Dipset!

Fetishizing US black pop culture is something of a given when it comes to blogging – especially for us Europeans, who pre-internet would probably never have come across Texas rap’s preoccupation with cough syrup and DJ Screw, hyphy, ghostriding etc.

The Diplomats are another one of those things I probably would have not had that much exposure to were it not for blogs. They never seemed to get any special attention on hip-hop radio in England before the Byrd Gang mixtapes, but on the internet, they were superstars. All of this is a precursor to the fact that I finally got around to seeing the film made by Diplomats head honcho Cam’Ron, ‘Killa Season‘. Now, theres a lot of valid discussion about the veiled racism involved in justifying some of the more objectionable aspects of The Diplomats’ lyrics (amounting to ‘The funny way that black people talk entertains me, therefore it is not real’), but Cam’Ron specifically is at his best when he’s too surreal to be taken seriously. When he drops the flights of fancy and just does standard trap-music, detailing street life, he’s eloquent, but kinda dull. Sadly, ‘Killa Season’ is a whole lot of the latter.

To be fair, the odds were stacked against this one from the start. For the film to be a true representation of Cam’Ron and Dipset, ‘Killa Season’ would have to have been directed by Michael Bay, and involve a 50ft tall Cam’Ron crushing anyone ‘rocking sandals with jeans’, repeatedly telling us of his new album’s release date, and boasting about his sexual prowess. Of course, Hollywood was never going to be ready for Cam’s vision, so he funded and directed it himself. And if you think his mixtape cuts are interminably long self-aggrandising mythology, you’ll marvel at how well he’s managed to bring that to the silver screen. I won’t lie, I fell asleep. I mean, it starts off well – Cam gets in a scuffle at a dice game, breaks a bottle over someone’s head and then urinates on him while repeating ‘No homo, no homo’ for what seems like forever….it’s bizarrely paced and pretty funny. Unfortunately, the film is two and a half hours long, and at least two hours of that is Cam scowling in a badly-lit shop. To be fair, there is a montage of him wearing different fur coats at one point, and a gloriously surreal moment where Cam murders somebody on his bicycle, which almost slips by your WTF-ometer cause it’s played so straight. His acting skills are twofold: looking like he’s trying to figure out a sudoku puzzle (anger, fear, upset) and immense arrogance (everything else). His next filmic work is a documentary in which he beats up paedophiles, which sounds better in practically every way to ‘Killa Season’, but I’m still glad I saw it – if nothing else, I’ve seen Cam’Ron do a drive-by on a bike. So that’s something.

Ain’t Nothin’ But a (soon-to-be-put-down) Guard Dog

More weirdness from the Animal Kingdom, this time courtesy of the Associated Press and Comet News:



Dog Destroys Elvis’ Teddy Bear at Museum

LONDON (AP) — A guard dog has ripped apart a collection of rare teddy bears, including one once owned by Elvis Presley, during a rampage at a children’s museum.

”He just went berserk,” said Daniel Medley, general manager of the Wookey Hole Caves near Wells, England, where hundreds of bears were chewed up Tuesday night by the 6-year-old Doberman pinscher named Barney.

Barney ripped the head off a brown stuffed bear once owned by the young Presley during the attack, leaving fluffy stuffing and bits of bears’ limbs and heads on the museum floor. The bear, named Mabel, was made in 1909 by the German manufacturer Steiff.

The collection, valued at more than $900,000, included a red bear made by Farnell in 1910 and a Bobby Bruin made by Merrythought in 1936.

The bear with Elvis connections was owned by English aristocrat Benjamin Slade, who bought it at an Elvis memorabilia auction in Memphis, Tenn., and had loaned it to the museum.

”I’ve spoken to the bear’s owner and he is not very pleased at all,” Medley said. [clearly Elvis is alive!]
A security guard at the museum, Greg West, said he spent several minutes chasing Barney before wrestling the dog to the ground.

If the King of Rock (ahem) shot out a television just because Robert Goulet appeared on it, I cringe to think what he’d do to poor Barney.

‘Fewer Moving Parts’, Yet No Mention Of Assassinating Erik Lindgren

“Am I Christian ?/ Are you a Jew?

Did you kill my Lord / Must I forgive you?”

Believe it or not, those lines aren’t from the Mel Gibson arrest report (sorry) but are instead culled from “Selling Advertising”, one of the more provocative songs from David Bazan’s ‘Fewer Moving Parts’ EP How much of “Selling Advertising” is a glimspe in the mirror and what portion is aimed at Pitchfork, I can only guess.

