31 March 2008

Meet the Mess Mets



30 March 2008

26 March 2008

Directing a Girl To Your Webpage of Streaming MP3s Will Not Get You Laid

"What the fuck is a muxtape?"

Muxtape. Yet another way for our generation to substitute taste for creativity. Mine's here. Please ignore the list of albums, books, movies and other websites to your right. And yes, The Rest is Noise is outstanding; I highly recommend you obtain a copy, regardless of your present level of interest in classical music.

25 March 2008

Bow Down Before the Millions Served

Christopher R. Weingarten re: Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts in the Village Voice:
The same democratizing Internet that leveled the playing field for the label-free TrentCo may be the same one that disassembles him: It's only a matter of time before his fans find out how easy it is to discover more interesting electronic music. In the mid-'90s, Reznor alone was the way your average  Hackers fan connected with the cutting edge, jacking in via his collaborations (Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert) and the signees to his Interscope imprint, Nothing (Autechre, Squarepusher). But now, just like Trent himself, everyone is one MySpace friend away from Ricardo Villalobos or Keith Fullerton Whitman or Richard Devine or Burial or Carlos Giffoni or Fuck Buttons or whomever. Not to mention it's easier than ever to make your own electronic music. There's photos of Reznor and collaborator Atticus Ross looming over mountains of gear—impossible tangles of wires, museum-ready rows of pedals, monolithic switchboards that might as well be manned by Lily Tomlin. But with some time and the right plug-ins, your friend might make a similar record on ProTools (if your friend could invite Adrian Belew to play a few ripping solos) that could escape a blind taste-test and grow to the heights of being one of the many records on Mush or Asphodel or Plug Research that don't get written about.
I don't disagree with Weingarten's assessment of Trent Reznor's internet a la carte experiment, music-wise: it is "basically a minimalist record that coasts on one's predilection for NINoise." But suggesting that by putting out a mediocre ambient album, Reznor is imperiling himself by placing his work in direct competition with "betters" like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Keith Fullerton Whitman, and Burial is faintly ridiculous. First off, it assumes that by potentially referring his listenership to these "more interesting" artists, Reznor is engaging in a zero-sum game that he can only lose; perhaps upon first listen to Multiples or Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 the unwashed hordes will experience a Damascene conversion and abandon Nine Inch Nails, but I sincerely doubt it. Secondly, NIN's traditional metier of goth-grunge-industrial topped with adenoidal vocals will always outsell the Warp catalogue about a billion to one, even if Reznor's art project/market experiment exposes him as a middling presence in "serious" electronic music at best. Finally, Weingarten's argument presupposes that if the cloth-ears willing to swear fealty to the NIN "brand" ever figure out that they can get their hands on the means of production, the ensuing democratization would expose Reznor as...well, I'm not sure. In fact, Weingarten never really states why NIN fans making their own records would be a bad thing for Trent. I guess that the threat is implied, the same way that punk destroyed its bloated corporate rock antecedents, and if you believe that, I have two $300 floor seats to the Eagles reunion tour to sell you.

I agree, I suppose, with Weingarten's gripe that there's more ink on the hundred-dollar bills in Reznor's wallet than many worthwhile electronic albums ever earn in press. But that's not Trent's fault; in fact, as Weingarten himself notes, Reznor was, circa 1995, the sole conduit to the "cutting edge" of electronic music, collaborating with Aphex Twin and Luke Vibert, and signing Autechre and Squarepusher to his Nothing imprint. While MySpace and mp3 blogs and BitTorrent have ensured that these worthwhile artists are now only a click away, it would seem that Trent has long been sowing the seeds of his putative destruction, though I doubt that's how he'd see it. And sure, by flipping off Jimmy Iovine, Reznor's simply discovered a way to pocket all of the loot from future Nine Inch Nails releases; but how cynical do you have to be to see an artist controlling the distribution of his own work and reaping the fruit of his labors as, well, cynical? Yeah, the rich get richer; by selling out all 2,500 copies of the $300 super-luxe limited edition boxed set of Ghosts (oooh FLAC master tracks on Blu-Ray DVD!), Trent's already hauled in $750,000 before costs. But at least he's earning it.

