Archive for April, 2009


Art Brut have always had a kind of guys next door, almost do it yourself, feel about them.  They’re the troublemaking and immature friends that you had in high-school, only they never grew up and they actually (wordplay!) formed a band.  In essence, when they’re at their best, Art Brut is both very likeable and very relatable. How very fortunate for listeners, then, that on their latest LP, Art Brut vs. Satan, that aesthetic is very much on display.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the album, I’m first going to kind of go on a tangent and say that I love the album’s title.  Seriously, I can’t hear the  phrase “Art Brut vs. Satan” and not chuckle; it even gives the Vandals album Hitler Bad, Vandals Good a run for its money!  (What can I say?  I guess I just have a really mature sense of humor)  However, I was even more impressed by the fact that not only does this somewhat juvenile joke make me laugh, but it also really fits the tone of the album.  An excellent example of this is “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake”, which is one of the first couple tracks.  The title is pretty self-explanatory as the song is about never really outgrowing some of your childhood immaturities. The track really embodies what I enjoy about Art Brut.  While so many bands try to package and sell this mischievous, devil-may-care attitude, most of them come off as manufactured and insincere, like deep down all they really crave is status and to be thought of as trendy.  Meanwhile, a song like this is so fun-loving and innocent that Art Brut can’t help but come off as cool. There’s just not an ounce of pretension when Eddie Argos sings; “Some things will always be great, DC comics and chocolate milkshake, even though I’m twenty-eight!”

The album also comes off as a delight to people who like to talk about music, as music often becomes a topic itself.  Sometimes the topic is bridged merely conversationally.  Such is the case on the track “What a Rush” where band choice is both a common love and a point of difference in the launching of a bedroom romp.  But the band also often uses discussion of music in a reflective manner, turning the lens back on themselves.  On “The Replacements” when Art Brut professes elation at a late-in-life discovery of the band, it’s not hard to decode who they might actually be talking about when they’re hoping they’ve finally found a group that won’t let them down.  This idea of staying true to the music is echoed on the track “Demons Out!” when Argos laments; “So we stayed up, and we argued all night, if we can’t change the world, let’s at least get the charts right.”  When you listen to the chorus you realize that the album’s title actually represents the band’s declaration of war against the culture of mediocre and derivative bands, against bland musical sameness.  Art Brut is smiling as they place themselves on the front lines.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that Frank Black is a pretty good fit for the spirit and sound of the band.  His light touch helps to make the material sound considerably less heavy than on the band’s sophomore album It’s a Bit Complicated.  Obviously Art Brut vs. Satan gets reflective now and again, but it does so without ever growing too grandiose, and it never loses sight of the fact that the important thing is having fun.  As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to describe Art Brut vs. Satan as sounding a bit like a rambunctious and drunken version of the Pixies.  This, of course, is largely due to Argos who has always possessed a barroom, sing-along feel that is akin to somebody like The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn.  It’s impossible not to be swept up by the music and carried along for the ride.  “Mysterious Bruises” is the album’s epic closer, and maybe even the high-point of the entire thing.  You can almost see Argos swaying in place as he props himself up on the bar when he sings; “I’ve had one Zyrtec, two Advil, with the drink that made me feel invincible!”  Like any good drunken night, the people watching can see where it’s going even if the drinker can’t, so when Argos later sings of a losing battle with the floor, it’s just no surprise.  As such, when the song hits it’s triumphant refrain sometime around the six minute mark, it’s hard not to want to belt it out yourself.

Art Brut is nothing if not a band for the common man.  The come across as the guys that you’re just as likely to see sitting in the pub on a Wednesday night as you are to see up on the stage at a rock show.  The fact that they don’t seem all-too-interested in being looked at as godly rock stars makes the music down to earth and instantly loveable.  Art Brut vs. Satan is something that’s very rare, it’s a carefree album that not only takes a snapshot of real-life, but it even actually manages to makes you feel good about it.

SCORE: 4.2 out of 5.0


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“G.I. Joe” Trailer

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Here’s the embed of the trailer for “G.I. Joe” that was released in France (thus, the French subtitles) from Trailer Addict by way of Dark Horizons and Allocine.  Watching it, I honestly have no idea what to think.  I was never big into G.I. Joe’s when I was a kid, and I didn’t watch the cartoon.  (I did, however, find the G.I. Joe PSA parodies to be hilarious!)  Additionally, big dumb summer movies based off of lines of toys are pretty much the embodiment of everything I find irritating about modern cinema.

