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Sunday, December 12, 2010


And then he said. . .
1. Gene & Chafin are on Facebook; Marie is on the bus.
2. They come & go all the time. I can't remember which of my people are coming home.
3. Do you think Obama will ever have a public employment job program.
4. Do I look like I have matches?
5. What do you mean you forgot to bring treats with you today?

Happy Holidays from All of Us in
Brooklyn, Washinton, DC & Ohio!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gene Seymour Interviews Dave Brubeck

Gene Seymour interviewed Dave Brubeck, who turned 90 years old. The interview was published December 5, 2010 in the LA Times
Photo by Carolyn Cole, LA Times

Gene Seymour's Top 10 Jazz Discs for 2010

1.) Regina Carter, “Reverse Thread” (E1) – For years, I’ve been waiting for the best jazz violinist of her generation to make an album as great as she is. Not that she hasn’t been placed in contexts that complement her range and virtuosity before now, but her previous discs (not counting those where she’s been an often-galvanizing guest star) have in varied ways fallen short of conveying the flamboyant charge of her live performances. This assortment of African-inspired jewels, finally, delivers the goods – and then some. The blend of instrumentalists is zesty – two accordions (Will Holshouser, Gary Versace), two basses (Mamadou Ba, Chris Lightcap), guitar (Adam Rogers) and percussion (Alvester Garnett). Add to this mix Yacouba Sissoko on the kora, a 12-string West African harp used by griots, and you have a disc that is, from start to finish, the most thrilling and gorgeous dance music imaginable from an artist steeped in jazz, but now even more “beyond category” than she was before.
2.) Jason Moran, “Ten” (Blue Note) – The MacArthur “genius grant” he received this year only validates a ticket he’s been carrying around for most of this new century, at least as far as serious jazz heads are concerned. Both the foundation’s gift and this disc combine to provide a fitting capstone to Moran’s decade of habitual brilliance. As with all his best recordings, Moran plays here as if he embodied the whole 20th century of jazz piano from old-time striding to post-bop romanticism to polyrhythmic R&B/hip-hop extensions. (Yeah I know, but if you’re so smart, you come up with a better description of “Gangsterism Over 10 Years.”) “Ten” also firmly establishes his trio, with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Watts, as one of those all-time, all-world combos whose members seem to anticipate each other’s thoughts and intentions in the quicksilver manner of an elite basketball team overpowering hapless opponents on its home court.
3.) Geri Allen, “Flying Toward the Sound” (Motema) – Sooner or later, someone is going to have to declare Professor Allen a national treasure, which is among the precious few honors she hasn’t collected in a lifetime of laudable accomplishments. This “Solo Piano Excursion Inspired by Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock” (her words) is by far her most breathtaking dare yet; a suite of nine pieces whose deliberately crafted format frees her to take off on stunning harmonic combinations, some lyrical and ruminative, others surging off the keyboard with speed, power and poise. As a storyteller trafficking in mystical and spiritual themes, she can caress and upend, often in the same narrative passage. You hear not only the lessons she’s absorbed from the three influences cited above, but also those she learned from Mary Lou Williams, Bud Powell, Betty Carter, Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden. I’d be willing to label this her masterpiece if I wasn’t sure she’s capable of even greater astonishments to come.
4.) Henry Threadgill Zooid, “This Brings Us To: Volume II” (PI) –As with Threadgill’s peers who cultivated their artistry under the aegis of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), it is best to consider his music analogous to scientific or spiritual inquiry. Putting it another way, whenever Threadgill hears something that even vaguely offers possibilities if it’s blended with something unfamiliar and/or intriguing, he follows his impulse and doesn’t worry too much about what others think. A long time ago, this kind of thinking was labeled “avant-garde” and Zooid, a quintet which meshes his flute and alto sax with Liberty Elfman’s guitar, Jose Davila’s trombone and tuba, Stomu Takeishi’s bass and Elliot Kavee’s drums, offers wary and credulous listeners alike (relatively) easy access to what remains both unsettlingly bold and oddly familiar about such experimentation. Take hold of whatever instrument, rhythmic pattern or riff you want for ballast and you may end up captivated by what Threadgill and his gang are up to. Not everyone wants to hang around these neighborhoods, but there are unexpected rewards for those who do.
5.) Ted Nash & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, “Portrait in Seven Shades” (J@LC) – Nash, a quality mensch as a reed player and composer, has been one of the glittering ornaments of Wynton Marsalis’ uptown confab for a decade. The eponymous suite, commissioned by Marsalis, written by Nash and premiered three years ago, uses seven great artists as inspirations for some colorful sonic painting on a big-band canvas. “Dali,” for instance, is propelled by an inexorably eccentric 13/8 tempo upon which solos by Nash and trumpeter Marcus Printup distend themselves like timepieces in “The Persistence of Memory.” By contrast, “Chagall” brings in Natalie Bonin’s violin and Bill Schimmel’s accordion to help evoke the painter’s winsome, carnival-esque theatricality. Perhaps appropriately, it’s “Picasso” that dominates the whole enterprise with motifs that unfurl like giant flags and fire-breathing solos by trombonist Vincent Gardner and Marsalis (who, as always, sounds serenely locked in his comfort zone as a role player).
6.) Fred Hersch Trio, “Whirl” (Palmetto) – Hersch has pulled himself through physical travail to play with as much craft, energy and passion as he ever did. What makes this characteristically fine album especially gratifying is the showcase it offers for Hersch as composer. He wrote six of the album’s ten selections and each deserves consideration for anybody’s regular repertoire, especially the enchanting title track, the irresistibly hooky “Skipping” and two Brazilian-inspired pieces, “Mandevilla” and “Sad Poet,” the latter dedicated to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s memory. “Snow is Falling…” would be a fine addition to someone’s holiday anthology while “Still Here,” though written in tribute to Wayne Shorter, could just as easily apply to this trio’s imperturbable, seemingly indefatigable leader.
7.) Cassandra Wilson, “Silver Pony” (Blue Note) – It’s been only three years since Wilson’s previous new release, yet it somehow seems a lot longer. Perhaps it’s because so much has happened with her in the intervening years, notably her resettlement in her native Deep South, spending part of the time caring for her ailing mother in Jackson, Mississippi and the rest of it making a new home for herself in N’awlins. What she brings back from that journey is a kind of scrapbook; some live sets, some studio tracks, some original compositions (“Beneath a Silver Moon”), standards (“Lover Come Back To Me”), delta blues (“Saddle Up My Pony”), retro-pop (“If It’s Magic”) and a collaboration with John Legend (“Watch the Sunrise”). In short, she’s throwing everything at you that sums up where she’s been and who she’s become and, even with the disc’s occasional rough spots, you can’t help sensing that she revels in being in a good place now, in more ways than one. And she makes you share her exuberance in ways she never has before on – so to speak – record.
8.) Anat Fort Trio, “And If” (ECM) – The burgundy glow of a winter sunset pervades one’s imagination throughout most of this disc, though “And If” is, in no way, to be mistaken for one of those New Age-y room-fresheners-for-the-ear. Fort’s thematically inventive approach to the piano is aggressive enough to leap off the walls without pushing too far ahead of her trio mates, bassist Gary Wang and drummer Roland Schneider, who respond with some delicate, ingenious probing of their own. Fort’s spare attack and richly layered harmonies conceal a penchant for subtle traps. Just when she’s got you enraptured with her spacious-skies homage to her home state, “Minnesota,” she lands a wicked combination on your senses with “Nu,” a kind of extraterrestrial beat-box exercise that gives the whole trio room to frolic. This seems sufficient reason to keep your eyes on Fort – or, at least, to never turn your back on her
9.) Charles Lloyd Quartet, “Mirror” (ECM) – It’s by now a conditioned reflex to mention Lloyd in the same breath as John Coltrane But the deeper Lloyd gets into the great late-autumnal phase of his career, one is increasingly tempted to find similarities with the most conspicuous of Trane’s employers, Miles Davis. This resemblance is driven home with the opener, “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” which remained a constant in the Miles-ian repertoire throughout Davis’ stylistic transitions. But the plaintive beauty of Lloyd’s tone belongs to him alone, especially on ballads, where Lloyd’s Coltrane-esque thematic variations are offset by the almost offhand grace of their resolutions. His “singing” through his sax is especially pronounced – and effective – when he lets the melody do most of the heavy-lifting, as in “La Llorona” or Brian Wilson’s “Caroline, No.” Once again, he’s served well by his band-mates, especially his drummer Eric Harland and the aforementioned genius on the piano, Jason Moran.
10.) Anat Cohen, “Clarinetwork: Live at the VillageVangyard” (Anzic) – It’s impossible to record a bad album in the Basement Shrine on Seventh Avenue., which on the night of Benny Goodman’s 100th birthday (June 5 of last year), showed typically astute judgment in hosting one of the leading avatars of the jazz clarinet’s late 20th century resurgence. Backed by an elite rhythm section of pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, Cohen paid the best possible 21st century tribute to Goodman by plucking items from the Swing King’s song book (“After You’ve Gone,” “Body and Soul”, “Lullaby of the Leaves”) and deftly weaving everything she knows about modern and post-modern jazz into the tunes without doing violence to the essential charm of Goodman’s original interpretations. Such solicitous tugging and pulling of classic material is what jazz repertory, at its best, is supposed to do. It’s also supposed to make musicians such as Cohen more famous than they are now. Ah, well, dig we must, as the saying goeth…

