Monday, October 30, 2006

New Found Civic Pride

Despite having settled into everyday life, there's still a few things about Vancouver that catch me off-guard and really make me glad to have moved here.

For instance, who knew that they let people buy fireworks during the last few days of October? I'm a bit of a fireworks virgin - you couldn't buy them readily in Calgary - save for the odd Roman candle when I was in high school. That said, I bought $40 worth of fireworks, with great names like "Cherry Blaster" and "Widow Maker."

The other great find? This logo:
Aside from the fact that it's for a chain of pizza/omelette joints, the logo is a friggin' VOMITING Pac-man. Too many power pellets, it'd seem. God, I love this place.

(Bonus: Anybody remember the 80's Pac-man cartoon? Here ya go.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

It's Only Rock n' Roll

The NY Times joins in on the plethora of "let's save rock and roll" articles, mish-mashing commentary on the Killers, My Chemical Romance, and whatever-the-hell-that-Blink-182-guy-is-doing. To be fair, I haven't (and probably won't) listen to a single one of these new albums, and thus can't and won't comment on the bands themselves. If My Chemical Romance is questioning the state of rock and roll, it might be a fair statement that the kids are more fickle these days, but that's me saying it as an outsider and thus a crochety old man (though I would've thought that every adolescent girl would want to be Karen O, and thus have something to get behind)(it probably also doesn't help that there's little notion of rebellion or danger to mainstream rock these days, unless rampant existential angst gone unchecked counts). If these bands want to write The Great American Album, far be it for me to get in their way - if anything, I'll get out of their way. We all know, however, that there's always something I can be an asshole about.

For instance, wtf with this thesis? "Now that rock ’n’ roll seems more than ever like a niche genre, a handful of bands are reaching for grandeur. In an age of weightless mp3’s, they want to make weighty albums (whatever that means). Conscious of a rock ’n’ roll power vacuum, these bands are trying to fill it."

A little surprising from Kelefa Sanneh, who I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) was acutely tuned to the "rockism" thing. The statement isn't 'rockist' in the least, but I would've expected Sanneh to know that there's no shortage of rock these days. To extrapolate Sanneh's initial statement, every genre is now a niche genre, and most people can only hope to be a generalist. Though hip hop/pop/all else might have blocked out rock's stranglehold of past decades on the Billboard Hot 100 (though I highly doubt this), the Billboard Hot 100 Chart might not actually mean a whole lot next to the genre-specific charts (well, maybe not to youth culture). If what Sanneh means to say is that there's no one new rock band that we all look to nowadays, it's because we're too busy looking everywhere at once.

For every Kayne heating up the charts, there's seemingly ten emo bands to fill in the gap. Last time I checked, there was no shortage of white adolescent males now dyeing their hair black and toying with eyeliner. There might not be any obvious contenders for 'the greatest rock and roll band alive' in that U2 sort of way (save, perhaps, for Radiohead, if only Thom Yorke could tap into Bono's unwavering optimism), but that's out of glut rather than the disparity that Sanneh surmises. There's a "power vacuum" only in so far as there's just that many more bands vying for the title, and they're all falling in the middle of the pyramid.

It doesn't help that easy accessibility on the Net and otherwise has basically made every teenager a de facto archivalist. Only a short time back, those of us outside the big cities had a hard time finding articles about older bands outside of the rock canon, much less any back catalogue (Punk Planet was as hard to come by as, say, any of the Can albums). Now that anyone with mouse in hand can become an expert in tropicalia overnight, the expanse of the niche audience is staggering. There's no dearth; there's more competition. If My Chemical Romance or any other band - or, perhaps more accurately, their record labels - feels the need to beat the glut and grasp that brass ring known as universality, I suppose the only fail-safe plan is this: go big in Japan first.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

You Want It, I Got It, Oh Yeah - More Vids

These weren't too hard to find, but I hadn't seen or known about these old Woody Allen videos:

(1) Hot Dog: This was a Saturday morning kid's show that Woody hosted with Jonathan Winters and Jo Anne Worley in 1970-71. The show was apparently an educational "how do they make _____" type affair. Couldn't find actual clips from the show, but here's the opening/closing credits:

(2) This is from a television special that Woody did, apparently from the 60s. Here's Woody interviewing Billy Graham:

Here's part 2:

(3) Here's the famed Jean Luc Godard - Woody Allen interview, Meeting WA:

Beat that, Soul Sights.

The Golden Yellow Age of Hip Hop: Yellow is the Colour of Sunlight

Now that I've been linked by the venerable Soul Sides, I considered hanging up my blogging hat: there's just nothing left to achieve (Soul Sides! Me! Holy shizz!).

