Friday, March 30, 2012

My feelings on the new Shins album - "So very simple and horribly complex"

Dear Kristin,
I asked you about the new Shins this morning, what your take was.  You said "I like Simple Song" and I said "me too" and then you said you had to nap.  It was about 9 am your time.  It's the kind of stuff old men do all the time, waking up at dawn and napping at 9 am.  I had so much I wanted to say about the Shins, so many complicated feelings.

Shins faces

And so I have prepared a statement.

My friend JG sent me an email (also) this morning asking for my Shin thoughts.  It was bad timing on his part.  Or, rather, good timing if he wanted an overlong, overwrought reply.  I can't imagine he was expecting all that he got.  It is this reply that I give you.  And perhaps you or someone will respond and we'll have an internet chat and agree or disagree.  Think about the fun we could have agreeing or disagreeing!

A picture of fun.  The Shins from
The essentials from JG's brief email:

On Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 8:49 AM, JG <> wrote:
> so I finally got around to listening to the new Shins disc.
> i was only half-listening, but what i heard sounded like the worst kind
> of lyrics: instructive. i hate it when bands sing songs telling me how i
> should behave to be successful/happy. "you gotta pick yourself up from..."
> "you need to embrace..." am i being unfair? as it stands, i'm probably not even
> gonna buy this latest, which strikes me as insane given how much i loved their first two
> and wanted to love their third disc.

He asked me one simple question: am I being unfair?  But I had so much to say.

The transcript with pictures and video for your reading pleasure:

"I literally cannot stop listening to the new Shins.

But I can't justify it, can't support it.  I realize they've got the hooks, they're doing the catchy pop stuff that--once it's in you--is hard to set down.  Still, I would never recommend it to anyone.  AND YET I
WANT TO RECOMMEND IT TO EVERYONE.  I'm in a weird place. 

I'm so turned off by some songs, especially when James Mercer slips into lyrics as dull as 'apologies to the sick and the young, get used to the dust in your lungs' (with their forced relevance) and corny as 'is it all so very simple and horribly complex' and as teenage as 'I guess it's only life, it's only natural...The things they taught you, they're lining up to haunt you.'  It's the 'they taught you' that irritates me the most.  They = society. He's a kid writing bad poetry.

And still:

His voice, lovely and Shinsy live.  More on this song with these lyrics later.

Does it move you?  I does something for me.

Mediocre lyrics happen everywhere, throughout the album. Sometimes, they're borderline irritating in their instruction, just like you said.  I'm grossed out by them.  Ew, get off me, Shins!  Go to your room, slam the door and scribble up there!   (I believe Mercer uses the phrase "towering hemlock" at one point, which is more adult, sure, but awful poetry still.)  Half of the time I forgive them, when the song is too good.  And a quarter of the time, when the lyrics are good or decent or ignorable, I love them.  And that is weird for me.  Because I am a lyrics girl first.  But it's just so catchy.

Home videos!  Cake!  Kids! Adults laughing!  A wrecking ball!  (These lyrics, by the way, I've got zero problem with.  Because it's so damn fun? Am I going soft?  Or do I just like pop with a dose of semi-seriousness?)

Shins-related bullet-points:
- When I first heard it--or, rather, when I first listened to Simple Song after it hit the internet a couple months ago--I felt very shrug about it.  I'm not even sure I heard the lyrics I was so 'meh' on it.  I maybe listened to it twice.  Then I forgot about it.

- I only gave it another shot because of a review I read in the New Yorker.  Which, actually, wasn't altogether positive.  (Nor, for that matter, a great read.)  Again, I can't explain myself.  The review made it sound uneven.  And that's exactly what it is--about half the songs are clunkers.  The other half, they're just what I want.  I feel happy and seventeen when I listen to it.

- Simple Song is where I start.  I skip the first one.

- For a Fool is where I (theoretically) stop

Reminds me of Girls, my great love.

- Although I always tune out on the song No Way Down before it--it's got a really 'paved paradise to put up a parking lot' thing going--which I loathe.