Though not terribly removed from the aching, unflinching subject matter that populated PTL’s best work, ‘Fewer Moving Parts’ takes the unusual tact of placing stripped down, demo-ish versions of the same songs alongside fully fleshed out, relatively pro-rock renditions of the same compositions. Good luck getting any of them out of your head.

“Fewer Broken Pieces” might be the best, most succinct explanation to date (in song form, at least) for a popular band’s breakup.

There’s a quiet intensity to the best of Bazan’s work, and I think this CD might be just that. I’ve sloppily alluded to pre-Ambien REM or American Music Club circa ‘California’ when describing Bazan’s stuff in the past, and aside from offering my personal apologies for the killing of Christ (I promise never to do it again), I’d also like to say I’m sorry for damning David with what I thought was considerable praise. Sans artifice, exposing more on one EP than Ugly George did during his entire Manhattan Cable career, Bazan is a staggering, not nearly so-easy-to-define talent.

Hell’s Getting Hotter: Manatee Sighted on the Hudson


(the members of Overkill, visibly excited that Joel remembers them)

Our good friends at the Poughkeepsie Journal hipped us to the following far out news from the world of nature:

A manatee has been seen in the Hudson River near Manhattan.

The gentle behemeth [sic., clearly Vassar needs to step up its literature program!], estimated at 10 feet long and close to 1,000 pounds, is far from home. Most manatees live in Florida and sightings even in Virginia are considered rare.

Watchers tracked this one last month as it swam north — first near Delaware, then Maryland, then New Jersey. Saturday, it was seen at 23rd Street in Manhattan, then later at 125th Street in Harlem.

A manatee was seen near Montauk, on the eastern tip of Long Island, in 1998, but this may be a first for the Hudson.

“As far as I know, the first for the river. We did have one migrate up along Long Island last summer but it never moved inshore,” said Tom Lake, the editor of the Hudson River Almanac. “Pretty exciting stuff.”

Durham called it a “bona fide” manatee sighting, but there isn’t photographic proof. Descriptions by a kayaker and others in the Hudson match grainy video showing a barnacled manatee passing Barnegat, N.J., she said.

Needless to say, even after this the Bush administration will continue to deny the effects of global warming.

Real Estate, Pt. I

Until the day Chez Danzig goes on the market, you might wanna consider the above property : a Woodland Hills, CA abode that hosted the recording of Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’.

Opportunity Knocks! Coca Cola House Original Girard cabin on 3 separate buildable lots, Charming cottage with wood floors and magical views f rom every window. Private and secluded nestled among the trees, own your own hide out. Separate lot features mostly finished 2 story office/ studio, $849,000.00

(link swiped from Postive Ape Index via Boing Boing.net)

There’s a new record store in town…

…and you need to go there.

COOL AND CRAZY on 72 Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn, open Tuesday-Saturday 2pm-8pm. Phone 718 388 1180. This is the ‘other side’ of Manhattan Avenue btw, cross street is McKibben. Close subways would be the Montrose L and the Broadway G.

This fabulous and very friendly store is run by a certain Tim Warren, who to most of us is basically responsible for the early-mid 80’s garage rock explosion. He launched his first and absolutely monumental Back From The Grave compilation, and thus Crypt Records, in 1983 and hasn’t looked back since. For all your 50’s rhythm’n’blues, 60’s garage punk and everything those things are related to backwards and forwards in time this will be your new holy shrine. Even if you disagree with Tim’s assertion that “Roger The Engineer” is a fusion album, you need to make a pit stop here for the groundbreaking and attitude-filled recorded history that preceeded such things as ‘psychedelia’ – Tim will give you anecdotes and music history lessons too. He’s collected this stuff since the punk rock days and is the de facto authority in this field and he still is as excited and enthusiastic about this music and its culture as he ever was — no small feat if you ask a jaded guy like me!

On my first visit this past Saturday afternoon I picked up the following tasty items, titles I have been unable to find at shops such as Kim’s or Other Music…:

v/a – Downtown Rockin’ at the Striptease Club 500 LP (B-Sharp!) – unusual to come across a new comp of 1960’s rhythm’n’blues these days that doesn’t have half songs you already know, even harder to happen across a comp that’s 100% great too. While Lefty Dizz’s INSANE “We’re Gonna Boogie” is easily worth the ticket by itself, this LP has 14 solid moves.

v/a – Goomba Party – Broken English Jive 1907-1989 (Mangia) – genius comp of Italian American stereotype hilarity from Isabella Patricola’s “Me No Speaka Good English” to the insane ‘rap’ stylings by Bobby Braciola.


