weezer sucks now

Eulogy for a rock band

I liked Weezer’s “Africa.”

Sue me. It wasn’t remarkable or inventive. It didn’t present a popular song in a new or interesting way. What it was was random, random to the point of becoming a meme. It basically started as one, with an extremely specific Twitter account’s request for the band to play Toto’s 1982 hit. After much back and forth, and even some fun had by Toto themselves, Weezer finally made good on the promise last May. And like I said, it was completely fine.

I say “was” because what began as an amusing, meme-worthy aside turned into too much of a thing. Weezer parodied the “Undone” music video, with an appearance by Weird Al Yankovic. They proceeded to make the live TV rounds, with appearances by Weird Al Yankovic. And finally, last month, Weezer released yet another self-titled record consisting entirely of crowd-pleasing covers.

Nicknamed The Teal Album, Weezer’s latest features a few tepid takes — there’s a solid synergy between the band’s present-day cheese rock and the sunniness of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” — to more questionable ones — their version of “Paranoid” sounds exactly like Sabbath and yet amazingly only dilutes the original. Then there’s the plain dumb, a category which encompasses everything from a ballsy whiff at “Billie Jean” to Rivers Cuomo sing-rapping over a tone-deaf iteration of “No Scrubs.”

In other words, Weezer drove this damn thing into the ground.

Perhaps Weezer never got the joke in the first place. Perhaps they didn’t understand what made releasing a no-frills cover of an 80s hit — a move that, to my naive self, seemed both ironic and sincere — so fun. After all, this is the same band who thought it was a good idea to go on late night and play “I’m Your Daddy” in branded Snuggies.

The store clerk quietly mocked me for buying Raditude on release day, by the way. I also cringed at the Red Album’s cover. And yet despite such a perfect distillation of the average dad’s Facebook profile photo warning me away from heartbreak, I bought the damn thing and spent a month obsessing over whether or not “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” was Rivers’ secret apology for selling his indie soul to the pop charts. I am a sad rube closing in on almost two decades of waiting for a record that’s never coming. And because of that, they will never stop disappointing.

I deserve all of this, because I am part of the problem. Because I know that, come December, I’ll get an email from Spotify with a vanilla cover of “Take On Me” laughing down at me from the top of my “Year In Music” list. Liking Weezer in 2019 is like being gaslit by your corny uncle. I am hostage to this Rockholm Syndrome.

Oh god.

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The people you depend on

Like most Americans who don’t commute to D.C., I’m grateful that the longest government shutdown in U.S. history is over.

Political issues aside, what had become increasingly apparent over the last few days is that yes, the public sector is essential for security and safety and simply, a semblance of normalcy. They are air traffic controllers and tax agents and food inspectors and airport security and national park employees. They are legion.

As easy it is to poke fun at government workers, we all need them and the services they provide. Every one of us. They are more substantial than policy. They are more important than sanctimony. In a month, when this whole border wall fight resumes, I’ll still have this as a personal reminder:

Potter-head, revisited

I spent a good chunk of last year’s reading revisiting Harry Potter. Despite having watch several of the movie adaptations many, many times (especially everyone’s favorite The Prisoner of Azkaban), I had only read J.K. Rowling’s books once and felt it was high time to give them another shot.

Much to my delight, the experience was a sincere pleasure, defined by warm nostalgia and new surprises. With the exception of The Order of the Phoenix, which as a teenager I found to be overly long and clumsy, I could easily recall the broad plots of each book. But it was the finer points that proved to be the greatest joys, diving back into the world-building and minutiae and faux-Latin incantations.

