Best singles of 2017 – First Quarter

I counted about fifty singles I could’ve included in what looks like a banner year for Asian pop rankings on my lists.

NOTE: These are unranked.

1. Migos – T-Shirt
2. BGA – Who’s It Gonna Be
3. Prince Royce & Shakira – Deja Vu
4. The Mountain Goats – Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds
5. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – I Feel It Coming
6. NCT 127 – Limitless
7. Lana Del Rey – Love
8. Future – Mask Off
9. The New Pornographers – High Ticket Attractions
10. Candi Carpenter – Burn the Bed
11. Miranda Lambert – Tin Man
12. Joey Bada$$ ft. Schoolboy Q – Rockabye Baby
13. Sheryl Crow – Halfway There
14. Jain – Makeba
15. Taeyeon – I Got Love
16. Ariana Grande ft. Future – Everyday
17. X0809 – Ho
18. Jesca Hoop – The Lost Sky
19. Violeta Castillo – Bajo la lluvia
20. Lorde – Green Light
21. Mary J. Blige – U + Me (Love Lesson)
22. Juana Molina – Cosoco
23. Runtown – Mad Over You
24. RAYE – Shhh
25. Ghost – Square Hammer
26. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin – No Heart
27. Sage the Gemini – Now & Later
28. Prince Royce ft. Gerardo Ortiz – Moneda
29. M.O ft. Kent Jones – Not in Love
30. Natalia Lafourcade ft. Los Macorinos – Tú Sí Sabes Quererme
31. Stormzy – Big for Your Boots
32. Laura Marling – Wild Fire
33. NSG – Eyelashes
34. GFriend – Fingertip
35. Rae Sremmurd ft. Kodak Black – Real Chill

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Jean-Pierre Léaud dies exquisitely in ‘The Death of Louis XIV’

At fourteen, Jean-Pierre Léaud let his face be ravished in the most haunting last shot in cinema history. In François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, the mischievous Antoine Doinel, played by Léaud, runs and runs from his parents and adolescent bullshit. Stopping at a beach to catch his breath, he turns to the camera, a freeze frame of exhaustion and skepticism. Few child actors can reprise the freshness of their work before self-consciousness freezes them. Léaud emerged a good actor and a touchstone of the French New Wave, appearing in Godard, Eustache, Bertolucci, and more Truffaut films; he was particularly effective in Stolen Kisses, where Doinel emerges as a young adult with a vast capacity for self-amusement.

As he aged, however, the camera noted the round blandness of his face, like a bare rump. Playing the Sun King in The Death of Louis XIV, the seventy-six-year-old Léaud surrenders any relation to the rest of his body. In one of film’s longest goodbyes, he’s shot from the head up as the grandest and greatest of French autocrats succumbs to the infection from a gangrenous leg. Covered in powder and garnished with an enormous wig that Falco would have envied, Louis looks absurd, but the way Catalan director Albert Serra (Story of My Death) frames that wrinkled prairie you can’t laugh at him. Ruling France for almost seven decades comes as naturally as eating or farting; losing his corporeal form requries no commensurate loss of mental vigor or lapse into spiritual torpor. Like Marlene Dietrich in The Scarlet Empress but less impishly, Louis is so comfortable with the trappings of power that he becomes power.

That’s the grand joke in Serra’s film. As his ministers gather around for the death watch, motivated by grief and relief, Louis’s head fills the screen in elephantine proportions. He epitomizes Western autocracy and is its end point, dying eighty years before his great-great grandson was guillotined before a braying mob. Autocracy can be hell on one’s dignity, though, and as his scheming doctors, who can’t decide whether to keep Louis alive or let the bastard rot, force food on him Louis becomes a sad clown choking on red wine. Courtiers cheer when he can swallow a bisconi. Life is measured in milliseconds of time. Ignore him at your peril, though. At the point when his soul looks like it’s going to shuffle off its painted, periwigged coil, Louis agrees to put to death the doctor who misdiagnosed him. C’est la guerre.

As these description suggest, The Death of Louis XIV is a sedentary affair, but for a while a fascinating one. Serra and cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg capture the plush leisured rottenness of wealth beyond measure; you can smell the sweat and mung on the  scarlet cushions, see the dust hanging in the fetid air. Should this be his swan song, playing Louis is an appropriate farewell for Léaud. The role doesn’t require him to “act” – it requires him to behave, which makes sense: Léaud’s serenity, often settling into passivity when a director didn’t hit him with a riding crop, has always suggested a connection to the values of silent cinema. In the last third, when Louis seems to rally, he breaks the putative third wall, breaks through space and time, to gaze defiantly at the audience, as if daring them to will his death. With Serra swathing him in another exquisite medium shot, Léaud suggests Falconetti herself. What a farewell.


