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by Lara Killian

29 Mar 2009

Yet another distracting factor in my ongoing mental vacillation between coveting Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s Reader: Sony has recently teamed up with Google to get access to all those public domain digital versions of Jane Austen and Shakespeare Google has been stockpiling.

by Jason Gross

29 Mar 2009

By now you know Blender has joined the unfortunate ranks of music magazines that have gone under. I had pretty mixed feelings about this myself. I’d written for them before, plus I knew people who worked there and liked some of the list-making and funny/snarky features that they’ve done. On the other hand, like Rolling Stone, I usually hated the covers (the subjects and the photos) and didn’t think some of the wild energy matched say Creem in its heyday. Nevertheless, its passing is a big event, with lots of ramifications in the music business.

One sign of that came from a missive that Signal to Noise magazine (“Journal of Improvised and Experimental Music”) sent around to its writers this weekend. Signal to Noise, as the editor noted, is about as far part from Blender, in terms of coverage and tone, as a music magazine could be. Nevertheless, the editor knew that this was an important moment in music journalism, wondering aloud ‘if it could happen to a powerhouse like that, are we gonna be in trouble too?’  Good question. 

And the sad answer is yes, this does spell trouble all around. Part of the problem is online strategy. No Depression readily noted that this is what killed the print edition, even though they’ve been able to revive themselves online. Harp pretty much acknowledged as much too, though they were also reborn now as Blurt (and coming out in print now too).

Similarly, when I stopped by the Spin offices a few weeks ago, a big meeting was going on where they were talking about their online strategy and how they could best target their audience nowadays. It’s obviously a conversation that needs to be had but I was also kinda worried that this kind of talk needs to accelerate or have happened a while ago.

And what about the writers involved? Some of the staff at Blender will go to Maxim but others won’t. Similarly, freelancers will have to find other gigs in a market that’s rapidly shrinking. Sure, they can blog to their heart’s content (like here), but for many of them who rely on it as their first income, this is pretty troubling. We as readers stand to lose some important, thoughtful voices in this field or will have to hunt around to find where they land elsewhere.

(As a side note, this also poses an interesting problem for Press/PR people. Where they’d once know to include a big dog like Blender on their list to work with, they’re gonna have to turn to online sources more and more. You might think “that’s great for blogs and more sites are gonna get taken more seriously!” Not quite though. Even online, there’s hierarchies and favored destinations so basically, what’s gonna change is that a new set of noted gatekeepers are gonna rule the roost on the Net)

Let’s go back to Signal to Noise‘s worry about Blender and think about this—if Blender can collapse, who might be next?  We think of magazines like Rolling Stone or Vibe as the government did about AIG—they’re too big to go down. One big difference is that if the magazines are able to go under, there’s not gonna be any bail out for them.

“So what?” you might say about publications. “They can just go online.” After all, the Christian Science Monitor‘s done that and after closing their print edition, Seattle P.I. did the same. That’s all good and well but the fact of the matter is still that the ad dollars (aka the life blood of a publication) are much less online than they are in print. So while the publication would save money with printing and distribution by going online-only, they still stand to lose much more when their revenue shrinks in ad dough. Not surprisingly then, Seattle P.I. will be much smaller online than it was in print.

The other shrugging argument is that with Blender and other publications disappearing, the action will just go on elsewhere online as it has been going on anyway. The problem with that is that it’s a half-truth. By design, music nuts will have to look elsewhere for music news, recommendations and such, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s online will take up all of the slack from the publications that disappear. Pitchfork doesn’t and can’t and neither can zines like mine—we each fill our own niches and though that sometimes intersects with the work of other magazines, it doesn’t take up the slack all the time either.

We can hope and dream that the patchwork of sites, blogs, zines and such will be enough to cover the bases in the music world (or we can even try to make it happen ourselves) but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t always and it can’t. Other publications will eventually pop up in their place but they’ll face the same problems of how to stay alive in a Net age. And as you might have heard, there’s no reliable model for that yet so there’s no guarantees for any of the up and coming pubs to survive either. That’s what’s kind of unsettling to me and if you’re a real music fan, it might just creep you out too.

by Bill Gibron

27 Mar 2009

One of the great things about art is its ability to make you see the common and the familiar in a totally different and unique light. Painting puts a stylistic impression on the world, while music translates ideas and feelings into sound and sonic expression. Film is perhaps the most endemic of the many formats. It allows for the greatest combination of facets, plus is relies on reinvention and reinterpretation to stay fresh and alive. This is exactly what happens to the horror film in Ben Rivers deconstructionist delight Terror! As part of Provocateur DVDs new Experiments in Terror 3, this brilliant breakdown of the standard fright flick is so radiant, so drop dead eye-opening in what it says about the genre, that it should be required viewing for all scary movie buffs.

As they have in the past, the Experiments in Terror series collects unusual and outsider examples of sinister short films from around the world. Past participants have been Damon Packard, Bill Morrison, and J.X. Williams. This time up, we are treated to six sensational examples of avant-garde artistic invention. Williams shows up again with the Christmas themed Satan Claus, while famed underground legend Mike Kuchar conjures up the mummy mania of Born of the Wind. Rivers’ Terror! costars with Jason Bognacki’s The Red Door (more of a trailer for an upcoming feature than a full blown film), Carey Burtt’s toyland expose of The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase, and the silent film fascination of Marie Losier and Guy Maddin’s Manuellle Labor. Add in Clinton Childree’s It Gets Worse and a pamphlet describing each offering, and you’ve got a killer compendium - both figuratively and literally.

