2009 - %3, March

Coachella Shuffle: Winehouse Out, Chems In

| Tue Mar. 10, 2009 4:57 PM EDT
Oh, Amy Winehouse. No matter what sort of stupid crap you get up to, the hypnotic, neo-soul melody of "You Know I'm No Good" still haunts me, and of course I know that your actually being no good is part of the whole package, even though it makes me feel like as a consumer of your musical product I'm part of the problem, an "enabler;" but still, if you're so "no good" that you can't get a freakin' visa to come over here and perform, then that's too "no good," although it's clearly a difficult line to walk: you have to be bad enough to be scary, not bad enough to be, you know, dead, or permanently removed from society, or something, so I'm sympathetic, and also not. In simpler terms, it was announced yesterday that Winehouse was forced to cancel her appearance at the Coachella music festival in April, although spokeman Chris Goodman denied that any official visa-rejection happened, calling the problem "legal issues." He's likely talking about the assault charges the singer faces in the UK over a scuffle back in September of 2008, although I suppose it could be any combination of 80 gazillion other things: arms smuggling, baby seal torture, hastening the heat death of the universe. We know she's no good! But don't fret, Coachella-bound hipsters: will some freak-folk, electro, punk rock, and avant-hip-hop make up for Winehouse's absence? Organizers announced yesterday that longtime festival favorites the Chemical Brothers have been added to the lineup, along with beardy hippie Devendra Banhart, stoner-raver hero the Orb, oh-so-French disco-dance producer Etienne de Crecy, and they're-so-bad-they've-got-a-crime-in-their-name punk rockers Murder City Devils. Plus, the little DJ dome that I never go into because it seems like it must be stiflingly hot will play host to hip-hop boundary-pushers Flying Lotus, Kode 9, Daedelus and more. Maybe I'll stop by this time. Okay, it all sounds good; now, if we could only find a freakin' house to rent...

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Happy 50th, Barbie

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 8:22 PM EDT
I never got into Barbies. I did once babysit for a little girl who liked to pretend her Barbies were going out on dates to a restaurant called the Sweetheart Date Residence, a dining experience that always ended the same way: Barbie and Ken tried to order something awesomely romantic, like steak or spaghetti, but all the waiter would bring them was a big bowl of dirt. Which he then poured over their heads. Poor Barbie and Ken could never catch a break.

Banal though my own Barbie memories may be, the famously disproportionate plastic princess holds a special place in most ladies' hearts. Yesterday was Barbie's 50th birthday (an event NY Times op-ed contributor Porochista Khakpour excellently refers to as "cougarrific"). To mark this milestone, the Times offered not one, but (at least) two Barbie-themed bits: the aforementioned Op-Ed, "Islamic Revolution Barbie," which is actually a really nice little memoir of how the dolls didn't help the writer transition from her childhood in Iran to adolescence in the States. The best part her description of Sara and Dara, the Muslim equivalents of Barbie and Ken:

Obama: Soup Nazi...or Worse?

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 5:27 PM EDT
I think it's fair to say we're going to see some really bad editorial cartoons in the next few years. Rampaging chimpanzees that may or may not be stand-ins for President Obama are just the start. The latest attempt to lower the bar comes from Mike Lester of Rome, Georgia's News Tribune, who has spent the last few weeks in a Santelli-like state, depicting Obama as a Marxist Colonel Sanders and a redistributionist soup Nazi. Now he's gone and created this doozy:



Wow. Lester seems familiar enough with the corollaries of Godwin's Law and the New York Post episode to have avoided drawing a direct Hitler-Obama analogy. See, he drew some Nazi who doesn't even look like Hitler—maybe it's Goebbels in sunglasses! And the Donkey Supreme Leader whipping up subprime mortgage holders into a frenzy of genocidal, expansionist bloodlust? That must be Harry Reid. Besides, a pro like Lester would never intentionally compare Obama to a crazy, megalomaniac mass murderer...

...or would he? Answer after the jump.

Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Zero"

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 4:50 PM EDT


Commenters raked me over the coals last week for daring to give a lukewarm review to the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album, the electro-inflected It's Blitz, so I figured I'd make it up to them by posting the just-released video for lead single "Zero." The driving, new wave-y track is a highlight of the album, for sure, and the video is worth watching just to see Karen O get all spiffied up in her spiked gloves, plastic dress and leather jacket and then go all Chrissie Hynde on top of a car. By the way, apparently due to the wide availability of the album's early internet leak, the official digital release of It's Blitz has been moved up from April 13 to tomorrow. Other reviews, by the way, have been slightly more positive than mine: while I was kind of in the 6/10 zone, Paste gives the album 72/100, and The Observer hopes it will catapult the band into "the big leagues." I'm totally down with that.

Signs of the Econapocalypse, Part II: The Resurgence of Swing

| Sat Mar. 7, 2009 9:48 PM EST
Yesterday, Nicole McClelland pointed out that there appears to be a direct relationship between tie width and economic prosperity, as well as indications that both hemlines and lipstick sales rise when finances fall. It got me to thinking: what other cultural trends might correspond to recessions? Glancing around the iTunes Top 100, there's one recent pop music phenomenon that may be a candidate: the swing, or "shuffle" rhythm. Okay crazy, you're thinking, big band hasn't exactly taken over the pop charts. Indeed, but stay with me: I'm just talking about the meter. In swing rhythms, each beat is separated into triplets, rather than 8th or 16th notes. Most pop music falls into the latter category, but every once in a while you get a track with swing: Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2," for instance. However, recently, there has been a barrage of straight up pop hits utilizing the swing rhythm: Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," Britney Spears' "Womanizer," Pink's "So What," and the current #1 song in the U.S., Flo Rida's "Right Round," which manages to add a swing rhythm to the robotic Dead or Alive original. (Listen to these tracks below). This is in addition to alt-rock tracks by Seether and Panic at the Disco, and even a new strain of underground drum 'n' bass that uses swing time, something almost unheard of in electronic music.

The Skinny Tie Is Officially Back!

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 6:21 PM EST
Skinny Ties Yes! Thank you, econapocalypse! Photos used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr users endlessstudio, sheenabizarre, spunkinator, goldberg, and tantek.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Mick LaSalle vs. A.O. Scott on Watchmen

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 5:32 PM EST
In a world, where two movie critics, see the same movie, but form two, very, different, opinions, one review, holds the key... LaSalle: Director Zack Snyder ("300") is beginning to look like the best thing to happen to the action movie in this decade. Scott: I wouldn't say that Mr. Snyder's "Watchmen" is a good movie, though it is certainly better than the same director's "300." LaSalle: One could say that the filmmakers' strategy in "Watchmen" is to try to hold the audience's attention, not with a great story (the story is just OK), but with great scenes. Scott: If I had [Dr. Manhattan's enhanced temporal perspective], the 2 hours 40 minutes of Zack Snyder’s grim and grisly excursion into comic-book mythology might not have felt quite so interminable. LaSalle: [Snyder] had a strong advantage going into "Watchmen," an audacious adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. Scott: There are times that the filmmakers seem to have used [the original] book less as an inspiration than as a storyboard. LaSalle: Advisory: This movie contains simulated sex. Scott: “Watchmen” features this year’s hands-down winner of the bad movie sex award, superhero division: a moment of bliss that takes place on board Nite Owl’s nifty little airship, accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” LaSalle: The viewer has been infused with a sense of life on earth as chaotic and hopeless. Scott: Perhaps there is some pleasure to be found in regressing into this belligerent, adolescent state of mind. But maybe it’s better to grow up. LaSalle walks away, dejected. Fade to black.

