Is There Any Reason to Be Optimistic About Media? Yep

In Praise of Icelandic Rockers, Stunning Animation, Lyrical Hip-Hop and the End of Planned Obsolescence

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Oh, hell, it's bad out there. But you don't need me to tell you that. So I'm taking a week off from my usual default mode of creeping dread and swaggering indignation. Instead, I'm delivering an uncharacteristically upbeat edition of Media Guy, highlighting just some of the media I'm happiest about lately.
'Stay Positive': The real title of the record. What a novel idea!
'Stay Positive': The real title of the record. What a novel idea!

  • "Stay Positive," the new album by The Hold Steady. (FYI: The first single, the bar-band-ish "Sequestered in Memphis," is the album's weakest track.) How great is it that one of the most critically acclaimed rock records of the year so far was made not by baby-faced flavor-of-the-moment hot young things but by five veteran musicians from Brooklyn (by way of the Twin Cities) who, as stalwart British weekly New Music Express points out, are all 35 and up? (NME also calls them "one of the best rock 'n' roll bands in the world.") I'm randomly giving away a copy of "Stay Positive." See details below.

  • "Persepolis," newly out on DVD. It's a masterpiece of animation based on the autobiographical comic book by Marjane Satrapi that offers an engrossingly personal take on what it was like for a kid growing up during Iran's Islamic revolution. Deeply moving and basically just amazing to look at. A 2007 Academy Award nominee, it's newly out on DVD. I'm randomly giving away a copy of "Persepolis." See details below.

  • Great news! Crazycakes recovering presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is negotiating with Fox News for his own show! I can't wait to watch that train wreck. The only thing that would make me happier is if he landed Rosie O'Donnell as his co-host.

  • My guilty pleasure of the summer: "So You Think You Can Dance." I'd only sampled this show in past seasons, but tuning in regularly this go-round, I'm entirely enchanted not only by the charming, pretty, gracious British hostess Cat Deeley, but by the increasingly adventurous choreography -- particularly that of the brilliant husband-and-wife team Tabitha and Napoleon D'Umo (or, as Deeley calls them, "Tabither & Napoleon"). Who? I'd never heard of them either, but apparently they've worked with the likes of Missy Elliott and Timbaland. I know next to nothing about dance, but the "lyrical hip-hop" moves they come up with are often jaw-droppingly awesome -- flat-out some of the best contemporary art being shown, improbably, on network TV these days.

  • The Apple iPhone App Store. I'm not getting the iPhone 3G any time soon -- mainly because at "half price" it's actually ultimately more expensive (over a two-year contract) than the original iPhone, thanks to the fact that you're forced to sign up for a more expensive data plan. But the Apple App Store is genius: With a simple download of a free upgrade, my first-gen iPhone is suddenly vastly more versatile. In an industry built around planned obsolescence, this sort of thing almost never happens: You're never supposed to feel happy about hanging onto your 1.0 device when the successor comes out. What a lovely, eerie thing to feel not just satisfied, but rewarded. Also, as a working model for modular media that installs on the fly, the App Store offers a vivid glimpse into the future of how all digital devices will someday function.

  • Speaking of the future, a new Kindle (or two) is on the way. I've been using Amazon's Kindle digital book reader for a while now, and while there's a lot to love about it (particularly the instant gratification of wireless ordering and delivery of content), I stick to my original assessment (in this column last winter) that Amazon should have called this 1.0 device the Amazon Clunk-o-matic. The interface and the form factor are just ... fugly. So it's great news that Amazon is reportedly prepping the October rollout of at least one, and possibly two, new Kindles -- and that Amazon, at least according to TechCrunch, has "skipped three or four generations." The tech blog cites a source who compares the old Kindle to the first-gen iPod and the new version to the iPod Mini.

  • NBC Universal reports that it's on track to break its previous Olympic advertising record. See? Google hasn't completely ruined everything -- yet!

  • "Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust," the new release from one of my favorite bands of all time, Sigur Rós. The title translates roughly as "With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly," and oh my God, this record -- the fifth from the critically beloved Icelandic quartet -- is so damn beautiful. This, too, is sure to end up on tons of best-of-2008 lists come December. I'm randomly giving away a copy of "Med Sud ..." See details below.

  • The return of "Mad Men" on AMC on July 27. You've already entered my "Mad Men" giveaway, right?

    ~ ~ ~
    To be eligible for any of the above informal random giveaways, you must reside in the U.S. and have a U.S. mailing address (sorry, foreign readers!). Chances are, if you're reading this column, you're more or less an adult, but for the record, you must be at least 18 years old. To enter, send me an e-mail with the title of the item you hope to snag (e.g., "Stay Positive") in the subject line on or before Aug. 21.
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