Review: Mother Mother’s “O My Heart”

September 18, 2008

Mother Mother’s debut album, “Touch Up,” was one of those impulsive listening station purchases for me. I was drawn in by the creepy artwork, and hooked by the band’s fearlessly offbeat pop sound, which really has no obvious contemporary equivalent. Over the long run, though, it proved too offbeat for me. The stop-start-stop twee harmonies and too-quirky lyrics smacked of novelty after a short while.

But I thought the band had promise, so I jumped at the chance to review their follow-up, “O My Heart,” which was just released this month. The new album succeeds where the last one failed, and earned my highest number rating to date at Popmatters.

Listen to one of my favorite tracks from the album:


Bad Idea: McCain smear photos.

September 15, 2008
This isn't the Evil McCain photo. Click on the link in the post reffering to the photographer's web site for that.

This isn't the bad picture. Click on the photog's web site for that.

After reading her bio, what surprises me most about photographer Jill Greenberg — the freelance photographer who purposely took unflattering pictures of an unwitting John McCain during a shoot for the Atlantic Monthly, and later posted those bad shots along with hackneyed far-left commentary on her website — is that she is 40 years old.

Not that 40-year-olds should be exempt from criticizing political figures or expressing contempt for their ideas. It’s not what Greenberg has said so much as how she has chosen to say it, which is much more befitting a marginally intelligent, poorly informed and deeply insecure teenager than an obviously talented middle-aged photographer. The consequences of her actions will be much worse for her than her target. From looking at her website, this reality hasn’t caught up with her yet. The woman certainly has sizable balls, if not brains.

In the periphery: This guy’s YouTube video on the subject is unintentionally funny for at least the first 23 seconds or so.

David Foster Wallace remembered.

September 14, 2008

Writer David Foster Wallace hanged himself at his home in California on Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. He was 46.

Wallace had been scheduled to speak at Butler University in Indianapolis in February of next year. I was looking forward to his visit very much.

Wallace is probably best known for having written “Infinite Jest,” a sprawling novel primarily about drug and alcohol addiction. That book as well as his other works of fiction hinted at the author’s extremely self-conscious, hyperactive and sensitive mind. But “Infinite Jest” also had a number of laugh-out-loud moments, like this passage in which the narrator describes “a green-card Irishman in a skallycap and a Sinn Fein sweatshirt” addressing an AA meeting.

“[He] is sharing his hope’s experience by listing the gifts that have followed his decision to Come In and put the plug in the jug and the cap on the phentermine-hydrochloride bottle and stop driving long-haul truck routes in unbroken 96-hour metal-pedalled states of chemical psychosis. The rewards of his abstinence, he stresses, have been more than just spiritual. Only in Boston AA can you hear a fifty-year-old immigrant wax lyrical about his first solid bowel movement in adult life.

‘ ‘d been a confarmed bowl-splatterer for yars b’yond contin’. ‘d been barred from t’facilitites at o’t’ trook stops twixt hair’n Nork for yars. T’wallpaper in de loo a t’ome hoong in t’ese carled sheets froom t’wall, ay till yo. But now woon dey … ay’ll remaember’t’always. T’were a wake to t’day ofter ay stewed oop for me ninety-day chip. Ay were tray moents sober. Ay were thar on t’throne a’t’home, yo new. No’t’put too fain a point’on it, ay prodooced as er uzhal and … and ay war soo amazed as to no’t’belaven me yairs. ‘Twas a sone so wonefamiliar at t’first ay tought ay’d droped me wallet in t’loo, do yo new. Ay tought ay’d droped me wallet in t’loo as Good is me wetness. So doan ay bend twixt m’knays and’ad a luke in t’dim o’t’loo, and codn’t belave me’yize. So gud paple ay do then ay drope to m’knays by t’loo an’t’ad a rail luke. A loaver’s luke, d’yo new. And friends t’were loavely past me pur powers t’say. T’were a tard in t’loo. A rail tard. T’were farm an’ teppered an’ aiver so jaintly aitched. T’luked … constroocted instaid’ve sprayed. T’luked as ay fel’t’in me ‘eart Good ‘imsailf maint a tard t’luke. Me friends, this tard’o’mine practically had a poolse. Ay sted doan own m’knays an tanked me Har Par, which ay choose t’call me Har Par Good, an’ ay been tankin me Har Par own m’knays aiver sin, marnin and natetime an in t’loo’s’well, aiver sin.'”

