There is seriously and sincerely not a whole hell of a lot going on this week. There are a couple of Criterion releases – a collection of avant-weird from proto-video/digital artist Hollis Frampton, and The Organizer, a lefty union drama from Casanova ’70 (yes!) director Mario Monacelli.
Badge 373 is a salty drama with a salty Robert Duvall as a salty cop out for (salty) revenge. On the same tip, Billy Dee Williams toplines Sidney J. Furie’s HIT! – about a FBI agent shocked into action against vicious Vichy Heroin dealers after his daughter overdoses.
Wahlberg grimaces and Giovani Ribisi pays the bills in the might-be-interesting Contraband.
Ti West’s new film, The Innkeepers, has been the recipient of good buzz – but so has everything he’s made prior to this, and those films failed to move me.
Finally, Chow Yun-Fat stars as a crime lord in the highest grossing film in China’s history – the action comedy Let the Bullets Fly.
Amy Winehouse: Fallen Star
FMA Brotherhood: Collection One
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos
Girl On A Motorcycle
A Hollis Frampton Odyssey (Criterion)
Let the Bullets Fly
Marquis De Sade’s Justine
Marvel Animated Features Collection
Nazis at the Center of the Earth
The Organizer (Criterion)
Poirot: Series 4
The Scarlet Worm
Shogun Assassin: 5 Film Collector’s Set
Some Days Are Better Than Others
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show
Ultimate Avengers 1 & 2
The Wicker Tree
JACK WHITE – BLUNDERBUSS
The film It Might Get Loud sort of crystallizes the Jack White persona: He’s the neo-traditionalist who makes a guitar out of nails and a Coke bottle (I doubt that even Robert Johnson ever tried that), but with a manner so aggressively quirky he shrugs off accusations of retro (I’m not aware of John Lee Hooker or Buddy Guy toting around their own “Mini-Me”). I can handle the pretension, generally like his writing, and admire the guy’s guitar sound, but there’s invariably one sticking point for me: he’s a simply terrible singer. I don’t mean that he has a “bad” voice (in rock and roll that’s often a selling point), but his undifferentiated braying, self-absorption, and received phrasing (just listen to him stomping all over Little Willie John’s grave on “I’m Shakin’ “) recall, for me, someone like Steve Van Zandt: another fine musician, responsible for much music I love, who should never take a lead vocal.
That’s never completely put me off any of White’s previous projects (or this one), but I wonder if people besides me have been making invidious comparisons to the female singers he’s worked with, including Allison Moorer, Holly Golightly, Wanda Jackson, Norah Jones, or Meg White herself–or more specifically, to Karen Elson, in the wake of their recent divorce, because the Jack White of Blunderbuss appears (not for the first time) to be having serious women trouble: according to him, modern women are abusing their ”Freedom in the 21st century;” they have ”No responsibility / No guilt or morals,” and ought to ”Hold their hands behind them” in the presence of our narrator. Naturally, one doesn’t want to read too much into what may or may not be autobiographical, but it comes up a bit too often to be dismissed as whimsy; then again, maybe he is just pissed off that they’re more interesting singers than he is: he does, after all, keep his female backing chorus busy.
But get past White’s singing, and what he’s singing about, and the album has the requisite down-and-dirty guitar, big-room sound, hand-clapping fun, and enough musical left-turns to register pretty high on the ol’ stomp-ometer. I can fantasize what it might have sounded like with Allison Moorer singing on my own time.
SARAH JAFFE – THE BODY WINS
If 2010’s Suburban Nature suggested Jaffe’s openness to a variety of influences, it would appear that we ain’t heard nothing yet: The Body Wins moves electronica to the fore, and if she hasn’t exactly left behind the occasional piano and acoustic guitar, she’s making them play catchup with sampled beats and treated masses of strings, while swirling her icy vocals in and around the mix, somewhat reminiscent of fellow Texan Annie (St. Vincent) Clark. Producer John Congleton seems to increase the size of Jaffe’s voice, applying just enough EQ to give it different flavors and shadings: one minute she’s hinting at Florence Welch, the next she’s channeling Marina Diamandis, but never losing her own vocal character.
The album’s signature is the line “It’s the same thing / In a different light,” with the head-versus-heart conflict from her previous album, and last year’s The Way Sound Leaves a Room EP, continuing to occupy her thoughts (the new album includes two remakes from the EP, including a powerhouse version of the title song); if in the end, “the body always wins,” it’s never without cost. A “Mannequin Woman” is never going to get her heart broken, but that kind of emotional deadening is a high price to pay. And the other remake from the EP is one of the album’s high points: the cuts-like-a-knife “Sucker For Your Marketing”: “Whatever you put out / I’m gonna buy it / So what’s your latest? / I wanna try it / Are you still in love? / Are you over it again?,” dissolving into the aching coda of “This was sad / This was sad / This was sad…” Like all of us, she knows better, she knows that she knows better… and still fucks up. Reassuring, really.
