012

Summer Livin’: Introduction

30 May

 

It can’t be scientifically proven, but we’re going out on a limb and positing that it is no coincidence America celebrates her birthday right in the middle of the summer season.  In a country constantly defined by, and obsessed with, the idea of Freedom in its citizens’ daily lives, there is arguably no time of the year with more American Freedom than summer.  The stretch of long days and hot nights running from Memorial Day to Labor Day provides ample opportunities to get out and experience some kinds of Freedom that aren’t necessarily available at any other point in the year.

Freedom to eat, drink, and party outdoors.  Freedom to just get in your car and drive wherever/whenever you want, always under the auspices of taking a ‘Road Trip.’  Freedom from the tyranny of sleeves and cultural norms saying that shorts should cover most of your thighs.  Freedom from shirts in general.  Freedom to shoot explosives in the sky and be rewarded with cheers and colorful light displays.  Freedom to take a two week break from your office without your boss Steven giving you the stink-eye, because everyone else is doing it, and he only has two eyes.  Freedom from the textbooks and homework of school.  Freedom from the silly idea that movies should have actual plots instead of just awesome things blowing up in 3D.  Freedom.

There are so many opportunities to have a great time during this season, and we want to make sure that everyone can take full advantage of them.  And we mean everyone – the ideals of summer stretch far beyond just America.  So we reached out to the person we most closely associate with American Freedom, our resident Steed.  Steed is pretty much all recovered from Blitzed For The Holidays, and he is even more amped up for summer than we are, so he was happy to oblige.

We present Summer Livin’, a series running through August in which Steed will take a look at summer-only events and trends, and offer up some advice/stories/life lessons, all in the hopes of helping everyone take full advantage of their personal Summer Freedoms.  Stay tuned.

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Personal Soundtrack

24 May

The Song

I’m Writing A Novel by Father John Misty

 

If you like your tales of surreal benders to come with a biting sense of humor and a soundtrack influenced by artists like Dylan and Creedence, then Father John Misty has a song for you.  “I’m Writing A Novel” is a literate, tongue-in-cheek account of one narrator’s drug- and drink-fueled experiences through a dreamlike version of Los Angeles.

Frontman J. Tillman is the former drummer for Fleet Foxes, and while Father John Misty has a bit of the same rootsy and mystical sound as Foxes, Misty’s self-titled debut album is a distinctly different musical beast.  When describing some of his mindset behind the band, Tillman has said “I like humor and sex and mischief.”  Living up to that billing, Father John Misty is filled with wildly diverse sonic touches and a sharp sense of humor that is totally unique.  Tillman is clearly having a great time getting out from the Hugely Popular Band dynamic of Fleet Foxes and is letting his own voice sound out.  And as songs like “I’m Writing A Novel” indicate, that voice is awesomely weird.

The song’s lyrical accounts of L.A. hop all over the city, stopping at landmarks like Laurel Canyon, Malibu, and West Hollywood, and offer up sarcastic, vivid images of a community of drinks, drugs, dreams, and art.  It could be 2012, or it could be 1969 – the free-wheeling spirit of L.A. in “Novel” is a timeless one.  Lyrics like “I don’t need any new friends, Mama / But I could really use something to do,” or “We could do ayahuasca / Baby if I wasn’t holding all these drinks” are slyly funny and brilliant ways to describe aspects of the unique and surreal land that Los Angeles can sometimes be.  If you’re looking for that kind of L.A., Father John Misty is an excellent host.

The Activity

It’s a little past midday, and the temperature sits comfortably above 80 degrees on another cloudless day in Los Angeles.  Your morning boredom had stirred you to venture out on a hike in the Laurel Canyon area – a decision you’re second-guessing as you find yourself deep within the canyon’s scruffy wilderness without a definite idea of where you’re going or how to get back to your car.  The air hangs heavily in the heat, and occasionally seems to shimmer in sync with the chirping and buzzing of unseen insects.

You didn’t think the heat would be a factor when you first started out, but now that you’re a couple of hours and one big water bottle down, a nagging feeling of wooziness has started to creep in.  You don’t want to pass out from heat stroke all the way out here, so you stop for a moment in a shady part of the gravelly path.  As you catch your breath, the faint sound of music starts up from somewhere farther up the trail.  Straining to listen, you make out a definite guitar tone, jangling along in a catchy melody that you’re instantly drawn to.  Not stopping to wonder if it’s all just in your heat-addled mind, you leave the safety of the shade and head towards the direction of this mysterious sound.  As you round a sharp turn in the path, you come upon a small clearing amid the low-hanging canyon trees, in which sit four long-haired and bearded fellows in varying combinations of jorts, tank-tops, or no shirts at all.  They are all smiling and plugging along on guitars, roughly matching each other as they play the same stomping guitar line.  The term ‘folkish rockish’ floats into your head, stays a bit, and then floats out.

The tallest of the group sees you standing there and stops playing.  He gets up and walks towards you, smiling the whole way.  The rest of the group continues their playing while he crosses the clearing and extends a welcoming hand.  “I’m Father J,” he says, giving you a firm handshake and offering what appears to be a bottle of water with his free hand.  “…but you can call me Misty.”

You take the water bottle thankfully and in your thirsty state, take a healthy drink without hesitation.  It tastes mostly like water, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste.  Whatever, it’s refreshing.  As you hand it back, Misty smiles even wider.  “You wanna take a ride out of here and go to a party?’

