Agnes Obel’s “Between the Bars,” or how a cover can get you dismissed

Agnes Obel’s “Between the Bars,” or how a cover can get you dismissed (photo)

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Agnes Obel – Between The Bars (Elliott Smith cover) iTunes Live From Paris EP by Girlie Action

Danish singer/ songwriter Agnes Obel is a bona fide star at home in Europe, with big sales and shows across much of the continent during the last year. When I saw her play in Norway this Winter during Oslo’s by:Larm conference, a rapt audience hung on every piano note she played and every tale she told between songs. It was as if she was slated to emerge spontaneously as an international sensation, and they’d hate to miss a moment of the metamorphosis.

But Obel has struggled to meet those expectations across the Atlantic, despite many favorable notices in the press and over-reaching comparisons to Joanna Newsom and Cat Power. Those two have taken many more musical chances than Obel on her half-there, even if occasionally stunning debut album, Philharmonics, and that’s the idea to which apathetic American audiences seem to be reacting–or, as it were, not reacting. Plenty of songwriters here, both male and female, have recently made restrained, pensive and pretty records, so why bother with Obel?

I’m afraid that Obel’s latest gambit–the simple but romantically entitled digital EP, Live from Paris–won’t help. Mostly, it reintroduces songs from Philharmonics, including the memorable “Riverside,” but the first public glimpse from the short set is “Between the Bars,” a cover of the 1997 Elliott Smith tune. Obel only plays acoustic guitar and sings here, brooding through the verses with a straightforward strum. It echoes Smith’s bittersweet look at love, but nothing more; it’s plainly boring. The cover galvanizes many of the hold-ups I’ve had with Obel. That is, she seems to have a simple shortage of ideas and experience, so that the best she can do with a Smith song is play it without his rhythmic intricacy, sing it without his subtle mix of feelings. It makes me worry that Obel’s reluctance to experiment on Philharmonics is more than a hesitation; maybe this is all she’s got.

At their best, covers can not only reinvent a song you’ve loved or remind you of something about the song that you’d forgotten you loved but also expand your notion of that artist–their capabilities, their sensibilities, their appreciation of something beyond their ostensible comfort zone and their ability to do something special with it. A recent compendium of covers by Bon Iver gathered at Stereogum, for instance, shows not only Justin Vernon’s interest in songs that aren’t his own but also the breadth of those interests. The expected suspects are there, like Tom Petty and Neil Young. But there’s also the old country favorite “A Satisfied Mind” and Vashti Bunyan’s “Train Song,” as well as tunes by Carole King, Annie Lennox and the goddamn Outfield. Vernon’s collection of covers helps make his own songs make more sense; unfortunately, Obel’s cover of Smith helps her young career–and likely future–make too much sense.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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