What does “Sounds Like This” sound like?

By Lauren Linhard- ArtsPost Staff Writer

Eric Hutchinson’s debut album, “Sounds Like This,” is perfect for a summer car cruise with the windows down. It’s catchy, light and fun. Unfortunately, it’s just as catchy, light and fun as any other album by an indie pop artist. Hutchinson has followed in the musical footsteps of Jason Mraz, Mat Kearney and Matt Nathanson. Inspiration has to come from somewhere. But “Sounds Like This” so perfectly mimics the sound and themes of other artists, that you wonder how much of Hutchinson is in his album.

Hutchinson’s career had a false start, originally signing with Maverick Records months before the label folded. His recording sessions came to an end and he went on tour, trying to get his name out there. In August 2007, Hutchinson released “Sounds Like This” on his own record label, Let’s Break Records. A few days later, according to the official Eric Hutchinson website, a high school buddy emailed the famed gossip Perez Hilton a link to Hutchinson’s MySpace page. Hilton recommended the new musician and everything fell into place. By September, “Sounds Like This” was featured in the Top 10 albums on iTunes and was No.1 on the Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Still unsigned, Hutchinson and his album remained extremely successful. Warner Bros. Records picked up the album and officially released it in March 2008.

The key is to listen to “Sounds Like This” three times before making a final decision. The first time is for overall effect, which is decidedly enjoyable. The second is for the musical component, which will seem familiar but impressive. And the third is for lyrics, which you will find…surprising. Hutchinson’s piano skill and sexy voice can easily distract from the lyrics. But when you really listen to the actual words of “Outside Villanova,” which is about having sex with an underage girl, shock is an appropriate emotion. Though sexually questionable ethics isn’t a trend throughout the album, including this song was certainly a risky move.

The album focuses around the popular idea of taking life as it comes. Along with musicians like Jack Johnson, Hutchinson tries to embrace his inner soul to communicate an easy-going existence. During “Rock & Roll” you find yourself craving a day at the beach, or at least a tropical drink, as you sway your hips to the reggae music. The spirit of chill continues with the songs “Food Chain” and “OK, It’s Alright With Me.” Though the album doesn’t come off as generic, it doesn’t come off as entirely fresh either. While some songs seem to be taken directly from a Jason Mraz album, there are moments when Hutchinson embraces his jazzy piano and finally gives us a sound that could be his own.

The album explores a variety of musical genres including funk, reggae and jazz. The assortment of sound keeps the album fresh; however, it also causes a slightly jumble feel. There is such diversity on “Sounds Like This,” it is unclear where Hutchinson’s real musical interest lies.

The good news: Hutchinson is young enough and new enough to gain experience and discover his own sound. Eventually he will sift between the funk, reggae, indie pop and jazz that is “Sounds Like This” to find his musical self. The bad news: the opening of “All Over Now” is alarming close to being mistaken for Taylor Swift’s “Love Song.”

The National Mall, one day, six stops

By Elise Lundstrom

ArtsPost Staff Writer

Have a day to see the National Mall? It’s a daunting task. There are more than museums, four monument and three government buildings on or adjacent to the Mall. How do you choose what to see? Here is a guide to six must-see museums and their highlights. This tour is designed to take from 10 a.m. to late afternoon. It is fit for all ages and all group sizes. With this guide you will see much of the culture, science and art the institutions on the Mall have to offer. These museums are easily accessible by Metro. Get off at the Smithsonian stop on the Blue Line and walk across the Mall to the first stop.

National Museum of American History

14th Street and Constitution Avenue

Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (check for extended summer hours)

Can’t Miss: “The Star Spangled Banner” (second floor)

The best place to start off your whirlwind Mall experience is the National Museum of American History, full of exhibits, permanent and temporary, that will appeal to every person in your group. Highlights include: “The First Ladies at the Smithsonian,” “Within, These Walls,” “Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life,” and “National Treasures of Popular Culture.”

Can’t Miss: You literally can’t miss “The Star Spangled Banner” exhibit; it is right inside the entrance to the museum. Entering the exhibit, you will travel up a ramp, reading about the Fort McHenry and the Battle of Baltimore while audio is played to further illustrate the information on the panels and the videos. The audio includes: “Washington burning,” “Sounds of a ship at anchor,” and “sounds of distant rockets and bombs.” When reading the descriptions of the sound bytes, they seem a little silly, but they are there to keep all of the senses working as you move through the exhibit.

Repeat visitors may remember the previous exhibit included the restoration process on display: women on scaffolding meticulously sewing and repairing the flag for its eventual permanent display. In the current exhibit, the flag is finally finished, behind glass, in a dimly lit, controlled environment room, almost glowing because of the lighting. The intrigue of the restoration is gone, and with it some of the appeal of the banner itself.

Following the actual viewing area for the flag, a large, touch animation table lets visitors interact with different parts of the flag, seeing the stitches up close and reading information about the restoration process (at least that aspect lives on in the exhibition.)

Finally, as you exit the exhibit, information about the creator of the actual flag, Mary Pickersgill, not Betsy Ross, its commissioner Maj. George Armistead, and Francis Scott Key, writer of the song that became the National Anthem, is displayed. This section is accompanied by “a medley of performances of The Star Spangled Banner” audio, easily recognizable and fun to hear spliced together.

