I'm usually not much for reality TV unless it involves Padma Lakshmi, but this is kinda cool. Or horrifying, depending on how you feel about Radiohead.
It seems a UVM pre-med student, Devon Barley — who is also the music director of UVM a cappella group the TopCats, of which I was a member, many years ago — is doing quite well on NBC's latest Star Search ripoff, the Voice. For the unfamiliar, the show, hosted by Carson Daly, is a reimagining of a Dutch TV show of the same name, in which aspiring pop singers compete for the right to be on American Idol. Or maybe to win a ton of money and a record deal. I can never remember.
The contestants are judged by a panel of pop stars, including Cee-Lo Green, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5's Adam Levine. In tonight's episode (NBC, 10 p.m.), Barley squares off against another hopeful — on a stage that vaguely resembles a boxing ring, no less — to move on to the next round. This particular contest seems loosely based on the rap battle concept, with contestants alternating verses of a song. Except that instead of freeestyling, they tackle a poppy karaoke rendition of the radio edit version of Radiohead's "Creep." (video below) Thom Yorke must be rolling in his grave.
All kidding aside, congrats on your success so far, Devon. And best of luck tonight.
On the heels of last week's post suggesting song placement in TV commercials is supplanting radio play as the way new bands are broken to mass audiences, this spot featuring local songwriter Maryse Smith singing the Beatles' "Hello Goodbye" for a Telecom Italia commercial comes at a weirdly appropriate time. If my theory holds true, clearly Smith is about to be HUGE in Europe.
How'd it happen? Apparently, Guster's Ryan MIller, who does this sorta thing in his free time, called Higher Ground's Alex Crothers looking for suggestions when he discovered TI was searching for a female vocalist for the spot. Crothers mentioned Smith, who promptly recorded a version with Miller, and bada bing bada boom, Maryse Smith is an Italian superstar. She even beat out an actual Italian band for the honor. Neat.
Rough Francis recently gave the folks at Fuel.TV a quickie tour of Burlington, highlighting their favorite haunts in and around the Queen City for a show called "Green Label Experience." Among the destinations were Nectar's, Manhattan Pizza, Radio Bean and, no surprise here, the Monkey House. Word is the band has a new release in the works that they hope to unveil this spring. In the meantime, here are the brothers Hackney getting all Lonely Planet, Burlington-style.
Happy 2011, Solid State! I trust everyone had a safe and fun New Year's Eve.
In the hubbub leading up to the last day of the year, I plumb ran out of time to finish off my 2010 ramblings last week. (2011 Resolution #1: find a way to squeeze a few more hours out of each day. There's gotta be a way.) So before we kick 2011 into high gear, I thought I'd take the opportunity to pass along a few more random favorites from the year that was. Only this time, we're expanding our gaze beyond music and looking at some stuff beyond the typical Solid State bailiwick. So without further ado, randomness!
You've perhaps heard Birbiglia as a semi-regular contributor on Ira Glass' radio show/podcast, "This American Life." That's certainly how I was first introduced. But over the last year or so, he's quite possibly become my favorite standup comic. His latest album, My Secret Public Journal — he also writes a blog of the same name — was easily among my most listened to albums in 2010. Not just comedy albums, mind you. Albums, period. I gave my sister his new book, "Sleepwalk With Me," for Christmas, and then read the whole thing, cover to cover on Christmas Day. More storyteller than jokester or satirist, Birbiglia has a rare gift for exposing the subtle absurdities of his own life in a way that connects almost universally — or at least to awkward, self-deprecating white guys from New England … ahem. Anyway, dude is hilarious. Here's a clip from his most recent comedy special. And by the way, he's performing in Montreal this weekend.
Is it just me, or was 2010 kind of weak year for film? There were very few flicks that really stood out to me over the last 12 months — though I have yet to see the Coen Brothers' take on "True Grit." I have high hopes for that one.
"Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" seemed to fly under most moviegoers' radars, which is a shame. Witty, creative and a must for anyone who grew up playing video games in the 1980s and 1990s, it was easily my favorite flick of 2010. Maybe not the "best," per se. But I loved it.
The film centers on Pilgrim (Michael Cera playing, um, basically the same character Michael Cera always plays), a geeky dude in a bad band who, in the aftermath of a bad breakup — and while stringing a long a high school girlfriend, no less — falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Powers. The thing is, to win Ramona's heart, he must defeat "The League of Evil Exes," a motley collection of Ramona's past seven lovers. In other words, it's kinda like dating in Burlington … hiyo! The battle scenes between Pilgrim and the increasingly bizarre Exes are outlandishly inventive. (The showdown versus Ramona's bass-playing vegan ex-boyfriend Todd is especially satisfying.) And the soundtrack is pretty killer too.
