Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Brief List of All the Enervating Assumptions in Meghan Trainor's "Dear Future Husband."

Now that I spend my days writing about Serious Art World Things™ instead of just the goofiest pop culture run-off, I try hard (really hard, dear Reader) not to let the trending topics get to me. But in this case, upon ill-advisedly taking a gander at the latest from Meghan Trainor (of "All About that Bass" fame), I couldn't help myself. I mean, what could anyone possibly expect from a song called "Dear Future Husband"? And still, my fingers were typing before my eyes had completed their 720˚ roll. Because the bright colors, saccharine melody, self-censoring coyness, & highly Internet-savvy use of "FAIL" all point toward the fact that this video is being marketed to children, & the absolute damn last thing developing brains need to hear (besides, say, a slim blonde woman telling you that boys like your ample booty) is any of this retrograde gobbledygook.

So without further ado, here is a (surely incomplete) list of all the laughable, worrisome, & ultimately just exhausting assumptions presented in Meghan Trainor's "Dear Future Husband" video. Because really, wouldn't you think we'd be done with these by now?

  • Marriage is a given &/or a reasonable metric by which you should scan all romantic prospects
  • So is being able to hit one of those carnival strong-man machines
  • Flowers, rings, opening doors, & compliments are cheat codes to access a woman’s genitals
  • Wearing a leather jacket absolves you of egregious gender stereotyping
  • Refusing to make apple pie is a feminist statement
  • Scallops are elitist
  • BITCHES BE CRAY, a.k.a., “Why disagree?” because women will just argue irrationally with their wee lady brains (& are probably on their period anyway, jeez)
  • “Classy guys” don’t seek oral sex—or follow through on 4th grade innuendo
  • Rolling around in suds is an effective floor-scrubbing technique
  • Proper suitors should stand, stone-facedly, outside the homes of their intended
  • “Plenty of Fish” is a site that still exists & is worth your time
  • Cactus-shaped topiary is in any way acceptable 
  • Also, there are two children briefly pictured on Meghan Trainor’s lawn having a tea party—are these her children? Her former time-warped self? Are the tiny children being forced into a tiny child marriage? WHAT IS HAPPENING?
In fact the only thing this video gets even remotely right is that, yes, it does vastly improve one’s life to have a bowtie-sporting doowop quartet following one around at all times. Oh, also, blue PVC skirts should probably be a thing again.

Meanwhile, I will be trying to counteract this song's hatefulness by recutting it to the castration scene from Hard Candy. Until next time.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Bus Passes and Happy Meals—Lizzo.

Because Lizzo is all of the things Meghan Trainor would like to think she is—repping"bass" in kooky technicolor style, unapologetically femme & exceedingly badass. Rather than flounce around in premarital suds, Lizzo gives the institution some side-eye, spitting "like a mistake on your wedding cake, minuscule to me, I'm a big deal to you." Also, she name-checks Cogsworth—so, y'know, instant victory.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

THF: Alors on est épris (AKA, Let's Talk About Stromae).

New year, new "actually write anything ever" resolution, newfound unemployment—&, alongside it all, a new all-consuming musical fixation.

Or, well, not so much "new" as "rediscovered": If you were 20s-adjacent in 2010 & happened to have ears at the time, you likely remember "Alors on danse," the chart-shatteringly infectious rap-electronica single that you might not have entirely understood in its fast-mumble français, but you certainly knew the eponymous chorus—& to jump up & down like a fiend at the siren-like electro-sax riff that followed. Perhaps you also have some memory of the (dear God so good-looking) star of its viral split-screen video—but if you're like me, you didn't know his name, or really care to know, or give much thought at all to whether his career would progress past that sole explosive multi-national hit.

Well, far from supernova-ing his way into oblivion, Belgian artist Stromae (verlan for "maestro") has apparently been steadily producing music since—&, surprise, he's nothing short of fabulous. Each track is both relentlessly clever & eminently danceable, a personal favorite combo of mine. They also tend subtly toward the theatrical, as he sings from the point of view of various characters, a practice I've been known to find fun.

True, some of the appeal (specifically, the omnipresent wordplay) may get lost in translation for those not Frenchly inclined, but I'd like to think that the sonic thralls—& his freaking gorgeous face the visual spectacle of the videos, several of which include English subtitles—can make up for it, at least in part.

Below are my three current "listen on repeat-repeat-repeat" picks—though I do highly recommend all of his most recent album "Racine Carrée" ("Square Root"). & also, y'know, maybe one more play-through of "Alors on danse," just for old times' sake. It really is an excellent young-professional anthem, perfect for the midwinter trudge-to-work blues—& more importantly, for the hazy limb-thrash sessions that inevitably follow.

"Tous les mêmes" ("All the Same").
My Stromae binge began with the above video, which I clocked instantly as "one of the more brilliant uses of the 'half-femme' face I've seen in quite some time," a statement I happily stand by. The song, which is written primarily from the perspective of a woman to her boyfriend, is essentially a run-down of Major Gender Stereotypes: Men are unfaithful, superficial louts who are "always there to make [children] but never to raise them," while women are hormonal head-game-players whose aggression thinly veils a Kate Moss insecurity complex. See: a version with English subtitles (also preceded by several minutes of him being adorable in a gondola):

Sure, on its face, the concept risks a sense of been-there banality—but the fact that Stromae & his bevy of asymmetrically-coiffed dancers play both roles, I think, adds an extra layer: the idea that for all their gendering blame & complaints, these men & women are ultimately tous les mêmes, if only in tediousness. 

Also, perhaps most importantly, are you kidding me with that post-chorus horn riff. I have committed many an embarrassing subway / elevator / down-the-sidewalk dance in the few weeks this song has graced my headphones, physically incapable of not dipping & swaying with each punch of brass. 

"Formidable" ("Wonderful").
Slightly slower but nonetheless sway-worthy, piano-backed "Formidable" takes the form of a recent dumpee's drunken rant—&, delightfully, so does its video. Hidden cameras capture the singer stumbling around a Brussels intersection, umbrellaless on a rainy weekday morning, alternately shouting spurts of lyrics & sitting slumped on the curb. Passersby pop out cell-phone cams, police approach to ask if he's had a "rough night"—it's a masterpiece of method acting-cum-media trolling. Plus, I'd be remiss if I didn't call out the rhyme-y cleverness of the chorus: Tu étais formdiable / j'étais fort minable (You were wonderful / I was so pathetic). I'm such a sucker for turns of phrase.

"Carmen" is, like it sounds, a riff on Bizet's opera of the same name—specifically, its most famous aria—though in this case, instead of comparing love to any old bird, l'amour est comme l'oiseau de Twitter. Yes, Stromae is calling out the site's winged logo, & with it, the potential slip into social superficiality that accompanies the rise of Social Media—the danger of a genuine "coup de foudre" being replaced by coups de hashtag. Lest the term "fucking genius" seem a bit much, for those not so sprung as I, I'll just point out the alliterative syllables tripping over jaunty cello & tightly wound beats, the savvy hip-hop-ification of high art—AKA, yes, please. 

