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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Street Art: Turning Ads Into Art NY Style -- Phantom Cut And Paster Hits The Subway

By Noah Mallin

Readers of this blog (Hi Mom!) know that I'm a fan of clever art in public spaces (Ala anonymous Brit graffiti artist/sculptor/prankster Banksy). Blog And I Am Not Lying
has great pics of this mystery found artist's work (including the ones seen here), currently in subway stations now. Dig the Iran = Nam piece made out of the raw material of a big-budget Hollywood ad campaign above. Iron Man posters are a speciality of this phantom:

A trenchant commentary on recent baseball developments:

Mmm, cut and pastey goodness makes me feel a disturbance in the force:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Design: BMW Pays Homage to Original M

Design Review By Noah Mallin

Back in the 70s car designers all had a big wedge of Gouda on their desks which they used to trace their latest sports car designs. Well not really. But the contrast between BMW's mid 70s Turbo concept (on the right) the original M1 supercar from 1978 (in the middle) and their just revealed M1 Homage (on the left) show that straight lines and creased corners have given way to curves and voluptuous waves.

Also notable is how petite the original looks in contrast to the wide bodied Homage.

The Homage cleverly picks up key cues of the original car while morphine them into it's own approach. The rear window louvers and BMW badges at the leading edges of the rear deck, the shape of the sideglass, the prominent seam from the rear quarter windows that flows into the tail and the wheels all nod to the original model.

Up front, pop-up headlights have given way to low profile lenses tucked into the extended T-shaped mask, which also houses a very brutal interpretation of BMW's grille.

Though it's not a design that will please everyone the detailing and surfacing around the rear flanks is particularly nice and the overall impact of the car is substantial.

The original M1 (above) kicked off BMW's vaunted M division which has since spread out to become the in-house tuning brand for the Bavarian firm.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Culture: George Lois -- The Willy Wonka of Brain Candy

By Noah Mallin

I was thrilled to see that the Museum of Modern Art has a terrific show featuring an old family friend (Hi Mom!) -- George Lois, one of the most revered names in American advertising and graphic design. What makes Lois so incredible is his gift for discerning the mental hook -- whether it be verbal, visual or otherwise -- that will lodge an idea or client in an unsuspecting person's cerebellum. He is the man who came up with the phrase "I want my MTV!"

The show at MOMA is focused on his covers for Esquire magazine from 1962 - 1972, and they are a brilliant bunch. It's refreshing to be confronted with the graphic cleanliness and visual high concepts of Lois covers. Though his covers were the peak of the form, almost any magazine cover of the era is better designed and more eye-grabbing than today's preference for packed-in text, graphics and info all fighting for notice. I highly recommend the show for anyone in New York or visiting, but Lois' website is typically also very well laid-out and has a wealth of visuals. Even better is the extensive commentary from Lois on nearly every example.

Here are two more of my favorites:

Music: Today's Disco Rock Song of The Day -- You've Been Dissed by Alan Parsons

"I'm recording a tasty lick you wanker..."

An Ongoing Unearthing by Noah Mallin

Before he invented Dr. Evil's laser, Alan Parsons was an engineer at EMI's studios. He's the man responsible for the crystalline sound of both The Beatles Abbey Road and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon. Inside Parsons was a recording artist struggling to emerge -- it finally did on The Alan Parsons Project's first album Tales of Mystery and Imagination in 1975.

Parsons and his Project really hit it with the follow-up 1977's I, Robot, a much more faithful rendering of Isaac Asimov's sci-fi classic than the later Will Smith film would prove to be. In amongst the beautifully arranged art rock was their first single, the chilly disco of "I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You." Like many rock bands doing disco (see Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in The Wall Pt. 2"), the use of a disco arrangement is meant to be a bit of a putdown, a satire on the facelessness of a producer-driven medium. The fact that Parsons himself gained fame from his knob-twiddling skills only adds a level of irony.

The Alan Parsons Project would have several more hits after this, most notably "Eye in The Sky", but none that attempted the booty-shaking cool of "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You." The video features a guest appearance by Univac which is likely shamed by today's Macbooks and a very naughty flower-hating robot.

