About Dave


Correcting the Record

Yesterday, Chuck C. Johnson made me the subject of one of his rambling, fact-challenged assaults on the media. It happens. Unfortunately, in mocking Johnson, I made an error, and I want to correct it here.

Short version: In a post ostensibly about why I was re-hired by The Washington Post, Johnson attempted to explain why I had praised his obsessive reporting in 2013, but become a critic since then.

The real answer is simple: I thought Johnson did some amazing spelunking on stories in early 2013, especially on the resume of key Republican aide making the case for bombing Syria. His obsessive digging produced facts that eluded other reporters. I praised his work, and at the time, the praise was warranted.

Unfortunately, Johnson appeared to take a running leap off the deep end with a run of vicious and false “investigations” — starting with a laughably bogus story about whether the mayor of Newark actually lived there, peaking with the personal harassment of New York Times reporters. (Johnson printed their home addresses out of pique that they mentioned the neighborhood that Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson lived in, an abhorrent act that he actually brags about in this same post, which I’m not linking to.)

That’s my answer: Johnson did some good stuff then turned rotten. Johnson’s alternate answer is that I am “mentally ill.” He sums it up in a sentence that made me laugh out loud. “GotNews.com did some research on Weigel and found a history of mental illness–which makes sense.”

That “research” consists of a link to a story I wrote about my history of depression for Slate, in August 2014, after the suicide of Robin Williams. It’s been shared on Facebook more than a thousand times and shared on Twitter almost as often. Sorry for the brag; it’s just a sign of how far Johnson has tumbled that googling a well-read article is now his “research.” I self-institutionalized in 2002, and have treated my depression ever since. I’m proud of that, not ashamed.

On Twitter, which Johnson has been banned from since May, I chided the “report” and got some friendly responses. I told Becket Adams, a reporter for the Washington Examiner, that Johnson’s exploitation of my depression was strange because, when cornered, he’s accused critics of cruelty to people with disorders.

On his website, Johnson (rightly) points out that I misspelled “Aspergers,” the calls this “malicious falsehood,” as he has “never had” that particular syndrome. My apologies. I was misremembering something else: How Johnson excused the publication of a false and defamatory article by claiming that he is on the autism spectrum and does not get jokes.

That started in January 2014, when Johnson published a strange hit piece on the New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick. After Kirkpatrick published an exhaustive story about the circumstances of the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Johnson published a story titled “Benghazi reporter Kirkpatrick showed off his naked body at Princeton.” (Please don’t stop to think about what that had to do with Benghazi. You’ll sprain something) Johnson dug up old articles about Kirkpatrick’s participation in a campus streak, and in a nude art project, then claimed that the future Timesman had posed for Playgirl.

It took no time at all to find the source of that last claim — an obviously satirical edition of the Princeton Daily News. Johnson had run satire as a “scoop.” Over e-mail, I asked Johnson how he missed this, and he explained that he simply did not understand some humor. “I am rather notorious for not understanding sarcasm or satire and I am deeply embarrassed by the whole article,” he wrote. (The whole e-mail is up at that Slate link.)

Johnson never wrote for The Daily Caller again. But months later, when the Kirkpatrick debacle or my name came up on Twitter, Johnson had a new reason for his face-plant. Johnson’s Twitter account has been deleted, but Tom Kludt captured a representative tweet from July 2014.

“Weigel posted this story he did on how my autism caused me to miss humor in a parody issue,” Johnson tweeted. “He leaves out apology.”

Later that year, when reporters profiled Johnson’s role as a relentless social media troll, he repeated this detail.

“Johnson told me that he has trouble recognizing satire because he is mildly autistic,” reported Tim Murphy in Mother Jones.

“In interviews and on Twitter, Johnson has attributed some of his lapses to being ‘neuroatypical’—that is, on the autism spectrum,” reported Jacob Silverman in Politico.

“Maybe it’s because of my weird autistic tendencies but I tend to find joining tribes boring,” Johnson told Business Insider.

