Cold Weather Culture

Eleven things we're looking forward to that aren't the spring thaw

Cold Weather Culture

Eleven things we're looking forward to that aren't the spring thaw

December

Mary J. Blige

The Breakthrough, available December 20

Geffen

It's not that we don't want Mary J. Blige to be happy. Sure, her raw testimonials of suffering and pain have made her the most riveting, influential singer of the past 20 years. It's just that when the alternately shy and combative Blige, who once reportedly bitch-slapped then-supermodel Veronica Webb during an interview for Interview, proclaimed "No More Drama" a couple of years back, we knew she was tempting fate. So when Mary J. was honored as a living legend at the Vibe Awards last month and used her acceptance speech to blast the editors of Vibe for making her look bad on the cover of their December issue, the planets moved back into alignment. Blige's feisty outburst (it is an awful picture of her, by the way) whetted our appetite for The Breakthrough, featuring the Game and Bono, and produced by Flyte Tyme, Rodney Jerkins, the Peas' Will I Am, and Raphael Saadiq, among others. Blige describes the disc's theme as "going to a place where we fear the most...where people are gonna talk about us." Sounds dramatic. —Britt Robson

Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody, available December 29

Gotham

It's a classic story. A nice Midwestern girl moves to Minneapolis to be with her boyfriend. She starts stripping, you know, just for fun. And before you know it, she's taken up peep show and sex phone work, become a well-known figure among, uh, self-gratifiers, thanks to her lascivious blog, and given herself a pseudonym associated with the lord of the underworld. Now the former City Pages associate arts editor and current television columnist will expound on the slick and sticky bits of her life in what we can only assume will be a glorious case of Too Much Information. —Lindsey Thomas

January

Art Shanty Project

Last year on Medicine Lake in Plymouth, ladders of varying lengths ascended from the frozen landscape, a translucent knife made of ice cut through the crystal-filled air, plywood ice houses were meeting spots for hatha yoga escapes, and frozen water balloons formed glowing structures filled with creatures seemingly spawned on Jupiter before mitochondria ruled Earth. This was the Art Shanty Project, a brainchild of local photographer Peter Haakon Thompson, whose fascination with the city retreat inspired him to turn the austere and arctic terrain into a public art space. This year's event promises new exhibits, sculptures, performances, and more, all with the concept of ice houses in mind. And, yes, those little shanties are equipped with heat, giving even the most winter-loathing among us no excuse not to be a part of redefining our sacred winter space. —Molly Priesmeyer

The Strokes

First Impressions of Earth, available January 3

RCA

After two albums of nearly identical (and nearly perfect) robo-garage pop-rock—2001's Is This It and 2003's Uh, Guys, Is This Still It—the disheveled New York fashion plates everyone loves to hate are back with their crucial third album, the one where they're supposed to stretch out and prove they can do more than hustle like cab drivers with absurdly expensive haircuts. They don't disappoint: First Impressions of Earth, for which the band traded their longtime homey Gordon Raphael for Sugar Ray producer David Kahne, overflows with weird, funky stuff, such as "Juicebox," the CD's bizarre surf-punk single, which is but one hash pipe short of an Offspring song. Other tunes shimmer with hints of post-disco electronics, pretty girl-group harmonies, and surprisingly manly alt-rock guitar crunch. It's sure to cause an underground backlash. What fun! —Mikael Wood

Nellie McKay

Pretty Little Head, available January 3

Columbia

Few of the doting notices she's accumulated do this cabaret-spawned brat justice. On paper she can't help but seem the one-note parody suggested by the cover of her debut, Get Away from Me: Just as McKay's smiley, open-armed photo wittily clashes with her anti-Norah title, her tunes play topical sarcasm off ingenue cutesiness to charm the old folks. Except the grayheads preferred Norah (go figure), so she's grown weirder and more topical—and rather than the disaster you'd expect (Doris Day sings the Tom Lehrer songbook), she produces a mutant curiosity deserving close analysis (Fiona Apple renews her trial subscription to The Nation). She burrows into the brains of a legion of do-gooders, from antivivisection protesters to tenants' rights activists, doomed to battle against their own best intentions. And don't be put off by her duet partners—a smart kid like McKay's sure to soon find better role models than Cyndi Lauper or k.d. Lang. Debbie Harry, anyone? —Keith Harris