There is a reason the “goSmithsonian” guide tells you to “begin here.” Family friendly in its length and interactive features, this exhibit gets you ready to experience all things “American” and showcases a part of American history that is as important today as when it was created during the Revolutionary War, the American flag.

The Kenneth E. Behring Center has undergone many renovations over the past four years, and while they have certainly made the interior space more visually appealing, it is clear that the aesthetics were more important than function in the process. For example, the “National Treasures of Popular Culture” exhibit is much too small to accommodate all those wishing to glimpse Dorothy’s red slippers. The format of the museum has remained generally the same, with escalators on each end of the building and exhibits scattered between and behind them. But don’t let the outside construction fool you: The museum is open.

National Museum of Natural History

10th Street and Constitution Avenue

Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (check for extended summer hours)

Can’t Miss: the Harry Winston Gallery

After your immersion into American culture, continue your day on the mall by going next door; the National Museum of Natural History cannot be missed. This museum is chock full of science and fun with its diversity of exhibits, IMAX theater and “Live Butterfly Pavilion.” As you enter, you are greeted by the towering African elephant of the popular Washington phrase, “Meet you by the elephant.” It is easy to get your bearings in the rotunda, as all of the major exhibits are well marked and directions to everywhere you want to go are plentiful. There is something for every science lover here from dinosaurs to Egyptian mummies, to moon rocks.

Can’t Miss: “A Rare Encounter: Together” showcases two of the world’s most valuable blue diamonds: the Smithsonian’s Hope Diamond and the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond. The Harry Winston Gallery presents a timeline of each diamond, when and where it passed from owner to owner and how it came by its current cut and owner. The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond is on display publicly for the first time in 50 years. Both diamonds originated in mines in India, some speculate the same mine, since they are so similar in color and size.

This exhibit is special not only because of the pairing of these gems but because for the first time, the Hope Diamond is displayed out of its original setting. To celebrate the anniversary of its entry into the Smithsonian collection, the Hope Diamond has been removed form the original setting, which is currently on display laying next to the diamond in its display case, and will be placed in a new setting in May. Smithsonian.com held a design contest and the winning design “Embracing Hope,” is being created by Harry Winston Inc., whose founder donated the gem to the Smithsonian, and for whom the gallery that houses the Hope Diamond is named.

Along with these two priceless diamonds, the gallery has four large mineral samples, quartz, sandstone and others. The gallery is not crowded, and since the Hope Diamond is displayed on a rotating pedestal, there is no need to jockey for position. Everyone can appreciate the value and beauty of these diamonds; however the gallery, and adjacent “National Gem Collection” and “Gems and Minerals” exhibit seemed to be largely occupied by mothers and daughters. All of the visitors were enjoying themselves, and like “meet me by the elephant,” a common joking statement was “I’ll take that one.”

If you are in need of a snack before you venture on down the mall, stop by the Fossil Café on the first floor at the end of the dinosaur hall, or the Ice Cream and Coffee Bar located outside the Atrium Café on the ground floor. They have sustainable treats.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden:

Independence Avenue at Seventh Street

Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Sculpture Garden open 24/7)

Can’t Miss: the Sculpture Garden

Tired of being inside? Cross the Mall and walk down toward the Capitol Building until you see a large red jumble of iron beams. That’s Mark di Suvero’s “Are Years What? (For Marianne Moore) and you have reached the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. This is a great break from reading, and allows your group to enjoy sculpture from some of the greatest artists of the modern era. Start with the silver “Kiepenkerl,” peddler, by Jeff Koons and walk down the stairs to your left as you start your relaxing tour of Hirshhorn sculpture.

As you wind your way along the paths, contemplating the meaning behind each work, and the connection between the titles and the works themselves, take a minute to enjoy the overall atmosphere of the sculpture garden. After the inevitable crowds at the first two museums, this should be a nice break.

At the center of the garden is a reflecting pool and one of the most intriguing works, “For Gordon Bunshaft” by Dan Graham created in 2006. The structure, made from two-way mirror, wood and steel, is a favorite for kids and adults. You look at the glass, expecting your reflection, but you see someone else! You look around to see who this reflection belongs to and it is a person further down the path, undoubtedly looking at a reflection of you. You can walk around the structure, open the door and go inside for a unique experience, or just sit on a bench and watch the laughter and fun. Everyone experiencing this work has a smile on their face.

(Make sure you walk down every path, or you might miss something wonderful.)

Other artists on display in the garden include: Auguste Rodin, Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, David Smith, Willem de Kooning, Joan Miro and Alberto Giacometti. The final work as you complete your winding tour of the garden is “Wish Tree for Washington D.C.” by Yoko Ono. During all seasons, current spring budding excluded because of the delicate status of the tree at that time, visitors are encouraged to attach pieces of paper with their wishes written on them to the tree. This iconic sculpture is a must see and experience for all visitors to the sculpture garden.

As you walk up the stairs and out of the official garden, look across the street at Roy Lichtenstein’s “Brushstroke” in front of the Hishhorn itself. The sculpture collection continues around the museum, with plenty of opportunities to sit and enjoy, including in the courtyard around the asymmetrical fountain, and ends with Claes Oldenburg’s “Geometric Mouse” at the entrance of the museum. If your art bug isn’t satisfied, head inside for galleries filled with modern art, otherwise, exit the museum grounds toward Independence Avenue and walk to your left to the next destination.

