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Friday

The Best Indie Releases of 2008...

We here at "What Duvet Said..." know what you need is another unsolicited "Best of" list! Our choices of albums most of you have never heard of, is not merely designed to make you feel horribly unhip, but hopefully, to inspire you into checking out a few of these releases we feel are special and deserving of acknowledgment. The titles below are in no particular order and reflect the tastes of a think tank of one.

Yours,
Bob Duvet

"I cannot cure myself of that most woeful of youth's follies -- thinking that those who care about us will care for the things that mean much to us. " D.H. Lawrence

The Dirtbombs "We Have You Surrounded" - This high-octane release from Detroit's Dirtbombs keeps the faith-following in the tradition of fellow Motor City natives The Stooges, White Stripes and MC5. "We Have You Surrounded" is a mix of gutter blues, Motown pep, and indie funk. Singer/guitarist Mick Collins soulful delivery conjures both Iggy Pop and Urge Overkill's Nash Kato. The twin drummer attack provides a thudding foundation, propelling these 12 tracks straight down the Rock and Roll highway! "Ever Lovin Man" will have you ready to break hearts and noses. "Wreck My Flow" sounds like a strut down Detroit's abandoned streets, past the burned-out buildings and straight up to the bar. Ko Melina, listed as playing the "fuzzy bass", gives these songs their stiff boogie and melodic hooks.

The Muslims "The Muslims" - The self-titled debut from San Diego's Muslims will soothe anyone lamenting the absence of the Strokes. In a nutshell, think Julian Casablancas-meets-Jonathan Richmond-meets-Lou Reed's disaffected vocal delivery with extremely catchy vocal and musical melodies, then, tan it under a hot Southern California sun. "Nightlife" and "Extinction" ooze cool and highlight the band's lyrical and musical economy. "Bright Side" is infectious with enough bite to make you want to go fuck shit up! This is simple, lo-fi, Pop-Punk done exceptionally well. There is a surf/western element in their primitive sound which seperates them apart from their influences. The name is great, the execution is great, and the record is fun, fun FUN!

Bon Iver "For Emma, Forever Ago" - Much ink has been devoted to the genesis and creation of Justin Vernon's amazing debut. While the thought of a sensitive singer-songwriter holed-up in a remote cabin in the dead of winter, processing through a host of inner demons is a romantic back story, the final product is what is really noteworthy. This record, born of a winter of discontent, sounds just as suited to a spring, summer and fall of discontent. The obvious comparisons will be made to Iron and Wine but there is so much more to this record than a neo-folk sensibility. The sparse yet intricately orchestrated compositions soar, guided by Vernon's falsetto infused vocals. Every song is necessary, making this a truly complete album from start to finish. The beauty at the core of this record may have been born of ugly truths but isn't that what makes for the best art?

Crystal Castles "Crystal Castles" - Alright people, get ready, electronic music is the future. I say this as a tried and true guitar, bass, and drums guy. But, over the last couple of years bands with a decidedly more electronic feel have been filling up my iPod. This Toronto, Canada duo released one of the best records of any genre in 08. Their remixes of Health, Klaxons, and Bloc Party were better than the originals. And, their originals were better than those! Multi-instrumentalist Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass, create deep bass driven, vocally distorted, electronica, peppered with glitches and beeps seemingly inspired by Atari 2600 video game soundtracks. The sampling is akin to dropping a glass recording of the original on the cement then reconstructing the shards on a packed dance floor. The atmosphere can vary from club bangers "Crimewave" and "Untrust Us", to the serrated grate of "Alice Practice", to the more ethereal. Less is more and groove is king, with each track offering a different angle on an expansive prism. Makes me want to dance just writing this!

The Last Shadow Puppets "The Age of Understatement" - A collaboration between the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner and the Rascals’ Miles Kane really delivers on the promise of both of these songwriters. Many reviewers cite David Bowie as a key influence on “The Age of the Understatement” but I would offer Ennio Morricone, LA psychedelic band Love, Britain’s The Coral and the sounds coming out of swingin’ London in mid 1960’s, as the guiding lights for this recording. Vocally, these two front men sound perfect together. In fact, I hadn’t realized how good a voice Turner was in possession of, inflecting more melody into these songs than is evidenced in his work with the Arctic Monkeys. The acerbic wit both songwriters are known for is still there but some of the sting is masked by the ornate orchestrations and galloping tempos. “Standing Next To Me” would fit nicely on Love’s Forever Changes and “Calm Like You” might have Tom Jones considering another comeback attempt.

