29 April 2008

More More Mux

Stacking Bodies:
  1. Cabaret Voltaire - Sensoria (12" mix)
  2. Peter Gabriel - I Don't Remember
  3. The Juan MacLean - Happy House (Lee Douglas Remix)
  4. Ratatat - Seventeen Years
  5. Mariah Carey - Emotions (DJ Copy Remix)
  6. Death From Above 1979 - Romantic Rights
  7. Lindstrøm - I Feel Space
  8. Bloc Party - Banquet (Boys Noize Vox Mix)
  9. The Passions - I'm in Love With a German Film Star
  10. Section 25 - Looking From a Hilltop (Restructured)
  11. Johnny Boy -You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve (Crews Against Consumismo Extended Mix)
  12. Laurie Anderson - Big Science

28 April 2008

You Want to Hear About the Deal We're Making

New muxtape over in the sidebar: the tastefully named MJB Vol. 2. Track listing:
  1. Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg - Still D.R.E. (Megasoid Remix)
  2. Chromatics - Running Up That Hill
  3. Santogold - You'll Find a Way
  4. The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health (Ratatat Remix)
  5. Re-Up Gang - Roc Boys
  6. Feelies - Paint It, Black
  7. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Enola Gay
  8. Sally Shapiro - I Know You're My Love (Juan MacLean Remix)
  9. Spoon - Don't You Evah (Doc Delay Fixerupper Mix)
  10. Titus Andronicus - Arms Against Atrophy
  11. The Go-Betweens - Draining the Pool For You
  12. Phoenix - Playground Love (Air Cover)

Okay We Get It/Yeah You Too

"Run up in your loft/Put the gun up in your mouth/Get the money out the couch"

Megasoid are a production duo from Montreal; their Tank Thong mixtape can be downloaded free of charge here. On it, you can hear their remix of "My Love," one of the few successful reworkings of a Timberlake track out there. Alert ears will also pick up on some other familiar voices (Dre, Clipse, Missy Eliot), buttressing the oft-voiced contention that much of the innovation in hip-hop is being practiced by scavengers more interested in pummeling your lower intestine with waves of bass than creating new and interesting ring tones for you to hear on the 7 train. Megasoid will be DJing at Low End Theory, a party imported to N.Y. from L.A. going on at the Knitting Factory on May 2; I'd be more interested in seeing them at an as-of-yet undisclosed "rooftop venue in Buffalo" on June 13.

Megasoid Myspace

Oh No, Oh No/You've Got It All Wrong

It's been hard to tell whether or not Norway's Annie venerates plastic pop or views it ironically; the video for "I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me" - mysteriously embargoed by her label, so get it while it's hot - decisively places her in the former camp. It's a cross between Destiny's Child's color coded "Say My Name" video, and those Verizon Wireless commercials for the LG Chocolate: simple, bold, effective, and completely devoid of subtext. This isn't a knock unless you need your art complicated; after all, it's not like brilliant disposables "Chewing Gum" or "Heartbeat," the singles that first brought Annie internet fame, have a third dimension either. Sure, she'll never be famous in America (something she has in common with fellow blog sensation M.I.A.), but so what? Hopefully she'll continue to enjoy enough success in Europe to keep her in the music business - after all, we subsidize most pharmaceutical research, so fair's fair.

Grève Indéfinie

Nominally centered around a work stoppage/hostage-taking at a meatpacking plant, Jean-Luc Godard's Tout va bien is a wide-ranging critique of the state of class struggle in France four years after the epochal uprisings of May 1968. One by one, each strata of French society comes in for interrogation and abuse: the bosses, the bourgeoisie, the self-described "intellectuals," the police, the unions, and the "establishment" Communists. Even the (mostly) young workers, with whose ethos of direct action the filmmakers' clearly identify, are portrayed less as a serious force for social change than as situationist clowns in the Merry Prankster mode. The spirit invoked in dialogue and intertitles is constantly that of '68, but the mood that informs the piece is that of 1789 - a blind, unguided application of vaguely articulated principles in the service of an ill-defined goal. Of course, Godard, a committed leftist himself, is hardly a disinterested observer; in an accompanying short epistolary film directed at Tout va bien's American star, Jane Fonda, following her infamous trip to North Vietnam, he asks the surprisingly dilletantish question, "What can cinema do to help the people of Vietnam win their independence?" Yet despite his malformed politics, the director's greatest attributes, his incisive view of human nature and the inherent defects of rigid ideology, are incapable of being dimmed: as another leftist filmmaker, the Soviet master Dziga Vertov said, "It is far from simple to show the truth, yet the truth is simple."

