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11.28.2005

50 Cent’s shameful glorification of a drug dealer’s life

Two teenage girls showed up to the midnight screening of “Get Rich or Die Trying” at the downtown Toronto Paramount theatre with a 3-year-old baby. Who brings a toddler to a late-night movie, one that promises drug-dealing, violence, and sex, in the middle of the club district on a Saturday night? Were one of the girls the baby’s mother? Did the baby’s mother know where her baby was?

The reality was that somebody thought it was a good idea in the first place, and these are the people that look up to Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. It’s a shame that there is a lack of role-models in the media for these people, and it’s even worse that nobody told these people they shouldn’t have taken a child to this movie. I’ll come back to this issue later.

I went to go and see “Get Rich or Die Trying” because I love a good “music movie” and while I may not be the world’s biggest 50 Cent fan, he knows his way around a good beat and a classic hook.

Any music fan will admit to having their favorite music films, despite how cheesy, predictable and overly laughable they can be. The genre is ripe for parody, like the perfect “Spinal Tap” movie proves.

My favorite, and perhaps the penultimate template for the “music movie,” would be Purple Rain. Prince basically made a movie about himself, but not really about himself, with him playing a version of himself (the kid), playing his own songs. In 1984 you couldn’t escape this movie, and despite all its cheesy asides and creepy reaction shots from Prince, you can’t help but get caught up in the moment.

All the pieces are there; you have the talented musician (The Kid), and his rival (Morris Day). There’s also the love interest (Apollonia), the harsh environment to rise out of (Minneapolis), and of course THE SONG (Purple Rain).

It all fits together, but combined with some memorable performances, it adds up to an unforgettable rush where the hero triumphantly takes the stage, wins the girl, embarrasses his rivals and then rocks the fuck out of THE SONG.

50 Cent’s addition to the “music movie” genre held a lot of promise; he has a compelling manufactured story to begin with; being shot nine times, young lesbian mother gunned down when he was a child, sold drugs, escaped the ghetto and moved off into his own private mansion.

The film, produced in part by rap-music overlords Dr. Dre and Eminem should have been a sure-fire hit

But “Get Rich or Die Tryin” fails.

Now the movie doesn’t fail necessarily because 50 Cent can’t act, most of these musicians can’t act, they just have to perform.

At least the film makers had all the ingredients to start out with. “Marcus” is the talented musician, “Majestic” is the rival, “Charlene” is the love interest, Chicago is the dirty slum, and THE SONG is, I think, “I'll Whip Ya Head Boy.”

Really, that’s the ultimate failure of the movie, is the lack of a good THE SONG to complete the movie. Basically, as a song “I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy” is pretty lame. No classic hooks that Fiddy is known for are anywhere to be found. But the song itself is pretty pointless. They kind of show him writing it along the way during the film, but when it all comes together, it just doesn’t have the same rush.

Now if I retell the final scene to you, it would sound like an awesome ending. Marcus returns to his drug-dealing hood to perform a triumphant show. Backstage his old drug-dealer boss returns to try and kill him with a hidden sword in his jaguar cane (no really), and his new manager shoots and kills the drug-dealer boss. Marcus then walks out on stage to the music of THE SONG and then takes off his bullet-proof vest. Then he takes off his shirt to show off his greased up torso (yes, as homoerotic as it sounds), and begins to lipsynch BADLY for all of 30 seconds before the credits come up.

Now, I’m not bagging on rap music or anything like that, because I’m a fan. I even think Eminem has done the best version of the “music movie” since Prince. The big difference between the two is that Eminem made a movie about music, but Fiddy made a movie about drug dealing.

And this is where I begin to have serious problems with “Get Rich or Die Trying.” It is a blatant glorification of violence, drugs and over all “gangsta culture.”

Nobody in this movie has a job. Okay, so Charlene taught dance classes before she hooked up with Marcus, but after that, she never mentions working again, and does nothing but have sex with Marcus, gets pregnant, and that’s it.

