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NEW VIDEO: Laura & Anton (of Foxtails Brigade) – “Meditation”

laura and antonBack in January I answered a Facebook post from my absolute favorite local SF band Foxtails Brigade who were looking for a ‘non-drummer drummer’ to join the band temporarily for a southwest US tour. This ‘non-drummer drummer’ thing defined mainly as a drummer who drums on a non-traditional kit made of pots, pans, wine bottles, and other DIY percussive things (i.e. exactly what I do). After answering the call, rehearsing like crazy, and meeting up at their Oakland home I got the gig and joined the band for what was initially just the tour and is now a more long-term thing. The whole thing has been a surreal and exciting journey from seeing them live all around the Bay Area as recently as last fall, to now being on that same stage with them.

This video is the first of two covers I shot semi-spontaneously about a month ago at Foxtails Brigade HQ just as the sun began to set outside the lone window of Laura and Anton’s rehearsal room. Coating both of them in that warm near-golden hour glow. Keeping things minimal and intimate, this video is largely a one-take with brief bookends. This song is a beautifully stripped-down rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova classic “Meditation”. check it out:

PERFORMED by Laura and Anton
SHOT + EDITED by Dominic Mercurio
2ND CAMERA by Riki Feldmann

Top 10 Albums of 2013

2013

If music in 2013 taught me anything it’s that the extended/double album most CERTAINLY is not dead. 4 of my top 5 albums were 70+ min albums. Maybe it’s a result of fast consumption of entertainment resulting in the largest portions being the ones that stick out most. Or perhaps sometimes the best statements just aren’t brief.

CS501461-01A-BIG10. Julia Holter – Loud City Song

The further we get into this digital age of music consumption, the further genres really don’t matter. Julia Holter’s latest album defies much categorization. drawing from jazz, minimal/experimental, and maybe…showtunes? Julia finds a world of her own that through the course of the album becomes more and more clear. Sometimes tracks are as quiet and minimal as just a stark vocal take with some ancillary swells of horns and strings like in opening track “World”, while others are full of wild ping pong instrumentation and jazzy sax freak out solos like “Maxim’s II” but all these songs are consistently captivating. It’s an album that encourages repeat listens due to its fair amount of variety between tracks. Even Julia’s voice seems to take on new characters track to track by sometimes softly singing in a church-like choir girl tone and other times accenting her voice through harsher wild inflections. The gorgeous non-traditional instrumentation often steals the show and provides a off-kilter vibe for Julia’s sometimes more haunting vocals.  It’s a unique and superbly sequenced collection of warped pop that is as addicting as it is intriguing.

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9. Deerhunter – Monomania

Deerhunter could probably have been described as ‘garage’ before this album (among other things), but this is the loudest and most abrasive album to come from the band in years. Bradford Cox’s eccentric take on what ‘punk’ even is anymore has often been mostly hit and occasional miss but rarely this zoned in. Monomania is shrill, loud, and fucked up. Bradford’s still got a surprisingly soft spot for finding catchy vocal hooks, but isn’t afraid to make you work for it by layering it under a couple thick coats of noise. Title track “Monomania” accurately sums this all up well by starting out with a pretty standard (and catchy) verse/chorus structure only to end up getting stuck in a forever-looping coda of Bradford chanting “mono monomania mono monomania” just 2 minutes into the 5+ minute track. the mids getting increasingly warped and buried under more and more layers of noise until your ears can barely take it…but then trekking forth regardless and ending in what sounds like a dirt bike revving its engine. That dirt bike ends up being the only thing to grasp onto as the track comes to a close and you realize you just heard the clearest statement this band has made yet.

James-Blake-Overgrown-Deluxe-Version8. James Blake – Overgrown

Initially, this album came as a slight disappointment. However, the very things that seemed to make this album less strong than James Blake’s self titled debut album grew (OVERgrew…eh? eh?) to be what stood it apart as its own different exploration of his sound. This is a more subtle record that no doubt places his songwriting at more of an equal with his also unique production style. Also, in retrospect (or…retroGRADE….anyone!?) what was once so incredibly striking and unique about his glitchy patchwork dubsteb-at-a-glacial-pace debut album in 2011 has since become a part of mainstream pop with acts like Lorde now topping the charts. Needless to say his shot at sounding equalling daring on his follow-up would be near impossible, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is him honing in. The album also features what is perhaps his most assured song yet: Retrograde.

Devendra-Banhart-Mala7. Devendra Banhart – Mala

Thank god Devendra is still weird. His previous album What Will We Be was certainly cause for normie-alarm. It was seeming less likely we’d ever see Devendra actually get LESS poppy with a future album. After taking some years off though, he’s off his major label and back to being a freak. The recording is noticeably more lo-fi and intimate, filled with his signature vocal idiosyncrasies, and there’s a german euro-dance breakdown randomly placed in the middle of a song for shits sake. It’s enough to make you remember how funny and serious his old albums were at the same time. And that’s a great thing.

youth-lagoon-wondrous-bughouse-630x630-e13573206504106. Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse

The cover art of a scribbly colorful montage of childlike psychedelia paints the cover of this album, but also is the perfect summation of the content within. Bringing along modern psych producer king Ben H. Allen (he produced Merriweather Post-Pavillion. nuff said.) the album feels dense with layers that peel back with each listen blossoming in new ways each time that show a sort of depth not often found in modern music. Of course, the swirling colorful electronic psych layers wouldn’t mean much without a strong backbone of songs to stand on, but singer/songwriter Trevor Powers packs in some of his strongest material yet on this thing as well. His whispery voice is given more of a spotlight this time to show its character through a stronger sense of hooks (even if those hooks are perhaps MORE warped then they were on his debut). It’s an album that only shows improvement.

