2009 - %3, January

New (Leaked) Music: Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 2:42 PM PST

mojo-photo-tonightff.jpgOne of the first maxims of good criticism is also one of the toughest to maintain: review the work based on what it is rather than what it isn't. Sure, it sounds simple, but then you get an album like Scots Franz Ferdinand's third full-length, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and you can't help but want to flog it for not being their wry, catchy, Mercury Prize-winning 2004 debut. Do more "Matinees," dammit! Instead, the quartet have mostly abandoned the guitar-blasted riff-gasms of their past for spare, quirky disco and new wave, and if I focus really hard on ignoring their past, it's actually not so bad, I guess.

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"Peanuts" Exhibit Reveals "Hidden" Messages In Music

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 12:09 PM PST

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If you thought it wasn't possible to hold Charles Schulz's brilliant "Peanuts" comics in any higher esteem, think again. Today's NY Times describes how scholars are pointing out that the strip's references to music were anything but random. It turns out the notes displayed above Schroeder's piano often referenced actual pieces that add a level of humor:

"If you don't read music and you can't identify the music in the strips, then you lose out on some of the meaning," said William Meredith, the director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, who has studied hundreds of Beethoven-themed "Peanuts" strips. ... Mr. Schulz also mined Beethoven's life for material. He had numerous books in which he underlined details about Beethoven's love life, clothing, even his favorite recipe (macaroni with cheese).

For instance, in the strip above, with Schroder working out beforehand, the notes pictured are the opening bars of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata (Op. 106), known for its extraordinary difficulty. All this is part of an exhibit, "Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse," at the cartoonist's eponymous museum in Santa Rosa, where you can learn such details as the fact that Schulz's favorite composer was in fact Brahms, but he just thought the name Beethoven looked funnier on the page. He was totally right.

Playmobil Airport Security Set

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 11:57 AM PST

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Let's play TSA!

Patriotic, sure—note the passenger's jaunty reds, whites, and blues. But authentic?

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger's shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger's scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said "that's the worst security ever!".

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

Obama Inauguration Concert to Include U2, Beyonce, Springsteen, Many, Many, Many More

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 12:40 PM PST

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The Washington Post has the full lineup for this Sunday's Obama inaugural celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and it's something, alright. Take a deep breath for the alphabetical list: Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, John Mellencamp, Usher, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, U2, will.i.am and Stevie Wonder. Whew. Legend and Brooks aren't really up my alley, but you know, this isn't a bad concert, even without Please-Can't-You-Just-Be-President-Right-Now Obama dropping by. Of course, they had to give it a terrible name: "We Are One." Blergh! The first time I glanced at this story, I read it as "We Are the World" and just about had a heart attack. As long as they don't have a "We Are One" theme song, we should be okay. The 90-minute concert will be broadcast on HBO, except it'll be some sort of free version of HBO that will, I guess, just show up on our TVs somehow. Hooray, new president, but this better not interfere with the Flight of the Conchords premiere.

If that unintentional tribute to The Lion King is too mainstream for you, the Beastie Boys will headline a concert at D.C.'s 9:30 club on Sunday, except theirs has an even worse name: "Hey, America Feels Kinda Cool Again." Well, it felt cool, until you guys said that. Sheryl Crow will be slumming over there as well after her We Are One appearance, along with Citizen Cope. Scheduled for January 19 is Jay-Z, who will perform at the 2,000-capacity Warner Theater. Actual inaugural balls on January 20 abound, including an "Urban Ball" hosted by Ludacris and Big Boi and featuring David Banner, Lil Jon and more; a Legends Ball with Chaka Khan and George Clinton; and an MTV "Be the Change" party [edit: whoops, that was cancelled]. Plus there's the Party Ben We Are Watching It All From the Couch event, which promises to be very exclusive.

