Tag Archives: Stereogum

SDRE Tacoma show on YouTube

Adam9512 was nice enough to record the entire Sunny Day secret show that was in Tacoma the other night and post it on YouTube (thanks Stereogum). Audio quality isn’t great (but really, how can you improve upon seeing a band in person?) but it’s a nice sneak peek for folks who have tickets for their upcoming shows. Enjoy:

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(Don’t Waste Your 500) Days of Summer

Caught a glimpse of this yesterday on the web:

500 Days of Summer + Sid & Nancy

500 Days of Summer + Sid & Nancy

The Cinemash idea – mashing up two distinct films into a “quriky” 3-5 minute byproduct – is particularly ingenious, and I’m sure it can’t hurt that MSN is behind the thing and able to hire the actors from one of the movies to play the parts. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Cinemash episodes, but the first one – mixing up 500 Days of Summer and Sid & Nancy is a pretty paltry affair that doesn’t move beyond the gimmicky idea behind combining the two films. It’s more one of the films being combined – 500 Days of Summer, the “hotly-anticipated” film, if you believe the waves of advertising behind it – is absolutely, rock-bottom terrible.

In April, I caught 500 Days of Summer at the Somerville Theatre, as it was screened as part of the IFFBoston. On that fateful evening, it was hard to verbalize my anger and resentment of the film beyond my hand doing a full-on collision with my forehead, repeatedly, while the film screened. Now, with some months behind me and the movie a week and a half away from opening up in theaters across the U.S., I think I might be able to articulate why I don’t like the film.

Just note, if you are considering seeing 500 Days of Summer, do not. With the price of movie tickets as high as they are, it would be a poor decision. Of course, the details are below. But, even if you heed my words with a grain of salt, I hope that you should at least observe them and try and understand where I’m coming from. Anyway, here goes:

In October 2008, The Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday wrote a scathing article on the increasingly formulaized world of indie films. Entitled “From Indie Chic to Indie, Sheesh,” Hornaday was able to break-down the various variables and mathematical equations that, when combined just right, made an “indie film”:

Dysfunctional family? Try “Rachel Getting Married.” Disaffected teen? Meet “Donnie Darko.” Sexual taboos? “Tadpole’s” got ’em. Sly references to pop arcana and sardonic humor? Go, “Rushmore”! Hipper-than-thou soundtrack? Listen to “Garden State,” it’ll change your life. Llamas and recreational drug use are optional. An overarching tone of ironic detachment is not: Irony is to the indie what the horse is to the Western and the rain-slicked street is to the noir thriller.

Hornaday had a point, but her article came too soon (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, eat your heart out). Because the summer’s “biggest” “indie” “film,” aka 500 Days of Summer is the prime example of the formualized indie film, but in a completely homogenized and Hollywood lens. And it’s downright awful.

500 Days of Summer “boasts” the following pieces that have wriggled their way into indie films over the past decade or so (linked to the preceding, far superior film, where applicable):

*”Quirky” rom-comedy (be it Eternal Sunshine, Juno, Garden State)

*Non-linear style of storytelling (Eternal Sunshine)

*Narrative detours into the various character’s imaginations, films/images from their past, and various other sideline, eye-catching images (Amélie)

*Bright, colorful scenes, clothing, and images to match mood or simply standout (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, etc)

*Artistically-rendered and “unique” transition placeholders that match time of year/date with a particular thematic element (Juno, Rushmore)

*”Character-development” in supposedly “mundane” scenes (Lost In Translation, most films by Jim Jarmusch)

*”Quirky” indie soundtrack (Garden State)

*Unusual relationship with someone not the same age as the protagonist, wherein the main character derives something profoundly meaningful from the other person (in 500 Days, it’s Tom and his much younger sister to whom he goes to with all his life’s problems; Rushmore, Lost In Translation)

*”Quirky” female role (AV Club coined this term: Manic-Pixie Dream Girl, featured in movies such as Garden State, Eternal Sunshine, Juno, and practically anything some indie dude wrote)

*Little snippets of every-day talk that is meant to be something more meaningful (done with actual depth in some films by Richard Linklater)

*Scene in a karaoke bar where the main characters really connect (Lost In Translation)

*Random, yet somewhat consistent use of voice-over, sometimes ominous (used best in Adaptation, to a humorous degree)

*”Sweeping,” unorthodox cinematography that captures the city/surroundings of the film (Lost In Translation)

I could go on, but it’s exhausting. Truth be told, I could not find anything terribly unique to 500 Days of Summer at the end of the film’s screening.

