Troubadours and soothsayers: Jens Lekman and David Bowie

Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now

A decade ago, this Swede released Night Falls Over Kortedala, an album of singer-songwriter would-be pop whose romantic fables began and ended with jokes, usually at the expense of the Pagliacci singing them. Bona Drag-era Morrissey was the closest analog, given Jens Lekman’s weakness for adverbs and meter-breaking verse. In a not exactly prolific career, Life Will See You Now represents the conventional sort of tiptoe forward: the singer-songwriter discovers electronic instruments when he really should’ve been playing with them fifteen years ago. On “Dandelion Seed” and “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” the results are not dissimilar to Grant McLennan’s solo debut Watershed or The Roches’ Speak — the essentially static music gets its melodies goosed by presets and programmed strings. Not only have I learned to love Jens Lekman’s voice, but I appreciate how its off key dolor is a correlatives to songs whose insight and quiet Linus-with-a-pet-blanket wit redress their own dolorous qualities. A troubadour, a ham, Lekman can sing “the lonely cry of the seagull/’Let’s do something illegal'” and not mind courting foolishness. He’ll plunder the Whispers for beats (“How We Met, the Long Version”) and Romeo Santos for lithesome guitar curlicues (“Our First Fight”).

David Bowie – No Plan

Comprising “Lazarus” plus three outtakes, this EP presents a Bowie more open about the final hurrah. Some might adduce this frailty as a sign of the late generalist’s “humanity,” although why we insist on insulting this man thirteen months after his death saddens me. Giving no fucks about admitting how in this age of grand delusion marriage saved his life, honest about the deterioration that would eventually claim it, Bowie nevertheless sounds like the oblique, slightly fuzzy of outline carbon-based life form he was at the apex of his powers. Even when he’s trying to be a cornball his fantastic band complements him with discordant notes. Enjoy it – as John Quincy Adams said on his death bed, “This is the last of earth.”

Best movies of 1946

1. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock)
2. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau)
3. My Darling Clementine (John Ford)
4. Cluny Brown (Ernst Lubitsch)
5. A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)
6. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)
7. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks)
8. Utamaro and His Five Women (Kenji Mizoguchi)
9. Gilda (Charles Vidor)
10. The Diary of a Chambermaid (Jean Renoir)

UNSEEN: Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur), Bedlam (Mark Robson), and a pair of George Marshall pics: The Blue Dahlia and Bob Hope in Monsieur Beaucaire

DESERVE REWATCHING: Duel in the Sun (King Vidor), The Killers (Robert Siodmark)

‘We’re going to create one big death panel in this country’

It’s getting hot!

But most of the people in the crowd wanted to be heard, loud and clear, on a litany of issues. One woman said she could not understand how Mr. Ross could oppose the presence of undocumented immigrants, given that the district was dependent on agriculture. “It’s so detrimental to our identity as a state and to the economy,” she said before disappearing into the crowd.

Back in Tennessee, a number of those facing [Marsha] Blackburn were rallied by the local branch of Indivisible, a national movement started by Democratic activists. The group had held two meetings to discuss which issues to raise.

One of the organizers, Elizabeth TeSelle, a university administrator, disavowed the Tea Party comparison. She said Indivisible supporters were not seeking to push moderate Democrats further to the left, or to oust them by running more extreme candidates against them in primaries. “My concern is what the Tea Party ended up spawning was Trump,” Ms. TeSelle said.

Ms. Blackburn, one of Mr. Trump’s high-profile supporters in the House of Representatives during last year’s campaign, defended him on nearly every issue raised by critics.

One man called Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, “a notorious white nationalist.” Ms. Blackburn replied, “My interactions with him have all been fine.”

A high school senior, Taylor Ayres, asked how she could support Ms. DeVos, “someone who doesn’t have real knowledge in the education field.” Ms. Blackburn said coolly, “She is going to do a fine job.”

Chuck Grassley of Iowa got an earful too:

“I’m on Obamacare. If it wasn’t for Obamacare, we wouldn’t be able to afford insurance,” said Chris Peterson, a farmer from Grassley’s state. “With all due respect, sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel. We’re going to create one big death panel in this country if people can’t afford insurance.”

The remark was a reference to Grassley’s claim when the law passed that a provision of the law that analyzed the economic benefit of drugs for Medicare was akin to a “death panel,” a claim that was widely debunked.

“Don’t repeal Obamacare — improve it,” the constituent added.

