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November 01, 2004 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-11-01

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-0A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, November 1, 2004

ARTS

4

UK's Leo finally slumps on new 'Streets'

By Jacob Nathan
Daily Arts Writer
This might come as a shock to some fans: Ted
Leo has made a bad album. With his latest release,
Shake the Sheets, Leo has discarded the quirks and
quality by which his previous releases have been
defined. While not a complete failure, Shake the
Sheets is a huge step backward from 2002's capa-
ble Hearts of Oak and 2001's
now classic The Tyranny of
Distance. All of Leo's work Ted Leo
to date has been characterized and the
by laser-sharp songwriting Pharmacists
and unparalleled energy in its Shake the Streets
execution. This album fails in
both categories. Lookout!
While in the past Leo could
be counted on to deliver exciting albums, he
reveals his weaknesses with Sheets. Distance, with
its superfluous hooks and excitement, introduced
Leo as a captivating solo artist. Oak, while not on
the same level of rocking as Distance, still showed
Leo's merit as an intriguing songwriter by tran-
scending the typical assumptions about his musi-
cal range. The differences between his songs and
the way he used rhythm to break up his choruses
and verses were what made Leo such a refreshing
voice on the independent rock scene. With Shake
the Sheets, Leo has not captured the dynamic tech-
nique for which he has been known
For the most part, the songs on Sheets are indis-
tinguishable. In the past, Leo has written songs
that cover a wide range of musical styles, but also
had clear and distinct messages. On his previous
releases Leo's writing was crisp and focused, gen-
erating albums that were inviting and challeng-
ing for the listener. Shake the Sheets is a saggy
pop album through and through. The album starts
solidly by leading off with two strong tracks, "Me
and Mia," and "The Angels' Share." These songs
would have the listener believe that Leo was back
in full force. The respectable start is quickly aban-
doned as the following two songs run together,
neutralizing the political message behind "Count-

Courtesy of Young God

Just another lazy, dog-danglin' afternoon.

Banhart hones his
songwritmng with Rojo

By Evan MacKinder
For the Daily

British: Check. Balding: Check. Alcoholism: Check. Rudeness: Implied.

ing Down the Hours." It is clear Leo is not happy
with the current state of world affairs, but his lyr-
ics are convoluted, "As I'm walking toward tomor-
row with a rifle in my hand / And I'm thinkin'
about New England and I'm missing old Japan."
Songs suffer from these inflated lyrics throughout
the album.
The best song on the album, and one Leo himself
refers to as "my favorite song I've ever written" is
"Little Dawn." This song is exciting and well writ-
ten: in a sense, vintage Ted Leo. Its presence is
incredibly revealing about the nature of the album,
reminding the listener of what might have been.
The rhythms of the songs on the second half of
the album are so similar that it becomes difficult
to tell where one mediocre song ends and another
begins. By this point on the album, any chance
of salvation is minute. There is a hint of promise
when the opening riff to "Walking to Do" starts,

but that's just because it is overtly derivative of
Leo's biggest hit of his career, "Where Have All
the Rude Boys Gone?"
The tone and tempo of every song on Sheets is
remarkably similar. This makes for a boring and
meandering effort. Overall, the album is insig-
nificant, with shallow messages and disappointing
production running rampant. The lack of direction
is disheartening and is to blame for the one-dimen-
sional final product.
Since his early days as the leader of the semi-
nal post-punk outfit Chisel, Leo has been on
the cutting edge of indie-rock. This album sug-
gests that had Leo remained focused on writ-
ing dynamic rock songs, he could have avoided
churning out bland and uninspired power pop.
While he may receive some radio airplay with
this album, Leo will be lucky not to alienate his
die-hard fan base.

Devendra Banhart's records have
always acted as a soundtrack to the
beauty of nature. His first release of
2004, the enigmatic, free-folk cor-
nerstone Rejoicing in the Hands car-
ried song titles

like "Tit Smok-
ing in the Temple
of Artesan Mim-
icry," and intro-
duced themes of
naturalism and
modernity into
Banhart's canon.

