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Friday, Jul 11, 2008
by Roman Kuebler
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. Entries One through Four focused on the band in studio, laboring with overdubs and trying to catching lightning in a bottle, or at least on 2" tape. Entry Five has Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler exploring why exactly albums take so long to make, or at least why this album is taking so long. -- Jon Langmead


WHAT THE… ?!!


Alright seriously, why in the hell does this take so long? I mean writing, rehearsal, recording, mixing… it all takes a long time and I can’t figure out exactly why. Well, I guess I know but only because I do it. I think it’s me… drrf!?!


We started recording this album in late January. Aaaaand, that was five months ago. The only thing that is slightly more embarrassing than having only finished seven songs in that amount of time, is that this is just my fifth blog entry. Thanks to all the PopMatters readers and writers for being especially patient. But wait, why DOES this take so long?


Being in a semi-professional rock band is a full time hustle. Anyone out there drumming up shows and tours and trying to make albums and sell them knows that we are very tiny fish in a very large sea. Making ends meet as a band is difficult, well, I don’t know how difficult it is because, see, I have a job. I have always had jobs since I was 12 and started my paper route. I have been doing a lot of freelance and temporary jobs over the years to keep free enough so that when it’s time to get in the van… I can get in the van. Thing about doing temp jobs though is that when there is work you had better do it, cause it might not be there tomorrow. Anyways, reason (excuse) number one is… my work was, like, totally busy. I build architectural models for a living, and yes, it is an awesome job. Every once in a while though, for a couple weeks or sometimes a month or so, you can do nothing else. That’s the job. So for me this year, those months were April and May. Luckily, I get paid by the hour.


Somehow, somewhere in my life, i turned into a critical freak. I have always considered myself a reasonably laid back guy, but I think I might be wrong about that because I seem to be able to find fault with almost anything… anything I do that is. I am a little more lenient with other folks, though Dave might not agree (so don’t ask). Reason (excuse) two is… it takes me four hours to do one crappy lead vocal take. I don’t know how long Axl Rose takes, but it can’t be much longer than that.


Speaking earlier of being small fish in a large sea, we are not currently “enlabeled”. Our last record fulfilled our contract with our then label, Lookout Records. Since then we have been adrift in the sea of bands and music and albums and all that. It is a curious and uncertain place to be, but the upside is that no one is nagging at us about finishing this record. Wait, is that good or bad. I mean, five months?! We could certainly use a wee bit of nagging (from someone other than my father, that is) Anyways, Reason (excuse) three is… no one is knocking down our door to finish this thing.


But that is not such a bad thing. Because one thing that has been really cool about this process is that I have had opportunity to reflect and consider every stage in the process. It’s a luxury that will definitely result in a better product. I am sure of it! I mean it is a little bit torturous to constantly consider and conspire and create and re-create and tweak and change, but it seems to be for the best. Reason (excuse) four is… trust me, it’s for the best!


And instead of tweaking and considering and changing and altering this blog entry. I am just going to send it off. No pictures this time, cause what does a picture of me taking forever to do something look like? Wait, I have one of those….


Next time, guest players in the house. The all picture blog!


Roman Kuebler


Tagged as: the oranges band
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Friday, Jul 11, 2008

From this week’s Denver Post:


The 34-year-old Denver man also was sentenced to 10 years in state prison Tuesday for checking out roughly 1,400 books and DVDs and reselling most of them online. About 500 items were recovered when Pilaar was picked up on an unrelated arrest warrant last year.


Working in a DVD rental outlet myself, I’m all too aware of this thing people have with renting and borrowing other people’s merchandise and somehow, for some reason, laying personal claim to that merchandise. It’s as difficult a notion to describe as it is to fully understand. Placing myself into the mindset of the particular renter/borrower I’m talking about means I subscribe to a list of commandments that might read like this:


1. I paid for this rental product, therefore I can treat it poorly.
2. I do not own this rental product myself and do not wish repeated use of it, therefore I can treat it poorly.
3. I paid for this rental product, and while I do not rightfully own it, I can keep it if I want to for as long as I want to.
4. I paid for this rental product, and if I return it late or damaged, it doesn’t matter to anyone at all.