You’ll be missed DFW.

Read Gawker commenters react to his passing here. Watch an interview with him on Charlie Rose here.

At Popmatters: Azeda Booth review

September 11, 2008

The most recent CD review I’ve written that I’m not too embarrassed to draw attention to was published today at Popmatters. Yet another Canadian indie rock band (indie rock bands have to be Canada’s number one export to America by now), Azeda Booth bears more similarities to Icelandic bands Mum and Sigur Ros than anyone making music on the North American continent.

Believe it or not, the lead singer’s a dude.

Consumat: What it is (including bonus sentimental tangent).

September 10, 2008

Nick Hornby said “You are what you like.” But I think it’s more accurate to say, “You are what you consume.” I figure there’s a big difference between the stuff people say they like and the stuff they actually watch, eat, drink and read. What we “like” is informed by our vanity, insecurities and a notion of who we should, or want to, be. What we consume is dictated purely by desire.

Consumat is not so much a celebration of consumerism as an acknowledgement and acceptance of its inevitability. My aim — inasmuch as I have an aim — is to simply discuss everything that I, Matt, consume, from movies and music to home cooked meals and bad TV. Nothing here is necessarily amusing, insightful or witty — although it is a weakness of mine to strive for all of those things.

You might conclude my goal is to use played-out cynicism as a premise for just another boring blog. That I proudly embrace a “empty” and “spiritually vacant” philosophy regarding what’s important in life, and that my blog — and existence — is pretty much pointless. I would have a hard time disagreeing with you on most days.

But today, as I returned from my jog at the track behind the middle school near the intersection of 52nd Street and Kessler, the wind cool and crisp for the first time since the conclusion of summer proper, and the first of this year’s yellow, amber and brown leaves rustling in the yards on either side of me, I was stricken by the smell of delicious food in the cool early evening air. I’ve encountered this sensation a lot over the years, especially when  running in the evening after work. But during early autumn, a time of the year that strongly evokes nostalgia, I find myself moved by it in a way that is hard to explain. In the simplest of terms, it reminds me of being a kid. It brings back simultaneously vague and incredibly vivid memories — like only a scent can.

Tonight felt a lot like my past encounters with this feeling — except for one thing. For the first time, that smell was coming from my house. It was that rare kind of moment that reminds you that there is far more beauty and wonder tucked away in this strange life than we normally see — or smell — on an any given day.

Nick Cage: The RC Cola of actors.

September 8, 2008

Nicholas Cage is finally ditching subtext completely. In 2009, he stars in “Kick-Ass.”

It’s hard to believe now, but Cage wasn’t always sitting alongside Keanu Reeves and David Caruso in the grand hall of atrocious leading men. There was a time when brainy auteurs like the Coen Brothers and David Lynch recruited him to star in their brainy offbeat movies. And it worked. Cage was great in “Raising Arizona” and wasn’t even too bad in “Wild At Heart.” He was good in “Moonstruck” and “When Peggy Sue Got Married,” too.

But around 1990 Cage began what would become a 5-year lapse in judgment that included roles in “Zandalee,” “Red Rock West” and “Amos & Andrew.” The following five years were a mixed bag at best, with Cage in “Leaving Los Vegas,” “The Rock,” “Con Air” (in what might be one of the most unintentionally funny performances in film history), “Face/Off,” “City of Angels” and “Bringing Out The Dead.”

