Tag Archives: Prince

Omnireviewer (week of Apr. 24, 2016)

24 reviews, mostly of the audio persuasion, as I’ve been doing things and need things I can do at the same time as those things. The music takes it, this week. Of the five things I reviewed in that category, four blew my mind.

Television

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 2, episodes 2-6 — Okay, it’s picking up. There’s a moment in the second episode where Jane Krakowski and Anna Camp’s characters accidentally foreground their own passive aggression, and it is one of the funniest things this show has ever done. It’s all in the performances, too. This cast is so good that it can even prop up episodes where the writing isn’t up to par. Also, the concept of being excommunicated from the Apple Store made me laugh very hard.

Last Week Tonight: April 24, 2016 — The best they’ve done in a while. The presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda was always going to make me like it more, but the entire Puerto Rico segment is masterful.

Game of Thrones: “The Red Lady” — Oh, look what’s back. I wasn’t excited for this premiere, having outright loathed all but one (okay, maybe two) episodes of the (inexplicably Emmy-winning) fifth season. And the opening was not auspicious. Starting at the Wall was inevitable, but that plotline has been boring me for what feels like several seasons at this point. And having Ramsay Bolton, the most unwatchable character in prestige television, in the second segment felt like death. And when Brienne shows up to give a much needed infusion of characters I like into an otherwise plodding first third of the episode, it mostly seemed to indicate the extent to which Gwendoline Christie is a class act in a show that doesn’t deserve her anymore. Same goes for Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Iain Glen, Jonathan Pryce, Liam Cunningham and Emilia Clarke. Really, I’m in this for two reasons now: most prominently because I’m deeply susceptible to the sunk costs fallacy, but also because the cast remains mostly incredible and fun to watch. Hopefully that’ll get me through to the end of this interminable, bleak, dull, self-serious, water-cooler-moment-manufacturing, needlessly brutal, pedestrian drama.

Archer: Season 7, episodes 4 & 5 — Robo-Barry is always funny, Malory got her first solo plotline, and Krieger has facemasks (and hand replicas) of all of the other characters. So, episode four was great. Episode five, also great, but it’s the first of a two-parter, so I’m withholding judgement.

Movies

Anomalisa — This is going to take some time to process. It’s definitely very good. But, it’s also fairly unlike the other Charlie Kaufman movies that I love. There’s one moment of metafictional awareness here, and it is really something. But mostly, this movie is interested in telling a story that travels in a straight line. It’s a good enough story that the main character seems real and comprehensible, even as he behaves in completely unacceptable ways. Really, though, the reason to see this is the animation. It’s amazing to me that this was originally made for radio. It’s easy to see how that would have worked. The central conceit — the main character hears everybody (including Dame Joan Sutherland) as having the same voice except for one woman — is a radio conceit. But in this movie, the stop-motion animation dazzles as much as the script. I constantly found myself wondering how certain shots were done. I’m sure that’s not what the filmmakers intended me to be thinking, but it does go to show what an accomplishment this is on a purely technical level.

Super Troopers — The same person who I saw Anomalisa with this week also wanted to watch Super Troopers, which leaves me confused about his character. This movie makes 2002 look like a really long time ago. For one thing, that was apparently a time when comedies could have the premise “X, but funny!” Today, comedies aren’t defined by jokes; they’re built on premises and they happen to have jokes in them. All comedy is high-concept, and all comedy is working on some level of irony. But Super Troopers isn’t at all. And it’s not aping the style of anything in particular. It’s not a cop movie parody. It’s just a movie about some funny cops. In 2016, post Hot Fuzz (which was made all the way back in 2007, somehow), this is comedy from another planet. It is not a good movie.

Music

Prince: Sign ‘O the Times — I was unaware that Prince invented Quasimoto. And yet, there’s Prince, pitched up into an alter-ego, right there on “Housequake.” I read this described somewhere (the AV Club, I think) as a “one-man White Album.” I can’t put it any better than that. It’s even got clear Lennon moments (the title track) and McCartney moments (“Starfish and Coffee”) This doesn’t have the massive hooks that Purple Rain does, but it’s a way better album. Purple Rain’s dated drum sound and synths are nowhere to be heard. It’s kind of amazing that an album so obviously intended to be an index of its own cultural moment (a sign of the times), could have dated so much better than other music of its time. This is almost an hour and a half long and there is nothing on it that isn’t good. Many tracks are basically perfect. “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” is one of the most infectious things I’ve ever heard.

