Archive for the ‘ap’ Category

Hotel Chevalier/The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

October 30, 2007

There is something of a tradition in Western literature concerning Indian travelogues: the privileged Westerner travels to India, knowing – always! – that he (and it is usually a he) can leave when he likes. The sojourn in India is, for him, an encounter with the spiritual savage – the one who has maintained, by her primitiveness and poverty, a connection to some more primal and spiritual reality – which reality he appropriates, cafeteria-style, and brings with him upon his return to the west, having consumed even that which his lifestyle of consumption cannot provide him.

The Darjeeling Limited (along with its companion short film, Hotel Chevalier, which is available for free download at www.hotelchevalier.com) self-consciously appropriates this premise, ironically subverting it. Darjeeling (and Chevalier, as well) mark Anderson’s return to a more honest, nuanced style, reminiscent of Rushmore. Francis (Owen Wilson) brings his brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) to India. Here they will embark on a “spiritual journey” on the titular train, with each day’s activities–from showers to temple visits–meticulously planned by Francis’s personal assistant, Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky).

Filled with director Wes Anderson’s singularly lush visuals, the film is both more interesting and more approachable than his previous outing, the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. While both that film and his earlier effort, The Royal Tenenbaums, took great pleasure in humanizing and redeeming the American bourgeousie, Darjeeling is, ultimately, a story about how life as an élite is dehumanizing. The three brothers can find no solace, ultimately, in their spiritual journey; it is only when its abrupt end forces their return from the dreamworld of leisure and introspection to the realm of dirt and life and death that they are able to become human.

-Adam Parsons

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The Good, The Bad and the Queen — The Good, The Bad and the Queen (2007)

April 11, 2007
Good art can’t be assembled from exemplary pieces like a fantasy baseball team. The Good, The Bad, & The Queen, the first album from the band formed by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, falls prey to the usual supergroup problem: it sounds too good, too slick and too professional to be very interesting. Produced by Danger Mouse, and featuring Paul Simonon of the Clash, Simon Tong of the Verve, and Tony Allen from Fela Kuti’s backing band (Afrika 70), the album is lushly arranged but ultimately uninspiring. The lyrics, intended to be a portrayal of modern life in London, are somewhat evocative but rather vague and obscure; they’re far more interesting as poems in the album liner than paired with the music.

The album does have a few high points: “Nature Springs” shows the band melding their diverse styles with much more success than the rest of the album, and hints at promising results if this group can ever move past being a project and meld into a band. This album, however, is still fairly immature.

–ap
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Aqualung — Memory Man (2007)

April 11, 2007
This is car-commercial music. This is music that only feels meaningful when you’re at the bar and you’ve been drinking alone. This is a dull, dull, overproduced album. The lyrics are formulaic and uninspiring, and bear the distinctive shape of Nashville cookie cutter pieces (see, for example, such gems as “Had enough of wondering / what became of all the dreams she had / oh, they’re out there somewhere”). The standard piano-rock pieces are mostly split between tracks that sound either like a mix of Coldplay and U2 run through a fruit juicer, or like absolutely generic CCM-ish cuts.

A large part of the problem with this album is the production; “Rolls So Deep,” for example, would be an enjoyable, if unremarkable, Blur-esque number but for the effects on Matt Hales’ voice; as it is, the vocals sound as if they were ground up and pressed through cheesecloth. This album shows some promise, but isn’t actually good in its own right; it’s worth a second listen, but definitely not a third.

–ap

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Why culture. ish. Part II

March 14, 2007

Why culture. ish.?

Because that question has to be asked. In an atmosphere where every action is expected to be circumscribed and propped up by mission statements that read like the credo printed on top of bathroom hand dryers, where every endeavor is required to submit a financial plan and detailed cost analysis, where some new and trendy vision of the beloved community is always around the corner, asking to be made immediately real, culture. ish. seeks to make its place somewhere else.

We don’t aim to be in conflict with those things, but to exist outside of their tightly-knit world, subsisting in joyous practice. Our aim is not to communicate facts and bits of data. Rather, if we are looking to educate, it is in a deeper and more interactive sense – a mutual education that is found in sharing of ourselves and earnestly listening as we seek to practice a Christian relationship with art and culture, and in drawing those around us into that same ecstatic dance.