News of The World: Congolese Wang Rustlers on The Prowl For Fresh Meat

"It's shrinkage!"

Horrified Reaction By Noah Mallin

In a truly frightening Reuters story (via boingboing) with clear humanitarian impact, it seems that there has been a spate of penis thefts and malicious penis shrinking in Congo. Police have arrested 13 suspects but more may be at According to the report, the stories have reached fever (tent?) pitch and have "...quickly dominated radio call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings. " Ah yes, of rings.

Could this be a plot by e-mail spammers? Can we look forward to Helen Thomas grilling Dana Perino on why the White House isn't doing more to combat this crisis? Please?

Design: Happy Earth Day! Peterbilt Based Hot Rod Says "I'm Draining Ur Natchrul Resorcez"

Stunned Admiration By Noah Mallin

Rogue designer Michael Leeds is one sick pup -- this here is a 1950 Peterbilt semi cab transformed into a hot rod. Though Leeds estimates 12 MPG out of this monster I suspect that has to be downhill with a howling tailwind. (More pics including the one above can be found at

Leeds also designed the way, way cool Blastolene for Jay Leno, a guy who's car nuttery is in inverse proportion to his late-night lameness. The Blastolene is powered by a tank engine (!) and probably has a turning radius similar to an aircraft carrier. Here is Leno behind the wheel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Music: This Week's New Releases

Though it seems like only a few years ago that The Replacement's early output on Twin/Tone was remastered, their old catalog is now in the hands of Rhino and gets the deluxe re-issue treatment this week. Anyone without a copy of the magnificent Let It Be (1984) ought to crawl down to their local record store (if one still exists) and cough up. Even better, all the albums (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash the 1981 debut which rocks Johnny Thunders-style, the follow-up EP Stink which shifts to a more hardcore sound, 1983's messy but beloved Hootenanny and the aforementioned masterpiece Let It Be) contain rare bonus tracks. Even better news is that this treatment will be accorded to their Sire albums as well later this year. Could the Alex Chilton produced demos for Tim finally see the light of day? Here's the classic video for "Bastards of Young" (not in this batch of re-issues) which aptly summed up the band's attitude about fancy-schmancy MTV in the mid-80s:

Former Rocket From The Crypt-ster John Reis (aka Speedo) brings along some of his Hot Snakes buddies under new guise The Night Marchers and their album See You in Magic. Here they are doing "Whose Lady R U?" live:

TV's Flight of The Conchords release their first full-length on Sub Pop. The album, pithily titled Flight of The Conchords features a number of the New Zealanders best known songs as seen on HBO. Here's "Inner-City Pressure":

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Culture: Pooch Pees on Portman's Parka - Cruelty-Free No More

Natalie Portman announced recently her intent to forgo leather or anything else made from animal parts -- is this the thanks she gets? The kids call it "cruelty-free", but that doesn't stop full-bladdered members of the animal kingdom from inflicting cruel territory marking status on the threads. Thanks to Scrappy here this picture will be appearing in at least two kinds of fetish-related Google searches. Heel!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Breaking News: 200 Chevettes! Timmy at Long Beach Chevrolet has 200 Chevettes -- Drop EVERYTHING!

Seriously, the manchild Timmy has Chevettes 'til 10, which also happens to be his bedtime. He's wearing his big-boy suit too. What? It's 2008? Guess you're too damn late...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Music Review: Breeders Spawn Another Keeper With Mountain Battles

Review by Noah Mallin

Kim Deal has had a helluva life away from The Pixies, the band in which she first found fame. The Breeders was originally a side project with Tanya Donnely of Throwing Muses (and later Belly). Their 1990 debut Pod is an indie classic, mixing rubbery rhythms and spiky songforms on songs like "Oh" and "Metal Man" and a phenomenal cover of the Beatles "Happiness is a Warm Gun".

By 1992 the Pixies had died and The Breeders had shed Donnely and added Kim's twin sister Kelley for the wonderful Safari EP, but it was Last Splash and the hit single "Cannonball" the following year that brought Kim-mania to its full public flowering.

