Mixed Media

Aztec Camera's First Album: So Good, It's Hard to Believe a Teenager Wrote It

| Mon Feb. 10, 2014 4:00 AM PST

Aztec Camera
High Land, Hard Rain
Domino

It's hard to believe Scotland's Roddy Frame was a teenager when he released the first Aztec Camera album three decades ago. The bittersweet yet buoyant acoustic pop of the immensely appealing High Land, Hard Rain feels like the testimony of a well-traveled soul, mixing remarkably cliché-free tales of romantic travail with catchy, deceptively sophisticated melodies.

Frame's restraint may be the most impressive thing about this luminous work: Radiant, big-hearted tunes like "Oblivious" and "Walk Out to Winter" could easily be repurposed as sprawling mass-appeal (i.e., cheesy) epics, but his thoughtful attention to detail produces more-believable vignettes that cut deep. This reissue augments the original 10-track album with a bonus disc of 16 rarities—extra songs, live versions, and remixes—none of them essential, but all worth hearing.

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The Darkside of Electronic-Music Producer Nicolas Jaar

| Mon Feb. 10, 2014 4:00 AM PST
Nicolas Jaar, left, and Dave Harrington are Darkside.

When I called up electronic-music producer Nicolas Jaar, the 24-year-old wunderkind was walking the streets of New York—briskly, judging by the pace of his breathing. He rapped ecstatic about his new project, Darkside, a collaboration with his old Brown classmate Dave Harrington. The two of them are touring now to showcase their debut album, Psychic—the shows in Paris and Berlin have already sold out months in advance.

Jaar says Psychic is the antithesis of his first album, Space is Only Noise, which he calls a "pure" and "ethereal" effort to "imbue a lot of love and honesty into my music that I felt was lacking around me." So what happened after that idealistic and critically praised project that made him feel compelled to compose its antithesis?

"Snow is not always white," he replies, deploying the first of several such metaphors he used during our conversation—New York had just been hit by snowstorm Hercules. "It's really dirty in New York right now and it looks like shit." That's part of what Psychic is about: "The dark side of all these idealistic ideas is that they have to be sold," he says. "And as much love as you try to put into something, it instantly goes into the chain of capitalism, and that's just kind of gross. It's kind of dirty. It's the same thing as the snow, right?"

"The Lego Movie" Is Actually a Satire

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 5:39 PM PST

On Thursday, New York mag critic Bilge Ebiri praised The Lego Movie as, "the best action flick in years, a hilarious satire, [and] an inquiry into the mind of God." And it isn't over-the-top praise—it accurately reflects the overwhelmingly positive critical response to the computer-animated comedy, released on Friday.

The film, which is based on—and pays loving tribute to—Lego toys, was co-written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the pair who directed the fantastic 21 Jump Street reboot and its upcoming sequel. The Lego Movie takes place mostly in a city in a Lego universe. A construction worker Lego named Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) must save the Lego realms from imminent destruction and coerced conformity. His comrades are a mysterious female Lego warrior named Wyldstyle; a wizard; a "Unikitty," which is a unicorn-animé kitten hybrid; a pirate called Metalbeard; Lego Batman; and many more goofy and heroic Lego characters.

The simple tale is loaded with gleeful pop-culture references and great voice-acting (everyone is in this movie, by the way, from Morgan Freeman and Jonah Hill to Cobie Smulders and Alison Brie). But what makes The Lego Movie even more accessible for viewers above the age of six is the fact that the film is full of political and social satire. The villain is President/Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who presides over a totalitarian surveillance state. President Business' regime creates virtually everything in the Lego society—generic pop music, lousy TV comedy, cameras, rigged voting machines, you name it. The dictator/CEO uses extended televised broadcasts to inform his citizens (with a friendly grin on his face) that they'll be executed if they disobey. He controls a secret police led by Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), who is charged with torturing dissidents and rebels.

President Business is the Lego Ceaușescu, if you swap the communism for capitalism.

Some of this sounds pretty heavy, but it's all filtered through the soft, giddy lens of a kids' movie. Like all other entries into the "kids' movies that their parents can dig, too!" subgenre of cinema, it's this thinly-disguised maturity that makes the film both fun and winkingly smart.

UPDATE, February 8, 2014, 12:39 a.m. EST: I missed this earlier, but on Friday, Fox personalities went after The Lego Movie for its allegedly "anti-business" and anti-capitalist message. One says President Business looks a bit like Mitt Romney. Another starts defending Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life (which is just an act of life imitating parody).

This is weird, but not all that different from the Fox reaction to The Muppets and The Lorax. Watch below:

 

UPDATE 2, February 8, 2014, 4:04 p.m. EST: I asked the Lego Movie directors what they thought of the reaction on Fox Business to their film. Phil Lord got back to me via Twitter:

art deserves many interpretations, even wrong ones

 

Now, check out this trailer for The Lego Movie:

How Conservative Brits Tried to Use the Beatles to Win Elections

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 3:27 PM PST
The Beatles arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport on February 7, 1964.

