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02.23.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

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1. ALBUM Whisper House Duncan Sheik
This fantastic 10-song cycle is a gorgeously orchestrated group of songs set in the WWII-era all about ghosts and the stories they tell. It is sung to perfection by Sheik and guest vocalist Holly Brook, and has many shades of Spring Awakening, logical considering this is one of Sheiks’ follow up to his Tony winning first musical. “The Tale of Solomon Snell” is a must listen to track, for it’s Edward Gorey-like storytelling and Kurt Weill inspired melodies and flourishes, complete with walking bass line and tooting trumpet accompaniment. Also worth a listen is “Earthbound Starlight,” a gentle, sad and haunting tune, reminiscent of my favorite, “Left Behind,” from Awakening. Take a look at the EPK for the album to get a sample of the genius. [thanks to Flip for the tip]

2. MUSEUM Measuring Your Own Grave at MoMA
Marlene Dumas’ work is extremely disturbing but undeniably beautiful at the same time. Her color palette alone moves from light pastels, watery blues and pinks to the darkest purples all within the same canvas. This exhibition mostly focuses on portraits, full body nudes, striking faces, newborns and dead women. Each piece is deeply expressive, the faces are captivating, alive and dead all at the same time. I would find myself inexplicably staring into the eyes of some of her works, drawn there and unable to turn away. It’s a difficult exhibition to take in, confronted with difficult images and having them presented in dichotomous ways, but well worth trying just for the stunning images that will remain imprinted on your consciousness.

3. CONCERT Sonya Kitchell and Rocco DeLuca at Rockwood Music Hall
What an incredible evening of live music. Sonya Kitchell took the stage with just her guitar and a bass cello accompanying her. She moved effortlessly through her second album, This Storm, which was distinctly pop-ier in sound, but turned it into the acoustic beauty that we come to expect from her. And major kudos to her bass cello player who made things happen with that instrument that I didn’t know was possible. And then Rocco DeLuca did a way too short set, but was captivating from start to finish. His skills on the Dobro are nothing short of shocking, he plays as though possessed, his voice smoothly accompanying it like Ray LaMontagne without all the doom and gloom. And then he finished off his set with a rocking extended version of “I Trust You to Kill Me.” Simply a great night of music.

4. COMEDY Kathy Griffin at MSG
In her own words, she moved the line and then she crossed it. Sticking closely to her beloved interest in all things pop culture and celebrity, Kathy ripped into Miley Cyrus (calling her a “whore”), Nancy Grace, the Real Housewives of New York (how Simon is the actual housewife), her mother’s obsession with box wine (Tip It! Tip It!) and of course, Oprah and her boyfriend Gayle King. Admittedly, Griffin was a bit all over the place and unfocused with her stories, but it all adds to the charm of feeling like she is one of your friends, dishing and hilariously criticizing everyone you know… except that she isn’t my friend and I don’t personally know anyone she chooses to lambaste, which really just adds to the fun and delight.

5. ALBUM The Crying Light Antony and the Johnsons
Normally a weird voice, which Antony’s undeniably is, takes me some time to get used to, but not this voice. It is so full of soul and depth, the way it bends notes, forms phrases and moves through these piano and string backed tunes, nothing short of stunning. It’s a mournful album, no doubt, but at the same time filled with hope, clearly shown in the opening track “Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground.” Also worth a listen is “Epilepsy is Dancing,” with a repeated hypnotic chorus that just overwhelms the ears. But the true gem of this criminally short album is “Another World.” The simple piano chords open up into an evocative plea from Antony for finding more space to create, having too many dreams that still need to come true. It’s at once a plea for everyone as we watch our planet disintegrate, but also comes across as an immensely personal journey.

6. TV Randy Jason Presents: America’s Best Dance Crew
I cannot even begin to describe my love for this show, and more so the shock that I have any love for this show. These groups of steppers, break dancers, and even cloggers are beyond impressive. Their choreography is impeccable, their talent huge, and desire to show it all on stage without bounds. While Lil’ Mama, JC Chasez and Shane Sparks don’t exactly have the chemistry of their AmIdol counterparts, they do have some surprisingly spot on advice for these talented youths. Each week I’m more and more captivated, from a flying magic ball routine that I still haven’t figured out to a blindfolded triple person jump, and about thirty other little moves each episode that I couldn’t even begin to do at home. I’m just so sad that my cloggers got kicked off; I was really gunning for them as the underdogs and as a way for them to prove that their skills are just as worthwhile as the more mainstream dance troupes.

7. ALBUM 808’s And Heartbreaks Kanye West
This certainly is not what I normally turn to my Kanye for, but, as is the case with much of what he does, he does it extremely well. Using auto-tuning throughout, Kanye digs deep into a more emotional and raw space, ceasing to use his clever wordplay as a crutch. Lead single “Love Lockdown” is undeniably an impressive song, full of energy and strength, but doesn’t capture the spirit of the album, which is much more contemplative and oblique, often times taking on the propulsive beats and sounds of a cinematic soundtrack. Take a listen to the addictive “Heartless,” the awesome ‘80s throwback “Paranoid,” and my personal favorite, “RoboCop,” a synth string heavy, hook rocking tune complete with robot sound effects. This CD was a complete surprise, but a damn good surprise at that.

8. ALBUM Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future The Bird and the Bee

This retro sounding outfit is still pushing out hits that few people seem to be listening to. The production on these songs is happy, pop confections from another era, complete with cabaret piano melodies, rhythmic claps and whispery harmonies that sound directly taken from French ditties. It’s all very logical considering one half of the band is Greg Kurstin, who produces for the similar sounding Lily Allen as well as Beck and Kylie Minogue. Take a listen to “Diamond Dave” and the other worldly “Witch” which has overtones of a Bond theme (seriously, give these guys the next gig so we don’t have another terrible duet along the lines of Alicia Keys/Jack White). And I’ll excuse the recycling of “Polite Dance Song” from Please Clap Your Hands, mainly because it is such an awesome track that I don’t mind having it on my iPod twice.

9. MOVIE The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)
Peter Greenaway’s films are always very strange and often inaccessible. This one is no different, but still a worthy viewing for its strong approach and examination of how we construct visual imagery. Focusing on a playboy artist who strikes an odd bargain with the wife of a wealthy landowner for twelve drawings in exchange for twelve sexual acts, the film becomes a power play about what appears in the drawings and what is happening behind them. Through this construct, Greenaway calls into question the creation of art, how an image can always tell more than it seems to and how quickly the controversy within the art can become controversy within life. If for nothing else, watch the movie to enjoy yet another wonderful score by constant Greenaway collaborator Michael Nyman.

10. MOVIE The Wedding Banquet (1993)
An early film from Ang Lee demonstrates much of the sentiment and attention to cultural detail that has appeared in his glorious more recent films. Taking on the story of a gay Chinese immigrant who marries a woman to give her a green card and to get his parents off his back results in exactly what you would expect, a mess. In less capable hands this film would be like a whole lot of queer cinema in which the fact that it deals with homosexuality is the only selling point. In Lee’s world, the sexual orientation takes a back seat to the emotional gravity and humor that can be derived from the human interaction.

Bottom of the List
STAGE Hedda Gabler at the American Airlines Theater
I can only comment on the first half of this play, because I was so bored and mystified by the horrendous production that I exited, quite happily, at intermission (a first in my decently long Broadway life). Mary-Louise Parker, one of my favorites, is horribly miscast and/or misdirected. She prances about the stage as if she were Nancy Botwin bringing about pain and anger rather than pot. I simply did not understand what this production was trying to achieve…

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