Deal responded to her first platinum-selling album by recording and scrapping a follow-up, then re-recording the songs under the band name The Amps. Ironically she and Kelley played locally in Ohio as teenagers as Tammy and The Amps, but Kelley had been sidelined thanks to a growing drug problem (never Fed-Ex your dope kids). The Amps lone album was quite charming, lo-fi in a way that reflected Deal's love for fellow Ohioans Guided By Voices.

Finally The Breeders returned scuffed and scruffy for Title TK in 2002 -- beloved by some fans but hardly the poppy crowd-pleaser that Last Splash was.

Which brings us to Mountain Battles. Deal has toured with her old band and both sisters have cleaned up the drugs and boozing since last we heard from them but it makes not a whit of difference to their sound. They take a long time to make albums that feel gloriously tossed off, like eavesdropping on a basement rehearsal at times.

Battles has those glorious breathy-woozy-sassy Deal sister harmonies in full force and a generally strong set of songs that touch on most of Deal's various sounds without sounding like a retread. The songs sung in Spanish (a trick better left to erstwhile Pixies-mate Black Francis) and German don't go anywhere good but the first five tracks are a welcome beginning.

"Overglazed" is just some rapturous instrument bashing with Kim announcing sunnily "I can feel it..oooo" and yes, so can we. "Bang On" is just as simple, a repetitive beat pounding away with a sweet little guitar filigree and the Deal sisters musing "I want no-one, no-one wants me..." and words to that effect which put me in mind of Ben Gazzara's bitter character in Todd Solondz's pitch-black comedy Happiness. His wife is convinced that he's ending the marriage because he must be in love with someone else. "I love no-one!" he repeatedly shouts.

Then the achingly gorgeous "Night of Joy" floats in, one of several deliciously mellow songs on Mountain Battles that allow the listener to wallow in Deal's tip-toeing chord changes and the sister's indelible harmonies. "We're Gonna Rise" is another such track.

There are a few moments like "Spark" that get bogged down in the willful twistiness that marked Title TK but all is forgiven when "Walk it Off" comes strutting through the speakers with the kind of descending bassline bop that made Last Splash a dorm room must-have.

Overall a welcome return indeed.

Here's a fan vid of "It's The Love" with footage from Cinema Paradiso:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Music: Tasty Licks -- Musical Food Fanatics Turn Bento Boxes into Album Homages

By Noah Mallin

The Obacci Jacket Lunch Box site has acres of these Japanese Bento Box meals with the ingredients rearranged to resemble album covers. And I bet your parents told you not to play with your food. Via Pink Tentacle blog.

Music: Today's Disco Rock Song of The Day -- The Beach Boys Track Sand Onto The Dancefloor

An Ongoing Expose by Noah Mallin

In the annals of rock bands who dabbled in disco, few chapters are sadder to relate (or to listen to) than the Beach Boys and their foray into the genre. As we've already seen the year 1979 would prove a fateful one for many a seasoned musician. For the venerable Beach Boys their 60s peak was long past. A brief nostalgic comeback had ensued in 1974 but they wanted to be relevant hitmakers dammit!

L.A. (Light Album) turned out to be a mishmosh of styles but right there at the beginning of Side 2 (ask your grandparents kids) was a nearly 11-minute long remake of their 1967 Wild Honey track "Here Comes The Night" discofied within an inch of it's life. It's hard to know what Brian Wilson thought of this, the video clip below makes him appear to have been pulled from the bottom of a Santa Monica dumpster especially for their appearance that night. If it's any indication, his centerpiece on the album was a meandering stab at "Shortnin' Bread". Not pretty.

Culture: You Go Tobias! Cross and Tamblyn Makin' Flippy Floppy?

Scurrilous Gossip Passed on By Noah Mallin

As you may or may not know, we here at POSAS are major Arrested Development fans and follow every minuscule movement of the late, great show's brilliant cast with an interest just short of Adderall-induced. Thus we were chuffed at today's Huffington Post update which reports that pretty, young Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants wearer Amber Tamblyn is dating pretty old David Cross (who played never-nude sexual-identity-challenged Tobias). Not that there's anything wrong with that! I've known at least one young woman who has succumbed to the Mr. Show star's personal magnetism.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Music: This Week's New Releases

Black Francis: "Yer in me power..."

