2012 - %3, April

Screaming Females Get Ugly

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 3:00 PM EDT

The New Jersey punk band Screaming Females got its start in 2005, playing underground house shows and the all-ages venues in its hometown of New Brunswick. The band gradually built a rep for energetic live shows and a distinctive sound, and have since played more than 700 self-booked shows, including tours with the likes of the Dead Weather, Dinosaur Jr., Titus Andronicus, and Ted Leo. The trio consists of bassist "King Mike" Abbate, drummer Jarrett Dougherty, and front woman Marissa Paternoster, who plays guitar. "A lot of people take our band name literally, which is kind of funny because I don't know if that really happens to most bands," says Paternoster. "Like, when people talk about Echo and the Bunnymen do they get ticked off because when they go to the show there's no half-man-half-rabbit playing on the stage?"

They're not particularly scream-y, either: The musicians have an ear for melody, and Paternoster unleashes her shrieks judiciously as part of an expressive style that builds off throaty alt-rock vocals with a clear, ringing vibrato and guttural yowls. Screaming Females fifth album, Ugly, released earlier this month on Don Giovanni Records, represents a continuation of their slow but steady growth. "Every time we put out a record, more and more people pay attention," says drummer Dougherty.

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Jack White Goes It Alone (Kinda)

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 6:05 AM EDT
Jack White

In 2011, the White Stripes called it quits. "It was necessary to announce that the White Stripes didn't exist anymore for me to really put myself out there as a solo artist," frontman Jack White told Rolling Stone.

By then, White had carved a niche for himself as an artist in his own right, making the rounds between two high-octane rock n' roll bands, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, and at last founding a brick-and-mortar outfit for his eight-year-old private label, Third Man Records, in Nashville. But he hadn't yet done the thing one would most naturally predict from a solo artist: a solo project.

That changed last Tuesday with the release of Blunderbuss, White's "debut" album as a solo artist. It's a wild-eyed, lushly orchestrated work that tends to showcase White's ear as a songwriter over his hand as a guitarist. Both talents were on display Friday night as White and his vast and fluid retinue of backing musicians played New York City's Webster Hall.

The small, dim space was sold out to a crowd of black-leather-jacketed punk rockers, moms with cargo pants tucked into combat boots, greasy hippies, and a healthy contingent of clean-cut white kids who looked to have walked off the set of Girls. Photographers circulated with Polaroid cameras, leaving behind a wake of happy couples shaking negatives. Whispers (unconfirmed) circulated that Jim Carrey was quaffing champagne on the balcony. The show was broadcast live on YouTube; one might not have noticed but for a moment just before the first set when a screen descended and played a Jack White music video, presumably being watched simultaneously by eyes from Tulsa to Tokyo, for which, in a bizarrely meta twenty-first century moment, we all clapped.

Opening the show were The Black Belles, a Third Man Records-produced trio of white-faced, black-lipsticked femmes fatales who looked like they ditched out on Slytherin Quidditch practice to ride down to the Lower East Side on broomsticks, smoking cigarettes and blasting the Sex Pistols. Their set left behind a vague scent of premature Halloween. This was compounded by the stage hands, who drifted about in a fog of dry ice and sported porkpie hats and prodigious beards, as if the fresh ghost of Levon Helm were keeping watch in the wings. 

Video Exclusive: Ani DiFranco's "Which Side Are You On?"

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Ani DiFranco

"Which Side Are You On," the haunting 1931 labor classic by Florence Reece, the wife of a union organizer, has been covered by Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, Natalie Merchant, and Dropkick Murphys, to name just a few. In January, with the release of her album of the same title, the inimitable Ani DiFranco added her name to the list. Actually, it's always been pretty damn clear which side DiFranco is on. (In this 1999 interview, we spoke at some length about her collaboration with labor organizer and rabble-rousing storyteller Utah Phillips.) DiFranco's reworked version updates Reece's sparse union-versus-management call to action to focus on the contemporary political machine. This exclusive video below, seen here for the first time, combines DiFranco's update with a montage of images submitted by her fans who were inspired by the song—you can find plenty more here. You can also download a free MP3 of the song here. And if this makes you want to hit the barricades, well, it just so happens that the Occupy and labor movements have big plans for tomorrow, so check back, because we'll be covering the protests as they happen.

Click here for more music coverage from Mother Jones.

Merrill Garbus, Meet Buster Keaton

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Going into a screening of Buster Keaton shorts to music by Merrill Garbus, the force behind tUnE-yArDs, I had no idea what to expect—but was willing to buy a ticket for anything Garbus did. By the time it was over, I was ready to sign up as a roadie. The pairing of tUnE-yArDs, Keaton, and avant-garde guitarist Ava Mendoza was inspired: Garbus' eclectic, playfully physical music made for the perfect soundtrack to shorts full of pratfalls and zany stunts. And since tUnE-yArDs builds traditionally structured songs out of strange noises and sounds, it's perfect for backing a film: soundtrack and sound effects all at once.

Though some of the show's initial appeal came from the novelty of the dissonance between old movies and new music, the latter in some ways made for a more authentic experience: the original soundtrack to these types of films consisted largely of ragtime and jazz, which to modern audiences is familiar and old-timey, but at the time was viewed as strange, avant-garde, even dangerous. These are films meant to be paired with contemporary music, not classics.

Film Review: "Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth"

| Sat Apr. 28, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
Zeitgeist Films
82 minutes

Jennifer Baichwal's new documentary, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, is all about debt, but it won't help you consolidate credit card payments or pay off student loans. The film is an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's book-length essay of the same name, which is itself an adaption of a series of lectures.

Atwood focused on rethinking the concept of debt, meandering through classic stories from the Orestes to Michael Corleone, accumulating trivia along the way. Ancient Aramaic uses the same word for both debt and sin; when Genghis Khan ransacked cities, he spared the scribes so they could track of the empire's debits and credits; an old Welsh custom allowed the poor to "eat the sin" of the recently deceased, taking on spiritual liabilities in exchange for food or cash. Stockpiling these anecdotes is not unpleasant, but it is slow going.

Baichwal's film is more entertaining. Atwood makes several appearances reading from her work, but instead of floating freely, the writer's ideas are anchored to actual people, and used to frame four stories of debt and payback. None of them are purely financial.

First come two Albanian families locked in a blood feud. One man moved a fence, the other hit a pregnant woman who defended the new fence, the first man shot the second man as revenge. The man survived, but the shooter's punishment is that he and his family can never leave their home—if they do, the other family can kill them. Imprisoned in their home for seven years, the debtor family has nothing to do but hang around their house bony and hopeless while their father plays a guitar and wails songs about forgiveness. The "creditor" has a leather jacket and constant sneer. His vindictive delight makes the punishment seem too harsh, even when he shows his gunshot scars. Whenever he appears you have to suppress the urge to shout at the screen, "Get over it already!"

"Safe": The Dumbest Critique of Extrajudicial Killing Ever Made

| Fri Apr. 27, 2012 5:40 AM EDT
"If you skirt due process, I will come for you."

Safe
Lionsgate
95 minutes

Trying to decipher the myriad plot twists of Safe is a lot like attempting to eat your own head: You won't be able to do it, and passersby will point and laugh if you try. The new movie is the latest entry into the Jason-Statham-attacking-everything-that-moves subgenre. But unlike most of the other brainless fare to which the actor has lent his considerable thew, this film seems hell-bent on pummeling the audience with confusion.

The premise of Safe is, on its surface, straight and clean: Statham stars as Luke Wright, an ex-NYPD superstar who, on a whim, rescues a precocious 12-year-old Chinese girl he's never met before. Since the child is being chased by Russian mobsters, Triad gangsters, and crooked cops through the mean streets of Brooklyn, Wright's act of spontaneous altruism commences a citywide mad-dash of headshots and roundhouse kicks. The stage appears set for a by-the-numbers, harmless thriller in which we get to sit back and watch Jason Statham kick the shit out of nameless, unsympathetic henchmen.