Meanwhile Republicans in at risk districts seek smaller, less, uh, in person venues, like my congressman Carlos Curbelo:

In an email Tuesday, Curbelo said he’s held plenty of public events during his past two years in Congress; he just thinks the hundreds of protesters turning up at congressional events in recent weeks are only interested in causing trouble.

“I’m holding tele-town hall meetings that maximize constituent participation by providing greater access. I’m also constantly meeting with constituent groups throughout the district and will continue doing so,” the Miami Republican told The Hill.

What these events portend is unclear. I tend to think Donald Trump’s popularity with his voters is unshaken; he’s done what he set out to do, according to them. It’s possible these voters may throw out their Republican congressman but still support Trump. But Democrats gotta start somewhere.

Not Just POLL Deep: The Best P-Funk and George Clinton tracks

Late to the party, I overcompensated. During a two-month period in 2006, I scarfed down every Funkadelic album reissued. This lover of freestyle and Miamian didn’t need to dance his way out of his constrictions: he had just grown up with people who knew George Clinton as dude with the weird-ass wig, author of “Atomic Dog” and “Flashlight” and “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” and that’s that. Then he found a CD copy of You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish for three bucks used—a rare prize.

For ILM’s poll not long ago, I contributed my favorite P-Funk stuff, although sadly it’s heavier on the funk. I’m not as enthusiastic about Chocolate City and Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome as I am about Standing on the Verge of Getting It On or Let’s Take it To The Stage (or even the eponymous debut, home of a single that sounds as bottomlessly weird as the first time). Lots of wisdom to glean too: “If You Don’t Like the Effect, Don’t Produce the Cause” has entered my lexicon and sounds only too appropriate after the Senate torture report.

Is it wrong to prefer the solo in “I’ll Stay” to “Maggot Brain”‘s? OK. So I prefer it. Is it wrong that I listen to The Electric Spanking of War Babies more than to One Nation Under a Groove? Spank me.

1. Funkadelic – I Bet You
2. Funkadelic – Can You Get To That?
3. Funkadelic – Jimmy’s Got a Little Bit of Bitch in Him
4. George Clinton – Quickie
5. Funkadelic – Cosmic Slop
6. Parliament – Chocolate City
7. Funkadelic – I’ll Stay
8. Funkadelic – Shockwaves
9. Funkadelic – (Not Just) Knee Deep
10. George Clinton – Last Dance
11. George Clinton – Man’s Best Friend/Loopzilla
12. Funkadelic – Let’s Take It to the Stage
13. Funkadelic – Funky Dollar Bill
14. Funkadelic – If You Don’t Like The Effect, Don’t Produce the Cause
15. Funkadelic – No Head, No Backstage Pass
16. Funkadelic – One Nation Under a Groove
17. George Clinton – Double Oh-Oh
18. Parliament – Mothership Connection (Star Child)
19. Parliament – Wizard of Finance
20. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
21. Parliament – Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)
22. Parliament – Dr. Funkenstein
23. Parliament – If It Don’t Fit (Don’t Force It)
24. George Clinton – Do Fries Go With That Shake?
25. Funkadelic – The Electric Spanking of War Babies
26. George Clinton – One Fun at a Time
27. Parliament – Testify
28. Funkadelic – Get Off Your Ass and Jam
29. Parliament – Up For the Down Stroke
30. George Clinton – Nubian Nut
31. Parliament – Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)
32. George Clinton – Atomic Dog

Celebrating a dull day

Charles Pierce doesn’t get the point of President’s Day either. If anything, we should be off Constitution Day:

I do not feel compelled to respect a president any more or less than I respect somebody I hire to fix my roof or paint my house. Whoever gets elected works for me. As to the office, well, I understand how it is a single unifying figure within the government, and how he—again, theoretically—represents the whole country. But, in my lifetime, the Oval Office has seen coups, burglaries, and illegal arms sales planned. It has been the venue for criminal mischief and illicit canoodling. That it is also the place where the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were signed is the great paradox. But the idea that I have to respect The Presidency qua The Presidency is something that raises the hackles in my democratic conscience.

Lest anyone accuse me of shitting on the day because of the Oval OFfice’s current occupant, I was creeped out by the Cult of Obama in late 2008 and early 2009 too. Moreover, in my lifetime, I’ve seen more perfidy from presidents than I have words to write.

