Music

Various Artists: BIPPP

It's the versatility of synthesizers that’s on display as much as the specific personalities these musicians created.


Various Artists

BIPPP

Subtitle: French Synth Wave 1979 - 85
Label: Everloving
US Release Date: 2008-02-12
UK Release Date: Available as import
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It goes without saying that the written history of pop/rock music is largely US- and UK-centric, leaving inquiring minds to wonder what was going on in other parts of the world during equivalent periods. BIPPP: French Synth Wave 1979-85 supplies one answer, for one country and time period. It documents the post-punk/new wave time period, a movement away from punk but with the same DIY energy and desire to mess around.

The inner album art is a graffiti-augmented pinup wall in some imagined dank, dirty nightclub, with newspaper clippings and photos identifying the 14 bands included in this compilation. As an image it makes me think of all the bands playing together, across the years, in that dark club -- of this album as capturing one night in a French CBGBs. In place of guitars, more or less, are synthesizers, but this doesn’t represent the ‘80s stereotype of synthesizers equaling positive vibrations. There’s a dark energy to the music. There’s drama and angst, and often a morose feeling in the air. (The lyric “it’s a pretty way to die”, from Marie Moor’s “Pretty Day”, stands out as a hook of an album theme… though, to be honest, that’s also because it’s one of the few distinct lyrics in English, and I don’t speak French.)

Yet there’s also humor and playfulness; witness even just the cartoonish, exaggerated horror-movie vibe of the opening track, “Contagion” by A Trois Dans Les WC. That track and a few more -- Act’s “Ping Pong”, especially -- suggest ragged, hardened rebels who have taken to singing over brighter, less obviously “tough” tracks, and managed to still bring out the intensity in them, while necessarily seeming more flirty at the same time, via the juxtaposition.

The brief liner notes credit Jacno’s 1979 song “Rectangle” as the spark that lit this wave of bands. Alas, that track isn’t present here. Neither are the bands cited along with it as this scene’s forbearers: Kas Product, Mathematiques Modernes and Charles De Goal. Instead the focus here is on the bands that came next, in the wake of these. It’s described as a “reintroduction”, with the awareness that these are obscure bands which were in danger of being lost to the ravages of time, especially outside of their native country.

Though there is somewhat of an overriding “sound” here, there’s much variety within it, from the dance-club theatre of Vox Dei’s “Terroriste”, which takes a light pop tune and puts foreboding vocals over it, to the sleeker futurism of TGV’s “Partie 1” or CKC’s stormy and almost funky “20H25”. These bands may be playing similar instruments, but not in the same way. In fact, it’s the versatility of synthesizers that’s on display as much as the specific personalities these musicians created.

Perhaps the most interesting section of the album in terms of songcraft comes about three-fourths of the way through, with the pairing of Deux’s “Game and Performance” and Ruth’s “Polaroid/Roman/Photo”. Both are art-pop songs that cultivate intimacy and distance, sexiness and strangeness. The latter also has a casually expansive surface, with an insistent drive and a multiple-personality chanteuse, who vocally keeps morphing from an adult to a child, leading the way through a dreamy thicket of warm horns and strings. Equally dualistic in some ways is Casino Music’s “Viol Af Dis”, which is a swift party jam with a dark cloud of anguish around it, plus room for the players to show off their chops. In the inlay for the CD there’s a selection of the bands’ original record art. The Casino Music cover is the most quintessentially ‘80s, with the duo standing in front of a hot-pink backdrop, sporting the fashions of the day. Take that album cover, combine it with the TGV cover photo of a fast-moving train, and combine that with the one, artist unclear, of a skeleton with a dying rose, and you’ll have a visual image to match the music: dark, romantic, hip, strange, and on the move.

6

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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