After I woke back up from nearly passing out in excitement, it dawned on me that many of the writers I read concentrate on soul/funk/jazz/hip hop/etc, and a good majority of them are Asian. O Dub, Hua Hsu, Jeff Chang, Junichi Semitsu (more pop culture than music, save for the Dixie Chicks), etc. A growing number of influential hip hop artists are Asian: members of the Skratch Pikels, Kid Koala, Dan the Automator, the entire country of Japan breakdancing their asses off, etc. Seeing as how none of us would ever dream of ending up in the media save for becoming a Survivor contestant (my theory is that they'd never let us on Fear Factor because, well, we eat everything - I swear I saw an episode where the challenge was eating a Chinese 1,000 year old egg, which we all know goes well with pickled ginger), just wtf are we doing in the media at all?

I don't have any clearcut answers to this, apart from it being sheer coincidence, and I'm certainly not equipped to launch into any exploration of race politics. I posited the question to Frank Litorco, fellow Asian journalist:

"Here's the conundrum: The Asian MCs, DJs, even the breakdancers don't want to really talk about it, and the Asian writers don't want to really write about it. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos - you name it, they're all representin' in wicked ways. The funny thing is we may very well be in this golden age of "chopstick" hip hop, but who's going to say anything? (Yeah, I know - Filipinos don't really use chopsticks.)"

Leave yr theories in the comments.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Video Dance Party: Stones Throw's 10th Anniversary Tour

Hate to say it, but hip hop shows are boring. With all the various shout-outs, braggadoccio and general hyping taking up five to ten minute between songs, your general hip hop show is a very stop-go-stop affair, negating any sense of flow (this, of course, is with exceptions).

It's a rare to have an MC be capitivating or entertaining enough to keep the crowd going, but Percee P managed to do so. Now, I can't pretend to know much about P's history, but no matter: P spent most of his set convincing us of the illustriousness of it. P reminded us of all the various guest-rhymes he's had since the early 90s, sprinkled songs from his upcoming albums when he felt it necessary to do so (in front of a very nonchalent J Rocc, who could barely must up enough energy to press play on his Macbook. Though his set ended up being more like an extended soliloquy than an actual set, P's earnestness to have us burn his name in the annals of hip hop history ultimately proved charming.

I suppose this sums up my general thoughts of Madlib, who I generally associate with Stones Throw. I tend to think of Madlib as the Lou Barlow or Robert Pollard of hip hop, with a knack to package 1-2 minute gems amongst many more minutes of filler, as though Madlib had too short of an attention span to see an idea through and needed to document all other ideas before they vanished (this is largely why I prefer J Dilla, who was more gifted in the execution). Listening to Madlib is generally chaotic, tracks ending just as the groove is starting to settle, but with a determination and earnestness that charms us throughout the scattershot. (The Madlib comp Mind Fusion vol.4 sold on the tour serves as an example.)

Madlib, of course, didn't attend (his grandmother passed away shortly before); Peanut Butter Wolf became the de facto headliner. I've appreciated PBW's funk mix, 16 Corners, but his hip hop set blew me away. The selection, largely early to mid 90s hip hop from the so-called "Golden Age," was one thing, but the actual format was the spectacle: PBW was mixing video! Each track's video was projected onto a screen above, with each scratch in the set corresponding to a 'scratch' in the video. I thought it was via Serato but there wasn't a laptop on-stage; I'm completely uncertain as to how this was done. Watching the videos flow and hiccup into each other proved to be the most entertaining part of the night, though it became more like watching a fucked up MuchMusic than a live show (as a side note, I had completely forgotten how corny hip hop videos were at the time, and was completely astounded as to how well the Skinny Boys still stands up.)

It should come as no surprise that, despite PBW's video being entertaining, J Rocc proved to be a much better mixer. J Rocc followed the same preferred DJ format that most crate-diggers prefer: play the track, play the underlying sample, mix out. It was just more of the same, however, with little to set it apart from other sets and other DJs. Though J Rocc had the flow more constant and rocking than any one else that evening, it was the inconsistencies of the night that ultimately proved more captivating, and although hip hop shows generally fail because of inconsistency, the Stones Throw 10th Anniversary show succeeded because of it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

the Coctails' Book of Images

Out of God's good grace, I stumbled upon the Coctails' Book of Images at the bookstore yesterday. The Coctails have always been one of my all-time favorite bands, and I've always been dismayed that they disbanded before I was old enough to see them live, and even further dismayed that they were doing reunion shows everywhere I wasn't. To come across new merchandise from them and, better yet, affordable merchandise from them (the Presspop 12" figures were priced at over $250 for the 4), well, it's a miracle.

Book of Images is exactly what the title implies: it's a collection of old gig posters, ads, etc. of the Coctails. Most are designed by Archer Prewitt, all of the same whimsical golden age/Jim Flora etc type of illustration.

