Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy Belated Holidays!

On Tape spent all month hungover, so we're just now managing to get to the Great Holiday Wrap-Up of 2010! As Sesame Street taught us, we should keep Christmas with us all through the year. So, in that spirit of delayed gift giving, here are some yuletide treats you may not have seen...

In an interview with David Bazan, holiday music blog Festive! (by KEXP's DJ El Toro) revealed that the depressing Christmas carol aficionado plans to compile all of his occasionally-annual Christmas vinyl singles onto one album, to be released in time for the 2011 holidays. The interview also features some interesting insights into Bazan's tumultuous experiences with Christianity, and how they've shaped his feelings about Christmas and its music.

Sleeping at Last did something similar, compiling their annual, free holiday mp3s into an eight-song "Christmas Collection 2010," which you can stream here. (Expect another batch of free downloads this December.) Additionally, the band's new, original Christmas song, "Snow," is featured on their December EP, part of the group's Yearbook project, in which they're releasing a three-song EP each month for a year. The video for "Snow" is comprised of fan-submitted footage:

No stranger to Christmas music, Sufjan Stevens officially released two holiday tunes featuring Arcade Fire's Richard Parry and The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner. But for those keeping count, these tracks already became (unofficially) available a few years ago, when the never-formally-released Songs for Christmas, Vol. VI: Gloria! made the rounds online.

The only other Songs for Christmas EP to have seen any light since Stevens's box set of volumes 1-5 was 2008's Vol. VIII: Astral Inter Planet Space Captain Christmas Infinity Voyage, which gave us some insight into just how electronic and weird his next non-holiday album, last year's The Age of Adz, would be. Assuming Stereogum is correct in reporting that 2010 was an "off year" for a Songs for Christmas release, that means the only EP that's never shown up is volume 7. (Anybody got it?)

Meanwhile, Suf's buddy, Daniel Smith, released his Sounds Familyre label's third annual free holiday compilation, A Familyre Christmas - Volume 3, featuring Stevens and Vesper Stamper's "Up on the Housetop," as well as new tracks from Danielson, Half-handed Cloud, and others.

And who better than Zooey Deschanel to remind us that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear? Conan musical guest She & Him rocked a few jams backstage with Coco, including this rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas":


Finally, everybody's favorite weirdo holiday duet, Bing Crosby and David Bowie's "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy," gets the homage it dearly deserves, thanks to John C. Reilly and Deschanel's Elf costar Will Ferrell:

Happy super-late holidays, everybody! .

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Dude meets The Duke

With dreck like Little Fockers dominating the box office, it feels good to be able to say that the Coen Brothers are currently enjoying, by far, their biggest commercial success. A number of factors have likely led to True Grit's considerable ticket sales, but the fact that it's easily one of the writer/director/producer duo's most "mainstream" films is probably a significant contributor.

Based on Charles Portis's 1968 novel of the same name, True Grit is Joel and Ethan Coen's second adaptation, following their 2007 Best Picture winner (and second biggest hit), No Country for Old Men, and their first attempt at a straight-ahead Western. As we've come to expect from the brothers, it's beautifully shot by regular collaborator Roger Deakins, compositionally elegant, and at times, a bit strange. However — though I suspect this is due to its source material more than anything else — the movie could stand for some more of that signature Coen weirdness.

Like the rest of the duo's work, the picture is violent (how this is rated "PG-13" while The King's Speech gets an "R" is beyond me), funny, and poignant, with dialogue that pops and flows poetically in antiquated Old West language. But its striking visuals — like that of an approaching, bearskin-wearing medicine man who initially appears to be a bear on horseback — are sometimes overshadowed by surprisingly non-off-kilter (on-kilter?) tropes like the obvious music cues and voiceover.

The story concerns hardheaded 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who enlists the aid of crusty US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the outlaw who killed her father. Cocky Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is already on Chaney's trail, and the three will have to work together to find their man. Naturally, there are several setpiece obstacles along the way. The proceedings are anchored by the supremely confident, charismatic performance from newcomer Steinfeld. She more than holds her own with Bridges, who exudes screen presence in the role that earned John Wayne an Oscar for Henry Hathaway's 1969 adaptation.

The disappointing ending's lack of heft and the absence of a deeper Coen imprint on the material keep True Grit from becoming an instant classic in the manner of some of their other work. Regardless, this is strong filmmaking from artists who have long since earned the right to make whatever kind of movies they desire.

Grade: B+