Beyoncé: Lemonade (visual album) — Music videos have always been a place for weird, avant-garde, non-linear, symbolic filmmaking to break the mainstream. To some extent, that’s why Alan Parker’s The Wall is ultimately a less compelling work of art than the album it’s based on: it’s too devoted to fleshing out a story that’s told in brief tableaus on the album. You want meaning to be suggested, rather than stated outright. That’s why the animated segments work best. It’s also why Lemonade is something very close to a masterpiece. And while it may seem a bizarre choice, The Wall isn’t the worst point of comparison for Lemonade — at least for somebody with my specific, limited set of reference points. They’re both personal conceptual opuses apparently created to help deal with an emotional wound. They’re both works that are likely to be called “self-indulgent” by uncharitable critics. They both channel personal narratives in the service of broader social insights. And both have visual elements that attempt to expand the forms and styles of music videos in their respective times to (near) feature length. But while The Wall is ham-fisted (hammer-fisted?) Lemonade leaves space for interpretation, possibly out of conflicting needs for privacy and self-expression. Even if some of it is pretty direct (Beyoncé flinging her wedding ring at the camera and singing “you’ll lose your wife” could really only be directed at one person), it mostly operates according to song logic, rather than movie logic. Which makes it strange that, in the end, Lemonade still gives you a better sense of the wound it was constructed to help heal than The Wall does. I imagine I’ll get a better sense of the music itself once I listen to the album in audio-only form, but this is really something. Pick of the week.

Moon Hooch: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert — I haven’t been so unexpectedly bowled over by a group since I heard the Motion Trio play Michael Nyman music on three accordions. These guys have energy to burn. It is essentially EDM played on two saxophones and a drum kit. It must be seen and heard to be believed.

Kyle Craft: Dolls of Highland — Welcome to the concept of glam country. Lyrically, Craft is a blend of southern mysticism and Dylanesque oblique romanticism. Musically, he’s halfway between the Band and the Spiders from Mars. He has a way with a melodic hook, and holy smokes, that voice is like a fire alarm. I love it. “Lady of the Ark” and “Pentecost” have had a few weeks to grow on me, and those singles are, predictably, the most immediate songs on the album. But this is going to be one I’ll come back to. Between this and Until the Horror Goes, it’s turning out to be a good year for rock debuts.

The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground — Spun in preparation for the new Brian Eno album, which has a cover of “I’m Set Free.” I’ve loved the first two Velvet Underground albums for years, but never got around to checking out this or Loaded. Apparently, Eno loves this album so much that he’s never owned a copy for fear of becoming overfamiliar. I do see the appeal, though I definitely prefer the debut. I love the first album as much for its noisy sonic adventures as for its songwriting, and that element sort of left the band with John Cale. Still good.

Podcasts

Imaginary Worlds: “Economics of Thrones and Starships” — THIS is the reason I’m into genre fiction. The fact that the paratext of a show like Game of Thrones or Battlestar Galactica can be this interesting — i.e. their worlds can serve as hypotheticals for economic thought experiments — almost makes the question of whether the shows are any good moot. This might be my favourite episode of Imaginary Worlds aside from the Cthulhu one, which doesn’t really bear comparison to other episodes.

All Songs Considered: “Remembering Prince, The Utopian” — While I was listening to Ann Powers exposit on why she loves Prince, I thought of something. She talked about how his live shows were rituals, rather than just spectacles. That made me think of how incredible the opening of the Purple Rain album is. The start of “Let’s Go Crazy” is a secularization, and a humanization of the traditional funeral mass: “Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” First off, what a way to start an album. But also, I’ve been reflecting on how extraordinary it was to hear that for the first time on the day Prince died. And not only that, but to hear it on the radio, along with a community of people who were hearing it at the same time, albeit in many different places. It’s still a gathering of sorts, to get through this thing called life. When Bowie died, he left us an album that was meant to play like a message from beyond the grave. (“Look up here, man, I’m in heaven,” etc.) Prince did the same thing by accident, thirty years in advance.

