The Best Best of Fela Kuti

Allow me a moment to expound on the music of one Fela Kuti. This is Afrobeat par excellence, with endless grooves so dank they even make the drum kit sweat. The horn section cuts harder than Louis vs. Schmeling, playing lines so funky they could make Maceo Parker do the electric boogaloo. If James Brown had Kuti's rhythm section, he wouldn't have been the hardest working man in show business; he'd simply have laid back and worked on his head nod while they shook the worldwide tours. A caution to those throwing on a Kuti record who are afraid to dance until the sun rubs the dawn from its eyes: you might not make it through the work day. Some might say they've heard the finest in smoldering jazz/funk fusion whenever Hugh Masekela's "Grazin' in the Grass" comes on, but prepare to have this notion rectified when Fela Kuti's "Lady" drops in. Fela Kuti? Oh, indeed.

AAFF Announces Special Programs

The 48th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival is just a few weeks away, making this a perfect time to prime yourself for the experimental and avant-garde films awaiting you from March 23-28 at the Festival. A great way to search the AADL catalog for groundbreaking explorations on DVD is to enter the keywords "experimental films" on the Catalog page.

The AAFF recently announced several special programs for this year, including Naomi Uman's personal documentaries, "Ukranian Time Machine," and Daniel Barrow's combination of overhead lamp projection with video and music, "Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry," about a garbage man who wants to create a detailed phone book with the personal history of each member of his community.

For the less daring fans of short film, the Michigan Theater is showing the Oscar Nominated Short Films this Friday. If you can't make this screening, check out the AADL's collection of short film Oscar hopefuls from the last few years.

Record Year for Female Artists

Beyonce and Taylor Swift may have been the stars of this year's Grammy Awards, but they are certainly not the only female artists who released stand-out music this past year. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, featuring the enigmatic Karen O on lead vocals, released an infectiously danceable record It's Blitz, which was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album this year. Although the award went to Phoenix for their indie rock favorite, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, don't miss O's tremendously powerful voice on the top-to-bottom great record, It's Blitz.

Another gifted lead singer (and bandleader) with an absolutely earth shaking voice is Neko Case, who released the album Middle Cyclone last year to the encomium of alt-country audiences across the country. Listeners may recognize Neko Case's melodic turns from many of pop super-group The New Pornographers' best records, which goes to show that her sound can cross genres as quickly as her voice can jump octaves. Check out The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Neko Case from the AADL today.

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy

There has been a lot of buzz the past year regarding the over-talked-about Millennium Trilogy, which includes The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, all bestsellers. The books seem to have shot out of the Scandinavian fiction cannon at high speed and haven’t slowed down. (Larsson was recently named 2009’s most popular author in Europe by the Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter.)

The most recent buzz has been the controversy regarding the deceased author’s estate, a new biography about him, the question of whether additional books exist and will they see the light of day, and finally the debate over whether or not Larsson actually wrote the books. (Larsson died suddenly just after the manuscripts were accepted by the publisher, before they were published.) The Nordic BookBlog (an excellent source of all things Nordic Lit), and other online sources have been talking for months about the author and the series. I’m not saying everything that’s being said is correct or incorrect, or that you shouldn’t read the books, it’s just something for book talkers to chew on.

Slack Off Wisely -- Teen Magazine Update


Students rejoice! Fall semester is over and the glory of Winter Break has begun. But once the first flush of freedom is exhausted, the reality remains that you have three weeks to fill. After all, there is only so much time you can spend watching cartoons in your PJ's. Fortunately, AADL's teen magazine section is here with suggestions to fill your free hours.

1. Catch up on your guilty pleasures -- Alright, maybe you're not guilty about liking pro wrestling. In any case, WWE Magazine is ready for you, bringing you interviews with ten up-and-coming young stars, including Jack Swagger, Kofi Kingston and Ted DiBiase, Jr., who, by the way, stars in the recently-released DVD The Marine 2.

2. Practice your rock star skills -- Drum! Magazine also gets in on the "let's make a list of cool people" thing with a feature on drummer, composer and all-around great musician Steve Jordan and another on the "Ten Heaviest Drummers of All Time." The magazine's Practice Pad also contains the drum part to Killswitch Engage's "Starting Over." That'll keep you busy.

3. Catch some air -- Of course, for you outdoorsy, active types we have not one, not two, but three magazines about sports involving boards. Thrasher Magazine documents the Emerica team's trip to Paris, in which they lived on a boat and did a lot of cool things. Transworld Skateboarding, provides a sneak peek at Cliche founder Jeremie Daclin's new book, while Transworld Snowboarding's "Photo Issue" features eye popping shots of even more mind boggling stunts. And, of course interviews with lots of cool people.

