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John Barry – Moonraker

moonrakerJohn Barry’s James Bond soundtracks are all majestic.  Choosing one over the other is a game best played by those who like their martinis shaken, not stirred.  (OK, that was lame.  Forgive me.)  Still, I’ve always had an affinity for his sappier material.  He imbues the Bond films, Moonraker in particular, with a lush sort of melancholia that feels more tragic almost in direct proportion to the slowness of the tempo.  On Moonraker, Barry pulls out the orchestral stops:  The brass expands across the windshield of your brain like a great sustained trumpeting of Nordic warlords.  The strings drench themselves in sopping wet streams of diamond-dewed heartache.  What’s remarkable is that action film soundtracks today sound nothing like this:  They’re often glitchy, given to bad one-man-one-keyb-and-one-small-room heartthumpno that’s just a slicker version of the music you might hear on the six o’clock news.  They don’t strive for beauty, for bigness, for sweeping you away.  And this isn’t me prescribing one set approach to action film soundtracks.  I just find it curious that one of the better such scores around (this one) is on the whole a leisurely, Wagnerian wall of sound that is almost literally haunting.  In other words, gorgeous make-out music.  How about that?


David Bowie – Blackstar – First Spin

db-vinylcoverThe record didn’t arrive until late Monday. It was supposed to be delivered on Friday, but UPS was late. So I did not hear it until long after I got the news (delivered to me by Jack at 6:30 in the A.M., while I was working out).

So my first listen to Blackstar was inevitably colored by my feelings toward the loss of, for me, the only rock and roll hero who stands the test of time and circumstance. When everything is a pose, finding out your hero is posing is no shock.

What’s shocking, or most arresting here, is the difference between this Bowie album and most Bowie albums (though perhaps not The Next Day). Some people might call some of the stuff here “experimental,” but these songs aren’t experiments – they’re statements. It’s being compared to the Berlin trilogy, which tells me not enough people have listened to 1.Outside, which is the clearest precedent to this album. Albeit, this is comparatively tight and focused, while 1.Outside sprawls, goes everywhere, does everything (not all of it equally well).

But 1.Outside was explicitly experimental (most of the songs were written in improvisation sessions, with Bowie handing out songwriting credits liked he’d never done before – or would do again). Blackstar is firmly in the pocket of where it wants to be – spare, and only containing a nervous energy when it’s looking for it. This is Bowie doing exactly what he wants, echoing himself whenever he feels like it. The album has also been compared to Scott Walker, but these are still essentially rock songs.

Since Hours…, Bowie has (seemingly) been looking for a way to express himself outside of the pose: to figure out how to play the character David Bowie, authentic man. The Next Day did it with a nostalgia that lacked sentimentality. Blackstar eschews even the nostalgia.


David Bowie 1947-2016



The Year That Was: 2015


I didn’t do one of these last year for various reasons, not the least of which is I didn’t like anything enough in 2014 to really get up the gumption. Well, this year I liked plenty. I might even say a word or two about some of it (probably not).

In no particular order, 20 things I did in 2015 I recommend, with appropriate videos or links:

Son of the Black Sword

Bone Tomahawk

It’s Such a Beautiful Day

It Follows

FTL soundtrack

John Carpenter’s Lost Themes

Hotline Miami 2 soundtrack

X-files Blu-ray

Mondo Tees and Death Waltz

Waxworks Records

Golden Ocumene

Fargo Season 1

Hand of Fate


David Bowie: Five Years box set

Criterion: Mulholland Drive, Kwaidan, The Brood

TCM Summer of Darkness film noir marathon

Fallout 4


Things I learned:
-However hard it is to get well, being sick is significantly worse.
-Most forms of entertainment are not edifying, but simply ways to excuse your own boredom. Do something.
-You can get Crimson Peak beer at the Firestone Brewery. It’s a little winy, very pink. Not as fully flavored as I like my beers (though I’m not an IPA guy – fully flavored doesn’t mean full of hops).

Opinion that will get you to hate me, 2016:
There is no one more boring than Neil Degrasse Tyson.



Full Metal Jacket


The tightest, funniest, and most disturbing Stanley Kubrick film since Dr. Strangelove is (so I hear) the Vietnam movie soldiers love best.  In neat halves—the first part takes place in a slightly otherworldly version of basic training, the second in a slightly otherworldly version of ‘Nam—Full Metal Jacket constructs and conceives of War as more than simply a dehumanizing experience.  Neither overtly comic nor depressingly grim, the movie looks at War as a series of dichotomies:  War is messy, and War is hell, but it is also thrilling and beautiful.  War starts in basic training, but basic training (the indoctrination process) is War—as a soldier, it only ends when it kills your soul.  And War is also the id unleashed, suppressing its femininity at all costs—through swagger, and tough talk, and vernacular—all of it working to harden the heart; but a hard heart kills better than a soft one.  And at the climax of each half of the film, Kubrick looks at his protagonist unflinchingly.  The torn pacifist Private Joker (Matthew Modine), Kubrick’s idea of a moral center, must confront the Shadow within himself, the blind capacity for death and destruction that he, too, can’t help but enable.  He can stand by and watch his friends die, or he can actively participate and waste some gooks.  Either way, he’s in a world of shit.  Hence the biggest dichotomy of them all:  Despite our noblest efforts, and regardless of whether the conflict is a just one, War makes even the best of us destroy ourselves.  It turns people who aren’t killers into killers.  Kubrick packs all of this into a two-hour narrative without leaning on sentiment or phony metaphor.  He keeps the humor intact, and he pulls no punches.  Full Metal Jacket is a brilliant achievement.

Rating: A+