Spectrum Check

And so we come to the end of the publication year for Spectrum Culture, which meant a huge batch of “best of” evaluations of the pop culture from the preceding twelve months (well, okay, eleven-and-a-half). I had my couple cents in every last one of them, but I also had one more full-length review to put out there.

I was cautiously hopeful about grabbing the new film from Neil LaBute. Though it’s been ages since I’ve liked one of his films, I used to like them, a couple quite a bit. And this new effort seemed like a back-to-basics outing, something LaBute desperately needed after some pure disasters. It has its strengths, but plenty of issues, too. Then it’s quality is demolished by an overly glib twist ending. It may be okay to give up on him completely now.

Onto the year-end lists. For the tally of the best books of the year (sort of), I wrote about Donna Tartt’s exceptional The Goldfinch. A thick brick of a book, I made a point of pushing through the novel in time to write about it (although it was engrossing enough that I may have been compelled to get through it quickly anyway), since I don’t really agree with the “best book I read this year” premise of the feature which basically makes any book ever published fair game for the feature. I needed something with a 2013 copyright date on it to feel good about my contribution, and the other things I read this year that qualified weren’t going to work.

For the film lists, I continued in my evident, somewhat inadvertent quest to write about Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha as many times as I possibly could. I typed the praises of Greta Gerwig’s lead performance in our consideration of the best acting of the year (I also thought about writing about either Cate Blanchett or Chiwetel Ejiofor, but other writers had claimed them by the time I got around to making my selection). Frances Ha was also one of the two films I wrote about for our survey of the twenty most impressive cinematic offerings of the year, along with Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight.

Then there’s the music, which I’ll expand on more in my now-annual song and album posts in the next week or so. For now, I’ll just note that I wrote on the Chvrches for our Best Songs list and both Washed Out and Vampire Weekend for our Best Albums list.

Spectrum Check

We’re winding down to the end of the year at Spectrum Culture, so there’s a lot going into prep for that. I’m spending so much time trying trying to assemble my various lists–mostly extensive listening and re-listening to the most interesting music of the year–that keeping up with the new stuff week to week becomes kind of dizzying. For example, I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve got a late contender for the Best Albums list in the latest from White Denim. This also represents one of the few times (maybe the first time) that I’ve returned to a band after reviewing an earlier album on the site.

Music was also a major part of my contribution to the film side of the site, as I reviewed the new documentary about Kathleen Hanna. It’s one of many rock ‘n’ roll documentaries I’ve taken a pass at, especially, it seems, over the course of the past year. There’s plenty of appeal to the film, but it has some of the most commonplace flaws of music docs made by devotees of the artist being examined, a problem I suspect is going to become even more prevalent as Kickstarter becomes the main driver of indie film funding.

Spectrum Check

Considering it was a short week, I had a lot of material up at Spectrum Culture. The most challenging piece to write was my “Revisit” on Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, part of my ongoing attempt to exhaust all of my pop culture touchstones for the site. I suspect the result reads as a little more unkind towards the film than my actual, official stance on it, but I went where the writing took me.

The other film I wrote on was a new documentary on Bettie Page. I picked it up because of the promise that the famously private Page would provide the running commentary. Fun as it was to listen to her, she wasn’t interesting or revelatory enough to fully make up for the other shortcomings in the filmmaking.

I also wrote on the music side of the site, reviewing the new outing from Shearwater, which I requested before I was aware it was a covers album. I probably wouldn’t have asked for it with that knowledge, but I’m glad I did. It reminded me of Lyle Lovett’s Step Inside This House in terms of standing as a collection of covers that offered as much insight into the artist as a batch of originals. I wish I could have found a way to cite the Lovett album in the review.

Finally, I pitched in exactly three sentences for the most recent edition of the Monthly Mixtape feature, writing about Neko Case unexpectedly covering one of my favorite artists on her new release. Well, on the bonus tracks for her new release, anyway.

Spectrum Check

When trying to find films and records to write on each and every week, there are time when the material is going to be extremely unmemorable, neither good enough to stir genuine excitement nor bad enough to engender the flush of resentment for the time given away to it. That’s basically where I landed this week with Spectrum Culture. For instance, the film I reviewed had some promising elements, especially when it came to the performances. It was nice to see skilled performers who don’t usually land particularly worthwhile roles getting the chance to dig into some meaty material and do it well. Overall, the film was still a little drab and underdrawn. On the other hand, I’m inordinately proud that I never once had to look up the correct spelling on Peter Bogdanovich’s name while writing the piece.

Then there was the music review I wrote. It’s a good album, but I had to work to articulate the plusses and minuses of it. Also, I will sheepishly admit that I realized midway through the process that I wasn’t nearly as familiar with the band’s extensive band catalog as would have been ideal. I did a bit of cramming, but when it’s an act with around forty releases to their name, there’s only so much that can be done. I’m sure a fan with a far more exhaustive knowledge lapped me in the area of career context analysis somewhere out there in the wilds of the music blogosphere.

