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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008

Yeah, that’s the first thing that hits you when you plunk your weary jet-lagged feet in Oslo. The rumors are true, this is one expensive city.


But music geeks are certainly getting plenty of bang for their buck, erm, krone, here at By:Larm, Norway’s annual showcase of the best in Scandinavian indie music. The fest got underway in earnest Thursday night, a ridiculous number of bands playing at 30 different venues, all within walking distance in central Oslo. It’s not as if the surprisingly energetic little city needed to get even nuttier at night, but folks have definitely taken to the fest, nearly selling it out, the sound of rumbling PA now lurking around every corner as bands try to win over the media and most importantly, the fans.


Lykke Li

Lykke Li


If there was one show everyone was looking at on Thursday, it was budding Swedish pop star Lykke Li at the trendy, cozy Blå club, just across the river from the equally hip Grunerløkken neighborhood. Her excellent debut album Youth Novel debuted strongly in Sweden, thanks to her two fabulous singles “Little Bit” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone”, and she proved to be even more charismatic than the record lets on, as she and her remarkably versatile backing band tore through an ebullient 45-minute set, the aforementioned tracks going over hugely with the crowd of 350, and even tossing a fun verse and chorus of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It”.The magnetic 21-year-old, who draws comparisons to Robyn but utilizes a much broader musical palette, is set to have a big year, and with a South By Southwest showcase on the near horizon, the buzz in North America is only going to get louder. [player]


Shining

Shining


Meanwhile, Norway’s Shining is starting to make waves among fans of metal, progressive rock, and post rock, the jazz-influenced 2007 album Grindstone one of last year’s buried treasures, and if Lykke Li was endearing, Shining was absolutely ferocious, their fusion of saxophone, clarinet, math metal, and Battles-style prog sounding transcendent in the confines of the immaculate sounding theater Sentrum Scene. The album was already impressive, but after witnessing it firsthand, this writer has a new favorite band. [player]


Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness

Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness


Biggest surprise of Thursday, though? Easily experimental quartet Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness, who preceded Shining’s raucous set with a chilling blend of Kronos Quartet-style violins, bowed saw, laptop-triggered IDM, and the kind of tightly executed improvisation that warrants a comparison to Can. [player]


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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Hanne Hukkelberg
Cheater’s Armoury [MP3] (from Rykestrasse 1968 releasing 4 March)
     


The Grand Archives
Torn Blue Foam Couch [MP3] (from The Grand Archives released 19 February)
     


Sian Alice Group
Motionless [MP3]
     


Growing
Swell [MP3]
     


The Helio Sequence
Keep Your Eyes Ahead [MP3]
     



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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008

In a recent Slate piece, Daniel Gross considered whether America has too many stores and whether the current recession (or near recession) will spur an anti-retail backlash.


Developers opening new malls this year clearly timed the economic cycle poorly. And the cultural cycle isn’t helping matters any. The extreme consumption of this current gilded age has inspired a backlash. In December, hedge-fund bil­lionaire Ray Dalio ran full-page advertise­ments in newspapers urging Americans to eschew Christmas gifts and instead make donations to charity. Maybe he’s just run out of things to buy. Or maybe he’s surfing the zeitgeist. “There’s a glut of stores,” says Judith Levine, author of Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. “Our physical, intellectual and emotional and psychological space is filled up with consumption.” Levine laments the wholesale transformation of open spaces into enclosed retail environments (like, say, Barnes & Noble superstores, where you can buy Not Buying It). And the in­cessant bombardment of advertising may be inspiring a backlash that pushes people to consume less. The anti-con­sumer freegan movement—urbanites who try to get by through recycling, scrounging, and foraging—are taking it to the extreme. These modern Henry David Thoreaus have opted out of the whole rot­ten capitalist system. Working 60 hours per week and chasing job promotion “for the sake of buying the latest crap off the Sharper Image store shelf is no way to live,” says Adam Weissman, spokesman for Freegan.info. (Hey, dude, one might say the same about diving into Dumpsters in search of day-old bread and discarded futons.)