It always ends up sentimental drivel: The best of Radiohead

I’ve spent years of my professional life debating the merits of this Oxfordshire quintet. Adept synthesists who introduced fans to Talk Talk, Eno, Magazine, Coltrane, mid ’70s Miles Davis, and Neu!, Radiohead understand dialectics too: their strength is also their weakness, so I can’t imagine a situation in which they fire Thom Yorke, responsible for their advert-indebted lyrics and gnomic agitprop. In the days before Web 2.0, I resisted what I considered the coercion of importance. At the time Clinic and Missy Elliott made more important records. Since 2009, I’ve seen no reason to revise my thinking.

Hence why this list is shorter its cousins. And no — I don’t like “Creep.”

1. There There
2. Paranoid Android
3. Just
4. Idioteque
5. The National Anthem
6. Let Down
7. Knives Out
8. Burn the Witch
9. Nude
10. Jigsaw Falling into Place
11. Everything In Its Right Place
12. No Surprises
13. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
14. Anyone Can Play Guitar
15. Exit Music (For a Film)
16, Give Up the Ghost
17. 15 Step
18. Airbag
19. A Wolf at the Door
20. Street Spirit (Fade Out)

‘They were making me want to support him more with how irrational they were being’

The voters whom the Democratic Party has to court, according to the New York Times, fresh from the meth lab junglelands or something:

Mrs. O’Connell is a registered Democrat. She voted for Bill Clinton twice. But she has drifted away from the party over what she said was a move from its middle-class economic roots toward identity politics. She remembers Mr. Clinton giving a speech about the dangers of illegal immigration. Mr. Trump was lambasted for offering some of the same ideas, she said.

“The Democratic Party has changed so much that I don’t even recognize it anymore,” she said. “These people are destroying our democracy. They are scarier to me than these Islamic terrorists. I feel absolutely disgusted with them and their antics. It strengthens people’s resolve in wanting to support President Trump. It really does.”

In other words, extortion. These voters will turn on candidates who aren’t committed to Making America Great Again.

Let me write plainly: voters who lament the emphasis on gay rights and Black Lives Matter shouldn’t be in the party, or, at the very least, Democrats should expend no energy courting them. They’ll find their natural home in the GOP, just like the pre-1964 Southern Dems after Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act; eventually those voters wandered over to Richard Nixon during the ’68 election. Whether the Dems should have nominated Hillary Rodham Clinton and stopped being so goddamn stupid about local races — those are legitimate points, about which political scientists who earn more than I do have published two dozen articles since November.

Back to the beleaguered moderates:

“The name calling from the left is crazy,” said Bryce Youngquist, 34, who works in sales for a tech start-up in Mountain View, Calif., a liberal enclave where admitting you voted for Mr. Trump is a little like saying in the 1950s that you were gay. “They are complaining that Trump calls people names, but they turned into some mean people.”

The punch line: “They were making me want to support him more with how irrational they were being.” In other words, “Treat me nicely, and I might support taxing the rich.” Any voter who voted for Donald Trump in November thinking about “middle-class economic roots” is an imbecile who should sell bottled water on street corners. You care about your drinking water? Last week Trump okayed the dumping of coal mine waste into waterways. Apparently protecting an deservedly endangered species of an industry is fine so long as the drinking water has orthophosphates. And when Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell at long last get the ACA replacement on Trump’s desk those “middle-class economic roots” will get another pull. Articles like this, precisely because skittish editors respond to criticism about being elites, ignore black and Hispanic working class voters, many of whom didn’t vote for the racist president because they knew what he and the GOP would do with their new majorities.

Taxing the hell out of corporations, universal health care, avoiding stupid wars, and debt-free college — these are policies that even white working class voters can endorse without voting for the bigot.

Learning to match the beat of the Old World man: The best of Rush

At the dawn of the eighties, Rush discovered synths and tighter tempos, hence putting the Police in a spot.

