Reviews, August 2013

Books

aug13antigravity_Page_31_Image_0005 JENNIFER KEISHIN ARMSTRONG
MARY AND  LOU AND  RHODA  AND  TED: AND  ALL THE BRILLIANT MINDS  WHO MADE THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW  A CLASSIC (SIMON AND  SCHUSTER)

1969: Mary Tyler Moore, best known as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, gets together with her then-husband Grant Tinker and writers Allan Burns and James L. Brooks to create a comedy show for CBS with her in its starring role. After a few battles with the network, one in which the fictional Mary Richards becomes merely a single, thirtysomething woman rather than a divorcée, The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuts in 1970. Due to its casting and writing, the show becomes a hit, putting its production company, MTM, on the network television landscape as a haven for creative people, among them some of the first women to really make it as comedy writers and producers in a male-dominated enterprise. Author and SexyFeminist.Com publisher Jennifer Keishin Armstrong dives right into the lives of the many people that made the show what it was, the rise of quality programming that Mary Tyler Moore brought into being during the ‘70s, and the backlash that came in the middle of the decade, leaning network TV towards more bubblegum fare and leaving MTM’s creators, actors and sustainers wondering where it all went. Armstrong’s love for the subject matter, her net-casting for the perspectives of those involved that includes MTM Show writer and consultant Treva Silverman and super MTM Show-fan Joe Rainone, and her balanced takes on what made the show of its times and timeless  make Mary and Lou a read I didn’t want to end––just as all involved with the show mourned its ending in 1977.  –Leigh Checkman

 

aug13antigravity_Page_31_Image_0004BRETT MARTIN
DIFFICULT MEN: BEHIND THE SCENES OF A CREATIVE REVOLUTION: FROM THE SOPRANOS  AND  THE WIRE TO MAD  MEN AND BREAKING BAD
(PENGUIN PRESS)

Read Brett Martin’s Difficult Men and one will see, in some ways, where the ‘70s-era MTM creativity led. TV from the late ‘90s until the present became an environment of multiple channels, diversifying the choices available for viewers and presenting more fertile grounds for programmers to take some chances. Martin takes an in-depth look at the men (yes, almost all men) who created what he calls TV’s third “Golden Age”––he identifies the first one as the early ‘50s and the second as a brief period in the ‘80s when shows like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere (both MTM productions) appeared. Though Martin’s portraits of showrunners like The Sopranos’ David Chase, Deadwood’s David Milch and The Wire’s David Simon present men that give their fictional creations runs for their money in the “difficult” department, he also gives nearly equal time to the elements that allowed these men’s visions––and those of Mad Men and Breaking Bad on AMC, as well as shows like The Shield and Rescue Me on FX––to make it on the small screen and to the fascinating ways in which creative and cultural credibility are now nearly just as valuable as Nielsen ratings (and possible right-wing backlashes) in the current TV landscape. With even Netflix jumping in with its own original series, Martin sees no real end in sight for the current Golden Age in which we reside. Difficult Men stands as an incredible lens on our relations with today’s TV dramas. —Leigh Checkman

 

aug13antigravity_Page_31_Image_0003NEIL GAIMAN
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE
(HARPER COLLINS)

I waited for months with marked impatience for the release of my favorite author Neil Gaiman’s latest title, The Ocean at The End of Lane, in June. Feeding my long-standing love affair, I even ordered myself a signed first edition copy set to arrive on release day. My first thought upon opening it was to scoff at its size. At a mere 178 pages, it seemed more like a very long short story or a novella. I found myself instantly disappointed. But the heft Gaiman packs into those short pages makes this undertaking just as riveting as his heavier tomes. The story takes us on a journey that challenges perception, temporal existence and the power of the mind. We ride along with an unnamed narrator who, upon returning to his hometown for the funeral of a relative, finds himself  inexplicably drawn to sit by an old pond next to the farmhouse at the end of his childhood lane. What follows is the unfurling of a fragmented memory––a very real, very vivid, but long-passed horror and the little girl who saved him from it. It deals less directly in the fantasy realm than much of Gaiman’s older work. Feats of a preternatural (supernatural?) nature are not discussed, explained or made a spectacle of. They simply are. Readers may find themselves fighting to get a handle on what exactly we are facing. Who/what is the big bad? Good luck. Gaiman never spells it out for you. The amorphous nature of both the villain and the hero turn an eye to the more realistically gray spectrum of human existence. We as readers are forced to think from the perspective of a child and imagine how we would process the flood of realizing time and space aren’t exactly fixed and that there is a whole wide world of horrors, magic, and more waiting for us just beneath a ghostly fragile surface. Maybe you are capable of knowing everything the universe knows and has ever known. Maybe this dirty pond is actually the ocean. Or maybe not. It’s a novel that will probably require repeated readings to fully absorb but as always, Gaiman’s engrossing, accessible writing style makes it a swift, joyful read. ––Erin Hall