For a more in-depth perspective on the business-side of Ghosts, I recommend reading Bob Lefsetz's take in its entirety, but I'll excerpt the most relevant bit, which catches a bit of what Weingarten doesn't address:
Many people can’t even LISTEN to Nine Inch Nails. It gives them a headache. They believe it’s akin to camping on the factory floor. Who gives a shit about these people. Hell, it adds to NIN’s cachet. Trent’s not owned by MTV, not "Rolling Stone", not Volkswagen or "Grey’s Anatomy" or all the sponsors/advertisers the mainstream says you must be in bed with. Trent is owned by his FANS! And what they like about him is he’s only about the art, he lives in their generation, not the twentieth century. He’s willing to try new things, the way the Beatles did, the way all the classic acts did.

Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts I-IV site

Shopping For Blood

Look at those teeth and tell me that's not an actual vampire

The war in Iraq grinds on. The economy is circling the drain. Your NCAA tournament bracket is shot to pieces. Hillary Clinton continues to inflict serious damage on the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Barack Obama's pastor continues to inflict serious damage on the presumptive Democratic nominee.

But wait: there's good news. We're finally winning the war on bats! All I have to say is, "Watch out spiders: you're next."

24 March 2008

My Hand Just Kills and Kills


Low's Alan Sparhawk sounds like "Low's Alan Sparhawk" to such an extent that perhaps anything he would involve himself with would bear the taint of his main gig; Retribution Gospel Choir, his side project with bassist Matt Livingston (also of Low, of late) and drummer Eric Pollard, sounds like Low with more guitars. This mightn't be so problematic were it not for the fact that Retribution Gospel Choir also share Low's main aesthetic attribute - their adherence to funereal tempos - and that Low themselves made the "Low with more guitars" album in 2005's bafflingly maligned The Great Destroyer. (It also doesn't help that RGC cover, however ably, two recent Low tracks: "Breaker" and "Take Your Time" from last year's terrific Drums and Guns.) Neil Young's work with Crazy Horse is invoked here, perhaps inevitably; I hear that impulse behind Sparhawk's noodling, but none of the workouts on debut full-length Retribution Gospel Choir are as languid or magisterial as a "Cortez the Killer" or "Powderfinger". In fact, despite Sparhawk's evident devotion to stately pacing, the album's tracks are quite economical, with most topping out under three minutes, and the two longest tied at 4:06.

A confession: the first, and only time I have seen Low live, they were pretty much as boring as watching paint dry. It was at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia, a stately 19th century meeting hall just off of Rittenhouse Square which was woefully ill-suited as a musical venue, primarily because the stage was so low to the ground (in fact, I don't even know if there was an elevated stage or they just played on the floor - in which case, fuck off Dan Deacon) that everybody had to sit on the floor the entire time. This might not have been so bad, were it not for the fact that opener Mark Eitzel (who I subsequently learned was kind of a big deal as singer-songwriting for the now-resurgent American Music Club) was god-awful and Low themselves were so incredibly late, for reasons I cannot recall. So after slogging through in minor discomfort for two hours, Low played a sonorous acoustic set heavy on cuts from their worst album, 2002's Trust; the twin highlights were the phone call Mimi Parker (Low's drummer and Sparhawk's wife) took on stage from their baby sitter, and the fact that their set was foreshortened by the Ethical Society's policy of closing up shop by 10:00 pm, which might have been another item of complaint had the trio (Zak Sally was the bassist at the time, but has since departed the group) gathered even a modicum of momentum. So, with that caveat, and judging from the YouTube clip above, the best way to view RGC would be, probably to Sparhawk's chagrin, as Low in an awesome, electrified touring configuration. Which is nothing to sneeze at.

