Tag Archives: indie

Body

Caught a preview screening of Jennifer’s Body. It wasn’t as awful as I’d read, but I can say that there’s going to be a cadre of folks who are interested in seeing the thing just for Megan Fox’s body. And they’ll be disappointed, because though some of the billboard adverts have given it that bro-skin-flick sheen, that it ain’t. It may have some overbearingly brazen Hollywood affectations (let’s cram as many pop songs as possible in the most awkward situations), Diablo Cody may have gone a bit too over-the-top with her Diablo Cody-isms (though, to be perfectly honest, I know people who speak with the same “quirky” speech affectations), and the humor-horror mixture sometimes trips over itself.

Sometimes. It’s still fairly entertaining, though I wish Cody would’ve explored certain aspects in greater depth (though I can see how it may have been overkill/distracting).

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead. (Nothing too terrible, but if you’ve seen or read anything about the film, you won’t be caught terribly off-guard.)

At the crux of all the movement is a band called Low Shoulder, who end up performing in the backwoods town that Jennifer lives in and results in a massive Great White-like disaster. (As an aside, I thought the horror take on a club fire was kind of in bad taste… perhaps because it’s exploitative nature that’s eerily like an event that feels so recent/always feels close to home considering the countless teeny spaces I myself cram into for shows could always be a potential nightmare.) In any case, the town and nation are somehow deluded into thinking the band are heroes, with the entire local high school head over heels for the group. A conversation ensues where a Needy (Amanda Seyfried) gets in an argument with a classmate who worships the band based on facts she read over wikipedia and claims that “we need them now more than ever.” It’s this kind of stuff that makes me really respect Cody: she may write a kind of dialogue that goes to extremes of online banter as used in life, but her abilities to display how people react in the most insignificant of situations is uncanny. I found that one relatively sideline scene to be so endearing, the idea that people will seek anything as a source of hope and use the word “hero” for a person who may not well deserve it, a third rate entertainer no less. (It’s kind of funny seeing Adam Brody in another role outside of The Ten where his character is revered for no apparent reason.)

On another, more scrupulous note, Brody’s fake band reveals a certain way people perceive, well, certain kinds of bands, within the context of a film and out of it. Left Shoulder are basically billed as an “indie” band on several occasions in the film, and the watered down song that’s parlayed throughout the film is basically as bland as anything that can be passed off as such. And though the only mention of emo in the entire film is something of a “quirk line” (“puncture wound? That’s so emo.”), some folks are already calling Brody’s faux act an emo band. So sayeth Metromix’s Geoff Berkshire:

When rising emo band Low Shoulder come to town, Jennifer makes it a priority to meet the lead singer (Adam Brody), leading to a night that changes her forever.

The giveaway for the band being remotely “emo”? Probably Brody’s guyliner. As Brody told MTV about his role:

I play this guy named Nikolai Wolf, and he’s a singer in an emo band. He’s looking for fame and fortune and is basically a sociopath who came upon the idea that devil worship and sacrificing a girl is the surefire ticket to fame and fortune. And he has no problem doing that, whatsoever.

….

Yeah, there’s some Jared Leto in there. I threw in a bit of Brandon Flowers. There’s a little Maroon 5. There’s no nail polish, but there’s a little bit of eyeliner.

And there you have it. Gotta love how Brandon Flowers, though he’s previously been outspoken against emo, is probably a greater basis for Brody’s character than Leto: Brody’s stage manner resembles that of Flowers in that over-indulgent, I’m-so-great-look-at-me-slowly-sway kind of way.

What’s more interesting is the band’s supposed evil status. I realize the film is a mixture of comedy and horror, but this is where the mixture doesn’t really work. The ease with which Brody and his band-mates are compelled to commit some heinous act with barely any 2nd guessing (that being the whole “hey, it’s either this or be a barista” argument, which is fairly lame) just didn’t do it for me. Why? Because any band that would have such a brazenly vanilla sound probably wouldn’t be in the same room as anything occult. Nor would they think “that dude from Maroon 5” is cool. Because no one thinks that guy is cool.

Now I’m just nitpicking…

Jennifer’s Body trailer:

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R&Bemo?

