<p>The Civil Wars </p>

The Civil Wars

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Civil Wars talk T Bone Burnett, 'Hunger Games' and the Grammys

Folky duo set Sundance time aside for tour talk and 'Finding North'

Joy Williams and John Paul White -- known as The Civil Wars -- released "Barton Hallow" one year ago, almost to the day. Aside from making a lot of critics' year-end lists, the album was also a springboard for dozens of other unique opportunities in the past months. And by "unique opportunities," I mean they earned a couple of Grammy Award nominations, recorded with T Bone Burnett from some film soundtracks, toured extensively around the country, collaborated with the Chieftans and Taylor Swift,  played Nashville's Ryman, late night television shows and "Prairie Home Companion." It's sold healthfully. The year 2011 wasn't just good: it was gangbusters.

"The sky's the limit," Williams said during our interview during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival last week. The Civil Wars were on hand to promote "Finding North," the documentary film on hunger in America, with a score  featuring T Bone Burnett.

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<p>M.I.A., &quot;Bad Girls&quot;</p>

M.I.A., "Bad Girls"

Credit: N.E.E.T./Interscope

Listen: M.I.A. releases new 'Bad Girls' single in advance of Madonna video

Quirky and fierce songwriter taking the stage with Madge and Nicki Minaj at Super Bowl

M.I.A. is capping on her recent collaboration with Madonna for a little extra fame of her own. If I were her, I'd do the same too.

The talk-singing-rapping songwriter has revamped a "Vicki Leekz" mixtape track into "Bad Girls." And what do bad girls do well? Live fast and die young, apparently. Gunshots included. (Via Pitchfork)

But what is it with the mix? Or rather, what's with the lack of low ends today? I want this to be the banger it aspires to be, but there's a lot of overpowering treble squibbles flopping between what should be bigger beats. As is M.I.A.'s M.O., she relies heavily on lyrical repetition so it's always a joy to hear an actual, y'know, verse. Maya's attitude remains fierce.

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<p>Jack White</p>

Jack White

Credit: Third Man Records

Listen: Jack White announces debut solo album with a 'Love Interruption'

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Third Man Records founder and former White Stripes leader is headed out alone

I'm almost surprised it's taken this long, but Jack White has finally prepared his solo debut. "Blunderbuss" will be the former White Stripes leader's first album under his own name, out on April 24, and from his description of it, it's will be all Jack White, all the time, and maybe on all instruments.

"I've put off making records under my own name for a long time but these songs feel like they could only be presented under my name. These songs were written from scratch, had nothing to do with anyone or anything else but my own expression, my own colors on my own canvas," he said in a statement.

To kick things off right, the Nashville-based songwriter's released the track "Love Interruption," streaming now on his newly launched website. He's joined by a female vocalist -- or treated his own vocals to a shot of estrogen -- but for the rest of it, it's a pretty stripped-down, burning bluesy song. There's no low end, and an acoustic guitar joined by a keyboard are the only accompaniment besides. I like it, it's catchy, but perhaps I expected something more bombastic?

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<p>Gina Rodriguez as &quot;Filly Brown&quot;</p>

Gina Rodriguez as "Filly Brown"

Sundance Review: Emotional ‘Filly Brown’ could be stronger

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Gina Rodriguez is a natural star: is this her ‘Behind the Music?’

No doubt, Gina Rodriguez is a star in the making. The rising actress spent months getting down a flow -- a hip-hop flow -- for her starring role in Sundance flick “Filly Brown.” In the title role, the Latina MC is trying to “make it” with the help of a local hip-hop podcast, her ever-loving crew and by spitting her own nasally L.A. fire. As Majo Tonorio, the Real Girl behind Filly, she’s plagued with the stuff of VH1’s “Behind the Music”: A fiercely imploring and manipulative mother Maria who’s serving jail time on drug charges (Jenni Rivera); a naïve and bratty teenaged sister Lupe (Chrissie Fit); a hard-working dad Jose barely making ends meet at a construction job (Lou Diamond Phillips).

Filly Brown aspires to stardom for more than just the starry-eyed reasons. She needs the money, to help her mother out of jail – or is it money to just get her out of trouble? Through the Great Green Struggle, Filly discovers that she’s becoming more and more like her mom, for better and for worse.
 
It’s a good flip on the script, where we’re used to seeing male protagonists try to live up to their fathers’ expectations. But in this case, the beautiful Latina lead is trying to carve her own when it seems everybody – her family, her friends, her boyfriend and her “handlers” – have their own reasons for why they want Filly Brown to succeed in the entertainment biz.
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<p>&quot;Who me? Oh I was just standing here plotting a comeback.&quot;</p>

"Who me? Oh I was just standing here plotting a comeback."