P.S. Worth checking out is Low's outstanding 2001 effort, Things We Lost in the Fire, which on its own makes the case for the dramatic possibilities of the so-called "slowcore" movement. On this record, Nietzsche's famous formulation about women applies to the band as well: "They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent."

Retribution Gospel Choir Myspace
Low Myspace

23 March 2008

Escape From L.A.

If George W. Bush's America vomited, it might look like Southland Tales, an incomprehensible piece of political satire that doesn't bother with pretension, instead throwing C and D-list actors, conceits, and signifiers at the screen as furiously as possible, hoping, perhaps, that something sticks. As cinema it's an act of vandalism, rejecting limousine liberal politesse in favor of what I would term direct action: if you want to say "fuck the Republicans" just say fuck the Republicans, I guess. That's not to say that Southland Tales is writer-director Richard Kelly's Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's infamous anti-Bush "documentary" polemic; in that film, you could tell what the hell was going on. Kelly, whose previous feature, Donnie Darko, abandoned logic in favor of an intuitive emotional authenticity, here just abandons logic in favor of taking out as many targets as humanly possible. Perhaps the culture is simply too large to be so simply indicted, but I imagine that someone like Kelly must have figured that the powers that be would get wise to his shit eventually and deny him the means of production, so why not try for the big brass ring all in one fell swoop?

20 March 2008

E tu, Brute?

Period dress?

Julius Caesar, as we all know, had his shit jacked on the Ides of March, and got the month of July named after him. Kind of like the Notorious B.I.G. Leonard Lopate gets to the bottom of things with Conversations in Tusculum playwright Richard Nelson and actor David Strathairn:

Do You Wanna Dance

I don't give a flying fuck about college basketball for the most part, but I, like most of the betesticled population of the U.S.A. love March Madness. Why? Well, as it happens, I have a theory about this: it's a two parter.

First, it's like one of those cheeseball '80s and '90s mixed marshal arts movies where they invite all these super badass ninja types (and one American, i.e. the Good Guy, i.e. Jean Claude Van Dam or Dolph Lundgren - don't worry, the irony will roundhouse kick you in the face in about a second) to fight it out to the death in a single elimination tournament. If you get sonned by the fat sumo dude or the hot gymnast assassin chick, then you end up in a pit of spikes or having your spine ripped out. The NCAA tournament is much like this, except the losers squirt a few tears and then tear up the hotel bar. The drama, especially in the later rounds, is fantastic, especially as the Cinderellas, those low seeded squads that inevitably squeeze their way at least into the Sweet Sixteen, grapple to the death with a Duke or a UConn; truly there are few greater David and Goliath stories that the no-name liberal arts college with a gym (literally, a gym) that houses 5,000 fans going head-to-head with a basketball factory that is basically an NBA farm team.

Second, along with the vaunted (and far stupider) Super Bowl pool, the NCAA tournament pool is the premier layman's gambling event of the year. The permutations in a field of 64 teams are virtually limitless (well, obviously there are finite number of outcomes), and fate is so capricious that the seasoned fan is often on equal footing with the mom who chips in five bucks because everyone else in the office is playing and then picks winners based on where her friends went to college or what state she would like to live in. It allows you a rooting interest regardless of your legitimate collegiate affiliation, and opens the door for vicarious triumph by sheer luck plus the winning of a significant chunk of money.

Also, during the first two rounds anyway, it's the most bewildering event to watch drunk, as they're constantly flipping back and forth between games and you can't possibly follow what the hell is going on.

