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by Christian John Wikane

15 Dec 2009

cover art

Basement Jaxx

Scars

(Ultra/XL)

Review [20.Sep.2009]

Forget 2012. If 2009 marked the apocalypse, Scars would make a fantastic send-off for planet Earth. In their dependably inimitable manner, Basement Jaxx have crafted an album that fuses together beats of numerous styles and orientations. Scars distills a good half-century’s worth of dance music from around the world—ska, Euro-pop, bhangra—and funnels it through the genius of Felix Buxton and Simon Racliffe. Santigold, Yoko Ono, and Yo Majesty lead a motley crew of guests who bring a distinct flavor to each production, which makes singling out one defining track a futile enterprise. However, if today is all we had, and tomorrow ceased to exist, I know I’d want to face my mortality with the voices of Sam Sparro (“Feelings Gone”) and Lightspeed Champion (“My Turn”) leading the way.

by Ron Hart

15 Dec 2009

It has been called “the single most important day in the career” of Johnny Cash. The date was January 13, 1968, a year that will forever go down in infamy in American history on account of the shocking assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, not to mention the infamous Tet Offensive. January 13, 1968 was the day Cash stepped through the gates of the notorious Northern California maximum security prison at Folsom—flanked by his ever-present entourage of his then-fiancee June Carter, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and his longtime backing band the Tennessee Three, as well as a posse of suits from Columbia Records, including legendary house producer Bob Johnston—to perform before a mess hall of inmates. There were two performances that day, one at 9:40 am and the other around lunchtime. Both shows were recorded by Johnston and his crew, although the first show was exclusively used for the official record, after Johnston felt that Cash didn’t quite deliver with the same fire the second time around. But now, for the first time, both sets have been made available as part of this beautiful Legacy Edition , along with an informative DVD with a documentary on Cash’s trip to Folsom, featuring interviews with Roseanne Cash, Merle Haggard, Marty Stuart, and several former inmates who attended the iconic concert.

by PopMatters Staff

15 Dec 2009

PopMatters Sponsor
Mukaizake
Unknown Knowns
(Hidden Shoal Recordings)
Out Now

The cliché ‘all killer, no filler’ is often bandied around with very little to back it up. In the case of Mukaizake’s stunning new release Unknown Knowns, the cliché applies. Unknown Knowns kicks off with the fuzzy propulsion of single ‘The Yeah Conditioner’, immediately launching the listener into Mukaizake’s compelling corner of the musical universe. This is serpentine indie-rock at its finest, weaving hook after hook around your chest until you’re suspended from the clouds, a grin plastered across your face, unable to even think about listening to anything else.

“Part math-rock, part jangly dream-pop, the six songs are a beguiling dive into the oceanic sounds of 90’s indie rock. Vocalists Geoff Symons and Erickson can both actually sing with clarity, lending the songs a sort of choirboy purity, even when singing about slashing tyres… The outcome is a pristine and intelligent composite of sounds old and new… It’s a heady combination.”Rave Magazine.

1. The Yeah Conditioner (Single)
2. Rule Norse
3. Corporal Steam
4. Frisbee
5. My Friend Flicker
6. Slack Bees

The Yeah Conditioner [MP3]
     

by Bill Gibron

15 Dec 2009

Talk about jumping the gun. We’re barely out of Thanksgiving, with Christmas still a good 10 days off, and the Golden Globes have already determined the best of the best for 2009…at least within their limited junket whoring, celebrity shmooshing purview. Every year, the Hollywood Foreign Press shore up their guest list for the coming immovable banquet, betting that fame and equally known names will trump talent every time - and for the most part, they’re wrong. The Globes have never been a wholly accurate gauge of future Oscar potential, even when the winners allude to the eventually Academy victors. No, like many other publicized Guild and Society recognitions, it’s a self-serving PR move, neither capable of, nor possibly able to, determine true merit.

