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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Music: Lost Michael McDonald Track Reveals New Pornographers Link

New Pornographers had a contest to do a video for them and here's the winner's explanation of just what the hell they were thinking:

Michael McDonald's first music video (and Billboard chart success), "It's Only Divine Right", became the most influential track of the 1970s. His smooth vocal stylings, coupled with guest performances by Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross, seemed to pave the way for 80s adult contemporary music. Also, the idea of a "music video" was revolutionary in its own right, and McDonald experiments with one of the earliest known instances of product placement. This song was later covered by Canadian powerpop group, The New Pornographers.Another interesting fact: McDonald hasn't replaced the phone featured in this video since it was filmed.

How cool is the result? Pretty damn cool. I'll also point out that the "Michael McDonald" in my tag cloud is getting bigger and bigger:

According to My Wife: Tim Russert is a Big Bully

Russert: Off our Christmas List

According to my wife Tim Russert is a big bully for bodyslamming fun-sized FLILF-mate Dennis Kucinich at last night's Democratic Presidential debate. Scrappy Kucinich was feeding the party base red meat all night, clearly hoping to get some headlines with his impeach Bush and Cheney message. Then Russert fixed his beady stare on amiable Kucinich and went in for the kill. You know a question is going to be trouble when it starts with the name "Shirley MacLaine", a convenient shorthand for "crazy batshit nuts". Here's the full question:

"The godmother of your daughter, Shirley MacLaine, writes in her new book that you sighted a UFO over her home in Washington state...


... that you found the encounter extremely moving, that it was a "triangular craft, silent and hovering," that you "felt a connection to your heart and heard directions in your mind."
Now, did you see a UFO?

Kucinich seemed taken aback and his answer was a little jumbled as a result. He didn't get to the real heart of the question which was "Are you some kind of lunatic?" But was this really a necessary question to pose to a decent man of integrity who doesn't stand a chance of winning the White House? Or just a great way to kill a nascent impeachment movement that leaders of both parties would like to see go away? The softball question the usually irascible Russert tossed Obama afterwards suggests that at least subconsciously, he would like to see the field thinned to the "real" candidates and perhaps this was his way of helping to thin it. Still, that's no way to treat a guy who has run a brave and honest campaign... according to my wife.

Television: The Office Stars Reveal Hidden Musical Chops

Thanks to the brilliant, I now know that creepy Creed from NBC's the office was a member of 60's/70's pop rockers The Grass Roots -- how cool is that? The Grass Roots had 14 top 40 hits included "Temptation Eyes", "Let's Live for Today", and "Midnight Confessions". Even better Creed Bratton was in the band during it's peak years as the clip below attests to. Here they are getting into'd by no less than Jimmy Durante. Spot the Creedster at 1:40:

But wait, there's more. Go to the original Stereogum posting to dig on The Scrantones with Darryl from the warehouse covering Radiohead!

Entertainment: Pop Cultural Touchstone Robert Goulet Dies

Robert Goulet

Robert Goulet, an old-school style sex symbol in a new style world, died yesterday at 73 while awaiting a lung transplant. Goulet, after hitting the boards and television stations in Canada for several years became a star in 1960 in Lerner and Loewe's Camelot alongside Richard Burton and Julie Andrews. He received raves and the show became an allegory for a generation imbued with hopefulness by the early Kennedy years.

Goulet would become identified with Las Vegas and the louche lounge singing parodied by Bill Murray while also starring in a variety of film and television roles, included a part in Louis Malle's great Atlantic City in 1981. Here's a link to the New York Times' obit.

Here's a clip of Will Ferrell doing Robert Goulet from an old SNL:

Here's a godawful sitcom pilot that never got picked up (note the two guys in the jail cell who have their faces wiped out for their own protection):

Young Goulet horsing around with Phyllis Diller circa 1962:

And finally Goulet from 1967 doing "Soliloquy" from Carousel:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Politics: FLILFs -- Who are They? Are They Dangerous? The Daily Show Investigates

The Kucinichs: Potential POTUS and FLILF

The Daily Show's Jason Jones looks into the phenomenon of FLILFs, " a MILF but in the White House..." Check out the enlightening clip below in which Jones probes Elizabeth Kucinich, wife of Democratic hopeful Dennis Kucinich:

Music: New Release Tuesday -- What to Expect

Spears: "Guys don't let me blackout again...oh wait, cool album name alert!"

This will probably be neither the first nor last time that the words "Britney Spears" and "blackout" have appeared in a sentence. But how often has it happened in connection with a new album? Sadly Blackout (the album) is not a concept album in which Britney tries to reconstruct the events leading up to her waking up on the red tile floor of a 7-11 face-down in a pool of her own vomit. It has however been moved up a few weeks to thwart downloaders who want to deny Britney a big opening week.

Also back from the brink are the Backstreet Boys, this time minus original member Kevin Richardson who...ah hell, who really cares? Especially when The Eagles can top that story!

Yes 70s L.A. sleazy listening rockers The Eagles are back with Long Road Out of Eden their first all-new album since The Long Run lit up the charts while Jimmy Carter was President. Oh yeah, and it's only available from Wal-Mart on their own custom label. Self-righteous Walden Woods- saving Eagle Don Henley was unavailable for comment on this turn of events but Miami Vice multi-episode guest starrer Glenn Frey sets the record straight in this week's Billboard:

"I am in the business of selling records and I want to be in a place where we have the opportunity to sell the most records. It's also nice that Wal-Mart pays us a very lucrative royalty; a royalty that no record company could come close to matching. But that's because we are not a loss leader at Wal-Mart. If the Eagles put out a record at Warner or any other major record label, part of the reason they can't pay up is we've got to pay for all of the bad acts they sign and release."