Failed States

From "Exposure" by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, The New Yorker, 3/24/2008:
The image of Gilligan achieves its power from the fact that it does not show the human form laid bare and reduced to raw matter but creates instead an original image of inhumanity that admits no immediately self-evident reading. Its fascination resides, in large part, in its mystery and inscrutability—in all that is concealed by all that it reveals. It is an image of carnival weirdness: this upright body shrouded from head to foot; those wires; that pose; and the peaked hood that carries so many vague and ghoulish associations. The pose is obviously contrived and theatrical, a deliberate invention that appears to belong to some dark ritual, a primal scene of martyrdom. The picture transfixes us because it looks like the truth, but, looking at it, we can only imagine what that truth is: torture, execution, a scene staged for the camera? So we seize on the figure of Gilligan as a symbol that stands for all that we know was wrong at Abu Ghraib and all that we cannot—or do not want to—understand about how it came to this.

Intelligent Design

18 March 2008

The Omega Man and Omega Man's Best Friend

We can work it out

The first hour of I Am Legend is an awesome story about Will Smith and his dog Sam tooling around an abandoned Manhattan in rad cars, hunting antelope and trapping vampires for medical experiments. The remainder is sub-28 Days Later "last best hope for humanity" melodramatic pap. Smith is the main attraction here, giving what is perhaps his best performance as a man constantly fending off the terror of being utterly alone in the world by thrusting himself into the futile labor of trying to find a cure for the disease that has turned the scintilla of humanity who didn't expire straight away into a horde of rabid zombie/vampires that prey on the even smaller scintilla who were entirely immune. Unfortunately the filmmakers, who invest a great deal of time building an engrossing atmosphere of isolation coupled with desperation, decide to sabotage their story with a particularly glaring deus ex machina, turning I Am Legend's climax into Panic Room: The Cliffs Notes. I suppose that insofar as Will Smith-starring adaptations of 1950s classic sci-fi novels, it's far better than the atrocious I, Robot.

Brand New Order

Cut Copy's long awaited follow-up to 2004's slept-on Bright Like Neon Love is slated to drop in the United States on April 8th courtesy of Modular. Knowing that you can't (or shouldn't want to) wait that long, and seeking to deny leakers the moral high ground, the band have posted In Ghost Colours for streaming in its entirety over at their MySpace. It's sort of a shamelessly brilliant/brilliantly shameless rip of New Order at their most rock-centric, and it's destined to be one of the most nakedly pleasurable pop albums of 2008.

Addendum: Cut Copy have also posted an mp3 of their So Cosmic mix, which I suppose serves as a kind of prologue for the upcoming album. Download it from their blog, complete with annotated tracklisting.

17 March 2008

L'Arc de Triomphe


We're here-ere!

Hipster farmers: "Their Carhartts are no longer ironic. Now they have real dirt on them." Probably the finest match between insufferable journalism and the infuriating focus thereof I've yet encountered, from the newspaper that just broke the story on Brooklyn: indie rock enclave.

16 March 2008

All-Girl Death Squad

Don't leave me hanging on the telephone

Los Angeles is, as has been oft-remarked recently, fertile ground for rock and roll these days: there's the murmur-punk of No Age, the bracing no-wave of Health, and the wiry feminist proto-punk of Mika Miko. The five women who make up Miko just tore apart the South by Southwest festival to several favorable notices, but they're far from new: the first album, C.Y.S.L.A.B.F., has been out on Kill Rock Stars since July 2006, and they released the 666 EP on Post Present Medium back in March '07. The RIYL here is going to be the lo-fi sloppy-core of Black Lips, Times New Viking, and Jay Reatard, with the caveat that Miko are far, far more vicious, and ergo, far, far better.

Mika Miko Myspace

Carnival of Souls

The human impulse when confronted with something that appears to be a puzzle is to attempt to solve it. This tendency presupposes that all puzzles have a single correct solution, and that all things that appear to be puzzles are, in fact, puzzles. Such is the frustration underlying Alain Resnais' controversial 1961 film, L'année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad), the very point of which appears to be to confound and undermine these ingrained expectations.