It all starts with the animated atrocities of insane maniac Chase, a real life criminal who believed he was a vampire. Inspired by Todd Haynes and his Barbie doll based Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Burtt using basic stop motion techniques and some careful framing to tell the sensational story. There are moments of high comedy and sequences of unsettling psychological damage on display. By using the innocent items associated with youth, Chase’s crime become more compelling - and disturbing. Similarly, the black and white turn of the century cinematic techniques displayed by Losier and Maddin, as well as Chidree, change the entire nature of the horror film narrative. Both feel like malformed comedies, humor derived from death, birth, and the mutations that accompany each.

Elsewhere, Williams works his magic on the Mexican kiddie classic (and Mystery Science favorite) Santa Claus. Taking a subplot involving the rich boy and his inconsiderate parents and turning it into a tale of devil worship and demonic possession - with a little Profundo Rosso thrown in for good measure - we wind up with a wicked Yuletide treat. Even Kuchar manages a bit of bedevilment in his typical homage hysterics. This 1964 farce features the standard company from the underground icon and a plethora of his peculiar motion picture style. There’s high camp, over the top sexuality, significant gore, and a last act reveal that’s so outrageous it hurts.

Oddly enough, the only outing which lacks true impact is Bognacki’s Red Room. There are hints of incest, abuse, spirituality, and murder in this music heavy promo. Just as things start to sort themselves out, we get that most dreaded of creative con jobs - the tag “to be continued”. In fact, much of this prostitute vs. John vs. phantom presence plays like a music video for a forgotten ‘90s Goth act. All we need is Marilyn Manson showing up with a jaw spreader in his craw and we be rockin’! This is not to downplay Bogmacki’s talent - the material looks fantastic, and the post-production touch of placing an animated scar across the ghost’s eyes really works. Too bad it’s all in service of something insignificant and incomplete.

But everything here, no matter its value, is raised several substantive notches by the inclusion of Rivers’ genius dissection of modern fright. Terror! takes several recognizable films - everything from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween to City of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th to showcase the standard cinematic stereotypes and formulaic filmmaking techniques involved in manufacturing fear. We get the simple set up, the shot of feet stumbling in the dark, the unexpected reveal of the villain, the last girl struggles, the inept desire to explore the unknown, the sudden shocks, and most significantly, the gruesome, gory end game. This last facet is the most fascinating element in Rivers’ routine for many reasons - many of them very telling indeed.

Like pornography, horror’s unwholesome relative, there is a definite desire on the part of scary moviemakers to start out somber and build to a climax. All throughout Terror! , we anticipate the killings to come (especially once the individual films reveal themselves) and then spend nearly 20 minutes waiting for the payoff. All the while, the normal beats that keep us on the edge of our seats become delayers of our gratification. As Rivers randomizes the edits, drawing us closer and closer to the blood orgasm to come, we truly want the relief - and when it comes, it’s almost sickening in its satisfaction. Of all the films made about fear and the movies that monopolize said emotion, this is one of the very, very best.

And that’s par for the course when it comes to Provocateur and its itinerary of titles. One should simply sit back and expect the unexpected, whether it’s action figures and crayons creating blood-drinking dread or a famed filmmaker using his love of antique Tinsel Town for a fabulous play on words. No matter the age, ability, or aspirations, all of these ‘experiments’ succeed in showing that talent in any form - feature length or substantially shorter - can lift even the most mediocre of overdone genre. Horror definitely fits into such a mangled category. For all the good work done, there are thousands of genuine junk piles. This trip into terror is significant for many reasons, the least of which remains their artistic integrity. Like all good masterworks, they mean as much in retrospect as they do in reality.

by PopMatters Staff

27 Mar 2009

The new Super Furry Animals album Dark Days / Light Years releases digitally via Rough Trade on April 14th and in physical form on April 21st. Of course, as many of you know the Welsh popsters have already released it digitally on their own website. Here’s a slice of the tunes on offer, “Inaugural Trams”.

Super Furry Animals
“Inaugural Trams” [MP3]

by Thomas Hauner

27 Mar 2009

After an awkwardly scripted, but hilariously oblivious, introduction by the night’s host Bryan Michael Cox, Peter Bjorn and John took the stage at their “Wonderlust” W Hotel gig. Their physical and musical presence was highly anticipated, not having performed in the US for a year and their fifth album, Living Thing, arriving March 31.

Playing mostly new songs from Living Thing, their sound adhered to the stripped-down minimalist indie pop of past albums—namely the excellent Writer’s Block. But now, in their sparse arrangements, synthetic sounds dominated. Peter Moren hammered away at a keyboard while John Eriksson eschewed a drum throne and kit, instead standing in front of a shelf of sampling pads, drums and cymbals while kicking a bass drum to his right.

Compared to their listless photo op upon entering the venue, the trio was animated and energetic, excited to be performing new music. In a bit of role reversal Björn Yttling played keyboard while Moren slashed away on bass for “I Want You!”

Peter Bjorn and John joined the Catchy-Kids-Chorus-Club with “Nothing To Worry About”. Gorgeous minor-soaked melodies scratched against Eastern flute samples and a heavy beat before Moren’s voice took over. It was the first point in the set at which everyone in the crowd was dancing and seemed to have a clue as to what the Swedes were up to.

On “It Don’t Move Me”, Yttling echoed the same piano sounds he created as producer on Lykke Li’s “I’m Good, I’m Gone”. Also the intro on title track “Living Thing” had hints of Moren’s Swedish rockabilly roots.

A few of the band’s songs were a departure from the irrepressibly catchy, but intriguing, melodies PB and J have accustomed themselves to. At some points they seemed to be veering towards the current post punk trend, one that dishevels their tight sound. Ending with “Object Of My Affection”, however, they played with precisely the type of above punk ethos their music—and facial hair—emanates.

Forty minutes later they finished with a single encore, “Young Folks”. I thought it was a bit 2007, and would have definitely preferred the “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” Moren flaunted at a Mercury Lounge show a year ago.


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