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Obamacare’s strange new afterbirth

Sixty-one percent of Americans favor keeping and improving the Affordable Care Act, while only thirty-seven percent favor repealing and replacing it, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll:

While Trump voters do overwhelmingly favor repeal-and-replace in the abstract, there is not much support among them for the ideas at the core of the concrete replacement Trump is championing. This suggests that a key piece of conventional wisdom about this debate — that Trump will badly disappoint his base if this plan doesn’t go through — perhaps deserves more skepticism.

The new poll also shows that Trump’s bluster about sabotaging the ACA to force Democrats to the table is a non-starter with the public, including with his supporters. Americans overall say that during this debate, Trump and Republicans should make the law work as well as possible by 79 percent, while 13 percent want to make the current law fail as soon as possible. Even Trump voters say this, 58-28.


Trump strongly suggested during the campaign that he represented an ideological break from Paul Ryan and House Republicans when it comes to government’s role in covering poor and sick people. He then embraced Ryan’s plan, because it turned out (shockingly) that he just wanted the “win” of crushing Obamcare, with zero concern for the details or human toll the Ryan replacement would impose on millions. The public has rejected the wildly regressive Ryan vision, and this route forward only carries further political peril.

Diagnosis: the patient lives, and the Senate will ensure its continued survival.

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Hard as hell: the best of Rick Rubin

Present at the creation, Rick Rubin oversaw so many seminal hip hop records that he earned the right to grow his hair as fugly as he wanted. How Slayer, the Chili Peppers, and, uh, Mick Jagger assumed he’d bring anything other than cachet is a story I’d love to hear ’round the bar in heaven. The simplest explanation is that as a teen he loved metal for how it sounded, and hip-hop to young Rick was the new metal. He wasn’t wrong. By the time the geezers hired him he must have thought he could make them sound good too. He wasn’t wrong, for the most part.

1. LL Cool J – Rock the Bells
2. Beastie Boys – The New Style
3. Run-D.M.C. – It’s Tricky
4. T La Rock and Jazzy Jay – It’s Yours
5. Roy Orbison – Life Fades Away
6. Tom Petty – Yo Don’t Know How It Feels
7. Johnny Cash – The Beast in Me
8. The Bangles – Hazy Shade of Winter
9. Slayer – Angel of Death
10. LL Cool J – Going Back to Cali
11. Jazzy Jay – Def Jam/Cold Chillin’ In The Spot
12. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Suck My Kiss
13. Run-D.M.C. – Christmas in Hollis
14. Johnny Cash – Hurt
15. Jay-Z – 99 Problems
16. Dixie Chicks – The Long Way Around
17. Neil Diamond – Oh Mary
18. Jimny Spicer – This Is It/Beat the Clock
19. Mick Jagger – Wired All Night
20. Lady Gaga – Dope

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Thinkin’ things through: Angaleena Presley and Kendrick Lamar

Angaleena Presley – Wrangled

To denounce the state of country music, Nashville rapper Yelawolf rasps, “Just a crazy load of these country posers/I supposed a couple are real, but they’ll never make it/So Thank God for Sturgill Simpson/cuz Music Row can fuckin’ save it” in cadences familiar to fans of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The song, imaginatively called “Country,” begins with what sounds like a sampled sports car revving up, a prelude to Angaleena Presley’s gettin’ all fired up reciting her own subterranean homesick blues over a twangy riff. It’s not “Accidentally Racist,” the 2013, LL Cool J collaboration that made Brad Paisley a laughing stock, but it is irrelevant.

On her second album Wrangled, Presley offers a dozen tunes that sometimes flirt with, if not irrelevance, redundancy. Stories about teenage misery (“High School”) and mean girls (“Bless Your Heart,” whose chorus sports a neat inversion) sit beside admissions of swagger. (“Outlaw”), the most novel of which takes Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” around the block to pick up gunpowder and lead (“I painted my face like a rodeo clown” – damn). Despite the songwriting help from Guy Clark and Chris Stapleton, and first-rate guitar work, Presley lacks expressive range. When her Pistol Annie comrades run out of material, they can always sing: Ashley Monroe has her pained, dulcet alto, and Miranda Lambert compensates with range and dynamism. Although I’ve no evidence for this claim, Presley reminds me of Brandy Clark,  a songwriter who had to learn to sing the songs she wrote — and did. Presley’s not there yet. Folk rock verities with country accents – what Wrangling offers, no more.

