Tag Archives: Wes Anderson

Rocks In The Attic #671: Aimee Mann & Jon Brion – ‘Magnolia (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

150678 - SMALLER SPINECould Magnolia be the best film of the 1990s?

Rolling Stone rank it at a lowly #26, twelve places behind director Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous film, the arguably more accessible Boogie Nights. The magazine voted Scorsese’s Goodfellas at #1 (followed by a more esoteric run-down than you would expect from Rolling Stone: #5 – Pulp Fiction, #4 – The Silence Of The Lambs, #3 – Safe, #2 – Hoop Dreams).

A reader’s poll in Rolling Stone, ranking the twenty-five best movies of the decade, doesn’t even mention Magnolia, again with PTA’s Boogie Nights making the cut (faring a little better at #19). Not surprisingly, the poll’s top five are populist choices – #5 – Fight Club, #4 – The Shawshank Redemption, #3 – Goodfellas, #2 – The Big Lebowski, and #1 – Pulp Fiction.

RITA#671cBut who cares about polls and lists? They’re usually only there to provoke discussion – and quite why Rolling Stone could vote a three-hour documentary about basketball hopefuls from the inner-city slums as the second-best film of the year is anybody’s guess. I loved Hoop Dreams, but is it better than anything from Tarantino, the Andersons (Wes and Paul Thomas) or Fincher?

Even Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film – the casino-centric Hard Eight (1996), starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson, deserves a look-in. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to inhabit a casino, let alone visit one.

A textbook first film, you can see a lot of the visual flourishes that are the hallmark of films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia before he started to move away to more static filmmaking. The easiest of his trademarks to spot is the fast dolly-in, usually as a character enters a scene or an object becomes the focus of the narrative. These shots define PTA as much as the inserts and birds-eye views of Wes Anderson’s films, or the tracking shots of Scorsese.

The number eight resonates strongly with Paul Thomas Anderson and Magnolia. He debuted with Hard Eight – the number on the dice needed by the craps-playing Philip Seymour Hoffman; he’s just released his eighth feature, Phantom Thread; and the number eight is a symbolic fingerprint of Magnolia – the film culminating with the threat of Exodus 8:2: ‘If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country.’

RITA#671aSo Anderson spends the three hours of Magnolia interpreting Christianity and emerges with a delicious pun, insinuating that the biblical plague of raining frogs was caused by the producers of the quiz show who wouldn’t let Stanley visit the toilet. He would revisit the themes of religion more seriously later in his career, but this is where he put his toe in the holy water.

It could be claimed that nothing happens in Magnolia, that it’s boring and uneventful. And while it possibly does try to do too much, with too many characters – even Anderson himself has suggested that it’s overlong – its real strength comes from its pacing. I don’t think another film exists as dedicated to building tension as Magnolia. From its opening scene, until the aftermath of the frog-raining finale, the tension builds and builds, until the clouds break and we get a well-deserved resolution across each of the story arcs.

One important aspect, of course, is the music. The soundtrack is comprised of three key elements – pop songs from Supertramp and Gabrielle, together with snippets of the opera Carmen and Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, a suite of original songs from Aimee Mann, and a lush original score by Jon Brion.

This new release from Mondo Records represents the first time that the soundtrack has been released on vinyl. Split across three discs, the first discs offers the Aimee Mann songs, while the remaining two discs offer the Jon Brion score.

The beautiful packaging also follows the themes of the film, with new artwork by Joao Ruas and the three discs coloured in (1) Sky Blue, (2) Cloudy Blue, and (3) Translucent Gold – in other words, clear sky, cloudy sky, and frog!

Hit: One – Aimee Mann

Hidden Gem: Stanley / Frank / Linda’s Breakdown – Jon Brion



Rocks In The Attic #631: Cat Stevens – ‘Teaser And The Firecat’ (1971)

RITA#631.jpgI think these pink Island Records centre-labels might just be my favourite. They’re also a mark of quality, appearing in my collection on the discs for Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left and Fairport Convention’s Liege And Lief.