The Jazz Passengers, “Reunited” (Justin Time)
Kenny Werner, “No Beginning, No End” (Half Note)
Frank Kimbrough, “Rumors” (Palmetto)
Brad Mehldau, “Highway Rider” (Nonesuch)
Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, “Jasmine” (ECM)
Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, “Double Portrait” (Blue Note)

Chucho Valdes, “Chucho’s Steps” (4Q)
Honorable Mention: Conrad Herwig, “The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock” (Half

“The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air” (Mosaic)
Wilson, “Silver Pony” (SEE ABOVE)
Honorable Mention: Hilary Kole, “You Are There” (Justin Time)

“Portrait in Seven Shades” (SEE ABOVE)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Apropos the recent leakages about Our War in Afghanistan, it may be time once again to test everyone on the following:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. Is there no other way the world may live?”
a.) Jimmy Carter
b.) Richard M. Nixon
c.) Dwight D. Eisenhower
d.) John F. Kennedy
e.) Gerald R. Ford
f.) None of the above
email the answer to

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

American Dance Festival-Jerome Robbins West Side Story

July 19-21, Chafin Seymour, will perform on the ADF main stage (Reynolds Theatre @ Duke University). Chafin is part of the company presenting the Jerome Robbins choreography of West Side Story. You can buy tickets online and learn more at

Monday, July 5, 2010

Memory Snapshot: Gene's Lunch With Lena

Appreciation: The Ferociousness of Lena Horne
By Amy Alexander
Published: May 11, 2010

Gene Seymour, former film critic at Newsday and an expert on jazz, also found Horne to be few clicks more complex than most of her press clippings -- 70 years’ worth -- indicated. I remembered reading something he’d written about one of Horne’s last public performances, in the early 1990s.

So yesterday, I hit Seymour up on Facebook. He wrote back right away, saying he’d first met with Lena Horne in ‘94, at a restaurant in New York. They sat for 90 minutes and had a wide-ranging conversation-slash-interview. I never met Lena Horne, but Gene Seymour did. I trust his eyes, ears, heart, and his journalism. He will have the last word in this space on Lena Horne, a great performer:

Sitting elbow-to-elbow with a 20th-century myth is intimidating enough to keep you incoherent for weeks afterwards. But five, 10 (at most) minutes into the conversation, she had so completely put me at ease that I felt I was talking not with someone who fueled the steamiest fantasies of several generation of African-American males (including mine), but with one of my brighter, sassier great-aunts.

Today's New York Times obit was about as comprehensive & as unsparing against the people high & low who done her wrong, while remaining attentive to the glories of her youth and to her principled political stances. And yet ... and yet ... there was something missing from the piece, which managed to barely evoke the magic her image could evoke; the terror & wonder of her breakthrough appearance in "Cabin in the Sky," where she & Miss Ethel Waters fought to a fare-thee-well on and off-screen; how she was able, even through the worse times, to cultivate her innate talent for dramatic presentation and siphon a galvanizing array of emotions through her singing; most especially, her brittle, yet playful wit, which I always believed was the most undervalued weapon in her musical quiver.

Overall this masterly juggling of passion & intelligence made her one-woman Broadway shows so theatrically effective and biographically illuminating.

Savion Channels His Inner Miles (and Trane)


To read Alastair Macaulay’s June 23 New York Times review of Savion Glover’s latest extensions of the tap-dance genre, one would have thought Glover mugged him in a dark alley. See for yourself if it doesn’t read, even a little, like an old-fashioned grievance against modernity (at best): (

Glover, in turn, was the one who felt mugged by Macaulay’s review, having opened that night’s performance at the Joyce Theater by invoking Macaulay’s name with saturnine disdain. (Few in the audience seemed to acknowledge his barbs. Don’t people read reviews anymore? Oh, right. They don’t read newspapers either.) He did this, as with everything else in the show’s lengthy first half, with his back to the audience. If this stance was reminiscent of Miles Davis, then the fusillades of syncopated footwork resounding throughout the theater brought to mind the “sheets of sound” attack of Davis’ greatest band mate John Coltrane.
It was enough to make you wonder whether a jazz critic would have been a better choice to review “SoLE PoWER.” Macaulay’s comparisons of Glover’s long-form cadenza to woodpeckers, electric drills and dental equipment were themselves reminiscent of the peevish reactions hurled more than a century ago against modernity in the arts. Glover’s “make it new” impulse to stretch and, if possible, pierce the parameters of tap dance doesn’t seem all that unreasonable; if anything, his sense of adventure seems almost archaic in what we’re supposed to believe is a totally post-modern cultural universe.
This isn’t to say that everything worked. There were times during the first half, (especially when Glover had all the stage lights dimmed except for the starry-sky backdrop), when his efforts to answer his riffing query, “What does sound look like?,” lost their bearings and scattered the energies he was trying to coalesce. But based on this one night’s performance, I’m guessing that “SoLe PoWER” intends to be elastic enough to accommodate whatever dare Glover wishes to take. “We play what the day demands,” Miles Davis was fond of saying and Glover”s program asks (warns?) its audience to make its own adjustments to the imperatives of the moment. As with the modernist innovators of the past, Glover is acknowledging risk and accepting whatever consequences or rewards may come from defying conventions – even those that made him a star. You may not want to go with him. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not onto something.

