Tuesday, January 30, 2007


The new 4hero album, Play With the Changes, arrives N.America-side next week, and is supposed to feature Jody Watley, Phonte from Little Brother, Kaidi Taitham, J Davey, and friggin' Larry Mizell(!), among others (you can find the Jody Watley, Ursula Rucker and J Davey tracks pretty easily on the various music blogs).

4heroTheir cover of "Les Fleur" floored me last time around, and I'm reliving the good times until the new album starts. Check out Marc Mac's retrospective of their output on his podcast page over here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Belated Posting

1. Guilt, Chinese style
This blurb from a recent post by O-Dub over at Poplicks got me all a-flutter:

"White privilege or not is a larger debate but when it comes to educational privilege, in places like San Francisco, Mississippi and New Jersey, certain Asian Americans (whether individually, in small groups, or in specific communities) are quick to abandon any pretense to supporting diversity if they perceive their admissions are on the line. (To be fair, we're mostly talking about Chinese Americans rather than all Asian Americans, across the board. I'm not proud of this)."

Couple that quote with this piece in the NY Times (courtesy of Angry Asian Man), which discusses the absence (or reluctance) of wealthier Chinese-Americans to help poorer Chinese-Americans, the latter group of which is largely comprised of recent immigrants from mainland China. The article hints at intra-racial schism between Cantonese-speaking and non-Cantonese speaking Chinese:

"Some observers, like Kenneth J. Guest, an anthropologist at Baruch College who has studied the latest immigrant stream from Fujian province, see a divide even within Chinatown between the newcomers, who have little education, and those who run the nonprofit organizations.

"'There’s some very strong prejudice within the Cantonese community,' he said, drawing a parallel with assimilated German Jews who looked down on Jewish newcomers from Russia."

These aren't uncommon comments regarding the Chinese in North America, particularly Cantonese speaking immigrants from HK. We're a community that's writhe with classist tendencies, both intra and inter racially. I've seen this explained by writers, at times, as irritation by a group that has grown out from in its first immigrant stages (circa Gold Mountain days) of any reminder of underprivilege. I'm not too sure I buy that theory (though completely sympathetic to the experience of the first wave of Chinese immigrants; little attention is drawn to institutionalized anti-Chinese (or anti-Asian, for that matter) sentiments of Canada's past), considering the same sentiment is just as rampant back in Hong Kong.

I've been at odds with how to respond to both of these sentiments. It's easy to blame laziness on my end (which plays a part, as always), but it's really about the embarrassment. While I'll go to no end to extol the virtues of Chinese culture, I stop like a deer in headlights when it comes to discussing its shortcomings, particularly when it comes to the Chinese-American/Canadian experience. It's not that I'm hesitant to admitting these faults, it's that I have nothing of value to add, particularly when it comes to solutions.

2. The Only Black People I Knew Growing Up Were The Huxtables

Growing up in suburban middle-class Calgary, I had, at most, three or four African-Canadian classmates from Grade 1 to 12. That's three or four in all twelve years, not three or four per class. Thus, you can fairly say I had no concept of the black experience outside of what I saw on television or the music I listened to. To me, there was either the affable Huxtables or Boys II Men on one side or the frustrations of Public Enemy or Spike Lee on the other, with the various few (eg De La Soul) falling somewhere in between.

This didn't really change when I entered university. If the NYC rock and roll crowd is still widely a white affair, as according to this NY Times piece on black rock fans, you can imagine how ivory it was in 90s Calgary. Out of the few black people at the college radio station, most were either involved with the hip hop show or ethnic shows.

In fact, I can clearly remember that, during one funding drive, the hip hop djs (Christ, was Drew's show called "The Groove"? I can't remember) played ten minutes of Superchunk or some such, threatened his audience with more if they didn't call in to pledge, and suddenly had jammed phone lines on their hands. When it came to black people and indie rock, the two just didn't seem to commingle.

This, of course, was generally due to lack of exposure (mine), but also because of a lack of exposure (their's): there just wasn't an overly prevalent black presence in 90s rock and roll, and before you say I'm over-generalizing, do a roll count of the various Matador and Sub Pop bands from that period. Living Color wasn't exactly getting much airplay; In Living Color was.

