An Easter playlist

Easter pales in comparison to Christmas – it’s Jesus’s comeback album, which, while enjoyable, just can’t compare to his debut. But one thing that Easter does have over the Yuletide is a lack of musical accompaniment. Without a “Rockin’ Around the Butter Lamb” to dominate our stereos, we can play whatever we damn well please. Here’s what I plan on spinning this Sunday:

Mark Morrison – “Return of the Mack”

“And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, upon which it became clear. The mack hath returned.”


A Tribe Called Quest – “The Hop”

Just drums, a standup bass loop, some light electric piano and the effortless flow of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. One of the most addictive cuts from one of history’s most addictive groups.


Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit”

Dude, that fucker on the PAAS box is looking at me. He knows something, man. It’s like I’m naked. He can see everything. HE CAN SEE EVERYTHING!!!!!!


Beastie Boys – “Egg Man”

A way better theme for an egg hunt than the stupid-ass bunny hop, this is the only song I know of that’s cool enough to sample Curtis Mayfield and reference Pink Flamingos.


AC/DC – “Highway to Hell”

Lent is over. Satan in the hiz-ouse!


Bjork – “Hidden Place”

A song about the beauty and fragility of sexual intimacy, or a metaphor for kids searching for baskets filled with shit from the drugstore?


Peter Tosh – “Legalize It”

It’s time to decriminalize Easter grass, people. Shredded plastic is processed from oil, which is all natural, man.


Chumbawamba – “Mary Mary (Stigmatic Mix)”

As you know, this was on the Stigmata soundtrack, a movie that was ironically full of plot holes. It appears that the song isn’t available on mp3, but I imagine it’s about how Jesus got knocked down, but then got up again.

What’s In My Discman, April 2011

Heidecker & Wood – Starting From Nowhere (2011)

Subtlety is pretty non-existent in Tim Heidecker’s most well-known work, the wee-hour bong-hit variety show supreme, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! So when fans take Heidecker & Wood’s debut album for a spin (the other half of the duo is Tom Goes to the Mayor and Awesome Show music director Davin Wood), its relatively serious yacht rock underpinnings will come off as shockingly soft. But once the surprise wears off, Starting From Nowhere reveals itself as both a meticulously crafted homage to ’70s sensitive guy music and a calmly ridiculous bit of comedy. Take “Cross Country Skiing,” which opens the album. There aren’t any notable one-liners on the lyric sheet, but it’s an earnest folk song about a patently unexciting white person sport, and that’s funny. H&W employ the same quality melody/silly lyric formula as Tenacious D or Flight of the Conchords, but the comedy band duo comparisons end there. Heidecker’s delivery is soft and genuine, enough off-key to tell you he’s more comedian than vocalist, but bereft of any “hey, I’m being funny” elocution. This record is stuffed with clutch examples of bad lyric writing (my favs at the moment: “What are the questions we ask when we’re asking questions?” and “A canyon and a man can live in peace”), but they’re rarely spotlit, making them easy to miss the first time around. And that’s just fine with these guys. After all, Wood’s arrangements and melodies are such accomplished homages to Chicago, Steely Dan, Air Supply and Crosby Stills & Nash, chances are you’ll be humming along before you’re laughing out loud.

Simon & Garfunkel – Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m. (1964)

With Heidecker & Wood on the brain, I was inspired to revisit this album, undoubtedly the cheesiest, most uneven effort of Simon & Garfunkel’s rarely flawed partnership. (The inclusion of “Bleecker Street” on a season 4 episode of Mad Men also contributed to this unexpected urge.) Missing the literary folk boom by a couple years, the album tanked initially, going clang with an audience that was already following Dylan to bold new territory. And it would be understandable if anybody didn’t get past the first track, a cornball run-through of the hymn “You Can Tell the World” that’s exactly what Christopher Guest was making fun of with The New Main Street Singers. But the balance of the record holds up better than I remembered, from the endearing innocence of “Bleecker Street” to the harmonic showcases of “Benedictus” and “Peggy-O.” And, of course, the original, acoustic version of “The Sound of Silence,” whose elegance is evergreen. On the whole, Simon’s writing still needed a bit more polish, but it’s all too evident here that the duo already had wuss rock lightning in a bottle.

