I make no attempts at hiding the fact that I’m basically Steve Job’s nasty lil’ bitch. If he and the rest of the Apple-tinis came out with the ability to put an iTunes chip inside my brain, I’d be the first to sign up. So, it’s no big whoopin’ surprise that I cruise the iTunes music library as frequently as a perv at a playground, and under its My Groove section (yeah, whatev on that title) they have a tasty lil’ category entitled “Actors with Albums.” I couldn’t help but chuckle.
Although, it’s not like the idea is something new there, right? Those pesky, attention-obsessed thespians have been trying to trample on the coattails of rock-n-rollers almost as much as rock stars have attempted to break into film (blame Elvis and Cher -among many, many others – for the cross-dressing. Aren’t so many culture faux pas always traced back to Elvis and Cher??).
While I admit to having an inherent bias against actor-crossover-albums, I have decided to be less judgey and give a few of the latest albums a good, solid, listen-to…so here it goes…
Mix Tape Therapy’s Worth-a-Grab Track: Saint Jerome
Coconut Records is actually the solo musical efforts of actor Jason Schwartzman (prob best known for his new HBO series, Bored to Death, along with movie roles inI ♥ Huckabees, Funny People, Shopgirl, amongst others). Davy is his second release on his own label, Young Baby Records – his first was Nighttiming, also an indie pop album featuring – WHOA BIG SURPRISE!!! indie pop-styled singers such as Zooey Deschanel and Kirstie Dunst (before the rehab – ouch). With his sophomore effort, he’s lost the Sundance Film Festival entourage and has produced a record indicative of Schwartzman’s California easy-breezy Cover Girl style- with just enough twenty-something, medium-bodied angst to keep it interesting. In other words, Schwartzman-as-musician (which is, ironically, how he started) has some musical chops. The range of reviews you’ll probably read for this album range from begruding acceptance of talent to comparables to the likes of Elliott Smith or Sgt. Pepper’s-fashioned Beatles. The truth is somewhere in between.
While there’s certainly a case to be made for choosing a favorite track or two, the beauty of this record is to keep it playing on a continuous loop and let it serve as the soundtrack of your everyday. It’s certainly not soulful enough for your next life crisis, but Davy has enough artistry and charm to keep you buzzing regardless.
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Mix Tape Therapy’s Worth-a-Grab Track: This is Not a Test
First of all, I adore Zooey Deschanel. I don’t always love her movie choices – but I fell for her almost as hard as I fell for Kate Hudson in their shared movie, Almost Famous. Remember her? She was the sister who left the prophetic note for her brother saying, “Someday, you will be cool.” Of course, I’m still waiting 😉
Anyway, she’s the latest indie film flavor-of-the-month and to help her segue into the independent music scene is none other than indie pop music darling, M. Ward. A musical marriage made in heaven or hell, you ask? While I’m thrilled to say that this album doesn’t suck, I can’t go so far as to say it’s a must-have for your personal Christmas list either. Unless, of course, you really dig those retro 60s and 70s, soft rock hits.
Which, by the way motherfuckers, I do. Lots of music critics have been comparing Deschanel to the likes of Carly Simon and Rita Coolidge, and man o man, I sure wish I could do the same – psst, how many of my readers born after 1980 did I just lose with those references? But somewhere, somehow…in the path where Deschanel’s vocals breathlessly escape their strung-way-too-twangy chords, skipping the depths of her diaphragm altogether, her voice somehow gets lodged in the morass between the back of her throat and her nasal cavity. The result leads to a sound more resonant of a Tammie Wynette whine than a Linda Ronstadt roar.
Yeah, I know..that was bitchy, but I say it with a heavy heart because I so wanted to love her voice and this record. Don’t get me wrong – M. Ward has accurately captured the upbeat, sing-song simplicity of this songwriter genre through his crafty string arrangements. Covers of 60s gold classics and torch song standards – such as “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” and “You Really Got a Hold on Me” are technically sound and relatively straight forward. They just don’t have any soul. The results ends up sounding like a karaoke act – a well-rehearsed, above-the-basement karaoke act – but a tribute band job just the same.
Until you get to tracks actually written by Deschanel and Ward, like “This is Not a Test.” Then, the cutesy-twang sound filtered through the dry-witted lyrics and sound work. And work quite well. My advice? Stick to writing you own stuff for Volume II, k? M. Ward is not a creative enough arranger and Deschanel doesn’t have the musical chops to cover what they covering. Keep it simple, don’t take yourselves too seriously, and inject your intelligence and sense of humor into what you’re writing – and I’m positive Diablo Cody will be calling you for some tracks to her next Juno-inspired classic. Good luck.
Next: Actors with Albums, Part II