 Or do I?  Apologies to the original, Joni Mitchel.  I had to go with Amy Grant for illustrative purposes. Yes, yes I do hate this song.  Especially when the Counting Crows did it.  I hate their version so much I couldn't have it on the blog.  But boy did I ever love the Counting Crows' first MTV/VH1 live disc when I was fifteen.

- And yet I don't, in practice, stop.  I listen to the whole album.  I tune out, but I haven't yet just made a playlist of the songs I like. I think that's because:

- The whole CD sounds like spring.

- So a part of me feels like I can chalk my love up to a well-timed release.  Spring!  It's exactly what I want right now.  Yes, I think some of the songs will last.

- But the CD as a whole--that'll get only another month of attention from me.

-  And, okay, the last two songs I also like, but in the shit-that's-catchy way.  The lyrics, though, remain shit-that-is-not-great.

- In other words, I can only recommend the following songs:
 Simple Song
 It's Only Life (I forgive the lyrics because I love the build and the singsongyness of the second half.)
 For a Fool
 Port Of Morrow
 Pariah King

Half the CD!  That's not shabby!  I await your reaction.

I am also listening to the new Blind Pilot.  It is full of cheese, but it is delicious. (What is happening to me?  I'm seventeen and, then, suddenly, fifty-five.  In love with simple cheese.)   I'M SORRY.  Have you heard it?  Any thoughts?"

J. Benny


I want to be in this audience, screaming.  A fan girl surrounded by quiet, reverent listeners.  Like I've lost my mind.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's coming

Dear Jamie,
The Walkmen, what will be:

But we have to wait.

J. Benny

Saturday, March 3, 2012

2012 Oscar Barrage

Dear Jamie,

I squealed when I saw this. Jackson laughed because, really, it's just a girl in a dress. But it was a colorful dress. Red, orange, coral, everywhere in-between. The exact color hardly matters. It was playful and girlish without being too girly or saccharine. Michelle Williams, my constant sartorial disappointment, was a vision:

Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton.  She should smile with her teeth more, yes?

And then there's the besties thing:


Which gets me every time:


Yes, the night was dull.  Yes, it was a letdown.  But it always is.  What I mean is, my hopes are always so high, it's bound to be a letdown of sorts.  Oscars, as I said to Jackson the other night, is the best night of the year.  I actually said that.  It's an exaggeration in a lot of ways, not least of all because, as he pointed out, all of December is essentially my best night of the year.  I really do miss the holidays all year.  But I miss the Oscars all year, too--partially because of the expectations and the impossibly high hopes.  Of what could be.  No, my jaw never fell open at the sight of the perfect girl in the perfect dress.  But it did smile (can jaws smile?) at seeing a few girls do something they wouldn't normally do.  Like wearing a polkadotted vintage Dior gown, for instance:

A siren.  This would be my favorite even, were it not for the fact that in about 50% of the photos it looks slightly creased and ill-fitting in the waist and bust.  In this 50%, her hair also looks unwashed.  In the other 50%, though, it's fine and pretty.  (Vanity Fair Italia.)

Cannot date this photo.  Classic.
This isn't even their best shot.

And smiling with their teeth.  Next up, Rose Byrne's back and blunt bob:

In Vivienne Westwood.  Gorgeous, interesting, but maybe not enough sparkle for all the sparkle.  Not enough umph.

No smile.  Really ever.  (Though she obviously has a sense of humor about her.)

Another gal who refuses Oscar happiness:

Rooney Mara in Givenchy Couture. This is as close as she came to a facial reflection of inner happiness.  The verdict is still out on her sense of humor.

Who also has a serious face.  Heck of a serious face.  Serious in that it's amazing and serious in that it does not feel joy.  I am in love with this face.  It's made for silent films and black and white photography--the kind that required you to sit still for minutes--older then old Hollywood.  With all the potential of Tilda Swinton's.  There's so much to work with.  But, sadly, I can't get over her self-proclaimed aloofness.  Tilda does not have this problem:

Clooney speaks until 0:55. Things pick up with Christopher Plummer and Fassbender AND THEN TILDA.  On commodification and thingness.  Yup. (Love how Charlize closes it, too.  AND ALL THE FASSBENDER TOUCHING.)

