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Sunday, Mar 23, 2008
Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry

Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry


PopMatters has had plenty of nice things to say about Baltimore’s the Oranges Band (specifically here and here. When the band announced that they were headed into the studio to begin work on their new record, having soldiered through personnel changes and struggles at their label, Lookout Records, it seemed like an excellent time to catch up and to allow them to speak for themselves by cataloging the happenings. Over the next several weeks, Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler will write in with updates from the sessions for the band’s third full-length. Judging from the preview of the songs that the band gave at a recent show at Cake Shop in New York City, the arrangements are denser and the lyrics step a city block away from the sundazed atmospherics of their last album. Always an excellent live band, I’ve never heard them sound better. The hope now is that Kuebler will help us better understand the process, or at least the process in this specific case, of taking a group of people and a set of songs and bringing them into a studio for a set amount of days, singing and playing into microphones, plugging and unplugging effects boxes, adjusting levels, hoping nothing important breaks or gets lost or erased, and then, hopefully, walking out with a finished document that comes close to your expectations and which you can then turn around and call your new album.
Jon Langmead


caption

Doug and I met in NY to rehearse the new Oranges Band material. We had a couple shows scheduled before we hit the studio. My best pal Rachel from Palomar let us use their practice space to get our crap together. There was a minor commotion caused by new kittens… who can resist?!


The Name of This Band Is The Oranges Band


So we’re making this album and when making an album it’s important to remember that a recording is a factual document for the most part. It is the representation of a performance that happened for real. (It’s important to remember that when listening to an album also.) It is a point of view that doesn’t necessarily change anything but it does, for better or worse, kind of level the playing field. So, no matter what the budget, or where it was done, when the engineer hit the record button, David Bowie physically performed the lead vocal to “Young Americans”. (It is also rather funny to think about this fact when you hear it come on the PA at K-Mart while shopping for household items.)


Tagged as: the oranges band
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Sunday, Mar 23, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-03-24...

There’s something satisfying about taking a look through a list of games, finding a name that means nothing to you, looking up that name, and suddenly becoming utterly, hopelessly intrigued by the story behind that unfamiliar name.


The name this week: Opoona.


Even if you love gaming, you live and breathe it, you spend hours every day playing, studying, reading, and writing about games, it’s entirely possible that Opoona escaped your notice.  For one, it’s on the Wii, an utter shovelware dumping ground of late, one where prior research is becoming absolutely necessary in buying games if only for the sake of avoiding things like Ninjabread Man and Anubis.  Something with as impenetrable a title as Opoona is bound to be overlooked, assumed to be not worth our time.


Still, there’s more to the story.  Opoona is like the Zak and Wiki of Japan, well-received on a critical level but utterly ignored by the public.  It’s an adventure/role-playing experience, apparently moderately long on the first playthrough and utterly gargantuan if you are to complete all of the objectives.  The unique, cute, perfect-for-the-Wii art design is by a Dragon Quest alum, which is another mark in its favor.  It’s innovative in its control, even for the Wii, featuring the first Nunchuck-only control scheme to be found on the system.  Still, its highly Japanese flavor and the relative commercial flavor of it can’t have made it a probable candidate for Americanization.


And yet, it’s on its way.  This week, even.


One should almost want to buy Opoona on principle, assuming that those critics who reviewed it upon its initial Japanese release knew what they were talking about.  It’s the sort of game that could help to legitimize third-party software on the Wii, the type of game that could stifle the detractors who assume that the Wii is only good for games created by Nintendo itself, with the occasional exception of the inexplicably popular set of mini-games (hello, Carnival Games).  Sadly, there’s a good chance nobody will buy it.  Prove me wrong, America.


Elsewhere, the action/role-playing of Crisis Core will likely give the Final Fantasy VII junkie set something to do for a month, and anyone up for a little bit of “Global Conquest” might do well to check out the new Command & Conquer 3 expansion.  Dark Sector looks like it may put some new spins on the FPS, and hey, if mini-games are your thing, there’s always Summer Sports.  The full list of this week’s releases is after the break…


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Sunday, Mar 23, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Presidents of the United States of America
Sharpen Up Those Fangs [MP3]
     


So Lo So Hi [MP3]
     


Fern Knight
Sun Dew [MP3]
     


Ssion
Ah Ma [Video]


WHY?
Song of the Sad Assassin [Video]


Bad Dudes
Eat Drugs [Video]


13ghosts
Riverside [MP3]
     



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Sunday, Mar 23, 2008

After the Saul Williams album he produced didn’t tear the charts, a frustrated Trent Reznor got pissy, saying that fans didn’t want to support artists at all, even when they provided a quick, direct, cheap way to get the music online.  Williams took a much more mature view, saying that offering music to fans online for what they wanna pay is a new experiment and that it will pay off long term.  As such, I didn’t have much hope when Raznor offered the new Nine Inch Nails album, Ghosts I-IV, online the same way from his own site, especially as it was an instrumental set.  Boy was I wrong… and I’m glad too.