Gene Seymour

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Gene Seymour's Tribeca Film Festival Notebook

By Gene Seymour

The party line on this year’s Tribeca Film Festival has thus far been the same as it’s been every year: The documentaries own most of the buzz and carry all of the weight while the features are…well, pick any guttural sound that adequately expresses your own ambivalence. This has always seemed to me a kind of lazy-hazy shorthand on the part of movie pundits. Over the last decade, it’s struck me that not all Tribeca docs have been five-star hotels and not all of its features have been flea-ridden SROs. And even if the festival’s percentages favor what we now call “nonfiction film” over what we now call “narrative film,” you have to concede that those skewed percentages apply to American movies in general. Good, original stories either are unsubstantiated rumors or exist beyond the reach of most writers and directors at every strata of the movie marketplace – which, by the way, seems to care less than a monkey dropping for anything that isn’t pre-tested, i.e. any comic book franchise you can name.

So, as always, I wonder as I wander from venue to venue; all of which, by the way, seem to be getting further away from the eponymous neighborhood every year. You have your Tribeca game plan. I have mine. These are a few of things I’ve seen – and, mostly, liked:

The Two Escobars -- Compared with all the chatter about this year’s edition of Tribeca being the “Alex Gibney Festival” because of all the stuff he’s showing this year (“My Trip to al-Qaeda,” In-progress print of “Elliot Spitzer,” part of “Freakonomics”) and the stuff he’s shown here before (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Taxi to the Dark Side”), hardly anyone has mentioned the return of Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, whose award-winning “Favela Rising” from five years ago was one of the festival’s biggest coups. They return with yet another one of their own trips to the dark side: The sad tale of how soccer in Colombia became one of the many casualties of that country’s extravagantly violent and immensely stupid drug war.
The title refers to two legendary, unrelated figures of the country’s late-20th-century folklore: Pablo Escobar, CEO of Medelin’s most notorious drug cartel and Andres Escobar, charismatic heart-and-soul of the Colombian national soccer team. Sifting through miles of archival footage and extracting remarkable interviews with everyone from Andres’ sister and fiancée to Pablo’s incarcerated henchmen, the Zimbalist brothers orchestrate a dual portrait that connects the rise of Pablo’s fortunes with that of the sport itself. Because of Pablo’s geek-like infatuation with soccer, much of his blood money (and you’d swear you see every drop of that blood spilled throughout the movie) went into soccer. Images of dead people in the streets are juxtaposed with those of the national team in its full, lightning-strike glory – and you’re a little startled by how the latter images, almost but not quite overcome the other.
After Pablo’s untimely, inevitable death, gloom and tension permeate the once-mighty national team. Their nerves are so shot by the 1994 World Cup that they lose in the first round (to the U.S. team, no less) on a goal scored by Andres himself in his own net. Two weeks later, he was gunned down in Medelin, allegedly by vengeful drug lords who lost gambling money because of the team’s collapse.
At times, you wish the Zimbalists would have taken their feet of the gas and refrained from piling on as much detail into each development as it can bear. It mucks up their momentum, which otherwise carries the movie with an almost rock-arena fervor. That propulsive, riveting style is reason enough to check this thing out when it surfaces on ESPN sometime later this spring.

Legacy – Thomas Ikimi, a writer-director educated in Nigeria, England and Columbia University, assembled this deep, dark puzzle thriller about a former “black ops” soldier (Idris Elba), who’s holed up in a Brooklyn flophouse sorting through the shattered remains of his psyche. He was captured and tortured for the unit’s slaughter of an arms dealer’s family. It’s not entirely clear how he made it back to the world, but now that he’s there, he intends to take some revenge of his own against his older brother (Eamonn Walker), a right-wing senator who’s campaigning for president on a radical anti-terror platform.
Ikimi shows considerable talent for wooly atmosphere, serrated dialogue and calculated enigmas. Still, “Legacy” mostly comes across as a referendum for Elba’s ability to carry a movie on his own. Anyone (anyone?) who saw the just-released “The Losers” (anyone?) or has followed Elba’s career since his breakout performance in “The Wire” knows that he’s got the brooding magnetism to carry any action movie he gets. “Legacy,” though not quite big enough to raise his status, gives him plenty of room to twitch, roar, smolder and kick ass. He’s got my vote for a star vehicle. Only thing is: I’m not sure commercial American movies as they exist now are going to be able to do much better than this for Elba. And if they can’t do it for him, they’re certainly not going to do it for any other emerging black actor with his range and mobility. I hope I’m wrong – but I doubt it.

Please Give – Nicole Holofcener (“Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing,” “Friends with Money”) brings forth yet another of her droll, understated comedies-of-(ill) manners with her trademark themes of (quoting the program notes here) “mid-life crises, insecurity, materialism, accumulation of wealth and the liberal guilt and moral paralysis that accompany them.” After two movies set in L.A., she’s back among the New York hip-wah-see. Catherine Keener, who’s been a constant in all Holfcener’s movies, is Kate, an antique dealer who shares both the business and her seemingly blissful life with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt). Yet she’s nagged by the feeling that she’s not doing enough for those in need, hence her habit of handing out $20 bills to every homeless person she can find. (Biggest audience laugh at the screening: When Kate tries to give money to a scruffy-looking, gray-bearded black man standing outside a restaurant and is told, with no inflection or rancor, that he’s waiting for a table.) Meanwhile, her hormonal 15-year-old daughter (Sarah Steele) wonders why Mom can’t be as attentive to her needs (like a $200 pair of jeans).
Adding to Kate’s expanding portfolio of guilt feelings is her sense of watchful waiting over their next-door neighbor, a prickly nonagenarian (Ann Guilbert, best known as Millie Helper from the old “Dick Van Dyke Show”). Even the latter’s two granddaughters, mousey nurse Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and bitchy spa worker Mary (Amanda Peet) acknowledge that Kate and Alex are waiting for the old lady to die so they can expand their own apartment. Still, the granddaughters’ lives carry psychic baggage of such proportions that they get tied up with Kate and Alex’s own.
Holofcener’s approach has previously seemed seem as sour and as brittle as some of her characters. But “Please Give, for all of its deadpan veneer and gimlet-eyed humor, ends up being as moving as “Lovely and Amazing” without that latter film’s traffic jam of complications. And Keener, Hall and Peet are each luminous, but in different ways than they’ve been before. I’m not seeing the commercial prospects here that are found in, say, “It’s Complicated.” But I’ll take Holofcener’s chamber music over Nancy Meyers’ brass band slapstick any day. And yes, I know that makes me a snob. I feel SO guilty about that….

