Saturday, February 12, 2011

Song of the week: Paolo Nutini's "Coming Up Easy"

I bought Scottish singer/songwriter Paolo Nutini's first album, These Streets, back in 2006, on the strength of its singles "New Shoes" and "Last Request" and discovered the eventual single "Jenny Don't Be Hasty" as a highlight afterward. Sadly, nothing much else on the album stuck out to me. There was nothing unpleasant, but nothing exceptional either. I was at a CVS Pharmacy a month or two ago when I heard this great soul song on the radio. I wrote down a few of the lyrics in my phone and made sure to look up what the song was when I got home. I found out it was Paolo Nutini's single "Coming Up Easy", off of his new album, Sunny Side Up. I was a bit hesitant to buy the album, afraid I'd only get 3 good singles and some filler again, but I went ahead and took the plunge. Well, the album is a wonder, miles beyond what was on These Streets. Full of passion and nuance and a certain amount of unassuming ambition. At just 24-years-old, Nutini has made something of a masterwork. At the very least he's made the statement that he's a true blue artist and someone worth listening to, not just a guy who can write a couple of goods songs on an album, throw some listenable pap in there and call it good. But "Coming Up Easy" is still the song that lights me up the most.

It starts off in a relaxed sorta groove, B-3 in the background and a few horns giving a sense of soul. Nutini lets his accent shine through a bit, which is nice. Too many singers try to lose their accent, losing a bit of distinctiveness in the process I think, but that's another topic for another day. Nutini sings of a guy wavering on breaking up with his girl. His friends tell him he should, she tells him to remember the good times they've had, watching the sun coming up or laying out in the rain. But when the break comes is where my interest truly piques. The line that struck me while I was standing there in the pharmacy was "It was in love I was created, and in love is how I hope I'll die." The drums start building, the horns start blaring, and Nutini repeatedly and jubilantly belts out the line like he's Otis Redding. That last 90 seconds or so of the song are what drew me in, it's what keeps me coming back, and really it's the reason I picked this song as my song of the week. It's a great bit of a young artist nodding to one of his influences and yet making it his own. It sounds easy, but it can actually be very difficult to show your influences without simply stealing from them, but Paolo if flawless in his execution, I think.

I want to reiterate how tremendous his new album is overall though. And "Coming Up Easy" is not the only Otis Redding tribute on Sunny Side Up, the song "No Other Way" is an even more overt attempt at a Stax Records sound (and it's a great attempt). But Nutini covers a lot of ground, does it well, and gets me excited for his next album. I really recommend picking it up if you get a chance.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Song of the week: Cee Lo's "Fuck You!"

One of the few times I regret not keeping up more with pop culture is when a worthy part of it slips through the cracks and I don't discover it until later. Cee Lo's "Fuck You" came out in late summer 2010, was named as the best song of the year by Time magazine, and is up 4 Grammy's including Song of the Year and Record of the Year. It's even, apparently, been covered on the hit TV show Glee, although naturally in its censored form "Forget You!". I only heard "Fuck You!" a few days ago, and I have to say that it's the best song I've heard in a long time. Of course the title grabs the attention, but getting past it I found one of the best Motown songs Motown never made. Pumping with tremendous R&B bass and percussion, and skanking along with classic funk guitar, Cee Lo's amazingly distinct voice shines through, the rasp, the falsetto, and his humor perfectly in tact. Going into a song called "Fuck You!" one doesn't really expect lyrical complexity, and Cee Lo doesn't disappoint. Nothing groundbreaking here in subject, just a wronged guy giving the middle finger to his ex and the new guy she's going out with. But we're shown yet again why something doesn't have to be new to be great. We're treated to an absolutely perfect pop/soul song, an instant classic that'll be around for a long time to come. I won't write any more, since I'm on the late shift getting onto the bandwagon, the original video has over 42 million hits on YouTube, the clean version hasn't hit 3 million yet, I thought that was funny. But if you're even further behind the 8 ball than I am, here you go.

Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

Possibly my favorite doc we watched, documentary genius Errol Morris's portrait of extremely specialized knowledge and dedication in 4 very different fields had me glued to the screen from opening to closing credits. A wild animal trainer, a topiary gardener, a robot designer and an expert on the naked mole rat are our studies, and although each is fascinating in his own right, the way that their feelings and thoughts overlap one another in such different fields adds another layer to the intrigue. It's difficult to describe, but when Roger Ebert described Morris's narrative as more like music than a standard documentary, that felt right. When we're listening to one of the guys talk, we're not just staring at their talking head, and I'm not always sure why Morris is showing us the images he is over the speech we're listening to, it always felt right. Another one that still has me thinking today, Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control will likely have me ruminating for a while.

Blood into Wine

An interesting doc detailing the obsession that Maynard James Keenan has with wine. For those that don't know, Maynard is the lead singer for the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle and is just about the last person I would've ever thought about sitting around with comedian Patton Oswald and talking about the tannins in red wine. Knowing Tool's lyrics, I knew that Maynard was an intelligent and interesting person, but his journey into wine maker is a really fascinating one. Little bits on a fake talk with belligerent hosts, supposed to be comedic, falls flat, but almost everything else was interesting to me. It's certainly recommendable to anyone with an interest in wine and finding out a little more about what goes into the making of wine and the setting up of a vineyard.

