The Riff - May 2008

New Beck Song Sees Trouble In the Skies

| Tue May 20, 2008 5:02 PM EDT

mojo-photo-beckchem.jpgLA-based singer Beck has posted a stream of the first song from his upcoming album Modern Guilt on his website, and while the album's being produced by Danger Mouse, there's little mashuppery or Gnarls Barkley-style soulfulness afoot. "Chemtrails" sounds, for all intents and purposes, like Dungen, or more accurately, like the psychedelic rock of the 1960s that inspired them. A rolling beat is way up in the mix, combined with a funky bassline, while way off in the background Beck himself croons in a reverb-drenched falsetto about how there's "too many people, watching the chemtrails." Oh, chemtrails. Somebody I know got taken in by this conspiracy theory and would get wild-eyed as they'd launch into wandering explanations of how we're being secretly sprayed with unknown chemicals for unknown reasons. (Yes, I know I'm inviting some awesome comments. Have at it, shut-ins.) So, is Beck, like myself, concerned and saddened by a populace so consumed by fear that it's willing to believe (and obsess about) anything, or is he issuing us a warning about the secret government cabal drenching us in brain-controlling dust? Buy my chemtrail psychic cleanser and be free from the unknown effects! Better yet, buy Beck's Modern Guilt when it comes out next month, because if this song is any indication, it'll sound like nothing he's ever done.

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Film Review: Medicine For Melancholy

| Mon May 19, 2008 9:45 PM EDT

melancholy-250x200.jpgRacial identity, gentrification, and indie rock frame Barry Jenkins' breakthrough film, Medicine for Melancholy; a sweet, provocative, and sometimes redundant film about two hip, African American twentysomethings who spend one full day together in San Francisco after hooking up at a party the night before.

San Francisco has been the backdrop for a ton of moviesVertigo, Bullitt, the Towering Inferno, 48 Hours, So I Married an Axe Murderer—but in Jenkins' film, the city's giant hills, bustling city streets, museums, renters-rights debates, and indie music actually shape the story's narrative. As the two main characters walk up and down hills, ride their bikes downtown, attend exhibits, walk past an open-door neighborhood town-hall meeting, and get drunk at a mostly white hipster bar, locales actually help focus and shape conversation.

Jenkins' "medicine"—constructive debate, the excitement of meeting someone new—for "melancholy"—struggling to understand and define racial and cultural identity—can feel a little forced. Arguments between the two main characters sometimes fizzle and come to no conclusion or consensus. But this frequently funny, often endearing look at life in San Francisco will serve as a worthwhile time capsule for the City by the Bay, and many of its complexities.

Medicine For Melancholy screened at SXSW in Austin in March, and more recently at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It will screen in Los Angeles June 19.

Music: Compare and Contrast: Portishead vs. SCTV

| Mon May 19, 2008 8:22 PM EDT

mojo-photo-mojo.jpgOkay, I know I've been talking a lot about the Portishead album, which I love more and more with each passing second. But while my adoration for Third is nearly boundless, I'm not blind to its more, shall we say, "mockable" aspects. Case in point: listening to track two, "Hunter," today, I was suddenly reminded of another piece of music that it resembles. A long-buried German cabaret number? An obscure album track from the soundtrack to an early Bond film? Norwegian funeral dirges? No, no, no: "Hunter" seems to have borrowed its dramatic piano melody and swerving chord changes from the theme to SCTV's brilliant soap opera parody, "The Days of the Week." After the jump, compare and contrast for yourselves. Hmm, maybe we should also be looking for hidden references to "The Great White North," or perhaps the organ sounds came from Tex and Edna Boil's Organ Emporium?