Since 2000, though, Cage’s career has been one risible misfire after another, each role further cementing his reputation as a hammy, overpaid, undertalented and increasingly physically repulsive hack. The culmination of this: Last weekend saw the release of of the profoundly ridiculous-looking “Bangkok Dangerous” — a movie that critic Nathan Rabin alleges is so plodding and inept that “it can’t even get bad right.” It all makes the inquiring movie consumer wonder: What the hell happened to Cage?

Cage wasn’t just good in “Raising Arizona,” he was great. And lest we forget, he did a more than passable job of playing polar opposite twins in the excellent Charlie Kaufman-penned “Adaptation.”

Is Cage a bad actor, or is he just a savvy businessman who — unlike say George Clooney or Brad Pitt — cares less about critical accolades than a big paycheck? If that is the case, hasn’t his strategy badly backfired? Could you imagine a serious A-list leading man starring in “Bangkok Dangerous?” Or “Ghost Rider?” Or “The Wicker Man?”

The interesting thing is, a quick perusal of reveals Cage to actually have done some decent work recently. “The Weather Man” and “Lord of War” were both well-reviewed. Why doesn’t anybody remember them?

I think it’s because Cage isn’t savvy at all. He jumped feet-first into fun action roles without considering the negative impact they would have on the Nicholas Cage brand — a brand that, believe it or not, was once very strong. But Cage dropped from Coca-Cola status to Royal Crown in a decade. Except that unlike RC, most people won’t even deign to enjoy Cage’s products ironically.

Do Not Go Gently Into that Dark Knight.

September 3, 2008

It was well after I’d endured the 150-minute long “The Dark Knight” before I realized I’d been taken in by the fiendish hype — media-generated, friend-generated and probably even me-generated — and persuaded myself I liked it. A lot.

The truth is, I watched 80 percent of the movie in varying states of mental and physical discomfort thanks largely to its many incomprehensibly kinetic action scenes and earsplitting explosions. Meanwhile, the spectre of Heath-Ledger-as-Joker filled me with a nauseating mix of repulsion and pity. Yet I still walked out afterward singing the movie’s praises. It was as if I was following a script too, mouthing the words I expected myself to say: “Wow!” “Brilliant!” “Profoundly awesome!”

Let me be clear: “The Dark Knight” rocked my world. But not in a way that my world particularly enjoys being rocked. It browbeat me into acknowledging its cinematic verve, superb special effects and audacious storytelling. In the process, though, it forced me to look at a kids’ comic book story as an allegory for the war on terror, and Ledger’s Joker — psychotic, hate-filled, gleefully mendacious — as some kind of clownish Osama Bin Laden. Worse, the American citizenry was banally depicted as just barely capable of not self-destructing out of fear and callow self-interest.

All of this might be forgivable if the film would have been as purely entertaining as promised. It wasn’t. It was lots of other things: Extravagantly disjointed, disturbing, and more than anything, disheartening — and not just due to the unintended consequence of having the dead Heath Ledger play the demented, deeply disturbed arch-villain.

The moment that chaffed me most as I thought about it later: In what can safely be called the most significant moral moment in the movie, “The Dark Knight” made its case for man’s decency by using a shamefully cynical plot twist to coax the audience into feeling a moving sense of admiration for human nature. How? They made Deebo from “Friday” — here playing a seriously vicious-looking black convict (surprise!) — the man who saves humanity. By being willing to sacrifice both his own life and those of his criminal comrades to save a boatload of innocent people, he proves that even the most depraved human individual is capable of redemption.

This in itself is cheap enough, but that they cast a scarred and tattooed black man in this role robs “The Dark Knight” of its moral credibility, which it so obviously covets. It’s not a terrible movie, really, not even bad. It’s worse in a way, though — the kind of action film that pretends, all too well, to be something it’s not — meaningful art.

Disclaimer: I felt misgivings about the movie after coming home the evening after watching it, so I looked up the reliably insightful David Edelstein’s review before writing this, which probably influenced my thinking — and which you can read here.