Reply All: “Decoders” — I don’t know any other show that so fearlessly oscillates between very serious and very silly. First, Goldman and Vogt take the time to demonstrate how the debate over cracking the San Bernardino’s shooter’s iPhone is founded on false pretences. Then, they talk to Adam West. Love it.

Radiolab: “On the Edge” — Listening to figure skating is more compelling than you’d think. This is an interesting story with a great main character, figure skating iconoclast Surya Bonaly. It turns out to be a bit of a shaggy dog joke in the end. But hey: I listened to half and hour of radio about figure skating. Didn’t see that coming.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Summer Movie Preview” — My god, what a dire wasteland of a few months it’s going to be for movies. Thank god for Swiss Army Man.

WTF with Marc Maron: “Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Louis CK” — Maron’s two-part 700th episode extravaganza is a good distillation of why he’s earned his place in the pantheon of podcasting. He’s audibly nervous in his conversation with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but as with many great Maron interviews, the nervousness comes from a place of reverence — justified reverence. And while it’s not one of his best — Louis-Dreyfus seems perplexed that she’s found herself on a podcast, having a somewhat dubious understanding of what they are — it’s still an entertaining hour and a half. The second part with Louis CK, on the other hand, is totally essential, because it’s the most in-depth he’s gone on the making of Horace and Pete. Maron and CK have a compelling dynamic to begin with, but when CK is this excited to talk about something, it really adds something. This was released as two separate episodes. Both are worthwhile, but at least go listen to the Louis CK interview. Unless you haven’t watched Horace and Pete. In which case, plop down your 30 bucks for that, watch it, and then double back here. Maron talks about how Horace and Pete forced CK to listen more. On that note, I’ve never heard Maron listen to anybody so intently without interjecting. Normally, that wouldn’t be an asset on this podcast, but this is electrifying. Pick of the week.

StartUp: “Gaming the System” — Now I get why they did this as a two-episode slow burn. The company turned out to be something that everybody’s heard of. I love that. Now I’m really excited for this season. And the look-ahead to next week’s show is a great teaser.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Small Batch: Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’” — A slight, effective little segment on a thing that you cannot avoid hearing everybody’s thoughts on this week. These are thoughts you might be glad you heard.

This American Life: “In Defence of Ignorance” — Aw man, Ira’s so sick. But he soldiers through! This is a really good episode of This American Life. Sean Cole is one of my favourite radio producers. He’s the only person who could do a piece on psychological research and have it be hilarious. But the other two segments, both about people who suffer for knowing things that others don’t, are equally wonderful. Also, there’s Vulfpeck in this! Yay, Vulfpeck!

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Small Batch: Another Round’s Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton” — Linda Holmes really should have started this by telling us what Another Round is all about. Because, speaking as a large podcast nerd (see above, see below), I did not know this show. It does sound wonderful, though.

The Sporkful: “Comic Maria Bamford Risked Her Life For Ice Cream” — God, I love Maria Bamford. Probably one of my top three current comedians. Also, this is the first time I listened to The Sporkful while eating, and I think that is the way I will continue to do it, because this show makes me so hungry. I think if I ever met Dan Pashman, my stomach would immediately start growling as soon as he started talking. I’m becoming conditioned that way.

All Songs Considered: “Moon Hooch, Summer Cannibals, PUP, More” — Oh my god, Moon Hooch. If I ever get to be involved in a live show of any kind, with musical guests, I want to bring in Moon Hooch and the Motion Trio, and then have them play together. That is my new goal in life.

Reply All: “1000 Brimes” — An Email Debt Forgiveness day special that doesn’t match last year for volume, but has some very uncanny stories.

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Omnireviewer (week of Apr. 17)

18 reviews. I am beginning to feel like a human again.