New (Leaked) Music: Ladytron - Velocifero

| Mon May 19, 2008 6:48 PM EDT

mojo-photo-ladytronv.jpgLadytron have always been kind of sneaky. They're better than they should be, with a far-from-unique formula of vaguely out-of-date electronica and breathy female vocals, plus a name that seems culled from Barbarella or something. Yet each of the foursome's three albums so far, starting with their 2001 debut, 604, has risen above generic retro-futurism or pretentious glam-techno, utilizing a diverse stylistic palette as well as an wry playfulness (witness their cover of Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)"). Plus, they just write really good, catchy songs: "Seventeen," "Destroy Everything You Touch," and "Playgirl" could all take on the best Depeche Mode songs in an electro battle of the bands. Most intriguingly, they seem to have gotten better with every album; does Velocifero, out next month, continue the Tron's evolution?

MoJo Staff Picks: May 16

| Fri May 16, 2008 3:50 PM EDT

mojo-staff-picks-250x250.jpgWelcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff. Fresh off production of our July/August issue, we're happy to be playing some music.

1. You've heard it before, but not like this. "Cotton Eyed Joe" in its true Appalachian splendor—one fiddle, one voice. A New Yorker by origin, Bruce Molsky travels deep in the backwoods of America collecting tunes and learning technique from porch-sittin' old-timers. An immaculate musician, in this track, Molsky nails the true scratchin' style of old-timey music—complete with quarter tones and double stops, he fiddles and sings at the same time.

2. Has the Democratic race been divisive? Is it threatening to tear apart the party? My grandfather thinks so, and it's certainly a lively topic in political America these days. So I thought I'd add a little music to the discussion by one of my favorite new LA bands, Division Day. Next time you're caught in an argument between BHO and HRC, you may just find yourself hoping the damage is "Reversible." (Click here to listen to the full song played to a picture of the band.)

3. I was first introduced to Oliver Rajamani a couple years back while working in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I was immediately intrigued by his seemingly effortless success in blending diametrically different musical traditions. His songs, like "Unnai Marenthal," are mostly sung in Tamil, an ancient Dravidian language, but are mixed with Hindi, Urdu and Spanish. His music similarly pulls motifs from various cultures—Brazilian rhythms, flamenco guitar, Indian drums, and gypsy spice. Makes for daringly good party music.

4. I'm not the first to point out that when under incredible pressure, consumed by guilt, or facing impending doom, we humans tend to exhibit a curious response—the nervous tic. The calmly capable Andrew Bird, master of live-looping, has noticed as well. If you ever find yourself with a slight "Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left," you may want to tune in, strap on the sumo suit, and relieve some stress.

Encore. She told me, to my face, there's a good man's in my place. This is the crux of "Fare Thee Well Blues," as played by Big Apple old-timer Bruce Molsky (because I know you wanted more). This is a satisfying blend of grit and talent with enough blue notes to catch the attention of even the mildest blues fan. The song is derived from a 1920's rendition by Mississippi bluesman Joe Callicott, which Molsky found on an LP in the back of a record store as a teenager.

Jon Voight Goes Off the Rails in Israel

| Thu May 15, 2008 7:07 PM EDT

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I'll never watch Midnight Cowboy the same way again. It was clear something was up with Jon Voight last year when he went on Fox and, between queries about daughter Angelina, told an elated Bill O'Reilly that America's liberal professoriate was a dangerous fifth column. He slammed unnamed but "cunning professionals" for feeding "propaganda" to the "extremists" who criticize President Bush. And—remember this in exactly two sentences—he repeatedly condemned "religious fanaticism."

Now Voight has traveled to Israel to, as Haaretz reported yesterday, "express ... his opposition to exchanging land for peace with the Palestinians." Says Voight in an interview clip accompanying the story: "God gave this land to the Jewish people; they shouldn't be giving it away." He tearfully calls Israel "the sole reminder of the survival of the Jewish people."

Himself not Jewish, Voight also sent around a strange primary appeal earlier this year in which he declared, "Every Jew should be voting for Giuliani." Look, I'm all for philo-Semitism, but what's with this guy?

—Justin Elliott

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from jesilu_mac.