It seems that the Seattle Times‘ Andrew Matson has stumbled upon the formula that came to fruition in popular culture a bit over half a decade ago:

“random genre/culture/thing/idea/word” + “emo” = combination of the former two concepts!

Back when emo first really hit it big, it seems everyone was trying hard to configure the term with, oh, just about every other term out there for a while, such as emo rap. (Curiously enough, this was the same thing that occurred within post-hardcore punk communities in the mid-80s which begat the term emo.) There’s no question that this equation has yet to cease, but it’s certainly faded as a large chunk of the media limelight has hoped the “indie” bandwagon.

However, in a recent piece on the musician Drake, Matson doesn’t even attempt to hide the fact that he’s making pointed calculations to his audience. It’s all in the title:

R&B + emo = R&Bemo | Drake – “Successful”

So, what exactly defines R&Bemo?

“Successful” takes place in the most gothic of R&B batcaves. Vocals waft in, fade out, and a sparsely decorated hiphop beat is revealed. Snare and bass hits echo. A lone synth’s electro-organ warble is a single candle. The music is beautiful.

The music is also Drizzy’s cold, cold soul.

Mmm… sounds a lot like… well, R&B, potentially sans the echo. Also, “Drizzy?” Really?

Matson continues:

From the very beginning, “Successful” is broody and forlorn, a perfect example of the new R&Bemo (R&B + emo), a mini-movement in contemporary rap and R&B.

The new R&Bemo is different than singing the blues. It’s post-that. The blues is direct; it’s crying. The new R&Bemo is also about pain, but it’s post-crying. The new R&Bemo is psychiatric. It’s picking up where Prince’s “When Doves Cry” left off, marrying minor-key pop jams to lyrics that show an awareness not only of one’s own pathologies and neuroses, but potential causes and fixes. For the latter, the new R&Bemo is psychopharmacological. It’s about drinking, driving, smoking, spending, having sex, and sing-rapping your way through this crazy life.

At this point, it seems that the “R&Bemo movement” sounds a lot like, say, the new Kanye West album (and the oft-incorrectly attributed connotation to emo). (And I’m not entirely sure what Matson implies with the term “post-crying,” but isn’t the performance of music, blues especially, a means of psychologically dealing with one’s pain?)

It’s not just that Matson’s description makes Drake and 808s sound similar. They sound similar too. Take a listen…

Drake – “Successful”:

Kanye West – “Love Lockdown”:

All Drake needs is a little more autotune and a more grandoise fashion sense…

I’m not one to deny that this exists or to say “shame on you” to Matson for his emo mathematics after I’d put together heapings of words dedicated to scrunk. (After all, my Phoenix article was also up front about screamo + crunk = scrunk.) And I’m not one who’s well versed in the modern R&B world… I couldn’t have told you who Drake was before reading this piece. But, until someone shows me a handful of artists aside from Drake and Kanye who are making minimalist electronic beats to be crooned over – R&B style – and derive some musical inspiration from any, and I mean any, emo artist (ilk included), I just find this whole term, well, kind of odd. But, I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.

Guitar Hero 5: Emo Edition

Guitar Hero, the popular musical-video game phenomenon is coming out with its fifth volume. And it might as well be called the “Emo Edition.” Or the Indie Edition… One fits with the other.

While the new version of Guitar Hero (GH5) if you will, has the regular mainstream-rock fare, it’s jam packed with many an indie, and emo, act. Just look at the official list:

3 Doors Down, A Perfect Circle, AGI, Arctic Monkeys, Attack! Attack! UK, Band of Horses, Beastie Boys, Beck, Billy Idol, Billy Squier, Blink-182, Blur, Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, Brand New, Bush, Children of Bodom, Coldplay, Darker My Love, Darkest Hour, David Bowie, Deep Purple, Dire Straits, Duran Duran, Eagles of Death Metal, Elliott Smith, Elton John, Face To Face, Garbage, Gorillaz, Government Mule, Grand Funk Railroad, Iggy Pop, Iron Maiden, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Eat World, John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash, Kaiser Chiefs, King Crimson, Kings of Leon, Kiss, Love and Rockets, Megadeth, Motley Crue, Muse, My Morning Jacket, Nirvana, No Doubt, Peter Frampton, Public Enemy (featuring Zakk Wylde), Queen & David Bowie, Queens of the Stone Age, Rammstein, Rose Hill Drive, Rush, Santana, Scars on Broadway, Screaming Trees, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Spacehog, Stevie Wonder, Sublime, Sunny Day Real Estate, T. Rex, The Bronx, The Derek Trucks Band, The Duke Spirit, The Killers, The Police, The Raconteurs, The Rolling Stones, The Sword, The White Stripes, Thin Lizzy, Thrice, Tom Petty, TV On The Radio, Vampire Weekend, Weezer, Wild Cherry, Wolfmother