Way to stick it to the next generation of Husker Dus Glenn!

Easily the coolest release of the week is the soundtrack to Todd Haynes Dylan fantasy biopic I'm Not There which features Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Steve Malkmus, Willie Nelson and many more.

Sometime Television guitar duellist Richard Lloyd re-appears with The Radiant Monkey.

Ex-Band-mate Levon Helm releases Dirt Farmer.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Interwebs: Fun With Babelfish, Not Like This Verfluchte Segway

I was pleased to see my posting on Toyota's i-Real had been picked up with attribution by German site Automotive Classics . Even more exciting to me was that the post had been lovingly translated into flawless German (see here). Not being able to leave well enough alone, I felt compelled to re-translate the translation back into English using Babelfish which created the fractured tone-prose you see below. Enjoy, if you must!

Planet of the clay/tone (and the sight): Design: Toyota keeps it I material -- that is, as they roll Yo

"running ya DirneSan..."

Toyota presented its professor X -esque I-material concept at the appearance, which holds on giving, the Tokyo motor show, yesterday. This motorized contrivance/deathtrap can apparent reach speeds of 30 MPH all with forming you to look like invalids supervillian. Which they should do really to be supposed to this Sauger for the American market to widen out..., which I can already present to hordes/hurdles of these things me, which around those of the middle west Malle fly, which is forwards steered by John Goodman and - surgery star Jones viewof alikes. Not like this verfluchte Segway -- standing is too much like exercise.Seriously, population of Japan ages fast, therefore many of the concepts touched themselves out here on expenditures saying of mobility and Muehelosigkeit of the entrance without coming right and that this to aging and to less mobile population one aims. That being means, from this connection to the screen of the I-material at the Jalopnik comexamine you, which by a OH- is thus driven casual and good-dressed Toyota representative. He seems to despise from us to which go only.I found source articles ubersetzt to the German.

Music News: Country Legend Porter Wagoner Dies

Porter Wagoner late in life but still sporting one of his characteristic Nudie tailored suits.

Porter Wagoner, one of country music's biggest stars of the 60's and early 70's, died yesterday of lung cancer at the age of 80. Porter had 81 charted country singles including numbers ones stretching from 1955's "Satisfied Mind" to 1974's "Please Don't Stop Loving Me." He also had a long-running hit syndicated TV show which ran from the 60's into the 80's. It was on his show that America was first introduced to a young talent named Dolly Parton and he would be a mentor to her for the rest of her career.

Here's a vintage clip of Wagoner with Parton doing "Run That by Me One More Time" in the early 70's:

Film Review: Dan in (Not So) Real Life

Carell, Binoche, Cook: Which one of these actors is the cinematic "Kiss of Death"?

Dane Cook has functioned as a sort of skull and crossbones symbol for films that he's been in. Just as you wouldn't eat a cyanide-laced muffin, most filmgoers took a pass on Good Luck Chuck, Mr. Brooks, and Employee of the Month. Many of the same filmgoers may forgo Dan in Real Life despite the fact that Cook is actually sort of OK in it. He's mostly likable, only mildly annoying, and mostly unfunny and that's a pretty good description of the film as a whole.

The actual star is Steve Carell as Dan, who has a remarkable talent for finding nuance, humor and depth in what is a standard-issue rom-com character. The romantic interest is supplied by radiant Juliet Binoche, who similarly finds layers where the writers have merely left crumbs. The rest of the cast is also first rate with Dianne Wiest playing the Mom role usually reserved for Diane Keaton, John Mahoney as crusty old dad, Broadway star Norbert Leo Butz, Emily Blount and the fantastic Amy Ryan sprinkled here and there.

What lets this movie down is a thin wisp of a screenplay that feels like it barely got out of the spitball stage. The contrived nature of the plot entanglements and pat life lessons are beneath the excellent work that the talented cast (yes including Cook) does here. Carell is an advice columnist widower raising three daughters. On his way to a yearly family get together in picturesque Rhode Island he has an (amusing) meet-cute with an interesting woman only to find upon arrival at his parents house that she is brother Dane Cook's new girlfriend.

In the 1940's this would have been punched up with killer gags and smart witty dialogue by the likes of Garson Kanin or Donald Ogden Stewart and the silliness of the plotting and unreality of so many of the situations would be easily swept aside in the fun. Unfortunately we have no great gags and precious little wit, just a few moments that suggested another much funnier movie that might have been. An improbable scene in which Dan's prospective new employers come to the family house (!) on a day's notice (!!) to meet him merely fizzles out inconsequentially where in the hands of a great screenwriter and director hilarity would have been in the offing.

The pity is that Carell has been in one of the best romantic comedies of recent times, The 40-Year Old Virgin, a film that showed that the comedy needn't suffer for the romance and vice -versa. Instead Dan in Real Life never transcends its ultimate destination as a comfort-food movie, meant to be watched home alone on a dreary weekend with a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

Dan gets two out of five pints of ice cream:

Friday, October 26, 2007

TV: Alec Baldwin -- Greatest Actor in The World

Above is the proof but in the likely event of NBC going all crazy on YouTube for this, here's another link on Gawker who have some kind of sweetheart arrangement with the heirs of Jack Welch's empire. Baldwin chews the scenery until there's nothing left but mere crumbs on last night's 30 Rock. Oh the genius! Oh the Red Foxx impression!