That was what I was trying to recall, late on a Friday night. I do apologize for referring to Johnson’s self-diagnosed “autism” as “Aspergers,” which is a specific autism spectrum disorder. Yet Johnson did not tell me anything about autism when I wrote my January 2014. For more than a year, he insisted that I had cruelly exploited his autism and failed to apologize for it. Then, when it served him, he decided that “mental illness” was a perfectly good reason to attack someone personally.

I don’t feel attacked, frankly. But I should work on my spelling. It’s important if people are thinking of publishing your work — fortunately, a problem that Johnson no longer has.

Some personal news: Later this month, I’ll be joining the Washington Post as a national political correspondent. I didn’t expect to leave Bloomberg before the 2016 elections, but I’m proud of the Bloomberg Politics launch, and any role I had in expanding the ethos of Josh Tyrangiel’s Businessweek into the rest of Bloomberg’s news operation. General advice: If you get a chance to work for Josh Tyrangiel, take it.

(In)famously, I left the Post in 2010 after a short stint as a blogger/reporter covering “the conservative movement” writ large. I resigned after a successful campaign by The Daily Caller and the Media Research Center to exploit my arrogant and sometimes hateful social media and email snark. This is pretty well covered, and while I don’t regret resigning, I regret the comments.

Oh — one thing, though. In the mists of time, one of the controversial comments has lost all context. When college journalism students talk to me about the scandal (yes, this happens), I often have to correct them about it. It’s that I dismissed supporters of Ron Paul as “Paultards.” Tim Graham, the factotum at the Media Research Center, writes in his spittle-flecked post about my news* that “Weigel’s going to cover the Rand Paul campaign, when he used to refer to the Tea Party as ‘Paultards.'” An angry reader emailed me last night to ask how I could cover Rand Paul: “You’re writing about him while you call people “paultards”?

Anyone armed with Google can learn that I voted for Ron Paul in the 2008 presidential primary. Anyone with access to Twitter can find my personal phone number and email, and ask what I meant — so, thank you to the reader who did.

For anyone else: It’s pretty simple. On September 12, 2009, someone on JournoList started a thread about the day’s massive Tea Party rallies around the country.

“How much of this crowd is just spillover Ron Paul fanatics?” asked on lister. “Having gone to a few Paul events last year, the rhetoric and demographic looks very, very similar to me.”

Another lister, Jon Schmitt, suggested that “more people were there on Saturday than voted for Ron Paul in all the primaries combined.”

I responded (and spelled “Schmitt” wrong):

Just to address Jon Schmidt and this comment: “I think more people were there on Saturday than voted for Ron Paul in all the primaries combined.”

More 1 million people voted for Ron Paul in the GOP primaries. That said, many of those votes were cast in primaries held after the nomination was sewn up. But just in Pennsylvania, Paul polled 129,247 votes against McCain. And that’s more people than showed up on Saturday.

It’s all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn’t get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.

Just to break that down:

1) I jumped into the thread to defend Ron Paul supporters, and say that someone had underestimated their numbers by a factor of 10.

2) My use of the derisive “Paultard” was intended to refer to how Fox News viewed Ron Paul supporters. I was in Manchester, in 2008, when Ron Paul was denied entry to the final pre-primary debate. This crystallized a lot of the anger of Paul supporters, who had been listening to Fox’s Sean Hannity dismiss Paul, even (or especially) when they swarmed online polls or call-in phone lines to support him.

One night in Manchester, some Ron Paul fans — who had made Murphy’s on Elm Street into their unofficial post-work HQ — spotted Hannity and his crew entering the Radisson, also on Elm Street. They chased him to the doors of the hotel.

So, 20 months later, I remembered how Fox News and Ron Paul supporters were natural enemies. I used the “Paultard” term to distinguish the people who had been hated by Fox in 2008, and loved by Fox when they became Tea Party activists.

Stupid way to put it? The smart way would have been “Ron Paul supporters-cum-Tea Party people.” But I was trying to quickly demonstrate just how loathed these activists were until they linked up with the Tea Party.