It’s probably the heat, but your head is starting to feel more and more  like it’s a bit disconnected from the rest of your body -you figure it would probably be a good idea to take a break from the great outdoors for a bit.  Before you can even finish nodding Yes, Father J has tossed you the water bottle again and shoots off into the brush, shouting “Be right back.”  A throaty roar sounds out from his direction after a few seconds, and shortly thereafter, a vehicle that looks like a beefed-up combination of an ATV and a golf cart comes shooting into the clearing.  Father J is at the wheel, and he nods at you to climb in on the passenger seat beside him.  You hop in, and he takes off through the brush, seemingly plowing through a no-man’s land, but with a distinct sense of purpose.  The blowing wind makes your mouth dry, so you polish off the rest of the water bottle without thinking.  “Great ayahuasca, huh?” Father J yells above the engine and the wind.  You’re confused.  “Aya What?”

Before you can clarify, Father J’s monster kart barrels out of the brush and on to an actual road, skidding into a breakneck left turn immediately upon impact with the pavement.  The road twists down the canyon, passing secluded driveways and discrete address markers indicating the presence of large homes or compounds set back among the brush.  Without warning and without losing speed, Father J pulls another breakneck turn, to the right this time, on to a dirt driveway that wasn’t visible until you were already on it.  The kart careens down this claustrophobic trail for several hundred feet before coming upon the front yard of an enormous canyon home.  Father J skids to a stop and hops out; you try to follow him but realize that your motor skills have been altered a bit.  Taking your time, you get down and stretch out, feeling like if you’re not careful, your feet could leave the ground at any second and you’d be hopelessly airborne.

The sounds of more music and the splashing laughter of a pool party can be heard from the house’s direction, and Father J puts a hand on your shoulder as you walk over.  “There’s a great new group playing tonight, got their first set of songs ready to go,” he says, handing over a neatly rolled J.  “Crosby, Nash, and Stills or something like that.  Here take this, it will calm you down in case things get touchy.”  You take it wordlessly, and as some vaguely familiar music twinkles from the house, you begin to get the distinct feeling that you are very, very far away from the L.A. that you call home.  Oh well, you think, as you continue concentrating on keeping your feet on the ground.  That will be something to deal with when you wake up.  And you trust Misty.

 

Bonus Father John Misty Track Covering Humor/Sex/Mischief in LA:

 

The Speed Limit Experiment

21 May

If you ask my lady lover what type of driver I am she will respond in a perturbed tone that I am the “aggressive” and “impatient” type. I respond to this bold accusation with the fact that since we have owned our car, I have driven over 99% of the miles. When the madam is at the helm it usually lasts about 15 minutes and ends with tears and sworn promises to never drive again.

The problem is that I don’t have the patience to sit idly while she participates in what she calls “cautious driving.” This swathe of defensive maneuvers includes yielding, maintaining the speed limit, and participating in a game of passive un-agressiveness. We’ve both known for a long time that it is best for me drive and for her to ride shotgun. However, her frequently offered deft comments about my excess speed and dangerous technique gnaw at my soul in a fashion unlike any other. For this reason, I decided to take a day off from Alpha status and enter the slow lane as a law abiding, flag flying American.

Rules are meant to be broken, and over the years I have probably broken most jurisdictions definition of a perfect citizen. Not surprisingly, the amount of thought I had to put into obeying traffic laws was mind blowing. The morning commute started off slow as I promptly checked my RPM’s and began the crawl (usually a sprint) to work. I encountered my first hurdle as I approached the freeway on-ramp and there, just like most mornings, was a yellow light staring me down as if it knew it had already won. Defeated by default, I stopped and paid my dues with 10 others as I contemplated just how angry I was going to get in the next 15 minutes.

As predicted, the real struggle began as I entered the highway and instinctively accelerated to 70 only to be blasted with the icy chill of reality that the speed limit is 55 and I was breaking the law. Fear of the Fuzz took over as I safely decelerated and entered the slow lane behind a white panel van sporting the license plate “I<3KIDIS.”

Within twenty seconds it was obvious that I was the only one on the highway interested in maintaining the speed limit. The right lane sputtered between 40-50 while the left lane floated along at 65. I continued in this fashion of slowing down to let cars merge and then slightly accelerating for no reason whatsoever just to be forced to slow down again to let cars merge. The obvious answer to this problem was to exit the slow lane and proceed to get shit done.

The difficult decision to call off the speed limit experiment was not based on any one incident, but rather a combination of face palms including:

1) 3 people texting while driving, out of a small sample size of 20 cars
2) Multiple cars traveling at less than 15 below the speed limit
3) Complete lack of awareness by nearly 50% of all drivers (defined only by my impatience)

The fact of the matter is, and always will be, that driving is not a right. Just because you have a piece of paper certifying you can read and write English doesn’t mean that you should automatically be allowed to navigate a 1-ton ship on a concrete sea. For better or worse, within the next 10 years, consumers are going to get a look at automated driving which should help bring some uniformity to our nations highways. My hopes are low for an idiot free commute, but with a little luck and only $5200 (donations happily accepted), I might escape the daily grind in one of these miracle makers I’ve been building in my back yard.

Rock The Playoff Bells

19 May

After covering the remaining playoff teams from the NBA’s Eastern Conference, it’s now time to take a look at the Western Conference’s final four contenders and understand them better with some help from the 2012 lineup of hip-hop music festival Rock The Bells.  [Catch up on the Eastern Conference here.]

