Wednesday, June 27, 2007

video #13: Peter, Bjorn & John - Young Folks

This has been a "featured" video on Youtube for a few months now, meaning that I see a link for it somewhere on the page almost every other time I watch something on the site. I figured that would make it one of the most viewed videos on the site ever, but it's not even close to the top 100. I guess that more than over 3,000,000 views (between the two biggest streams of it that have been uploaded to the site) aren't what they used to be anymore. God only knows if any of these people watching are actually buying the CD.

When this came out last year, I was getting kind of burned out by all the twee indie pop that everyone on the Internet was falling all over week after week. Keeping up with all of it had become incredibly time-consuming, not to mention increasingly disappointing as time goes on. It's one thing to have people shouting about Chutes Too Narrow or Twin Cinema as being new "pop masterpieces" or whatever. But The Long Winters? Figurines? Annuals? Voxtrot? Who the hell are these bands? Eventually you get tired of playing the game and just go listen to The Beatles instead.

Still, trying to resist this song forever is a futile effort. The video itself, I'm still not sure about.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Shamen - Move Any Mountain

The Shamen - "Move Any Mountain"

It's been at least 10 years since I last heard this song. I'd almost forgotten it existed at all until I found it on Last.FM earlier this week. But this was everwhere back in 1991 -- a massive hit in the UK, but it was big in America, too. Wasn't it? I remember B96 playing the hell out of this all summer long, but no one ever talks about it now outside of its place in the UK indie dance/rave scene of the early 90s, like it never crossed over to here at all.

My family didn't start taking summer vacations until I was 10 or 11, when we visited the Lake of the Ozarks for three summers before my parents decided to busy themselves with summer moves and other projects. One of my favorite memories of those trips was our visits to the Big Surf Waterpark, probably the most exciting place I'd visited during the first 12 years of my sheltered life. During our afternoon stay, which must have lasted a good five or six hours, "Move Any Mountain" was played at least twice over the park's speakers. Bobbing up and down in the overcrowded wavepool or standing in line for the Space Bowl waterslide, I was already excited and overwhelmingly "pumped" to be there in a way that only an incredibly dorky 12-year-old could be. Yes, bliss it was to be alive. But to be young, with this song as an afternoon soundtrack, was very heaven.

The rest of that summer we sat inside and played Nintendo, or chased each other around the house with Supersoakers. It never occurred to me that this was as good as it was going to get.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

video #12: MSTRKRFT - Work On You

These guys probably deserve to be written about without any mentions of Daft Punk thrown in.

Maybe that will happen someday.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Megumi Hayashibara - Midnight Blue

Megumi Hayashibara - "Midnight Blue"

Megumi Hayashibara, if not the most prolific voice actress in the world, is most likely the most beloved seiyū of our time.

I realize that this statement would be completely meaningless to almost everyone I know, and that only a few people in my social circle could even begin to piece any of its individual parts together to make any sense of it. Then again, I'm pretty sure that no one in my family, or most of my friends for that matter, would recognize characters like Rei Ayanami, Faye Valentine, or Lina Inverse, let alone titles like Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, or Slayers. I'm not pretending that I'm onto some real underground shit here that no one else knows about, just that I've never had any chances until recently to share my fondness for anime with anyone else who wasn't, or wouldn't be, completely freaked out by it. Never mind what 130 million Japanese say, or how the once-impenetrable world of anime is now almost as good as completely mainstreamed in America. To most of my friends, it's just kids stuff. And maybe they're right. I've yet to meet more than a handful of anime fans my age who aren't completely batshit insane.

My apprehension over the social implications of all this began in college, when I would watch Digimon episodes in the afternoon before dinner (usually alone, sometimes with others who probably thought I was watching bad TV shows just to be funny, as sarcastic twenty-somethings are supposed to enjoy doing, I guess) and Serial Experiments: Lain DVDs on the weekend when no one was around. One weekend during my senior year, when roommates were out and I had nothing to do (besides studying, which I regularly neglected and now pay the price for every day), I had an urge to watch more anime and headed out to Blockbuster. Yes, I know that's quite possibly the worst destination I could have chosen, but I was nearly broke and hadn't the patience to seek out and download anything online. Their selection was, as it remains today, hopelessly slim, but I picked up what looked like a fun movie: Slayers - The Motion Picture. Blockbuster had just discontinued their plain blue and white cases -- customers could now take home their DVDs in cases with their movie's artwork on it. Needless to say, I didn't want any of my roommates to find this laying around, especially with a suggestive "Youth Restricted Viewing" sticker on it, as all of their unrated products automatically received.

It wasn't half as provocative as I expected, with most of the sexual content consisting of typical fanservice and predictable jokes. It was a fun movie, though, and the theme song in the credits... how can I begin to explain "Midnight Blue" without reducing it to a corny, poorly-produced joke? A steady diet of Western pop music, even if only absorbed passively, doesn't prepare anyone to understand what's going on here without assuming that everything has just gone wrong. Slayers wasn't even ten years old (when I first watched it, I mean), so it wasn't exactly "dated," and there was no inherent "Asian-ness" that I had to get over. If only it were that simple.

