Sunday, February 24, 2008

Super Furry Animals & Times New Viking Concert

Super Furry Animals & Times New Viking Concert

Times New Viking’s live show is somewhat of a paradox in that they sound more clear than they do on their albums. This, of course, is by design. I would be hard pressed to find another band more dedicated to a lo lo fi aesthetic. I was surprised to discover that the male vocalist of the group was actually the drummer, Adam, and not the guitarist. In a live setting the simple drums seemed to propel the performance, thanks in part to Adam having the most active stage personality, even playing the drums while standing up towards the end of the set. Adam introduced the first four songs as pop song number… in ascending order: “pop song #1, pop song #2, etc.” And I suppose that’s exactly what they played: precise, concise pop songs. With most, if not all, of the songs under three minutes long, the set flew by, and if I didn’t have the albums in the back of my head, then I’m not sure how much of an impact the band would have made. Of course, I’m already a convert so I was ready to pray at the altar of Times New Viking.

About three-quarters of the way through Times New Viking’s set, the drummer told the audience that this was the point where they should drop their acid. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Times New Viking’s sound is light years away from rock music conducive for psychedelic drugs, also know as self-indulgent jam band wankering. There is a reason why certain kinds of bands are heavily associated with drugs: they’re too fucking boring to listen to with a clear head. I will admit I was a little afraid that Super Furry Animals, whose music seems intricately geared towards headphone listening, would fall into the “music to drop acid to” category. Thank the gods Super Furry Animals knew that when they show up live it’s time to bring the rock.

Only a handful of songs were chosen from their latest album, Hey Venus!, but more tellingly they chose only one song from Love Kraft, their most laid back studio work. Instead the set list was culled evenly from their entire discography, heavily relying on crowd pleasers and their more pop oriented productions. Lead singer Gruff Rhys came out on stage in a space helmet stolen straight from the set of “Out of this World.” Continuing this cosmic theme, the second song out was the undeniably catchy “Rings Around the World.” On no less than three occasions the band played three songs titled “Uuuuurth 1,” Uuuuurth 2,” and Uuuuurth 3” where they encouraged the audience to participate by placing their hands on their head and wiggling their fingers. Were they trying to call the Grays from behind Venus using us as some kind of antennae, or were they just trying to make us look really stupid. Probably the latter, but I didn’t particularly care. Among the highlights was “Receptacle for the Respectable” where lead singer Gruff Rhys ate a carrot as a part of the percussion section. Gruff even brought back the space helmet towards the end of the show. As they played the final song the band members held up two signs: one with the word Boston on it, in the font of the wonderfully cheesy band; the second, a sign stating “resist false encores.” True to their word it was their last song. Of course, I didn’t mind, it would have been greedy to ask for anything more.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bizarro Bill Richardson

I don't claim to know who will win the 2008 presidential election, hell, at this point it's pretty tough to call who the Democratic nominee will be, but one thing is for certain: we have dodged what would assuredly be the end of the world thanks to one of the candidates who dropped out. This may be old news for the rest of you, but I have only recently been made aware of the terrible occurrence in New Mexico. It would seem that Bill Richardson has been replaced by Bizarro Bill Richardson.



I can't even begin to imagine what would have happened if Bizarro Bill Richardson had won the presidency. Instead of letting all of Mexico into our country he would have allowed all of Canada to waltz across the boarders. Or maybe, instead of making it illegal for immigrants to stay here he would have forced Americans to move to Mexico. Only a Hispanic politician (with the strangely anglo name of Bill Richardson) replaced by his Bizarro counterpart from another dimension could devise such machinations. Perhaps, instead of universal health care he would implement a plan that would infect the country with the bubonic plague. Those who survived would presumably be tough enough, with enough immunities, to not need health care. Who knows what kind of evil lurks in that beard. All I know, is that he would rule with an iron fist.

In related news, here's an article about Hillary and Barack courting the endorsement of Bizarro Bill Richardson.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2/5)

In the original Elizabeth we saw the title character transform from an inexperienced twenty-something into a queen by hardening her heart and learning the ways of cutthroat politics. So, why in the sequel is she portrayed as a hysterical teenager? The filmmakers didn’t see fit to transfer any of what made the original character so great into the sequel. Instead of the assured queen at the end of Elizabeth, in Elizabeth: The Golden Age we are treated to an insecure monarch reacting to a midlife crisis by acting half her age.

King Philip of Spain is amassing an armada to invade England. He sees the Protestant queen as a spot of darkness in a Catholic world, even though, despite urgings to do so by her own counsel, she refuses to persecute Catholics in her own kingdom. If this wasn’t enough, her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, is planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and take the English throne. In the midst of these political machinations is a love triangle between the explorer Walter Raleigh, Elizabeth, and one of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting.

