I'm a big Gaba Kulka fan and will have to post some album reviews at some point. Short version: she's got an interesting vocal range and playfully incongruous lyrics.
I'm a big Gaba Kulka fan and will have to post some album reviews at some point. Short version: she's got an interesting vocal range and playfully incongruous lyrics.
I read with interest a recent cultural piece by Fredrik deBoer in no small part because I was curious to see whether he'd cite Leigh Alexander (spoiler: he does.) His opening sentence does its job well, so while I 'd encourage reading the whole piece, I'll start by quoting it: "Pop culture has become inescapable."
Criticism as a form of writing and entertainment appears to have spread dramatically as a result of lowered barriers to entry. At the same time, traditional print bastions have been savaged by the rise of online alternatives. This reduces the positions and platforms available for high culture gatekeepers, particularly as they compete with mass-market friendly pop culture critics. Thus, as often as Roger Ebert might say that games aren't art or the like, pop-culture criticism has experienced a victorious rise. Thus, I agree with deBoer that the burden of magnanimity should be born by victors and obviously they should avoid self-pity.
At the same, I think his middle-brow vs. high-brow lens misses one important explanation behind pop culture critics' defensiveness. Many of these critics are engaged in the hard work of standard-raising: attempting to weed out misogyny, homophobia, racism, and other more traditional forms of bad writing. Tough criticism, constructive and not, is common even towards series that a critic may love (i.e. the epilogue of Harry Potter book 7). One of the most common defenses against this criticism is to defame pop culture as mere entertainment and that to analyze it is to miss the point or maliciously ruin it.
Quoting deBoer's post:
I know that people really want it to mean something that they love Community rather than Two and a Half Men. But I’m afraid such a distinction cannot say anything meaningful about you. People cling to that idea because they feel divorced from traditional means of creating personal meaning and identity; naturally, people so committed lash out, unfairly, at those who make different choices in the consumption of art and media.
I am a Community fan, but if I am being fair, I must certainly accept that it is no vice not to like the show and that there are many valid ways to criticize it. Even more so, I think it is safe to say that any discussion of good pop culture art easily drowns out discussion of difficult or high culture art. Part of the definition of a good critic is finding and popularizing lesser-known high quality material and there is a real risk for pop culture critics that they will ignore that part of culture that has not yet hit some threshold of popularity. However, I think this description doesn't leave room for the critic as standard-raiser (see, for example, Alyssa Rosenberg championing diversity in response to comments the creator of Two and Half Men). To be clear, deBoer may not put much weight on this standard-raising function or may understand it differently. This would not be hypocritical on his part; he was not trashing pop culture but instead was saying that the high/difficult art that he loves was underserved.
Finally, I think deBoer may be overlooking the participatory aspect of popular culture consumption. From fanfiction.net, to fan art, to cosplay, to merely discussing one's thoughts on a piece with friends. Having a common frame of reference lowers the barriers to artistic participation. Such work is, by definition, somewhat derivative but I would argue that it still allows some to create who otherwise would not and for others acts as gateway drug into original works. This sort of participation is partially explains why fans may feel so committed to a particularly series: because they have invested some of their own creative output into the product. I think deBoer would argue that it is a mistake to do so, but I would also say that participatory derivative art is as old as sing-a-longs and may have some of the same benefits.
To close, I reserve the right to do political analysis blogging of Legend of Korra, but I think I'll try harder to make sure I write up my experiences with the obscure. I would also glad subscribe to a feed of a blog that recommends difficult or high culture works based on tastes in popular culture. Going from say, Rowling's Harry Potter to Grossman's The Magicians is a fairly well known way to experiment with working one's way up the cultural food chain. However, I'm not aware of many other such connections. Right now, the closest thing I have are the more widely-ranging Washington Post book reviews and my friend Moti's Platform #5 livejournal reviews.
This was my first live comedy show in a while. It wasn't for lack of opportunities; comedy is actually fairly common for D.C.-area fundraisers and as a teen I got a fair number of Capitol Steps CDs. However, I fell out of the habit much as I fell out of the habit of watching TV news. Between the Daily Show, Colbert, funny things on the internet shared by friends, and the sometimes comedic stylings of a range of specialist blogs (for international political economy humor, Dan Drezner is your man) I could get great humor on topics of interest for free. As a result, my standards for humor I was paying for went way up and I let various opportunities pass me by.
