Thursday, February 28, 2008

Daft Punk's Electroma

Electroma played last night at The Brattle Theater for one night only and from what I could tell, the place was sold out. Which is understandable. Everybody loves Daft Punk and their movie, Electroma, hardly had a proper release. It's doing more of a tour than anything else, similar to the way Sigur Ros' Heima was put out. If a movie theater wanted to show the movie, they would have to contact the proper people in order to get it. So Electroma has been a difficult movie to see, even though it's debut was a year and a half ago at Cannes in 2006. When you have a popular band making an obscure movie, you get hordes of people dying to see it.

There's really not too much I can say about the movie without ruining anything. It's almost 80 minutes long and is about 2 robots on a quest to become human. It takes place mostly in the desert. Everything about the movie is slow and subtle. This is not a Daft Punk music video and if you were expecting to hear their music, you went to see the wrong movie. This is the soft, quiet side of Daft Punk. I feel like this is Daft Punk's version of 2001. Sound (or the lack thereof) is a major part of the movie and there are long shots that could bore many people. Even some of the themes are the same, in 2001 there's artificial intelligence and evolution and in Electroma there's robots. More parallels will be drawn between these movies in the future, I'm sure.

There are only about 9 or 10 actual scenes in the movie and each scene is stretched out to it's maximum length. They're long enough already, and I'm sure many people might have trouble sitting through them, but if they were any longer, there would be the risk of people getting up to leave. Some of the shots themselves last for 5 minutes straight, consisting of the two robots walking in the desert. I'm sure this could turn a lot of people off, especially fans of Daft Punk who want to see the visuals usually found in their music videos. However, I loved this movie and found it beautiful and beautifully shot. It's aesthetic is definitely one I appreciate. There was one part of the movie, though, that felt too long for me, and that was the desert scene. If you've seen the movie, you know what part I'm talking about. The song in that scene was pretty bad, I just couldn't get into it. There was something at the end that made it worth the wait, though. It was only one shot but it was priceless.

While the plot to Electroma can be boiled down to a simple sentence, there's much more to it than you would initially think. It's actually kind of a depressing movie but it's the kind of depressing that you laugh at. Some of the scenes are just so sad but the imagery is hilarious (I speak mainly of the chase and the bathroom scenes). And while these two robots are trying to become human, you feel for them somehow, even though you can't connect on the literal level. At the risk of sounding cliche, this is a really deep, sincere movie. Highly recommended for those without ADD. You definitely don't need to be a fan of Daft Punk in order to enjoy this movie. You just need to have a heart and maybe a place in there for robots.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Daniel Menche - Concussions

Wow. This is crazy shit. Sometimes it sounds like big, fat, heavy raindrops hitting your windshield as you drive down the highway at 70 mph. Sometimes it sounds like robots working in a giant factory building more robots. It often sounds like an army of 500 drummers, just going at it. And at any given time, each drummer is playing in sync with a few other drummers. But then 40 or 50 drummers find themselves playing at the same time and they get into a groove while the other drummers back down a little bit. Everything is always fading or growing, morphing into something else. At it's strongest, it's a knotted wall of crackling static noise. When it quiets down a bit, you think that it could possibly be Boredoms. And if you went to Boredoms' 77 Boadrum in Brooklyn last July, then maybe you can have some sort of idea of what this sounds like.

It was released in 2006 on Asphodel. Double disc, destroying your ears for 2 hours. This music is solid, dense, and heavy. Not much in the liner notes except "Flex your muscles!"

Atlas Sound, White Rainbow, and Valet at The Middle East

Bradford Cox and Honey Owens in Atlas Sound

Adam Forkner in White Rainbow

Honey Owens in Valet

Brian Foot in Valet

Atlas Sound, White Rainbow, and Valet all played at the Middle East Upstairs last night. It was a fantastic show. One of the more interesting parts was that the band members were basically just switching bands all night. Valet's live line-up consisted of Honey Owens, Brian Foot (from Nudge), and Bradford Cox (from Deerhunter). White Rainbow is one guy, Adam Forkner. And Atlas Sound (live) is all of them combined along with a drummer from Atlanta named Stephanie Macksey. So it kind of seemed like one long set with lots of similar, awesome music.