(Note: please do not touch the sculpture. That includes children and adults.)

National Air and Space Museum:

Independence Avenue at Sixth Street

Open 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (most days March 28 – September 5)

Can’t Miss: “Visions of Earth”

As you enter The National Air and Space Museum, you are confronted with huge hallways filled with aircraft, crowds of people and the feeling of utter chaos. The first floor of the museum is basically divided in two: on the east side, space and rockets, on the west, airplanes and aviation. The second floor is a mixture of the two and including the Albert Einstein Planetarium, the Wright Brothers gallery and many others.

If you don’t enjoy throngs of children screaming at their parents to let them have dehydrated ice cream and let them ride the simulator, this may be a difficult museum for you to enjoy. That said, there is no better place in Washington to experience the history of flight and space exploration.

The Air and Space Museum is trapped in a collision of the 1970s and the 2000s. The Can’t Miss of this museum is a great example of that: “Looking at Earth” on the ground floor on the east side of the building. Need to escape the announcements about how many minutes you have to buy your IMAX tickets before the next show? Duck into this exhibit on how humans have viewed the Earth from the air, and from space.

At the start of the exhibit, “A Bird’s Eye View” shows us the first camera strapped to a pigeon (to take images in flight) as well as cartoons of photographers hanging out of hot air balloons. The exhibit progresses through time to show how we have taken and used images from the air for social, military and scientific research. Satellites are given a large portion of the exhibit, and on display are the TIROS, GOES and ITOS satellites themselves. Finally the “What’s New” section shows new ways scientists are using space imagery.

The exhibit is a mix of 1970s scientist and pilot mannequins and current video and weather technology. A station where you can view satellite images of anywhere on the planet is across from a dusty spy pilot seated on the wing of his jet. Enjoyable and informative, this quirky exhibit embodies the spirit of flight and the spirit of the National Air and Space Museum, without the dehydrated food and mass of people.

National Museum of the American Indian:

Independence Avenue at Fourth Street

Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Can’t Miss: “Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort”

Continue down Independence Avenue to the next building and you have reached the National Museum of the American Indian. The museum’s exterior immediately informs you that this is not an ordinary museum, its curving and organic stone face keep your eye moving as you walk around to the main entrance courtyard. You are greeted with a natural landscape, pond and sculpture by Native American artists. The large glass doors of the entry seem heavy but swing easily when you pull them open. The interior is bright and airy; the rotunda is open from floor level to the oculus in the ceiling letting in a beam of light.

The American Indian museum features many exhibits on current and past traditions, art and cultures of different groups of native American peoples, including “Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities,” “Our Peoples: Giving Voice to Our Histories” and others. The exhibits are comprehensive and engaging, if a little heavy on text. But we have so much to learn, we know so little, that the museum feels like it must tell you as much as it can while it has your attention.

Can’t Miss: “Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort” is an exhibit of the Swiss-Canadian Native American installation artist’s works. Jungen is half Native American of the Dunne-Za First Nations and uses found objects to create his environmentally and socially conscious works. In the rotunda, a mobile of his work “Crux (As seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky)” is off to the side, a preview of the exhibit on the third floor. The exhibit is set up like an art gallery, not like the rest of the museum that has more of a scientific and social feel. The six rooms contain many different examples of his work.

Jungen’s work deals with Native American identity, especially related to sports and environmental issues. His environmental works are mainly in plastic, including his “Shapeshifter,” what looks like a whale skeleton made from white plastic chair pieces, and “Carapace,” an igloo-like structure based on Asian temples, created from trash bins. His more socially conscious works deal with the role of Native American mascots in the sports world.

His totem pole-like structures made from golf bags and titled after their years, are particularly striking for their height and their geometric aesthetics. Jungen creates faces out of sports gear and you can’t help but smile initially when you see these works. However, his work deals with issues that are under the surface, just like his meaning is under the surface of his art.

By now you are probably famished. If you made it past the food court trap in the National Air and Space Museum (really, do you want McDonalds?), then eat at the Mitsitam Café. Delicious native inspired dishes abound. Tip: order a few side dishes instead of an entrée to get a taste of all the cultural foods offered.

United States Botanic Garden:

100 Maryland Ave. SW (adjacent to the U.S. Capitol)

Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Can’t Miss: The Conservatory

Now that you’ve been tuned in to more natural aspects of life, walk across the street toward the Capitol to the Botanic Garden. Here’s the reward at the end of your National Mall tour. If it’s been a long, hot day, take some refuge in the cool Garden Court; if it’s been rainy and cold, warm up in the Jungle or the Tropical Gardens. The U.S. Botanic Garden complex includes the indoor Conservatory, the exterior National Garden and Bartholdi Park across Independence Avenue.

The Botanic Garden has many different gardens for all of the different ecosystems found in the country from desert to primeval plants to Hawaii and tropical jungle, and rare and endangered plants. Visitors enjoy wandering through the gardens, stopping to take pictures of the many flowers, especially orchids, and just relaxing in the atmosphere. The walkways can be quite narrow however, so be wary of strollers and large groups. If you get stuck behind a tour group, the best option is to back-track and come back to that area later. Professionals are at stations to provide detailed information about plants and gardening, as well as give tours of the conservatory.