–ap

Menomena — Friend and Foe (2007)

March 14, 2007
So this is how a logical syllogism works: there’s a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion that follows if both premises are true. Something like this: bands who whistle in their songs are always good. Menomena whistles in their songs. Menomena is good. It’s a true story–the syllogism proves it, and syllogisms don’t lie.

This album has a bizarre feel; xylophones and saxophones and all sorts of other instruments mix with affected vocals differently from song to song, creating an otherworldly atmosphere. It’s music that’s easy to get lost in, and difficult to find your way out of once you start. This world that’s so difficult to get out of, though, has a dark undertone, and a grotesque underbelly – and, as the lyrics portray, the grotesqueness is our own, the product of our modern society. It’s a society that creates people who wish “O, to be a machine / O, to be wanted / to be useful” (“Evil Bee”); a society that creates people who twist speech into a tool of destruction: “I’ve got a stranglehold on this decision / All those opposed can rot in hell / Any day now the words will form a sentence / You’ll be reduced to nothingness” (“Rotten Hell”). It’s an intriguing album, if unsettling or jarring at times, and rewards repeated listening.

–ap

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Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity (2007)

February 21, 2007
Deerhoof is an experimental pop band whose albums are full of interesting arrangements and out-of-the-way rhythms. Ultimately, though, this album’s downfall is the overabundance of this sort of interesting ideas. Deerhoof has all sorts of good ideas – I’m convinced of that – the problem is that they can’t cut them. Any given song on this album will move between seven or eight different melodic hooks, along with the odd rhythmic qualities for which Deerhoof is known. Any one of these hooks would make for a good song – but eight of them strung end to end make for a frustrating experience.
While Deerhoof might often seem inaccessible, this album gives off the impression that the band is trying to be intentionally so – trying to be inaccessible, pretentious, and obscure merely for the sake of inaccessibility, pretentiousness, and obscurantism. The album does sound like Deerhoof, if Deerhoof drank a couple of French presses full of Yerba Mate and recorded an album in twenty-second spurts of caffeine-fueled composition. If you already like Deerhoof, and have no attention span, pick up this album; if not, try The Runners Four or Apple O’ for a better and much more accessible introduction to one of the more interesting contemporary experimental pop bands.
–ap
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The Queen (2006)

February 5, 2007

The Queen is almost a paean to traditionalism – but only almost. The movie is a dramatic presentation of the British royal family’s reaction to Princess Diana’s death. Helen Mirren’s magnificent Elizabeth II is portrayed as emotionally stunted in her reaction to the Princess’s death, and Prince Charles is played as a manipulative seven-year-old girl by Alex Jennings – but, whatever the title of the movie, the real protagonist is Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair, whose shift from moderate anti-royalist sympathies to a much more profound appreciation for the institution of monarchy is the real center of the film.

Without Blair, the film would be nothing more than a character study – albeit an exceedingly well-executed one. With him, however, it becomes a study in the effects of modernization on human society. The questions of whether public sentiment or historic royal protocol is more important, or if a monarch has responsibilities which transcend and eclipse any consideration of the will of the people, for example, are given uncommonly serious and even-handed treatment. Ultimately, though, it is left to the actors to carry the film (which they do excellently, aided by Peter Morgan’s generally superb screenplay), as the film finally gives up the tension and falls into the sort of blasé capitulation to “modernization” that is typical of so much recent British media.

–ap

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The Shins – Wincing the Night Away (2007)

January 29, 2007
Some Shins fans like the Shins. Some like Garden State. Some like both. Wincing the Night Away, while it may disappoint the second group, ought to please just about everyone else. It’s far more mellow than the Albuquerque quartet’s previous two efforts. While lacking an infectious glow-pop number to match New Slang or Kissing the Lipless (with the possible exception of Phantom Limb), it offers a solid album full of melancholy, yet hopeful, numbers. Sea Legs channels The Verve without descending into mimicry, and several of the songs – Girl Sailor in particular – betray a bit of a Decemberists influence.

Wincing the Night Away is The Shins’ first release since 2003, and has much more in common musically with 2001’s Oh, Inverted World than 2003’s Chutes too Narrow. It’s much more musically mature than either, and a bit more adventurous – they seem to have some sort of musical attention deficit, hopping from sub-genre to sub-genre, from Enya to the Eagles to The Flaming Lips. Surprisingly, it works, creating an oeuvre that is more of a pastiche than a mere collection of derivative songs. After four years of silence, the Shins have managed to release an album that should confirm their status as solid – if not always spectacular – pop songcrafters.
–ap