Saturday, March 28, 2009 


I never wrote for Blender (friends did) and I was a regular reader since I randomly picked up an issue in a convenience store to mock it and stumbled upon a really insightful piece on Elvis Costello. A lot of the stuff I've seen written since the end of the magazine was announced has been pretty negative stuff; Robert Christgau actually puts it best, I think. Yes, the shrinking word counts were a damn shame (but not exactly Blender's fault) and yes some of the content was a little list-happy, but in terms of a good, North American general interest music magazine it was pretty much the top of the heap, and it had some fine writing in it. And now it's gone and we're back to pretty much Rolling Stone and Spin (both of which are unacceptable for differing reasons, although if the latter went to straight politics/investigative reporting, I'd probably buy it).


Ah well

I made the shortlist of 170; I didn't make the short-short list of 27. I'd like to think I'm one of the "dozens more" from the shortlist that David wishes they could sign up. In any case, I can't exactly begrudge anyone one of the contracts. Better luck next time, I guess.

Friday, March 27, 2009 

The sense of touch

I'd read some stuff about how long term isolation can cause mental problems, but this wide-ranging article at the New Yorker is utterly horrifying. I hope the problem isn't as bad up here, but in any case clearly changes need to be made. The scariest part? The only thing that keeps these "supermax" prisons going is the general public's sense that they're 'fair'....

Thursday, March 26, 2009 

Keep the streets empty for me

My review of the really excellent new album by Karin Dreijer Andersson of the Knife under the name Fever Ray is up today at PopMatters. We're in potential album-of-the-year territory here, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 

Everything I talk about I talk about

My good (and brilliant) friend Rachel finally has a blog; it's called My Valuable Hunting Knife and it's a song-a-day one, which I look forward to reading immensely. Check out her stuff.

Saturday, March 21, 2009 

I'd rather snore

Feel good hits of the 21st of March, 2009:

Populous w/Short Stories - The Holy See
Al Green - Tired of Being Alone
Rancid - Arrested in Shanghai
Dire Straits - Six Blade Knife
Talk Talk - Such a Shame
Blur - Swamp Song
Hefner - Christian Girls
The Good, the Bad & The Queen - Herculean
Night Ranger - Sister Christian
Vampire Weekend - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 


Stephen Harper has been a disastrous Prime Minister in a lot of ways (one of the biggest, actually, is how circumspect he's been able to be about what he and his government does, although the Canadian media seems slowly to be picking up on things), but even he should know better than to put a guy in charge of science funding that won't admit he believes the theory of evolution. As Warren Ellis, whom I got the link from, put it: "Canada's Sense of Polite Superiority Over the United States Suddenly Evaporates."

Monday, March 16, 2009 

Exciting developments!

My live review of the two Los Campesinos! shows I went down to NYC to see went up Friday, but I've been too distracted to notice it.

Much more importantly, the Singles Jukebox, one of the high points of Stylus quite frankly is back! I haven't written any blurbs yet (need to get on that tonight), but this is still the best pop music/internet news in quite a long time, I have to tell you.

Thursday, March 12, 2009 

You love it, you leave it, you can't kill everything

Feel good hits of the 12th of March, 2009:

Stars Like Fleas - "Berbers in Tennis Shoes"
R.E.M. - "Walk Unafraid"
Tindersticks - "A Night In"
Bob Dylan - "Desolation Row"
Lou Reed - "Perfect Day"
Constantines - "Justice"
Junior Boys - "Parallel Lines"
Final Fantasy - "This Is the Dream of Win and Regine"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Skeleton"
The Sycamores - "School"


The way of wrong power

My review of the new Christina Carter record is up today at PopMatters. I've never been able to like Charalambides as much as I kind of feel like I ought to, but even by those standards this was a bit of a disappointment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 

Get to know it in the dark

I like Animal Collective and all, but if we're going to talk about a respected indie band who've stepped up this year and made an album that both (a) leaves behind the more traditionally 'rock' instrumentation of previous efforts for something more sequenced and buzzy and (b) is their best work to date, we really should be talking about It's Blitz! Show Your Bones was a record I respected and liked but, aside from a few tracks like "Turn Into" didn't actually love; this one is the most unexpected stylistic and emotional jump since the Kills finally made me a fan in 2008.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 

A stronger world, a stronger loving world

[I normally don't care about spoilers, but if the Watchmen movie left me with any impression, it's that people need to read the book, and ideally they need to read it the same way I did - knowing as little as possible beforehand. Normally I'd just say "hey, spoilers, watch out" and move on, but in this case I want to stress that you really are ruining something great for yourself if you don't get go grab a cheap copy of Watchmen and read it. Especially if you go watch the movie first.]