Music: Old Tech, Meet New Tech

Rocking my "I want this right now" button is the plusdeckEX. This despite the fact that it converts music from one crappy-sounding medium to another one. I do love me my mix tapes though, and this super cool looking cube will convert that "What if Sandanista! was a single-disc LP" Maxell XL-II S into MP3's for me. The bad news is it won't be available until January and no price has been set yet. plusdeck -- explain yourself!

"plusdeckEX can create quality audio the way you want it to be and for any purpose. For example, plusdeckEX is useful for language study materials. After language study materials from cassette tapes, radio programs and Internet broadcasting are converted into digital files, they can be edited using the software provided. More specifically, they can be mixed, copied, played back and slowed down to optimize their use. Also, the edited files can be stored on CDs, the Internet or cassette tapes for later use. Additionally, the files can be uploaded to the Internet or transferred to the MP3 player for portable and personal use."

Yes, I'll be editing and burning"language study materials." Uh huh yup.

Books: All Press is Good Press

The New York Times today reports that Picador books is taking a rather direct approach to selling the paperback version of Oprah-snubbing author Jonathan Franzen memoir The Discomfort Zone. Two rather nasty quotes are included in the blurbs -- both from the Times itself. Is it that people only register the blurbs as a mass of positivity without actually reading them? Or is Picador banking on anti-Timesism?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Music Review: Fiery Furnaces Do What They Know -- But is it Enough?

Fiery Furnaces: Wrong turn at Self Indulgence Ave?

With all the talk engendered by Radiohead's album download scheme and Starbuck's signing boomer acts right and left the general consensus is that the traditional big music business model is an Endangered Species. Furthermore, that may not be such a bad thing. These dinosaurs are the people who rejected Wilco's best album, forced Aretha Franklin to sing standards before fleeing to Ahmet Ertegun and signed Milli Vanilli.

But what if Blondie had never been forced by producer Mike Chapman to go back to a cod-reggae trifle they had been working on and re-tool it with a disco beat as "Heart of Glass?"
What if ambitious manager Andrew Loog Oldham hadn't bothered to lock Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a room and refused to let them out until they wrote some songs together?

More to the point, what if some cigar smoking prick behind a desk in a glass tower swiveled his chair around and said to Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger something like:

"Listen you two siblings, lovers, whatever you are...I just listened to your new album. Where's the hit?"

Is it indie-rock heresy to ask why two talented people with hooks, sound and attitude galore can get so close to making deliciously memorable songs and still feel compelled to sabotage them time and again?

The best full disc these guys have is EP, ostensibly a collection of stray tracks from b-sides and mini-eps. How perverse is it that great songs like "Evergreen" and "Here Comes the Summer", "Sing For Me" and "Single again" were given a sort of throwaway treatment. These days, artists can be as perverse as they want to be towards their own work and still find a following (hello Bob Pollard) but it really galls me with Fiery Furnaces. I enjoyed the epic sprawling monster that is their Blueberry Boat, an album made up mostly of epic songsuites. Following their comparatively straightforward debut it felt like a band stretching out and finding it's horizons but subsequent albums seem to suggest that what was fresh and arresting has calcified into self indulgence.

Their new album Widow City is typical in that there are a few good songs sandwiched amongst the random riffery, logghorhiac vocals and skronking synth sounds. Matthew, who writes and masterminds the songs, seems to delight in shoving words down his sisters gullet in the way my brother used to hold me down and stuff dirty socks in my mouth. Eleanor has a terrific voice, refined and wistful, but she's made to sing such ridiculousness that it's hard to warm up to her performances and the multi-syllabic overflow lends an air of sameyness to her delivery. My fave song here is "My Egyptian Grammer" in which she's so loaded down with words that she's overdubbed on top of herself singing separate verses.

There are pleasures to be had in the tone of the meaty drums and guitars, the surprising keyboard textures and the flashes of melody and finessed arrangements. But too often it all devolves into murk. Would Clive Davis or Mo Ostin have let such a promising career devolve?

Widow City gets 2 out of 5 Clive Davis':

Design: Toyota Keeps it i-Real -- That's How They Roll Yo

"Race ya whore-san..."

Toyota unveiled their Professor X -esque i-Real concept at the show that keeps on giving, The Tokyo Motor Show, yesterday. This motorized contrivance/deathtrap can apparently reach speeds of 30 MPH + all while making you look like an invalid supervillian. What they should really do is widen that sucker out for the American market...I can already imagine hordes of these things flying around Midwestern malls piloted by John Goodman and pre-surgery Star Jones look-alikes. Not like that damn Segway -- standing is too much like exercise.

Seriously though, Japan's population is rapidly aging so many of the concepts here have touched on issues of mobility and ease of access without coming right out and saying that this is targeted to an aging and less mobile population. That being said, check out this link to video of the i-Real at driven by an oh so casual and well-dressed Toyota rep. He seems to disdain those of us who merely walk.