Western Conference

Lakers – Ice Cube

Ice Cube and this year’s version of the Lakers have a lot more in common besides just calling the city of Los Angeles home.  Cube earned his status as a hip-hop icon with his brash, free-wheeling work for N.W.A. and his own solo releases.  He’s dipped in and out of the rap game since his 90’s heyday, but in recent years has mostly shifted his body of work from Compton to Hollywood.  A string of family-friendly acting roles has given Cube a lot of mainstream success, and while he can still earn a top spot on Rock The Bell’s lineup this year, his focus now is clearly more on the drama than the music.

Drama is something that the Lakers have seen plenty of this season, and a lot of it has come from off the court.  The core of this Lakers team – Kobe, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol – has had a lot of success in the past with two championships.  Like Ice Cube, however, that success has given way to more and more drama this year, with swirling trade rumors, Bynum acting out, coaching questions, and the ever-changing antics of Metta World Peace.  The Lakers have tried with varying success to keep their focus on the court, but a tough matchup with OKC in the second round is fueling fears that their heyday – like Ice Cube’s – is now a thing of the past.

Thunder – A$AP Rocky “More To Be Announced”

On paper, the OKC squad seems to be a perfect basketball match for A$AP Rocky.  Both the team and the MC are young, supremely talented, exciting, have a lot of buzz, and seem primed for a lot of future success.  That’s on paper though – and as we’ve covered before here at Dan Swanky’s, the OKC Thunder are not a normal basketball team.  To fans of the Seattle SuperSonics (RIP), this OKC team is a living, breathing reminder of greed and theft on a large scale.

The Thunder shouldn’t exist – at least not in their 2012 version,  playing for the whitewashed crowd currently cheering them on in Oklahoma City.  They belong to Seattle, and as far as we’re concerned, are now an illegitimate franchise.  That’s why when it comes to the Rock The Bells Lineup, OKC is really most like that little phrase at the bottom of the poster: ‘More To Be Announced’.  Because they don’t really exist, in the sense of being a true franchise.  Is that a petty, bitter approach to take?  Well, yeah.  But that’s how we feel.  The awesome talent of A$AP Rocky is much, much too good for this stolen team.

Clippers – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

One of the themes of past Rock The Bell festivals has been to have older artists or groups reunite or make rare live appearances, in which they play some of their classic albums or tracks.  Bone Thugs are continuing that theme this year by coming together in their original lineup and playing the entirety of their most successful album, E. 1999 Eternal.  The group has been pretty inconsistent with their material in recent years, but they have a lot of great tracks from earlier in their career, and their unique, creative sound has earned them a favorable spot in the hip-hop canon.

One of Bone Thugs’ signature qualities is the loose, party-friendly vibe that permeates through a lot of their songs.  This has a lot in common with the style of basketball often played by the 2012 Clippers.  The Clippers carry the nickname Lob City, and play up to that moniker with highlight-ready plays from athletic freaks like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.  The Clippers run up and down the court, throwing no-look passes and dropping thunderous dunks, and at times look like a bunch of really talented guys playing a loose game of street ball on the neighborhood court.  There can often be a lack of discipline with the Clippers’ style, and discipline is not a word found anywhere near the vicinity of weed-scented Bone Thugs jams like “1st of tha Month” and “Weedman.”  There had to be at least one time this year when a dashiki-clad Nick Young put on E. 199 Eternal in the post-game locker room, prompting the entire Clippers crew to rap and dance along.

Spurs – Missy Elliot + Timbaland

There’s a chance that the Missy Elliot + Timbaland collaboration won’t actually make it to the Rock The Bells stage this year, but they’re on the initial announcement materials, so we’ll go with it.  With a history of one hugely successful run and reliably constant stream of output, there isn’t another artist on the lineup that better compares to the San Antonio Spurs.  To the chagrin of basketball fans who like their basketball stars to be emotional and remotely interesting, Tim Duncan has led the Spurs to three championships in his 15-year career with the team.  For a while in the 2000’s, the Spurs were the undisputed kings of the basketball world, much like Timbaland, and to a lesser extent, Missy, ruled over the music world with their distinct sound and style for a stretch of time.

The spastic, occasionally irritating sounds of Timba + Missy are also reflected by the Spurs with the flopping and flailing style of play often displayed by players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.  These two foreign stars in particular stand out as being very talented, but nevertheless infuriating when they take spectacular dives from phantom fouls and whine loudly when things don’t go their way.  The music of Timba + Missy can be highly entertaining, and it’s easy to marvel at the high quality of their work; the response to the basketball performances of the Spurs can be the same way.  But there can be a time when the funky and expressive sounds of Timba + Missy become grating and tiresome, and those are two qualities that Spurs haters know all too well.

Rock The Playoff Bells

18 May

The worlds of hip-hop and basketball share many connections, from their deep inner-city roots to their ever-evolving fashion trends; the latter in particular is especially apparent as the postgame press conferences of young NBA stars today are filled with sartorial nods to the looks championed by artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West.

One big reason for the bond between basketball and hip-hop  is that the nature of the business for rappers and professional basketball players is similar, in that both entail a high-level of individual visibility and little room to hide from the spotlight.  NBA players go to work in tank tops and shorts, under the scrupulous eyes of HD cameras and thousands of fans armed with flashing smartphone cameras.  Hip-hop stars need to fill entire albums with rapid-fire bursts of intimate thoughts and personal revelations; there can be flashy beats and effects to draw listeners’ attention momentarily, but at the end of the day, any artist with staying power is going to be judged by what they can do when it’s just them and a mic.

