of Maine

Micah Blue Smaldone, Fight Club, and DFW

– In this week’s Phoenix, I review Micah Blue Smaldone’s new album, The Red River. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to listen to a local album and not have to grade it on a curve. This gentleman is a massive talent.

– Continuing on the David Foster Wallace eulogy watch (because that’s all I care to pay attention to this week): a friend and colleague wrote a beautiful one for the Boston Phoenix; Benjamin Kunkel has another for n+1; the McSweeney’s thread continues to be a little bit heartbreaking; and the New Yorker has finally chimed in (and made a couple more stories of Wallace’s available).

– One surefire way to make me like Fight Club less: compare it to fucking Office Space. Can’t convey to you all how depressing it is to me that people enjoy that movie. It’s even more frustrating than the revisionist blather about The Big Lebowski being a Great Movie. I beseech anyone who likes Office Space to read this book and refer to it ad nauseum instead.

– Speaking of the Coen Bros, I saw Burn After Reading this past weekend, and I think I liked it. Maybe a lot, even. I’ll try to check it out one more time before I comment further.


Nurture Through Nature Fall News

This is the first edition of “post titles from actual subject lines of emails I receive at work.”

– From the shocking coincidence department, I got around to watching Old Joy last night (which I wrote about yesterday… accurately, it turns out), and discovered that a clip of dialogue from the film is included in Why?’s album Alopecia, which I spent the bulk of Sunday writing about (link to come Thursday). The one unfortunate aspect of this coincidence is that one line of my review is about how all of Why?’s pop-culture references are too weird/specific/on-the-nose to get people to cheer along with them. I would totally cheer for an Old Joy dialogue clip at a show.

– The new album by Megafaun, which is kind of sort of a band that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon used to be in, sounds great.

– Slate is publishing excerpts from the forthcoming collection State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America (out next week). In it, fifty writers tackle the fifty states (there’s an afterword on Washington, D.C.). Just some of the writers involved: the New Yorker‘s George Packer, William T. Vollmann, Benjamin Kunkel, Rick Moody, current literary heartthrob Joshua Ferris (Then We Came to the End), Dave Eggers, Alexander Payne (director of Election, Sideways, etc.), Susan Orlean, Jhumpa Lahiri. There are other familiar names too. Awesome. The volume is co-edited by Sean Wilsey, who wrote the pretty good memoir Oh the Glory of It All and this excellent essay/diary, which I highly recommend printing out (he also slept in the window of SPACE Gallery for a week the summer I moved to Portland).

– I hereby predict that by the time the next Okkervil River album comes out, the band is going to get even more popular and most of their torch-bearing critics are going to turn on him. They are getting seriously overheated, and these reviews read like old Decemberists praise. Remember liking them? Sure you do. The Stand Ins isn’t bad, though.

– And, bummer of bummers, one of the better music crit sites on the web has shuttered. Visit Paper Thin Walls for their preemptive singles and album of the year, complete with streams.

– I’m taking a week off from the election. Everyone’s talking and thinking crazy and, worse, talking to me about it.

Five Slow, Beautiful, Slow Movies

Over at of Maine’s home base last night, we were supposed to watch Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt’s awesome 2006 film co-starringĀ  Will Oldham. We were too tired though, so in lieu of lengthy comments, welcome to of Maine’s first listicle.

Sometimes when I say a movie put me to sleep, I mean it as a compliment. There’s a certain type of slow, elegant langour that simultaneously makes me feel totally engaged and completely relaxed. There are a couple of films on this list I have literally never stayed awake through. Regardless, I cherish them like few others.

1. Gerry (2002, Gus Van Sant)
In Van Sant’s anti-comeback film (after that strange foray into Good Will Hunting/Finding Forrester territory), it could be argued that every important plot point is relayed through cinematography rather than dialogue. Full of minutes-long shots of great depth (the faces stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck as they walk next to each other, slowly passing each other; a car moving through a desert highway), Gerry is opague to the max (the characters both call each other “Gerry” and speak in a nearly impenetrable slang, which heightens your sense of their friendship) but taps into some primal and deeply modern idea of man’s survival instincts in the wild. Also: Paranoid Park, Van Sant’s latest movie which ought to be out on DVD October 7, is just as good.

2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)
Another Casey Affleck joint. If this one hadn’t been released by a major studio, I probably wouldn’t include it on the list (or think as highly of it as I do), but you can’t deny how awesome it is that Dominik was able to finance the gorgeous, 2 1/2 hour death march of Jesse James simply because Brad Pitt agreed to star in it. The photography’s as good as any Terrence Malick film, Nick Cave’s score makes the whole film feel like a sad bedtime fable, Affleck is both pathetic and smoldering. I didn’t even bother discerning the supporting cast until the third time I watched it, so entranced by the tone of the thing.

3. Friday Night (2002, Claire Denis)
Woman preparing to move out of her apartment gets stuck in a traffic jam in Paris on the way to a party. Sitting, waiting, a man knocks on her window and charms her into dinner. They have sex in a hotel and presumably never see each other again, but are changed by one another. The sex feels extremely explicit but you never see full body-shots, just a heavily edited series of extreme close-ups of skin that give a sublime sense to the act. The whole film carries the same heightened, bewitching sense of magic.