27 April 2008

Greetings From Bergen County, N.J.

Some people hate Bright Eyes because of Conor Oberst's histrionic vocal stylings, which often give the impression that he is singing in a rock tumbler with a bag with a hungry rat in it strapped to his head. If this doesn't deter you, and you particularly like 2002's Lifted, or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, then you will probably enjoy the debut of New Jersey's own Titus Andronicus, The Airing of Grievances (Seinfeld reference, that), which takes the positive, propulsive aspects of Bright Eyes, and weds them to the Pogues' punk sensibility and (who else) Springsteen's engine. Lead singer Patrick Stickles does borrow heavily from Oberst's playbook, but then again one doesn't have to look far past Conor to find Paul Westerberg or a thousand other unconventional rockers yowling away unprettily. The record is out now, reportedly in a limited edition of 700 CDs, on Jersey City's Troubleman Unlimited label.

Titus Andronicus Myspace
Troubleman Unlimited website

* * * * *

Interesting connection: apparently Titus Andronicus have something to do with a now-defunct party, The Creature, a friend of a friend used to throw downtown. The reason said party is defunct is because its prime mover, a guy who apparently only goes by Alex, has a newish band, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Like the name implies, they're an emo-ish riff on JAMC's fuzz; they use the term "anorak" to describe themselves, thus making the twee pop link explicit. Unlike their pals in Titus Andronicus, they're pleasant rather than abrasive. Right now there's a couple of 7-inches, and self-titled EP, which can be obtained over at Insound. Check them out below.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Myspace, website

22 April 2008

Saw You In a Mag/Kissing a Man


The legendary group Wire are headlining a free "festival" on Friday, May 30 as part of New York City's annual River-to-River concert series. The band are best known for the troika of albums they released between 1977 and 1979 - Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154 - which demonstrated their freakish propensity for sonic evolution; while it's impossible to encapsulate the "Wire sound", my stab would be "Beckett-punk." And despite their advanced age (and the departure of original rhythm guitarist Bruce Gilbert), Wire are still vital: last fall saw the release of the excellent third edition of their Read & Burn EP series, and their latest full-length album, Object 47, is slated to drop in July. Suffice to say that I will be there on the 30th - there being, I suppose, the South Street Seaport - and seeing as free is free, I hope that you will be as well.

...and then

21 April 2008

Today Pennsylvania, Tomorrow the World

You'll never live like common people

Tomorrow is the Pennsylvania primary, a contest that Hillary Clinton will probably win by between 5% and 10% of the vote: sufficient to justify her continued presence in the race, but nowhere near enough to erase Obama's lead in pledged delegates. Seven weeks have elapsed since the Texas and Ohio primaries (how many of us even remember those supposedly decisive contests?), and during the interlude the Democratic race has devolved into a cartoonish mire of negativity and incivility. The chief effect has been that Senator Obama, once perceived as a "post-racial" font of positivity that would vex the Republican attack machine and outshine the superannuated John McCain in November, has been forced to outpace his gaffes and some unfortunate prior associations - first with his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and now with Bill Ayers, an unrepentant domestic terrorist with whom Obama has, at the very least, and probably the very most, crossed paths. Meanwhile, Senator Clinton, in attempting to exploit these supposed chinks in Obama's armor, has merely reinforced the prevailing perception that she is ruthless, mercenary, and disingenuous; charges that are by the day becoming more difficult to refute. Americans, to their credit, seem disinclined to reward this distasteful opportunism, as neither candidate's poll numbers have recently budged.

The ringamorale of the past month and a half has reinforced my belief that the electoral process, though it may never have been about ideas, per se (it's not you/it's the nostalgia talking), has now become nothing short of an obstacle course, designed not to allow voters to make the best possible choice, but to see who can play the game best. Of course, no one can win: the omnipresent media-eye withers whichever candidate is unfortunate enough to endure its focus longest. Now it is Barack's turn, as it has been Hillary's, and will be John McCain's, and back and forth again. Some of this scrutiny is useful: I would even argue that the minor controversy over Obama's recent statements ("bitter", "clinging") is at least illuminating, insofar as how the candidate interprets the electorate. Much of it, however, is trash: Hillary crying in a diner, the sporadic appearances of Obama's flag lapel pin, McCain's flat "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" joke. The utility of this information seems to be that it keeps the 24 hour news industry knee deep in grist for the mill between updates on Natalie Holloway's whereabouts and Britney Spears' latest hospitalization.

