Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron: 1949-2011

Gil Scott-Heron died Friday, May 27th, at the age of 62. He was a fiercely engaged vocalist and lyricist whose work incorporated blues, jazz, soul, and stream of consciousness poetry. Best known for his fiery spoken-word performances of the 1970s, Scott-Heron's lyrics consistently explored themes of social justice, poverty, urban violence, and race. He is frequently cited as a formative influence on the evolution of hip-hop, and his work has been sampled by such notable artists as Mos Def and De La Soul. Most recently, Kanye West built a track around Scott-Heron's voice on the chart-topping album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He addressed his elder statesman status with both pride and chagrin on the 1994 album Spirits: "We got respect for you rappers and the way you be free-weighin', but if you're gon' be teachin' folks things, make sure you know what you're sayin' ." The compilation The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is an essential sampler of his work, but his is a legacy more varied and rewarding than a single disc can afford. (My personal favorite is the 1971 album Pieces of a Man.) Scott-Heron was experiencing something of a renaissance of late, with his 2010 album I'm New Here and its 2011 remix We're New Here garnering considerable critical acclaim. As engaging and insightful as both those records are, there isn't really a better introduction to this artist's work than the pointed media critique "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised":

Friday, May 27, 2011

Clockbusters: Name that movie

Are you a big film buff? Try your hand at the game Clockbusters from Veer. Three photo clues appear on the screen and you have 60 seconds to type in the name of the correct film. You are able to skip a clue and go on to the next if you don't know the answer. I played the original game and scored 43 out of 50 for my first run. I then tried the clues I skipped and figured out five more.

I still have no idea which movie the following images represent: sword handle, headless doll, and lightning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Music Year: Trapped in 2007

Following in the footsteps of fellow Media Corner Blogger Jason and the AV Club before him, I highlight one of my favorite years in music.

There is a certain type of people who seem trapped in a period of their life—for instance, people who relieve their high school glory days well into adulthood.  Similarly, I think some people have a musical peak; they get fixated on a particular period in music and never quite move on.  Their musical taste slowly atrophies into unhipness.  I had a neighbor in college who seemingly only listened to music which was popular circa 1996.  This would have been less annoying, if say he was really into Weezer’s Pinkerton or Belle and Sebastian’s If Your Feeling Sinister.  Instead, I had to wake up every morning to sounds of the Cranberries’ “Salvation” and Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” blaring from his dorm room.  The kid must have musically peaked at the age of 12.  How sad, I thought, be in your very early 20s and already nostalgic.

However, when I was attempting to compile my best of the 00's album list (a task I still haven't finished), I realized a disconcerting trend.  Save for Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001) and Neko Case’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006), all of my favorite albums were from 2007.  I wondered if this was my own musical heyday…soon I’d be the annoying neighbor blaring LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” and saying stuff like, “2007, that was when music was music!  Not like the rubbish kids listen to these days.”

Thankfully, my music geekery is insatiable, so it's hard for me to get stuck in one year for too long.  Even if I’m still really obsessed with Person Pitch and Jens Lekman. 

My Top Five of 2007:

5).  Cryptograms- Deerhunter
Find it in the catalog!
It took me a while to discover this album.  Deerhunter had kind of a notorious reputation at the time, thanks in part to front man Bradford Cox's sometimes erratic behavior and provocative blog posting.  The first time I heard most of the songs off of Cryptograms was when I saw the band live in 2008.  The eerie moodiness of the album, as well as the spare psychedelia make Cryptograms a classic.

Stand-Out Tracks: Spring Hall Convert, Strange Lights, Heatherwood

4).  Night Falls Over Kortedala- Jens Lekman
Find it in the catalog!
Though he had garnered some fame for his singles "You are the Light" and "Maple Leaves," I somehow missed Lekman until 2007. I saw him described on a music blog as being a combination of Jonathan Richman and Frank Sinatra.  As a big Jonathan Richman, I immediately checked out his single "Postcard to Nina" and I was hooked.  Night Falls Over Kortedala is a funny, quirky, but sincere effort.

Stand-Out Tracks: Opposite of Hallelujah, A Postcard to Nina, Into Eternity, Kanske Ar Jag Kar i Dig

3).  Sound of Silver- LCD Soundsystem
Find it in the catalog!
Having spent much of 2006 listening to the Talking Heads, New Order, and Gang of Four (thanks Marie Antoinette), meaning I was in the perfect frame of mind to love this album. While all of James Murphy and Co.'s albums are great, Sound of Silver is probably the most consistently awesome.  Best three song stretch of the Aughts?: "North American Scum," "Someone Great" and "All My Friends."

Stand-Out Tracks: The aforementioned three, "Get Innocuous!"  and "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down." 