When Marcus gets out of jail, he becomes a rapper, and his “manager” takes care of the rest. The audience then sees montages of 50 recording in studios, and eventually recording a demo in his lake-side apartment, but the audience never sees how the manager gets all the money to do this, so we have to assume he sold drugs or stole things. Like the recording equipment. Because as a manager, this guy doesn’t have any other acts or anything actually making money.

At one point, when he’s a drug dealer, Marcus says that he probably makes less than minimum wage for all the time he spends standing outside waiting to sell drugs, especially when jail time is added in. But it’s not like he says it in a derogatory way, he says it like ONLY LOSERS HAVE JOBS AND MAKE MINIMUM WAGE SO WHY DON’T YOU JUST SELL DRUGS. And of course, when he goes to jail, it seems like he’s there for about two days and it’s a snap.

Thinking about those two girls and the baby that showed up to the movie really depresses the hell out of me. If children are being dragged out to movies like these when they should be in bed, no wonder so many people struggle through life.

Now music movies can be a powerful thing; they can inspire audiences to rise above their own circumstances and pursue their dreams.

Look at Eminem’s movie “8 Mile,” he used his skills to pull himself out of the trailer park and his dead-end factory job. In “Saturday Night Fever” John Travolta used the dancefloor as a way to build his own self-worth.

At least “Hustle and Flow” gives hope to the rap-music movie genre. It still glorifies the hard-knock life of prostitution (do you believe there are heart-of-gold pimps out there? Probably not), but at least it shows the amount of hard work, dedication and drive it takes to make it in the music industry, or to achieve your dreams no less.

...

Roger Ebert reviews “Get Rich or Die Tryin”

CNN: “Get Rich” pulled from theatre after shooting

Rolling Stone reviews the move

CTV.ca: MP wants 50 Cent banned from Canada

CTV.ca: 50 Cent to launch line of hip-hop books

The Gangsta Rap coloring book

All that’s hot about 50 Cent

An open letter to Dan McTeague about banning 50 Cent

Where’s Teddy Now says he’s not worth the 50 pennies

The 50 Cent homepage

11.26.2005

I got bit by The National’s Alligator


I regret showing up late to this party, because seconds into listening to the first track of Alligator, “Secret Meeting,” I was instantly hooked to this band.

The National’s sound mixes up some familiar indie-rock sources, including fellow NYC rockers Interpol and the Replacements, fathers of “grunge,” yet put them together in a very accessible, yet raw kind of way. Throw in a bit of U2 and Coldplay, and you have a pretty good idea of where The National’s sound lies.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve probably heard this band’s name tossed around, but never had a really compelling reason to check it out. I figured that between placing #2 on Information Leafblower’s year end poll, and being named Uncut’s Album of the Year, that it was time to give this band a chance.

The National isn’t one of those bands with one or two tricks up their sleeves; these guys know how to put together an album right; it’s diverse with a variety of tunes, and rocks in all the right places.

“Alligator” catches you off by surprise with its laid back yet forceful drum beats and complicated guitar atmosphere. By the time Matt Berninger Sings “It’s over now, I’m sorry I missed you, I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain,” you are drawn in to his narrative of love and mystery.

“Karen” deepens the mystery of the fictional narrator’s life story with his paranoia about a new relationship, much like a road trip across the country, complimented by the sublime chorus “Well whatever you do listen, you better wait for me, no I wouldn’t go out alone into America.”

The album then picks up with “Lit Up,” when the band picks up into high gear, with another song with a stellar chorus. Berninger turns into a post-modern Springsteen singing “You wear your skirt around you like a flag,” and “You’re the low life of the party,” hitting upon those same themes the Boss did in his prime; unrestricted love in youth and the joy in living, even if you’re down.

“Looking for Astronauts” is complimented by a spacey soundtrack, complete with a mini-orchestra adding a timeless quality.

The acoustic lead “Daughters of the Soho Riots” is one of the album’s true epics. Its quiet introspection is for lovers; Berninger sings “Break my arms around my lover,” and you know that he has loved someone hard.

“Baby We’ll Be Fine” is dark and fantastic with extra sleepy vocals that sing about the dangers of narcissism. In “Friend of Mine” the bass and drums really come to the fore-front and put a really tough beat behind this angry lambaste against an ex-friend that folds in upon itself.