Sometimes shovelled into the same brand of benign soft-folk as James Taylor, Cat Stevens has a timeless appeal. Much of the soulful acoustic pop I hear on pop radio these days sounds like it owes a debt to his body of work.

Aside from the well-known Morning Has Broken, which I remember being forced to sing in school when I was growing up, and the album’s lead single Moonshadow, this record really hits it out of the park with it’s opening track, The Wind. Utilised to melancholic introspective perfection in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, it’s a cracker of a song in a cracker of a film.

RITA#631a.jpgI recall a story a few years ago, in the wake of 9/11, of Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam being held at an airport on suspicion of being a terrorist. About as way-off an accusation as you can get, it’s comparable with suspecting the Dalai Lama of a drink-driving hit and run. I’ve always wondered if those airport security guards felt stupid after that.

Hit: Moonshadow

Hidden Gem: The Wind


Rocks In The Attic #561: The Kinks – ‘Kinda Kinks’ (1965)

rita561If there’s one ‘60s group whose album output doesn’t quite match up to their singles output, it’s probably the Kinks. The A-sides that Ray Davies wrote during that decade are up there with the best anybody else had to offer. He’s the only songwriter that comes anywhere close to the strength of Lennon and McCartney’s singles, yet the first batch of Kinks albums in the mid-‘60s don’t really deliver on that promise.

Their debut record is built around You Really Got Me, this follow-up is buoyed by Tired Of Waiting For You, the third album has ‘Til The End Of The Day and Where Have All The Good Times Gone, and album number four has Sunny Afternoon on it. Most of – but definitely not all of – the rest of these records have a load of generic R&B-inflected filler material making up the numbers. It actually makes sense in this case to own at least one good Kinks compilation. There’s nothing patchy about a collection of their singles.

My favourite track on Kinda Kinks is Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl, notable for its appearance in Kinks-fan Wes Anderson’s Rushmore soundtrack. This really is a beautiful, tender song and hints at the more mature songwriting we would hear from Ray Davies much further towards the end of the decade. So Long is another song in this folk vein, where you can hear more of what the Kinks became, rather than the American R&B they’re aping on the rest of the record.

Hit: Tired Of Waiting For You

Hidden Gem: Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl

Rocks In The Attic #490: John Lennon – ‘Imagine’ (1971)

RITA#490Post-Beatles album number two finds John hitting his stride as a solo artist. I love his first record, the minimalist John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band; there’s a certain charm to it, but it’s by no means a record for the Beatle-loving masses. Here we find him producing a piece of work as commercial – but still as artistically valid – as anything released by the Beatles from 1965 onwards.

The only sour note on the record is How Do You Sleep?, a nasty attack on McCartney in retaliation for comments he had made in public about John and Yoko. I’ve never heard these comments, nor have I ever deciphered McCartney’s lyrics on Ram, which are supposed to be just as negative.

Still, if you’re going to have a go at somebody, at least be subtle about it. Lennon’s lyrics on How Do You Sleep? just make him out to sound nasty and childish. He even precedes the song by a short blast of an orchestra tuning up, the same idea thought up and used by McCartney on the intro to the title song on Sgt. Pepper’s.

One of the points stressed by Mark Lewisohn in his fantastic Beatles biography, Tune In: The Beatles – All These Years, Vol 1, was that Lennon could be so brutal and nasty in the way he would ridicule others. Usually, it would be people outside his circle of friends who would feel the brunt of his antagonism, but from time to time those close to him would get a earful too. How Do You Sleep? finds him completely unrestrained, doing everything except actually mentioning McCartney by name. The lyrics are so thinly veiled that he might as well have called the song ‘Paul Is A Douchebag’. In fact, a more Beatle-y insult might have been to name it ‘The Wally Was Paul’.

Always the most honest Beatle, Imagine finds John admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers on songs such as How? and Crippled Inside. It’s refreshing to hear such uncertainty from a ‘rock star’, and it’s almost the exact opposite of what you would hear from a global superstar in the twenty first century. It’s hard to imagine somebody as egotistical as Kanye West writing a song like How? Kanye knows everything of course, yet it’s strange how he couldn’t stop that knowledge from preventing his descent into bankruptcy.