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Expressive range Kendrick Lamar’s got. Psychological and moral range too. As a listener who thought To Pimp a Butterfly was often too busy, I recoil too from “LUST” and “HUMBLE,”the arrangements devoid of their predecessors’ colors and tones. But there’s nowhere to hide from “DNA,” a series of upper cuts and KOs expected from classic Marley Marl or Pete Rock, not Mike WILL. At the moment when career patterns require the sick-soul-of-success album (“How many accolades do I need to block the now?” he raps at one point), Kendrick understands that form is what affirms; he insists on musical correlatives for monologues that dissolve into narratives, on autobiography broadening into biography. Whether citing Deuteronomy and sampling Beanie Sigel’s “Die” or interacting with a sinister piano line by The Edge that would spook Chris Martin, Kendrick goes from subject to object and back again, using and being used, noting enemies everywhere from the back streets to Wall Street and in the Oval Office, whose occupant puts Barack Obama’s flaws in context; he might even die walking home from the candy house. As on the fiercest tracks on To Pimp a Butterfly, “I” and “he” dissolve. After two weeks living with DAMN, I’m convinced it’s not a great album, but it’s an exciting one. I understand how kids can love Drake and Kendrick: in Drake they hear echoes of their dumbest thoughts, expressed or private; in Kendrick they hear their thoughts contextualized, a way of knowing they’re not alone.

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‘He kind of asks for it’

Demonstrating how he has adapted to the times, Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming shares his views on queer rights with high schoolers:

For the last question from students, sophomore Bailee Foster asked Sen. Enzi about the LGBTQ community — specifically what he was doing to help Wyoming live up to its nickname as The Equality State.

Enzi prefaced his response by stating that several situations across Wyoming cannot be taken care of by laws alone; that not every issue has a “federal, one-size-fits-all solution.”

“That’s one of the problems we have in this country; thinking that everything could be done by law,” he said. “What we need to have is a little civility between people.”

Enzi went on to say that he enjoys Wyoming because “you can be just about anything you want to be, as long as you don’t push it in somebody’s face.” He followed his statement up with an anecdote about a man wearing a tutu being surprised that he gets in fights at the bar.

“I know a guy who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it. That’s the way that he winds up with that kind of problem,” he said, reemphasizing his belief that “everything can’t be done by law.”

I’d like to see him tell a class of female students that a woman in a mini-skirt kind of asks for it. These troglodytes will never understand that if you’re black, queer, and a woman, walking down the street as yourself is a provocation, an incitement.

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The god’s truth

Unless Congress paid for a border wall, the president warned a few days ago, he’d shut down the government and refuse to pay states the federal subsidies required to keep the Affordable Care Act going. Then he changed his mind. Those who study the hieroglyphics on “Morning Joe” wondered if Trump was bringing The Art of the Deal to Washington.

It took Josh Marshall long enough to admit the following in public:

What seems clear with Trump is that the exercise is likely mistaken in itself. There’s no Trump viewpoint or thinking or goal to represent. There’s no actor at the center of the machine, at least not one who remains constant enough in any aim or view to matter. So there’s no point figuring our which advisor speaks for the President or represents his thinking. Because, fundamentally, there’s no thinking to represent.

Because, fundamentally, our president is an imbecile. But it doesn’t matter that he’s an imbecile: voters elected an imbecile because imbeciles Shake Things Up; besides, in their minds an imbecile is no more competent than the typical federal employee.

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For the lover in us: Best of Babyface

Glancing at Babyface’s stats staggers me — you think Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had a hit streak, remember what Kenneth Edmonds accomplished from 1988 to 2000. Sure he settled for the generic often — what kind of producer with his demand didn’t? Examined end to end, I can’t think of another songwriter-producer (and occasional singer) who limned the Clinton middle class’ systems of romance. He went no further than the usual tension between love and loss, but his fulsome melodic sense reflected his curiosity about understanding the politics of conventional romance. No doubt he needed the long vacation on a Polynesian island before resurfacing on Tha Carter III. His real comeback was 2014’s Love, Marriage & Braxton, as fraught and pained a romantic concept album as anything by Richard and Linda Thompson or Linda and Cecil Womack.