The film's premise is thus: a man (Giorgio Albertazzi, billed as 'X') meets a woman (Delphine Seyrig, billed as 'A') while staying at an opulent chateau in Marienbad, a spa town in the former Czechoslovakia. 'X' believes that he has met 'A' the previous year, and that she had then promised to leave her husband for him; she demurs, claiming not to remember him. A second man, 'M' (Sacha Pitoeff ), who may or may not be 'A's husband, looms over the proceedings with oblique menace. From there the film appears to be a study of the nature of objectivity and memory, with scenes repeating over and over with slight variations: a fireplace will be on the other side of a room, with a landscape hanging over the mantle rather than a mirror; a feathered dressing gown transforms into a black evening gown; a diagram of the hotel grounds is subtly altered. Certain motifs, however, are prominent: a parlor game is played over and over again; an ambiguous statue's meaning is bruited about; and the hotel's endless corridors and doorways are invoked in a seemingly looped voice-over, perhaps as a metaphor for the film's nightmarishly infinite feel.

What actually happens in Marienbad is both unknowable and immaterial; it is the first, and perhaps best example of a film defying our desire for narrative, definite storytelling and instead aiming directly for a visceral emotional response. To attempt to "solve" the movie is ultimately beside the point. Resnais and his screenwriter, the avant-garde novelist and filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet (an excellent New York Times profile is here), have created a kind of surrealist horror film, mining the same deep vein of existential dread as latter-day abstractionist David Lynch, upon whose work Marienbad is an undeniably profound influence. The events of the film as we see them are disquieting enough - there is a possible murder - but the presentation is so feverish, so obtuse, that it evokes a concurrent blend of bewilderment, claustrophobia, and déjà vu.

Last Year at Marienbad is currently playing a limited return engagement at Film Forum (209 W. Houston Street). The trailer may be viewed here.

14 March 2008

"The never-fail appliance for glamorizing malaise"

Robert Bechtle, Six Houses on Mound Street, 2006. Oil on canvass

Peter Schjeldahl has a wonderful write up of the Whitney Biennial over in the pages of the current New Yorker. (Or, at least I assume he does, as I haven't yet perused my print edition; look, I'm all for access, but isn't being able to read each complete issue of The New Yorker for free on the internet a slap in the face to us paying subscribers? Ultimately I'm shelling out for the Table of Contents, ads for things I generally can't afford, and the cartoons. And I just renewed. Goddamn it. Anyway:)

Up front, my knowledge of the fine arts is sorely deficient; I, like most cavemen, assess objets d'art on a purely visual basis, without much regard for, or foreknowledge of, their larger historical context. So my interest here isn't in the art (which I haven't yet had an opportunity to see), but how Schjeldahl writes about it, which I am simply suggesting, in a rather roundabout fashion, you read. Behold:
...this Biennial is remarkably free of forced ideas, despite an occasional appeal to ecological virtue. It is full of busy ingenuities that smack of art school—but of art-school studios, not seminars. Two decades of academic postmodernizing have trailed off into embarrassed silence...

There isn’t a lot in the show to like very much, but the over-all tenor puts me in mind of the “aridity” that, according to another exigent author, John of the Cross, is a key stage in the “dark night of the soul,” preceding redemption. Even if little comes of it, the drama of this state—a sort of exasperated modesty—will etch the 2008 Biennial in memory...

Sharply surprising is the inclusion of taciturn paintings of benumbingly ordinary suburban streets by the finest of the first-generation photo-realists, Robert Bechtle, whose style has hardly varied in more than forty years. But take their philosophical measure: a stony refusal to believe that we ever know what we see, put to a test of things—dull houses, parked cars—that seem too obvious to merit even passing attention. Like a struck tuning fork, Bechtle’s skepticism finds harmonic vibrations in works by young artists of otherwise unrelated sorts....
And so forth. How can you not want to see this thing? And how could it possibly live up, in your mind, to these lush descriptions and insights?