Compiled by Noah Mallin

Last week brought us a new album from ex-Pixie Kim Deal's band The Breeders; This week brings us ex-Pixie Black Francis (nee Frank Black) and his new album, the awesomely rocking Svn Fngrs. As we all know, two weeks of ex-Pixies albums means five more weeks of winter. Here's the video for new track "I Sent Away":

Air celebrates the tenth (!) anniversary of their acclaimed Moon Safari with a three-disc CD/DVD re-issue featuring live tracks and remixes. Here's the Spike Jonze directed video for "Kelly Watch The Stars":

M83 issues another album of cinematic popcraft with Saturdays = Youth. Here's the video for "Graveyard Girl":

Finally a DVD of rare live Clash performances, The Clash Live: Revolution Rock continues Sony's mission of uncovering every last scrap of Clash related material out there. Here's a preview of the doc which previously aired on PBS:

Design: Cats and The Design Snobs Who Live With Them

By Noah Mallin

City dwellers like myself are more likely to have cats in our tiny apartments, but we are more likely to also be design snobs. So it makes us sad to see our nice furniture ripped to shreds by our clawed companions, and those carpet covered cat condos for them to sharpen on are pretty lame looking.

Modern Cat Designs has a line of sharp looking cat condos that are meant to be displayed as well as to have all four kitten paws splayed upon. They claim their padded scratching areas are just as much fun for cats as the standard carpeted ones you find in pet stores, and they certainly look a damn sight better.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Update: Recovering From The Blog-Itis

Well, looks like those old media bastards at The New York Times were right -- there is such a thing as blog fever. Or the need for my body to simultaneously eject food from both ends for two days was caused by some other illness - as if!

Either way, expect more of the good stuff you deserve starting tomorrow. All better now!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Design: Succesful Sucker Dyson Deigns to Award Aspiring Designers

Dyson, who knows a thing or two about sucking

Report by Noah Mallin

James Dyson, the world's most successful and fey vacuum cleaner salesman/designer and all-around design bon vivant flounced off of the television screen and into New York last night to recognize new innovators with his humbly named Dyson Awards. The task laid out to the contestants was simple: build a better mousetrap. Or as Dyson did, a better vacuum cleaner. As Dyson put it, the winner should demonstrate "...the ability to think differently, persist in the face of set-backs and create functional, innovative products that improve the way we live."

This year's winner came up with something pretty cool that is functional and would be a hit at the local Danceteria. The Reactiv jacket designed by Michael Chen is designed for the urban bicyclist who would prefer not to end up as tartare on the front bumper of a yellow cab.

"The jacket uses an accelerometer that senses movement to change the colour of the LEDs in the back from green (accelerating) to red (braking). It has amber LEDs in the arms which are activated by a tilt switch behind the elbow. These light up when the arm is lifted, indicating the cyclist is about to turn."

Check out other finalists, last years winners, and some info on sucking and/or blowing on Dyson's website.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Culture: Why I Stopped Taking Acid - A Reminder Brought to You By TV's Dave Coulier

Unasked for flashback by Noah Mallin

I have to give credit where credit is due and thank/spank Gawker for posting this disturbing yet hypnotizing piece of feminist art. At least I think that's what it is. Oh, have I mentioned that it's a scene from Full House featuring TV's Dave Coulier? Budget the 3 minutes of your life it will take for this deranged audio-visual mantra to work it's magic. After a while I could swear I started to recognize some of the locations. I think there's a den in Scarsdale in here where I once drank a six-pack of Bartles and Jaymes in the 80s. Or is it all in my mind? Behold!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Music: This Week's New Releases

The new offerings in the music world this week sound more like an update from an Afghan record store what with Mountain Battles and a new Cave dispatch.