I'd happily be stuck next to Tilda on a transatlantic flight.  Rooney and I, on the other hand, we would not speak.  Though I would absolutely spy on her reading habits.

Speaking of new girls with wondrous, fine faces, I have my preference:

Jessica Chastain wore Alexander McQueen and couldn't have been more thrilled.

And that preference is Jessica Chastain and how tickled pink she is to be there, to be invited, and how she doesn't care who knows it.  JESSICA FOR THE (LIFE) WIN! 

So, redheads did a good job last weekend:

Emma Stone in Giambattista Valli.

When asked why she picked the dress, she said, "it's fushia and there's a bow" and then proceeded to poof said bow.  I like that her reasons were so simple and obvious.  You didn't even need to ask.  We would be friends with her.

I like the dress a good deal.  Its fushianess was somewhat lost depending on the angle and photo flash and, sure, it's very similar to Nicole Kidman's Balenciaga from 2007, but Emma carries it.  Really well, in fact.  Furthermore, I appreciate that she enjoyed it enough to wear it despite Nicole's already having done a redish dress with a face bow.  There's no way that wasn't brought up by her stylist/people as a consideration.  And she said to heck with it.  Still, I preferred her second look of the night.  It's black, but it's Chanel Couture, meaning it is not boring.  Not in the least:

Emma Stone in Chanel Couture. 
Could command a room.
 I want to describe it for you, but you can see it for yourself, and I'm not sure what I would say anyway.  An almost column dress with organza strips, see-through panels, faux-peplum and brooched shoulders?  Oh, it's sleeveless?  This is the night's only dress that looked like art to me. My second favorite.

There were other afterparty looks I loved, that I might have flipped and screamed and made a scene over had they made a televised appearance.  And so begins my barrage of post-Oscar favorites:

Diane Kruger in slightly transparent Calvin Klein. 

Kate Bosworth in a Prabal Gurung covered in the most luxurious, liquid tar.  Spider-web delicate.

Teeth!  Pink lips!  Romance! 

A lot of bosom.  Amy Adams in Vivienne Westwood.  Superhero sexy.

Goodness she looks fun.  In all the party photos I clicked through--hundreds and hundreds, sadly--she was the only one who made me stop and wonder about the conversation, the joke, the secrets that were being shared.  If pictures are any indication, she was the life of the party (with but one exception--more on that later).

Elizabeth Banks, though, was the most triumphantly daring (meaning her dare payed off) in her choice of dress:

Elizabeth Banks in Chadwick Bell

Oscar night needs all the dare it can get.  It's very elegant lady-creature of the sea, no?  But she looks beautiful in blue and green and spots, it fits her perfectly, and is conservative in all the ways it must be with that kind of pattern and punch.  The dress was loud, everything else was simple.

And, finally, my girl of the evening, Gwyneth.  I know you hate her, but no one was more fully on last Sunday than Gwyneth.  Both on the red carpet:

Real women wear capes.  Gwyneth Paltrow in Tom Ford.

Where she seemed to be having a lovely time among friends and godfathers:

Almost related.  Steven Spielberg and Gwyneth Paltrow.

And at the Vanity Fair shindig:

A Gwyneth grin.

Where she looked as if she couldn't be happier or more at home:

Marching on in.  Gold Jimmy Choos.
Laughing with/at Steve Martin and Martin Short.

This party was her party and she didn't even star in a movie this year*, let alone earn a nomination.

*Though she did have a glorified/gruesome cameo in Contagion

J. Benny

P.S.  The afterparties really did look boozy and fun:
Zoe and Cisely Saldana.  (Photo from Vanity Fair.)

All photos from unless noted otherwise.