White Rainbow definitely wins the gold for the evening, which isn't surprising because his performance was the one I was most looking forward to. He ambled around the stage, finding various instruments (drums, tambourines, bells, guitars, his mouth, the floor) and used his microphone to record loops. If you've heard any of his records, then you might know what I'm talking about. And even if you have, his live show is much more engrossing than his records. And I love his records. So that's a major compliment.

I was able to pick up White Rainbow's new record which I wasn't aware existed. It's called Sky Drips Drifts and it's amazing. It's slightly more folky and more tribal than Prism Of Eternal Now. And maybe more loop oriented. I'm not sure as I'm still listening to it and I'm only on the second track but those are my immediate impressions.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My opinion matters

At least it does to The Salem News. They called me up last Friday before the Oscars to ask me some questions about the nominations for Best Picture. My major problem with the Academy Awards this year was that The Assassination Of Jesse James got shafted. The only nomination it got was Casey Affleck for Supporting Actor (which he should have one). That was the best movie that came out in 2007 and one of the best movies that has come out in the past 10 years. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck were both fantastic in it and nobody got any recognition for it. I didn't like Juno very much to begin with, and I really don't like Ellen Page, but having that movie get plastered all over the Oscars while Jesse James gets one nomination is completely baffling. (Btw, click on the picture for a bigger version)

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Depreciation Guild

Thanks to Pitchfork's recent review, I discovered a new band and a new genre. 8 bit shoegaze. Awesome. The Depreciation Guild combine two of my favorite types of music and really pull it off. One of the best parts? Their albums are totally free. Their new one, In Her Gentle Jaws, is available to download on their website. And their previous EP, Nautilus, is available for free as well.

This lead me to a discovery of epic proportions. There's a website called 8bitPeoples that distributes free 8 bit electronic music. This is a quote from the "Mission" section of their website.

"The 8bitpeoples first came together in 1999 as a collective of artists sharing a common love for classic videogames and an approach to music which reflected this obsession. Our primary interests were to provide quality music for free and most importantly to have fun."

Definitely check out The Depreciation Guild. They sound similar to M83 and I fuckin love M83. And they (M83) just happen to be coming to the Middle East in June. Hooray! And if you like 8 bit stuff, I'm sure you now have a new way to occupy your time.

Neptune - Gong Lake

Neptune playing at Magpie's first Recraft Fair in Somerville.

Neptune opening for the Ex Models at T.T. The Bears.

I've seen Neptune perform live quite a bit over the past couple of years and most of the stuff they've been playing at their shows was material from Gong Lake. Only being able to hear these amazing songs at one of their shows was frustrating to say the least, so I've really been looking forward to this record.

For those unacquainted with Neptune, let me introduce you. Quoting the back of their new record, "It's three members are equal parts musicians, sculptors, scientists, blacksmiths, electricians, and industrial machinists." All of their instruments are created from scratch. Their guitars weigh 40 pounds, one of which has a curved blade on the end of it, and the drummer uses circular saw blades as cymbals. But as far as traditional instruments go, that's the end of it. Everything else is something completely new and different form anything you've seen before. One of my personal favorites is a long box covered with light switches and each switch makes it's own unique electronic buzz when turned on.

Neptune's release of their new album is a momentous occasion, which is probably why they celebrated their CD release party at Great Scott by covering their equipment and stage with foliage and passing out cake to everyone at the end of the show. The reason they're celebrating is because Gong Lake is a fantastic album and it's their first ever unlimited release. Neptune has been around for quite a while, putting out almost 2 dozen limited release recordings and gathering a significant fan base. But now they're ready for the big time.

Gong Lake is possibly their most accessible work to date, which isn't a bad thing, because it's also possibly their best. Unlike previous releases, these songs were written together to create a cohesive album. This album flows like none of their others have and it makes for a very pleasant experience. The songs they craft are harsh and abrasive but also really catchy. The choruses and melodies found throughout will stick in your head for days and you'll still be drumming your pens on the counter a week after you've listened to it. Maybe the best comparison that can be made would be to think of Einsturzende Neubauten trying to get the kids who wear nothing but black to dance.

Neptune's new album isn't flawless (and what record is?) but almost everything about it is awesome. My only real problem with it is the song Black Tide. To me, it sticks out like a sore thumb because none of the other songs sound anything like it. It's like ambient droning doom with bouts of dominating percussion while the singer, um, sings. The music in the song is fine but there's something about the way he sings, it just reminds me of some cheesy music I used to listen to in high school.

If you've never listened to Neptune before, Gong Lake is the perfect introduction to them. And if you know and love Neptune but haven't picked up Gong Lake yet, make sure you do it soon because you'll be more than happy with the results.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

MST3K Initiation

So...I've never seen any Mystery Science Theater episodes before tonight. I kind of had a slight aversion to MST3K due to other people I've known who loved it. My roommate freshman year was a big fan, although he never watched it while I was around. He even had the poster for the movie on the back of our door, with a hole punched out in one of the zeros so we could still see through the eye hole. We had similar taste in movies, but not enough for me to feel like I needed to watch everything he loved that I hadn't seen.

Then there was the last movie theater I worked at. It was a lot bigger than the one I work at now, although it was still independently owned, but it had 7 screens and therefor a lot more employees. Everyone there geeked out about MST3K on a daily basis, spouting quotes from the most obscure MST3K episodes. I enjoyed their company for the most part, but these were people who's tastes were very different from mine so I ended up not taking their recommendations on movies very often.

Also, I just never really got around to watching it. It was one of those things, like a classic movie you've never seen that you try to hide from your friends because if they found out, they would shun you. For example, I've never seen Annie Hall (and I refuse to because I hate Woody Allen), anything by Hitchcock, the Alien trilogy (I've seen Resurrection but that hardly counts), Seven Samurai, Mad Max, etc, etc...

So tonight I watched Eegah with a few of my friends who are fans of MST3K. It was exactly what I expected: an awful movie dubbed with humorous commentary. This is basically what everyone does when they watch a terrible movie, the only problem is you can't really make fun of the movie you're watching because there's already people doing it. Anyway, I have been initiated and I definitely enjoyed it. I look forward to watching many more, the only problem is there's still all those classics I haven't seen yet.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Diary Of The Dead Review

I've read a lot of good things about George Romero's new zombie movie, Diary Of The Dead. It's been on festivals' Top 10 lists and it's received great reviews in the papers, but I didn't know anyone personally who had seen it. I was really looking forward to Diary because Romero's last movie, Land Of The Dead, wasn't so hot, at least not compared to his previous masterpieces. I was hoping that he had learned from his mistakes in Land and would come out with a much better movie in the end. After leaving the theater, though, I now believe that Romero is failing in the same way the other George has, by pushing out sequels or prequels to franchises that may have been better off left alone.

Diary Of The Dead is a complete departure from the way Romero has made his previous zombie epics. It's filmed almost entirely from hand-held cameras, making it a more documentary experience. The premise is that a group of college kids are making a horror movie when they find out that the dead are rising and attacking people. After hearing this, all of the kids, including their alcoholic, British-accented professor, hop in their Winnebago so they can all get home to their families. And because it's the zombie apocalypse, they inevitably encounter zombies and many of them die in the process.

George Romero had good reasons for filming Diary Of The Dead with hand-held cameras. One of the primary reasons I see is because the traditional zombie movie has already been done (many, many times I might add). Romero himself created and defined the genre. There had been a period of time that every zombie movie that came out was just as bad as the last. That was until 28 Days Later was released in 2002. That movie re-imagined and re-defined the zombie genre. After that, you can't go back to making zombie films the way you used to 20 years ago. But that's unfortunately exactly what Romero tried to do 3 years later with Land Of The Dead. Sadly, he realized that a little too late. So even though he declared Land would be his last "Dead" movie, he had to come back for one more. This time, he had to make something new. So he took the documentary approach, with little more reason than because it's "new thing."

This "new thing" is the second reason he chose to film Diary with hand-held cameras. And I think he felt it was such an important choice, that he needed to make his audience very aware of why he was doing it. User generated content is what drives the internet these days. It's Web 2.0, YouTube, blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Wikipedia, everything comes from us and everybody else is trying to jump on and make some money off of it. Romero knows that all of this is signaling a massive change and he wanted to capture it. But he had to make sure that we knew it, too.

This brings me to one of the major problems with the movie: the "message." The primary videographer in Diary was Jason and he was the ridiculous clichéd risk-his-life-to-get-the-shot guy. His girlfriend Debra clearly didn't understand why he was doing what he was doing, and we were told a dozen times over just exactly why. "Because people will want to know what happened." "The news is lying to cover it up." "People need to know the truth." "If people see how we survive, then maybe they can learn from us." "We can save lives!!" Every 10 minutes, we heard another reason why Jason was filming instead of helping. We get it, George. Please give the audience some credit.