ARCADE-FIRE-REFLEKTOR25. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Its a bit funny that people would complain that Reflektor is too long or ambitious. have these same people just never listened to an Arcade Fire album? Reflektor is actually only 11min longer than their previous album The Suburbs (provided you don’t count the 10min secret ambient noise track) but moves at a brisk pace. The opening salvo of title track “Reflektor” (arguably one of the bands best songs) doesn’t shy from the fact that Arcade Fire is currently obsessed with getting you to dance. It’s a move often seen in a bands evolution that can mean they are too focused on pleasing than provoking, but when those very same dance tracks are this goddamn good, who’s complaining REALLY? And yes, James Murphy produced it. we get it. Though after listening, it sure feels this is where Arcade Fire was headed anyways.

Kurt-Vile-Waking-On-A-Pretty-Daze4. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze

This is a beautifully lush and mundane record. A pristinely produced album full of droll songs. And I’m obsessed with it. Donning a sort of lazy drawl similar to Lou Reed, Kurt Vile vocal style ends up feeling surprisingly open and honest. Peppering the album with open-ended lyrics about wanting more, or to be somewhere else on top of the usually lurching, drugged out, kaleidoscope folk-rock pummels the listener into a sorta comatose glazed over haze. It’s hypnotic. Not to mention the opening and closing songs are each about 10min long but don’t feature anymore changes than the select few songs under 4min. Just a ‘stuck on this’ feeling that ends up making both songs some of the strongest on the album. meandering solos and layers of guitar work all wrapped up in the truly beautiful production work catapult Kurt’s lazy vocals into new heights often across the rather extended album. Kurt’s self aware opening line to the excellent closing track “Goldtone” sums up the album well: “Sometimes when I get in my zone / you’d think I was stoned / but I never as they say ‘touched the stuff'” ….WHATEVER you say, Kurt.

daftpunk-13679459653. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Daft Punk’s latest is most notably surprising for…not being that great of a real ‘dance’ record. If you put on RAM at a party expecting to get the dance floor raging, I’d reconsider quick before you get to the spoken word interlude about a german dance music producer’s life story and the 8min space prog-opera. That’s not to say there’s no tracks that will end up as fixtures of a DJ’s set in 2014 and beyond (Get. Lucky. Jesus. We get it.) but the album subverts quite a lot of expectations that one may expect from a ‘typical Daft Punk’ record. Whatever the hell that means considering their glacial pace at releasing music. The production is flawless and features full live takes of real instruments performed BY legends themselves ala a true 70’s disco/funk album. This is NOT an electronic album. More like an album that surfaced from the unknown depths of the 1970’s with impossibly perfect futuristic production quality. The album immediately just kinda…sounds like a classic. Is it revolutionary? Not really. It’s entirely backwards looking. It’s a throwback. It’s about remembering when pop music used to actually sound like this. Good. But when you start to remember how much music really doesn’t sound like this right now, you’ll want to be reminded…maybe just one more time.

The-Knife-Shaking-The-Habitual2. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual

I’ve never been so unsure of what I was actually listening to. Not only in the sense of odd composition, but also in the practical sense of “what the fuck instrument even MAKES that noise?!” This immensely dark double LP rather easily slips into being overwhelmingly bleak. Not to mention difficult (read; 20min ambient-horror track smack in the center of the album and an album running time that rivals a feature-length film of 96min). It’s a no brainer to declare this the most ambitious Knife album yet, but what’s more interesting is its placement in the bands discography. This follows the (relatively) accessible Silent Shout which was a (again, relatively) lean 50min of tight electro industrial synth-pop. This is just about anything but. This strange collection of weird ass death march psycho circus freak Halloween jams deconstruct not only the foundations of what you know The Knife to be, but even…music. The experiment is one that undoubtably became the most fascinating of 2013.

download-jai-pauls-self-titled-debut-album1. Jai Paul – Jai Paul

Does one consider an ‘unofficial leak of demos from Jai Paul’s past’ an album? What if those ‘unofficial demos from Jai Paul’s past’ also happen to be some of the most electric and unique pieces of music you hear all year? UK singer/producer Jai Paul crafts songs that sound like the future. As in you haven’t heard anything quite like it. Ever. Sure there are connections to be drawn to French Electro, Glitch, and even….Prince? but the summation of parts feels so entirely his that there’s no contemporaries to even compare it to…but rest assured there will be. This is hyper-edited music. A.D.D. music. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME music. Overstuffed from all angles and meticulously crafted in what I like to assume is some dark freaky basement where Jai Paul silently hovers over his computer having not eaten in days placing that ‘wwwooossshpp’ sample at juuuust the right volume. If this albums-worth of unfinished demos REALLY is just a collection of unfinished ideas not deemed good enough to be released – it begs the question of whether this is all just a result of an artist too concerned with unachievable perfection to realize that perhaps the imperfections make it perfect. Considering Jai Paul had only released 2 official songs in 3 years, we may be waiting a while for this ‘official’ debut album. In the mean time, this is still more exciting than anything else I heard in 2013.