Music: Live Review -- New Pornographers Get Busy on Webster Hall

Neko Case

New Pornographers turned out Webster Hall like it was some kind of newbie actress and they were the gang bang. In fact they were a gang bang with enough people on stage to play an Arcade Fire show and nearly as many instruments -- flute, violin, horns, two keyboards.

But the key ingredients last night were the incomparable and gorgeous Neko Case and inscrutable and hairy Dan Bejar, bookending dependable and trusty leader Carl Newman. Case has been known to sit out tours despite being a key presence on record. Newman's niece Kathryn Calder subs for Neko on vocals when she's not around and takes leads of her own as well as playing a mean keyboard. Last night showed Calder to have a clear, sweet voice and a winsome way with a black dress. But oh, when Neko sings! Why is this woman not a huge world-straddling star? She can sing anything, from the country-noir of her solo work to the revved up power pop and torchy ballads New Pornographers give her. She could be singing the Eddie Money back catalogue and be entrancing. Her voice is utterly distinct -- honeyed and powerful all at once.

Dan Bejar sightings at New Pornographers shows are extremely rare -- this for a guy who writes and sings three or four songs per album. Like Neko he has his own thriving solo world -- in his case as Destroyer. So Bejar was a special treat or as Newman called him "The elephant in the room." The crowd was thrilled and well they should have been. His songs are skewed and his vocals odd and reedy -- fantastically so. His song "Myriad Harbor" is one of the highlights of their new album Challengers, just as it was live. The funniest part of his whole Garbo like reluctance bit was that he would come on and off to do his songs -- he even had to be coaxed out by the band to do an encore. Out he'd come, looking rumpled and smelling (I'm imagining) of fresh bong, nail a killer song, and then backstage again to his sweet leaf and (still imagining here) lissome groupie horde.

Most of the new songs benefited from the aggressive live attack the band gave them, with drummer/secret weapon Kurt Dahle driving everything forward relentlessly. The only bummer was a muddy soundmix that rendered most of the extra instrumentation moot and Newman hard to hear while saddling Neko with occasional peals of feedback. This was combined with a lightshow that seemed to be controlled by someone who had no prior knowledge of the band and had been pulled away from a P.S. 21 production of Guys and Dolls. The Spotlight roamed warily before finding the intended soloist, sometimes alighting on a musician doing nothing in particular, the big lit up "New Pornographers" sign behind the band flashed like bad neon tubing and the stage was bathed in too much light or total darkness alternately for no good reason.

Still, after more than an hour and two encores it must be said that this was a rousing exciting show, highlighting all of the things that make this band great. Newman's aching voice plus killer songs and arrangements, Neko Case and all that she implies, the twisted offbeat charm of Bejar, plus a crack band.

Below is a clip of them earlier in the tour with Neko and Bejar doing "Myriad Harbor":

Music: This Week's Chart Beat...Lookin' For a Chart beat

Carlos Santana: Running low on bland anglo singers...

The Billboard Top 200 Chart this week chalked up a pretty lousy sales tally, with returning Boss of the chart Bruce Springsteen racking up only 77,000 sales at number 1. Jimmy Eat World snacks on number 5 with Chase This Light, which equals their chart if not sales best. Santana's misnamed Ultimate Santana comes in at number 8 despite a Chad Kroeger duet that's the musical equivalent of a bone in a fish fillet. The re-activated Stax label gets some chart air at number 11 with Angie Stone's new one. Further down, R.E.M's first live album disappoints at number 72.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Art: Slinkachu Proves that It's Not The Size of Your Installation

UK Artist Slinkachu brought his "Little People" to Nuart and it's one of the coolest "disasters" I've seen. Check out this link to get the full impact of this clever installation.

Design: Tokyo Show -- In-Car Toilet Yet Another NASA Inspired Design

"Forgiveness please..."

Kaneko Sangyo Co. could no longer hold it in and finally released their new product dubbed Kurumarukun (a word I've murmured once or twice through clenched teeth after a hearty meal) at the Tokyo Motor Show. It's a portable in-car toilet that also comes with a privacy curtain, a cardboard toilet bowl and an absorbent paper sheet. A sealable plastic bag allows for later disposal or road rage inspired monkey-like flinging. Stay tuned here for the rest of the straight poop on the Tokyo Motor Show.

TV: James Lipton -- Keeping His Pimp Hand Strong

Lipton arrives for Inside the Actor's Studio in style...

To quote the Los Angeles Times: "So was he (James Lipton) really, as he writes in the book, a pimp in Paris, albeit a rather classy one who arranged shows for clients rather than actual couplings? 'Yes.'"

If you don't know by now that James Lipton, erudite starfawner interviewer/host of Inside the Actor's Studio was once a Parisian pimp then I don't know how I can help you. Perhaps by sliding this link to La Lipton himself being interviewed by the curious ladies of the daytime on The View via Gawker your way. Lipton explains that pimpdom in Paris was part of his voyage of discovery -- not unlike the time I killed a man in Tulsa. I done my time.

Meanwhile, please enjoy a big cool glass of Lipton doing what he does best --pimping -- in this case Desperate Housewife Teri Hatcher. She's game too -- "This feels like a first date" indeed.

Before you huff about Hatcher, know that it makes her cry. Here's the original L.A. Times piece which says so.

