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by Faye Rasmussen

2 Sep 2009

Josh Ottum
Like the Season
(Cheap Lullaby)
Releasing: 20 October

Seattle singer/songwriter Josh Ottum has his debut album Like The Season marked for release on October 20th.

The 12-song album is what Ottum calls a collection of “personal greatest hits”. To help with this, Ottum got together with drummer James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens, Richard Swift), multi-instrumentalist Casey Foubert (Pedro the Lion, Sufjan Stevens) and engineer Jon Ervie (Modest Mouse, the Presidents of the United States of America). 

The singer has come far from his childhood aspirations—making instructional golf videos in his backyard and sending promotional photos of staged skateboard moves to famous skateboard companies. Since delving into music, Ottum has toured with the likes of Alexi Murdoch, Stereolab, Cold War Kids, Rosie Thomas, Midlake, the Sea and Cake.

The first single, “It’s Alright” is now available.

SONG LIST
01 It’s Alright
02 The Easy Way Out
03 Who Left the Lights On?
04 Pipe Dreams
05 Freedom is as Thick as a Heart
06 If this Mirror Could Only Talk
07 Having Your Around
08 Like Ourselves
09 My Book
10 Follow Me
11 Heaven the Great Cocoon
12 Do You Really Want to Know?

by PopMatters Staff

2 Sep 2009

Russian Circles
Geneva
(Suicide Squeeze)
Releasing: 20 October (US)

SONG LIST
01 Fathom
02 Geneva
03 Melee
04 Hexed All
05 Malko
06 When the Mountain Comes to Muhammad
07 Philos

Russian Circles
“Malko” [MP3]
     

by Tyler Gould

2 Sep 2009

Michelle Branch
Everything Comes and Goes
(Warner Bros.)
Releasing: 10 November

When I think of Michelle Branch’s forthcoming country album, Everything Comes and Goes, I think of a conversation about God I had with an old girlfriend. I said that I didn’t believe but thought that true belief exists as a part of someone, on an essential, inviolable level, and there’s nothing anyone can say or do to compromise it. She looked at me like I was a third-degree blockhead, so I conceded that yes, perhaps the belief or disbelief that at first blush seems so essential and inviolable is actually the product of eons of cultural conditioning, concerted assaults from sinister, powerful forces in the world; this made sense intellectually, but was still a viscerally unsatisfying concession.

Judging from her new single, “Sooner or Later” (not a cover of the 1971 Grass Roots hit), Michelle Branch country songs aren’t all that different from Michelle Branch pop songs. The guitars are a bit twangier, and when she pronounces “about” it sounds more like “abayowt”, which is not a word, but the chords are still simple, and the lyrics are still melodramatic in so calculated of a way as to remain completely unobtrusive.

It won’t be her first country crossover effort (see: the Wreckers’ Stand Still, Look Pretty), and she’s still cooing just as coyly as she was when she first came out with whatever song it was that made so many of the shy brunette girls in my high school class want to learn guitar. She was speaking to people then and she’ll speak to people now. All the PR dollars in the world can’t mess with that certain je ne sais qoui that connects artist and patron: you’re going to love the new Michelle Branch, or you’re not. It comes out November 10th.

by Brian Parks

2 Sep 2009

Agora
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac
Releasing: 18 December 2009

Set in Roman Egypt, Agora concerns a slave who turns to the rising tide of Christianity with the hopes of achieving freedom while also falling in love with his master, the famous philosopher and atheist Hypatia of Alexandria.

Please take a step back so that American audiences may begin mass exiting the theater. But seriously….

This is the second English language film from acclaimed Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar, whose first- The Others, was an enormous critical and box-office success. Will he be able to repeat that with Agora? Well, early reviews have been generally positive and have not given much reason for audiences to suffer through another Troy-esque debacle. And although it sounds as if the stunning visuals and great performances (led by the stunning and talented Rachel Weisz) don’t quite overcome the bloated 144-minute running time or a sometimes unfocused script, this certainly seems like one to mark the calendar for.

by Rob Horning

2 Sep 2009

Wired has an article by Robert Capps about what he has dubbed the “good-enough revolution”—basically meaning the way cheap netbooks with few features are replacing laptops. Rather than buying state of the art gadgets, people are beginning to buy tech products that are simpler to use and do enough to satisfy their basic needs. Seems sensible enough; actually it’s sad that this would constitute a “revolution” rather than common sense. “To some, it looks like the crapification of everything. But it’s really an improvement,” Capps notes, almost apologetically.

I admit that I sometimes find it hard to settle for what I know is good enough when it comes to tech; I tend to imagine what I could do with the various fancy features than remain realistic about what I actually will do. The gadgets are occasions for dreaming, especially at the point of consumption. Then, only after I own them do I feel overwhelmed by the learning curve and by the surfeit of opportunities. (It turns out I’m not really going to turn my computer into a TiVo after all. And I am not going to learn Avid.) But I bought an Eee netbook recently because I finallyfigured out that only certain features matter to me in a portable computer—size and battery life. And I already have a powerful home computer to handle what little heavy processing I have to do. So for me, going with “good enough” is contingent on already ahving a backload of tech I can’t use to its fullest capacity already.

Of course, established tech companies count on bells-and-whistles-induced obsolescence to fuel their growth, and if buyers begin to feel like yesterday’s gadgets are all they will ever need, the companies will be in trouble. And if Capps is right that getting something “good enough” rather than “new and improved” is becoming the default consumer mind-set, then a principal tenet of consumerism would appear to be under siege. It would seem to hearken the return of use value, and the culture-wide exposure of early adopters as the chumps they are. “It’s a reflection of our new value system. We’ve changed,” Capps decalres, stretching his idea to fit all sorts of efficiency measures undertaken across different industries, at which point hte concept becomes kind of meaningless. Any business wants to just enough to keep its customers happy; we figured out not to give away surplus value in a much earlier revolution. If consumers are content with less, then that is what they will get.

Tech is one thing, where new features are often superfluous and irrelevant to the core function—a bit like auto reverse on old cassette decks. But when consumers accept less in other areas, like health care, it may because of asymmetrical information. They don’t know they can get more or better. At a certain point, in order for the companies to get away with “good enough,” they have to bank on customers being ignorant, willfully or otherwise.

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