The book continues Prewitt's ongoing relationship with Presspop, the Japanese company responsible for all things great as of late, producing products of various 'underground' comic artists, like the Chris Ware "Jimmy Corrigan" and the Dan Clowes "Little Enid" figures. There's A LOT of Prewitt's Sof'Boy merchandise to be had here, crucial for those of us that don't live in Chicago.

And it doesn't end there: there's NEW Coctails' material! When the band reunited to open for the Pixies in '04, they recorded some new material to sell in Japan. The new songs are avail on Let's Enjoy..., and is the first new material we've heard from the Coctails since the Hello EP from the defunct They Might Be Giants imprint.

Here's an image to summarize:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Let's Be Absolutely Clear: This is Total Bullshit

I could give or take the Killers - that "boyfriend/girlfriend" song has its fleeting charm - but this new Rattle and Hum-era Bono schtick has got to stop. We don't need another John Cougar Mellencamp, sincere or ironic.

And to be totally clear, this Slate review is shite too. When Jonah Weiner writes, "there's something a bit silly, and obnoxious, about such naked rock ambition, but the Killers didn't annoy anyone when they were obsessed with David Bowie and Robert Smith," he's absolutely wrong: there's enough of us that are completely tired of superficial glam/New Wave re-treading. I'm absolutely fine with mining Americana - what I'm not fine with is the martyrdom the Killers have associated with it (when Flowers whines about their treatment in Europe because of American foreign policy, bejeezus...). When he concludes that "the band's great talent is that, despite their style juggling, they don't come off like smirking ironists or glib dilettantes," he's forgetting that they do come across as third-tier Brit-pop melodramatics. When you trade in image like the Killers do, at least own up to it - the sensitive every-man song and dance is as much hooey as the eyeliner.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Grossly Inadequate

Two doses of inadequacy from the weekend:

1: Saw Ladytron/CSS this weekend. Apart from being a model and in a mid-sized indie rock band, the Wikipedia entry for keyboardist/vocalist/resident-Nico Mira Aroyo had this to say: "[Aroyo] has a DPhil in molecular genetics from Oxford University." I must've piddled away my time....

2: Went to see a townhouse development called "the Willow," on Willow Street (natch!) and about 33rd Ave W, which I suppose would make it close to the Van Duesen gardens. 35 townhomes, arranged as rowhouses around what would have been approx. 3 or so old lots. Prices ranged from mid 600K to high 700K, 1200-1500 or so square feet. There was a sale centre and a show suite, and I'm not sure if an 'unveiling' of sorts was planned or not, but there was a line-up of around 30 people when we got there, it took each person roughly 45 minutes or so to get in, and there was a coffee bar outside. People made offers on the spot. In a market that's supposedly going to 'crash' (pessimists) or 'correct itself' (optimists) shortly, that's a pretty odd sight.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Can't Be Bothered: The Questionability of Perseverance

It's true: I'm washed-up, can't write about the latest fad, the latest movie, the latest band, and, moreover, can't muster up the energy to care. Can't pass judgment on today's kids no more, as I've got no clue on what they're even doing, save for looking much better dressed than I ever did at that age (and even that's not particularly true; gentlemen, a blazer can't save a wardrobe).

An example: Can I tell what the hype is about CSS? It's not that difficult, and the equation is unbeatable: bunch of Brazilian girls, none of which seem older than my little cousin Zoe (one even looks like her - the one with the striped shirt), playing dance rock on instruments they hardly know their way around, brash and sassy as you'd think. If I had cut up my socks and wore them on my wrists, I'd be all over it (even more so if I had legwarmers). My age doesn't preclude me from appreciating it, I'm not old enough to dismiss it. In fact, I don't have a reaction to it, whatsoever.

It's this non-reaction, this apathy, that's become disconcerting. It's far from being disconnected to youth culture - that distance has proven to be rather inconsequential - but being disconnected to music in general. In speaking to a fellow music aficionado at work, it became clear that this wasn't my individual decline, but a phenomena that, from our discussions, seemed tied to age (this guy's got decades on me, and propels cynicism into an interstellar level)(more on him in other posts).

Afterawhile, some of our conversations segued into your typical nostalgic 'music was better when...' type discussions, and it became disorientating. I've bitched enough about the new 18 year olds - was I becoming Jack Lemmon to his Walter Matthau? Is our reaction to music so overtly subjective that nostalgia prevents us from enjoying the new?

I can't remember the last time I listened to an album that floored me, old or new. The ones that stay with me, that I know every note, beat and lyric to, tend to be those albums I listened to in my late teens to early twenties. I can't pretend that many of those albums still stand up - a visit through the first series of posts on this blog will prove that. Will music never have as much personal impact again? Is it me, or is it the music?

