A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
Ah, Tennessee Williams. Has there ever been a human who has proved him or herself more adept at writing venal, self-destructive people being awful to one another? Maybe Hemingway? Tyler Perry perhaps?
THOU SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT
Josh Becker’s War/Horror/Action hybrid sort-of fails at being any of those things, but not for lack of innovation and effort from its truly gifted director. Becker’s film would have been amazing were it not for one problem – he needed at least five million bucks.
Optimally, about twelve.
‘Cause really, there’s no way to craft the mayhem the film aspires to without a budget. Seven dollars IS NOT a budget.
Still Becker squeezes the bank like it’s a toothpaste tube, using stock footage and potted plants and eight guys in coolie hats to try to create the ending to Apocalypse Now that John Milius always dreamed of. But the Vietnam sequence only sets the stage and creates the bonds (and conflicts) between the small-town guys who eventually rotate back to the world and discover that it’s not the easiest thing to do to readjust. The country has changed.
But when the Army Men are the only thing standing in the way of a murderous hippy cult led by Sam Raimi (who tells his flock that they “must taste blood to be a man”) – well, the world starts to make sense again. Because war is here. Stryker’s War. On Blu Ray.
The Boy in Blue
Charlotte Rampling: The Look
The Darkest Hour
Death Stop Holocaust
Don Juan DeMarco
Female Convict Scorpion
IMAX: Earth Collection
Infinite Stratos: The Complete Collection
Into the Abyss
The Iron Lady
Jillian’s Travels: Africa
Joe Satriani: Satchurated Live in Montreal
Kate & Leopold
Sekirei: The Complete Series
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Terror Experiment
Thou Shalt Not Kill … Except
The Truth about Cats & Dogs
The Witches of Oz
You Think You Know Me? The Story of Edge
AMADOU & MARIAM – FOLILA
I have to begin by admitting to being a bit creeped out by this album. Not by the principals: I was a bit of a latecomer to this married duo of blind pop geniuses, but once I heard 2008’s Welcome to Mali, I devoured their back catalog, and was hooked for life. Nor by the crossover concept: traditional “world” music of varying types is often enhanced by a run-in with American (or British) rock, soul, and blues. And not even by the weird decision to record the album twice, on different continents, with different musicians (once with traditional African instruments, once with modern pop accoutrements) and mash up the two versions: that kind of experimentation can be almost as bracing when it doesn’t work as when it does. No, what’s putting me off about this release are the guest appearances of French pop singer Bertrand Cantat, who was convicted of beating his girlfriend to death in a drunken rage, got a mere eight years, and served little more than half of that. I’ve always been a “trust the art, not the artist” type (sort of what they call “death of the author” these days), so I really should just shut up and listen, as the tracks on which he appears (including “Baro,” “Mogo,” and the bluesy, harmonica-driven “Oh Amadou”) are often sublime. But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that his presence continues to make me uncomfortable.
Otherwise, though, the experiment pays off nicely: “Dougou Badia” features some amazing guitar interplay between Amadou and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, while TV on the Radio evoke Talking Heads’ Afropop experimentation with their collaboration on “Wily Kataso,” and British soul singer Ebony Bones nicely roughens up the texture of “C’est Pas Facile Pour Les Aigles.” Fans of the more or less “unadorned” sound of Amadou and Mariam can savor the tuneful “Sans Toi” and the concluding vocal caress of “Cherie.” There’s a couple of clunkers (including Jake Shears’ far-from-idiomatic contributions that threaten to swamp the funky “Metemya”), but even geniuses can have their reach exceed their grasp now and then.
ALABAMA SHAKES – BOYS AND GIRLS
Anyone else remember Romeo Void? Consigned to 80’s one-hit wonder albums these days, they were an anomaly, even in those “Left of the Dial” times: fronted by a big-voiced, big-boned woman of color, whose searingly honest, highly individual, songwriting absorbed and transcended the conventions of the pop form she was working in. Alabama Shakes mine soul and gospel as a starting point, rather than the “New Wave” influences that Deborah Iyall was working, but Brittany Howard’s personal vision dominates the proceedings in a similar way.