“Val Jester” slows the album down again, and sees the strings return to add a layer of complexity upon the quiet lament.

“All the Wine” begins with chiming guitars, followed by the drums, and then a straightforward bass line which wouldn’t be out of place on any Coldplay album. Except Coldplay hasn’t done anything this real for a long time. Also, check “I’m a birthday candle in circle of black girls, God is on my side, cause I’m the child bride” for an example of the great writing in the verses. The album climaxes when the band hits high gear, and Berninger declares “All safe and sound, I won't let the psychos around.”

The album’s other epic rock song, “Abel” finds the band at their rawest, and Berninger sings in his rawest voice “My mind's not right.” If you want to carry on the Springsteen parallel, this would be the band’s “Born to Run.” But realistically, this is a classic Pixies-style rocker that is one-parts bar-band and two-parts radio idealism.

“The Geese of Beverly Road” is one of Alligator’s finest. The infusion of childhood memories and optimism wouldn’t be out of place amongst the best Arcade Fire songs.

The mysterious Karen character returns on “City Middle,” a truly haunting song with interesting background vocals and great moments where the drums completely drop out and add to the emotional intensity.

Alligator finishes with the triumphant “Mr. November,” a rumination on strange encounters between reality and imagined life, or a nostalgic look back at the past. It finishes the album with a bang, leaving the listener with memories of the bands greatness, all clanging guitars and bursts of drum blasts.

I’ll definitely be watching out for this band in the future, they’ve been working hard for a long time, and this being their third release, shows that they seem to only get better with age. For a great album to listen to while on the road this winter, be sure to check this one out if you haven’t already.

Listen to All the Wine (MP3)

Watch the Quicktime video for Abel

Watch the video for Daughters of the Soho Riots

Information Leafblower’s Top 40 American Bands

The National – Official Website

Beggars Banquet – The National’s label

The National on MySpace

Pitchfork reviews Alligator

Sixeyes reviews Alligator

MusicOMH.com goes to a National gig


Drink at Work reviews Alligator


Chartattack talks to the National


Pitch interviews The National


Pittsburg Tribune talks to the National


The Tallahassee Democrat chats with The National


The Independent raves about The National


The Daily News with The National

Do you have music you want me to check out and review here on A Soundtrack for Everyone? Send me an email and I’ll give you all the information you need. I’m always looking for great new music, especially Canadian music.

11.22.2005

Broken Social Scene's busted masterpiece



As a fairly new resident of uTOpia, I'm completely in love with my new adopted city. I couldn't ask for a better place to live than my current basement apartment at Queen and Dension, just west of Spadina. Between the Java House and Acid Records, Fressen and The Session all within seconds of my door, I'm in love.


When it came to reviewing the self-titled Broken Social Scene album, I wanted to just outright proclaim it as a masterpiece. They are one of Canada's great new bands getting legitimate respect around the world, including fellow Arts and Crafts labelmates The Stars and Metric, The Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers and The Dears. And better yet, they live down the street, and truly represent some of this city's great qualities: diversity, community and positivity.


But the truth about this album is that it's tragically flawed.


It's a pop album made by indie-rockers who believe the only way to refuse selling out is by obscuring their best parts; it's an album that runs rudderless in a giant obtuse mess; it's an album that wants to be so unique that it inadvertently sounds routine.


And despite all these flaws the album still connects on a raw, visceral level, and overall is a very satisfying listening experience.


But first of all, I have to point out some of my complaints, the biggest of which is the fact that about half the album really sounds aimless, except when Kevin Drew is at the helm. The rest of the time "Broken Social Scene" sounds like a mix between a Fiest solo record and a Dave Newfield solo record. Of course, if every song they did was a Kevin Drew led "classic" then Broken Social Scene would lose its charm. It's like the rare example of being better than the sum of its parts.

Dave Newfield's production of the album is at times beautiful but can also be increasingly frustrating. The "hundred tracks" the band claims to have laid down for each song creates a unique sound that is complicated and dense, and by no means is an easy feat to accomplish. However it also this complicated soundscape that obscures the vocals and the lyrics; so much so that guest contributor Murry Lightburn is indistinguishable.

