Music

Tapes 'n Tapes: The Loon

Every little cog of this great piece of indie-rock machinery is, of course, some PR person's wet dream.


Tapes 'n Tapes

The Loon

Label: XL Recordings
US Release Date: 2006-07-25
UK Release Date: 2006-07-24
Amazon
iTunes

In what I do when I'm not writing music reviews, we have a term for this: a "soft launch". It's when a small company releases a product onto the market without fanfare, to test the waters, so that they're more certain of a positive response before they sink a lot of expenditures into marketing. You don't think of this concept of the "soft launch" for music; it kind of goes against our idealistic (maybe overly idealistic) conception of music as art-form. But Tapes 'n Tapes' eminently listenable debut The Loon may be the closest we get to this idea.

Originally released last year and distributed by the band themselves, the disc hums with a combination of classic indie sounds and just enough dilettantism that's almost universally likeable. Sure enough, that inimitable arbiter of hype, the blog bandwagon, jumped all over the group, and they've scored a re-release through XL Recordings. The group doesn't have the star-power of Montreal's Wolf Parade, but the music will likely appeal to the same folk, though it's a little simpler, more melodic and accessible.

Let's get this gripe out the way early: every little cog of this great piece of indie-rock machinery is, of course, some PR person's wet dream: the home-made, DIY quality; the easily nameable indie-god references; the inscrutable words. And it's easy to count out the Minnesotan group's sound-likes (Pixies, Pavement) -- an impressive roster. I mean sure, I perked up the first time I heard the bit with "Harvard Square" in it, but on sober reflection, what does "I called your name like Harvard Square holds all inane" even mean? The appeal almost seems manufactured. And all the place names -- it's like they're saying, 'This is an Indie Rock Song' -- with its references to Oslo! Or Manitoba! And there's a song called "The Iliad" (not about the Iliad, as far as I can tell)! Not to burst the bubble, but sorry, until you've said "Reykjavik" in a song (like Lazy Susan) you're no indie god. But of course the key there is 'almost' manufactured. Just when you feel singer Josh Grier's smarminess grate, he warbles some sweet, cracked melody and there's no resisting.

The album's best songs refuse to let you dismiss them as standard indie rock fare. Among many melodies that stand the test of repetition, three hit best-of list heights: "Insistor", "Manitoba" and "Omaha". "Insistor"'s the one most blog-posted, with its countrified guitars, up-beat drums (one step removed from dance-rock) and surging chorus. The other two more ballad-based, "Manitoba" balling up from the disc's most gorgeous melody into a scuzzy bit of lo-fi campfire singalong; and "Omaha", all syncopated prettiness.

But as with anything built up off such disparate parts, there's some hit, some miss. "Crazy Eights" is a bit straight blues for too long to be anything but a passing enjoyment, and "In Houston" is a bit too in love with its own swirling harmonics to be completely tight as a song. The closer, "Jakov's Suite", really sounds like Green Day and it's an unexpected end to the disc.

But in the end, The Loon impresses despite its reputation; despite its occasional snark ("I've been a better lover with your mother", or the way Grier lisps when he pronounces the word "lisper"). 'Impresses' is almost the wrong, because The Loon is really likeable: here's a solid, solid debut with enough tunes to last the summer, at least.

Tapes 'n Tapes -- Insistor

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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