The high degree of visibility that both professions entail can give their respective fans an impression of intimacy with the stars they follow.  This leads to an environment in which commentators, fans, bloggers, etc. can confidently dissect and analyze not just the stars’ performances in the studio/on the court, but also their personal qualities, and overall value as human beings.  It can seem relatively easy and common to be an expert on the comprehensive personal histories of hip-hop stars and NBA players.

On a less in-depth and self-serious note, hip-hop and the NBA also shared something else this week – headlines.  The second round of the NBA playoffs is now in full-swing, and off-court storylines from Miami and L.A. are adding to the drama on the court.  With lesser general fanfare but still drawing attention, this year’s lineup of the traveling hip-hop festival Rock The Bells was also released this week.  And so, in light of the ‘everyone’s an expert’ syndrome discussed previously, we seized upon these two news items as a means to analyze stars from both worlds further.  We decided to take a look at the remaining NBA playoff teams and find their musical matches on the 2012 Rock The Bells Lineup.

Eastern Conference

Celtics – Nas

The core Celtics – Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo – had enormous success in their first year together, going all the way to the title in 2008.  Ever since then, they’ve generally remained one of the elite teams in the league but have never been able to reach another title; the rival Lakers have won two in that same period.  Because of their frustrations since 2008, the legacy of this particular Celtics team is unclear – they haven’t been legendarily great, but they have still been feared and respected.  Their run in this year’s playoff will go a long way to determining their overall place in the NBA’s Great Teams hierarchy.

Nas has a similar legacy issue with the hip-hop game – he burst onto the scene with the all-time classic Illmatic in 1994, but followed that with several years of inconsistent musical output.  His artistic reputation recovered greatly with Stillmatic and God’s Son in the early 2000’s, and ever since, Nas has generally been regarded as someone with a vital place in hip-hop’s history, but who never totally seemed to have the all-time great career that seemed possible after Illmatic.  Regardless – like the 2012 Celtics, he’s still respected in the game and a formidable presence when he’s at 100%.

76ers – Tyga

The 76ers are not a bad team, but they are a pretty young team that has a lot of room to grow.  They most definitely are not a serious title contender, and it can be pretty safe to say that were it not for a highly unfortunate Derrick Rose ACL tear, they wouldn’t even be in the second round.  So it’s pretty easy to label Philly as the ‘just happy to be here’ young team, and that’s even before their coach Doug Collins appeared to slyly concede the series to Boston in his Game 3 post-season comments.

In the hip-hop world, Tyga enjoyed a breakout hit several months ago with the catchy “Rack City,” and has been riding that song’s popularity ever since.  It’s too early to call him a one-hit wonder, but when it comes to being near the top of the Rock The Bells lineup poster, he’s definitely ‘just happy to be here.’

Heat – Method Man & Redman

Method Man and Redman are pairing up to perform their album Blackout, and are generally considered one of the bigger names on the RTB lineup this year.  These two don’t have the same worldwide recognition as LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, but the dynamics of the Heat duo so far in these playoffs have some similarities with the Brick City duo.  There is definitely a disparity in the prestige/popularity level between Meth and Red – Meth has his classic material with Wu-Tang, and with his various acting gigs over the years, has definitely remained the most well-respected of the two.  Red has his appeal, to be sure, but he is not on the same level as Meth at this point.

This can translate to LeBron and Wade, but with a bit of a caveat – which one of them will be Meth, and which one will fall back to being Red, on any given night?  That is the essential drama at the center of the Heat now that Chris Bosh is out, and it is still unclear which of these two remaining stars will rise up and take control of each new game.  D-Wade was definitely the Redman of Game 3, with his paltry stat line and in-game petulance, and it is yet to be seen if he will retain that title going forward.  It is also yet to be seen if Bron Bron and D-Wade will continue to share another similarity with Meth and Red – as individuals, there has been some great successes (Wade won a title, LeBron won multiple MVPs, Meth has Wu tracks like “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man”) but when combined, the output has been less than stellar (the Heat choking in last year’s Finals, How High).  Will a ’12 Title Run change that?

Pacers – Dipset

It’s been repeated nonstop by commentators for weeks, but bears repeating: the Pacers are a team without one true star, and have relied on their great teamwork to get to the level they’re at today.  Without a true superstar, the Pacers are made up of several smaller-wattage stars – great players who just aren’t all-out global names like LeBron or Carmelo.  Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, and David West are all essential to the Pacers continued success, but they aren’t that well-known outside of Indiana and NBA fan circles.  Together, however, they’re taking on the Heat with some nasty confidence, and at the moment, look like the team with the upper hand.

Holding another spot high on the RTB lineup, Dipset are like the Pacers of the hip-hop world in several ways.  Dipset is stocked with some good-to-great rappers, with Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, and Cam’ron, but it would be hard to say any of those guys have had superstar careers on their own.  Cam’ron and Juelz came the closest, but they’re much more respected and loved in their native NYC and in true hip-hop fan circles, and not so much on the mass-market scale.  When all put together, the crew has an impressive arsenal of group and solo cuts to bust out at their discretion, and are a personal favorite here at Dan Swanky’s.  Much like the Pacers and the ’12 Playoffs, Dipset could take this year’s RTB by storm.

