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by Sean Murphy

13 Aug 2009

Guess what? Rashanim has recently released what will undoubtedly stand as one of the best albums of 2009 in The Gathering.

Guess what else? Rashanim has been making incredible music for the better part of this decade.

One more thing: you are not the only person who has, unfortunately, not heard (or heard of) this band. For all the right reasons, changing that should become a priority in your life. Trust me. I hope and expect to hear many more noteworthy new albums in 2009, but I sincerely doubt I will come across another effort as profoundly effective and moving as this one.

So, who is Rashanim? They are a jazz trio operating out of New York City who describe themselves on their website as a “Jewish power trio: Rashanim (’noisemakers’ in Hebrew) combines the power of rock with the spontaneity of improvisation, deep Middle Eastern grooves and mystical Jewish melodies.” Led by guitarist Jon Madof, the band also includes bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Mathias Kunzli. They record for John Zorn’s label Tzadik (http://tzadik.com/) and are categorized in its “Radical Jewish Culture” series. (Being neither Jewish nor radical, I still find this concept rather rad, and to be certain, some of the very best music in the world is being created on Zorn’s middle-finger-to-the-industry label.)

by Colin McGuire

13 Aug 2009

I currently work at the night desk of a small-town newspaper. Various arguments regarding journalism these days center around the notion that small-town newspapers aren’t as affected by the many budget cuts, firings and all-around sea-change most bigger-marketed newspapers seemingly have to take on each day.

Many argue that, because of the small-town flare that can showcase in depth local coverage better than a bigger paper that is based far away from these particular small towns, the smaller-market newspapers have a better chance of surviving, or, at the very least, not having to shoulder the burden of job loss that most major dailys have been forced to deal with for what has turned into a long time.

Part of that snuggly, warm feeling small-town newspapers can give a reader has always been the comfort of one Pauline Phillips, or, these days, her daughter, Jeanne Phillips. Those two women have been responsible for writing the daily “Dear Abby” columns that have become an absolute staple in most every newspaper across the nation, and, in fact, nearly 1,500 papers worldwide.

That said, as part of cutbacks at the particular newspaper I work at, we have been told that in order to save money, we will publish our final “Dear Abby” column Friday, making way for a less-expensive, dumbed-down version of an advice column from a different outlet, set to be published in Saturday’s edition.

Wow.

“Do you know what this is going to do?” I asked my publisher when she broke the news a couple weeks ago. “People are going to go mad. This is the one thing almost everyone turns to when they pick up a newspaper. It’s been that way forever. You might not read the sports. You might not even read the council stories. But you always read Abby.”

“I know,” she said. “But I’d rather have to cut columns than people. And really, we have no choice.”

She’s right. I certainly can’t complain about having the ability to live another day in the world of newspapers while many other, much more talented journalists ponder what it is they are now going to try and do with their lives. But that doesn’t mean this news comes easy. Aside from the crossword puzzle, I can’t imagine anything else that has been as much of a staple in newspapers for such a long amount of time.

I mean, come on. Where else can you get tales about a 15-year-old girl who is afraid to ask her crush to the upcoming dance? Or about how awkward it was at dinner when a mother-in-law burped so loud, it awoke a sleeping cat? Or how about the times when those bastardly cheating husbands slip up and get caught by their wives, forcing the women to make that awful decision of weather or not to stick around for the kids?

It’s going to be sad to see Abby go. In fact, I, myself, may even turn to other newspapers simply to check in on whose life Ms. Phillips is saving now. As for the rest of our readers? Here’s hoping this move doesn’t drive too many of them away. Many of our customers tend to be older, so now that the comfort of that long-lasting advice column won’t be there, one has to think our phones will be flooded. And here’s hoping most other newspapers don’t have to resort to this. It’s a move that is bold, yet understandably necessary, and, with that said, a little bit unsettling as well.

