Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Revenge of the Thirty-Day Song Challenge - Day 7

Day 7 – A Song from a Movie Trailer

It’s happened to all of us at one point or another: sometimes, a trailer comes along that’s better than the actual movie it’s promoting. Killer editing tricks and careful pacing can help to do the trick (it also helps if the actual film in question sucks), but, for me, the best trailers are the ones with the best music. Good trailer music can provide a solid foundation for the trailer to rest its action on, or it can jump to the front and overwhelm everything with its sheer majesty. Today’s entry definitely occupies the latter camp, and is one of the better trailers that I’ve come across for a movie I haven’t seen.

Coheed & Cambria – “Welcome Home”

A few years ago, an odd duck of an animated feature called 9 released in theaters, doing kinda okay at the box office before quietly exiting the public consciousness. I’m not sure why the film didn’t do well in theaters (or what it did to deserve placing second behind I Can Do Bad All By Myself), but it sure wasn’t because of the trailer. Opening with sparse narration, 9’s trailer does little to contextualize itself, riding instead on the imagination of its visuals, rhythm of its editing, and the classic stand-by sensation that s@$# is going down.

And then there’s the music. I am positive that the trailer for 9 would not be half as fricking sweet if it weren’t for the lead single from Coheed & Cambria’s third full-length release, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (yeah, I know). Goodness knows what compelled them to write it, but somewhere along the line, the Nyack, New York prog-group decided that they really, really wanted to make an epic metal song, and that it had damn well better include the biggest riff they could possibly create. It’s this riff that powers nearly all of the trailer’s use of “Welcome Home,” and its titanic hook and giant symphonic backing give it a reaching, epic feel that most tentpole trailers would kill for.

“Welcome Home” is a continuation of the story established by concept band Coheed & Cambria, though recounting the song’s plot would require three more pages of back-exposition, so I generally take it at face-value. As an album opener, which it basically is, when you take out the two introduction tracks, it’s fantastic; the aforementioned riff kicks the listener in the teeth, and the length and grandeur of the song lets them know of how massive and sprawling this album will be. The immediate four songs help sell the entire rest of the album, but, for me, it all starts with “Welcome Home.” The fact that it’s playable on Rock Band certainly helps sell it for me, but I’m like that.

Huge guitar solos, grand-sounding choral parts, and a bloated run time give “Welcome Home” a feeling of majesty that isn’t often found in music today, but as well as it’s executed, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t deserve it.

PS - Because I can, here's the trailer:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Revenge of the Thirty-Day Song Challenge - Day 6

Day 6 – A Song from a Musical

As a kid who did a lot of theater in both high school and college, I have a healthy portion of sentiment reserved for the musical. And why not—the musical was generally the most fun to perform out of the shows we did, and netted in a larger crowd than the usual theater junkies, making it an even more communal and enjoyable experience. Some musicals get a free pass simply for nostalgia’s sake (even Paint Your Wagon…), but today’s entry is from a bar-none outstanding show, that only the most curmudgeon-y of audience members and bloggers could dislike.

The Producers – “Springtime for Hitler”

Prior to its rebirth as a stage production in 2001, The Producers was a Mel Brooks comedy from 1968 that, while apparently significant enough to make an AFI list and be inducted into the Library of Congress, was not especially well-remembered by many except for Roger Ebert, or at least not as well as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. All of that changed, however, when Brooks turned his first directorial production into a Broadway musical, delighting audiences and winning a record-breaking 12 Tonys (for what it’s worth). I would argue that The Producers the musical will live longer than its film counterpart, though I suspect it’s a generational thing.

Regardless of whether it’s on the stage or in the theaters, the crux of the movie is the designed-to-fail play that will (in theory) catapult Max Bialystok and Leo Bloom into fortune: Springtime for Hitler. Both versions feature a rendition of the song, with the play version seguing into another song before coming back home. I personally prefer the play version (and we can plumb even further depths of the meta trench, if we factor in the movie adaptation of the play), but either version is basically a bad-taste-a-thon of The Broadway Melody-era showtune tropes, a number that props one of the most evil men ever on a pedestal, fits him with a dunce cap, and invites the audience to laugh, clown, laugh. And I think it’s bloody hilarious.

If nothing else, “Springtime for Hitler” is an absolute earworm of a song, with instantly-catchy melodies. Brooks has shown a knack for riffing on Broadway pastiches for a while now—remember “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles?—but nowhere is he better than in the show’s title number, with a great, sunny demeanor cribbed from an infinite number of corny musicals. “Springtime” goes from straight Broadway, to jazzy, to a surreal faux-“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and it’s a hell of a trip the whole way. Small wonder it got so much acclaim.