I've had people try to explain to me what MIDI is, but I just can't wrap my tiny, technologically-challenged mind around just what it does and how it works. But I've always associated it with a kind of sound that's usually described as having an inorganic, overly-programmed quality. Maybe its use is still permissive in the world of pure electronic music, but I suspect that MIDI is looked down on everywhere else in the same way that ProTools is, usually by people who think every track in every song should be recorded straight to open-reel tape. I don't know if "Midnight Blue" employs MIDI or not, just that the brass sounds kind of canned, and the drums and bass sounds seem really fake. The first time I heard it, it reminded me of music from another fine 1995 export from Japan, Sega Rally Championship. Later, I'd wonder if this sound was a big influence on Max Tundra or not. Anyway, if you hate the musical interludes and the guitar solos here, you hate fun.

I'm not saying that the song sounds bad, but that it hardly fits the traditional mold of what a pop song is "supposed" to sound like. I'm probably placing too much importance on the arrangements, since it's probably meant to be nothing more than an upbeat background to showcase the vocals of Megumi Hayashibara. (Or Hayashibara Megumi, if you prefer. I suppose either arrangement works fine, though putting the surname first, as they do in Japan is probably the correct way to do it. "Megumi Hayashibara" gets almost five times as many Google results as that, though, so I really don't know what to do. I just want to tag my mp3s correctly. That's right, I don't own any of her music on CD. I mean, I'd love to, but import prices are unbelievable.) Of course I have no idea what she's actually singing, but she has a beautiful voice that I enjoy regardless of the language barrier. The chorus is what hooked me, and still sends shivers down my spine. I wish I could explain why.

Megumi Hayashibara also played Lina Inverse, the lead character in Slayers, though roles in other series have brought her much greater fame. Whether she's better known as a voice actress or as a pop singer in Japan, or if there's even any true distinction between the two, I don't know. "Give A Reason," also from Slayers, is just as worthy of being posted here. So is the under-heard "A House Cat" from Nuku Nuku Dash. I could probably list a dozen songs of hers that are probably modern J-pop classics, and I don't even keep up with the genre nearly as much as I'd like to. I know some people might want to write all this off as bubblegum or as mere worthless, disposable products of Japanese synergy, but those are the same people who'd probably scoff at manga, anime, or most Japanese culture in general. At least in the past decade, America has yet to produce any pop music bursting with such vitality and ebullience as this.

Megumi Hayashibara also plays the lead role in Paprika, the latest film from Satoshi Kon. It's finally out in America, and hopefully it plays outside of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, because watching it in an actual theater really adds to the experience in a way that's going to be lost once it comes out on DVD.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

video #11: Daft Punk - One More Time

What is this? Some kind of take-off on a bad AMV? It's so cheesy!

Why did I recoil in disgust the first time I saw this video? Why did I roll my eyes every time my friend Nick would put on Discovery? Why did I think that the whole thing was just a big, "ironic" joke about the 80s? And why do I now think that both are brilliant classics? What changed my mind?

The answer: slowly becoming a pathetic, cultural lemming had a lot to do with it. And a hopeless anime addict, too. Together, it's a combination that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Girls Against Boys - Super-Fire

Girls Against Boys - "Super-Fire"

Long before signing to Jade Tree, long before playing the 25th Anniversary party for T&G, Girls Against Boys briefly flirted with mainstream acceptance, or at least they did in Chicago. I might be the only one that remembers "Super-Fire" getting a season's worth of heavy play on Q101, or that the station invited the band to play at one of their Jamboree festivals. Try calling the station to request the song now and see what happens. "Everything alternative?" "Thousands of songs?" As long as you're looking for Rage Against the Machine or Live, definitely.

Finding the EP for this at Discs & Dats in St. Charles when I was 17? A great moment. Finally losing that store back in 2001 (2002?), one the other hand? Pretty devestating. Discs & Dats were useless as far as ordering anything for you that they didn't have in stock, but they had a huge collection of used discs and a really unpredictable and cool selection of new CDs. Thrill Jockey, Matador, Skin Graft... they seemed to get everything that came out from these labels and more. And the employees were never patronizing or snobby. They played good music (as opposed to the awful scream crap that the brats at Record Breakers would always blast, or the blues-prog discs that seem stuck in the changer at Kiss The Sky) and would make you an offer if you were selling them any used CDs that they were personally interested in. I even got a few posters off their walls before they closed up shop. I wish I had copied down the notice that the owner had taped to the door after finally vacating. It listed all the money he'd lost due to shoplifting over the years. I forget exactly how much it was, at least several thousand dollars.

