Sunday, September 23, 2012

Inside the Wall, Vol. 3 (9.23.12)

The back half of my summer involved a lot more time in the office than I'd prefer, hence the lack of any posts since early July (aside from a short thought experiment proposing concept albums that ought to be made into feature-length films).  So now I have a few months worth of culture to summarize.  This post comes back-to-back with a longer write-up of the stunning, red-headed stepchild of a film called Margaret and other "Post-9/11" films I highly recommend, so I'll be brief:

Starting with music, a new collaboration between David Byrne and St. Vincent called Love This Giant is reliably solid and underlines nicely the direct influence that Talking Heads had on the latter.  I will be seeing the two perform together next weekend, so the real question will be whether the Brooklyn newbie can match the legend's considerable stage presence (or, like the time I saw David Bowie tour with Nine Inch Nails, whether all the glam rock trappings that Trent Reznor adopted from the master will look flimsy by comparison). 


The new Yeasayer album Fragrant World poses a similar question, whether the live band can ever capture their incomparable stage performance in the studio.  While the new album does a well enough job of splitting the difference between the shapeless hippie-meandering of All Hour Cymbals and the dance-ably electro-pop Odd Blood, they still haven't captured the spontaneity and creativity they show on stage (to say nothing of their fantastic light show).

Speaking of live shows, if Yeasayer stands at one end of stagecraft, far at the other side is Stevie Jackson, the proverbial Sebastian of the monsters of "sad bastard music" Belle & Sebastian.  In an intimate $10 show at a club roughly the size of my living room, Stevie performed with all the focus and presence of an undergrad English major trying out new poetry at the local coffee shop over spring break.  If you didn't walk in knowing him as one-half of the preeminent pioneers of gloom rock (and judging from the guys ahead of me who couldn't make up their minds whether a $10 cover was worth it, many in attendance didn't), your only clue would be Stevie's occasional reference to the band that made him famous and vague allusions to the more successful half of the band's current forays into movie making (while he's performing for a couple dozen people who probably didn't know his name).  If this all sounds like a pan of a review, let me say that it was one of the more charming couple of hours I spent this summer.  There's more than enough rock and roll bravado in New York; sometimes it's nice to see someone soft spoken and more than a touch self-conscious who's happy to piss away an evening with Elton John covers and aimless stories about nothing.

Other albums worth a mention include Twin Shadow's latest Confess, Dan Deacon's ode to / tirade against America, and Aimee Mann's Charmer ... if only for this bit of genius featuring the infallible Jon Hamm:

If I may, I suggest watching simultaneously the above video simultaneously with the next video (with the sound off), hitting play on the second video around the 1 minute 40 second mark of the first:

And while we're talking music videos, I can't help but plug anything from the Icelandic electro-pop wunderkinds, FM Belfast.  So here, appropriately timed for Rosh HaShanah, is DeLorean:

Rounding out my summer film recommendations - Beasts of the Southern Wild, Sound of My Voice, and Safety Not Guaranteed should satisfy any need you might have for movies outside the mainstream.  Each has a distinct sci-fi edge, some more subtle than others, but anyone who found Prometheus (a movie I personally loved) to be intellectually hollow if not insulting (an opinion I recognize is widely shared), let these films be the antidote.  Also in the "indie" category is the marvelous, early-Woody-Allen-esque Sleepwalk With Me - a thin fictionalization of the real life sleepwalking experiences of NPR-favorite, stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia.  Maybe you won't get to see it with Mike and producer Ira Glass taking questions from the audience afterward at the IFC Center like I got to do, but you can hardly do better for a witty, insightful exploration of why some relationships just don't make it despite all best intentions.

As far as mainstream movies go, my list for the back half of summer has to begin and end with the culmination of what I'd call one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time, The Dark Knight Rises.  (I have a much longer post in mind to discuss the underlying messages explored throughout the trilogy.  If you're interested in reading my ramblings, I'd suggest watching the full Dark Knight Trilogy front to back.  More so than most "trilogies" out there, counting even the original Star Wars trilogy, these films are a coherent whole that rewards a back-to-back viewing.)

Moving on the TV, an entire half-season of Breaking Bad occurred since my last update, and it remains not one of the best shows on right now but one of the best shows ever made.   The wait for the final half-season to bring the show to a close is going to be unbearable, but maybe it will give time for any fools out there who haven't picked up the show yet to catch up beforehand.

In the meantime, the season premiere of Parks And Recreation started strong, convincing me all the more that unlike such pretenders as the punching bag Newsroom, this show is the best exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of government and public service on TV today.  Speaking of "comedies" that defy the very label (as I've discussed in the past)Louie has gotten increasingly daring - and surreal - this season.  As if the show hadn't already won me over, Louie put David Lynch back on television, and as old school TV producer no less.  That's the kind of move that gives you a lifetime pass.  Louie, feel free to read the phone book next season, a whole episode watching you eat a bowl of cereal, whatever.  I'm in.

Finally, out in the real world, I can't get enough of Eugene Mirman (of Bob's Burgers and Delocated fame) and his ongoing "Invite Them Up" series at The Bell House in Brooklyn.  Aside from regularly featuring the likes of John Oliver, John Mulaney and other comedians not named John (like Sarah Silverman, David Cross and Janeane Garofalo), it may be the only place to see H. Jon Benjamin (who I don't count as John) give a cappella performances of both the Game of Thrones and Mad Men theme songs ... set to the interpretive dance of a fully naked man.  You tell me that's not worth $30.

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