Latest Blog Posts

by Rob Horning

5 Mar 2009

This post from Willem Buiter presents an interesting way of thinking about markets, not as theoretically convenient constructs to suit economists’ models, but as improbable, fraught and fragile institutions. They are not transparent and frictionless; they don’t function automatically. Exchange, as such, uses up resources above and beyond what is exchanged, and these costs must be borne. Markets are never “free.” His case is elegantly argued, and it’s worth reading the whole thing. But here’s his distillation:

The conclusion, boys and girls, should be that trade - voluntary exchange - is the exception rather than the rule and that markets are inherently and hopelessly incomplete.  Live with it and start from that fact.  The benchmark is no trade—pre-Friday Robinson Crusoe autarky.  For every good, service or financial instrument that plays a role in your ‘model of the world’, you should explain why a market for it exists - why it is traded at all.

Buiter’s point is to discredit the efficient markets hypothesis—the theory that markets aggregate information from investors and interested parties and prices permit efficient capital allocation. If markets themselves impose costs, these costs distort prices. And if prices reflect the future value, who knows how far that is? Buiter says such models presume “a friendly auctioneer at the end of time - a God-like father figure - who makes sure that nothing untoward happens with long-term price expectations or (in a complete markets model) with the present discounted value of terminal asset stocks or financial wealth.” No such figure exists, and the models bear little resemblance to what goes on in actual economies.

As a result, economists henceforth, according to Buiter, will be forced to use “behavioural approaches relying on empirical studies on how market participants learn, form views about the future and change these views in response to changes in their environment, peer group effects etc.” In other words, they will have to find tools to study how and why confidence ebbs and flows. They will become philologists of happy talk.

An aside—I wonder if the notion of autarky offers a different way to conceive of what is happening in the recession as the economy contracts: The costs of maintaining markets—the trust, credit, contract enforcement, disclosure and so on—has suddenly become too high to justify the amount of exchange we had before. The sum of social needs hasn’t changed; it has fallen below some critical threshold that makes them impossible to satisfy and thus superfluous. Perhaps we experience this as a retreat into self-sufficiency at a personal level—not merely a return to thrift (though that is a part of it) but a move toward a fantasy of autarky in which we are able to maintain ourselves by our own efforts without the vagaries and exploitations and chaotic dangers of exchange and markets. But of course autarky is basically impossible; it’s a dangerous delusion to think that we can exist without be part of a community—markets included. It seems short-sighted to collapse the idea of community into markets, and make them one and the same for all intenets and purposes; but it’s equally wrong to be tempted by recession into thinking that community can exist without thriving markets, that we can somehow be better off when we are exchanging less.

by Alan Ranta

5 Mar 2009

Although sales never came up to par compared to 2003’s Beatitude, the 2007 full-length from Finnish crazies Pepe Deluxé was by far their greatest achievement to date. Critics gave it an Emma (the Fin Grammy), but a lack of US distribution meant few outside of Europe knew it existed, which is a shame because the beating heart of the record was largely influenced by the American psychedelic movement of the late ‘60s. These three videos will tell you their story.

Pepe Deluxé - “Mischief Of Cloud 6”

Pepe Deluxé - “Go For Blue”

Pepe Deluxé - “Pussycat Rock”

by Tyler Fisher

5 Mar 2009

Since his 2007 mixtape 100 Miles and Running, which included the great “W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.” remix of Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.”, it seems like every indie website pretending to like rap has been bouncing his material. The difference here, however, is that Wale is actually good. 

After a slew of great material headlined by 2008’s Seinfeld tribute The Mixtape About Nothing, everyone started taking notice to this fresh star, and Interscope signed him. They plan to release his debut studio album this year. Already, Wale himself has announced production from the likes of Mark Ronson, Kanye West, Justice, and more. 

2009 also marks his next mixtape, Back to the Feature, produced by 9th Wonder. On Wale’s website, he posted a track from the new mixtape entitled “Nightlife”, which features Tre and Young Chris.

Immediately, the production sounds cleaner than any of Wale’s previous material, and if this is any indication, his new album could explode as soon as its released.

“Nightlife (Dirty Version)” [MP3]
“Nightlife (Clean Version)” [MP3]

by Robert Celli

5 Mar 2009

Some bands hit you over the head like a sledgehammer, while others, gently stroke you with a velvet glove. Thee Oh Sees hit you over the head with a sledgehammer while wearing a velvet glove. I recently saw San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees perform as part of Noise Pop—the annual indie music festival, now in its 17th year—and still can’t remove the smile the band carved into my face.

The band led by John Dwyer (the Coachwips, Pink and Brown, the Hospitals) have a sound soaked in reverb and revved up like a muscle car on death ride. They conjure Halloween at the end of February and could re-animate a zombie crowd into shimmying teenagers.

Guitarist Dwyer and singer Brigid Dawson alternate between call and response and dual harmony, conjuring the Cramps and the B52s. This is garage-psychobilly done with vim and vigor. The songs are a bit one-dimensional but it’s a great dimension to inhabit. The rhythm section, comprised of Mike Shoun on drums and Petey Dammit also playing guitar, complete Thee Oh Sees nightmare vision.

Their most recent release, last year’s The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, is a delight and is the perfect accompaniment for a midnight drive down a deserted road. It might even turn even a casual listener into a drifting killer. I can’t get set and album opener, “Block of Ice”, out of my mind and “Adult Acid” has the swagger of Johnny Cash on LSD. This a band to line up for if they decide to go on a killing spree in your hometown.