The Interwebs: Think Before You Link -- Cops Don't Go For OINK

The nerve center of an organized 'linking" group

The shutdown of two link-sharing websites in the last few days have raised questions about how far copyright laws can and should reach. The first case is a site called TV Links which offered links to other sites that hosted TV programs legally or illegally. As The Guardian's tech blogger Jack Schofield writes:

"Indeed, if linking is illegal, we might as well shut down the Internet, because there is no practical way anybody can guarantee the legality of what's on the end of any link. Even if you could guarantee it at the time of linking, there's no guarantee it would still be legal less than a second later, or for the rest of time."

See Schofield's excellent posting here in which he questions the propriety of shutting down the little fish while leaving the 2-ton whale - Google - alone. Also dig his photo -- he looks like Dr. Adam Bricker from The Love Boat only cooler with his old school pipe.

Schofiled also gets to the bottom of yet another bust -- this time of a web linking group called OINK. He questions the police's claims (see here from the BBC) that OINK was an "extremely lucrative" pay business. I too have to wonder since the major complaint about OINK is that pre-release albums were being leaked there. Being leaked by whom? Reviewers? Record company employees? And we are expected to believe that they are paying for the privilege of leaking this stuff? Thanks to Andrea Perez for bringing this story to my attention.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Design: New CIA Terrorist-Buster Logo --So THAT'S What They Look Like!

Thank you Gawker via Wonkette for drawing our attention to the new logo quietly unveiled (heh-heh) on the CIA's website. As seen above it's the new "Terrorist-Buster" logo. No this is not a joke. At least not intentionally. So uh, what does this product of our tax dollars have to say about, you know terrorists and stuff? First of all they are really really Hershey's Special Dark dark. Or they wear ski masks and dress like goth mimes. Secondly, they enjoy waving their automatic weapons around almost as if to mock our own freedom-loving NRA members. They also favor shadowing techniques that make their rifles appear to be bayonets. Don't be fooled! Consider yourself warned! Also...can I get that as a cloisonne pin?

Music: The Four-wheeling Bob Dylan

Young Bob tries out an alternate pitch for new client Cadillac...

Fresh from shilling for Victoria's Secret spokesinger Bob Dylan is lending his unique brand identity to carmaker Cadillac. Though I would have figured the term "threeway" would have been applicable to his earlier deal it does in fact describe the new tie-up between XM Satellite radio, the man who got the Beatles stoned, and the car my grandparents drove. Dylan will play and discuss Caddy-themed songs during his acclaimed Theme Time Radio Hour on XM, Cadillac will feature Dylan in a new wave of advertising rolling out for the multiple zip-code sized Escalade SUV and the aforementioned land yacht will come standard with XM satellite radio standard... on which listeners can tune into Dylan's radio show and restart the entire cycle of circle-jerkery anew. Here's the ad which I believe uses a song from Smog, appropriately enough. Also note that Bob passes several tankers (one on a truck and a few on a train) which approximate the amount of gas the behemoth Escalade uses in an average journey.

Music Review: Mark Olson Finds Salvation in His Blues

Mark Olson: "Drive safe now!"

Mark Olson's new album The Salvation Blues has the feel of 1970, a time when country outlaws were finding the freedom of folk in the sounds of Nashville and in the liberating blast of nascent country-rock like The Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Olson's former band The Jayhawks also captured this feel on their two greatest albums Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass which should come as no surprise as Olson wrote many of the songs on those albums.

The kinship in sound should also be no surprise as Salvation is Olson's first stand-alone solo disc and former bandmate Gary Louris pops in to harmonize on three tracks. This makes The Salvation Blues feel like something of a return for Mark Olson despite the several records he released with now ex-wife Victoria Williams since leaving the Jayhawks in 1995 .

The songs are strong and timeless, often backed like "National Express" with a bed of shimmering steel guitar. The plaintive organ on "Look Into the Night" and sweet mandolin on "Poor Michael's Boat" complete the time warped feeling. It's appropriate that Olson has a song here called "Sandy Denny" as Fairport Convention is an obvious touchstone.

The Salvation Blues is described on the cover as a "...journey through the heart of loss and redemption..." and Denny's story is suffused with the kind of sadness and grim acceptance of fate that so many of these songs embrace. "Another cup of brutal wine..." Olson sings on "Winter Song" and the ghost of Denny seems to haunt Olson's outlook, understandably. Denny left Fairport Convention in 1970 and never reached the artistic heights solo that she had reached with her band. The end came too soon in 1978 when she died after falling down a flight of stairs. Certainly Olson doesn't want the same judgement of "You never should have left your band" that was handed down to Denny by many music fans and critics.

Thankfully The Salvation Blues proves that Olson solo can be just as vital a songwriter and performer as he was in The Jayhawks and provided he holds onto the handrail going down the stairs there is no reason his fate should mirror that of Sandy Denny.

Also of note is Hacktone Records beautiful packaging, designed as a book with its own slipcover and liner notes by Michele Gazich (identified here as a violinist and professor of literature). There are small illustrations or photographs to accompany the lyrics on the inside of the "book" and the overall effect is charming and quite pleasing.
Here's a bit of a documentary on Olson that's in the works including a live performance of new song "The National Express" at the now sadly defunct Mo' Pitkins in New York.