Listen to Upcoming Sonic Youth Album (In Pieces)

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 4:43 PM EST

The legendary New York combo Sonic Youth is planning to release what appears to be their 16th studio album The Eternal on June 9—is Confusion as a Sex a full-length? Anyway, June seems like a million years away, but thankfully we've been given a little jolt of Sonic goodness to tide us over. The band has released a two-and-a-half-minute audio clip containing excerpts of tracks from the album, which, as you would expect, is both great and annoying. There are plentiful moments of shiver-inducing guitar work and eyebrow-raising lyrics (did Kim just say "anti-war is anti-orgasm"?) but I want it all, and I want it now! Actually, as Newsweek (from whence this stream comes) pointed out, the little medley is itself rather artfully composed, with the various clips rolling into each other, if not exactly smoothly, then at least interestingly. So that's something.

Your absurdly-named DJ was a mega-fan of der Yoof's last platter, 2006's scrappy, hooky Rather Ripped, an album that was both a return to form and a bold, accessible step forward. From the wee clippies in this little montage, The Eternal sounds a little edgier, with about equal time given to hectic rock-outs as strummy jams, but I can already tell it's going to be another good one. We're coming up on 30 years of fine material from this band, and still no Hall of Fame?! Goes to show.

Like I said, The Eternal is out June 9 on Matador, and if you buy early (starting April 28) you get extra goodies and a full preview stream, I guess is what Matador wants me to tell you.

One Good Thing About the Death of Newspapers

| Wed Mar. 4, 2009 1:30 PM EST
Bad thing about the death of newspapers: No more beat reporters to hold cops accountable.

Good thing: David Simon comes out of retirement to kick some ass on the streets of Baltimore.

In a recent Washington Post article, The Wire creator and former crime reporter looks into the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer. The police department says it can't reveal the cop's identity; Simon calls BS and does the digging no other reporter—or blogger—is doing. And he concludes: "Half-truths, obfuscations and apparent deceit—these are the wages of a world in which newspapers, their staffs eviscerated, no longer battle at the frontiers of public information."

Amen. Every time a beat reporter gets canned or a daily is shuttered, a public official smiles. More of Simon's conclusions about the death of accountability journalism after the jump.

New Music: The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die

| Tue Mar. 3, 2009 5:57 PM EST
Today witnesses the long-awaited return of an alternative-radio behemoth who sold millions of albums, a band that was once hailed as the"next big thing" but kind of went away, and now is releasing a new album, hoping to recapture a little of the original mojo. If you somehow missed the headline, you might have thought I was talking about Irish egoistes U2 (whose HRC-saluting No Line on the Horizon comes out today), but no, I'm speaking of The Prodigy, the UK combo that, along with The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk, broke through the grunge-rock hegemony with a crowd-pleasing brand of arena-techno in the mid-to-late '90s. However, among their "Electronica" comrades, The Prodigy is a unique concept: a one-man band with roots deep in the UK underground rave scene that became, depending on your perspective, cynical sellouts, a fun show to see in between Foo Fighters and Oasis concerts, or a brilliantly successful KLF-style theatrical art-prank. Their new album, the charmingly titled Invaders Must Die, bugs me, but I'm not sure it's terrible, and the wild mix of reviews confirms the band's slippery meaning.

On the one hand, to even the most patient fan of hardcore electronic noise (hi there!), Invaders is cartoonishly brutal. There are song titles like "Warrior's Dance" and "Run With the Wolves"—is Robert Bly a co-writer? Rolling Stone correctly identifies the album's sound as "pummeling, vacuous rave noise," and ascribes the ridiculously thumpy title track to the same empty posturing that brought us 1997's controversial "Smack My Bitch Up." They give the album 1 1/2 out of 5 stars. On the other end of the spectrum, Spin looks kindly on the band's "anthemic breakbeat spazz," acknowledging that it's "retro" but giving props to founder/producer/everything-but-dancer-and-screamer Liam Howlett's programming skills and awareness of musical history, offering 4/5 stars. Pitchfork comes right down the middle with a 5.8/10 review, calling the more sonically extreme sections of the album "lunkheaded," but hearing echoes of the band's first album, 1992's ravey, silly, and wildly enjoyable Experience.