1. Babyface – It’s No Crime
2. Karyn White – Superwoman
3. Toni Braxton – Breathe Again
4. Madonna – Take a Bow
5. Bobby Brown – On Our Own
6. Whitney Houston – Exhale (Shoop)
7. Paula Abdul – Knocked Out
8. Mary J. Blige – Not Gon’ Cry
9. The Whispers – Rock Steady
10. Babyface- When Can I See You
11. Brandy – Sittin’ Up In My Room
12. En Vogue – Whatever
13. Babyface and Toni Braxton – Let’s Do It
14. Pebbles – Giving You the Benefit
15. Johnny Gill – My, My, My
16. Toni Braxton – You’re Makin’ Me High/Let It FLow
17. Aretha Franklin – Willing to Forgive
18. Babyface – And Our Feelings
19. TLC – Diggin’ on You
20. Whitney Houston – I’m Your Baby Tonight
21. The Boys – Dial My Heart
22. Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel
23. Babyface and Toni Braxton – Hurt You
24. The Deele – Two Occasions
25. After 7 – Ready or Not

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Jonathan Demme – RIP

He loved quirks, often more than people, befitting a director who got his start as the delightful Roger Corman aficionado of Caged Heat and Crazy Mama. The cross-eyed lepidopterologist in The Silence of the Lambs, Mary Steenburgen’s squeal of delight in Melvin and Howard, the cut of Dean Stockwell’s suit in Married to the Mob. But Jonathan Demme loved people too. Behavior fascinated him. If his work has a leitmotif, it’s the primacy of performance: choosing what faces to show others becomes a means, finally, of expressing a self. The titles of his two best movies, Stop Making Sense and Something Wild, are instructive: we never stop making sense because no matter how much we may look like Jeff Daniels’ Charlie Driggs, buttoned up in a suit to impress the boss, the possibility for something wild gnaws at us, ready to show itself with the right catalyst. Think David Byrne, bobbing his head in a chicken dance in Stop Making Sense, steadily losing himself to the euphoria of his band’s music until the last third when he suits up again – in a bigger suit! – and is nuttier than ever. What I’ll remember about Demme are bits like the cutaway to street dancers and singers at a rural gas station in Something Wild, and the intensity of the concentration that New Order show in the video for “Perfect Kiss,” as if terrified they’ll play a bum mote.

An example of success inhibiting a muse and putting sand in the vaseline, Demme never recovered from The Silence of the Lambs. The first (and last) film to sweep the top five Oscars since 1934’s It Happened One Night, this adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel has suffered from a backlash it never deserved; it was so damn omnipresent that it’s hard to remember how well Demme adjusted to suspense conventions. At its heart are a memorable performance and a remarkable one: Jodie Foster’s alert Clarice Starling, a heroine for the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill age, obligated to solve the mystery herself despite the predations of male townspeople and the polite disregard from the boss (Scott Glenn) who throws her into danger for his own amusement, in his own way more callous than Hannibal Lecter. As for Anthony Hopkins, playing the most famous screen villain since Norman Bates, if the performance looks camp now (and was then too), it’s not Demme’s fault and probably his intention: the psycho killer who quotes Marcus Aurelius and draws Florence’s Duomo from memory can only project his malevolent intelligence with prissy insouciance.

And that was that. For so long Demme had been a wonder – here was a filmmaker unparalyzed by that very American phenomenon of proving one’s seriousness of purpose. Until he summoned his powers for an excellent return to his earlier humanism called Rachel Getting Married (2008), the years after Silence constitute a ignominious record of prestige pictures (Philadelphia, Beloved) and stilted attempts at channeling the old manic energy (The Truth About Charlie, Ricki and the Flash). His documentary of Neil Young’s Prairie Wind tour has a mild, craggy charm. I was so disappointed in his career that I skipped his adaptation of Ibsen’s A Master Builder; I may watch it now, as well as give Swimming to Cambodia another shot – years ago I thought it got Spalding Grey’s tone but not much else; My Dinner with André‘s Wallace Shawn and André Gregory were more demented.

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A man paints a picture: favorite Brian Eno collaborations

A few months I took care of my favorite Brian Eno songs. I devote this list to songs he wrote or (co-)produced with others. By no means complete, this list reflects my own obsessions.