Movies

The Jungle Book — I liked this way more than the critical consensus! The casting is universally marvellous, it handles its substantial tonal shifts with grace, and it is absolutely beautiful to look at — 3D notwithstanding. Could we please just be done with 3D? My major complaint is pretty minor, actually. The movie shoots its most effective sequence in the foot by insisting on maintaining an iconic song from the original animated film. The entire scene with Christopher Walken’s gigantic King Louie is magnificent and sinister — but if it’s going to have a song in it, it really should have been a proper Disney villain song. Something in the vein of “Be Prepared.” But still, they insisted that this drastically different take on the character sing the same song, for some reason. It’s a major tonal misstep during an important sequence. After all, King Louie represents an approximate halfway point between Mowgli’s beloved jungle and the man village that beckons to him regardless. If Louie were less obsessive and maniacal, turning him down would actually be a major decision for Mowgli. And, even with “I Wanna Be Like You” excised from the movie proper, Walken would still get to sing it in the end credits. All that aside, if Disney is going to keep reliving past glories indefinitely, we can’t ask for much better than this.

Literature, etc.

Kalefa Sanneh: “The Rap Against Rockism” — This was cited in another, shorter thing I read (see below), and I couldn’t remember if I’d actually read it or just everything that came after it. So, I had another bash, and still can’t recall if that was my first or second time through. It’s doubtless a magisterial piece of criticism, but it’s been effectively built on so thoroughly and satisfyingly by other writers that it’s hard to actually see it as dazzling. Still, if you’re unfamiliar with the tiring but still relevant Rockism v Poptimism debate, do have a skim.

Katherine St. Asaph: One Week // One Band, Kate Bush — I joined Tumblr! And I immediately found a blog that will now consume my life. The idea is that every week, a different writer takes a deep dive into a different artist’s catalogue, in Tumblr’s requisite short (okay, medium) chunks. St. Asaph’s Kate Bush series focusses specifically on The Red Shoes, which she rightly believes is not the worst Kate Bush album, like everybody insists on saying. This is really good, really fun music writing that you owe it to yourself to check out, along with the rest of the blog. Like most of the internet, it could have used a proofread, but you know. Small potatoes.

Music

Kate Bush: The Dreaming — Probably the best Kate Bush album, and for a long time my favourite. These days, I tend to prefer the more direct pleasures of Hounds of Love, but there’s nothing like this in the right mood. For an album so intentionally strange, it has a surprising visceral effect. “Suspended in Gaffa” kills me every time. And St. Asaph’s writing (see above) ensures that I will never hear “Get Out of My House” the same way again.

Prince: Purple Rain — First off, a shout out to Minnesota Public Radio for doing God’s work the day Prince died. Prince spent the last twenty years of his life trying to get all of his music off of the internet, quite successfully, really. So, on a day when everybody wanted to listen to Prince on the internet but couldn’t, The Current provided an essential service by playing the bulk of the back catalogue. People who worked with, knew, or just met Prince called in with stories between cuts, and it was moving to hear the DJs gradually realize that it wasn’t just Minnesota that had tuned in to mourn with them, but also the entire internet. This was the first time I’d really sat down and listened to a bunch of Prince — one of those artists who I’d always figured I’d get into eventually, but never put in the time. I heard a fair bit of the ‘80s stuff on MPR, including this whole album, which is a marvel, obviously. Prince was a virtuoso in every sense: he’s like Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney rolled into one person — at least in the sense that he possessed all of those artists’ best traits. He didn’t sound like any of them. “Let’s Go Crazy,” “The Beautiful Ones,” and of course the title track, are classics. It’s tempting to write something along the lines of “it’s too bad that Prince had to die for me to finally get into him,” but that’s not actually what happened. I just needed somewhere to hear his music online. Thank you MPR. Prince would be happy to know that I’ve since purchased this, and will surely listen to it many more times.

Games

EarthBound — I’m making extremely gradual progress through this massive, difficult game that’s clearly meant to be played for more than a couple hours a week. But I’m really starting to enjoy it now. The combat gets more exciting once you have multiple party members to control and strategize with, and a wider variety of items and spells. Story-wise, it continues to be a bit lighter than I expected. But, here’s something interesting: this game is really anti-authority. Looking at screencaps, you might expect it to be pretty innocuous. But, in this game, policemen are corrupt at best and violent towards children at worst, organized religion is an absurdity and an evil to be defeated, the wealthy are openly spiteful and unscrupulous, and your father is a lazy absentee. I’m expecting all of this to come to a head at some point. If the world of EarthBound is, as many have said, a Japanese take on contemporary America, they must think it’s a pretty dire place. And, of course, they’re right.

Comedy

Josh Gondelman: Physical Whisper — There’s some gold in this, and some stuff that’s sort of whatever. The absolute best moment comes at the end of a story about an interaction with a homeless man in a train station. You should listen to this for that story alone.

Television

Archer: “Deadly Prep” — JETHRO TULL JOKE! They did a Jethro Tull joke! Ahem. This was fine. Some funny moments with Lana and Malory, and a bit of actual pathos in Archer’s story. That is all.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: “Kimmy Goes Roller Skating!” — I’m going to put this in the most white dude fashion I know how: there some, ah, there’s some race stuff in this that I’m unsure about. And in addition to being kind of eeeeeee, that stuff is also the unfunniest element of this premiere episode, which I honestly didn’t enjoy very much. I’m honestly shocked that I only watched one episode in the last week. I will finish the season, and I imagine it’ll pick up. There’s no way that a show as good as it was in its first season is worn out already. I hope.

Better Call Saul: “Klick” — That is possibly the best final shot Vince Gilligan has given us since Hank discovered Leaves of Grass in the bathroom. If last week’s episode had more in the way of plot fireworks, this week’s finale gave us the clearest picture yet of Jimmy and Chuck’s respective, and differently problematic sets of ethics. There’s no rule Jimmy won’t bend given a good reason or a sufficiently difficult alternative, but he’d do anything for the people he loves. Chuck will follow the letter of the law with pedantic accuracy, but his immense capacity for spite causes him to act with shocking cruelty towards his own brother. This has been an outstanding season of television. I can’t wait for the next one. Pick of the week.

Last Week Tonight: April 18, 2016 — People who watch clips of this on YouTube rather than whole episodes miss some really great stuff, i.e. a truly horrifying montage of documentary promos from WCBS 2 News. At least once, watch the whole show. Really.

Podcasts

StartUp: “Almost Famous” — A little dull. I feel like this is retreading familiar beats from previous seasons, even though it’s a total change of format. But on the other hand, since it isn’t serialized anymore, I guess I don’t have to worry about spending a whole season with this less-than-interesting story. It’s fine, not great.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “The Mindy Project and Romantic Comedies” — These are two topics that are not especially interesting to me, but I always love hearing Linda Holmes talk about romantic comedy. It’s one of her especially shimmering areas of specialization. This also has some truly choice Audie Cornishisms. I should really start listening to the All Things Considered podcast.

This American Life: “Middle School” — This show is at its best when it handles mundane stories. This episode details stuff that happens all over America (and Canada) every weekday, but which nobody in the adult world really pays attention to. It couldn’t be more relevant, in the sense that middle school affects everybody, whether they’re a child or a parent, or just a former child. But what I love most about this is, as with all of the best TAL, there’s no sense of “import” to it. It’s fun, full of pathos, and delves into a huge part of modern life. Pick of the week.

The Bugle: “Sick Bugle” — Their second episode after a long time away (and an even longer time of me being away from them) was delayed by the illness of international superstar John Oliver. So instead, we get a compilation of all of the best stuff from previous Aprils. Which is just what I needed to start loving this again. As comedy podcasts in the venerable subgenre of “two guys talking” go, this is head and shoulders above absolutely everything else. What’s consistently amazing about it is that international superstar John Oliver is actually the slightly less funny of the two hosts.

All Songs Considered: “Sturgill Simpson Talks About His ‘Guide To Earth’” — I’m conflicted about whether or not I’ll listen to Sturgill Simpson, and moreover, I can’t decide whether I’d go with the new one, or that really acclaimed one from a year or two ago. We’ll see. In any case, I’ve heard a few of the songs now, so when it’s on a bunch of year-end lists, I’ll be able to say, “eh, alright.”

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Small Batch: Comedian Josh Gondelman” — I have to know what that story is that Linda likes so much, so I’m going to go listen to his album. See above.

On The Media: “On Shakespeare” — I love when Brooke Gladstone becomes this kind of media critic. She’s less interested in news critiques than in understanding the transmission of information. And, no information has been more complicatedly transmitted than Shakespeare. This starts off with a fairly familiar survey of the bunk theories about Shakespeare not having written Shakespeare, and mercifully, it doesn’t entertain any of them. But it goes on to tell the fascinating story of Delia Bacon, the originator of the Baconian theory (named for Francis Bacon, no relation). Then it tells the story of a production of Love’s Labours Lost in Afghanistan during a lull in Taliban power. Both of those are stories I’d never heard and they are really interesting.

Omnireviewer (week of Mar. 13, 2016)

19 reviews. Back in normal person territory.

Television

Cucumber/Banana/Tofu: episodes 6-8 of all three, plus “The Screwdriver” — One thing I didn’t bring up in my pick of the week entry for this last time is that while Cucumber is a showcase for Russell T Davies: idiosyncratic stylist, Banana is a showcase for a number of different writers as well. Sue Perkins and especially Charlie Covell do magnificent work as guest writers on this show. So, even when Davies stops writing Cucumber, I really hope that he keeps doing Banana. I touched on this last week, but it bears expanding on: every time there’s a movie about LGBTQ people that manages to capture the attention of a mainstream audience (i.e. one that includes ignorant straight dudes such as myself) it is almost without fail a joyless slog. So, an LGBTQ anthology show with a sense of fun, that tells a different story every week and highlights the work of LGBTQ writers, is just something that needs to exist. I don’t think there’s anybody better to oversee it that Russell T Davies, but Banana could easily have a continued life once he moves on from it. I really love these shows, and I think it’s a dreadful shame that they’ve been so overlooked. I can’t urge you enough to watch them. (Although, since I am ostensibly reviewing things on this blog, I will say that I felt that the much-hyped sixth episode of Cucumber was the weakest of the lot, and the one time when the show crossed the line into self-indulgence and soapy plot contrivance. It’s a minor quibble. Nothing’s perfect.)

Last Week Tonight: March 13, 2016 — Nothing much to say except “yes.” And “ha!” And “yes.” And if you stay until the end of the credits, you get to see Rich Sommer try to eat a computer.

Better Call Saul “Rebecca” — Easily the season’s best episode yet. Jimmy and Mike’s plots are more amusing than substantial, but sidelining those characters gives us a chance to get to know both Chuck and Kim a bit better. Both are wonderful characters played by brilliant actors. What’s really interesting is seeing them explicitly linked in the way that they treat Jimmy. Given that Chuck has so much more experience in this regard and that they’re apparently comparing notes now, I’m fairly certain that Chuck will end up being a key factor in Jimmy and Kim’s inevitable breakup. Come to think of it, that could be an intentional play on Chuck’s part. The opening seems to suggest that Jimmy somehow drove a wedge between Chuck and his former wife. Revenge?

Horace and Pete: Episode 1 — Oh, I’m going to like this. Louis C.K. is explicitly going in for a critique of American values, and that is a ride I want to go on. But he’s not leaping feet-first into Kevin Smith polemical territory — there’s a division of labour here. Supporting characters are allowed to talk politics explicitly, but the main contest of old values vs. new values takes place in the A plot, with no explicit references to parties or primaries or Donald Drumpf. The first episode is structured around mirroring the supporting characters’ political arguments with the main characters’ family struggle. There aren’t any neat A to B comparisons to be made, because Louis C.K. has more subtlety than that. But this is essentially political theatre, and C.K. is setting himself up to be for the centre-left what the Coen brothers are for the centre-right. And I guess he can just work with whoever he wants now? Seriously, Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange and Rebecca Hall in the same show? With a theme song by Paul Simon? On the internet? It’s possibly that C.K.’s imperial phase has only just started. Very excited to catch up on this and see where this goes.

Movies

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot — What the hell was this? Okay, look. Normally, I’m all about that thing where you don’t worry about whether you’re making a comedy or a drama. None of the best TV seems to care, after all. (See three out of four shows listed above.) But I feel like when you’re telling a true story about a recent war, you need to make a decision. There were some good lines in this, and some good performances. Tina Fey is great in this. But holy hell does the script go every which way. Really not very good.

