Thomas Newman’s ‘Passengers’ soundtrack is beautiful

Sure, Passengers is a pretty morally reprehensible film and basically a feature-length adaptation of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s The Implication.” But one of the best things to come out of it was Thomas Newman’s beautiful, plaintive score (which was actually nominated for an Oscar last year).

The theme from “Spacewalk,” the track above, plays several times in the movie. It appears when Jim takes his first spacewalk outside the cruise ship he’s on and sees the wonder of the ship in the vastness of space. Later, he brings Aurora to show her as well.

When I play it, it reminds me that even in the most hopeless, dire situations, beauty still exists. It just needs to found and appreciated.

Your Moment of Zen: James Vincent McMorrow’s “Higher Love”

I love covers that take a beloved song and present to you aspects of it that you hadn’t otherwise considered. While Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” is a classic, it’s also bombastic, loud, heavily instrumented, and in your face. Very 1980s.

James Vincent McMorrow’s “Higher Love” is so quiet and pleading — just a piano and a single voice, asking for something beyond what we can see in this world. I listen to this version when I need to center myself. I hope you enjoy it too.

Spotify’s “Cinematic Chill-Out” playlist will give you chills

Over the course of the past year, I’ve gotten addicted to Spotify. I enjoy the fact that it’s cross-platform, and thus integrates into products like my Amazon Echo. But I also love the playlists and Discover Weekly feature, which surface musical choices that I never would’ve thought of.

Today, “Cinematic Chill-Out” popped up on my “Browse” tab and it’s a great playlist full of film scores that are easy on the ears. I already loved a lot of these selections, but there are a bunch that I’d never considered before. You can take a listen to it below.

The stupefying odds

A spectacular data visualization by The Pudding shows how difficult it is for a band to break out and make it big:

The vast majority of bands never do make it. Acts break up, give up or decide they have other things they want to do with their lives.

For every Chance the Rapper there are thousands of rappers that never play a show with more than a couple hundred people. For every Lake Street Dive, there are hundreds of promising bands that break up because they lost on their members.

To see the NYC concert trajectory of different bands, below you can search for any of the 3,000 bands that played a show in 2013, and at least one more show from 2014 to 2016. Perhaps some of them are on their way to making it, and it just hasn’t happened yet.

How a $100,000 Music Video Shoot Went Horribly Wrong

The making of the latest Young Thug music video, “Wyclef Jean,” didn’t go quite as planned. Co-director Ryan Staake was given some pretty specific instructions by Young Thug, but when the artist didn’t show up for the shoot, Staake had to improvise. The result is a hilarious behind-the-scenes look into video-making that includes a mish-mash of different ideas that have no business being edited together.

I can’t say with confidence if any of the shenanigans described in the video are real. But either way, it’s a pretty novel way to roll out a new music video. Watch the final(!) video below:


On ‘La La Land’ and Its Treatment of Jazz

I really enjoyed La La Land when I first saw it, but as time has gone on, its shine started to wear off for me. The first thing that bothered me was how it handled its overarching message about succeeding in Hollywood (more thoughts here in our podcast review). The second was how the film handled jazz.

In La La Land, Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, wants to open his own jazz club. He believes jazz in its pure form still has the potential in our society to thrive, unperverted by tapas, salsa, or modern day market demands (nevermind the sales figures).

About halfway through the film, John Legend’s character, Keith, is introduced trying to recruit Seb for his band. Keith has evolved his jazz style to be more palatable to the masses, but in a way that Seb finds objectionable.

When the two play a concert for the first time, the camera cuts multiple times to Emma Stone’s Mia watching Sebastian, her eyes full of disappointment and bemusement. “How could Seb do this?” she seems to be wondering. How could he pervert his “art” like this?

Which is a bit odd if you think about it. It feels like the audience is set up to look down on Keith’s music, and to admire Seb’s tenaciousness. But what actually is wrong with Keith’s stuff anyway? Isn’t changing with the times what all great musicians have done? And why is Ryan Gosling’s character trying to defend the musical form of jazz against John Legend’s character?

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this dynamic. Over at MTV News, Ira Madison III has penned a scathing reaction to the film’s “white savior” narrative on jazz:

The wayward side effect of casting Gosling as this jazz whisperer is that La La Land becomes a Trojan horse white-savior film. Much like Matt Damon with ancient China in The Great Wall or Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, in La La Land, the fate of a minority group depends on the efforts of a well-intentioned white man: Gosling’s character wants to play freestyle jazz instead of the Christmas jingles he’s been hired to perform because, damn it, if the people can’t hear real jazz, then it’s going to cease to exist.

Seve Chambers over at Vulture has more on what La La Land gets wrong about jazz to begin with:

Today’s artists have realized that letting go of these conservative notions is best way to “save jazz.” La La Land presents these arguments in the form of Keith, the fusion artist played by John Legend in the film. Though his words sound reasonable — he asks Sebastian how he’s going to revolutionize jazz by being a traditionalist — Chazelle stacks the deck against him: Keith turns out to use a laughably ’80s sound that’s meant to seem completely disconnected from his jazz roots. For extra measure, he also uses a cheesy stage show complete with dancers — a luxury no modern jazz artist could afford, or would even consider. It’s almost as if, well, the movie wants us to hate new jazz.

This is a vision of fusion jazz that sounds nothing like the contemporary jazz scene. Take Esperanza Spalding, a gifted musician who has brought renewed attention to the genre. One night she might go onstage with a band that mixes rock, R&B. and other influences; on another she might play with veterans Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington in an all-woman trio. The same holds true for Robert Glasper, whose experimental troupe might do a jazz cover of a Nirvana song or pay homage to the late hip-hop producer J Dilla, but who also spends time in a more traditional group, the Robert Glasper Trio. Both Spalding and Glasper are highly regarded within jazz circles, drawing sizable crowds and winning Grammys in the process. Other acts like Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and Otis Brown III refuse to be fixed on the idea of purity; they’d rather push jazz to evolve. Despite what La La Land might have you think, the genre has already reckoned with and resolved the debate over the sanctity of jazz.

When it comes to La La Land’s vision of jazz, look closer at the real thing before you take it as gospel.

A looping cello cover of “All My Little Words” by The Magnetic Fields

Here is a cover of the song “All My Little Words” by The Magnetic Fields that I put together with skilled local singer Annie Jantzer. We’re in the process of exploring our next collaboration but so far I’m really enjoying the unique sound we have, and love how cello and a female vocalist can transform any number of well known songs.

Check out the video if you have a chance!