NEW MUSIC VIDEO: “Only Love Will Save You” – ElectroSonic Chamber

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I recently finished up this music video which I directed & edited for my band ElectroSonic Chamber. This project bubbled up a bit out of nowhere after my fellow filmmaker friend Colin Marchon sent me some pictures he’d recently taken of his own blood with his new microscope. That same week, my band was recording a new Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 7.03.51 PMsong for our EP “All Alone In Your Head” (which is available now as a free download HERE) titled “Only Love Will Save You”. The song itself, which we actually wrote over 2 years ago, has always had this bubbly, weird, and colorful dance feel to me and had become my most anticipated song on the EP to finally get recorded as I felt the song would lend itself well to a proper studio recording. It was perhaps good timing or just fate that the conversation between me and Colin quickly turned to how this imagery could make for an awesome video project to collaborate on and me feeling like “Only Love Will Save You” would be the perfect song for the job. It began to feel like the song was made for blood and sperm to dance to.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 6.58.18 PMAfter hammering out a concept and general guidelines of “if it feels right, film it” Colin began emailing me some absolutely insane microscopic footage from his New York apartment. I couldn’t help but stay up for hours that first night arranging a skeletal rough outline of key parts of the video.

The routine of coming home each night and working several hours combing through footage and slipping the puzzle pieces delicately in place continued for several weeks. I didn’t necessarily clock my editing time for this project, but it’s safe to say it was well over 50 hours for the less than 3 minute video. Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 6.57.48 PMI probably heard that song more times in those few weeks than we had ever played it in rehearsals & shows. When we played the song live last week in SF I couldn’t help but still feel like I was huddled in front of my computer matching images to sound. It was a little slice of obsessive insanity.

Check out the end result below in what I’d like to call The Worlds First Bi-Coastal Frenetic Epileptic Psychedelic Microscopic Music Video. cause…I mean it probably is, right?

Thanks for watching! You can listen / download the full EP “All Alone In Your Head” from ElectroSonic Chamber below:

Favorite ALBUMS, SONGS, MUSIC VIDEOS & MOVIES of 2012

This massive blog is the result of me being unable to decide whether I wanted to make a list of my favorite music OR movies for 2012. Usually I just pick one because putting everything I love into one post always seems like it would just take too long, but, alas, it has happened. Why? No reason. Well the reason is mostly because I’m just kinda OCD or something. Regardless, here are my favorite ALBUMS, SONGS, MUSIC VIDEOS, & MOVIES of 2012.

THE BEST 10 ALBUMS OF 2012

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1. Grizzly Bear – Shields

Grizzly Bear has always had a knack for incredible songwriting, well sequenced albums, and intricate musicianship – but Shields is the absolute culmination of everything that makes Grizzly Bear excellent and it’s their best album yet. Singer Ed Droste bends his voice into a rawer territory here by often stripping back the layers of vocals to let one take stand stark among the musical landscape. The result is a more human and honest approach to the usual hazed multi-colored production of the Grizzly Bear sound. Just about everything in this album is a step up from their previous efforts. A somber yet grandiose album punctuated by an incredible display of letting things have more space when its needed make this my absolute favorite album of 2012.

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2. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

Fiona is notorious for long periods of time between her albums. She often states that you can’t write if you don’t just live and experience things. The wait for “The Idler Wheel…” was the longest between any of her albums, but the result is her best work yet. This is venomous, daring, brutally honest, gloves are fucking off Fiona – and it totally rules. Stripped down to the core, these songs place Fiona’s vocals front and center and she contorts her vocal cords through emotional and expertly written honest songs. The albums stark honesty feels like you just snuck into her room and flipped through the diary tucked away in her drawer. The albums twisted and wild loosely hand-drawn colorful image on the cover couldn’t summarize the album more. The album is intimate, fresh, intense, and badass. When I first heard Fiona belt out “SEEK ME OUT! / LOOK AT, LOOK AT, LOOK AT, LOOK AT ME!” in “Daredevil” – voice cracking as she pounds her piano like a 5-year-old desperately seeking the attention of their parent, it became clear: this isn’t just lyrics and music. This is performance. Every word uttered drips the emotion that must have run through that pen onto the paper. The world created on this album is wholly of its own. Much like any great artist, it can’t be replicated. She lived it.