For all of the intrigue and subplots, not much happens for the first half of the film and instead of political intrigue the audience is forced to endure another love scene where the two romantics ride horses in the countryside. Raleigh and Elizabeth’s relationship is utterly unconvincing. I cannot understand how anyone but the most na├»ve would be taken in on Raleigh’s “philosophical musings” about how when death closes in during a storm it only makes you want to live more, to which Elizabeth replies with wide eyes, “Yes, to live!” It sounds like the kind of life philosophy that would fit nicely in between sketches of unicorns and rainbows.

The looming threat of the Inquisition accompanies the Spanish armada, even though we are never shown the religious intolerance of the Inquisition. The menace would have loomed larger if the audience was aware of just exactly what was at stake. The first film had the tremendous opening where Protestant heretics were burnt at the stake, would it have been too much for a similar reminder that Europe still had one foot in the Dark Ages? Perhaps director Shekhar Kapur felt the dialogue was already enough torture for his audience.

In the film’s defense, it does fulfill the historical film’s need for extravagance in costume and cinematography. However, looking pretty just isn’t enough. After the extraordinary introduction to Elizabeth in the first film the last thing an audience wants to watch is a digression. If the film is about her rise to world dominance, then why does it feel as if Blanchett’s playing the role of a washed up actress, past her prime and unable to get her agent on the phone? It seems as if Elizabeth is more concerned with aging than she is with running her country. The central metaphor to the film is that of a storm, which is uttered from the lips of many characters, and to be sure when you finish watching Elizabeth: The Golden Age, you’ll feel as if you’ve weathered one yourself.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Telecom Amnesty Redux

On Tuesday, February 12, the United States Senate passed the Protect American Act with telecom amnesty. You can get a more in depth analysis thanks to the invaluable Glenn Greenwald, here.

Since the last time I wrote the Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats struck a deal on all of the pending amendments. The amendments either needed the usual fifty votes to pass or in special occasions they required sixty votes to pass. So, for example, the Dodd amendment that would strip the bill of telecom amnesty only required fifty votes, since the Republicans figured they could get enough Democrats to go against the rule of law, but another amendment by Diane Feinstein that would have review of any illegal activity conducted by the FISA courts themselves behind closed doors, required sixty votes because Democrats might actually vote for it. Sure enough, the Feinstein amendment received over fifty but less than sixty votes. In other words, the Democrats agreed to a deal where they increased the number of necessary votes for certain amendments to make sure the bill passed the Senate in the shape the president wanted it.

Well, is that it, have the telephone companies gotten away with breaking the law? Not quite, thanks to a bicameral legislature it still has to pass the House.

Luckily, the House actually has a spine and allowed the Protect America Act to expire rather than pass a permanent law that included telecom amnesty. This means the U.S. can still gather intelligence under FISA and despite what the fear mongers in Washington like to say, we can still listen in on potential enemies even if we have to go through the pesky "judicial branch" and respect "separation of power."

If you are listening to the Republicans then you might think that Osama Bin Laden can waltz right across our boarders and steal the secret Bush's Baked Bean recipe (yes, that's right, Duke is a part of Al Qaeda). This is obvious fear mongering and it's a wonder it has not been called out as obvious fear mongering more often. Maybe this small amount of defiance from the House will teach other Democrats that all they have to do is make their case to the American people, and when they do the world will not explode. Maybe other Democrats will realize that you don't have to do everything Bush tells you to in order to look "tough on terror." Maybe? Or maybe it's too much to ask.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Kentucky Fights Ohio Over a Rock!

The New York Times has one of the greatest newspaper articles I've read in a long time. It concerns Ohio, Kentucky, and a rock. When all three converge you know that a' trouble's a' brewin'! I will summarize the article but you really need to get the information straight from the Times, if only because it's very well written.

In Postsmouth, Ohio, local historian Steve Shaffer had a lifelong obsession with a local landmark called Indian Head Rock. The rock is famous for a stick figure drawing of a face of unknown origins as well as the names of many Portsmouth families from yesteryear whose ancestors still reside there today (yes, this is in Southern Ohio). The stick figure head is thought to be a Native American petroglyph, hence the name Indian Head Rock. When the Ohio River's water line rose due to dam construction, the rock was lost to time. Shaffer, remembering the rock in his local history course in middle school, decided in his adult years to take a diving team into the Ohio River and after a difficult search recovered the rock from the river floor.