Before anything else, I have to agree with Patton Oswalt: You have to give Zack Snyder credit for actually making a Watchmen movie, and furthermore for making one that's about as downbeat, messy, disturbing and otherwise conforming to the spirit of the series as we could expect. Like a lot of people getting pre-emptively defensive about the movie, though, Oswalt misses what it is about Snyder's Watchmen that is likely to piss fans of the series off. For the record, I hold the 'Nerd Mafia' in about as much contempt as Oswalt does. I'm not bothered by the cuts, really, or the alteration to the villain's plan (actually, like a lot of my friends who've seen it, I kind of wish Moore had taken things in that direction more, even if we would have lost the scene with the writer and artist on board the ship). Most of the cuts were intelligently chosen and executed, and like Oswalt says, "When you adapt a book, you cut things out, combine and conflate, streamline and linger."

That I have no problem with. The problem I have, and the reason I'm vaguely horrified by the prospect of people coming to Watchmen for the first time via the big screen, is the stuff they've added. Some additions are a natural, unavoidable side effect of turning it into a movie; it's perfectly natural that having a human being speak Dr. Manhatten's lines makes him sound less dispassionate, and Billy Crudup does a fine job. It's a perfectly legitimate choice on his and Snyder's part to have Jon sound kind of smug most of the time, and one that works - but everyone I know who's read the book agrees with me that the comic Dr. Manhatten is more dispassionate than anything else. It's easy to read the book, get that impression, and then watch the movie - but I think watching the movie stamps that interpretation in your mind such that you may well start reading stuff into the book.

I feel bad for Malin Akerman and Matthew Goode; both did better jobs than I was lead to expect by others, but Akerman doesn't quite have the chops for Laurie's single most important scene, the revelation of her father's identity. But that scene is also a perfect example of the ways in which Snyder was the wrong guy to adapt Watchmen. I have no problem with the device of Jon briefly allowing others to experience time non-linearly, it's a great way to speed things up for the movie. My problem is that when he does that for Laurie, instead of her piecing things together on her own (and allowing the audience to do the same), she's straight out told the truth. She was just repressing the memory, rather than the more realistic and moving portrayal in the series of someone finally putting the pieces together. So maybe she does have the chops - we'll never know.

Goode, meanwhile, who was so satisfying in The Lookout, does as good a job as can be expected given the way he's directed to play Veidt. Again, though, the key to why his character is unsatisfying lies not in the way he acts but in what he's allowed to say. As in the book, once everything has fallen out he tells Jon that he's made himself feel every death he's caused. And in the movie, he asks, "do you understand what I've done?" Goode does what he can to sell the line, but it's still a question asked out of arrogance and pride. The smartest man in the world wants the only being who he respects intellectually to admire the leap he's made.

In the comic, of course, the question is "Jon.... have I done the right thing?" For all the certitude he shows Rorshach and Dan, the book's Veidt has to live with the fear that the monstrous things he has done were pointless, that he's caused immense suffering for nothing. In the movie, more than anything else he seems put out that no-one will realize what a genius plan he had. Just as Jon goes from inhuman remove to amused smugness, Adrian goes from sickeningly even-keeled to arrogantly patrician. Even when he's beating up Dan and Rorshach, he seems nice in the book, in an odd way. That confrontation in the movie is stretched out, repeated a few times and is mostly an excuse for more slow motion violence. Watchmen still isn't an action movie, but it's a lot closer to one than it was before, and that's kind of sad.

More than anything else those fight scenes that Snyder added in, mostly with Dan and Laurie, made me a little sick to my stomach. Each of them kill at least a few thugs (snapped necks, fatal beatings, etc etc) and neither of them seem to care. When Rorscach kills the Big Figure in prison, they stand there and wait, and intentionally or not it's filmed so that it looks as if they can see what is happening. Leave aside for a second the fact that everyone in the movie seems to have super strength and inhuman durability - I don't like it, but it seems to be de rigeur for superhero movies (which this isn't, something Snyder to his credit grasps to some extent). That doesn't change the fact that as written Dan and Laurie are not murderers, let alone people who get sexually excited by murder, and altering that makes the movie grotesque and morally unpleasent.

Snyder still leaves in at least some elements of the impotence theme, as well as foregrounding some of the elements of Watchmen that the kids wouldn't pick up on their own, like the nuclear annihilation stuff. Huge credit to Snyder as well for leaving in or even expanding on two of Moore's implicit points: That the America in Watchmen is sick precisely because they can't lose (Eddie Blake saying "I think if we'd lost Vietnam it would have driven this country crazy"), and that as horrible as the Comedian is, he can't fathom or live with the kind of thing Veidt will do, because through all the killing and raping and so on Eddie still sees people as people; for Veidt, on some level, they're an abstraction. Each of them are horrible people, in their own way.