Thee Oh Sees will be off to South by Southwest and have new record entitled Help in limited edition vinyl only out now, with a full release soon. 

by Bill Gibron

5 Mar 2009

The end of the world. The extinction of mankind. It is humanity that has brought itself to the brink, and it will take superhumans to save them - or at the very least, make-believe masked versions of said supposed heroes to end the threat once and for all. The question becomes - do they really want to, and more importantly, is the human race really worth saving? In their sensational graphic novel, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons matched Cold War paranoia with basic personal angst to turn caped crusaders into lost, alienated anti-heroes. Watchmen will always remain a seminal literary experience, and for many including the author, an unfilmable piece that no attempted cinema can match. Now Dawn of the Dead/300‘s Zack Snyder has stepped up to attempt the unimaginable - and has sort-of succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

When famed fallen idol (and former US undercover agent) The Comedian is killed, his former colleague in crimefighting Rorschach decides to investigate. His inquiries lead to a horrific conclusion - someone may be murdering masked vigilantes in an attempt to keep them from interfering in world events. Outside of true superhero Dr. Manhattan - a scientist transformed into a literal god when a radiation experiment goes awry - the former crusaders are the only individuals influential enough to prevent an oncoming World War III. When Rorschach is framed and sent to prison, it is up to his only friend Dan Drieberg, aka Nite Owl II, to rescue him. Along with new lady love Silk Spectre II, he will try to spring his friend. In the meantime, the Doomsday Clock ticks ever closer to Armageddon, and all paths appear to lead through former champion Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt and his massive multinational conglomerate.

Somewhere between the off-target outright dismissals and the overindulgent geek praise lies Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, and it’s a sensational sight to behold. This is a very, very good film, a flawed yet fascinating bit of social and psychological commentary masked as the story of forgotten vigilantes and dead personal purpose. It is not the abomination Alan Moore would have you believe, nor is it the perfected vision of the graphic novel Kevin Smith cooed about more than six months ago. It does represent some of the strongest, most compelling mainstream moviemaking in quite a while and reeks of imagination and the visionary. It is also a wholly insular experience, one that will probably have a hard time connecting to an audience unfamiliar with the original source material. Snyder deserves credit for being so bold here. He also requires admonishment for biting off a bit more than he, or any director for that matter, might be able to chew.

Luckily, there are several factors that make Watchmen a must-see entertainment. The acting overall is superb, while certain casting choices - Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman - continue to cause concern. No one underperforms here, but when you’ve got turns as mesmerizing as Billy Crudup as Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the doomed Comedian, and Patrick Wilson as the wistful Nite Owl/Dan Drieberg, everyone needs to be on their A game. The sole singular standout? Jackie Earle Haley’s Oscar worthy performance as last masked avenger holdout Rorschach. As narrator, anti-hero, and primary mover of the Watchmen universe, he is crucial to the success of Snyder’s approach. Without a strong Rorschach, nothing could save this film. With Haley’s heartbreaking turn, combined alongside the story Moore has provided, a new revisionist myth is born.

Snyder also deserves credit for what he accomplishes from behind the lens. This is more than just a photographic recreation of Gibbons’ precise panels. It’s also not the landmark comic as cinema style he perfected with Frank Miller’s 300. Instead, Snyder is working both within and outside his comfort zone. The action scenes, complete with the director’s signature start-stop slo-mo fight sequences, are accomplished and arresting. The last act jailbreak is an exercise in controlled chaos. But we also get moments of solid emotion, times when we sympathize and even grow to care for these larger than life characters. This is especially true of Rorschach’s human alter ego, Walter Kovacs. Haley’s repugnant walk down memory lane, meant to give us insight into how one man becomes so monstrous, is blood and tear soaked. Snyder and his cast are so spot on you won’t know whether to cringe…or cry.

Indeed, a lot of Watchmen offers this kind of massive mood swing experience. On the one hand, it functions outside of formula to become yet another example of The Dark Knight redefinition of the genre. While we anticipate heroics, we don’t expect such a bleak version of said gallantry. For that reason alone, it’s an important, impressive work. But it also does little to bring the uninitiated and uninterested into the fold. Unlike Christopher Nolan, who repositioned his comic book cult outside the categorical realms, Watchmen appears locked in them, faithfulness the ongoing justification for such insularity. Also, at almost three hours, there’s still enough time for everything. While subplots involving the Tales from the Black Freighter and Under the Hood are missed, it’s the past history of masked avengers - including the original Nite Owl and Silk Spectre - that get the rawest deal. Such historical context is clearly missed.

Still, outside such minor quibbles, what works about Watchmen is so gobsmacking and glorious that you instantly ignore anything that doesn’t. From the opening montage which establishes the parallel universe we’re visiting (complete with callbacks to the Kennedy Assassination and the drug-soaked dramas of the ‘70s), to the final threat which almost destroys the entire planet, Zack Snyder has stepped up and delivered a complicated, dense and very dark spectacle, the kind of film that’s potentially off-putting at first but miraculous upon subsequent revisits. There will be wild extremes in experience, those for whom any adaptation of Moore’s work suppresses his muse. But when viewed in time, when taken out of its event module and given room to breathe, to thrive, to exist, Watchmen will work as the quasi-classic it is. Dismiss or delight in it, but there’s no denying the bravado up on the screen. If this is how the world ends, it’s time for such an apocalypse now.

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