The West Gallery has an exhibit called “Plants and Culture” that allows visitors to smell fragrances that come from flowers and plants, products that come from plants and plants in our everyday lives. The huge metal flower sculptures are fun for all ages, with videos in their centers showing live plants growing as well as other clips.

The conservatory is a wonderful final stop for a tour of the Mall, relaxing, but fun and informative.

Is three better than two?

By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer


The world of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

To 3-D or not to 3-D? That was the question when I was on my way to see Disney and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” over spring break this spring.  I had seen “Avatar” in 3-D and been dazzled by the clarity and the believable space James Cameron and his team had produced.  Could Disney really match that? Did I want to wear those glasses, even if it was only for 108 minutes? The answer to the latter was no.

But after seeing it in 2-D, I was left doubting.  Were the little blurs of images I detected gone in the 3-D version?   Did the smoke Absolum blew from his opium pipe billow out into the audience when the glasses were donned? These were questions I needed answered.

Tim Burton brought his signature dark-bordering-on-creepy touch to the much idolized subject of Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice.  Though the movie is titled “Alice in Wonderland,” the story comes from Carroll’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the second installment in the story of Alice Kingsley.  “Alice in Wonderland” is referenced briefly throughout the story as Alice struggles with accepting that what she thought were bad dreams are actually memories of her first experience in Underland. Burton was an excellent choice to bring out all of the more twisted aspects of Carroll’s story.

Little known actress Mia Wasikowska was wonderful as Alice, playing her as a sweet but progressive in her ideas and smart as a tack.  Her accent was lyrical and a pleasure to listen to, and that, along with her iridescent pale skin, made her entrancing to watch.

Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway played the two queens, red and white.  They played to their strengths, Carter as the fiery tyrant and Hathaway as the beloved sovereign. The supporting cast, including on-screen actors and voice contributions, made the experience come alive.  Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry and Crispin Glover shone in their respective roles.

Opposite Wasikowska, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter was up to many of his usual tricks: the funny walk and head tilts of Captain Jack Sparrow, the smile, voice and far off look of Willy Wonka. That being said, he did it all masterfully.  His deep Scottish brogue when he tells the tale of the Jabberwocky made the audience smile with pleasure and shiver with dread simultaneously.  Depp’s Hatter was endearing and frightening, and every moment was worth watching. His niche character continues to work wonders.

The story of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” are well known to most if not all of America through the books, numerous television adaptations and the iconic 1951 Disney animated film. Thus, the storyline was not going to be a surprise to anyone, and Disney did not take any liberties with the plot.  How they kept us interested, waiting for the next scene, was with the special effects.

The fabulous world of Underland, conceived out of Carroll and Burton’s eccentric minds, is translated beautifully onto the screen.  The fantasy plants and animals are a far cry from the 1951 Disney animated version.  The two queen’s castles, in their respective glory, stand in the landscape as monuments to dreams of little girls everywhere. The desolate areas destroyed by the Queen of Hearts leave you with chills.  The characters, including weeble-wobble Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum played by Matt Lucas, lurching Stayne played by Glover, and the “globe” headed Queen of Hearts are all created by CGI, computer-generated-imagery, but they look as real as Alice.

Now on to the real question: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Oh no, I’m sorry, excuse me: what was the difference between 2-D Alice and 3-D Alice?

After digesting the 2-D version of “Alice in Wonderland,” I decided that I had to see it in 3-D to see if there was any difference in clarity or brilliance of the special effects. So I paid my fee for the 3-D glasses and got ready for the show.

While the difference was not immense, the forest did look deeper, the room of doors more imposing and the Jabberwocky a bit more fierce.  The blurry scenes of the 2-D were now clear and steady and much more life-like. When Alice is running through the landscape between the Red and White castles, it was much clearer what she was running past in 3-D.

The only disappointing character was the Jabberwocky.  It was not nearly as terrible and frightening as the Hatter’s poem described.  It looked like something out of a claymation fairy tale. Even the 3-D and the bellowing voice of acclaimed actor Christopher Lee could not save it.  That scene was the most frustrating of the entire film.  It seemed like an afterthought, like Burton put more effort into the Bandersnatch’s hut than the epic final battle to save Underland.

The difference of 3-D is never that things jump out of the frame into your face, though we all want that to happen because of the way 3-D is advertised.  The Jabberwoky’s tail did not come within inches of my nose. However, it did complement the creative style of Burton and the fantastical world he created.  To truly experience falling down the rabbit hole, it is worth the extra fee and the cumbersome glasses. My only real disappointment was that the Blue Caterpillar’s smoke did not billow out into my lap.

Art illuminates fragile Lebanese life

By Alexandra Wells

ArtsPost Staff Writer

Photo provided by Katzen Arts Center.

Art, as defined in Webster’s dictionary, is “the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.”  Reflecting the dreams, history and depressing reality of Lebanese culture after its civil war (1975-1990), Convergence: New Art from Lebanon is a gem of an exhibit showing in Washington.

As the first exhibition in North America to introduce Lebanon’s post-civil war art, it expresses both the vigor for and the precariousness of life in Lebanon today and will be at The American University, in the Katzen Arts Center through May 16. The show was co-selected by the Katzen Museum’s director, Jack Rasmussen, and a highly respected Lebanese curator, Amal Traboulsi.