Jesus Camp

A movie that would've been disturbing to me if I didn't know that these people already existed, and have had too many exchanges with them already. Jesus Camp instead just became boring to me and we eventually turned it off. I normally hate doing that, but the filmmakers were making every attempt to not judge the people on screen, and their seeming indifference to the goings on just left me not caring in the slightest whether I finished the movie or not.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

The one I'd most looked forward to, as I'd heard nothing but the highest praise, I'm still thinking on this. It's extremely entertaining, as street art legend Banksy takes the reins for the first time as a film director and leads us through the bizarre world surrounding Thierry Guetta. Guetta is a strangely hypnotically fascinating character, and his worship of street artists and his eventual becoming of one makes for a nice narrative. Banksy's insistence on keeping his identity secret is a little annoying, but I expected that going in. The community turning on Guetta once he "creates" his own art and has an exhibition was slightly surprising and I'm still not quite sure where everyone was coming from on that front, but Exit Through the Gift Shop is certainly a wonderful ride to take and one that still has me thinking a couple of days later.

How to Cook Your Life

I went through moments of zoning out while watching this one, I was tired and I was actually kind of annoyed by "Zen Chef" Edward Brown. Much of the food on display was delicious looking, I'm always a sucker for homemade bread (his apparent specialty), but a lot of Brown's babbling just became monotonous white noise after a while. Nice enough for a lazy afternoon, but not one I'll be going back to anytime soon.


This one was absolutely delightful! I was happily surprised to find that there is no distinct narrative, and no narration, to the story of about a year in the lives of four babies around the world. Instead, we're treated to just under 80 minutes of these adorable babies getting into all kinds of entertaining situations, and just being all around cute. It was a nice break from the seriousness of watching Lost, which my wife and I also started watching over break (more on that when I get further into it).

Super High Me

This one was really disappointing to me. It was a pleasant watch, and Doug Benson is a good comedian who carries us through the movie, but it doesn't really dig for anything. I was hoping for an intelligent and informed defense of the effects of marijuana on the system, and the case for its legalization in the US. I have long been a proponent of its legalization if only for the tax dollars it would bring into our economy. I don't smoke it, and have no interest in using it, but its continued illegality has baffled me for years. All I really got instead was seeing Doug Benson not be able to explain why he likes smoking weed, then not smoke it for 30 days, then smoke it almost every waking hour for the next 30 days. It was easy to watch, but I was hoping for something more substantial.

The Buddha

A nice little PBS doc, narrated by Richard Gere, about the life and philosophy of Buddha. Being that I live in central Oklahoma, I don't get much exposure to Buddhism, and I gotta say that it's very interesting and a wonderful alternative to the dogma crazy religions we're surrounded by on a daily basis. Nothing special from an artistic standpoint, but well worth watching for anyone searching for spiritual answers in their life.

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Award winning documentarian Kirby Dick takes on the Motion Picture Association of America (the MPAA), the board that hands out the ratings for the movies we watch. Dick angrily and humorously examines the double standards the board has for male and female pleasure, straight and gay sex, and violence and sex in general. Dick shows side by side comparisons of scenes in which the straight sex or male pleasure got an R rating, where the gay sex or female orgasm received the dreaded NC-17. The NC-17 is supposed to be a workable rating for non-pornographic adult movies, yet most theater chains won't show the movie, most newspapers won't carry ads for it. And the same newspapers and theaters still won't carry anything for an Unrated movie if the filmmakers tried to release the film to the public without a rating, even though the ratings are technically optional.

Dick also shows the shadowy nature of the board and how none of its members' identities are released to the public, so he hires a Private Investigator to find out who they are. This section of the movie is fairly interesting, but I would've love if the whole movie were dedicated to examining the ratings themselves and the politics behind them and less on the "gotcha" kind of moments that this part focuses on. Still, it's a terrific movie and highly recommended to those of us who have been angered so many times over the years by the many idiotic decisions the MPAA has made.

Pressure Cooker

One of the better docs, Pressure Cooker focuses on Wilma Stephenson, a Culinary Arts teacher in Philadelphia. A no nonsense fireball with a heart of gold, Ms. Stephenson pushes her inner city kids to compete in a city-wide cooking competition where winners are awarded scholarships to Arts colleges around the country. The year previous to the documentary, her students were awarded over $750,000, and we follow three of her students as they navigate their difficult lives and grasp for the hope of something better. To see the pressure as the students are being evaluated by real cooking professionals (including Philadelphia based Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, intimidatingly silent as he watches), you really feel for the kids in their quest to make a better life for themselves. The hope filled ending had me nearly tearing up as we watch the scholarship ceremony taking place. I highly recommend this one, and if you have Netflix, it's an easy find.

Doc crazy!

So, snowed in for the last week, my wife and I watched quite a few movies. We were in a documentary mood and really went through quite a few that we had on our Netflix Instant Watch queue. So here's a rundown of them.