See also: this recent live version, in which he sports a bowler hat & dances just so right, strolling dandyish with his cane-like partial mic stand, shoulders hunching hard with each speaker-testing bass throb, his movements mimicked by a grid of video projections behind him:

Ladies & gentlemen, I rest my case.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Playlists (AKA, Music to Which One Might End College).

So, you guys. It's happening.

Indeed, much like Daniel Day-Lewis lofting a bloodied bowling pin over Paul Dano's crushed-in skull—&/or a small child who has poked at her food, frowned at it, attempted to eat it, & ultimately just maniacally splattered it all over every object within a 20 ft radius—I can now cry out with impunity (& more than a little slurry, sleep-deprived overenthusiasm), "I'm finished!!!"

Because somehow, i's dotted, t's (& fingers—& toes) crossed, I will be graduating college in approximately three days.

Of course, along with this feeling of cosmic doneness comes the stomach drop panic of, "... Well, then... ???"—looking out over the edge of the Familiar into the spiky abyss of the Unknown, contemplating leaving behind once & for all the world of poached dining hall fruit & artfully bullshat prose for the uncharted territories of rent checks & unlimited Metrocards & office-appropriate attire. 
Because, as synapses melt into a puddle of interrobangs, & time refuses to make sense (e.g., "How has it been four years since I saw that person / moved to New York / took a math class?"), & oh, I guess, but I just don't know, it would seem that the only appropriate response is to clutch one's box of wine & watch Empire Records seven or eight times in a row while silently weeping into a pile of dirty laundry.

However, soon after said bout of blind, short-circuit panic & all its adorable concurrent catastrophes comes that moment when you realize, "Well, wait, I also somehow managed to find employment & a place to live"—& more to the point, it's about to be summer in the city, & since it's Friday night, & legend has it that's a different world, maybe it's about time you went out & found a girl.

In short, out of this whirlwind month-or-so came two rather different playlists: the former, which hems & haws & surges & slides & ultimately asserts simply "Here I am," with the plain, resigned sigh of Simon & Garfunkel's chorus—the latter, which finally just surrenders to the hot, ridiculous jitters of uncertainty with a grin & a fuck it & a techno beat. Here's both.

5-4-13: Here I Am.
[ ^ Grooveshark playlist!^ ]

Yes Sir, I Can Boogie—Baccara.
Higher Ground—TNGHT.
Two-Headed Boy—Neutral Milk Hotel.
Some Weird Sin—Iggy Pop.
Blank Generation—Richard Hell & The Voidoids.
Know Your Onion!—The Shins.
The Enemy—Dirty Pretty Things.
Watching the Detectives—Elvis Costello.
A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left—Andrew Bird.
A New Career in a New Town—David Bowie.
The Hollows—WHY?.
Wake Up, John!—Sidewalk Driver (Not on Grooveshark—but on Bandcamp!).

The Only Living Boy in New York—Simon & Garfunkel.
Do The Strand—Roxy Music.
It Ain't Gonna Save Me—Jay Reatard.
Fast As You Can—Fiona Apple.
You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby—The Smiths.
Heroin—The Velvet Underground.
Let It Rain—OK Go.
Pursuit of Happiness—Lissie (Kid Cudi cover).
Days With You (feat. Sxip Shirey)—Jason Webley.

5-17-13: Meet You on the Rooftop.
[ ^ Grooveshark playlist!^ ]

Summer in the City—The Lovin' Spoonful.
Girls and Boys—Blur.
Goodbye Horses—Q Lazzarus.
I Love It (I Don't Care)—Icona Pop.
Call Me A Hole—Carly Rae Jepsen vs. Nine Inch Nails.
She's Not There—The Zombies.
Mad World—Tears for Fears.
Necessary Evil—The Dresden Dolls.
Wavvy—Mykki Blanco.
Pledge Of Allegiance—Louis XIV.
Heartbeats—The Knife.
Great Big Kiss—Johnny Thunders.
Gravity—Nico Vega.
Fall Into Place—Apartment.
Wig Wam Bam—Billy Hatchet and the Mowhawks.
Sugarhigh—Coyote Shivers.
The Start of Something—Voxtrot.
Donna—HAIR (Original 1968 Broadway Cast).
Sex and Candy—Marcy Playground.
Don't Ask Me—OK Go.
Semi Charmed Kinda Life—Third Eye Blind.
The Killing Field—FLESH (Not on Grooveshark—but on Badcamp!).

Forest Whitaker—Brother Ali.
Queen Bitch—David Bowie.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go pack everything I own into portable-sized containers. See you on the other side, team.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Preamble for a Literal Mental Breakdown.

When I came across the recent Buzzfeed article, "The Wrong Definition of 'Literally' is Literally Going Into the Dictionary," my head literally exploded.

Or, well, it didn't. & the way that you know it didn't is that I'm typing this to you now, as opposed being gurneyed out of the library in a body bag (or riding my fire-breathing stallion through Sleepy Hollow).

Of course, the popular misuse of this particular adverb is not news—not by a long shot. In fact, it's been prominently lampooned in recent years on How I Met Your Mother& especially on Parks & Recreation, as the favorite intensifier of Rob Lowe's overexcitable Chris Traeger, for whom everything is "literally the [insert superlative here]."

Ultimately, I consider David Cross's 2002 routine the definitive rant on the subject: because when you misuse the word literally, you are using it in the exact opposite way that it was intended.

As a total word nerd & sometimes grammar snoot, the mistake bothers me, sure—but more often than not, I'm willing to let it slide. I understand that, in most cases, people are making a joke or an otherwise tongue-in-cheek statement—that they know they didn't literally die or piss themselves or stab their uncle in the face with a rake, but for whatever reason, that qualifier just feels right stuck into their phrasing.

What does bother me, though, to no end, is this:

(via Buzzfeed)

I'm sorry, but how does it make even the remotest bit of sense that "used to acknowledge that something that is not literally true" would be printed as an official functioning definition for the word "literally." It's as if we decided that the new definition for the word "quickly" were "1. done with speed; 2. used to acknowledge something that was not done with speed, but, like, if you're being sarcastic about it or something."

I mean, sure, people are technically, linguistically capable of using "literally" in this context, & yes, they do so frequently. But that doesn't change the fact that, in that usage, they're either joking or they're wrong—& to canonize & codify that wrongness is at least stupid, if not actually problematic.