The Salvation Blues gets four out of five Sandy Dennys:

Music: This Week's New Releases

Neil Young

This week's new music is headed by grizzled vet Neil Young's sequel to a record that never came out, Chrome Dreams II. Like many Neil records following the original aborted Chrome Dreams, II is a Frankenstein's monster of songs from here and there including the epic 18 minute plus "Ordinary People" from his 1988 Bluenotes era.
Here's an odd photo montage of rusted cars set to "new" track "Dirty Old Man":

The non-brothers Ween return with La Cucaracha which sadly is not a Latin-tinged affair but happily is still Ween. Oh, did I mention David Sanborn guests on the track "Your Party"? Here is the live version of new song "Learnin' to Love":

Led Zeppelin frontman and aging eclecticist Robert Plant teams up with bluegrass megastar Alison Krauss for Raising Sand, a collab that's already garnering raves from the music press intelligentsia. Here's a promo vid:

Black Dice blow their load with Load Blown.

Rhino release their redundant Brit Box boxset of Britpop.

Re-issues include Can's Anthology, alt-country pin-up girl Neko Case's first album The Virginian, and Of Montreal's early and very interesting If He is Protecting Our Nation...Who is Protecting Big Oil?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Design: Eat Me Crunchy! No Longer Simply an Admonishment Directed at Hippies


As human beings struggle forward through history our progress has been measured by invention: fire, the wheel, the arch, gunpowder, electricity and now Eatmecrunchy. Yes a new era is dawning, an era of cereal rendered crisp despite the introduction of milk into its environment. The inventors at Eatmecrunchy have a clever shelf design that controls milk intrusion, allowing crunch with moisture. Can a cure for cancer be far behind?

Politics: Huckabee Wins Coveted Texas Ranger Endorsement

Norris displays his stance on illegal immigration...or mullets...perhaps fingerless gloves?

We might as well declare the upcoming Republican Presidential primaries over as kingmaker Chuck Norris delivered one of his patented roundhouse kicks to diet advocate Mike Huckabee's competition today. The hirsute action icon had nice things to say about each of the other candidates:

" Though Giuliani might be savvy enough to lead people, Fred Thompson wise enough to wade through the tides of politics, McCain tough enough to fight terrorism and Romney business-minded enough to grow our economy, I believe the only one who has all of the characteristics to lead America forward into the future is ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.."

What's Ron Paul, chopped liver? Norris went on to explain his selection criteria:

"...he does not cower to the cries of any majority or minority...He doesn't abandon his values for what's expedient. Like our Founding Fathers, he's not afraid to stand up for a Creator and against secularist beliefs.”

It's good to know that if I have any questions about where our founding fathers stand on an issue, Chuck has the background and insight to fill me in. It must have been some other Thomas Jefferson who said, in his Notes on Virginia (1782) :

"But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

Jefferson also had this to say in a letter to Horatio Spafford in 1814:

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."

Perhaps he said it under duress...anyhow Chuck doesn't stand for cowering. I look forward to see who he endorses in the general election! Check out Chuck's multi-culti crew below, and his message to Huckabee for the upcoming Florida primary. Take heed bleeding heart enviro-Nazi's -- it's the dolphins that are deadly! And chin up other GOP-ers, the David Hasselhoff, Adrian Zmed and Lou Ferrigno endorsements are still on the table!

Film Review: Lars is The Real Thing

Gosling preps for his David Arquette look-alike contest.

The premise of Lars and The Real Girl is so singularly silly that it's hard to explain what the film is about without risking terminal alienation, which is a shame because the film is quite enjoyable. So, there's an introverted guy who lives in a small town and thinks his sex doll is a real woman. Now that that's out of the way let me tell you about the good stuff.

There is the stellar cast led by star-in-the-making Ryan Gosling. Gosling takes a character that could just have been left as goofy or pathetic and gives him genuine depth, humor and pathos. It's a terrific performance, as Oscar-worthy as his turn in Half Nelson. Patricia Clarkson is on hand as a perceptive and even-keeled doctor/shrink who helps to draw Lars out, Emily Mortimer is radiant as Lar's sister-in-law and Kelli Garner plays a tricky role very well as a co-worker who has a romantic spark for Lars.

The part of the film that will trouble the "That would never happen in real life" crowd is when the town bands together to help Lars by going along with his doll fantasy. Director Craig Gillespie (who also improbably helmed this years awful Mr. Woodcock) treads lightly, finding comedy and sweetness in the town's efforts to help Lars by supporting his delusion. There is a kinship here with British films like Waking Ned Devine or The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain -- quirky towns who pull together for the greater good. Screenplay by Nancy Oliver smartly sketches out some of the psychology behind Lar's behavior in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but never resorts to a flat explanation or confessional outburst by Gosling.

The film may overreach a bit in the extent that the town goes not to puncture Lar's delusion. It's refreshing that there isn't a town bully or some such force to create a contrived showdown but perhaps some apathy would be more realistic. The last quarter also seems to stretch a bit far in the use of institutions and town resources that would provoke a few more questions from those that may not be fully onboard.

Generally though the spell that Lars' casts holds, and the chorus of "awwwws" from the many women at the screening suggests that there is a thriving audience ready and willing to take Ryan Gosling to their bosoms and perhaps not let go. The film manages to walk a tough tonal tightrope between humor and sweet drama.

Lars and The Real Girl gets four out of five sex dolls:

Friday, October 19, 2007

Music News: Lucky Dube Killed in Carjacking

Lucky Dube

South African reggae star Lucky Dube was murdered late Thursday during a carjacking in Johannesburg. Three gunmen sprayed Dube with bullets before fleeing as his Chrysler ran into a tree. South Africa has been racked by violent crime of late. Here's the link to Lucky Dube's website. Here is a playlist and short obit from Much of his initial music chronicled the oppression of apartheid in the early but Dube always maintained his focus on social consciousness in his lyrics. He would go on to gain an international following and become a leading voice in traditional reggae. Below is a clip for his song "The Way it Is".