Clearly, Gross is skeptical of just about anyone’s anti-consumerism, as most commentators (me included) tend to be. It’s not that we aren’t inundated with advertising and retail spaces. Of course we are, and these things are virtually inescapable in America. The problem is that anticonsumerism becomes an identity pose that is either manifestly hypocritical or deeply reliant on the same individualistic values that support consumerism in the first place—one advertises oneself as an anti-consumer, making that one’s brand on the marketplace of social approval. Not to get all poststructuralist, but when you found your self-concept on not shopping, you are in effect deeply invested in shopping. In some ways, you’d be better off making your shopping as unconscious as possible, which is actually one of the chief gripes against consumer society—that it makes us take shopping as an activity for granted. We are already inside consumerism, and it’s virtually impossible to construct an identity outside of it—it’s the only viable language of identity that we learn in the West.


Since experiences have been reconceived as products—by the tourism industry, by retail psychologists who want to sell—its hard to undertake any activity that doesn’t feel like shopping, that doesn’t feel as though it has been mediated to us via marketing. This is bad enough, but it seems to have broader ramifications, in that stores in and of themselves become a soothing sight, destinations and havens independent of any particular shopping need. Their presence becomes reassuring and familar, a reliable guide to the sort of place you are in, and the sort of place you want to be. We understand places, then, mainly through retail (and what it tells us of demographics), rather than any other natural or geographic considerations. So the need fulfilled by the rapid proliferation of stores is not merely a matter of the specific things they sell but the marking function the stores serve in telling us what sort of place we are in. And shopping in such stores can be as much about endorsing those demographics and belonging to them as actually buying anything.


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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008

Day 2 of our Oscar Countdown and we’re looking at some of the best books out there to get you in the mood for the big day.



Made for Each Other: Fashion and the Academy Awards by Bronwyn Cosgrave
Bloomsbury, December 2006

A heavily research history of fashion at the Academy Awards—it’s a splendid idea, and one that is executed beautifully by Vogue contributor Bronwyn Cosgrave. This book not only celebrates memorable dresses, like Cher’s star-shaped Bob Mackie and Diane Keaton’s suit dresses, but looks at how integral fashion is to the ceremony. Women nominees learned early on that a good frock meant extra copy and so the night was used as stepping stone as well as a celebration. Cosgrave takes us through the fashion partnerships that have come to define Oscar glamour—Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, Grace Kelly and Edith Head, Liza Minelli and Halston to name a few.


Oscar Season by Mary McNamara
Simon and Schuster, January 2008

Perfectly times, this Jackie Collins-esque look behind the Oscar stage is full of murder and intrigue! Clearly, it’s satirical, but you just know nuggets of truth are hidden throughout. The plot: a top PR chick must join forces with an aging superstar to find the killer (or killers) behind a series of shocking and Oscar-related murders. Despite it’s apparent “clunkiness”, EntertainmentWeekly gave it a B.



The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards by Steve Pond
Faber and Faber, December 2005

If it’s Oscar gossip you want, look no further. Premiere writer Steve Pond takes us on an all access tour of Academy Awards ceremonies over many decades. The result is a funny, smart look behind the big gold curtain. Pond takes a thorough look into 10 specific ceremonies from 1994 to 2004 and reveals the wheeling and dealing we never see, and probably wouldn’t understand even if we did. Pond looks at the best Oscar moments and some of the most embarrassing and lets us know what happened afterwards.


The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History by Gail Kinn and Jim Piazza
Black Dog and Leventhal, May 2006

Exactly as you would imagine, this book is look back at Oscar the year he turned 78. All rather standard—news and gossip, style and speeches, memories of shining moments and big stumbles. This one is up there with the best Oscar books because its photos are superb, big and glossy, and it’s got some great quotes from Oscar’s best speeches in there, too.



A Visual History of African American Academy Award Nominees 2008 Calendar by Rene Carson
This is a great idea—a beautifully designed catalogue celebrating African American Oscar nominees past and present. I found this for sale at Amazon where you can look at little thumbnails of the glossy pics inside of Cicely Tyson in Sounder, Alfre Woodard in Cross Creek, Ethel Waters in Pinky and heaps of others. Each month also features trivia and facts about the pictured films. It’s a cool idea for an Oscar gift.


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Wednesday, Feb 20, 2008


It’s bandwagon jumping time, and since Hollywood is about ready to hand out its own brand of bewildering backslapping, the 19-month-old SE&L figures it too can champion its own choices for award winners. Oscar might have the hoopla, the bags of swag, and all that staggering star power, but what the newly christened SEALS have is something the Academy can never boast – artistic integrity. Granted, the gray hairs in the group sometimes get it right – can’t argue with all their choices, Crash aside – and it’s possible that these new prizes will clash with conventional thinking. But when it comes right down to it, if Blockbuster Video, MTV, and The National Rolling (Down a Hill) Association can declare their preferences for the year’s trophy-deserving best, why can’t we?


That being said, we have to set up some guidelines. First and foremost, as joking Johnny-Come-Latelys, we will avoid the already nominated Academy entries. If it has already been pointed out by Oscar, we will let the Gold One have his glory and simply move on. After all, nothing smacks more of Tinsel Town tonsils to tushy than agreeing on who they feel deserves Best of Year recognition. Secondly, we will try to mine the ENTIRE previous 12 months in film. We won’t skip over efforts from January or March just because most of the cachet pictures wind up playing between November and December. And finally, this isn’t a competition. Other choices may be mentioned, but the SEALS don’t play the nomination game. Either you’re a winner, or you’re not.


So, without further ado, lame jokes from a PC host, or an interpretive dance number based around the choices for Best Song, here are the 2008 SEALS:


Best Film – Gone Baby Gone
Clint Eastwood was called some kind of GOD for turning Dennis Lehane’s novel Mystic River into a Method over-acting melodrama. In a perfect world, Ben Affleck’s take on another of the author’s South Boston whodunits would have been equally praised. Instead, Oscar more or less forgot about it. Too bad, really. This is the kind of engrossing, energetic cinematic tour de force from both sides of the camera that restores your faith in film. Long after the Coens and PT Anderson have gathered up their aesthetic and gone home, this will be the movie audiences return to again and again. In a year of great works, this is definitely the best.


Best Director – David Fincher (Zodiac)
It’s hard enough to capture the look of the ‘70s, let alone the predominant post-peace generation malaise. Now add in the biggest unsolved murder spree in California history, and the man who made his name with the classic serial killer saga Se7en, and you’ve got several impossible cinematic mountains to climb. Drawing on his own memories of the era, Fincher maneuvered all of these potential pitfalls flawlessly. This is Helter Skelter without the Mansion Family mania, a police procedural that dares to expose the flaws in a pre-technology system. Like a symphony in three parts, this director conducted the most memorable movie going experience of the year.


Best Actor – Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild)
It’s hard to play a real life individual, let alone someone with the wide-eyed idealism and neophyte naiveté of Christopher McCandless. Adding to the issue was the depressing manner in which this true story ends. Yet Hirsch, seen mostly in disposable comedies and off-title dramas, really responded to Sean Penn’s pointed writing and directing, creating a believable vagabond whose destiny seems painted in purely fatalistic colors. We root for this lonely and lost young man, but recognize how untenable his attempt really is. It makes Hirsch’s work all the more impressive.


Best Actress – Jodie Foster (The Brave One)
Thanks to a mostly illiterate critical community, Neil Jordan’s brilliant deconstruction of big city security was tagged a ‘female Death Wish. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and Foster’s electrifying performance proves that once and for all. This is the story of ethics pushed to the edge, of normal people taking the ‘concept’ of law into their own hands. While metered out unfairly, and with little consideration for the sacredness of the social order, we watch one woman melt down and rise up, phoenix like, packing heat and ready to reclaim her sanity. It marks another courageous, brilliant turn for the two time Oscar winner.