Titus Andronicus "The Airing of Grievances" - It's hard being a soothsayer when all your friends continue to dismiss your predictions. But I jumped on the Titus Andronicus bus before they left Glen Rock, New Jersey and began opening for higher profile buzz bands, only to steal thunder nationwide. Tapping into Bruce Springsteen's penchant for the grand anthem, existential malaise, and some off the rails Pogues meets Clash barn burning, this is an exciting release. Recently signed to indie label XL, "The Airing of Grievances" is a thrill to listen to. They create a carnival atmosphere while maintaining a surefooted focus. Secure in who they are as a band, Titus Andronicus mix lo-fi production with large scale songwriting ambition. Singer Patrick Stickles has a scratchy-throated charm, with a great sense of melody and a warm tone when he dials back the histrionics. There is a lot of wonderful interplay between the musicians that conjures the E Street Band on amphetamines. This is a band to watch in the future!

Girl Talk "Feed the Animals" - Aside from the fact that this record will undoubtly be a maelstrom for fair use and copyright law debates in the future, it is also one of the most pleasurable offerings from 08. And it was free to boot; take that record industry! Girl Talk is mashup musician Gregg Gillis from Pittsburgh, PA. He released one of the more controversial records of this past year, creating inventive dance music entirely from samples of a variety of artists, spanning many genres. Gillis pits Big Country butt up against Missy Elliot or Busta Rhymes with The Police providing the backing; part of the fun is trying to pick out all the different samples being used. This record is an instant party, in fact this might be too much party for some. You can still get this record on a "pay what you want" basis-a la Radiohead. Some might dismiss Girl Talk out of hand as nothing more than a musical carpetbagger but the art is in the creation of these musical collages.

Deerhunter "Microcastle" - Meditative, inventive, and sublime, Deerhunter's answer to last year's critical success "Crytograms" is the perfect headphone album. Sure singer/frontman Bradford Cox gets most of the attention, but it's the execution of his auteur vision that takes centerstage. "Microcastle" is a heterogeneous work that touches on ambient, pyschedelia, indie rock, and post punk. Even with such a diverse mix of influences, this recording sounds cohesive and visionary. Songs emerge out of the wreckage of the previous track and pop gems, like the brilliant "Nothing Ever Happens", dissolve into narco-wonderlands. Cox definitely has an ear for Brian Eno atmospherics but the production on "Microcastle" is of the moment while also sounding reminiscent-not an easy feat. Repeated listens reveal buried layers that keep this record interesting long after other lesser offerings have lost their mystery.

Vampire Weekend "Vampire Weekend" - Here's the problem with certain "Rock Critics", they tend to have a violent reaction to hype. With so many wanting to out "hip" one another and be the first to break a band noones ever heard of, they too often react rather than review. Vampire Weekend suffered the most this past year from critical backlash. Granted, the hype helped propell this band of Columbia grads into the indie spotlight, but it also clouded an honest appraisal of their music in many cases. There are the Paul Simon "Graceland" era comparisons- which are warranted. There is the a bratty, intellectual, and elitist quality to the songs; sure. But beyond all that, Vampire Weekend produced a engaging, giddy, and fresh sounding record. Vampire Weekend mix African, Caribean, and indie pop with the deft aplomb you might expect from a bunch of Ivy League cultural interlopers. You'll have "One (Blake's Got a New Face)", "Oxford Comma", and "A-Punk" burrowing into your sub-conscious like a trans-continental tick. That might sound like a back-handed compliment but I couldn't avoid liking this record. It turns any time of year into summer, and more importantly, makes you want that summer to never end.

TV On The Radio "Dear, Science" - This is truly a 21st century band and "Dear Science" (the fourth studio recording from the Brooklyn, NY five-piece), is a genuine realization of the potential TVOTR displayed on their previous offerings. By far their most accessible and crafted collection of songs, they sacrifice none of the edge and creativity fans have come to expect. TVOTR divines its strength from David Sitek's signature production wizardry. His mix of atmospherics, buried instrumentation, and layered vocals create a post-modern world for the band's soul infused songs to live in. Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe's energy leaps out of the speakers, especially on "DLZ". The trademark harmonies between Adebimpe and singer/guitarist Kyp Malone have never been more focused as on "Red Dress", "Golden Age", and "Dancing Choose". Another addition to the band's sound comes in the form of horns, which make this record crackle and pop with energy. TVOTR are worthy of the Radiohead comparisons and seem poised to inherit the mantle of top alternative band in the world. "Dear, Science is the most intelligent and thrilling record of 2008.