TV: Nightman -- Glam Butt Rapist?

It looks like Flight of The Conchords isn't the only cult TV show to mine comedy gold out of glam rock. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues to be one of the best shows on TV and this weeks episode featured a great band parody. Though Charlie wants to channel Dylan in this clip, his later song Dayman makes the Bowie connection more apparent. Dig this hilarious clip of Chemical Toilet's "Nightman" and catch Sunny Thursdays on F/X:

Music: Live Review -- Stars Shine at Town Hall

Stars -- Amy Millan, call me!

Canada's biggest export these days seems to be the kind of bands Sasha Frere-Jones loves to hate -- sincere indie rock that looks to postpunk for inspiration and wouldn't know a funk beat if it bit them on the ass. So it is with Stars, who were in New York last night touring behind their new album In Our Bedroom After The War. Singer and whirling dervish Torquil Campbell spent as much time marveling over the ornate interior of Town Hall as he did singing, but when he and angel-voiced Amy Millan did sing it made a glorious noise indeed. The band tore it up as well, with Pat McGee's drumming and Andrew Whiteman's guitar playing notably vigorous.

More important was the fact that the new songs shook off the shackles of their overproduction live, revealing "My Favorite Book" and "Window Bird" as the hidden gems they are. Of course the crowd really wanted to hear tracks from 2005's breakthrough album Set Yourself On Fire and they went wild for "Reunion" and "Ageless Beauty", and "Soft Revolution" was a definite highlight.

Both Campbell and Millan were a joy to watch: They switched off on instruments with Millan playing a flute at one point and Campbell busting out with a trumpet several times. For the most part Millan bopped around with a guitar strapped around her and Campbell led the crowd in clap-alongs, emerging in a suit of lights for one song and finally ending the show by wading into the audience and making his way all the way out to the back of the theatre.

This is a band not to be missed live, even if you feel lukewarm about the new album. They open everything up and their dedication and passion is infectious. Below is a clip of them earlier this year playing "The Night Starts Here" in a much smaller venue than Town Hall.

Books: Beeline to Heinlein Online

Heinlein: Played by Ben Kingsley in the Movie?

According to the San Jose Mercury News the entire contents of the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Archive have been scanned and will be made available online for preservation purposes. The first big chunk is already available here. But not so fast cheapskates, you will have to pay per article. Still this is a scholars treasure-trove of manuscripts, notes and ephemera.

Music: Watchoo Talkin' 'Bout Sasha Frere-Jones?!

This weeks indie-rock controversy continues to snowball (see my original post here) -- Yes it's Sasha Frere-Jones' Molotov cocktail of a New Yorker article (and blog posting and podcast -- can a video game be far behind?) suggesting that indie rock has eradicated all traces of "black" musical forms. Now comes Carl "not the Beach Boys one" Wilson's response in Slate which turns out to be actually pretty good. While taking Frere-Jones to task for all of his article's obvious shortcomings Wilson posits class as a bigger differentiator in indie rock, and makes a decent case for it. Of course any kind of reductive argument like this gets hung up on the exceptions but this is worth thinking about. He also puts some of the racial trends in music in a broader social and historical context -- both sorely lacking in Frere-Jones' original piece. The folks at I Love Music's board are already all over this one -- may the controversy continue!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Design: My Cats Would SO Not Go For This

"There better be kibble at the end of this..."

How much would you pay to have your dog look like a cross between a messenger bag and a hazmat worker? What if I told you the coat is loaded with first aid in event of an earthquake? This could be yours for a mere 50,000 yen and it was one of the key exhibits at this year's Tokyo Security and Safety Trade Expo. The Sidereal Co. Ltd calls this their "rescue jacket for pets" and it's designed to recruit your furry companion animal into saving your life. The company claims that this is appropriate for dogs or cats but the dog-only demo speaks volumes about the target audience. You'll be breaking into the Bactine early if you try getting your cat into that get-up. No word on whether there is a built-in pee-hole for Scraps or Tiger to take advantage of while they wait at your feet for the next Al Queda attack.

Politics: Republicans Scrape SCHIP From Their Shoes Once Again

Virgina Republican Bob Goodlatte hates your kids -- he voted so!

The House failed to override President "no child left behind" Bush's veto of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program bill -- endorsing the notion that it's better for kids to get sick than to tax cigarette smokers. 2 Democrats who should know better, voted with the majority of Republicans. Here's the link to the full list of representatives votes -- an "N" means that they ought to be tossed out with the trash on election day. You know what you need to do -- send these bums a message that we won't stand for letting our kids go uninsured.

Film: Deborah Kerr Dies at 86

Deborah Kerr

Actress Deborah Kerr died Tuesday in England. She had been suffering from Parkinson's disease. Here is the AP obit by way of the New York Times. She is perhaps most famous for her scintillating turn in From Here to Eternity, rolling around on the beach in a much-parodied scene with co-star Burt Lancaster. Below is her singing scene from An Affair to Remember, the actual vocal is by the incomparable Marni Nixon but oh how Kerr sells it:

And here is a rather quirky tribute to this very British actresses many scenes involving a "cuppa":

Politics: Colbert In -- Brownback Out?