Eels – Electro-Shock Blues (1998)

To round out what has become the softest Discman trilogy yet, it’s the second and arguably best effort from Mark Oliver Everett (aka “E”). After losing both his mother and sister in a short period of time, the one-man phenomenon behind Eels made a record that was understandably cynical and sad. And while Electro-Shock Blues might’ve been an open vein lyrically (e.g. “My life is shit and piss”), its music provided the balance necessary to make it a valuable document of the human condition. Among the many gorgeous acoustic ballads here, there’s the lurching Tom Waits rhythms and found sounds of “Cancer for the Cure,” the dance-folk Beck breaks of “Last Stop: This Town” and the sexy Morphine rumble of “Hospital Food.” Hence, by the time E admits to finding a new appreciation for being alive on the closing “P.S. You Rock My World,” you’re not only far from depressed – you’re wishing the whole beautiful thing wouldn’t end.

“Get it? It’s a metaphor!” –Darren Aronofsky

Yesterday, I watched Black Swan, a movie I had low, low expectations for. All of the previews and reviews made it seem like just another predictable psychological thriller, about a ballerina starring in “Swan Lake,” and the stuff that happens in “Swan Lake” happening to her.

And that’s precisely what it is. The stuff that happens to the White Swan in “Swan Lake” happens to Nina, a prima ballerina whose ensuing nervous breakdown is the only real storyline in the film. While this isn’t necessarily the meatiest concept for a movie, it could make for a visually interesting experience, with the viewer searching for the symptoms of Nina’s breakdown as she eventually loses enough of her mind to actually believe she’s the character she’s playing.

But holy shit, is this movie not that.

Instead of giving his audience the opportunity to take part in the experience, director Darren Aronofsky makes damn sure we don’t miss a thing, cramming practically every frame with as much ham-fisted symbolism as it will hold, telling us what to think like we’re a brood of insipid children. LOOK! Nina’s wearing white and surrounded by stuffed animals! LOOK! Lila the “bad” ballerina is wearing black … and smoking! LOOK! Nina’s mother paints pictures of her younger self and plasters them all over the walls!

The script is almost as relentless as the direction, refusing to give us characters that are anything more than cartoonish stereotypes (the innocent girl, the Jezebel, the past-her-prime star, the crazy stage mom, the foreign asshole ballet instructor), and repeating itself to the point where drinking games become fatal. And other than a few moments that could live on as camp classics (e.g. Barbara Hershey screaming “This role is destroying you!”), the dialogue is as clutzy and embarrassing as everything else.

Then there’s Natalie Portman, whose lauded performance did little to change my opinion of her as a one-note actress. She cries because she’s scared, does ballet stuff, cries because she’s crazy, does more ballet stuff, and then cries because she’s content. Only when placed side by side with the inferior talents of Mila Kunis does she seem Oscar-worthy.

By directing this paint-by-numbers story like it’s going to be a silent movie, throwing in gobs of stylized violence, and combining it with a script that just repeats the same tired motifs – sexual repression is bad, psychotic parents are bad  – Aronofsky has made a film that’s going to give a major headache to anybody expecting a nuanced work of art.

Perhaps Aronofsky knows something we don’t know, and made this movie as a coded message to the few who could read between the lines. Maybe the government and the textile industry are in cahoots, secretly manufacturing clothing that can control the thoughts and behaviors of human beings – white tank-tops make you all wide-eyed, fidgety and weird; black tank-tops make you smoke cigarettes and act like a whore.

Or maybe he, and the three male screenwriters, just weren’t cut out to make a movie about a destructive mother-daughter relationship, and the psychological burden placed on young women in the ageist and sexist ballet world.

One thing is for sure. I’m never seeing another one of his movies again. And I mean it this time.