This year's primaries are particularly perverse inversion of the formula: even as the internet and television have colluded to provide saturation coverage, the primary season has improbably trudged into the spring, meaning that the 2008 presidential campaign has been afoot at least since John Edwards announced in December 2006, an inconceivable sixteen months and counting. Worse yet, most states, fearing the exclusion of their voters in the primary process, front-loaded their contests, sticking us with a lonely archipelago of laggards: as of today, 44 primaries have already occurred, with merely 10, including Pennsylvania, yet to happen between now and June 3. Yet the carpet-bombing nature of 24 hour news cycle has obviated the intent of a leisurely primary season, wherein presidential politics were more human-scale and a candidate's words did not ring instantaneously across hundreds of cable stations and millions of web sites, followed by secondary and tertiary waves of analysis and critique. Back then, perhaps, it was important that Jack Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey take their respective cases directly to Wisconsin's dairy farmers; today if Barack Obama mutters something in his sleep, no doubt CNN will rustle up a polysomnographer to chat for a few moments via satellite with Wolf Blitzer. The only people who don't know are the ones not paying attention, and I'm not sure how giving them another seven or eight weeks of this dreck, as opposed to, say, a consolidated month or two of regional primaries, legitimizes the current process.

What we have now is an endurance test that exists to no one's apparent benefit except the vast army of commentators, analysts, and satirists that thrive on the chaff and choke on the wheat - i.e. where the candidates stand on Iraq, the economy, health care, renewable energy, or their responses to any of the other myriad crises presently wracking our democracy. I won't delude myself by suggesting that the latter was ever wholly front and center: packaging has always had an advantage over content in our politics, dating back to George Washington's calculated decision to wear his military uniform as a civilian delegate to the Continental Congress. Nor would I suggest that negativity is endemic only to our own era; anyone who's taken the time to tune in to HBO's John Adams mini-series knows that even such august personages as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were not above taking liberties with the facts in order to sully the reputation of a rival. Yet our present predicament has all but crowded out the policy in politics in favor of the mechanical aspect, turning what should be a contest of ideas and values into a cynical spectacle wherein only snarky skeptics are rewarded for their raging contempt. What remains is a Rube Goldberg contraption better suited to choosing the next American Idol than the next American president.

Next stop, Guam.

Man Devouring Man

Johnny Depp's demon barber sounds like Captain Jack's effete relation; what's more, Edward Scissorhands does not have the pipes for Stephen Sondheim's demanding score. Neither, for that matter, do Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, or Timothy Spall, though they at least fill out their characters' respective carriages. Tim Burton left a lot of the original Sweeney Todd on the cutting room floor, with the maestro's consent: as Sondheim himself pointed out, the grammar of cinema dictates that you not spoil the ending, hence "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is out, as are a number of "unnecessary," far more minor tunes. This streamlining (along with the magic of film editing and the absence of an intermission) turns a three-hour musical into a two-hour silver bullet of a movie, but it also thins out the musical's baroque quality, turning a grand tragedy into a fine thriller. To Burton's credit, he makes up for it by letting the vino flow, with gouts of blood the consistency of tomato soup accompanying each unfortunate customer's demise. (The director also shows the victims' heads cracking open as they hit the bakehouse's stone floor after a ride down Todd's disposal, a gruesome touch illustrating the inherent visual advantages his medium affords.) Sweeney Todd is at its feverish best in its final moments, when it leaves Sondheim's vision unmolested, ending with a perversion of the Pieta; high art reverting to its Penny Dreadful origins, becoming high art again.