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3. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

It’s not often a band occupies such a unique sound that it is indistinguishably and inarguably their sound. Dirty Projectors music accomplishes this with soaring & playful (yet incredibly technical) backing vocals from the angelic voices of Amber and Haley, guitar lines that feel like scribbles on a 5 years notepad, and lead vocals that constantly tether off the edge of complacency. This latest album’s goal from the eyes of main songwriting David Longstreth was the rein in some of these eccentric elements to create a more simple sound. The result to my ear sounds more like he has honed these eccentrics into an absolutely perfect pinpoint. It’s a fantastic starting point for new fans, because it also happens to be perhaps their best album to date.

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4. iamamiwhoami – kin

While this album IS meant to be an audio-visual experience (see details on that below for my pick of “Music Video of the Year”) it still works remarkably well as solely music. This is best described as warped pop music with a darker edge. Pop elements are easily found in the vocals being front and center, synthesized beats, and catchy hooks – but the sum of it’s parts ends up feeling much deep than what you would hear in the top 40. singer/songwriter Jonna Lee sings vaguely about loss, existential musings about life, and loneliness in a landscape that has a darker landscape preventing it from ever really entering bubblegum territory. The production work is excellent, and each song pops as noteworthy and exciting.

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5. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Usually when a band puts out an incredible first album, many assume the next can only falter by attempting to recreate the same momentum and sonic landscape of the previous album. With Tame Impala’s 2nd album “Lonerism”, while similar to the first album, is simply just as good. Instead of attempting to add some predictable bells and whistles in an attempt to expand, the sound of the band has been sharpened down to be even MORE effected, whacked-out, fuzzy throwback acid rock. This album doesn’t just sound like the 60s though, it sounds like the 60’s filtered through the future. if that sounds hard to picture its cause this album simply sounds sonically like nothing else. Mastermind/band leader Kevin Parker described the album as sounding as if you shot Britney Spears into outer space. It’s true. These are classic and insanely catchy pop tunes (ala The Beatles) but through so much webbing it feels like each song is reaching out and surrounding your entire body. An incredible and unmissable album.

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6. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It

“Honesty is the key” said every mom ever. But that can be hard to forget when consuming art. How honest were the intentions of the artist of your favorite masterpiece? It doesn’t get more obvious than the absolutely painfully confessional stark new album by Perfume Genuis (aka Mike Hadreas). The performances found on the songs feel like they are sometimes inches away from the pain they are talking about – with Mike’s fragile voice often sounding on the brink of a breakdown. It’s a heart wrenching album to listen to, but also one of the most memorable for the exact same reason. You kinda just wanna give Mr. Hadreas a hug once the album wraps up its somewhat short half-hour runtime. But hitting play all over again usually suffices.

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7. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

How do you follow up releasing a complete masterpiece? Well…with a still really good album. Sure it’s not a phenomenal Animal Collective album, but its still a great album by any (weird music lover) standards. No, I mean it – this album is pretty freaky. Whereas their previous effort “Merriweather Post-Pavilion” was loaded with their most accessible material they’ve ever released (and also their best in my humble opinion) this takes a 180. This is dense, fast, freaky, wild, eccentric, and just about the opposite of easy-listening. It might be startling at first, but there’s still a lot of warped-pop elements to grasp onto – they are just less immediately apparent.

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8. Ariel Pinks Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes

Ariel Pink is a total fucking nutcase. much like Animal Collective (see above), Ariel Pink decided to follow up his ‘breakthrough’ album which contained accessible (well…by Ariel Pink standards) tunes with some…insanely fun stuff. By which I do mean both insane AND fun in equal amounts. some choice lyrical moments found on the album “Suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs” “She’s a nympho at the discotheque / she’s a nympho and I’m a lesbian” “Sorry said the fanny to the head / one-eyed Willie’s ghost is dead” “Blonde seizure bombshells and the blowjobs of death / bring on the bogan she-males hopped up on meth” so….umm…basically this is Frank Zappa for a new generation of freaks. The moment when you find yourself singing these catchy songs to yourself and smiling when you realize what the hell you’re actually saying is about when it all makes sense.

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9. Chairlift – Something

This is one fun album. filled with some of the most overlooked pop hooks of the year, wild synth sounds, and (SERIOUSLY) some of the coolest set of music videos for one album I’ve ever seen, the album seems like it just begs to blow up. But alas it remains a not particularly hidden, but certainly not widespread gem. singer Caroline Polachek has an incredible voice ripe with character. It’s a perfect match for the 80’s vibe of most the album, but don’t get too stuck on thinking this album is too one-note. there’s plenty of variety and genre influences found throughout its memorable and insanely catchy tracks. Amanaemonesia exists somewhere between psych pop and Michael Jackson (…yeeeaaa), and the new wave pulse of “Met Before” is propulsive and full. The album isn’t only excellent from a songwriting perspective – the production is absolutely pristine and perfectly compliments this particularly fun set of tunes.

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10. The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

Notorious for over-indulgence and painting with just about every color of the sound rainbow, The Mars Volta to many are just too…dense. On this release, however, you may actually find something you don’t often find on a Mars Volta album: space and restraint. well…for Mars Volta standards. With the introduction of synths as a prominent feature on the album as well as excellent vocal hooks from singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, this can act as an inviting album for people interested in exploring the dense catalogue of these prog-freaks. With the news of band-leader/guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez moving onto a new (much more accessible) band called Bosnian Rainbows and publicly putting Mars Volta on hiatus, this may well also be the last Mars Volta album we hear for quite some time.