Because the point of having the word "literally" in the first place is to designate things that are, y'know, literal—specifically, as opposed to things that are not. In fact, as someone prone to both sarcasm & over-exaggeration, I appreciate the steadfastness of its definition: that way, its use is deliberate & its intentional misuse thus even stronger. The murkiness of having it both ways does nothing but strip the word of any & all legitimate signification—to the point 
where we'll all have to pepper our speech with the qualifier "& I'm using the word 'literally' here in its correct & literal sense"—which is clunky & pointless & frustrating on several levels. Because, for example, what makes Chris's character so endearingly exuberant is that he means what he says, literally, every time.

In short: catering to a mass misuse is as ridiculous as it is detrimental, to the word itself & words themselves.

In shorter: everything about this phenomenon is the fucking worst. Literally.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Yes, this song is 43 seconds long, & yes, it's all the more fantastic for it. I've always been an advocate of songs being no longer than absolutely necessary—"Welcome to the Working Week" always one of my favorite Elvis Costello tunes—but honestly, Molina's 12-track, just-over-12-minute Dissed and Dismissed makes the Ramones look like an overindulgent jam band. The friend who recommended the album to me described it as "Rivers Cuomo stripped of all the fat," & I couldn't agree more—the perfect soundtrack for adolescent attention deficits & directionless head-bopping, shuffle-y & shoe-gaze-y & surging with power chords. (Also, note the 25 second track, "Sick Ass Riff," that is—wait for it—literally a single sick ass riff.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sometimes It Pays to Do Your Homework.

As anyone connected to me via social media / telephone lines / bleary library eye contact is already well aware, I spent the better part of December 2012 & January 2013 writing numerous words about Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodóvar. (Or—well—many days stressing over & avoiding those words, & then several frantically churning them out like the overcaffeinated spawn of the Tasmanian Devil & a racecar battery.) Anyhow, the whole process was somewhat hazy & bonkers & left me all but zapped of brain matter—but ultimately, it paid off, in this case rather literally.

As it turns out, one of the essays I wrote was selected as the winner of the first annual Andrew Sarris Memorial Scholarship Award for Film Criticism. Aside from how endlessly honored & humbled & floored & ecstatic I feel (to have any tiny part in the legacy of the critic who established auteur theory, to know that greats like Molly Haskell & Caryn James read my prose & found it even remotely pleasant), the title also comes with $750. Which is just beyond.

Anyhow, several people have since asked to read the essay in question, so, for those interested, here it is below—only slightly altered from its submitted form, to fix typos & some phrasing that proved intolerably wonky upon re-reading. (Also, if for whatever reason you want to read a similar argument articulated over 25 pages through transwomen & Judith Butler—AKA, my senior thesis—let me know, & I can certainly make that happen.)

"Positively Anti-Realist"
Art, Artifice, and the Power of Fiction in the Films of Pedro Almodóvar

Since his career began in 1978, writer/director Pedro Almodóvar has become one of modern cinema’s most prodigious and recognizable auteurs. Though his oeuvre spans decades, with eighteen full-length films and many awards and accolades (including two Oscars) to his name, all of his films seem to bear certain signature stylistic traits: bright colors, strong female characters, melodramatic tone and plot twists, celebration of queer sexuality—even a cadre of recurring performers (including current household names Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, both of whom owe their success in large part to roles in Almodóvar’s early films). However, beyond these somewhat superficial similarities, there seems to be a deeper uniting thematic trend that spans his body of work: regardless of the specific circumstances of his films’ plotlines, Almodóvar proves himself time and time again to be a creator obsessed with the process of artistic creation. His films repeatedly focus attention on the borderline between reality and artifice, fact and fiction—and show it to be permeable and difficult to maintain. Indeed, many of his films—such as Law of Desire (1987), Bad Education (2004), and Broken Embraces (2009)—explicitly chronicle the travails of filmmaker protagonists and thereby engage directly in the practice of metafilm, implicitly (sometimes, even explicitly) laying bare the inner workings of their own cinematic construction. This somewhat jarring process necessarily forces the viewer to recognize the suspension of disbelief required to engage with film—to reconcile the undeniably artificial nature of what one is seeing with the extent to which it is still affecting. Moreover, even in films of his that don’t explicitly explore the process of filmmaking—for example, All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), and his most recent output, The Skin I Live In (2011)—Almodóvar still seems intent on investigating the influence of art, whether by including explicit references to (or even clips from) other films, or by foregrounding other artistic practices, such as theater, dance, and sculpture. In each case, Almodóvar showcases the ways in which artifice can have a direct and powerful influence on the “reality” of each film’s diegesis; performance, deception, and the production of art are all central to the stories he seeks to tell. One might even term Almodóvar’s films “positively anti-realist,” as theorist Paul Burston does in his essay “Genre Bender,” in that his films constitute “a world which regularly draws attention to its own construction” (143). Indeed, by commenting so frequently on the ways in which art affects life, Almodóvar seems intent on breaking down the presumed hierarchy that privileges reality over artifice, even on destabilizing the very notion of “reality” altogether. Ultimately, Almodóvar’s films represent a collective ode to the power of fiction—a recognition that, in many cases, art can be more “real” than reality, or at the very least equally as relevant.

Of course, this foregrounding of the importance of art is perhaps most explicit in the Almodóvar films that specifically focus on the act of filmmaking, as, in both style and subject matter, they suggest a correlation between the endeavors of their filmmaker protagonists and the work going on behind Almodóvar’s camera. Indeed, in each of these three films-about-filmmaking, the protagonist is a male director, and each one bears varying degrees of resemblance to Almodóvar himself. Law of Desire, for example, revolves around young director Pablo Quintero, an apparently successful member of the up and coming queer Spanish film scene in the 80s, just as Almodóvar was at the time. Also, Almodóvar has since revealed in interviews that certain aspects of Pablo’s character were based on his own actions—for example, writing the “perfect love letter” he would like to receive himself, then asking his lover merely to sign it and send it back, as Pablo does with his lover Juan early in the film (Smith, 79).

In Bad Education, this linkage between diegetic and actual directors becomes formally explicit, even to those with no knowledge of Almodóvar’s personal backstory. As the opening credits sequence comes to a close, we see the customary closing title card “Guión y Dirección [script and direction] Pedro Almodóvar.” However, after a few moments, Almodóvar’s name fades, the background image dissolves from its harsh black, white, and red palette to full Technicolor, and the words “Guión y Dirección Enrique Goded” fade in over what is now a picture of several flight attendants in colorful uniforms posing by the silhouette of a plane. As a disembodied voice begins to tell the story of a motorcyclist who froze to death while on the highway, the camera slowly pulls back from the image of the flight attendants, revealing the edges of an ornate gold frame, and then begins to pan to the left, revealing a young man, sitting across the desk from another man, reading aloud. The first man finishes his story, and Almodóvar settles into a close-up on his face, as he qualifies it to the man across the desk: “It’s a wonderful image. A dead young man drives his motorcycle across the icy plain, escorted by two patrolmen. … There is a story here. I’ll cut it out and keep it. It might inspire me.” Thus, the set-up is clear: this is Enrique Goded, a filmmaker seeking material for his next project; the image of the flight attendants is a framed poster for one of his past films—one of many that we can now see decorate his office. Of course, as we will learn by the end of the next scene, Enrique is also specifically a gay male film director, again like Pablo and Almodóvar. However, the specific choice to fade from Almodóvar’s credit to Enrique’s makes the viewer’s association between them that much stronger: not only are they paralleled in personality, or even implicitly as obsessive creators working in cinema—as Almodóvar is with Pablo—but here, Almodóvar has almost seen fit to give Enrique a directing credit—or, at the very least, to place his name rather literally on the same level as his own.