After raising the rock, however, Ohio's neighbors to the south became upset. That's right, Kentucky thought we were stealing their rock! Apparently there is a shortage of rocks in Kentucky just as there is a shortage of college degrees and family trees. There are, however, a plethora of mullets and racists. The Kentucky legislature passed a bill demanding that the rock be returned. One of their legislators even suggested a raiding party. Not to be outdone one of our House members declared that he would defend the rock with his shotgun if need be.

The NY Times also has a video of their Indian Head Rock story.

If all goes well this will lead to a new civil war. It's time to put these rebels in their place a second time. Oh, Kentucky was a part of the Union you say? Well, we'll redraw the Mason Dixon line. Ahhhh, I see, they were also a slave state. Now that makes sense.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Rockabye Baby!

Kids who listened to music in the 90's are having babies!

That's the impression I got when I saw this celebrity endorsement by Metallica's Kirk Hammett for the Rockabye Baby! collection. If you haven't heard, Rockabye Baby! is a collection of albums that takes rock music classics and rearranges them into lullabies for your kids. Remember, buy the album and don't download!

I don't know what's creepier, the music or when Kirk Hammett says "lullabies for baaaabies." Although, I will admit that I would rather listen to old Metallica reworked for children than their last few albums. Albeit, their newer stuff might be more effective in putting me to sleep.

I wonder how much control the artists have over stuff like this. Is this just the record companies selling out their artists or was it Courtney Love who gave Rockabye Baby! the right to cover Heart Shaped Box? I suppose legally it's not dissimilar to any old band covering a classic song on their latest album. Judging by Kirk Hammett's smile he's at least getting paid for his crappy music again.

And speaking of sleeping babies:

Hey, that baby wasn't just sleepy, that baby was drunk! In fact I finished off a keg with that baby last weekend. Poser passed out.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Times New Viking - Rip It Off

Times New Viking – Rip It Off (5/5)

Before Times New Viking released Rip It Off on Matador, their first album in the big little leagues, many were questioning whether they would stubbornly maintain their lo-lo-fi aesthetic. Would Times New Viking sell out by not recording on four tracks and maybe even hire a bass player? Maybe it was the punk rock in all of us that thought moving to another (admittedly still independent) label would have forced the band to clean up their sound. These days independents have been making great commercial strides, even getting their bands onto Billboard’s top ten. How long would it be for them to become the new majors? I’m here to say, don’t fear the four-track: all is well with Times New Viking’s latest opus.

While Rip It Off sounds a lot like their last two records, that’s not to say that the band has been completely stagnant. Those who loved the songs of their last album, but hated the recording, will find even catchier pop snippets underneath the static, and those who also loved the high end static will find plenty of that as well. In other words, those who think Times New Viking’s lo-fi shtick is just a gimmick probably won’t be too happy about Rip It Off. One thing Rip It Off is not, is a please everybody album.

The album contains their cleanest song to date, “Drop-Out,” which sounds like it could possibly be played on the radio so long as the station was just barely in range and you had crappy reception to begin with. But that’s about as clear as it gets. “My Head” belies its friendly beats with the mantra “I need more money, because I need more drugs,” which also happens to be one of the few lyrics one can make out underneath the white noise. “The Wait” slows things down to mid-tempo and could conceivably be played at a high school dance in some alternate punk rock universe. “The End of All Things” has an acoustic outro that gives the static a rest for about twenty seconds or so.

I know there are plenty of people who will ask, if Times New Viking are writing pop songs, then what’s the point of obscuring them with a crappy recording? Perhaps the answer can be found in the same reaction some of us had to Times New Viking’s jump to Matador: punk rock guilt. If you start making songs lots of people like, eventually you’ll get people listening to your music who you would rather not show up at the show singing your lyrics. Or perhaps the answer isn’t quite as elitist. Maybe they just like the sound of static as much as the sound of a keyboard? There is a certain aura to lo-fi albums that recalls listening to a friend’s band in his parent’s garage back in high school. Just because technology has reached the stage where musicians can do just about anything, doesn’t mean they should actually do just about anything. There are those of us who think four tracks are plenty for a rock album. There’s a reason no one actually sits through an entire ELO record anymore.

Whenever a band makes a jump to a bigger label the speculation about where they’re headed begins. Rip It Off gives several clues. The band’s songwriting has been recalibrated for more hooks per song (although nothing tops “Teenagelust!” from their last album). Does this mean one day they might stop sounding like they recorded at the bottom of Lake Erie? Their most pertinent audio and geographical forebears, Guided By Voices, eventually succumbed to the sins of a big studio album. Will Times New Viking someday make their own Isolation Drills? Perhaps, but until then I’ll be perfectly happy for Times New Viking to bang out a couple more albums that pack sixteen songs into a sardine-can-sized half-hour.