With that in mind, let’s look at the lists that will be debated on between now and the moment AMPAS decides that the Winter Olympics are less of a distraction, beginning with the biggest categories of the year:

Best Motion Picture - Drama

Nominees:
Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Up in the Air

Perhaps the only real “surprise” here is the strong showing for Avatar, a film that as of two weeks ago was the biggest unknown quantity of this awards season. While the Foreign Press have been kind to Cameron in the past, the love they’ve shown for his latest sci-fi magnum opus is sure to spur significant Oscar consideration. Tarantino’s nod could also be seen as something of a novelty, if only because of the polarizing nature of the film itself (and given its surreal subject matter, the European reaction specifically).

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Nominees:
(500) Days of Summer
The Hangover
It’s Complicated
Julie & Julia
Nine

Every year, the Globes pay lip service to laugher while nominating something safer and more certain come trophy time. Nine is this year’s cautious bet, guaranteed to beat out the far superior (500) Days and Hangover. What It’s Complicated is doing here is anyone’s guess, considering the critical drubbing it’s about to receive among the mainstream media in America (don’t worry, it’s coming). The dark horse? Julie and Julia, which is much more of a disjointed bio-pic about the famed French Chef than it is a real ribtickler.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama

Nominees:
Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart
George Clooney for Up in the Air
Colin Firth for A Single Man
Morgan Freeman for Invictus
Tobey Maguire for Brothers

Maguire’s acknowledgement must come as sour consolation to a film clearly aiming for higher overall consideration. Still, when you look at who he is up against - including massive current PR push beneficiary Bridges - it’s quite the accomplishment. While Freeman does a decent job in the Eastwood look at South Africa after Mandela, it’s really a race between Clooney and Firth, with gentleman George narrowly beating out his Brit counterpart. 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

Nominees:
Emily Blunt for The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (2009)
Helen Mirren for The Last Station (2009)
Carey Mulligan for An Education (2009)
Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by
Sapphire
(2009)

Bullock and Blunt have no chance. Mirren’s got her Queen-ly rewards, so look for her to fall fast. Basically, this category comes down to two film novices, both of whom give amazing performances in emotionally complicated efforts. Look for Ms. Sidibe to win this one handily.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Nominees:
Matt Damon for The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis for Nine
Robert Downey Jr. for Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt for (500) Days of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg for A Serious Man

Talk about a crap shoot! Downey Jr. must have naked pictures of Golden Globes members to warrant his turn in Ritchie’s revisionist look at the famous sleuth. He’s good, but far from award worthy (Jude Law as Watson on the other hand…). In some ways, this is a way station for also ran films (Serious Man, Informant!) that won’t see another nomination anywhere. And if Day-Lewis wins, it will be a matter of reputation over reality (he is perhaps the least convincing thing about Rob Marshall’s misguided musical).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Nominees:
Sandra Bullock for The Proposal
Marion Cotillard for Nine
Julia Roberts for Duplicity
Meryl Streep for It’s Complicated
Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia

This one is a reach. Cotillard is the best thing about Nine. The rest of the movie hurts her chances (and besides, her’s is a supporting turn at most). Streep soars in Julie and then does a Norbit about face for Complicated. Roberts is clearly trading on her former star cred while Bullock’s inert performance in the subpar Summer comedy is just one step away from All About Steve. If they really wanted to give it to Madam Meryl, they didn’t have to make it so obvious.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Nominees:
Matt Damon for Invictus
Woody Harrelson for The Messenger
Christopher Plummer for The Last Station
Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds

Another bone thrown at a film (Lovely Bones) which deserves better. And Damon is a cipher in comparison to Freeman. Since many have not seen Plummer’s or Harrelson’s performances, gauging their chances is tough. Beside, Waltz owned this award the minute he showed up at that frantic French farmhouse. If he doesn’t win EVERY award this season, it’s a crime.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Nominees:
Penélope Cruz for Nine
Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air
Mo’Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Julianne Moore for A Single Man

Ms. Moore is on screen for about six seconds in Man, and she’s less than stellar. Ms. Kendrick deserves kudos for staying strong when sparring with Big Bad George, and Farmiga gets props for playing both with and against type. The less said about Ms. Cruz’s burlesque as dirty old man Viagra excuse for acting the better. Again, like Mr. Waltz before, Mo’Nique earned her trophy from the first moment she hurled a frying pan at her child.