Yet, I have to say that there was some stuff I liked about this trailer.  Take the cast for instance, Jonathan Pryce as the President, Dennis Quad playing the role that he was born to play, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in any capacity.  I also enjoyed the tone, it seemed to be pretty light and almost throwback, this is pretty rare in the age of the post-modern action movie.  I mean, how can you not appreciate the irony of French subtitles over images of the Eiffel Tower being destroyed?  Essentially, it’s hard not to be won over at least a little.  Let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic.

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I’ve been meaning to throw this video up for a few weeks now, and now that it’s kind of old news, I finally get around to it.  That’s all besides the point, though!  The song, as you’ve come to expect from Art Brut, is a ton of fun!  The video?  Really cool.  I’m excited to see how they’ll tackle the seven minute opus “Mysterious Bruises” should they choose it to be single at some point.  The band is Art Brut.  The album is Art Brut vs. Satan.  Go to the band’s MySpace or their official site and then go get the CD.

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A couple weeks back I had a post that kind of put Jonathan Jones (and the Turner prize) on blast for his, and other high-culture types, casual dismissal of the work of the street artist Banksy.  Well, being a rational and fair-minded man, I of course believe that everybody deserves their day in court.  In this instance that day in court is the shortlist of Turner prize nominees that is now up over at the Guardian website.

First off, it’s never fair to blame the artists for the whims and failings of the critics who laud them, so regardless of whether or not you think the Turner prize to have any sort of relevance over in the UK, you must judge the artists nominated on the merits of their work.  That being the case, I must admit that looking at the sampling of works that are showed in the gallery, I find the work to be pretty intruiging.  I found myself especially interested by the works that they show from Richard Wright of Glasgow- his stuff struck me as being an enjoyable combination of modern, ambitious, and subtle.  So, whether or not Banksy’s name would fit alongside these other artists (for the record, I still strongly contend that he would, and that Jones compromises his credibility some when he says otherwise) you have to give credit where credit is due, and  the nominees who were chosen certainly seem to be talented in their own right.

For people with further interest, here is the link to the official Turner prize Tate Gallery website. Take a look, draw your own conclusions, and enjoy.

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The string of EP reviews just keeps on rolling with the release of the debut from Brooklyn-based Suckers. The band traffics in a kind of throw-back synth-pop that seems to be trendy at the moment, but that’s also often done pretty poorly. Fortunately, that’s not the case on Suckers EP, as the band reveals itself to be rather experimental, but to also have a pretty steady hand.

The EP opens with “Beach Queen” and it’s probably my favorite of the four tracks. From the big loud chorus to the pleasing synths that lead you in and out of the track, I knew that Suckers had me at the proverbial hello. I love that the song doesn’t so much sound like a rip-off of everything good from the 1980s as it sounds educated by it. I guess it’s just nice to see somebody doing the more experimental influences of the time period some justice, I mean, you can only hear Springsteen ripped off so many times before it just gets to be plain boring! Or allow me to put it this way, it sounds like A Flock of Seagulls and Talking Heads had a baby that grew up hanging out with David Byrne, and somehow the kid ended up not sucking!

Speaking of Byrne, you can almost see Suckers trying to walk gingerly in his footprints on the middle two tracks “Afterthoughts & TV” and “Easy Chairs”. This is especially true for vocalist Quinn Walker, who seems to at least be doing a more convincing David Byrne impression than Byrne himself could muster on his recent N.A.S.A. collaboration. Both songs are experimental fun as Suckers throw all sorts of different instruments in the listeners direction as the chorus gets belted out with convincing enthusiasm. I mean, really is it any wonder that Chris Moore (thing TV on the Radio) had a hand in producing this thing? While I didn’t garner quite the same enjoyment for this pair that I did for the first track, the band certainly showed me something in regards to what they’re about and what they’re capable of here, and it’s pretty impressive.

“It Gets Your Body Moving” is the last track on the EP, and it seems to be the one that’s got the most people excited. Listening to it, I can certainly understand why that is. The song has the kind of swaying drunk, hand holding, belting out lyrics at the top of your lungs sound that anthems are made of. It’s probably the most straight-forward track of the bunch, but it’s no less fun and I can understand why it’s the one that most people seem to be finding themselves drawn to. I’m pretty sure that after the first thirty seconds or so the song’s title is the only lyric in the song, but they sing it with some conviction and it’s hard not to be won-over.

To make the pun that I’ve been trying to keep my fingers from typing since I sat down at my computer, Suckers did one hell of a job with this sucker (I know, I know, just terrible). The music might not always be the most artistic or intellectual enterprise around, but it’s next to impossible not to be converted by the band’s enthusiasm. Simply put, the music is just all kinds of fun. I can’t even begin to guess what the future will hold for Suckers, whether or not they’ll find themselves an audience and manage to keep making music together. What I can tell you is that the music they’ve made so far has so much spirit that I’ll certainly be rooting for them.