My Trip to al-Qaeda – The aforementioned – and, as noted, ubiquitous – Alex Gibney directed this not-quite-filmed-theater adaptation of a staged monologue by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lawrence Wright about his experiences covering the rise of fundamentalist Islam in the Arab world and the ongoing consequences of that upheaval both here and abroad. It’s an adroit blend of travelogue, archival material and memoir; much of it reviewing and rehashing ideas, indignities and misperceptions catalogued by many post-9-11 documentaries, including Gibney’s. Still, Wright carries his hard-won knowledge with charm, ease and, at times, dry humor. Familiar points are made, warnings are repeated and the untenable-ness of the situation we’re in is depressingly reinforced.
Of all the things mentioned by Wright, the most chilling, to me, was his description of how the people of Saudi Arabia, Syria and other Middle East states don’t care about facts; rather they carry alternate visions of reality choked with conspiracy, dogma and hype. When one contemplates what’s happening to the media universe in this country and the nasty polarities that have emerged in what used to be “civil” public discourse, you can’t help but wonder if these United States we live in are headed for the same collective mental state – and what manner of jihads and sectarian chaos could emerge as a result. Just because the movie doesn’t make such connections (at least, not blatantly) doesn’t mean you can’t infer them.

The Arbor
– My first weekend of Tribeca 2010 ended as it began: With an innovative documentary invoking harsh, rueful truths about the failure of collective and individual responsibility. Clio (pronounced “Cly-oh”) Barnard’s movie leaps in, out and around the barriers separating fiction and non-fiction movie convention in chronicling the complicated legacy of British playwright Amanda Dunbar, who became famous for her semi-autobiographical dramas about growing up in the tough Yorkshire housing project (or, as they’re called in England, “estate.”) that gave the name to both her first play and this movie. Dunbar died in 1990 at age 29 of a brain hemorrhage, leaving behind not only her successful dramas but a troubled mixed-race daughter named Lorraine, who remained in The Arbor, grappling with alcohol and drug addiction – and worse.
Barnard re-introduced Lorraine to her mother’s life and work, through news clips and performances of her work. The movie does likewise with readings of the play,”The Arbor”, staged on the project’s terrain. But Lorraine declined to be interviewed on camera, compelling Barnard to make her most audacious move of all: Using actors to lip-synch recorded interviews with Lorraine and other Dunbar family members and friends. These seemingly disparate tactics risk creating an alienation effect from all the heartbreak. Yet at the conclusion Sunday night’s premiere screening, one heard a stunned silence that was even louder than the applause that followed several seconds later. Other storytellers have breached the walls separating fact and fiction, but few have carried it out with as striking a balance of boldness and delicacy. It’s the best thing I’ve seen so far…with less than a week to go.


Monday, April 19, 2010

REMIX: CULTURE _chafin seymour joins DanceDowntown2010

Don't miss it! Video Preview - select
when Friday & SaturdayMay 7-8, 2010, 8pm
where Riffe Center’s Capitol Theater
77 South High Street, Downtown Columbus
$20 general admission$10 seniors, students w/ID, BuckID, (614) 469-0939. OSU Theatre Box Office in Drake Union. (614) 292-2295.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jules Feiffer "Backing" Up at the Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art

These days, if I decide to spend my limited resources on a book, it’s only because I need to read it right away. In this economic wallow we’re in, there’s just no sense in buying something just to take up space unless you’re going to eat it or sit on it. I’ve followed this imperative fairly well, though I long to return to the days when I read books the way the animated animals in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” take their meals: greedily, sloppily and noisily.

But whether in good times or bad, I still would have dropped everything to read Jules Feiffer’s new memoir, “Backing Into Forward” ($30, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) (See for more information, plus art, reviews, etc.). In my personal Mount Rushmore of cartoonist-icons (Charles Schulz, Will Eisner, Chuck Jones and Walt Kelly), Feiffer may well stand out the most conspicuously for me, if only as a crucial gateway to What Was Hip. Throughout the early 1960s, his drawings disclosed, in elegant, accessible layers, a grown-up world where even superheroes were awkward with women, military leaders were baleful bullies and no politician’s word could be taken at face value.

Over a half-century of cartoon strips, plays, movies and children’s books through which my son came to value him as much as I did, Feiffer has followed his instincts, impervious to catcalls, even from those who otherwise seemed sympathetic to his politics. (Blockheads at both ends of the spectrum often accused him of being “too liberal.” At this hour in our history, I no longer think there’s any such thing.) I’ve never missed a chance to find out through the occasional interview or documentary how he did it for so long and so well. And when I first heard that he was finally getting around to a memoir (from him, in fact, two years ago during a phone interview he gave to me on Newsday’s dime from his Martha’s Vineyard summer house), I couldn’t wait for its appearance.

So far (I’m savoring it, not devouring it), everything seems to be here: Details of his sometimes rocky apprenticeship with Eisner; his tortuous military stint (which, however painful, called forth the masterpiece that is “Munro”); what it felt like to live, love and work in the Greenwich Village of the 1950s; the ups and downs of his theatrical work; the movies (for me, “Carnal Knowledge” – Overrated, somewhat, “Popeye”—Underrated, egregiously) and how he came up with such Feiffer fixtures as the Dancer. There’s also a lot of stuff I didn’t know before, much of it pertaining to his childhood and a mother who, even before the Army kicked his ass, helped honed a hostile edge that remains dangerously sharp to carry around, even/especially for an 84-year-old man.

Some of these stories were told March 24 at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in Lower Manhattan where Feiffer appeared for a standing-room-only slide-show/Q&A with writer-editor Danny Fingeroth. Asked if he did any research for “Backing Into Forward” to clarify or verify what he remembered, Feiffer replied dryly, “Research? I hate homework. What I remembered, I put down and what I didn’t, I left out.” (Is he sure his memory didn’t make up a few things, inadvertently or not? I wanted to ask, but didn’t.) He alluded to his most enduring movie idols, John Garfield (“The Jewish movie star.”) and Fred Astaire (“I had no interest in science-fiction or space travel. Fred Astaire. That was where my real fantasies were!”)

Of course, because it was an audience of comic aficionados, he had to engage in some art criticism and he made some insightful remarks about the artwork of Joe Shuster, who co-created Superman with Jerry Siegel. “It’s primitive and raw,” he said of Shuster’s artwork in the early Action Comics. “But when a punch is thrown, you feel the power of that punch in every panel. And nobody created the illusion of flight with as much simplicity of detail, yet as much force.”