Colbert: Number one candidate for truthiness..

CNN is reporting that Republican Senator Sam Brownback is preparing to throw in the towel on his bid for the presidency. Could faux-conservative firebrand Stephen Colbert's entry in both the Republican and Democratic primaries in South Carolina been the final push over the edge for Brownback? Nah, but it makes for a good headline. CNN also explores whether Colbert can get on the respective party ballots in the palmetto state. Money is unlikely to be the problem but the rules for the Dems calls for a committee to approve candidates -- a committee unlikely to give the master book hawker their seal of approval.

Music: Chart Beat, It's a Love Beat

Band of Horses: But dogs think they're just bigger dogs...

This week's Billboard Top 200 sees Kid Rock's Rock n Roll Jesus installed in the firmament at number one, knocking Bruce Springsteen to Number 2. It's worth noting that Rock's sales numbers were on the low end even though this is his first turn at the top of the chart summit. Further down Puddle of Mudd refuses to dry out at number 27 with their hopefully (wistfully?) titled Famous. Yeah guys, maybe 15 minutes ago before nu metal went the way of the early 80's rockabilly revival. Sub Pop signees Band of Horses have a nice ride into the chart at 33 and you know Christmas is just around the corner when Mannheim Steamroller rolls in at number 48 with their latest holiday-themed opus.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Film: Gopnik Commentates on Commentary

Joel Schumacher -- "Did someone say batnipples?"

What you won't find online at the New Yorker magazine's website but you will find between the dead treeskin pages of this weeks provocative issue on the arts is a terrific Adam Gopnik essay entitled "The Corrections." Gopnik looks at the world of abridged books, what's lost and gained in the process of cutting the fat and getting to the meat of a classic like Melville's Moby Dick. One of the funniest parts of the piece explores the opposite -- a form in which more is added rather than subtracted -- director's commentaries on movie DVDs. In particular his description of hoity-toity director Michael Apted's commentary for the James Bond film he did -- The World is Not Enough -- bought cackles of laughter from behind my bathroom door (I'm not ashamed to say that I multitask whilst on the toilet). It put me in mind of the time I had to review the DVD of Batman & Robin for the newspaper I worked for. This, the fourth in the Batman series is by any measure an execrable piece of filmmaking to the point that it's a frequent punchline for star George Clooney when talking about his career missteps. Yet the commentary by Joel Schumacher, who as a director was a great set designer, was quite funny and insightful. For the most part the story he tells is of studio intent on milking as much toy revenue as possible out of the film and trying to wedge as many of the potential toys as possible into each scene. As Gopnik points out in the case of Apted -- a respected documentarian (he did the Up series -- 28 Up etc.) -- a bland or even lousy film is given resonance and meaning when we see it through the eyes of the director's struggle to make something meaningful or resignation to the sweet ministrations of commerce.

YouTube Video of the Week: The Ultimate in Home Protection

Robert Blake is in your house right now. Scared?

Thanks to my friends at the Core77 website the question can be asked: Don't you hate being home invaded in the middle of watching Leno? I mean he's just about to do a good Britney/Larry Craig/J. Lo zinger and there's three guys wearing ski masks in your bedroom. You don't have time to get your trusty shotgun out of the closet or out from under your pillow where it's usually kept. Well thank the lord above and the good folks at The Back-up for coming up with an American solution to an American problem. Feast your eyes on the vid below:

Music Review: Radiohead's In Rainbows Lets The Air In

Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood "You like my filigrees then?"

"I don't wanna be your friend/ I just wanna be your lover" Thom Yorke croons at the beginning of "House of Cards" on Radiohead's new album In Rainbows. Whoa, what's this? Directness, sexiness, enunciation, on a Radiohead album? Yes and no, and that's the beauty of their latest album, available via download only for the time being at the band's dedicated website . The initial talk had been centered on the novelty and surprise of this release method and the pay your own price strategy, but now that those of us who put in our orders have had a chance to live with the album discussion has turned to the music itself.

The last few albums like Hail to the Thief and the double-whammy of Kid A and Amnesiac grew increasingly claustrophobic and clammy, dense with sound and freighted with paranoia and gloom. In Rainbows isn't exactly The Spice Girls but the production has opened up to let in air and space, allowing the songs to breathe and move. The music itself isn't radically different than what they've done in the past but it's more approachable without being dumbed down. The newly clever arrangements insure that there are a few things happening at once in isolation before expanding and contracting in a big screen version of the sonic playfulness that's become a hallmark of Spoon's sound.

This also allows for a renewed appreciation for Colin Greenwood's fluid bass playing, with fills and filigrees peppering songs like "All I Need", while strings swoop in and out without dominating or overpowering any track. Thom Yorke's voice is wonderfully elastic, as usual, but there is a new clarity in a lot of these songs -- he's no longer afraid to spend at least part of most of these songs in the front of the mix.

Overall the sound is closer to Hail to The Thief's guitar based songwriting than Kid A's more drum and bass electronica, though opener "15 Step" comes close with it's chopped up rhythm track. The band may not be doing anything new here, or making a leap in musical conception (i.e. the leap from The Bends to OK Computer) as bold as it's leap in commercial presentation, but In Rainbows stands with some of their most invigorating and sheer listenable work.

Four out of five downloads: