not worried about it

words

Archive for May 2009

beauteous eurasian hippie

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From Robert Christgau’s review of Bat for Lashes’ Two Suns:

“The opening ‘Glass’ does indeed deploy what a Pitchfork raver designates a ‘strange mix of elements (chamber pop, prog metal, new age—what?) magically coalesced into some entirely new genre that I wish existed and yet still can’t quite wrap my brain around.’  If you suspect, correctly, that this so-called genre is unworthy of your brainlength, Natasha Khan will make you cringe… Grounded or ethereal, Khan has the kind of pretty, proper British accent that young men find fetching when linked to ill-informed mentions of goodbye beds and licking her clean.  She has hitched her modest talent to an art-rock wagon she won’t outpace anytime soon.”

When I first read Christgau’s review the other day, it stung in the way that all good, nasty criticism should: it made me feel like a cliché.  Yes, I’ve been listening to Two Suns pretty regularly since reading about it on Pitchfork last month.  Yes, I think Natasha Khan is kind of hot.  And damn you for calling me on it, Bob.

But, hurt pride and all, I haven’t stopped listening to Two Suns, even though I more or less agree with everything Christgau wrote.  His central complaint, that Khan is “an etherhead, as ill-informed about astronomy as she is about love,” is spot-on, something I’ve been trying to articulate without success since first YouTube-ing lead single “Daniel” back in April.  Her lyrics are almost uniformly awful, vague meditations on the moon and wickedness and heaven that could have been ripped straight from the pages of your average middle school lit mag.  Sometimes, when the surrounding music is weak, the half-baked words crash and burn, taking tracks like “Moon and Moon” and “Peace of Mind” with them as collateral damage.  But more often, and Christgau shortchanges this in his review, the words cease to matter, fading in the imposing shadow of Khan’s frequently brilliant aural instincts.  The lyric booklet makes Two Suns sound like a train wreck.  With music, it’s still a bumpy ride, but one worth taking for the sake of its few fleeting holy-fuck-that’s-good moments.

“Sleep Alone,” the album’s second track, is a good example of this.  Opening with a lonely syncopated twang, Khan methodically adds layer upon layer of unexpected instrumentation (Synths?  Hand-claps?  Backing choir?  Seriously?) and builds her song into a textbook case of art-rock awesomeness: it’s so profoundly un-groovy that it flies straight through grim indie rock no-man’s-land and ends up pretty close to funky.  You want to dance because you have no idea what the fuck else to do.

So I’m not ready to concede this one to Christgau, although I will admit that the album is fading.  When I first heard it, it seemed like a solid 9.  Now, on a good day, it’s a 7.5.  But a 7.5 with moments of 10.0 is a 7.5 worth paying attention to.  Plus, she’s hot.

P.S. Christgau’s review name-drops Joanna Newsom, which led me to this thing of beauty.  An excerpt: “Original is one thing, worth doing another—and if only indie ideologues knew the difference.”  Word.  You’re officially my favorite cranky old man.

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Written by Tim

May 14, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Music

martyrs

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Let me be perfectly clear: ultra-violence in modern horror movies is not a stain on the collective conscience of society. Enjoying the on-screen display of hyper-realistic (but emphatically not real) blood and gore does not make you a sick person.  One of the great subversive pleasures of narrative cinema is how it turns us all into voyeurs, deriving real pleasure and pain from the actions and conflicts of imagined or exaggerated characters.  With that in mind, how is watching someone young and attractive get decapitated any more or less exploitative than watching someone young and attractive take out the trash?  Fake is fake.

So no, Pascal Laugier’s 2008 French horror film Martyrs, released on Region 1 DVD two weeks ago, is not an affront to morality.  Unfortunately, it’s also not very good.

Martyrs

This is disappointing, for Martyrs has been the recipient of a fair amount of blogosphere hype since its theatrical release in France last fall.  The hype is not entirely unfounded.  The bare-bones plot line is really quite good: surprising, nervy, appropriately disturbing.  On paper, especially considering the quality drought in modern American horror, it sounds like a refreshingly brutal godsend.  But in practice, it doesn’t pan out, and here’s why: when you make your movie an endurance test, which the first half of Martyrs most assuredly is, you forfeit the emotional investment necessary to make anything loftier than visceral terror work.  The closing act of Martyrs wants to blow our minds.  Mine, personally, had been switched off somewhere around the ninth or tenth close-up of tearing flesh.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with close-ups of tearing flesh.  Separated from the rest of the film, the first 50 or so minutes of Martyrs are brisk, bloody, and effective.  After a creepy prologue detailing a young girl’s escape from several weeks of extreme physical abuse and confinement at the hands of anonymous captors, Martyrs lets loose with 4 or 5 abruptly graphic shotgun blasts and hardly lets up from there.  It’s hard to summarize the plot without giving away most of the film’s limited pleasures, but suffice it to say that the first half of Martyrs revolves around thorny issues of vengeance and survivor’s guilt, tied together by a fascinating question: what if a perfect suburban couple was responsible for unspeakable acts of unprovoked torture?  Why would they do such a thing?