Best Supporting Actor – Paul Rudd (Knocked Up)
It’s hard to be the anchor when all around you is going gonzo, but Rudd, reserved and resplendent as the stereotypical post modern hen pecked hubby, was absolutely marvelous as Apatow’s amiable marital commentator. From the classic reaction to his wife’s constipation, to the moment his mushroomed brain discovers the variety of chairs in a Vegas suite, he stole scene after scene from a noted moment thief like star Seth Rogen. In the old days, before leading roles leapt over one category to secure a statue, this would be the celebrated performance. Sadly, it sits, unrecognized.


Best Supporting Actress – Michelle Yeoh (Sunshine)
Considering the massive scope of his movie (this is a sci-fi film about saving an entire GALAXY), Danny Boyle had his work cut out for him when it came to making the speculative stakes more personal. Luckily, he had a magnificent cast, including this Chinese icon as the starship’s resident botanist. If a single moment can sell a performance, it’s the instant that Yeoh recognizes that all the food in the interstellar garden has been destroyed. Her face, a combination of shock and sadness, literally breaks your heart. If cameo-sized stunts can earn Oscar nods (and gold), this more substantive turn should as well.


Best Script – Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz)
Describing what this amazing action spoof does best is very difficult - deconstruct the genre, or eviscerate the stiff upper lip stereotype of the British people. More than just a collection of jokes, this is the kind of satire where levels of unexpected wit arrive in the most unusual and arcane of places. From the clipped clichés of the opening to the all out splatter fest at the end, Wright and Pegg prove they’re the heir apparent to Python level lunacy. And then make cracking good films in the process.


Best Documentary – Lake of Fire
Abortion is the ultimate non-debatable issue. No side is absolutely perfect and no position is wholly evil. While it was released in Canada in 2006, the film didn’t appear in American markets until October, 2007, making its unflinching look at the issue eligible for consideration. Always confrontational and never weak willed, Tony Kaye’s take on this material is honest, forthright, and resolute. This is not an attempt to make heroes and villains of those passionate about the topic. Instead, Lake looks at the fight as part of a broader social phenomenon, and a decidedly political one as well.


Best Animated Film – Beowulf
Forget cute cooking rats. Ignore the “Down with the Shah” darkness of one young gal’s life in Iran. And who really cares about surfing penguins. This is the real animated feat of 2007, a movie rich in atmosphere, bravado, and naked male fisticuffs. Robert Zemeckis managed to take the wheezy Nordic poem and transform it into a terrific visual feast, complete with a stellar turn by Crispin Glover as the big bad monster Grendel. For those lucky enough to see it in 3D, the amazing amount of detail in the film is more than eye-popping. Add in the increasingly realistic motion capture and you’ve got a great CGI achievement.


Best Foreign Film – The Orphanage
As with the documentary a few years back, the Academy is having to answer a lot of questions as to why certain films were not eligible for Oscar consideration. Whatever lame excuses they give, there will be none that justify the exclusion of this Gilliam-esque masterwork. Sure, it’s got a couple of plot holes, and director Juan Antonio Bayona borrows more than a little from his producer/pal Guillermo Del Toro. But in a medium desperate for a good old fashioned ghost story, this amazing movie delivers in big fat spooky handfuls. Spain submitted it. The AMPAS snubbed it. Therefore, it’s destined to be a classic.


Best Guilty Pleasure – Halloween 2007
Boy, was everyone - critics and fright fans alike - totally unfair to this revisionist remake. Partly out of respect for what John Carpenter did 30 years ago with his Hitchcock homage, but also out of an utter anti-horror bias, writer/director Rob Zombie took it on the chin and came out smarting (if only slightly - the film was a BO hit). In a year that saw another fine Hostel installment, Saw go for number four, and various upstarts try to re-envision the various monster legacies, this was the real movie macabre. It did everything right, including reconfiguring the focus away from Haddenfield and its populace, and still people panned it. Oh well, their loss.


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