Lyrically, “Springtime for Hitler” knocks it out of the park, with lines like, “We’re marching to a faster pace/Look out, here comes the master race,” and, “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty/Come and join the Nazi Party.” The extended number in the Broadway version, “Heil Myself,” is pretty damn funny as well: “Heil myself, heil to me/I’m the Kraut who’s out to change our history.” Using the word “clever” to describe song lyrics can be a double-edge sword; “clever” can just as often indicate smirking, “ironic” words and messages, e.g. just about anything from Panic at the Disco. “Springtime for Hitler,” along with the rest of The Producers’ book, is the right kind of clever: words that are not only funny, but funny because they’re the only ones that will work, making them doubly-effective (Gilbert and Sullivan achieve a similar effect).

I will admit, I do have a soft spot for this song, and the whole show. I was in a production of The Producers during my junior year of college (where I played Carmen Ghia. Oh hell yes), and was at a particularly good-enough spot in my life to look back on the production with fond, rose-colored glasses. Still, even if I am incredibly biased towards this number because of personal experience, I feel confident in saying that “Springtime for Hitler” is a damn good tune, and one that makes me smile, even in dire times.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Revenge of the Thirty-Day Song Challenge - Day 5

Day 5 - A Song from a TV Series

TV and music have gone together basically since the darn thing was invented. Even before shows like Glee and American Idol took hold of America's jones for musical programming, we still had the theme song to Laverne and Shirley and Friends, and we've been humming them ever since. Today's entry is a celebration of music created for the boob tube, or, in modern terminology, the LCD flat panel.

The Simpsons – "We Do (The Stonecutters Song)"

The Simpsons has been a repository of quality tunes since its earliest days, from early dance-crazes to a recent send-up of that one guy who won the Oscar instead of Alan Menkin this year. If "We Do" somehow is not my favorite song out of a pantheon of quality music, it's definitely up there.

"We Do (The Stonecutters' Song)" comes from the season 6 episode "Homer The Great," where Homer becomes the leader of a Masonic secret society called the Stonecutters (get it?). The song comes after Homer is inducted as the Chosen One of the Stonecutters, and is sung as a celebration of what it means to be a member. "We Do" is basically a call-and-response drinking anthem, first asking who performs a certain (and hilariously banal) feat, and answering that "we do." Notable Stonecutter activities include:
  • Holding back the electric automobile
  • Deliberately obscuring both Atlantis and the Martians
  • Rigging the Academy Awards
It's quite a life, being a Stonecutter.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Revenge of the Thirty-Day Song Challenge - Day 4

Day 4 – A Song Written for a Movie

I’ll be honest: I really don’t understand movie soundtracks. I mean, they make sense when a movie is a musical, or when a movie prominently features songs on said soundtracks, but I never really get soundtrack albums that are filled with songs that aren’t anywhere close to being featured in their film counterparts (the Godzilla soundtrack is the most egregious example of this I can think of, but I’m sure there are others). Occasionally, though, a song that’s “inspired by” a film breaks through my wall of skepticism and reaches me—in very special cases, it even makes one of my mixes.

Paramore – “Decode”

For those on the unawares, “Decode” is the song that Paramore made for the first Twilight movie. While this should seem like enough to chase me away from the song entirely, the fact that it’s a Paramore song was enough to draw me into an initial listen. I ended up liking it. A lot.

According to Wikipedia, “Decode” represents the tension between Bella and Edward’s forbidden and bubbling-under affection for each other. Sure it does. When I listen to it, I hear an aggressive, urgent tune that almost seems to press the listener on all sides with sonic claustrophobia; the eerie key, off-time drums, and driving chorus make “Decode” seem much more energetic than its plodding pace would normally let on. Hailey Williams’ voice is smashing as always, and I deeply regret that it’s not a bonus track on Brand New Eyes, because it’s quite apparent that they were at least written during the same timeframe.

A story associated with “Decode.” During one of my vacations to Bozeman from school, I was visiting my current roommate at his former place of residence. I mentioned in passing that Paramore had done a new song for Twilight, and asked if he had heard anything about it. I knew that he was mostly into post-hardcore stuff like Bring Me the Horizon and Texas In July, though, so I figured he would have heard about it only in print. To my surprise, he looked over his shoulder to check if his housemates where anywhere nearby, and quickly closed the blinds.

“You never heard this in this house,” he said, and he produced a copy of the song from his iTunes.