1. U2 – Lemon
2. Talking Heads – Born Under Punches
3. James – Sometimes
4. Ultravox – Dangerous Rhythm
5. U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
6. D.N.A. – Egomaniac’s Kiss
7. Roy Orbison – You May Feel Me Crying
8. David Bowie – No Control
9. Eno/Cale – One Word
10. Devo – Jocko Homo
11. EMF – Unbelievable (The Hovering Feet Mix)
12. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
13. U2 – With or Without You
14. Robert Wyatt – A Beautiful War
15. Contortions – Dish It Out
16. Depeche Mode – In Your Room (Apex Mix)
17. Passengers – Your Blue Room
18. David Bowie – Boys Keep Swinging
19. Talking Heads – Stay Hungry
20. Laurie Anderson – The Puppet Motel

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Estimates “off” regarding sea level rise

Remember when scientists thought the coasts were a hundred years from some kind of disaster? Well.

Based on new evidence, the Arctic Council — a cooperative effort among eight nations to monitor climate change — concluded that the Arctic warmed faster between 2011 and 2015 than any time on record, with glaciers and sea ice melting faster than expected. That means a United Nations estimate for sea rise, considered among the most conservative, could be off by as much as 10 inches.

The report is particularly ominous for densely populated South Florida, which sits downstream in the ocean’s vast circulatory system, said University of Miami atmospheric scientist Ben Kirtman.

“Along the Eastern Seaboard, and South Florida in particular, we get an excessive rise,” he said.

As I’ve explained before, doomsday will not consist of a tidal wave coming from the Atlantic and treating Florida like The Poseidon Adventure. Toilets won’t flush. Streets formerly on high ground will become flood zones. Sea creatures will appear farther inland. Life will become more expensive in Florida until the state reverts to the years before Henry Flagler, the railroads, and central air conditioning.

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‘Rumble Fish’ remains a stylized, histrionic curio

Lurid, finding a visual correlative for its absurd if not hysterical take on sibling love and rivalry — no, not The Godfather. Rumble Fish makes Rocco and His Brothers look as spare and uninhabited as a Bresson film. In the thirty-four years since its release, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of the S.E. Hinton adolescent classic has survived its baffled reception; several critic friends claim it’s their favorite film. Makes sense: with Stephen H. Burum’s black and white photography and Stewart Copeland’s rumbling percussive score pumping up teenage kicks to Gone With the Wind-level melodrama, Rumble Fish and a multiplex audience don’t mix. Like Donnie Darko, My Own Private Idaho, and Harold and Maude it flourishes in solo screenings, an epic appreciated as a private, almost illicit pleasure.

In Bennys Billiards, a Tulsa pool hall, Rusty James (Matt Dillon) gets in fights and suffers exquisitely in the monochromatic light. His older brother, known only as The Motorcycle Boy, hangs offscreen for a while, gathering mystique like Orson Welles’ Harry Lime in The ThirdMan (Coppola gives Mickey Rourke his own suitably dramatic entrance). A few brawls later, the boys are ready for sodden homilies from their alcoholic father (Dennis Hopper, before Blue Velvet, blurring the lines between life and art).

Committed to a narrative treated with reverence but also, thanks to the histrionics of Copeland’s music and Burum’s camerawork, mistrusted, Coppola honors the secondhand kinks of Hinton’s novel, which owed more to the poses struck by beautiful youth in East of Eden, Los Olvidados, and The Blackboard Jungle than observed life. Rumble Fish is a better film than The Outsiders, during the shooting of which Coppola and Hinton were writing the screenplay for this project; it’s as if on the earlier film Coppola anticipated Spielberg’s approach to shooting The Color Purple by three years. Dillon and Diane Lane, who plays Rusty James’ girlfriend Patty, are at the peak of their early beauty. For Dillon, Rusty James was the culmination of several years’ worth of playing pouty-lipped toughs in undershirts; after Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, and another Hinton adaptation called Tex the previous year, he would land the role of the cabana boy on the make in The Flamingo Kid before coasting for the rest of the eighties, coming back only for 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy (after 1984’s Streets of Fire, another gonzo overproduction, Lane would have it worse).

Rumble Fish was not a hit, and, after the failure of 1984’s The Cotton Club, Coppola himself would flounder in journeyman projects. In fact, 2009’s fascinating curio Tetro aside, the early eighties was the last period when Coppola enjoyed the liberty to which the box office of Apocalypse Now and The Godfather films had entitled him. Rereleased in a typically sparkling Criterion edition, Rumble Fish holds up well.

Rumble Fish plays tonight at Coral Gables Art Cinema at 7 p.m. Miami Herald writer Rene Rodríguez will lead a post-screening Q&A

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