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Sunday, Mar 23, 2008


Unlike most cinematic genres, the Hong Kong crime film is a fluid, flexible category. It can easily embrace horror, comedy, drama, and even the occasional excursion into science fiction. The main reason for this is that the plot usually centers most of its purpose in a good vs. evil, black hat/white hat dynamic. Even better, such a storyline typically allows its heroes and villains to be multifaceted and purposefully ambiguous. One of the best examples of the dimensional dynamic is Johnny To’s P.T.U.: Police Tactical Unit. It takes a simple tale of one cop’s search for his missing gun and turns its overnight vignettes into a meditation on loyalty, duty, purpose, and personal regret.


When overweight Sgt. Lo gets into a scuffle with the gang of local hoodlum Ponytail, he comes out of the attack badly beaten and missing his gun. Among Hong Kong police, such an error is unconscionable. Hoping to save face, he gets his friend in the PTU, Sgt. Ho, to cover for him. The two agree - if they can’t find the weapon by morning, they will both report it to CID/Internal Affairs. Of course, this doesn’t keep steely eyed agent Inspector Leigh Cheung from following up on the case. Lo, who knows both crime bosses in the area, decides to play both against each other to find his missing piece. But they also want revenge for a recent assassination and may be setting up the policeman to take the fall.


Dark, noirish, and loaded with late night atmosphere, PTU: Police Tactical Unit (new to DVD from Genius Entertainment and the Weinstein Company’s Dragon Dynasty label) is an intriguing take on the standard cops and robbers routine. It proves that Johnny To - often referred to as the Woody Allen of Hong Kong - is a master of composition and the camera, taking risks while following standard filmic formulas. At its very core, this is a story about policemen protecting and playing off each other, the responsibility they owe to the public matched by their own internal code of conduct. It deals directly with human foibles and departmental frictions. It begins slowly, shuffling its cards meticulously before playing its flashy final hand, and after it’s all over, we realize there’s much more here than meets the eye.


For the vast majority of the film’s running time, we are involved in a three way struggle between street smart flatfoots, by-the-book procedural lawmen, and glorified gangster bravado. Director To balances all of these elements into a slowly synchronized dance, adding bits and pieces along the way to add depth to what could be a typical bit of law and order. Because Lo is somewhat loyal to both sides of the situation, because Ho understands this beat cop’s need, because Leigh Cheung is seen as bureaucracy incarnate, the infighting between them is far more intriguing than any tired Triad mechanics. While a sequence inside one boss’s den, complete with caged criminals being systematical brutalized, gives us the standard shock value of the genre, To takes away from such sensationalizing by keeping the clockwork plot percolating. 


All of which makes the way this film was created all the more intriguing. As part of the bonus features offered on the DVD, we learn that P.T.U. was made over three years. That’s right, three YEARS. Shooting almost exclusively at night, and when cast and crew could take the time away from other projects, there’s an intimacy born out of necessity here. Commentator Bey Logan, a stalwart of the Dragon Dynasty series, suggests that To was able to take this approach because of his solid reputation. While other filmmakers have to fumble for available production staff, or feed the mainstream needs of the industry, this director can call upon a stellar group of company confederates for what amounts to a night and weekend pickup. Logan also adds that, like Allen, To tends to be dismissed in his native land as being an idiosyncratic, critical darling. While P.T.U. was a hit, it didn’t match the international attention of Election or Triad Election.


Of course, the actors who work with To tend to dismiss such sentiments. The disc also contains interviews with Simon Yam (Sgt. Ho) and P.T.U. team member Kat (actress Maggie Shiu). To them, the film is a chance to explore all facets of character interaction - the noble and the wicked, the expected and the outsized. Yam praises the fact that there was no script when the shoot started. It allowed him to dig deeper into his persona, experimenting with tone and temperament. Shiu also enjoys working with To, especially in the action scenes. And then there is said ending. Taking a page out of the John Woo playbook, To sets the entire slow motion firefight to an amazing ambient score. As the bullets fly in frame by frame fastidiousness, we get the grandeur of such a sequence, as well as the horror of such a bloodbath.


It’s the perfect payoff for all the foundation laying P.T.U. does. This is a film as firecracker, the lost gun acting as a lit fuse to further push the plot toward its explosive end. Fans who enjoy the clichés created by the genre over the last two decades may not enjoy all the subterfuge and slow burn here. They want choreographed chaos and lots of it. Instead, Johnny To is more interested in the human toll taken by such a tightrope walk. On the one hand, criminals are running ramshackle over the Hong Kong streets, mandating new and novel police protection agencies like the P.T.U. On the other hand, the lure of easy money and professional frustration leads to lawlessness on the wrong side of the badge. For Johnny To, this dramatic dichotomy creates inherently volatile cinema. P.T.U.: Police Tactical Unit is an excellent example of this ideal. 



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