One of my favourite moments on Imagine, the closing track Oh Yoko!, was included on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s 1998 masterpiece Rushmore. It’s a lovely song, and used to great effect in the film when Max and Herman decide to join forces to win Rosemary’s affections. A song like that shouldn’t work in a film; it’s a love song written for somebody in particular – Yoko Ono, of course – and she’s name-checked repeatedly in the song. It should only really make sense if the love interest in the film is named Yoko.  I’m not sure if the lovely Olivia Williams could pass for Japanese though.

Imagine represents an artistic peak for Lennon. His later albums would find him trying to repeat the success of this record, not least on its (official) follow-up, Mind Games, in 1973. Imagine is a fantastic record, and one of the reasons he never managed to match it is that it’s so bloody good – the curse of perfection.

Hit: Imagine

Hidden Gem: Oh Yoko!

Rocks In The Attic #436: Various Artists – ‘Rushmore’ (1999)

RITA#436One of my favourite films of all time, and I finally have the soundtrack on vinyl. Up to now, only the lesser Wes Anderson films have been granted a soundtrack release on vinyl – the Moonrise Kingdom 10” from Record Store Day’s Black Friday a few years ago, and The Darjeeling Limited from Record Store Day earlier this year.

Don’t get me wrong, the soundtracks to Anderson’s films are always universally awesome; it’s just that the later films themselves aren’t a shade on his early films. From The Darjeeling Limited onwards, he’s been repeating himself, with nothing that fans of his early work haven’t seen before. And those weighty Oscar nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel don’t mean a thing – only that the Academy are consistently terrible at recognising talent early on. Just like Scorsese’s The Departed, The Grand Budapest Hotel is far from being Wes Anderson’s finest achievement.

So back to Rushmore. In 1999, I finished University and moved back into my parents’ house. Due to the nightly boredom of living with my parents again, I joined a video shop – and without a car I used to walk the three miles there and back whenever I wanted to visit the shop. One of the first films I rented was Rushmore. I was an instant Wes Anderson fan from that moment on. His brand of whimsy, teenage rebellion and school-notebook perspective on life really struck a chord with me.

Part of the reason those early Wes Anderson films work so well are the scores by Mark Mothersbaugh. From Bottle Rocket through to The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Mothersbaugh has been an integral component of Anderson’s work, offering a surprising range of musical styles that you’d never expect from the lead singer of Devo. From Fantastic Mr. Fox onwards, Anderson has turned to Alexandre Desplat as a composer; and while there’s nothing wrong with Desplat’s soundtracks, a Wes Anderson film without Mark Mothersbaugh is to me like a Spielberg film without John Williams.

Hit: Ooh La La – The Faces

Hidden Gem: Making Time – Creation

Rocks In The Attic At 250

A bit of a misleading title, as though I’ve been writing this blog since the good year 1763…

Despite carting my 600+ strong vinyl collection to the other side of the world in 2008, I somehow felt the need at the time to sell my turntable for a bit of pre-move cash. About a year ago, after living in New Zealand for over 4 years, I still didn’t own a turntable. I was still buying records, but I didn’t have anything to play them on. It got so bad that I started buying duplicates of records that I already owned – simply because I had become a stranger to my own record collection. ‘Did I really own Tracy Chapman’s debut album?’ I would ask myself in a record shop. When I got home, I realised that yes, I did, and no, it’s not an album worthy of having two copies.

A friend at work pointed out the absurdity of my situation, so I made a point to invest in a turntable as soon as possible. My technical know-how isn’t the best, so I really didn’t know what to buy. I’ve hung around with enough DJs in the past to know that I needed a direct-drive turntable, as opposed to an unreliable belt-drive turntable, but apart from that, I didn’t know a thing. I found a Stanton turntable on Trade Me – sold by a Cash Convertors-style shop – so it was still in relatively good condition, probably pawned by somebody not long after buying it. Thanks to the surround sound system left at our house by my Brother-In-Law, and a little pre-amp unit from the local electronics store, I was back in business. All those hundreds of shiny black discs in the corner of my living room could be listened to again!

