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Burn Movie Review

Sizzlingly Odd
In his debut feature, writer/director Mike Gan has created a small film that, if there's justice, will attain a cult-like status. "Burn" takes place in the course of one evening and entirely within the confines of a rural, out-of-the-way gas station shop.
It's the kind of place that loners might wander into for a hot cup of coffee at 3am. Obviously this is not a big budget film, but Gan squeezes an awful lot of goodness out of it. Maybe we should call it badness.





WHY? - AOKOHIO Music Album Reviews

Yoni Wolf and his band switch up their approach with bite-sized songs, a visual album, and an uncharacteristic focus on the past.

For all of the neuroses he’s examined on record over the years, Yoni Wolf has never seemed like one for nostalgia. During his two decades spent fronting cLOUDDEAD, Hymie’s Basement, and WHY?, Wolf could usually be found either over-analyzing the present moment or lost in some dark, near-future reverie. It’s surprising, then, that following a creative dry spell and a relocation to his native Cincinnati, Wolf has turned to his past for inspiration. The album art for AOKOHIO draws from home movies Wolf made with his older brother (and WHY? member) Josiah Wolf, and its lyrics make frequent mention of their family and early life. Given the younger Wolf’s Freudian fixations and how incisive he can be when voicing his internal monologue, you’d think all this rooting around in his childhood would turn up something interesting. And yet, the verbose rapper and singer has never sounded like he’s had less to say.

AOKOHIO, it turns out, is the product of creative malaise. “I wasn't feeling the idea of going back in and making another ten or twelve song album. It felt arduous,” Wolf said. “So I wanted to pare the process down and make it manageable.” Hence, an album with 19 songs spread across 33 minutes and six “movements,” each of which is being released independently and as part of this collection. Only five of these songs break the two-minute mark; the rest sound like fragments, field recordings, or some combination thereof (WHY? records have always included tracks like these, though they’ve usually served as bumpers). There’s also an accompanying visual album, made in partnership with—no joke—a director who randomly DM’d Wolf on Instagram. If all of this sounds like an effort to jump-start a stalled engine, it wouldn’t be the first time. But as with 2013’s fan-service exercise Golden Tickets, it feels like Wolf never commits to his own conceit—nearly all of the songs on AOKOHIO feel underdeveloped, if not unfinished.

Album opener “Apogee” is in many ways a typical WHY? song: Over gentle washes of guitar and piano and a dance beat, Wolf fires off a series of curious observations in a resigned sigh (“Standing in the mirror thinking, ‘I wish I was a chocolatier’/Fat but happy at the apogee of life”). But just as the song begins to hit its stride, it’s over. “Peel Free” attempts to locate the source of Wolf’s angst at the time of his birth, but amid the horns, chimes, and weighty piano chords, he comes up empty-handed (“I’ve been shaking off a shadow all my life,” he shrugs on the chorus, backed by a choir). On the surface, “Deleterio Motilis” sounds like it could have been left off of the band’s high-water mark Alopecia; it even opens with a signature Wolf move, a self-deprecating reflection on his treatment of women. But unlike WHY?’s best work, everything feels half-hearted, the punchlines and uncomfortable confessions lacking their usual bite.

Originally Yoni Wolf’s solo rap project, WHY? has been a bona fide indie rock band for close to 15 years now, one that’s more than capable of making elegant and affecting music. But even these talents go to waste on AOKOHIO. “Rock Candy” overplays the band’s signature glockenspiels, and the result sounds like a cat-food commercial. With its horns, choir vocals, and stargazing melodies, album closer “Bloom Wither Bloom (for Mom)” overshoots poignancy and lands in schmaltz. WHY? has never been a subtle band, but they’ve also never been this overwrought.

About halfway through the album, we hear a bit of something promising in “Mr. Fifths’ Plea.” It has all the hallmarks of a fan favorite: twinkling instrumentation, a title that references one of the band’s best-loved songs, a catchy chorus that doubles as a plea (“Someone would you save me from myself?/Someone would you help me be a healthy human being?”). And yet, we never really get to hear it. The song plays faintly underneath a recording of Wolf and his brother conversing with a taxi driver and cuts off at the 45-second mark. This attempt at self-sabotage might sound interesting on paper. But in practice, it’s emblematic of a larger trend in Wolf’s songwriting over the last decade: lots of experiments, few results.

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