SCORE: 3.8 out of 5.0

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Well, so much for Al Franken being seated anytime soon.  For those who are keeping score at home, the Democrats just hit fifty-nine in the senate, but not in the way that most of us were expecting.  Sure, it’s still only a matter of time before the expected fifty-ninth Democratic senator Al Franken gets his seat, but the big news today is that Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania fame has changed aisles.  This is particularly significant because that puts Democrats only one away from the magic number of sixty, the number needed in the senate to break a filibuster.  The funny-man turned politician in Minnesota, of course, would be that sixtieth senator.

While this is all pretty intriguing, my gut tells me that for a number of reasons we shouldn’t get too excited over on the left.  First is the fact that realistically Democrats are going to need some help from Tim Pawlenty to get there anytime soon.  A week or so back I linked to an article on The New Republic that talked about Pawlenty’s potential role in certifying the election in Minnesota and getting Franken seated.  At the time I said that I thought it would be a good idea for Pawlenty and that, while unexpected, I could see it happening.  Well, you can probably kiss that scenario goodbye , unless you expect that Pawlenty wants the GOP to put his head up on a pike.  When Franken was going to be Senator number fifty-nine, then there wasn’t a whole ton to lose for Pawlenty, but now he’s suddenly all that stands between the Democrats and sixty.  He can either be the man who heroicly stood as the last line of defense for Republicans in the senate or he can, well, have his head placed gently onto a pike.  Pawlenty’s pretty independent, but nobody’s that independent.  Expect Coleman to keep Franken busy in court until sometime around the Cory Booker presidency.

The second reason is that I’m not so convinced that should Democrats somehow get Franken seated and hit that magic number, that they’re actually capable of getting their ducks in enough of a row to actually get it done (as the kids would say).  While our President is a popular one, he hasn’t really enjoyed the universal support from within his party that Bush did.  I mean, this is partly why I’m proud to vote Democrat, the party is home to the most independent thinkers outside of, well, the Independents.  But at the same time, they just can’t get their shit together, and that has shown in the opposition that Obama has met in trying to push through much of his budget and his reforms.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Specter  joining the Democrats and putting them within reach of sixty is a big deal (not the music producer and murderer, he’s in jail, he won’t help), but it’s not going to be some kind of overnight game-changer.  Under the best of circumstances, it will probably be a while before we see Franken seated and even once he is, I don’t anticipate lots of hand holding and “Coom-Ba-Ya” singing amongst Democrats, and I’ve got to believe that Republicans realize this as well.  So what that means is that on the big issues like the economy or health care, the GOP is going to be able to test the Democrats new leverage and maybe even call their bluff.  Maybe the party will look a little more unified when that time comes, I just suspect that in tough times like this people are going to continue having some pretty drastic differences in opinion.

So what, you may ask, is the moral to my little tangent?  Be excited, but don’t think that the Democrats are home yet.  All the same Arlen, welcome aboard.  Now get to work.

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OK, I’m not going to do too much setup for this since most people probably know all about the “swine flu” outbreaks (Would that be more effective capitalized?  SWINE FLU OUTBREAKS!!!).  In a nutshell here’s what I’ve got for you, lots of people are sick in Mexico, and some people are dying.  Some people are also sick in America, at first the emphasis was New York and California, but now it’s spreading some.  If you listen to what your friend “who sort-of pays attention to the news” says, then you should probably prepare some sort of quarantine bunker because swine flu is coming for you!

Not so fast, though, says The New Republic. Apparently, the government has been getting prepared for some kind of outbreak.  In fact, the government should get too prepared, because all of this is probably going to be pretty blown out of proportion when all is said and done.  Yet, at the same time, the very fact that the government is taking serious action is pretty scary all in itself.  It’s all a big catch-22 (ok, it’s not really at all, but you know what I mean).  Guess what, though, that’s a good thing!

See, here’s the thing, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac.  As such, I find disease outbreaks to be scarier than nuclear winter and a Sarah Palin presidency combined (though, in fairness, the two are pretty much synonymous).  So when I hear swine flu spreading in Mexico and American government is making preparations, where my mind goes is somewhere between Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and the Spanish influenza, with a little dash of Stephen King’s “The Stand” thrown in for good measure.  So for me, it’s downright terrifying, but also extremely reassuring to see the government taking the necessary steps to keep us safe, even if it’s kind of overkill.

That being said, when the article reads “don’t lock yourself in your house and start storing up on provisions”– what my mind is reading is still, “you idiot, hurry and lock that door and horde everything canned!”  Guess nobody can win them all.

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