Scrubs, fifth season premiering January 3

This underappreciated and unconventional comedy has been bounced around the NBC lineup so much it's no wonder its ratings are a bit wilted and deflated. Even attempting to figure out when the new season premieres for this little write-up was like a goose chase on top of a cryptic Egyptian puzzle on top of a scavenger hunt (NBC finally made a quiet announcement last week). New episodes of this Emmy-nominated but ratings-challenged series couldn't come at a better time: January is the barren month when the only things homebound TV viewers have to look forward to are the Super Bowl and the next season of American Idol. While Zach Braff's directing-writing-starring film debut in 2004's Garden State was sweet and contemplative, it often felt a tad too precious. Thankfully, Braff is at his best here as Dr. John "J.D." Dorian, a role that accentuates his comedic chops as well as his ability as a dramatic actor who can make even stoic and frozen-hearted viewers laugh out loud seconds before swallowing a tumor-sized lump in the throat. —Molly Priesmeyer

The Plastic Constellations

Crusades, available January 24

French Kiss

It's tough watching our longtime local darlings become Pitchfork Media darlings, but their major (indie) label breakthrough is reason to celebrate all the same. If the mp3 for "Sancho Panzo," which French Kiss recently released on their website, is any indication, Crusades will rally a TPC army out of the savvy youths who first cocked an ear for 2004's Mazatlan. The track is just what their eager in-town and online fans have been waiting for: more staccato riffs with matching vocals, fight-song lyrics about life on the road, and melodies that turn on, I don't know, what's smaller than a dime? If all goes well, perhaps the band's fond memories of sleeping on floors will be just that—memories. Our mamas were right; they really do grow up so fast. —Lindsey Thomas

Cat Power

The Greatest, available January 24

Matador

Chasing her avant-blues demons to their obvious source in Memphis, indie rock chanteuse Chan Marshall recorded The Greatest at Big Star drummer Jody Stephens's Ardent Studios with an old-school backup band including Al Green's guitarist Teenie Hodges. The new collaborators lend Marshall's songwriting—which hasn't exactly brightened up since doom-pop classics such as 1998's Moon Pix—an openness and a warmth rarely provided by former sidemen, such as the guys from Australia's Dirty Three. Whether or not the sinewy soul settings turn out to be a permanent groove for Marshall, a practiced dabbler who got Dave Grohl to sit in for 2003's You Are Free, only time will tell. For now it's pure love and unhappiness. —Mikael Wood

February

The Coup

Pick a Bigger Weapon, available February 2

Epitaph

Many a wide-eyed American lefty has backslid to liberal pragmatism since 2001—four years of neocon/fundamentalist havoc could make anyone above the poverty line miss the benign neglect of Democratic center-right corporate consensus. And yes, the Coup's latest call for ghetto rebellion, Pick a Bigger Weapon, does adjust for the minor historical developments since they dropped Party Music—9/11, the War on Terror, shit like that. But as Cali's premier agit-rap duo, MC/producer Boots Riley and DJ Pam the Funkstress still preach revolution with a sardonic optimism far fresher than the sour wit progressive humorists currently favor. When Boots rhymes, "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor/And help the damn revolution come quicker," he's just clueing your brain in to what the easy-rolling Bay Area funk underneath has previously told your body. Funnier than Air America, funner than the Black Eyed Peas. Funkier than both goes without saying. —Keith Harris

Factotum, in theaters February 24

It's a tad disconcerting to feel like a film based on a book by Charles Bukowski could be retitled This Is Your Life. The Twin Cities-filmed movie, Factotum, was directed by Norwegian Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories). It stars Matt Dillon as the Bukowski character Henry Chinaski, along with Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei. But the uneasy familiarity comes from the locales where the movie was shot: Canterbury Park Racetrack, Cuzzy's Bar, Nye's Polonaise Room, St. Paul City Hall, the Gedney Pickle factory. These are somehow all places where I spend a disproportionate amount of time for either work or pleasure. (Okay, I've never actually been to the pickle factory.) What does this eerie parallel say about the future health of my liver? Since debuting at Cannes last May, Factotum has been well received, with Dillon's performance as the drunken, destitute Chinaski/Bukowski often singled out for acclaim. —Paul Demko

March

The Sopranos, sixth season premiering March 12 (tentative)

Anticipation is good for building a little buzz, but this is ridiculous. By the time HBO breaks out the new episodes of its biggest show, it will have been over a year and a half since the last season finale. While they didn't exactly leave fans cliff-hanging (season five ended with the raid of a rival family and the deaths of two significant characters who totally had it coming), it's still a damn long time to wait. Twenty-one months! Almost two years! A lot of vengeful shootings, adulterous sex, drug relapses, whore beatings, and sumptuous Italian meals could have happened in that amount of time. It's even more frustrating for those of us who are premium-cable-deficient and have to wait an extra year for the season to come out on DVD. Makes me wanna get myself a gun. —Lindsey Thomas

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