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by Sean McCarthy

21 Oct 2009

The vinyl revival is one of the more welcome nostalgic movements in popular music. For all the talk about how younger generations do not appreciate the physical medium of music, it’s heartwarming to see kids in their early 20s fishing through the vinyl sections of their rapidly-vanishing local record stores. So what if some are doing it for no other reason than hipster cred? It’s good to see a physical medium for music thrive.

It took a little less than a decade after the decline of vinyl for a nostalgia movement to arise. In the mid-‘90s, some bands would even have the top of their CD design take the form of an album or a 45. Almost 15 years later, we still have vinyl lovers, but we are slowly starting to experience a bit of CD nostalgia as well. Even though CDs are still very much present and available, people have started to stubbornly cling to them just like albums.

Part of the reason for this sort of “pre-death” nostalgia can be attributed to some savvy marketing by record companies. In the past two years, nearly every iconic album from the ‘90s, from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic to Radiohead’s OK Computer, have been re-released in deluxe packaging CDs. They come with a great deal of liner notes, some sweet packaging (check out Pavement’s reissues), and a ton of b-sides. For a Gen-Xer with more disposable income now than they had while they were in college, these offers are hard as hell to turn down. While this accounts for a tiny fraction of CD sales, these reissues prove there is still a need for some people to possess the physical product. A second reason for this “pre-death” nostalgia relates to a grass-roots desire for many people to want to see their local record stores stay in business. Yes, you could buy the new Phoenix album online, but like shopping at the farmer’s market, you just feel better making the trek to a local store and making the purchase.

Image by Andy Hepburn

Image by Andy Hepburn

If the boomers grew up on the album and the Gen-Yers grew up on the CD, Gen-X certainly was weaned on the cassette. And while it’s evident that there is certainly a market for vinyl, and there is a pretty good chance that the CD will experience a similar, if nowhere nearly as intense revival when it eventually goes away, one thing is certain: there is no such nostalgic feeling for cassettes.

Though cassettes were very much part of the music scene in the ‘70s, they took off in the ‘80s, finally outselling albums in 1983 at the height of Michael Jackson mania. But while the album enjoyed a four decade-plus run as being the preferred medium for popular music, cassettes only enjoyed an eight-year run before CDs overtook them in sales in 1991. Though its reign was relatively short, cassettes were the primary listening medium for virtually all of Gen-X. But upon its death in record stores, the mourning period for Gen-X and Gen-Y for this medium was about as fast as a Family Guy flashback. Hell, even the kitsch factor of 8-tracks gave that medium a longer mourning period.

The lack of mourning for the passing of the cassette is curious, but not entirely surprising. As a canvas, the cassette just didn’t have the majesty of records. Somehow the covers of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band just don’t seem as iconic when they’re condensed into a space that’s slightly larger than a pack of smokes. Hauling them around was usually a pain in the ass. And finally, the general sound quality wasn’t the reason why most people opted for cassettes. It was for their portability.

If there is a movement for nostalgia for cassettes, it’s not the medium, but for the concept of freedom it offered listeners. For those who thought junior high and high school were exercises in purgatory, a Walkman finally offered some minor refuge. The medium also offered the masses an exercise in freedom with the ability to create their own playlists from blank tapes.

Nick Hornby and Rob Sheffield have both written moving accounts of creating great mix tapes for loved ones with High Fidelity and Love Is a Mix Tape, respectively. Both authors tell about the arduous process of not only making sure the songs could adequately fill each side of the tape, but of having to listen to the entire tack, then pushing “Pause” just at the right time for the next song to be recorded. Then came the mix-CD, cutting this process down from 90 minutes to a mere five. Now, with playlists, this process can be done in seconds. The gesture is the same, but it’s the equivalent of taking your significant other out to dinner instead of going through the painstaking task of fixing a meal for them at home.

Like DAT’s, some mediums are just meant to die and never experience a revival. Cassettes seem destined to fall into this category. When I was packing for my fifth move in about 7 years, I finally decided to pour all the cassettes that got me through junior high and high school in a plastic sack (save three or four for sentimentality). I chucked them into a dumpster and didn’t feel the slightest bit of longing or loss. As essential as they were to growing up, it seems like cassettes were just the training wheels for what was to come later on.

by Tyler Gould

21 Oct 2009

Denver-based instrumentalists Woodsman have offered up their Indoor Days EP for nothing but your time. The ruminating, post-rock “Sunglass” comes from their forthcoming Mexican Summer full-length, Collages.

Sunglass [MP3]

by Tyler Gould

21 Oct 2009

Marina seems to be having a little fun with the standard sultry gyrations of music videos, strapping on accordion-folded paper limbs in this clip for “Mowgli’s Road”. Her Geddy Lee crossed with Katy Perry vocal stylings are quite nice, and the turn for the weird around the 2:15 mark is a welcome one, but it’s hard to imagine a place for this song—it seems suitable only as the soundtrack for its own music video.

by Tyler Gould

21 Oct 2009

This track from Nevada City, California-based collective, Golden Shoulders, comes from their months-old album, Get Reasonable. Among the ‘70s garage rock revival-revival and Jethro Tullian dynamic shifts on “Mountain” are some iffy lyrics: “You climb the mountain ‘cause it’s there / get a new mountain and get reasonable / you play the part so well.” The song is full of these you-me, push-pull moments, from some obnoxious perspective of authority, and fails to capitalize on a swelling, auspicious opening by the time it’s over.

Golden Shoulders
Mountain [MP3]

by Bill Gibron

21 Oct 2009

Why does everyone want to re-evaluate Waterworld? Are there really members of the motion picture mainstream that feel this overblown bit of lame liquid future shock is actually some manner of misbegotten masterpiece? If it wasn’t for the obvious rips from the entire Mad Max canon, combined with star Kevin Costner’s immense ego, this would be nothing more than a failed featured attraction at some cut rate Florida aquatic theme park. As it lumbers about, eradicating any claims of implied environmentalism with each new piece of preposterous plotting, one gets the distinct impression of something being made up as it went along. And by the end, when evil is vanquished and good given hope, we don’t celebrate the triumph - we just wish everyone had drowned in the first place.

The set-up for this story has the polar ice caps melting, the resulting run-off leaving the entire Earth an H2O-only zone. Over time, humanity has developed into gangs of roaming hordes, each one protecting their own secrets and unnatural superstitions. Into their mix comes the mutant known as The Mariner (Kevin Costner). With gills behind his ears and a skillful ease in the water, he’s instantly targeted by raiders, traders, and other sea-skimming scum. When he arrives at a trading post looking for a bargain, he runs into Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Enola (Tina Majorino). The older woman looks after the little girl, claiming the elaborate tattoo on her back shows the way to the last bit of mythic “dry land” on the planet. When the Smokers - a villainous bunch led by the despotic Deacon (Dennis Hopper) - discover the child’s whereabouts, they attack. Thus begins an adventure in which the Mariner reluctantly protects the pair from the madman and his minions.

Waterworld falls into the category of a movie that’s more interesting to learn about than actually experience on the screen. The tabloid like tale of cost overages, bad weather, impossible production parameters, exploding arrogance, massive reshoots and constant re-edits is the stuff of legend. It started superstar Costner on his long slide into commercial irrelevance and proved that Kevin Reynolds had no business helming a multimillion dollar action epic (remember Rapa Nui? Thought so). While many still sight the lunacy of using the actual ocean as the backdrop for the film (nowadays, CG would substitute for water cutting significantly the grueling 157 day shoot), it was the clash of personalities that finally undermined this movie. Reynolds, Costner’s longtime friend, walked off the set with nearly two weeks left. It was up to the Oscar-winning actor to guide the film through its final days, turning an already bloated and repetitive work into something even less sensible.

There are aspects of Waterworld that do work, pieces of a puzzle that will probably never, ever come together. Dennis Hopper and the whole Smoker mythos are really interesting, considering that they live on an oil tanker and wage war against the seafarers for violently vague, always unclear reasons. Mr. Crystal Method is so over the top, so wickedly flamboyant that it really doesn’t matter why he’s so amped up and aggressive. There’s also a couple of intriguing sequences that show you where the movie could have gone. The Mariner promises Helen and Enola a meal, and turns himself into a piece of bait to hook a horrific monster fish. Sadly, such oversized threats are never mentioned again - NEVER. Similarly, we get a wonderfully ethereal look at life on the ocean floor, the hero showing off the submerged wreckage of civilization. So much of Waterworld takes place on the surface that when we glimpse this particularly effective material, we wonder why the “Underwaterworld” wasn’t explored as well.

Of course, it doesn’t help matters much that Costner is such a lox here. The Mariner is one of his worst performances, all faux physicality and no subtlety. While Tripplehorn and Majorino are trying to bring some finesse to their interchangeable damsels in distress, our lead just sits back and lets his tan and weak, wispy ponytail do the acting. It’s especially obvious when he’s surrounded by supporting players like Michael Jeter, Kim Coates, and Gerard Murphy. They are bringing the mediocre material to life as Costner constantly undermines the energy. He’s obviously trying for stoic and stubborn. Instead, he simply looks inert. By the time he must take a stand and save little Enola from the Smokers, The Mariner is a joke, not a champion worth cheering. With so much of Waterworld on the brink of utter stupidity and pointlessness, the last thing it needs is a lead that can’t electrify the viewer.

Sadly, the new Blu-ray version of this film proves one thing definitively - prettying up a picture with a near flawless 1080p 1.85:1 reproduction does not increase its entertainment value. While many will complain about the lack of any alternative versions (there are many variations on the “final” cut, including added footage which fleshes out some of the back-story and material viewed in the trailer but not in the actual presentation itself) or true added content, the new home video format does bring the movie back to its theatrical roots. Even the soundtrack is significantly improved thanks to the DTS-HD 5.1 mix. But the lack of extras really stands out. Instead of a warts and all backstage peek, a chance to get the real story of Waterworld out there once and for all, Universal pretends that nothing significant happened during the shoot and gussies up the tech specs for a pristine (albeit pointless) presentation.

While it is true that time, and the obsessive culture of the Internet, has lessened Waterworld‘s “Fishtar” reputation to some extent, this is still one massively flawed film. In fact, it’s hard to see how the concept could really work at all. Because the ocean is so vast, so infinite in its many uncovered mysteries, making it the center of some interesting action scenes and stuntwork masks an obvious fact - the scope of the setting is just too broad to be made believable. What about weather? Hurricanes and typhoons? If there are others like the Mariner, why would they choose to live above the surface? With so much available underwater, why not build something there and stay? Certainly there are logical answers for all these issues, one’s crafted out of necessity and creative limitations. But make no mistake about it - Waterworld is not some sort of forgotten gem. It’s a decent enough experience - but the story of how it was made makes for a far more fascinating entertainment. 

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