Leading the way is a new album by the sisters Deal, otherwise known as The Breeders to us mere mortals. I don't think it's overpraise to call my first encounter with Mountain Battles delightful, a compendium of all the things I've come to rely on Kim (and Kelley) Deal for and a few new tricks to boot. Here's a home-made video for "Overglazed":

Nick Cave laughs in the face of those who say you can't rock and age gracefully. He and his Bad Seeds issue Dig! Lazarus, Dig! I don't think it's overpraise to say this may be one of their best albums. In addition Cave has a fantstaic mustache. Enjoy the title track:

Sub Pop gives us two very special releases, the freaky-folksy friendly EP from Fleet Foxes they call Sun Giant and hot UK act Foals' post-punk debut Antidote. I don't think it's overpraise to say that each of these albums will make someone's Top 10 list -- somewhere. Could it be you? Here are the Fleet Foxes doing "Summertime":

And the Foals' herky-jerky "Cassius":

Design: Ye Olde Mac Peripherals - Steampunk Style

Check out this cool retrofitted steampunk style monitor and keyboard by Dave Veloz (via Steampunk Workshop.) It's a glorious paean to retro-futurism incorporating wood, granite, brass and leather materials.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Music: Rock Goes Disco - Dr. Hook, Opthalmologist

Archival Grave Robbing by Noah Mallin

Dr. Hook made their careers as stoned country rockers singing about making it to "The Cover of Rolling Stone" -- a song that eventually made their wish come true. Many of their jokey early songs had lyrics supplied by Where The Sidewalk Ends author Shel Silverstein.

A bankruptcy and a change of labels in the mid 70s led them to the path of disco perdition as it would many another band. Their sense of humor and legendary stage antics have led some to believe that all of their disco material was tongue-in-cheek. This is entirely possible, but for Key Party Nation their songs about lust, love, and more lust struck a chord, giving them their biggest string of hits.

Central to this pearl necklace of commercial acceptance was 1979s "Sexy Eyes" a Lothario's come-on notable from a band who's frontman Ray Sawyer sported an eyepatch. "I was sitting all alone/watching people get it on with each other..." is an opening line worthy of Plato's Retreat, if not Dylan. It's telling that Sawyer doesn't sing this-- he would leave the band in disgust a year later. As always, if the video shows as "Not Available, hit refresh in your browser. It's just the YouTube demons acting up...

Music Review: R.E.M. Accelerates in The Right Direction but Lose Momentum

R.E.M. -- three guys x four eyes

Music Review by Noah Mallin

The party line on R.E.M.'s new album Accelerate is that it's a return to classic form, something like U2's last few records in recapturing the sound that made them stars. They've even used Jacknife Lee, the producer of U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

On first blush this trope holds up. Those stirring arrangements from the I.R.S. Records days featuring Mike Mills' plaintive vocals in the background counterpointing Stipe's singing, guitar-based songs, Mills' bass pushed up front again as a central component all say "Hey, remember?"

Then of course there is the loud short sharp shockiness of the songs, only 36 minutes worth of music with the amps at 11. It's both more and less self-consciously "rock" than their last "rock album" 1994s Monster which had some strange detours and much more delay and reverb.

Why they felt the need for a stripped-down back-to-basics affair is evident to fans and sales wonks alike. Their last album Around The Sun was an artistic and sales flop, a bloated overproduced affair. The album before that one, Reveal had glimmers of greatness particularly in the single "Imitation of Life", but too often felt mannered and lifeless. Up, the album that kicked off their current status as a trio with the loss of drummer Bill Berry, received wildly divergent responses. To my mind it's a fascinating album, and rewarding of multiple listens but not typical of what one would expect from the band.

The problem is that each of their albums, even the great ones that run in a gallop from 1983s debut Murmur through 1988s eclectic big label coming-out party Green found a way to tweak and transform their sound from album to album. Unlike U2, there really isn't a "classic" R.E.M. sound per se. To look at what most consider as their three artistic peaks is instructive -- Murmur is fuzzy experimental art rock with an insistent beat, Document is expansive punchy politicized protest rock, and Automatic For The People is a wounded but hopeful autumnal songcycle that uses shadings of folk-rock and even elements of light prog.

So Accelerate constructs a kind of artificial classic R.E.M. that, as many reviewers have noted, sounds closest to 1986s Life's Rich Pageant. Pageant has more shadings however, with barnburners like "Just a Touch" jostling with the achingly gorgeous "Fall On Me." Accelerate is so intent on "rocking" that it misses what could be some welcome coloration. There are a few changes of pace like the elegiac "Houston" and dour "Until The Day is Done" neither of which really go anywhere. Weirder "Sing For The Submarine" is more interesting and better for it, with an odd backwards-sounding chorus and curious lyrical namechecks of other R.E.M. songs.