Armchair CroppedAround this time, I had started reading Blog On The Tracks – the counter-culture music blog on the stuff.co.nz news website written by Wellington journalist Simon Sweetman. What a surprise to find something like this in New Zealand – it’s a real shame but most New Zealanders only get culture from their yoghurt. Simon’s blog made me think twice about New Zealand – it isn’t quite the cultural backwater that I had become to regard it as in the four years I had been living in the country. Yes, it’s a small country, and the majority of the population prefer the dull, simple pleasures of rugby and fishing, but there are intelligent, artistic people here too. I just need to look for them.

Simon’s side-blog, offthe tracks.co.nz features a segment called The Vinyl Countdown where he gives brief reviews of records in his collection. I had been toying with the idea of starting a music blog, writing about my favourite records, but focusing more on the personal stories behind why I bought the album in the first place, or the memories that go along with each disc. I’ve always thought the standard way that most journalists review music – by actually describing the sound coming out of the speakers – is very boring to read; and I’ve always liked it when a reviewer has put their own unique, personal slant on the record.

Reading offthetracks.co.nz – and being able to listen to my record collection again – gave me the final inspiration to start writing. I already had the intention to start a blog so I “borrowed” the format of The Vinyl Countdown, which gave me a structure for what I wanted to do. I’ve since apologised to Simon a couple of times for the blatant theft, and he’s always took it in good grace. I’m pretty sure that type of format is relatively common on blogging sites anyway, but I think it’s important to always pay respect and name your sources.

Record Collection April 2013So I started my blog, originally on blogger.com, but first I needed a name. Quickly finding that every pun on the word vinyl had already been used for a blog title, I opted for something that was a bit more personal. Two of the strongest ‘70s albums from my all-time favourite band Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic and Rocks, had always been a cornerstone of my record collection, so combining these titles seemed to work. It was either Rocks In The Attic or Toys In The Cellar.

Looking back, a couple of things stand out as regrets. I started naming a ‘hit’ and a ‘hidden gem’ for each album at the end of each post, and although this sounds relatively simple, it’s bloody hard sometimes. There are a couple of records in my collection that have nothing close to anything you would regard as a ‘hit’ (or a ‘hidden gem’ for that matter); and conversely, there are dozens of records in my collection where every song is a hit. I tend to regard the most well known song as the ‘hit’ (and if this doesn’t work, then the highest-placed charting single or the opening track); and the better of the lesser known songs as the ‘hidden gem’.

Another regret is my initial choice of Blogger as the location for my blog. I had used Blogger before so I was familiar with how to use it, and despite protestations from good friend Moo, I stuck with it. The last straw with Blogger occurred when the site stopped operating with Internet Explorer, and only accepted Google Chrome. Time to decamp, I thought. I then spent a whole weekend transferring my blog, post by post, which by then was well over a hundred, onto WordPress. After I had spent a great deal of time doing this, Moo innocently asked why I didn’t just use the ‘import blog’ function in WordPress. Cue Basil Fawlty meltdown.

One thing I did lose when I transferred to WordPress was some reader comments. Most of them came across, but for a time I was operating in both Blogger and WordPress, so when I shut the Blogger one down I lost a couple, especially from one excited reader who made a few welcome comments about The Band’s eponymous album. I hope he doesn’t think I was ignoring his worthy contribution.

When I started the blog, I put together an Excel spreadsheet, to log all of the albums I was posting about. With the aid of a few pivot tables and some automated formulas, I can accurately measure a couple of statistics. For the first forty or so posts, I tried to keep the distribution of albums by decade relatively even, but I knew that I couldn’t keep that up for long – my taste is far too geared towards the ‘60s and ‘70s to give anything later a chance.