Perhaps the most direct parallel between Almodóvar and his film director protagonists occurs in Broken Embraces, with Lluís Homar’s portrayal of Mateo Blanco. Though this time a straight man—whose on set romance with his female star is, in fact, the driving force behind the conflict of the narrative*—Mateo’s linkage to Almodóvar is nonetheless explicit, in that the film we watch him attempt to make, titled Chicas y maletas (“Girls and suitcases”), bears a striking resemblance to Almodóvar’s farcical Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). From the names of the main characters (“Pepa” versus “Pina,” both of whom have a love interest named “Ivan”), to a plot spurred by the leaving behind of a suitcase, down to even smaller details like the mention of gazpacho spiked with sleeping pills, there is no question that Mateo’s creative work is a reference to Almodóvar’s previous endeavor. Moreover, at the start of Broken Embraces, Almodóvar introduces us to the dual nature of his protagonist’s identity: when asked, in the first line of the film, “What is your name?” the man we see pictured responds, “Harry Caine.” However, immediately after, a voiceover explains: “I used to be called Mateo and I was a film director. I was always tempted by the idea of being someone else as well as myself. Living one life wasn’t enough, so I invented a pseudonym, Harry Caine.” Coming as he does after these other pseudo-Almodóvarian characters, Mateo might be said to represent a version of the director aware of his own past attempts to fictionalize himself—of his ability to thereby, in a sense, “become [his] pseudonym,” as Mateo has.

Of course, the intent behind detailing these parallels between Almodóvar and his onscreen directors is not merely to expose these films as somehow autobiographical. True, both Bad Education and Law of Desire do touch upon elements of Almodóvar’s past (e.g., his brother’s molestation by a priest), and these characters certainly seem to function as undisguised porte-paroles for his own creative passion—exercising their artistic impulse the same way he does and therefore especially well-realized, as their characterization was likely informed by personal experience (Kinder, 269). However, what is most interesting about these explicit connections between Almodóvar and his director protagonists is the self-questioning, even apparently self-sabotaging, metafilmic dimension such paralleling exposes. By focusing on characters who make films for a living, Almodóvar is able to do this in an expressly straightforward way, by cutting back and forth from the film we’re watching to his film-within-a-film at key moments.

For example, in Bad Education, towards the climax of the film itself, we are also presented with a scene of the shooting of the climax of Enrique’s film, La Visita. Of course, prior to describing this particular scene, it’s crucial to explain the convoluted history of the entire film shoot: La Visita is inspired by a short story of the same name, written by Enrique’s childhood schoolmate and onetime lover, Ignacio—a story that is itself based in part on their shared past experience. In the story, Ignacio—an adult and now a transwoman called Zahara—goes back to their old school and attempts to blackmail Padre Manolo, the priest who molested him. Enrique acquires the story at the very beginning of Bad Education (just after reading about that frozen motorcyclist), when Ignacio visits him for the first time in sixteen years to present “La Visita”—and to suggest that Enrique adapt and direct it, in order that he, as an aspiring actor, can play the lead role of Zahara. Enrique initially turns Ignacio down but ends up reading the story anyhow—and, as he reads, his voiceover speaking out the title and first few sentences, describing the town where the two went to school with its decrepit “Cine Olympo” theater, the image onscreen fades from Enrique’s nighttime apartment in Madrid to show that theater. From here, Enrique’s voiceover disappears, and what is presumably the plot of “La Visita” is visualized, without narration, for Almodóvar’s audience. Significantly, Gael García Bernal, the actor who plays Ignacio, also plays Zahara in this visualization—which would seem to make sense: given basic filmic convention, combined with the knowledge that “La Visita” is based on a true story, and especially in light of Enrique’s occasional intercut emotional reactions, this sequence has all the trappings of a traditional flashback.

However, as the film progresses, Enrique discovers that the man (played by Gael García Bernal) who first delivered “La Visita” to him is not actually Ignacio, but is in fact Juan, Ignacio’s younger brother. Still, Enrique doesn’t disclose to Juan that he’s discovered his ruse—rather, he gives him the part of Zahara, just as he wanted, and continues to act as if he were Ignacio. Though certainly an important twist in terms of plot, this uncovering of Juan’s true identity also makes manifest an important stylistic shift for Almodóvar’s audience: rather than an actual flashback, what we were watching as Enrique read “La Visita” for the first time—the way in which we apprehended that story—was footage from his film adaptation, La Visita. Moreover, this fact is explicitly made manifest for the first time in the climactic scene at the film shoot previously mentioned: the scene begins with a medium shot of Juan as Ignacio/Zahara—wearing the same outfit that Zahara wore throughout the initial scenes from “La Visita”—facing away from the camera, as we hear the expected behind-the-scenes pre-take banter (e.g., “rolling”) from off screen. After a moment, a traditional clapboard bearing the chalked-on title, La Visita, is held up into the middle of the shot: in this moment, Almodóvar clearly identifies that his camera and Enrique’s camera are, for now, one and the same. Once the clapboard is removed, we hear Enrique call “action” from off screen, and Juan turns around to begin the scene, his dialogue relating the breaking point of Ignacio’s fight with the (now revealed fictional) Padre Manolo over the intended blackmail. Mere seconds later, however, Almodóvar cuts to a shot, head-on, of Enrique in his director’s chair, surrounded by production assistants, watching the take transpire, sitting next to the camera through which we were just looking—separate, explicitly, from the production of La Visita. Moments later, however, Almodóvar returns to the same shot as before, once again in line with Enrique’s camera—and from here, Almodóvar seems almost to forget himself, diving fully into the scene of La Visita: cutting to a close-up of Juan, then a close-up of the actor playing Padre Manolo, then on through a series of varying shots typical of a traditional film scene, as the story of La Visita continues to play out. Of course, according to the on-set scenario painstakingly set up by the scene’s opening—the clapboard, the shot of Enrique in his director’s chair—this sequence as presented is physically impossible. Given how the first shots of this scene highlight the tediousness of filmmaking, and that the premise of this sequence is of an “on set” atmosphere, to then present these varied compositions (close-ups, panning shots, dolly shots) without any reference as to their construction, simply in the natural course of an edited scene, is necessarily somewhat jarring. By calling attention to the behind-the-scenes nature of film production, then acting as if it never happened, Almodóvar has thus succeeded in making the seamless, captivating flow of traditional film editing noteworthy, even bizarre.