18 April 2008

Thicker Than Blood

Cain and unable

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is an excellent specimen of the "fucked-up robbery" genre: brothers Andy (the schemer) and Hank (the fuck-up) plot to knock off their parents' jewelry store in Westchester, reasoning that they know the place inside and out, and insurance will take care of mom and dad's losses, so what could go wrong? Everything, of course: their mother gets shot in the course of the botched stick-up, and they don't see a thin dime from the score. The best part of this movie is the performances: Sidney Lumet is an actor's director, and this is an actor's film, dominated by towering contributions from Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the self-destructive, self-loathing Andy and Albert Finney as father Charles, a man who seems to wear every emotion as a thin concealment for his rage. Also in fine form is Ethan Hawke, who, in his advancing age, has wisely decided to treat his roles as exaggerations of his public persona: his Hank is a pathetic deadbeat who can't even make his child support payments and fucks his brother's wife (Marissa Tomei, who has spent the decade quietly resurrecting her career with niche parts in movies like In the Bedroom and the underseen Factotum) - a grim comment, perhaps, on the iconic self-regarding slackers upon which Hawke built his reputation in the 1990s. Though there is much bloodshed - like fellow '70s maverick Scorsese with late-period triumph The Departed, Lumet turns the final act of his film into the Grand Guignol - owing to its brilliant performers the most blistering violence in Devil is emotional, the lion's share of it self-directed; one is left to wonder if this family wouldn't have torn itself apart regardless of the artless deception at the film's core.

When the Foreman Calls Time

Danny Federici, keyboard player for the E Street Band, passed away yesterday after a three-year battle with melanoma. Federici played with Springsteen for 40 years and appeared on such classic albums as Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Born in the U.S.A. In addition to his E Street service, he also released two solo jazz albums, 1997's Flemington (named after his hometown of Flemington, NJ and later reissued as Danny Federici) and 2004's Sweet (reissued as Out of a Dream).

17 April 2008

For God, For Country, For Yale Lux et veritas

"With Crimson in triumph flashing/Mid the strains of victory/Poor Eli's hopes we are dashing/Into blue obscurity"

It's on HuffPo, so it must be true: a Yale undergrad artificially inseminated herself, and then took abortifacient drugs in order to induce a miscarriage which she videotaped for an art project. I'm not much of a moralizer generally, but (again, if it's true; this thing has hoax written all over it) I would say that in a country where reproductive rights are a court order away from abolition, it probably doesn't help matters to trivialize abortion.

Thanks to Jorge for the link.

Update: Shockingly, it did in fact turn out to be a lie, to the surprise of credulous journalists everywhere. Yet I can't help but feel that I learned a lesson about "the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman's body" anyway.

Pennsylvania Avenue Freeze Out


Surely I am not alone in wondering whether or not a Springsteen endorsement might have been more helpful before the New Jersey primary.

15 April 2008

Shot With His Own Gun

O shit

George Packer on Obama's "cling" gaffe:
The real problem with what Obama said is that it’s basically untrue. In southwestern Pennsylvania, religion, hunting, and insularity predate the post-industrial era. They’ve have become politically manipulable points in part because of economic decline, but to confuse wedge issues with traditional values is the mark of the high-minded reformer or the political junkie, or both. It’s the kind of mistake one could make only from a great distance, once those voters had become almost entirely abstract—and, again, no one wants to be an abstraction.

This is far from the only thing Obama believes about religion and small-town America, as his 2004 interview with Charlie Rose and much else in his career show. Conservative propagandists like Kristol are predictably and unfairly wrapping Obama’s disastrous sentence around his neck and garroting him with it. So is Hillary Clinton, and the spectacle of her swallowing a boilermaker in a Pennsylvania bar is crass opportunism that will antagonize more voters than it charms. These days the winner is always McCain.

Amerykahn Idol

Bigger than religion

Sasha Frere-Jones is Mr. Ubiquitous lately: here he is on NPR discussing Erykah Badu's newest album, New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War), which, for my money is the best record of 2008 so far, though it's ridiculously early to be thinking about such things. It is the epitome of difficult art, sonically dense and lyrically complex, part of a rich tradition of avant-garde black political pop traceable to Sly Stone, Miles Davis, George Clinton, and Public Enemy. Badu is widely regarded as one of the progenitors of neo-soul - that is, soul updated with hip-hop signifiers - and New Amerykah persists in that vein, probing at its outer boundaries in search of something ineffably new; tracks that begin as straightforward songs end as sound collages, riven by expropriated dialogue ("Twinkle" concludes with a near-straight lift of Peter Finch's famous monologue from Network) and meditations on the religious philosophy of Clarence 13X Smith, the leader of a Nation of Islam splinter group assassinated in 1969. It's an imposing-sounding work, but thanks to Badu's ear for pop, which here doesn't necessarily translate into hooks, it remains an engaging, satisfying listen throughout. Slyly appended as a hidden track is the sweet, conventional radio single, "Honey," a standard deviation removed from the rest of the album, like a dessert awaiting a child who cleans his plate at dinnertime.