There are plenty of things the movie does right: Considering his character on Grey's Anatomy was/is one of the worst things to happen to that particular slice of melodrama, people might wonder if Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the right guy to play Eddie Blake, but more than anything else he comes across on Grey's as a likeable guy, and he nails Blake - effortlessly charismatic, even when he's gunning down rioters. The always excellent Patrick Wilson does a similarly good job as Dan, even if he can't make himself as schlumpy as he really should be. And Jackie Earle Haley manages to actually improve on Rorschach's last moments - it's enough to wish that they'd Kill Billed the movie and given him a chance to really stretch out in the prison/psychiatrist scenes. Visually it's a gorgeous movie for the most part, although again Snyder's continued obsession with slow-motion, pornographically shot violence is the worst thing about his movies (since this has more going on than 300 did, though, it's easier to ignore). The soundtrack is awful, just incredibly ham-handed (it's use of Cohen's "Hallulujah" is, as a friend pointed out, as predictably OTT as Control's deployment of "Atmosphere"), and that's really the problem with Watchmen as well - Snyder has crafted about half of a really great adaptation of a great series, and then his nerve failed and he spends the other half of the movie putting prose even purpler than Rorschach's journal in the mouths of his characters and making sure the audience has everything spelled out for them.

I couldn't resist pointing out to my friend Julia, who's read part of the book, which lines/parts/blood spurts weren't in book, mainly because every line or moment that rung false in a cheesey, melodramatic way were new inventions. I felt bad for whispering during the movie, but when I asked her what she thought of it after it was done, she said "I was really glad that every time something stupid happened you leaned over and went 'that wasn't in the book,' because the part I read didn't seem like that sort of story." I hate to be That Guy, but there you have it. Watchmen is both a towering achievement and a miserable failure. It's worth seeing, and it's worth seeing in the theatre, but please please please read the book first.

Monday, March 09, 2009 

Please hold the line

The mixes Todd Burns posts on his blog are always fantastic, but the newest one is particularly great by my lights - Talk Talk! William Basinski! Mogwai! Kepler! And Hidden Shoals' great RL/VL, whose Chagrin album is the best album of 2008 that I totally failed to mention at the time, and one of my favourite ambient albums ever, full stop.


Coat pocket full of pills

I have been lucky enough to be healthy for pretty much my entire life; barring a childhood tonsillectomy I've never had an operation, I've never broken a bone, I rarely get colds, etc. After staying put for at least a decade now, however, one of my wisdom teeth has decided to come out and play.

Thanks to the vagaries of Canadian health (not dental!) care and my job situation, I can't get it looked at until the 17th. Until then, I've been carrying around and taking as directed both antibiotics (which have helped immeasurably) and painkillers. I don't think I've taken antibiotics since I was a small child with an ear infection, and I don't usually take painkillers (they're more effective if you use them sparingly), so the nice thing is that they're kicking the crap out of my sore tooth. The not so nice thing is they're kicking the crap out of me too. I have a permanent knot in my throat and haven't wanted to do much but lay on the couch watching Battlestar Galactica the last five days.

Monday, March 02, 2009 

Too scared to steal, too lazy to work

Feel good hits of the 2nd of March, 2009:

Two Lone Swordsmen - "Nevermore (Than Just Enough)"
Everclear - "Elektra Made Me Blind"
The Afghan Whigs - "Faded"
Crowded House - "Pineapple Head"
Chris Whitley - "Perfect Day"
Kitchens of Distinction - "Sand on Fire"
Junior Boys - "When No One Cares"
Elbow - "Strangeways to Holcombe Hill in 4.20"
Radiohead - "Reckoner"
The Twilight Sad - "Mapped By What Surrounded Them"


And the shame of it, that we can't forget

I've got a post up on Sweeping the Nation today, on Readymade's incredible and undervalued All the Plans Resting. You should buy a copy.

Sunday, March 01, 2009 

The cold echo chamber

I'm not normally one to google myself (well, no more so than anyone else), but every so often I stumble upon someone out there who's referred to something I write. I never have any idea this has happened (I have no idea how to see who links to things here, for example), and it's always been a wonderful surprise, as whatever the quality of my writing might be, the people who respond to it have been to a person astute, well-written and generally of a higher level of quality than generally found on the internet.

While looking for my Perforations essay on Joy Division and hauntology* I stumbled onto this amazing post on Joy Division, Control, k-punk and depression. The post itself doesn't mention my essay (and who cares? It is essential reading anyways) but I'm very grateful that Amy in the comments did mention it, both because it's nice to think someone read and liked my work and also because I wouldn't have stumbled onto Emmy's brave, necessary and true post without it.

*(Apologies for the wonkiness of the some of the links; I tried to fix them, but couldn't. Ah well.)

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About me

Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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imathers at gmail dot com

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