ESSENTIAL 5 SONGS OF 2012

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1. “Amanaemonesia” by Chairlift
Just TRY to listen to this song without smiling and dancing. I dare you. Instantaneously catchy without feeling cookie cutter. One of those songs where EVERY single part from the verses, choruses, bridge, and and breakdowns are all equally incredible. This song is just zany wacky fun. It doesn’t get old.

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2. “Apocalypse Dreams” by Tame Impala
What starts as a driving and punchy 60’s psych-pop jam with extremely catchy sweeping hooks as singer Kevin Parker sings “Nothing ever changes” soon…well, changes. Halfway through the song everything gets sucked into a vortex and pops out as a slowly turning colorful kaleidoscope jam that is equally hypnotizing and captivating. Droning away for minutes has never sounded so spectacular.

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3. “Yet Again” by Grizzly Bear
Let this be a testament to absolutely superb songwriting. Grizzly Bear has never really slacked off in their brilliant ability to let every aspect of a song shine through by letting things breath and have their own sonic space. “Yet Again” is perhaps their greatest achievement to date in this regard. polished to a shine, this pristinely recorded song is absolutely filled with moments that just…click. An emotional and raw through-line is found with Ed Droste’s reverb soaked vocals, but just about every instrument in the song is the highlight. My personal favorite is when those claps come in distant and sparingly for the verses punctuated with a tambourine slap. Subtle touches like this make it easy to leave this one on repeat.

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4. “Disparate Youth” by Santigold
Anthems can often feel contrived, but when listening to “Disparate Youth” it almost feels like Santigold accidentally stumbled into it…just about perfectly. The choruses open wide with synth pads, skittering drums, and vocals front and center saying “Oh-ah / We know that we want more / Oh-ah / A life worth fighting for”. It’s a propulsive moment for a song that never seems to dip below ‘insanely-addicting’. It’s one that stands at the top of just about anything that Santigold has ever done.

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5. “Werewolf” by Fiona Apple
I often have a hard time zoning in on the lyrics of a song. Usually my brain focuses on the music at first and sometimes I never really get around to actually fully understanding what a song is even about. With Fiona Apple – it’s practically impossible to ignore. Her dramatic and emotional deliveries are often highlights of the song, and this songs clever wordplay and excellent delivery make it a standout track of an already outstanding album. Fiona takes jabs at a lost love and brainstorms perhaps why it fell apart, but punctuates each insult with an introspective look at how perhaps she’s the one to blame: “I can liken you to a shark the way you bit off my head / but then again, I was waving around a bleeding open wound”. The restrained and subtle uses of percussion, banjo, and a chorus of screaming kids all come together serendipitously to form a perfect crescendo of a piano and vocal led ballad.

UNMISSABLE 8 MUSIC VIDEOS OF 2012

Rascal_vimeo_011. “kin” by iamamiwhoami
It’s a no-brainer to give the best matching of visuals and music to the project that is BASED on giving their fans their content as an audio-visual experience right out the gate. this roughly 40-minute audiovisual album played out in an episodic fashion early this year with each song and corresponding visual chapter given out every fortnight over the course of a few months. The end product is an experimental visual piece with themes of loss, the struggle of structure vs chaos, and isolation – but of course there’s much left for interpretation. A woman awakes in a bleak hotel room and begins dancing with a hairy creature before slowly being sent down the rabbit hole into an alternate world of lush forests and sparse deserts. The cinematography and set design is nothing short of spectacular and relies very much on the tangible and only very sparing use of CG. The music, while certainly less experimental than the visuals, is equally captivating and attention-worthy. synth heavy trippy pop with a darker edge is all helmed by the animated and unique voice of Swedish singer Jonna Lee (who also stars as the main character in the visual component). It’s hard not be anxious for the next step in this consistently intriguing mysterious project. (For more on this artist check out my in-depth explanation of why there has never been a project done quite like this one)

2. “Amanaemonesia” by Chairlift
3. “Yet Again” by Grizzly Bear
4. “Met Before” by Chairlift
5. “Hi Custodian” by Dirty Projectors
6. “Tiny Tortures” by Flying Lotus
7. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by The Flaming Lips
8. “Do It With A Rockstar” by Amanda Palmer

FAVORITE 6 FILMS OF 2012

(because the last four of my top 10 were just kinda ‘pretty good’)

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1. Moonrise Kingdom

This film is Wes Anderson’s best film. Culminating all of the best aspects of what makes his films so endearing, memorable, witty, fun, warm, engrossing, and visually outstanding – the film is simply perfect back to front. I once heard someone say the film looked too “Wes Anderson-y” for them. I couldn’t help but be baffled by the irony of the statement. How can a film BY Wes Anderson be TOO “Wes Anderson-y”? The statement only acknowledges the sheer impact and uniqueness of the worlds he has created over the years. Moonrise Kingdom sits on top of all of his directorial works as the one I’m most likely to visit over and over again. An outstanding achievement of American cinema.

