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by Jennifer Cooke

28 Oct 2009

Driving home from a really tremendous rock show is an adrenaline-fueled bummer for me.  I am so hopped up on the rocky goodness that I can fairly stay strapped into my Honda, buzzing with all of the things I want to pour out into this blog—and knowing damn well that I won’t, because I can’t.  Because the saddest truism for a writer like me is that I cannot find the words to say why I love the music that I love.  The emotion does not easily translate to the written word, nor does the giddiness, the sore glutes that come from rocking out as violently as is possible on a barstool, the can’t-hardly-wait anticipation of “OH MY GOD THAT SONG IS AMAZING WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO RELEASE IT?!”  Punctuation is so cumbersome to the 14-year-old I become in the wake of a show like the one Apes of Wrath played on October 9th at Tin Can Alehouse in San Diego.

The venue, bless it’s heart, was as nondescript and tiny as one could imagine, and my companion assured me the sound was atrocious.  I myself do not really care about stuff like bass levels or other minutiae of audio amplification, as those things have never stopped me from getting my face rocked off.  Going to the women’s restroom necessitates stepping almost right onto the stage, or at least the invisible border that delineates the stage from the regular old floor.  Opening acts the Sunday Times and the Howls put on energetic and entertaining sets, especially the latter, who handed out burned copies of their homemade CD with their website name written in Marks-a-Lot.  The music reminded me of early Wilco, and the singer was sort of like Whiskeytown era-Ryan Adams (but without the crazy).  I especially dug the song “Dead Men Tell No Lies”. The adorable factor went through the roof when the singer announced that this was their first show since their drummer turned 21.  (Adorable to me, anyway, since 99% of the crowd wasn’t far ahead of him.)

Apes of Wrath are a San Diego band who put out a wee gem of an EP in 2007 called Plastic, Fake & Frozen that really blew my hair back after I bought it at one of their Casbah shows.  It was this really manic pop that reminded me of early Oingo Boingo and had great lyrics like “I wear purple in the sun now / Cos it doesn’t retain too much heat”.  Months later, I still haven’t removed it from my car stereo, and after the Tin Can Alehouse show, I officially declared Apes my New Favorite Band.  They didn’t play even one song off that EP, and therefore not one song that I knew, which usually bums me out to no end.  That’s the mark of true musical love for me—if the words “This is a new one off our upcoming CD” don’t send me running for a bathroom break.  I can’t wait to see them again.  For all those reasons that I can’t describe, and all those feelings that I can’t put into words.

by Bill Gibron

28 Oct 2009

Before mass communication, globalization, and the easy availability of information, superstition was the stuff of horror. Myths and legends, folklore and faith mutated into a kind of communal angst, a way of dealing with the unexplainable, the unfathomable, and in many cases, the unconscionable. Early civilization was riddled with conflicts, wars and crusades meant to purge the world of certain evil ideas, and yet with each new battle, an entire series of fallacies were forged.

During the early part of the 16th Century, Russia and Finland clashed for pride and property. After nearly 25 years, a truce was agreed upon and signed. Now, with aggressions ceasing, a band of surveyors are out drawing borders between the powers. Led by ex-soldiers and military officials, the process involves cunning, negotiation, and more than a little glorified game playing. But when two brothers, Knut and Erik, commit a horrible crime in one of the remote villages, they feel haunted by more than their duty to the crown.

Things come to a head in a small uncharted town smack dab in the middle of the proposed border. Most unusual, there’s a building in the center of a swamp, a place the fearful residents claim is either evil or ethereal, an oasis of horrid darkness or sin-free soul salvation. Thus begins the provocative, potent period piece fright flick Sauna, an amazing work of subtle menace by Finnish director Antti-Jussi Annila. Similar in style to the brilliant Let the Right One In, this story of blame and belief, terror and trepidation uses an unfamiliar era and event to lay the foundation for one undeniable work of fear.