1. Time Stand Still
2. New World Man
3. Limelight
4. YYZ
5. Subdivisions
6. The Body Electric
7. Distant Early Warning
8. Tom Sawyer
9. Ghost of a Chance
10. Red Sector A
11. The Spirit of Radio
12. Middletown Dreams
13. Fly By Night
14. Closer to the Heart
15. Force Ten
16. The Analog Kid
17. Dreamline
18. Red Barchetta
19. The Temples of Syrinx
20. Countdown

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ offers more Mel Gibson death porn

Only a man who loathes homosexuals can get such a hard-on for beautiful young men in extremis. Add long hair soaked in blood, mouths open in a combination of pain and ecstasy that Teresa of Avila can understand, and skeptics frozen in truly-he-was-the-son-of-God epiphanies — presto, a Mel Gibson picture. A lethargic, lysergic, and literal account of the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor, Hacksaw Ridge pulls the usual Gibson trick, which peaked in 2004’s skin flick The Passion of the Christ, of using sadism to mythologize a man of peace. Only after a strong, insistent beatdown can Jesus the Nazarene and Private Desmond Doss earn the trust of followers. It is, to put it mildly, a strange way to think and live, but no one said being Mel Gibson is easy, and if that’s what a man’s gotta do to earn six Academy Award nominations after years of alcoholic rants, then so be it.

Noting how audiences responded last November to Hacksaw Ridge‘s first third would’ve made a decent case study in tracing the purported evolution of American taste. To emphasize Doss’ hayseed antecedents, Gibson turns every person, piece of furniture, and animal in Lynchburg, Virginia into Rufus Cornpone; cameraman Simon Duggan bathes scenes in a ghastly light. It looks like Song of the South by people who have spent the fifty years imagining how wonderful that film must have been and what a pity Disney removed it from circulation. Motivated to enlist following the American declaration of war on Japan, Doss (Andrew Garfield) faces the wrath of his daddy (Hugo Weaving), a veteran of the Great War who’s seen enough killin’ but is not above beating his wife. But Doss takes the Good Book to heart: doing his duty also means taking Thou shalt not kill seriously, a stricture no less onerous than waiting for marriage to screw his betrothed Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). Because Hacksaw Ridge is a Mel Gibson picture, however, Eros and God make an ungainly peace: Dorothy paper clips her mug shot in Doss’ copy of the Bible, assuming he masturbates while reading from the Song of Solomon.

To set up the conflict and introduce a gallery of hackneyed stereotypes, Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan’s script drops Doss into basic training, where drill sergeant Howell gets the men to crawl through barbed wire and mud, scale walls, tie knots (attention: foreshadowing!), and march with rifles. But Doss, a Jehovah’s Witness, can’t touch his weapon, nor can he train on Saturdays, the Sabbath. This gets him a number of loud lectures from the chain of command, climaxing with a foiled court martial: his father, using his military contacts, gets him assigned to medic in the Pacific theater. I should note that in the easy part of the drill sergeant, a guaranteed locus of attention in movies from Lou Gossett, Jr. to R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, Vince Vaughan is bug-eyed and awful, an obvious blowhard who fools no one for a minute, unable to shock Knight and Schenkkan’s moronic dialogue to life.

When the action shifts to Okinawa and Gibson can lick his chops filming the mauling and vaporizing of men in combat, Hacksaw Ridge earns its title and at least settles into a recognizable shape: death porn. Some of the grisliest deaths ever filmed too: bullets rip through helmets, boots step on entrails, grenades separate limbs, yawn; it’s realism you can buy anywhere these days. Doss saved several members of his squad by tying thick rope and lowering them down a ravine to waiting soldiers, but the way Gibson films it Garfield could be learning to tie his shoes. At least the violence turns Gibson on; I could hear him struggling to stay awake during Garfield’s chance for an Oscar clip: confessions in the foxhole, during which Doss remembers his daddy beatin’ up his mama while he stood in the way cryin’. To Gibson this is psychology. Never mind: we’re back to bullets and bayonets again, with American soldiers, thanks to Japanese flamethrowers, turned to turkey bacon by an enemy that stays resolutely within the American propaganda tradition of snarling Nipponese yelling bonzai!.

This farrago would be tolerable if Gibson hadn’t directed Garfield to imitate an anguished q-tip. The mystery that Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t address concerns why the U.S. Army allowed Doss to keep his rather stunning head of hair, which Garfield gels with what is apparently the blood of his enemies. Thick, protein-rich, nutty Australian beefcakes like Sam Worthington and Luke Bracey have less to do and sport regrettable hair. As soon as Bracey’s captain says, “Let’s go to work” in the final third, we know we got twenty more minutes of fricasseed and skewered Americans before Doss, like Russell Crowe’s good centurion in Gladiator, is lifted to heaven, or, rather, a medivac, on a morphine-induced cloud while Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score mimics flights of angels singing him to his rest. Before this aborted anointment of the sick Gibson films another sacrament: soldiers drenching Doss in baptismal waters, ostensibly to wash off the muck. He’s a man now. Pacifist or combatant, it’s all the same for Gibson: you’re worthless if you don’t have a man’s brains under your fingernails. He would know. God loves even the worst of His creatures.


