Academy Awards

Over the Weekend (Mar. 2 Edition)

News, music videos, and other fun stuff to help kick off your March

It seems like there has been buzz about the new Kanye West album for months now, but the follow-up to Yeezus finally has a name: “So Help Me God”.  New material has been trickling out for some time now, and today the studio version of the club-friendly “All Day” was released, with an accompanying video to which we will link but not embed because of a certain amount of nudity that may not be welcome in all work establishments (Update: the video has been pulled).

Our favorite video of the week is Action Bronson’s “Actin Crazy”, which mashes up a ridiculous CGI video with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of said goofy video.

Alabama Shakes stopped by Saturday Night Live this weekend in preparation for the April 21 release of Sound & Color.  “Don’t Wanna Fight” was a nice little peppy funk number, but the standout performance was the electric “Gimme All Your Love”.

It wouldn’t be a Monday if we didn’t have random lists, so here’s SPIN ranking every single Oscar Winner for Best Original Song and here’s Loudwire’s list of the 10 Best Stone Temple Pilots songs, which includes just about every song you would hear from them on modern rock radio, with the welcome addition of “Down” from the long-neglected album No. 4 (though I would have hoped they could have found a spot for the closing ballad “Atlanta”).

Followers of The Thermals on Twitter have long known that singer/guitarist Hutch Harris is a funny guy, but they still may have been surprised by his recent forays into stand-up comedy.  Hutch talks to Splitsider about his longtime interest in the form and the difference in performing comedy versus on-stage as part of a band.  But don’t despair Thermals fans, Hutch hasn’t ditched his regular gig yet, and the band is working on a new album as we speak.

And finally, we regret that we weren’t able to post this video when it happened last week, but frankly it has taken this much time just to process what happened: Jimmy Kimmel had Warren G perform his classic “Regulate” with help from Kenny G.  I’m speechless.

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Catching Up On The Week (Feb. 20 Edition)

Some #longreads as you finalize your Oscar predictions…

Fans of Joy Division are probably well-aware that the famous illustration that graced the cover of their landmark album Unknown Pleasures was a graphic of radio waves from a pulsar taken from an old encyclopedia.  However, they are probably not familiar with the origins of the graphic itself.  Scientific American takes a look at the fascinating backstory behind the creation of what would eventually become one of the most famous images in music.

Earlier this week we published our review of I Love You, Honeybear, the brilliant new album from Father John Misty, and for those of you are interested now more than ever about the exploits of the man known as Joshua Tillman, check out the profiles on him by Rolling Stone and Consequence of Sound.

Consequence of Sound also takes a look at the trio BADBADNOTGOOD and how they ended up working with the likes of Ghostface Killah, and while you read it you can take a listen to their album Sour Soul, which is now available for streaming on SoundCloud.  The site also catches up with Elvis Perkins and fills us in on what he’s been doing in the years since 2009’s Elvis Perkins in Dearland as he prepares to release I Aubade next week.  Elsewhere, Pitchfork has an extensive interview with Sufjan Stevens available for your perusal this weekend.

If there’s a band that knows their way around cheap beer, it’s Red Fang, and Portland’s favorite heavy metal band recently persevered through a challenge from Denver’s Westword to rate some of the cheapest beer they could find.  Be sure to use that as inspiration for this weekend.

Ratter provides a great explanation of the copyright lawsuit over “Blurred Lines” between Marvin Gaye’s estate and Pharrell/Robin Thicke that is still making its way through the courts, including discussing exactly what parts of a song are copyrightable and how that can potentially affect the music industry.  You can even hear the musical excerpts from each side’s submissions to the court.

And finally, before watching the Oscars this weekend, be sure to read this New Yorker profile on the career and legacy of Glen Campbell, whose haunting “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is up for Best Song.  We’re pulling for him to take home the statue, but we think it may be a longshot.

Judging the Oscar Nominees for Best Song

With today’s announcement of the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards, now is the perfect time to debate who should win the most prestigious prize of the entire show: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song.”  Now it used to be that the song that would win this award would be immortalized and become a part of our shared cultural canon.  Who could forget such classics as “Theme from ‘Shaft'”, “Born Free”, or…”Under the Sea”?*  However, in recent years Oscar has selected some real duds that even the songwriters’ parents would be hard-pressed to remember that they had won the Academy’s top prize.

So is there a song in this year’s crop that has a chance of achieving a place alongside such classics as “It’s Hard Out There For A Pimp”?  In order to answer this question, we’re going to analyze each of the nominees and judge their relative merits, just as you would expect.  But since we’re listening to these songs for the first time, we’ll be presenting our snap judgments and relying solely on our first impressions for this analysis, keeping an informal running diary as we listen to each song.  And that is probably more listens than what most of the Academy will do when they fill out their ballots.

