Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Weezer have always had a knack for making great videos. Spike Jonze’s early work with the band on the low-key but clever “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and the innovative “Buddy Holly” video that featured the band inserted into Happy Days helped put him on the map. Then there were Marcos Siega’s clips for “Hash Pipe”, with the band in sumo suits, and the excellent “Keep Fishin’”, which had Weezer appearing as guests on The Muppet Show. On Friday, May 23, the band added “Pork and Beans” to their list of video triumphs. Premiering on YouTube, the video is three minutes and 15 seconds of references to internet pop culture, most of which became famous through YouTube in the first place.


The band assembled dozens of these internet celebs and tossed them all into the same video, having most of the lip sync to the lyrics of the songs. The main performance in the video shows Weezer in a field in lab coats, performing amidst an ever-increasing number of Diet Coke-and-Mentos fountains. The sheer amount of references is astonishing, and the video quickly becomes an entertaining checklist as the viewer tries to identify the various bits. I got about 80% of them on the first time through. My favorite moments- drummer Pat Wilson creepily hanging around the Numa Numa headphones guy and Rivers Cuomo awkwardly giving Chris “Leave Britney Alone!!” Crocker a hug.


Sure, Weezer isn’t the first to combine a pile of internet references in one place. South Park did it to hilarious effect a couple of months ago, and that’s just one example. And yes, it will probably seem dated six months from now—it won’t have the staying power of the “Buddy Holly” video, that’s for sure. But since videos are often basically band-approved commercials for the music, staying power isn’t the point. Right now, and for the rest of the summer, Weezer has a surefire YouTube hit on their hands that will go a long way towards keeping their name out there as they promote their new album. It’s both funny and a savvy marketing strategy, so kudos to them.


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Friday, May 23, 2008
Little Dragon - Test

Little Dragon’s 2007 album never quite garnered the momentum it deserved despite the blogosphere hype that’s launched a hundred lesser careers and artists.  Singer, Yukimi Nagano, has a crystalline R&B timbre to her voice, like Erykah Badu re-tooled for one of those Nordic lounges constructed from cloudless ice sheets.  Almost every Little Dragon song (except the ultra-infectious “Forever”) doesn’t have the smacking immediacy of contemporary American R&B.  Their ballads are glacial and complex; their upticked tracks too whimsical and devoid of posture and cliché. 


For me, this video represents the charming details of making a lo-fi visual representation of a song.  It’s almost as if the video is a constant series of in jokes, like the washed-out pastel t-shirts that look as if they were suggested by someone’s mother so that everyone would “match”.  But there are other subtleties that can be visually arresting.  When Nagano skillfully taps out a rhythm on a tambourine, it’s actually sexy.  That’s hard to imagine in a genre where sexy usually involves butt floss swimwear dripping with off-brand corn oil.  Even the dirty mop-topped back-up dancers seem like a tongue-in-cheek nod to the arbitrary surrealism that passes for serious artistry in many videos.  I’ve also come to appreciate videos that eschew coldly angular choreography for something more spontaneous and individualized (or at least the appearance of individuality and spontaneity).  “Test” looks like it was a fun video to make; you can see it in the tamped down grins that crack through the faux serious faces they wear as they clumsily mime their way through the shrug dance of the Robert Palmer girls.


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Friday, May 23, 2008
AM - Old Song

You gotta hand it to LA-based songwriter AM, he chose his unfortunate stage name before the internet was a major concern and has stuck to it even though it has rendered him all but invisible to Google.  Here are some of the places you’d have been more likely to end up if it hadn’t been for us:


You’re welcome.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The new Flying Lotus LP will be released on June 10th.  In my reckoning, it couldn’t come soon enough.  For some idea of where he’s coming from musically, here’s the video from one of the best tracks from his Reset EP. 


“Tea Leaf Dancers” provides a compact starting point for what makes Flying Lotus such a great producer and sound sculptor.  Flying Lotus’ sound is very much DJ Screw meets Tricky, with loops that knot in on themselves and a pillowy disorientation that constantly interrupts the forward momentum.  The video doesn’t so much tell a story as it does mirror the sonic mood.  In between sleep and consciousness, breakneck speed and stasis, the video has the effect of producing eye-flickering relaxation.  Okay, that’s probably just a fancy way of saying that it’s like slipping into a k-tunnel.  The unreal color and float-walk transport are narcotic and hypnotic, reproducing the same camera work that captures the light trails in sped up recordings of urban night traffic.  As far as narratives go, sleepwalking to the beach to watch the sunset isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but rendered with such dizzying simplicity and beauty, it doesn’t have to be.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Burkina Electric

Look, I’m not going to pretend to have the ethnomusicology background necessary to really decode this on its own terms and accurately explain it to you people.  That’s kind of the point, though—quite unexpectedly, Burkina Electric is decidedly outside my comfort zone.


New York percussionist Lukas Ligeti is the son of noted Austrian composer and perennial Kubrick fave György Ligeti.  In 2000, he began working with Maï Lingani, a popular singer from Burkina Faso, by producing her debut album.  A few years later, the pair decided to call it a collaborative project and pad it out into a quartet; the first album with the new format came out in 2006


At first, Rêem Tekré came across as the sort of alien folk tradition that just served to remind me how little I know about music in the grand scheme of things.  Everyone needs a little worldly education every now and again, but eventually I found Ligeti’s incorporation of Western drums and electronics really unsettling.  I’m generally pretty comfortable with both, but here they are entirely inconvenient because they make it impossible to just file the songs under a catch-all term like “World Music” and think myself more educated for the listening.  As it turns out, there are people using those same tools in the parts of the world we generally don’t bother with.  Oops.


I’ll let you define your own philosophical ramifications for this one.  Personally, I just come back to it periodically to see if I’m comfortable yet; no luck so far, but I’m still glad to hear sequenced drums that aren’t accompanied by a filter sweep.


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