The various peoples of Lebanon have continuously overlapped in their cultures, sometimes violently, since before the birth of Christ.  This juxtaposing of peoples has allowed for vibrant art to be created, partly from the violence that often engulfs the region. Modern-day artists have used the country’s historical convergence of cultures to create the show’s masterpieces.

Although many works of photography appear in the show, there are also more high-tech mediums, such as video art and digital animation.  The show features 30 talented artists who created more than 50 paintings, sculptures and digital works of art.  Of these unique artistic representations, more than a third of the creators are women who live in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut.

Depressing destruction infuses Nada Sehnaoui’s elegant photographic grid “Rubble,” a 3-by-3 meter collage portraying multiple views of debris in Lebanon.  Artist Nadim Karam created a 16-foot high metal piece of art made solely for this Washington show.  The work brings about bitter feelings stirred up by lives influenced by war, but also by hope, represented by the installment of a cloud-like garden.

Another piece of art, an oil painting on canvas by Marwan Sahmarani, depicts soldiers at night.  This dark work is meant to be a guiding light for future generations to view and then learn from so they can avoid the violence of their ancestors.  Although the work is beautifully painted, Sahmarani writes that it should serve as a reminder of the cyclical patterns of Lebanon’s violent history.

The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center is free and open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., everyday except Monday.  For more information, call 202-885-ARTS.

“Repo Men” an Empty Sci-Fi Thriller

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

For Jude Law, the dramatic and thought-provoking sci-fi genre is old news.  That’s not to say that Law has moved beyond the genre, but rather that most would assume that at this point he knows how to do it well.  Law excelled in his past performances in “Gattaca” and “Artificial Intelligence,” but his latest sci-fi endeavor “Repo Men” falls much shorter than its expectations and hype generated by the movie’s promoters.  The director merely threw two talented actors, Forest Whitaker and Jude Law, into a disjointed story that never seems to quite understand its intended tone.

Released around the time of intense political debate over healthcare reform, what might seem “timely” for some is nothing more than empty social commentary (unlike the clear success of “Daybreakers” released only a few months earlier).  The best part about the movie is the chemistry between Whitaker and Law’s characters as they laugh and slice their way through a futuristic dystopia based on sexual and violent excess.

Remy (Law) works in this morally questionable world as a repo man for The Union, a large, greedy corporation that produces artificial organs and body parts at a very high price to its customers.  While the company hands out the empty promise of improving and extending life for those suffering from debilitating health problems, there is a small catch.  If you can’t afford to make the payments on your organ, or “artiforg,” The Union sends its highly-skilled personnel out to recollect the organ, giving little thought to the victim’s survival post-operation.

Remy and his partner Jake (Whitaker) are the best repo men that The Union has to offer, but Remy’s wife disapproves of his job, forcing the former military man to resign for his family.  However, on his last job a faulty defibrillator severely damages Remy’s heart, requiring the company to give him an artiforg that he inevitably has to pay for.  Remy literally has “a change of heart,” and after the operation can no longer cut into the chests of innocent men and women.  His debt piles higher and higher and eventually the young outcast goes on the run with Beth (Alice Braga), a beautiful, young nightclub singer whose body is made up different black market artiforgs.  Together the two fugitives embark on a mission to escape from and take down the system, evading the tireless pursuit of The Union, led by Jack.

What “Repo Men” has in a top notch cast, it severely lacks in direction, tone and character.  In his major directorial debut, Miguel Sapochnik fails at guiding a coherent storyline.  Essentially, Sapochnik cannot seem to figure out whether or not the movie is supposed to be more of a drama or big-budget action comedy.  Law has said that the movie is intended to mix comedic delivery with explicit, bloody sequences as a way to parody or comment on the gore and violence of modern action movies and pop culture.

The story’s progression hardly makes sense at times and becomes a joke itself.  The balance between comedy and gore feels more awkward than anything else.  Particularly misguided is one scene between Barga and Law that uncomfortably mixes sensual eroticism with graphic gore, leaving the viewer even more confused about Sapochnik’s intentions.  Ethan Hawke’s “Daybreakers” attacked the healthcare and resource preservation angle much more successfully with a clear goal and style that was severely lacking in “Repo Men.”

The movie is centered on Law and Whitaker’s perception of duty and service, which comes from both characters’ backgrounds as military men.  The movie attempts to determine whether “a job is just a job,” but falls flat in engaging the audience and making them think.  The only exception to this rule lies in Whitaker’s character, whose senseless love of violence and duty to maintaining order works alongside a personality that is surprisingly funny.

The film amounts to nothing more than a “Blade Runner” wanna-be interrupted with moments of cringe-inducing “bad-assery.”  While the violence feels a bit excessive at time, the shock of this strategy creates fight sequences characteristic of your classic “guy movie.”  In essence, this is the movie’s only appeal, and a weak one at that.

And the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

With the stage lights dampened to a minimum, John Baldwin Gourley, a quiet and unassuming figure, strode onto the stage of the 9:30 Club.  Clad in a red, white and blue hoodie, the shy and pensive frontman of Portugal the Man donned his guitar and approached the microphone.  The crowd roared in preparation for the band’s performance, but Gourley stood on the stage, motionless and silent.  The dimly-lit stage and creeping wisps of smoke produced by the smoke machine added to Gourley’s mystique.  He faced the right side of the stage, tuning out the audience to find his voice, and moments later kicked right into the opening licks of “People Say.”  With little more than his soft, versatile voice, delicate guitar strokes and support from the rest of the band, Gourley became king for the night.