The scene of La Visita continues for several minutes—including Ignacio’s death, as a another priest enters, gags him, and snaps his neck—and as the action appears to draw to a close, with Manolo praying over Ignacio’s limp body, Almodóvar suddenly cuts to a wide shot of the entire set, the left half of which contains the scene in which we were just immersed, while the right half overflows with production personnel and apparatus—Enrique atop a giant camera cart, lights, tripods, exposed planks, and an intrusive boom mike hovering, we can imagine, just above the frame line of the shot we just saw. Even more so than at the start of this sequence, Almodóvar asks us in this moment to recognize the simultaneity of film and filmmaker—how the thralls of fiction are inseparable from the reality of those who produce it. Moreover, by bookending the sequence with references to its production—reminding us at the start of the scene’s constructed nature, allowing it to transpire just long enough to draw us in, and then disrupting that involvement with another assertion of the scene’s fundamental artifice, even including in all of this the ultimate uncanny filmic miracle of a faked death—Almodóvar makes clear not only how a film scene is constructed, but more importantly, just how easy it is to forget that fact, caught up as we are in the narrative.

One might also recognize this as the very same process achieved by the film’s overall structure, as the reveal that Enrique’s “flashbacks” are in fact excerpts from his fictional film reminds us on yet another level of film’s ability to fool: Almodóvar implicitly asks us to care for Enrique and for Ignacio, for their troubled childhood and their thwarted love, before he shows us that those were all actors—that, at this point in the film, we haven’t even met the real Padre Manolo. Of course, in coming to these realizations, one also has to recognize the absurdity of the idea of a “real” Padre Manolo, as he is a fictional character—but this is exactly the seemingly paradoxical register on which metafilm operates: what theorist D. N. Rodowick calls “a classic Freudian Verneinung,” in which, by explicitly “striking an opposition of imaginary”—or, in this case, constructed—“and real as two different narrative registers represented within the same film,” Almodóvar’s fiction thus “asserts all the more stridently its status as ‘reality’” (5).

Indeed, it is crucial at this point to specify that highlighting film as artificial does not necessarily mean proclaiming it somehow meaningless or otherwise ineffectual. Ultimately, it seems that Almodóvar’s goal is precisely the opposite—to prove that there are cases in which fiction can match reality in meaning and import. For example, at the end of this sequence, when the take of his death scene is over and the bustle of production staff begin setting up for the next shot, Juan remains on set, sobbing uncontrollably, clearly moved by what has just been painstakingly proved false. We find out by the end of the film that Juan was directly responsible for his brother’s death, so one might infer that his playing out this sequence, a fundamentally unreal action, was nevertheless genuinely emotionally cathartic.

This use of an artificial or fictional medium to express a crucial emotional development is repeated throughout Almodóvar’s oeuvre. For example, in Broken Embraces, cuckolded mogul Ernesto Martel finds out via film footage—notably, film footage with no recorded sound, such that he has to hire a lip reader to speak the voices—that his girlfriend, Lena, is cheating on him with Mateo. Moreover, when Lena arrives, improbably, at exactly the moment in the footage at which she confesses her love for Mateo, she demands of Ernesto, “Focus on me,” and rather than turn around to look at her in the flesh, he keeps his eyes on the screen, as she speaks from the back of the room, adding the soundtrack to her otherwise mute filmed image. In this case, not only is an important story element conveyed through an artificial medium, but also what Lena identifies as “me” in this moment, as the most relevant version of herself, is the version represented onscreen. In Law of Desire, too, characters’ feelings are repeatedly expressed through art. Pablo’s sister, Tina, while performing Jean Cocteau’s one-woman monologue, La Voix Humaine, uses the words of the play to express frustration to her ex-lover who stands in the wings. Also, Pablo himself seems to have staged this play about tragic distance from a lover as a desperate plea to his own lover, Juan, to return from abroad, something Pablo is repeatedly unable to express to him directly.

Of course, Almodóvar’s characters’ use of artifice to express themselves also, by extension, exposes his own: his films are littered with references to other texts, whether the clip from All About Eve that begins (and is explicitly shown to inspire the title for) All About My Mother, or the fact that the film centers, in large part, around a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire and the parallels the protagonist draws between her life and Stella’s. Even the Pina Bausch dance routines that bookend Talk to Her echo the film’s themes of helplessness and codependence, with their images of, for example, women with their eyes closed flailing through a room of overturned furniture which one lone man must attempt to knock away. In each case, just as with Tina’s and Pablo’s use of Cocteau, these incorporated texts serve to illuminate and exemplify aspects of the film that might otherwise remain underexplored. For example, the work of Louise Bourgeois, a main proponent of confessional art, appears repeatedly throughout The Skin I Live In. Not only is there a shot of her coffee table book in the film’s opening sequence and, later, a clip from the documentary about her art, but also, once these references have been established, we see the protagonist, Vera, making sculptures in Bourgeois’s style. Because The Skin I Live In centers around Vera’s loss of identity—stripped, as she is, by a vengeful plastic surgeon, of every physical aspect of her former male body, even of her former name, “Vicente”—to see her mimic the artistic tradition espoused by Bourgeois, one that privileges physicalizing the psychological, proves her inner strength despite her seeming external powerlessness (McCrae).

By incorporating these outside artworks into his texts, Almodóvar demonstrates the power of art—artifice, created product—to enrich and affect reality, sometimes even to supersede it. Meanwhile, his films, by strategically calling attention to their own construction, also simultaneously assert their effectiveness as the kind of art that can have this power. Ultimately, all taken together—the sum total of the films themselves, as well as the many overlapping themes and correlations, the repeated examination of the effects of fictions—Almodóvar’s oeuvre reminds us of the importance of art to the proper operation of reality, of the fact that, just because something is constructed doesn’t mean it can’t function as, for all intents and purposes, “real.”

* It’s worth noting that, according to interviews, even this attraction to Cruz is authentic to Almodóvar’s experience (France).


All About My Mother. Dir. Pedro Almodóvar. Writ. Pedro Almodóvar. Perf. Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan. DVD. 1999.

Bad Education. Dir. Pedro Almodóvar. Writ. Pedro Almodóvar. Perf. Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez. DVD. 2004.

Broken Embraces. Dir. Pedro Almodóvar. Writ. Pedro Almodóvar. Perf. Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar. DVD. 2009.