*The post, which I won’t link to, also cheap-shots me by illustrating the post with a photo of me doing a TV hit, without makeup, in the sun, my mouth half-open. Why do I look so haggard? Well, that shot is from when I covered the riots in Baltimore, interviewing dozens of people at the scenes of fires and looting, on four hours of sleep. That’s the sort of work I’ve done over the last five years, while Tim Graham has stewed behind a keyboard.

“House of Cards” is Terrible and You’re All Bad People

On the way out of the Senate yesterday, I heard tourists talking about House of Cards, the popular Netflix show that has supplanted The West Wing as the preferred pop culture window into Washington. My chief problem with the show is that it is terrible — clunkily written, drunk on cliches (name a female journalist on the show who doesn’t end up schtupping a powerful man), hammily acted.

Two examples of why I loathe it so.

1) Season two and the first half of season three spend some solid time building up Senator Hector Mendoza, a Latino Republican who is elevated to majority leader over the course of the series. He’s powerful enough to be invited to a quasi-State Dinner where foreign dignitaries recognize that he probably will be elected president soon.

Yet in episode eight, he is written off — literally. President Underwood greets the House and Senate leaders. Mendoza is not there.

“What happened to Hector Mendoza?” Underwood asks viewers, through the fourth wall. “Well, you don’t declare a couple of speeches as income, and — boom! You’re no longer in Congress, and certainly not running for president.”

And that’s it. A scandal never previously mentioned, hinted at, or foreshadowed took out a key antagonist. There’s not even a wink at Underwood or his operatives pulling the strings. It just happened.

2) In that same episode, a novelist named Mickey Doyle, hired to write a campaign memoir of President Underwood is finishing an opening chapter about how, as a young man, he tried to swim from the shore of Charleston to Fort Sumter. The story is fake, but in the House of Cards universe, no journalist ever uncovers a story, so this can slide. No: The problem is that Doyle, a troubled but talented rake, is pounding out some of the shittiest prose this side of a Cliff Bar nutritional panel.

“He’d reached the point of no return,” writes Doyle, narrating as he punches keys. “Turning back was no longer an option.” Later: “One thing can’t be denied, however: What others saw as impossible, he refused to believe as such.”

Several scenes later, Doyle meets with Underwood to deliver some pages. The president reacts as if he was just handed a first draft of The Corrections. Doyle confidently pronounces it “the best thing I’ve written in years.”

David Carr, RIP

Look, I hate it as much as you hate it when some beloved person dies and some less beloved person tries to ride the hem of his garments. Gimme a pass on this one.

Four and a half years ago, I was caught out for sending rude, childish emails about conservatives — whom I’d been covering as a reporter — to a liberal email listserv. In short order, I resigned from a very nice (but increasingly pressure-cooking) job at The Washington Post. Torn between an idea of quitting the profession and the desire to make rent, I wrote two pieces about what had happened, the first of them for Andrew Breitbart’s site Big Journalism. When media reporters called, I answered. In the early days, only two of them actually called me to get the story.

And then, the weekend after I resigned, I got this email from David Carr.

hey dave,
I write a monday media column for nytimes.. have been talking to ppl about what happened with you at the Post and how fraught the intersection btrw MSM and the current cohort of reporters/bloggers/commentators.. I got a great sense of you take from what you wrote on Big Journalism, but if you can stand any more weigel talking about weigel and what people say about weigel, I’d love to chat.

Carr, who was by many leagues the best at what he did, had left a number. I called back and missed him. He got my voicemail and replied:

sorry about that. was on phone busy advancing my plot to take over the world. it’s not going too well so far, but the day is young. am back on the grid. call when you come free.

I called back. It’s a dim memory, like most of them from that week, but I can recall Carr running circles around me with Barry Allen speed, rasping like he’d gargled with Tom Waits’s mouthwash. He pushed me away from a patter (not false, but safe) that I’d been giving everyone who talked to me. He empathized. He cajoled. That way he wrote? Exactly like how he asked questions, pushing and pulling me along. I wish I’d taken notes on how he interviewed me, because he knew exactly how to get his story.

Then he wrote his story, and it was just perfect. In it, I was unforgivably stupid — true! — but the people who’d hired me were castigated for making up ethics rules on the fly.

