With the 2012’s best-of lists slipping off browser histories, the Emmys drifting off the air, the Golden Globes collecting pawn shop dust, and the Grammys mercifully gagged, the Oscars sauntered into American living rooms on Sunday evening to put Awards Season to a slow, wheezing death. Seth MacFarlane did his best but, as evidenced by the malnourished husk of a sitcom that has become Family Guy in its 11th season, the man might not have the necessary killer instinct, and, for that matter, neither do the clean-water initiative initiating and stray-cat adopting Hollywood powers-that-be. So please allow me to cut the losses, make the tough calls, and put the pillow over the head of this whole damn thing. Welcome to the Trending 2/26 Award Gala; the last gasp of an Awards Season whose cough has, honestly, sounded pretty concerning for a while now. Make your peace and say your goodbyes because in about 700 words the mantle-piece trinkets, institution-backed backpats, and honorary high-fives are over, done, finished, until December. Read it first, thank me later.
We begin this week with a duo of Lifetime Achievement Awards as, apparently, cousin-kissing ties are permitted by the Academy in these dark and depressingly diplomatic days. The first goes to jangle-rock pioneer and the riff behind about six of the ten most-played songs on you high school iTunes account, Johnny Marr. Marr began breaking hearts with The Smiths over thirty years ago (making him, gasp, classic rock) and, after stints in generational touchstones like the Talking Heads and Modest Mouse, would be a household name if it weren’t for the fact that people apply names to voices, not distorted Gibson’s (Slash fully excluded). Perhaps signaling a change in the trade winds, however, Marr drops his first true solo album, The Messenger, today; laying a swath of groovy, if not expected, icing on the already decadent legacy cake. Who knows, maybe this is his finally his big break.
Our next honoree in the wrinkliest of the old wrinkled white men categories is Sir (really, how has that not happened yet?) Thom Yorke, whose anti-supergroup Atoms for Peace—also featuring Flea and OK Computer knob-turner Nigel Godrich—soft-released their much yearned-and-burned for debut, Amok, last week. Long a leader of the atypical album launch, with In Rainbows’ pay-what-you-want model kicking down some apparently un-repairable free-digital-content doors, Amok’s rocket fuel ran out yesterday, dropping from prog-rock jet streams onto $20 vinyl and/or behind iTunes firewalls. Sales methodologies aside, Yorke, who appeared in this month’s Esquire alongside cover boy Ashton Kutcher (to give you a sense of his ubiquity), deserves this award based solely on a body of work that is, though debatably, unparalleled.
The Best Genre Adaptation goes to sprawling alt-country outfit Mount Moriah, who take their experience with the sounds of scorched earth—honed in post-hardcore/metal bands such as Bellafea and Horseback—and repurpose it into a Wyeth-ian smear of horizon-haunting Americana. Though hailing from North Carolina, the band’s sophomore effort Miracle Temple is more Big Sky than Blue Ridge, shimmering edgeless and sun-baked like the wheat fields that tightrope an invisible line drawn in the minds of bailers who feel where Montana and Saskatchewan collide in the same way they feel their cheek when scratching it. Tracks such as “Younger Days” provide fitting example while offering a calming, iced-tea-and-cigarettes alternative to the recently popular brand of U2-folk that only seems interested in blasting off to the stars and/or Christian afterlife.
Adopting a similar headbang-to-headband approach over the past few years, Brooklyn post post-hardcore quartet The Men have their follow-up to last year’s stellar Open Your Heart, the aptly titled New Moon, streaming at Pitchfork. Beginning a wholly different lunar cycle for the band, New Moon is a stone-skipping, cow-tipping rock n’ roll album that, given my personal affection for the band, would easily take home the hardware if it weren’t inelgible due to next week’s release date. Sorry everyone, but breaking my imaginary, self-imposed rules will likely initiate an identity crisis I’m just not ready to confront at the moment.
On a macabre but celebratory note, this week’s Reverse in-Memoriam tribute is headlined by Seattle scuzz trio Grave Babies who today, with the release of Crusher, were born from the same dirt most of these tributes resign themselves to. Assuming the brakeless locomotive churn we have come to know, love, and expect from lo-fi bands with names like Grave Babies over the past year or two (see also: Diarrhea Planet, Destruction Unit, Hard Nips), tracks like “Over and Under Ground” make no bones (HA!) about telling subtlety to go F itself with household cleaning items. Given the Lord of the Flies-meets-Gwar cover art, these guys, while solid noise-punk purveyors, make the list largely on the merits of their shocking MSL Après-Gala Cocktail Soirée conversation starters.
A stacked category this week, it would be an oversight not to mention the other notable contenders, in particular Low and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; two bands from two different generations both jockeying for elbow room on the same comeback trail. Check out their freshly exhumed tracks “So Blue”, produced by Jeff Tweedy, and “Sacrilege”, a song huge enough to lead this whole thing on a day (honestly, any other day) that doesn’t feature names like Marr and Yorke.
The Excellence in Cinematography Category was equally competitive, with new videos from a probably embalmed David Bowie (featuring one of my favorite real life Oscar winners), Real Estate side-project Ducktails, and Aussie surf-fucks Dune Rats all vying for the opportunity to rattle off an apnea-inducing string of thank yous that gmail is perfectly capable of handling already dammit. Ultimately, however, despite the quality and craft each of these contenders graced our work computer screens with over the past few days, Danish duo Broke and their Ian Isak Plough Ochoa-directed video for “Let the Youth Go Mad” takes home top visual honors today. Depicting a young man trapped in the routine of his day-to-day self-destruction, this video plays out like a Déjà Vu that doesn’t suck (second time I’ve made fun of that movie in several weeks. There’s only so much material to go around, people).
Finally, because everyone at the Oscars—starting with Tommy Lee Jones, continuing through George Clooney, and slipping all the way down to Chris “who?” Pine—was rocking some pubic, alcoholic’s half-beard, the final and most important award of the day, Best Beard, goes to Samuel Beam, a man who actually has one. One of Beam’s two long-run, full-bodied folk-machines on display today (the other being “Grace For Saints and Ramblers”, a new palate-expanding track off Iron and Wine’s upcoming LP Ghost on Ghost), the facial hair has given us all reason to believe in true manhood again. We can only hope and pray that his tireless efforts will one day do for the beard what Ron Swanson has done for the mustache.
Thanks for listening.