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Thursday, Sep 27, 2007

Plenty of grizzled artists can tell you that instead of being magically discovered and breaking through, they had to pay dues to get any kind of recognition.  Part of that is promoting yourself online.  And while there are a few success stories of this happening (i.e. Arctic Monkeys), it’s still a tiny percentage compared to all the bands out there now taking advantage of websites where they can post and promote their music.  MySpace is obviously the mama of them all now but Sonicbids is also making itself felt in this area.  What’s happening now is that they’re working in conjunction with music festivals who use their posting services to help screen the acts that will or won’t be included in showcases.  Right now, CMJ is using them and so is SXSW. 

The thing is… it looks like CMJ wasn’t actually screening all the acts while they were taking registration money from all the bands.  As Ghostmedia reported, some of the rejection letters that were sent out went to bands who didn’t have ANYONE listen to their Sonicbids profile as tracked by the website- that would mean that no one at CMJ actually listened to them before rejecting them.  Naughty, naughty…  The article also has a response from CMJ who say that the zero count on these bands’ Sonicbid pages is a misnomer and that they do actually listen to all the bands who sign up and submit material.  Is that true or this just said to cover themselves?  Either way, it should be a wake-up call that the whole selection process needs to be more transparent (as noted in the comments on the Ghostmedia page).

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Wednesday, Sep 26, 2007

Since the overwhelming success of Jaws (Steven Spielberg) back in 1975, the summer has become a dramatic battleground where Hollywood studios briskly compete for the audience’s attention and hard earned dollars. During this season, we are bombarded every week with at least one movie that promises unsettling action, unearthly landscapes, and emotional bliss. Faithfully accompanying these flicks to the combat zone are their music scores, eager to reinforce on the perception of the viewer the magical worlds promised by the tag lines. Thus, this time of the year is also the best moment for soundtrack lovers to look for majestic, brooding, or melancholic music. Fortunately, three of the films released during the month of July feature alluring compositions and performances.

Music from the Motion Picture The Bourne Ultimatum [rating: 9]