The show this afternoon makes me think I may have made a mistake and not just that time when I missed a show by leaving my tickets at home. Second City is a well known Chicago comedy troupe that I'd considered catching on prior visits to the Windy City. They do a mix of scripted skits, songs, and improvisation with highly talented ensembles that are feeder teams to various television comedy shows. For this particular show, they sent two of their writers to get to know Baltimore to give the show a local flavor. I'd say about a quarter of the sketches felt like they could just be performed locally, another quarter might have worked elsewhere but were adapted to Baltimore, and the other half included shout outs but would have been funny most anywhere.
This was a formula that really worked for me. I got most of the local jokes; my mother and her family are from Baltimore and the suburbs and since I moved up to Columbia I hit the city more often for a range of reasons. The real advantage was that it forced fresher material without mandating the headline chasing that can be common for topically oriented shows. The advantage over your average locally-oriented show is that Second City brings consistently intelligent writing and a top notch ensemble. [For the scripted parts, the writers were Megan Grano and T.J. Shanoff. Their introduction to the program was also funny, so I think I will try to follow their work in the future.]
[Warren Johnson was my] favorite actor for his sheer range. His role in the first musical number was questioning some of the rose-tinted glasses nostalgia from perspective of African American Baltimoreans, but his subsequent roles were by no means token and included a wide range of impersonations and shticks.
Favorite bits: the musical numbers (A take on city nostalgia, The Wire: The Musical, a dirge on the fall of the Baltimore Sun set to a tune from Fiddler on the Roof, and a musical revue of Baltimore's past mayors; a real estate agent bit; a crowd feedback session featuring doctors (princes of the city), A-Rabbers (not to be confused with people from the Middle East), and seventh year MICA students. You will notice the local humor pattern here, but that shouldn't be taken as a slam on the rest of the material. Without the range of other bits, which had some of the strongest punch lines, the Baltimore stuff would have risked getting too [incestuous] and some of Kate's friends who didn't have strong local ties did get a bit bored. Overall, most of them had a good time too and I'm really glad they invited me.
This is not by any means a show aimed at children, but for anyone else with any Baltimore ties I'd recommend grabbing tickets while you still have a chance. The venue, Centerstage's Head Theater, offered a fair amount of seating while keeping an intimate feel. It did feel much more like a club than a theater; there was a bar in the back and there were tables with the chairs in the central seating area. We were all quite satisfied with our balcony seating: no tables but just one row so the view is great. If you pronounce Baltimore with the full three syllables and don't care about the local humor, than I'd definitely recommend catching a Second City show when they're doing a theme that grabs you. The tickets aren't cheap but it's an experience you aren't likely to get elsewhere. My only caveat: it is Baltimore by and large from the perspective of the reasonably comfortable middle class; they don't ignore racial issues but the Baltimore of Ta-Nehisi Coates' Beautiful Struggle is mostly seen through the filter of The Wire and a mocking of overwrought fears.
Buy tickets here. Prices go up some on February 11th and the show closes on the 20th.
[Update: Added in the names.]
My wife, my friend Matt, and I all went to the concert last night, and it was amazing. I love U2’s music so I’m into it to begin with, but they really made the stadium feel like an arena. The crazy high tech audio/visual/quadruped space ship really did the job and more important the human showmanship was there too. I got to hear all the songs I really wanted to hear and now when I listen to some U2 songs they just feel a bit live even though I’ve heard them dozens of times before.
Muse did a good job, although they focused much more on playing as many songs as possible and less on showmanship. I do agree with Mat that I wish they’d had more time. Not sure what happened there, they started later than expected and there was a reasonable time gap between when they finished and U2 started. I did get to hear all the songs I was really hyped to hear, Muse leads off with some of their best known ones, notably Knights of Cydonia, so that wasn’t particularly surprising. I think they did a good job, that said, this was more a U2 crowd than a Muse one, so doing a little more warm-up blather and one less song might have gotten the audience a lot more into the performance. That said, my friend Guy thinks DC concert goers are basically worthless and weak when it comes to getting into shows. I’ve been part of some good crowds, notably at the 9:30 club, but I think he had a point here.
