Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, four chickens, striped cat, and way too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning feature editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He set out to be a scientist, and as an undergrad spent a year in an organic chemistry lab at UC-Berkeley, where he was a biochemistry major, trying to synthesize natural poisons found in the skin of certain tropical frogs. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a second masters in journalism from UC-Berkeley. In 2009, he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for public service, as one of five writers in MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. The father of two mostly charming kids and an only occasionally charming striped cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and putting out more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time and traditional music, guitar finger-picking, and more recently fiddle and mandolin. He has four chickens—Lucia, Podge, Cat, and Weed Whacker—but what he really covets is a hedgehog.

Film Review: "The Elephant in the Living Room"

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 5:51 PM PDT

The Elephant in the Living Room

NIGHTFLY ENTERTAINMENT

95 minutes

Don't be misled: The only animals you'll see in a living room in this doc are a cougar and a Burmese python. (The runaway—slitheraway?— Gabon viper is nabbed in a garage.) Director Michael Webber's fast-moving, bittersweet film reveals a world of dangerous and entirely unregulated pets (lions, tigers, bears) raised behind closed doors. Much of the action takes place in suburban Ohio, a state that rivals parts of Florida for nuisance alligators. Hidden cameras rolling, we attend a reptile show where dads cart off snakes that could devour their offspring. But the real drama lies in the interplay between a passionate cop who moonlights as an exotic-animal rescuer and a sympathetic sadsack who can't bear to part with his full-grown African lions. The cat owner's tear-jerking travails drive home the filmmaker's point better than any finger-wagging activist ever could.

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Sondre Lerche: An Auditory Antidote

| Mon Jun. 6, 2011 3:30 AM PDT

Sondre Lerche
Self-titled
Mona

God knows there are too many damned singer-songwriters about. Or, rather, too many who try to make a go of it beyond the open-mic circuit. So whenever someone truly outstanding comes along, it's like, Thank You! As it happens, two singer-songwriters very much worth your while are releasing new albums tomorrow.

Exhibit A is the new self-titled CD by Sondre Lerche, a Norwegian-born Brooklynite with an impressive vocal range, whose earnest, intelligent lyrics and mellifluous voice feel like an antidote to our jaded and skeptical culture.

This young gent has been putting out music for some time. This is his sixth album to date, and he features prominently on the soundtrack for the 2007 Steve Carell film, Dan in Real Life. He's performed on Letterman (see below). He collaborates with members of Animal Collective and Spoon, and the likes of Regina Spektor (who collaborates with a wide variety of people, but still).

Lerche has a keen melodic sense and is careful to avoid clichés—or perhaps he just does it without thinking. Classically trained and schooled in Bossa Nova (among other things) he varies his rhythyms and instrumentation (guitar, strings, piano, percussion, vocal choruses) between songs and within, always keeping things interesting. His sound, alternately upbeat and brooding on this album, is nonetheless suffused with his happy-go-lucky Beatles-y vibe, and psychedelic hints of, say, a band like Sunny Day Real Estate.

The new songs are, as we say in Oakland, hella catchy—like "Private Caller," whose opening evokes early REM, and the uber-poppy "Go Right Ahead." Other standouts include "Domino" and "Living Dangerously." But there are numerous others. This is an album I will listen to over and over.

I'll leave you now with this 2007 clip of Lerche playing the Letterman show. Don't forget to check out Exhibit B: England Keep My Bones, by the talented young Brit, Frank Turner.

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Intriguing Subject: Frank Turner

| Mon Jun. 6, 2011 3:30 AM PDT

Frank Turner
England Keep My Bones
Epitaph

England Keep My Bones is Frank Turner's fourth album, and I'm surprised he's escaped my attention this long. Then again, it can take some time—even for a talented, fast-rising European artist—to catch on in the States. Turner, like the British rock icon PJ Harvey (Let England Shake), has recently turned his thoughts to his homeland. The result is an introspective-yet-accessible body of work obsessed with the country's landscape, history, and meaning as a backdrop for modern life.

Call him the love child of Billy Bragg, Bruce Springsteen, and the hard-rocker of your choosing: Turner has been kicking ass across the pond, recently vying for a "best solo artist" NME award. But who cares about all that stuff, when what you really want to know is whether his album rocks. Yes, it does. Unequivocally.

In "One Foot Before the Other," which showcases Turner's punk-rock past as front man for early-aughts hardcore band Million Dead, he fantasizes that his ashes get poured into the water supply and enter the bodies of seven million Londoners. "Rivers" is an ode to the country's waterways and their connectedness with the people. In "I Am Disappeared" (parts of which strongly reminded me of Harvey's latest) Turner sings "We are blood cells alive in the beating heart of the country." Then there's "England's Curse," his a cappella recounting of King William's dark deeds.

The Billy Bragg comparison is apt so far as it goes, particularly in folk-laden numbers like "If I Ever Stray," "Wessex Boy," and the hopeful "I Still Believe," but Turner pushes the envelope rather harder on the rock-and-roll front. He had me hooked from the very first track, "Eulogy," a short, simple, heartfelt anthem that, beyond hinting at the populist vibe and dynamic range of what's to come, made me thirsty for a pint. In short, this is music you want to share with old friends—music to drink to, think to, and feel to.

I'll leave you with the video for "I Still Believe."

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Must-See: Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit

| Mon May. 16, 2011 3:50 AM PDT

This past November, when the wonderfully talented Brit-folk troubadour Johnny Flynn told me he was set to have a baby in March with his longtime girlfriend, I sent a onesie to his London address, and resigned myself to the fact that we probably wouldn't be seeing him for quite a while.

At the time, Flynn, who is in his late twenties, was touring solo because it was too expensive to bring his band, the Sussex Wit, all the way to America, where he's still relatively unknown. So I was pleased to learn that not only was he embarking on his third tour of the States—but the full band would be in tow this time around. 

I first came across Flynn's debut album, A Larum, in the Dog Pile, the collection of books and CDs sent to the magazine from people we have never heard of, and where you can make a great discovery on occasion—like A Larum. I was pretty much smitten after listening to it twice, and Flynn's followup EP, Sweet William, and recent full-length CD, Been Listening, proved that his first effort was no fluke.

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