3. Back to Frivolities

Back to the lazy You Tube posts. I came across this skit Woody Allen wrote and stars in with Gene Kelly:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

My Filial Duty

Can anyone recommend a mahjong computer game other than Nine Dragon's Hong Kong Mahjong? Playing mahjong (the four person game, and not the solitaire version) is one of the few things that my mom knows how to do on a computer, and her version is crapping out on her. I was hoping to find something that requires almost no need to do anything on Windows other than to click on the icon (I spent an hour on the phone with her trying to figure out the screen resolution for the Nine Dragons version). Suggestions?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brass in the Pocket: Air's Pocket Symphony

If you're one of those fickle fans that absolutely hated Air's second album 10,000 Hz Legend for not following up on the shampoo-commercial-readiness of their debut, Moon Safari, you should be pretty appeased by Pocket Symphony. Out of all of the Air albums, this latest one pulls absolutely no punches, following the lines of their various S.Coppola soundtrack work and releasing a string-heavy album for those waiting and willing to ape their best sad sack Bill Murray. Pocket Symphony's certainly enjoyable, heavy on the melancholy romanticism that colours all Air albums, but devoid of those left-field tangents that either infuriated or captivated, depending on the listener (the more adventurous of you should probably seek out Jean-Benoit Dunkel's side project, Darkel).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Kids Aren't Alright: Children of Men

In the forum of uncomfortability, Children of Men ranks highly. The film's a continuous throttle to the senses, an escape film overloaded with socio-political and gender political subtext extraordinaire, and glib to the point of rendering that descriptor inadequate.

Of the reviews out, I prefer Anthony Lane's review in the New Yorker, which focuses more on Cuarón's statement of broad affairs rather than on his depiction of the personal awakening of Clive Owen's character (Cuarón does a subtle (relative to the bomb-blast of the remainder of the film), and commendable, treatment of the latter, devoid of any melodrama or overanalysis). This is largely because of the visual bombast which Cuarón presents - and doesn't present.

Though Children takes place in the future, the strength of the film's impact is largely in what it doesn't show. Apart from Cuarón's reluctance to fill in narrative backstory, leaving one to speculate on why and how the women of the world have become infertile, his vision of the future is startling: the future, by in large, looks a lot like the present. Outside of a few gadgets here and there (one is always right to assume that computer monitors become better), 20 years from now might as well be now, albeit with alot more decay. Apart from the obvious commentary on the present (Cuarón doesn't flinch in hammering Abu Ghraib imagery over one's head), it also speaks to the idea that (i) we ain't where we should be, and (ii) we're not going to get there, either.

This theme overwhelmed me, and, I suppose, filled in my assumptions on the open-ending conclusion. Without spoiling the ending, the protagonists either end up in safe haven or largely nowhere, and it's anybody's guess as to what happens next. What confuses this even further, then, is the soundtrack for the end credits.

I generally don't put much stock in the end theme, but it's not without purpose that Cuarón goes with the sound of children rather than any sort of music (it should be noted that there's excellent use of atonal ringing in a few places throughout the film, referencing Clive Owen's ringing ears from a bomb blast at the beginning of the film, and creating generally discomfort in-between those creepy chords from Eyes Wide Shut and, um, atonal ringing). This, to some, may highlight the melancholy that the film does more than hint at, but never dwells into. To others, it puts a sense of optimism that may seem lacking from the rest of the film, particularly if one assumes that man's progress is, regardless of the magnitude, a given. It's a great concluding touch on Cuarón's part, one that ensures Children will serve as great conversation fodder for the rest of the year.

Monday, January 08, 2007

While We're At It Pt. 2

I'm apprehensive to add any more to the various Top 10s of 2006 than I have already, but I felt somebody should have mentioned this Terry Callier/Massive Attack track:

Saturday, January 06, 2007

While We're At It: Marva Whitney

Marva Whitney from "Music Scene" (1969)

Marva Whitney from "Playboy After Dark" (early 70s)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006: Yet More Things That Went Over My Head

Combing through Fimoculous' incredible compendium of 2006 lists, here's a list of top 10 things from the past year that I was completely out of the loop on:

1. Music I Was Utterly Ill-Equipped to Comment On:
While I'm about 10% confident that I could pass some sort of intellectual judgment on Joanna Newsom's Ys, I'm completely intimidated by Scott Walker's Drift. As with Tilt, the album is so dense it'd take a diamond bit to cut through, and I'm playing with safety scissors. Way to make a guy feel inadequate, Walker.