After 250 posts, I can accurately report that the ‘70s are the most prominent decade in my collection, with 82 posts (33%). This is closely followed by the ‘80s, with 62 entries (25%).  The ‘90s (39, 16%) narrowly beat the ‘60’s (38, 15%). Unsurprisingly the 1950s, 2000s and 2010s are far behind with 1 (0%), 25 (10%) and 3 (1%) respectively.

The 250 posts I have written cover 287 actual discs – accounting for double-LPs and bonus discs – and 189 hours, 8 minutes and 10 seconds of actual music.

The frequency of particular artists in my collection doesn’t really surprise me either. Aside from 12 albums attributed to Various Artists (explained by soundtracks and compilations), the most common artists are Aerosmith (with 11 entries), The Beatles (8), The Rolling Stones (7), The Doobie Brothers and Led Zeppelin (both with 5), and Bob Dylan, R.E.M. and AC/DC (4 each). I’ve covered 159 separate artists so far, although there’s some double counting in there, for example, with Paul McCartney listed separate to Paul & Linda McCartney.

Couch CroppedEvery year since 1958 is represented, except 1959, 1960, 1961, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. I actually have records in my collection from some of those years – I just haven’t managed to get around to them just yet – but I’ll try and fill in some of those gaps for when I run this same tally at #500.

The year that appears the most is 1980 with 12 entries, which surprises me as I really thought it would be a year from the previous decade. 1972, 1976 and 1977 come second, with 11 each, and joint bronze goes to 1971 and 2000, with 10 apiece.

Rocks In The Attic was always supposed to be a retrospective blog. It was always intended as a walk through my record collection, which mainly consists of older albums, but towards the end of the year I found myself writing about new releases from 2012. I guess that adds a bit of variety, rather than endlessly talking about records that are older than myself.

One thing I’ve really appreciated since getting fully back into listening to vinyl is the annual Record Store Day releases (and its offshoots throughout the year such as Black Friday). I’ve picked up a few things in the last 12 months – a ten-disc box-set of 7” Stax singles from 1968 to 1974, and a 10” soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Releases like this really show that vinyl is very much alive and kicking.

So, Rocks In The Attic has reached 250 and I’m not even halfway through my still growing collection. There are dozens of classic albums left to write about – both critically acclaimed and important to me (with a few guilty pleasures thrown in for good measure). I don’t think I’ll be ending this blog anytime soon – I’m having too much fun.

Thanks for reading.

Johnny Andrews, April 2013.

Hit: The fact that I get so much enjoyment from sitting down every Saturday morning and writing about the records I’m listening to.

Hidden Gem: Having anybody read my blog, and best of all, leaving a comment.

Rocks In The Attic #192: Alexandre Desplat & Mark Mothersbaugh – ‘Moonrise Kingdom (O.S.T.)’ (2012)

RITA#192I made a rule when I started writing this blog that I was only going to write about 12” records – full albums, and not EPs or 12” singles. I’m breaking that rule by writing about this little oddity, because I love it.

Released as a limited edition 10” Record Store Day release on Black Friday (November 23rd) in 2012, this collects nineteen minutes of score from Wes Anderson’s latest film. With only certain soundtrack releases getting a vinyl release these days, I never expected to be able to walk into a store and buy a Wes Anderson soundtrack on vinyl. Even though this is only a 10”, it’s a happy addition to my collection.

I finally got around to watching Moonrise Kingdom the other day, and despite being a huge Wes Anderson fan, I was pretty disappointed. The film looked fantastic, and the music was just as good as it ever is in his films, but the character arcs didn’t really go anywhere and overall if just came off like a watered-down version of a Wes Anderson film, just like The Darjeeling Limited was five years ago.

These exclusive Record Store Day releases are really becoming something to look out for – and it’s great that there now seems to be two release dates each year.

Hit: The Heroic Weather-Conditions Of The Universe, Part 1: A Veiled Mist

Hidden Gem: The Heroic Weather-Conditions Of The Universe, Part 7: After The Storm