The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass), which follows The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman, 2002) and The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004), is the latest entry in the successful trilogy of gloomy spy flicks based on the clever books written by the late Robert Ludlum (1927-2001). While there is no contest that Jason Bourne is not as popular as James Bond, it is undisputable that the Bourne films played an influential role in the gestation of the latest Bond adventure, Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006), which is by far the grittiest and most violent of the series. Arguably, a substantial contribution to the success of the Bourne movies has been their dynamic scores composed by John Powell. Perhaps the most inspired action film music in years, the soundtracks for these three films are structurally similar on their aggressive use of percussions to underscore the brutal action and brooding suspense.
Released by Decca, the soundtrack for The Bourne Ultimatum presents a generous amount of music in an extraordinarily crisp recording. Composed for full orchestra and electronics, the music places a strong emphasis on the percussions and the low strings, creating a dark acoustic atmosphere. As with the previous films of the franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum is underscored with music that perfectly highlights its unbearable tension, exotic locales, and relentless pace. In addition, The Bourne Ultimatum often reprises the two main motifs from the previous scores, which are the driving force behind the lengthy tracks “Tangiers” and “Waterloo”. Underscoring the two main action sequences of the flick, these tracks are relentless in their use of percussions and rhythm to accelerate the frenetic tempo of the images they accompany. On the other hand, “Thinking of Marie” is a meditative and melodic composition, which serves as a neat balance to the aggressiveness found in the rest of the score. In this regard, this soundtrack is an authentic acoustic tour-de-force that perfectly demonstrates why the music for the Bourne movies has become a staple of modern action film scoring. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 7]
Another continuing series of popular movies are those in the Harry Potter franchise. But contrary to the consistent musical structure of the Bourne films, the Harry Potter series have featured three different composers over the course of five flicks. Indeed, the legendary John Williams provided serviceable scores for The Sorcerer’s Stone (Chris Columbus, 2001), The Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus, 2002), and The Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron, 2004), while Patrick Doyle composed surprisingly effective music with overwhelming dark overtones for The Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell, 2005). Now, for The Order of the Phoenix (David Yates), the musical wand was in the firm hand of composer Nicholas Hooper. Arguably, Hooper’s greatest challenge in the scoring of this film was to follow the giant footsteps left by two of the most distinguished composers in the business. While the resulting score is not a breakthrough of musical underscoring, Hooper succeeded in creating an elegant and charming score.
For The Order of the Phoenix, Hooper composed a score for large orchestra and choir in traditional symphonic fashion. As such, Hooper appears to showcase a solid understanding of classical music structure, composition, and orchestration. For this score, Hooper cleverly balances all the sections of the orchestra to enhance the magical content of the moving image. Some of the highlights presented in the soundtrack CD include “Possession” and “Death of Sirius”, two dark passages which feature harps, high strings, and whispering voices. Equally satisfying is the reprising of the Hedwig’s theme, which was originally composed by Williams, and now can be found in “Another Story”, “Hall of Prophecy”, “The Room of Requirement”, and “A Journey to Hogwarts”. But nevertheless, the compositions feel fresh and avoid a simple re-hashing of the original. Overall, The Order of the Phoenix feels as one of those instances where the score proves to be far superior to the film itself. No Reservations Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 4]
While The Bourne Ultimatum and The Order of the Phoenix belong to well known franchises, No Reservations (Scott Hicks) is one of those summer flicks which are rare to see these days: it is not a sequel, nor a remake. A romantic comedy that takes place in a high brow restaurant, No Reservations mostly relies on opera arias than on an original score. For instance, the soundtrack CD includes “Celeste Aida” and “Nessun Dorma” performed by the late Luciano Pavarotti, and “La Donna e Mobile” interpreted by Joseph Calleja. As such, only a fool would dare to criticize the composition and performance of these pieces. In this regard, perhaps the only wise comment is that the music fits nicely the kitchen locale of the movie.
The CD also includes a couple of popular songs, such as the unforgettable “Sway” by Michael Buble and “Mambo Gelato” by Ray Gelato. The rather brief original music found on this soundtrack was composed by the celebrated Phillip Glass using his characteristic minimalist style. However, the only two tracks with Glass’ music are “Zoe & Kate Watch Video” and “Zoe Goes to the Restaurant”, which are very brief and quite likely to disappoint the artist’s fans. A mixed bag of goodies, the soundtrack for No Reservations ultimately provides an overall unsatisfying listening experience.

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Wednesday, Sep 26, 2007

*So, let’s say that your Mom and I asked you if we could smoke marijuana with you and your boyfriend.”
“Well—Nooo. I mean, that completely would not happen.”
“Well, why not?”
“Because . . . you don’t smoke marijuana . . . do you?”
“Yeah, but . . . if we did?”
“Well, then . . . no. . . “
“Because . . .


don’t smoke marijuana.”
“So, does that mean that


aren’t on the bus and we might be?”
“Well . . . “

This year my project is to help grow my kids. After a couple of years in which they toiled in a foreign country on their own (submerged in a different culture, trying to negotiate a radically different set of cultural rules, saddled with an alien set of meanings and expectations), we are together again. And, although, they have done an amazing job—adapting, expanding, persevering, diversifying, blossoming—they are eagerly welcoming my active participation in the next stages of the process.

A major part of that will be rounding out the rougher edges of their education. Yet, within the first few hours into it, I am realizing that this might not be as easy as, say, fielding a lazy fly ball in shallow left. After all, our first conversation has touched on shared marijuana tokes as exemplar, bus rides as metaphor, teens opening up about their private behavior. Life upside down and me adrift inside it.

Ha! This might be much harder lifting than I had anticipated.

Imagine that.

