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Friday, Apr 25, 2008
Stillby Robb KendrickUniversity of Texas PressFebruary 2008, 232 pages. $50.00

Still
by Robb Kendrick
University of Texas Press
February 2008, 232 pages. $50.00


Robb Kendrick has a great passion for the tintype photographic process. In Still, he uses this process to document the lifestyle of authentic, modern American cowboys—those people who actually ride horses as part of their job, working the big cattle ranches. He has spent decades driving across the United States with his darkroom in tow and the result of his travels is a gorgeous, rich feast of portraiture. These are real working persons who span a wider range of nationalities, ethnicities, genders, languages, and ages than we were ever taught by Hollywood’s depiction of the Wild West. One of the cowboys even serves the photographer a meal of lamb, an unthinkable deviation in beef country! The subtle variation in costume is also well-recorded.


My beef, though, involves Kendrick’s careful posing of his subjects so as to never reveal any trace of the modern era. There is a conspicuous lack of cell phones, pick up trucks, bulldozers, Ipods and other ubiquitous tools of 21st century life. We see the occasional pair of glasses, a bottle, rifle, or contacts. The feeling is hard to shake that much like a stage set, a measure of reality and authenticity were sacrificed for aesthetic reasons. A typical city-dwelling observer glancing through Still may be hard pressed to differentiate between Kendrick’s reverential documentation of reality and a bunch of modern guys trying out for a themed Ralph Lauren commercial. Sometimes, Still‘s photographs appear more sophisticated versions of those souvenir, sepia-toned novelty photos people bring back from vacations at the dude ranch.


The number of working cowboys is unknown, but one of the subjects in the book notes they are “kind of a dying breed”. Thus, there is a tragic feel to some of the shots, that this part of history may soon be lost entirely. Despite Kendrick’s stated efforts to capture unadorned ordinariness, the pictures do have an undeniably romantic and individualistic aura. The subjects are also almost exotic in their descriptions of the joy of being outside, being cold and hungry, or perhaps smelling something nice, as opposed to being on a couch, near a television or computer, or in an air-conditioned shopping mall.


Some of the pictures appear worn and damaged. The artist obviously knows his stuff and this begs the question of whether or not deliberate scratches and scrapes were applied to artificially distress the photographs. Perhaps the marks and imperfections occurred naturally, though, because there is no reason for Kendrick to make them look older than they really are, or to suggest to the viewer that he is a less competent technician than he is. Not to be churlish, but Kendrick’s skill in presenting the subjects in an intriguing light makes me wish that the tintype camera process were able to allow him to use his considerable technical and artistic skills to document these characters doing what they really do, in an even more realistic environment: working, not standing still.


The cowboys themselves, as revealed in their clothing, the looks in their eyes, and the descriptive essays scattered throughout the book, seem genuinely interesting people. Still makes me wonder what their modern lives are really like.


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Friday, Apr 25, 2008

Since this has been the year where many indie music magazines have gone to their grave (Harp, Devil in the Woods, Resonance, No Depression), and with them, much long form criticism.You would think that the corporately decentralized blogosphere might increase the importance of the critic’s perspective by virtue of freeing writers from the passive aggressive extortion of working in a medium where the financial success of your venture is directly tied to the people you’re supposed to be critiquing. Unlike other forms of Academy-ensconced criticism (literary, cultural), music criticism reeked of its financial backend so much so that it was fairly easy to dismiss Rolling Stone’s praise of the latest Hootie and the Blowfish album. But nothing even close to a resurrection of the critical high form has emerged on the internet in any but a precious few sites who still consider cultural analysis a worthy pursuit (PopMatters, Pitchfork, Idolator, and incredible MP3 sites like 20jazzfunkgreats.


Most of the MP3 sites I read are quite simply diary dumps of links with dreary anecdotes that even their friends must find tedious. This absorption of music criticism into a peripheral adjunct of Facebook narcissism is particularly troubling if the medium has any hope of producing greatness. The usual entry goes as follows: I went to a party the other night, my boyfriend broke up with me, here’s ten unauthorized songs to download. That’s a defamation of the tangent and about as critically astute as the iPod shuffle. Perhaps the incestuous bond between criticism and commerce was so thorough that their downward fate was duly entwined. It could also be that a review that aspires to be no more than a description makes little sense in a technological environment where individuals can instantly access the actual sound over second hand adjectives and analogies.  I can’t help but wonder if this is simply connected to the death of larger cultural figures of achievement (with the exception of Spencer and Heidi from The Hills).


