Jenny Owen Youngs: Batten the Hatches

Originally released in 2005, Youngs' folkish debut exudes clever and riotous potential, but never quite lifts off.

Jenny Owen Youngs

Batten the Hatches

Label: Nettwerk
US Release Date: 2007-04-10
UK Release Date: Available as import

Listening to the reconfigured, re-released debut album (originally launched by Sauropod Records in 2005) by Jenny Owen Youngs is enough to make one believe in doppelgangers and evil twins. Surely Youngs has one. For every auspicious, stellar feat of pop songwriting on Batten the Hatches there’s a naïve, half-baked, or self-impressed sketch dressed up in glossy production. The result is a maddening back-and-forth listen, but one which can only bode well for a growing talent who gives every moment, even the least-inspired, plenty of guts and élan. Plus, this disc has already been two years in the can, during which time one would expect some hard touring and living would focus and consolidate the considerable skills on display on songs like “P.S.”, “Voice on Tape” and the attention-grabbing “Fuck Was I”.

Actually, “Fuck Was I” is an example of all that is both right and wrong with Batten the Hatches. This dysfunctional relationship song with a shock-value hook trick is charming at first, but a little too self-conscious with the endless repetition of “What the fuck was I thinking?” Overwrought lines (“Love grows in me like a tumor”) compete with truly wonderful ones (“Love plows through me like a ‘dozer / I’ve got more give than a bale of hay / And there’s always big mess left over”), and Youngs’ voice, a less mumbly, less fluttery amalgam of Jolie Holland and Regina Spektor, is just a tad too carefully controlled. Still, Dan Romer’s Rhodes organ adds a gentle touch to Patrick Petty’s sweeping cello lines, and the simple arrangement is clear and inviting.

Opener “Porchrail” is a jaunty, jazzy start to the record that sweeps and hops in just under two minutes, led by a bubbly rhythm section and a few short swells of backing vocals by Bess Rogers. “I’ve got every intention to loosen my tie,” Youngs sings, and while that impulse is made implicit and explicit throughout the record, the proceedings rarely get as ragged and hell-bent as they could, as if the watchful eye of careerism is ever-present. “Drinking Song” sports Youngs’ accomplished acoustic guitar work in its dour opening moments, “Everything I touch turns to shit / Everyone I try to love won’t hear of it,” but then the song explodes into a gussied-up, radio-ready aural hug-fest that steals the import right out of the words. It’s not that the juxtaposition of defeatist lyrics (“There’s solace at the bottom of the bottle”) with sunshine and bubblegum arrangements and melodies isn’t a worthy or interesting pursuit, but it’s just completely overcooked here. The same song sung straight with half the bells and whistles would have been much more convincing. As it’s presented, the song’s just a series of damaged-goods posturing.

The brief “P.S.” is a much more successful attempt at sad-sackism. Youngs plucks out a spirited banjo progression while delivering self-deflating lines (“I can’t make real life as good as television / One shoe on and one shoe off and I can’t pick a position”) that are much more inventive than those of “Drinking Song”. Spells of bass clarinet, French horn and strings, reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, augments the midpoint break, adding a dash of color before the song quickly departs as charmingly as it arrived. “Coyote” is better still, sassy and snarling: “You mistake me for some southern goddess / Some delta girl done wrong / And I’m fixing to gnaw through whatever I have to / To stay stilent and get gone.” Led by a barroom piano, the song nods toward looser, more raucous territory that can match the smarts and attitude struggling to be un-battened on Batten the Hatches. Things are sure to get damn exciting if and when Youngs gets there.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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