The Whitney Biennial runs from March 6 through June 1 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue. Admission is $15, with pay-what-you-wish admission from 6-9pm on Fridays. (From March 6 to March 23, the Biennial will extend to the Park Avenue Armory [at 67th Street] with further installations; admission free.) The Biennial's website is here; and the Whitney's, uh, Facebook page is here.

13 March 2008

Bubble Yum

Mmmm jellybeans

Apart from LCD Soundsystem, the DFA had been up to deceptively little of note until lately. Between 2002 and 2005, the label/production team released a steady stream of seminal 12-inches and albums, including, but not limited to "House of Jealous Lovers", "Losing My Edge", "Cone Toaster", "Yeah", their remix of Le Tigre's "Decepticon", Echoes, and DFA Compilation #2. Yet, despite their enduring prestige, a quick page through the DFA's discography of late reveals a pair of (admittedly excellent) vault-clearing remix compilations, Hot Chip's à chacun son goût new LP, Made in the Dark, and two fairly disappointing high-profile remixes (Justin Timberlake's "My Love" and M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes").

That's why it is extremely heartening that recent times have seen two DFA releases that go a long way towards resolving the label's burgeoning identity crisis. These are Hercules & Love Affair's self-titled debut and the latest 12-inch from The Juan MacLean, "Happy House". Both veer away from the krautrock, pathos, and irony trail blazed by the flagship act and find a warm, organic center; the pendulum swings back towards the "disco" and away from the "punk". H&LA, the nom de guerre of Brooklyn's Andy Butler, is the first DFA act to fully embrace Paradise Garage-era disco qua disco, resulting in a sound that Nick Sylvester accurately encapsulated as "straight-up gay." It alternates between rapturous house anthems and quasi torch songs, marrying early-oughts live-sounding (or possibly live) percussion and hand claps with the strongest vocal presence (again, discounting Mr. Murphy) on a DFA release since Luke Jenner tried to appropriate the top of Robert Smith's vocal range on those original Rapture singles. This is primarily thanks to the efforts of Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) whose diva potential is fully realized here, as opposed to on My Robot Friend's restrained, under-orchestrated "One More Try"; his vocal performance nearly overpowers the excellent "Blind", which is no mean feat.

The Juan MacLean, a.k.a. John MacLean (formerly of Six Finger Satellite) is a DFA O.G. who constantly operated out of the (relative) limelight; in the beginning he rubbed shoulders with the considerably more fêted Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, and Black Dice. In 2005 he released his debut album Less Than Human which spawned a trio of excellent-yet-underheard tracks, "Give Me Every Little Thing", "Tito's Way", and "Love is in the Air". I don't know whether or not it would be appropriate to call MacLean the "housiest" member of the DFA stable; he's certainly the artist who hewed closest to dance music's existing template (whereas his better-known labelmates were more instrumental in expanding it). "Happy House", as the title suggests, fits squarely within this aesthetic: centered around a infectious piano figure and co-writer Nancy Whang's appropriately femme anonyme vocal, the 12+ minute track is concerned only with propulsion and hedonism, which here are conjoined pursuits. Todd L. Burns has a more thoughtful run down of the title track and its accompanying remixes over at Resident Advisor; one specific "Easter Egg surprise" I'd like to direct you to is the cowbell.