“If you dumped every reporter who ever sent a snide message or talked smack in private, there would be nothing but crickets chirping in newsrooms all over America,” Carr wrote. Then at the end of his piece:

This is a story about Washington, a place that prizes political consistency and punishes ideological deviation. Mr. Weigel is a libertarian who voted for both Ron Paul and Barack Obama, who supports gay rights and sees the bright side in Bob Barr, who supports not just open borders, but also free markets. He was also a newspaper journalist embedded in the conservative movement and a blogger embedded at The Post.


Those apparent contradictions gave Mr. Weigel’s writing texture and surprise, but it also made him a pretty juicy target. Regardless of how much blather you hear about the two parties bickering in Washington, the Beltway is really a monoculture that accommodates the two poles of a debate but very little in between.

Carr could have written anything with my interview, and he chose to write that. It changed the way I thought about reporting. When I got back into the business, as a reporter for Slate, I kept talking to Carr. When we talked in person, it was at my first (and still only) South by Southwest, where he stopped me gushing by ushering me into a concert he thought I should see. He’d written a story about me, then he’d moved on, both the writer and the subject a little better for the experience. You know that Janet Malcolm line that people like to quote — “every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible”? David Carr proved that wrong, on deadline, all the time.

Over email, he had a way of totally underselling what he was reporting, writing, and thinking. One time, when he thought I’d know who to talk to for a profile he was writing, I sent him some ideas, and he thanked me with a warning: “I will be back at you as soon as I find a way in that hasn’t been worked over every which way.” This was right before writing a beautifully turned obituary of Andrew Breitbart, “a fresh-off-the-boat Irish storyteller” (no one had come up with such a perfect description of the man) and small, tough anecdotes dug out by careful reporting. They had not been worked over, by anybody.

I don’t have Carr’s facility with language, and I didn’t get to know him as well as the people who are going to mourn him right. All I want to say is: Fuck this. Life is short, but it shouldn’t be this short. Least of all for someone who understood so delicately and elementally how people lived.


Important: A Thirtysomething White Guy Has Grammy Opinions

This year, 2015, saw the arrival of a personal milestone that I never expected to see. I am old enough to cheer a Grammy winner. Beck, who’s now spent more years famous than he spent growing up to record his seemingly-one-hit-wonder “Loser,” won the Album of the Year for Morning Phase. Kanye West, being Kanye West, used the many forums available to him to protest that the award had not gone to Beyonce. This was wrong: Beyonce, one of the most beautiful and charismatic singers on the planet, makes generally boring music, all club tricks and gimmicks and vocal galloping.

Beck’s award, West’s protest, and the predictable Grammy for British shit-merchant Sam Smith — this got me thinking who I would have given the Grammys of various years to. It was a fun exercise, forcing me to weigh several factors against each other, to create a universe in which songs tuneful enough for the radio could be swapped in for whatever horrible music got awards for various years. I went back 40 years, roughly to the last year of prog rock’s boom. Annotations to follow.

Album: Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Record: King Crimson, “Starless”

Album: Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks
Record: Brian Eno, “St. Elmo’s Fire”

Album: Joni Mitchell, Hejira
Record: ABBA, “Dancing Queen”

Album: Art Garfunkel, Watermark
Record: David Bowie, “Heroes”

Album: Devo, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
Record: The Walker Brothers, “Nite Flights”

Album: The Clash, London Calling
Record: 20/20, “Yellow Pills”

Album: Talking Heads, Remain In Light
Record: Suicide, “Dream Baby Dream”

Album: King Crimson, Discipline
Record: Genesis, “No Reply At All”

Album: Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw
Record: X, “The Have Nots”

Album: Brian Eno, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks
Record: Yes, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”

Album: The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime
Record: The Smiths, “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want”

Album: Marillion, Misplaced Childhood
Record: Tom Waits, “Downtown Train”

Album: XTC, Skylarking
Record: Crowded House, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”

Album: Prince, Sign ‘O’ The Times
Record: The Go-Betweens, “Right Here”

Album: Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man
Record: EPMD, “Strictly Business”

Album: The Pixies, Doolittle
Record: Michael Penn, “No Myth”

Album: Fred Frith, Gravity
Record: They Might Be Giants, “Birdhouse In Your Soul”

Album: A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory
Record: Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Album: Adrian Belew, Inner Revolution
Record: Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Album: The Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Record: Archers of Loaf, “Web In Front”

Album: Nas, Illmatic
Record: Freedy Johnston, “Bad Reputation”

Album: GZA, Liquid Swords
Record: Ben Folds Five, “Brick”

Album: Steve Earle, I Feel Alright
Record: Sleeper, “What Do I Do Now?

