Tuesday, February 21, 2006

You've Got What They Call Bad Equilibrium

I don't know when this turned into a hip-hop blog, but: for those of you who, like me, were somewhat disappointed with 8 Mile when it came out a few years ago, please be sure to check out Hustle & Flow. (::sigh:: It seems like all I've been doing for the past month and a half is catching up with movies and music I missed in '05. I've yet to see or buy anything that's legitimately been released in '06.) LK and I watched it last night, and it's really pretty great. It's everything 8 Mile wanted to be. It took all that dusty, street intelligence and went one step beyond to infuse it with genuine passion. (The relative bloodlessness of Hanson's approach was my main criticism of 8 Mile way back when.) It would have been absurdly easy to hate Hustle & Flow (and a good handful of people did; scroll down through Metacritic), considering how it leans pretty cornily on the redemptive power of music and populates its landscape with some broad stereotypes of pregnant, abused, and otherwise put-upon ho's, then has the temerity to make its theme song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." (Which, following again in 8 Mile's footsteps, is, in fact, nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar this year.) But, I kind of think that's exactly the point. It's reminding us that everyone is worthy of our sympathy, that there are no easy choices in life, that feelings of disenfranchisement or confusion don't necessarily break down along rigidly prescribed gender (or even racial) lines, that anyone who struggles to do the Right Thing can help inspire (oh, that word) those around him/her to also try to integrate the messy aspects of their lives into a more seamless whole. It loosely bats around blaxploitations tropes, thwarting our expectations in all the right places, and thrills us with the power of creation. It's really no cheap accident that the main female love interest spends the whole movie walking around, like, seventeen months pregnant and that the most exciting scenes take place in the cushy, womb-like comfort of the jerry-rigged home studio where DJay and his two co-producers sweat and struggle and strain to birth a demo with the potential to become a radio hit. (Um, hello, how much like placenta is that lava lamp on the mixing board?) Anyway, it's a great little movie that will make you care about hip-hop at the same time that it assures you that if you think hip-hop is all it's about, you're totally missing the point.

Are all you other music-heads keeping up with the great quantity of pixels being spilled about Destroyer's Rubies? (Stream it from the Merge Records website here and download the first of three free MP3s from Salon's Audiofile here.) From the little of the album I've listened to, I think the melodies are outstanding and the arrangements gorgeous, and I'm sure the lyrics will reveal themselves as wonderfully intricate and thoughtful when I have a chance to really sit down and ponder them, but I just don't care for Bejar's voice. And, I don't think it's just a knee-jerk reaction. I've never really warmed to his tunes on Twin Cinema, even for as awesomely rocking as "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras," et al., are. He's just slightly more nasal and yelpy than my ears can comfortably or willingly handle. However, if anyone is going to get me to stay patient with and probably purchase this album, it's Carl Wilson over at Zoilus. He says, "it's getting to the point where all I want to do is argue for the richness of Dan's comedy, but the reviews are making it clear that lots of people don't share this sense of humour, and I honestly do not get how it's possible to enjoy it otherwise, and certainly to feel the sense of tragedy. Which is (?) maybe why folks feel it's all about some preoccupation with intellect?" Shit, man, if there's anything I'm a sucker for in criticism, it's an insistence on allowing the richness of comedy to pull you into the art of the thing.

More on comedy? I couldn't agree more with Said the Gramophone's assessment that the Flaming Lips' leaked "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" is "exactly the sort of thing for people...who don't have much time for Lips albums but who love their best singles." I'm still trying to figure out exactly how I feel about the Lips, but I've been listening to this song incessantly on my Nano, and the screechy, annoying, completely nutty "ah-ah-ah" bit in the third minute cracks me up every time. (The inherent humor of people singing gloriously out of tune would always send MLBO'D and I into seizures of delight during high school choir concerts and community theater productions.) And, despite the fact that I was about to rave on about the greatness of the Ricky Gervais podcast after listening to one belatedly downloaded episode a week or so ago, now I'm not so sure. After listening to the new one that was just released this weekend, something about hearing Gervais mercilessly goad cohost Karl Pilkington into giving his opinions on increasingly bizarre "what if" scenarios just so he (Gervais) can laugh at the outlandishly odd things he (Karl) says made me supremely uncomfortable. Comedy doesn't come from asking someone with a slightly offbeat sensibility "well...what about this?"; it comes from creating an atmosphere where the conversation can wander to those what if places so that the wacky opinions and observations can arise naturally. Gervais's set-ups feel about two steps removed from the bullies in primary school asking the handicapped kid to explain where babies come from. I love British comedy, and I want to like Ricky Gervais, but I somehow always run up against stuff like this that grates on me enough to keep me at a distance. I suspect Stephen Merchant is the actual comic mastermind at work here.

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