Nina Nastasia, Restrepo, and Leon Levinstein—Yes List
Each week, The Daily Beast scours the cultural landscape to choose three top picks. This week, a masterful album by Nina Nastasia, the eye-opening Afghan war documentary Restrepo, and a new street-photography exhibit at the Met.
Outlasting the Rest
Within folk-music circles, California-bred, New York-based Nina Nastasia is a well-known name, having recorded six albums of delicate, sparse, acoustic arrangements mastered by producing wizard Steve Albini, best known for his work with bands like Nirvana and the Pixies. Albini and Nastasia make a quieter team, but her songs are nonetheless powerful and sharp-edged where they need to be. On her latest release, Outlaster, out this week on Fat Cat Records, Nastasia is at her most accomplished, and provides a lovely summer listening alternative to what is currently blasting out of the radio. She will be touring the U.K. all summer, where she is a bona fide star; as Brit music authority NME stated, “To the casual observer, her crystalline vocals and sparse guitar arrangements may seem if not Newsom-ly elfin, at least a bit cutesy. What her sixth album reminds us of is that there is a darker heart beating beneath her delicate surfaces.”
An Army of Two
With all of the hullabaloo surrounding the McChrystal resignation and the state of the military in Afghanistan, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s Restrepo could not land in movie theaters at a better time. The journalists embedded themselves within the Second Platoon, Battle Company in Afghan territory from the summer of 2007 to that of 2008, ruthlessly documenting how soldiers live and what really goes on over there while America is at war. In other hands, the subject matter may have come off as overly jingoistic or too harsh on the military, but Junger and Hetherington have made a documentary that is real, honest, and open to interpretation as to what is right. That’s not to say that it is tame. As EW’s Owen Gleiberman writes, “It's doubtful you'll ever see a combat documentary that channels the chaos of war as thoroughly as this one,” and Movieline’s Stephanie Zacharek notes, “The unspoken idea behind Restrepo is that we can’t just measure the effects of a war in terms of lives lost. The lives remaining count, too.”
Hipsters in Celluloid
Photography can capture many things, but it is perhaps best when the camera’s lens is turned on urban life and youth subcultures, which cannot be captured by the average onlooker’s eye. Such was the work of Leon Levinstein, who left behind some of the best street photography taken in New York City after he passed away in 1988. Levinstein’s body of work is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an impressive retrospective, Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players through October 17. Levinstein considered himself a contemporary of Avedon and Arbus, but he is unique in that he never fully worked as a professional photographer. Instead, he worked in design by day and shot on nights and weekends, earning a Guggenheim Fellowship and shots in the collections of the Met, MoMA, and the International Center of Photography for what was clearly more of a work of love and vocation than just a hobby. The exhibition features Levinstein’s kooky cast of characters—“sunbathers, young couples, children, businessmen, beggars, prostitutes, proselytizers, society ladies, and characters of all stripes”—and establishes him as one of street photography’s enduring talents.