Star Trek: Spaced Out!

Here’s the deal, guys.  In honor of the new Star Trek movie, I am going to bring us all back to the original Star Trek, with genius Leonard Nimoy and pre-Priceline William Shatner.  We are going to both celebrate who they were, and mourn who they became–well, depending on you who are.  I’m fine with who they became.  This stuff is pretty fantastic entertainment.

So, in case you aren’t aware, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner made an album a few years back–it’s sort of William Shatner doing dramatic monologues and Leonard Nimoy singing.  I am now going to liveblog this entire album, and you will feel sorry for me and jealous of me at the same time.  The major question throughout this entire thing is: seriously?

1-“King Henry the Fifth”: Well, that’s one way to start a spoken word piece…William Shatner is the most dramatic man I have ever known.  He makes Laurence Olivier sound like a pansy.

2-“Elegy for the Brave”: Can William Shatner speak me to sleep every night?  His voice is so calming.  “And the sunlight sprinkles diamonds on a clear, flowing stream…”  I especially love the “ahh ahh ahh” background vocals.  Mmm this is lovely.  Do you think he is the pale young soldier?  I sure hope he is.  Oh crap wait, the pale young soldier is dead–ok, now I’m just insensitive.  Next track.

3-“Highly Illogical”: YES!  This is like, straight out of Star Trek.  I freaking love Spock.  Oooh great beat!  It’s like the Brady Bunch!  Leonard Nimoy is now talking about how women change men…he should give us all relationship advice, I think.  I’ll take advice from a Vulcan any day, they’re the experts on life.  Counseling + dancing at the same time = new Vulcan field of psychology?  I think yes.

[now my sister is interrupting me to tell me about her tetanus shot.  i wonder what spock would say about that.]

4-“If I Had A Hammer”: Can I just get this out of the way and say it sounds like he’s talking about having sex?  I’m sorry, but it does.  And Leonard is really into hammering, apparently.  And also ringing bells.  Anyway, how is it that his songs are so much peppier than William’s?  I mean, first we watch Star Trek and Spock is much more serious than Captain Kirk (in my trekkie opinion), and then we hear these ridiculously dramatic monologues in the first two … songs? … and now Leonard is like LET’S DANCE!  Ok it’s getting more serious towards the end…kind of peacie and nationalistic at the same time.  This is weird.

5-“Mr. Tambourine Man”: Oh there are so many things to say about this.  Ok William Shatner is back in all his glory.  I think he is trying to have a Bob Dylan voice, but he is failing miserably.  It’s too choppy even for Dylan.  Is he constipated?  Also, the instrumentation sounds RIDICULOUS.  It’s like a really bad middle school band arrangement.  Oh my gosh now he is yelling for the tambourine man!  When you cover Dylan you can’t sound desperate, you have to sound cool!!

6-“Where is Love?”: Aw, is Leonard lonely?  Aw, I think he is.  I wonder if he ever took voice lessons.  This genre is not quite working for him.  Can we get back to the 60’s dance music?

7-“Music To Watch Space Girls By“: Let’s address the obvious fact that space girls do not exist, unless you’re talking about astronauts, in which case a) they’re very covered up in those spacesuits, aren’t they? and b) unless you are also an astronaut, where are you going to see them?  Other than that, I’m glad Leonard has returned to his fun surfer dance music, despite the freaky synths.  I’d also like to point out that Leonard Nimoy is credited for this song, but he does not sing.  That’s 2 minutes of my life I cannot get back, and I wasted them because Leonard Nimoy wasn’t actually singing.

8-“It Was A Very Good Year”: Ew.  William Shatner is starting to get creepy.  He is talking about girls and sounds very pervy.  Geez, William.

9-“Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town”: This is an uneventful piece of work.  I am starting to realize how many tracks are on this album, and how consequently long this post is going to be, and now I am starting to feel insecure.

10-“Hamlet”: Another dramatic monologue!  This is particularly meaningful to me, because when Eric and I took Facebook quizzes to determine what Shakespeare characters we were, Eric got Ophelia and I got Hamlet.  I’m basically driving him into madness!  Anyway, Shatner should never play Hamlet in a movie.  He has been outdone already by too many people–Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh, Ethan Hawke (yes Ethan Hawke was even better than this).  Aye, there’s the rub!