AAFF Releases Unexplored Territories on DVD

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Even if you missed the 47th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival this past March, you can still experience nine of the award winning and favorite short films that were screened there. The AAFF has recently released the DVD collection titled Unexplored Territories, which promises to cross independent and experimental boundaries of film making. Also included on the DVD is a behind the scenes bonus film, "Making the Arbor Art Mobile."

Of the many intriguing inclusions here are Michael Langan's Dahlia (San Francisco, CA), which portrays "a stunning city-scape of San Francisco timed to beat box hypnotic breathe rhythms," and Jeremy Bailey's Video Terraform Dance Party (Toronto, Canada), a film that "provides comic relief and social commentary on ideas of gentrification through a live software performance, programmed by the filmmaker himself." The Library does not yet own Unexplored Territories but does have several copies of last year's AAFF DVD collection, Time Pieces.

Spotlight on Pacific Northwest Artist: Blitzen Trapper

The American northwest has become a music mecca once again, only this time it's not the power chord wallowing of grunge but the low harmony of Americana and folk-pop music that's growing out west. With a nod to the early '70s autumnal sound of groups like The Band and The Grateful Dead, several bands have emerged from the pine woods of Oregon to both critical praise and pop audience accolades.

Blitzen Trapper is among this camp, distinguishing themselves from the pack with their heel stomping Skynard-esque southern rock style while flirting with bluegrass and even baroque rock throughout their last two records. On last year's Sub Pop release, Furr, Blitzen Trapper produced their most consistent work, with standout songs "Fire + Fast Bullets" and the title track bringing listeners back for repeat listens. This year's EP, Black River Killer, is a collection of songs they've been playing live on the Furr tour, so it serves as a great traveling buddy for the full length Furr. As the title, Black River Killer, indicates, the songs here are of a darker vein both thematically and sonically, but the songwriting remains just as strong.

The Flaming Lips -- Embryonic

Embryonic is the latest release from the self-ascribed 'fearless freaks', The Flaming Lips, and the title is the most spot-on descriptor of the music here. Well, maybe if the embryo is actually a maladroit android making observations about the human race and its penchant for self-destruction, then embryonic is just about right. But the record is also a kind of re-birth for The Flaming Lips themselves, as the last few albums -- beginning with 1999's brilliant The Soft Bulletin -- were all about turning up the levels of wackiness and fun; Wayne Coyne sang gleeful pop tunes about Yoshimi the mighty protector, a spider bite that could break up the band, and the "radical fanaticals" around him.

On Embryonic, however, Coyne delivers heavily distorted lines about regret, missed opportunities, and nightmares over the course of eighteen tracks that spiral from sound scape epics to two minute ideas. Sonically, the album pulls more from Clouds Taste Metallic and Zaireeka-era FL than anything they've done in the last ten years, but that doesn't mean it's a regression either. The songs here are an uncompromising clash of all the diverse elements that make The Flaming Lips a great band, staged not on a lunar landscape but right back here on earth.

Modest Mouse Stops Gaps, Saves Music (maybe)

Ubi sunt, Modest Mouse? Where are your stark desert landscapes and your pointed laments of loneliness? Who stole away the caustic screams? What happened to Cowboy Dan? On your latest EP, No One's First and You're Next, you say? Oh, indeed.

For the Modest Mouse fan who is wondering what happened to the woolier Isaac Brock et al. of the band's earlier records, check out the 2009 eight-song EP that features tracks that were left off of their last two releases, Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Consider "Satellite Skin," whose chugging guitars and fitful Brock vocals would have landed it perfectly on the second half of The Moon & Antarctica, or "The Whale Song," an isolationist, mostly-instrumental song that eventually breaks into the near chaos you'll recognize from This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. Check out the video for "The Whale Song" here. For a taste of the penultimate track, do not miss the video for "King Rat", directed by the late Heath Ledger.

Derby Girl Becomes Whip It!

It's an exciting time in Michigan with all the movies being filmed here and Whip It, in theaters on Friday, October 2 is the latest flick to hit theaters. Marking Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, Whip It, is based on the teen novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross. Derby Girl is about sixteen-year-old rebel Bliss Cavendar, who is miserable living in a small Texas town with her beauty pageant-obsessed mother so she secretly joins a roller derby team under the name "Babe Ruthless," her life gets better, although infinitely more confusing. Ellen Page of Juno fame stars as Bliss and early buzz is good!

Whip It also stars several members of the local Detroit Derby Girls and to celebrate the release we'll be hosting an evening with them to talk about Roller Derby and their experiences on set on Thursday, October 1, 7:00-8:30 at the Downtown Library.

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