- Mercury Prize-winning trio The xx plays the 9:30 club Tuesday night. (Aliya Naumoff)
Two great shows at the 9:30 club and the start of the Asian Pacific American Film Festival.
If I ever have children, I will do everything in my power to send them to London's Elliot School. That one institution counts some of the country's finest musicians of recent memory — Hot Chip, Burial, Four Tet — as alumni. After last year's xx, you can add these Mercury Prize winners to that list. The finest debut (if not album) of the year, it was commonly described as "moody," "somber," "minimalistic," and "soulful," and while I can understand where each adjective came from, none captures how invigorating this trio really is. They make me feel like I'm shooting heroin while speeding down the Autobahn. Best part? No crash or comedown.
I've never listened to Menomena in the same way since reading this Portland Mercury article, in which it's revealed that this multi-instrumentalist trio, despite living in the same city in Oregon, develop their ideas in seclusion and share them via email; even when they record albums, they're rarely, if ever, all there at once. So the exciting disjointedness of their music, especially earlier work, might not be as intentional as it seems. Or maybe it is, as their new album, Mines, lays off the unusual time signatures and spastic shifts, resulting in a sort of 55-minute lullaby. It proves they can sound like a traditional band, even though they can barely make that claim.
What, exactly, do U.S. poets laureate do besides enforce the very un-American gramatical rule that "laureate" succeed "poets"? Is it anything like being a shadow representative? Poetry and politics: the two subjects on which I wish I were an expert, but which always leave me angry or frustrated. Anyway, at least a couple of tonight's readers are beloved by poets I know — Charles Simic, Mark Strand — and at least one is loathed — Billy Collins. The others would require an Internet search and a rank, heaping mound of literary improvisation. I'll leave that to the masters.
The film festival season presses on with the 11th annual DC Asian Pacific American fest, which opens tonight with Au Revoir Taipei. In this "romantic caper," executive produced by Wim Winders, a young man sees his girlfriend off to Paris and then, when offered a flight there in exchange for a favor, finds himself trying "to evade a crew of incompetent gangsters and bungling cops." I just hope the emo-pop in this trailer didn't make its way into the movie. The festival, meanwhile, offers up another 16 feature films and even more shorts, screening not only at the E Street Cinema but also the Goethe-Institut and the Freer and Sackler Galleries. So no, you won't have to risk freezing to death in the Burke Theater at the Navy Memorial.
Colum McCann has been churning out excellent fiction since the late '90s, but it wasn't until 2009's Let the Great World Spin, which won the National Book Award, that a wider public discovered what critics and book nerds already knew: that he's one of the finest young(ish) English-language writers working today. Last year's novel, an allegorical exploration of 9/11, combined my two favorite things in this world: New York City and French tightrope walker Philippe Petite, of Man on Wire fame, whom I once spotted dashing up the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, so light on his feet he seemed never to touch the ground. McCann behaves likewise on the page, performing literary acrobatics that are essential to his story rather than mere showmanship. Come tonight to hear his words as they're meant to be heard: in an Irish brogue.
The Latin American Film Festival at the AFI Silver isn't so much a festival as a three-week series, and it officially draws to a close tonight with October, which won a jury prize at Cannes this year. I have not seen the film, and since it's the debut feature of Peruvian brothers Daniel and Diego Vega Vidal, I can't speak to their work. But I lived in Peru several times and was frequently baffled by the offerings at my local cineplex, where it was rare to see more than one Peruvian film on the marquee — the result of a weak film industry and the public's lack of interest. Moviegoers there would rather see Shrek dubbed. The international festival circuit, then, becomes the home of many independent Peruvian films. This one's called "humorous and heartwarming," which are Adjectives of Death to a moviegoer like me, but here's hoping the description was written in Spanish and that something was lost in its translation.
We were promised jetpacks — by whom? George Jetson? the U.S. Army? — and instead we got Rollerblades and Segways and this bullshit. But wait, we did get jetpacks. Doesn't anyone remember the 2007 Tournament of Roses? Anyway, I guess these Scots were hoping for widely available jetpacks, and in that sense I guess we were ripped off. Am I upset enough to sing about it, though? No. And neither do We Were Promised Jetpacks. They sing about all sorts of other broken promises, weightier stuff that, were it not so damn catchy, might actually upset you.