Music

aug13antigravity_Page_30_Image_0002HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF
MY DEAREST DARKEST NEIGHBOR
(MOD  MOBILIAN/THIS IS AMERICAN  MUSIC)

Once a thank you gift to those who donated towards the recording of their last full-length Look Out Mama on Kickstarter, Hurray for the Riff Raff have now made My Dearest Darkest Neighbor available to the general public. It is composed of 14 tracks that lead singer Alynda Lee Segarra holds most dear, calling them one of her only “consistencies… they carry a feeling of home.” The overall feel of the record is incredibly relaxed, lacking in any real production or pretension. You could easily be sitting in Segarra’s kitchen, listening to her strum on a Sunday afternoon. And while not all of the source material was immediately familiar to me, I dug up the originals and it’s fair to say these covers are safe but dutiful approximations, Segarra rendering them each with such intimacy, tenderness and care that you can tell they are highly treasured possessions. She shines especially bright on Gillian Welch’s “My Morphine,” wrenching an apex of pathos from its resolute lyrics; the same goes for Hank Williams’ legendary “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Her take on John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” adeptly slides into second place for covers of that track in my mind (sorry––no one will take the crown from Elliott Smith). Her other dalliance with a Beatle (George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”) suffers from the same pitfall many other covers of that iconic track do––taking yourself too seriously. True, the mood does lighten towards the end, but the bursting joy with which Harrison always delivered the song is something I definitely felt missing off the block on this version. Segarra also throws in two original tracks, the strongest of which (“Angel Ballad”) is built off an instrumental composition by the aforementioned Gillian Welch. The synergy in their styles is quite electric. While HFTRR  is off touring, spreading the gospel of great New Orleans music to the masses, this album is a wonderful low-key spin to remind us why so many are falling in love with them worldwide.  ––Erin Hall

 

aug13antigravity_Page_30_Image_0003KING  TUFF
WAS DEAD
(BURGER RECORDS)

Not everything has to be complicated; take King Tuff ’s debut record Was Dead––originally released in an impossibly limited edition and now resurrected for mass consumption. The record is a breezy collection of some of the sweetest guitar rock hooks of recent memory. No frills, no conceptual clap-trap, just straight forward rock’n’roll, a sunbaked, psychedelia- dipped cruise. Tracks like “Lazerbeam” and “Ruthie Ruthie” imbue the disc’s ‘70s vibe with a little dose of punkish energy. When the band goes all in with the stoney feel, the results are great fun. The playfully hard-headed “Freak When I’m Dead” binds a killer guitar melody to a goofy sentiment, with Kyle Thomas stretching his petulant whine out to a winking drawl to punctuate each verse. A minute into “So Desperate”and “Lady,” it’s impossible  to deny the classic rock pedigree. King Tuff  have since added more aspects of guitar-based music to their repertoire: blues, alternative rock and even a few touches of New Wave. But Was Dead sees them at their purest, churning out a soundtrack for a clear, hot summer. ––Mike Rodgers

 

aug13antigravity_Page_30_Image_0004MISSING MONUMENTS
S/T
(DIRTNAP)