I sent this sentiment and question out to a few of you for observations. Here's the sampling:


"I agree re: albums that don't stick. Songs, maybe, but not full albums. I keep hearing a lot of stuff that just makes me go, "meh." I think there's about three to five albums released
each year that get me excited. I can only do top 5's now.

"Worse for me are all the old faves who I keep expecting to sustain their excellence, and who fall far short of that expectation (I'm talking to you, REM).

"I don't know that it's age. Although, maybe. One of the guys at work calls me a hater b/c I don't like most recent stuff. I think, having heard more and more of the canon of modern pop music, I realize how much has already been done. Really, after the Velvet Underground, what else new is there that a 4-piece rock band can do?

"And I don't think music is less important - I think there's just more that's becoming increasingly important.

"I think part of it is that there's a far, far larger volume of music at our fingertips now. So you have new releases by old faves competing with the flavour of the week competing with that unheard gem. For me, one of the joys of the old VOX days was finding records you knew almost no one had heard before, and being able to discover and fall in love with that record, and then try to tell the world about it. Now, most rock writers are lazy. Reading reviews, there's not a lot of good criticism going on, almost no real thought going into things (which is why I love the concept of the 33 1/3 series).

"I'm listening to the new Beck right now, by the way. I think that's relevant. I do try to listen, even if briefly, to New Music of Importance. I keep digging because when I do find those gems - like Novillero - it's absolutely worth it. A record I can listen to and get lost in. Such a great feeling, still."


"Check this out: David Moore's piece, "The Sad Death of the Album". I think a comment below the article touches on an interesting point - that today's artist really doesn't care as much about creating an album as a whole, but rather focussing on catchy singles and a smattering of so-so filler.

"Personally, I can't remember the last time I could recall every nuance of an entire album - the lyrics, the hooks, the vocal inflections, everything. (Oasis's Morning Glory, maybe?) Yeah, I'm getting older and more jaded. And, yeah, music doesn't have the same meaning to me as it did when I was in school. That said, my passion for music still exists in a huge way, and as much as I like my favourite albums of the past, there are times when I don't feel like listening to them. I want something new... that's as good as my faves. But unfortunately the artists that I have time to pursue and listen to - and this is key in this digital age where SO MUCH STUFF is accessible than at any point in the past - are not stepping up to the plate.

"Will there ever be another tremendous music explosion like in the late 70s or early 80s? Perhaps. Am I hoping for one? Hell, yeah."


"I feel like I've actually been re-discovering 'the album' after years of hounding singles and one-offs. I now feel that I'm a bit more removed from the whole dj culture, and now with Serato, I'm buying way more cds than vinyl. I don't care what people say, CDs are a way better way of enjoying an album (who wants to switch sides/records every 3 songs?). Actually, the fact that I have Phrenology on vinyl is probably part of the reason I didn't like it as much as other Roots' albums. I just didn't listen to it as much.

"Which brings me to my next point. How much I listen to an album usually has a direct relationship with whether or not I think it's a masterpiece. I'm just as gullible as the rest of the public who decide they like a song after hearing it 30 or 40 times. when i think of the landmark albums of my youth (Illmatic, Nation of Millions, People's Instinctive Travels, Three Feet High, etc..), man, I listened to those albums (tapes) over and over and over again, until I knew every song, every beat, every word. When's the last time you did that? But I even did with the stuff that I don't consider as classic: Brand Nubian, Digital Underground, Special Ed, Kish, whatever... With the amount of music I've been going through recently, it often seems I don't have the time to do that anymore. But within the last few months, I've been making a concerted effort to do so. I put 5 cds in my carousel, and I listen to 'em. Track after track, cd 'pon cd.

"I've actually come to the realization that contrary to logic, the more music I listen to, the less likely I am to come upon a landmark/masterpiece album, because nothing actually has time to stick. So this year, while listening, really listening to fewer stuff (but sampling an inordinate amount, and making snap judgements based on that sampling), I've actually got a couple things that kind of stick out. The Dilla Donuts/Shining combo. Arctic Monkeys (my rediscovery of
rock'n'roll. Probably fitting then that I like a band whose audience is mostly comprised of teen internet geeks also discovering rock n'roll for the very first time). Little Brother, Chitlin Circuit (probably my most listened to album of the year, even though it came out 2yrs ago or so. But I bought it at the same time as The Minstrel Show, but preferred their earlier effort). That Roots album may yet stick, I'll have to see. Latest People Under the Stairs came very close.

"The thing is, also, I know that these may not be universally heralded albums, and lots of people won't agree... and I don't care. These are my personal picks, for better and worse."