Thanks to its antagonistic premise, the Russians and Finns constantly clashing back and forth over every little element of the treaty, we easily buy the actions of Knut and Erik. Anywhere else, they would seem like cruel opportunists, men using the foundation of enemy to relegate human life to an afterthought. As the story progresses, as the superstitions of the mystery burg begin to affect our heroes, we see that Annila has something even more serious to say. Sauna is, at its heart, a morality tale where no act goes unpunished, where irrational fears and baseless dread turn individuals against each other. It’s also a thought-provoking indictment of atrocities, since our main characters are literally “haunted” by an act that, just a few weeks before, was celebrated as patriotic (or at the very least, part of the process of war).

Thanks to the dour and grimy atmosphere, a time when swordsmanship was more important than the ability to read and write, we understand and accept the baseless brutality. We sense why Knut is so afraid, and why Erik is so melancholy. These men are tired - tired of the hypocrisy of mediating claims they battled over for years, tired of the long trips away from their homeland, tired of the dirty looks and intentional deception of the Russian, and tired of having to support each other out of familial obligation. There are many times in Sauna when we believe one brother will turn on the other. It’s not a matter of sibling rivalry, but the internal ravages of bringing death.

For his part, Annila creates a very terrifying if tactile environment. Light barely illuminates the sets and some of the sequences are purposefully lost in a never-ending darkness. Even better, the dirt and fifth of the 16th Century bathes everything in a kind of medieval sadness. We feel the pain these men have gone through, indirectly experiencing the senseless nature of their enterprise with every frozen step. The landscape is as bleak and lifeless as the soldier’s purpose and Annila takes every opportunity to use nature as a means of undermining their resolve. The endless snow, the dead forests all seem to suggest that nothing good will come from Knut and Erik’s mission.

And then there is the title element, the surreal concrete building which the villagers swear brings about penance for and freedom from one’s sins. Of course, such a sentiment flows reciprocally, but no one in Sauna sees it that way. After a quarter century sparring over small parcels of land, all they want is to be forgiven. But payment for one’s crimes can be equally cruel. This is especially true of our two leads. They carry a greater burden than one found in armed conflict. The sequences inside the structure have a sinister edge, even as they promise something far more righteous. Religion is not a major part of Sauna, except for the notion of how faith (and blood rituals) can battle even the most entrenched failed folklore.

Thanks to its wonderful cast (Ville Virtanen is especially effective as a gaunt and ghoulish Erik) and a primitive location, Sauna finds a way to get deep under your skin. This is the kind of horror movie that has you thinking more than shrieking, that offers dread in how it presents its ideas vs. how creepy things will get. We don’t necessarily indentify with these men or their mission, and recognize that they require punishment more than deliverance, but in the end, that’s not really why we watch.

Instead, director Annila works a kind of wicked magic over the audience, involving them in a time and predicament far removed from their current frame of reference. Even in this, the 21st Century, there are still parts of the world that drape their cultural ways in ancient, almost archaic beliefs. As Sauna shows us, the reaction to said convictions are often as unholy as the initial fears themselves.

by Tyler Gould

28 Oct 2009

Last week there was an MP3from the Swedish techno-pop duo, now there’s a video:

by Jason Gross

28 Oct 2009

One of the best recent articles I’ve seen about the future of the entertainment biz online comes from this CNET interview by Greg Sandoval with Big Champagne CEO Eric Garland, whose company tracks the unauthorized downloading that’s given the music industry so much grief.  The thing is, many of these companies also hire Garland to track which downloads are hottest (knowing that they can’t ignore this sector). 

Because of his work, Garland understands much more about the Net age and downloading that just about anyone else in the biz.  He concludes that pay-walls (for places like Hulu) and RIAA lawsuits ain’t gonna save the industry (and of course DRM was ridiculous).  Though he doesn’t have specific solutions himself, he generally sees that the labels/companies need to provide the goods in the quickest and easiest fashion possible.  And the cheapest too, so that they can compete with the free model.  As such, his thoughts should be required reading for anyone in the biz.  Whether they’ll actually listen or take to heart what he says is another matter…

by Rob Horning

28 Oct 2009

Kerry Howley argues in Reason that libertarianism should concern itself with social coercion (the tyranny of traditions and conventions) as well as government interference.