14 April 2008

"Because nobody loves me/It's true/Not like you do"

Sasha Frere-Jones has a wonderful write-up of Portishead's brilliant third album, Third, in this week's New Yorker. By all means obtain it; it puts lie to the notion that trip-hop is merely dinner party music for over-literate yuppies (and yet you can still eat to it). Above, find a live rendition of the band's biggest hit, "Sour Times," circa 1998's Roseland NYC Live.

"You have to ask: Where were these security men last week? Beating up people in the villages of China, no doubt.”

Maybe, maybe not

Over the past week, the Olympic torch wound its way through the streets of the free world en route to Beijing, host of the 2008 summer games and seat of perhaps the world's most prominent autocracy. Citizens of France, Britain, and the United States, accustomed to voicing their opinions in the public square without governmental restraint, took the opportunity to criticize the Chinese government for its deplorable record of political repression and human rights abuses, highlighted by a recent crackdown against protesters in Tibet. They jeered as the torch passed, surrounded by a phalanx of Chinese security goons, and a good number of them broached the divide between protest and outright civil disobedience, clambering over police barriers and attempting to extinguish the flame altogether. Indeed, crowds were so disruptive that in Paris the torch was loaded into an armored police carrier, and in San Francisco, it was sent on a different route than previously announced in an effort to forestall an incident altogether.

The Chinese government, unaccustomed to public displays of displeasure at home, has reacted with much pique at those abroad. According to the New York Times, Qu Yingpu, a Chinese spokesman condemned the London demonstrations, saying “This is not the right time, the right platform, for any people to voice their political views.” This phrasing is interesting, because it reminds one that in China, the government decides which platforms and times are "right" for people to "voice their political views" - in fact, they even decide what types of "political views" may be voiced. Indeed, Mr. Qu's remarks are more than a little risible, considering that the Communist Party has welcomed political statements and actions in the context of the games that bolster its prestige both domestically and internationally; this seems to be the entire point behind China's bid to host the Olympics. Not that this is shocking or unusual: host countries always use the Olympics to boost their own agendas. Autocracies are more apt to indulge in this nationalistic chest-thumping than most; not having legitimacy conferred upon them by popular mandate as in a liberal democracy, they manufacture their own. Hence the nauseating spectacle of Adolph Hitler turning the 1936 games into a grotesque validation of his perverse eugenic fantasies; hence China, which has thus far had the good taste to confine its Gestapo tactics to its own population, using the Beijing games as a cudgel against internal opposition.

All of this is not to say that I necessarily endorse boycotting the Olympics; such symbolic gestures are only likely to buttress the regime and alienate the Chinese population, most of whom look forward to hosting the games as an affirmation of their national success. Isolating a country with 1.8 billion people and the world's 2nd largest economy is a fool's errand, and America's long record of failure when it comes to diplomatic disengagement (Iran, Cuba) augurs against trying it. At this point, damaging our relations with China will not hasten the liberation of Tibet or the rise of democratic institutions - indeed, it will only cement the tenuous bonds in place between China and other autocratic nations, like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Myanmar.

Yet, as the Chinese have made the officially apolitical Olympics an implicitly political affair, I would argue that it is incumbent upon those citizens of the free world who disapprove of China's policies to make it an explicitly political one. Demonstrators should feel free to disregard Beijing's opinion on the propriety of using the Olympics as an occasion for protest; indeed, they should seize their chance to draw intense international scrutiny to China's shameful record on human rights. Let China's system of cruelty and repression compete with the imperfections of liberal democracy in the marketplace of ideas. Or, as Chairman Mao said, "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend."

12 April 2008

On Returning (to Form)

What, did they just go into the studio one day and say, "How about on this record, we shake things up and turn down the suck?"

R.E.M. may be the okay-est great band in rock history; apparently you had to be there, and by there, I mean managing a college radio station between 1983 and 1987. Fear not though, as Accelerate, their latest, has universally been hailed as a return to form. According to Bill Wyman in the Huffington Post, however, the revanchist hosannas sound a little stale.

For what it's worth, I've heard the record, and it sounds like a big white can that says "NO FRILLS ROCK" on it. But that's okay, because Around the Sun sounded like a big white can that said "NO FRILLS SHIT" on it.