Did Dick Cheney Ghostwrite This Season of 24? (Spoilers)

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 11:42 AM PST

Much has already been written about Fox's 24 and its role in mainstreaming the use of torture. (The show's protagonist, Jack Bauer, is a frequent and effective torturer.) But the seventh season of the show, which premiered Sunday, seems to be turning away from the incidental normalization of torture (in which torture was shown to be necessary and effective but was rarely discussed) and is now instead making an explicit argument for the use of torture. I won't spoil much about the two-episode premier by telling you that Jack Bauer was called before a Senate hearing to account for his "crimes," but was conveniently pulled away at the last minute because of a pressing national security matter. Kevin Drum also watched on Sunday. He writes:

[I]t's obvious that the show is going to deal head on with the subject of torture this season... Is there any way for this end other than badly? After all, here in the blogosphere we opponents of torture like to argue that we don't live in the world of 24, guys. And we don't. But Jack Bauer, needless to say, does live in the world of 24. And in that world, there are well-heeled terrorists around every corner, ticking time bombs aplenty, and torture routinely saves thousands of lives. What are the odds that it won't do so again this season — except this time after lots of talk about the rule of law blah blah liberals blah blah it's your call blah blah? Pretty low, I'd guess. Hopefully the writers will surprise me.

After watching the third and fourth episodes of the season on Monday night, I'd be pretty surprised if Kevin is surprised by the writers. Over at Kevin's blog (where there's a great discussion going on in the comments), commenter Cuttle gets it exactly right, and is worth quoting at length:

Rumored for Coachella: Britney Spears?

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 12:38 PM PST

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The lineup for America's premier music festival has generally been announced towards the end of January, and so right about now, speculation, rumors, and blog insanity is reaching a fever pitch. I've been feeding the flames myself, posting the first fake flyer (complete with dream headliners Daft Punk, the White Stripes and David Bowie) back in December (along with some early whispers) but now somewhat-journalistically-reputable blog LAist has posted a list of "confirmed" and "rumored" artists, and they snuck in one head-slapper: right there between Blur and the Comedians of Comedy, it's Britney Spears. Da-wha? Turns out, as Idolator discovered, Brit-Brit (blargh!) has dates confirmed in the LA area Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights, and the Coachella venue in Indio is only a few hours' drive (or a quick helicopter ride) away. Madonna was one thing, but does anybody actually like Britney Spears' music? And, more importantly, will she bring tour openers (and possibly the worst musical act in America today) The Pussycat Dolls with her?

After the jump, the LAist confirmed and rumored lists.

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Slumdog Millionaire: Oscar Favorite or Oscar Lock?

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 12:04 PM PST

mojo-photo-slumdog.jpgLast night's Golden Globes ceremony was, as Vulture put it, "astonishingly not-bad," with multiple surprise winners and cheeky speeches (see some of those after the jump). Hollywood bad boys Mickey Rourke and Colin Farrell got Best Actor nods, which you have to celebrate if only for the "holy crap what will they say on stage" anticipation, and every 30 Rock win brought us a hilarious acceptance speech. But the most inspiring moments of the night came with the non-stop cavalacade of wins for rags-to-riches drama Slumdog Millionaire, which grabbed four awards including best dramatic picture. Other heavily-favored and multiple-nominee pics including Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon came away empty-handed, but the unabashed joy of the Slumdog team at every win made it impossible not to root for them. Plus, there's the fact that the film's success has "virtually the entire Desi population on the planet energized," as MTV News put it. Slumdog's wins also seem like a long-overdue nod to Bollywood, despite the fact that the flim has about as much to do with Bollywood tradition as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon did with martial arts movies. So is there anything to stop Slumdog from winning the best picture Oscar?

Golden Globe best picture winners have been Oscar predictors only about 2/3 of the time—last year's dramatic picture winner, No Country for Old Men, lost the Oscar to Atonement, and the comedy/musical winner, Sweeney Todd, wasn't even nominated. But this year, Slumdog Millionaire has been racking up awards with increasing momentum, and, as Associated Content put it, the competition is dropping like flies:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was the original favorite, but has lost a lot of ground due to Slumdog Millionaire's rise and some very mixed reviews. Milk may be a sleeper, but most expect that homophobes in the Academy will stop it from winning, like they supposedly did for Brokeback Mountain. Films like Frost/Nixon and Doubt are not regarded as serious threats to win, while The Dark Knight is just trying to get in, and countless other contenders have fallen off the map this Oscar season.