In only a few short years, Portugal the Man rose to the top ranks of indie rock through unrestrained perseverance and a creative spirit that continually inspires listeners and challenges itself with contemplative, beautiful pieces.  Claiming Sarah Palin’s own Wasilla, Alaska as their hometown, the group formed after the demise of Anatomy of a Ghost, Gourley’s first band with Portugal bassist Zachary Carothers.  The members of Portugal packed up their gear and relocated to Portland, Ore. in 2004.  Since that time Portugal the Man has readjusted its lineup and released five studio albums, currently touring in support of their most recent brainchild “American Ghetto.”  The band’s current lineup is comprised of Gourley (vocals/guitar), Carothers, Ryan Neighbors (keyboard/synth), and Jason Sechrist (drums).

From the outset of the March18 show, it was obvious that the show was going to be a collective family act.  The New York four-piece known as The Dig opened the show, warming the crowd up for the rest of the night with a solid performance led by frontman Emile Mosseri.  They concluded their set by bringing all the members of the other touring bands up on stage to perform a song, attempting to fit at least 15 different musicians up onstage.  The artists each played their own unique instrument, ranging from an added tom head to a bottle of whiskey to a manican leg, passionately attacking their instruments (and the song) in a supportive family atmosphere.  Port O’Brien followed The Dig, adding their brand of folksy California indie to the mix, inviting all of the other bands up on stage once more.

By the time the openers had wrapped up their sets the club was filled to the brim with an interesting mix of plaid-and-tie-dye hipsters eager to rock out to the laid-back musical stylings of Portugal the Man.  Following the opener they went right into “And I,” a crowd favorite from their critically acclaimed album “Censored Colors.”  With Carothers swinging his bass up and down, Gourley bathed himself in the red, green and blue strobe lights, lowering the mic and dropping to his knees under the weight of the song.  The band pleased their hardcore fans by playing a number of songs from their first two albums, including “AKA M80 the Wolf,” “Shade,” and “Church Mouth.”  The majority of songs, however, came from the albums that shot them to success, “Censored Colors” and “The Satanic Satanist.”

Gourley remained humble and shy throughout the set, despite cheers and bursts of applause.  Before playing “60 Years” from the new album and spoken as an after-thought, Gourley half-heartedly suggested to his fans that they “download the new album or whatever.”  The statement was less a matter of disinterest and more indicative of Gourley’s shy and polite persona which, unexpectedly, commanded the crowd as effectively as any bombastic act.  After closing with “The Home,” the fan’s passionate and emphatic cheers for an encore brought Gourley out to stage to perform “Created” solo.  Lighters were raised in the air and the crowd fell into silence as he uttered the first line of the song.  Halfway through the sentence, however, Gourley stopped and stepped back from the mic, chuckling to himself.  Once he had composed himself, Gourley told the audience how deeply he was moved by all of their support over the course of the night.

“I just got the chills,” he muttered.  “That’s the first time I’ve ever freaked out onstage.  I almost passed out.  Thanks a lot guys, this is the biggest show we’ve ever played.”

The band sauntered in after Gourley finished the song and went straight into the song “Church Mouth.”  In keeping with the night’s tradition, they brought back the family atmosphere by inviting the other musicians onstage with them to perform a deeply emotional cover of “Strangers” by The Kinks.  For the night, the 9:30 club was turned into more than just a club venue.  It became an intimate family community.

The Search for a Lost Identity

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

For the most part, children are educated in grade school about the founding of this nation through a restricted lens, focusing on poems about how in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue or the American settlements of the English Puritans.  We learn about America’s dark past through slavery and the near destruction of Native American populations.  However, one of the untold stories about the interactions between the first three main groups of people that shaped the nation’s history is the way in which African Americans and Native Americans interacted and mixed with each other throughout American history.  “Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” currently being presented at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a wonderful and eye-opening exhibit about the history of mixed-heritage minorities that were significantly influenced by the development of the United States.

The story is one that is rarely told, or at least rarely explained and taught to the fullest extent.  Most people know that each group has suffered significantly over the last few centuries at the hands of colonial settlers, but little is known about the lives and experiences of those who share mixed ancestry and how the social dynamics of their interactions have shaped our perceptions of these people.  The Indivisible exhibit provides a valuable insight into the trials, tribulations, and successes that grew out of these interactions.

Indivisible is much more than just a museum exhibit, but an ongoing project brought together by a number of dedicated organizers.  All aspects of production for this project were undertaken on behalf of the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.  Aside from the larger organizations, a number of dedicated African-Native American men and women contributed to organizing the research through relationships with tribal communities as well as academic researchers from across the nation.

The 20-panel museum exhibit is located on the second level of the Museum of the American Indian, tucked away to a room near the main elevators.  The panels are divided into 4 main categories (policy, community, creative resistance and lifeways) with each panel analyzing a specific topic supported by copies of primary documents, such as original art, old photographs and slavery records.  In addition to the actual exhibit, the organizers of put together a 256-page book that includes 27 essays ranging from the Cherokee Freedmen debate to the effects of Jim Crow policy on the populations.

