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Under Review

We review a new book on Columbine, a record by Dirty Projectors, and the latest incarnation of Newsweek

Finally, a full accounting.

BOOK
Columbine
Dave Cullen
Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: April 6, 2009

For many of us in our twenties, the Columbine massacres, which occurred a year and a half before the 9/11 attacks, were our first real taste of terrorism. Our schools were no longer sanctuaries, our classmates no longer harmless, our lives no longer impregnable. If two kids could waltz into a school and begin shooting people in Colorado, why not anywhere else?

The immediate wake of the shooting was marked by some of the most ostentatious finger-pointing and politicizing the country had ever seen. It was the jocks who were at fault. No, it was the freaks. No, it was Marilyn Manson. No, it was Doom. Millions of folks stepped from the woodwork to attach longstanding grievances to the catastrophe.

It’s a good thing Dave Cullen was there, and it’s an even better thing he spent the next decade trying to figure out exactly what happened, both in terms of why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did it and the impact on the community. Columbine is the product of a huge amount of hard work.

Cullen, a veteran reporter whose work on Columbine appeared in Salon at the time, dispels myths every page, exhibits an almost obsessive-compulsive meticulousness in his reporting (countless years-old conversations are reconstructed), and accomplishes the goal that sets apart great books, movies, and television shows: his book is about a specific incident, but also about everything. It’s about the media, about evangelical religion, about staggering corruption in law enforcement, about clinical psycopathy, about depression, about what it means to recover from a tragedy… nothing is untouched by the massacre, and Cullen’s work ranges wide, but never at the expense of crisp, readable prose. It should be read by anyone who has struggled to understand Columbine—or evil in general.

10 out of 10 murder-inducing Marilyn Manson CDs

-Jesse Singal

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They’re growing up a bit.

ALBUM
Bitte Ocra
Dirty Projectors
Domino records
Release Date: June 9, 2009

If Dirty Projectors didn’t exist, some satirist of hipster culture would have to invent them. Every album they’ve released to this point takes the high concept pretensions that characterize most indie rock to obnoxious new heights. One, The Getty Address, is a rock opera about Don Henley. Bitte Orca’s predecessor, Rise Above, is an attempt to cover Black Flag’s Damaged from memory. And another, The Graceful Fallen Mango, is called The Graceful Fallen Mango.

Between the band’s borderline self-parody and the fact that the aforementioned albums often faltered when it came to the ever-crucial criteria of “having a melody” and “being listenable,” I did not have high hopes for Bitte Orca. I expected more disorganized, slapdash messes of songs, the kind of tracks that had become Dirty Projectors’ staple.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that band leader Dave Longstreth had learned some self-control, and even some humility. While he still sings on most tracks, much of the vocal burden has been picked up by bandmates Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, whose voices have just the right mixture of precision and oddness to complement Longstreth’s backing music perfectly. He’s also managed to condense what would have been length noodling sessions on The Getty Address into coherent themes.

Take the album’s first single, “Stillness Is the Mood.” Vocally, Coffman and Deradoorian are left to do their thing, with terrific results. What’s more, Longstreth manages to stay on a single guitar riff for five whole minutes with only one interruption, a unthinkable occurrence on previous Projectors releases. If not radio-ready pop, it’s a first step outside the avant-garde and toward something lowly commoners like myself can appreciate.

8 out of 10 blemished stereopticons

-Dylan Matthews

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It’s time to cut George Will, Jon.

MAGAZINE
Newsweek Redesign
The Washington Post Company
Debut Issue: May 25, 2009

The redesigned Newsweek doesn’t look like a magazine anymore. It looks like a magazine proof.. Text and photos collided all over the place and it’s hard to tell where an article pauses and an ad interrupts. Whatever. As long as the actual writing and reporting is good, who cares what it looks like?

In Newsweek editor Jon Meacham’s regular editor’s note he explains Newsweek‘s redesign as an acknowledgement that the magazine can no longer break the news, but it can add to it. “What we can offer you is the benefit of careful work discovering new facts and prompting unexpected thought.”

Meacham certainly has the right idea, but it’s hard to say whether he is adhering to his own words. After all, George Will (an insult to opinion journalism) is still writing nonsensically for the magazine. The columns are still the same, but are now all clumped together—a magazine-design faux pas. (At least Fareed Zakaria is still a columnist.) Newsweek has also kept its excellent “Periscope” section, renamed “Scope.” So the redesign is keeping some old good with some old bad.

6 out of 10 good and desperate attempts

-Daniel Strauss

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