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2. Seven Psychopaths

This film recalled Tarantino for me, yet here it sits just one slot higher than this years Tarantino original offering of Django. A bloody and brutal crime film that doesn’t stop being absolutely fucking hilarious and witty throughout its entire runtime. With the best casting in recent memory (Christopher Walken AND Tom Waits in the SAME FILM?? Along with a show-stealing Sam Rockwell) this film feels superbly fine tuned to be the years funniest film, while still being far more affecting than any comedy I’ve seen in years.

 

 

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3. Django Unchained

SO Tarantino. This film is so completely Tarantino. Yea yea, he borrows from other filmmakers, references his favorite films, and can get a bit wanky sometimes – but that doesn’t stop his films from being some of the best theater experiences of their respective years. This film was no exception in proving that Tarantino is one of America’s best filmmakers. Using pre-civil war slavery as the backdrop, the film smartly swims it’s way through genre-bending fun and expertly written dialogue scenes that often feel more exciting than the explosive action scenes sparingly sprinkled throughout the films nearly 3 hour runtime. My favorite scene is an extended multi-part (and multi-layered) dialogue-driven dinner scene that probably spanned at least 20 minutes that had my undivided attention. The film isn’t really Tarantino at his BEST, but it’s still better than most things you’ll see this year.

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4. Skyfall

This is one of the best Bond film’s I’ve seen, and might just be my personal favorite. I definitely got some vibes of The Dark Knight (not rises…I’m talking about the one with Heath Ledger’s Joker) in this one. An eccentric villain can only be stopped by an orphaned dude with gadgets? Dunno why it took so long for me to make the obvious connection, but in many ways Bond is like a super hero, and in this one especially, it feels very much grounded in a reality much like our own. It goes a little lighter on the action scenes and more into character, back story, and emotion (and that’s a GREAT thing). It almost felt like the franchise itself had become self-aware of the fact that Bond is perhaps becoming…outdated. ‘Do we really need secret agents when we have computers’ is a talking point in the film, but it also felt like a parallel to the franchise as a whole. Do cheeky spy flicks with gadgets, girls, and one-liners really matter? But it appears that by starting the concept of this film with “do we really need another Bond film?” has created a Bond film that actually feels fresh, modern and removed from some of its cheekier spy-movie elements. This isn’t just a great Bond adventure, it’s a great movie.

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5. Cabin in the Woods

I love a film that is intensely hard to describe to people other than to say that it is unmissable and insanely fun. INSANELY fun. I mean it. A meta-genrebending-hilarious-horror film is my best attempt, but part of its charm is simply going into it WITHOUT knowing exactly what you’re getting into. Don’t let anyone spoil where this film ends up going, but rest assured – it’s not just your typical horror film as the trailer (and first act) may suggest. If you love horror films (good ones OR bad ones…and ESPECIALLY if you love both) this is an ABSOLUTE must-see.

 

 

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6. Keep The Lights On

This hyper-affecting drama that spans over 20 years of a turbulent on and off relationship between two gay men in New York was perhaps the most realistic film I saw this year. While the main thing tearing apart the couple in focus here is drug addiction, it often doesn’t dwell on just that. These are two people who clearly love each other, but are also just struggling on a more basic level of whether or not they are right for each other – despite their love for one another. It’s no surprise the film is partly autobiographical of the writer-director because the film is at times an unsettling realistic portrayal of a couple picking the scabs of the wounds struggling to heal between them. Also of note is the music of the film; which is almost entirely done by the late experimental-folk cello player Arthur Russell which adds a subtle underlying emotional landscape beneath the grainy and sweeping cinematography.

SPOILERS: Why Do We Need to Know the Ending?

spoilersThe very sight of the word “SPOILERS” to my eyes in an article often results in a slight stomach turn and instantaneous need to scroll away from the following words as if  the information contained within could cause some sort of irreversibly traumatizing damage to my fragile soul. The constant lookout for stray spoilers to breach my self imposed spoiler-free life can sometimes be exhausting. It’s a bit like sheltering a child from all the evils of the world. Unfortunately  the inevitable will occur. Yet for some, knowing whats going to happen is an imperative element to the experience of consuming stories. What exactly drives people to either avoid or seek out spoilers? SPOILERS: I overanalyze the subject ahead.

It’s human instinct to want knowledge. The old adage “knowledge is power” rings true in most scenarios. Before entering a situation it can often be beneficial to you to know as much as possible before it as to hopefully reduce surprises. Perhaps it makes more sense than we may think to use that same instinct to want to know as much as possible entering into situations involving stories. but it can perhaps be for the same reason that people choose to withhold. Reducing the surprise is only desirable case by case.

1069524880.2D.2048x2048More than ever before we have access to any and all information in a massive interlocking encyclopedia that you are currently using – The Internet. From as menial as looking up words to as vast as exploring an entire subject, The Age of Information has birthed out a generation of people who rely on the Internet for…well almost everything. As quickly as you can find out who was IN a movie, you can find out the ending of that same movie. If you google the word “spoilers” the first result is an entire website dedicated to telling you the ending to EVERY movie in theaters. They’ll even give you a iTunes gift certificate for being quick to provide the info.