2).  Boxer- The National
Find it in the catalog!
Alligator, the 2005 release by the National, had been in heavy rotation in my stereo for about two years when Boxer came out.  It was one of my most hotly anticipated albums of the year and it exceeded my expectations.  Most National albums have to grow on you, but my love for Boxer was immediate.  They just do melancholy so well.  This is an album full of slowly building tension and brooding.  Lyrically, the album focuses on the theme of reluctantly growing up.  Being 23 at the time, I could definitely relate to the early adulthood ambivalence.

Stand-Out Tracks:  Fake Empire, Mistaken for Strangers, Slow Show, Apartment Story, Start a War

1).  Person Pitch- Panda Bear
Find it in the catalog!
If there was one album that was the zeitgeist of 2007, it was probably the solo album of Animal Collective member Noah Lennox aka. Panda Bear.  Person Pitch was named the best album of the year by Tiny Mix Tapes, Gorilla Vs. Bear, and Pitchfork. It has an upbeat sound and is unabashedly Beach Boys-esque. It definitely is a pick-me up record.  When I listen to it, my mood usually improves and I feel more relaxed.  Person Pitch is like a trip to Portugal for your ears!  This album is definitely recommended for fans of the Animal Collective album Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009). 

Stand-Out Tracks: Comfy in Nautica, Bros, Good Girl/ Carrots, Ponytail. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Haley Reinhart leaves American Idol with a bang

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Haley is joined by her father Harry Reinhart during "What Is and What Should Never Be."
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With season 10 contestants cheering for her, Haley lets loose on her farewell performance of "Bennie and the Jets" on last Thursday's results show.
Wheeling's Haley Reinhart, a top 3 contestant on American Idol, was sent home last week. Haley brought a mix of jazz, soul, and rock to her songs, and had some of my favorite moments of the season, including "Bennie and the Jets," her duet on "Moanin'" with Casey Abrams, "You and I," "House of the Rising Sun," "I Who Have Nothing" and "What Is and What Should Never Be." Fans of Haley (and I'm one of them) hoped she would continue her rise from underdog to the next American Idol, but the vote for teenage country singers Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina pushed them through to this week's finale.

I thought Haley got better with each week's performances. She owns the stage and has an amazing range. Plus she makes interesting song choices and is not afraid to take risks. After she was eliminated from the competition on Thursday's show she ripped into "Bennie and the Jets" for her farewell performance, ending up in the audience next to the rest of the top 13.

Here's how Haley did the previous two weeks:

Wednesday, May 18: Top Three perform three songs each
The first round of songs where those chosen by the contestants. Haley sang "What Is and What Should Never Be" by Led Zeppelin. According to AI vocal coach Debra Byrd, Haley is only the second contestant since Adam Lambert in season 8 to be cleared to sing a Zeppelin song. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant gave permission for her to perform the song after they received a clip of her singing. Haley's performance of "What Is and What Should Never Be" was my favorite performance of the night and one of Haley's best. Her father Harry Reinhart joined her on stage on electric guitar. Haley had fun with the song and didn't let a fall on the stairs get to her. I love how she started the song very tender, as if she were caressing the notes, and then brought out the rock side to her voice.
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The Reinharts rock out.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Modern Family

If you haven't yet enjoyed the laugh-out-loud stylings of Modern Family, one of the best comedies on television outside of the NBC block, check out season one. The focus is on three families that are related. There's Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill) and his second, younger Colombian wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and her son Manny (Rico Rodriguez). The more traditional family is made up of Claire (Julie Bowen), who is Jay's daughter from his first marriage, and Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) and their children Hayley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter), and Luke (Nolan Gould). And last, but not least, there's Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Jay's son from his first marriage and Claire's brother, his partner Cameron Tucker (Eris Stonestreet), and their adopted baby daughter Lily.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Haley gives the performance of the season, makes Top 4 on American Idol

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Entertainment Weekly has already added Haley Reinhart's performance of "House of the Rising Sun" to their 30 All-Time Best Performances on American Idol.
Last Wednesday's episode of American Idol featured the theme "Now and Then," which had the Top 5 singing a current hit and then a song from the past. Sheryl Crow acted as guest mentor for the singers while Jimmy Iovine appeared to have a strong influence in their song choices. For Wheeling native Haley Reinhart's current song, Iovine picked the unreleased "You and I" by Lady Gaga, which she's performed on her Monster Ball Tour and is on her upcoming album Born This Way. Haley was unsure about singing a lesser known song but decided to take the risk after speaking to Lady Gaga herself, who gave Haley her blessing. "You and I" was a great fit for Haley's bluesy growl and I thought she sang it like it was her song. Iovine noted that on this performance Haley "shows you where she could go" in the music industry, and I agree. Judges Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson were not supportive of the decision to sing an unknown song. But in my opinion, just because songs are released and available to listeners, that doesn't mean everyone knows the words and connects with them. I wasn't familiar with "Gone," performed by Scotty McCreery, and to be honest I did not know several of the metal songs tackled by James throughout the season. I love when a contestant sings a more obscure song and makes me say, "Where has that song been hiding?" Judge Steven Tyler shared this same sentiment, calling the ability to make an unknown song work on stage "a beautiful thing."

