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Sunday, May 4, 2008
Yet the biggest question that lingers after seeing Justice's "Stress" video is simply this: what's the point?

Justice’s last two music videos—“D.A.N.C.E.” and “DVNO”—were graphic, fun-filled affairs that were visually engaging, culturally satirical, and just damn fun to watch. With “Stress”, however, the group winds up taking a turn for something much darker.


As you stream it below, you see something that’s very primal and very unpleasant: act after act of mindless, pointless violence. Romain Garvis’ clip features a gang of young hoodlums (all donning jackets with the Justice “cross” logo on it) going about town and destroying bars, throwing tourists cameras away, smashing street performers guitars, hijacking a car and much, much more. It will never get play on MTV, and its violence is tough to swallow: even the one shot at this gang’s come-uppance is foiled after the kids break off from a security guard sneak attack, leaving just one guard to try and stop them ... only to find himself on the floor being kicked repeatedly.


The video ends with the kids torching the car they stole, some of the flame even landing on the videos boom mic operator. They don’t even acknowledge his pain: they soon turn to the camera man, spit on his lense, and after what appears to be a brief struggle, everything turns to black.


Yet the biggest question that lingers after is simply this: what’s the point?


It’s doubtful that a video as well-crafted as this was done simply to provide an unfunny version of Jackass. Instead, given that Justice originated from France, this video could perhaps be seen as an expression of the outrage that the French youth felt during their tumultuous riots a few years back, the ones that shocked and outraged a nation: politicians calling said rioters “scum” and the youth of France returning the sentiment in kind by destorying millions upon millions of dollars worth of property. The “Stress” video could be seen as the youth having bottled up rage, societal resentment brewing in their blood ... and yet not having a single outlet of which to pour their energy. So, the kids in this video take to vandalism, crime, asserting their authority in any/all contexts possible, lapping up their camera-captured spotlight before, ultimately, turning on those who are documenting their accomplishments. Is the implication that such unfocused, unbridled rage will ultimately collapse in on itself, leading to one’s own destruction instead of on exterior, worldly things?


It’s hard to say, and this video does not provide any easy answers. It’s a polarizing clip, but it only goes to show that art of any kind—yes, even big-beat techno—can ignite a serious, pointed discussion.


(Oh, and yeah ... it’s also a great song to boot).


Tagged as: justice
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Saturday, May 3, 2008
Improbable as it may sound, Black Sabbath is quite possibly the most misconstrued super group of all time.

Question: Is it possible that a band could sell over one hundred million albums, be referenced constantly by groups spanning multiple genres, and whose very name is considered synonymous with an entire type of music be underrated?


Improbable as it may sound, Black Sabbath is quite possibly the most misconstrued super group of all time. This certainly is not to imply anyone should feel sorry for these very loved—and very wealthy—avatars of heavy metal. Shed no tears for Tony Iommi. He is widely—and appropriately—acknowledged as one of rock music’s seminal guitar gods, the architect of a sound that, while distinctly his own, is anything but stagnant or formulaic; indeed, his body of work, considering only the music he made in the ‘70s, is varied, nuanced and deep. No, really. Of course, he’ll always remain in the shadow of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page—just to name two of the undisputed heavyweights (not unlike Ray Davies will forever play bridesmaid to Lennon/McCartney and the Glimmer Twins). And that is as it should be. Still, there are two crucial elements working against a more sober and salient appraisal of his genius: the name of his band, and Ozzy Osbourne.


The all-too-easily disparaged (and, for the easily offended, objectionable) appellation Black Sabbath ensures that the band could never really be taken all that seriously. Not only is this a damn (albeit not a crying ) shame, it is enough to make one wish they had simply stuck with their original name. Earth, as the band was initially known in industrial Birmingham, England, is, incidentally, a much more appropriate word to associate with this very blue-collar and bruising band. Earth is the opposite or air, the ground is not ethereal, and water turns it to mud; if ever a band basked proudly and beautifully (and always unabashedly) in the mud, it is Sabbath. And despite all the silly mythmaking, the only thing demonic about this band was its proclivity for employing the musical tritone (also known as the Devil’s Interval) in its music.