Hercules & Love Affair Myspace
The Juan MacLean Myspace

11 March 2008

I Put Myself In This Position

Letter From Your Future Past

From "The Humbling of Eliot Spitzer" by Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker, 12/10/2007:
Spitzer’s tenure as a state attorney general may be the most heavily chronicled of any in America’s history. He reimagined the office, inserting it into the void left by a general regulatory retreat by the federal government. He regarded his activism as a logical and just extension of a new states’-rights movement, which had been conceived as an attempt to roll back oversight and advance a conservative, laissez-faire agenda, but which Spitzer interpreted as an invitation to state-led intercession and prosecutorially mandated policy change. With great gusto, he went after big polluters, pharmaceutical companies, gun manufacturers, and, most notably, the financial industry, where various harmful and fraudulent practices had taken root—insincere equity research, shady market timing, bid rigging. As many saw it, Spitzer’s modus operandi was to build a case against his targets, then push the most egregious allegations in the media, which put unbearable public pressure on the targets to settle. And settle they almost invariably did. Spitzer earned an impressive array of scalps, admirers, headlines, and plaudits for reform, as well as a coterie of powerful enemies, whose indignation toward his media manipulations, disproportionate tactics, and occasionally shallow understanding of their businesses tended to be drowned out by the widespread public disgust engendered by their greed.

Brooke Masters, in “Spoiling for a Fight,” her 2006 biography of Spitzer, meticulously recapitulates each prosecution—the regulatory turf battles, the legal dekes and dodges, the mutating rationales—creating a portrait of a righteous and far from infallible crusader employing every tactical advantage that his office makes available to him. He does not always come off well. (All the same, his parents have the book on the coffee table at their house in Rye.) His detractors tend to complain that the press created Eliot Spitzer—that the Sheriff of Wall Street, to use one moniker, was a fantasy of the liberal, wealth-resenting media. And so they take some satisfaction in the fact that the pendulum seems to have swung back on him, with so much force that you’d think it was spring-loaded.

Now I Wanna Be Your Madonna

Yesterday, Madonna was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a paradoxical institution whose mission is to make Jann Wenner seem relevant. Rather than perform, the Material Girl requested that her songs be covered by fellow Michiganders The Stooges, who complied with renditions of "Burning Up" and "Ray of Light." Undoubtedly the above video of their set will be pulled down by Viacom posthaste, so enjoy it while you can.

10 March 2008

Those Who Dwell In Glass Houses

Shortly after taking office, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer placed a now infamous phone call to the Assembly minority leader, Republican James Tedisco, referring to himself as "a fucking steamroller." That outburst, occasioned by the Assemblyman's criticisms over being left out of negotiations on an ethics bill, was the defining moment of Spitzer's year-old administration. It has served as both a sobriquet and an epithet, depending on whether the utterer admired the governor's signature no-nonsense, no quarter style or despised his particularly arrogant brand of self-righteousness. Had Spitzer someday realized the sweeping transformation of New York politics he promised when running for governor, it would have served as the cornerstone of his legend, and eventually, his epitaph. Now it is a cat-call.

Spitzer was today connected with an international prostitution ring, captured on a federal wiretap arranging for the services of a high-priced call girl while in Washington, D.C. last month. In a brief press conference at his Manhattan office, the governor apologized to his family and the public, citing only "a personal matter"; he did not deny the prostitution story, first reported by the New York Times. For a man who has positioned himself as a tireless crime fighter above reproach, the accusation is ruinous. It exposes Spitzer as a pious hypocrite, setting a stringently high standard of conduct for others while flouting the law in brazenly lurid fashion himself. His credibility is destroyed, and his ability to govern effectively is probably beyond repair.

Spitzer's greatest antagonist, the Republican Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, will live to fight another day. It was Bruno, a legislative maneuverer of the old school (incidentally not without legal problems of his own), who most spectacularly stood up to the Steamroller, using his leadership position as a cudgel to bring Spitzer's agenda to a grinding halt. Furthermore, it was the majority leader who was inadvertently responsible for Spitzer's previous big stumble, his staff's improper leaking of state police records concerning Bruno's possibly inappropriate use of state aircraft for political travel. Yet, despite Bruno's best efforts, Spitzer was closing in on the G.O.P. Senate majority, using his influence and control of the state Democratic Party's coffers to narrow the gap in the upper house to one seat.
Just yesterday he appeared poised to unify the state government under Democratic control for the first time since the Great Depression; that grand political project, which would have drastically altered the landscape of the New York politics and perhaps given the governor the requisite clout to remake Albany in his image, is now deferred at best and dead at worst.

