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by shathley Q

15 Jul 2009

Light, and sound, and Christmas.

In the concluding chapter of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips’ Lawless, the heist is finally on. But who are you rooting for?

There is seemingly no end to the supply of bad guys.

The stickup gang is filled with types you wouldn’t want over for Christmas dinner. Gray the stickup man, Nelson the muscle and Mallory femme fatale passing herself off as the shill. They work as a gang, or as Brubaker eloquently puts it, ‘As uncomfortable together as any other dysfunctional family… Dependent on each other for survival and security whether they liked it or not’.

Working his way into the gang’s trust is the tough guy and lead of the story Tracy Lawless. He’s ‘a guy who can drive’ when the gang need someone to drive. He’s also man responsible for killing Davey the group’s former driver. But for Tracy, an Army specialist deployed to Iraq now on Unauthorized Absence, infiltrating the gang is a matter of revenge. His brother Ricky, erstwhile leader of the gang was betrayed and eventually murdered by one of his own. Tracy is in town to settle the score. And supporting cast are making moves of their own. Sebastian Hyde the crime-boss looking to appear legit, Chester his muscle intimidating even Gnarly the tough-guy bartender, and Jacob the cartoonist turned counterfeiter.

Far from a single, simple panel in a chase sequence, Phillips provides readers with a map of the machinations and manipulations going on. The panel itself provides two separate layers of interference; the driving snow and the flashing lights of the squad car. It’s easy to lose track of the 70s muscle car, the Dodge Charger, as it careens through the panel. As with the light and the snow, readers of Lawless don’t always understand what they’re seeing. Tracy’s third-person observations made in caption boxes act as the layers of light and snow do, misdirecting readers’ attentions. And just as the sound FX project beyond the panel, there are times when even Tracy moves beyond readers’ view.

By the time of the chase depicted in this panel, Tracy has already discovered the identity of his brother’s killer. They’re in the car with him, he’s helping them escape. But why would he do that?

by Kirstie Shanley

15 Jul 2009

Though the four-piece instrumental band Explosions in the Sky is no stranger to Chicago, this show was made special because it marked their tenth anniversary together as a band. Over the past decade, throughout the band’s five studio albums and consistent touring, they’ve perfected their experimental sound and their ability to turn it into a massive shared experience. It’s difficult to find many other bands of this genre that can match their sonic energy in a way that both adeptly acknowledges a gentle calm brightness and at other times a loud chaos. Like most of their song titles, their music accepts a sort of hopefulness that feels empowering and utterly complete.

Playing a gorgeous 90 minute set, Explosions in the Sky forgoes banter and instead lets each song seamlessly crash and evolve into the next, creating a sense of new wonder for each performance. Guitarist Munaf Rayani is the spokesperson for the band and typically makes a humble statement at the beginning and end of each performance about how much the band appreciates the audience and how special it is for them to perform. This time, he added a special note at the end that he hopes the band is together forever with the vast wall-to-wall audience in boisterous agreement.

Though guitar and pedal effects create a huge portion of their sound, Chris Hrasky’s drumming allows the songs to reach new levels of tension. The band plays with very little foreground light on their faces and bright beams of background light that spotlights the audience more than what is happening on stage. Munaf Rayani is the most animated of the three guitarists, often swirling his guitar around the Texas flag draped over the speaker cabinet for his amp.

Similar to many of their individual songs, their set began with a serene calmness and built slowly into a powerful crescendo of epic proportions. The audience provided a passionate response, throwing hands up in the air, clapping spontaneously during the songs, and cheering wildly for more. Highlights of the set included: “The Birth and Death of the Day”, “Catastrophe and the Cure”, “The Only Moment We Were Alone”, “Memorial”, and “Your Hand in Mine”.

With their alternating tumult, reeling guitars, and shimmering sense of dreamy grace, it’s difficult to not see some similarities to bands of the shoegaze genre. The band is often classified as post-rock though, and perhaps they take the elements of shoegaze to a new level. It’s difficult not to feel a sense of removal from time and space when they are playing and imagine a strange sort of postmodern wasteland where you’re bound to see a few ghosts. In the midst of the struggle, there seems to be hope for redemption and recovery. Perhaps Explosions in the Sky is this generation’s answer to My Bloody Valentine when the words would only get in the way.

by Chris Barsanti

15 Jul 2009

At what point did the Harry Potter film franchise become a race against repetition? In J.K. Rowling’s series of popcorn-munching fantasy-lite page-turners, the cycle of familiar events is something that helps power them along. Without the susurrus of new classes, new teachers, school holidays, and the rising and falling of friendships and crushes humming in the foreground, the books would have been lost beneath a crashing din of Rowling’s hyperactive plotting. As fantastical fictionalizing of the dreary retread of school years that march one towards adulthood, the books’ magic was rarely about exploration or discovery, but rather about circling the wagons of home and hearth against the darkness outside. Repetition, in the correct dosage, helped reinforce the sense of normalcy and protection that progressively shriveled from book to darker-hued book.

