I haven’t done any media reviews lately so here are some of my favorite things that I’ve listened to and watched this summer.
Music: Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours
“Give me the lion’s share of your love”
Accurately described as “White Collar Americana” Hamilton Leithauser’s solo debut is exactly what fans of The Walkmen would expect. The former lead singer of the now defunct band from New York breaks some new ground with Black Hours, all while continuing with similar themes of Heaven, The Walkmen’s excellent final album.
Leithauser has this easy cool about him. Everything he does seem hip. He’s similar to Julian Casablancas in that their cool seems derived from their lack of caring. When they sing they look bored, and sometimes they even sound bored. But it’s the moments where they come unhinged in songs that make them even cooler. Think of Casablancas on “Take it or Leave it” and Leithauser on The Walkmen’s signature song “The Rat” almost screaming the opening “You’ve got a nerve to be asking our favor”.
With Black Hours Leithauser leaves that angst of the younger years alone, but does come unhinged in more joyful ways on songs like “Alexandra”. That’s the biggest departure from his Walkmen years, a rollicking track featuring a wailing harmonica and a wailing Leithauser. It’s a great song.
Other highlights are the country-tinged and aptly titled “I Retired”, which actually turns into almost a doo-wop song for the second half, and album closer “The Smallest Splinter” which would have fit perfectly on Heaven.
Music: French Style Furs – Is Exotic Bait
“Miami u r about 2 b surprised”
A bit of an odd one, but pretty incredible nonetheless. French Style Furs is the name of a side project formed by Cold War Kids frontman Nathan Willet and bassist Matt Maust along with Nathan Warkentin of the band We Barbarians.
The songs are based off the poetry of the 20th century Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Merton was a monk and one of the world’s premier spiritual thinkers and writers after World War II. In fact, listening to this album inspired me to research Merton and even buy his book Thoughts in Solitude which is rocking my world at the moment.
Despite that, I still don’t understand most of the lyrics of these songs. FSF invites you into a strange and exotic world. If you’re willing to go along for the ride then you won’t be disappointed.
If you like Cold War Kids, you aren’t guaranteed to like FSF but you should give it a try. It’s obvious why Willet and Maust felt the need to put this music out under a different name as it is very different from Cold War Kids. I don’t have the technical acumen to accurately describe the music, so I’ll just put this here and let you give it a listen.
Movie: Get On Up
“Just dance ’til you feel better.”
I love James Brown’s music. It’s just so unique and exciting. It’s been over 50 years since Live at the Apollo and you can still feel the energy in that room when you listen to that album. No one could control a crowd like James Brown.
So the task of playing him in a movie was extremely daunting. Not only was he an amazingly talented artist, he was also one of the most unique and recognizable pop culture icons of the 20th century. The man who took on this challenge was Chadwick Boseman, previously best known for playing Jackie Robinson in 42. I honestly don’t think anyone else in the world could have done a better job.
Boseman was fortunate that director Tate Taylor chose to use James Brown’s real vocals for the musical scenes, but Boseman couldn’t fake the dancing. He had to do that for real and he did a magnificent job. He also mimicked Brown’s unique speech pattern, underbite, and strange personality perfectly.
The movie itself is very good. It’s not told in a traditional biographical style. Instead of a chronological story, it jumps time frames from Brown as an adult back to his extremely impoverished childhood in Georgia. The movie particularly excels with its concert scenes, especially Brown’s landmark performance at the Apollo in 1962.
It is far from a perfect movie, but it essentially captures James Brown’s life in this way: Despite the erratic behavior, the domestic violence, the eventual drug use, and the disloyalty to his friends, his music and charisma were so strong that you can’t help but feel good when listening to it even still today. Like many artists he had major personal issues, but the art he produced for the world lives on and inspires us still today. Check out Get On Up to get a fuller picture of the man behind the music.