The Critic: S&N’s 2016 Oscar Picks

 
By Spencer. This year’s Oscars will barely be about the movies themselves. It’s pretty clear by now that the controversy over the lack of racial diversity among the nominees is going to be the storyline that hovers over this year’s entire ceremony. That, combined with the lack of a picture that feels like a truly historic achievement, leaves these Oscars feeling more than a little flat. That’s a shame because we’re seeing one of the most competitive years in recent memory, with several races looking like potential photo finishes. Here’s a look at how I’d vote—and, setting aside my own subjective favorites, who I think the Academy will ultimately reward. Continue reading

The Projects: Great Music Moments In Film History, Vol. 1

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By Spencer. As a website devoted to both music and film, there’s an obvious cross-section we’ve been ignoring up until now. Sure, we once featured some movie musicals that don’t suck, but that’s only the most glaringly obvious marriage of music and film. Today, we kick off a series devoted to another kind of on-screen music moment: those stand-out instances where the song just makes the scene, where it perfectly captures the mood or plays an integral role in the development of the story. Where music takes over the movie at a crucial point and accomplishes what no bit of dialogue ever could. These are the moments when song and script combine effortlessly to form an unforgettable movie memory. Continue reading

The Projects: Westerns That Don’t Suck

By Spencer. I grew up in Texas, so maybe the constant presence of cowboy culture is to blame—but I grew up absolutely hating westerns. Or perhaps timing was a factor. The 80s might have been the lowest decade for westerns; due to the lingering impression that westerns were kid fare, a hokey bygone of those carefree 50s and before, not a lot of westerns were made anymore. They were a dead genre, and I liked it that way.

In the early 90s, that started to change. First Dances With Wolves and then Unforgiven won the Oscar, reviving interest in a more modern, more realistic take on the time period. And since then, we’ve seen a number of great westerns that have embraced grittiness and given more honest portrayals of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the period—acknowledging the racial tensions, for example, and de-romanticizing the outlaw violence and vigilante justice that pervaded. The result is a fundamental divide between old and new—between those who still prefer their heroes in white hats and their villains in black ones, and those who want to see reality on the screen.

Whichever style of western you prefer, this list has a little of both, and it’s your starting point for a tour of all the ways in which this genre has achieved movie greatness over the decades. Continue reading

The Mixologist: Fears & Hopes

By Spencer. There’s a somewhat pedestrian album by British one-hit-wonders Keane called Hopes And Fears. And while compiling the tracks for this latest edition of The Mixologist, it occurred to me that Keane got their album title completely backwards. As these eleven songs exploring all the unexpected little complications of love attest, fears often come ahead of hopes. Sure, there are magic hours and maybe even thoughts of diamonds right from the start. But as Miya Folick says, “nothing ever ends the way you thought it would when you started.” And there are all those annoying little questions that start to intrude. Will this end in heartbreak? Is she still afraid of the ghosts of her past? Is he only telling me what I want to hear? Will I end up just another cautionary tale? Is it just dumb to put yourself out there like this? How much is too much? Continue reading

The Historian: The Forefathers Of The Modern Rock Album

Image-1(2)By Spencer. Bear with me here. When you see that headline, you’re probably not expecting to see black-and-white pictures of a few guys your grandparents used to listen to. But as in all things musical, the origins of what you know and love today started way before the sounds you recognize. To borrow a metaphor popular with great minds ranging from Isaac Newton to Oasis, greatness is achieved by standing on the shoulders of giants. And while The Beatles may mark the point in time where rock truly entered the album era—and by that, I mean the era in which music was no longer consumed predominantly as popular singles but was now thought of as a collection of songs intended to represent a coherent artistic statement greater than the sum of its parts—we often forget that The Beatles had the benefit of the creative and technical innovations of a few artists who were slowly walking us in the direction of the album concept at least a generation earlier. This is a look at the decidedly non-rock artists who forged the modern rock album. Continue reading

The Year In Movies 2015: Spencer’s Picks

exmachinaBy Spencer. Complaints that the number of quality roles for actresses in Hollywood pales in comparison with the material written for men have been as old as Hollywood itself—and rightfully so. But if there was a trend among the slate of great films that 2015 had to offer, it was that, for the first year in movie history, women were actually rewarded with richer, meatier roles than their male counterparts. Charlize Theron managed to steal a Mad Max movie from Mad Max. Amy Schumer (Trainwreck) and Alison Brie (Sleeping With Other People) helped reinvent the romantic comedy. Jennifer Jason Leigh of all people was the most memorable part of a Quentin Tarantino movie (The Hateful Eight). Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche shattered the Bechdel Test with two layered, complicated female characters in Clouds Of Sils Maria. And thanks to Daisy Ridley, a whole generation of young girls now dreams of becoming Jedi! Women, not men, are now doing the most exciting work in film, as you’ll see in my list of the movies that made 2015 worth watching. Continue reading

The Year In Music 2015: S&N’s Songs Of 2015

By The S&N Staff. As part of our year-end festivities at S&N, we’ve gotten together and voted on our favorite individual tracks of the year. As with all things, democracy yielded a diversity of opinions! And yet after a couple of rounds of balloting, we all found ourselves gravitating toward the same songs. So check out our Spotify playlist, featuring favorite tracks from Alabama Shakes, Kendrick Lamar, Leon Bridges, Houndmouth, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, Courtney Barnett, Jason Isbell, Hop Along, Beach Slang, and plenty more. Special thanks to our friend Hendricks for putting this playlist together. Enjoy, and happy holidays! Continue reading

The Year In Music 2015: Jason’s Picks

popsBy Jason. While there was so much good music to choose from in 2015, three albums came out of nowhere to dominate my listening for the year. I enjoyed the hell out of this year’s releases from some familiar artists, like Josh Ritter’s Sermon On The Rocks, Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free, The Dead Weather’s Dodge And Burn, and Noah Gundersen’s Carry The Ghost. But I expected to. The three albums that really got to me, however, were from artists with which I had no prior connection. Continue reading

The Critic: Coldplay’s A Head Full Of Dreams

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By Antony. The world only stops for Adele. When most artists release an album, it disperses across various media outlets, climbs the iTunes download chart, and then, more than likely, disappears into the informational oblivion of the internet. Even a band as big as Coldplay is at risk of this happening to them.

Even as we continue turning art into information-packets, I knew the release of Coldplay’s A Head Full Of Dreams would be for me a small community event. The very same internet that destroys history also enables one to keep in touch with friends near and far. As I put on the new Coldplay on Friday, December 4th, I imagined three of my friends doing the same wherever they are.  Continue reading

The Year In Music 2015: Antony’s Picks

hansardBy Antony. This year I didn’t fall in love with many albums, but when I did, that album dominated my listening for weeks upon weeks and colored the life I was living. Glen Hansard’s Didn’t He Ramble is set to become the auditory anchor to late 2015. My wife and I went to see him perform at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in early November. It was truly a religious experience for me. Hansard and his band spent half the show unplugged from the amps because the venue’s acoustics were so good—like a campfire with several thousand people. The fiddle player’s solo at the end of “McCormick’s Wall” was absolutely arresting. The show didn’t change me; it confirmed everything I’ve come to know and believe. Continue reading

The Year In Music 2015: Spencer’s Picks

barnettBy Spencer. It’s my favorite time of year again—time for each of S&N’s contributors to weigh in on their favorite music and movies of 2015. If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know we rarely agree on much. But this year, I suspect we’re going to see a lot of the same suspects popping up—at least in the area of music, where a few artists managed to establish themselves to near-universal acclaim. One of those artists is Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett, who earned some moderate buzz in 2014 with her impressive live show and her offbeat release, The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas, and has now followed it up in 2015 with a full album of irreverent worldplay and post-grunge riffage that, in my opinion and no doubt many others, is the album of the year. Continue reading

The Projects: The Essential 90s Albums, #5-1

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By The S&N Staff. All things must end. And even though it took almost as long to count down our favorite albums of the 90s as it did to actually make it through the 90s, we’re finally ready to give you our top five. While it should come as no surprise that bands like Nirvana and Radiohead top out our list, you just may be surprised at which order they placed once the final votes were tallied. Continue reading

