Critics' Picks

What you need to see, read, do this week: Indie rock for Barack, a time capsule of late-'80s bohemia, a peek at other people's diaries.

By Salon Staff
Published October 11, 2008 8:00PM (EDT)
The Web site brings together indie musicians and visual artists from across the global hipster network, including Syracuse's Ra Ra Riot, Minneapolis mellow rappers Snakebird and London thrift-shop synth-pop masters Sports Day Megaphone, to raise money for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Most of the site's highly enjoyable songs and art -- all free and "meant to inspire participation and [campaign] donations" -- are not overtly political, but their abundant calm is a fitting tribute to "no drama Obama."'s eclecticism, like the candidate's heritage, ranges widely, from the pseudo tango of Brooklyn Rider's "Plume" to Danny Cassady & Ellen Frances' "Violet Love," a music-hall ditty strummed happily on ukes. An unshakable cool floats through these blog posts, which lean heavily toward ambient jams, instrumentals and alt-ballads -- a welcome break from the hectic news cycle surrounding the election. -- James Hannaham

"Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery" on HBO
HBO documentary "Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery" (premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13) provides an unvarnished snapshot of relatives visiting the graves of loved ones who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I come out every week and I try to put out new pictures and things like that," says one mother about the grave of her son, her only child. Another man comes with two beers in his hand and says of his deceased brother-in-law, "Chris and I are going to share a beer." "Section 60" is so heartbreaking that it's almost too difficult to watch, but it's the sort of close-up look at the suffering brought on by these wars that Americans need to see. -- Heather Havrilesky

The Pretenders' "Break Up the Concrete"
I didn't realize how much I missed Chrissie Hynde until I watched the video for her new single, "Boots of Chinese Plastic." The kohl-rimmed eyes, the scruff of black hair, the tensile voice ... and most of all that propulsive rock energy, both ballsy and uniquely feminine. Hynde's new CD, "Break Up the Concrete," features the usual rotating crew of Pretenders (pretend Pretenders?), and none of the cuts quite measure up to the band's early-'80s glory days. But the title tune and "Don't Cut Your Hair" have a captivating rockabilly force, and Hynde's bonus-track interpretation of Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love" reminds us she is one of rock's most sensitive cover artists. -- Louis Bayard

"Words for the Dying" on DVD
I guess bringing together former Velvet Underground member John Cale, experimental-pop avatar Brian Eno and indie-film pioneer Rob Nilsson (one-time winner of the Cannes Caméra d'Or and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize) struck somebody as a natural combination. But the result, Nilsson's 1990 documentary "Words for the Dying," is a highly unstable concoction, always teetering on the edge of disaster. As the film opens, Nilsson is literally standing on his head, trying to overcome Eno's implacable resistance to any form of cooperation, while Cale cackles on a sofa in the background. Certainly the former two come off, at first, as different stripes of pompous ass -- Eno in an arch, snarky, oh-so-English fashion and Nilsson in an earnest, searching, oh-so-California fashion. "Words for the Dying" (long unavailable, and just released on DVD by Microcinema) eventually escapes this inauspicious start, or rather incorporates it into an awkward but searching black-and-white odyssey that encompasses the last days of the Soviet Union and the forced sale of Cale's childhood home in a rural Welsh village. Along the way Cale and Eno record the latter's masterful choral-orchestral "Falklands Suite" (for the 1989 album that shares the film's title), we hear Cale and his ancient mum speaking Welsh, and the Eno-Nilsson cold war gradually morphs into something like a running gag. An extraordinary music documentary and time capsule of late-'80s bohemia. -- Andrew O'Hehir

The Diary Junction Blog
The Diary Junction is one of those wonderful privately maintained public resources for which the Internet is justly celebrated: a database of information about celebrated and obscure diaries from all historical periods, with referrals to the dates the diaries cover, where the originals are held and bibliographic information on published versions. Nevertheless, it can be a little daunting to find your way in, so the Junction's curator, Paul K. Lyons, has created a blog in which he regularly dispenses select morsels from the feast. The diarists range from famous writers to obscure shopkeepers, and expound on subjects such as war, politics, baseball, art and marriage -- in essence, the stuff that our days and nights are made of. -- Laura Miller


What's on your list to read, watch, do this week? Share your recommendations with other readers.


Catch up on recent Salon Critics' Picks.

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Our Picks