February 9 marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. It was one of the opening salvos of the British Invasion of the mid-1960s, and the broadcast drew 73 million viewers. It is consistently hailed as one of the most influential and biggest (if not the biggest ever) televised moments for rock n' roll and popular music.

"The Beatles are delightful," Sullivan said shortly after the performance. "They are the nicest boys I've ever met."

You can watch their 1964 Ed Sullivan performance of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (along with some other gigs) below, via Rolling Stone:

Many tributes and commemorative packages have been prepared for the anniversary. On Sunday, CBS will air a special all-star salute, featuring Stevie WonderGary Clark, Jr., Katy Perry, and ex-Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, among others. The Ed Sullivan appearance was just one of many indicators of The Beatles' immense popularity and influence. Concert promoters, cultural observers, and screaming teenage girls weren't the only ones who understood this—British politicians did, too, and they weren't shy about trying to exploit Beatlemania for electoral gain.

8 Badass Photos From the Real-Life "Monuments Men"—Who Saved Art and Treasure From the Nazis

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 7:42 AM PST

On Friday, George Clooney's new film, The Monuments Men, hits theaters. It's based on the true story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program (whose men and women were known as "Monuments Men") established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 to help rescue art and cultural property from obliteration during World War II. The Monuments Men included servicemembers and art historians who aided in tracking down, identifying, and returning priceless works of art stolen by Hitler's forces.

Here's an example of their heroic efforts being used during the Nuremberg Trials as evidence of the Nazi's large-scale looting of cultural treasures:

Before you decide whether or not to see Clooney's film (which also stars Matt Damon, Bill MurrayCate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin), here are some badass photos of the real-life Monuments Men and other members of the US armed forces as they uncovered hidden and stolen art and treasure:

 

1.

Monuments Men
MFAA officer James Rorimer (who inspired Damon's character) supervises American soldiers recovering paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

 

2.

Monuments Men
In a cellar in Frankfurt, Germany, Chaplain Samuel Blinder examines Saphor Torahs (Sacred Scrolls) stolen from across Europe. National Archives

 

3.

Monuments Men art
Loot found at a church in the German town of Ellingen. National Archives

 

4.

Monuments Men
  Master Sergeant Harold Maus of Scranton, PA, checks out an Albrecht Dürer engraving uncovered at the Merkers salt mine. National Archives

 

5.

Monuments Men
General Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects art stolen by the Nazis. General Omar N. Bradley and Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. are also pictured.  National Archives

 

6.

Monuments Men
Officials inspecting and posing with a Goya painting at Le Grand-Lucé in France. National Gallery of Art

 

7.

Monuments Men gold
  Gold and art uncovered by the US army in the Merkers salt mine in April 1945. National Archives

 

8.

monuments men
  The truck is transporting paintings recovered by the US Army to Florence, Italy. National Archives

 

UPDATE, February 11, 2014, 1:53 p.m. EST: Bob Clark, the supervisory archivist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, emailed me a PDF of the following approval document initialed by President Roosevelt. This initialed memorandum essentially created the Monuments Men. "In customary fashion, President Roosevelt initialed and 'OK'd' the memorandum proposing the creation of the commission that had been prepared by Secretary of State Cordell Hull," Clark writes. "In the Roosevelt administration, FDR's 'OK' on a document was considered presidential consent for the action proposed in the document. Subsequent to the President's approval, membership on the commission was finalized and on August 20, 1943, a press release was issued by the Department of State announcing the creation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe."

The approved memorandum is four pages. Here's the initialed first page:

 

Now, here's a trailer for Clooney's The Monuments Men:

Christian Right Gears Up to Protest Religious Movie's Rescinded Oscar Nod

| Thu Feb. 6, 2014 4:00 AM PST

The song "Alone Yet Not Alone" is the latest skirmish in the American culture war. It's performed by 64-year-old quadriplegic evangelical author Joni Eareckson Tada, and comes from the little-known 2013 Christian film of the same name. The film, set in 1755, is based on the story of two young sisters threatened by religious persecution and Native American tribes. It was made on a roughly $7 million budget and produced by a team of evangelical filmmakers, outside of the sphere of a secular Hollywood. Very few in the entertainment industry and film press have seen it, but the movie has received endorsements from a who's who of Christian-right big names, such as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and former Republican presidential contender (and Christian movie man) Rick Santorum, and, to the surprise of many in the industry, an Academy Award nomination for best original song.

The film scored the nod along with four others, including "The Moon Song" from Her and "Let It Go" from Frozen. But on January 29, the Academy announced that it was rescinding the nominations for songwriter Bruce Broughton and lyricist Dennis Spiegel due to a breach of ethics: Broughton, a former rep on the Academy's board of governors, was accused of improperly lobbying (via email) at least 70 Academy music branch members during the voting period.