At times it also seems that Newfield was trying to make it denser than it had to be at any cost. Simple guitar notes are looped, played back and looped again ad nauseum. Background chatter fills out the background. Miscellaneous noise loops add extra layers of swooshes and helicopter chops add urgency and movement to instrument based compositions. Sure, it doesn’t really mean anything, but without it, it would have been just another recording of a band, right? At least it sounds like Newfeild was earning his paycheque, or working his way into legitimate-BSS-member status.

“Broken Social Scene” will probably be remembered for being Feist’s big return to the band. In the last year or so she has proved her own musicianship by moving to France and making her acclaimed “Let it Die” record, which lead to her performance at the Junos, and her double Juno Awards win. That confidence is palpable as her rich voice and charm pushes their way through the mix and dominates every song she sings.

Emily Haines returns for a couple tracks, and takes the lead on “Swimmers,” or as the scratched out title in the liner notes would have you believe, “Anthems for a 21-year-old boy,” a sequel to her massively popular hit “Anthems of a 17-year-old girl” from “You Forgot it in People.” But she ends up being an antidote to the effortlessly sweet Feist, and gets swallowed up into the mix soon afterwards.

I’ve given it a lot of thought lately, how to describe this album. It seems that Broken Social Scene are essentially a pop styled indie-rock band with some really textured arrangements. Except they don’t want to be an indie-rock band; they want to be an art band. And they don’t want to be popular. Except not wanting to be popular and accessible is a sure-fire way to be popular and accessible to appreciative indie-rock audiences.

It’s kind of complicated and a little convoluted, but when you keep that in mind, everything else about the album makes sense.

It explains why every possible “hit” song processes and pulls the vocals down low into the mix; why tight straight-forward arrangements are strung out to epic lengths; why liberal amounts of language unfit for mass radio consumption are decadently applied (if you can make out the lyrics in the first place).

The most exciting thing about “Broken Social Scene” is the band’s final true epic at the end of the album, “It’s all gonna break.” Kevin Drew takes the reigns and leads the band through a Bob-Seger-on-acid-trip (as explained in the liner notes), where he channels the earnestness that Broken Social Scene does so well. When the song kicks in the first seconds with the ultra-distorted guitars, it brings to mind the same sincere earnest lo-fi sounds of the long departed and influential band Neutral Milk Hotel, a band recalled when Broken Social Scene slips from one woozy section of the song to another, culminating with a powerful horn celebration. It’s no accident either that Drew’s voice in this song also brings to mind a preachy, powerful and indie-cred version of Bono, singing about the power of music and song.

To sum it all up, I think that Broken Social Scene will eventually release a victorious live recording with a never-ending series of walk-on guests, and Broken Social Scene fans of all stripes will hail it as the version of the band that everyone truly loves. The playing will be messy, but not the production, and the singing will be strained, but not through processing effects, it will be the same warmth and affection that the music portrays so effortlessly.


Broken Social Scene forum at Arts & Crafts

Pitchfork’s long interview with the band

Listen to Broken Social Scene at New Music Canada

Download the video for “Ibi Dreams of Pavement”

MSBC reviews the album:

Justin Peroff talks about hip-hop and Toronto:

Straight.com talks to Kevin Drew:

Kevin Drew talks to CMJ.com

Check out the Gentleman Reg video directed by Kevin Drew

11.14.2005

The not-so-renegade Queen's of the Stone Age

(Gig photo by strangehold)

So it was Saturday night, and Danielle and I were walking around our neighborhood at Queen and Denison, looking for the right place to have a post-date (a viewing of Good Night and Good Luck which I found inspiring) drink before turning into bed. We headed up to Bathurst, walking along the usual packed goth-bar strip that floods the sidewalks every night past eleven. By the time we reached the Queenshead, we turned around and headed back. However, I spied Josh Homme sitting on the curb, smoking a cig and talking to a way underage QOTSA fan. I gawked a little, and then we ultimately chose this new bar “The Session,” which is a couple doors west of the Velvet Underground. They had some great wine and I had an amazing oatmeal stout. They just opened up, and I recommend you check it out!