Rocking the Western Conference Bells coming soon….

24+ Hours of Soccer

18 May

Tomorrow, as you are waking up to a fresh hangover, twenty-two of the best soccer players in the world will engage in a grueling battle to determine this year’s Champions League Final. If you have been too busy anticipating the upcoming NFL Season, this is the Super Bowl of European soccer.

Regardless of your opinion on the world’s most popular sport, this game is a must watch and because of that, Dan Swanky’s has sent our field intern, Barney Buncombe, across the pond and into the storm as the unofficial US representative for this momentous event.

In addition to portraying all stereotypes of an American soccer fan, he will be frequenting Hooligan hangouts to interview local fans in an attempt to capture the intensity of the day.  He will be updating this post regularly over the next 24 hours, so keep your browser on Auto-refresh and get ready to scream “GOAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!”

UPDATE: 5/18/12 – 3PM – Three Clover Pub 

The fine city of London has treated me well so far (minus the Spotted Dick) but I vowed that I would not return home until I enjoyed a lager (or cider) with a professional soccer player. I was hoping to rub elbows with the likes of David Beckham or Alan Shearer, but fate had another thing in mind.  Upon entering the Three Clover, and taking a stool at the bar, I noticed a rough group of gentleman had taken a particular interest in my presence. After a minute long question and answer session about the origin of my body paint, I was invited to their table and soon learned that they were going to the Final’s match AND that one of them used to play pro soccer in Argentina. Over the next two hours we imbibed like merry men and listened to Carlos as he recapped the glory days as a young Argentinian soccer phenom. Eventually, Carlos outpaced himself and fell asleep at the table, and I decided it was a good time to walk off my buzz, in preparation for this evening.

UPDATE: 5/18/12 – 9AM – London Heathrow – International Customs

I thought that my passport shouldn’t be the only document describing my country of origin, so after deplaning I headed straight to the bathroom and applied red, white, and blue body paint over most of my skin. I have now been queuing for over 45 minutes and nobody around me is interested in an interview. Talk about backfire. Luckily, I found a used copy of EuroSport in one of the bathroom stalls and used my phone to order a new pair of boots and a signed picture of Landon Donovan.

UPDATE: 5/17/12 – 10PM – Raleigh Durahm Airport – Gate A16

The trip could not have started off any better. I was minding my own business, causally enjoying a few pre-flight beverages while watching highlights of the ’93 Final when suddenly, a fellow patriot, dressed in full USA Soccer Kit, started a soccer chant from his seat as if he was already in the front row of Wembley. Empowered by his complete disrespect for Airport etiquette , I ran over and quickly joined in harmonious song. Most people at Gate A16 were horrified by our performance, quite possibly because my new singing friend was of Middle Eastern decent, however we continued undeterred for 25 minutes until airport security kindly asked us to keep it down. Caught up in the rowdiness, we declined, and were promptly tasered , handcuffed and escorted into a windowless room. After a few ‘handshakes’ and meaningless signatures, I was allowed to board my flight and re-start the adventure.


 

Personal Soundtrack

15 May

The Song

The Train Pt. 2 by Big Boi

When the legendary duo Outkast are discussed, the popular opinion is often that Big Boi provides the swaggering, gangsta steez to their sound, while Andre 3000 brings the eccentric flair and musical tastes that range far outside of hip-hop conventions.  There’s no denying that the oft-reclusive Three Stacks can be awesomely weird, but there was a reason the group’s second album was titled ATLiens – both of them have sounds inside their heads that are unlike anything else in this world.

Big Boi provides evidence of his otherworldly side at several points throughout his underrated 2010 solo release Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son Of Chico Dusty.  The album has several swaggering tales of the the hustla’s life, but Big Boi also pairs his wordy drawl with sonic flourishes that bring in elements such as funk and psychedelia.  The latter element is displayed most strongly in “The Train Pt. 2” – a standout track that defies easy genre descriptions and exists in its own universe somehow both inside and out of the hip-hop and R&B worlds.

With it’s lonesome whistling and electronic beeps and tones, “Train” sounds like a transmission sent to Earth from some strange faraway corner of space.  The song has its own laid-back momentum, with Big Boi dropping some reflective lyrics over a propulsive strumming beat; a slinky synth line dances about the rest of the track before taking over completely and trading notes with a triumphant horn section in an instrumental climax.  “The Train Pt. 2” is an epic sonic journey through Big Boi’s strange and funky universe, and these sounds will stick on something deep inside your head.

The Activity

It is some time shortly after midnight and you’ve just been awoken.  You lie in bed, sheets askew, and sleepily try to determine what pulled you out of dreamland.  For a moment, you hear nothing but the gentle whirr of the oscillating fan at the foot of the bed and the intermittent flutter of curtains as the fan’s breeze swings its slow arc.  And then, a strange yet instantly recognizable sound echoes out in the streets beyond your window.  A long and high train whistle, at once both triumphant and mournful, and overwhelmingly eerie. You shudder a bit, involuntarily.

An extended silence follows this piercing whistle, and for a moment you wonder if it had only been a strangely lucid dream.  You roll over and try to fall back asleep, but all tiredness is jolted away as the myriad sounds of a puffing and steaming train suddenly fill the street outside of your house.  This is no dream.