Best Director - Motion Picture

Nominees:
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
James Cameron for Avatar
Clint Eastwood for Invictus
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

Is this the first time that a pair of ex-spouses were ever nominated in the same category (this being Hollywood, it seems hard to believe)? While QT and Reitman deserve serious consideration, it will wind up being a race between epic imagination and authentic real world suspense. Toss in the gender equity factor and Ms. Bigelow gets it.


Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

Nominees:
District 9: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
The Hurt Locker: Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds : Quentin Tarantino
It’s Complicated: Nancy Meyers
Up in the Air: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner

Take a look at these five nominees, revert back to the days of Sesame Street, and try to figure out which one doesn’t belong with the other. If you guessed the misguided mess of a supposed script coughed up by Ms. Meyers, give yourself a shiny gold star! The other four are all works of invention and literary depth. A lax RomCom about “divorce with benefits” hardly seems worthy of similar consideration.

Best Animated Film

Nominees:
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
Up

Yea, Mr. Fox! Double Yea for Coraline! While Disney continues its typical domination of this category (with substantial support from Pixar), don’t count out the savvy stop motion efforts sitting right along side the honorees from the House of Mouse. Cloudy has no chance, though it was the rare family film that was both funny and visually inventive without being cloy or conniving.


Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees:
Broken Embraces/Los abrazos rotos
Baarìa
The White Ribbon/Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte
The Maid/La nana
A Prophet/Un prophète

This seems to be a three way race between Cannes winner Ribbon, critic darling Almodovar, and Cinema Paradiso helmer Giuseppe Tornatore. Of course, having not seen either The Maid or A Prophet makes such a statement a lot easier to support. Still, Ribbon is getting most of the critical buzz of recent, and with Summer Hours not in the running, don’t be surprised if Michael Haneke’s sinister masterpiece about Germany at the turn of the century doesn’t walk away with this one.

by Rob Horning

15 Dec 2009

At Freedom to Tinker, Ed Felten offers an interesting way of conceiving the problem with Facebook and its efforts to commercialize sociability. This is the key paragraph:

Some of you may be wondering why Facebook users are complaining about privacy, given that the site’s main use is to publish private information about yourself. But Facebook is not really about making your life an open book. It’s about telling the story of your life. And like any autobiography, your Facebook-story will include a certain amount of spin. It will leave out some facts and will likely offer more and different levels of detail depending on the audience. Some people might not get to hear your story at all. For Facebook users, privacy means not the prevention of all information flow, but control over the content of their story and who gets to read it.

Facebook offers a commercial tool to help people shape and present their story, and an infrastructure through which to tell it. By Felten’s logic, it is an interactive vanity press, only it doesn’t charge users up front for the self-flattery it enables. Instead, it is trying to find sneaky ways of monetizing the information users provide without their feeling like their information has slipped out of their control. If we want to pay upfront for the sort of service Facebbok provides, we could simply pay to register our own domain name, and hang our shingle on the open internet, and send out updates to all our friends at regular intervals.

What Facebook proves is that we want to control our story, but we don’t want to have to generate the form for that story or manually produce and distribute it. We sacrifice control over the particulars and submit to some standardization of our self-constructed story so that its broadcast can be automated. Facebook’s business model is about increasing that sacrifice, intensifying our laziness about the finer points and details, prompting us to permit more standardization and more shaping of our story at their hands, so it fits commercial uses. Hence we tell our life story in terms of the pop cultural product we enjoy, by becoming fans of various brands, by playing games like FarmVille in which we involve a third party to secure the privilege of sending tokens of approval to one another. It’s yet another example of the dubiousness of convenience as a value. The lesson is always the same: What we gain in convenience, we give up in autonomy. We have an easier and easier time personalizing ever-smaller compartments in which our subjectivity must fit.

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