What’s more, The Order of the Phoenix read much better this time. Not only does Rowling further develop and expand the dangers facing the Wizarding World (hence a big chunk of that aforementioned slow start), but I also had overlooked just how insufferable teenage Harry was. I have often thought that Harry Potter made for a relatively vanilla protagonist, a blank reader-friendly canvas propelled along by some gibberish about a prophecy. In Book 5 though, Harry’s self-discovery strays into self-centeredness, with his bravery becoming indignation in the face of (understandably) infuriating bureaucracy

I want to focus on The Deathly Hallows though, it being the last and therefore freshest in my mind. This was more of a mixed bag. Yes, the Epilogue’s efficient sentimentality remains awkward, but out of 700-plus pages, that’s always been a low-hanging criticism. In Book 7, Rowling injects so much chaos and confusion into what her previous six installments had focused on, and on face value, that’s good. Except she writes herself into too many corners, and too often her escapes come by way of coincidence. Harry just happening to overhear critical information on the Sword of Gryffindor is a pretty underwhelming fix to his questing after one of the Horcruxes; ditto for Crabbe just happening to have been taught a complex spell that could destroy another soul-bound artifact. Far too many chapters end with a sudden explosion or a wizard disapparating only to have Hermione or Ron or some other sudden, convenient force explain to a befuddled Harry what just happened. Harry is not all-powerful, nor should he be, and taking the wind out his sails is a genuine strength in these later books. But cozy conveniences of escaping a Death-Eater ambush mitigates a lot of the immediate danger. It’s as if Rowling handed over the trickier passages to the Room of Requirement.

(Speaking of writing one’s self into corners, is there any way for wizard combat to not look dumb? People yell gibberish at one another with sticks. I recognize that a series about wizards is never going to be ostensibly ridiculous on some level, but Rowling never really figured out how to show magical fights in a compelling way. It’s actually for this reason that I appreciate her telling much of the opening moments of “The Battle of Hogwarts” away from Harry, Ron and Hermione’s treasure-hunting.)

Still, some of Deathly Hallows‘s strengths are high points for the entire series. Harry, Ron, and Hermione dropping out of Hogwarts is an inspired shake-up on a dependable formula, and while “camping in the British wilderness” may not have met everyone’s expectations, it gives the trio an unfiltered opportunity to hash out their longstanding issues between all the self-defeating detective work. In much the same way it informed The Last Jedi, disappointment and failure are rife, most notably in the unearthing of Dumbledore’s past. After cagey bedside conversations and aloof advice, Harry’s true father figure is revealed to be less of an infallible authority and more of a flesh-and-blood person, and that’s always a good thing when dealing with dragons and reanimated corpses.

Rowling goes full circle on so much of her mythology. Nearly Headless Nick gets a key moment to shine, and there are callbacks to the Bust of Paracelsus and Dumbeldore’s deluminator. Hagrid carrying Harry is an especially touching echo of The Sorcerer’s Stone‘s first moments. Rowling blurs the consciousnesses of Harry and Voldemort throughout, complicating what had previously been a relatively linear connection between protagonist and villain with — for a YA novel at least — a pretty ballsy storytelling device that disorients time and place for the reader on multiple occasions. It feels like the inevitable endpoint of the strange and unknown magic Remus Lupin warns Harry of early on; a giant snake assuming the identity of an old witch is just the tip of the iceberg.

Even so, The Half-Blood Prince is the best book in the series. It further explores Harry’s entitled martyrdom with winking references to convenience (see: Felix Felicis) and uglier mutations of Harry Potter Stans (see: Horace Slughorn). And of course, the titular prince’s note-riddled textbook proves to be behind much of Harry’s academic success in Book 6, only to have the source of that success curdle with the infamous confrontation atop the lightning-struck tower. There’s a meta curiosity with book-bound obsession there that really works with the ferocious devotion of fandom. That it becomes a cautionary tale is just about perfect.

paddington-2-best-pop-culture-2018

2018 in review

Last year, I wrote about how my renewed interest in reading meant less time to watch stuff. That’s a habit I intentionally tried repeating this year, although moving across the country half way through put a damper on that. (Then again, being between jobs for several months did, too.)