So what’s so bad about a film that has all these elements? Truth be told, it’s sometimes forgivable when done well, but 500 Days of Summer isn’t done well – it’s a pure Hollywood, B-movie crap that’s pushed out every year, every month, every weekend, it no different than The Proposal.

The problem with this is that it’s advertised as something different, not your average film, not “A love story, but a story about love.” And that line says it all for the film; something that has the look of real depth, but is really hollow and shallow at the core. What does that phrase even mean? Not much quite frankly, and I’m not sure the people behind the movie even get it.

500 Days of Summer comes across like a vapid music video, one that sure is perty, but without any actual storytelling, character development, or memorable pieces to speak of. And yet, it tries so hard. Not to overly-criticize people, as I’m sure the folks behind the movie are probably quite nice and worked real hard on the movie. But, look at what they’ve done before the movie. Screenplay writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber only have one other completed film to their credit: the poorly-received and easily-damnable 2009 Pink Panther 2. Not even the original remake, the remake-sequel. And director Marc Webb’s previous works were straight-to-video movies about Jesse McCartney, 3 Doors Down, and some music videos. Not to downplay music video directors: some of my favorite films of the past ten years have been from former music video directors. But Webb is hardly Spike Jonez… hell, he’s hardly Zack Snyder. Snyder has a vision unique to him – albeit rather violent and often pretty shallow – but it’s a vision. 500 Days of Summer has, well nothing.

Take, for example, a few scenes in the film (note: potential spoilers ahead. No, they’re not cataclysmic, end-revealing spoilers, but mostly tell one scene. But, I feel better about warning you anyway. Read on if interested):

*Tom (the usually excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) are upset with one another. Summer mentions that they’re not in a relationship (occurs throughout the film), and Tom protests by mentioning all the things they’ve done together that couples do. He proceeds to talk about only three events, all of which the viewers have seen. At this point, it’s over 100 days into the couple’s knowing and interacting with one another. One would think that they’ve done more than three things over the course of 100+ days into knowing one another, and they don’t necessarily have to be shown. Even so, these scenes have, and it’s damn dumb to beat the viewer over the head with these scenes.

*Summer is telling something of great magnitude to Tom. But, instead of actually hearing what it is, the booming voiceover comes on and merely tells the audience that this is an epochal point in their relationship. So, instead of showing this interaction, the writers/director/whomever couldn’t come up with anything truly moving and had the voice over patch it up. Nice work.

*The Apple trailers site has a clip from the film, and it’s a bit of a throwaway, but it’s a pretty stand-in for the whole film. In it, Tom’s best-friend pleads with Tom to tell him something important because he’s his best friend. We learn this throughout the film, and it’s beat into the viewers’ heads mercilessly. Kind of like the following, so-bad-it’s-good film:

*Also, for someone who is Tom’s best friend, in a movie about “love,” why the hell isn’t the best friend’s girlfriend of umpteenth-years ever in the movie?

(End of potential spoilers)

Simply put, 500 Days of Summer has a lot of problems that bog down the story… if there was one. But it’s basically a dude-loves-girl-and-heartbreak-blah-blah-blah. Another film where a girl is put on a pedestal and doesn’t get much of a character (not that Zooey Deschanel can actually act… seriously, she basically talks in monotone and they work in an excuse for her to sing) and it’s all from the guy’s perspective. I get it, I’m a guy, but I’m surely tired of seeing movies that put women on some high up stage, give her a few tidbits for why they’re so great (she’s pretty! and likes Belle and Sebastian! marry me!) and nothing else. It’s been done to death. I don’t care, and the “film” didn’t give me any reason to care.

The one thing the movie does well is it is marketed well. Oh so well. That could be because it’s not, as they say, an indie movie. Sure it’s under Fox Searchlight, the “independent” branch of the Fox film juggernaut, but it’s got all the money you can toss at it.