Homophobes aside, even San Franciscans are starting to acknowledge that our hometown favorite may not be quite Oscar-caliber. Amazingly, Slumdog hasn't even opened yet in India, and success there could make denying the top prize to what the Wall Street Journal called "the film world's first globalized masterpiece" next to impossible.

Oscar nominations come out January 22. After the jump: appearances from Sacha Baron Cohen, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, and Slumdog's best dramatic picture win.

Wrecking ReadyMade in One Easy Step?

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 12:55 AM PST

readymade.jpgMore sad news from the publishing bloodbath: ReadyMade is packing its repurposed-pocket lint-bags and heading to Iowa. The Berkeley-based hipster D.I.Y. magazine is one of the most creative reads to come out of the independent magazine scene; it has a can-do cool that inspires even those readers who don't think of themselves as all that crafty. In 2006, it was acquired by the Meredith Corporation, the Des Moines-based publisher of vanilla standards like Ladies' Home Journal and Family Circle. Now, as part of a round of corporate apron string-tightening, Meredith has decided to "relocate" the magazine's art and edit departments to Des Moines. The move, says a company spokesman, will allow RM to "take advantage of the assets we have in Des Moines, like the photo studio and the test kitchen." Because, you know, it's hard to find those in the Bay Area.

The Midwest move may look great on a balance sheet, but it's hard to imagine it doing any favors for RM and its readers. Not that there might not be lots of craftiness in the Hawkeye State (corn-husk coffee tables, perhaps?) but I'd guess that this means the magazine's going to lose most of its core creative team along with its sense of place. It's painful to see yet another instance of a media corporation taking a successful publication and shortsightedly messing with the very secret of its success. (The magazine has clearly been doing something right: Founder and editor Shoshana Berger recently said that it has tripled its readership.) Here's hoping that the old ReadyMade survives its makeover.

Spider-Man Vs. Obama: This is Gonna Be Lame

| Fri Jan. 9, 2009 5:45 PM PST

obama_spidey300.jpgMarvel Comics has announced that it's cashing in on—excuse me, commemorating—a "Brand New Day for the United States" by sticking Barack Obama into its next issue of Spider-Man. The story, set on Inauguration Day, "finds one of Spider-Man's oldest foes attempting to thwart the swearing in ceremony of the 44th President of the United States." Wait, Spider-Man has done battle with these kooks? Actually, the baddie is the Chameleon, which I think is one of Dick Cheney's aliases.

Nothing good can come from superheroes meddling in politics. Last year, DC Comics released a series of election-themed comics. Our in-house comic collector-slash-webmaster lent me his copies and, wow, were they bad. So my spidey senses are tingling with something less than anticipation about the Webslinger going to Washington. From the online previews, it looks like the episode's highlight is Spidey doing a terrorist fist-jab with some black guy in a suit. Seriously, if Marvel's going to suck up to the president, it could have at least found an artist who can draw a reasonable likeness of him. Or wait—maybe that's really Cheney before he rips off his cheap Obama mask and reveals himself?

Top 5: Peter Bjorn & John Get Bouncy, A Slumdog Standout, and More

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 2:23 PM PST

We've been rather dry around the Riff lately (D.R.M.! TV News!) so I think it's time to get back to basics: New Tunes That Are Good. This week, a Swedish stomper, Texas tempos, a Slumdog standout, Bogota boogie, and, er, Scottish self-hatred.

1. Peter Bjorn & John - "Nothing to Worry About" (from Living Thing, out March 31)

Kanye could barely contain his enthusiasm, and neither can I. If you thought PB&J were only about shuffly, twee little ditties, get ready to have your mind blown by this stompy, shouty number. A bunch of kids scream the chorus while a wobbly guitar noodles over the beat from "Lip Gloss." What's not to like? (mp3)

2. Aether - "Orfeu Negro" (from Artifacts, out now on Exponential)

Aether is San Antonio producer (and graphic designer) Diego Chavez, and if you go look at some of his pretty pictures on his MySpace page whilst listening to this groovy number from his new album, you may notice some similarities: both his music and art are experimental but warm, detailed but instantly catchy, undeniably new but with a delicate retro patina.