2018 is also when I really found myself trying to be conscious of screen time. I can’t remember being this dedicated to turning on “Do Not Disturb” in iOS or leaving my phone in another room full stop. A lot of that was for self-care. I quit Snapchat outright and started checking Facebook once every other day, and I still don’t understand my relationship with Twitter. Having a small computer on me at all times is great for keeping up with current events and sports and music and people in my life that I care about. But for me, a smart phone is also a source of distraction and FOMO and stress. Inevitably, my “Fewer Screens” philosophy applied to TVs and movie theaters, too; I think I only watched five new shows in 2018.

In their year-end episode, the excellent pop culture podcast The Watch talked about how culture’s relationship with the current state of heightened American life became increasingly complicated. I’m particularly siding with co-host Chris Ryan here:

I’ve felt a little subsumed by world events. And I think it’s inevitably impacted my appreciation of culture… It’s different, obviously, from 10 years ago, or 5 years ago even, where I feel like culture is a respite from the real world. I [feel] like [culture is] still trying to wrestle with what it’s going to say about the real world. Sometimes reality is so much more perverse or dramatic than whatever you would see on screen or listen to in music that it’s been a little difficult for me to negotiate that divide.

This is why Hereditary and, alternately, Paddington 2 have stuck with me for so long. While one is a painful reflection, the other feels like it’s mapping out a way forward. Paradoxically, both feel essential to our current moment.

In the same way politics and world events have shaped virtually all aspects of culture, my shying away from media was an occasional refuge from that. You can’t turn off the world, but 2018 showed me you can still adjust the volume. With that in mind:

Albums

10. The Wizard — Merlin
9. Prequelle — Ghost
8. DAYTONA — Pusha T
7. Kids See Ghosts — Kids See Ghosts
6. Wide Awake! — Parquet Courts
5. God’s Favorite Customer — Father John Misty
4. Ye — Kanye West
3. Twin Fantasy — Car Seat Headrest
2. Golden Hour — Kacey Musgraves
1. Lamp Lit Prose — Dirty Projectors

Songs

10. “Let’s Party” — The Sloppy Boys
9. “Miasma” — Ghost
8. “Anxious” — Hippo Campus
7. “All the Stars” — Kendrick Lamar feat. SZA
6. “No Going Back” — Yuno
5. “Hangout at the Gallows” — Father John Misty
4. “Freeee” — Kids See Ghosts
3. “How Long? — Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
2. “Tea for Two” — Albert Hammond, Jr.
1. “That’s a Lifestyle” — Dirty Projectors

TV Shows

5. Queer Eye
4. American Vandal
3. The Good Place
2. GLOW
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Films

10. Roma
9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
8. Black Panther
7. First Man
6. Eighth Grade
5. Widows
4. First Reformed
3. Paddington 2
2. Minding the Gap
1. Hereditary

The Best Film Scores of 2018

2018 felt like it was jam-packed with great film music. Carter Burwell lent tenderness and grace to the Coens’ bleak Ballad of Buster Scruggs. David Gordon Green’s Halloween sequel marked John Carpenter’s “triumphant” return to the franchise. Most notably, Jóhann Jóhannsson, who passed away in February of this year, gave Van Halen and Queen-inspired soundscapes to the feverish Mandy.

There was plenty of exciting work from fresher faces, too. Nathan Halpern’s somber compositions added to the lyricism of Minding the Gap and The Rider. Experimental cellist Erik Friedlander added yips and yelps to Thoroughbreds‘ misanthropy, and score or not, the original songwriting on A Star is Born still hasn’t gotten out of my head.

With all that in mind, I’ve narrowed down an excellent year in scores to the selections below. (Honorable mentions go to Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse, The Old Man and the Gun and If Beale Street Could Talk, three scores which I love to pieces despite not having seen their respective films.)