Hell and a Handbag

Just finished watching Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, an epic meditation on Russia's most legendary icon painter. Intriguingly, the film, really a series of lengthy vignettes linked by an overarching metaphorical conceit, never shows Rublev actually painting - indeed, he is absent entirely from the screen for great chunks of the movie's 3 1/2 hour running time. Yet after virtually ignoring his subject's body of work, Tarkovsky chose to end the black-and-white Rublev with a shock of color, panning over what survives of Rublev's miraculous icons and frescoes during a languid, enrapturing five minute sequence. This celebration of an Orthodox Christian art form in a film produced in the atheistic Soviet Union is striking. It is clear from Tarkovsky's reverent framing that he is not viewing Rublev's work as merely a Russian cultural artifact, regardless of his official minders interpretations or intentions; indeed, it's obvious that Tarkovsky's Rublev is modeled on the monk's own portrayal of Christ. Predictably, Soviet authorities suppressed the film (which they deemed too violent and too politically complex) upon its completion in 1966, but following an ecstatic international reception at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and subsequent unauthorized screenings in Paris, they relented and allowed Rublev to be screened domestically. Tarkovsky was forced to make cuts, and for years it was only available in various bowdlerized incarnations; Criterion restored and released a widely-available definitive 205-minute cut a few years back.

If Rublev has a stylistic inheritor today, perhaps it is the commercialist-provocateur Takashi Murakami, a Japanese artist renowned for his anime-inspired "superflat" style, wherein brightly-colored figures and symbols are rendered with a complete lack of depth - an aesthetic with obvious metaphorical implications. His work is presently on display at the Brooklyn Musuem in a much-bruited about show predictably titled "©Murakami." Murakami makes no secret of his debt to progenitor Andy Warhol, who popularized the concepts of both mass-produced art and art-as-product; the most-discussed feature of his present exhibition is not any specific catalogue item, but the Louis Vuitton boutique that accompanies it per the artist's wishes, selling Murakami-designed leather goods at exorbitant prices. New Yorker reviewer Peter Schjeldahl, admittedly mystified by Murakami's aggressively garish work, opined that the Vuitton display was his favorite part of the show:
The shop is lovely. Shelving units in chrome and white enamel, with recessed fluorescent lighting that sets brass fittings on the merchandise aglint, caress the eye. They provide a haven from the strident grotesquerie of what might be termed Murakami’s fine-art product lines: paintings, sculpture, and wallpapered environments that play off the charms of Japanese traditional and popular arts with close to no charm of their own.

11 April 2008

The Beast and Dragon, Adored

Prettier than Mick Jagger, according to his fans

Last night at the Electric Factory Spoon operated primarily in burst mode, firing off one choked missive after another: "Don't Make Me a Target", "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine", "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case", "Small Stakes", etc. The set tended towards Gimme Fiction and Ga^5, the two albums most responsible for what notoriety the band has accrued to this point. Luckily for the audience, Spoon are eerily consistent; while it is certainly possible to prefer one of their records over the others, this distinction says more about the listener's tastes than any significant difference in quality. Apart from obvious highlights - "Everything Hits at Once", "I Turn My Camera On", "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb", "I Summon You" - the apex of the evening was an encoring-opening cover of The Rolling Stones' "Rocks Off" from 1972's Exile on Main St.; for anyone wondering whether or not Spoon's seemingly-limited aesthetic is a product of design or circumstance, listening to the band tear through the masters' masterpiece with equal parts swagger and ease was a resounding affirmation of the former.

10 April 2008

Great Things at the Moment

Save the receipt

Spring has sprung:

- The New York Times has two (and probably more) worthwhile pieces today: a profile of the Princeton Record Exchange and an examination of Juergen Teller's engaging, perplexing ads for Marc Jacobs.

- Hendrik Hertzberg discusses Vermont Governor Jim Douglas's veto of a bill that would institute instant runoff voting for that state's congressional elections. I want to have a problem with I.R.V. - seems like giving the other candidates a second bite of the apple - but I have to admit that my objections are rooted in professional prejudices that are forced to bow before superior logic; in a Democracy, it's bad when the candidate most people want to lose ends up winning.

- Elvis Costello's new record, the abstrusely-named Momofuku (dude likes noodles?), will not be vinyl-only, as was originally reported; though the record will initially be released as a vinyl record with a download certificate on April 22, Lost Highway will drop a CD version on May 6. In the interim, listen to 1986's brilliant Blood and Chocolate, fill up with bile, and anticipate. Additionally, Costello will be hosting a variety/talk show on CTV in Canada and Sundance in the U.S. to be produced by none other than Elton John; the project was evidently inspired by E.C.'s stint as a fill-in for David Letterman a few years back.