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Wednesday, Sep 26, 2007

Every time I see another one of American Apparel’s ultrasleazy ads, I presumably fall into the trap these ads have set for me and find myself wondering about sleaze’s effectiveness as an promotional strategy. (Angry advertising blogger copyranter has an informative set of posts on the campaign here, if you need a reference point.)The people I know who wear American Apparel’s clothes usually claim to wear them despite the ad campaign, claiming the clothes are exceptionally well-designed, or comfortable, or well-fitting or some other mitigating factor—because they obviously want to disassociate themselves publicly from the implications of the ads, namely that sluts and pervy scumbags wear American Apparel.

It’s fairly well-established that American Apparel founder Dov Charney is a tad skeevy; this NYT story about his selling the company to a private equity group details how employees now sign a sort of sexual harassment waiver: “American Apparel is in the business of designing and manufacturing sexually charged T-shirts and intimate apparel, and uses sexually charged visual and oral communications in its marketing and sales activity.” But he’s also a successful businessman, as the NYT article also makes amply clear, so obviously this ad campaign would have stopped long ago if his skanky predilections would have had any chance of hurting his big payday. Clearly the ads keep coming because they are working; one of the ways they work is that they prompt people like me to fret and complain about them in a public forum, doing word-of-mouth advertising for them gratis. And plus I get the prude’s thrill of being titillated by what I complain about without having to acknowledge fully to myself that it’s so. “These ads are so terrible; just look another one, aren’t they terrible?” But people like me will never support the company by actually buying the clothes.

So these ads must have something for actual fashion-conscious shoppers: They must project an identity that some consumers apparently identify with and find attractive; some people must see these ads and feel a vicarious thrill at the lifestyle they suggest: the possibility of blase sexual exploitation lurking around every urban corner. If you buy into these ads, maybe wearing American Apparel’s clothes makes you feel sexualized as well, makes you believe that wearing a T-shirt is suddenly bold, even risque.

Perhaps the ads, by depicting fetishes unapologetically, tap into something comparably compulsive in consumers, giving sanction to the innate tendencies toward sleaze that we typically suppress. But eventually when we become too conscious of the gratification, we’ll reject the source of the dissonance. We’ll feel as though the advertiser is trying to cheat by circumventing the approved filters, the customary disguises—fashion advertisers may be able to get away with perviness under the guise of brash transgression for a while but eventually it becomes distasteful. Suddenly, depersonalized sex seems not a promise of some kind of transformative freedom (a pretty far-fetched notion the more you think about it) but an illustration of how depersonalizing fashion itself is.

American Apparel’s popularity reminds a bit of the late 1970s power pop band the Knack, who seemed bizarrrely compelled to take something immaculately crafted (pop songs as opposed to T-shirts) and sully it with sexist sleaze: “Good Girls Don’t”, “Frustrated”, etc. Their signature song is like Dov Charney’s interior monolgue: “Never gonna stop give it up such a dirty mind / Always get it up for the touch of the younger kind.” Yet the song is at the same time a clinic in pop craftsmanship; every nook and cranny is filled with an irresistible hook, and the guitar solo is one ear-tugging riff after another. When the Knack first caught on, they were ubiquitous, but soon audiences turned against them—perhaps it was the overdone Beatles imitation of their album design, but it may also have been that the sleaze that was at first edgy and vaguely interesting—making the familiar pop seem daring, hipper thanits popularity would generally allow—suddenly revealed itself as tedious and unimaginative. Their second album proved this to be so. Dov Charney, of course, is in the fortunate position of not having to come up with a second act for his career.

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Wednesday, Sep 26, 2007

After bowing out of their high profile tour because of anxiety, White Stripes drummer Meg White then had to deal with the indignity of being the supposed subject of a sex tape, which turned out to be not true.  Coverage of this ranged from semi-skeptical at best (Brooklyn Vegan , Stereogum) to the more appropriate dissing of any slavering idiot who wanted to believe it was Meg (Pitchfork) and some leg-work that actually exposed the whole story (Daily Swarm).  When it was later revealed that it wasn’t her in the tape, Vegan and Gum at least printed the new info on their site but the damage was done.  So where’s the line being drawn here about what’s actual new to report and what’s tabloid trash that should be treated that way?

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