AV Club Head Writer Nathan Rabin and Managing Editor AV Josh Modell bring us their current pop culture picks!
JESSE THORN: It's The Sound of Young America, I'm Jesse Thorn. Once a month or so we like to check in with our friends at the AV Club. They help us separate from the wheat from the chaff of popular culture. Here with some picks for this month are Nathan Rabin, the AV Club's head writer, and Josh Modell, the managing editor. Nathan, Josh, welcome back to The Sound of Young America.
NATHAN RABIN: Thanks for having us.
JOSH MODELL: Thanks Jesse!
JESSE THORN: Nathan, I'm going to start with you and an album release that combines two of my favorite things: overblown rap music and comedy. That's The Lonely Island's Turtleneck & Chain. The Lonely Island, of course, the trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, who are writers and performers on Saturday Night Live in addition to having their own sketch comedy group. Folks might remember their many music videos from Saturday Night Live, and in fact, let's take a listen to one of the newest, it's also the single from their album Turtleneck & Chain, it's called I Just Had Sex, and it features Akon.
Nathan, what do you like about The Lonely Island, and also in that context, do you like other joke rap music?
NATHAN RABIN: I like everything. One of the things that I love about Lonely Island is the joke is not that they're white guys doing rap. It's the cultural specificity of Lonely Island is one of the things that makes them so amazing. On their new album they have a song called Rocky, and it's a parody of a genre that consists of two songs, those two songs are I Think I Could Beat Shaq by Aaron Carter, and What Made Me Think I Could Beat Mike Tyson by the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff. So there's this tiny little pocket of pop culture that exists that not a whole lot of people know about. Not only do Lonely Island see it and parody it, but they do it absolutely perfectly. It's like they've taken apart the DNA of these songs and reconstructed it.
It's absolutely brilliant, and I've been singing the hook for Captain Jack Sparrow on their collaboration with Michael Bolton all week long.
JESSE THORN: There really is something great about a comedy hip hop group that isn't just making fun of the idea of hip hop, but what they're making fun of is from the insider's perspective. I know that you, Nathan, are a hip hop reviewer for the AV Club. On their first album they have a song about Carlos Santana’s brand of champagne.
NATHAN RABIN: Santana DVX.
JESSE THORN: They hired Bay Area legend E-40 to rap on the song, as Carlos, from the perspective of Carlos Santana, which as a San Francisco native, and some of these guys are from the Bay Area, was the most magical thing that ever happened in my entire life.
NATHAN RABIN: Just on the hip hop level, J-Zone produced that song. I think one of the things that amazes me about Lonely Island is that they can get people like Akon to basically sing on a song that mocks everything that Akon represents. They have this incredible power because of the Saturday Night Live connection where they can get the most famous people in the world to do the most ridiculous things, and to do it well and be very happy about it.
JESSE THORN: Josh Modell, let's talk a little bit about Tim and Eric. Tim and Eric's television program Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job has just come out, season five, on DVD. They've been guests on The Sound of Young America actually a few times. Can you describe this program? I know I'm giving you a tall order here, but can you describe this program for people who have not seen it?
JOSH MODELL: No. I can't. Well, I'll try. It's an eleven minute Adult Swim absurdist comedy show. Some of it is a really weird parody of things that are almost parodies already, like weird old commercials. Some of it is much more straightforward sketch comedy, in a way, with a little bit of a twist; and some of it I think people would accuse it of not being funny at all and just being weird for the sake of being weird. I think they're comedy geniuses, I think they're the funniest people doing anything today. To go to Nathan's - - to leech off of Nathan's Lonely Island point, they are also extremely capable of getting really famous people to come hang out with them and do absurd comedy.
JESSE THORN: On that theme, Josh, let's take a listen to a clip of John C. Reilly, the great character actor, playing Dr. Steve Brule, who started off on the show as a kind of your local green grocer kind of character. He's hosting a segment called, Wouldn't That Be Cool?
What are your favorite famous people that they've wrapped up into their web of devolved VHS recordings of local television commercials based comedy?