If only writer-director Boaz Yakin had been content to stick with the formula. Instead, the film devolves into a needlessly complicated and bizarrely recounted story that ties together organized crime, New York politics, the War on Terror, human trafficking, and covert extrajudicial hit-jobs into one long stretch of garbled dialogue. By the time the credits roll, it's exceedingly difficult to remember who blackmailed whom, which criminals were in bed with which government officials, and who exacted revenge upon whom. What it all boils down to is that greedy CIA agents control everything in New York City, from the elite police squads to the mayor's mansion.

Out of his bungled script, Boaz Yakin did manage to set one new standard: He created the shallowest, sloppiest, most incoherent critique of American power that has ever emerged from Statham-based cinema. The final product looks something like what you'd get if you merged The Trials of Henry Kissinger with Tony Scott's Domino.

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Peasant's Bound for Glory

| Mon Apr. 23, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Peasant
Bound for Glory
Schnitzel Records

Damien DeRose, the 25-year-old at the heart of the indie trio Peasant, started making music as a teenager living in small-town Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He produced his first three albums—Fear Not Distant Lover, On the Ground, and Shady Retreat—largely on his own before bringing in bassist Bruno Joseph and drummer Alex Bortnichak for a more robust sound on the just-released Bound for Glory.

DeRose's delicate acoustic songs have earned him frequent comparisons to the likes of Elliott Smith and Nick Drake, but he's tried to distinguish himself from the continuous stream of indie-folk types. He told Paste he chose the Peasant moniker in an attempt to escape the ubiquitous "singer-songwriter" label, hoping that a more distinctive name would help him define his work as part of an ongoing artistic project. The name itself, he said, came from the famous line in John Lennon's "Working Class Hero"—"But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see"—a choice he thinks makes a subtle statement about inequality in America while simultaneously conveying the band's simple aesthetic.

So does Peasant succeed in standing out from the pack? It depends: the band's music occasionally borders on the forgettably twee, as on the cloying "A Little One," while a couple of songs, like "Gone Far Lost" and "Mother Mary," cross the line from sleepy charm to soporific lull. Other songs are captivating despite modest ambitions: "Amends" is slight, but DeRoses's lilting vocals, in tandem with effervescent guitars, give it a quiet charm; likewise for the quavering vocals and sprightly cadence of "Take It Light."

Justice Takes Electronica Mainstream

| Mon Apr. 23, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Justice performing at Coachella.

The opening act had hardly vacated the stage when the T-shirts in the lobby began selling out. Excited chatter filled the halls of Oakland's Fox Theater with a static noise as neon-and-Chuck-Taylor-clad fans flocked to the merch stand, leaning over the table waving dollar bills, wanting so badly to bear the cross logo of the headlining act, Justice.

Lately, the dynamic French electronica duo, which consists of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, has become synonymous with the new age of electronica, wherein playful and infectious dance-disco beats are to be taken in with the sobriety and attitude of heavy metal. "They go straight for the jugular," Rolling Stone wrote of the group.

Justice first splashed onto the Parisian electronic scene in 2003 with a remix of Simian's "We Are Your Friends" and since risen to fame, mixing for bigwigs like Britney Spears, N.E.R.D., Fatboy Slim, and Franz Ferdinand. The pair's first full-length album, 2008's Cross, drew accolades from within the genre and without. The album's biggest hit, "D.A.N.C.E."—a disco track overflowing with pop references—is still ubiquitous, and its colorful video—which combines live action with animation—earned nominations at the Grammys and MTV Video Music Awards. For electronica fans, Justice's success represents something bigger: the mainstreaming of what was once considered a niche club genre.

