Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael has been a senior editor at MoJo for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of alt-weeklies, newspapers, and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, four chickens, striped cat, and too many musical instruments to master.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

Michael has been a senior editor at MoJo for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of alt-weeklies, newspapers, and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He originally 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 tropical frog poisons. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a masters in journalism from Cal. In 2009, he was named a finalist for a National Magazine Award for his contribution to MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. (His contribution, "Voluntary Confinement," involved a reality TV show that held contestants in isolation.) He also won a 2014 Society for Professional Journalists award for "It Was Kind of Like Slavery," a photoessay he wrote with photographer Nina Berman. Michael lives with his family in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and punk-rock drumming, he now sits on his front porch and tries to play the fiddle.

Intriguing Subject: Frank Turner

| Mon Jun. 6, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Sondre Lerche: An Auditory Antidote

| Mon Jun. 6, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

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.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

 

Must-See: Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit

| Mon May 16, 2011 6:50 AM EDT

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.

Does Energy Efficiency Matter?

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 7:00 AM EDT

It's a reversal of the old fallacy, "spend more and you'll save more." When it comes to household energy use, we're saving more and then using our savings to buy more stuff. At least that's one way to interpret the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration's Residential Energy Consumption Survey.  

Since 1978, household appliances have gotten way better. Most notablly, heating used to account for 66 percent of our collective residential energy use. Nowadays, thanks to cleaner-burning furnaces and energy-efficient construction and window design, that number is closer to 40 percent. Not only that, the total energy devoted to heating houses has dropped by 38 percent, even though we have 45 percent more houses to heat. Hey, impressive!

Yeeeeah, but the thing is, we're now buying so many of these very-efficient appliances that we suck up as much power as we used to. In other words, we're channeling all that efficiency into better lifestyles. Behold some EIA stats...

  • The number of US households grew by 34.5 million from 1978 to 2009
  • The share of households with central air conditioning nearly tripled, from 23 percent in 1978 to 61 percent in 2009
  • The share of households with clothes washers increased from 74 percent to 82 percent
  • The share of households with dishwashers increased from 35 percent to 59 percent

Here's a chart illustrating the trend. (Being a clunky government agency, the EIA is still using 2005 data, but it's close enough.)

Not that I would begrudge anyone a washer. But unless you've been living in a Faraday cage for the past decade, you're aware that rechargable gadgets and big-screen TVs have proliferated as well—and I might actually begrudge you a few of those. The EIA breaks it down...

  • In 1978, personal computers were expensive and not typically used by US households. In 2009, 76 percent of US homes had at least one computer, eight percentage points more than just four years prior, and 35 percent had multiple computers.
  • In 1978, most households had only one television. In 2009, the average household had 2.5 televisions. Over 45 percent of homes have at least one television with a screen size of 37 inches or larger. Screen size and average energy consumption per television have continued to grow over time.
  • DVD players and Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), which did not exist 15 years ago, are now widespread. As of 2009, 79 percent of homes had a DVD player, and 43 percent had a DVR. Nearly a third of all households also had at least four electronic devices, such as cell phones, plugged in and charging at home.

Hey, I want five-plus televisions, too! (One for the cat!) Now children, don't forget to tweet this item from your smartphones as you stream The Social Network via your Wii consoles to your personal Sony wide-screens.

Sat Apr. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Fri Nov. 14, 2014 6:30 AM EST
Wed Sep. 17, 2014 5:30 AM EDT
Mon Apr. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 10, 2014 7:00 AM EST
Thu Jan. 24, 2013 7:06 AM EST
Mon Dec. 31, 2012 3:22 PM EST
Fri Dec. 14, 2012 11:03 PM EST
Fri Nov. 16, 2012 4:56 PM EST
Thu Nov. 1, 2012 4:31 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 27, 2012 2:07 PM EDT
Thu Mar. 22, 2012 3:05 PM EDT
Tue Mar. 20, 2012 6:30 AM EDT
Mon Mar. 19, 2012 2:02 PM EDT
Mon Feb. 27, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Mon Dec. 5, 2011 6:00 AM EST
Thu Dec. 1, 2011 7:30 PM EST
Tue Nov. 22, 2011 6:10 PM EST
Fri Oct. 21, 2011 6:30 AM EDT