2. Music I Should Have Listened To If I Would Just Burn My Files On To A CD For Christ's Sake. It's bewildering that I haven't paid any real attention to Ghostface, the Clipse or the Coup, despite having paid more than enough attention to, um, P Diddy. It's sitting on my computer, collecting digital dust. My hip hop head is hung in shame.

3. Comic Books I Have No Right to Own.It took me a few months to even find out that there was a new Acme Novelty out, and after a few months of bringing a copy home, it's still sitting unread on my shelf. I sometimes like to kid myself in thinking that it takes alot of energy to read (well, that kind of pathos, however funny, kinda does), but who am I kidding? I'm just easily distracted. Dishonorable Mention: I have yet to buy The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962.

4. Scientific Discoveries That I Thought Were Fictional: Thanks to John Hodgman, I thought that the fuzzy lobster was a thing of fantasy. Thanks to National Geographic, I now know that the Yeti Crab actually exists and lives in my (expansive) backyard. No word on whether it goes well with lemon butter.

5. An Inconvenient, Unaffordable Truth: For about a month or two after watching Inconvenient Truth and other global warming documentaries, and reading the articles about that UK global warming expense accounting, I really, really felt I should buy a Prius. The problem of 2006: I can't afford a Prius. The problem of 2007: I still can't afford a Prius.

6. Celluloid Glut: Out of the various films that have generally made all of the Top 10 lists, I have yet to see many of them. Never made it to see Babel, a copy of Volver sits on the shelf next to the Chris Ware book and where the Peanuts anthology should go, and I can't pass by posters of The Queen without thinking of Scott Thompson. Sorry, Helen Mirren.

7. Iran, Iran, Iran: With all the various horror stories from its neighbouring country and the outlying region in general, I knew that Iran was a concern - kind of a no-brainer. But I didn't know that Iran was having secret talks with Israel or that India was helping Iran with building the bomb, until I read the Top 10 Stories You Missed. Kind of an important tidbit to miss. Also: China, China, China.

8. The News I Do Keep Up With: Out of the Most Read Stories on Slate, the only one I actually read was about Starbucks' short cappucino. Not that I feel that guilty about missing an article about 7th Heaven.

9. I Was All Caught Up With the Panda: According to Discover, we're killing the Orangutan, whose numbers are down 95% in the past two centuries, coinciding with human settlement and clearing of forest habitat. Why did I think they were in plentiful numbers? Goddamn filthy monkey movies.

10. ________________________________

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

JB at the Boston Garden, 1968

Out of the gazillion James Brown performances avail online right now, the 1968 Boston Garden performance stood out as a must-see once I had read the Fader's post about it. Quite briefly, the performance took place mere hours after Dr. Martin Luther King was shot, a period of time wherein tensions were undoubtedly peaked and individuals look to people like James Brown for direction. The show has been bootlegged from WGBH footage of same.

Will Welch describes one important moment of the show:

"In one harrowing shot, Fred Wesley’s trombone gleams in the lights behind a silhouette of a line of Boston police, who slowly begin to encroach upon the stage until Brown shoos them back as teens excitedly circle around him. At first he shakes hands, but then he tries to talk them down. “Let's represent our own selves!” he says. “You making me look bad. I asked the police to step back because I get respect from my own people. Are we together or are we ain't?” There is a cheer from the crowd that sounds like the responses from the call-and-response segments of Brown’s recordings, and almost immediately Brown turns to his band and snarls, “Hit this thing now!” as the kids jump offstage. He takes the band into “I Can’t Stand It”, skrawking into the mic and dancing, then the DVD abruptly cuts off mid-song."

I searched through YouTube and found only this, which I believe is from the same performance: