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Archive for August, 2009

I saw the film Inglourious Basterds the other day, upon the recommendation of a number of friends.  I left the theater feeling two simultaneous and somewhat contradictory feelings (in a word: ambivalent).  On the one hand, I “enjoyed” the film:  the tension-building dialogues exploding in a climactic release (apologies for the sexual undertones there), the hip, “anything goes” approach to style (anachronistic soundtrack, insider cameos, visual homage, etc.) and the powerful archetypal film characters (the bad ass soldiers, the avenging victim, the brilliant psychopath, etc.).  It was an incredibly well-made film, but it also gave me exactly what I would want (on one level) from a movie about people taking on the Nazis.  [SPOILER ALERT]  The Nazis get SLAUGHTERED!  The good guys win, and even if some of them died in the process, it was heroically in the act of destroying some of the most evil people in history.

inglourious-basterds-poster

But this is where the contradictory feeling came in.  It felt wrong to enjoy the massacre of Nazis.  (There was some part of me that felt like I was watching Team America: World Police without realizing it was a satire of American military arrogance.)

The scene that came back to me as I was reflecting on the film & realizing my ambivalence was when Hitler, Goebbels & the Nazi elite were watching the film within the film about the young Nazi war hero who killed 300 Allied soldiers from a tower.  Repeatedly, we watch the Nazis applauding scenes of the sniper picking off his attackers (probably Americans) and we scoff at this propagandistic depiction of violence against the enemy, portrayed as inhuman, anonymous targets for the hero to destroy.  Even the young Nazi hero seems to feel disdain for the way this is portrayed…

Though I did not find it ironic at the time, subsequently, we as the audience are treated to the sight of these Nazi filmgoers being burned to death & shot down like fish in a barrel by  Jewish soldiers (along with a highly fetishized moment of actor Eli Roth ripping Hitler’s face apart with a hail (heil?) of bullets).  It seems implicit that we will cheer this on, indeed, the whole film feels like a set-up for a moment that we can hardly believe could end this way (knowing actual history as we do).  Of course, it was an “alternate history” reality we see occurring, but it felt so much more satisfying than what actually happened.  However, I began to wonder how we as the filmgoers were much different from the Nazi movie audience cheering the death of Allied soldiers.

This led me to see the director of IB, Quentin Tarantino, as a sort of Joseph Goebbels figure of American populist cinema (depicting simplistic good/evil characters, giving an audience what it wants, using techniques–such as the score, B-movie conventions, etc.–to tap into the collective audience subconscious and manipulate them to the filmmaker’s ends), which oddly then, would make Harvey Weinstein, a Jew,  the Hitler figure…although I suppose it’s not completely surprising as he has been seen as a bit of a fascist dictator in the filmmaking business.

The film had a number of role reversals of Nazi for Jew (Aldo referring to Nazi’s as “not human”, the brutal beatings/casual executions of German soldiers, all of the Nazi’s being burned to death similar to the crematoriums), which made me feel like I was being set up/propogandized to applaud the same thing for the Nazis which I lamented for the Jews. I may be seeing something that is not there at all, but it seems like to take this film simply as a “revenge fantasy film” for Jews (see reactions from descendants of Holocaust survivors and Rabbis here)  lacks a certain amount of incredulity that a savvy director such as QT would expect.  Am I supposed to resist my enjoyment of this slice of fantasy justice, or give into it and become implicitly akin to the Nazi filmgoers?

Anyhow, regardless of whether I have appropriately interpreted this sequence of scenes, I would recommend anyone else who “enjoyed” watching all of the Nazis get killed as inhuman representations of pure evil to watch a film like Stalingrad where the audience follows young German soldiers, who don’t seem as gung ho about the 3rd Reich as we usually see in films, heading to the Russian front where they are led like sheep to a slaughter.  Anyone associated with the Nazi regime certainly finds themselves on the wrong side of history,  but we may need to be careful to allow ourselves to be duped into seeing ANYONE as less than human…even those who we feel like are the worst people in history.

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It’s late August and I’ve already got a top ten list for the best albums of the year.  As I pointed out in an entry last year, it isn’t really my thing to jump on “new” music per se.  I am typically balancing myself between “new” music and “old” music that’s “new” to me.  This year I wanted to challenge myself to listen to more “new” music (i.e. music that has been/will be released in 2009).

With the trusty aid of music blogs, Lala, random databases, and Sgt. Grumbles I’ve been able to expose myself to a larger body of “new” music this year and I decided that before I leave to Scotland and my postgraduate occupation with a large number of books, I would compile a list of my top ten albums of the year.  Who knows, maybe this will be my final top ten list for the year (though it has been altered a bit even in the last 24 hours).

10 - Catacombs

10.  Cass McCombs—Catacombs
Cass McCombs reminds me of T Bone Burnett and Neil Young more than ever.  He remains very unpretentious and sincere, perhaps on this album more than his previous records.  Two tracks to reel you in: “You Saved My Life,” & “Lionkiller Got Married.”

09 - Noble Beasts

9.  Andrew Bird—Noble Beast
I really thought I would hate this album.  I’m not much of a fan of Andrew Bird’s music.  I’ve never enjoyed his voice.  Perhaps Noble Beast’s inclusion on this list is a response to how much I tolerated it as opposed to how much I loved it.  But I am leaning more toward its inclusion because I thoroughly enjoy listening to this album.  Two tracks to reel you in: “Masterswarm,” & “Not a Robot, But a Ghost.”

08 - Mythomania

8.  Cryptacize—Mythomania
This album was very surprising.  I hadn’t been very impressed with Chris Cohen’s work with Curtains on Asthmatic Kitty, so I didn’t expect a lot.  I saw Cryptasize for the first time with Danielson last November and they didn’t leave a very strong impression, but this album really brings out their strengths.  It has a great mood—unpredictable but not irritating (like the Dirty Projectors’ new album…).  Two tracks to reel you in: “Blue Tears,” & “Gotta Get Into That Feeling.”

07 - These Four Walls

7.  We Were Promised Jetpacks—These Four Walls
Thanks to Sgt. Grumbles for this suggestion a couple months back.  It reminds me of high school, in the best way possible.  Enjoy the thick Glasweigan accent, the token glockenspiel, and the incredible sincerity—one of the most important qualities I look for in an artist.  Two tracks to reel you in: “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning,” & “An Almighty Thud.”

06 - Pains

6.  The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
American faux-Brit pop never felt so great!  It’s delightfully reminiscent of The Smiths, Jesus & Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine.  Two tracks to reel you in: “Young Adult Friction,” & “A Teenager In Love.”  Note: the album cover bears a ridiculously close resemblance to Belle & Sebastian’s 2006 album, The Life Pursuit:
Compare
05 - Dragonslayer

5.  Sunset Rubdown—Dragonslayer
This album is a great step forward for Sunset Rubdown.  It’s not obnoxiously poppy like Shut Up I Am Dreaming tended to be.  There’s a lot going on musically, yet no component is overpowered by another within a song.  Two tracks to reel you in: “Silver Moons,” & “Idiot Heart.”

04 - My Maudlin Career

4.  Camera Obscura—My Maudlin Career
Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for Scotch indie-pop.  This is probably my favorite release from Camera Obscura.  Maybe I love it so much because Belle & Sebastian hasn’t released an LP since 2006.  Even if there is a hint of my love for B & S in this pick, the album (and the band) stands on its own through musical precision and artistic maturity.  Thank you Tracyanne Campbell for your exceptional wit.  Two tracks to reel you in: “French Navy,” & “My Maudlin Career.”

