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by G. Christopher Williams

3 Feb 2010

It was 1984, and I was one of those kids whose mother worked at my school (she was the school secretary).  What that essentially meant was that I had to be at school earlier than anyone else (other than my fellows in suffering, the teachers’ kids), and I would never be able to see anything but the first 10 minutes of an episode of Inspector Gadget before me and my piece of toast would have to be out in the car and off to school.  Luckily, there was the Apple II and Karateka.  God bless you, Jordan Mechner.

Much like other games of that decade, for me Karateka was largely a study in gaming as trial and error.  Featuring a robust combat system (within the context of the mid-‘80s), Karateka offered the opportunity to step into the shoes of a martial artist with six distinct attacks: low, medium, and high punches and low, medium, and high kicks.  The protagonist of Karateka also had two stances, a combat or defensive stance, which allowed the player to punch and kick along with a highly vulnerable running stance, which allowed the player to stand erect and then advance rapidly within the game world but had the disadvantage of the threat of a one shot death if the character should be hit while running.

by Rob Horning

3 Feb 2010

I have a post up at Generation Bubble about “reflexively defiant consumerism”—a concept coined by two marketing professors that they saw as a fusion of postmodern critical theory and consumer protection initiatives. It’s basically the “prosumer” idea of subverting the marketers who want to tell you what to do. It’s obviously an outdated notion; few would argue today that marketers are forcing specific identities on us anymore. Advertisers are probably content to know that we are playing on the consumerist field, and just hope will play with their ball. (Who can resist an unnecessary football metaphor as the Super Bowl approaches?)

My hunch in general is that self-consciousness about how we consume means they have us right where they want us, thinking about how to articulate our identity through consumerism and not through other modes. Douglas Holt’s excellent 2002 paper “Why Do Brands Cause Trouble” (wish I could link it, but my searches haven’t turned up an ungated one) bears that out. He posits a dialectical model of identity and oppositional consumerism that seems to suggest resistance to certain brands tends to produce more credibility for other ones, and that production is now built into the consumerist system of “post-postmodernism.” Reflexively defiant consumers are just the avant-garde producers of new consumerist meanings within the code. The sovereignty they convince themselves that they have earned by pseudoresistance is actually more bound up than ever with consumerism. “Authenticity” becomes nothing but a marketing concept; it can no longer serve an an orienting ideal. It is, as Holt argues, “becoming extinct.”

Worse, we confront sovereignty inflation:

To feel sovereign, postmodern consumers must adopt a never-ending project to create an individuated identity through consumption. This project requires absorbing an ever-expanding supply of fashions, cultural texts, tourist experiences, cuisines, mass cultural icons, and the like. As a result, we are in the midst of a widespread inflation in the symbolic work required to achieve what is perceived as real sovereignty.

In other words, as a character in the 1968 film Psych-Out declares, “It’s all one big plastic hassle.”

by Darren Ratner

3 Feb 2010

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
I Learned the Hard Way
(Daptone)
Releasing: 6 April

Ever dapper and full of swagger, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are about to release their fourth LP, I Learned the Hard Way, this spring. Expect more of Jones’ vintage soul (comparisons to Aretha and Tina Turner abound) to blow you away. The title track is currently available for download.

Daptone Records: “I Learned the Hard Way was produced by Bosco Mann and recorded on an Ampex eight-track tape machine by Gabriel Roth in Daptone Records’ House of Soul studios, the record drips with a warmth and spontaneity rarely found since the golden days of Muscle Shoals and Stax. Sharon’s raw power, rhythmic swagger, moaning soulfulness, and melodic command set her firmly alongside Tina Turner, James Brown, Mavis Staples, and Aretha as a fixture in the canon of soul music. From the lush Philly-Soul fanfare that ushers in “The Game Gets Old” at the top of the record, to the stripped down Sam Cooke-style “Mama Don’t Like My Man” at the tail, the Dap-Kings dance seamlessly through both the most crafted and simple arrangements with subtlety and discipline.”

SONG LIST
01 The Game Gets Old
02 I Learned the Hard Way
03 Better Things
04 Give It Back
05 Money
06 The Reason
07 Window Shopping
08 She Ain’t a Child No More
09 I’ll Still Be True
10 Without a Heart
11 If You Call
12 Mama Don’t Like My Man

“Angel’s Share” [MP3]

by Sean McCarthy

3 Feb 2010

Recently, the general “Who had the best album of 2009?” debate came to an end with the release of the Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll. For those unfamiliar, the poll comprises the “Top Ten” list of hundreds of music critics. Top honors went to Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Animal Collective’s win wasn’t surprising. When Merriweather was released last January, critics all but anointed it an album of the year contender. But Village Voice contributor Chuck Eddy raised an interesting observation: Eight albums from the Pazz and Jop top ten list were also on Pitchfork‘s top ten list.

by Rory O'Connor

3 Feb 2010

It may seem like a strange thing to say about a band that strictly plays cover songs, but Nouvelle Vague has found their niche.  But then, Nouvelle Vague are a far cry from the visions typically connoted by the words “cover band”.  If their three studio albums and international touring didn’t already solidify that fact, then one only needed to be present at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall Friday night listening to the crowd demand their second encore.

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