Today, if you are excited about a major upcoming film you have a smorgasbord of options to tide over your excitement. Watch trailers, TV spots, follow the film on Twitter and/or Facebook for constant ‘sneak peeks’ or fun facts dispersed in your personal news feed, and even watch FULL scenes of the film days before its released. At the stroke of midnight on the eve of its release you can probably find the anticipated film in most theaters, but if you choose to go to bed early and check it out the next day, you could theoretically wake up and google the ending of the film that some midnight goers stayed up extra late typing out. Blogging it out to the masses as if they were reporting a breaking news story. All this pulls the ‘sneak peek’ curtain so far back that you begin to wonder why you still even need to ACTUALLY see the film.

18164A friend of mine once told me he hadn’t seen Breaking Bad, but was quick to assure me that he had read the first 4 seasons worth of episode summaries on Wikipedia so we could still discuss it if I wanted. “I don’t have time to watch 50 hours of a TV show” he said. and who’s to blame him? In almost every scenario of a modern-day young adults life in our society they are told to attempt to find the fastest and most efficient way to accomplish a task. My friend simply took this framework, saw a 50 hour way to learn the full story of Breaking Bad, and saw an alternative that would clock in around an hour or so of reading. So what exactly is he sacrificing? A whole lot.

It might not always be an easy task to convince someone investing a considerable amount more time in a piece of entertainment will reward them with a richer experience, but it is almost always the case. For example – take an art form that is nearly impossible to spoil – music. SURE you can listen to samples of each track on iTunes, but as far as knowing the ending, it’s basically a non-factor. If a friend tells you “the album ends with a kazoo solo” you at MOST could be moderately bummed that you’ll know what to expect – however it doesn’t really take away from the experience of hearing it and having your own unique feeling and reaction to it. It’s not like the interweaving story of the album reaches an apex with that kazoo solo…and if it does, stop listening to so many progressive kazoo concept albums. But almost unanimously one would agree that the more time you invest into an album, the more certain things may pop out at you as an outstanding portion of that art. Perhaps your least favorite track ends up growing on you and becomes something you appreciate for its not so immediately apparent values. The same can be said for story driven art forms like movies, TV shows, video games, or books. The more time invested in discovering how the story plays out, the deeper the connection to that story you may have.

The biggest problem with spoilers, however, is not just the lack of time you spent getting to the information at the end of any given story. By spoiling a story-driven art form you are intentionally disregarding the artists intentions and slighting yourself a potentially rewarding emotional experience. That may sound heavy-handed, but everyone as some point or another has been moved by a well told story (and if you havent, may I humbly suggest ANY FILM by directors such as David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, or Christopher Nolan – for my money, the three best modern-day American storytellers). Perhaps what many don’t realize about a well told story is that it hinges on the element of surprise.

surpriseWith the prevalence of the internet and over-saturation of information available at us, the element of mystery and surprise has been sucked out of a lot of art in favor of instant gratification. Anticipation has become a feeling people prefer to avoid and combat by fulfilling a brief but easily gained urge to have what they want now in a truncated form over waiting for the full experience later.

The mixed messages of our societal functions are partly to blame for the decline of appreciation for patience and surprise-driven storytelling. We are told in many aspects of our lives that finding faster and more efficient ways to gain information is just…better. It can be hard to turn off that function when it comes to preserving the artistic merits of stories – but rest assured It’s worth it. The gratification of a well crafted and presented story is something that can never be replicated by a brief summary of events.

The Family of Man – “Bittersweet Relief” Music Video

My latest video project, which I’m extremely proud and excited about, is my band’s music video! Making this video feels long overdue, as I had wanted to direct a music video for my band (The Family of Man) for a while but never had a song and concept come together. After creating our third album “The Way” it finally happened. The video is for our single “Bittersweet Relief” which is a song that Wilfred wrote for the especially collaborative album.

We always create our albums deep in the woods on week long retreats from the city life (you can read more about that HERE), so it only felt appropriate for it to be the setting of a music video. As far as the concept, I wanted it to really reflect the spirit of the band. There’s a certain magical element to the process of us getting together and making these albums. It often feels like an alternate reality. getting away from the constant buzz of the city and leaving electronics by the wayside ends up having a regressive effect on the mind to where we are able to act instinctually, freely, and childlike. It only felt natural for us to play the song on instruments that could perhaps grow from a tree trunk, or are a little larger than life.

Shortly after proposing the idea to the band, the logistics began to fall in place. With the help of two extremely talented Fellow Filmmaker Friends (FFF’s for short) Jaena Sta. Ana and Alexander Collins we were able to realize the project seamlessly…and have a great time while doing it.