Unfortunately, Jason wasn't the only cliché character in the movie. He was one of many. Debra was another one, the whiny girlfriend who doesn't understand her boyfriend. There was the southern belle from Texas ("Don't mess with Texas!") who was worthless at fighting and complained more than anybody else. But of course she was able to fix the broken fuel line in the Winnebago because her Daddy taught her how. There's the badass loner with no home or family and the techy glasses-wearing geek who can hack anything to make it work. And probably the worst of them all was the professor, spouting line after awful drunken line of "refined intelligence." And of course the bow & arrow was his weapon of choice because it was more sportsmanlike, or something ridiculous like that. It was as if someone looked through a book of stock characters and said, "We'll have one of these, and one of those..."

With all of that being said, I still enjoyed it. I mean, it was a zombie movie after all. There were quite a few new, exciting, and awesomely inventive ways to kill zombies. I won't spoil anything, though, because those were some of the best parts of the movie. However, other than the zombies and their deaths, there wasn't much I specifically can say I liked about the movie. The thing is, this is a zombie movie made by the George A. Romero. We have such high expectations of him that seeing a zombie movie with his name on it that isn't anything but amazing leaves us unfulfilled. I guess when it comes down to it, I would have liked this a lot better if Romero hadn't made it. If I saw Diary Of The Dead knowing that Romero had nothing to do with it, I probably wouldn't have been so critical and most likely would have just enjoyed it as another zombie movie.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Subjectivity Of Noise & Drone Music

I went to a panel at the CMJ Marathon a year or two ago whose topic was noise music. I was really excited about it because they were supposed to talk about whether or not you could put a stamp of quality on noise and if there were standards of good and bad noise. Sadly, it turned into one guy babbling on about Merzbow for an hour with little talk about the aesthetics and (non)subjectivity of noise. After I left that panel, I realized this was something that needed serious contemplating and clearly those were not the guys to do it.

One of the philosophy classes I took at college was Aesthetics. Sadly, the professor was not in the right state of mind to be teaching and no one in the class ended up learning very much. I took the class wanting to debate if beauty in art was completely subjective or if there were some objective standards that made it "good." Is "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" the only thing that really matters? Logically, I want to say, "Yes! Everyone has opinions and there is no right and wrong." But my heart didn't really agree with that. There must be something quantifiable in art or music that makes it good or bad.

Generally speaking, I really enjoy drone and noise, everything from ear-piercing to sleep-inducing. And I recently went to a show of just such music at the Middle East, curated by Howard Stelzer. There was a lot of fantastic music being played but there was one band that made me realize there is definitely noise that I don't like. This band came on, and I thought to myself that they might be ok. As they continued their set, however, my interest waned and I found myself really hating them. So clearly this means noise can't just be noise and still be good. There needs to be something more involved.

I didn't like them for a few reasons, but the primary one is that everything was just too static (as in unchanging/opposite of dynamic). It was a relentless wall of electronic crunching buzz and a singer whose echoing voice just ended up blending in with the electronics. But I'm sure that all of these characteristics which make me hate them were deliberate and planned. But there are many who would disagree with me. I bet their fans like them for the exact reason I don't.

So does it just come down to it being a matter of opinion. Do you like your noise shaken or stirred? But opinion can only go so far. Like I said, there must be something more. I think a large part of it is intention and context. Are you doing things deliberately with the intention of creating music? A good example would be if your two year old is banging on some pots and pans. He could just be making an awful racket. But maybe you enjoy the clang of metal on metal and think your son's drumming would make a great random beat for the new song you're working on. This is a completely valid way of making music. The end result may not be enjoyable, but it's still valid. And this is why just because I didn't like them doesn't mean they're objectively bad.

Drone music differs slightly, I think, in it's standards. In the liner notes of Brian Eno's Neroli, he says "I wanted to make a kind of music that existed on the cusp between melody and texture, and whose musical logic was elusive enough to reward attention, but not so strict as to demand it." He hits the nail right on the head. I don't know anyone who wants to listen to a single note played for an hour straight with zero variation. Don't get me wrong, I love even the minimalist of minimal drones. But there needs to be something more, something to "reward attention." I congratulate and thank Eno for wording it so perfectly.

That being said, I hope to make plenty of posts about awesome things like music, movies, video games, and bunnies.