Annihilation — Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury

Alex Garland’s follow-up to 2014’s excellent Ex Machina is never sure what it wants to say. While that uncertainty benefits little beyond a mind-warping ending, the same can’t be said for Annihilation‘s music. Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury set a sonic stage for “The Shimmer,” the alien ecosystem that slowly encroaches on all of Earth’s established life. Acoustic guitar pays homage to Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping,” the film’s musical love-line between Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac. Of course, the composer duo’s third-act gift comes in the form of big synths, heralding the creation of the strange and new. For a score that’s conventional in all the ways it needs to be, it’s a brilliant (and  terrifying) change.

Incredibles 2 — Michael Giacchino

Hollywood’s punniest composer has made a name for himself with cheeky soundtrack listings, but his flexibility extends beyond names like “Consider Yourselves Undermined!” and “Incredits 2.” 14 years after the original Incredibles, Michael Giacchino’s 60s retro cool is back with the returning composer doubles down on his John Barry-inspired instrumentation. Elastigirl’s tussle with the mind-controlling Screenslaver features a tug of war between snarling brass that strikes a perfect balance between tension and fun.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout — Lorne Balfe

I wrote about the striking similarities between Fallout and The Dark Knight, but Hans Zimmer protege Lorne Balfe does plenty on his own for this mission. His piano figures are complex and mysterious, and beefy brass sections beef up already beefy ostinatos. For the purest sign of success, look no further than the cataclysmic main titles. From that earlier post:

Like everything else in Fallout, the music is in service of one goal: Letting us see Tom Cruise do crazy shit. In this way, the latest and greatest Mission: Impossible is pure cinema, distilled from millions of dollars spent toward satisfying one man’s death wish. There’s a macabre satisfaction that comes with its soundtrack, in getting lost in this L’appel du vide. Listening to these main titles over (and over) again feels like giving into something larger and scarier than yourself.

Eighth Grade — Anna Meredith

Bo Burnham’s feature-length debut tosses us into the deep-end of middle school anxiety. Propelled along via Anna Meredith’s jagged compositions, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) grits her teeth through classroom crushes and petrifying pool parties, experiences that seem benign and playful but hide a coming-of-age savagery that’s borderline violent. From an earlier post:

There were moments watching Eighth Grade where I felt like I was suffocating, trapped with Kayla in awkward conversation and cringing embarrassment. Other times, middle school didn’t seem like such a bad place. Whatever the emotions, the music was right there, often overwhelmingly so, and I was never quite sure if I was meant to bolt in the opposite direction or stick around and dance.

Solo: A Star Wars Story — John Powell/John Williams

The film itself won’t scratch my list of favorites, but Solo‘s music is another story. John Powell’s contributions range from the deliciously weird (goofy space duet “Chicken and the Pot”) to the downright refreshing (a reedy theme for Rebellion precursors Enfyss Nest). Most remarkable is how Powell weaves in and out of John Williams’ excellent new theme for Han Solo. “The Adventures of Han” is a rousing intro to the galaxy’s greatest smuggler as well as a premature sendoff before the franchise’s longtime composer says farewell for good with Episode IX. With its music, Solo‘s circle is now complete, and that’s no small miracle for a property that remains unsure of what it wants to be and where it wants to go.

Hereditary — Colin Stetson

Director Ari Aster gave me several sequences I’m not sure I’ll ever get out of my head, and yet for all of its shocks, Hereditary‘s greatest feat is capturing what grief feels like. It picks at you. Other times, it comes in waves. Hereditary‘s final sequence delivers insanity better than anything else at the multiplex this year, and Colin Stetson’s full-throated saxophonics are there waiting for us with a grin. It’s a depressingly perfect illustration of our divided states and the toll they ultimately take.

