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by Jason Gross

28 Jul 2008

Despite all the blood-letting, the L.A. Times is still one of the most vital publishing institutions around.  Lately, they’ve been running a series of fascinating articles about the meshing of highbrow and lowbrow culture.  Check out these words of wisdom from Ann Powers about the music scribing profession and what much of our work comes down to:

“For all of its anti-authoritarianism, pop criticism remains, for most, a carefully scored game, rooted in hierarchical structures like best-of lists and star ratings. Its devotees may have followed the route of shamelessness into wide-open vistas, but they still feel compelled to push their own particular pleasures, guilty or otherwise, as the best. Some would say that’s the duty of a critic. Others might suggest it’s kind of macho. I think it’s amusing, the way the process has created a new form of reproach—shame on those who aren’t shameless enough.”

Also see Scott Timberg’s Highbrow. Lowbrow. No Brow. No What? which is an interesting mediation on how the cultural divides are crumbling and how we’re entering an age of post-‘brow’ culture.  Timberg thanks the Beatles and mass media but don’t also discount the effect of the Net which provides seemingly limitless info and ready access to all shades of arts.

by Lara Killian

28 Jul 2008

In case you were in any doubt, it pays to be on good terms with your local librarian.

Mine publishes a short weekly column in the local newspaper updating patrons (and potential patrons) on what’s new in the library this week. About a month ago I saw that Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, had been received. I’ve read most of his work and really enjoy it, so I stopped in to peruse the new fiction shelf. I was disappointed to see that it was absent; I assumed it was already checked out.

I always have a stack of books waiting for my schedule to clear so I wasn’t too put out. However, when someone at the circulation desk asked if I was looking for something, I mentioned the book. She looked it up in the computer and frowned because it should have been on the shelf. After a bit of looking around in likely locations for misplaced volumes, I took some alternative reading and headed on my way. I didn’t bother placing a hold on the book as it wasn’t checked out in the first place, so the computer wouldn’t have known what to do with my request.

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It was pretty surprising when I visited the library a couple of weeks later to return something, and there was The Enchantress of Florence, sitting on the shelf behind the circulation desk with my name tucked inside – waiting for me to either drop by or for someone to give me a call! It had turned up randomly and the librarian had remembered that I was looking for it.

As she said, there aren’t too many likely Rushdie readers in our small town of 6000 or so, so perhaps my request really stood out from the crowd. That said, I felt pretty gratified to know that the librarians are paying attention and doing their best to help patrons get what they’re looking for. What more could you ask for?

And although I’m smack in the middle of the book, I can say that it’s pretty good so far. Have you read any Rushdie lately? I’d recommend the Man Booker Prize winning Midnight’s Children (1981) as a great starting point.

by Mike Schiller

28 Jul 2008

SOOO, I couldn’t decide what to deign “game of the week” this week, so we’re going with co-winners.

First up is the obvious one, the one and only seriously high profile release of the week.  Out in advance of the uber-anticipated updates to the Street Fighter franchise is the first of a few steps toward reinvigorating the recently dormant (aside from TV tie-ins like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto) fighting game genre:  Soulcalibur IV.  The reason I’ve been a bit hesitant toward this is that much of the most noticeable pre-release publicity for the game has centered upon the gravity defying, spitting-in-the-face-of-physics size of the female fighters’ breasts (particularly those of Ivy, whose battle gear cannot possibly be comfortable).  I’m not sure this is a good thing, unless you’re a Rumble Roses fan.

Still, it’s tough to deny the draw of a sequel to a game that can still boast one of the very few 10.0 scores on IGN.  The original Soulcalibur honestly ranks right up there with Street Fighter II in terms of playability and fun, and even if the sequels haven’t been of the same, um, caliber (ha), they’ve at least been worth a play or three.  Perhaps the publicity boost behind number 4 means that there will be a quality boost to match.

Also, Darth Vader and Yoda are involved.  So there’s that.

The other game, and the one I’m more likely to buy, quite frankly, is Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2.  I wish I could count the number of hours I’ve lost to the original Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, despite the fact that I’ve never spent more than five minutes on the game at a time, and also despite the fact that all of my practice has not changed the fact that I really kind of suck at the game.  There’s an utterly addictive quality to the whole thing, perhaps due to the fact that “just one more game” is only a couple of minutes worth of a commitment, perhaps due to the simplicity of the whole thing offering the sort of play that always feels like you could (and probably should) have avoided the one enemy that killed you.  Geometry Wars 2 is adding a bunch of cooperative modes and new boards to play, and early screenshots have indicated that the level of chaos is at least that of the first, so…that’s 10 more dollars down the intertube.

Fans looking for the next RBI Baseball might want to give MLB Power Pros a look for the Wii…so far, it’s been well-received, and the style and simplicity of it might invite back some old school baseballers that can’t deal with the simulation-like nature of most modern baseball games.  I’m also positive that someone out there is doing backflips over the release of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI for the PC, but I still haven’t managed to make myself excited about the well-established, long-running strategy series.  Maybe when XII comes out, I’ll be swayed.

The rest of the releases (and two trailers!) are after the jump.

by tjmHolden

27 Jul 2008


“You ought not to do that.”

The first time I ignored her because, frankly, I couldn’t believe someone would be speaking to me. A complete stranger, just off the plane.

“I say, you really ought not to be doing that.”

The second time I ignored her, because, although I now appreciated that a complete stranger was speaking to me, a complete stranger, I had no idea what she was saying. Swedish not being a part of my linguistic repertoire.

“You see . . . “ she, now switching to a version of English—(proving that she wasn’t simply a deranged crackpot reciting gibberish in my direction, but, rather was a multi-talent, with an aim to communicate, and quick on the up-take)—“it really isn’t . . . safe . . . to leave your bag sitting by itself like that. It simply is

not

safe.”

 


by John Bohannon

27 Jul 2008

In American culture, when we think of classic soul, chances are the names that pop into our heads are among the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, and many others from Motown, Stax, and various labels around the country. In Brazil, the two names you are most likely to hear when talking about soul music are the recently popularized in America, Jorge Ben (thanks to the likes of Dusty Groove and the Tropicalia resurgence) and the virtually unrecognized Tim Maia.

If any were to be compared to the westernized soul sound, it would be Tim Maia. Although don’t get me wrong, his recordings were undeniably Brazilian. Unlike Jorge Ben though, Maia was able to mix these westernized elements into his brand of crooning soul that later developed into some of the funkiest sounds in the Western Hemisphere (much like Marvin Gaye’s development, in fact).

It’s important to look at Brazilian music not only as a melting pot of Bossa Nova, Samba, and its many traditional elements, but also as a nation that was able to take elements from African traditional music and put their own spin on it. Maia is one of the masters of Brazilian soul music, and if I spend my entire life dragging his presence to America, then so be it. It’s a worthy cause.

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