4. Old Joy (2006, Kelly Reichardt)
Two old friends reunite for a trip to the Oregon wilderness. They’ve grown apart and get along awkwardly. They listen to anti-Bush Air America screeds on the radio in the car. They visit an abandoned bathhouse deep in the woods. They separate and go back to their respective lives, and you’re left deeply uncertain about what they’ll do next. For every moment where Old Joy feels like a growing-into-adulthood indie flick, there are two or three where it transcends that sentiment, so non-judgmental and quiet is Reichardt’s treatment. (Talk of Reichardt’s next film, Wendy and Lucy, is all over the New York Times fall arts preview from Sunday.)

5. Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman)
The two share little in common but unspoken emotions and a reverence for Americana, but it’s hard to imagine Gerry existing without Two-Lane Blacktop‘s example. James Taylor (yes, that one) stars as a sullen guy and Dennis Wilson (also that one) is his more upbeat friend as the two drag race a yuppie (Warren Oates) across the country. The sound of engine noise is more expressive than the protagonists, and the undiscussed love of the open road leads to a seminal end of an era/end of cinema moment.

Beautiful Losers
September 4, 2008, 10:07 am
Filed under: Visual, Work | Tags:

In this week’s Phoenix, I harsh on Aaron Rose’s documentary Beautiful Losers, because it’s utterly lacking in historical or even emotional context. That said, it’s an enjoyable enough film to watch, so if you like neat art you probably won’t regret watching the film. You just won’t learn anything.

of Maine: Danger Point!
August 14, 2008, 1:29 pm
Filed under: Excerpts, Hasty Music Reviews, Thorough Music Reviews, Visual, Words, Work

Thanks for coming. Welcome to of Maine. Consider this inaugural post a primer.

As you’ll learn by clicking “About,” of Maine is a blog that has little to do with Maine. I’ll be writing about music (mostly), books and periodicals, and the odd movie or TV show. Once I iron out a kink (namely, learning how to write “for myself” when I’m not getting paid for it), of Maine will be updated every weekday by 9 or 10 am. I’ll try to keep to that schedule immediately, but bear with me for the first week or two.

The blog’s title sprung from a serene mood I was in recently (with a hat tip to a friend suggesting I go with “of” instead of “from”), but I’ve come to think the title’s fairly appropriate. One of the benefits of my being of Maine is that most of you readers are (for now) of Maine as well. We inhabit a fine and increasingly vibrant turf, but we’re also a bit of a cultural backwater. I hope this works to our collective advantage, because a) I consume a lot of music reviews and blogs and like having fresh ears to share the goods with, and b) I’m only interested in analyzing the indie zeitgeist when websites I love disagree with me.

I don’t know quite how to summarize what of Maine is or will become beyond that, but look to the sidebar for hints. Posts will be categorized in one of the handful of topics over there. My only explicit goal is to publish one “thorough music review” (300+… who am I kidding, 500+ words) per week, about either an album or an artist’s discography. All of my posting ideas will invariably come from one of the links below that. For the uninitiated, a few to pay special attention to (you should visit all of them, though): The House Next Door is a New York-based blog focusing mostly on movies and television, and it’s frequently more thorough, readable, and thought-provoking than most major periodical reviews; Cokemachineglow is an unruly beast of a music review site, and their diuretic reviews have introduced me to a lot of my favorite musicians; I ripped off this page design from Floodwatchmusic, the rare music blog where every post is invaluable; and Wyatt Mason, the chief book reviewer for Harper’s, recently began a superlative literature blog called Sentences on the magazine’s website.

If you’re curious, the banner photo was not taken in Maine, but in Turkey. I stumbled upon it some months ago, and in helplessly googling “turkish photographer” I realized it was taken by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose acclaimed films (Distant, Climates) I’ve rented and neglected to watch numerous times. Plenty more gorgeous photos on his site.

Lastly, for now, promises, promises. Here are some posts to look forward to in the days to come:

– a hasty discussion of Chad VanGaalen, relating to “Willow Tree,” the first song from his forthcoming album, Soft Airplane (look for this Thursday, fingers crossed)

– a thorough discussion of Women‘s self-titled debut album, (probably not so) coincidentally produced by Chad VanGaalen

– a review of the Grizzly Bear performance I’ll be catching in Boston on Thursday

– an uninformed glance at modern classical music

– a contrarian piece on Fleet Foxes, the year’s most confusing band

– thoughts on Joseph O’Neill’s Great Gatsby-esque new novel, Netherland

To wrap up, a plea for your comments, suggestions, requests, recommendations, and – most importantly – help getting the word out about this little venture. The more feedback I get, the more fun I’ll have, the more I’ll produce, and the better of Maine will be. So get the word out now, and comment once I write something less solipsistic (and more succinct).

And until that time, do yourself a favor and go click on “Best Site” honoree Time for Some Stories. Uncovered for mainstream consumption by Gawker earlier this year, no whimsical link has ever made me so giddy, and I need help making “Danger point!” a common catchphrase.

Thanks for coming.