JOSH MODELL: It's often people that would never necessarily come to your mind. They've had people like Zach Galifianakis as a regular; there's a whole episode in season five called the Terry Green Machine, where basically Zach Galifianakis plays a famous ballet dancer named, well, his name is Terry Green, he's an actor, it's very complicated. Anyway, Zach Galifianakis is on the show all the time, and he apparently roped in his Bored to Death co-star Ted Danson for a long sketch called Little Danson Man in which Ted Danson is shrunk down to about six inches and the has to deal with his career. In that same sketch they get Peter Setera to come in and sing a song called Little Danson Man.
Clearly people will see how fun and what a pure comedic place it's coming from, and clearly everyone that goes on there is having a good time in the midst of complete insanity.
JESSE THORN: Nathan, let's talk about this new mixtape from the Detroit rapper Elzhi. People, if they know him, probably know him as one of the later added members of the Detroit hip hop group Slum Village. Broadly respected as a tremendously skilled rapper, and his new mixtape is called Elmatic. It's a tribute to the classic Nas album Illmatic. Let's take a listen to a clip of Elzhi's version of the Nas song Halftime.
What's so compelling to you about a rapper revisiting an album from 1994?
NATHAN RABIN: Elzhi, I feel like, has been an incredibly underrate rapper for a long time. He kind of slipped into an unenviable position of filling in for J-Dilla in the Slum Village. J-Dilla was an incredible producer, one of the best, but he wasn't much of a rapper. Or rather, he had a very simple, direct, blunt sort of style, where Elzhi is the opposite of that where he's very intricate and very precise and there's a breath control and a beautifully modulated element to his performance. He actually was sort of kicked out of Slum Village, the last Slum Village album only featured him on a handful of songs, so I think this is kind of an attempt to get people excited about his career again.
That's setting the bar really high for musicianship, for lyricism, to compare yourself against Illmatic, and I think the greatest compliment that I can give Elzhi and the greatest compliment I can give to the project is that it lives up to it. It was actually recorded live with a band which gives it a different sort of energy than it would if it was built on samples like Illmatic was.
JESSE THORN: Josh Modell, let's go dark here and talk about I Saw the Devil. This was a film that was released in 2010 in South Korea, directed by the Korean director Kim Jee-woon. It premiered at Sundance this year in the United States and it has a limited release here in the US of A.
Amazon.com's description is, “A shockingly violent and stunningly accomplished tale of murder and revenge. The embodiment of pure evil, Kyung-chul, is a dangerous psychopath who kills for pleasure.” Sounds like a blast. Sounds roughly comparable to Thor.
JOSH MODELL: It's funny, because I think if this wasn't a Korean movie, it were an American movie, and you describe the plot, which is basically a cop's pregnant wife is murdered by a serial killer, and then the cop decided to take revenge on the serial killer, not by just killing him, but by chasing him, torturing him, letting him go, and then finding him again to torture him some more, and then finding him again to torture him some more. Basically to make his life a living hell. You'd say, wow, that's a cheesy B-movie, but in South Korea with the beautiful directorial eye that this director has, whose name I can't remember...
JESSE THORN: Kim Jee-woon.
JOSH MODELL: Thank you, Kim Jee-woon. It's a gorgeous movie, but the subject matter is horrifically ugly. It's also, I have to say, incredibly entertaining in a disgusting way. There are a lot of pretty - - if you're not - - if somebody deliberately cutting somebody's Achilles tendon does not sound like a good movie for you, then maybe I Saw the Devil is not for you.
JESSE THORN: I'm glad that you can see past the little things like that.
JOSH MODELL: Indeed.
JESSE THORN: Josh Modell, Nathan Rabin, thank you so much for coming back on The Sound of Young America.
JOSH MODELL: Pleasure.
NATHAN RABIN: Thanks for having us.
JESSE THORN: Josh Modell and Nathan Rabin are both writers for the AV Club, you can find them online at AVClub.com