03 - Mama

3.  Cursive—Mama, I’m Swollen
Mama, I’m Swollen probably seems to be an odd pick for this number three slot, but I will always have a soft spot for Cursive.  This is not to say that this album is undeserving of praise.  Cursive is not interested in being another experimental freak-folk-electro-post-rock-cross-genre-remixed piece of overproduced crap like so many other groups are becoming (namely Dirty Projectors).  They are faithful to their expressive indie roots, this album being far less poppy than Happy Hollow.  It reminds me of Domestica even.  Tim Kasher is still obsessed with refuting a theistic/morally superior worldview, but he does it with so much passion and angst I can’t help but be stirred.  Cursive encourages us to realize the failure of our Enlightenment/modern ideals and to accept our animalistic/primitive nature.  I don’t buy it but not because it’s not packaged well.  Two tracks to reel you in: “From the Hips,” & “Let Me Up.”

02 - Merriweather

2. Animal Collective—Merriweather Post Pavilion
Though it is more accessible (think Pet Sounds) than their entire repertoire (a bad start in my odd musical sense), this album is very unique, big (to the point of breathtaking at times), and yet more cohesive with itself than any other Animal Collective album.  The songs don’t leave you asking, “When is this going to end/how does that even fit?”  Two tracks to reel you in: “My Girls,” & “Summertime Clothes.”

01 - Veckatimest

1.  Grizzly BearVeckatimest
My first listen of this record was a positive, but not profound experience.  Only two tracks really stuck out to me: “Two Weeks,” and “While You Wait for the Others.”  I was even a little disappointed with the album version of “While You Wait for the Others,” at first (compared to their incredible live performance I saw on Morning Becomes Eclectic last year).  I sat with the album for another month and at that point it hit me.  This is by far (maybe I’ll get harassed for saying that) Grizzly Bear’s best record.  By best I mean that they demonstrate great maturity and excellence both in writing and execution, two points that have always seemed to miss one another by an ever-so-slight degree.  This record is certain to remain among my favorites unless I fully give myself over to jazz-fusion or something.  Two tracks to reel you in: “Two Weeks,” & “I Live With You.”

Compilations worth mentioning
Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison a compilation of George Harrison’s solo music spanning his entire post-Beatle career.
Dark Was the Night – a compilation release benefiting the Red Hot Organization.
Royal City – a Royal City B-side compilation released by Asthmatic Kitty.
God Help the Girl – a music/film project written Stuart Murdoch, the singer of Belle & Sebastian.  Members of Belle & Sebastian with guest vocalists.  CD Booklet features a short story that goes with the music.

Honorable mention
Lou BarlowGoodnight Unknown
David BazanCurse Your Branches
CastanetsTexas Rose, the Beasts, and the Thaw
Dan Deacon—Bromst
The Decemberists (primarily because of Shara Worden’s contribution)—The Hazards of Love
Passion Pit—Manners
St. Vincent—Actor
Wye OakThe Knot

Look out for
Converge—Axe to Fall (20 October)
Atlas SoundLogos (20 October)

Why does anyone like
Dirty ProjectorsBitte Orca – It could’ve been so great, but it’s incredibly obnoxious.

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I am typically not this harsh… but Ted Kennedy is special.  Being a killer and all.  Good riddance.

tkenHere, I think is an interesting image of the view many liberals take of Kennedy (from a comment in the linked post):

To those who much is given much is asked. Ted Kennedy has worked tirelessly for his country. I think he can be forgiven after 40 years.

But thank you for reminding us that we are all human.

Will you be happy if 40 years from now, someone writes to remind us all of the human foibles of Mark Sanford, who used tax payer dollars to have an affair, all the while preaching fidelity and frugality.

Maybe the idea of getting away with murder and using tax dollars for an affair is the same in most people’s minds.  Unfortunately this crazy writer feels differently.

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I’m not sure how this has escaped being a HUGE news item here at Criticism Ass Inspiration, but one of the most fascinating unmarried writers on this site is moving to SCOTLAND (the land of blue-faced warriors, heroin addicts and huge wicker men, if the movies are to be trusted) to pursue a graduate education…namely one Elijah Wade Smith.