"Daft Punk was the first to merge guitar sounds with electronica and they sort of follow in that path, which is fun to watch," one Justice fan dressed ironically in an air traffic controller vest told me moments before the show. "They also have amazing showmanship."

From the depths of the pit, it was hard to tell whether we were at a concert or the scene of a Christian revival.

Justice was touring their sophomore album, Audio, Video, Disco., appearing in Oakland before an unlikely mix of rock and electronica fans—young and old, die-hard or simply curious. The anticipation swelled right up to the  moment the pair appeared at center stage behind their altar-like DJ booth (note the large fluorescent cross) wedged between walls of Marshall stacks. In greeting, Augé and de Rosnay looked into the crowd and raised their left hands, standing still as a sample of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" burst forth from the speakers. The crowd roared.

With that, Justice launched into a 90-minute set, starting with the hyperenergetic "Genesis." From the depths of the pit, it was hard to tell whether we were at a concert or the scene of a Christian revival. (Indeed, the duo is coy about their intentions vis-à-vis religion.) Exactly what Augé and de Rosnay's were doing up there wasn't visible—the towering set engulfed their comparatively diminutive frames. But the crowd bought into it, pounding their palms against an invisible wall, without a hint of skepticism. Occasionally, when the steady beats and synthesized power chords grew faster, louder, Auge simply raised his pointer finger in the air, signaling the coming of a new track, or a big climax, and the crowd flailed more wildly, like participants at a collective exorcism.

"It's like a dream come true to see this in such a small environment, and be up close to Justice, like, this is like the god of electronic music," said a worshipful fan named Spencer.

Review: "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," by Waco Brothers and Paul Burch

| Mon Apr. 23, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

TRACK 11

"Hard Rain's Gonna Fall"

From Waco Brothers and Paul Burch's Great Chicago Fire

BLOODSHOT

Liner notes: Worlds collide with a bang on this wonderfully scruffy version of the Dylan chestnut, which nicks the bluesy arrangement of the David Bowie classic "The Jean Genie."

Behind the music: This alt-country dream team pairs Chicago's raucous Waco Brothers, helmed by UK punk pioneer Jon Langford (of the Mekons), with the gentler singer-songwriter Paul Burch, who's worked with everyone from Ralph Stanley to Vic Chesnutt to Exene Cervenka.

Check it out if you like: Those Darlins, Bobby Bare Jr., and other mischievous traditionalists.

 

The "Veep" Vision of Government: Everyone's a Douchey Incompetent

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 12:38 PM EDT

Veep is The West Wing remade as burlesque—wildly funny, mean-spirited burlesque.

The new series, which premieres Sunday, April 22 at 10:00 p.m. EST on HBO, follows Vice President Selina Meyer (played by a tightly wound Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff as they attempt to survive the tedium and intense disloyalty of the DC landscape. Meyer is constantly under siege from special interests and aging senators, all of whom are ready to crucify her at the first hint of a faux pas. Though the show doesn't specify her political allegiance, she operates like a centrist Democrat. During the series' first three episodes, her world is dominated by two pet causes: ramming a filibuster reform bill through Congress and assembling a "clean jobs task force."

The show's dark humor is in documenting the unglamorous and uncivilized path the VP has to travel in order to cobble together some semblance of progress. After Meyer pledges to replace plastic utensils with corn-starch utensils in "most federal buildings by the fall" as part of her green initiative, she incurs the wrath of the all-powerful plastics lobby, which is naturally a powerful offshoot of the oil lobby. ("The utensils are politicized," an aide whispers in panic.) As her team scrambles for damage control, a senator reminds the VP not to "fuck with oil" because "they fuck in a very unpleasant fashion." Suddenly Meyer is on the prowl for an oil lobbyist to install on her enviro task force, and with that, the series French-kisses civic idealism goodbye.

Veep gets Washington right in the same way Scrubs got medical professionals right: It doesn't really, but then again, it really does.