Burston, Paul. What Are You Looking At?: Queer Sex, Style, and Cinema. London: Cassel, 1995.

France, Louise. “Pedro Almodovar and Penélope Cruz … the mentor and the muse.” (2009, 22 August) The Guardian UK. 11 December, 2012.

Kinder, Marsha. “All About the Brothers: Retroseriality in Almodóvar’s Cinema.” All About Almodóvar: A Passion for Cinema. Ed. Brad Epps and Despina Kakoudaki. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. p. 267-294.

Law of Desire. Dir. Pedro Almodóvar. Writ. Pedro Almodóvar. Perf. Esuebio Poncela, Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas. DVD. 1987.

McCraw, Trisha. “Louise Bourgeois. Maman: From the Outside In.” Art&Education. 11 December, 2012.

“Pedro Almodóvar.” The Internet Movie Database. 10 December 2012.

Rodowick, D. N. The Virtual Life of Film. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

The Skin I Live In. Dir. Pedro Almodóvar. Writ. Pedro Almodóvar. Perf. Antonio Banderas, Elena Ayana. DVD. 2011.

Smith, Paul Julian. Desire Unlimited: The Cinema of Pedro Almodovar. New York: Verso: 1994.

Talk to Her. Dir. Pedro Almodóvar. Writ. Pedro Almodóvar. Perf. Rosario Flores, Javier Cámera. DVD. 2002.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

A few nights ago, I happened to catch Flesh opening for Bow Wow Wow at The Grand Victory, & I've since become a little obsessed. In short, these songs contain just about everything I like in my organized noise: boppy hooks, brooding, Bauhaus-y vocals, & best of all, Morphine-reminiscent saxophonage. The band describes their sound as "1950's post-apocalyptic surftacular bizarro rocknroll"; I'd call it "The Addams Family Band plays your undersea-themed prom" or "Ian Curtis does the Beach Boys." Of course, they don't have a proper website—but what they do have is a Facebook page &, more importantly, a SoundCloud, which is now perpetually open in my browser. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Repostathon II: This Time, It's Personal.

Last week (on Valentine's Day, in fact), The Eye was kind enough to publish my long-labored-over long-lead article: "A Female Tarantino,"a musing on the plight women in film, both in front of & behind the camera, as examined specifically through gender stereotypes, demographic statistics, the Athena Film Festival& a few choice podcasts. 

Today, Melissa Silverstein, co-founder of the Athena Film Festival & all-around ladyfilm guru, was kind enough to repost the piece on her supercool blog, Women & HollywoodAmong other things, this excellent development reminded me that, speaking of reposting, I've once again managed to let months of published pieces go by without so much as a blip hereabouts. So, for those curious where my words were going during all that time, here's a smattering:

Girls Getting Gross.
A meditation on the current grodiness of onscreen female comedians.
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to the trailer for Bachelorette—the latest buzzed-about summer comedy. ... Though the film’s plot is fairly predictable—a wedding looms, everything goes wrong until it doesn’t, characters start flawed and end less so, etc.—the particular twists and turns of Bachelorette’s tale did make me think about a noteworthy comedy trend, one I both appreciate and wonder at—one I think can most easily be termed “Girls Getting Gross”...

Rebel, Rebel.
Because Rebel Wilson rocks, but our reaction to her doesn't.
So, Rebel Wilson is awesome. That, I won’t deny. From her hilarious turn as Kristen Wiig’s roommate in Bridesmaids to her cameo as a juggalette on Workaholics, everything I’ve seen of this lady, I like. And I’m not alone—see: Sandy Cohen’s HuffPo post from earlier this month, titled “Rebel Wilson: Is The ‘Bachelorette’ Star Hollywood’s Next Leading Comedienne?” Yes, the Industry seems all in a tizzy over its latest discovery—but not, I would argue, for all the right reasons...

Cum-parative Literature.
Because "Hysterical Literature" is a webseries well worth examining (& because it's always fun to get the word "cum" in print).
...What I saw was a static, black-and-white shot, taken waist-up across a typical school desk, of a woman in cat-eye glasses and a polka dot blouse. “Hi, I’m Stormy Leather,” she stated, perfunctory, audition-like, into the camera, “and I am reading from American Psycho, by Brett Easton Ellis.” And that’s just what she did, beginning with a passage in which the deranged narrator waxes poetic on Whitney Houston. After more than a minute, I’ll admit, I was a bit confused, if not disappointed—left wondering what, exactly, qualified this pseudo-adult storytime as “hysterical.” As Stormy went further, though, her tone began to change, rising and falling at odd intervals, Ellis’s prose getting gradually jauntier, even belabored—until, at last, it became eminently clear: she was cumming...

Edible Deodorant.
In which attempt to turn a ridiculous new product into a metaphor for our obsession with celebrity sex scandals. (Yes. Come with me on this. It totally works.)
In browsing the world for 20/20-worthy pop culture this week, I came across what seemed like a veritable onslaught of potential topics, a decent number of which had something to do with Sex. ... However, if I’m being honest, what I really want to talk to you about today is none of these things, and still somehow all of them—a topic so wonderfully inane, yet still so hateful. It is, ladies and gentlemen, edible deodorant. Yes, you heard me: edible deodorant.

Fighting "The War on Men."
In which I do my best not to have a conniption over Suzanne Venker & her whole pile of crazy.
I tried hard not to let it get to me. Like, really hard, you guys. Because honestly, when you see an article pop up seven times in fewer than 20 minutes on Facebook, you know it must be a rabble-rouser. Then, of course, when you note that it’s from Fox News, you have to ready yourself for the distinct (and, I would say, likely) possibility that it’s nothing more than a series of provocative non-facts, hardly worth fretting over. And by the time you get around to noticing that it’s called “The War on Men”—once your brain actually processes that this is, verbatim, the oldest, dumbest feminist stereotype—that something like this could even get published, let alone taken seriously, in this day and age— (Pause. Deep breaths.)...

Still Trapped in the Closet.
Why the return of R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet is the best thing since—well—the premiere of Trapped in the Closet.
When I saw the news, I almost spat coffee all over my computer screen. I just about literally jumped for joy. I definitely squealed and jittered and damn near wore out Facebook’s “Share” function. Of course, my emphatic reaction may well have been influenced by the fact that I was on the tail end of a cracked-out three-day study binge—but I’d like to think that tidings of R. Kelly’s groundbreaking hip-hopera, Trapped in the Closet, would provoke a comparable response from anyone who’s experienced even one of its initial 22 glorious chapters.

In addition to the above, I also found time to pen a more somber piece on my experience in Israel this past summer & a tongue-in-cheek romantic advice column, as well as conduct an interview with the (fantabulous, unparalleled) Dita von Teese for our Halloween issue.

&—scene. End shameless self-promotion.