You clamber down to the foot of your bed and peer out at this Industrial Age vision, holding the curtain just slightly open so that you won’t be seen.  There, right below your window, sits a gleaming train, about six cars long, smoke billowing out the front and steam hissing out through the wheels.  The words ‘Polar Express’ flit through your mind before you remember that it’s the middle of summer and still a humid 75 degrees out even in the dead of night.  But what else could this be?  Some kind of dry run for the December main event?  There’s got to be something magical going on here – another peek confirms that there are no train tracks in front or back of this particular Express, which has the words “DADDY FAT SAX” emblazoned upon the side.

As you puzzle out the train’s origins, a figure jumps out from the front car and looks straight at your window.  This figure is wearing an astronaut’s NASA-certified jump suit, but in place of a helmet is sporting a pair of shades and a fedora cocked slightly to the left.  Before you can hide, this space conductor points directly at you and says, What You Waitin’ For.  Let’s Ride.

This silky, baritone-heavy voice has some kind of strange effect on you, because you instantly get up, throw on some clothes, and glide down the stairs and out of your house before thinking twice.  You find yourself standing barefoot on the grass in front of the conductor, who grins and says Big Boi Welcomes You To The Train.  You look around for a second and seeing no one else, realize that your new host is speaking of himself in the third person.

Where Are We Going, you ask, even though you’re already starting to climb into the first car, still under the seductive power of that voice’s strange pull.  Big Boi clambers aboard as well as the train jumps forward.  We’re Just Gonna Go Cruise To Space, he says casually as the train leaves the ground and does, indeed, begin to take off towards the general direction of space.  Still strangely calm, you ask one more question over the sound of the horn section in the back of the train car – When Are We Coming Back?  Big just smiles and says, When My Song Is Over.

Hotter Days, Cooler Movies

11 May

[For Part One of the Dan Swanky’s Summer Movie Celebration feat. Steed, go here.  Now, we’ll move to July & August:]

July

The Amazing Spider-Man – July 6

Basically Spiderman 3D, this is a reboot of the Spiderman franchise just a few short years after Tobey Maguire moped his way through the wildly uneven Spider-Man 3.  This time around, Eduardo Saverin takes a break from throwing laptops around and steps into the Spidey costume, and he’s paired up with some solid supporting actors in Emma Stone, Denis Leary, and Rhys Ifans.  At first glance, this seems like Spider-Man could just add on to the superhero overkill of the summer, but this one looks like it has a welcome indie edge to it – the director is Marc Webb from 500 Days of Summer, and the most recent trailer was sporting a Glitch Mob banger.

The Dark Knight Rises – July 20

The biggest movie of the summer.  Anticipation for this one started after the credits rolled on The Dark Knight four years ago, and have only gotten bigger since.  Rises is the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s masterful Batman trilogy, and by all indication, things are going to get dark and intense, real quick.  Early reports of the movie have described it as being similar to a horror movie, which sounds amazing.  The only reservation at this point is that the trailers and marketing materials seem to be giving too much of the plot away – the most recent one seems to be telegraphing a poetic yet grisly end for the Caped Crusader.  Hopefully that won’t ruin any surprises.

The Watch – July 27

Initially, The Watch looked like another glossy and expensive high-concept comedy, with big-name comedy stars dumbing down their humor in order to appeal to a broader audience.  The plot sounded silly in the worst way – a neighborhood watch group led by Ben Stiller, Vince Vaugh, and Jonah Hill have to protect their neighborhood from an alien invasion.  And then a red band trailer was released, and trepidation turned to anticipation.  The movie looks to be going in the hard-R direction, which is the best decision they could make.  When you’ve got Vaughn, Stiller, and Hill sitting around and talking shit to kids in between extended riffs on alien jizz, then you’ve got the potential for a great summer comedy.

STEED:

Savages – July 6

“There was a period of my life several years ago, which I’m not entirely proud of, when I spent a lot of my time developing my own little grass business.  The funny stuff.  Everything was organic and I catered mostly to the local soccer mom/stay-at-home dad community.  Would do a lot of minivan drops, stuff like that.  Anyways, during this time I had grand dreams of building my own little empire, complete with a gorgeous vixen by my side and a grand waterfront estate.  Savages pretty much sums up what I was aiming for, minus the nasty little Mexican cartal drama, and it’s a movie I’m looking forward to identifying with.  I can definitely see my ruggedly handsome self in the Tim Riggins role.”

Ted – July 13

“So a few weeks ago I was spending a nice little Sunday afternoon at the casa.  It was one of the first hot days of the year, so while my roommate Jasper was out mowing the lawn, me and the other roommate Steve were sitting on the porch finishing the keg from the night before.  You’ve got like a 36-hour window on those things, y’know.  But anyways, so we’re sitting there enjoying our High Life and the smell of fresh-cut grass when Steve suddenly says Oh Shit.  I say, What Steve, and when I turn to look at him, I notice that my whole body suddenly feels great.  I Forgot These Are The Acid Cups, Steve remarks, with a distinct lack of regret in his voice.  Oh, I said.  40 minutes later, I wandered back inside to get a fresh beer and saw that our Fathead of Shawn Kemp had walked off the wall and was now sitting on the couch enjoying a cold brew.  Awesome, I thought, and I sat down to join him.  We spent the whole afternoon watching the NBA playoffs, joking around, and generally just being great buddies.  When it came to about dinner time, we dapped it and he left.  It was a great time.  I’d imagine Ted is kind of like that.”