“Bless my heart / Bless my soul / Didn’t think I’d make it / To twenty-two years old“; Howard kicks off the album in “Hold On” with a lifetime’s worth of experience in a vocal performance that blends the suppleness of adolescence with the grit and maturity of a seasoned veteran. Her youthful perspective keeps her searching, as though the horizons of love, life, and experience are just coming into her reach, in the rough exaltation of “I Found You” and the swelling crescendo of “Rise to the Sun.” The hooks, choruses, handclaps and singalongs that usually characterize soul and gospel music are basically irrelevant here: Howard’s writing is tightly focused, tailored to keeping that tireless voice up front, yet always blended into a seamless whole with the band, stepping aside only for the occasional guitar break from Heath Fogg. Howard’s writing finds triumph in loss (“Hearbreaker” ) and tragedy in small victories (“You Ain’t Alone”). Boys and Girls closes with the perfect one-two in the defiant “I Ain’t The Same,” followed by the deep, moody farewell of “On Your Way.”
I don’t wish to downplay the strength of Howard’s backing band, also featuring bassist Zac Cockrell, keyboardist Ben Tanner, and drummer Steve Johnson: they seem to exude Muscle Shoals from every pore, and they’d sound equally at home backing Etta James or Clarence Carter as they do Howard. But there’s no question that this is a band with a vision that is both bigger, and more personal, than your typical “soul revival.”
M.WARD – A WASTELAND COMPANION
It takes a bit of getting used to, hearing Matt Ward step out in front again these days. He’s spent the past few years allowing people from Conor Oberst to Zoe Deschanel to shine his reflected light, and I was beginning to wonder if he’d tired of the solo thing, something reinforced when I saw him open for Alison Krauss, of all people, last year: such a tiny figure at his piano on the big stage, making no particular effort to connect with the audience of paunchy, grey-haired NPR listeners. It was refreshing, then, to watch him take the stage a few months later at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, as one of Oberst’s “guests,” and make Bright Eyes feel almost stodgy by comparison with Ward’s loose ease and fluid guitar runs. A Wasteland Companion reasserts Ward’s slight, but definite charms as a pop singer and songwriter: sort of Marshall Crenshaw’s quieter, more introspective kid brother.
The album opens with the unabashed Big Star tribute, “Clean Slate,” in which we get a sense of the maturing process Ward has seen in himself since 2009’s Hold Time: “When I was a younger man, I thought that pain and defeat would last forever / But now I don’t know what it would take / To make my heart back down,” while “The First Time I Ran Away” chugs along to a muted neo-Afropop rhythm, managing the tricky balance between reflection and nostalgia. A few years of growth have also allowed Ward to step outside himself comfortably, spinning tales about characters like the untrustworthy televangelist of the churning “Watch the Show” or the self-deluded lounge singer of “I Get Ideas.” She & Him fans will be in for a bit of a surprise, too, as Zoe Deschanel’s guest appearance on “Sweetheart” (and occasional backing vocals on a few other tracks) features a more straight-ahead, open-throated vocal style from Ms New Girl than the kitteny cuteness she brings to her own material. In fact, she’s one of the few guests who sticks out at all, as Ward does a fine job of integrating his abundantly impressive personnel (including Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb on piano, Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley on drums and percussion, and string arrangements from DeVotchka’s Tom Hagerman) into a sound that is even-keeled, never overstuffed. There’s a bit of studio noodling to bring some variety to “Wild Goose” and the title song, and the album wraps up with the gently ruminative “Pure Joy” (“Thought I was falling into a deep depression / Thinking all the mystery was all gone / Now it’s pure joy just to see you again“). As I say, A Wasteland Companion is slight, but given some time, it’ll sneak up on you.
OTHER NOTABLE 4/10 RELEASES:
Counting Crows, Underwater Sunshine
Fastway, Eat Dog Eat
Florence + The Machine, MTV Unplugged
Halestorm, Strange Case
Killing Joke, MMXII
The McEuen Sessions, For All the Good
Kate McGarry, Girl Talk
Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream
Steep Canyon Rangers, Nobody Knows You
Trampled by Turtles, Stars and Satellites
Must be the end of the quarter – only one release this week, and it’d be a stretch to even call it a game.
SPIRIT CAMERA: THE CURSED MEMOIR (3DS)
This game comes with an AR book that plays videos and makes it appear as though ghosts are floating around your house. What an awesome use of technology. What’s scarier than using the cool 3D camera on my baby blue 3DS to make ghosts appear in my house? How about when the ghosts appear when the camera is pointing directly a QR code and in direct light!
If it wasn’t for the 3D tech, this sounds like something they would have sold at Spencer Gifts fifteen years ago.