Thanks to a heads up by my friend Matt, I went to the Gamer Symphony Orchestra’s spring show this afternoon. They hit a lot of the staples (Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, Halo) but notably had a pre-encore finale with a medley from Katamari Damacy which made me quite happy.
The show was free, as are their recordings. I may well do a song by song discussion when they put up MP3s or video for this concert. They’ve definitely got some talented people, but they’re also quite open about being a club that’s happy to take inexperienced people. As a result, I did definitely notice some slips, and I’m no pro. This didn’t prevent me from enjoying the concert and I would be willing to buy a CD (they weren’t available, presumably for licensing reasoning).
The arrangements they did were fairly original. For example, their Metal Gear medley had a jazzy version of the theme from three. I don’t think I’d pick that as my mainstay version, but it was a fun change of pace with the caveat that I’m not sure what a Bond audio reference was doing in there. Similarly, I’m rather fond of the way they played around with Still Alive (although that’s a version from a prior concert, possibly with a different lead).
On the whole I enjoyed it and will gladly catch future shows, particularly in UMCP’s lovely Clarisse Smith Art Center. If the presence of some less polished musicians is going to bother you, then probably not for you. These days you can get a show with fully professional orchestras, but I think their choices of music and arrangements benefit from intimate knowledge and enthusiasm for the material. Thus aside from being a terrific value, they also do pieces that I think tend not to be done even at the game orchestral concerts.
Last night I went to a The Surge/Ribbons show at the Black Cat, a club near the U-Street/Cardoza Metro station. It was the first time I'd been to the Black Cat and on the whole it was a pretty good experience. There were a couple of pinball machines and an old school game console as well a good number of seats in the bar/lounge. The show itself was $8, I got a ticket through ticketmaster, but I'm guessing the average show doesn't sell out so you may as well just buy tickets at the door and save the fee.
In his speech at the kick off, President-elect Obama called for everyone to work together to renew America. Based solely on that event, I think it’s starting to work. In the old America, I’d never seen U2 live, in Obama’s, I’ve seen them perform two songs (from quite a distance but still live). That’s change I can believe in.
From the survey, it looks like people want more travel pictures. I’ll do that one better for now. My taping of In the Name of Love wasn’t that great. It’s split between an intro and the body of the song. Also, more critically, it has me among other people singing along. I’m not a good singer, at least not in the range of U2 songs. That said, while I do love the band, in general they can be a bit tricky to sing along. The crowd was having some trouble with the ooooOOOahooo bits. Might have been better closer to the stege.
On the other hand, I think the clip of City of Blinding Lights came out pretty well. It was a theme song for the campaign, so can’t say I’m surprised they played it. There’s some laughter at the shout-out to Joe Biden, but I think that’s just part of the live music experience. If you can catch the actual video (I think it’s on HBO but unscrambled) it’s worth doing, Bono has great stage presence and plays around with the song some.
Anyhow, since this was some combination of a campaign event and government event, I think it might effectively be in the public domain for all anyone cares. If I’m wrong, it’ll get pulled.
Update: Oh, I’d have to check the video to be sure, but if memory served Bono actually made a gesture that clearly referenced the Black Power salute. That said the resolution isn’t high enough on this video to judge what’s on the Jumbotron.
I vehemently recommend U2-3D to any fans of the band.
There's not quite the energy of being at a live show, but it dang near gets there. The wide range of well-mixed camera angles get you way closer to the whole band in concert than anyone but the closest row of fans and often closer than them. The 3d does really add to the experience by making it feel that much more real, and for one song and the credits they really play around with it.
I think this format really works. Particularly for superstars like U2 that already do a highly effective mix of medium. Man those Latin American concerts seemed awesome.
I did see it in IMAX, not sure how much of a difference it made, but it sure felt worth it.
First off, I think the Post was dead on in critiquing that the one problem with Juno was the music.