Album: Spiritualized, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
Record: Sleater-Kinney, “One More Hour”

Album: Belle and Sebastian, The Boy With The Arab Strap
Record: Pulp, “Like a Friend”

Album: The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs
Record: Guided by Voices, “Teenage FBI”

Album: OutKast, Stankonia
Record: Queens of the Stone Age, “The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret”

Album: Jay-Z, The Blueprint
Record: Gorillaz, “Clint Eastwood”

Album: The Mountain Goats, Tallahassee
Record: Solomon Burke, “Fast Train”

Album: The New Pornographers, Electric Version
Record: Jay-Z, “99 Problems”

Album: Stars, Set Yourself On Fire
Record: Arcade Fire, “Rebellion (Lies)”

Album: Porcupine Tree, Deadwing
Record: Sigur Rós, “Hoppipolla”

Album: Keene Brothers, Blues and Boogie Shoes
Record: The Gossip, “Standing In The Way Of Control”

Album: The National, Boxer
Record: LCD Soundsystem, “All My Friends”

Album: Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
Record: Passion Pit, “Sleepyhead”

Album: Mastodon, Crack the Skye
Record: The Lonely Island, “I’m On a Boat”

Album: Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Record: Robyn, “Dancing on My Own”

Album: Mates of States, Mountaintops
Record: Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers”

Album: Scott Walker, Bisch Bosch
Record: Chairlift, “I Belong In Your Arms”

Album: Tegan and Sarah, Heartthrob
Record: Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”

Album: Beck, Morning Phase
Record: Run the Jewels, “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”

Welcome to the utopia of train life, Californians!

My friend David Dayen wrote this week about the launch of California’s high-speed rail line — it’s starting with a short section of the Central Valley — and the inspiring Bizarro Robert Moses story of its triumph over lawsuits and de-funding attempts. If any civic project has a mandate, it’s this one, as last year’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari promised to cancel “the crazy train” and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown thumped him by 20 points. And if any project was haunted by stupid complaints — this one, again.

I’m a big defender of trains, and I see my 2011 Slate story about why conservatives feel the opposite is now twinned with an Eric Holthaus story about why trains don’t make economic sense. Fair enough. We’re living through a happy little oil glut right now, and transportation systems that save you on gas money make a little less immediate sense. Your car is looking better; so, as California rail skeptics keep saying, does your plane ticket. If it takes 90 minutes to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles but 150 minutes to ride the maglev, why take the maglev?

The people who ask this question can’t have ever compared a rail trip to a flight. “An hour” in the air is not actually an hour. It includes 1) time spent traveling to the airport, which for structural reasons is usually outside the city, 2) time spent lurching through TSA, 3) time spent waiting to board, 4) time spent getting luggage when you land, 5) time spent traveling from the airport to your destination. Because of the externalities I just mentioned, your noon flight from SFO to LAX requires you to leave the house in order to be at least 45 minutes early for the flight.

Compare this with the train. Your arrival for an hour-long trip involves 1) time spent getting to the station, which for structural reasons is in the center of the city, 2) a few minutes flashing your ticket for TSA, 3) a few minutes grabbing luggage, and 4) however long it takes to get from the station in your destination city to your destination. Your noon trip to the SF train station requires that you get to Embarcadero with maybe 15 minutes to spare.

