The cover of Almanac—which places Hamilton and Thomas in a decidedly pastoral setting—takes its cue from yet another place in time. “For me, visually, the ‘70s are the biggest thing,” Hamilton explained. “A lot of the record cover was influenced by that. What people might think is just kitsch—people in a meadow or people in the woods—there were so many record covers in the ‘70s that were like that. I liked the idea of that being a canon, that you shouldn’t be so formal. Putting yourself on a record cover is kind of like owning up to the fact that you made it. I actually made this thing, and we were in front of this waterfall that was 15 minutes away from where we recorded it. It seemed like such a ridiculous idea, but it was also true, sort of.”
Perhaps evoking anger is what Bigelow and her screenwriting collaborator Mark Boal (the pair’s last film, the fervently, bafflingly esteemed Hurt Locker, won them both Oscars) had in mind. I’m still not sure. The two have been sticking to their blandly evasive story of intent: the idea, they say, was to mingle journalism and entertainment, revealing recent, largely classified events to a vested public in neutral, experiential terms. But where its sympathies aren’t obvious, Zero Dark Thirty’s pretense of a strict, presentational style is undermined by the subject matter, so that context, subtext, and sequence swell to fill the film’s meticulous gaps in character, meaning, and moral perspective.(1)
Most critics have noted Unapologetic’s bleakness. It’s “a pretty depressing experience,” writes Alexis Petridis for the Guardian; it’s “soooooo sad,” says Matthew Perpetua at Buzzfeed. It’s difficult toargue. The most upbeat track is “Nobody’s Business,” an airy Chris Brown duet that quotes blues standard “Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”—two facts that should speak for themselves. Even the Brown-free tracks seem like they could plausibly be about him, concerning themselves as they do with painful tangles of relationships.
As director Rick Alverson (The Builder, New Jerusalem) writes in his statement about the film, Swanson and his friends are products of the “progressive American exceptionalism” fostered by places like Williamsburg, and so they become icons of both a geographically and socio-culturally specific “type” and a more general national trend. Aging, bloating, they’ve lived so hedonistically that they’ve pleasured themselves into anhedonia, and so the film seems both thematically and formally suspicious of the wounds, privileges, and politics that pleasure masks.
Without much dialogue, the film quickly introduces Alex and Nica (Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg), an attractive couple in their early 30s on a pre-wedding backpacking trip in the Caucausus Mountains of formerly Soviet Georgia. The couple hires a local guide, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), to lead them on a multi-day hiking trip, and with minimal fuss they set off into the wild. The Westerners need not have read The Sheltering Sky to know that this story doesn’t usually end in rapture and enlightenment, but that doesn’t make the developments any less unpredictable.
Ligon’s stepmother, Charlene, was hovering around “Nov. 6, 2012,” (the piece is titled One Black Day). I asked her why she thought it wasn’t lit up like the others “I was thinking,” she said, “Oh, Glenn. That means he'll light it November 6th when the right person is in office.” “Do you know what November 6th is?” a woman nearby wondered aloud. “It’s election day,” I said. A friend of the woman jumped in. “So why is the title One Black Day?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer he walked over to Ligon to ask the artist dieectly.
For aficionados, there a few life stages that had to be touched upon, and he didn’t disappoint: his introspective collaborations with songwriter Jimmy Webb ("Galveston", the famed "Wichita Lineman"), the upbeat duets with Bobbie Gentry ("Try a Little Kindness"), that time he co-starred in True Grit with John Wayne (no song, but delightful bit of stage banter: "I couldn't act worth a patoot, but I saved that movie!").(1)
Set and setting aside, and even against better music, it was hard to be actively irritated by Teengirl Fantasy. The band, which comes out of the "chillwave" scene—which is to say synth-pop turned to blobs—evinces their dance-music roots at the best moments: the best track they played all night sounded kind of like Orbital. But there's a fundamental unapproachability; they sort of hang their music there like gallery art, rather than songs or grooves meant to make a connection.