Spectrum Check

This week at spectrum Culture, I started with an album review. Specifically, this was another of my attempts to write about an artist who I like a great deal, but whose work is a little outside of my proverbial writing wheelhouse. I’m somewhat satisfied with the resulting review of the new record from M.I.A., but I do feel like it could have used more precise and detailed descriptions of the music itself. I was somewhat at a loss to describe the melange of sounds she creates. M.I.A. makes fantastic songs, but I don’t thing she’s yet pulled off a album that lives up to the promise of the dynamic, devastating singles.

On the film side, I wrote about the latest from John Sayles. It’s not good, but my conflicted feeling about calling it out for its middling quality wound up as the crux of the review. Not that I have any delusions whatsoever that my small review will impact the viability of future Sayles projects, but it still feels like a sort of betrayal to disparage the latest work from a filmmaker who I’d gladly bestow the gift of a perpetual green light upon. Still, a flawed film is a flawed film.

Spectrum Check

I had a nicely balanced week at Spectrum Culture: one film review, one album review. First I reviewed the new album from Minor Alps, a duo comprised of Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws, the latter best known as the leader of Nada Surf. His involvement piqued my interest, though, because of his preceding tenure with the Cost of Living. And thus my quest to cite obscure bands from my college radio days in Spectrum reviews marks another tally.

On the film side, I wrote about a new documentary tracing the genesis, production and influence of George A. Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead. Like a lot of similar projects, the documentary often comes across as a slightly more flinty DVD extra, but it has one major redeeming feature in the interview with Romero. Director Rob Kuhns would have arguably been better off just plopping a title card in front of the unedited interview and releasing that.

Spectrum Check

Though I was otherwise up to my Adam’s apple in cleaning, painting and other coordination involving a distant house, I still had a couple contributions go up this week at Spectrum Culture.

First, I had a new film review, covering a horror flick from the director of Splice. I selected this because a certain member of my household always welcomes a new cinematic excursion into horror, even though they often disappoint. That was certainly the case in this instance, although I’ll admit that it had a promising enough premise that a few changes could have made it into something interesting. A key bit of recasting would have helped a lot.

In the music section, I reviewed the new outing from Au Revoir Simone. This one I actually wrote while down in Florida. I was sitting on a barstool, lamenting the assignment (which–fair’s fair–I took upon myself) when my stalwart drinking buddy pish-poshed my expressed inability to figure out what to write. “Just say they’re a band that knows how to read sheet music,” he sardonically advised, giving me the lead sentence to the piece. The rest of it fell into place nicely from there.

Spectrum Check

In only had one full-length review at Spectrum Culture this week, but it was a fairly big one. When music reviews for the week were handed out, I picked up the new album from Cults. While I think the writing sums the record up well enough, I struggled to figure out the numeric ranking. On a gut level, it felt a little lower than the 4.0 I wound up with, but aside from one blip of a song, I also couldn’t find anything particularly problematic with the album. We’ll see how it ages for me.

I also pitched in a few words for our seasonally-appropriate feature on the best horror films since the calendar’s odometer turned over from 19 to 20. I’m very fond of the film I wrote on, but I have to admit I would have liked to tackle The Mist, if only to stump for director Frank Darabont’s far superior black-and-white version.

Spectrum Check

It was a fairly standard week for me at Spectrum Culture: one film review and one album reviews.

On the movie side, I covered an entry in that most woeful of categories: the genially dark indie film comedy. I’m not sure why these sorts of films are so hard to pull off, but the art houses are littered with dismal examples of underdeveloped comedies every year. And, as is the case with the one I reviewed this week, a remarkable amount of the time, the films in question are blessed with incredible casts.

On the music side, I drew the this release from Sleigh Bells. I was initially excited to write about the latest from a band that still feels very of-the-moment (even if they’re clearly creeping up to the edge of that), but as I listened repeatedly, I had the dreaded sensation that accompanied simply not having much to say about the album. I think I eventually found my way to a solid review, but it definitely took some work getting there.

Spectrum Culture

Now that I look at it, this week at Spectrum Culture was entirely about music for me. Even the film review I contributed was bursting with it, appropriate considering it was about the legendary Muscle Shoals recording studios that have factored into countless classic rock songs. It’s a good thing the director was able to drop in plenty of the songs (which must have cost plenty), because the film doesn’t have much else to recommend it.

On the music review side, I covered one disappointment and one winner, and they didn’t fall into those categories in quite the way I might have expected. First, I was assigned to write on the new album from Kim Gordon’s first significant post-Sonic Youth project because the editor-in-chief correctly surmised that I’m a Sonic Youth fan. (My take, published last year, on a live Sonic Youth album remains, I think, one of my better album reviews for the site.) Unfortunately, the album is a let-down, another warning, along with several half-baked side projects and solo efforts over the years, that the alchemy of the whole band is a special thing.

On the other hand, I became one of many who have accepted entry onto the Haim bandwagon. Maybe that makes me a sucker, but–damnit!–a good album is a good album. And Days Are Gone is a very good album.