Case in point: The Bucket List, a much-anticipated rental, was released on DVD on Wednesday, 2 July. By that weekend, I dealt with the following issues directly related to the above commandments:


1. More than one customer required a swap because the not-yet-one-week-old DVDs were scratched.
2. Such a big release meant many customers placed weekend reservations. At least one of those customers was forced to hire something else for their weekend viewing as copies of the DVD were not returned when due.


Anyone who’s worked in DVD rental knows these issues well. On a larger scale, it means repeated customer dissatisfaction and major loss of revenue. My store has tried and tested systems in place for combating these issues, and while they work well, they cannot hope to eradicate the problem entirely. No amount of late fees, I’ve learned, will deter certain customers from continued delinquency. And, as the Denver library case highlights, no amount of precautions taken when signing up new customers will remove the possibility of outright theft. I’ve spent the last three months stocktaking my store’s weekly rentals. The amount of items I’ve had to mark as damaged or stolen is absurd. Because of it, I’ve tightened my store’s procedures for signing up new customers even further. 


Discussions about delinquent renters are favoured between my mum and myself. She’s a long-term librarian, and we live and work in the same small town. We know each other’s pain and understand each other’s frustration—sometimes intimately as her delinquents are, more often than not, my delinquents as well. These discussions almost always end in us shaking our heads as to why people think it’s okay to treat rental and borrowing services so poorly. My DVDs come back scratched, her books come back torn and battered, if they come back at all. Is theft not theft when money is handed over, or when a person behind a counter hands you the item in question? Is the passing between hands giving, not ever to be confused with taking?


Recently, my mum kept me updated on a situation involving a specially ordered book for a customer that subsequently went missing. The customer—or patron, as mum calls them—special ordered an old book on farming from the State Library of Victoria. This included a surcharge of about $5.00. Such orders are rarely placed, as responsibility falls on the ordering library to make sure the book is returned in excellent condition. Mum’s crew, wishing to do their job and to assist customer with their needs, ordered the book. The money was paid, and the customer and book promptly disappeared. The book came back just a few weeks ago, several months after it was “borrowed”. Not coincidentally, the borrower returned soon after to begin borrowing again.


This is not an unusual occurrence, which again speaks to that mentality customers have that they can use and abuse libraries as they see fit. What makes that above-mentioned patron think he will be welcomed back with open arms? And yet, there he was. Had he taken a rental car, and returned that a few months after the due date, you think he’d know not to go back in for another spin. But a library? Who really cares, right?


I have the same issues at my store. We’re a town that sees a lot of seasonal workers during the Summer months. They will often start memberships, rent DVDs and leave, only to return the following year to have another go. “You still have these movies out,” I might tell the bronzed backpacker. “That was ages ago,” they might respond, expecting a clean slate after just so much time has passed. I’m constantly arguing with customers that just because a late fee is five years old, doesn’t automatically invalidate it. Are you going to ask a bank for a home loan in 2008 when you’ve not made one single attempt to pay off your car loan from 2003?


Libraries, mum and I often conclude, are just not viewed in the same way as other businesses. Customers have been known in both establishments to become enraged over late fees or replacement charges. Some become quite abusive. All of my colleagues, past and present, have stories of threats and abuse regarding fees and charges. One of my former co-workers endured a customer who, after being denied service due to a large late fee, took a moment when exiting the store to turn back and run his finger across his throat from ear to ear in the universal sign for “You’re dead”. What is it about our service that riles people so much, to this kind of response level? You abuse the service, there are consequences.


You know, I would be willing to bet rather heavily that the Denver man, sitting in his prison cell, is flummoxed that library theft got him 10 years. As flummoxed, I’d further bet, as the abusive people mum and I run into on a weekly basis would be at the consequences of their actions should we start reporting them.


But we can’t be doing that, can we? After all, they’re just books.


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Friday, Jul 11, 2008
Joseph Hill’s voice is enough to make even the most recalcitrant atheist at least contemplate the possibility of a higher power.

Part Two: Make a Joyful Noise Unto JAH: Culture’s International Herb


Culture is immortal for their 1977 tour de force, Two Sevens Clash, one of a handful of albums that can justifiably be uttered in the same sentence as Heart of the Congos. Unlike the Congos, however, Culture continued to make important records after the summer of ’77, and were still going strong when bandleader Joseph Hill abruptly died—while on tour—in 2006.


