Music

Seeland: Tomorrow Today

Ex-Broadcast and Plone members produce reliably nice album of soft-focus synthpop glee.


Seeland

Tomorrow Today

Label: Loaf
US Release Date: 2009-03-08
UK Release Date: 2009-03-08
Amazon
iTunes

Whatever else they have going for them, Seeland have an impeccable pedigree. Named after one of Neu!’s best songs and packing an album cover the BBC might have made in the '70s, Tim Felton and Billy Bainbridge (formerly of Broadcast and Plone, respectively) have the bona fides and references to ensure they at least stick out from anyone else making gently retro, gauzy synth pop. Seeland may lack the bouncily abstract feel of Plone and the weird kick of Broadcast (the band that made the world safe for Ghost Box, for better or worse), but as the opening “Burning Pages” makes clear, they’ve got a firm grip on the kind of soft, smooth propulsion it’s so easy to achieve with synthesizers, and know their way around a chorus to boot. It’s a bit like a kinder, gentler M83, and wholly compelling.

Given Felton’s vocal similarity to the iconoclastic Gruff Rhys, you might almost be disappointed at how un-wacky Seeland are, how their quirk resides on the more subtle side (this is a band that sings the refrain “I know, there’s a fire” on a song titled “Library”, after all). The likes of “Turnaround” and “Goodbye” are straightforwardly sweet and “Call the Incredible” (the incredible being “you”, apparently) verges on self-help. But when they go too far down that mid-tempo road, as on “Colour Dream”, or go too twee on the lovelorn "Captured", Seeland inches towards indie easy listening.

So it would be easy to damn Seeland for being nothing more than pleasant, but their sound draws equally on everything from Joe Meek to the more narcotized, pop-wise side of Ulrich Schnauss, and it’s hard to fault Felton and Bainbridge for making such a canny, seamless blend of such a wide variety of influences (echoes of everyone from Kraftwerk to Suicide are faintly discernable) so outwardly pleasant and unassumingly catchy. Music like this is never going to be terribly fashionable -- it lacks the sneer and sex of so much of the pop music made in this vein, and certainly those things are missed. But when was the last time you listened to a synth-pop album that was outright comforting?

At it’s best, as on the slightly harder-edged “Static Object” and the sighing loveliness of “Station Sky”, Seeland make their sound and mild temperament work to such a degree that you wish this sort of thing and not the more bracing likes of La Roux was what’s hip right now (although, in truth, one of the things that makes Tomorrow Today so enjoyable is that its soft-heartedness is a rarity). The few tracks where Seeland drop the ball reveal that their sound is dangerously amenable to turning into mere wallpaper, though. If they focus on sticking to the extremes of their pleasant palette Seeland might be on to something, but even if they lapse into beige in the future, they’ve given us at least one solidly enjoyable album of soft-focus glee.

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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