There are some winners here, including the first three songs. "Living Well is The Best Revenge" romps around with Stipe's low growl (unlike the early albums he hasn't given up on enunciating), "Man-Sized Wreath" won't erase memories of "Exhuming McCarthy" but delivers pleasure just from hearing Mills and Stipe's voices together and "Supernatural Superserious" gets by on a nice lo-cal guitar riff. "Hollow Man" initially feels like an Automatic throwback before the monster chorus kicks in.

Eight tracks in we finally get to the one killer track, "Mr. Richards", a terrific spiralling hook of a song that chimes and rings in all the right places. It's a great melody delivered with just the right amount of guitar fuzz. "Horse To Water" gets a nice head of steam going and then the closer comes in, the lovably goofy "I'm Gonna DJ", a song that could have just as well opened the album.
If I seem underwhelmed it's because I am. This is a decent batch of songs but the biggest problem is producer Lee. The entire album is so compressed that there is little texture to any of the tracks. The chorus to Hollow Man ought to kick you in the gut -- instead it feels like someone turning on a faucet and then abruptly shutting it off. The weak songs suffer greatly from this and even some of the stronger ones sound samey. I guess this is in keeping with the kids listening to MP3's on crappy computer speakers but is that really R.E.M.'s audience? The overall feeling is stultifying and does the music no favors.

May I suggest that the next time the guys jump in a studio looking for a "raw" sound that they tap someone like Steve Albini (Pixies' Surfer Rosa, The Breeders' Pod, PJ Harvey's Rid of Me, Nirvana's In Utero)-- a choice that would have been oozing with cred and a guy who would have really stripped things down while letting them breathe. Hell, go with Scott Litt who blew Document up to glossy arena size while making sure it rocked hard and had lots of sonic details and texture.

That said this is still an improvement over Around The Sun and does mark a welcome return to fundamentals for what has been one of America's greatest bands. Hopefully this marks just the first step of a comeback trail. Trust me guys, call Albini.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Music: Today's Rockers-Turned-Disco Video of The Day -- Dispatches From the Golden Age of Disco Rock

An Archival Spelunk by Noah Mallin

(If the vids show up as unavailable, hit refresh in your browser -- it's just the YouTube demons getting fresh)

The late 70s and early 80s were confusing and disturbing times for many in the music industry. For some of the great titans of rock and many of the little titanettes punk, disco, and new wave were confounding forces. Some plowed ahead, others chose to dip a toe in the funky stuff and try out this thing the kids were calling "disco." Even some new bands saw the merit in a quick easy hit off disco's crystalline white powder.

Starting today I will be presenting a new video every day (or thereabouts) of a rock band trying their hand at disco. Of course I wanted to start off with a biggie so today I bring you one of the all-time disco-rock classics, "I Was Made for Loving You" by Kiss.

Kiss of course started out as glam rockers, honing a metallic sheen that by the mid 70s would prove to be a formative influence on the hair bands of the 80s like Motley Crue. In 1979 though, they found their energy diluted by a rash of solo albums and the rising disco tide. Peter Criss sat the accompanying album Dynasty out and future World's Most Dangerous Band drummer Anton Fig was on the studio drums. Their response was this classic (shown "live", with Criss):

Blogistan Dispatch: Old Media to New Media: "Don't Wear Yourselves Out"

Old media: Hates bloggers, spunk

Unhinged Commentary by Noah Mallin

Oh New York Times, I appreciate the concern. In their article Friday headlined "Blogging Kills"...I mean, er, scratch that. It was "In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop" writer Matt Richtel is very, very worried that I'm not eating enough, or too much, or I'm not exercising because I'm blogging or something.

"Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December."

Good lord! And I got into this to avoid the high mortality rate suffered by famous lead guitarists. Looks like I picked the wrong line of work! Two deaths out of the merely millions of bloggers out there. Why that's what I call a trend! I look forward to tomorrow's piece analyzing the rising mortality rate of the cast and crew of the film Night and The City. Just in the past two weeks the director Jules Dassin and the star Richard Widmark died. Stop the presses -- old noir film kills!