August

The Bourne Legacy – August 4

The Bourne movies with Matt Damon got better with each new installment, and while it might be tough to top the last one, Bourne Legacy looks pretty promising.  Jeremy Renner plays intensely troubled Badass pretty well (see: The Hurt Locker) and the direction/writing of Tony Gilroy should supply some mind-bending suspense elements.  This isn’t a total reboot of the franchise either – many of the same supporting actors from the prior films are reprising their roles in this one, and it will be interesting to see how the story is continued.  Fingers crossed for an epic Renner-Damon glare-off followed by a throwdown session in the climax.  Loser, if not dead, has to date Julia Stiles’ character.

The Campaign – August 10

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis easily stole the show at the 2012 Oscars with 2 short minutes of tuxedos and cymbals, and they make their movie debut together this summer as rivals campaigning for the same political position.  It’s easy to get expectations too high when two of the funniest people in the world get together, so this will have to be pretty good not to disappoint.  One thing going for it is that Zach seems to have co-opted several mannerisms from his brother Seth to play his Campaign role.  Hopefully Seth will show up for the press rounds or at least the premiere.  Let this tide you over until August.

STEED:

The Expendables 2 – August 10

“Sometimes dreams come true.  Like when I’ve spent all of my movie-watching life having fitful dreams about seeing the incredible physiques and menacing scowls of Stallone, Schwarzenneger, Lundgren, Statham, Li, Willis, and Rourke come together on one screen, and then one magical summer night two years ago, it happens.  I spent most of the first Expendables with tears of joy in my eyes and a pint of Jack in my hands, and opening night of this one won’t be any different.  Especially now that we’ve got Chuck Fucking Norris and Van Damme joining the party.  I may or may not be organizing a chopper envoy for the drive to the theater, followed by a session at the tattoo parlor after the movie.  Email me for details.”

Hit and Run – August 24

“Written, directed, and starring Dax ‘Punk’d’ Shepard.  Enough said.  Ticket purchased.”

Premium Rush – August 24

“I’ve been getting into extreme mountain biking lately.  There’s an urban MBX (my term, TM) park near my house, filled with all kinds of crazy objects to jump over and speed around, and I’m almost ready to go on it.  I bought a trail-ready bike a few weeks ago and have been riding it extreme-style every other day to the MBX park.  I post up there at the top and watch all the MBX bros crush the trail, taking notes on their techniques and lingo.  After a while of this, I’ll make loops around my neighborhood, hopping over curbs and honing my techniques.  It’s a slow process, sure, but practice makes perfect, and pretty soon I’ll be able to own that MBX trail.  Then I can rub it in my neighbor Timothy’s smug little face.  But, yeah, basically I understand the dudes in Premium Rush.

Hot Days, Cool Movies

8 May

Summertime at your local movie theater is a season marked by huge stars, lavish budgets, and lots of loud noises.  With schools out and temperatures ranging from uncomfortably warm to oppressively hot, the easy distractions and cool A/C blasts of the multiplex are an enormous draw all across America.  Movie studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to fill those multiplexes with all the big stars, shiny effects, and loud noises that the months of May – August can handle, and their efforts are rewarded with enough box office sales and merchandising tie-in revenues to keep the whole routine humming year after year.

It is easy to point to the summer movie season as a perfect example of everything wrong with Hollywood and America today – enormous sums of money spent on hollow excesses simply for the sake of making even bigger sums of money on the back end.  And there is some truth behind that.  A cynical truth, though, and bringing cynicism into the summer movie season can prevent someone from enjoying the great potential behind some of these blockbusters.  If done right, a huge summer movie can represent some of the best things that the medium of cinema can offer –  namely an escape from the mundane realities of everyday life, and the chance to see wild twists of imagination made ‘real’ on the big screen.  Summer can offer the chance to check your worries and stress at the door, and escape into worlds of pure entertainment.  There is nothing wrong with just being entertained for a few hours out of your otherwise busy week.

The Avengers kicked off the blockbuster season last week with a small fortune in box office receipts, and it has gotten us in the blockbuster mood here at Dan Swanky’s.  We sat down and picked out some films from the next few months that have us all-out excited, or at least genuinely intrigued, for what awaits in the cool dark of the theater.  And to add a different perspective, we also got our resident blockbuster aficionado Steed to give us some picks of his own.  Enjoy Part One.

May

The Avengers – May 4

The Avengers is an example of how to make a blockbuster the right way.  Director Joss Whedon manages to pull off a story that remains true to the essence of the comic books while also achieving a broader appeal, and he does it behind strong characters that don’t get lost behind the massive scale of the special effects.  It’s tough to stay grounded and nuanced while pulling off scenes with aliens, Norse gods, and lots of spandex, but Avengers manages to do that while also celebrating the awesome action potential that comes from having superhero legends sharing the big screen for the first time.

The Dictator – May 18

Sascha Baron Cohen continues his trend of playing crude characters with funny accents in The Dictator, and it’s tough to tell from the early trailers if this will be a return to brilliant Borat form, or a continuation of the mild disappointment of Bruno.  Regardless, any movie that brings together comedic talents like Cohen, director Larry Charles, and John C. Reilly is worth the benefit of the doubt.  Hopefully there are plenty of batshit crazy and filthy jokes waiting behind the currently tame trailer.