I’m yuppie scum, and I live on the so-called “Acela line” that connects New York to Washington at 150 mph, a trip that ends up bogging down and taking maybe 160 minutes. I don’t know anyone who prefers “the shuttle,” or the plane that flies from DC’s National airport to New York’s LaGuardia airport in 60 minutes. This is because the train trip is pleasant, with minimal travel times to and from the stations, no time when you’re supposed to put away your laptop, and (though this can be annoying) total freedom to make and receive calls. There are weather delays only in drastic end-of-world circumstances; there is none of the traffic you get when making the drive. (And good luck finishing work on your laptop while driving, though I have, while in traffic, and should not say any more about it.)

Conclusion: You West Coasters don’t know what you’re missing. You’ll find out, and you’ll love it. Keep filing those appeals to junk lawsuits.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

There are many reasons to be an Anglophile, many reasons to appreciate the relationship between Brit journalists and Brit musicians, and C86 epitomized them all. It was a cassette tape (really, how twee) packaged with an issue of the NME (which used to mean New Musical Express) in, yes, 1986. “Here,” said editors, “are the indie bands that could own the future. “Oh shit,” said listeners. “You are correct.” The tape began with “Velocity Girl,” a track from a band called Primal Scream, some sort of side project by the Jesus and Mary Chain’s drummer. It happened to feature one of the great jangle-guitar breaks of all time, and its authors would soldier on for — here I check my calendar — 29 years and counting. Its name would be nicked by a pretty okay American band with at least one great song (“I Can’t Stop Smiling”). And it was just the first fucking song.

My point is that British “indie bands” had a distinct style that influenced but was not fully supplanted by the Britpop of a few years later. It echoed American “power pop,” which by then had faded, in boppy sincerity and reliance on guitars over keyboards. My secondary point is that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are a self-consciously twee revival band that knocked around the Ouija board and summoned C86 sounds while adding very little of thir own. And there is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing wrong with music meant to be played at reasonable volume as a boy (probably with wispy beard) snoggles a girl (probably with an art history degree). It’s not very new; then again, people still pay to see new generations of tenors sing the same old operas.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (2009)
Rating: 6/10
Best Song: “Young Adult Friction.”
Worst Song: “Hey Paul,” but the distance between the highs/lows is minimal.

Put the needle on and there are no illusions. “Contender” begins with feedback, as if the band has just plugged in or finished a song you’ll never hear. A distorted guitar comes in, being strummed at 4/4 time — D chord, G chord, D chord, G chord. Then comes the jangle, then the voice of Kip Berman sigh-singing about a romantic difficulty. “Look what you’ve done,” he goes. “Look what you’ve done. What do you have now?” By the time he gets to the chorus, there’s a female voice — that’s Peggy Wang, the very unobtrusive keyboard player — and the only suspense concerns when the drummer will count off and the song will explode.

That never happens. The rave-up only begins with “Come Saturday,” which was a single, as the licks and the “woo-woo-woo!” vocals should make clear. The intentions are almost clear now. You are in for a collection of songs ripped from some Manchester or Newcastle student center circa 1986. The guitar break on “Come Saturday” puts an exclamation point on the song without doing anything drastic. Pleasant music, no danger of blowing minds.

Then comes “Young Adult Friction,” and the skill of this band becomes apparent. It’s a perfect pop song, one of at least three on the record, getting the dynamics just right between a Buzzcocks drum pattern (go compare it to “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”), shimmering guitar chords, and teen-journal vocals. (It describes a hook-up in a library, “our bodies spent among the dust and the microfiche.”) The album keeps delivering songs like that, with Alex Naidus’s bass line sounding just too cool for everything around it, in immaculate C86 style. “Stay Alive” is a little quieter, but adds some Dream Syndicate-style synthesized bells. “A Teenager in Love” is… again, basically the same song, but it pulls off the quiet-quiet-loud trick you were expecting in the first place.

Belong (2011)
Rating: 8/10
Best Song: “Even in Dreams”
Worst Song: “Anne with an E”

Well-l-l-l, look who discovered The Cure! Belong begins with the title track, an on-the-nose statement of intent from a band that’s already fairly blatant about its influences and view of rock history. There’s another burst of fuzz, except this time, it’s faded in, then interrupted by a ringing guitar riff, which is crushed like the baker’s wife by a Black Sabbath crunch riff. Back to the full band, fully committed now to a loud-quiet-loud song with a melody that can bear up to 100 tons.