It’s soundtrack, the key element for the focus of the film and people paying attention to the movie, surely has your indie greats, but a majority of the songs all come from a major label catalogue:

1 Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen: “A Story of Boy Meets Girl” (self-released)
2 Regina Spektor: “Us” (Sire Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
3 The Smiths: “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” (recent greatest hits compilation released by Rhino Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
4 Black Lips: “Bad Kids” (Vice Records)
5 The Smiths: “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” (recent greatest hits compilation released by Rhino Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
6 Doves: “There Goes the Fear” (Capitol Records)
7 Hall & Oates: “You Make My Dreams” (RCA)
8 The Temper Trap: “Sweet Disposition” (No US label, but on Liberation Music in the UK, which is distributed by Universal Music)
9 Carla Bruni: “Quelqu’un M’a Dit” (Not available in the US)
10 Feist: “Mushaboom” (Polydor, which is owned by Universal Music Group)

11 Regina Spektor: “Hero” (Sire Records, owned by Warner Music Group)

12 Simon & Garfunkel: “Bookends” (Columbia Records)
13 Wolfmother: “Vagabond” (Modular, owned by Universal Music Group)
14 Mumm-Ra: “She’s Got You High” (Sony-BMG)
15 Meaghan Smith: “Here Comes Your Man” (Sire Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
16 She & Him: “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” (Merge Records)

I’m actually a little surprised they don’t have the original version of The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” on the soundtrack, as Elektra is owned by Warner Music Group. But, there might be complications with all the label ownership/high fees for the song, all of which is beyond my own caring of major label-ownership-of-bands-catalogs. But, a high number of acts that are on/affiliated with major labels, which shows the connectivity/buying power of Fox Searchlight.

And Fox Searchlight has done quite a solid job of advertising the film, perhaps on levels greater than the folks behind Transformers 2. I mean, they’re giving out 500 cupcakes at a time through Twitter tweets. But, perhaps their advertising has been so overwhelming to me because I’m in their target demographic: young male with a taste for indie flicks. So Fox Searchlight has plastered the background of Stereogum, advertised on Pitchfork, The New York Times site, The AV Club website, and their connections and the “indie roster” of the film (both soundtrack and casting, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become one of the strongest actors in independent film as of late – just look at Brick) has probably gotten them the PR attention and landed the Cinemash deal.

And there just might be the one reason why I’m so implausibly upset at what is just some dumb movie:

They had hooked me.

They got me from that first teaser trailer:

I probably watched that thing a dozen times after I heard it did well at Sundance (hint hint, another popular “indie” point of reference.) The chord progression from The Temper Trap got me, hook, line, and sinker. And the images so pretty, it was all so well edited. Unfortunately, the film has half that equation: solid (but a little limp from time to time) soundtrack, and pretty, but bogged down by supposed-plot and an image that tries to be something profound but merely slinks away in shame. And that’s what I did after the film. I was shocked at how well an advertisement, a one-and-a-half minute advertisement, convinced me that, beyond all reasonable doubt, the movie was worth seeing. And was something better than the usual torpid sludge that’s trudged into theaters this time of year. And I was wrong.

This is why I hope anyone who can’t wait for this film based off of some selections from the soundtrack, their “love” of “Brand Name A” involved in the movie (another thing that ticks me off – the lavish IKEA advertisement for the film – does it have to be an IKEA? Why not, say some unbranded place?) or an actor/actress (which, in and off itself, is the Hollywood formula: place famous actor in some situation, make a lot of money), or the idea that the movie is a “great” “indie” “film.” It isn’t. And sure, in the end, it is my opinion, but I find it so hard that something so formulaic and unoriginal doesn’t appear to be when inspected by others as well. But, “this is not a movie warning, it’s a warning about a damn bad movie that, if it were to succeed, would only further the studios’ ideas to create even more formulaic indie films.”