DIAMOND RUGS – DIAMOND RUGS
The problem with dumbing down rock and roll is that rock and roll beat you to it: the rawness of Bo Diddley or Johnny Burnette gives way to the earnest minimalism of the Shadows of Knight or Count Five, segues into the self-conscious purity of The Ramones or The Dictators, and onwards to the angsty immoderation of The Replacements or Big Dipper; in other words, the profundity that a primitive form can convey at its simplest has already been pretty well explored by people who, unlike John McCauley, don’t feel the need to stick an elbow into your ear’s ribs to make sure you get the joke.
McCauley’s recent journey from Black Dirt Sessions to Middle Brother to last year’s Divine Providence to Diamond Rugs is not the work of a guy too dumb to sing about anything but beer ‘n’ broads–it’s the work of a guy who thinks that level of dumbness is cute; he knows he’s smarter than the guys he’s singing about (as), delivering what amounts to a sort of alcoholically-fueled condescension. And it would appear that he’s persuaded a few other people of the same thing: Diamond Rugs’ personnel includes fellow Deer Tick-er Robbie Crowell, Black Lips’ guitarist Ian St. Pe, Hardy Morris of the Dead Confederates, Six Finger Satellite’s Bryan Dufresne, and one-time Blaster and gringo member of Los Lobos, saxophonist Steve Berlin… in other words, no one with much excuse for playing as dumb as “Hungover and Horny.”
That said, there’s an enjoyably ramshackle quality to much of the music-making here; there’s too much wit and smarts involved not to get off the occasional nice one (“Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant,” “Country Mile,” “Totally Lonely”), and if Paul Westerberg was much more on point about rock and roll culture than McCauley’s “Who cares?/ Gimme a beer“, or if even Mick Jagger would think twice about something as clumsy as “I got sweeter things in my mouth / I swallow them / And then I shit them out,” in both cases, the questionable sentiments are backed up with music that neither Westerberg’s old band, or even Jagger’s, would have been embarrassed to claim. I was going to write “Rock on!”, but I don’t know how to type that with the tongue-in-cheek irony upon which McCauley would insist.
OTHER NOTABLE 4/24 RELEASES
Josh Abbott – Small Town Family Dream
Anathema – Weather Systems
Brendan Benson – What Kind of World
Paul Burch& the Waco Brothers – Great Chicago Fire
Dandy Warhols – This Machine
Deuce – Nine Lives Deluxe
Electric Guest – Mondo
Eve 6, Speak in Code
Peter Gabriel – New Blood Live In London
LP – Into the Wild
Kip Moore – Up All Night
Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol
Prong – Carved Into Stone
Joe Pug – Great Despiser
Tiesto, Club Life – Volume Two Miami
Torche – Harmonicraft
Trixter – New Audio Machine
Tyketto – Dig in Deep
Walter Trout – Blues for the Modern Daze
The Wanted – The Wanted
Wanting – Everything in the World
War of Ages – Return to Life
PROTOTYPE (PS3, 360)
Remember Prototype? That lifeless open-world game with terrible frame rate, tons of glitches, and generally generic gameplay? For some reason, here’s a shitty looking sequel! It does get bonus points for having a black protagonist. A bald angry black guy with a gruff voice is a welcome change from the bald angry white guys with gruff voices that usually populate the genre. Bald angry Asian woman with Tom Waits voice for the next Dead Space. I’m calling it.
THE WALKING DEAD (PS3, PC, iOS)
So…fuck this franchise. Kind of. I won’t get into here – but in all its current forms, The Walking Dead alternately pisses me off and bores the piss out of me. It’s something that I’ve seen enough of to know I want to stay away from it. But still…I’m pretty sure I’ll play this. Tell Tale is one of my favorite studios at the moment. There was a time, pre-Kickstarter, when I would play any classic style adventure game on the market. I even suffered through every episode of Jurassic Park: Heavy Rain Edition. Although I think Robert Kirkman actively goes out of his way to make terrible narrative decisions, the adventure genre is the one place his brand of fuckery fits perfectly. Adventure games are already a logic-free zone, and the zombie conventions make a lot of sense with where Tell Tale has been attempting to take the genre. If the pieces fall in place, this could be the developer’s best game yet.
Or it could be another shitty The Walking Dead product…
So we’ve come the end. And remember – future events will effect you in the future. Take care…beware…