Perhaps that’s not an indication of quality for this exceptionally good movie song from Paramore, but I still think it’s pretty damn funny.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Revenge of the Thirty-Day Song Challenge - Day 3

Day 3 – A Song from a Favorite Album

Though less than I have been earlier in life, I am an Album Person when it comes to music. I love the way a good album comes together, how all of the tracks complement each other and work in tandem to create a complete sonic package. Heck, I even construct mix CDs like I would an album; things like sequencing and pacing make a difference, doggonnit! I haven’t had the opportunity to dive into new album discovery since I was a sophomore in college, but I still enjoy listening to a CD for the whole experience, especially when on the road.

The Roots – “Web 20/20”

The Roots are my absolute favorite hip hop group, bar none. It’s been a long journey (it was a good six months before I “got” my first album by them, The Tipping Point), but I love their blend of live instrumentation, thoughtful lyrics, and often non-traditional song structure. There’s a very good chance you won’t ever hear them in The Club, but their albums are so good when taken as a whole, I really don’t mind at all.

“Web 20/20” is a track from The Root’s newest disc, How I Got Over, which is probably my second-favorite Roots album after Things Fall Apart. How I Got Over is sonically similar to Things Fall Apart, with an emphasis on jazz-influenced hip hop (more so than any other album they’ve released in ten years) and a vibe that is much more chilled out than either of their past two discs. How I Got Over stands unique in my mind, though, as the only album I can think of with an emotional arc. How I Got Over starts in the doldrums, sounding downtrodden and world-weary (“I Walk Alone,” “Dear God 2.0”) before leveling out and becoming determined (“Radio Daze,” “Now or Never”), and finally rising up, stronger and more optimistic than ever (“Doin’ It Again,” “The Fire”). The whole album progresses from depressed to triumphant, and listening to the whole package is rather rewarding.

After the exultant tones of “The Fire” come the last two songs of the disc, which have absolutely nothing to do with the previous paragraph. The first of these, “Web 20/20” is a callback to The Root’s rhyme-a-thon tracks from several of their previous albums, where emcee Black Thought starts freestyling and doesn’t stop for like three or so minutes. After a rewarding but exhausting trip through emotional uplifting, I rather enjoy the tension-relieving nature that comes from “Web 20/20;” it’s playful, fun, and has an exceptional beat along with Black Thought’s razor-sharp technique. It’s the perfect closer to an already great album.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Revenge of the Thirty-Day Song Challenge - Day 2

Day 2 – A Song from a Favorite Artist

During the initial Thirty-Day Challenge, I was asked to name off my favorite track by my favorite artist. This post is on a similar train of thought, but with much less pressure—do you have a favorite artist? Do you have a song you like from them? Bada bing. I didn’t get to talk about these guys last time, either, so here’s a good chance to bring up another one of my absolute favorite artists.

Goodnight Sunrise – “Sideshow Entertainment”

NOTE: This is seriously the only video I could find of this song. I'm half-considering uploading a video of it myself, when I have time.

Friends of mine know that I’m all up in these guys’ business. Strangers are about to find out.

Goodnight Sunrise is a power-pop band from the Helena area (several members graduated high school with my friend Meg), for whom my fandom is appalling. I first caught them at a literal basement show back in 2006, during my first visit home from college, and I’ve been crushing on them since basically the second song into their set. They’ve since moved to Los Angeles, but I still carry high the torch for my favorite Boulder-based pop-rockers whenever I can.

Today’s entry is a track from Close and Counting, the first EP released under their new name; for the first four years of the band’s existence, they went by the moniker Driven Under, and had a much heavier sound. With Close and Counting, Goodnight Sunrise shows a slicker, more accessible sound that nevertheless still boasts an infectious level of energy. The five tracks (and a remix) that make up this EP basically made me a fan for life; they could seriously never release a single lick of new material again, and I would be more than happy to count them among the ranks of my top-tier favorite groups.

“Sideshow Entertainment” is probably my favorite song from Close and Counting—it’s not necessarily the catchiest, but it simply makes me the happiest. The track plays more like a quality album-cut or a b-side, rather than a lead single, and its easy, unforced melody is enjoyable to simple let wash over me. I generally prefer lyrics in my emo songs to err on the side of opacity over beat-you-over-the-head-obviousness that lots of bands practice, and “Sideshow Entertainment” falls comfortably into the former camp; I’m not sure if I can tell you exactly what this particular track about, but I feel like the themes are well-enough represented that I can take the song in broad strokes.

Aside from any given number of sonic reasons, I think a good chunk of this song’s appeal is simply where I was in relation to it. Close and Counting came out during the summer of 2007, which was an especially manic and enjoyable time for one Andrew Testerman. “Sideshow Entertainment” was also featured prominently in a local Helena-based show on Carroll College athletics, where it was the theme song for the program, and damn me if I’m not nostalgic for either of those years. Lastly, I had the honor of attending the show where they retired this and several other songs from Close and Counting in favor of their new material, making it something of a sentimental favorite.