The exhibit does not boast any specific interactive or engaging multimedia elements aside from a 10-minute video looping at the back of the room.  However, the strength of the exhibit does not lie in the implementation of new technologies, but in the authenticity and details of the personal testimonials shown in the video itself.  In one testimonial, a young woman breaks down crying, saying that for so long a part of her was “shut off” and that she has been deeply moved by her new sense of belonging.  The need to belong and understand one’s true identity is the crux of the exhibit and is a basic human need that makes the underlying theme of the exhibit relatable to almost anyone.

The exhibit, which debuted on Nov.10 of last year, will be presented at the National Museum of the American Indian until May 31.  Following the Washington stint three copies of the exhibition will tour nationwide at a number of museums and cultural centers that will end in March of 2012.

Double Dagger Tears Up the Back Stage

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

Image Courtesy of Double Dagger website

If you were looking for a dance party that runs the gamut of dramatic physical expression, then The Black Cat was the place to be April 22.  Ranging from the synthpop style of Future Islands to the raucous punk mashing of Double Dagger, the Black Cat came alive for one of the week’s biggest and liveliest shows.

The first artist to hit the stage was Ed Schrader, an odd percussionist whose erratic screaming vocals and drawn out bass moaning stood out from the rest of the performers.  Using nothing more than a kick drum, a microphone and a lamp, Schrader rumbled his way through a number of songs.  He created a mysterious persona.  At first glance he appeared to look pretty anti-rock and nerdy with a striped button-down tucked into a pair of khaki pants.  But once the room went dark (save for a single light shining up on his face from the drum) Schrader pounded away on the drum, screaming and chanting.  While Schrader’s act is very unique, the music itself just felt loud, ill-fitting and at times uncomfortable.  At the very least, Schrader’s sound contains that rare quality where you either love it for its bold rejection of mainstream musical norms or you hate it for sounding like a crazy man with a pair of drumsticks in his hands.  Despite his strange act the crowd still seemed to enjoy the enigmatic figure that is Ed Schrader.

The crowd stirred up as Future Islands took the stage, turning the backstage into a fun dance party.  Future Islands takes the emotional vulnerability and synthpop sound of the classic new wave genre and injects it with a heavy dose of raw vocal power.  While the bassist and keyboardist stand still for their performance, the band’s whole show is centered on singer Sam Herring.  Herring pours his heart, body and soul into each song, weaving tales of heartbreak and introspection through the air like a Shakespearian actor.  At one moment, with lips quivering and arms extended, he asked the audience to open their hearts.  The next minute he then fell to his knees, beating his chest to force out his gravelly voice.

Once Double Dagger took the stage, the audience was ready to turn the Black Cat on its head.  The drum-and-bass punk trio from Baltimore exploded onstage in a whirlwind of cacophony, energy and destructively beautiful musical power.  As drummer Denny Bowen tore into his drumset I felt as if my ears were going to bleed from the sheer loudness of the snare and cymbals.  Bassist Bruce Willen threw his instrument around like a madman while singer Nolen Strals contorted his body and wandered in and out of the audience.  Don’t let the glasses fool you, these guys come to a show prepared to tear your face off.

Double Dagger has produced two full albums and several EP’s since the breakup of Strals’ and Willen’s former band League of Death in 2002.  The name Double Dagger doesn’t always get tossed around as much as it deserves, but once discovered will change your life.  Their live performance is nothing less than amazing and forces you to pay attention.  The group has received praise from a number of music critics and even toured with such high-profile acts as The Buzzcocks.

Only a minute into the first song the crowd was converted into one expansive and seething mosh pit, with fans running around and furiously punching the air.  The strength of the pit was especially surprising considering the small size of the room itself.  Strals strolled in and out of the crowd to join in the moshing community.  Whether he was grinding on some unsuspecting woman or wandering aimlessly with a blank stare painted on his face, Strals’ interaction with the crowd will remind you of the beauty of small shows.  Too often fans are forced to stand at a distance from a band in stadiums, concert halls and other venues.  The beauty of Double Dagger’s performance lies in the fan’s visceral connection with the band as both sides of the music experience collided in a celebration of life and community.

The Coathangers Can’t Stop Stompin’

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

In the 1980s, D.C. was the home of a thriving punk scene that churned out such legends as Fugazi and Bad Brains.  While the capital’s rock scene has seen its share of ups and downs throughout the years, it remains ever-friendly to up-and-coming punk bands.  On April 21, in true punk tradition the Black Cat hosted Atlanta rockers The Coathangers along with Sick Sick Birds and (stop worrying and) Love the Bomb.

The night started with a short, yet fun and energetic set by the Washington punk band (stop worrying and) Love the Bomb.  The local group got the crowd riled up with their fast, battling punk guitar riffs and gritty screaming vocals.  It was a bit refreshing to see classic punk spirit and song structures alive and well, with all of its members showing a passion for the genre.  Beginning a number of their songs with the classic “1, 2, 3, 4!” countdown and strumming away with the occasional amp feedback, the group’s stripped-down songs provided a fun introduction to the rest of the night.

The crowd soon grew as Baltimore rockers Sick Sick Birds took the stage, providing their own brand of upbeat garage punk.  The band was riddled with technical difficulties, but as lead singer Mike tended to his guitar, the rest of the band traded clever banter back and forth with the audience about old television sitcoms like Coach and Cheers.  Once the guitar was completely in tune, the singer returned to the mic and busted right back into his excitement, jumping up and down and belting out lyrics with the perfect complementary vocals of his band mates.

