The Lives of Others – Dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck


Most good films set in Germany have an almost tactile feel to the dank dreariness of the surroundings. Whether it is the graffiti that blankets the exteriors of East Berlin buildings, the war torn post WWI and WWII bombed out landscape, or the sterile and modern big cities, Germany always feels like a place one needs to escape. “The Live of Others,” is no exception, but it is also the most riveting film to emerge from the country since “Run Lola Run.” Set in 1984, the story is a tale about the communist “Stasi” East German government intelligence agency who spent quite a bit of time spying on the artistic community in the year before the wall fell. But like Coppola’s “The Conversation” much of the action takes place through the headphones of a lonely Stasi agent who listens from a dark attic a few floors above to the lives of a famous playwright and his beautiful girlfriend. First portrayed as an efficient loyal comrade intent on doing his job as thoroughly as possible, over the course of the film this solitary man falls for the people he set out to trap. Ultimately this is a story about love, longing and loneliness and the brutal constraints of a society trapped on the wrong of a wall. In the end the film hopes to prove the point that people can and do change, even though when it seems the least likely.

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Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union)


I didn’t like the name. I was suspicious about all the references to 70’s Americana. But 30 seconds into the “The Trials” I was swept away. This is one of those rare albums that require no work whatsoever to fall for hard and fast for. The breezy summer day sound is both bright and thoughtful, and does, I suppose, seem somewhat reminiscent of a genuinely American sound from some ambiguous time and place. Not so much rock like The Band, but more like a milder Neil Young at his best and vocally somewhere between Buckley, Mark Kozelek, and Joe Pernice: cool and silky without any of the distinctive quirks that sometimes get tired after a while. But to suggest that the record is merely straight forward guitar, bass and drums idea is to overlook the robust instrumentation (flute, strings, brass) along the way. Somehow this record went overlooked last year, so thank goodness it is so timeless.

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The Shins “Wincing The Night Away” (Sub Pop)


Historically, the tragedy (and treasure) behind most of the best indie music is that it never really finds the audience it deserves. Because these songs remained largely buried beneath the mountainous mainstream, they become perfect little secrets, and over time become legitimate classics. But when The Shins rose from cult favorite to hipster darlings thanks to “Garden State,” everything changed dramatically. The quartet who had quietly banged out two impeccable pop records now had the unintentional problem of appeasing both masters: loyalists and “Garden State” fans. “Wincing the Night Away” is a lovely record, more a chip off the old block than a new direction, highlighting the vocals of James Mercer and the warm woody instrumentation of the rest of the band. Sure there are singles here (“Phantom Limb”), but the album is largely a more complicated affair than their earlier two filled with slower ballads and more musical numbers than represent more a natural progression cop out. With hype always comes more critical analysis than is fair, and this album will suffer because in a way years.

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