Kelly Rowland’s Single “Like This”
Always a sucker for the ladies-night party jam, Kelly Rowland’s lead single off her upcoming Ms. Kelly delivers the goods. Producer Polow da Don’s chilled, molasses-thick, bass-overstuffed, almost go-go swinging beat bubbles into a let-the-hair-down bounce as Rowland’s too-pretty pipes make her hotness hard: “The girl that they used to know done changed/ Now they sayin’ ‘Ms.’ before they mention my name.” And once E-V-E shows up to head-nod the “few mad looks from the chicks you know” and blow off “them dudes who be jealous of a chick with dough,” it’s all over with: a perfectly pitched summer single.
Flight of the Conchords (HBO)
This half-hour comedy about an aspiring two-man band in New York sounded a little too much like the contrived sitcom Lucky Louis for Pitchfork readers. That was before remembering Flight of the Conchords is an actual New Zealand musical comedy duo and the personal inexplicable infatuation for all things kiwi kicked in. The show follows underemployed New Zealanders-in-NYC roommates/band mates Bret (Bret McKenzie) and Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) as they try to get gigs and, in general, flounce about doing very little and occasionally breaking into song. Their wit is drier than the Kalahari, sillier than grown men in lederhosen, and absolutely difficult to capture in mere words. To wit: In the second episode, Bret, while at his job holding up signs, develops a crush on a female co-worker and improvises a song in his head: “She’s so hot, she’s so fucking hot . . . she’s like a curry,” before yielding, “she’s so hot I think I need a 1983 Casio DG-20 electric guitar . . . set to electric mandolin,” and launching into the whitest Eddy Grant song you’ve ever heard.
Simon Schama’s Power of Art (PBS)
Columbia University professor Simon Schama does something quite daft with this 2006 BBC series now in rotation on PBS: He makes art history compelling for both the art snob and general gadfly. Each episode in the series focuses on a specific work by a specific artist and, through historical re-enactment, Europe-traversing reportage, and creative montage, Schama offers a very informed insight into his chosen great works—thus far, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Crows,” Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” and Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio’s “David With the Head of Goliath“—without resorting to fusty academic terminology and shopworn anecdotes. Yes, it’s art history as melodramatic soap opera, and you won’t be more entertained while eating your cultural Brussels sprouts all summer.
Chris Salewicz’ Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
British writer Chris Salewicz met the Clash while writing overwhelmingly enthusiastic pieces about the band for New Music Express in the late 1970s. But what makes for hyping journalism turns into engaging biography in this Joe Strummer book—particularly in dealing with Strummer’s creative limbo after the Clash and his efforts to move forward with his Mescaleros. Salewicz is neither a stylist nor a culture critic here and, thankfully, doesn’t try to reargue the merits of London Calling or Sandinista! Instead, he lets Strummer and a rotating cast of friends, familiars, and insiders talk about the man, foibles and all—though Salewicz obviously loves Strummer too much to be too critical. Luckily, Strummer is more than honest enough, and memories of his candor and humor from the folks who knew him remind that he never shied away from puncturing his own bubble any chance he got.
Carla Yanni The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States (University of Minnesota Press)
Rutgers University art history professor Carla Yanni cannily folds the spaces influence people ideas of Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization into the architectural overview with this fascinating and brisk look at 19th-century American insane asylums. Yanni is an eloquently persuasive writer, and establishes the constant oppositions of 19th-century insanity–socially ostracized people corralled in Gothic building outside of town vs. patients in need of medical care, which could include environmental components such as architecture–in her calibrating introduction and proceeds to move through the century with an insightful mind. It’s a refreshingly wonk-free bit of sociology of science.