[Five Deadly Everythings]

7 Songs Meme pt. 2 – The Roots’ "Rising Up"

Posted in hip-hop, music by Jef on June 28, 2008

(Tagged by NotNerdyEnough:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring summer. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to.)

The Roots: “Rising Up”

When the Roots performed this song on The Late Show, host David Letterman dropped his front and had a genuine “Oh Shit” moment. He enthusiastically shook every band member’s hand and shook his head in disbelief. The Roots filled the stage that night, and for this song they needed to. There’s so much going on in this track, from multiple drum kits to bicycle bell noises to the heft of Chrissette Michelle’s vocals to the weightlessness of Wale’s flow. (On a sidenote: Black Thought makes riding scatter-shot beats like this sound so. fucking. easy.)

“Rising Up” stands out as the one bright spot on a supremely dark album (2008’s “Rising Down”). The rest of the LP is a collection of frustration, cynicism, rap songs that sound like they were written at 4:30 a.m. by dudes who been sleepy since midnight. The album is claustrophic and restless, cranky even, and because of that, unpleasant and downright boring at points.

But “Rising Up” closes the album beautifully, following “Lost Desire” (wonder what that’s about) and “The Show” (a song about the exhaustion of relentlessly touring) with a fun, loose-themed song that’s pure fun and reminds you why you don’t mind shelling out $40 everytime the Roots roll into your city.

That the Roots bookended the album with the dissonance of paranoid opener “Rising Down” and the harmonies of hopeful closer “Rising Up” lets me think this dark album was a one-off. They got the shit off their chests, but now “The Show” must go on. Here’s to the next album hopefully continuing the upwards rise.

7 Songs Meme pt. 1 – Hole’s "Awful"

Posted in music by Jef on June 24, 2008

(Tagged by NotNerdyEnough:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring summer. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to.)

Hole – “Awful”

In cleaning my room the past couple of weeks (yes, it’s taking that long and will take longer), I’ve been digging through my old CDs, and in doing so rediscovered Hole’s Celebrity Skin, which was one of my favourite albums before I became monogamous with hip-hop.

Yes, I was a grunge fan, and Celebrity Skin was a fitting bookend to that phase in my life — an album from the battered wife of the genre that, unexpectedly yet logically, stepped out of the garage into the light of California radio pop: bubblegum sounds, songs about boys breaking hearts, and killer hooks all over the fucking place.

The only damper on the album was knowing that Billy Corgan’s world-is-a-vampire claws were all over it. He had a hand in much of the songwriting and it detracted from Courtney Love’s strep-throat harmonies. I wanted this to be hers. I wanted it to be a one-woman show, a statement from an artist whose talent always got downplayed due to her close association with other, male musicians.

So looking back at the liner notes, I’m ecstatic to know that my favourite joint, “Awful”, was written by Love and is one of a pocket full of highlights untouched by Corgan — influenced by, maybe, but not written by.

It’s a lovely song, catchy as all hell but un-subversively dark. “He tastes like candy he’s so beautiful/ He’s so deep like dirty water/ God, he’s awful,” goes Love, singing way more beautifully than you’d except. Yeah sure, it’s dawn of the age of ProTools, but it’s also the undeniable sweetness of the song’s construction. You don’t need to be able to sing on-key to do this song justice — it’s that catchy. Plus, it’s thematically correct to sing it sloppily.

I believe this is the only album that bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur actually contributed to. Coupled with Eric Erlandson’s guitars it’s a wonderful smash of glitz and gutter, Love proclaiming with anthemic gusto we can break the world with one song.

5th Annual Potluck Festival

Posted in missives, theatre by Jef on June 20, 2008

The Fu-Gen theatre company has long been one of my favourite Toronto arts personalities. From June 20th-29th at the Factory Theatre the group is putting on the 5th Annual Potluck Festival, where you can check out some of their new plays-in-development. I highly recommend making time on your schedule to reach. The price is pay-what-you-can, with the suggested donation being $15 (even that is dirt cheap for good theatre).

Also featured among the more traditional productions and readings is a performance piece that runs at 8 p.m. all weekend, called “A Taste of Empire,” which features pan-Asian cuisine prepared in front of you as a discussion on food and colonialism takes place. Insert: bad joke about food for thought.