Wilfred Galila (Co-Director / Bandmate / Creative Partner for Life), Jaena Sta. Ana (Producer / The Eye in the Sky / Skywalker Gangsta) and I went out to location scout near Muir Woods about a week before shooting and found some excellent locales rich with forest greens and large behemoth rocks. A week later, with Aliyah Cline (Third Bandmember / Life Long Friend / Insane Other Half) and Alexander Collins (Director of Photography / Visual Extraordinaire / Fellow Videogame Nerd) we set forth to shoot. Through tons of laughing, mediocre burgers, and an occasional rap came the music video. The entire day felt like an extension of the trip to Humboldt which made the album – and the result was a video that captured the same spontaneous energy found in the music. I couldn’t be more happy with the result. I hope you enjoy it as well. If you like it, you can download the entire album for FREE right here.

Thanks for watching! Stream the full album below.

-Dominic

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The Recording of the Third “Family of Man” Album

Spontaneity is what my acoustic-folk band “The Family of Man” has always been based on, but one thing that has so far remained a constant is: we record an album every July. However, circumstances for this latest batch of songs which will make up our third album (hopefully completed in a couple months or so) were still informed by one rather spontaneous change: where we record. It was only days before we were planning to make our annual trip to Mendocino to record in that same storage container that produced the previous two albums (Inside The Box and Heads in the Sky) that we found out that circumstances at the property would not allow us to be there for the amount of time we would need. As fate would have it, however, we were able to contact another wonderful couple who lives in the Humboldt forest and has hosted us for several visits during New Years. Without a second thought we adjusted our trip to the north to go…further north.

This new space is a small plot of land down a long windy road which then becomes a windy dirt road, which then becomes a small house hidden within the forest. A small river flows right behind the main house, and much like our previous recording space, there is a smaller hut outside of the main house across the garden and past the beehives. we call it “The Honey Hut”.

This is the space the vast majority of things were recorded during our 6 day stay. using a portable recording device we would one by one spend some time in the Honey Hut adding our individual parts to a growing puzzle of songs. Getting the process started is always one of those things where you just have to throw yourself to the wind and hope it’s all going to piece together in the way we collectively heard it in our heads. After some rough first takes, and a little quality control with the recording process, things started to flow.

In a very similar way to how “Heads in the Sky” was conceived, these songs were all formed over the previous year and played for each other either in rough GarageBand demos passed digitally, or in band practices. One notable difference is that, for the first time, I wrote several songs for the record. Where both our previous albums were formed from song ideas originally from Wilfred and Aliyah , this album will be the first where all three of us contribute songs.

When I initially was writing the songs that have now been recorded for this album, I was simply writing them out of necessity and personal release. Formed out of some rather rough emotional times that went down over this previous year, I found myself needing to just have a creative release that was a bit of a faster turnaround then my other creative outlet: filmmaking. conceptualizing, writing, casting, directing, and editing a short film is often a process that takes me over a year to complete. Writing a song is something that can be completed in a matter of days, and it was what I needed. These songs were really just a form of medication for me, never really intended to be something more than a way to work out whatever it was that was driving me crazy in my own head. Through sharing them with Wilfred and Aliyah it started to become clear to myself that Family of Man songs aren’t really defined in any other way than songs that the three of us hear in our heads and actualized through the recording process. The songs I wrote became redefined as Family of Man songs.

To say I’m nervous about them being heard is an understatement. However nerves and excitement can often be close relatives.

The recording process felt far more exhausting than previous years. 2 major things had changed which influenced this: we decided to record every single instrument / vocal separately as to have the most control in the mixing process (and ultimately have the highest quality sounding album yet) AND…we had about 4 days less than we normally do to record the album. Needless to say, this is not the greatest combo. The challenge was taken on with full force however, and we would spend literally every waking hour doing something that was contributing to the album. if someone was cooking dinner, another one of us was recording a part. If one person needed to take a nap, the others recorded. In fact, on one of the rare moments all three of us decided to take a break and go to the river to relax for a bit, we still brought the recorder to document the journey…and some sound clips from that made it onto a couple moments on the album. Towards the end of the process, I was beginning to feel a deeper connection to the insanity of Jack in The Shining.

One thing we discussed as far as how we wanted this album to sound compared to the others was scope of instrumentation. We wanted to include a broader range of instruments throughout the songs and experiment more with things that we had previously only briefly tapped into. The album contains the instruments we’ve used before (guitar, percussion, flute, ukulele, piano flute, bongos, etc.) but also includes some new ones (saxophone, banjo, piano, a wider range of percussive…objects, and a moment with a choir of friends belting along with us).

The songs all occupy their own land in many ways. “Hero’s Journey” has a psychedelic western feel, “Twin Sized Bed” alternates between backcountry twang and a foot stomping folk-march, and “The Way” is an expansive gospel-infused sing-a-long.

I’m incredibly excited to release this album so you can hear what we’ve heard for the previous months. I’m currently mixing the album (which is becoming a much longer process then our previous albums due to how this was recorded) and hope to get things to a point where we can announce a release date as soon as possible. We will be releasing a bunch of behind the scenes videos from the trip through our Facebook leading up to the release, as well as all the announcements concerning the album like track list, album art, release date, and more. “Like” us on Facebook for all the updates.

UPDATE: The album is now out! you can download / stream the entire thing all for FREE below:

-Dominic

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