Moonrise Kingdom – May 25

Wes Anderson returns with another coming-of-age tale (presumably) soaked in warm colors, ethereal indie rock songs, and sharp-tongued youngsters.  You can go into an Anderson film with a strong idea of what you’re going to get, and you’ll end up being mostly right – but he can also hit you with emotionally charged scenes of beauty when you least expect it, and is always wholly unique.  Moonrise could be a welcome change of pace among the special effects melee of the summer landscape.

STEED:

Battleship – May 11

“Let’s run this one down:  Aircraft carriers.  Aliens.  Guns.  Tim ‘Riggs’ Riggins.  Liam ‘Taken’ Neeson.  Brooklyn Decker.  Explosions.  This one had me standing in line from the top.  Then the newest trailer dropped in front of Avengers this past weekend, and things were ratcheted up.  I blacked out from the sensory overload, and when I came to a few seconds later, I was at half-mast and lying in the aisle.  Ticket already purchased.”

What To Expect When You’re Expecting – May 18

“Confession: I’m a sucker for baby humor.  No, not humor meant for babies to laugh at – humor that is made up of babies doing funny things.  Babies reacting to things they clearly shouldn’t be reacting to?  Babies crawling around and stirring up innocent mischief?  Gets me every goddamn time.  This movie looks like it’s got all kinds of baby vs. stupid human interaction, and I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a Wednesday afternoon.”

June

Prometheus – June 8

This sci-fi action/horror/mind-bender looks to be one of the cooler movies of the summer, complete with a mysterious plot, creepy alien action, and a great cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron.  And that’s on top of the fact that it’s directed by Ridley Scott in his rumored return to the Alien universe; the early glimpses of the trailers look like there are plenty of the same ‘horror movie in space’ touches that made the first film so great.  In another connection to Alien, Fassbender is playing an android in this one – there are unconfirmed reports that he actually begins the film as a sex robot and that this could be a Shame-in-Space situation.  Stay tuned.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – June 22

This is one of those movies that has the potential to be the perfect ‘turn off your mind and be entertained’ summer offerings.  The concept (spelled out in the title) is borderline absurd – but so what?  Timur Bekmambetov is a director who knows how to craft stylish and inventive action sequences, and he’ll be offering up plenty of badass Abe Lincoln v. Vampires ax fights.  If the movie doesn’t take itself seriously and focuses on just having a good time, then this could be a great late-night summer movie.

Magic Mike – June 29

We’ve talked about this before, but we’ve been looking forward to Magic Mike ever since hearing the logline.  In a story based partly upon his real life, Channing Tatum is a male stripper whose mentor is Matthew McConaughey.  This alone sounds somewhat iffy, but when the kicker is that Mike is directed by Steven Soderbergh, things could get weird, in an awesome way.  Soderbergh is a very good director, and his approach to this particular story will be very interesting.  Plus, McConaughey’s role means that we get to see David Wooderson follow his calling to be a male stripper.

STEED:

Rock of Ages – June 15

“Make sure you put down that I’m not a musical fan.  I’d much rather see someone fight their way through a movie’s plot instead of singing and dancing about.  But when the music is all rock classics from golden gods like Journey, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Bon Fuckin’ Jovi, and the main guy is Tom ‘Maverick’ Cruise?  Then sign me right up.  I’m definitely looking forward to getting out my old denim and bringing a few tall boys to the opening weekend of this baby.  Hopefully I’ll bring it back to the Van Halen show a few years ago and get a little something going in the back row.  We shall see.  We shall see.”

That’s My Boy – June 15

“Well, it looks like the June 15 weekend is going to have to be a double feature for yours truly.  I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the Sand-man’s last several movies, and with this one we finally get to see him in some hard-R glory.  No more dancing around that salty language, Sand-man, just let it fly.  I’m not too sure who this Andy Samberg broheim is, but he looks like he could have some potential and I’ll give him a shot.  As long he doesn’t get in the Man’s way.  I don’t want anyone stepping over those baby-talk lines I love so much.  I’ve got a feeling that like Grown Ups, I’ll be making some return trips to the theater all summer long for this one.”

Part Two covering July and August coming soon…

MCA

4 May

 

“Now my name is MCA I’ve got a license to kill/ I think you know what time it is it’s time to get ill/ Now what do we have here an outlaw and his beer/ I run this land, you understand I make myself clear”

Today’s passing of Adam Yauch, MCA of the Beastie Boys, was surprising and incredibly saddening.  We don’t have the wisdom or eloquence to give MCA the comprehensive tribute that he deserves, but wish to salute this visionary artist with a few words and some auditory proof of his greatness.

MCA often began his verses on Beastie songs with an introduction – “Now my name is MCA..” – but there was really no need to remind listeners who this masterful MC was.  His voice and worldview were wholly unique and will never be seen again.  Behind crazily diverse beats, MCA unleashed his thoughts upon the world with a swaggering blend of humorous, weird and brilliant lyrics; his phrases will be repeated by music fans forever.

MCA never took his and the Beasties’ success for granted, and he never stopped innovating and growing as an artist throughout his entire career.  Watching MCA’s progression as a performer was a rare chance to see someone embrace their staggering talent and use it to push their beloved art form into the future.  He never stopped trying, never did anything halfway.  The respect and love MCA had for hip-hop and music in general was evident in every one of his performances, and the world has lost a vital artistic force today.

If you happen to go out somewhere tonight, and the music being played is not the product of MCA and the Beastie Boys – just leave.  And find somewhere that is celebrating the legacy of a musical pioneer by cranking up his music as loud as it will go.