John Legend ft. Common – “Glory” (Selma).  John Legend is providing quite the uplifting framework….Common’s entrance was a bit abrupt, and featured what you would expect from a Common verse in 2015…Oh, so this song is going to incorporate the present day…Legend comes back…The “Glory” hook is good, but when it deviates from this it meanders…Common’s rapping would be perfect for a high school history class project…This song has a nice build to it, but it better pay off…I don’t think it will…Nice variation with this outro, but doesn’t quite finish.

Analysis: It seems to fit well with the movie and helps evoke some uplifting feelings, but there is no memorable hook and no climactic payoff.

Kiera Knightley – “Lost Stars” (Begin Again).  I was definitely not going to select the Adam Levine version, so we’ll go with the one presumably from the movie…Knightley has a better than expected voice, with the right amount of fragility and delicate touch…nice dash of strings…subtle shift into the chorus…ooh, appreciate the tinkling piano…the pre-chorus is really quite good, though the lyrics I’m picking out are a bit ridiculous…nice bridge…evocative overall build…good job with the slight pullback in the chorus, oh and great walking bassline counterpoint….pleasant.

Analysis: A good fit for the traditional folk/indie slot; it would probably be a solid addition to a mixtape (or probably a “playlist” these days), but it’s hard to imagine it will be particularly noteworthy.

Rita Ora – “Grateful” (Beyond the Lights).  Oh, Diane Warren wrote this, I’m sure it’ll be lovely…what the hell are these strings…Rita Ora does not have the voice I expected…those are some dramatic drum hits…oh, hey, some restraint…this does sound like a Pop/R&B torch song that you would hear on the radio in real life, so it has that going for it…Oh OK, now I know why the song is called “Grateful”…more of the same, but it makes sense…I don’t think I ever want to hear whatever program that created these instruments again in my life…I kind of wish Toni Braxton was singing this song instead…oh this bridge is ridiculous…is this song almost over, I think it made its point…I think she might be grateful.

Analysis: I’ve heard good things about Beyond the Lights and claims that it is underrated, but I hope it’s not on the basis of this song.

Tegan & Sara ft. The Lonely Island – “Everything Is Awesome” (The Lego® Movie).  OH HEY, I REMEMBER THIS SONG.  I ACTUALLY WATCHED THIS MOVIE.  AND THIS SONG REALLY IS AWESOME.  THIS SONG IS SO MUCH FUN THAT I FORGET ABOUT HOW MUCH I DISLIKE TEGAN & SARA.  EVERYTHING REALLY IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!

Analysis: Oh fuck yes.  Though I think that Batman’s song (“Untitled Self Portrait”) may be even better, though it worked so well mainly because it stood in contrast to the superfun “Everything Is Awesome.”

Glen Campbell – “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me).  Oh man, knowing that this song comes from the documentary about Glen Campbell’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and how he goes on a final farewell tour already has me choked up…that is a a great chord progression from the piano…lovely backing vocals…oh those are some devastating lines, Glen…the sudden influx provided by the rest of the orchestra is reminiscent of Beck during his Sea Change era…that’s a fantastic reply, responding with “I’m not gonna miss you”….this is absolutely gorgeous…here is proof once again that modern country is a total abomination, when it’s a genre that can create wonderful songs like this.

Analysis: That is one beautiful song.

FINAL DECISION: It’s a two-horse race, between “Everything Is Awesome” and “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”.  Both are excellent songs, though completely diametrically opposed.  The final winner will be determined by the mood of the voter as they cast their vote, and that’s hard to predict–sometimes they go for the carefree, happy tune while other times they prefer to honor the somber, respectful songs.  We have the feeling that the Academy is going to give Glen one last honor, if only because they seem to think it’s beneath them to honor a movie about a children’s toy.

“Whiplash” and the Fine Line Between Genius and Madness

We’re going to make this an impromptu Theme Week (we can call it Rust Is Just Right Goes to the Movies if absolutely necessary, but we’d rather not formalize this detour) and continue looking at films from last year, pivoting from our praise for the score for Birdman to analyzing the themes of Whiplash.  In our piece yesterday, we claimed that 2014 had few great films but a lot of solid ones, and though I would end up slotting Whiplash into the latter category, there are several scenes that nearly elevate the film into the “great” category.  Even with that caveat in mind, I would still recommend that anyone who enjoys the creative process or just watching fantastic musicians perform amazing technical feats should check it out.

The film delves into the twisted professor/student relationship that develops between dictatorial jazz instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) and ambitious drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), who is determined to do whatever it takes to be remembered as a jazz legend.  Simmons is rightfully receiving Oscar buzz for his portrayal, even if it is in some ways a variation of his usual schtick, and Teller keeps pace with the veteran and delivers a remarkable performance of his own.  It’s a story whose beats should be familiar to most, playing off an extreme version of the mentor/protégé relationship, but the actors elevate the material by digging deep and finding real nuances in their roles, often subverting expectations and reversing course at the drop of a hat (especially Simmons, who can alternate between sympathetic and terrifying in an instant but remain believable throughout).

