Our favorite things this week include Ratty Scurvics' album, Chris Lilley's new comedy, and St. Vincent
Hearing Voices: There aren’t many musical voices in New Orleans more idiosyncratic than that of Ratty Scurvics. This year’s A Wooden Nickel on Fire continues a string of releases that aren’t exactly lo-fi, but everything about his music down to his production is personal and clearly deliberate. Songs don’t conform to the usual sonic contours, nor do they clearly signal their tones as lines that could be darkly humored sit next to lines that obviously aren’t. That makes them slightly unsettling - a feeling enhanced by the theatrical passion with which Scuvics sings.The theatricality is strong, so much so that a number of songs - “Mistake” comes to mind first - sound like they could be part of a Godspell-like production.
“What if the world already ended years ago?” he asks in “Is It Over?,” and big questions like that drive the album. They’re also what separates Scurvics from other equally personal artists. Where many are limited by their preference for lyrics so opaque that they could mean anything or nothing, he is working with great clarity and precision on thoughts that are meaningful to him. Fortunately, love is in that mix, and “Bananas” is a charming, unexpectedly playful and romantic way to end the album. (Alex Rawls)
Return of the King: Since the cult comedy series Summer Heights High first aired in 2007, I have anxiously awaited each new project from the writer and lead actor, Chris Lilley. The mockumentary chronicles the lives of three unique characters in an Australian public school, all played by Lilley. Undoubtedly, the most self-obsessed and vicious character in the show is Ja’mie, a prep school transfer student borrowed from an earlier series, We Can Be Heroes. Unlike his other projects, Lilley’s new show, Ja’mie King: Private School Girl, which premiered Sunday night on HBO, focuses on the single, notorious character, filling a half-hour time slot with the hilarious, cringeworthy, schoolgirl banter, similar to Mean Girls.
Ja’mie isn’t funny simply because the 18-year-old girl is played by a 39-year-old man, but because Lilley plays her so well. Two minutes into the series, the shock value dissipates and viewers appreciate the greedy, narcissistic behavior of the antagonist: a naïve, overprivileged, overpraised teenager. Whether with family or friends, in school or the service industry, it’s a personality that all of us have been forced to deal with at some point in our lives, making her all the more fascinating to watch.
The only thing missing from the current series are characters who offer a bit of moral redemption, but I am optimistic for what Lilley has in store. Organizing fake AIDS benefits to pay for school dances, making fun of poor kids, pretending to be a lesbian to get attention, and constantly reaffirming why an eating disorder made her breasts so small, Ja’mie is just too irresistible to tune out. (Will Halnon)
St. Victory: I hate award shows. I watch them, become enraged in minutes, then question why did it to myself again. Even when the indie underdog wins, it feels empty. It felt different when I read about this year's Smithsonian American Ingenuity Awards, honoring individuals and achievements that "are having a revolutionary effect on how we perceive the world and how we live." Among them is performing arts winner Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, Clark's darkly sweet rock project. Clark's an indie success but far from her peers who manage to break into the mainstream mindset. That's a shame, as St. Vincent is just as talented as a Smithsonian ingenuity award suggests — with potential to be even better. Her sound is duplicitous, both ragged and pristine, brimming with heavy guitar effects and solos but giving way to pop standards. Her 2011 album Strange Mercy was among the best of that year, but St. Vincent stills feels like a bit of a secret. A nod from the Smithsonian won't catapult her career, but it's refreshing to see a well-deserving underdog win an award that actually means something. (Brian Sibille)