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Haley's "in it to win it."
For her second song Haley sang "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals. Sheryl Crow suggested Haley start the song a cappella, which I thought was great advice. Intimate moments with just the singer and her voice on stage are moments I wait for each season on Idol. Haley's interpretation of the song made me feel I was hearing the lyrics for the first time, and hands down, her performance is now my favorite from any singer this season. She took her time with the opening of the song, lingering on the notes and holding the audience's attention in the palm of her hand. When the band joined her, she moved around the stage with confidence and belted out notes while not over-singing. She ended the performance with her fist up into the air, as if saying, "Take that!" back to the judges or any naysayers.

On both her performances last week Haley proved she is a star and willing to take risks. Thinking back to her earlier performances of "Fallin" and "I'm Your Baby Tonight," you can tell how much Haley has matured on stage. Tonight the Top 4 will sing songs from the Lieber and Stoller songbook and they will be mentored by Lady Gaga. The Top 3 contestants will be revealed on Thursday's results show. If Haley makes the Top 3, Wheeling will throw her a hometown welcome and celebration concert just like Mount Prospect held last year for eventual winner Lee DeWyze. According to the Daily Herald article "Wheeling ready to host new 'Idol' party," the events will take place this Saturday, with a parade ending at Wheeling Village Hall and a concert at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights. I know I will be voting for Haley tonight!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Haley Reinhart on American Idol: Will a Chicago native win American Idol two years in a row?

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Haley Reinhart, of Wheeling, has made it to the top 5 on this season of American Idol, and is one of only two females remaining in the competition. Haley has arguably been this season's underdog, both because of the audience preferring to vote male contestants through while ignoring awesome female singers (Pia Toscano!) and because it seems judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson are often harsher on her than the other contestants, whose flat or off-key notes they ignore.

During the first few weeks of competition Haley received criticism for "not knowing who she is an artist," as she tackled songs by Alicia Keys, LeAnn Rimes, and Whitney Houston, singing them with her distinctive growl. I'm not sure what the judges expect on a show that has the contestants participating in theme weeks. I love the fact that Haley is versatile enough to sing R&B, soul, country, jazz, and rock. I think she brought those diverse influences to her performance of "Benny and the Jets" during Elton John week, which is one of my favorites from any singer this season. She started the song slow with only piano accompaniment and once she hit the chorus let loose with some very rockin' riffs.
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"Moanin'": Scat-Off between Haley and Casey! (Haley won.)
Apart from her singing, I admire Haley's fighting attitude on AI. When Haley was the only contestant to receive negative comments during Songs from the Movies week for her performance of Blondie's "Call Me," she came back the next night for the results show and not only redeemed herself but blew everyone away on the duet "Moanin'" with fellow contestant Casey Abrams. During that performance you could hear the softer jazzy side of her voice; she sounded like she stepped straight out of a 1940s jazz club or something. And, of course, her scatting was fun and just seemed effortless for her. Another highlight, even though she may have struggled with a few notes, was her cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" for Songs of the 21st Century week. She definitely had guts to cover such a current song, and even though it's impossible to outsing Adele, I again enjoyed the jazzy throwback sound to Haley's voice, and thought she would sound great on the radio singing songs in that same style.

I think Haley deserves to make it to the Top 3, but that may be difficult with the large followings for contestants Scotty McCreery, James Durbin, and Lauren Alaina. Right now I think both Scotty and James are locks for two of the spots, which leaves the third spot to either Haley, Lauren, or Jacob Lusk, who I am guessing is the next to go. With Mount Prospect native Lee DeWyze winning AI last year, I think it would be amazing for another Chicago-area native to win the show this year. Go Haley!

Movies playing in May at the Dundee Library

At the library we show free movies each month in our downstairs Meeting Room. Popcorn and refreshments are also available. I could be biased, but I think it's fun to be able to sit and watch a movie on the big screen and eat popcorn, all for free! I especially enjoy seeing the classics, as I'm used to watching them on a TV at home. The Sting is our last selection in our Paul Newman Films classic film series, so if you were dying to see Paul Newman's face on the big screen, this is your last chance!

Morning Glory (PG-13)
Wednesday, May 4 at 6 PM

The Sting (PG)
Wednesday, May 18 at 6 PM
Paul Newman film classic

Tangled (PG)
Saturday, May 21 at 2 PM