I also picked up the vinyl version of Reverend Charlie Jackson’s “God’s Got It” which Crypt released not too long ago. I picked it up because I still can’t get enough of the CD (Casequarter, 2003) but the fact that the vinyl version has been expertly remastered sealed the deal.

Support the scene, make the trek… YOU, dear reader, will gain from it.

I’ll call you Ambassador Intern, but you’re still not getting paid

A few choice points from the New York Times’ July 30th article, “Interns, the Founts of Youth,” by Maureen Tkacik.

“At one time there was no way to better broadcast one’s failure to thrive as an adult than to hang around high school kids. It meant that the world beyond senior prom had shut its doors, forcing a return to a place in which your value was determined solely by your ability to drive a car and procure beer. But now, according to young professionals working in fields in which fluency in the dialects and habits of teenagers is paramount, hanging out with high schoolers is cool, and sometimes even professionally advantageous.

Often these teenagers are known as “the intern.” They are working for little or nothing at clothing labels, guerrilla marketing firms and one-person event-planning operations, making coffee, opening mail and tagging along with their employers in environments they deem interesting. While they get college-résumé-boosting work experience, not to mention entree into clubs and parties, their employers get around-the-clock muses and ambassadors to youth culture.”

Interns, are you getting this shit down for your CV? It’s priceless.

Describe your work experience: My work mostly entailed being an around-the-clock muse and ambassador to youth culture. I also made coffee.

With a job description like that you better hope American Idol has a staff opening, because you’re overqualified for anything less than svengali.

And if time-consuming artistic and diplomatic work isn’t enough, the Times’ interviewees also believe interns will supplant the greatest technological innovation of our time:

“‘I don’t need to look at the Internet anymore, I just look these kids straight in the eyes and they tell me everything I need to know,’ said Ms. Luardo, a former buyer for Urban Outfitters who is now a musician, part-time sales representative and freelance marketer.”

Of course, having interns isn’t all sparkling non-alcoholic cider and fish sticks. There are complex ethical problems to navigate:

“But hanging out with high schoolers has its own complications: Do you buy beer for them? Make them drive? Is it O.K. to be attracted to the intern? Ms. Luardo sets boundaries up front: she won’t buy them beer or hand over her keys, but they “mostly just want to go to all-ages shows” and other events her older friends are too tired to attend. And though age and gender differences may conjure up unsavory images of sexual dalliances, the people involved in these arrangements say the relationships don’t typically cross over into romantic territory.

One exception is 16-year-old Cory Kennedy, who since last fall has been working as an unpaid intern for the Los Angeles party photographer Mark Hunter, 21. Since her job began, she has become both his girlfriend and something of an Internet phenomenon thanks to Mr. Hunter’s Web site, www.thecobrasnake.com, which is dominated by pictures of her with her signature unbrushed hair and improbable outfits.”

Classy.
Get the whole story here

Mojo Critic Nails It..

…and now I need to get my head bandaged after falling off my chair. If writers are going to insist on actually listening to the CD’s we send them rather than merely paraphrasing the press release (or looking to see what someone else said) we might have to re-think our plans to blow up 625 Broadway for the insurance loot.

Calling Yo La Tengo’s forthcoming ‘I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass’, “a return to the giddy, sticky-fingered eclecticism of 1997’s ‘I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One’, Mojo’s Steve Chick calls the album,

A wonderful, intimate love letter to pop (and its many subterranean offshoots), bookended by two hefty space-rock jams, the album ricochets from atmospheric piano vignette to gonzo garage fuzz to murky new wave disco to xylophone-scored waltz , the riot of styles bound together by warmth and wit, halcyon vocals and harmolodic guitar explosions. (4 stars)

So what if he misspelled the name of the album’s final song? We’ve done worse. And we’ll do so again!

“Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” (mp3)

Damage Control Is Our Business (And Business Is Very Good)

From this morning’s New York Times.

Matador Records’ Gerard Cosloy (above) said Tuesday he harbors no hatred towards wearers of straw hats and he apologized to ”everyone in the indie rock community for the vitriolic and harmful words” he used in a infrequently visited, rarely updated weblog.

”Hatred of any kind goes against my faith,” he said in a statement released through publicist Nils Bernstein

”I’m not just asking for forgiveness,” Cosloy said. ”I would like to take it one step further, and meet with the Pitchfork staff, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.”