I’ve expressed my sadness at his leaving in person, but I thought I would write, as a means of cheering myself up and convincing myself that he won’t be miserable and sad without me, a list of the 10 best indie/alternative bands from Scotland in tribute to his leaving.  I hope that not only is he able to hang out with all of these bands & become best pals and everything, but also that his OWN music takes off (he’s quite a talented singer, songwriter, instrumentalist) while he’s there.  (Full disclosure:  I’m his drummer & will happily go on tour with him in that great northern land should he need me.)

#10:  Glasvegas.  I only have one album from this band, their self-titled debut, & I bought it at Target, which either means Target is getting hip or this is not completely intended for the kind of cool kids I usually like to associate myself with, but it’s got some sweet hooks, particularly in my two favorite songs “Geraldine” and “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry.”  The down side (and reason they are number 10 of the 14 bands that made my initial cut) is a lyrical and musical immaturity that rears its pimply-faced head quite a few times on the album.

#9:  Franz Ferdinand.  I’m going to be honest…I haven’t listened to enough of this band to truly rate them.  But my friend Jess REALLY likes them and her opinion carries a great deal of weight.  I do know that “Take Me Out” is an amazing song & “Words So Leisured” reveals a totally different musical dimension of FF than the Interpol-y sound I often think of them having.  But there was some second album which apparently really sucked haggis…

#8:  We Were Promised Jetpacks.  Name alone gets props, huh?  They have the sound to back it up.  Half of their album “These Four Walls” is genius & the other half ain’t that bad neither.  They need to be watched.  By that I mean, listened to.

#7:  The Twilight Sad.  I have pretty much everything that they have released.  And much of it sounds VERY similar.  Fortunately, it’s a sound I am incredibly drawn to–POUNDING drums, punching and raging guitars, and passionate, crackling vocals (with thick Scots accent).  They did an acoustic album which showed they’re not totally a one-trick pony either.

#6:  The Jesus and Mary Chain.  Legends, seminal, gods of indie rock, coolness incarnate, innovative…ok, so I can only think of a few songs I’ve actually ever heard by them, so this is all cowering posture and ignorant sycophancy.  Many would probably put them higher, but this is as high as my grovelling gets.

#5:  Snow Patrol.  In light of the #6 ranking of J & M Chain, I am probably committing an enormous heresy here, but I have to admit that I really love these guys over their 4-5 album career.  Such good melodies, a mixture of brilliant & crap lyrics, but heart & soul for sure, despite what Grey’s Anatomy may have done to their indie cred.  I really love Lightbody’s songwriting on “The Reindeer Section” side projects as well.  He’s really quite good at what he does…and he loves Sufjan a ton.

#4:  Travis.  I’ve followed these guys for so long, based on the strength of two near perfect albums (“The Man Who” and “The Invisible Band”) and many great songs on their two latest releases (not so much the one before,”12 Songs,” which I never even downloaded to iTunes and their first album with its embarrassing New Kids on the Block-ish album cover).  Bless their folking hearts, they still rule.

#3:  Belle & Sebastian.  Elijah may kill me for this, but I love them less than he.  Still, this songwriting, performance, style, album art, etc. is so distinctive, wonderful, lovely, perceptive, original and other adjectives, that they are an essential for anyone checking out Scots music.  One of my all time favorite quotes comes from a B & S song:  “And so I gave myself to God.  There was a pregnant pause before he said…’Ok.'”

#2:  Frightened Rabbit.  With only two full-length studio albums, some would say it’s too soon to put these guys this high on the list.  But I listened to my heart.  Or rather, I listened to their albums and my heart told me that I loved them–frequent explicit language, sexual obsessiveness & melodramaticness and all.  “Midnight Organ Fight” will be on my top 20 albums probably for the rest of my life.

#1:  Teenage Fanclub.  The ones who started it all for me.  Not only Scottish alternative rock, but alt rock itself.  I love Norman Blake’s songs with a depth reserved for the greatest of the greats (Lennon/McFartney, Davies, Strummer, Mozzer/Marr, Yorke, Stevens, et al) .  This whole band sings, plays & writes rock songs like few can.  Which is why they reign.

I love you Elijah.  You’ll be so deeply missed.  Don’t forget about your yank pals, ok?  Say hi to Connor MacLeod if you see him around!