The Mixologist: Solidarité

paris4By Spencer. I don’t profess to be an expert on French music by any means. But with the events of Friday night, I imagine a lot of us who have visited or lived in Paris can’t help but feel the need for a moment of reflection. The motto of our predecessor site, After The Radio, was “music softens walls”—which is something I’d like to believe now more than ever. And though it seems naive to think that music could ever truly “heal” in the sense that the people of Paris need in these particular days, maybe at least it can soften the pain, if not the walls that lead to tragedies like this. So if you’re in need of a little softening, I hope you’ll take solace in this playlist, featuring landmark French artists like Edith Piaf, Django Reinhardt, Françoise Hardy, Claude Debussy, Daft Punk, Phoenix, and of course the father-and-daughter pair of Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg—along with a few tributes to the City of Lights from closer to home. And of course we had to include a little parting shot from a certain band whose music will now forever be an act of defiance to those who would try to drag us down into the darkness with them. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, solidarité…. Continue reading

The Consumer: The New Monsters Of Classic Metal

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By Spencer. A year ago, I declared that rock was officially dead. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t bands out there fighting the good fight, though. Maybe it’s my recent reintroduction to vinyl talking, but I’ve been on kind of a classic metal awakening lately. Not glam metal or death metal, but the true roots of metal, back when it first sprung loose from hard rock—I’m talking bands like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Judas Priest, Kiss, and of course, Led Zeppelin. (Though I still insist that it’s a crime to categorize Led Zeppelin first and foremost as a metal band, since their music completely transcended that genre). This brand of early metal gives you the best of both worlds: the darkness and attitude that eclipses mere rock, and the melody, songcraft, humor, and simple fun that were missing from later metal.

But before you accuse me of living in the past, this edition of The Consumer takes a look at a few bands that are reviving that classic metal sound in the here and now. Continue reading

The Projects: Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck

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By Spencer. I don’t do costume parties. When Halloween comes around, the only acceptable form of celebration for me is to dim the lights, raid the bowl full of candy I bought for the trick-or-treaters, and watch a classic horror film or two. I say “classic” because, right now, mainstream horror flicks are in the biggest rut we’ve ever seen. In the past fifteen years or so—really ever since Wes Craven brought the genre back from the dead with Scream—horror movies have devolved into a pastiche of terrible cliches. From the torture porn of Saw to the shaky cam “found footage” pictures that come out seemingly every week, it doesn’t feel like Hollywood is trying anymore. Horror is there just to make a quick buck, with films done fast and cheap and according to a formula that guarantees several dozen jump-from-your-seat moments and not a second of genuine fear.

So this Halloween, forget the theaters. The best horror movies are the ones playing at home: The Exorcist, The Shining, Halloween, Night Of The Living Dead, Carrie, even the original black-and-white Frankenstein. You don’t need me to tell you about those. Instead, I’ll give you some less conventional picks you can stream from the darkness—and safety—of your own couch. Continue reading

The Projects: The Essential 90s Albums, #10-6

flannel2By The S&N Staff. Over the past few months, S&N has been counting down our list of the essential 90s albums. So far, we’ve seen historic albums from Nine Inch Nails, Biggie, Green Day, Beastie Boys, Counting Crows, Rage Against The Machine, Oasis, and plenty of others. Today, we finally reach the top 10, and it should comes as no surprise that there’s hip-hop, nerd rock, and of course, plenty of grunge. We start with a band better known for their 80s output—and a 1992 masterpiece that may (or may not) be their best work. Continue reading