This led to reminiscences of his aforementioned work with Eisner whose facility with creating atmosphere was matched only by Milton (“Steve Canyon”) Caniff. One can find more of these perceptions in Feiffer’s introduction to 1965’s groundbreaking anthology, “The Great Comic Book Heroes.” And he also mentioned the source of his timeless Dancer character, which he traced back to a youthful romance during the 1950s with a real-life modern dancer in the Village. (She’s identified in the book as Jill.)

The movie work also came up for discussion. Fingeroth seemed as under whelmed with Robert Altman’s 1980 movie musical of “Popeye” as most critics at the time were. Feiffer seems very happy with it, estimating that about fifty percent of his original dialogue ended up in the final cut – which, given Altman’s legendary propensity towards improvisation, might have exceeded his grandest expectations.

A few questions were fielded from the audience. With your kind indulgence, I’ll just share my own. I asked how he was able to keep the past so close to him when he wrote this memoir (and, for that matter, the children’s books, most especially his sort-of autobiographical novel, “The Face on the Ceiling.”) Are there any triggers to his memory, such as Proust’s madeleine?

“The triggers,” he replied, “come during the writing. If I’m in the middle of writing something, something else will occur to me that I hadn’t thought about for a long time. It’ll just turn up, completely different from the thing I’m working on at the moment. But I’ll always find a way of saving it and using it for something else along the way.”

So how does he keep up this vibrant activity? How does he keep his edge? It may have something to do with something he writes at the dedication of his new book; an admonition he repeated at the museum: “Do not let your judges define you.”

Gene Seymour

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Winter of 2010 - SNOWED IN OR SNOWED OUT?

February's blizxzards were an adventure. The question I heard most often, especially in DC was: “Were you snowed in?”

Snowed in? Snowed out? It all depends on your perspective. And perspective gets stretched when you get hammered by snowstorms every other day - or so it seemed at times.

Here is a picture of the 41 inches where I live in Washington, DC

Here are pictures of the 20+ inches from Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

Marie's Travel Itinerary: DC to Brooklyn or Brooklyn to DC

On Friday morning, Feb. 5, I left D.C. at 5:30 am – driving. I beat the snow and was in Brooklyn by 9:30am where I was able to “telework” (until the Federal offices were closed at 1:00pm).

By Sunday, Feb. 7 very little was moving anywhere. There were no buses, but I got the latest Amtrak reservation available to get back to be ready for work in DC on Monday morning (@ 5 times the cost of the bus!). While I was on the train, the Feds announced that the government offices would be closed on Monday.

The D.C. METRO (operating only underground) got me from Union Station to Friendship Heights only about 2 miles from where I live, in time to watch the Super Bowl. It was still snowing. Not a cab, no public transportation in sight.

I started walking. A few cars were on the road, so I resorted to my history and stuck out my thumb. I walked a hard ½ mile in fresh snow when a jeep, with two teenagers, stopped.

Driver, leaning toward open window, asked, “Are you okay?” “Sure,” I responded, climbing over snow drifts to get to the vehicle. “I just need a ride down Western Avenue.”

A look of shock and disbelief greeted me. “A ride?” and that is when it hit me. These kids had never seen anyone hitchhike. “Yeah, a ride,” I confirmed. “Aren’t you afraid?” came the question. “Nope,” I assured them as they finally opened. the door.

The ride down Western Avenue brought a barrage of questions, “What does it mean when you do your thumb like that? We thought it meant okay. Have you ever done this before?” I answered them all, sharing my hitching experiences in California and across the U.S. in 1968, in Europe in 1965, and yes, of course, into and out of Woodstock.

As I walked the last distance from Western Avenue to my D.C. abode, I knew that these two were planning their first hitching adventure.

Tuesday, February 9 dawned bright under DC’s 30+ inches of snow, with more on the way. The Federal offices closed again, so I managed to snag one of the few early morning buses from DC to NY.

Including the President's Day holiday, for 7 days, I was snowed in Brooklyn and snowed out of DC.
--By: Marie

Tuesday, January 19, 2010



If anyone had every told me that I would miss the NYC subway, I would have laughed from one end of the 2/3 line (New Lots to Bronx)!

Starting my fifth month of my mostly five days a week in Washington, DC, I have contemplated DC's METRO Mess almost everyone of those days.

Since the General Manager just resigned, I figure this is a great opportunity to provide the new METRO GM with my Top 10 Things to do immediately.

1. Install some lights - at least in the NYC subway, you can see enough to read. the METRO is dark...and I mean dark hole, not just "you have old eyes" dark. It is virtually impossible to read on the METRO platforms. It is sad to see people huddled on the platforms next to the big display advertising kiosks trying to read. A very early lesson every NYC kid learns is ALWAYS carry something to read (adults traveling with small children can add food, drinks & playing cards! And yheah, we know - now it includes IPODS, games & other electronic entertainment). So, when the system screws up there is enough light to read & you can avoid personal combustion! And...if you are reading something really good you don't remember how long you waited.

2. All the METRO stations look alike & you never know what station you are at. In NYC even if you don't know how to read you can figure out ways to know what station you are in. Ok, I know the "conductors" are supposed to announce what station you are at...but they don't...and why don't they? They don't know what station they are at either! I asked them and was told "I get really confused day after day so we just say which way we are going" Glenmont or Shady Grove if it's the Red Line.

Suggestions for Metro management - the stations need some personality. Give the conductors incentives (like an extra day off ) to tell folks what station they are at - riders could vote on the best messages/methods - poems, perhaps a serial verbal novel that takes place from station to station, a rap or even songs.

3. Get rid of the carpet in the cars - it stinks. Install linoluem that can be hosed down. The carpet is filthy and smells like mildew, aggravated by the constant "smoke conditions" that delay the trains.

4. Ban the free EXPRESS newspaper - you can't eat or drink on the METRO - so most of the litter mid morning or afternoon is from advertising shopper papers (masquerading as news) that are handed out by the Washington Post at every station.

5. Pay the General Manager a decent salary - as I understand it, the GM (who just resigned) is the most poorly paid executive in the City.

6. Make Vice President Biden the MTA Boss & get him to ride the METRO - Granted, it has not really helped Amtrak (which no one can afford to take anymore.)..but maybe it would help with the insane governance standoff which now allows any one vote from one of the 3 jurisdictions (VA, MD, DC) an absolute veto & derails significant improvements. It is the problem of too many bosses...(Congress, the MTA Board, etc. etc.)

7. METRO should be a Federal stimulus project with a direct grant from Congress. Get the Federal workforce to refuse to work if smoke conditions persist.

8. Send METRO conductors & drivers for OJT in NYC - these folks only learned to drive on computer-assisted trains & have a very hard time stopping at the right place on the platforms...and we won't even talk about what happens when the platforms get over-shot.

9. Personal space (even if it is small) is a concept not understood on DC Metro. On the NYC subway, if you roll your kid's stroller over someone's foot, block a vacant seat with a suitcase or knock someone in the face with your bulging will hear about it & incur wrath in multiple languages about how you need to get that "$%** outa my face, leg, etc." I think if we could bring some NYC subway riders to DC and place them strategically on the trains during rush hour for a couple of weeks the problem would get solved!