Man with an unidentifiable accent

Man with an unidentifiable accent

(If Vance Williams ever reads this, I apologize that I never got around to listening to The Blue Nile… I’m sure they would have made this list!)

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I have commented numerous times here that I am looking forward to an honest debate and constructive discussion about global warming.  Well it appears we are not going to get it from Greenpeace.  Big Hollywood has a post on a dramatic reveal by Gerd Leipold, the outgoing leader of the group, that derives from this clip from BBC’s HARDtalk:

The interesting reveal is when he says that despite Greenpeace’s public announcement that Arctic Ice will disappear by 2030 because of global warming, that he really doesn’t believe that, and that it is Greenpeace’s job to “emotionalize issues” lest people fail to catch on to what’s happening.  I’ll have to keep looking for that honest debate elsewhere I guess.

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If you have time (and I encourage you to make time) you will find this article by David Goldhill in The Atlantic Monthly very illuminating.  Goldhill’s father passed away in hospital due to infections he received from the hospital and in this article he chronicles his subsequent obsession with, and research into, the American health care system.  He is not a reporter, he is a businessman… and a democrat I might add.  It is a very honest, commonsense, and thorough look at our whole system and his experiences within it:

For that matter, try discussing prices with hospitals and other providers. Eight years ago, my wife needed an MRI, but we did not have health insurance. I called up several area hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices—all within about a one-mile radius—to find the best price. I was surprised to discover that prices quoted, for an identical service, varied widely, and that the lowest price was $1,200. But what was truly astonishing was that several providers refused to quote any price. Only if I came in and actually ordered the MRI could we discuss price.

Several years later, when we were preparing for the birth of our second child, I requested the total cost of the delivery and related procedures from our hospital. The answer: the hospital discussed price only with uninsured patients. What about my co-pay? They would discuss my potential co-pay only if I were applying for financial assistance.

Keeping prices opaque is one way medical institutions seek to avoid competition and thereby keep prices up. And they get away with it in part because so few consumers pay directly for their own care—insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid are basically the whole game. But without transparency on prices—and the related data on measurable outcomes—efforts to give the consumer more control over health care have failed, and always will.

He doesn’t come out against single-payer (which I definitely am against) but his review and critique of the existing system causes serious suspicion upon giving even more leverage and influence to government.  Insurers come out very poorly in his assessment, and rightfully so, but by his own admission they are simply playing the game that has been laid down in law.  From top to bottom you will see how health care has gotten so tangled in a matter of just 60 years.  In light of what is being proposed in congress and the white house you will be interested to have this breakdown of the system in your bag of knowledge.  Be forewarned, it’s not a brief article.

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Powerline linked to an interesting article by Byron York in the Washington Examiner.  York wants to know where the war protesters are.  It’s a good question.  When Bush was president, the sole interest of many “progressives” was ending the war, and getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The article presents an interesting poll that was taken at Netroots Nation (formerly YearklyKos):

As part of a straw poll done at the convention, the Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg presented participants with a list of policy priorities like health care and the environment. He asked people to list the two priorities they believed “progressive activists should be focusing their attention and efforts on the most.” The winner, by far, was “passing comprehensive health care reform.” In second place was enacting “green energy policies that address environmental concerns.”

And what about “working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan”? It was way down the list, in eighth place.

Perhaps more tellingly, Greenberg asked activists to name the issue that “you, personally, spend the most time advancing currently.” The winner, again, was health care reform. Next came “working to elect progressive candidates in the 2010 elections.” Then came a bunch of other issues. At the very bottom — last place, named by just one percent of participants — came working to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is interesting, but also saddening that issues can be swept aside so quickly for a group of people.  It makes the rhetoric of what they voiced against previously so very shallow and false.  I guess this is the nature of things, and not reserved for one party or the other.  Conservatives can one moment be more concerned about gay marriage then anything, and the next be livid over estate taxes or something along those lines.  This just further reinforces my opinion that politics is just one big card trick to keep us occupied and keep politicians employed.

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