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Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013
The Zombies had arrived at Abbey Road Studios in June of 1967. Fortunately, the Beatles had left some things behind.

When British pop act the Zombies arrived at Abbey Road Studios in June of 1967, the Beatles had just finished wrapping up the sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. By April 21st, the Beatles had logged hundreds of hours for their ambitious eighth studio record, although the sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s included dates that yielded non-LP tracks like “Only a Northern Song” and more. When those reportedly agonizing sessions of tape splicing and manual scissor edits adjourned, the Beatles left a number of instruments behind. Among them was a Mellotron, an early 1960s era keyboard that offered sample playback via magnetic audio tape. That summer, the Zombies were eager to incorporate Mellotron sounds in the recording of their sophomore album Odessey & Oracle, a polished, classically-influenced cornerstone of English psychedelic pop. The band split before Odessey saw release, much less before its single “Time of the Season” garnered number-one chart status in 1969.


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Thursday, Aug 12, 2010
Musically and visually, Animal Collective's new "visual album" 'Oddsac' is unmistakably in the group's wheelhouse: unapologetically and uncompromisingly weird, possessed of a singular vision, and all the more compelling for it.

When your band’s last album was near the top of pretty much every ‘Best Of’ list in the known universe, you pretty much get to do whatever you want for a follow-up. Apparently, what the fellows of Animal Collective wanted to do with that carte blanche was work alongside director Danny Perez to craft the most psychedelic and frankly frightening music/film hybrid since the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, which, for the record, is goddamn terrifying. In this goal, they succeed mightily with their latest release, the “visual album” Oddsac.


Speaking prior to a midnight screening at New York’s IFC Theatre, the film’s director advised the audience to just sort of let go for the film’s not-quite-an-hour run time. “Don’t try to decipher it too much”, requested Perez. It’s good advice that will contribute greatly to enjoying Oddsac, which alternates between creating psychedelic landscapes of color, motion, and sound, and gleefully context-free vignettes that are by turns meditative and gruesome.


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Friday, Feb 12, 2010

Some people might think that linking the inherently profound nature of Meshell Ndegeocello’s music to her sexuality is profane, but I think the link is damn near sacred. Only a handful of pop stars sing about anything other than sex not love, money not real power, and heartache to lament over relationships where neither partner initially respected themselves, let alone the other. Screen stars mimic the same, as violence, female subordination, and vilification of the poor permeate so much of our pop imagery. We can still easily count the number of female leading roles in Hollywood, and the absence of women from the corporate leadership behind our multi-billion dollar music and film industries attests to its antiquation.


Granted, the world is not as two-dimensional as straight/gay or black/white, so initially these sweeping generalizations might insult. For example, consider the number of queer people co-opted into reproducing the straight hegemony, and for this the fashion industry is exemplar. See all the fags creating stick-figure clothes and ho-heel shoes for real-world women?  Can you say eating disorder and diminished self-confidence?


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Monday, Nov 9, 2009
Mad love for Mariah Carey's artistry, exhibited through her "Fly Like a Bird" performance on American Idol.

Damn! Mariah is just all that. When watching Mariah perform “Fly Like a Bird” before this audience of idols, notice how much stronger her voice becomes once the choir comes out and pumps her up; she raises that hand up high, high, and higher, as if to say Amen! I love how Mariah doesn’t compete with her back-up singers, and can hold her own with that massive choir. Only Phil Spector has created a more comprehensive ‘wall of sound’, and yet this diva does it with her own musicality.


One should also note that Mariah not only hits those whistle tones, but also manages a lyric or two in that soaring tone. Divas like her need not state it, they just do it. The richness, of course, of Mariah’s voice is the range—her coloring of each note as she descends from high to low, a fluttering Mimi mimics with her fingers and open palm.


Watching Mariah perform is like a dyslexic’s wet dream: We see and hear in 3D, and Mariah is giving us mega-mega stimulation to all our senses. We can see the world she describes, while at the same time picture the lyrics written on the page, as she writes them and works with her pianist—Mariah notoriously cannot read the 2D representation of her music. At the same time, many dyslexics respond to the audio stimulation, how they, too, are rendered in 2D, but also sees the band, their fingers strumming or snapping, horns blowing, sticks striking, toes tapping, and symbols calling. One can even smell the sweetness of the flowers near the butterflies in all the imagery Mariah surrounds herself with, and feel the crispness of the air as the dove Mariah uses for her background in this performance soars, flying to the sky, praying only, that we know peace.