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Barbie Designer: If We Made Her Look Normal, Her Clothes Wouldn't Fit

| Tue Feb. 4, 2014 3:43 PM PST

By now, it's well known that Barbie's body isn't exactly realistic. If the famous doll were human, her waist would be just 16 inches around—half the size of the average American woman's. She hasn't always been this way; in fact, before 1997, Barbie was even less realistic.

In an interview with Fast Company Design, Kim Culmone, vice president of design for the Barbie doll, spoke candidly about why the doll remains so proportionally different from real women. Her argument essentially boiled down to: We can't make Barbie more realistic because her clothes wouldn't fit anymore.

Co.Design: What's your stance on Barbie's proportions?

Culmone: Barbie's body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress. And she's had many bodies over the years, ones that are poseable, ones that are cut for princess cuts, ones that are more realistic…Primarily it's for function for the little girl, for real life fabrics to be able to be turned and sewn, and have the outfit still fall property on her body.

Co.Design: So to get the clean lines of fashion at Barbie's scale, you have to use totally unrealistic proportions?

Culmone: You do! Because if you're going to take a fabric that's made for us…her body has to be able to accommodate how the clothes will fit her.

In actuality, Barbie was created in 1959 so that the daughter of Ruth Handler, co-founder of the Mattel toy company, could imagine herself as an adult. In 1977, Handler told the New York Times she invented Barbie because "every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future."

When asked whether she thinks girls compare their own bodies to Barbie's, Culmone said no way.

Co.Design: You don't think there's a body comparison going on when you're a girl?

Culmone: I don't. Girls view the world completely differently than grown-ups do…Clearly, the influences for girls on those types of issues, whether it's body image or anything else, it's proven, it's peers, moms, parents, it's their social circles.

When they're playing, they're playing. It's a princess-fairy-fashionista-doctor-astronaut, and that's all one girl.

But a 2006 study in the American Psychological Association found that girls exposed to Barbie had lower self esteem and a desire to be thinner. Another 2006 study showed that young girls ate significantly more after playing with average-sized dolls.

Come for the Crooning, Stay for the Wordplay on Lambchop's "Nixon" Reissue

| Mon Feb. 3, 2014 4:00 AM PST

Lambchop
Nixon
Merge

Nixon album cover

If you know this Nashville collective mainly for recent albums like Mr. M and OH (Ohio), the most striking thing about the reissue of 2000's lush Nixon is how different leader Kurt Wagner sounds. Currently a woozy basso crooner, he was a woozy, much-higher crooner back then, with a intriguingly scruffy falsetto suggesting Curtis Mayfield's degenerate down-home cousin. In any case, Nixon is a fascinating listen that tempers Wagner's penchant for updating and warping the smooth country-politan sounds of the '70s with mellow soul influences, all the better to make his sly, tartly dark observations on human nature more appetizing.

Taking its title from the wonderful Wayne White painting of the same name—which is also the cover—Nixon has little or nothing to say about the late, disgraced former president (unless utterly oblique references count), but it does include "The Petrified Florist," underscoring Wagner's knack for offbeat wordplay. This two-disc set also includes White Sessions 1998: How I Met Cat Power, a five-song Wagner solo set with its own sleepy charms.

Quick Reads: "Extreme Medicine" by Kevin Fong

| Mon Feb. 3, 2014 4:00 AM PST

Extreme Medicine

By Kevin Fong

THE PENGUIN PRESS

The devil's in the physiological details as physician, NASA adviser, and outdoor fanatic Kevin Fong explores how feats at the edge of possibility—from the first major Antarctica expedition a century ago to the first manned landing on Mars at some future date—rely upon and, in turn, inform an ever-greater understanding of our own biology. With clear, evocative prose, he takes readers to ocean depths and mountaintops, and also deep within our bodies, in this entertaining exploration of human limits.

This review originally appeared in our January/February 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

Your Rape Joke Is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

| Sun Feb. 2, 2014 11:02 PM PST

Pornhub, a hub for pornography on the information superhighway, is a little well known for being snarky and amusing on social media. Chasing that reputation may have just got it into trouble.

Sunday night the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in a football game. This inspired Pornhub to make the following joke:

 

So, stop it.

Pornhub, stop it.

Whoever you are, if you're telling a rape joke, stop it.

It's 2014. We really shouldn't have to say this. Just, dear god almighty, stop.

They aren't funny. You aren't funny. Stop.

UPDATE: Pornhub has apologized in the comments to this post. Their social person seems like good people:

Alright Ben, you're right, I feel bad and I'll stop. The tweet wasn't intended to offend anyone, you have to realize my target demographic on twitter isn't the same as say, Mother Jones.