Lester Bangs, Jim Derogatis, David Fricke, they all seem like part of a dying breed of critic that believed in music criticism as an intensive study of history, politics and exhaustive rock genealogies. I can easily see myself throwing the Sasha Frere-Jones gauntlet down, blaming the blogosphere for a coarsening retardation of culture or for not being black enough, but I’m really just curious about why people seem less interested in theorizing, critiquing and following ideas beyond a faint flicker and a halfwit’s retort. I’m in no way suggesting that I am spending my greatness inheritance; more likely, I’m mourning the fact that it is inexplicably out of my grasp.


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Friday, Apr 25, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Denmark's Fashion has been around since 2003, but the group only recently made their North American debut at SXSW this past March. Look for their US debut record this summer on Epic Records. You can check out a preview EP on iTunes now.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Tough one, but I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was the last one that really got to me.


2. The fictional character most like you?
The nameless narrator of the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Obviously, it later on became a Hollowood box office hit movie. So, if you´re too lazy for the book just watch the movie, because it still hits a sore spot in almost everyone. A clver way of sticking it to “the man” and I am all for that.


3. The greatest album, ever?
Live After Death by Iron Maiden, a concert recording from Los Angeles at the peak of their carrer in ´85 with a bunch of songs from a brilliant back catalogue. That album always takes me back.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars for sure. I am an official memeber of the Hyper Space community at StarWars.com so I am almost religious about that. My apartment is overflowing with Star Wars gear. I used to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit once a week a few years back. We stopped because we all knew all the questions by heart.


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Thursday, Apr 24, 2008


For the weekend beginning 25 April, here are the films in focus:

In Brief


Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay [rating: 5]


Is it possible to make a stoner comedy without actually showing your heroes wake and bake? Can a keen political satire be crafted out of obvious takes on the War on Terror and government incompetency? Both questions come up frequently in this relatively successful sequel to the 2004 pot party. This time around, our title characters are on their way to Amsterdam when their bong is mistaken for a bomb. They end up entering, and then fleeing from the infamous Cuban prison, hoping that a highly placed pal in Texas can bail them out. Kumar also wants to stop his ex-girlfriend from marrying this conservative cad. With the usually dependable Rob Corddry ruining every scene he’s in, and a great deal of inappropriate race baiting, first time directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (who also wrote both films) use the “insult everyone equally” approach to avoid controversy. Still, when a sidesplitting smoke out only offers one real take on the toke (it arrives when our duo meet up with an equally Chronic prone George W. Bush), when it doesn’t have the nerve to argue the very policies it parodies, then we are dealing with some very cowardly comedy. Still, there are enough laughs - and stars John Pho and Kel Penn are more than winning - to sustain us through this uneven second helping. 


Baby Mama [rating: 2]


It’s about time someone stood up and told Hollywood the truth - children are not the creative cure-all a character needs. Giving a demanding, type-A personality a toddler will not instantly turn a control freak shrew into an Earth goddess. This applies to all zygote phase formulas as well. While many may see the names Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on the marquee and think comic gold, Baby Mama is instead a loaded Pampers full of fetus poo. While the talent pool it’s drawing from is marginal at best (who still thinks Steve Martin is cutting edge?), there is no excuse for such unfunny business. Using caricature instead of personality (Fey is the square-glasses wearing dork, Poehler is the Big Gulp slurping stooge) and forcing everything through a sieve of ‘babies are adorable’ drek, we wind up with 90 minutes whinier than the population at a Day Care. Co-stars Greg Kinnear and Dax Shephard are clearly present to give men both sides of the bad name (wuss/asshole) and pop culture references have to pass for satire (yo, hip-hop is def!). While Fey had no control over the content (the crappy writing and directing are courtesy of Michael McCullers), she should have better career management. A film like Baby Mama could land you on the artistic adoption list forever.


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Thursday, Apr 24, 2008
A month in advance of Ubisoft's long awaited and hotly anticipated yellow-tinted shooter, Korn has released a song apparently "inspired by" the not-yet-out game.

What we have before us today is the official video for Korn’s “Haze”, which was apparently inspired by the upcoming Ubisoft/Free Radical first-person shooter.  This is what it looks like:


Alright, now, who’s benefiting here?  I know that the point is that both parties benefit, as Haze gets, oh, “hardcore cred” or something, and Korn gets gamer cred.  The thing is, the people out there who (still) like Korn happen to be pretty much the same audience that will be buying up Haze when it comes out.  This isn’t to speak of the quality of either piece of the equation; rather, I just don’t see the point of marrying the two, especially in what seems like an especially forced way.


Occasionally there’s a merger of game and licensed music that just seems as though it was meant to be.  Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames”, a two-year-old song, has taken on new life on the radio thanks to the infamy it has taken on as the most difficult track on Guitar Hero 3.  And I’ll never forget the rush of “Jerry was a Race Car Driver” showing up in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (though I realize I may be alone in that particular way). 


But Korn?  Haze?  If the above Korn vid makes you more excited for Haze, please leave a comment, because I want to know why.


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