So here’s a weird little tidbit for you. Johnny English: Reborn makes it’s home video bow today. Here is my last known photo of the film’s director:
There’s Hugo this week. I’ve seen a lot of non-like with regards to this film, and I don’t get it. It filled me with inspiration. Martin Scorsese is engaged here like he’s not been since Gangs of New York, and the tale he tells is bit of bright, beautiful magic amid brokenhearted decay. There are those who have lamented the fact that the success of The Artist will not help expose people to the silents, but I can say with confidence and from experience that Hugo has inspired a few in my midst to seek out the work of Georges Méliès – the visionary whose life and art inspired the film. The film has a brilliant transfer, and the 3D version is positively earth-shattering. Surprise, surprise – the format is put to breathtaking use in the hands of one of the world’s finest. There’s a moment at the beginning of the film…when Ben Kingsley’s Méliès engages a flipbook illustration in the notebook he’s vindictively confiscated from young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield)…and as he fans through the pages…and the drawings create the illusion of motion…the illusion of depth also slowly takes hold, and the automaton gently emerges from the flat page, giving life to the old artist’s memories once more. The film is filled with beautiful, tiny moments like that – the way lamplight plays in the spaces between the clockwork insides of the mechanical man…the halo radiating from Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) as she’s filled with joy while watching Harold Lloyd. The atmospheric reality of the environments is wondrous and tactile – steam spills beyond the frame and dust catches the light and dances on the air like like glitter, reminding us that there’s magic in the mundane – even if (and maybe especially if) it can only be found in the movies. This is a moving, charming spectacle.
VANYA ON 42ND STREET (CRITERION)
Mamet adapts, Malle directs, and Moore stars (alongside Wallace Shawn), in this barebones workshop production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya – his somber story (but aren’t they all with Anton?) of unrequited love, faded dreams, and intellectual ennui. The film itself is a compelling chronicle of performers getting to the performance, and as such, is well worth a watch.
American Experience: The Amish
Beneath the Darkness
How The Universe Works
I Melt With You
Jack Kerouac: King Of The Beats
Johnny English Reborn
Justice League: Doom
Lulu: Alban Berg
Midsomer Murders: Set 19
New York Dolls: Live at The Bowery
Princess Jellyfish: The Complete Series
Top Gear: The Complete Season 17
Vanya On 42nd Street
Where Love Has Gone
WWE Royal Rumble 2012
THE ROBERT GLASPER EXPERIMENT – BLACK RADIO
The word “experiment” gets tossed around in prog/jazz circles quite a bit, and often as not has an insular feel to it. In this case, though, the goal is much more expansive: an imagining of a modern urban radio sound that embraces contemporary and classic jazz as well as modern R&B in all its guises: keyboardist/bandleader’s Robert Glasper’s previous collaborations with J Dilla give some hint of the diversity of sound at play. The rejection of insularity isn’t implicit, either: at one point, bass player Derrick Hodge mutters “When people think of jazz musicians / They pigeonhole us, like / Just `jazz musicians.’ / Cats started playing for other musicians / And tried to be this one thing.” The extensive guest list of rappers, jazz players, and singers—which includes Bilal, Musiq, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Ledisi, Lupe Fiasco, Stokley Williams, and Me’Shell Ndegeocello—shapes a sound that is both cohesive and diverse, and—rest easy, Derrick—much too wide-ranging for pigeonholing.
For a lot of fans, it’s the cannily chosen covers that will be the first, easiest entrée into the music-making here. Donny Hathaway’s daughter Lalah helps to bring out the ensemble potential in Sade’s “Cherish The Day.” Badu leads the band (including Casey Benjamin and Chris Dave) through a slinky version of the standard “Afro Blue” that is the polar opposite of, say, Coltrane’s, but just as effective in its own way. I’m willing to bet that Bowie would have gladly sacrificed a virgin or two to bring Bilal’s blend of warmth and isolation to his original version of “Letter to Hermione,” here also featuring stunning piano counterpoint from Glasper. And even if the band’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” never reaches the mad heights of Los Straitjckets’ version, it borrows the original’s explosive intensity, fragmenting it among virtuoso horn, keyboard, and percussion.