Will we recover
Will the world ever be
A place of peace and harmony
With no war and with
And no brutality
If we loved each other
We would find victory
But in this harsh reality
Sometimes I’m so despondent
That I feel the need to
Fly like a bird, take to the sky


Mariah imagines this world, and the music comes out. To many it sounds like sheer fantasy, since the presence of war, for the 2D seeing world, implies that war should be. The persistence of war convinces many that war is normal. Yet, the dyslexic who has honed in on their skill in seeing in 3D uses each and every sense to comprise this comprehensive vision of what is being presented, and therefore we can more easily see how things can also just be different. In popular culture, we can see 3D perception in The Matrix during that famous scene in the trilogy’s first installation where the actors are frozen in space, and the perspective shifts around—we find out later that several cameras and digital tricks produced these seamless images, but this is basically how many dyslexics perceive the world around them. We also witnessed this same skill in A Beautiful Mind, where John Nash, portrayed by Russell Crowe, can look at social situations and ‘see’ patterns. In the movie these patterns were cinematically drawn over the screen, but this is how people see in 3D.  The same was shown in X-Men: The Last Stand. The character Jean Grey’s alter ego Phoenix threatens Magneto with a gun that she takes apart, disassembling it into several pieces; the audience sees this in 3D, but this is how we normally see.


We also see 3D perception in the popular TV show Heroes, in which the character Sylar can take things apart and put them back together. He knows how things work. And that’s just it, dyslexics are often portrayed as mad. Only the astute dyslexic would have caught the reference to dyslexia in how Sylar’s nemesis, Peter Petrelli, was able to access that same ability through identifying with other people, but it is his father, Arthur Petrelli, who clarified that the skill was really based on empathy—knowing how people work by genuinely seeing another person’s perspective. Unlike all these fictional characters, we do not have to destroy others—like Sylar—in order to embrace their power. That’s 3D vision, for it is not just a way of seeing, but also a way of looking at things. In the real world, a famous dyslexic once penned:


Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace


Religion or not, it’s bossy how these talented people keep pressing for peace. It’s all that to just witness Mariah’s pleas, and uplifting to bear witness to her testimonial, and praise for living. In that way, it’s blues at its best. She doesn’t shy away from despondency, nor does she ail in calling out the war and inhumanity that others let slip by in our daily lives. She witnesses and testifies, and on that account she embraces her own strength and realigns that with her convictions. It’s just something real for a change, and it’s nice to share it in 3D.


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Thursday, Sep 17, 2009

The latest entry in the popular Guitar Hero video game series has now hit store shelves, but there has been some public discontent over the game’s playable avatar of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. On September 11th, surviving Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl issued a joint statement expressing that they were “dismayed and very disappointed” that the Cobain avatar could be used to play any song in Guitar Hero 5, not just Nirvana tunes. Meanwhile, Cobain’s widow Courtney Love has been raging on Twitter over the guitarist being included in the game to begin with, claiming Cobain would have loathed the game and that she would sue video game maker Activision over his image use.


Okay, let’s put aside the fact that both Love and Grohl had to give permission for Activision to use Cobain’s image and Nirvana’s music in the first place (making Love’s assertion that she never approved the likeness very odd). More importantly, let’s also push aside the cultural and historical baggage. Yes, Nirvana was the most important rock band of the 1990s, largely due to how it was resolutely spat in the face of rock music convention. Nirvana was at the center of the alternative rock revolution, which by its nature denounced commercial opportunism and despised the corporate music industry machine. Despite his well-documented drug problems, Cobain’s 1994 suicide is often interpreted by rock scholars as the ultimate act of defiance in the face of unwanted stardom. Nirvana does hold a hallowed place in rock history, but the group shouldn’t be treated as a sacred cow, never meant to mingle with the sort of artists they mocked and despised in a blockbuster media product. As a huge Nirvana fan myself, I too am certain that Cobain would have intensely hated his image appearing in the game. Then again, Cobain hated a lot of things, chief among them cleaning his apartment. The inclusion of a playable Kurt Cobain avatar in Guitar Hero 5 is definitely ill-advised, but it’s not because it devalues everything Nirvana stood for, as Love in particular suggests. It’s ill-advised because it looks utterly stupid.


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