Watch: D'Angelo makes first concert appearance in a decade, debuts new songs

'The Charade' and 'Sugar Day' wedged between 'Chicken Grease'

R&B crooner D'Angelo celebrated the 12-year anniversary of "Voodoo" in a big way. For the first time in more than a decade, he took to the stage this week, at Stockholm's Filadelfiakyrkan church. Of course, Filadelfiakyrkan!

He performed beloved tracks like "Sh*t, Damn, Motherf*cker" and "Chicken Grease." The even bigger news is that he bowed two new songs: "The Charade" and "Sugar Day."

Check out those songs below.

The Roots' ?uestlove previously alluded to the fact that D'Angelo would be back into action this year, with a new album. Then there was that whole Soundgarden "Black Holed Sun" cover, and the announcement of forthcoming rare tour dates.

It's all very weird. I feel like I'm floating, and that I'm 18 again.

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<p>Tim Heidecker in &quot;The Comedy&quot;</p>

Tim Heidecker in "The Comedy"

Interview: Jagjaguwar shape-shifts as Sundance's ‘The Comedy’ gets a pick-up

Chris Swanson’s one-stop shop triumvirate indie label universe

One of the most defiant films I saw at the Sundance Film Festival this year was director Rick Alverson’s “The Comedy,” a title oozing irony but boasting a weird, wooly ensemble that includes Tim & Eric, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, actress Kate Lyn Sheil and comedian Jeff Jensen. The film itself was sort of a f*ck-you to traditional, protagonist-led dramatic narratives. It was built off of an 18-page treatment with almost all of it room for improvisation, and little-to-no script .

It is funny, yes, but loosely angers, too, with Heidecker’s perfectly portrayed 35-year-old Williamsburg ass-clown who won the birth lottery and has a boat. He and his idling creative division of friends fill their time amusing themselves sometimes to the discomfort of others – not because they’re malicious people, mind you, but because otherwise they just might get bored. Heidecker’s dead-eyed lead voyeuristically dabbles in the world of hard labor and “normal people” jobs like washing dishes in between drinking, screwing and playing wiffle ball.
 

Just because the film is largely unpleasant doesn’t make it a bad film. It’s not. Heidecker’s numb repugnance also reveals a child-like soul. He’s the sort of guy I wouldn’t be friends with but, yeah sure, I’d go to his party if he threw one. It darkly reveals something in the viewer, which required such a strangely familiar cast and, even more so, the backing of its vision.
 
Independent record label Jagjaguwar was that backer, in conjunction with Glass Eye Pix and Greyshack Productions. And after “The Comedy” bowed at Sundance this week, it found a partner in Danny McBride’s Rough House Pictures, which formed in 2009 to produce/present high-end comedies.
 
Jagjaguwar, mind you, isn’t known for movies. It and its sister labels Secretly Canadian and Dead Oceans count Bon Iver, Okkervil River, Dinosaur Jr., Antony and the Johnsons, Akron/Family and Yeasayer among its powerful ranks. Last year, SeCa released its first comedy album, Tig Notaro’s “Good One.” The labels’ co-founders linked with Ami Spishock last year to form Fort William Artist Management, with the likes of Grizzly Bear, Beirut and Van Dyke Parks, among others under its arm. The labels have their own distribution company (SC Distribution, which is also works with many, many other indies), their own publishing and do deals not just in the ‘States but also internationally.
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<p>Rodriguez</p>

Rodriguez

Review: 'Searching for Sugar Man' requires some waiting for a sweet payoff

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The musical journey of Rodriguez brings the dead back to life at Sundance

Two documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival turned their focus on American singer-songwriters making an impact on different eras of apartheid-stricken South Africa. But one major difference between the Paul Simon “Graceland” doc “Under African Skies” and Malik Bendjelloul's directorial debut “Searching for Sugar Man” are the artists’ awareness of their influence on that African country. Simon lived it. Obscure folk artist Rodriguez had no idea what the hell was going on. 

Sixto Rodriguez put out two albums under his last name in 1970 and 1971 via Sussex/A&M. They failed to sell here in the ‘States. Through several interviews with recording engineers and label executives that “discovered” him in dingy nightclubs in Detroit, there was a feeling of disbelief that an artist so talented went unrewarded in his lifetime.
 
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<p>Paul Simon with Miriam Makeba</p>

Paul Simon with Miriam Makeba

Review: Joe Berlinger's 'Under African Skies' on 25 years of 'Graceland'

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Sundance Film Fest flick digs into Paul Simon's fun and conflicted 1986 album

It would be unlike the industry to let a groundbreaking album’s 25th anniversary come and go without some sort of fanfare. Last year was that arbitrary and round number of years for Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and it proved to be as good an opportunity as any for a reunion. 

It’s a commercial cycle that’s been played out over and over. The added bonus to this revisit is what Simon called a “covert political point of view,” the substance of “Graceland” between the music’s exotic voicings and the lyrics booklet.
 