Music

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Teodor Currentzis, MusicAeterna, et al.: Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto & Stravinsky Les Noces — I don’t give a shit about the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Really, I can’t even tell you how little I’d normally care to hear another recording of this mouldy, overdone repertory warhorse. And it frustrates me to no end that people keep recording it when there are actual living composers writing music (and needing money). And it frustrates me to no end that I basically can’t tell the difference between any of those recordings. So, if you’re going to record this piece, I will almost certainly not care. This recording made me care. It is a totally insane interpretation, with a seat-of-your-pants spontaneity to it such that Currentzis’ orchestra sometimes struggles charmingly to keep up with Kopatchinskaja. I’m sure that there will be many classical fans and critics who will meet it with tut-tuts of disapproval. But to me, this is the standard to which we should hold classical musicians. The question shouldn’t be “how well do these musicians offer us the standard reading of this piece,” but “how do these musicians make this piece new?” Classical musicians should be expected to go back to the score and interpret it afresh every time — like Glenn Gould did, and the late Christopher Hogwood. Every other approach is lazy. This came across my desk a while ago. I wouldn’t have taken it out of the shrink wrap if not for Stravinsky’s Les Noces. But, as fantastic as Currentzis’ Stravinsky is, it’s the Tchaikovsky that sells this. That is something I thought I’d never say. Maybe this whole classical music thing has a future after all. Pick of the week.

Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels — Their second album has been one of my favourites for ages, but I was yet to hear the first. This needed to be rectified. I like this a lot, but there’s nothing on this that hit me quite like “Close Your Eyes,” “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” or “Crown.” But El-P is a hell of a producer, and both he and Killer Mike take some fantastic verses.

Literature, etc.

A week of reading excellent writing on the internet. Also David Day’s Alice annotations, but you know about that already.

Hasit Shah: “Poor Lonely Computer: Prince’s Misunderstood Relationship With The Internet” — A glorious longread from NPR Music, this doubles as a rare inside look into Prince’s exclusive Paisley Park concerts and an exploration of digital copyright law. It’s totally ingenious, and Shah knows exactly who to talk to to make the points he wants to make.

Nitsuh Abebe et al.: “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music is Going” — This New York Times Magazine feature is a completely over-the-top surfeit of awesome. Instead of limiting their impressive stable of staff and guest writers to the 200ish word blurbs that are standard in these kinds of lists, the NYT lets fly with a collection of op-ed style pieces and full-on reported features. (I realize now that the entire issue of the print edition is devoted to this one feature. Nice.) Of particular note are the long pieces about hip-hop group The Internet and session drummer Matt Chamberlain. And Marlon James’ long analysis of Kendrick’s “The Blacker the Berry” takes the final prize. Plus, my perpetual favourite Caroline Shaw made the list! This is no mere, vapid listicle. This is a proper thing.

Kieron Gillen: “The New Games Journalism” — If these Omnireviewer posts have taught me anything about myself, it’s that I’ll never be a “gamer.” I just don’t have the damn time. But I do love games as a medium, and I’m fascinated (and frequently disgusted and appalled) by gaming culture. And if there’s anybody associated with that culture who I trust to be interesting about it, it’s Kieron Gillen. This is an essay he wrote three years before launching Rock, Paper, Shotgun, which is essentially a manifesto arguing that a writer’s personal experience with a game is more important in writing than the mechanics of the game itself. That makes it basically transferrable to every discipline, and I’d encourage anybody who writes about the arts to check this out. In terms of its specificity to games journalism, though, Gillen manages to coin the wonderful phrase “travel journalism to imaginary places.” (Also, Gillen uses the line “just saying it could even make it happen” from Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” to justify his enterprise, as if his essay is a sort of incantation. That seems to me like a precursor to the idea that music is magic — the premise of Gillen’s Phonogram.)

Games

SOMA — It’s been ages since I played this, because it got too scary. I can handle jumpscares and things chasing me down dark corridors. But when unknown consciousnesses start trying to talk to me through monitors, the willies come on something fierce. I think I’m close to the end of the game now, but I wanted to check in here a bit in advance to gripe about a truly godawful bug that forced me to do one of the game’s scariest chapters twice. There’s a moment where you need to use an item to unlock a door and it’s supposed to be automatic, but it just… doesn’t happen. After some Googling, I found that others had this same problem, and when they reloaded their save files from the previous chapter, it works. But that entails having to traverse the darkness of the ocean floor, teeming with anglerfish, for a second time. And my nerves have their limits.

