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Weekly Mishmash: June 6-12

album_belledearBelle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Yearning for something newish, light and fun on eMusic, I honed in on this gem from one of my fave indie pop acts. I thought Belle and Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit was the best album of 2006, and this earlier collaboration with producer Trevor Horn is very much in the same paisley printed bag. Like Life Pursuit, this album puts a smile on my face with its summery charm. Much of the album has a startling, vaguely retro sheen (“Step Into My Office, Baby”), while other tunes (“Piazza, New York Catcher”) hark back to the twee folk that characterized their earliest work. Many purists find this stuff too sweet and sugary, but I find the band’s commitment to real melodies totally refreshing and a distinct step above the atonal posturing that most indie acts indulge in. This also made me want to explore Trevor Horn’s work; I even went to the trouble of making a list of everything Horn produced that’s on eMusic. Peruse his official discography — now that’s a body of work!
Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Fredric Dannen. Despite being published 20 years ago, this paperback edition of Dannen’s explosive music industry exposé is an enthralling read. Dannen casts a wide net in detailing the shady practice of goosing record airplay and sales — going back to the payola scandal of the ’50s and earlier — but mostly the book focuses on a ring of sleazy “independent promoters” who racked up millions in the freewheeling late ’70s and early ’80s. The book has a large cast of colorful characters (too large, to be honest), and everyone from thuggish bodyguards to pampered label execs gets a vivid portrait. The main thing I got from this book is that a good old boy mentality pervades the entire industry, and even the highest of label heads have the double-dealing oiliness of mob bosses. Dannen reserves his sharpest barbs for ’80s CBS Records head Irving Azoff, who here seems like the ultimate gladhanding sleazebag. A real eye-opener, and I wonder if it would be all that different for today’s music climate. Given what currently hits the charts, payola must continue being an essential part of the biz. The chapter on disco label Casablanca alone is worth its weight in gold.
Hoosiers (1986). I always wanted to see this, supposedly the template for every inspirational “come from behind” sports story committed to film in the last twenty or so years. Indeed, Hoosiers indulges in just about every sports movie cliché in the book, but Gene Hackman’s commanding presence and the wonderfully authentic, somewhat corny ’50s midwestern atmosphere pulled me over. Actually, the moody photography and faithful period detail were the film’s strongest elements in my opinion. Good performances are delivered by Hackman, Dennis Hopper (r.i.p.) and Barbara Hershey despite the fact that their characters are too stock to be truly believable. The only outright awful element would be Jerry Goldsmith’s score, weaving truly unfortunate ’80s synths into the mix that take the viewer out of the moment. Unbelievably, Goldsmith received an Oscar nom for this. What was the Academy thinking? The climactic game is pretty fantastically staged. I was stirred despite knowing what the outcome would be; if that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.
Manic (2001). Troubled teens argue, fistfight, argue, fistfight, the end.
Reprise (2006). Norwegian film with an intriguing concept, following two young men as they submit their first novels for publication. One becomes an immediate success, leading to a nervous breakdown; the other has his novel rejected but keeps plugging away and hoping to grab the attention of the reclusive older writer he admires. The film is structured in a freeform way, bouncing back and forth in time and dense with dialogue. While the technique is interesting, I found the two main characters somewhat bland and their slackerish lifestyle (mostly concertgoing and hanging out with friends, not much writing) wasn’t all that compelling.

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