Tuesday, October 31, 2006

the man who used to be in guided by voices

Robert Pollard writes too many songs and releases too many albums. But that's why his fans love him. Even though Guided by Voices has disbanded, Pollard keeps rolling right along. Normal Happiness is his latest and, his admirers will be happy to know, it's more of the same.

badly drawn boy

It's been six long years since The Hour of Bewilderbeast. Badly Drawn Boy's latest record, Born in the U.K., is as cozy and lush as you would expect. But he seems to have lost his ability to wow us.

saw iii

The third installment in the horror franchise is more of the same, except less so.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

the decemberists

Colin Meloy's indie-rock group has never done much for me. Then I heard their new record, The Crane Wife. This is the warmest, most moving collection of stories he's assembled, backed up by hooks that recall the timeless pull of ancient ballads.

little children

Todd Field's second movie is pretty terrific, although it could have been ever better. Also in Consumables, reviews of Deliver Us from Evil, the Pernice Brothers, Irving, 30 Rock, and that new John Mellencamp song you've undoubtedly heard if you've watched any of the ads during the baseball playoffs.

Friday, October 13, 2006

writing pad, lesson two: reviewing as storytelling

Greil Marcus is brilliant at taking an album and turning its songs, lyrics, and themes into a narrative -- he reviews the work by presenting it as a story. The tricky thing about this process is that to fully appreciate his review, you may need to be familiar with the album already.

Of all his pieces, this may be my favorite: his glowing review of Bob Dylan's magnificent Love and Theft. He writes the piece as the story of an old man (Dylan) who lives in town who no one really knows. Along the way, Marcus references the songs as clues to the old man's secret passions and sorrows. Anyone who loves the album will find that Marcus has recreated the experience of hearing it for the first time, unraveling its many pleasures.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

writing pad, lesson one: the review as social observation

I mentioned before that I'll be teaching a class this weekend at the Writing Pad on the art of criticism, so I've been looking for good samples for a few weeks in preparation. This review by Ann Powers of the Britney Spears compilation, My Prerogative, does a great job of both dissecting the pop star's fame as well as examining how her celebrity seems perfectly timed for an era when young women are being sexualized more and more. And all the while, Powers smartly reviews the actual songs, too.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Good news: My review of Zerophilia is my first in The Village Voice.

Bad news: I had to watch Zerophilia.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

marmaduke explained

Is this commentary? Should it be in this blog? I dunno -- but it makes me laugh. A lot.

jesus camp

Jesus Camp, the new documentary about the religious right's desire to indoctrinate its children into the cause, is both disturbing and heavy-handed. Elsewhere, in Consumables, reviews of The U.S. vs. John Lennon, Fergie, and the terrific Todd Snider.