11-“A Visit To A Sad Planet”: This is weird.  Leonard Nimoy is talking about charred, radioactive vegetation.  There is a pretty flute in the background though.  BORING.

12-“Abraham, Martin, and John”: Oh my gosh I love this song!  It is covers like this that make this album worth listening to.  Leonard Nimoy is being all peacie again!  What a precious man!  Not sure what’s going on with the bizarre instrumentation on this entire album–the brass doesn’t really fit at all, but…I can’t lie, I think Leonard has a decent, if just a little shaky, voice on these little ballads.

13-“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”: I liked this a lot until 30 seconds in when William Shatner started speaking instead of singing.  Now I’m just dying of laughter!  I think he may have been high when recording this; if not, he actually is a pretty fantastic actor.

14-“If I Was A Carpenter”: Whoever originally wrote this song is obviously unclear about the grammatical use of “if I was” and “if I were,” because just to be safe, he uses them both.  Anyway, I think Leonard Nimoy is living out his childhood fantasies here, because his covers are getting boring and they all sound the same, but I think he is getting super into it.

15-“How Insensitive”: William Shatner is now talking about how “unmoved and cold” he is in regards to love.  I think he likes it.  Oh wait, now he’s being a whiner about how alone he is.  You feel like an ass now, don’cha Mr. Shatner? There’s a nice little jazzy thing going on in the background, too.

16-“I’d Love Making Love To You”: I bet you would.

17-“Put A Little Love In Your Heart”: I wonder if these men ever intended this to be released to the world, or if they just had a drunken late-night recording session that accidentally leaked.

18-“Sunny”: What was I thinking?? I’m officially bored with Leonard Nimoy’s vocals.  We’ve got William on the one hand being hyperbolically ridiculous, and we’ve got Leonard trying to be suave but only coming across as … blah.  Can we get Stevie Wonder singing this instead?  Oooh it gets a little exciting towards the end, though, doesn’t it? (no.)

19-“Gentle On My Mind”: Not even listening to this anymore.

20-“I Walk The Line”: I kind of like this.  Is that horrible?  I mean, whatshisface Phoenix was more in tune than Leonard, but still…it’s kind of cute.

21-“The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”: OH MY GOSH.  OH MY GOSH.  I’ve heard this before, I can’t lie, but OH MY GOSH, every time I forget how FABULOUS it is!!  There is no decipherable key, and who wrote the lyrics to this anyway?, and the ladies in the background seem to be singing whatever pitches they feel like singing, and OH MY GOSH now it sounds like Leonard is trying to act out Bilbo’s adventures!  I think they hired a 7th grade band for this one, too, but you know what?  I would pay $20 just for this song.

22-“Everybody’s Talkin'”: My mom used to sing me this song when I was little, probably because of my little kid routine of “mom? mom? mom? mom? mom?”  Leonard Nimoy sounds really broken up about life in this one.  I want to hug him…but without having to touch him.

23-“Both Sides Now”: Aw, no one but Joni Mitchell should ever sing this.  This cover is too fast.  Slow down, dammit!!  And also, what do you know about life, Leonard?  You’re a Vulcan!  Stop!!!

24-“Spock Thoughts”: This is brilliant.  Spock is wise.  He could have written Proverbs.  “Listen to others–even the dull and ignorant.  They too have their story.”  But seriously, he should just write a book of platitudes.  Oh!  Or they could hire him to write the fortunes for fortune cookies.  “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.  We have a right to be here…the universe is unfolding as it should.”  I love you, Spock.

So, you decide.  Were Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner trying to be funny?  Is the album worth the purchase for tracks like “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Spock Thoughts”?  Worth the purchase for sheer entertainment purposes?  I think yes.

I love St. Vincent

It took me a long time to track this down, so, rather than make you wait even longer for a full review, I am going to try my hand at liveblogging. I apologize in advance if this sucks. I’ve never done this before, but here is my initial impression of St. Vincent’s new album Actor.