You can check out the full list here.

Ok, so it’s not overrun with emo artists, but there’s a good deal of them: Brand New, Jimmy Eat World, Sunny Day Real Estate, Thrice, Weezer. That’s enough to take notice. And the Sunny Day Real Estate entry is, above all, really odd… I know my thirst for a reunion is getting the best of me, but it seems very coincidental that they’re included in all the bands… could we see something along the lines of when the Sex Pistols reunited (again) and debuted a re-recording of “Anarchy In The UK” for Guitar Hero 3? Hopefully not. Maybe I’m searching for a connection way to hard, but we’ll find out…

What may be even more interesting than SDRE are some of the other included acts.

Spacehog?! They’ve got to be using “In The Meantime” which I haven’t heard on the radio since middle school.

Screaming Trees?! Gotta love Mark Lanegan and that band, but all I can remember of them from when they were around was “Nearly Lost You” being on the air, and yet that wasn’t their “big” hit.

Elliott Smith?! Aside from the guy’s stuff in Heatmiser, I’m not quite sure what they could put into GH5!

And then there are the newer indie acts. You’ve got your Arctic Monkeys, Band of Horses, The Duke Spirit (really? on a video game?), TV On The Radio (hopefully something other than “Wolf Like Me” – they’ve got plenty of great songs that people aren’t aware of!), and Vampire Weekend (ugh).

Activision’s got quite a game on its hands. Looks like I’ll have to find a friend with a copy come September 1st.

My hopeful selections for Guitar Hero 5:

Spacehog – “In The Meantime”:

Screaming Trees – “Nearly Lost You”:

Elliott Smith – “Miss Misery” (let it be the live Oscar version):

Sunny Day Real Estate – “J’Nuh”:

Brand New – “Jesus”:

Amazon is soooooooo emo

Amazon released their list of the 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Times. As with any “definitive” list, Amazon’s has some flaws, and some seem to stand out like sore thumbs, especially moving from one individual’s taste to the next. As a side note, yes, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is a great album and will no doubt be at the top of many an end of the year list, but isn’t it a bit too early to put it in the category of top anything of all time? I mean, the album came out two months ago…

The rules and regulations for the list were rather confusing, and when you consider the concept of indie rock vs independent rock music (many an early blues/rock label were, by way of creation, independent, but there’s not a mention of any Chess Records release or otherwise on the list), it’s all the more perplexing. And, the list does bring to light the confounding question of “is emo indie?” which seems to be brought up more often nowadays in a fashion sense than a musical sense. Still, a good chunk of emo produced today is independent and fits into the ambiguous aesthetic of “indie,” and in the past, emo was a strong component of the 90s emo scene.

Don’t believe it? Take a look at where some big-name emo acts landed on the Amazon list:

84. Hearts Of Oak – Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

83. Save Yourself – Make Up

80. The Ugly Organ – Cursive

78. Nothing Feels Good – The Promise Ring

45. How Memory Works – Joan Of Arc

31. Repeater + 3 Songs – Fugazi

29. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy – Jawbreaker

If you’re confused about the placement of some of these albums in relation to one another, you might not want to look at the full list… it’s rather… well, odd. But, I do have to give them some props for including The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good33 1/3, take a look at that list!

Kanye Wemo

It’s been a number of days, but Stereogum’s post on Kanye West’s “Coldest Winter” caught my eye for oh so many reasons. Of course, images offer the best summation. Thanks Stereogum:

Kanye = emo?

Kanye = emo?