That’s not to dismiss the original material: Bilal teams with Lupe Fiasco on “Always Shine,” for sharp vocal interplay over Glasper’s shimmering piano; Ndegeocello roughens up her delivery for the aching “Consequence of Jealousy,” and Mos Def (who I guess is now Yasiin Bey-I can’t keep up with these crazy kids!), makes the title cut an emphatic statement of purpose, snapping out his rhymes over the skeletal beat, comparing the album to the “black box” that survives a plane crash: “You wanna fly free, go far and fast / Built to last, we made this craft / From black radio.
FANFARIO – ROOMS FILLED WITH LIGHT
The fact that this band’s 2009 debut, Reservoir, was quickly labeled as the Venn diagram where Arcade Fire meets Belle and Sebastian doesn’t make the comparison invalid: Simon Balthazar’s singing calls to mind a less-mannered version of Win Butler’s yelp, while the warm pop textures gave the album the kind of glow that Murdoch lavishes on even his bleakest music. Rooms Filled With Light is the ideal followup: anyone enraptured by the sound the first time around will have no complaints, while those who might have found the material a bit thin may be surprised to find this the rare sophomore effort where the songwriting feels even more ambitious than on the first one: I’ve seen comparisons to both Scott Walker and Steve Reich, and neither is as far off as you might expect.
Rooms Filled With Light is almost a literal aural translation of “attack and release;” it’s the sound of overwound tension giving way in a burst of relief, with stabbing ostinati interrupting the layers of Motown-style strings, and electronic treatment building to cracked horn charts, with cheeky quotes tossed in from everything from Sparks to “The Look Of Love.” Lead single “Deconstruction” finds Balthazar and Cathy Lucas cheekily agreeing to “break it up in pieces / then put it together again” over a sizzling drum-and-string section, before giving way to the “Layla”-like piano coda. “Lens Life” has some of the pop determinism of Talking Heads (going back to Arcade Fire’s source, as it were), while “Shiny Things” recalls David Byrne’s cheerful paranoia: “Let’s not worry about images / Let’s not worry about mind control,” Balthazar sings, assuring us that, if the worst comes, “We’ll be preserved on a shelf somewhere.” The resignation and acceptance that follow pain find their best expression as the handclapping perkiness of “Dig” segues into “A Flood”: “So hold out your raincoat / Let it fall, let it die / the flood will come here anyway / Come the weekend we’ll get lost / Just in time / To get caught in the rain,” over pizzicato raindrop effects that were already classic when Buddy Holly was using them, fading into the valedictory synthwash of the 38-second “Everything Resolves.”
LYLE LOVETT – RELEASE ME
I don’t pretend to have an inside scoop here, but the fact that, after this album, a supposedly disgruntled Lovett is parting ways with his label of three decades, suggests that the choice of album title, from all the songs included here, wasn’t an accident. Contractual wrapup albums tend to be outtake collections or live outings, so I suppose one should be happy that Release Me‘s easy charms are fresh in terms of their actual creation, if not necessarily in their conception.
The choice to open with the fiddle-driven instrumental “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom,” rather than an actual song, certainly does sound like Lovett’s deliberately bypassing the marketing department; it’s a warmly engaging performance, but also of a piece with most of what follows; its charms are undeniable, but slight. The title song follows, with k.d. lang once again making it plain that she’s one of the great duet singers of our day, her lush phrasing interlocking beautifully with Lovett’s regretful murmur. “White Boy Lost in the Blues” is a nice slice of Lovett on wry, but “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (with Kat Edmondson), from last year’s Christmas EP, is a strangled twist on what should have been an easy lob across the plate for Lovett’s sly wink. Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” (where, as it happens, Bryan Ferry copped the melody for “Ain’t That So”) gets done up in brass and sass, and it’s sort of amusing to hear “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” as a backporch shuffle, but it’s not going to replace your favorite version; fortunately, it’s the only song besides the title cut that suffers from that level of over-familiarity: stuff like Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues” can stand to be revived more often, and the final cut, “Keep Us Steadfast,” originated with 16th-century rock god Martin Luther. I’d call the entire album disposable, though, were it not for the lang hookup, and two gorgeous duets with Sara Watkins: “Dress of Laces,” and “Night’s Lullaby.”