The "Juno" soundtrack -- which narrowly missed being the No. 1 album on the latest Billboard Top 200 chart -- is totally boss . . . so long as you have an affinity for the sort of insufferably twee music proffered by Kimya Dawson...
It’s a curious collection of songs, given Juno’s assertion in the film that 1977 was music’s greatest year and, also, those old punk posters on her wall. Yet the lone circa-1977 song here is "All I Want Is You," by the children’s music singer Barry Louis Polisar.
Wonder what sort of zippy, snarky observation Juno would make about that. Maybe she’d paraphrase her father: Hey there, big, grating soundtrack version of "Junebug."
The review does praise the song at the end, which is quite awesome. But really, I’ve got to agree. I mean, I like a fair amount of quirky indy songs, but the most of the ones in the movie just did not do it for me at all.
Second, I may be going to see ’U2-3D’.
Billed by its producers as the first film to be totally shot, edited and presented in digital 3-D, "U2 3D" doesn’t just reprise 14 great tunes from the band’s Latin American tour of 2006. Co-directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington practically put us behind the mike with Bono. And when we’re not experiencing that electric primacy, we’re huddling with his devoted followers as they wave, sing and raise their cellphones in LED reverence. In many ways, watching the movie is better than concertgoing. We can enjoy that buzzy feeling of community without the fist-pumping biker obscuring our view.
In short, I don’t really have indy cred.
Slate’s Machinist blog has some weakly sourced numbers on Radiohead’sname your own price album sale: 1.2 million digital copies sold. "The figure dwarfs first-week sales of"Hail to the Thief," released in 2003, racked up 300,000 sales in its first week; "Amnesiac" managed 231,000 copies in 2001; and "Kid A" hit 207,000 in 2000." Of course, 1.2 million doesn’t mean much if everyone paid nothing. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case:
But we may have a clue. The British music newsletter Record of the Day conducted a poll of 3,000 purchasers of the album. People paid an average price of £4, about $8, the newsletter found.
Because the band isn’t working with a record label, it gets to keep all that money. If it had sold its songs instead on iTunes, it would likely have seen less than $1.50 per album.
There’s some incentive to lie and inflate the amount you paid, but even at £2 per album they’d still be beating the pants off going through iTunes. I bought it paying £5. I meant to actually only pay half that, I didn’t notice immediately that it was in Pounds and then didn’t figure out how to lower the amount without starting over. I thought the album was alright, although I tend to find heavily electronic albums a bit muddy. That said, it was still kinda neat participating in the experiment.
Shadi Hamid over at Democracy Arsenal highly praises the whole idea:
This is, as far as I can tell, the first time a band as big as Radiohead has completely superceded and subverted the whole infrastructure for selling records. If Radiohead pulls this off, they’ll be sure to pocket much more profit, paving the way for other artists to follow suit. Everyone benefits: we get our music for cheaper; Radiohead gets more money; the middle man gets cut out; and the music world suddenly becomes democratic in a way it never was - or could have been - before.
So you say you want a revolution? Get on with it, then. Go right ahead and buy the new album.
That said, a commenter notes that they didn’t manage to cut out the credit card companies, who are charging ~$1 a sale. The main disappointing thing about the whole experience for me was that they didn’t take Paypal. I figure the next attempt probably will.
Michelle Cottle over at TNR did a tribute to modern country:
Even (or maybe particularly) some of the most swaggering Nashville stars do self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek numbers about what losers they are with the ladies or how old they’re getting. The New York Times did a mildly condescending piece about this phenomenon back in June, pointing to Brad Paisley’s "Ticks" and Toby Keith’s "High Maintenance Woman" as prime examples.
Kind of an odd trend, but then everything seems more meta these days. Regardless, I wouldn’t be blogging about it unless the Youtube link she chose as an example was a Battlestar Galatica music video.
Update: For the record, I’m not remotely a fan of country music but I am a huge BSG fan and this combo actually works in my view.
It's up, for those that haven't seen it.
Top five songs I'm looking forward to:
There's some other groups I like but songs I don't know by name (despite the fact that they're probably immensely popular).