Don’t (Touch and) Go

From the looks of a post early in the day by Stereogum, one would have thought it was the end of the aural world for fans of underground music. Although the reports later in the day dismissed the rumors that Touch and Go Records was finished; instead, the still dreadful news that the label will no longer be able to distribute the collections of numerous smaller labels and will be letting go of  20-person staff. Here is label head Corey Rusk’s statement:

“It is with great sadness that we are reporting some major changes here at Touch and Go Records. Many of you may not be aware, but for nearly 2 decades, Touch and Go has provided manufacturing and distribution services for a select yet diverse group of other important independent record labels. Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records, and Quarterstick Records.

Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known, yet important part of Touch and Go’s operations. Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible.

Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label. We’ll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go’s history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings.”

This is a big news story in many circles, and not just music fans. Touch and Go will be known for its service of providing and fostering a wealth of great artists, be they Jesus Lizard, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Slint, TV on the Radio, Ted Leo, Pinback, !!!, Polvo, Bedhead, Naked Raygun, The Meatmen, Yeah Yeah Yeahs…. the list could go on.

Touch and Go logo

Touch and Go logo

In many ways, Touch and Go is a representation of a narrative of a time since passed, having turned from a seminal hardcore zine into a full-fledged independent label breaking some of the hottest oddball bands from the 80s until today… it grew to a tremendous point for a small operation, and without the need for “world domination” ideals and hype-mongering use and abused by what is arguably the other “big” independent American label today, Sub Pop. Despite it’s operation, Touch and Go remained in a low-down mindset similar to Dischord that was more about fostering a community than forwarding some music revolution agenda… no wonder Ted Leo found it to be a great place to call home.

Today’s event is remarkable only because whatever the mish-mash of events – be it the recession or downloading, etc – this is the first big-name, independent label that’s been hit in ways that hasn’t been publicized… meanwhile, it’s nothing but Armageddon talk with the majors. But unlike the majors, Touch and Go isn’t primarily a business, in that it’s all about the benjamins… it still sticks to its guns and original notions of putting out music. The changes at the label seem to be on level with that occurring at newspapers nationally, though with potentially better prospects: during boom-times, these entities grew to enormous proportions to fill a potential want/need, but now that there is no necessary need or ability to cover it, they must withdraw from their growth a little and focus on regrouping and the very idea holding their entity together. In the case of newspapers, it’s keeping the public informed; in the case of Touch and Go, it’s keeping the public artistically and musically endowed.

Obviously, the big loss is to all those labels who no longer have the distribution network and base that Touch and Go has/had. In years past, this could (and did) kill off many a smaller label, as record stores were a predominant method of selling music. However, with the tight network of online sales, the decline of record stores… this part basically writes itself. Still, some of the smaller labels might be in harms way. Perhaps not Jade Tree, the emo label that came to fruition in the 90s and brought emo acts such as The Promise Ring (who inversely helped bring Jade Tree some cred, as an earlier post states), Cap’n Jazz, Lifetime, Jets to Brazil, Texas is the Reason, as well as other bands such as… My Morning Jacket. Perhaps other labels like Kill Rock Stars, Merge, and Drag City may survive on their own. But what about Flameshovel, home to post-emo-ers Maritime? How about Robcore, home to Rob Crow’s 5,031 side projects? What will they do? Perhaps Southern Records, the European label of independent choice that has been helping small time record labels (notably Dischord) with distribution in Europe, could pick up key missing pieces. At this point, it’s too soon to tell… but hopefully, something will come to fruition for these tiny labels.

TV on the Radio – “Dreams” (video):

Linky Links

*Stereogum has a full-blown post on the newest Torns of Life show, this one out in LA.

*In more Obama = emo “news,” Pete Wentz wrote a little ditty blog entry for the Huffington Post on Obama’s Inauguration and Vice Magazine has declared the event to be the death of emo (though not entirely convincinly, I might add).

*My first post for Bostonist is up and running, this one introducing folks to Daniel Harris. More music coverage for that site to come!

New Music From The Appleseed Cast

Stereogum is previewing the newest song by The Appleseed Cast on their weekly Gum Drop posting. Titled “Raise the Sails,” the song hearkens back to the band’s Low Level Owl days, with patient, drawn out instrumentals that make the slow-bursts and waves of noise all the more moving. Take a peek over here.

The band’s new record, Sagarmatha, will be released early next year, while the band will currently prep for a quick trek across America. No East Coast dates yet, but keep your fingers crossed…

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.