It’s in the answer to the second question that Martyrs trips up, miscalculating its audience’s tolerance for murky philosophy immediately following such hardcore suspense.  Not helping matters is the fact that, on a stylistic level, Martyrs is never especially inspired or dynamic.  It’s competent, to be sure, and not as obviously lazy as most contemporary American horror, but once the genuinely disturbing violence of its opening acts has been taken away, the picture’s flaws become magnified.  Worse than that, the film assumes a strange kind of hubris and draws attention to its own weaknesses: the heavy-handed dialogue multiplies, the perfunctory editing is treated with an unearned reverence, the already struggling actors are thrown into the deep end without a lifeguard.  By the end of its 100 minutes, Martyrs has become so unexpectedly and inappropriately heavy that you begin to realize the first half wasn’t really that great either; it was just scarier.

Dissecting what makes something scary is only a little less pointless than dissecting what makes something funny, so I’ll keep this brief, but it seems to me that the most frightening moments in Martyrs are less the result of solid technique than of pure psychic obligation.  Or, dropping the SAT word bullshit: fast-moving, feral zombie-women that chase after you with kitchen knives are going to be really fucking scary regardless of how well-crafted a movie is.  That’s a pretty reliable stimulus.  Martyrs uses the extreme nature of its images as a cover for its own relatively mediocre film-making.  It’s scary, but not the good kind of scary.  It doesn’t stick.  This ephemeral scariness wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the aforementioned closing act, which slows the pace down to a crawl and asks us to reflect on all we’ve just seen.  As a result, viewers aren’t even allowed to finish the damn movie before feeling retrospectively underwhelmed.

All great horror movies do the same dance.  They invite us in, comfort us, and then scare the living shit out of us, ideally more than once.  Martyrs doesn’t dance.  It doesn’t seduce.  It just bombards.

Written by Tim

May 11, 2009 at 5:25 am

Posted in Movies

“There’s nothing wrong with me; I’m just smart.”

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Written by Tim

May 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

ain’t that close to love?

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It’s funny what paying attention to the lyrics can do for you.  I had a religious experience on the 6 train today just from finally noticing that David Bowie isn’t singing, “I was the young American,” but, “I want the young American.”  This changes everything.

So there I am, eyes glazed over like a drunken hobo, realizing that a song I have listened to several dozen times over the past few weeks isn’t an aggressively catchy piece of American nostalgia but an aggressively catchy work of pointed cultural criticism.  And sweet Jesus, the lyrics: “He kissed her then and there/She took his ring, took his babies/It took him minutes, took her nowhere/Heaven knows she’d have taken anything,” “We live for just these twenty years/Do we have to die for the fifty more?”  “Well, well, well, would you carry a razor/In case, just in case of depression?”

And the last verse, which absolutely destroys:

“I got a suite and you got defeat
Ain’t there a man who can say no more?
And ain’t there a woman I can sock on the jaw?
And ain’t there a child I can hold without judging?
Ain’t there a pen that will write before they die?
Ain’t you proud that you’ve still got faces?
Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?

To answer Bowie’s question: probably not, but this one comes damn close.

Written by Tim

May 5, 2009 at 2:52 am

Posted in Music

all right all right

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I’ve been told many, many times I should start a blog.  So I did.  Contain yourselves.

Resolutions: 1) write as if I have an audience (it’s not psychosis; it’s creativity), 2) keep the self-criticism and doubt to a reasonable level (for the sake of my audience…), 3) stay relatively impersonal.  The internet doesn’t need another emotional exhibitionist.

For the record, the title “Not Worried About It” is inspired by Robert Altman’s Nashville, the best movie ever, which ends with a traumatized mob spontaneously breaking into song: “It don’t worry me/It don’t worry me/You may say that I ain’t free/But it don’t worry me.”  Unfortunately, the phrase “it don’t worry me” taken out of context just doesn’t sound right, so I paraphrased.  Whatever.  Go watch Nashville.

Written by Tim

May 2, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized