2012 - %3, May

Book Review: Tubes

| Mon May 28, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet

By Andrew Blum

HARPERCOLLINS

Have you ever seen the internet? Touched it? Smelled it? In Tubes, a run-in between a squirrel and a cable in his Brooklyn backyard sets Wired correspondent Andrew Blum on a quest to discover the physical stuff of the web. He chronicles encounters with network operators, cable guys, and computer scientists as he travels the globe—from Oregon, where thousands of hard drives in hulking data centers hold up the "cloud," to Portugal, where the ship Peter Faber is laying the start of a 9,000-mile fiber-optic cable under the Atlantic. "Everything around me looked alive in a new way," Blum writes as he envisions the world pulsing with glowing fibers. But ultimately he comes around to the obvious: that the true vitality of the web depends on the people who inhabit it.

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Yann Tiersen's Endearing Eclecticism

| Mon May 28, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Yann Tiersen
Skyline
ANTI-

Even if you've never heard of Yann Tiersen, you've probably know his music. Several tracks from Tiersen's album Rue Des Cascades featured in Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's quirkily endearing 2001 film. The songs that accompanied Amélie, the film's protagonist (as she walked down cute French streets looking cute) layered toy piano and harpsichord, violin, and accordion to create something simultaneously childlike and heavy, silly and soaring.   

His latest album, Skyline—out last fall in Europe, but released just last month in North America—is a little grittier, even more eclectic, and just as whimsical. Tiersen's website says he's inspired by "musical anarchy," and proposes that we "live in an enormous world of sound we can use randomly, with no rules at all." On Skyline, he veers from sounds that could accompany a Disneyland ride to the screeches of a wild beast, and dances all around in between. 

Your War By War Memorial Day Playlist

| Mon May 28, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

It's weird when people have Memorial Day parties, mainly because what they're actually doing is celebrating the annual "I get to barbecue and guzzle nothing but Yuengling on Monday when I would otherwise have to be at work all day" day.

The federal holiday, which has its roots in the aftermath of the American Civil War, was established to commemorate fallen soldiers. The spirit of Memorial Day doesn't automatically lend itself to the same kind of party themes or patriotic bacchanalia that Independence Day or, hell, even Bill of Rights Day inspire.

Or as Dr. Steven Metz would say...

Well, people throw Memorial Day ragers regardless. And for those parties, they're going to need music. So if I must, here are my suggestions—good songs that one way or another pay tribute to our men and women in uniform—fallen as well as living.

Given the holiday's origin, let's start with...

"Chernobyl Diaries": Is It Really Any More Insensitive Than Zombie Nazis?

| Fri May 25, 2012 9:02 PM EDT

Chernobyl Diaries
Warner Bros. Pictures
86 minutes

It sometimes seems as though people who make zombie movies (and zombie-ish movies) are trying to create a monopoly over minimizing tragedy.

This trend continues with Chernobyl Diaries, the new zombie(-ish) horror flick conceived and produced by Oren Peli (the Israeli-American director and ex-video game programmer who brought you the Paranormal Activity series and ABC's The River). A group of upper-middle class white kids from America sojourn to Eastern Europe. They decide to dabble in "extreme tourism" and jump in a van headed to Prypiat, a long-abandoned Ukrainian city bordering the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe. It's worth mentioning that these kids have big dreams. One of them is about to propose to his intelligent/hot/super-loyal girlfriend. Another is mulling over plans to relocate to Prague. Another wants to make a name for herself as an artist and photographer.

Well, none of those nice things are ever going to happen because, as previously mentioned, these people made a conscious decision to hike through a radiation-drenched, eerie-ass ghost town—a deserted city where (you guessed it) they are not alone.

By "not alone," I mean to say that there's a large gaggle of flesh-chomping freaks waddling all about the joint. The deranged gaggle of nuclear-undead chase after them in the dark of night. Needless to point out, the young tourists are: [censored].

Chernobyl Diaries does indeed have some chilling atmospherics—for that you may thank first-time feature director and visual-effects ace Bradley Parker. But the movie ultimately falls flat due to its lagging energy and a disappointing, thrill-free final act.

Review: Best Coast's "The Only Place"

| Mon May 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Best Coast
The Only Place
Mexican Summer

With 2010's Crazy for You, Los Angeles duo Best Coast, consisting of youthful frontwoman Bethany Cosentino and veteran multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, established itself as a fixture of the burgeoning surf-rock scene with simple garage-pop songs about boys and the beach. The pair cultivated a SoCal-stoner image with songs like "Sun Was High (So Was I)," frequent references to Cosentino's cat, Snacks, and a distorted, hazy vibe; an adjective frequently used to describe the band's guitar sound was "scuzzy."

Two years later, the band is clearly trying to leave those bleary days behind with their new record, The Only Place, produced by industry big name Jon Brion, who's worked with Kanye West and Fiona Apple. Cosentino has talked about wanting to move away from a low-fi sound towards something more grown-up, and the sound here is indeed a major departure—tidied up and slowed down. That's not a problem in and of itself; there's only so far you can take the two-minute-beach-song formula, and it's nice to finally hear Cosentino's voice coming through loud and clear. The problem is that the band seems to be equating "grown-up" with "bland," offering up a set of tunes that sound fine but are largely lacking in the vigor and charm of its earlier work.

Hole's Drummer's Home Movies

| Mon May 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

While on Hole's Live Through This tour in 1995, drummer Patty Schemel bought a Hi8 camera to record the band's offstage escapades. Nearly twenty years later, Schemel found the footage in her closet; worried that it would disintegrate, she took it to a friend, the filmmaker P. David Ebersole, to see how she could protect it. The next thing they knew, says Ebersole, "Patty and I started watching all of the footage together and she hadn't seen it in at least 10 years…the memories began flooding back and we just started talking about what her whole story, her whole journey had been." And with that, a documentary was born.

Hit So Hard traces Schemel's story back to her youth as a gay teen growing up in isolated rural Washington, drumming for local punk bands (Kill Sybil, Doll Squad) and getting up to mischief with her brother, Larry. Eventually, she was recruited by Eric Erlandson and Courtney Love, who'd already gotten buzz for Hole's debut, Pretty on the Inside. Schemel moved to Los Angeles, where she struck up a close friendship with Kurt Cobain, developed a serious heroin habit, and drummed on 1995's Live Through This, the album that famously launched Hole to the status of international sensation just as addiction and overdose were wreaking havoc on its members' personal lives.

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Dance Inspired by Theoretical Physics Not Such a Big Bang

| Sat May 19, 2012 4:50 PM EDT
Armitage Gone! performs Three Theories

They call her the Punk Ballerina. For her 1978 choreographic debut, Karole Armitage, who once danced with the Ballet Theater of Geneva and later with modern dance luminary Merce Cunningham, shocked the classical vocabulary by setting ballet to punk music. Her website says Armitage is still "dedicated to redefining the boundaries and perceptions of contemporary dance." She maintains that "music is her script." 

I was therefore a little mind-boggled by Three Theories, the piece that her company, Armitage Gone!, just performed in San Francisco following shows in Chicago and New York. According to the program notes, the piece "looks at the poetry underlying the pillars of 20th century theoretical physics: Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics and String Theory." It goes on to explain that the choreography is derived from "scientific principles" and creates dance that, I kid you not, "reflect[s] the points of view held by physicists about the fundamental nature of the universe."

While anyone could be forgiven for failing to illuminate the theory of everything with dance, you'd think that at the very least Armitage would push some of those pesky boundaries—or even elevate the music beyond just an arbitrary metronome for the steps.

WATCH: The Gay Marriage Attack on Biblical Interpretation [Fiore Cartoon]

| Thu May 17, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

Beach House Comes in Full Bloom

| Mon May 14, 2012 1:52 PM EDT

Beach House
Bloom
Sub Pop
There’s some music that pulls you in with its viscerality, with the concreteness of the experience it instills in you, and then there's dream pop. Focused more on ethereal textures and an oceanic sense of the epic, it can sometimes be deservedly marginalized as easy listening. But it’s a mistake, I think, to label Baltimore duo Beach House as simply dream pop; they’re probably more what pop’s fever dreams sound like. With Bloom, Beach House's fourth studio album, the pair doggedly pursues a more assertive sound than before, but without compromising any of their dreaminess along the way.

Occupy This Album: 99 Songs for the 99 Percent

| Mon May 14, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Occupy This AlbumVarious Artists
Occupy This Album
Music for Occupy

Like the '60s-era social movements that inspired the performers at Woodstock, the Occupy movement has proved an irresistible draw to musicians. Dropping in on Zuccotti Park last fall was a who's who of socially conscious music luminaries from Russell Simmons and Kanye West to Rufus Wainwright and Sean Lennon. They came out to inspire the protesters with their music or celebrity, but the inspiration apparently works both ways—judging, at least, from this new box set featuring 99 songs by A-list performers from Willie Nelson to Ladytron to Thievery Corporation.

Though many of the songs were recorded before last fall, others dwell directly on Occupy Wall Street. They don't always succeed, but an Occupy-themed track by Third Eye Blind, "If There Ever Was A Time," is a gem. (Listen below.) Over a typically catchy hook, front man Stephan Jenkins proclaims:

If there ever way a time, it would be now, that's all I'm sayin'
If there ever was a time to get on your feet and take it to the street
Because you're the one that's getting played right now by the game they're playin'
So come on, meet me down at Zuccotti Park

Like Zuccotti Park last fall, with its mashup of sometimes discordant messages, the wide mix of sounds on Occupy This Album can sometimes make your head spin. On Disc 2, for instance you'll hear a punk-rock song by Anti-Flag followed by a reggae jam followed by a ditty by Jill Sobule that wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?