The Projects: More Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck

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By Spencer. If you hate costume parties as much as I do, then you’re probably in need of a few quality scary movies to watch on Halloween night after the trick-or-treaters are gone. Last year, I gave you a few of my favorite lesser known options, from It Follows to Suspiria to The House Of The Devil to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. And if you haven’t watched all of those yet, you’re making a grave mistake. But if you’re looking for even more horror flicks that don’t suck, then fear not, because I’ve dug up a few more—headlined by Sundance 2016’s haunting indie horror breakthrough, The Witch. Continue reading

The Consumer: September Picks

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By Spencer. It was a huge September for music, and it’s probably going to take most of October just to catch up. And while just about everyone is currently singing the praises of the new Bon Iver, we’re looking back to some less-heralded new releases from a batch of artists from all over the spectrum: art rock from Hamilton Leithauser, Local Natives, Okkervil River, and Warpaint; folk and country balladry from Billie Marten and Amanda Shires; and punchy guitar rock from Beach Slang and Cymbals Eat Guitars. Continue reading

The Contrarian: Musical Artists You’re Wrong About, Vol. 1

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By Spencer. This website needs a little more hate. Sure, we introduce you to a lot of great music here, and for that, you should clearly be thankful. But there are some other websites out there with somewhat wider readership who are hellbent on convincing you to listen to some truly godawful crap. And gullible as you, o’ hapless internet reader, might be, there’s a decent chance you’ve even convinced yourself that you actually—[head shaking]—enjoy this shit. I’m not just talking about these newer indie bands, either; some of these mistakes go back decades.

Well, it’s time to have an intervention. Because I can’t just keep standing idly by while the arbiters of taste keep gushing with complete impunity over the same overblown, pretentious, boring, hackneyed, obnoxious purveyors of shit music. These artists objectively and demonstrably suck, and it’s high time you realize it. So for those of you who have been suckered into some inexcusably bad musical tastes, I’m kicking off a new series, The Contrarian, that will hopefully save you from yourselves. You’re welcome. Continue reading

The Mixologist: S&N Singles Club, Vol. 2

By Spencer. Continuing last week’s Singles Club challenge, several of our S&N contributors are compiling playlists of songs from artists or albums we previously considered great, but whose star has faded over time—such that now you only really need one killer song from them in your collection. This week, it’s my turn, and I’m learning that the real challenge here is staying within the rules. Continue reading

The Stagediver: Ryan Adams Acoustic Show @ The Lincoln Theater, Washington, DC

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By Spencer. I wanted to write a review of Ryan Adams’s sold-out acoustic show at DC’s Lincoln Theater. It was probably a fantastic show, and you’d think I’d be more sure of that considering I was there and all. But instead of writing about Ryan Adams, I really have no other option but to write about “that guy.” You know the one I’m talking about, because you’ve probably seen him at many a concert yourself. He’s the guy who decides he’s going to dance wildly with his arms flailing around for the entire show, bumping and jostling anyone in a ten-foot radius. He’s the guy who wandered in from the year 1994 to start a mosh pit, when everyone else just wants to listen. He’s the guy who can’t stop checking his cell phone in a darkened room, or the guy who goes for ten beer runs, or the guy who thinks everyone came to hear his voice instead of, you know, the person whose name is on the ticket. And if you were sitting anywhere near Row S, Seat 17, in the upper left balcony last night, you know exactly which guy I’m talking about. Continue reading

The Mixologist: You Want The Sun

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By Spencer. Last week, we gave you our picks for some of music’s best early summer releases. And staying with the spirit of the season, they were heavy on pop, hip-hop, upbeat rock—you know, fun stuff. This week, we’re back with a monster-sized mix for you, and we’re keeping with that vibe. So enjoy this sampling of synthpop from the likes of Niki & The Dove, Christine And The Queens, Ladyhawke, and Blood Orange; upbeat blues from Margaret Glaspy and Julie Rhodes; breezy acoustic music from Roo Panes, Whitney, Sarah Jarosz, and The Lumineers; and of course, a few random curveballs. You know you want it. Continue reading

The Consumer: S&N’s Early Summer Picks

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By Spencer. The music media is already caught up in the game of trying to crown the “song of the summer.” But summer music doesn’t all have to be fluff. And ambitious music can still be plenty of fun. You’ll hear that theme across a lot of our early summer music picks, which feature hip-hop and R&B from the likes of Chance The Rapper and Gallant; synthpop courtesy of Ladyhawke and Niki & The Dove; uptempo rock from Car Seat Headrest and The Kills; the mellower sounds of Case/Lang/Viers, Sarah Jarosz, and Gregory Alan Isakov; and whatever the hell box the music of Blood Orange belongs in. Continue reading

The Projects: The Vintage Collector, Vol. 1

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By Spencer. Last year, I became part of the problem. After years of rolling my eyes at them, I’m now one of those assholes who buys records on vinyl. Naturally, such a complete reversal of everything a man stands for could have only one explanation: it happened because of a girl. But while that quirky hipster artiste is long since out of my life, the way I listen to music is forever changed thanks to the phenomenal sound I heard from her record player one night. A few notes of Otis Redding through a proper turntable and speakers and I was hooked. So when I finally threw down the $300 for an Audio-Technica phonograph and started spending $20 a piece for albums I already owned in digital form, it made complete sense that I started with mostly vintage artists—Redding, Miles, Coltrane, Sinatra, The Beatles, Led Zep. Because as my record collection quickly expanded, I learned the first rule of vinyl is this: if it was recorded during the era when vinyl was still the predominant musical format, it really does sound better on vinyl. Continue reading