The term “exotic” is a good place to start. “Graceland” exposed Americans to native musics of Africa – like those from South Africa, the continent’s various kingdoms, the Zulu tribes – more than any other had so far in the history of Western pop music. For many audiences, the women's vocals on “I Know What I Know” or the accordion opening “Boy in the Bubble” truly was the exotic “other.” The album was also a literal and creative integration of black with white, with one of the best-known American songwriters collaborating with black South Africans during a time of strict international sanctions and restrictions due to apartheid.
 
Joe Berlinger’s film “Under African Skies” addresses the many shades-in-between in the making of Simon’s “Graceland.” It persuasively refutes those who would say the album was an outright rip and co-opting of black Africans’ creation. It also addresses the songwriter's’s clumsy fielding of the UN and the anti-apartheid ANC’s cultural boycott: South Africans couldn’t record with foreigners or tour outside of their country and Americans couldn’t come to visit. Or, rather, shouldn’t.
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<p>Jon Heder and Paul Dano</p>

Jon Heder and Paul Dano

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Paul Dano and Jon Heder bring the noise to 'For Ellen'

The art of White Snake: getting drunk in a motel in order to dance

PARK CITY -- Look closely at actor Paul Dano. You might see a little Sabbath in there.

The actor -- who also happens to be an active musician -- looked to artists like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Ozzy for his role as touring musician Joby in Sundance pick "For Ellen." Joby is more of a modern radio rock guy in a band still "making it," so Dano also listened to those brand of bands while driving around L.A.

"Not my cup of tea," he told me during our interview at the film festival. But, after driving the Strip, "I kinda got it."

"For Ellen" focuses its lens on the other side of the cutthroat industry, the quiet moments in homes with a daughter without a dad, when the money doesn't come in for support. It gently extrapolates on what happens when a rocker isn't rocking.

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<p>Joe Trapanese and Mike Shinoda</p>

Joe Trapanese and Mike Shinoda

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda talks 'The Raid' and band's new album

'Tron' co-composer Joseph Trapanese rounds out phenomenal martial arts film score

PARK CITY -- The fluidity and close-action shots of martial arts in "The Raid" can enable even the most pacifistic viewer to feel like they can fight. Some of the most impressive combat sequences were delivered by actors and martial artists who were slight in stature, or "ordinary" building dwellers shakily foisting automatic weaponry in their under-sculpted arms. Most of the Indonesian film is shot in a single building, in crappy apartments or littered hallways.

Director Gareth Evans' movie was shot with an extraordinarily small budget with exceptional result, so much so that Sony Pictures picked it up after it bowed at the Toronto Film Festival last year. Among the biggest revamps in time for the Sundance Film Festival was a brand new score, helmed by Linkin Park frontman Mike Shinoda and film composer Joseph Trapanese, who linked up with Daft Punk to complete the music to "Tron" just a couple years ago.

I didn't see the TIFF version, but from what I can tell from here, "The Raid" only benefits from these guys, due to the power of the audio and the added visibility of big-name artists.

Shinoda thought the pair-up was so good, Linkin Park may be absorbing a new member: he joked that Trapanese will be the "seventh guy in the band. We're gonna have dueling bass solos. It's like watching KISS, this guy."

Both of the musicians sat down with me during the festival this week, to discuss the pressure of trying to improve upon a film that was already beloved.

"It'd be difficult to handle this first score on my own," Shinoda said, explaining his inaugural endeavor into composing for what Trapanese called a "bold yet really classic action film."

There's nothing cheap about the sound of the film, and it's overall beefy and confrontational, with bubbling electronica during the quiet, creeping moments, and aggressively rock-like during the fight sequences. Evans' dark humor was met with playful musical themes, like thudding dance rhythms as bodies hit the floor or as faces met dry wall. Shinoda and Trapanese said they actively avoided trying to make it sound generically Asian or specifically Indonesian, but instead melded what they knew with what I'd describe as the apocalypse on a small scale.

"Linkin park music always has been a mashup of many different things we love that we listened to growing mixed with stuff that we made ourselves," Shinoda said, mentioning that the process here was the same. He'd like to work on scores again, but still has the band as his priority. "I still have to put Linkin Park as the number one thing in my life, but there are times that I can work at other things and as long as I know that I know I can give it one hundred percent of the energy that it needs to get done and it be great, then I'll be happy to work on something else."

Linkin Park is about to announce 2012 tour dates, and Shinoda says fans can expect the active rock band's fifth full-length album "mid-year." LP's last LP was 2010's critically praised "A Thousand Suns."

Check out the video above for more on the composing process, Shinoda's feelings on writing for film and more.

Here is HitFix's Drew McWeeny's TIFF review of "The Raid."

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