“The Strangers” – I’ve heard this song several times, mostly because I listened to it on repeat for about half an hour when it was first posted on MySpace. It’s a subtly driving tune opening in a straight 4/4 but somehow seamlessly shifting into 3/4. I can’t even say for sure when this happens, it is that smooth. A good way to start the album, not too different from Marry Me.

“Save Me From What I Want” – The drums on this track are interesting. They sound more like a drum machine than anything else, but they are live as far as I can tell. Nice, close, dissonant harmonies on the chorus, “Save me. Save me. Save me from what I want.” with continual layering toward the end.

“The Neighbors” – I am getting the impression that this is going to be an album heavily reliant upon rhythm, especially rhythmic dissonance. At the outset, this sounds like a straight up waltz–until the handclaps (on every other beat, i.e. 1, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, etc.). The drums pick up this rhythm and run with it, further confusing the listener, until the two merge with each other into a fabulous 8/8 (that is 3+3+2/8).

“Actor Out of Work” – This song probably comes closest to the last album, stylistically speaking. I’d say it is most similar to “Your Lips are Red” only sweeter. Background vocals are a chromatically ascending sequence.

“Black Rainbow” – Heavy use of winds in parallel thirds in the intro and later instrumental interludes. The pulsing eighth note instrumental accompaniment is very reminiscent of Philip Glass. Moving into the bridge, Annie’s voice is doubled by, I think, muted horn in some seriously high register. Another chromatically ascending (ad infinitum) sequence closes out the track.

“Laughing With a Mouth of Blood” – Opens with a simple drum, bass, and chordal synth accompaniment. Strings enter in the background of the chorus in an ascending whole tone (I think) scale. Add winds in bridge.

“Marrow” – Another Glass-like intro. Annie is really starting to sound like Shara Worden on this record. And now I feel like I’ve been transported to some London disco where Steve Reich and Grandmaster Flash are battling it out in some kind of battle of the DJs. This has a very similar feel to the more rock oriented tracks from Marry Me.

“The Bed” – Only a few seconds in, and I already think that this is the track I’ve been waiting for. The metrical deception on this track hinges on hemiola and accented offbeats. It’s almost like Bjork. I hear something that sounds like a pipa. This may be the sarongi, though I have no idea what that is. Yes! This is definitely what I’ve been wanting. Brooding, orchestral, even operatic, with a touch of George Crumb’s Black Angels and lots of woodwind flourishes–I love this!

“The Party” – This great, pretty much straight forward trip hop feel with piano, drums, and vocals in the verses. Oh, there goes the 4/4-3/4 changeover again. I’m starting to wonder if Annie can manage to record a song without any metric shiftiness. And for the first time, I have actually managed to discern some lyrics: “I sit transfixed by a hole in your T-shirt”. I do wish I’d been given some liner notes with lyrics. Environmentally conscious record labels can be a bit annoying at times. A big choral/orchestral finale builds to the end of this number, though it’s really just the same stuff layered over and over again. More of a vamp, really.

“Just the Same But Brand New” – The title is certainly not descriptive of the album, which, stylistically, falls somewhere between Marry Me and My Brightest Diamond’s A Thousand Sharks’ Teeth. And here we are. We have been through some modulations and dynamic changes, but we have in fact managed to maintain the same time signature, though the drums do toy around with us for a moment when the full band first comes in.

“The Sequel” – Another wind intro. Such a beautiful ascending tritone motive over sustained perfect fifths creates some gorgeous dissonances, almost like Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire, even. It comes in at under two minutes, really just a postlude, but in many ways the simplest and most interesting track of the album. What a brilliant way to wrap things up.

This is such an intricate record, meticulous in ways that Marry Me wasn’t and it is going to take several more listens and a visit to the website (apparently) before I understand it all. But that’s what I want (well the complexity anyway, I still want a booklet with lyrics). Will this be the album of the year the way many have hyped it? I can’t say yet. It’s going to depend on what we get from The School and if Venus Hum gets their new record out in time, but Actor is definitely in the running. For now, I have no trouble recommending, no, demanding, that you give it a listen.