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Film Review: The Judge and the General

| Thu May 15, 2008 5:35 PM EDT

SFIFF_JudgeandtheGeneral.jpgNow retired Chilean judge Juan Guzman conducts a long, tedious investigation into the brutal killings and disappearances that took place during the country's Pinochet regime in The Judge and the General, an 84-minute documentary film that had its world premier recently at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The film is Guzman's journey toward discovery; of the atrocities linked to Pinochet, and to his own self-awareness as a judge in search of truth who initially was skeptical about taking on the investigation. Guzman and his crew of lab technicians, police, and government officials travel to all corners of the country to study bones of those who were killed, interview their surviving family members, and review piles of documents.

One audience member at the San Francisco screening, during an open-mic Q&A, told Guzman he was a "fraud" and that he should be ashamed of himself for taking credit for taking down Pinochet. After the loud "Boos" and hisses (and one or two claps) died down, Guzman said, "You obviously don't know what you are talking about," and applause filled the room.

If Superman is a Democrat, Is Batman a Republican?

| Mon May 12, 2008 8:21 PM EDT

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DC Comics has just announced that it's sending its characters into the most terrifying parallel universe yet: the American political system. At a comic-con last week, the publisher's executive editor talked about its upcoming "DC Decisions" series, in which members of the DC universe will declare their partisan affiliations. "Everyone's talking politics; it's an elections year, and we're going to try to see how the characters of our universe react to that," he said, which I think means that his writers have completely run out of material. So now that superheroes are going to start meddling in domestic politics, which way will they swing politically? A few guesses at some of the exciting partisan plot twists to come, after the jump.

Bureau Brews: Hook & Ladder

| Fri May 9, 2008 6:50 PM EDT

Welcome to the first in an occasional series called "Bureau Brews" (Too nerdy? What about "Keg Stands?") in which reporters and editors in Mother Jones' DC Bureau will do what we do best... drink beer. Really, it's our birthright as journalists, and we take the responsibility quite seriously. (Read our hero Jack Schafer's classic treatise on the subject here.) So, every once in a while, probably on Fridays after we've filed our stories for the week, we'll break out the bottle opener and let you know what we think of various imported beers and their domestic craft cousins.

Our first victim is a local craft brewery called Hook & Ladder, based in Silver Spring, Maryland. (Disclaimer: I happen to know their PR guy. He's a mensch.) The brewery was founded by two brothers—one a volunteer firefighter, the other an entrepreneur—who, in 1999, decided to combine their talents to open a craft brewery. They originally based it in the Bay Area, but the dot-com bust scared off investors, and the fledgling business fell on hard times. Since then, they've relocated to suburban Washington, DC, where, in 2005, they renewed their quest to quit the rat race and make beer for a living, this time with great success. As of October 2006, Hook & Ladder had only one distributor and was available only in the DC area; today, it's got 73 distributors in 20 states, mostly along the East Coast, although for some reason it's also available in Stockton, California, or so we've been told.

One thing to note before we proceed to reviewing the merchandise is that Hook & Ladder, true to its firefighter founders' wishes, donates one penny from every pint sold to local burn centers. In the last two years, this has amounted to no less than $30,000. Could it be that drinking beer has finally become tax deductible? We'll have to look into that...

Comedy Bands: How Far Can they Go?

| Fri May 9, 2008 5:57 PM EDT

mojo-photo-fotc.jpgThe New York Times thought they were pretty funny: New Zealand's "fourth most popular folk-parody duo" Flight of the Conchords are taking their HBO show about being, well, wildly unsuccessful, on a wildly successful tour, and they just played in New York to an appreciative crowd. The TV show, while not exactly a breakout hit, ratings-wise, was pretty much the second-best thing on HBO last year, both for the hilarity of their song parodies ("Bowie's In Space," anyone?) and for the low-key quirkiness of their heavily-accented banter. So, it's a good show on TV, but isn't there something a bit awkward about parody songs plopping down into the real-life rock context of an actual concert hall?

After the jump: What happens when the highest-charting death metal band of all time is, um, a joke?