Saturday

LE MINUIT FILM FESTIVAL


THREE PART SERIES ON THE BEST WHISKY DRINKING MOVIES
By David Becerra

PART TWO, “WHISKY GALORE!”
1948, Ealing Studios

The second film in our whisky drinking film series is a comedy called “Whisky Galore!” Does the title not say it all? The film is an unabashed celebration of whisky, drinking, getting drunk, drinking, the joy and demands of acquiring whisky, the Scotsmen who drink it and a silly Englishman who tries to stop them.

The movie begins with a few black and white shots of Scottish Island life, a narrator explains; “Northwest of Scotland, on the broad expanse of the Atlantic lie the lovely islands of the upper Hebrides, small scattered patches of sand and rock rising out of the ocean. To the west, there is nothing… except America.”

This is our setting, The Island of Todday, circa 1943. And the inhabitants, “they’re happy people, with few and simple pleasures”-said over a shot of nine little kids running out of a single hut.

The narrator continues to set-up the story; “But in 1943 disaster overwhelmed this little island. Not famine or pestilence, not Hitler’s bums or the hoards of an invading army, but something far far worse…"

Cut to an older man with a long face who exclaims, “There is no whisky!”

This is wartime Scotland, and their ration of whisky has run out. A massive, dark, gray cloud of gloom settles over the island. The islanders are depressed and the elders hold a “committee meeting” to find out what to do before people start committing mass suicide or worse, remain sober. Fortunately God intervenes and maroons a cargo ship full of cases and cases of whisky, right off the coast of Todday.

The islanders are able to extract 500 cases before the ship disappears into the sea. The rest of the film deals with the islanders drinking and celebrating while an Englishman tries to have them arrested for lifting the whisky.

This is basically it. All this movie is about is whisky. Please, please do not boast to your friends that you will take a shot every time you hear the word “whisky” or you will find yourself dead before you find out what happens at the end.

Really the best thing to do here is pick out a nice single malt scotch. I recommend something with a robust flavor: Oban, Lagavulin, Laphroaig or Macallan. If you are the kind of person who wrestles wild animals or if you have just finished chopping down a redwood tree with an ax, go ahead a open up a bottle of Talisker.

Wednesday

Flying Economy Sucks, Because We Make it Suck!


On a recent flight back to the East Coast for the Thanksgiving holiday, it suddenly dawned on me why flying economy is so miserable; we make it that way. Now I know we all love to blame the airlines and there is plenty of reason to. But some blame needs to be placed squarely on our own cramped shoulders. The problem with flying economy is that we behave as if we are flying economy. It is the mindset of the downtrodden. We assume our second-class citizen status as we lumber and lug our way past the first class section upon boarding.

It starts even before we enter the threshold of the plane, with the announcement of the rows that are “free to board”. Maybe it’s the indignity of watching the business and first-class breeze ahead, exchanging easy smiles with the ticket taker at the gate. Whatever imputes, it doesn’t excuse the crush at the gate when the first boarding group is called. Instantly, the scene starts to resemble the evacuation of Saigon, with everyone seemingly belonging to the same five rows. You have a ticket; you will board. Jostling, shoving, and sneering only confirms the impression that you don’t belong in first-class. Only plebeians or refugees travel in such a fashion.

After takeoff, when the plane has reached its cruising altitude, economy class truly earns its distinction. The second the captain signals that we are “free to move about the cabin”, half of economy-like some Pavlovian test group-feel compelled to file into the thin capillary between the seats. Do we really need to stretch our legs after 45 minutes of being seated? These are the same people who routinely drive hours on end, seated in a car, which is no more spacious than the seats they can’t wait to leap out of. I don’t see everyone in first-class hopping up like a bunch of spring-loaded spastics. Perhaps, time would be better spent while waiting to board, putting the items you are planning to access on the flight into the bag that will reside under your seat-not in the overhead compartment, which is seldom over your own head.