Anyways, I felt a little trapped in the basement Sunday evening after skipping church so I ventured east past Spadina into the “outdoor shopping mall” part of Queen West to do some people watching, pick up a coffee, then stopped in to HMV were the Queen’s of the Stone Age were performing a free concert.

It’s all part of the current QOTSA tour with Nine Inch Nails and DFA 1979, where the QOTSA have decided that in between stops on the mega-tour they would play “renegade” alternative venues like an army surplus store or a book store.

So after their big alcohol free show in Toronto last Thursday night, followed by an afterparty at the Bovine Sex Club, and a trip up to Montreal, QOTSA returned to play their free renegade show at the Queen Street HMV.

I know what you’re thinking and yes, for such a “hard core” band like QOTSA playing a tour with a “hard core” name like “renegade” could be playing in a far more interesting venue than HMV.

However the HMV on Queen does have some promise, with its upstairs balcony which would have been perfect for the band to perform on, facing people down below in the rows and rows of CDs.

Instead the band had their gear set up with their backs to the west wall, playing to a group of about 40 people sitting on the floor, which I guess were contest winners and such.

I’m not a big fan of QOTSA myself, but I figured that these guys know how to rock well, and have a few decent singles that it would be a good time.

It was obvious when Josh Homme and his bandmates walked out from the backroom on the upper area that he was wasn’t thrilled to be only performing to the small group in front of him, when 2/3s of the fans in HMV were on the lower level. He kept looking down, joking with the crowd below, who were far more into the show than the contest winners.

The best part of the concert came when Homme decided to get his rock star on and perched himself on a drum throne precariously to the edge of the balcony. Homme is one tall dude, and his knees were over the railing, so he could have seriously taken a spill. He knew it too and found a way to keep his balance by leaning his head against some wooden rafter thing. Of course, once he got himself into place, his guitar didn’t work.

So what technical solution did he come back with? Obviously he yelled “Jiggle the cord! Jiggle the cord!” A universal phrase known to all guitar players where you mess with the end of your guitar cable when it isn’t working until it mysteriously works.

However, I have never been to a show before where the world-famous rockstar yells “Jiggle the cord” in the midst of a major rockstar moment. Eventually it was fixed and he did indeed perform a tasty guitar solo for all the fans downstage, complete with Homme’s patented Jeff-Goldblum-in-The-Fly twitching.

Major singles “Go with the Flow,” “Little Sister” and “Burn the Witch” were all accounted for, including a few QOTSA tunes I wasn’t familiar with. The band also brought out a couple members of Nine Inch Nails to perform a couple of laid-back songs which I wasn’t familiar with.

The last song QOTSA played was their tour favorite “The Fun Machine Took A Shit and Died.” I’ve never heard this song before, but I have heard the title. The song is one of those dissonant fun-house style songs that music geeks really seem to get into, kind of like the theme song to South Park as performed by Primus.

For a free show, it wasn’t a bad experience. I’m no big QOTSA fan, and I’m sure if I was one of the radio contest winners I would’ve thought it was the greatest show of all time or something like that. The band was really laid back and funny, reveling in the strange in-store atmosphere and joking along with fans who were shouting out strange statements all night.

But seriously, the QOTSA definitely draw out some strange music fans. And not like “I’m an arts student” strange, but “I don’t know what irony is” kind of way. Like the late-30s couple that stood in front of me the whole time, with one woman who wore a shiny silver jacket and had ghost white bleach fried hair, and her man with a non-ironic mullet that was graying and fading, along with this old high-school sports jacket. This is a couple who lost it for a good two minutes after a joke about “Butt Fucking.”

That kind of couple scares me sometimes, and makes me just want to give up this whole rock music thing and just listen to radio or something. Life is just twisted sometimes, you know?

This guy from The Evening Light was at the show and put up some tunes recorded with his cell-phone, including one clip of the start of “Little Sister.”

QOTSA fans discuss the show

Watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot

11.03.2005

Sun Kil Moon visits Brock’s Tiny Cities



Mark Kozelek is truly a man of mystery. He is known for his glacier-paced song speeds, a pioneer of the ‘slo-core’ movement with Red House Painters, born again with Sun Kil Moon. He is known for his penchant to choosing strange cover songs, and distorting them until they are absolutely unrecognizable to the original; best demonstrated with “What’s Next to the Moon,” his album of Bon Scott era AC/DC songs.