Anyone in the know already knows two things: no self-respecting fan of music can tolerate the absence of Two Sevens Clash from their collections, and Joseph Hill’s voice is enough to make even the most recalcitrant atheist at least contemplate the possibility of a higher power. A single line from any Culture song makes it abundantly, wonderfully apparent that Joseph Hill was put on this earth, above all other things, to sing.


Fans can—and do—argue over what the second-most essential Culture album is, and most votes would probably be split between Baldhead Bridge (1978) or Cumbolo (1979), both of which are entirely worthy of consideration. But, for me, the closest they ever came to Two Sevens Clash is 1979’s International Herb. This release is endorsed and derided for a simple and silly reason: it’s blatant title (and if that wasn’t sufficiently provocative, the cover, featuring the group blazing spliffs in front of a huge, healthy marijuana plant, leaves little to the imagination).


And that is an appropriate enough segue to discuss—in perfunctory fashion—the dilemma of drugs and music. I mean dilemma in regards to certain types of music being automatically (and lazily—and in many instances, erroneously) associated with drugs. Or to put it more bluntly (pun, obviously, intended): music for which the utilization of mind-altering chemicals is imperative. This topic could, and should, be an entire discussion unto itself, but for the purposes of brevity let’s focus on the album at hand.


Clearly, the title track is an anthem for marijuana; it is also—and in this it is similar to the vast majority of reggae music—an endorsement for acceptance and understanding. In other words, this is post-‘60s hippie music that uptight politicians and the lemmings that follow them—the ones who most need to hear it—can easily assail as “drug music”. Aside from the myriad sociological reasons this type of dismissal epitomizes a typical myopia (and, in matters of appraising art, one that is not restricted to right-leaning reactionaries), it does the music a considerable disservice.


The reality of this music is quite simple: one need not be under the influence to appreciate it. Indeed, an argument might be made (and I’m about to make it) that it can be more fully enjoyed without the aid of any type of chemicals, be they smoked, snorted or swallowed. The sheer musicianship is so tight and first-rate that it is an insult (to the music, to the musicians) for one to even imply that any type of “full effect” can only be attained through the assistance of a substance. This, of course, does not apply solely to reggae music: so many great bands (Pink Floyd in particular leaps to mind) are denigrated and, in some ironic instances, lauded, for being ideal music to accompany an altered state of consciousness. How many times have you heard someone proclaim: if you aren’t high, you won’t be able to truly experience (insert album or artist here)? What a load of bollocks. That certain types of music do undoubtedly lend themselves to certain experiences is undeniable, but the best art is never so one dimensional or short-sighted. In fact, an alternate case can also be made that only an engaged and clear mind can fully fathom the depths and dedication of serious artistic expression. None of this is intended to demonize the harmless (or even the occasionally harmful) use of any type of intoxicants—that, again, is a very separate and sometimes serious matter. Again, the only issue here is the facile association (and/or promotion) of drugs and music, because on a purely aesthetic level it debases both the art and the artist.


So, getting back to Culture and International Herb: what’s it all about, then? “Make a joyful noise unto Jah,” Hill sings in “The Land Where We Belong”, and that pretty well captures the M.O.—not only of this particular album, but Culture’s career. As is often the case, the thematic scope of so many reggae songs revolves around Rasta, and that means a heavy rotation of tributes to Jah, the righteousness of Upfull Living (to quote Augustus Pablo) and the solidarity of underdogs everywhere. What separates Culture’s treatment of these familiar concerns, aside from Hill’s inimitable voice and the typically top-tier musicianship of the backing band, is the conviction with which the material is conveyed. Hill is equal parts preacher and cheerleader: speaking tough truths about intolerance and injustice, but also encouraging (often exhorting) the downtrodden to rise up. Some of the song titles, “Too Long in Slavery”, “Ethiopians Waan Guh Home”, and “Rally Around Jahoviah’s Throne”, provide a glimpse into Hill’s heart and mind. This, for the most part, is very serious music about very serious matters. And yet, Hill can’t help but make just about all of it sound celebratory and life-affirming. If, quite understandably, you read the words “life-affirming” and reflexively start to gag, I understand. I also encourage you, if you’ve not already done so, to immediately improve the quality of your life by ensuring that Joseph Hill has a place in it.