I don't know what I'm saying anymore -- it's this crazy blog fever!

Or is it possible that the deadly effects of blogging are merely wishful thinking in the minds of the old dead tree purveyors at the Times? I wonder...

Book Review: Banville Tacks as Black, but Plotting Lacks in Christine Falls

Review by Noah Mallin

I enjoy a good dark mystery whether it be a book, a film, or the 2000 Presidential Election. So evidently does Booker Prize winner John Banville, who lately has been penning a series of dark mystery novels under the pen name of Benjamin Black. The first of these is Christine Falls, now out in paperback (the form in which any good mystery novel should be savored).

It's a suitable moniker but one has to question whether it's necessary. Michael Chabon has been dipping his pen into many genres of late without worry of sullying his good name. Perhaps it's because Banville isn't yet fully acclimated to the strictures of storytelling that inform these books.

His set-up is a strong one. In strongly Catholic 1950s Dublin, hard-drinking pathologist Quirke discovers his brother-in-law seemingly in the act of altering the file of a deceased girl, the titular Christine Falls. His ensuing investigation unearths all sorts of family and institutional secrets perhaps better left buried.

There is no doubt that Banville has mighty descriptive powers:

"He was struck by the clammy coldness of the nylon; it had a human feel, like a loose, chilly cowl of human skin."

He also has a good way with characters, though occasionally some fall in the realm of cliche. Quirke makes for a sympathetic and mostly readable protagonist, even if he sometimes seems slow to take the bit. Often the reader is a bit too far ahead of him in figuring out where we're at.

Where Christine Falls gets tripped up is in its last two-thirds when it relies wholly too much on coincidence and a few plot machinations that strain credulity. It's here that Banville gets out of his depth and a first-rate mystery/crime novelist like Ian Rankin would know not to get bogged down.

The book is enjoyable and well-written until that point. Banville already has the second book in the series on the shelf and I'm curious to see if his plotting skills have caught up with the keen sense of 1950's Dublin (if not Boston so much), of character, and of description.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Film: Heston Dies -- Officially OK to Pry Gun From His Hands Now

An Appreciation by Noah Mallin

Actor, Civil Rights activist and former President of the National Rifle Association Charlton Heston has died at the age of 84. Heston's greatest stardom was in the 1960s and 1970s when he starred in films like Planet of The Apes and Earthquake.

Heston's political views, once liberal and pro gun control, morphed as his career cooled in the late 70s and he became a die-hard conservative opposing abortion and gun control.

Heston started in film in a silent production of Peer Gynt at the age of 16 done in 1941 by Northwestern University. His official debut was as Antony is a low-budget Chicago set Julius Caeser in 1950. It was his performance in Cecil B. DeMille's Academy Award winning The Greatest Show on Earth that made him a star.

In DeMille's final film The Ten Commandments (1956) he was a memorable Moses, competing with a bravura red sea parting and a ridiculous performance by Edward G. Robinson.

In 1958 came Orson Welles' brilliant Touch of Evil with Heston playing a Mexican born lawman south of the border with new wife Janet Leigh and stuck in Welles sinister web. Heston brings verve to his role as a paragon of straight-arrow justice in Welles dark depraved world.

He won an Oscar in 1959 for Ben-Hur an epic set at the time of Jesus and featuring the now famous chariot race. Ben-Hur became known later for it's homosexual subtext set forth by co-screenwriter Gore Vidal, and which Heston vehemently denied. Still he gives a riveting performance in a big overstuffed epic, something that would become a specialty for him in films like Antony Mann's El Cid (1962) and as John the Baptist in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

Planet of the Apes in 1968 took Heston to a new pinnacle of fame in one of his best films as an astronaut who lands on the titular simian world. The film was massively successful and Heston helped sell the inverted racial allegory with a particularly bullheaded performance.

1971 saw him starring in The Omegaman a film based on the same Richard Matheson source as Will Smith's recent film I Am Legend but done in a very different way (think albinos with afros). His last great sci-fi-er was Soylent Green as a detective in a dystopian world uncovering a major conspiracy -- it's now best known for his plaintive wailed discovery of what the ubiquitous food source Soylent Green is actually made of.