The post offers an interesting look at the perception of emo today. Given that Stereogum doesn’t play into mainstream music standards and often prides itself on its (quite excellent) ability to subvert and branch beyond the increasingly formulaic indie tastebuds (see Brandon Stosuy’s “The Outsiders” column), its odd to see the light of emo in such a stereotypical mess. Not than Stosuy’s article wasn’t in good fun – it certainly was. But the responses certainly reeked of the tired-and-true attacks for and against emo:

Being sad about yr mom dying=so emo.

Posted by: Liam at 10/17/08 4:40 PM | Reply
Score = 8 Vote up Vote down

i have to kind of agree with the whole kanye gone emo concept…i think that it has to do with the passing of his moms thats taking the toll on some of his music…but this 808’s and Heartbreak album should be excellent if the songs r like heartless, love lockdown, and coldest winter

Posted by: Malcom at 10/18/08 12:50 PM | Reply
Score = 0 Vote up Vote down

Kanye gone emo? Do you people even know what emo is? Obviously you don’t if you’re including Fall Out Boy in your emo jokes. Fall Out Boy is not an emo band, and the word emo has been mangled and twisted so much that it’s hard for idiots like you to recognize real emo if you see it. And you won’t see it if you’re listening to any recent music that is relatively mainstream. Quit using the word “emo” as a diss, especially when you have no concept of the real mean. And lay off Kanye for making music that has emotion and feeling. At least somebody still speaks from his soul.

Posted by: Ty at 10/20/08 1:17 AM | Reply
Score = -3 Vote up Vote down

Elliot

The best is when emo kids defend emo by saying it’s not emo. Hilarity ensues.

Posted by: Elliot profile link in reply to Ty’s comment at 10/21/08 12:52 AM | Reply
Score = 0
Vote up

I could easily break each argument down, see what the writer was thinking. But, that might be a waste of time. I’ve often found arguing over forums an unproductive and anger-inducing waste of time; when you’ve got someone so vehemently closed-minded about a subject railing against it, there’s no way they’d take the time of day to consider even the most well-researched, intelligent case against their voice. Granted, most of these posts aren’t anger filled, but there’s a certain close-mindedness associated with them that I sometimes wish didn’t exist in the realm of underground music; you’d think most people attracted to seemingly un-mainstream art would therefore subvert total musical close-mindedness. Or at least keep it in check.

So it goes.

But the Kanye track is pretty awesome in its own right. As far as the “shitty sound” I’ve seen posted about this song and the previous other ones, if this is indeed the aesthetic that Kanye is going for, I’ve got to give him more credit than I usually do. As I learned under the tutelage of Wayne Marshall, hip-hop producers from different parts of the globe have come to embrace the “shitty” sound many listeners tend to notice in the new Kanye tracks. In trying to make their music accessible for the masses, these producers embrace a sound that they know will sound good coming out of speakers or systems of poor quality. That can be anything from laptops and computer speakers to cell phones; after all, when audiophiles talk about getting the perfect listening experience, they drop words like “vinyl” and “surround sound.” But these things cost money, which isn’t exactly going around freely at the moment. By creating a sound that may come across as rough, flat, jarring, or however you want to categorize it, Kanye is producing music that is immediately accessible to music players (and those who own them) of all kinds; from laptops to concert-hall speakers, it’ll sound the same one way or the other. It might even sound better on a cell phone…

*Speaking of Wayne, he’s helping throw an event down in JP at the Milky Way on Thursday featuring Cabide DJ, who’s something of a funke carioca producer extraordinare. Check out Wayne’s site for much more info on the guy. If only I didn’t have these damn GREs, I’d be there in a second.

Receivers

Receivers

*Parts & Labor’s Receivers is out today. 3/4 of the way through the first listen and it’s quite an album so far – easily the most accessible album of theirs to date. They’re touring around this fall promoting the album so check them out – they put on one hell of a show.

The Politics of Fashion

Naomi pointed me the way to this excellent piece by Thursday/United Nations’ Geoff Rickly on the MTV Headbanger’s Blog site on my previous post, and it got me thinking about the impact of fashion on culture. Rickly astutely notes the power of the image, and in doing so recalls Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.” Rickly is quite correct in his assertion to use McLuhan as an intellectual pinpoint to the decline of political action – or simply plain action – in punk and underground culture. But McLuhan doesn’t sum up the concept of said decline like Daniel Boorstin managed to with his book on American culture – The Image. In the book, Boorstin points towards not only the great power that images have over us, but how they can sometimes distract from the real events and meaning behind said image. In our ability to reproduce certain images, the reproduction often overshadows the thing that made the original such an endearing event in human existence in the first place. You can buy a postcard of the Mona Lisa or download it online just about anywhere, but it doesn’t compare to seeing the lightly-cracked brush-strokes in real life. But, more importantly, when an image is so readily available through commerce, the idea of flying to a foreign country, waiting in massive lines, and paying out of your rear end to see a painting you might not even care for (especially if you aren’t into art) may actually end up diminishing any positive experience with the original image – forget events that went into making it such an emotionally arresting work. The same can be said for folks who enjoy wearing Che Guevara t-shirts; the image is well known, arresting, and connected to connotations of rebellion, and the $15 for the shirt and look of cool is immediately accessible versus the time one would spend in researching Guevara’s political ideas and the true concepts behind his face. It’s a very concept that is rooted in American culture; the democracy of information versus the time and effort needed to be fully aware of the information you are ingesting.

Daniel Boorstin

Daniel Boorstin

These concepts are fully drawn into the world of music and its revolutionary/underground/political backgrounds. Rickly points towards Fugazi as a beacon of light in the music-as-action argument; what Rickly fails to mention in the article is that Fugazi never submitted themselves to any easily-replicable image. Among the many ideas that are thrown into Instrument – the excellent Jem Cohen documentary on Fugazi – is their consistent battle with trying to portray an accurate portrait of themselves. The media have such a way of forcing individuals into boxes that there’s no wonder the members of Fugazi did away with the mainstream press; providing an easy-to-swallow image makes the important messages that Fugazi was creating, well, lost in the medium. Most folks may not know a lick about the band, but those individuals who have the forthright to find out about their music and enjoy it will get the full-blast (aurally and idealistically) of the band’s concept.

Fugazi in action… literally (from Instrument):

In music, nothing makes or breaks a band like fashion. It’s the easiest thing to digest when learning about new bands – it takes minutes to listen to a song, but a handful of seconds to stare at a picture and determine if its aesthetically pleasing and cool. Fashion has made certain acts desirable and its also driven cultures and bands to the bitter ground. Take a look at grunge; all it took was for one word – “flannel” – to encompass an entire lifestyle of poor-as-hell artists in the Northwests and a handful of years later grunge was “played out.” As Rickly mentioned, hipsterdom is on the brink of destruction, and that’s mostly because of the easy-to-replicate image of cool. The reasoning behind the wears that artists involved in the indie scene is completely lost on all those who use clothing as a cache for cool – likewise, the need to separate oneself from the mainstream through fashion gets blurred in the culture of consumerism. How non-conformist is something purchased from Urban Outfitters? How neo-conformists is it when you can’t even recognize why an item of clothing is “revolutionary”? The easiest example of this widespread impact of the image of cool and how its deteriorated true subversion of the norm is the newfound fashion statement in the indie world; the kafia. Sure it looks cool, trendy, and yes, different. But how many American teens and twenty-somethings can actually connect with the Palestinian plight that the kafia represents? Moreover, how many people can actually recognize that as the antecedent?