Bottom line: Andrew likes local music, especially local good music, and he urges you to hop on iTunes and purchase Close and Counting, along with the rest of their discography if you’re feeling generous.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Revenge of the Thirty-Day Song Challenge - Day 1

And we're back! Coming off of thirty days of film-related love, Diversion 2.0 is kicking it with another challenge. This time, it's a sequel to a challenge spurred on by Popped Density (and subsequently copied by me) over two months ago, the Thirty-Day Song Challenge. What new content will be brought to the table? What sort of interplay, or at least, inside jokes, will crop up over the course of the challenge? For criminy's sake, will I ever sit down and finally watch Tangled for Our Feature Presentation?! Only time will tell, so sit back and strap yourselves in--the Thirty-Day Song Challenge is back, and it's out for revenge.

Day 1 — A Song You Like Right Now

Golden Earring - "Radar Love"

Boy, I sure do like classic rock, amiright?

That seems to be the moral of this post, and damn-near half of the entries on Diversion 2.0 that are music-related. Suits me fine, though; as long as the lost classics keep coming, I have no shame that I get a good chunk of my "new" music from our local classic rock station. "Radar Love" is yet another instance of "Welcome, Andrew, to 197X."

I discovered "Radar Love" after a particularly harrowing night at work, and the song's driving bass line, appealing minor key, and quasi-hilarious call-and-response between the vocals and guitar soothed me into a better mood. The song puts me into a sort of hypnosis, where the rhythms and melodies propel me forward, no matter what; perfect for when I'm feeling fed-up and generally worn-down, and need to zone out something fierce.

Imagine my general delight when I found out that it was already a part of Rock Band.

It's been about a months since my first experience with this thing that's called radar love (by the way, this song doesn't do anything for me lyrically, but it's me, so that hardly matters at all), but I still fiend after it every once in a while, especially when I need a good track for driving around (which, thematically, is about the most appropriate thing that I could possibly do).

*On a side-note, thank you, dear followers, whomever you are, for your patience. I've worked an incredible amount lately, and haven't had a whole lot of time to write, outside of my lunch break. Fortunately, I should be regulating my schedule a bit better, and the OFPs should be coming more frequently than once a month. Thanks again for your support!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Movie Challenge -- Day 30

Day 30 – Another Favorite that’s not your Favorite Movie

It’s been a long time coming (about a week longer than it should have, by my count), but we’ve finally arrived at the end of the Diversion 2.0 Thirty-Day Movie Challenge. We’ve covered great films, and we’ve covered crap films, and today we’re leaving off with another one of the goodies. Stay tuned, though, for I have a feeling we just might have another series in the works (foreshadowing!). In the meantime, enjoy the final entry in the Diversion 2.0 Thirty-Day Movie Challenge.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is my favorite of the Potter movies, which makes sense, because it’s based on my favorite of the Potter books. It’s also (for my money) the best per-capita adaptation of any of the books; the most essentials moments of the book have been transferred over (with extra, redundant moments cut for running time), and the movie (get this) actually works well as a film and not just as an adaptation of a quadrillion-selling book series.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth installment of the popular book/film franchise, and tells of Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry (Daniel Radcliff) starts to learn more about his mortal enemy, Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes), under the tutelage of headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). In addition, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has been sneaking about the castle in a more unpleasant and suspicious way than usual. Harry must discover all he can about Lord Voldermort, and find out about Malfoy’s plan before it’s too late.

Unlike the previous film, Half-Blood Prince retains several of the book's more light-hearted moments.

Half-Blood Prince continues what worked well for the previous five Potter films: coherent, beautiful art direction and production design, imaginative and, at times, wow-bagging special effects, and excellent casting from a stable of triple-A British talent (Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltraine, Jim Broadbent, Warwick Davis, and on, and on, and on…). Radcliff, Grint, Watson, and Felton have grown into their roles splendidly, and the film gives them all ample opportunities to stretch out and explore their characters. The Potter films really started to visually take off around the third movie, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Half-Blood Prince retains its lovely aesthetic, while adding a heaping helping of colors whenever the mood is appropriate.

What Half-Blood Prince adds, especially in comparison to Order of the Phoenix, is a coherent script. A script that not only shuttles the movie from set-piece to set-piece with minimal effort, but is alarmingly funny; characters share more banter moments, quotable lines, and buggering words in this movie than perhaps the previous three put together. The result is that Half-Blood Prince feels more like a regular movie than almost any other in the franchise, which, to me, felt like a series of connected images and moments than anything coherent; they seemed pretty bloody difficult for me to follow, at least.

Exciting, funny, and incredibly imaginative, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is what all special effects-driven tentpoles should aspire to be, and one of my absolute favorite movies.