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Thursday, Jul 10, 2008

It’s time to get back on track as Hollywood continues to unveil its weekly array of tent pole titles. For 11 July, here are the films in focus:


Hellboy 2: The Golden Army [rating: 10]


This is big screen fantasy as a wish fulfillment free for all, a far out fairytale told in the most intricate of celluloid calligraphy.

Ever wonder what it would be like if your favorite filmmaker had the creative freedom to realize his or her own inner artistic aims? Ever lament the fact that directors like Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, or Darren Aronofsky are stuck working within a studio system that demands certain commercial sacrifices over an individual’s aesthetic desires? Well, welcome to the world of Guillermo Del Toro. Here’s a man brimming with imagination and invention, and yet no film has really allowed him the kind of collective carte blanche to fulfill his most outlandish visions…until now. Thanks to the universal acclaim of Pan’s Labyrinth, and a future helming The Hobbit, someone finally gave Del Toro a limitless paintbox. The brilliance that is Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, is the result. read full review…



Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D [rating: 6]


As it chugs along like a novice marathon runner aware of its inability to win the race, Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D does nothing to dissuade us from its earnest need to entertain.


There is nothing wrong with being generic. There is no crime in staying standard and formulaic. Sure, it signals a kind of creative malaise on the part of the product being discussed, but when it comes right down to it, if something achieves the basic goals of its medium or market, why should it be punished for doing so in a solid and efficient way. This issue seems especially important when considering the latest update of the Jules Verne classic Journey to the Center of the Earth. Though this new film obviously believes it offers a unique twist on the storied adventure romp, it’s really just a standard spectacle wrapped up in a technological gimmick that more or less salvages its existence.  read full review…



In Brief


Meet Dave [rating: 4]


Meet Dave. Dave is a spaceship. He comes from the planet Nil with a scheme to drain all the world’s oceans. Dave is piloted by a collection of Central Casting clichés, the most telling of which is star Eddie Murphy as the Captain, channeling Patrick Stewart by way of the School of Bad British Accents. Our former funnyman is also the ship itself, a silent movie slapstick mugging plot device that never works beyond a basic kid vid mentality. Somehow scripted by MST3K‘s Bill Corbett (in collaboration with TV scribe Rob Greenberg), this middling misfire can’t decide what it wants to be. At any given moment, it’s part speculative sci-fi, part retarded family film, with just a little regressive romance and pop culture discomfort to really mix things up. For something supposedly so future shock, this entire project feels derivative and dated. Granted, it’s not the race-baiting hate crime known as Norbit, but with the same subpar director behind the camera (Brian Robbins needs his DGA card revoked, pronto), we get gay stereotypes battling incomplete ideas for lead lameness. Naturally, nobody wins. At one time, Murphy represented the cutting edge of comedy. Now, high concept paydays like Meet Dave prove he’s only in it for the money, no matter how mediocre the means of achieving said cash may be.


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Thursday, Jul 10, 2008

Ever wonder what it would be like if your favorite filmmaker had the creative freedom to realize his or her own inner artistic aims? Ever lament the fact that directors like Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, or Darren Aronofsky are stuck working within a studio system that demands certain commercial sacrifices over an individual’s aesthetic desires? Well, welcome to the world of Guillermo Del Toro. Here’s a man brimming with imagination and invention, and yet no film has really allowed him the kind of collective carte blanche to fulfill his most outlandish visions…until now. Thanks to the universal acclaim of Pan’s Labyrinth, and a future helming The Hobbit, someone finally gave Del Toro a limitless paintbox. The brilliance that is Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, is the result.


Long ago, when the Earth was green, mankind and the elements of magic battled for control of the planet. Seeing the error of their ways, the two sides came to a truce before the mythic Golden Army (a goblin-made indestructible mechanical killing armada with no remorse) could complete their directive. Now, centuries later, the son of King Balor, Prince Nuada, wants to pay humanity back for its crimes against his fellow creatures. He seeks the three pieces of the royal crown, the device that controls the feared robotic redeemers. Crossing over into the real world, he unleashes his otherworldly minions to help him seek the sections.  Naturally, this puts him in direct conflict with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Along with the fire-conjuring Liz Sherman, and the aquatic empath Abe Sapian, it will be up to the heroic Hellboy to stop Nuada and save the day…if he can.