Podcasts

I’m suspending Radiotopia reviews in case I decide to enter Podquest.

You Must Remember This: “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” parts 5-12 — This series tells an enormous story with such finesse. I haven’t got much to add to what I said last week, except that it continues as brilliantly as it starts. Longworth makes late 60s Hollywood seem extremely rotten. She emphasizes that Manson was part of a larger counterculture that was becoming poisonous by 1969, but that studios were still falling over themselves to monetize. And her detour into the post-Manson life of Roman Polanski is just as disturbing as the murder narrative. Seriously, what a wretched creep. I have quibbles, as you do. I wish Longworth wouldn’t do silly voices when she reads quotes. She should either get an actor, like she often does, or read the quotes straight. I wish she wouldn’t use the phrase “and/or” so much — and in her tagline, no less. But altogether, this is a unique and wonderful use of the podcast medium to tell really dense, resonant stories. I can’t recommend it enough. Pick of the week.

Radiolab: “Debatable” — Okay, now we’re back in the territory that I like Radiolab to occupy. The question here is basically “How do you engage in debate when the very structure of debate is designed to exclude you?” The answer that this episode’s protagonist Ryan Wash comes up with is “Always debate the structure of debate.” I loved this. As a sidebar, if you want to get really mad, go read the comments on this and “The Cathedral” on the Radiolab site. I agree with some of them that Radiolab isn’t what it used to be, but those aren’t the episodes to gripe about. How typical of the internet that the episodes that prompt so much bullshit are one that engages with systemic racism and another that features an indie game. If there are two things that internet fuckwits hate, it’s challenging racism and indie games.  

On the Media: “Print is Back, Back Again” — This episode gives us the actual, not that pessimistic state of the publishing industry, an inside look at Amazon’s super weird bricks-and-mortar location, and the knowledge that used books are sometimes sold by the foot as decorative objects in particular colours. Really good.

Imaginary Worlds: “Why They Fight” — I probably will not watch Batman v. Superman. But it’s cool to hear Molinsky parse the relationship between those two characters in terms of D&D character alignments. God, but I’m a nerd.

All Songs Considered: SXSW coverage — This encompasses All Songs’ hour-long preview of little-known artists they’re excited to see in Austin and their nightly debriefs after full days of, presumably, sensory overload. It’s fun to hear Bob Boilen and co. in this environment, which is presumably where they would all like to spend their entire lives. They do a great job of capturing the vibe of the place. One of these years, I’ll go.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Hamilton” — At last. I’ve been looking forward to the PCHH panel seeing Hamilton about as much as they were probably looking forward to seeing Hamilton. If you’re in any way remotely skeptical about this universally and justly beloved high-water mark of human creativity this ought to allay any doubts. As Lin-Manuel Miranda himself put it on Twitter, these guys really went in. Linda Holmes reveals how Hamilton calls back to every great Broadway musical ever (though she skips the Jesus Christ Superstar homage, maybe intentionally), and Gene Demby does the same with its references to much of the history of rap. I am so glad that all four of them loved it so much, because this is one of those cases where I’m totally okay with the hive mind. As far as I’m concerned, anybody who doesn’t like Hamilton stands revealed as a charlatan. This episode is also the perfect example of why I like PCHH so much better than Slate’s Culture Gabfest. This is both more analytically incisive than their episode on Hamilton, and also much funnier.

Reply All: “Earth Pony” — This is both named after and most notable for its magisterial “Yes Yes No” segment. The main segment is a fairly unremarkable but basically fun bit about a fictional, but nonetheless successful political prognosticator. But it’s that “Yes Yes No” featuring Jason Mantzoukas in the role of Alex Blumberg that really sells this. It might be the best that segment has ever been.

Serial: “Thorny Politics” — Oh no, now Trump’s involved. Two things I’ve loved in this season have been the actual narrative of Bergdahl’s life, capture and imprisonment; and the political ramifications of his release. This, therefore, is one of the best episodes of the season, focussing as it does on the latter of the two.