2013 - %3, October

Those Darlins Get Witty and Confessional on "Blur the Line"

| Mon Oct. 7, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Those Darlins
Blur the Line
Oh Dang Wow

Blur the Line

Not to be confused with the video for Robin Thicke's cheesy (if funky) hit "Blurred Lines," Nashville’s Those Darlins pursue their own brand of sleazy provocation with the cover art for Blur the Line, but the similarities end there. Despite a lineup change that turned the quartet from a three-woman, one-man group into a half-and-half enterprise, the eclectic, women-centric approach that made their previous two outings so striking continues here.

Encompassing garage-rock, low-rent country, and girl-group pop, this bracing album can veer from snarky wit to awkward confessionals and back again at the drop of a hat. "What’s the fun in having fun/Unless your brain says no?" asks the languid "Can't Think," while "Oh God," opens Blur the Line with the arresting confession, "I was a drunk girl in the shower/In yet another shit hotel," proceeding to chronicle a memorably uncomfortable encounter. For all the psychodrama, however, Those Darlins’ fizzy twang 'n' crunch guarantees an exhilarating time throughout.

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Halloween Comes Early on Agnes Obel's "Aventine"

| Mon Oct. 7, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Agnes Obel
Aventine
Play It Again Sam

Aventine

To get those spooky vibes going in advance of Halloween, check out Aventine, the sophomore effort from melancholy Dane Agnes Obel. Restrained yet melodically lush, her elegant chamber pop intertwines haunted vocals, sometimes overdubbed to heavenly choir dimensions, and moonlit, introspective piano, with spare, brooding strings underscoring the sense of downcast beauty.

Such dreamy understatement might verge on New Age blandness in lesser hands, but Obel maintains an arresting undercurrent of dread in deceptively forceful tunes like "Fuel to Fire" and "Words Are Dead." While Aventine is the perfect 2 a.m. record, its atmospheric haze will bring a little late-night mystery to any time of day.

Meet the Flute-Playing Astronaut Who Coached Sandra Bullock for "Gravity"

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Holy shit.

Those are two words you'll be thinking a lot when you watch Gravity, the new film from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, who play two NASA astronauts stranded in space after satellite debris turns their mission into harrowing hell. The visuals and drama are jaw-dropping. Director James Cameron has called it "the best space film ever done," featuring the "best space photography ever done." Bullock, who occupies most of the screen time, delivers a flooring, commanding performance. And to prepare, she sought out the advice and wisdom of one NASA astronaut: Catherine "Cady" Coleman.

Cuarón and his team didn't spend much time consulting NASA for the film. However, Bullock did reach out to Coleman, a retired US Air Force colonel and astronaut who has been at NASA for 21 years and has spent 180 days in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station. Coleman lives in Houston and commutes back and forth from her family home in Massachusetts. When she's not being launched into space, she enjoys playing music, mainly on her flute. The first time Bullock and Coleman communicated, Coleman was aboard the ISS, orbiting somewhere between 230 and 286 miles above the Earth's surface.

"It took a couple email cycles because I only got to email four times a day in space," Coleman tells Mother Jones. "After you reply, they don't get your email for another four hours." After they finally connected, the two chatted over the phone a few times about life in space and floating in microgravity. "Sandra wanted to know how we move up there, when we're still and when we're not still, what it was like in a space suit," Coleman says.

"How come we don't get to talk to Sandra Bullock?" joked the male members of her crew, including Ron Garan, who would make lighthearted comments such as, "Ah, you talked to Sandra, didn't you…Did she ask about me?"

How The US Naval Institute Gave the Late Tom Clancy His First Big Break

| Wed Oct. 2, 2013 2:36 PM EDT

Tom Clancy, the American author famous for such thrillers as The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger, died Tuesday night at the age of 66. The Baltimore-born writer passed away at the Johns Hopkins Hospital following a "brief illness."

Starting in the mid-1980s, Clancy built a one-man empire of books, film, and video games. His name has become synonymous with the spy and Cold War-era thriller genre of American popular fiction, earning him a net worth of around $300 million. His books were widely read, the movies adapted from his novels were often big hits, and his fame and ubiquity were enough for The Simpsons to feature him on the show twice (he even got to voice himself one time).

In a way, Clancy owed his great success to the United States Naval Institute. Years before The Hunt for Red October became a critically acclaimed, high-grossing film starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, it was just another manuscript in search of a publisher. This was Clancy's first novel, which he wrote in his 30s while working as an insurance salesman. After several rejections from mainstream publishing houses, the Naval Institute Press picked it up and paid Clancy a $5,000 advance in 1984. It was the first fictional work that the Institute had published, and it attracted the praise of President Ronald Reagan (one of Clancy's political heroes), who called it, "my kind of yarn." The success of this first novel propelled Clancy into the the stardom he enjoyed until his final days.

Politically, he was a hardened conservative. His earlier work was steeped in cold warrior mentality. For instance, here's a map of international alliances in his 1986 World War III novel Red Storm Rising:

Tom Clancy Red Storm Rising
ClarkK1/Wikimedia Commons

Sad Birthday Cards for Yosemite and NASA, 123 and 55 Today

| Tue Oct. 1, 2013 3:53 PM EDT

It's your party, and we'll shut it down if we want to.

That's the message congressional Republicans sent Yosemite National Park and NASA today, on their respective 123rd and 55th birthdays. 

Yosemite's special day will now include such celebratory activities as instructing all day visitors to immediately leave the park and kicking out overnight RVs and campers. Worst surprise party ever.

NASA put out a cheery graphic today celebrating its five decades of astronomic successes, from putting 12 people on the moon, four landers on Mars, and one craft in interstellar space. To honor their hard work, the government gave 97 percent of NASA staffers unpaid vacations. The space program effectively got grounded on its own birthday. Robots got the shaft too; Curiosity Rover poked at H2O molecules in Mars dust on Thursday, and got furloughed on Tuesday

Congress may be giving them the Sixteen Candles treatment, but we wanted to let Yosemite and NASA know we care.