- Robert Kagan posits the retrenchment of autocracy as an ideological mode over at The New Republic, in an essay whose title, "The End of the End of History" mocks penitent neocon Francis Fukuyama, who famously predicted that after the fall of the communism, we would see "the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

09 April 2008

“We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel.”

With all due respect to Gen. David Petraeus, who I believe is making a good-faith effort to evaluate Iraq from a military perspective wherein "stalemate" does not necessarily compute, the war is no longer a military problem. It is a political problem with profound long term strategic implications for the United States, which is why it should be no surprise that President Bush, once perfectly willing to overrule his commanders in order to get us into this war on his terms, now insists on deferring to them slavishly. Petraeus's pronouncements before Congress Tuesday, rooted in the paradoxically obvious notion that we have made enough progress to justify our continuing presence in Iraq, but not enough to leave, confer legitimacy upon the Bush administration's non-strategy of buying enough time for the President to duck out the back door and leave his successor holding the bag. Thus does Petraeus come of as a bit of shill, regardless of his own intentions, because in a way, he is: the President and his coterie are taking advantage of the General's stature because they know that the American public is by-and-large too trusting or too stupid to scrutinize the statements of a man whose very uniform connotes honor and integrity. He needn't even be a party to this scam; after all, the beauty of a president deferring to his military commanders is that, ultimately, he's the one giving the orders.

07 April 2008

Why Read Blogs About Books When You Can Just Read Books?

Arsed about something, no doubt

New site in the blogroll: The Quietus (which is not necessarily a reference to Children of Men; it's an actual word as well), a UK-based music blog that has already proven its meddle with a track-by-track review of the as-yet-unreleased new Fall album, complete with speculation as to how many pints the famously lubricated Mark E. Smith must've had when recording it.

06 April 2008

We'll Make a Lover of You (Yet)

Tim Harrington, as has been oft-noted, is an incendiary showboat: throughout Les Savy Fav's live show he pinwheels, flops, spits, flits, and strips, yowling all the while into a microphone attached to what must be sixty feet of cable. In other words, he is a consummate showman, and his presence alone was enough to differentiate his band from the preceding Dodos and Big Sleep, both of whom were competent (ill-served by the TLA's policy of mixing the vocals way too low) but seemingly disengaged; it probably didn't help that at least two-thirds of the crowd didn't show up until the headliners were about to go on. Still, both opening acts placed the emphasis on the indie, whereas LSF focused on the rock portion of the equation.

There was beer and water but no peanut butter, blood, vomit, or any other fluid of dubious provenance, so I guess you could call Harrington restrained; at one point he did come out dressed like "Stevie Nicks", according to him. The set-list included "The Sweat Descends" and "We'll Make a Lover of You", but beyond that it was impossible for me to discern, not that this was a barrier to enjoyment. Form, in this instance, is function.

03 April 2008

"We rob banks."

Rife with complex sexuality and searing ultraviolence, 1967's Bonnie and Clyde drew a bright, bleeding line between the studio-centric assembly line ethos of Old Hollywood and the auteur-driven personal filmmaking of New Hollywood. The vision of its star and producer Warren Beatty (otherwise known as George Clooney Mark I), the picture was among the first major American movies to reflect the influence of the French New Wave, wherein enterprising filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Melville had taken the pulpy atmospherics of 1940's cheapie Hollywood noir and reflected them back through a kaleidoscope of wit, glamour, and impeccable stylishness. Nowhere was this transatlantic conversation more evident than in Faye Dunaway's megawatt portrayal of Bonnie Parker: she opens the film standing nude at her window, hollering at Beatty's Clyde Barrow, then a recently-paroled two-bit ex-con, to keep away from her mother's car; after a few moments of sexually-charged back-and-forth, she goads him into the spontaneous robbery that sets the pair on their fateful trajectory across the Depression-era landscape. By herself, Dunaway would elevate the film into the realm of the iconic, but it is director Arthur Penn's masterful depiction of the pair's gruesome finale that cemented Bonnie and Clyde in the upper stratosphere of our cinema, rejecting genteel precedent in favor of founding a new vocabulary grounded firmly in the tumult of its age.