When you think of local legends, who comes to mind? Fats Domino? Ernie K-Doe? For me it’s always been Louie Bankston. I’ve been lucky enough to see the Persuaders (reunion), Kajun SS (reunion), Kondor, King Louie’s One Man Band and of course his latest group, the Missing Monuments. Two things Louie does well are write really catchy songs and enlist top notch musicians for his projects. Julien Fried (guitar) has played in numerous bands with Louie (and I can’t imagine them not together). The band is rounded out with Aaron Hill (Gasmiasma) on drums and Benny Divine (Heavy Lids) on bass, replacing Bennett Bartley (Mountain of Wizard). The songs on this new LP are more raw and upbeat than their previous Painted White LP (on Douchemaster)––no more “dad rock” for these guys, just extremely well crafted power pop. You can bang your head to “Grizzly Star,” gyrate wildly to “Answer the Call,” or slow dance to “Tru Luv.” I also really like the addition of Aaron doing vocals for “Another Girl.” The LP (put out by Ken of the awesome Dirtnap Records from Portland) features eleven songs, plus the CD version also contains their first LP plus their 7” on Hozac (23 tracks total)! You really can’t go wrong by picking up this soon-to-be-classic release. ––Carl Elvers

 

aug13antigravity_Page_30_Image_0005SKINNY PUPPY
WEAPON
(METROPOLIS)

Just when I thought it was safe to say I had outgrown industrial music, here comes this snarling bastard to drag me right back in. While mall bands perverted the roots of the genre, real industrial was obviously in a dank cave somewhere sharpening its teeth and strapping on its work boots. No chunky guitars, no macho posturing or sad sack diary confessionals––Skinny Puppy’s Weapon is an angular, brittle barb of a record built from programmed percussion and noise. Instead of relying on power chords, a beastly song like “paragUn” assembles itself like a dance track, bit by bit on skittering beats before Ogre’s growl and throbbing waves of bass ignite the chorus. The record is a nasty love letter to the electro beginnings of Skinny Puppy, basing each track on beats as much as anything and never overwhelming them with bombast or false-metal fanfare. A stuttering, knife-edged killer like “tsudanama” doesn’t need a half-cooked riff to convey its lean menace. Weapon is eye-opening, forcing me to reconsider the idea that industrial has lost both its edge and its brain. Skinny Puppy, one of the original fiends of the genre, returns from its exile with a new way to make the ugly coldly beautiful. ––Mike Rodgers

 

aug13antigravity_Page_30_Image_0006STOOGES BRASS BAND
STREET MUSIC
(SINKING CITY RECORDS)

Ten years, loads of live performances and a lion’s share of street cred separate the Stooges’ last recording, the album-length It’s About Time, from the brand new, only- on-vinyl, short-yet-sweet takes of Street Music. Far from the 18 minutes-per-side limitations cramping the Stooges’ style, they seem to rise to the challenge, starting with a blistering version of  “Why They Had To Kill Him,” then countering its funky plea with a soulful, beautifully sung and trumpeted “Stooges Reunion.” Lest one think their longtime attitude of being the best has changed, they finish up side A of the record with “Can You Hear Me Now,” one of the better brass band swagger tunes out there. Side B finds the band settling into some instrumental grooves only to pull them up short with “I Gotta Eat,” which comes across as a less musical, more wooden call-and-response counterpart to the howl of “Knock With Me Rock With Me.” The last tune makes what could have been a perfect set of music from the Stooges a little less so. But it also shows they’re still taking their chances after all these years. Listeners can take those chances or leave them, but Street Music shows that the band is more of a musical force to be reckoned with than ever before. ––Leigh Checkman

 

aug13antigravity_Page_30_Image_0007WAMPIRE
CURIOSITY
(POLYVINYL)

It can be more curse than blessing when your debut record fits so neatly into pre- constructed boxes. The dusty aesthetics, crackling production and deep embrace of kitschy pop music—Wampire couldn’t have hit the current in indie rock more dead center. That’s not to dismiss Curiosity offhand though: there’s a lot of fun to be had with this album. The shifty groove of “Spirit Forest”—with its imperfect keyboard melodies, wire-tense bass line and hazy-eyed fog of warm synths— sounds like it’s been mined from an older, groovier era of popular rock. Even the album’s curtain jerker, “The Hearse,” is a fuzzy marathon through everything from the snappy percussion and shirky rhythm of  post punk to the long lost synthesizer from “Walk of Life.” The whole thing melts into brooding darkness and sci-fi buzzing before charging back to life. It’s a hell of a lot of internal drama for such a short, deceptively simple song. That’s the saving grace of Curiosity. Sure, it’s yet another record mining the AM cheese of decades past for gold, but behind the facade of ironic tank tops and soft rock worship lies a band unafraid of making interesting music and capable of seeing it through. ––Mike Rodgers

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