I've made no secret of my adoration for ESPN columnist Bill Simmons in these pages. But in 2010, Simmons seriously upped his game. He has always been an entertaining writer and host, but this year he seemed to take a step beyond humorous sports columnist to rising media icon. He had a NYT bestseller ("The Book of Basketball," a mammoth tome, but a great read and surprisingly well argued), produced possibly the most interesting and ambitious series of sports documentaries in history ("30 for 30") and continued churning out great columns week in and week out.
But his podcast, the BS Report, was really where Simmons shined. The mix of sports musings and cultural analysis was pitch perfect all year long, and his lineup of guests expanded from the usual parade of sports-obsessed buddies (Jack-O, Joe House) and sportswriters (Dan LeBetard, Mike Lombardi) to include some fascinating folks from film, music and media (Chuck Klosterman, Jon Hamm, Seth Myers). Don't let the fact that ESPN cuts his paycheck fool you. There is more to the BS Report than just sports. (OK, there's still a lot of sports. But it's wickedly entertaining, I promise.) When I grow up, I want to be Bill Simmons.
2010 was the year I discovered Tom Franklin. I devoured two of his early novels — the gritty "Hell at the Breech," and the astounding, impossibly violent "Smonk" — before turning my attention to a beautiful collection of short stories, "Poachers," over my recent winter break. Fans of local author Creston Lea would particularly enjoy the last. The Southerner writes in a vein very similar to Lea's "Northern Gothic" style. Franklin possess a keen eye for the fragility and, in many cases, futility of subject's lives, painting their portraits with equal measures of kindred empathy and cold prejudice. His latest, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter," sits perched atop the stack on my nightstand for 2011.
I've been meaning to get to this post all week long, but somehow the days (and nights) keep getting away from me. One of those weeks, Solid State. One of those weeks.
Anyway, you may have noticed Aqua Teen Hunger Force Live!on the Higher Ground Ballroom calendar Friday night and thought, "But that's a cartoon! Cartoons aren't real people!"
No, no they aren't. And good of you to recognize that, I might add. However, cartoons are made by real people. In the case of Cartoon Network's ATHF, they're made by Dave Willis and Dana Snyder, who, in addition to writing and creating the series, also voice most of the characters — at least those not played by Neko Case.
So what do they do live? Dunno, really. But according to the press blurb they sent along, you can expect: "Dave and Dana live! Performing music! Reading from scripts! Amazing unseen videos that may never be shown again! But probably will! Clips from upcoming episodes of ATHF and Squidbillies! Giving out free junk!"
Well, OK then.
Dave and Dana are on the last leg of their tour, and reports from around the blogosphere … exist. I haven't actually read any. Like I said, one of those weeks. I did, however, scavenge the cavernous depths YouTube for like three, maybe four minutes just now and unearthed this gem from an ATHF show in New Orleans last month. Call it Christmas in May. Warning: Hilarity ensues.
Vermonters are all over public television this week.
Last night, our old pal Neil Cleary made his PBS debut, scoring and producing the music for a program called "American Blueprint: Beyond the Motor City." The 90-minute documentary is part of a larger series focusing on infrastructure in urban areas around the country. Cleary's episode centers on Detroit, a city profoundly ravaged by economic woes. And ironically, given its very name once represented the iconography of the American automobile, a city practically crippled by a lack of public transportation.
That's all well and good. But what about the music?
In an email sent to friends, family and colleagues, Cleary writes that he had fun playing with Motown sounds — a fact evident within the doc's first few minutes. But to solve its transportation woes, and perhaps those of America as well, Detroit is casting an eye towards high-speed rail projects in Spain and California. So Cleary also had the chance to explore "Spanish and futuristic computer-y sounds." Nifty.
You can watch the entire episode here. And I'd recommend it, actually, even beyond merely to keep tabs on Cleary. It's an interesting look at the history — and maybe the future — of transportation in the US. And Cleary's score does a nice job of augmenting the story.
Moving on, tonight marks the debut of Cumbancha founder Jacob Edgar's musical travelogue "Music Voyager" on PBS. I wrote about the show in last week's paper, which you can read here. But for those too lazy to click through, here is the Reader's Digest version: Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations," only about music instead of food. And instead of a brash New Yorker, it's hosted by a pleasant guy from Plainfield.
I've seen a few clips and enjoyed them. Then again, I'm also a big fan of travel shows, in general. Tune in for the first episode tonight at 9:30 p.m. on Vermont Public Television. In the meantime, here's a trailer for the show.