I love Fu-Gen, which stands for future generation, because they never get caught-up in navel-gazing identity politics, where angst and personal/political rants overpower the art. Fu-Gen works first and foremost as great theatre, regardless of audience demographic. But yes, their work will mostly likely spark a discussion or a period of self-reflection afterwards.

Fu-Gen was founded in 2002 and quickly carved a niche in the Canadian cultural landscape. Notable productions included Leon Aureus’s “Banana Boys” in 2004 and Catherine Hernandez’s “Singkil” in 2007.

Fu-Gen’s homepage
Live With Culture

The Hulk franchise, take two

Posted in break it down, comics, movies by Jef on June 15, 2008

If the Incredible Hulk isn’t a better film than Ang Lee’s The Hulk (which, for the record, I enjoyed), it certainly is more satisfying. In this latest iteration we finally get to see Hulk smash with aplomb; there are many, smart easter eggs for fanboys to find that also don’t get in the way of average viewers’ enjoyment; and Edward Norton is just an all-around better actor than Eric Bana, and more appropriately cast as well.

Norton’s Bruce Banner here is an inversion of his unamed character in Fight Club. Whereas in Fight Club, his character released his male frustrations through one-on-one combat and weird sex both as himself and through an alter-ego (Tyler Durden/Brad Pitt), in The Incredible Hulk, Norton as Banner spends the movie learning to avoid both the fight and the sex, and it seems the alter-ego (HULK!) is the only one capable of doing either.

Both versions of Hulk infantilize Banner to some degree, but I’d say Incredible Hulk does it better — more effectively and with less hammers hitting our heads. Ang Lee’s version was heavy with Oedipal father issues and featured a mesomorph Banner riding a small bike with a stupid safety helmet. This new one places a skinny Banner in clothes many sizes too big for him and unfashionable even if they did fit. Functionally, this is so he’ll still be wearing pants should he Hulk-out, but in effect it renders him as a little boy in ill-fitting hand-me-downs. There’s a great little moment where Betty Ross/Liv Tyler adjusts his cap and Norton mutters “too tight, huh?” It wonderfully recalls a first day at school, taking place on a University campus as Ross is reluctantly sending Banner away into the world.

The (non) sex scene with Ross is the most recognizable instance of this, which I see as infantilizing rather than desexualizing (as I’ve noticed it’s being labelled on some blogs). It’s not a scene of impotence, as Banner can clearly be excited and is desireable to the opposite sex. Rather, he is afraid of being TOO excited and the problems this will cause. You could say he’s afraid of the power of his phallus (which would make Hulk his big angry penis), but really, I think this scene is ultimately just a nod to fanboy speculation the likes of “Dude! How does Superman fuck Lois without KILLING HER?”

It’s ultimately a mistake. Banner’s Hulk-outs were about anger. True, the comics have featured many versions of the Hulk and what causes the Hulk, but at the core of the character’s mythology was always the anger issue. That’s where Ang Lee got it right, even if he didn’t construct the best movie around it.

This new film says Banner Hulks-out over excitement of any kind. It’s a matter of mastering your adrenaline which, though it leads to some exciting chase sequences where the obstacles are Banner’s heartrate and breathing patterns as much as they are cars and balconies, is ultimately a shallow concept. Banner lives life like any old dude with a heart problem, instead of a forever-repressed beast-within-all-of-us. I should concede that the film’s opening martial arts sequences are a great depiction of Banner’s repression issues, but it is not much later that we realize it’s not about not losing your temper, it’s about keeping your heartrate low.

The film uses two neat devices to measure and communicate the importance of Banner’s pulse: a watch that he wears to track his heartrate, and a title card that tracks the “days without incident”, i.e. how many days since the Hulk took over Banner’s body. I love both of these devices in the way they shape viewer expectations and add suspense, and also because they are both somewhat hokey and perfect for an elevated B-movie.

While it’s un-rewarding as a concept, Norton as an actor makes these heart-rate scenes shine. When the martial arts instructor teaches Banner to breathe and then slaps him across the face and instructs him to stay cool, Norton’s facial expression is in wonderful conflict. You see clearly both the rage and the suppresion of the rage. Simultaneously, Norton is a dude with tempermental problems and also a Zen master. I don’t know how he does it, but he does it consistently throughout the movie.

Unfortunately, Norton’s strengths highlights the supporting cast’s weaknesses; Liv Tyler’s reliance on merely whispering to convey affection and to position her on the balancing scale opposite Hulk; Tim Roth’s exaggerated, and very un-military like, swagger; William Hurt’s lack of any nuance; Tim Blake Nelson’s Bat-villain level manic mannerisms (the film is also Blake Nelson’s origin as a villain for, I guess, the franchise’s next installment). They aren’t bad performances, but they aren’t the level they could be, especially given the pedigree of Roth and Hurt.

The film works very well overall but its parts work against each other. It’s a Big Picture movie — it successfully erases Ang Lee, restarts the franchise, gives us a star who shines, deftly sets up several plots for possible sequels and other Marvel movies (Super Soldier serum! “Canadian hunters”! Dr. Sampson! The Leader!) and excitingly positions Hulk to play a part in Marvel’s building movie universe (The Avengers!). It doesn’t work as cohesively as Iron Man did, isn’t as thematically rewarding as Ang Lee’s version, but in the end, The Incredible Hulk serves all its goals and does a bang-up job of it. I ain’t mad at it.

You wouldn’t like me if I was mad at it.

Edward Norton vs. The Incredible Hulk
Valerie D’Orazio on Superheroes Who Can’t Get Laid

Lonely cyborgs

Posted in missives, tech by Jef on June 13, 2008

Hey to my fellow Canajuns, check this link to see if you fit the criteria: http://www.matchstick.ca/mp3/

They’re looking for people to try out a new gadget and provide feedback. It’s got me thinking about how many portable devices I use regularly:

Digital Camera
Digital Recorder
Nintendo DS

I’m in the market for something that plays video. I’m not in love with the ipod screen and the PSP is a little too bulky (plus I prefer the Nintedo games — though I like to play I’m not really a gamer and Nintendo is more friendly that way).

But yeah, I have a reputation for being tech-stupid (not un-earned, mind you), but I do get a kick out of these portable entertainment devices. Marketing companies may say tastemakers, tech-writers say people are merely plugged in, psychologists call us disconnected loners. What say you?

Everyone once in awhile I’ll enjoy a break from the earphones and remember I enjoy the sounds of the street and eavesdropping on conversations. But would I ever give up my player for good? Only for a better model.

Corrections Box

Posted in missives by Jef on June 2, 2008

A couple of my recent published articles contain some regretable errors, but given that they are published in either quarterly mags or student publications with revolving-door staffs, I wanted to clear up some things here.

First up, be sure to go out and cop the new issue of Urbanology, which contains my first ever cover story(!), a feature on Lupe Fiasco.

Correction: The opinion piece on page 18, “Defining Justice”, bears my byline but was written by columnist Sean Watson. A correction will run in the summer issue.

Next up, the Spring/Summer issue of Humber College’s media journal, Convergence, features a piece I wrote (“Death Sentences”) about a young Afghan journalism student who was sentenced to death for blasphemy and currently awaits an appeal trial date (which, according to an email I received from his brother just the other day, has been pushed back YET AGAIN).

The article at one point reads:

Zabihulla Noori, who finished his masters of journalism this year at Arizona State University, met Ibrahimi five years ago through the IWPR in his native Afghanistan. Noori was working as an office manager and Ibrahimi was then joining the reporting staff.

“Back then he had long hair, and he was very respectful to me,” Noori says. “He asked how media operates in the United States… I found him to be a really nice guy.”

Correction: I had written a transition paragraph where I made clear that Noori is describing Parwez Kaambaksh, not Yaqub Ibrahimi as it now reads. I think that paragraph got lost in the copy editing. Also, the photo credit should read “Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi”, not “Zabihullah Noori”.

I apologize to my sources.

In other news, I’m going to be leaving Canada in mid-July for Malawi, Africa, where I will be working as a journalism trainer with the fine organization Journalists for Human Rights. It should be a great experience, but it puts the kibosh on a couple of Scene Guy projects I had planned, including full coverage of the 2008 Toronto Fan Expo.

I will try to bank as many pieces as possible before I leave and post them intermittenly in an effort to keep the site going during my seven-month sabbatical. I will also be posting (or in some cases, re-posting, from my previous blogsite) pieces I had written about films during my cinema studies days at York Univeristy. I think I’ll have a sizable gap in pop culture knowledge when I get back, so that should be interesting.

I’m leaving, but I ain’t going nowhere. Stick around!