I expect that Spitzer will do the honorable thing and resign. It is this end he seemed to foreshadow in his comments today, saying, "I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good, and doing what is best for the state of New York." By failing to live up to his own ideals in such a spectacular fashion, he has done potentially irreparable damage to the project he personified, and betrayed the trust of millions of New Yorkers who invested their hope for desperately needed change in him. Falling on his sword is the least he can do.

09 March 2008

A Bullet to the Head

The Brave One does for right-to-carry enthusiasts what 24 does for torture boosters: provides a fictive context in which their arguments, invalidated by reality, ring 100% true. Unlike Taxi Driver, another film concerning vigilantism and featuring Jodie Foster, The Brave One pretends to ask complicated questions, but is ultimately ambivalent about the moral and ethical conundrum supposedly at its core, allowing Foster's character - an NPR reporter (shorthand, you see, for her initial naivety, er, I mean, liberalism) - to strut and fret vis a vis her ultraviolent freelancing while making sure that the audience is never less that 110% on her side the entire time. A rogue's gallery of '70s era urban baddies - muggers, murderers, would-be rapists - get dispatched with a simple pull of the trigger, and who could possibly have a problem with that? Watching these carefully choreographed scenes from the comfortable omnipotence of my couch, I know that these scumbags deserve precisely what they got, and I don't feel the least bit "complicit", which is how I'm sure the filmmakers, who likely believe themselves to be raising "difficult" questions and issues, wanted me to feel.

Rather than turning the Death Wish formula on its head, The Brave One merely updates it. Sure, the muggers are back in Central Park, and the subways are again a lawless netherworld, but this time, instead of some kid getting his Walkman ripped off, he loses an iPod.

05 March 2008

Techno Is Nothing to Fear

Ann Arbor's Spectral Sound has released the official third installment in its Death Is Nothing to Fear EP series, burnishing its reputation as America's flagship techno label and perpetuating the greatest graphic design scheme in music today. Featuring tracks by Sami Koivikko, Seth Troxler, Kate Simko, and 2AM/FM. I suppose there are dance floors on the planet where this stuff would be in vogue, but it strikes me more as headphone music. Available for preview here.

While we're on the Ghostly/Spectral Sound tip, allow me to mention a 2007 record I rated last year but failed to discuss in detail. Matthew Dear's Asa Breed is a slow burner refocusing the scattershot quality of his duel 2004 releases Leave Luck to Heaven (the English translation of the word "Nintendo", evidently) and Backstroke into an even more pop oriented creation. Basically Dear comes off like a more cosmopolitan, less ironic James Murphy, with perhaps an even greater interest in Before and After Science-era Eno; tracks "Deserter" and "Don and Sherri" are both outstanding and representative of the subtle genius contained herein. Luckily, for those of you who did not hear Asa Breed when it was fresh, the folks at Ghostly have decided to reissue the record in a special "black edition", appending crack remixes by Hot Chip and Four Tet; available now on iTunes.

You Really Got Me

Some highlights from Stuff White People Like:
8. Barack Obama
9. Making you feel bad about not going outside
22. Being an expert on YOUR culture
28. Not having a TV
38. Arrested Development
44. Public radio
56. Lawyers
62. Knowing what's best for poor people
70. Difficult breakups
78. Multilingual children

03 March 2008

Inconsistently Updated Is For the Children

Four friends and baby-sitting - what could be more fun? An appendectomy.

What makes a hit children's book? Harry Potter. Leonard Lopate interviews three people with the wrong answer:

02 March 2008

"Best play ever, man."

Five best movies about Vietnam:

1. Apocalypse Now
2. The Deer Hunter
3. Platoon
4. Rambo: First Blood Part II
5. The last 15 minutes of Rushmore