The beauty part of being a revival band is that, theoretically, you can always vacuum up more influences and improve. That’s what TPoBPaH did, for a record that is song-for-song much better than the debut. The opening three-song suite of the title track, “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” and “Heart in Your Heartbreak” is immaculate; “Heavens Gonna Happen Now” has the band’s first guitar solo that can stack up next to “Velocity Girl.” Not RIGHT next to — maybe it’s Estonia, on the same Olympics winning platform as Canada. Again and again, from “My Terrible Friend” to “The Body,” the band builds a decent rhythm and slathers it with melodies and precious lyrics like “I want to hurt like it did before.”

It works. “Even in Dreams,” like “Young Adult Friction,” is an anthem that coheres everything good about the band’s style. The keyboards burble softly, the bass carries the melody, and the guitar plays at a nice, controlled buzz. Kip’s vocals are pushed to the front, falling into the mix only at the choruses, when a series of strangely tuneful air-raid sounds creep in. The weakest track is “Anne With an E,” which cops the “Be My Baby” drum-and-cymbals rhythm, which is the sort of thing you do if you have no intention of getting away with it. The song isn’t strong enough to grow beyond the influences. It’s the only one on the record of which that could be said.

Days of Abandon (2014)
Rating: 7/10
Best Song: “Kelly”
Worst Song: “Beautiful You”

The Pains’ journey through the 1980s takes them out of the curated indie garden and into the sweaty gymnasiums of pure pop. This is not a bad thing. The fuzz is almost totally gone, smoothed away, no feedback even in the traditional album-intro time slot. No, this time, you are welcomed in with the acoustic bedsit musings of “Art Smock,” and it includes a spoiler of a lyric: “Like a Felt song, I’m off the throne.” This, as any anorak worth his raincoat could tell you, is a reference to the song “Dismantled King Is Off The Throne,” by the aforementioned Felt, and as earnest as that bad was they sound like goddamned Judas Priest next to the Pains.

Sorry for cursing: I’m not saying this music is bad. “Kelly,” with a rare female-led vocal, is a good example of the band’s new, learned softness. It bounces along with percussion that could have been dreamed up by Wham!, and with lyrics that suggest our heroes have been aging at Peter Pan’s pace: “Passed out on the train again, woke up at the end of the world.” When the band gets loud it does so with a trick like the one that starts “Simple and Sure,” a collection of cute glottal stops that turn into a sing-a-long. (That song was sold for a commercial, and it says something about me that I can recall a decades-old Felt track before I can remember which cell phone company licensed which indie rock popper.)

There are fine pop moments like that all over the record; the only suspense is in how the band arranges them. “Beautiful You” becomes a slog because it contains only as many ideas as “Coral and Gold” and stretches them over twice as much time. Seemingly every song has a moment in which the keyboards reproduce the sound of a far-away harp, and on a trifle like “Until The Sun Explodes,” it feels like the center of a pocket symphony.

2014: The First Annual Only Culture Awards That Matter

This year, like every year, I consumed a bunch of #content. Less than usual, and far fewer books than usual, as I have trouble committing to a long read when I’m finishing up my own. I saw roughly half as many movies as I did in 2013, which actually led to less disappointment than usual when the year-end lists informed me that eight of the 10 best films came out for critics in December.