Yes, it is better to cut columns than people, but now that changes such as this have worked their way into smaller markets, one has to wonder how much longer it will be before the columns run out.

by Matt Mazur

12 Aug 2009

Lubezki is one of the finest working cameramen in the business. He has worked with the reclusive Malick previously on The New World, one of the most beautiful films to just look at in recent memory, and is also responsible for the auteur’s upcoming The Tree of Life, which is rumored to be coming out this year (but we’ll just have to wait and see…).

by PopMatters Staff

12 Aug 2009

We’re huge fans of Florence and the Machine’s debut Lungs, dropping a 9 on the album last month. The U.S. release is coming this October, but there’s plenty of video action in the meantime, including this new one that our own Emily Tartanella said has a “haunting menace” about it.

by Bill Gibron

12 Aug 2009

The current slump in RomCom success shouldn’t be a surprise. Hollywood, hopeless for what to do with their latest up and coming starlets, seems sold on the notion of putting each and every one into as feeble a fake wish fulfillment fantasy as possible. It used to be, Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts got all the feel good guy/gal scripts. Now, Tinseltown churns them out with unconscionable regularity. In fact, the only thing that differentiates the multiple takes on this material is the artistic approach applied. Sometimes, the standard is used. In other instances, attempted invention leads to lameness. Look at the three soundtracks being discussed today as part of Short Ends and Leader‘s standard Surround Sound update. Each one proposes to be a witty, warm look at the neverending battle between the sexes. Instead, one is dull, another dumb, with only the third doing something both unique and novel.

It’s a difference that’s actually reflected in the musical accompaniments to each effort. When it comes to Mychael Danna’s backdrop for the big screen adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s celebrated sci-fi weeper, it’s all clichés and sonic commonality. On the other hand, Aaron Zigman’s work on the Gerard Butler/Katherine Heigl stereotype-a-thon reeks of the kind of onscreen schizophrenia the movie - and its mannered characters - seem to suffer from. Only the brilliant Marc Webb deconstruction of the entire genre gets it right. By relying on moan and groan gods like Morrissey and Regina Spektor to make its point, the sonic setting perfectly reflects the differing dynamics between each one of these 500 days - give or take a few. 

Of course, it’s all a matter of taste. Some may actually enjoy Danna’s drippy, droning accompaniment, while there will surely be listeners who ingest one sample of Summer‘s syrupy alterna-pop and want to strangle the songwriters. Music is a difficult discussion point, since it’s so personal to each individual. Still, when graded on a scale as to how successful it is as part of an overall motion picture package, the judgment becomes a little easier. What’s clear is that, in the world of man/woman destiny, slow and stead is really just tedious and mindless, while up tempo and inventive translates into a far more intriguing aural experience. Of course, there is always one confusing case among the easily identified. In this situation, the “ugly” truth title may be more than applicable.


The Time Traveler’s Wife: Music from the Motion Picture [rating: 3]

The notion of being “unstuck” in time, Billy Pilgrim in your personal, physical, and emotional well-being, may seem like an odd idea for a romance, but apparently, Audrey Niffenegger nailed it when she created her bestselling story of Henry and Claire. He’s the man who can’t stay settled in one era for very long. She’s the young woman who has loved him ever since she was a child. Together, they learn that such a speculative fiction foundation can only lead to heartbreak, tragedy, and the soul-searching passion that comes with both. So now it’s up to composer Mychael Danna to capture that ethereal element in his score for the film. Sadly, what he turns in is so rote and routine that it could be the backdrop for any motion picture experience, not just one dealing with mostly magical elements.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front - Broken Social Scene should be embarrassed for their appalling cover of the Ian Curtis/Joy Division classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Rendered dirge-like by the multi-member collection, it’s literally unrecognizable, only the identifiable lyrics in the chorus giving away the origins. By the way, it does nothing for the scene between actors Eric Bana and Rachael McAdams. Why director Robert Schwentke decided to include it is baffling. As for the rest of the soundtrack, it’s equally weak. Danna delivers a lightweight set of cues, each one using the typical orchestral facet of symphonic seriousness to what is often confusing and quite boring as depicted. Tracks like “In the Meadow”, “Do You Know When”, and “How Does it Feel” are featureless, while additional moments like “Five Years”, “Who Would Want That”, and “I’m You Henry” lack legitimate spark. Indeed, the whole score feels limp and lifeless, adding nothing to the work it supposedly projects.