Convention creates boundaries as thick as any border wall and ubiquitous as any surveillance state. In Min’s village, women are constrained by a centuries-old preference for male descendants. (Men are also constrained by this tradition, as families are less likely to permit their valuable sons to migrate to the city.) Most people will accept their assigned roles in the village ecosystem, of course, just as most Americans will quietly accept the authority of a government that bans access to developmental cancer drugs while raiding medical marijuana dispensaries. A door is as good as a wall if we cannot imagine walking through it.

Later Howley adds, “A woman who has to choose between purdah and exile from her village is not living a free life, even if no one has bothered to codify the rules in an Important Book and call them ‘laws.’ ”

It seems strange (at least to me, a refugee from the academic left) that one would even need to make an argument like this. The state is not automatically the explanation for every curtailment of personal liberty—often the state must arbitrate between individuals when their pursuits conflict, serving as preferable (to non-crazy people) to the exercise of brute personal force in the war of all against all. The state can also override those conventions which serve to restrict the individual’s opportunities when necessary. In fact, as Howley argues, the state is itself a quasi-cultural institution; it must win consent to protect property as most libertarians (as opposed to anarchists) concede it must.

Property rights are more than the conclusion of an academic argument; they are themselves a matter of culture. If they are useful to us it is because they govern our conduct and lend structure to everyday life. I may not help myself to the contents of just any wallet, take off in just any car, walk into just any house. A drop-dead argument for the authority of these constraints may exist in pure reason, but they are meaningless without a broadly shared sense of their legitimacy. Absent friendly social forces, property rights are an impotent abstraction. Rights come alive through convention. Culture makes them breathe. Strip away the context in which property rights are respected, and nothing much remains. Yet cultural context, in all its messy inexactitude, is exactly what propertarians wish to resist.

Howley’s essay amounts to a noble effort to detach libertarianism from that intolerant branch of adherents who are basically concerned mainly with stopping the government from interfering with their racism, religious bigotry, gun-toting, and patriarchal prerogatives (think the fundamentalist Mormon sects in Utah, backwoods survivalist compounds, rabid John Birch types, that sort of thing) and make it a respectable political creed that is pro-individual liberty rather than merely anti-state. The crux of her argument to old-line libertarians is this: “it is the role of someone who professes to believe in the virtues of individualism—and emphatically the role of someone who believes that social persuasion is preferable to legal coercion—to foster a culture that is tolerant of nonconformity.”

In order to foster tolerance one must have recourse to a state that can credibly restrain tribalism in its extra-legal guises once they are documented. Libertarians will need to trust government at least that far, that its investment in its own power might preclude its playing petty favorites among small-time groups. (Not that this is actually so, but that it might be forced democratically to approach such a balance. Perhaps there is hope for institutional thinking.)

And Mike Konczal argues that libertarians might have to cut ties with certain hard-line economistic types to take on a culture agenda. He points out how state-hating libertarians have found common cause in the past with regulation-hating free marketeers:

Did you know that women specialize in household work, and men in wage-paying work, because there are increasing returns to household work? Here’s some math from Becker to prove it. Did you know that discrimination can’t exist, because it would imply that markets are imperfect, leaving human capital $20 bills all over the sidewalk? So if minorities are discriminated against, it must mean that they have low human capital (and you can tell that they have low human capital, because they are discriminated against!).

So cultural libertarianism ultimately must move beyond not only blaming the state for everything but also trusting the market to fix everything: “It’s one thing to say that we need to acknowledge a diversity of cultures, and let them play out in a market…. It’s another thing to say that the discrimination and culture oppression currently faced is a market outcome, pareto-efficient in its effects. Pushing to get more autonomy for women would be the same thing as rent control and price fixing in this mental picture of the world.” Making reference to “normative economics”—to what rational choice theory says should happen—is the way out of relativism for old-line libertarians, an absolute way of declaring what should and shouldn’t be tolerated in the “culture of tolerance.” But the problem is that most nonlibertarians find such a code intolerable.

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