Saturday, December 5, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Stephen Malkmus is an indie rock legend. He championed lo-fi recording techniques at their infancy while playing in one of the most influential bands of the 90s.
Pavement was formed by Malkmus and his friend Scott Kannberg in the late 80s, releasing 7 inches and EPs while slowly building the momentum and media buzz which surrounded the release of their first full length Slanted Enchanted in 1992. The band had ironed out their distinctive sound, culled from influences ranging from the Pixes to the Fall, R.E.M., and Sonic Youth, and the lo-fi quality of the recording exemplified a growing independent movement in 90s rock. Slanted’s success helped to establish this movement into what would become a fully fledged new subgenre.
Indie rock's new heroes continued to record and tour, cleaning up their sound for their follow-up record Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in 1994. The cleaner production allowed Malkmus' clever wordplay to stand out a bit more within the band's melodic country rock jams and squeals of feedback. The single, Cut Your Hair, became a modern rock/ MTV hit, but served more to draw new fans into the underground with them than to propel the band to mainstream super stardom.
Malkmus' next recording project would be with the Silver Jews, a band fronted by David Berman. While Pavement had been enjoying rare success amongst independent bands, Berman had been trying to protect his band from being labeled a side project. He and Malkmus had been playing together since around the time Pavement formed in 1989, recording several EPs. The Jews abandoned their walkmen and other lo-fi recording techniques for their debut full-length Starlight Walker, polishing their sound and showcasing Berman's lyrical ingenuity.
Pavement returned the following year with Wowee Zowee, their most expansive, sprawling album yet. It received mixed reviews critically, but was a hit with fans. Their growing notoriety led to a spot on Lollapalooza’s main stage that summer.
Pavement’s next recording came out of a botched Silver Jews recording session. Berman had walked out in frustration, leaving Malkmus and two others with prepaid recording time in the studio. Rather than waste it, the trio recorded the Pacific Trim EP. The full band then began writing their next album, Brighten the Corners. Released in early 1997, Corners was a more accessible album than Zowee had been and was positively received.
The band decided to take a break in 1998. Both Malkmus and Kannberg went off to work on their own solo projects; Malkmus played solo shows wherein he introduced new Pavement and Silver Jews songs, Kannberg played drums in an 80s cover band and started a label. Malkmus had also been hinting at Pavement’s coming end during his gigs, but the band reunited that fall to record Terror Twilight. Consisting entirely of Malkmus penned tracks and a brighter, cleaner sound then previous albums, Twilight has been considered to be, essentially, Malkmus’ first solo record. Not surprisingly, then, this is the bands most focused and cohesive album, owing partly to Nigel Godrich’s production (Radiohead, Beck).
Malkmus officially announced the end of Pavement at a gig in London on November 20, 1999, with a pair of handcuffs hanging from his mic to represent being in a band. The band’s label, Matador, took the stance that it was just going to be a hiatus, perhaps thinking that they could make everyone get along and record more albums by pretending things were okay. Things weren’t okay, though; both Malkmus and Kannberg were working on solo projects by the summer of 2000. Kannberg had started a band called the Preston School of Industry with Pavement’s original drummer while Malkmus’ band was called the Jicks. A Jick is, according to Malkmus, “the first letter of Jagger plus Mick minus the m”. He was also playing with the short-lived Sonic Youth side project Kim’s Bedroom.
By the release of the Jicks’ first album, the band had been signed to Matador and renamed Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks because the label thought he had a marketable name. The album, titled Stephen Malkmus by for the same reason, was the song-writers most energetic, creative, and fun work in years. Written outside of the confines and expectations of the band and the label (although Matador did end up releasing it), Malkmus was free to write and do whatever he wanted.
Malkmus’ second album with the Jicks was Pig Lib. The band sounded more comfortable this time around, with extended jam sessions and less of the jokey lightheartedness of the debut. Lib’s follow-up, Face the Truth, was recorded almost entirely by Malkmus. The album is a collection of pop songs, a shift back to the lighthearted songs he was writing after Pavement’s dissolution.
Amidst his time with the Jicks, Malkmus also found time to record several more Silver Jews albums with Berman, the most recent being Tanglewood Numbers. He also supplied Cate Blanchett’s singing voice in Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There last year.
Real Emotional Trash, the Jicks’ album released earlier this year, is a return to the guitar-rock sound that Stephen Malkmus can’t stop paying tribute to. More a collection of sprawling jams than pop songs, the album is nonetheless one of Malkmus’ most focused recordings. This may be due in part to the addition of ex-Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, who acts as a fresh anchor to the band’s expansiveness.
Friday, November 14, 2008
They talk Bloc Party into playing a song, and they decide to do This Modern Love, which is really very awesome.
Man Man serenade a head shaving and then play around in the street.
Two rad kids rocking out to Menomena:
Vampire Weekend playing Walcott and Blake's Got a New Face in a small Parisian bar:
The Arcade Fire cram into an elevator.
Sufjan Stevens on a rooftop (despite the cold).
Axe Riverboy and Of Montreal do a cover battle in the streets of Paris. Zombies vs Bowie!
Jose Gonzalez in the back of a truck.
Beirut has trouble finding a place to ambush with The Penalty.
Grizzly Bear crammed into a bathroom. A bathroom in Parisian apartment, mind you, so it's especially tiny.
I'm From Barcelona take over a street.
The National in a wine cellar.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Let's watch Olivia explain where babies come from to Dr. Huxtable:
But c'mon, we all know Rudy was better. She was cuter, more empathetic, and just more of a bad-ass. Rudy was busy hiding school notes in medical books and not eating her vegetables while Olivia was being wrong about where babies come from. Which of those is cooler?
So what's Rudy doing now?