The Ugly Truth: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 5]

What do you do when you’re an uptight TV producer who can’t get laid? Why, you turn over your labored love life to a Neanderthal talk show host who believes keeping women barefoot and pregnant is actually way too good for the gender, that’s what. Indeed, the entire set up of this underwhelming Katherine Heigl starring vehicle does a disservice to all women everywhere while championing the kind of crude, rude comedy that Judd Apatow and the gang have made profitable over the last few film seasons. That it was conceived by a group of gals is unconscionable - kind of like Arthur Zigman’s way too zany sonic complements. This is a musician who has taken the notion of variety being the spice of life to unheard of, heartburn-inducing extremes. One moment, the soundscape feels like a frothy feel good romp. The next, it is diving into tunesmith territory better reserved for oddball BBC programming.

Like a series of bad speed dates, the score for The Ugly Truth indeed runs the gamut from space age bachelor padding to intentional sonic quirk - and then back again, just in case you didn’t get the point the first few track times around. For Zigman, who has crafted the backdrop for films like The Notebook, Bridge to Terabithia, and the last four Tyler Perry films, really does throw everything he’s got at the mixing board. There are moments of sly Euro-whodunit drowsiness (“Abby and Mike Rant”), unintentional indie navelgazing (“Who Would I Love”), pseudo sexual swagger (“Get the Stain Out”) and a strange Footloose meet foot race accent (“Frowny McFlaccid”). Along the way, Motown gets referenced (“Right this Way”), we are treated to more introverted introspection (“Goodnight Then”) and there are moments when the music is barely audible (“The Ugly Truth”). Such a scattered approach may seem sensible, considering how all over the map the movie is, but as a showcase for Zigman’s skills, the results here are equally unnerving.



(500) Days of Summer: Music from the Motion Picture [rating: 8]

Some might call it a reinvention. Others will honor it with the tag “deconstruction”. However you view it, commercial creator/music video man turned feature film director Marc Webb has taken an interesting script from Pink Panther 2 scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and turned it into the first RomCom to speak directly to the Twitter generation. Dealing with a failed architect who now writes greeting cards and the saucy secretary who has just moved to LA from Michigan, Webb works in short, sensational bursts, taking the title of the film literally. We spend individual moments with our wannabe lovers, seeing how passion grows, philosophies conflict, and when fate no longer fuels the flame. It’s a realistic if highly stylized look at relationships, and it’s all couched in a backdrop brimming with indie-rock resplendence.

This is indeed a definitive love/loss mixtape, from the sonic sensation of The Smiths (“There is a Light That Never Goes Out”, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”) to amazing tracks from Regina Spektor (“Us”, “Hero”), the Doves (“There Goes the Fear”) and Mumm-ra (“She’s Got You High”). Granted, Meaghan Smith’s take on the Pixies playful “Here Comes Your Man” is rather dreary, though her performance definitely tries to elevate its effectiveness, and the inclusion of Simon and Garfunkel (“Bookends”) argues against the collective’s anti-folk sensibilities. Still, “Bad Kids” by the Black Lips and “Sweet Disposition” by the Temper Trap work well, and old school hits like “You Make My Dreams” by Hall and Oates match effortlessly with contemporary kitsch from France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni (“Quelqu’un M’a Dit”). Sure, there are perhaps better songs to select, especially given the material’s sense of individualized eccentricity. But like the movie it mimics, the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack proves that all Moon/June/Spoon romances don’t have to be the same.

//Mixed media