hipster cool

hipster cool

Fashion is not lost in the realm of emo; not a day goes by that the idea of black-clad teens with weird haircuts boxes emo into a seemingly inescapable definition. And it seems like something new and more-or-less negative gets added to the mix; makeup was nowhere to be found five years ago when emo was first getting popular. And yet, despite all the doom and gloom that fashion can force on a once-forceful, active underground culture, I still have faith in some, if not all, of emo and indie (especially when the two are still so hard for people to define). And it has nothing to do with fashion. It has to do with history. Although America is still known as a “young” country, seemingly without a past, certain aspects of our culture go against those stereotypes, and in America, we love our home-brewed history (sometimes too much in the guise of nostalgia). But it’s always good to look back in an attempt to move forward. Geoff Rickly does just that with his piece for Headbanger’s Blog; he takes a concept of revolution and forces it right in the face of the individuals he is more or less critiquing, and using a major source of information (MTV) to do so. And while a movement becomes mainstream, images no doubt takeover, and certain ideas may be lost in translation, I come with the belief that making certain information available to those who normally wouldn’t be aware of its existence is a good thing. Rickly has always managed to articulately and effectively state why it was good that Thursday signed to a major label despite being so independent-minded, and opening up their audience to new people who may not have been aware of the importance of action is certainly a positive choice and change in my book. While one can assume that a large portion of today’s sub-standard pop-punk may not heed Rickly’s advice, I’d prefer to think positively. Because somewhere out there, some earnest fan of Rickly’s has always been a fan of taking some form of action in their everyday life, and they’ll read Rickly’s article and be inspired. Because you can’t always wait for change to happen – you have to enact it yourself.

A little bit of (music) news:

*The New York Times has a great piece on the crossover success of Gym Class Heroes.

*The Beastie Boys’ MCA is working in his own independent film company.

*iTunes Version 8 has a program called Genius which supposedly links one song to others like it in your library, as well as ones that may be purchased from the iTunes music store. Sounds like iTunes merely links songs other listeners have purchased online rather than songs that share similar compositions/aesthetics.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Mix-Up

A still from Nick and Norahs Infinite Playlist

A still from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

About a week ago I came across the trailer for the new Michael Cera-propelled film, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The movie is aimed at all things indie in both film and music and although the plot seems thin, the brief clips from Nick and Norah have a down-to-earth sense of adventure to them that made movies like Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle so fresh and endearing. Something apart from the plot-points, character, and humor stood out in the trailer almost immediately. Take a look:

Catch that? Chances are, probably not. Like most perceptions of indie or emo or the mixture thereof, the archetype of the “sensitive guy” as a musician is overly used to describe both brands of genre and culture. True to form, chances are most individuals would have a hard time sorting out emo from indie or emos from hipsters/scenesters. While the lines for what does or does not make certain acts like Death Cab for Cutie or Atmosphere appear to be in the realm of emo, when a music-bred subculture enters the realm of cultural output beyond simply creating music, things get fuzzy. Real fuzzy. Especially with indie music, which in and of itself is more puzzling for folks to define than emo.

And so Nick and Norah provides a template for such confusion. Nick is billed as a “sensitive musician,” which, in terms of underground music, would push him in the direction of the realm of emo. But his attire (skinny jeans, band shirt, hoodie and a sports jacket) and the film’s soundtrack of choice suggests more in the direction of general indie music and Nick as the prototypical awkward hipster. Or scenester. Both are associated with the indie scene and are terms attributed to those great subcultures of America’s past. Scenesters and hipsters both use a form of bricolage to recombine music, clothing, and art into whatever the new subcultural creative tract currently is. In my mind, there is a slight difference between the two. A scenester is someone who generally chases after in-vogue underground movements, taking what they will and leaving the rest to the slaughter – basically, the malicious and elitist individuals involved in the underground culture. A hipster is someone who is generally in tune with the ideologies of a particular subcultural movement and a thriving part of that – someone who understands the positive movement of creativity and values that over fashion. It was the scenester more than the hipster who Max Bemis railed against in Say Anything’s “Admit It!!!,” a six-minute rant of a song calling out all the false pretenses of elitism prevalent in underground culture.

There’s a reason that Bemis would become so upset by the presence of scensters and why people often confuse emo with indie and vice versa. As indie is an all-encompassing term for independent music (however you may define it), emo is one of many genres that fits into that general sphere. After all, emo was a vibrant underground subculture a good decade and a half before it hit the top of the Billboard charts. And it’s been in the past few years, when both emo and indie have been vibrant presences beyond underground music, that some general sharing of cultural production would flow between the two shared-genres. And in that, the “sensitive musician” who was very much a vibrant part of indie music for some time (most notably in the guise of The Smiths, an act most people often confusingly attribute to being emo but who have nothing to do with the genre/subculture itself in their lifetime), became a defining part of emo. And the punk-panache of emo was welcomed into the fold of definition for various artists in the indie marketplace. And so the confusion tends to grow.