In a summer already overloaded with brash, bravado cinematic turns, Hellboy 2 has got to be one of the biggest and ballsiest. Stamped with a kind of genius rare in today’s Tinsel Town terrain, Mexican madman Guillermo Del Toro has fashioned a kind of supersonic spectacle, an intensely engaging epic that finds a way to keep both its scope and entertainment value legitimate and yet larger than life. Loosely based on the Mike Mignola comics, and clearly the product of its director’s outsized originality, we are treated to two hours of monsters, myth, and moviemaking majesty. Since he no longer has to give us the title character’s origins, and can swiftly bypass any further character introduction, Del Toro goes right for the throat. From the opening stop motion animation that sets up the storyline, to the finale which pits armored automatons against our heroes, this is nothing short of pure visual bliss.


Del Toro has always been a geek, an old school nerd who plies his obsessions with a fetishist’s fascination. You can sense him marveling at his own novelty over the course of the film, his camera capturing the actual awe and inferred wide-eyed wonder. Our synapses shouldn’t fire this liberally or often, and yet Hellboy 2 makes the overload feel like a familiar friend. This is big screen fantasy as a wish fulfillment free for all, a far out fairytale told in the most intricate of celluloid calligraphy. Luckily, this is one director who makes room on his crowded canvas for moral fiber and subtext. This movie is more than just a collection of setpieces showing off the best that CGI and other F/X have to offer. Instead, it’s a deep meditation on magic, and how civilization has lost touch with its ethereal power.


Returning to remind us of how great they were the first time around, Ron Pearlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), and Doug Jones (now also voicing Abe Sapian) provide the nexus for our emotional involvement, and all do splendid work. Especially impressive is our title titan, a muscled bad ass with a soul as sensitive as a little child. This version of Hellboy may not match his graphic familiar note for note, but as a conduit to how Del Toro views the world around him, this link between the various planes of existence remains a remarkable work of fiction. And thanks to how Pearlman plays him - strong yet unsure, macho yet mindful of his purpose - we grow to like him more and more as the movie progresses. Jones is also good at channeling Abe’s inner turmoil, a battle Hellboy fought semi-successfully in the first film. 


Par for his creative course, Del Toro delivers villains who moderate their evil with a sense of purpose and potential decency. Prince Nuada (beautifully underplayed by Luke Gross) doesn’t only want to destroy the human pestilence that populates his world - he wants to reset the order, to regain the respect and dignity the supernatural forces once held among the living and undead. He goes about it in nasty, underhanded ways, but the valiance in his purpose is not unnoticed. Similarly, the various creatures created for the film rely on a Brothers Grimm kind of seriousness to support their sinister purpose. They aren’t just the things that go bump in the night. These are the nightmares meant to remind man, as the movie says, of why they originally feared the dark.


There is a clever, almost kitschy way in which Hellboy 2: The Golden Army delivers its delights. It’s like a freakshow film noir where Men in Black meets Clive Barker’s Cabal (or Nightbreed, for those of you not literarily inclined). There is a telling texture to this filmic universe, a real sense of gravitas and threat. When Hellboy battles a massive earth Elemental, it’s Cloverfield conceived as an old fashioned serial cliffhanger, imperiled infant and all. Indeed, Del Toro keeps the riff references and homages coming, touching on the entire history of horror and fantasy in just under two hours of spellbinding cinema. And we sense the director continuously building on his legend, opening the door for a brain melting final installment/trequel sometime after he completes his trip through Tolkein.


And frankly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer, more knowledgeable guy. It’s rare when Hollywood gives the eccentric and iconoclastic a chance to shine, let along a second one. One misstep and you’re usually sitting in entertainment exile, wondering where your creative cache went. In this case, through a sheer force of will and an unreal amount of invention, Guillermo Del Toro has rewritten the rulebook. All that post-Pan Oscar cred didn’t hurt, but there’s got to be some substance to support a repeat performance. Apparently, this filmmaker has more than enough on his plate to feed an imagery-starved fanbase. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army may say ‘Hell-friggin’-yes’ to another excess time and time again, but when the meal is this ridiculously rich and refined, we’ll gladly indulge. In a summer soaked in spectacle, this dish is just divine.


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