Between the Promise and the Payoff Falls the Shadow: Movie and music reviews

It Comes at Night: This film is incredibly effective at creating tension and dread, and pretty aggressive about refusing to be a "story" in any conventional sense. Did you know that sometimes terrible things happen, due to pileups of bad luck and understandable choices? That is what this movie wants to give you. No character grows or changes (unlike in downer horror flicks like The Descent) and no questions will be answered by the end except, "Who will die?"I know it sounds shallow to be … [Read more...]

Doomed Queen and Beaten Champion: Concert review, Tristen & the Mountain Goats

A few weeks ago I got a chance to see the Mountain Goats in concert. Let me tell you to do this thing if you get the chance. The Mt Goats is sort of one guy, John Darnielle, and the people he gets to help him make narrative, terrifically-structured indie music; I've yapped about their stuff here and here among other places. I super love them but am wary of live music for whatever dumb reason, so when I finally saw them at Calvin College, I was totally blown away. Darnielle was losing his voice … [Read more...]

Sad Bible Songs: I review Harrison Lemke’s “Fertile Crescent Blues”

at First Things: "Christian pop is unrelentingly cheerful.” That was Leah Libresco's conclusion when she analyzed the frequency of positive and negative terms (“grace” vs. “sin,” for example, or “love” vs. “fear”) in Billboard's Christian pop top-50. Grace and love and life and light are all great things. But if your soul needs a smoke break from the endless Christian pep rally, a lay-me-down instead of yet another pick-me-up, Harrison Lemke's beautiful new album Fertile Crescent Blues is what y … [Read more...]

When the Last Days Come, We Shall See Visions: A Holy Week Roundup That’s Really an Excuse…

...to talk about the Mountain Goats. Once more I did my annual Mountain Goats Holy Week and once more it was awesome. Notes from this year: 1. Whoa, my sense of when these albums were made is totally off. Assumed Get Lonely and Heretic Pride were early because I don't like them much but it turns out that's not at all true! I still ease in with Get Lonely, but I'm now fond of that one song about the Tianchi monster, the one that's kind of a knockoff "Bigfoot!" in subject matter and general … [Read more...]

What Was Going On Inside: I Watch “Goodnight Mommy”

for AmCon: An Austrian television personality comes home to her remote, eerie house to recuperate from extensive plastic surgery. Swathed in bandages, she confronts her twin sons—and they don’t recognize her. She can’t persuade the boys that she’s their real mother, and her inability to remember basic information about her own life doesn’t help. She seems to scapegoat one of the boys as the troublemaker; she sometimes refuses to talk to him or even set a place for him at the table. The boys deci … [Read more...]

“Pro Wrestling (With Angels)”: I review the new Mountain Goats album

at AmCon: CDs of “Beat the Champ,” the new album from indie folk/rock band the Mountain Goats, come with a small white sticker proclaiming: THIS RIGHT HERE IS AN ALBUM ABOUT PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING. I guess they had to get the ironic disclaimer out of the way: Yes, this is a weird thing to do, roll with it please. If you do roll with it you will find an utterly unironic tribute to the wrestling heroes of singer/songwriter John Darnielle’s childhood—and one of his band’s best albums. more … [Read more...]

“The Human Face a Furnace Seal’d”: I Review John Darnielle’s New Novel

for AmCon: The new novel from indie music hero John Darnielle is a moving tribute to the power of the imagination. But not in the way you might think.The novel’s setup is fairly simple. Sean, the narrator, suffered severe facial disfigurement from a gunshot wound sometime in his early life—the kind of disfigurement which makes him hard to look at, which makes other people recoil from him. But after decades of learning to accept his situation, he’s patient, quiet, and hopeful. He’s even manag … [Read more...]