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Friday, May 2, 2008

Countless style section profiles and GLBT weeklies have recently noted the slow and steady demise of the gay bar as a cultural institution of the queer community.  Of course, news “trends” can frequently amount to one person with a deadline and ten with Google skills but still, in my own experience, I’ve seen a welcome transformation in the culture of the gay bar, especially musically.  A few years ago, my boyfriend and I started booking bands at this affectionate leather dive bar, known mostly for its assless chaps and a back patio that had something a bit beyond mood lighting.  And frankly, there was a palpable level of hostility to women that I quickly dispensed with by sheer force of numbers and a few shaming asides.  Any gay man who is not a feminist is miraculously moronic. 


The nights became something of a hit, precisely because it wasn’t exclusively queer space and it definitely wasn’t gay bar music (I know plenty of gay people who never want to hear “Rhythm Is A Dancer” ever again for as long as they live).  Although gay bars and gay music have an importance in gay culture that’s difficult to underestimate, I like the evolution of identity that doesn’t mean that a particular category of oppression compels anyone to adopt a specific set of tastes. Sure enough, all over Austin there are now bars that are considered “mixed”, or at least places you could hang with your significant other and not have to miss a kiss.  At least in my experience, there’s a soft, meaningful transformation that happens when queers and straights share the same space, drink a few cheap beers in a bar with a whipping crucifix on the wall, and listen to a great local band like White Denim.  As always, I’m open to the arguments of the importance of “gay music”, but I honestly don’t know what that even would considered anymore, unless it’s those horrible circuit party CDs where “California Dreaming” is given a hi-Nrg workover by an anonymous diva.  I guess this should come as no surprise since hip hop has become owned by no one in particular even while it clearly began in one community.  Does identity music even have a place anywhere anymore?  Or are these treasures(old school gay bars) that weren’t a particularly important part of life, something to be territorially protected.


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Tuesday, Apr 29, 2008

How is it that a song made of all the worst things possible is endlessly awesome? Contemplate this while enjoying Komar & Melamid’s “Most Unwanted Song” (link via Scott McLemee). The song was produced based on the results of a 1990s poll asking Americans what features they like least in music. Michael Bierut at Design Observer suggests the result is a triumph of design: “If working within limitations is one of the ways designers distinguish themselves from artists, America’s Most Unwanted Song is a design achievement of a high order.”


And naturally, the most wanted song is unlistenable. If American Idol is the future of pop music, this poll-produced contrivance suggests the future will be bleak indeed.


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Monday, Apr 28, 2008

God, how I wanted to love the new Portishead record, to the point of erring on the side fandom: making excuses, exceptions, at times pretending to love a song that was actually causing vertigo. I understand that the progenitors of a genre that quickly descended into high-end frock shop soundtracks would want to make their long awaited comeback something of a departure. But why a decapitation?  I know that psychologizing people you don’t know is usually just an exercise in projection, but I do get the impression that Geoff Barrow resented Beth Gibbon’s centrality in their previous work. Her voice is abraded and assaulted, on this track trying to mournfully bleed through cold, staccato bullet beats. This is hardly the album exception: “Hunter” strangles and scribbles on her voice, backdropped with a lullaby rhythm where the cradle has fallen and been shattered by the 18-Wheeler from the “Enter Sandman” video.


The video helps little, framing the song in the cold mechanization of a factory studio, like H.R. Giger built it for them. I’ve been in a lot of studios and they don’t have to look like the torture rooms from Hostel. The song and visuals offer nothing but the experience of occlusion and abjection, a sad descent for a band that at the very least used to be able to do depressing well. This isn’t depression, it’s an adverse psychiatric drug reaction. Even more distressing, it’s not interesting, the very least you can offer a listener if you choose to be intractably difficult about rejecting your past. Both the video and song simply alternate between flat planes of abrasion while Gibbons clamors for air. It’s dull and lifeless. I’m open to having my mind changed on this; sometimes all it takes is for a thoughtful person to offer an alternate view that wholly alters your perception. But for now, at least, I think this is pure cantankerous clamor.


Tagged as: portishead
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