I'm not even sure if she's anywhere in that specific trailer, but she's in this movie. Rudy is in this movie about guns and drugs and awkward looking threesomes, while Olivia travels from college to college with Martin Lawrence having no doubt wacky adventures and fighting terrorists or something. What happened, Rudy? What happened to the countless life lessons the fictional character you played learned?
Monday, March 3, 2008
You're in the wilderness, miles from home, maybe from civilization itself. You're handed a rudimentary map of the area and a compass, along with a sympathetic pat on the back and a look that says “you poor bastard”. “Mantracker is three kilometeres behind you”, they say, “so you should maybe start running.”
Mantracker is Terry Grant. He knows a thing or two about finding people in the wilderness, having spent twelve years of his life rescuing people in the Alberta Foothills. While this was no doubt an exciting line of work, it seems that it wasn't enough for Mantracker. He craved more; exchanging looks of heartfelt gratitude for panicked fear, he now chases hapless volunteers through the forest on his horse. The prey have thirty-six hours to make the sometimes thirty kilometre hike to the goal, usually with multiple paths to take. Stick to trails for speed? Press through the bush for cover? The slightest of errors can give them away. Mantracker takes notice of out-of-place leaves, broken twigs, rocks that have been moved, things the average person wouldn't consider an obviously followable trail. He tries to guess what his quarry is thinking, predicting what they will do. He's usually right. The prey have managed to outwit him on a few occasions, but the odds are stacked heavily in his favour. One episode saw two girls actually hitching a ride to the end point; a visibly frustrated Mantracker dutifully followed their trail, watching it turn from footprints to car tracks, cutting away before he drank a saloon dry, or dueled someone at high noon, or whatever it is cowboys do when they're angry these days.
The natural evolution of reality television demonstrates that within the next few seasons Mantracker will be hunting down washed up celebrities instead of average folk. Imagine the epic battle that would be Mantracker vs. Hillary Duff; the evenly matched pairing of Mantracker vs. fellow OLN superstar Survivorman; the hilarious taunting that would spring from Mantracker vs. Nardwaur the Human Serviette. Ratings would soar! Canada is sometimes lacking in its pool of widely recognized celebrities, however, and our politicians often end up filling this void for us. This could mean a few special episodes where we get to watch as down our most beloved political leaders are ruthlessly hunted down. The odd-couple pairing of Paul Martin and Jean Chretien, for example, could make for some pretty good television.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Monday, December 17, 2007
The most violent thing I saw while playing my original Nintendo was Hitler's face exploding at the end of Bionic Commando. However gruesome (albeit cartoon-like) that may seem, it was a rare kind of image in Nintendo's largely kid-friendly and heavily censored games library. Consoles are now capable of presenting incredibly detailed, almost photo-realistic visuals, and violent images can range from wildly bloody decapitations to brutal war simulations. With gaming as popular as it is, is this power being handled responsibly be game developers?
Video game violence is, of course, not inherently bad. Jack Thompson is mostly wrong when he claims that violent games are a direct cause in violent criminal behaviour. Violence novels, movies, and games should all have the same capacity for emotional impact on the viewer. The question is where to draw the line; if you are going to hold game developer's responsible for acts of violence, as Thompson did last year when he sued the creators of the Grand Theft Auto series, then you could logically extend that argument to movie directors and authors whose works feature violent content as well. Millions of people prove that wrong every day... nobody walked out of any of the Saw movies a deranged serial killer.
Graphically, consoles used to make gigantic leaps with each successive generation. From 8-bit to 16-bit, then 2D to 3D, the jumps between systems were incredibly exciting. The difference between the Playstation 3 the Playstation 2, or even the original Playstation, is minuscule in comparison. There is a limit to how realistic flames or skin textures can be, and to this extent hardware developers have hit a wall. Successive consoles can only creep ever closer towards absolute graphical realism.
Another thing that may factor in to how people perceive lifelike characters in games is something called the Uncanny Valley, a theoretical model devised in the seventies by Masahiro Mori. His hypothesis basically states that as three-dimensional models become increasingly lifelike, players will have increasing feelings of empathy for them. This will continue until the character is almost human, but isn't quite there yet; they will be noticeably fake, their inhuman qualities shining brighter than their human. That's called the Uncanny Valley. As technology improves and characters themselves are human enough to pass for the real thing, Mori's hypothesis states that empathy will shoot back to up to near human-human levels. This entire theory has been heavily criticized, but it remains a possibility in gaming's future.
Newfound graphical realism also means that game developers need to be more attentive to content than ever before. Case in point; Capcom's upcoming Resident Evil 5. The trailer, released at this years E3, left many people feeling uneasy. It shows the hero running through an African village gunning down what look like mobs of angry, machete wielding villagers, at one point stating “I have a job to do. And I'm gonna see it through.” The villagers in question don't look like monsters, as they have in almost all of the previous games in the series. They look like people. This was also the case in the previous game, the fourth, which was set in Spain. The difference, though, is that Spain's history differs slightly from Africa's, particularly in regards to heavily armed white guys in military outfits dispatching angry villagers. Surely, someone at company headquarters must have seen that video before its release and noticed something a bit wrong with it.
Of course, the developers have the artistic right to do what they want with their game. You could argue that the appearance of Africans as enemies is merely a byproduct of their chosen setting, Africa, since that continent just happens to be where most Africans live. It remains, though, that they could have set it anywhere in the world. They had entire creative control, and they chose one of the most controversial places they possibly could have, and presented that choice in what ended up being an insensitive and offensive manner.
Chances are very good that any game developers who don't currently take this kind of thing into account will start soon, or at they least will after they notice that their games aren't selling nearly as well as their competitors. It will be good practice to start as soon as possible, too; it's likely that your children will be able to kill a near perfect, photo-realistic digital replica of a human being, and at that point creators will need to be as responsible as possible.