I confess to feeling less than inspired about the current round of year-end pontification over 2008's music (not to mention books, film, and what have you). Scott at Pretty Goes with Pretty posted insightfully about the lack of trust surrounding this year's best-of lists, and I'm so wishy-washy I can't even trust my lack of trust. Feh. Oh sure, I'm still making my annual mix CD (e-mail now to reserve yours! esp. if'n you think I might not have you on the list or if your mailing address has changed in the past year), and I'll post some thoughts about it here soon enough. But mostly I'm feeling quiet and not particularly eloquent or reflective about, well, anything right now. As such, take everything that follows with the proverbial grain of salt.
I visited Austin for the first time over Thanksgiving, and, while I was there, Bren and I caught Blitzen Trapper at the Mohawk (pics from the show, if you're interested, are here). Despite all the blowed-up hype surrounding them, mostly thanks to P-fork's raves, last year, I'd managed stay ignorant of them and their music until that day, so was pleasantly surprised by their performance. Their sound, approach, and aesthetic are throwbacky, sure, but they commit to it fully and do it well and make it work. Furr has been on nearly continual repeat since then. The title track contains several of the most satisfying melodic/lyrical turns of phrase I've heard this year.
While in town, Brendon and Catharine also made sure to take me to the famed Alamo Drafthouse for some food, booze, and film, where we saw Australia. I'll go to the mat for Moulin Rouge! any day of the week and think that Luhrmann is way smarter and more in control of what he's doing than most people give him credit for, but Australia left me a bit cold. It has its moments, I guess--most of which involve the camera's male-gaze fetishizing of Hugh Jackman's body instead of Nicole Kidman's--but trying to shoehorn his signature sentimentality about love and destiny, etc., etc., into a story involving national identity and the Stolen Generations (not to mention World War II) felt a bit overly naive (plus also maybe a bit unintentionally racist?). It's epic, sweeping, romantic, and paced exactly like a Luhrmann movie (goofy comedy that segues into flushed-cheek love story that segues into searing tragedy), but still, for all that, and its inflated running time, it seemed to be lacking that special something.
Slumdog Millionaire on the other hand is 100% delightful, so much so that I'm willing to forgive Boyle his missteps with Sunshine, if that's what he needed to do to get to the point where he could make this film. Aside from the fact that the movie itself is sweet and touching and scary and melodramtic in all the right ways, I cannot overstate how lucky I felt to have just finished reading Maximum City before I saw it. The context that it gave me about the slums, religious tension, gangs, police interrogation techniques, and dreams of the people (both singularly and, as various groups, collectively) in Mumbai enriched my enjoyment of the film immeasurably. It feels like a Danny Boyle film in all the best ways, with the happy addition that, as he did in Millions, he demonstrated again that he can be a gifted director of children. Plus the Bollywood dance sequence at the end is fucking golden; it was so perfect yet so unexpected that it probably made me cry more than anything else in the rest of the movie. Highly recommended, kittens.
I caught the Bound Stems at a late-night show at the Empty Bottle last weekend. I'm happy to say that The Family Afloat has grown on me tremendously, as I suspected it would, since October--so much so that I had trouble, in my sleepy and slightly tipsy state, distinguishing which songs appear on that album from which appear on Appreciation Night. Given how much I adore Appreciation Night, that's high praise indeed coming from me. Pics from the show posted here.
And speaking of fave-rave Chicago bands, I hope you've had a chance to check out Baby Teeth's second Daytrotter session. I've been listening to "I Hope She Won't Let Me" obsessively since downloading the tracks. I heard them play it when they opened for Jamie Lidell in early October and it absolutely knocked me out. I can't wait to have an official studio version in my grubby little paws. From what I understand, it should be on the forthcoming-in-'09 release Hustle Beach. Get excited.
Also! Chicagoans, you should get excited about THE RETURN OF THE DOLLAR STORE! Maestro Jonathan Messinger announced it on his blog the other day, and I've been convulsing with glee ever since. You can bet your ass I'll be at the Hideout on January 9, nerding out in style.