Unfortunately for the headlining band, the crowd began to dissipate after the Sick Sick Birds left the stage.  The loyal, local following of the two opening bands translated into a severe loss for The Coathangers.  Although they played to a crowd that was probably no larger than 20 or so people, the all-girl four piece from Atlanta played their hearts out for the fans that stuck around.

Upon hearing their name, it is obvious that these four girls could care less about being prim and proper.  With songs titles like “Nestle in My Boobies” and “Suck My Left One,” these girls hit the stage with ferocity and high-squealing vocals that point a middle finger at anyone doubting their abilities.  The band got its start in 2006 after playing a joke show at a house party and released their first 7” in 2007.  Since that time they have produced two full-length albums, the latest of which was 2009’s “Scramble” on Suicide Squeeze Records.

As the band set up their equipment, it was hard to tell just how much energy they would put into the show.  Keyboardist Bebe Coathanger stood quietly behind her instrument, staring around the room, seemingly disinterested and in a daze.  However, as soon as the music kicked in she came to life.  Throwing her unkempt hair from side to side and contorting her face as she screamed into the microphone, Bebe danced and played her way through the set with explosive energy.  Bassist Minnie laid down her bass grooves in the back while guitarist Crook Kid bobbed up and down and drummer Rusty beat her drumset to death.

It’s almost impossible to define the sound of The Coathangers, minimalist in a lot of respects but energetic and chaotic.  The slower “Stop Stomp Stompin’” quickly transitioned into the fierce, garage sound of “Getting Mad and Pumpin Iron” in which the girls proudly proclaim that they’ll “break your f***** face.”  Their in-your-face attitude and lively stage presence resembles a persona closer to The Runaways than The Donnas, proving that an all-girl band can truly rock out with as much audacity and irreverence as any male counterpart out there.

In With the Old, Out With the New

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

As self-involved egoists, it seems that human beings of every generation, once they have passed that important and deceptively short period of childhood and teen angst, develop a severe case of “Back in My Day,” a condition that tends to increase in severity as the person grows older.  Music journalist Dave Thompson’s 2008 release, “I Hate New Music: The Classic Rock Manifesto” is evidence of this British ex-pat writer’s late-stage diagnosis of this disease.  “I Hate New Music” rails in defiance against the corporate axles grinding underneath the rusting machine of the music industry in a way that, although passionately written, will only play into the hands of other BIMD victims.

Thompson made a big name for himself over the last few decades as one of rock culture’s premier students and critics.  Thompson first began his writing career by publishing his own fanzine on the cusp of the punk movement of the late 1970s.  He published his first book, a U2 biography entitled “Stories for Boys,” in 1984 and moved to the United States five years later.  In his career Thompson has written over 100 books and contributed to a number of notable music publications, including Rolling Stone and Alternative Press.

“I Hate New Music,” in true rock n’ roll fashion (Thompson insists that is the only true way to spell the term) is a vitriolic and unapologetic crusade against what he believes to be the evils of a vapid and talentless modern music scene.  In the book Thompson picks apart the finer points in the era of classic rock, which he defines as lying somewhere between 1968 and the late 1970s.  This piece of heavily opinionated nonfiction amounts to an all-out rant against the music industry that took the passion, innovation and genre-defining character out of rock music.  Thompson blames artists, fans, and of course those big, bad corporations as the downfall for the quality of music (or lack thereof) that people are subjected to today.

The book doesn’t, as you may think, adhere to a strict chronological order, but rather a logical order.  The story begins with an idiom-driven, slang-centric rant of a foreword by rock critic Richard Meltzer.  The rest of the book then follows with Thompson’s reasoning for his argument, defining the generation known as classic rock, identifying its most positive attributes and leading into where exactly everything went wrong.

“I Hate New Music” is definitely an enjoyable read, entertaining the reader as Thompson blissfully reminisces about the days of wanton excess and true rock n’ roll spirit that fostered reactionary, controversial and gutsy artistic expression.  In line with his years of dedication to his art and the love of his life that is music, Thompson provides well-researched, in-depth insight into the interplay between bands, record labels and the social norms that they aim to challenge.  Aside from general social history, Thompson highlights his points through specific case studies of bands, such as Neil Young and Queen, while scattering his other favorites, such as Led Zeppelin, throughout the book to elucidate his arguments.  One of his more interesting chapters examines how music listeners today suffer for not having 8-tracks, which used to force fans to listen to and appreciate the concept of the album as a total package.

For Thompson, the music industry became too much of a corporate process, centered on generating profit and prioritizing production and promotion over music quality.  According to him, all the rock music today is either an attempt to cling onto this scheme of endless copying or a lack of creativity and desire to produce unique music.  While the book is appealing, at times the criticism can seem a bit heavy-handed and completely one-sided.  There is no room for another point-of-view or sort of defense for contemporary music.  As homogenized as the scene is today, to lob it all together is unfair to the positives that have been able to stand out in contemporary music.  Despite this shortcoming, a lot of the criticisms are admittedly tongue-in-cheek and are meant to underline the very real inadequacies of modern rock music.  After reading “I Hate New Music,” you will either be a fresh convert to the cause of nostalgia or a fierce defender of the banal.  Your call.