Tuesday

Higher Power


What My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy proves, first and foremost, is that Kanye West is quite simply working at a different level of consistency and creative progress than every other recording artist today. I'll write at greater length about the specifics of this strange, masterful, and indeed very beautiful record in the near future, but after three start-to-finish listens and several more of early favorites, I'm hard-pressed to imagine a better album than this materializing before the year's end. And yet, perhaps most remarkably, it's only--and this verdict, admittedly, will very possibly shift with further and closer listening--my third-favorite Kanye album, though part of a trifecta that I'd unreluctantly call masterpieces followed by two exceptionally fine records that are fairly close (my list, at the moment goes: 808's, Late Registration, My Beautiful Dark..., Graduation, College Dropout, with the classic early mixtape Kon the Louis Vuitton Don meriting mention).

That's personal particulars, granted, but with the consensus forming around this one (the question, at this point, isn't whether it'll win Pazz & Jop but how huge a margin), it certainly begs the question of when the last time an artist or group maintained such an impossibly high standard over a stretch of five or more albums and roughly a decade. PJ Harvey in the '90's comes to mind, but Polly was always basically a cult/critics' artist, which in no way diminishes the accomplishment of her run but it does render it somehow less awe-inspiring and seemingly unlikely. Prince in the '80's, maybe? Or even, the Beatles in the '60's?! That's the league we're talking about here, suggesting that Kanye's legendary ego, however off-putting, maybe isn't too far off the mark. I mean, is it even bragging when you're just that good?
Other Conversations


Teresa on Chicks, City of Life, and Snow White.

Zadie Smith on The Social Network
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Christgau on Miranda Lambert.

(Stylus alum) Theon Weber on Taylor Swift.

Letterman on what Taylor Swift smells like.

Howard Bryant on the 2010 San Francisco Giants and the changing face of Major League Baseball.

Saturday

Every Man for Himself and God Against All


Sometimes the film world needs a swift kick in the ass. Especially the (quasi-)historical drama genre. Valhalla Rising is just that and plenty more besides--it's a tough-as-nails, weird-as-fuck work of Pure Cinema. Essentially sui generis, Nicholas Winding Refn's visceral Viking yarn is dubiously speculative as history but any semblance of "plot" here feels largely like an excuse for forging a totally immersive, almost overwhelming visual-aural experience. Refn's film packs more deliriously radical filmic vision in its first twenty minutes than I've found in any full film this year, save for Uncle Boonmee.

That's not a knock to the numerous good-to-great movies 2010 has, thus far, delivered, mind you. Valhalla Rising is just working from a completely different toolbox. There are echoes here of Terrence Malick (human violence contrasted with the sublimity of a lush natural landscape) and, to a more prominent extent, the limit-pushing mad genius of Werner Herzog (with Danish star Mads Mikkelsen standing in well as Refn's Klaus Kinski) and yet, while such points of reference are surely high praise, they actually don't help much in getting to the heart of why this movie matters. Once in a while, words just inevitably fail in expressing the real virtues of a piece of art. This is one of those cases. See it immediately.