The Mixologist: The Road To California

image4By Antony & Spencer. This weekend, three of our S&N contributors got to catch up in person for the first time in years. The occasion was our editor Spencer’s very first trip to California. (Editor’s Note: Yes, I’m writing about myself in the third person, for reasons that will be obvious later). Spencer is very much aware that it is inexcusable for this to have taken so long, especially now that the trip is over and he’s discovered just how much he loves the West Coast lifestyle. After a multi-day tour of Los Angeles that was (unsurprisingly) heavy on Hollywood history, Spencer’s trip gave him the chance to reunite with longtime friends and S&N contributors Mark and Antony over very large beers at San Diego’s Biergarten and Modern Times, where we talked music, dating, parenthood, tacos, and a whole lot more. And in honor of the trip, Antony compiled a little travel music for Spencer—who couldn’t pass up on sharing with the rest of you. (As you can see, these joint postings cause a lot of awkward drafting issues. Don’t complain, you’re getting free music). Continue reading

The Critic: Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool

radiohead--a-moon-shaped-poolBy Spencer. After a flurry of a week that started with mysterious leaflets mailed to fans with the message, “we know where you live,” followed a few days later by not one but two surprise music videos, we suddenly have a brand new Radiohead album. Its title, revealed only a few minutes before Sunday’s digital release through the band’s website, is A Moon Shaped Pool. And in the best surprise of this week-long rollout, it turns out that this is easily the best work of art Radiohead have achieved since Kid A. But in a twist no one could have predicted, the most groundbreaking thing about the album is how listenable it is. For a band whose style has so often flirted with the eccentric, whose entire identity is defined by their two decades as the standard-bearers for experimental music, A Moon Shaped Pool is a left turn of another kind: it’s just a collection of gorgeous sounds. Continue reading

The Consumer: March & April Picks

By Spencer. After a slow start, 2016 is finally delivering some great new music. So today we’re featuring a giant-size collection of March and April releases from old favorites and new revelations across every genre: Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson, Natalie Royal, The Range, Kevin Morby, Matt Corby, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, The Lumineers (pictured above), and Parker Millsap. Continue reading

The Stagediver: Smashing Pumpkins In Plainsong @ The Lincoln Theater, Washington, DC

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By Spencer. When Billy Corgan announced that the Smashing Pumpkins would be doing a special acoustic tour of small, intimate theater venues called In Plainsong, I was intrigued. When he announced Jimmy Chamberlain would be returning on drums, I was sold. The Pumpkins were my favorite band growing up. They were my very first rock concert (way back in 1994). This would be my fourth time seeing them live, but my first since their initial breakup in 2001. It was a chance to reconnect with all the teenage angst that Billy Corgan so perfectly voiced during the 90s. But just like I have grown in the years since, so have the Pumpkins—and the “acoustic-electro” concept behind this show would be a chance to see them in a newer, more mature light. Continue reading

The Mixologist: Back In The Old Country

By Spencer. A recent article in GQ Magazine profiled three country artists who are shaking up the Nashville establishment: Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, and Sturgill Simpson. We’ve raved about all three on S&N, but the truth is, they’re just the tip of the spear. There are dozens of other songwriters out there defying the cheap conventions of Nashville country. You know what I’m taking about—hokey, jokey, manufactured pop songs about sexy tractors and beer-drinking horses, dressed up in a little steel guitar and just enough contrived twang to appeal to the goatee-wearing NASCAR crowd. It’s this brand of “bro country” that has given the genre a bad name among music lovers, turning a once-thriving strain of quintessentially American art into a punchline (at least outside of the South).

Then came Chris Stapleton, who struck a major blow last year when his album, Traveller, came out of nowhere to sweep the 2015 Country Music Awards—taking down more established (and embarrassing) mainstays like Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, and Jason Aldean along the way. It was hailed as a possible turning point for country music after years of decline. Meanwhile, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell have each enjoyed adulation even among the indie rock press for recent albums that re-embraced a truer songwriting and a more faithful devotion to vintage country sounds. Continue reading

The Projects: Interesting Failures

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By Spencer. By now, many of you have already seen Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice—and been disappointed. I haven’t. Putting Superman and Batman together in a movie was an easy lift, and yet it’s been obvious from the very first trailer that director Zach Snyder completely and utterly blew it. And I just can’t keep rewarding this kind of mindlessly shitty filmmaking with my dollars. See, that’s what they count on. They think that all that matters is the brand. They think that if their marketing campaign can establish it as an “event movie,” that you will literally have to plop down your fifteen bucks to be a part of it. They think they don’t have to earn it anymore. And of course this phenomenon is strongest in the area of franchise movies—where the perception that they have a guaranteed fan base inevitably breeds laziness.

Look, making movies is an incredibly difficult craft, and there will always be more bad ones than good ones. I get that. Even with a premise as exciting as pitting our two most popular American superheroes against each other, there are all kinds of things that can go wrong. But there are movies that fail for the wrong reasons and movies that fail for the right ones. Movies that fail for doing too little and movies that fail for doing too much. Movies that had the best of creative intentions and movies that shrugged that off in the name of making a quick buck.

So whenever we talk amongst ourselves about bad movies, I think it’s crucial that we maintain a dichotomy—between the truly terrible, and another category that I’ll call the “interesting failures.” Continue reading

The Consumer: January & February Picks

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By Spencer. The first couple months of 2016 were a little slow on breakout albums, and I’ve frankly been playing catch-up on a few things. However, as I think back over my listening habits so far this year, there are a handful of new releases I seem to keep coming back to. They’re growers—albums that may not grab you right away, but that reward repeated listens. And if past experience is any guide, these growers often end up being my favorite albums in the long run; past examples include Radiohead’s first three discs, Ryan Adams’s Gold, Travis’s The Man Who, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and pretty much the entire collected works of PJ Harvey. So while it may be too soon to put any of these new releases in that illustrious company, keep an ear out. Continue reading

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: 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