There was some talk about the “death of irony” after 9/11, but Bush turned out to be as much a gift to comics and comedy writers as he was a burden to the world at large. Tough times don’t always coincide with waves of great comedies, but the stupidity of politics and politicians at least provides reliable fodder. But if our current political troubles bring about a new wave of satirical brilliance, the middling comedy The Campaign, which opens today, is not a part of it.(1)
Quarantine distills and condenses the approach of Halo’s three prior E.P.s. There’s a menacing crawl to pieces like the first third of “Thaw,” with its heavily pitch-shifted bell tones and softly synthesized bird-attack sounds, or “Holoday,” two minutes of fogged-up filters and low moans that climaxes with a quick, bursting, pitched-up vocal snippet (“Just wanna be with you!”) like an early-’90s U.K. hardcore track. A similar sense of agog permeates the rest of the album: “Wow” is an 83 seconds of manipulated vocal glide, “MK Ultra” loops its fuzzy, rubber-bandy analog synth lines while Halo multitracks herself to an eerily icy command.
Young is renowned for having a massive backlog of unreleased material, and the logic behind what he’s found suitable for release has been idiosyncratic at best. There’s little question that this very obstinacy (perceived as eccentricity or rebellion, or both) is a key aspect of his appeal, his myth. So it should come as no surprise that, despite the fanfare surrounding Crazy Horse’s return, this album offers a lackluster display of their powers, or that another intriguing concept album would be so indifferently executed. But it’s become necessary to apply a kind of caveat emptor policy to nearly everything Neil Young releases, particularly as each album seems to act as a negation of the one before.
Lower Dens' Jana Hunter, with a new release out today, offers her own definition of what it means to make a concept album
Neither of the albums that the Baltimore band Lower Dens have made—2010’s acclaimed (8.1 on Pitchfork) Twin-Hand Movement and Nootropics, out today on Ribbon Music—could be called, strictly speaking, “concept albums." But Jana Hunter, the band’s guitarist-singer and a former folky solo performer, claims that the new album has a preordained place in the band’s output, that the concept for this band exists in the larger narrative of its releases.
Sound, T.M. Wolf’s debut novel, out this week from Faber & Faber, takes a formally inventive approach to evoking those spaces and stutters and ums and ers and likes that form the rhythms of everyday conversation. He sets the dialogue on the page as though it's musical notation. It’s a bold choice on Wolf’s part, and one that fits in neatly with his overall style, a densely written prose that creates an immersive sense of place. In the midst of all of this is a comparably conventional plot—a mid-twenties coming-of-age narrative laced with some traces of low-level criminal activity at the margins—but the stylistic risks that Wolf takes and his ability to create a vibrant sense of place more than compensate for the moments where the novel's central action feels mundane.
Author Rajesh Parameswaran explains his process, and what took him so long to admit to the world he was a writer
As shy and withdrawn as the writer Rajesh Parameswaran is in person, that's how daring he is on the page. The nine stories that make up his debut book, I Am An Executioner: Love Stories, out this week, are virtuosic things, summoning some of the wildness of the tiger that graces the cover. Several of the book's stories are set in India or concern Indian immigrants navigating life in the United States, but others are set on an alien planet, in a oligarchic city-state, and in a society dominated by an almost mythic intelligence agency. Two other tales feature tigers and elephants in starring, and unexpectedly stirring, roles.
The surprise came from outside circumstances: This was the first night of two of Pulp playing at Radio City Music Hall and the first of three concerts for the Chickfactor 20 festival. This seemed like tough competition for an upstart band whose audience would seem to overlap heavily with both. But those shows, lest we forget, were long since sold out, and the crowd at Brooklyn Bowl did not seem like the kind that cares whether or not it gets into instant-sellout shows or not. Good songs, though—those they liked. And that's what they got, concentrated.