But Mark has also begun a fledgling film career, not soundtracks, but just bit roles in his friend Cameron Crowe’s film; first as a guitarist for Stillwater in “Almost Famous” and second as a bathroom-heckler in “Vanilla Sky.” Kozelek’s latest role is in “Shop Girl,” performing as the lead singer in a band named “Hot Tears,” who perform a Sun Kil Moon track.

Is it possible then, to enjoy “Tiny Cities” on its own, without a brief rundown of Kozelek history?

Absolutely.

“Tiny Cities” is classic Kozelek, complete with his haunting voice, half-mumbled and dry singing intimate confessions over a quiet and laid-back drop. Some songs run dark, while others run light and dream-like. This kind of music is meant for late night in-depth conversations, lonely walks through leaf-covered sidewalks and quiet rides through the country.

But with Kozelek, the story doesn’t end there. “Tiny Cities” is another one of his cover projects; a tribute to Modest Mouse front-man Isaac Brock. He takes Brock’s ragged songs and puts them into the Kozelek musical blender, creating an easy-listening version of Modest Mouse songs that harness Brock’s sense of loss, while adding a profound reading to the lyrics themselves.

The album begins with “Exit Does Not Exist,” a bright acoustic reading, with hushed, glittering harmonics; a short prelude to the laid-back mediation about to follow. In “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” Kozelek turns this angry Modest Mouse anthem into a hypnotic summer hymn, and takes the cynicism out of the original lyrics, replacing it with wistful sadness.

The only vocal melody that remains mostly intact is “Neverending Math Equation,” with a pretty straightforward Sun Kil Moon country backup.

“Space Travel is Boring” is turned into a downtempo waltz while “Dramamine” is a stand out track with its lost-in-a-strange-place vibe, multi-tracked cymbal hits, and guitar leads that appear out of nowhere.

For “Jesus Christ was an only child” Kozelek reaches up to his higher registers and transforms this track into a prayerful string-laden love song about loss and sacrifice.

“Four Fingered Fisherman” is decorated with a bright country finger picked melody, fit for a sunny Sunday afternoon on the backporch and “Grey Ice Water” is a becoming light-touch mariachi dance.

Kozelek then picks up the pace with his dark interpretation of “Convenient Parking” which sounds like a classic lost Red House Painters track, or a haunting piece of classic Americana. Here Kozelek comes closest to channelling that “Isaac Brock” vibe, fangs fully bared.

“Trucker’s Atlas” then turns the tables on “Parking,” continuing with a solo acoustic guitar accompaniment, but pulling the dark vibes out and substituting them with shaking-the-dust-off propulsive strumming.

The only song off Modest Mouse’s most popular album “Good News to People Who Love Bad News” is “The Ocean Breathes Salty,” wisely included last on the album. Kozelek’s ability to reinterpret is strongest with less popular songs, and while this version of “Ocean” packs a powerful punch, it still comes across as an “acoustic version” of a popular song.

Fans of Kozelek will no doubt enjoy his latest offering. Modest Mouse fans expecting a “covers” album will probably be disappointed, only if they are willing to detach Kozelek’s creation from the Brock songs they already love.

But is a project like this one pointless?

On one hand, you could argue that Kozelek is slipping into self-parody, taking a handful of songs, slowing them down and playing some different chords to them. But this album seems to make the case that not only is Isaac Brock a celebrated lyricist and songwriter, but Kozelek himself is a master interpreter, a low-key version of Johnny Cash.

One thing for sure, is that it merely whets the appetite for another “real” album for Kozelek. These cover projects are great, but Kozelek’s skill at song writing is unmatched and still towers above his covers.

Download “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”

Download “The Ocean Breathes Salty” via Stereogum

The Official Sun Kil Moon/Mark Kozelek/Red House Painters website

Sad Reminders: a Mark Kozelek fansite

Stylus Mag reviews the album

Harmonium reviews the album