Stay tuned, though, for some (currently half-baked) musings on Girls, gluten, & hair-tearing movie tropes... Until then, team.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Because there are days on which thrashing incoherently to this song is really, really important. Because a daily guitar-drum sucker punch is life-sustaining & The Misfits are ideal. Because, if I'm honest, this is all I wanted to say, all I gotta do.

So, you know when you hear a song for the first time & you're overcome with a feeling of, "Yep, well, that's my entire brain." Enter, "A Mistake." (Fiona Apple, at it again...) Even to excerpt any of its lyrics would be to do the rest injustice; this song quite simply sums up a large fraction of my (&, I would imagine, others') headspace—& with a jazzy jaunt to boot.

This past winter break, a friend of mine came down to visit from Maine, & one night while out, he deftly threw this song on the speakers, making the whole room swell & sway—& making me, I suppose, the bitch [he] met up in Boston, whom [he] didn't see very often. (Because yes, I did vote for Obama, dance frequently to Madonna, & have been known, in my day, to cut an eighth like a Benihana pro.) The next morning, I woke up with it buzzing in my temples & have been unable to let it go since, especially Azealia's in-your-face refrain. A perfect dance anthem for getting out of ruts—leaping out of them, in fact, jiving oblivious down empty suburban streets through the midwinter thaw.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! = My Entire Brain. (Hint: Bowie's Involved.)

A few years ago, some kind soul sent me the following video on my birthday—one which I now forward to anyone who may ever have expressed even passing Bowie interest, because I find it deeply excellent:

In case the Internet is malfunctioning—or if, for whatever reason, you find its 16 second length too taxing—the above is a "birthday message" from "Uncle Dave," who tells us to play this tape (mind you, this was recorded in 2002) every day, & if we do, then one of those days, it'll be our birthday. Because that is absolutely the most economical way to make use of this recording.

In short, I think it was this long since established birthday-centric lunacy that allowed me to regard the latest news in Bowiedom with little more than blind excitement: in honor of this, his 66th birthday, rather than, you know, receive gifts, Sir Stardust has decided to bestow upon us a single & corresponding video from his new surprise album, The Next Day, which is apparently coming out in March.

For those not keeping score, I would remind you that this will be Bowie's first studio effort in a decade (following 2003's Reality)—& moreover, that he stopped touring soon thereafter due to a heart attack, ultimately all but announcing his retirement from the biz. Now, though, fans (read: I) can look forward to 17 new tracks, of which the now-YouTubable "Where Are We Now?" is but one.

So of course, upon hearing the news, I exploded. Quite literally. In fact, this post is coming to you courtesy of the small piece of brainstem that managed to stay attached to the nerves responsible for puppeting my few remaining fingers. That much goes without saying. (But just in case you'd like to hear it said again, here's a link to Ye Olde "Why I Heart David Bowie" Entry.)

What's a little harder to parse is the part of me (now flung several feet from the computer, but present nonetheless) that, put bluntly, is really worried this is album is going to be bad. Or, if not categorically "bad," then just, well... Lame.

Because if the above video—which, for the record, features serial-killer-lair-style basement clutter, repeated black & white footage of Urban Ruin, & some of the most bizarre, low-budget greenscreenery this side of The Room—is anything to go by, then we may be in trouble. Indeed, it appears Bowie's aesthetic / artistic / special effects aspirations may have dead-ended in the late '90s. Plus, the song itself is nothing to write home about, per se—a rather rambly smooth jazz number over which he voice-breakingly croons what amounts to little more than a list of German landmarks (e.g., Potzdamer Platz). & moreover, I know this for a fact—that, for instance, he says "Dschungel" & not "jungle"—because every lyric appears onscreen, in time, in eroded typewriter font, like an invitation to some sort of demented, postmodern karaoke.

I mean, sure, the man is 66—the fact that he's making any more music at all is miraculous—fantabulous—a godsend—I remain, at my core, exploded (while crossing those remaining fingers with all my might, hoping that he may actually tour again...). The song really isn't badjust somewhat low key for my taste, & at his age, I suppose, it's unfair, even unwise to expect him to be anything resembling "hip"—or, honestly, to begrudge him some slow, jazzy reminiscence of Straßes & Platzes past. You ultimately can't blame him for wanting reflect on a life lived—because really, it was a pretty bonkers life, one that probably deserves some quiet contemplation. 

However, the fact that he's chosen to graft his own head & that of a random mute woman onto a conjoined teddybear creature using by far the lowest quality (& therefore the most disturbing) face-warping CGI—that's something I can blame him for, right? Okay, cool.

Now, to count the days until March... (!) (!!!!!!)

But, in the meanwhile, Happy Birthday right back atcha, Uncle Dave. You will always & forever be my Main Man.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Every song David Bowie has ever recorded. (See Said Bowie Post for a plethora of links & recommendations.)

Or, if you'd prefer things narrowed down somwhat, here are a few I've been re-(re-re-re-)playing as of late that I don't think I've hyped too much before hereabouts:

Friday, January 4, 2013

Whatever Finals Want, Finals Get: A Playlist.

My finals playlist this past semester was weird, guys. Like, really, unrelatably weird.

I mean, sure, last winter, I managed to bring together Brahms & Demi Lovato—admittedly not the world's most readily accessible duo (though I'm now honestly trying to imagine what their collaborations would sound like). But this year, for whatever reason, things just got fundamentally, pathalogically odd. I'm talking multiple-songs-from-musicals, I-admit-to-digging-a-Ke$ha-song odd. Ah, well—the heart (that is, the caffeine-zapped fizzbrain) wants what it wants, I suppose, & these are the songs that happened to echo right across my weary synapses. (Still do, for the most part, as I hack furiously away at my thesis on these icy Bostonian shores—25 pages to go...)

I mean, I really do recommend giving them all a chance, as many are tried & true favorites (see: Pixies). But, to be fair, if you find yourself simultaneously psyched & comforted (the two essentials of any good finals music) by every single one of the songs herein, call me—I think we might be soulmates. Otherwise, pick & choose as you will from this lumpy smorgasbord of a playlist.

Oh, & as to the name: it comes from a dream I had, feverish & sleepless between bouts of paper-writing, in which I was attending a hologram lecture of some famous modernist thinker (whom I'm almost positive I made up). As he was reaching the peak of his speech, I could feel myself waking up, so I did my absolute best to hold on to what he was saying, & as soon as I opened my eyes, I rolled over & scribbled it on the back of a receipt. What I managed to get down: "a scary, changing disrapture of furor."