Best movie: Boyhood. I’m inclined to like every Richard Linklater movie, so it was awfully polite of him to make an absorbing classic.
Best movie-within-a-movie: Dune, as envisioned by crazy people in Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Best dystopia: The frozen world of Snowpiercer, everything from the roach-jelly that feeds proles to the psychotic elementary school to the machines run by tiny children. (Runner-up: Whatever the hell happens in the last act of The Congress.)
Best dopplegangers: A tie between the ideal couple in The One I Love and the parallel dinner-partiers in Coherence.
Best Angela Merkel joke: Her appearance in the credits montage of witches in Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi. (The Spanish ain’t happy with her.)
Best miniatures: A tie between The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Lego Movie.
Most jarring use of Ken Burns footage: The dust bowl scenes in Interstellar, which ground the famine-plagued future with interviews of real Okies. Nolan really gave away his source there.
Best sociopath (male): Nightcrawler‘s Lou Bloom, a criminal who’s terrifyingly good at applying self-help language to his manipulations and wanton destruction.
Best sociopath (female): Amy Dunne, the titular Gone Girl.
Worst fake journalist: Gone Girl‘s Ellen Abbott (Missy Pyle), a Nancy Grace stand-in who ruins a man’s reputation and tries to make up for it with the gift of a four-legged robot.
Best use of bluetooth: Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), in Locke.
Worst sex: The endless S&M of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and K (Jamie Bell) in the second chapter of Nymphomaniac.
Best music cue: “Real Gone Kid” by Prefab Sprout, which plays just as Under the Skin is shedding its plot dynamics and Scarlett Johanson’s alien has decided to try out humanity, and fail at it. The song gets her tapping her hand to the rhythm in a way that makes her seem more alien than ever.
Worst music cue: “Tusk” in Tusk, Kevin Smith’s attempt to ruin a great Fleetwood Mac song by associating it with fighting men in walrus costumes.
Worst science: Lucy, which not only relies on the myth that humans have yet to tap 90 percent of their brains, but gives Morgan Freeman a serious-sounding expository lecture about that “fact.”
Worst use of Kickstarter: Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here.
Best song by a fake band: “I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie” by God Help the Girl. Listen and agree:

(Runners up: “Hate the Sport,” by the adorable kids of We Are the Best! and “I Love You All,” by Frank and the Sonopofprbs.)
Best supervillain: Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn), the Starred Up prisoner whose efforts to protect his equally evil son are not stymied by physics, or timing, or logic.
Worst supervillain: Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Guardians of the Galaxy. Look: I’m a huge goddamn nerd and can quote back parts of the “Infinity Gauntlet” arc. But in the movieverse, so far, Thanos has 1) grinned, 2) glowered, and 3) fallen for the old “instead of delivering this powerful item to you I will steal it and defeat you!” rumble.
Worst action hero: Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who gives us very little to root for in Godzilla. If you’re going to kill off Brian Cranston, don’t replace him with a stack of cardboard.
Best action hero: Groot, duh.
And if I was assigning Oscars by diktat, I’d hand ’em to Julianne Moore (yes, Still Alice is Oscar bait, but it’s devastating thanks to her), David Oyelowo (for Selma), and Patricia Arquette (for Boyhood). Haven’t seen Whiplash, which all the smart kids say J.K. Simmons is perfect in.

Best mash-up:
Did mash-ups stop being cool? I haven’t heard one at a party in ages. Your loss, humanity: 2 Mello’s Final Fantasy (The 3-6 Chambers) was a complete masterpiece.
Best progressive album: Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas’s Other World. Hammill can really do no wrong, but the ambient guitar sounds brought something fresh and distracting to his music.
Best hip-hop album that isn’t Run the Jewels: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Piñata.
Worst progressive album: Pink Floyd, The Endless River.
Best cover song: Bryan Ferry’s “Johnny and Mary,” a synthtastic pop hit transformed into a slow roasting ballad.

Best supergroup: The Both, the collaboration between Aimee Mann and Ted Leo that produced some of their best music in years, as well as a gripping, friendly live show.
Best concert: See above — 930 Club, earlier this year.
Best music video: The masses are right: Sia’s Chandelier kicked everything else in the ass, and hard.

Most lifelike robot: St. Vincent.

Best flesh-eating monsters: Not The Walking Dead‘s stalwarts; instead, I got way too into the horrifying sex-crazed civilization-destroyers of Crossed.
Best space opera: Jeff Lemire’s Trillium.
Most confounding creator: Between East of West, Manhattan Projects, and God is Dead, I have no idea what the hell Jonathan Hickman is doing. Yet I keep reading.
Best biography: Different All the Time, Marcus O’Dair’s comprehensive life story of Robert Wyatt. A real tonic, and a real reminder to stop slacking on my own history of progressive rock.