What a year it’s been for Fitz and the Tantrums. Since the PopMatters interview last Memorial Day weekend in the basement of a small venue in New York City, the band has toured non-stop with a full schedule ahead—now they’re on the bill at Sasquatch. Their music has found placements on television and they were called upon to remake “Arthur’s Theme Song” (maybe the movie didn’t do so well, but still!) VH-1 also honored the band as an “Artist on the Rise” in the “You Oughta Know” series in April, and as of this week’s Top Twenty Countdown, “Money Grabber” is at number 14. Whether this song was on your playlist last summer or not, it’s a fun rock-out tune to kick off the season.
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The lonely organ and the disembodied voice have been staples of independent music since Suicide, but rarely have a group sounded so dandy about his isolation as Wet Hair’s Shawn Reed and Ryan Garbes do here. The video continues the vein of hypnagogic/chillwave’s psychedelic YouTube descrambling, which is really having a hard time finding a way to get old. “Labor of Love” is off a split with goth-leaning Naked on the Vague off of the Iowa-based Night People label.
The influence of Alan McGee’s Creation Records on the course of mid-‘90s British music can’t be ignored. The label actually made its name in the burgeoning indie scene of the previous decade, with a roster of bands that included My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain. As Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie puts it, McGee specialised in the signing of “outsiders, chancers, lunatics…” whose behaviour made them, and their label’s boss, notorious.
During the label’s ‘90s heyday, Oasis’ public feud with mockney rivals Blur made headlines in Britain even as their album What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? came to represent the mod-referencing, self-consciously retro spirit of its times. McGee, meanwhile, was courted by the Labour party before they came to power in 1997, in a bid to keep the younger elements of the electorate on side by playing up to a “Cool Britannia” ethos. Just two years later, however, as McGee’s dissatisfaction with the music business grew, Creation closed. Upside Down: The Creation Records Story tells the label’s riotous tale. It’s now available on DVD in the UK, with worldwide release dates yet to be confirmed.
Frontline: Wikisecrets, can offer no interviews with its primary subject, Spc. Bradley Manning, as he’s currently imprisoned in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Still, the program, premiering Tuesday night and now available online, provides a seemingly detailed portrait of the young American soldier accused of passing restricted information to Wikileaks: among other things, he was frustrated and dismayed by his treatment by his military colleagues and the institution per se, at least in part because he’s gay. More provocatively, the program presents stories from other players in the case, including a hacker named Adrian Lamo (who appears in a rumpled trench coat and offers his personal observations of Manning’s state of mind, whom he met via email), as well as onetime Wikileaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg (who has his own observations to make about the way Wikileaks operates).
Julian Assange also speaks, if only to insist that “protecting our sources” remains a priority—this even as Manning has reportedly been tortured, or at least held many months held in isolation, as he awaits trial. The program constructs a timeline for events (with locations ranging from New York to London to Iraq to Oslo) and hints at motives and coverups. If, as Assange and other argue, Wikileaks’ exposures of illegal or otherwise shady exploits might transform the world (and perhaps stop warfare), the show raises questions as to costs, for individuals more than governments and organizations, which tend to go on. Asked to measure effects, Domscheit-Berg says, “I mean, it’s a very hard distinction you have to take. What is more important? Bringing the truth to the light or protecting one person?”
It has been an incredibly busy spring semester for yours truly, which means that my PopMatters posting has been much lighter than usual. As of late, my inbox has been filling up with kind reminders from this site’s esteemed editors, nudging me to participate in a variety of summer writing projects. Truly, I have been doing the best that I possibly can to find the appropriate time to write some good stuff for the site.
Then, this morning, May 20, 2011, I realized that my neverending sense of guilt about my lack of writerly participation in the variety of excellent summer PopMatters columns that are planned for publication does not really matter, because the world is ending tomorrow. Therefore, I have decided that the most appropriate Mixed Media entry for what could be the very last Mixed Media entry ever is a clip of Mogwai playing “Mogwai Fear Satan.” I am so glad that I can be with all of you here at the end of all things. To those of you I won’t see in heaven, I will offer you one consolation: at least you’ll have rock ‘n’ roll.