10. Finally - give everyone a transit subsidy - Federal employees get "Smart Card" benefits - if private employers also provided a subsidy perhaps they would demand some serious attention to METRO.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Dear Friends, Family, Colleagues and Brooklyn Patriots!

You will soon get the formal "2010" New Year's Greetings via the U.S. Post Office. Without spoiling the fun, here's the code for what has been referred to as the "U" card.

Ohio State University

Housing & Urban Development

City University of New York


You have a rare treat - 1st edition of Chafin Seymour's indie music blog!
There is an interesting strategy here - starting with No. 20.. you'll have to read all the way to the bottom to get to No. 1. (You can only assume this is what happens when you grow up with your father's music, film, television books and cultural criticism.)
20. Wavves – Wavvves
This album is the best of the lo-fi revival that has been perpetuated this year. I can’t say that this style of rock is my favorite…but I can say that what singer Nathan Williams is able to do with just himself and a computer is impressive. What Mr. Williams has essentially done is create melodic surf pop glossed with a heavy layer of fuzzy guitars. The laid-back, California punk vibe gives this particular song, and the album as a whole, a tossed off, insensitive, quality that makes the songs that much more enjoyable. The layering of these hazy guitar lines makes gems like “Sun Open My Eyes” so hypnotic. The way the album shifts tempo from track to track keeps me from getting bored with the monotonous element of the production style. Beyond the fuzz, however, there is some great songwriting and actual melody. “I’m So Bored,” the first single from the album, is exemplary of this. The only things that keep this album from being higher on my list are the ambient, grating, noise tracks like “Killer Punx, Scary Demons” “More Fur” and album opener “Rainbow Everywhere.” While I can appreciate musical experimentation, I believe these inept forays into the avant-garde realm hold back what is otherwise a wonderfully simple noise-pop album.
19. Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms
First time I encountered Neon Indian I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of them (or I should say him). Alan Palomo does a masterful job arranging these blissful electro grooves so that they almost makes you want to dance…if only you weren’t so fucked up. True, one might find it hard to get into these monotonous songs without the aid of narcotics but I would argue that the songs do enough on their own to induce a state of catatonic euphoria, complete with head nodding. While standout tracks “Deadbeat Summer” and “Terminally Chill” have their rightful place as singles, I believe simply letting the whole album play from start to finish without interruption for the best experience.
18. DOOM - Born Like This
Yes, this album is only forty minutes long. Yes, most of the songs are terribly short and underdeveloped. And, yes, this album pales in comparison to some of this artist’s past endeavors such as Madvillainy and Operation Doomsday. All this being said, DOOM came back on this album after a long hiatus with a rawness and vitality that we haven’t seen from him in a long time. That alone made this one of the most entertaining records I listened to all year. We also hear on this album that DOOM still has the knack for the verbally abstract and rhythmically a-typical rhymes that make him so endearing to his many followers. To quote Nate Patrin, “Madlib, Jake One, J Dilla, and DOOM himself make up a four-man army of beat creators that give Born Like This that extra layer of grit and haze, combining it with a deep headknock pulse and some memorable guest spots (Ghostface, Raekwon, Empress Stahhr) to seal it as another diabolical masterpiece.”
To clarify: I concede, once again, that this is not the man’s best work. However, isn’t it kind of sad that even a half assed effort from DOOM can best pretty much all of the vast ocean of radio blip trash that’s passed off as “rap music” in today’s market? I certainly do.
17. Girls – Album
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a huge Brian Wilson & Beach Boy fan. Therefore, these Cali boys quickly garnered a soft spot in my heart for their garage, fuzzed out, version of sixties surf pop. From the brazen opening track “Lust for Life” you are instantly pulled onto the beach and into the sun. I will admit that upon repeated listening the limited variety of tempos and mildly depressing subject matter (mostly concerning forlorn loves or hopelessly fucked up babes) does gets tiresome and all in all, I like the record a whole lot less than I first thought I did. However it still makes the list because, like I said initially, I’m a sucker for good Beach Boy imitators. These guys pull it off with such dexterity and charm (and guitar distortion) that you can’t help but smile while you listen.
16. Cold Cave – Love Comes Close
Hey didja hear the 80s are cool again?!?!?! This decade offered a whole slew of artists who emulated (for better or worse) the synthesized wonderfulness that the decade brought us. Cold Cave is another of these bands. Anyone of the tracks would not have sounded out of place on the soundtrack to a brat pack movie. These synth-pop tracks have a distinct new wave spin that give the whole album a very dark party vibe. You can tell they don’t take themselves totally seriously and that’s totally ok. In fact, it makes distinctly better than many others in the same vain. The unsubtle Joy Division references in style (lead singer Wesley Eishold doing his best Ian Curtis impression on vocals) and album title (riffed off of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” if you missed it) only strengthen the album’s appeal.
15. Kid Cudi – The Man in the Moon: The End of the Day
There’s just something about that kid from Cleveland. Kid Cudi creates a stoner hop gem on this super synthy, super hook oriented album. From start to finish the listener is never bored. The diverse array of production from the likes of Ratatat, Kanye West, and Plain Pat (among many others including Cudi himself) gives the album the ability to be played both at a party and alone in your room depending on the track. Cudi adopts qualities and tricks from some of the best indie music today to create such songs as “Sky Might Fall.” In my opinion, this album was the best and definitely the most successful release this year from the designated “Freshman” class of rap (see such artists as Wale, Curren$y, and Asher Roth). He was also one of the first rappers in awhile whose album material at least matched and in some cases exceeded his mixtape work.
14. Black Lips – 200 Million Thousand
If the listener comes away with one thing after listening to the Black Lips’ album 200 Million Thousand: these guys are fucking crazy. If getting run out of the country of India for their profane stage antics (including exposing themselves and kissing each other on the mouth) wasn’t enough of a clue to their insanity, the songs on this album provides ample evidence. These Atlanta boys clearly go all out when the party (drugs, drunk driving, bad life decisions) and they seem to party all the time (on record and in real life). That influence comes through in their quick, trashy, brutish garage rock that Iggy Pop should be proud of. Their arrangements are simple and melodic and vocals and instrumentations are highly distorted (or otherwise impaired). This combination is irresistible when tracks are arranged in a tight, quick hitting package as the album is. This is a great album for anyone who loves sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. And let’s be real: who doesn’t?
13. Passion Pit – Manners
First time I listened to Passion Pit their pop melodies, funky synth lines, and danceable drums drew me in. I wasn’t even fully cognizant of how ungodly sugary and crossover ready these guys actually were. Then their song, “Sleepyhead,” shows up in a phone commercial and all hell breaks loose. Their helium induced vocal arrangements complete with shout along chorus and even a children’s choir (you didn’t misread that, I said children’s choir) have made these guys instantly irresistible to every female and most males between the ages of 16 & 24. I myself have had trouble not putting them higher on my list, except for their insatiable knack for over-saturating their songs sugary cuteness. It’s almost too much most of the time. Despite all that Passion Pit definitely produced the best electronic dance-pop album I heard. Not bad for a project that started as a bedroom recording for a pissed of girl friend. The song hooks wrap themselves around your brain stem and don’t let go no matter how many times you choose (or are forced) to listen.
12. jj - jj n° 2
If you didn’t get it from the album art. jj makes druggy music. For those who prefer to get their highs the legal way, this album is a pretty good substitute. The ADD nature (and consequently the best aspect) of this album comes from its ability to shift musical influences at the drop of a hat. From afro-pop, to acoustic folk, to the best bit of copy-write infringement put on record this year in “Ecstasy.” This track (that directly steals the beat and synth line of Lil’ Wayne’s hit “Lollipop”) is a prime example of what these Swedes do best and that is making the familiar original and interesting again. There’s nothing on this album I haven’t necessarily heard before. But I can say pretty honestly I haven’t heard it all in one place or in the distinctive atmospheric way in which jj does it. jj n° 2 is a great album from start to finish (it runs a quick twenty-seven minutes) and definitely one of the cleanest in terms of arrangement and song writing.
11. Here We Go Magic – Here We Go Magic
This was easily the best under-rated album of the year. It slipped under the radar and a lot of ways and I’ve heard a lot of people dismiss them as just “Animal Collective knock-offs.” While the similarities are there in the catchy melodies and sampling but that’s about where it ends for me. I haven’t listened to much of front man/ main song writing contributor Luke Temple’s previous work but in looking for the best description of what Here We Go Magic does to build on it I reluctantly quote Pitchfork’s review: “Four-tracked and supposedly cut in ‘a two-month period of stream-of-consciousness recording,’ the album filters Temple's psychedelic muse through a much more muted palette: hazy electronic textures, endlessly-spiraling lyrical loops, occasional forays into extended sections of ambience and noise.” These extended periods of ambiance and noise are (like so many albums) what hold it back. The actual songs are so interesting and so engaging that when you realize the noise track you’ve been listening to isn’t going to morph into that it’s quite disappointing. Still, I absolutely love the first four songs on the album along with “I Just Want To See You Underwater” enough to have the album just miss being in the top ten.
10. The xx – xx
Who knew that minimalist, new wave influence rock could be so damn intimate? At first, these artsy kids from London might seem like they’re just messing around in a garage with some instruments and a beat machine. If you’re really listening though, underneath (or better: on top of) the slick beats that move in and out of ambient silence and the plucky guitar and bass lines there’s some real emotion. Singers Madley Croft and Oliver Sim hush and coo about they’re love in a sleek and whimsical way that only young people can emulate. The subject matter of these whisperings can range from supposed pillow talk to declarations that “sometimes I still need you,” as they say in the song “Heart Skipped a Beat.” The best description of these songs I can give is that they are a new age R&B, every bit as emotionally intense but subdued to the point that its as if they’re afraid of fully committing to a song…or each other. If they demonstrate nothing else on their cover of the late singer Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire” (that sadly does not appear on the album) these guys have a formula for breaking an R&B groove and melody down to its bear bones and reconstructing it in their distinctive style. I grow more and more attached to this album every time I listen to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m just as enamored with it a year from now. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
9. White Denim – Fits
I’ve been a huge fan of these guys ever since I first listened to their EP Workout Holiday last year. I have found since then that very few people really understand what these guys do. To put it as simply as possible: they rock! All three band members are vastly consummate musicians as they demonstrate from track to track on their latest album Fits. The best parts of this album come when the three of them just jam the hell out and shred on their respective instruments (guitar, bass and, of course, drums). The musical styling they pull from in their songwriting could be most closely associated with garage rock but really stems from everywhere: dub, soul, alt-rock, country, post-punk, blues, psychedelic rock, the list goes on. This album seems particularly reminiscent of the last of these influences, the psychedelic, which was all over independent music this year (Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Neon Indian, Here We Go Magic etc). This feeling is only heightened by their love of looping and unconventional songs structures. All of this with James Petralli’s feral howl soaring over the top makes for a gem of a rock album. This is certainly deserving of its place as one of the best of the year. Coincidentally it is one of the albums most often ignored by many critics.

8. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
I have no qualms saying that the mighty Mos, besides being this era’s true renaissance man, is one of the best to ever rock the mic. Therefore it makes sense that his strongest and most cohesive effort since his classic Black on Both Sides would make my top ten. It is simply a pleasure to hear the man sounding strong, confident, and, above all, defiant over some heavy beats. With a slew of production credits from Madlid and Oh No, Mos makes a perfect assimilation into today’s indie-rap culture; borrowing from contemporaries like DOOM (MF Doom, Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah…whatever) on his quick, dense, free association rhymes. The rest of the production seems to come from all over the map. Through all of it we acquire a couple of things: 1) Mos can still rip it (if he doesn’t get too lazy) 2) His voice is still silky smooth and 3) he wants to conquer the world. I embellish, but with the multitude of influences (from the Middle East, Latin America, and even East Brooklyn), he seems to try to touch on culture he can. Despite that, he still remains true to his roots as well as his contemporary culture, everything a great comeback should do. Keep up the good work Mr. Smith! Let’s build on this one.
7. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I admit, I was initially tentative about this album. Maybe I was overwhelmed by the hype, or the synthesized pop rock, or that they were French. Yeah… that was probably it. Even their snotty countrymen couldn’t keep this band from making one of the best pop albums of the year. As conventional as it is investigative, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is an opus of over-sized sound packed into very tight places (9 songs and only 37 minutes). When you have radio gold (that you’ll never hear on a Clear Channel station… damn the French) like “1901” next to seven and a half minute epic instrumentals such as “Love Like A Sunset” you can’t help but be smitten. Phoenix can take what The Strokes do best, simple melodies and kinetic rhythms, and make it make the most grandiose electronic sound storm you’ve ever heard in a single song. Thankfully, they also know their limits; pacing themselves and making you enjoy every minute of their songs. This is another album that continues to grow on me the more I listen to it. Yes their sell-out enough to be in a Cadillac commercial. But any self-respecting crossover would do the same. It’s a recession remember?
6. Atlas Sound – Logos
My roommate has been trying to convince for almost two years now that, “Bradford Cox is the songwriter of out generation.” I’m not sure if I completely buy that yet, but I can say that his latest album under his solo masquerade Atlas Sound is a significant step towards being convinced of such a claim. Cox shows that he can adopt pretty much anyone’s musical styling’s (Stereolab, Panda Bear) and do it well. On “Walkabout” featuring the aforementioned Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) Cox shows his sampling chops. Taking a sample from French 60s pop band The Dovers' "What Am I Going to Do?" he loops it and creates a perfect pop doo-wop like sing-along about moving on with your life. This knack for sampling (which Cox learned from Lennox) comes up even on the Deerhunter sounding tracks like the shimmering “Shelia,” with similarly unique results. Bradford Cox seems to be able to do everything with ease, even breaking into Stereolab box of tricks for drawn out prog-pop and even getting Stereolab singer, Lætitia Sadier to helm the track. Does all this collaboration mean the Cox is becoming less self-involved as Atlas Sound? Considering the cover features a shirtless picture of the man and most of the lyrics involve deep-seated introspection the answer is probably not. However, this album provides clues and exciting ideas about what Atlas Sound could become in the future.

5. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II
This is not one of the best albums of the year because it is terribly experimental or pushes the boundaries of its genre, quite the contrary. It is one of the best albums of the year because of how great it is at what it’s supposed to be. OB4CLII picks up right where part I left off. Raekwon sounds as strong as he ever has and with excellent features from clan members (specifically Ghostface Killah and Method Man) as well as the likes of Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes, the lyrics and rhyming stay consistent and hard throughout. In terms of production: As expected the album is comfortably rooted in the minor keyed, heavy based, street music that the Wu-Tang Clan is known for. RZA contributes some of his best work in years. The J-Dilla (RIP) beats are bangin’ as always. GZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Marly Marl, Erik Sermon, and The Alchemist all produce a track apiece and every single one is fire. Essentially, it’s mind-blowing how many good beats are able to fit into one place. If you’re someone who prefers their Gangsta rap from the East Coast and the early nineties, this one is for you. Rae produces an album that easily sits next to any of the number of classics in the Wu-Tang catalog.
4. Fashawn – Boy Meets World
Every couple of years a hip hop record comes along that reignites my love of the genre. It pushes boundaries while remaining as authentic as possible. Usually this happens when a producer and a rapper are so in sync that they become a single unit. MF Doom and Madlib do this on the decade classic Madvillainy. Two years ago California rapper Blu and producer Exile did it on criminally under-rated and ignored Below The Heavens. This time the rapper is the up and coming Fashawn who, like his contemporary Blu, also hails from Cali. While Fash is not quite as prolific on the mic as Blu, the two rap about similarly deep and introspective subject matter. Boy Meets World, as a whole, is a complete study of a young boy’s transition to an un-easy and premature adult hood. The autobiographical nature of the album is a further strength. Fashawn candidly speaks about his struggles growing up with a father in jail and a mother addicted to drugs; about contemplating suicide, being on the road, encouraging the present youth, about lost loves, and about the past and continuing state of affairs in America’s inner cities. He is eloquent and succinct in his dissertations and his flow stays on point. On this album Exile helms the production boards again with his distinctive mix of lush soul and jazz sampling and popping, highly percussive drums. The two make for an irresistible combination for anyone who loves real and conscious rap. Now that Exile’s has worked with two of the best young emcees from California: what are the hopes of getting the three of them together for a collaboration? The track “Samsonite Man” that features Blu provides and exciting look at this prospect.
3. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
It’s no secret to anyone’s who has followed (or simply listened to) the Dirty Projectors discography that this experimental Brooklyn band is about as artsy as they come. Dave Longstreth’s distinctive wail is ever present and they to really relish in the sound of blaring sideways harmonies and off tempo guitar noodling. While all these elements tend to make their music more difficult to ingest, in the case of Bitte Orca it makes it all the more original and compelling. By filtering their avant-garde tendencies through more conventional song structures the Dirty Projectors succeed in creating the most accessible art-rock album of the year. Longstreth was quoted as saying that this album was recorded with “the band as a whole in mind.” That sentiment is evident throughout especially on dramatic vocal turns by members Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian on the tracks “Stillness in the Move” and “Two Doves respectively. By stepping back and letting his band do the talking Longstreth is able to say more to a wider audience. The abstract nature of the album makes it a concise and complete piece of art that captures a band realizing their full potential for collaborative creativity.
2. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
I can’t say enough good things about this album. Songwriters Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen seem to have found a perfect balance between their experimental and pop sensibilities. They still have a knack for extreme key and tempo changes in their songwriting that keeps the listener guessing and it sounds as if every single snare hit, piano splash, and guitar twang was meticulously tweaked and endlessly considered before being recorded. This attention to detail lends itself to some absolutely gorgeous pop songs (specifically “Two Weeks,” “Cheerleader,” and “While You Wait For The Others”). Their vocals have never sounded so beautifully arranged and performed. The lush orchestrations of harmonies, strings, percussion, and wind instruments often astound in their complexity. The album flows very well together from track to track and doesn’t lull you to sleep despite never advancing beyond a moderate chug of a tempo. This mellow and reverence-laden atmosphere contributes to its appeal and repeat listen ability
All that being said: It’s true Veckatimest doesn’t really break into uncharted territory historically speaking and there is a period in the middle of the album where you’re not quite sure exactly what’s supposed to be going on. However, what really defines this album for me are the final three songs. It begins the grinding, wailing, guitar and harmony filled stomp of “While You Wait For The Others; then lists into the freakish, pounding choral “I Live With You.” And flourishes with the final haunting ballad, “Foreground,” a perfect crescendo and finale to a melodious, ethereal experience. The way in which the band has made the transition from 2006’s excellent Yellow House to this feat of notoriety has been stunning to witness but they seem to have found a very comfortable niche. One has to wonder if they really have anywhere to go from here. If where they go is anything even remotely like where they’ve been: let’s hope that they do.
1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Honestly, what can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said by every hip, music savvy bastard that thinks his musical opinions are as important as I do? To start: there’s a good reason this album ended up at the top of mine and so many others’ list for this year. What AC has done on this album is almost indescribably impressive. All those years and all those albums experimenting with strange noises, arrangements, and chord progressions finally pay off on this album. Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s vocal arrangements float over the top of the sonic ocean of indecipherable noise and melody. Geologist finally seems to have taken a bigger role in song writing as well. His electronic beats, blips, and twinkles, act as the percussive pulse of the album driving it forward and, in some cases, creating some highly danceable rhythms.
They take what they do so well: folky, ambient, psychedelic, and experimental songwriting, and turn it all into electronic pop. Songs that are just as appealing as anything released by The Beatles during their Sgt. Pepper phase or the Beach Boys on Pet Sounds infuse the album from start to finish. It’s impossible to choose a single song that is the best (although “My Girls” comes pretty damn close) because the more you listen to the album the more your favorite song can, and will, change. All of this is not to say that Animal Collective in any way abandons the elements that made them so popular to the experimental and independent music audience over the past decade. Avey Tare still has the tendency to shriek on cue. There is sonic overload early and often throughout the record and you’re still never totally sure if they’re really singing about familial duty and unconditional love or just tripping balls on acid. This has never mattered very much to their fans or to me and certainly doesn’t affect my feelings about Merriweather Post Pavilion. The boys of AC are all grown up and this album in tone, musicality, and complexity demonstrates this with flying (and very bright) colors. The album succeeds in cementing Animal Collectives place as the independent artist of this decade while suggesting that there is still so much they can and want to do.