A careless man’s careful daughter: The best of Taylor Swift

ILM posters have picked on me for loving “Starlight,” a glistening reenactment of — I can’t believe I’m writing this — Robert Kennedy meeting Ethel in the 1940s. It could be about Donald Trump meeting Melania. When the kick drum puts the emphasis behind “Oh my/What a marvelous tune” and the Corrs-style “Breathless” guitars shimmer around her like starlight starlight, Swift achieves an ideal level of pop buoyancy. She knows she wrote a marvelous tune. A ridiculous one too — that’s the point.

To reign as the world’s biggest pop star means shedding a series of skins: Tim McGraw, pedal steels, love as a lost cause. “Blank Space” was a breakthrough because she realized what Cole Porter, Dusty Springfield, Bryan Ferry, and Madonna did: love is as much about making the beloved love you, that adulthood requires a degree of posing if we’re going to live a full life. While I can imagine her writing another “Mine” or “Dear John,” I doubt she wants to — she’s done it already. Swift hasn’t repeated herself yet. What other artist has recorded a Blood on the Tracks at twenty and Empire Burlesque two albums later?

1. You Belong with Me
2. Tim McGraw
3. Mean
4. Blank Space
5. Fifteen
6. Starlight
7. Hey Stephen
8. Dear John
9. Stay Stay Stay
10. Mine
11. Stay
12. Holy Ground
13. Speak Now
14. I Knew You Were Trouble
15. Sparks Fly
16. State of Grace
17. Style
18. Back to December
19. Red
20. New Romantics
21. Haunted
22. 22
23. Wildest Dream
24. Should’ve Said No
25. The Story of Us
26. Red
27. Getaway Car
28. Teardrops on My Guitar
29. Fearless
30. Dress

The singular charm of Donald Trump’s senior adviser

A real charmer:

Univision Noticias spoke with several classmates who said Miller had few friends, none of them non-white. They said he used to make fun of the children of Latino and Asian immigrants who did not speak English well.

Early on, Miller began to write opinion columns in conservative blogs, the local press and the high school’s own newspaper, The Samohi. He also contributed at times to the national radio show of Larry Elder, a conservative African American, and once invited him to speak at the school.

Displaying his hostility toward minorities, Miller complained to school administrators about announcements in Spanish and festivals that celebrated diversity.

In his third year at the school, the 16-year-old Miller wrote a letter to The Lookout, a local publication, about his negative impression of Hispanic students and the use of Spanish in the United States.

“When I entered Santa Monica High School in ninth grade, I noticed a number of students lacked basic English skills. There are usually very few, if any, Hispanic students in my honors classes, despite the large number of Hispanic students that attend our school,” Miller wrote.

“Even so, pursuant to district policy, all announcements are written in both Spanish and English. By providing a crutch now, we are preventing Spanish speakers from standing on their own,” he added. “As politically correct as this may be, it demeans the immigrant population as incompetent, and makes a mockery of the American ideal of personal accomplishment.”

To quote Sam Spade, Trump picked himself one sort of a playmate.

Univision found a copy of Miller’s charming student government speech in high school.

Singles 2/17

Unaware of a Dave Longstreth interview at Stereogum that infuriated many of my friends, I listened to Dirty Projectors’ “Up the Hudsdon” cold, aware that this band has sounded fussy and mannered since catching their live performance at Pitchfork Musical Festival in 2008. Less fussy and mannered than expected, or it’s possible I’m more tolerant of DP’s kind of fuss.

At any rate, Runtown’s the act to check out.

Click on links for full reviews.

Runtown – Mad Over You (7)
Faith Evans & The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Snoop Dogg – When We Party 96)
One OK Rock – We Are (6)
Katy Perry ft. Skip Marley – Chained to the Rhythm (6)
Dirty Projectors – Up in Hudson (6)
Childish Gambino – Redbone (5)
Chano! – Carnavalintro (5)
Hey Violet – Guys My Age (4)
Krewella – Team (4)
The Black Madonna – He is the Voice I Hear (4)
Blondie – Fun (4)
Brantley Gilbert – The Weekend (3)