The Critic: Josh Ritter’s Sermon On The Rocks

JRSermonBy Spencer. Americana should be a thing of the past by now. I mean, it obviously is a thing of the past, literally speaking. But the fad that kicked into overdrive six years ago with Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers should have burned itself out by now. (Hell, if you listen to Mumford’s latest album, 2015’s lackluster Wilder Mind, it’s pretty clear even they have moved on—even if that was a mistake). The shame of it is, there are those who never were part of the fad, who were doing this kind of music simply because they loved it, because it spoke to them and spoke through them. They were there long before the hipsters took hold of it and made it part of a broader aesthetic movement of ironic handlebar mustaches, mason jar cocktails, and reclaimed hardwood decor. Josh Ritter should by all rights be the face of Americana—he’s been doing it since his 1999 debut, and for a three-album stretch that included 2006’s The Animal Years, 2007’s The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter, and 2010’s So Runs The World Away, he did it better than just about anyone. Back this week with Sermon On The Rocks, Ritter is lyrically laying claim to that mantle once again, even as his sound takes a few bold steps beyond all that. Continue reading

The Consumer: September Picks

By Spencer. September was full of so many big releases, I’m still working my way through them all. So while we very well may have more to say about The Dead Weather, Gary Clark, Jr., Foals, Beach House, Joan Shelley, CHVRCHES, Patty Griffin, Silversun Pickups, and plenty of others, today’s edition of The Consumer is a progress report of sorts on several artists who have been longtime favorites of the site. We start with Glen Hansard. Continue reading

The Projects: Musicals That Don’t Suck

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By Spencer. This is a website that celebrates both movies and music, so you know an article like this was inevitable. In revisiting our ongoing Movies That Don’t Suck series, it seems like the perfect time to look at the movie musical—the bane of the true music fan’s existence. Maybe our generation has such trouble accepting the musical because we were the first to be raised with movies that actually aspired toward realism—and there’s nothing realistic about spontaneously breaking out into song. But for the first half-century of filmmaking, the musical was Hollywood’s go-to crowdpleaser. And you don’t have to look beyond Bollywood to see that, even today, other cultures don’t share the modern American disdain for this genre. Continue reading

The Theorist: Ending Franchise Continuity (As We Know It)

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By Spencer. A recent piece on io9 examined the contrasting ways that two mega-franchises—DC Comics and Star Wars—have recently attempted to make their sprawling backstories more accessible to new viewers and readers. After rebooting their entire comics line in 2011 with the “New 52,” DC is un-rebooting its universe with the Convergence event, bringing together competing visions of characters like Superman and Batman from different continuities in another confusing reshuffle. Meanwhile, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming to theaters this December, new franchise-owner Disney is simplifying things. They are wiping the slate clean on the huge Expanded Universe of books, comics, and video games that, over the past two decades, has mapped out several thousand years of history in that galaxy far, far away. Now, only the movies and the two animated series, The Clone Wars and Rebels, will be considered “canon.”

The question you’re no doubt asking right now if you’re not a Comic-Con-attending cosplayer is, “who cares?” But I’ll go you one better, because I think it’s time that even the most obsessive fans start asking the same question. Why, if at all, does continuity matter anymore? Is it time to leave the whole concept behind? Continue reading

The Projects: The Essential 90s Albums, #25-21

By The S&N Staff. There may be some generational bias at play here, but the 90s just might’ve been the peak of the album experience. In that gap in time between the MTV and radio dominance of the 80s and the Napster and iTunes takeover of the 2000s came a wave of rock and hip-hop artists who saw music as more than just a collection of singles. Whether fueled by nostalgia for the classic rock era of the concept LP, or a reflexive cynicism of “selling out,” these artists had ambitions toward a higher level of creativity. Continue reading

The Stagediver: Foo Fighters 20th Anniversary Blowout @ RFK Stadium, Washington, DC

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By Spencer. “Did you think there was any fucking way I was gonna cancel this show?!” Dave Grohl screamed from his throne at center stage—a contraption made up of lights and guitar necks that was seemingly dreamed up by some unholy mind meld of George R.R. Martin, George Clinton, and George Jetson. Grohl broke his leg two weeks ago when he fell off the stage during a show in Sweden, and everyone had feared that yesterday’s festival, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the band’s 1995 self-titled debut album, might not go on. But just as they’ve been doing for two decades and counting now, the skeptics underestimated Dave Grohl. Continue reading