Cosloy said he’s ”in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that Fuze energy drink inspired display” and hopes members of the Chicago community, ”whom I have personally offended,” will help him in his recovery efforts.

”There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-straw hat remark,” Cosloy said.

”But please know from my heart that I am not against people who wear straw hats or flip-flops in public. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.”

Cosloy acknowledged ”there will be many in that community who will want nothing to do with me, and that would be understandable. But I pray that door is not forever closed.”

He said he must take responsibility for making anti-straw hat remarks because as a public person, ”when I say something, either articulated, typed, or blurted out in a moment of insanity, my words carry weight in the public arena. Not very much weight, but enough to impact future party invitations.”

Billy Bragg And Tom, Friends Reunited

From the New York Times’ Robert Levine, July 31, 2006

In May, Billy Bragg removed his songs from the MySpace.com Web site, complaining that the terms and conditions that MySpace set forth gave the social networking site far too much control over music that people uploaded to it. In media interviews and on his MySpace blog, he said that the MySpace terms of service made it seem as though any content posted on the site, including music, automatically became the site’s property.

Although MySpace had not claimed ownership of his music or any other content, Mr. Bragg said the site’s legal agreement — which included the phrase “a nonexclusive, fully paid and royalty-free worldwide license” — gave him cause for concern, as did the fact that the formerly independent site was now owned by a big company (the News Corporation, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch).

Mr. Bragg said that he himself had kept most of the copyrights to his recordings, licensing them out to the various record companies that have released his albums over the years. “My concern,” he said in a telephone interview, “is the generation of people who are coming to the industry, literally, from their bedrooms.”

About a month later, without referencing Mr. Bragg’s concerns, MySpace.com clarified its terms of service, which now explain who retains what rights. A sample line: “The license you grant to MySpace.com is nonexclusive (meaning you are free to license your content to anyone else in addition to MySpace.com).”

Mr. Bragg, who said he never had any direct communication with executives from MySpace, has put some of his music back on the site.

A whimper

Emma Forrest once argued that Top Of The Pops was a massive cultural force simply because it had no editorial policy. It was reportage; if a record was high enough in the charts, it was on TOTP. They were just presenting the facts. The general consensus is that TOTP’s failure to be objective over the last few years has led directly to it’s demise – and by failing to be objective, I mean their chasing of the youth demographic for the past 4 years was about as subtle as a brick in the face. And the thing is, theres one fundamental aspect of Top Of The Pops that is increasingly alien to that demographic, and indeed the rest of us: TOTP was the very definition of appointment television. Until a few years ago, I made sure that I was free to watch TOTP because, God help me, I actually cared about what was going on in the charts, and the state of pop music in general.

In the documentary ‘The Story of Top Of The Pops’, everything seemed to be going fine with TOTP until mid-90s producer Chris Cowey arrived. Now, theres nothing wrong with Cowey. Dude looks like the Aphex Twin, and he really does love pop music with all his heart. But the BBC gave him carte blanche to do what he wanted to TOTP, which could have been madness in the wrong hands. And after Cowey left, the BBC wanted someone who could steer TOTP towards the youth market that seemed to be drifting away from them. Enter Andi ‘Wrong Hands’ Peters. The documentary implied basically that the shows sharp and massive decline was all his fault, and given that he didn’t show up to present a defence, I can only assume it’s true. At the very least, I find him deeply annoying. And so began an era of exclusives, songs that weren’t in the charts yet, moves to Sunday nights, ‘archive’ clips, interviews in the artist bar etc. They tried to turn it into ‘Heat Magazine: The Musical!’, and predictably, it was shit. So very shit.

Watching the final ever TOTP on Sunday was gut-wrenchingly awful. Absolute unmitigated arse water, the lot of it. Instead of having some all-star blowout, they went down the clip-show route of budget TV. First, playing clips of old TOTPs robs them of their context, like watching a greatest hits of News At Ten, evocative but remote and arcane. Showing Nirvana’s performance of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ doesn’t make half as much sense as when you first saw it alongside the other 25 minutes of chart pop that week. Secondly, the hour-long parade of clips implied that the show had a rich and varied history, which only begs the question ‘How did you fuck this up?’. Popjustice succintly summed it up as ’60 minutes of us telling you how proud we are of something we don’t care about’. It really was like watching the ghost of a suicidee enthusing over how good the turnout was for his funeral. When they actually got around to the final ever top ten countdown, Shakira was no.1 with her frankly bizarre new single (sounds like outsider music. Really), and SHE WASN’T EVEN THERE TO PERFORM IT. ON THE LAST EVER TOTP. No fucking effort whatsoever. Post credits, Jimmy Savile did the symbolic thing and turned off the studio lights, dolefully shaking his head. As did I, thinking ‘Saville outlived Top Of The Pops. I miss John Peel so much.’ And thus ended the most pathetic piece of television I think I’ve ever witnessed.

