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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Early on the morning of May 18, 1980, Joy Division singer Ian Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself in the kitchen of his Macclesfield, England home. Despite the short body of work he produced (one full-length album plus a clutch of singles and EPs by the time of his death at age 23, soon followed by a second album and other posthumous releases), Ian Curtis’ music with Joy Division has gained a legendary stature in the subsequent decades. Noted for his frenzied performance style, his dark, literate lyrics, and his doomy proto-goth baritone, in death Curtis has become an icon of the post-punk movement in particular and underground rock music in general, continuing to influence scores of artists to this day.


In honor of Curtis’ legacy, here are a pair of videos that showcase his indomitable stage presence in life, followed by Anton Corbijn’s 1988 music video for the Joy Division song “Atmosphere”, quite possibly the most exquisite and beautifully-crafted posthumous tribute the medium has ever produced. As a bonus, also included is Radiohead’s cover of “Ceremony” (originally released as the debut single by Joy Division’s successor group New Order), one of the last songs Curtis ever wrote.


Tagged as: joy division
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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Volumes could be written about You Can’t Do That on Television, the Canadian kids’ show which ran in the States on the cable channel Nickelodeon all through the 1980s and into the ‘90s.  Subversive in its silliness as great comedy often is, YCDTOTV offered a brand of children’s sketch comedy that has yet to be duplicated to this writer’s knowledge. And the intro to the show fairly neatly captures all that makes the show itself great. 


The theme music is bizarrely catchy, an odd marching-band arrangement punctuated by screams. This gives a very definite Monty Python feel to the intro, as does the use of cut-out animation. Then, there is the cutting imagery of the “Children’s Television Sausage Factory”, mechanically cranking out “product” of child actors on an automated assembly line. This ought to resonate with anyone who has ever noticed how insultingly bland and rote a lot of children’s televison can be. Then, the kids are loaded onto a bus and cut loose in a TV studio. The face of Les Lye, the actor who played all of the adult male roles on the show, in various costumes and with various voices, is stamped with the show’s title. This is a fairly empowering image for the young viewer, a sort of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” for the Romper Room set.


One often wishes to take care to not tread down the glittery lane towards nostalgia, lest one gets stuck living in the past. So it is nice to see that something one grew up watching turned out to be far more layered and interesting than one could have articulated at the time.


Just watch for the green slime.



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Monday, Apr 26, 2010

On April 26, 1980, Los Angeles punk band X released their debut. Named after the city which spawned them, the album was a definitive release which not only put the Los Angeles punk scene on the map, but also inspired countless other young bands to look beyond the standard aggro punk idiom.


Los Angeles was produced by Ray Manzarek, who not only contributed keyboards to some of its songs, but also made sure to throw in a tune by his old band, the Doors (“Soul Kitchen”) for good measure.


John Doe and Exene Cervenka were the acknowledged leaders of the group, writing the album’s eight original numbers and sharing vocal duties, but guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake were every bit as crucial to the band’s early sound.


If it’s not actually possible to hop into a time machine and relive the thrill of the early Los Angeles punk scene, perhaps this clip of “Los Angeles” from X: The Unheard Music will evoke some of its spirit.


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Thursday, Apr 22, 2010

Kids have been going bananas over Sunn 0))) for a few years now, when they’re not getting all worked up over the new High on Fire album or continuing to suck in bong-loads of Electric Wizard. Far be it from me to discourage such noble apotheosis, but considering how much this style of slow, sludgy heavy metal is indebted to the past, I’d say a little history is in order. Before forming Sunn 0))) (and starting Southern Lord Records), Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley were part of Burning Witch, which only survived for two 12” releases over a handful of years in the late ‘90s. In that brief period, they played an intestine-bursting performance on the now-defunct Seattle public-access show, 29 Live. Everything about this video is FTW: the searing feedback, the unapologetic thrash fashion, the low end somehow remaining brawny through the tinny VHS recording, and above all else, the agonized shrieking of vocalist Edgy 59 (who now spends his time imitating Trent Reznor for Sinisstar). Doom metal would get slower, heavier, and more sophisticated in coming years, but never would Sabbath riffs be as punishing or raw.


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Tuesday, Apr 20, 2010
Let's celebrate the musical life of the legendary Guru in video.

After slipping into a heart attack-induced coma late last February, hip-hop artist Guru succumbed to cancer yesterday. The legendary MC, whose real name was Keith Elam, somehow managed to sound both rough and smooth at the same time. In addition to his partnership with DJ Premier in Gang Starr, Guru spearheaded the 4-volume Jazzmatazz releases, which saw him collaborate with jazz musicians, other MC’s and artists from across a broad spectrum.


Guru’s alleged final handwritten message, released by producer Solar, included harsh words for DJ Premier.


“I do not wish my ex-DJ to have anything to do with my name likeness, events tributes etc. I had nothing to do with him in life for over seven years and want nothing to do with him in death. Solar has my life story and is well informed on my family situation, as well as the real reason for separating from my ex-DJ.” (NME)


But rather than speculate on what led to that tension, let’s instead celebrate the musical life of the legendary Guru.



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