In the film series—which helped instantly transform the books into just another widget in the corporate multimedia entertainment platform before they could really take on an imaginative life of their own—those same guideposts of repetition become less reassuring, though, than they do overbearing. It’s a fascinating thing, as an audience, to watch a young cast grow through the years in tandem with their quickly maturing characters. It becomes less so to watch them undergo the same kind of trials and tribulations from one film to the next.

In film number six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the threatening overtures of the Dark Lord and his wraiths of doom are gathering swiftly. Meanwhile, at Hogwarts, where new security procedures have been put into place, the students go about their business, albeit more nervously than usual. A round of thwarted romance sweeps through the trio of Ron, Hermione, and Harry, aiming to provide some lovesick cheer amidst the gloom. Where director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves go wrong almost from the start is in how they decide to toggle back and forth between the two spheres of dangerous dark-fighting and high school angst, with the latter seeming to get much more attention.

by PopMatters Staff

15 Jul 2009

Stellastarr*
Civilized
(Bloated Wife)
Released: 7 July 2009 (US)

SONG LIST
01 Robot
02 Freak Out
03 Tokyo Sky
04 Numbers
05 Graffiti Eyes
06 Prom Zombie
07 Warchild
08 People
09 Move On
10 Sonja Cries

Stellastarr*
“Freak Out” [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

15 Jul 2009

Chris Dillow makes a good point about the similarities between Marxian and neoclassical assumptions about human behavior:

The basic premise of neoclassical economics, that people respond to incentives, echoes the Marxian notion that individuals are bearers of social relations. Both stress that an individual’s behaviour arises from the position he finds himself in - which influences the costs and benefits he perceives - more than from his character. Of course, both views can be pushed too far. But both remind us not to see human action as rising from mere idiosyncratic disposition.

Of course, the idea that our own action stems from our own uniquely idiosyncratic disposition is something we probably all have a tendency to assume. That seems to me the core of capitalist ideology, that we as individuals are essentially responsible for not only our actions but also for the surrounding circumstances that determine the possible range of actions. Dillow points out how this converges with behavior economists’ findings:

there’s an important convergence between Marx and behavioural economics. Marxists believe that false consciousness can bamboozle workers into accepting capitalism. If we want to know how this happens, the cognitive biases and heuristics programme helps us. For example, the fundamental attribution error leads us over-estimate the extent to which the poor are to blame for their poverty, and to under-rate the importance of environmental or societal forces. The availability heuristic leads workers to blame immigrants for unemployment rather than less obvious forces. The just world phenomenon and system justification cause us to believe that capitalism must be fair. The status quo bias causes us to accept existing evils rather than risk new ones. And adaptive preferences cause the poor to resign themselves to their fates and want less, with the result that capitalist democracy sustains inequality.

If one’s condition can be read as a statement of what is deserved, our empathetic instincts can be tempered if not squelched altogether. With empathy out of the way, the exchange process becomes more unfettered, and can grow to become the basis for more and more of social life, governing more of our interpersonal interactions. Our emotional responsiveness starts to register in our consciousness as irrational miscalculations of our interest, as maladaptive tendencies. In the name of preserving our individuality—of hewing to the assumption that our idiosyncratic disposition determines our behavior—we end up even more alienated, with a far more mechanistic view of our own behavior. The stubborn belief in our own special uniqueness is harnessed to a view of human behavior that allows for virtually no spontaneity whatsoever, that presumes our best self always acts out of the calculation of costs and benefits and explains away sacrifice or altruism as covertly self-serving.

Anyway, I know I have a tendency to cling to my sense of my own idiosyncrasy and take a peculiar pleasure in what I think it might prove about me, about my nonconformity, about my ability to resist manipulation, about my ability to transcend social norms and expectations and realize some higher originality. I’m into obscure music; I have a taste for difficult books; I don’t watch popular TV shows. I won’t go see the Transformers sequel. But I think that my presumptions of uniqueness are probably what guarantee my overall insignificance—it keeps me motivated to remain deliberately apart, internally praising myself to the extent that other people don’t get me, thereby guaranteeing that I will only be happy with myself to the degree that I influence no one. I wonder if this attitude truly is personal idiosyncrasy or the product of late capitalist ideology. Isolating individuals in their presumed specialness is an effective way of rendering them vulnerable to marketing appeals, to consumerism generally.

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