Does it make the tiniest bit of sense? No. "Disrapture" isn't even a word, as far as I'm aware. Nonetheless, I think it sums up a lot of my general feeling as of late—about academia, about people, about the fact that the world was supposed to end a few weeks ago but then just, you know, didn't, & another year trickled on by. So, without further ado, I bring you:

12-13-12: Disrapture.
[ ^ All together. On the YouTube. Check it. ^ ]

On the Rise—Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

Though not a diehard Whedonite, per se, I do have fairly unflinching reverence for several of his creations (see: Firefly, Dollhouse—both of which I watched in their entirety during the week of December 10th), so when I first heard about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, I thought it only prudent to explore. I'll admit, I wasn't hooked upon first viewing—it seemed little niche, lopsided, over before it really began. But it's the kind of thing that grows on you, I suppose—if only because I found myself spontaneously humming this song as I trudged back & forth from the library, despite not having seen or thought about it in years (perhaps a subconscious grasping toward the villain anthems that so often sustain me in times of crisis).

Cockney Thug—Rusko.

I saw Rusko by accident in my freshman year of college, as the first of four openers at Proxy's first ever US show. (This was just after "Raven" had come out, hence my desire to see live electronica in the first place.) All I remember (as I was not, shall we say, in peak frame of mind at the time) is that I found his set rather boring & his hype man—whose incessant chants of "RUSKO, LET'S GO" will forever be burned into my eardrums—fundamentally annoying. So, in the years that followed, I avoided even the tracks of his recommended to me by friends, having already written him off as unremarkable. Then, a few weeks ago, I accidentally unearthed this song from the depths of my iTunes, & I fell in love. It's nice companion piece to "Biggest Monkey," which I posted back in September—somewhat more amped, but equally flush with slurred British rancor & synth-brass, & therefore rather excellent.

11:11—Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire.

An oldie but goodie—that is, in the life of me. This song haunted my high school playlists, & with good reason: its rolling, wheedling orchestration, that blithely ominous chorus. It's perfect to curl up to—savoring the notion, at once comforting & damning, that the end's coming soon.

Wild World—Me First & the Gimme Gimmes (Cat Stevens cover).

Everything sounds better sped up & punked out, says I—& Cat Stevens is no exception. I mean, sure, the original is threaded through with lovely chords, but I've always found it bit lagging, energy-wise. However, with help from my beloved MF&GG, it becomes the perfect anthem for thrashing away frustration at how hard it is to get by just upon a smile.

The Quartet—The Secret Garden.

Note: The actual song starts about 42 seconds in. ]

When I was in 7th grade, my school put on "The Secret Garden" as our winter show: I played the composite choral role of a ghost, a moving piece of ivy, & a maid with one line, of which I was impossibly proud ("Beg your pardon, Doctor—it's Ms. Winthrop, sir"—a show-stopper, I assure you). Though I'm not generally a huge fan of traditional musicals—& this one in particular is a bit odd: austere, antiquated, essentially what you might expect from a faithful adaptation of a novel written in 1910—because it entered my consciousness early, every note clangs with pleasant nostalgia. Moreover, I find this song musically delightful—its four voices intertwining, disparate lyrics overlapping, backed by orchestral surges. Also, for reasons yet unknown, I tend to sing along to it repeatedly, for hours, in times of strife. Real talk. 

All the Time—Diamond Rings.

I posted about Diamond Rings recently, I know—but I simply can't get enough of him these days. His songs fall into one of the categories I deem ideal: Smart Dance Music—sounds that genuinely make you want to move paired with lyrics that don't make you feel guilty for knowing all of them. Especially after seeing him live a few weeks ago, I'm more committed than ever—caught up, as I was, in the catharsis of jiving, manic, sweating out academic toxins with every thump of bass.

Alcohol—Gogol Bordello.

Another old favorite—its Romanian strains chugging & asymmetric, Eugene's thickly accented lyrics wrought with hand-wringing (if, at times, ESL-ish) empathy.

Monkey Gone to Heaven—Pixies.

Simply put, the kind of song that makes you glad music happens—that sound waves turn into songs & guitars have the capacity to wail. Doolittle will always explain my brain best.

I Knew You Were Trouble—Taylor Swift.

Yep. T-Swift. Get into it. But really: this song was a staple during my final days in the Eye offices (yes, it's over—stray tear / monumental-sigh-of-relief-cum-fist-pump), & since then, I haven't been able to get it out of my head—nor have I necessarily wanted to. I honestly dig the change-up from quick-strumming guitar to crooked sways of dubsteppian synth, & as usual, Taylor's tale is woefully relatable. On that note, the music video (linked above) is priceless beyond measure—its de facto lesson: never get involved with a man in a porkpie hat & jean vest who spends most of his time standing on things he shouldn't & posing Jesus-like. That, or never dye your hair in a scrubby pink emo gradient. Works either way.

I—Nicola Roberts.

Roberts's more upbeat pop single, "Yo-Yo," made it on to my finals list from this past spring, but this semester, I've found myself drawn to this more subdued number—its slow, thick groove, its hypnotic battery of "I" statements (as the title would suggest). Though on some days I find her Kate-Bush-ian soprano flights somewhat grating, on most I find this oddly confessional track somewhat of an anthem—or, at the very least, a decent jam.

Chum—Earl Sweatshirt.

Tumbling piano riffs, tongue tripping over honest rhymes—everything I loved about "Luper" amplified tenfold. Because sure, there's something sinister to it, but also something kind of lovely.

He Hit Me—Hole (The Crystals cover).

This is one of those songs that you just hate to love—far guiltier than the traditional guilty pleasure, like when you catch yourself singing along to the at once impossibly sexist & impossibly catchy "Under My Thumb." In my mind, this song is even worse message-wise, with its apparent championing of domestic abuse & toxic jealousy—in the neighborhood of "Love the Way You Lie," but without even a modicum of self-awareness. Still, if any voice could do this conflicted masochism justice, it's Courtney Love's—scratchy & worn, tracing the words of an old factory hit & imbuing it with new, sinister significance.

Die Young—Ke$ha.

Say what you will—cast your stones—but it's happening. I genuinely get a kick out of this song. Maybe it's because I find the idea of dancing to death oddly romantic; maybe I lost some small chunk of my mind in this sea of caffeine & verbiage; or maybe it's just that this fucking parasitic chorus has taken root in my brainstem I've since been unable to leech it out. But for whatever reason, I find it compelling—at least enough for a despairing 3 AM lip sync (or five).


Then, towards the end of the chaos, for whatever reason, I started to have a hankering exclusively for women (plus a stray Michael Stipe) singing about death & ghosts. So, though they're not officially part of the list, here's these—a post mortem / Part II, if you will:

Lonely Ghosts—O+S.

The End of the World—Skeeter Davis.

Your Ghost—Kristin Hersh (feat. Michael Stipe).

&, last but certainly not least, a message from the man who singlehandedly got me through many a sleepless night in the final weeks of 2012—& will surely get me through many more as I barrel toward this fast-approaching January 22nd due date:

Happy New Year, y'all.