The biographical entry for GVSB on might be the first I've ever seen on the site where the writer states blatant qualitative opinion as fact, let alone suddenly saying anything like "[this album] was the worst of their career." I've never come across any kind of consensus like this surrounding Freak*on*ica, but even if it did exist, how strange to feel a need to mention it in a paragraph-long blurb about the band's history.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

video #10: The Rolling Stones - Harlem Shuffle

One of the last big hits for The Rolling Stones, their cover of "The Harlem Shuffle" is still a classic rock radio standard today. I know that WXRT plays it no less than 3 or 4 times a day, even though it was recorded well after most of their original fans had stopped listening to them (long before they all went out and bought Forty Licks and started listening to them again, I mean).

To their credit, they brought in Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi for video duties. Surely no one expected an animated video from The Rolling Stones, but that's just what they did. Sort of. This was John K's first video, more than ten years before working with Bjork on "I Miss You," and still several years before finding success with Ren & Stimpy. His trademark animation takes up the first 40 seconds of the video, after which there's a jarring jump cut to a shot of the band. They dutifully play through the motions of the song, with animation only intermittently spliced in from then on, somewhat randomly and often for less than a second. There is a plot, I guess, but it took me a few viewings to even catch onto. Maybe to compensate, designers give Mick Jagger a ridiculous purple suit to strut around in while the rest of the band looks terribly bored. Mick does his best but fails to top his amazing appearance with David Bowie in "Dancing in the Street," assuming that's even possible.

If nothing else, this video made me read up on Kricfalusi's co-director, Ralph Bakshi, creator of Fritz the Cat. I'd never been more than mildly curious about the film before this, just assuming that it was a some badly-animated joke without a plot, but the few clips I've seen of it (all R-rated, nothing rated X so far) look really great, and I was surprised to find out that there's an actual story in it. Odds are slim that I'll be able to rent it anywhere around here, not without signing up for Netflix, at least.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Blectum From Blechdom - Detrecht Warping

Blectum From Blechdom - "Detrecht Warping"

The second to the last show I ever saw at the Fireside Bowl was in August of 2001 during the annual Ladyfest gathering. Until the formation of the Pitchfork/Intonation festivals, Looptopia, and the return of Lollapalooza just a few years ago, Chicago's idea of a "festival" (aside from city-sponsored events like the Jazz and Blues festivals) was holding various week-long concert series, all on different nights and in different locations, maybe with some kind of overarching theme that would supposedly bring people out night after night. Of course, this necessitated paying the same admission fees night after night, not to mention bus/train fare or parking fees. This was a nightmare for anyone in the suburbs, and I have no idea how I actually made it out for three nights during Noise Pop earlier that year. It's a wonder that it took so long for people to realize that this model just wasn't working for anyone.

Ladyfest wasn't even a "music festival" like Noise Pop aspired to be (and successfully became, in other cities). It was more of a week-long conference, with various readings, demonstrations, and performances scattered throughout Chicago. Bringing all of these activities together in one place was apparently deemed radically inconceivable or undesirable by organizers, so the concerts were booked in different locations on different nights. Workshops were largely closed to guys, shows open to all regardless of sex chromosomes. These mostly ranged from riot grrrl to post-riot grrrl bands, but somehow Blectum From Blechdom managed to get a headlining spot without having any guitars to speak of.

By the end of the night, half of the original crowd had left, satisfied after seeing The Slumber Party and some other band featuring ex-members of Sarge, so getting a spot close to the stage (if you could really call the slightly-raised platform at Fireside Bowl a stage) was easy. Kevin and Blevin appeared and took their place in front of a folding table full of keyboards, samplers, and lots of other things I don't understand, and then proceeded to perform most of their set with their backs turned to the audience. This would have reeked of insulting pretention if they both weren't wearing red bodysuits, connected together at the hip, keeping them conjoined for the entire set. They turned to the audience for "Boob-A-Q" ("There's a boob-a-q in here, my tits are on fire!") and their cover of "Private Dancer," and I was actually able to talk to them for about 30 seconds after the show, which I've never done with a band before or since. I wish I remembered more from the set, but most of my memories from that night were of missing my train home and then having to call friends I hadn't spoken to in months to try to find someplace to stay for the night.

I know that's not exactly a compelling story, and probably sounds like a normal night out for most of you who actually live in Chicago. But I could only brave a few trips into the city on my own each year, and it would have to be for a good reason. This was good enough for me. I'd been into Blectum From Blechdom, and all of Tigerbeat6, for that matter, for most of my junior year and was incredibly psyched to see one of their signature acts playing at a venue that I was somewhat familiar with. I don't even remember how I got into the label, but it was probably the first time that I felt I was discovering something important all on my own, as it was actually happening. The Messy Jesse Fiesta had been freaking out my suitemates for all of the spring semester, which alone made it worth the cost of mailorder. A few years later I'd burn a copy of it, along with The Re-Releases Of The Un-Releases by Chicks on Speed, for a coworker who loved John Waters movies and trashy electropop. He found both incredibly disturbing and a little too wierd.

"Detrecht Warping" is the closest to a "normal" track as there is on The Messy Jesse Fiesta. This really isn't saying much, though.