Devendra
Banhart
Nino Rojo
Young God
"Ticks Eat the

Dreck-fihled 'Clouds' floats aimlessly

By Amanda Andrade
For the Daily
In times of war, such as the coun-
try faces today, it's good to see a
film that reminds people of the harsh

realities of war
and the resilience
of the human
spirit. "Head
in the Clouds,"
a romance set
against the back-
drop of World
War II, is not that
film.

Head in the
Clouds
At Michigan
Theater
Sony Picture Classics

the best endorsement the film is
likely to receive is "Charlize Ther-
on - topless."
"Head in the Clouds" follows
the life of Guy (Stuart Townsend,
"League of Extraordinary Gentle-
men") an idealist madly in love with
a selfish hedonist named Gilda (Ther-
on), who's tall, thin, blonde and easy.
Sadly, the film gives its audience no
reason to believe Guy and Gilda con-
nect on any level past the purely sex-
ual, and even those scenes are more
awkward than arousing.
But their modicum of sexual heat
looks like a conflagration in compari-
son to that of Theron and Penelope
Cruz ("Vanilla Sky"). They play les-
bians who wear sexy lingerie and
wrestle with one another. The duo
have all the chemistry of a couple of
dead fish. Kretschmann also played
a Nazi in last year's infinitely better
"The Pianist," and the memory of his

wonderful and subtle performance in
that film draws unfavorable compari-
sons to this pointless treacle.
The movie then proceeds in hap-
hazard fashion to its denouement.
The last half hour of the film does
indeed seem to have a coherent plot
line, but it's too little, too late. A few
explosions and an unsettling pseudo-
rape later, the movie is almost over
and the torpid pace of the film will
make the audience feel like 20 years
have actually elapsed.
If the film has a strong point,
it's the visuals. The actors are all
undoubtedly lovely but have ques-
tionable talent. The cinematography
is breathtaking, and the hair and cos-
tuming are gorgeous. Unfortunately,
these things can't make up for the
pitiful story. Theron won an Oscar
for getting ugly. If this film is any
indication, she might want to stick
with what works.

Olives," the opening track to Ban-
hart's first record Oh Me Oh My,
introduced the singer/songwriter
to the underground folk scene with
a swirling, lyrically abstract song
about tear-spawned olives that are
devoured by ticks, which originate
in the back of the human head.
Banhart's third release, Nino
Rojo, continues his obtuse lyricism
- which has catapulted Banhart to
the peak of today's folk scene - yet
is, in many ways, unique from its
predecessors. His trademarked lyr-
ics are now juxtaposed with a wel-
comed shadow of instrumentaion
which was introduced with his folk
stylings.
"Wake Up Little Sparrow" introduc-

es Rojo as a record rooted in typical
folk fashion with its sole finger-picked
guitar. The album quickly builds from
there as Banhart incorporates horns
to play a backdrop in tracks like "Ay
Mama" and "We All Know."
Banhart's strongest quality is his
innate ear for songcraft and song-
writing, displayed prominently
throughout Rojo. Banhart uses a
hybridization between folk sim-
plicity and lo-fi instrumentation,
as strings, harmonicas, pianos and
banjos are all prominently show-
cased, often overshadowing Ban-
hart's guitar. "Little Yellow Spider"
is a whimsical ballad showcasing
Banhart's naturalistic imagery, and
lyrical prowess: "Little yellow spi-
der laughing at the snow / Maybe
that spider knows something I don't
know / 'cause I'm godamned cold"
Rojo also stay's true to a simple
folk music's form. "My Ships" and
"A Ribbon" which stay true to its
straightforwardness, translating to
the listener the sense of independence
each track is given by Banhart.
While Nino Rojo is not neces-
sarily Banhart's best album, its a
continuation of his eccentric song-
writing, and is a progression of his
abilities to craft songs instrumental-
ly. It builds upon the talents intro-
duced by Oh My Oh My and this
year's Rejoicing in the Hands while
leaving room for improvement like
its predecessors.

This muddled and melodramatic
film doesn't have anything mean-
ingful to say about either love or
war, which would be acceptable if
there were some kind of engrossing
story in this mess. But as it stands,

4

HOTTT.

4

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