Paddington 2 — Dario Marianelli

On a much lighter note, “The New Wave of Nicecore” is here, and Dario Marianelli is a founding member. The music of Paddington 2 greets the world with a warm curiosity. It’s propulsive and infectious, sealed with Marianelli’s tender touches of piano with an ending that’s impossible not to feel good about. Just listen to how the music guides Paddington and Aunt Lucy on an imaginary “tour” via pop-up book. In all the ways Hereditary reflects what’s wrong about 2018, Paddington 2 is here for what’s right. A double-feature between the two would sum up quite about this past year, but maybe finish with this one?

Black Panther — Ludwig Goransson

I already went long on 2018’s very best film score, so I’ll just leave this here:

Christmas Songs: A Definitive Guide

I am of the opinion that there are only a handful of Christmas songs one needs every December the 25th. From what I’ve gathered from friends, this opinion is not a popular one, but hear me out. Every year, Sirius DJs crank out Clay Aiken’s latest or some shoddy rehash of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” It’s all for naught. There are a number of Christmas songs that have a definitive version. The mic’s been dropped and there’s scant chance that anyone comes around with a version to knock it out of the park.

Just for fun, I present the definitive versions of several Christmas songs. You can indulge in any version of any song not on here. Otherwise, it’s on the naughty list for you and your poor taste.

  • “A Holly Jolly Christmas” – Burl Ives
  • “Jingle Bell Rock” — Bobby Helms
  • “White Christmas” — The Drifters
  • “All I Want For Christmas Is You” — Mariah Carey
  • “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” — The Ronettes
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” — Brenda Lee

Merry Christmas

we-watch-wrestling-podcast-tom-sibley

Cheering for the heel

Last week, We Watch Wrestling announced that one of its co-hosts, Tom Sibley, would be leaving the show.

Truthfully, the writing had been on the wall for a while now. My favorite aspect of WWW is their release of monthly “bonus issues,” extra-long episodes exclusive to Patreon subscribers that dive into hours of vintage content on the WWE Network’s streaming service. These have covered everything from one-time WWF’s Thanksgiving specials or a classic pay-per-view from Philadelphia indie darling Extreme Championship Wrestling. While these episodes are always packed with nuggets of trivia and hilarious jokes from co-hosts Vince Averill and Matt McCarthy, Sibley’s participation had begun to feel obligatory as of late. Tellingly, the podcast episode prior to his announcement found Sibley joking about how the gang’s reminders to actually fulfill the show’s namesake were becoming a bugaboo.

On a personal note, I understand Sibley’s decision. As someone who had to walk away from his own project last year, virtually anything seems like a chore when your heart’s no longer in it. To put it another way: There’s no value in associating your time and effort with a product you’re not proud of.

In any case, I am saddened. As the show’s “pro wrestling padawan,” Sibley’s perspective was invaluable, balancing out McCarthy’s inside knowledge — he once wrote as a member of WWE’s creative team — and Averill’s encyclopedic memory with a newness that often flirted with ignorance. Professional wrestling is a weird, convoluted universe whose continuity a) never ends and b) never makes sense. Having a voice on the program that could step back and ask “Wait, what’s going on?” was essential to the show’s success.

On a more meta level, I will miss Sibley’s role as the show’s villain. Wrestling archetypes fall into two main categories: the good wrestlers or “babyfaces,” and the bad “heels.” Through the years, Sibley established a personal canon of criticisms, chastising older matches for their slow pacing and poking fun at Ric Flair, a sure-fire face on the Mount Rushmore of Pro Wrestling. His humor was crude, and at various live shows, he would infamously play up his affinity for sporting bare feet in public. Sibley was the heel of the show, and he knew it.

We Watch Wrestling is self-aware because it has to be. It’s a program that has to accept that an undead “Undertaker” could set fire to his half-brother only to have said half-brother return to seek revenge on and then ultimately team up with him for the next decade. Not only is We Watch Wrestling responsible for reigniting my interest in sports entertainment, it’s become a weekly source of comfort and entertainment. Averill and McCarthy have yet to announce the fate of the podcast going forward. In whatever fashion, I hope the show continues, if only to give me a reason to root for another bad guy.