Apologies to US readers, for whom this post must be completely incomprehensible, not to mention totally irrelevant. Sorry.

Yo La Tengo Vs. Sea Of Humanity

Jennifer O’Connor has far better photos of Yo La Tengo at the Pitchfork Fest (Union Park, Chicago) but if I can’t pull rank every now and then, where’s the fun in this job?

Even by the usual zero-attention span standards, the claim by one local jackass that Yo La Tengo were “so quiet ’til the last song I did not know they were playing” is kinda off the charts. Never again is the word “quiet” likely to be employed when describing songs like “Pass The Hatchet” or “Watch Out For Me Ronnie”, though I can’t deny even the loudest of bands come off as somewhat muted for someone whose head is up their ass.

Special recognition for the weekend goes out to the straw hat-wearing, backpack-wielding, hygiene averse dude (and when I say “dude”, I really mean “fuckface”) who put his paws upon me while trying to prevent entry backstage. You’d think this city would’ve learned a valuable lesson from the Democratic National Convention of 1968, but alas, how quickly they forget.
That said, the psychic blow delivered from spotting SS Decontrol’s Springa onstage during Mission Of Burma’s set is not one I’ll soon recover from. Time constraints (if not straw hat-wearing, backpack-wielding assholes) prevented an encore of “How Much Art (Can You Take)?”, but there’s always Coachella next year, right?

Chicago – Lovely City Of Boat-Missers

And the cruise they skipped (most of ’em, anyway) was the voyage of the S.S. Jennifer O’Connor, previewing selections from her forthcoming ‘Over the Mountain, Across the Valley, and Back to the Stars’ CD/LP at the Beat Kitchen. Were the town’s tastemakers and face chasers still overwhelmed from the Silver Jews and Futureheads sets in Union Park? Dwyane Wade’s All-Star Jam at the United Center? Or perhaps it was the mere fact that said gig wasn’t listed in the paper or on the venue’s website?

Regardless of the circumstances, Ms. O’Connor’s tuneful meditations on love, loss and other everyday topics were delivered with equal measures of humor and intensity. We’ve worked with a litany of talented lady-human singer/songsters at Matador Records & Filmworks in the past (Chan M., Liz P., Mary Timony, Barbara Manning, Thalia Zedek, Jean Smith, Sue Garner to name just a few) and I’m not just hyping-you-to-death when I say that Jennifer’s achingly beautiful songs are the equal of any of the above.

OK, I am hyping-you-to-death. But I’m telling the truth, too, and you don’t have to take my word for it. ‘Over The Mountains’ is out August 22.

“Today” (mp3)
“Exeter, Rhode Island” (mp3)

upcoming dates :

August 8 – Philadelphia, PA – The Khyber
August 16 – Raleigh, NC – North Carolina Museum Of Art (with Jeff Tweedy)
August 24 – NYC, NY – Joe’s Pub
August 26 – Brooklyn, NY – North Six
September 23 – Boston, MA – Great Scott (with Choo Choo LaRouge)

Hanging On The Telephone

From MobHappy.com

Geriatric rockers The Rolling Stones have hopped on board the mobile music train — sort of. Through a service called Listen Live Now!, fans will be able to listen live to their concert today in Paris via their mobile phones. And when I say via their mobile phones, I don’t mean some sort of streaming audiocast — they call in and get a feed from the mixing board piped across a standard phone connection to their handset. Sounds brilliant. But it gets better.

Users will be charged $1.99 for 7 minutes, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to simply buy the whole thing at once — so users who actually want to shell out the $40 or so to hear the whole thing will have to do it $1.99 and 7 minutes at a time. The Stones’ manager says the move will help deter bootlegging — seriously — and that “It’s passive income, and they’re helping fans enjoy the experience without affecting ticket sales.”

Once again, much like our terrific ideas for the “Brain Candy” ad campaign (ripped off by Paramount’s initiative for “World Trade Center”), Matador has been fucked over by The Man. Our own mobile phone-cast is ready to roll at this weekend’s Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, and we’ve been usurpred by the Rolling Stones.