For the musicians in the audience, there’s a real joy to be had in watching the actors go through the nuts-and-bolts of performing jazz at an extremely high level, and see the sacrifices that each player makes for what ends up being for little recognition.  It was an amusing game on its own to see how much of Teller’s playing lined up with the soundtrack, and it was a marvel to realize how much preparation an actor went through to convincingly play drums at such a high level.  Though the movie should probably have been titled “Caravan” because of the importance of the double-time swing section in that standard to the plot, it was also great to see other classics get some recognition as well.

As much fun as it is to just watch the pure musicianship on display, the film’s greatest strength is its ambivalent approach to the central conflict.  While it’s clear from several moments in the film that Fletcher’s methods to coax “genius” from his students go far beyond what is acceptable behavior, it’s the fact that the movie doesn’t paint him as merely an antagonist to Andrew that is truly thought-provoking.  As the film progresses, one begins to wonder if Andrew is complicit in his own downward spiral, that his belief in an anecdote about a cymbal being chucked at the head of Charlie Parker was really what created the legend of “Bird” instead of practice and talent is as much to blame as Fletcher’s antics.  The movie doesn’t necessarily paint this as an internal struggle, but is instead one that the audience must confront.  The climax of the film is a show-stopping drum solo, and while it in some ways validates Fletcher’s brutal tactics, they still have irrevocably damaged Andrew at a fundamental level.

Or, if you don’t want to get too philosophical about the movie, just enjoy it for all the pyrotechnic drum solos (even if realistically they are a bit too showy).  Then go home and watch some old Buddy Rich videos on YouTube.

The Year’s Best Film Score Will Not Win An Oscar

We here at Rust Is Just Right have other passions besides music, though because of the nature of this site it makes sense that we rarely discuss them; we assume that our regular visitors are not particularly interested in our prediction of how the 2016 campaign will shake out or why we believe this is the year that the Trail Blazers will win the Western Conference, so we do you the favor of not mentioning them.  Instead, for this brief detour, we will discuss a subject that is more universally beloved: movies.

We enjoy many things about the movies, from the simple act of going out to the theater with friends to spending countless hours discussing various theories of film and film criticism.  This past year was a bit of disappointment, with a lot of solid films but few great ones, but in our eyes one of the bright spots was Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman (even if we were hoping for a biopic of either the Cash Money impresario or the enigmatic NBA player).  While the film’s ambition exceeded its grasp on occasion and often seemed to be in search of a thesis, one had to admire the brilliant acting performances, the whirlwind cinematography, and its overall kinetic energy which kept the audience consistently engaged and on the edge of their seats.  The element that was most responsible for that last quality was the film’s brilliant and innovative score, which was dominated by Antonio Sanchez’s fantastic improvised jazz drumming.

It is rare for a film score to rely so much on a single instrument, much less rely solely on percussion.  It’s certainly a risk to anchor a film with an instrument that to the untrained ear seems to lack the capability of melody, but it’s Sanchez’s ability to work through these potential constraints that makes his score so brilliant.  Sanchez is able to mine different sounds by using every part of his drum kit, and in the process creates melodies that, while not traditional, augment what is happening on screen.  The viewer feels the full range of emotions of the characters onscreen through Sanchez’s employment of different textures and rhythms.  Most notably, the frenetic, jittery drum flourishes perfectly captured the intense personal anxiety of Michael Keaton’s Riggan, as he grappled with both the internal struggle of finding artistic meaning as well as the external difficulties as his production was collapsing all around him.  The drum score is such an important component on the film that when one sees a drummer on-screen acting out the score, it elicits shock and delight from the audience.  These particular scenes are not merely showy gestures, but are significant examples of one of the main themes of the film, that of exploring the line between the stage and reality and how the difference between the two can blur on occasion.  The score left such a mark on me that my first comments to my friends and the theater manager afterwards were raves about the drumming.

But because the Academy is often a ridiculous organization, it has decided that Sanchez’s score is ineligible for the Oscars.  The official reason is that the Academy believed that there was not enough original music and that it was augmented by classical selections, but this ignores basic math and the fact that no one was raving about the incidental use of Tchaikovsky or Mahler.  Of course, this the same Academy that gave an award to The Artist despite its generous use of the theme from Vertigo, finding that appropriation original enough, while on the other hand denying a nomination to Jonny Greenwood for his captivating work on There Will Be Blood because he had the audacity to include a composition that he had written and had performed only once.

Hopefully, enough people will be outraged by this idiotic ruling that the Academy will be pressured into reversing course and restoring the Sanchez score to its rightful place on the list for potential nominees.  However, if that fails to occur, let us hope that the controversy at least gets people to hear Sanchez’s fantastic work and that he earns some new fans as a result.

*Normally we don’t like to use such a clickbait-y headline for our pieces, but the simple direct approach worked best with this particular subject.  We loved the score that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross wrote for Gone Girl, but this was truly the best film score of the year and one that will undoubtedly leave its mark for years to come.  It’s ridiculous that an idiotic interpretation of the rules will prevent it from possibly receiving the recognition it deserves.