Further contributing to economy’s third-world aesthetic is the parade of toddlers careening down the aisle. They are usually followed by a smiling parent marveling at how refreshing and cute this must be for the rest of us. Trust me, it’s not. Any shift in expression from dour to congenial, owes more to decorum, than to any heartfelt longing to switch places with you. In fact, children running amuck on an airplane are akin to live, squawking chickens getting loose on a bus ride through the ghettos of South America.

The scene above is often complimented by the sound of shrieking children and hacking coughs. The flight I recently took featured a baby wailing three rows behind me for the duration of the six-hour flight. This is not cool! I know that I am treading into unfamiliar territory, as I have no children of my own. And I know how challenging it must be for those of you that do. But guess what, it’s not my problem. None of the other passengers care to hear your screaming baby either. If you are operating under the impression that a bubble of empathy surrounds you, it doesn’t. Even those with children are just thankful it’s not their children shattering the solitude only being 40,000 feet above ground can supply. So unless you can amuse, intimidate, or sedate you children into silence, maybe they are not ready to travel in an airplane yet. When walking through the cabin note of the absence of children in first-class sometime.

I don’t want to limit my vitriol to babies and children; adults are plenty annoying when flying. For instance, if you want to talk with someone on a flight, then get a seat next to that person. Clogging the aisle and hovering over people who can care less about your conversation is selfish and unnecessary. You’re not as fascinating as you would like to think you are.

Why can’t we accept the fact that there is no space and we can’t afford to purchase more of it, if we could we’d be in first-class. Drawing attention to this by complaining, fidgeting, and behaving like boat people, only reinforces that fact that you’re not ready for the coveted first 5 rows. Just sit quiescent in your chair, pop a Valium, chase it with a cocktail and you’ll feel “first-class”. Act as if people!

Monday

Ride on the PATH Train Between WTC to Harrison, New Jersey

This may look familiar to fans of the "Sopranos" and at the very least, is a meditative ride through the New Jersey swampland just outside of Newark...

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Positively 23rd Street or Chelsea Hotel: Dream Dungeons and the Habitual Nature of the Ordinary or Does New York City Really Need Another Writer?

At 23rd and 6th Avenue the F train comes grinding to a halt, a final shudder of steel coming to rest on the iron tracks below. A sluggish shuffle begins inside the car. Scarves are readied, books marked and closed, as a phalanx forms around the unopened subway doors.

I wait with the cultivated restraint that can only be learned in New York City, where any pause or halt to one’s progress seems unnatural and unnerving. When the doors separate a drip of adrenaline kicks me into gear. Living here you are in a perpetual state of fight or flight. As a result we have become neuro-chemically mutated, homeopathic junkies proudly displaying our symptoms.

As I exit my subterranean repose, the cold air pinches my cheeks. I mindlessly take my place in the flat-footed ballet grinding along above ground. Chelsea at mid-day is pure cinema verite, my eyes focusing on the oncoming stream of fixed stares. Some give away to peripheral glances, then, just as quickly, return to the gum-stained concrete canvass passing below.

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“The loneliness of destiny guides us all”, the internal refrain I hear as I make my way down 23rd Street. I imagine myself Brendan Behan, traveling on well-worn boots, down this well-traveled street, following a well-dreamt dream. My pace remains constant. The metal grates that pass below my feet resemble prison cells; ventilating dungeons housing decades of literary souls, cough up the embers of forgotten prose.

The further West I travel, the more I feel the sting of the air whipping off the Hudson River. Restive feelings overtake me as I approach the doorway to the Chelsea Hotel. The soporific visions of an imagined life here in this very hotel, are also sure to be the same ones that will keep me up at night. A wrought iron façade of abandoned balconies stares down at me. Another young writer-within a lick’s distance of the mouth of the Chelsea Hotel-must be a quotidian sight on this street.

Here I stand with a duffel full of clothes and mementos in hand. The weight of the laptop, encased in the messenger bag slung over my shoulder, has increased exponentially since exiting the subway some blocks back. I'm feel like a marginalized ingrate, not content with assuming my humble slot in humanity. Admittedly, there is nothing worse than helping to perpetuate a tired cliche, but here I am anyway. One more borrowed Beat dreamer cast out of subterranea, looking to have his very own lost weekend...