(be patient — I might be getting a beer)

Anyhow, if you send me $20 via paypal (gcosloy@earthlink.net) along with your phone number, I’ll be quite willing to ring you back during Mission Of Burma or Yo La Tengo’s sets on Sunday. I can’t guarantee this scheme will work — for one thing, I might be on a more important telephone call at the time. But it is your chance to take part in portable music history, and a great way to show the Rolling Stones that we’re sick to death of being pushed around.

The Return Of Chavez

Well, not really.  But we are putting out a CD + DVD set, ‘Better Days Will Haunt You’ on October 10. There’s only one unreleased track, but if you sing over the top of the rest of ’em, it will almost be like a whole new Chavez discography.

If you’re just too cool for that kind of thing, well, I pity you.

Disc One

01 Repeat the Ending
02 Hack the Sides Away
03 Nailed to the Blank Spot
04 Break up Your Band
05 Laugh Track
06 The Ghost by the Sea
07 Pentagram Ring
08 Peeled out Too Late
09 The Flaming Gong
10 Wakeman’s Air
11 Relaxed Fit
12 The Nerve
13 You Faded
14 Little 12 Toes

Disc Two

01 Top Pocket Man
02 The Guard Attacks
03 Unreal Is Here
04 New Room
05 Tight Around the Jaws
06 Lions
07 Our Boys Will Shine Tonight
08 Memorize This Face
09 Cold Joys
10 Flight ’96
11 Ever Overpysched
12 You Must Be Stopped
13 Theme From ‘For Russ’
14 White Jeans

DVD

01 Break up Your Band
02 Unreal Is Here
03 Boys Making Music . . . Music Making Men (documentary)

Mann’s Ruin : ‘Vice Is Nice (If You Ignore Colin Farrell)

I was begining to feel a little guilty about the totally gratuitious jibes aimed at thespian/cretin Colin Farrell in the latest edition of the Matador News Update. I mean, for one thing, we should be totally grateful that the producers of “Miami Vice” have chosen to showcase one of our fledgling artists (in this case, Mogwai) on a major label soundtrack album (one that features the former vocalist of the Vatican Commandos, too!). But no, I had to fuck things up for everyone by focusing on something completely besides the point — How Much Colin Farrell Sucks.

Well, I’m not the only one. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott, while hailing Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” as “an action picture for people who dig experimental art films, and vice versa,” also choose to single out one of the film’s stars for special praise. Colin Farrell isn’t one of them.

Mr. Farrell, however, is a movie star only in the sense that Richard Gephardt is president of the United States. He’s always looked good on paper, and he’s picked up some endorsements along the way — from Oliver Stone, Joel Schumacher and Terrence Malick, among others — but somehow it has never quite happened. Here he squints and twitches to suggest emotion and slackens his lower lip to suggest lust, concern or deep contemplation, but despite his good looks he lacks that mysterious quality we call presence.

Mr. Mann’s script has its share of silly, overwrought lines, but they only really sound that way in Mr. Farrell’s mouth. (Did he really say, “I’m a fiend for mojitos”? ¡Dios mío!) When he’s not on screen, you don’t miss him, and when he is, you find yourself, before long, looking at someone or something else. Gong Li. A boat. A lightning bolt illuminating the humid summer sky.

Headphones and headphone amp

People are always asking my advice about audio equipment. A great way to get started is to pump up your headphone system. iPods and laptops have crappy little op-amps in them that can’t drive good phones accurately or to truly satisfying levels. I recommend the Grado SR-60s for rock in the under-$100 range, or if you have broader taste in music, the Sennheiser HD-600s (which list for $499 but can be found online for as little as $179) which are much comfier to boot. Both these phones are large and open; closed and noise-cancelling headphones are good for planes but little else, and personally, I can’t stand putting things inside my ears.

Then there’s the whole amp game. Without getting into huge amounts of detail, you need a LOT more power to drive Sennheisers than Grados, and a lot more power again to drive electrostatic headphones such as the AKG K-1000s or the legendary Japanese Stax line. However, even a little solid-state amp like Grado’s RA-1 ($349) will improve your Grado headphones to an extraordinary degreee. And it’s made of a solid block of wood – who can argue with that?

Myself, I prefer tubes, and have recently invested in the handbuilt custom amps from Singlepower, based in Colorado… incredibly nice guy, but beware of the prices. I got a fully tricked out Singlepower MPX3 Slam and it is blowing my mind. (And probably eardrums, but that’s another story.)