Lovett would have fans believe that the Lyle Lovett who once challenged country music listeners to ignore the boundaries separating jazz, blues, Western swing and downhome tradition, and to write and think about something besides flags and beer, has just been waiting for a decade or so to free himself from corporate bondage so that he can once more amuse, and occasionally amaze, us. Here’s hoping.
CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS – LEAVING EDEN
The only problem I had with this band’s previous releases was that, once I’d seen them live, the studio sound felt airless and stuffy compared to the loose panache and energy of their concert performances. Buddy Miller, he of Plant’s Band of Joy, was the ideal candidate to rectify this: whatever one can say about his genre-bending Majestic Silver Strings album, it sounded fresh and vital, two qualities he brings to this album in spades: there is natural ambiance, room for the instruments to breathe, and even a touch of the outdoors, with the sounds of frogs and crickets as counterpoint here and there.
With the (evidently amicable) departure of founding member Justin Robinson, the Drops have opened up the sound, dividing Robinson’s duties between Hubby Jenkins on guitar, mandolin, and bones, while Adam Matta focuses principally on the beatboxing that links the Drops with an oral tradition reaching back to slave times, but which is also as up to date as your local street corner. Dom Flemons still handles most of the guitar and banjo, while Rhiannon Giddens’ fiddle playing is nearly the equal of her exuberantly powerful singing.
Leaving Eden kicks off with the refreshing sonic harshness of “Riro’s House,” followed by the dark, bluesy dance of “Kerr’s Negro Jig.” “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man”, the album’s third track, is the first of several places on the album where Giddens demonstrates that “Hit Em Up Style” was no fluke: she eschews the stilted vocal purity that too often inhibits performances of traditional music, and tears into the song, her “Ruuuuuby” a high, lonesome wail. “Boodle-De-Bum-Bum” is a lark, with each of the band members taking turns joining in the nonsense, followed by Giddens’ ferociously determined vocal on “Country Girl.” The title song is a heartbreaking tale of exile (“The clothes are in the kitchen / The wolf’s at the door / Our fathers’ land of Eden / Is Paradise no more / I can’t tell my daughters all the things that I’m scared of“), and, apart from the recorded sound, the other thing that sets Leaving Eden apart from its predecessors might be an even more profound emphasis on the centuries-old throughline of loss that is the black American experience, with the dark reminiscence of “West End Blues,” and the defiant “No Man’s Mama.” Following the raveup of “Brigg’s Corn Shucking Jig/Camptown Hornpipe,” Giddens brings things home with a soaring vocal solo on the aching “Pretty Bird.” There’s no getting around the down-home nature of the CCD’s music, but their clear-eyed attitude, and energetic playing, might be enough to convert listeners who would otherwise give this kind of music a pass.
OTHER NOTABLE 2/28 RELEASES
Celtic Thunder – Voyage I find that their plush instrumentation and “Up With People” harmonies do nothing for the traditional Celtic music I grew up with, so I’m pleased that they’re turning their attention to the kind of drivel they’re suited for: “She’s Always A Woman,” “Cat’s In The Cradle,” “All Out Of Love,” etc. But trust me, you never ever want to hear their cover of “Moondance.”
Loreena McKennit – Troubadours On The Rhine The pre-St. Pat’s Day snoozefest continues with a live (though I wouldn’t call it lively) album from Canada’s tasteful purveyor of smoothed-out Celtic harp music… which makes her a harpie, I guess…?
The Cranberries, Roses It’s thematic insanity from Ireland this week! Yep, they’re back, they sound just like they did before, and if “Tomorrow” or “Fire & Soul” sneak onto your radio, you can bathe in warm 90’s nostalgia… assuming that’s your idea of a good time.
Pink Floyd , The Wall – Experience Version Two disks of demos and rarities, two disks of Roger Waters Versus The Grownups.
Black Country Communion – Live Over Europe I have run out of jokes about Joe Bonnamossa’s ubiquity (this is at least his sixth album of the past eighteen or so months). Faster and more tuneful than Those Crooked Vultures, and listening to Hughes moan through eleven minutes of “The Ballad of John Henry,” I realized that they’re also funnier. Though not as funky. Always nice to hear “Burn,” though.
Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, Yim Yames – New Multitudes Farrar once more takes on the helpless Woody Guthrie; this time, instead of Billy Bragg he’s brought a (slightly) younger bunch of collaborators, and instead of familiar-to-obscure Guthrie songs, this time it’s unreleased Woody lyrics set to new music. Does it work better than the recent similar attempt to drag Hank Williams’ corpse back into the light? Does that matter? For what it may be worth, at least no one here is trying to pretend that he sounds like Woody.
Amy Ray – Lung of Love There are plenty of reasons to admire the political correctness of the Indigo Girls, but only one real reason to listen to them: Ray’s bracing 60’s-folk harmonizing with Emily Saliers… who doesn’t appear on this album. Competent, well-meaning pop-folk-occasionally-sort-of-rock.
Wzrd – Wzrd The evidence on this “crossover” album would suggest that Kid Cudi thinks that modern alt-rock is a game for dummies. I’m not sure that he’s wrong, but apart from the occasional pleasantly soulful vocal (“Live & Learn,” “Efflictim,”), I don’t know that this is the best use of his time, or yours. And, yes, “Dr. Pill” is exactly as funny as you imagine it is.
Chiddy Bang – Breakfast I haven’t downloaded their mixes, so the fact that some of this is already available doesn’t bother me the way it does some fans; I am somewhat bothered by Anamege and Bersin pushing Taco Bell at me, but as long as they keep coming up with the occasional “Ray Charles” or “Handclaps & Guitars,” I can… er… swallow it.
Ja Rule – Pil 2 Haven’t heard it, but figured I ought to mention it.
School of Seven Bells – Ghostory Like Amy Ray, Alejandra Deheza is stepping out front without her familiar partner (sister Claudia), and she acquits herself reasonably well for anyone whose taste runs to bumpy shoegaze; the presence of ex-Secret Machinist Benjamin Curtis keeps the textures, if not the actual songs, interesting.
Greg Adams – East Bay Soul 2.0 The ex-Tower of Power trumpeter raised $25,000 from (one would presume) fans to record this album, which once would have seemed like a shameful necessity, but now looks more like the future-which is decidedly NOT what the album sounds like: Adams’ familiar sharp trumpet phrasing over vintage funk grooves. I’d have been happier, though, with fewer vocals from the somewhat bland Darryl Walker (“What’s Goin’ On”? Um… no).
SSX (PS3, 360)
Outside of Ginger Afro Snowboarding a few years ago, this generation has seen a serious lack of the douchey sport. Luckily the best possible snowboarding franchise (sorry, Cool Boarders) is back with some pretty HD paint. SSX is a proven formula for me, so it’s the Autolog like multiplayer that has me excited. For those of you that are playing it safe and ignoring the Need for Speed franchise, Autolog is a recently introduced feature that’s a mixture of Facebook and leaderboards. It’s pretty much high score challenges with some very basic social networking features. The system is persistent throughout all modes and you’re constantly being reminded of how you’re stacking up. You can also set up your own challenges and send them to your friends ‘wall’, where you can also do all the social networking bullshit you’ll never want to do. The whole thing is asynchronous, so it’s a neat little way to always be competing with your friends. It worked really well so far and fits the already arcadey mechanics of SSX far better than traditional online would have.
BINARY DOMAIN (PS3, 360)
When Japan is making something that is obviously meant to appeal to the west, I get a little scared. When Sega is behind it, I poo a little. Although Binary Domain looks like it’s both incredibly generic and shamelessly pandering to a demographic that never existed, it’s from the Yakuza team.They’ve somehow managed to toe the line between generic and fresh more and more each game. It could be another Vanquish or it could be another Mindjack.
Though at this point, I’m not sure we need more of either.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is coming out on…probably Windows. Now people who play Flight Sims will have something to do besides be the most boring people in the world. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 is proving the DS has some life in it. The first game was a good portable entry in the Megami Tensei series, with a decent strategy metagame layered over the regular RPG trappings. Finally, Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition is ko – coming to consoles. But you should boycott that shit because Freddy has two gloves (even though it’s an alright deal if you haven’t already picked up the game, which is actually pretty fucking awesome).
See you next week, my friends. Thanks for coming.