Heston benefited from the disaster craze of the 70s in Skyjacked, Airport '75 and Earthquake. Though he would continue to work well into the 90s in films like Wayne's World 2 and True Lies he had become a celebrity first and foremost.

He also had a short run on TV's Dynasty and starred in knockoff soap The Colbys, which had a brief life.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Food: Another One Bites The Dust -- New York Loses It's All-Night Vibe as Cheyenne Diner is Forced to Close

New York is the city that never sleeps but chalk up affordable 24-hour-a-day mom and pop eateries as a thing of the past. Joining the meatpacking district's venerable Florent on the soon to shut down list is old school diner Cheyenne on the far west side. Named for it's far-Westerly location, this circa 1940's diner is one of surprisingly few of it's kind left in the Big Apple.

More importantly, they have an outstanding selection of excellent burgers and their shakes are top notch.

Cheyenne is leaving so that the property owner can, surprise, surprise, put up yet another high rise full of apartments that only the rich can afford. Though he's promising restaurant space on the first floor there can be no doubt that it will lack the character (and probably the affordability) of the current occupant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Music: This Week's New Releases

Compiled by Noah Mallin

Here are some of the interesting new music choices this week. As always, if the vids show up as not available hit refresh in your browser.

R.E.M. mark the box labeled crunchy guitars on their new album Accelerate. Here's the video for "Supernatural Superserious" and no, that's not Moby:

The Annuals slide their Wet Zoo EP across the counter at ya. Here's Annuals doing an oldie --"Brother", way back in 2006 at The Bowery Ballroom:

Retro garage blues punks The Black Keys get pulled into the current century by producer Danger Mouse on Attack & Release. Here's the Black Keys doing "I Got Mine" off the new album live. What, no girl drummer?

Wacky tobacky enthusiast Willie Nelson gets the career retrospective treatment with the 4CD boxset One Hell of a Ride. Here's Willie looking like a scruff with Enrique's papa together in slim-o-vision:

Ministry cover ZZ Top, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits on their really really last album (for now) Cover Up. Here's the sickest version of "Lay Lady Lay" ever:

The soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's concert film Shine a Light on the Rolling Stones -- shot in Wrinkle-Vision and featuring guests Jack White, Christina Aguilera and Buddy Guy. Here are the aged rockers doing the title track to Some Girls, somewhat sanitized lyrically:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Design: Claus Luthe, Star-crossed BMW Designer, Dies

By Noah Mallin

Former Head BMW designer and VW/Audi designer Claus Luthe has died at age 75. His single most classic design is the NSU Ro80 from 1967, a radical rotary-engined aerodynamic sedan that became a touchstone for many automotive designs of the 1980s and 90s including much of the Ford lineup and Audi's 100/5000.

The Ro80

Sadly the pioneering rotary engine was one of many quality sore spots that led to the Ro80's failure in the market, and NSU's takeover by Volkswagen. Volkswagen quickly made use of Luthe's talents on a variety of models across both their VW and Audi range including the first generation Volkswagen Polo and Audi 50.

Perhaps his best car of the period was the Audi 100, a lithe second generation version of their top of the range sedan. Sold in the U.S, as the 5000 it would eventually be supplanted by a car that ironically advanced most of the initial design innovations of his Ro80.

The Audi 100

In 1976 he jumped ship to BMW where he oversaw a crisply tailored evolutionary approach that coincided with the remarkable rise in world stature for the Bavarian firm which had long struggled in the shadow of Mercedes and Volkswagen.

Under his leadership, the BMW design team codified the "same sausage, different length" philosophy in which standard cues were applied to different platform sizes. His first major BMW was the 1981 E28 platform 5-series. The conservatively bluff design seems to be the antithesis of the groundbreaking Ro80 but it's distinctive elegance and menacing aspect when tricked out as the top of the range M5 made it a hit.

The BMW 5 Series

His third generation 5-series added some modern aerodynamic cues that would be fully developed into the stunning 1991 3-series re-do. By the time that model hit the market though Luthe had resigned from BMW after having been convicted in the killing of his son during an argument over the son's drug use. He continued as a consultant throughout the next decade with BMW however.

The 1991 BMW 3 Series