Mixed Media

L.A. Punk Has a Sense of Humor, Too

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 7:32 PM EST
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The New Yorker has a great piece this week about how punk rock is again flourishing in Los Angeles, which in the early 80s was home base for a slew of Southern California's influential punk and hardcore bands like Black Flag, X, and the Weirdos.

Sasha Frere-Jones describes a vibrant new scene that resides primarily in a small, dingy, downtown Los Angeles space called The Smell, where a close-knit group of friends hang out, play punk-influenced music, make T-shirts, and release one another's records. I know the space well. While living in L.A. in the early 2000s, I saw a handful of shows there, including some extremely noisy and exciting performances by Nels Cline, before he joined the ranks of Wilco.

But to truly expose L.A.'s current punk scene, I'd be remiss if we didn't also mention an equally important venue in the Highland Park area (sort of between Hollywood and Pasadena) called Mr. T's Bowl, a former bowling alley that is now home to a funny, dorky, and quirky L.A. punk contingent.

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What is 'Sexy,' Anyway?

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 3:21 PM EST
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Ira Glass' voice? Jeffrey Wright's widow's peak? And Owen Wilson's nose? I would argue that none of none of those features are inherently sexy, But the folks over at Salon, who have just released their second annual list of the sexiest men alive, disagree.

Salon's list is surely a welcome reprieve from those annoying sexy lists put out by the likes of People, FHM magazine, and who knows who else. Why? Because it's full of random choices like the cartoon character Strong Bad, novelist Javier Marías, and Cate Blanchett in her portrayal of Bob Dylan, and there are no signs of the likes of Justin Timberlake or Matt Damon anywhere on the list. Hey, there's nothing wrong with being sexy, but who's to say, as Salon demonstrates, that lantern jaws, bulging biceps, and Seacrest hair are prerequisites? So who's got nominees for a more creative, sexiest female alive list?

Metal/Reggae: Music Designed to Confuse You

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 2:15 AM EST
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I'm going out on limb here and guessing that few Mother Jones readers are big fans of heavy metal, but I'm not going to let that stop me from recommending a listen to Dub Trio's newest release, Another Sound is Dying, put out by Ipecac Recordings.

Ipecac was created by Mike Patton, the lead singer of the late-80s, early-90s rock band Faith No More, which scored the big MTV hit, "Epic."

Dub Trio mixes reggae with metal, which might sound like a pretty dumb idea, But this New York City-based group pulls it off, in part because this band has talent. They've recorded with hip-hop artists like 50 Cent, Mos Def, Common, the Fugees, Tupac (RIP), and Matisyahu, and toured with Gogol Bordello, Clutch and Helmet. This definitely isn't music to dance to, but it's a risky hybrid of two genres on the opposite end of the musical spectrum; which is why I like it.

Hip Hop Celebrates Itself This Month

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 1:39 AM EST

I had no idea, but apparently November is Hip Hop History Month, according to hip hop event organizers at Hip Hop Elements and hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa's outreach organization Universal Zulu Nation.

If you're too busy to go out and support local hip hop performers (not a bad way to show the love) this month, get a crash course from some recent coverage of hip hop culture: The San Francisco Chronicle has a good coverage of an independent hip hop collective in Oakland, Mother Jones gives a new take on hip hop as a new civil rights movement, hip-hop historian Davey D offers up a history of hip hop, and VH1 gives top honors for hip hop in 2007.

I Don't Want to Be 16 Again

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 11:06 PM EST
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Thanks to Labrador Records bands like the Mary Onettes and the Radio Dept., I feel like I'm back in high school again. Problem is, I'm not sure if this is a good thing.

The Mary Onettes' 2007 self-titled debut release sounds a lot like bands I loved when I was 16—New Order, the Church, the Smiths, the Cult, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Cure, to name a few. I even heard hints of the Fixx in there. I was loving the CD until suddenly it hit me: It was a little too familiar. Where are the new ideas here, folks? I even checked the back of the CD to make sure it wasn't a reissue or something. Nope, this stuff is vintage 2007.

As much as I'm willing to let a band take me back to the doom and gloom of a lot of 80s post-punk and new wave, I can only enjoy it so much. Haven't we borrowed from that decade enough? I went to my first 80s club night in 1991; the decade had barely ended and we were already glamorizing it! I had a short attention span for 80s nostalgia then, and it's only gotten shorter.

I like the Radio Dept. I also like the Strokes, and for that matter, bands like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, and Broken Social Scene; all of whom, in my opinion, borrow bits and pieces of 80s flair. But my interest in music like this is waning because it's overdone, and I'd rather hear something new and creative. What are some of these musicians actually saying and thinking when they're sitting in a rehearsal space writing new material? Are they like, "Let's do that one drum beat that New Order does in most of their early songs," or "This is how Robert Smith would have done it!" The Mary Onettes' music is so eerily familiar that I wouldn't be half surprised if that's exactly how the conversation went.

Sympathy for the Drivel

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 1:42 PM EST

With all the articles that have been written about the TV writers' strike (how crappy the signs are, Eva Longoria's strike breaking, neonatal guild members birthed onto the picket line, career-change opportunities for Hollywood hacks, and Dowd's space filling), no attention has so far been paid to the real victims here. "I shudder to think what's happening to all the kids who keep in touch with world news by listening to reports of late-night comedians," some guy told Dowd portentiously. The kids? 'Excuse me while I whip this out: Screw the future. That's right. Bump them and focus on the least fortunate in all this, those ugly, peg-legged fawns baying bravely in a media forest aflame with irrelevance and starlets' lady parts. Without late night satire, where do minor league, one-issue wanna-pundits like myself go to rent ourselves five minutes at the 'popular' table? A very bad thing has happened to good blow hards.

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Party Ben's European Vacation Tour

| Sat Nov. 10, 2007 5:13 PM EST

mojo-photo-europe.jpgLike I mentioned in this week's Top Ten, your grammatically-challenged guest blogger Party Ben is heading off on a European DJ tour tomorrow. It's pretty cool, since, honestly, I'm not really that popular of a DJ, but somehow I managed to cobble together appearances in Poland, Germany, Belgium and France over the course of about three weeks. Because of the tight schedule (and probable unreliability of internet connections at the, ahem, budget accommodations I'll be patronizing) it's unclear how often I'll be able to keep up with my Riff duties, but I'll do my best to post updates now and then on What Life is Like on the Road for a Basically Unknown DJ Guy, or Random Cultural Trends Sweeping the European Continent with Enough Significance to be Obvious Even to a Drunk Tourist. Hopefully the MoJo Arts & Culture Team (I'm capitalizing a lot here, aren't I?) can cover my beat—i.e., anything that happens in the world of Arcade Fire and M.I.A.—while I'm gone, and I'll be back in December.

If for some reason you're more curious about specific locations and venues you can look at the schedule on my website here. Now I'm off to enjoy the favorable exchange rates and general love for Americans that's shared all over the—what? What are you saying? Not so much? Ah.

Mothers for Vapid Kid Culture

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 3:46 PM EST

It's easy to laugh at High School Musical, and kid culture in general. Metrosexual Zach Efron as MoonDoggie. Vanessa Hudgens as...er.. Vanessa Williams. It couldn't be more bland and divorced from reality. I'd worry about my kids if they weren't mesmerized by it.

Only 6 and 4, when High School Musical queues up, and it does so often, the yelling stops, the toys drop. Tiny eyes fuse on the set. They go ballistic dancing to the high octane numbers while my princess-obsessed four year old squeezes her lids shut and twirls about, all alone and deliciously sad, on 'Gabriella's' heartbreak songs. They go to the same magical place all of us yearned for as children. While aimed at teenagers and tweens, I'm guessing that mine aren't the only tots moved by the extremely silly High School Musical and it's burgeoning spin offs the same way I was mesmerized by the pop music, 40's blockbusters and movie extravaganzas of my childhood. If I'm lucky, dumb old HSM will stay with them all their lives.


Friday Says Bye-Bye Music News Day

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 2:29 PM EST

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And now, the Riff's crack Music News department follows up on stories we brought you here first. ...Well, maybe not "first," but, uh, in the past at some point, at least?

  • Okay, sorry, Prince. The Minneapolis superstar says he's not suing fans (as we mocked here on the Riff the other day), but in fact just the opposite: his promoter released a statement saying that Prince wants to "provide Prince fans with exclusive music and images entirely free of charge, and bypassing unofficial and unauthorized phony fan sites that exploit both consumers and artists. The action taken earlier this week was not to shut down fansites, or control comment in any way." So this turns into another one of those "he-said, Prince-said" things.

  • My Bloody Valentine: is really, truly going to release something new before the end of 2007, says bandleader Kevin Shields. The album will likely consist of "this 96-97 half-finished record, and then a compilation of stuff we did before that, and a little bit of new stuff." Whatever, anything, who cares, just give it to us!!!
  • Radiohead are denying stuff too: they're contradicting the recent reports suggesting 60 percent of fans who downloaded In Rainbows paid nothing, calling the data "wholly inaccurate," and saying it "in no way reflected definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project." Hmm, sounds like one of those denials-of-everything-but-the-facts. Anyway, you'll be able to buy the physical version of In Rainbows on December 31st, and hopefully somebody will count those.
  • And finally, following up on the continuing Amy Winehouse saga: police raided the singer's home and then arrested her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, in East London on Thursday, while a tearful Winehouse was present. Fielder-Civil was allegedly involved in an attempt to fix his own trial in an assault case of a bartender earlier this summer. The victim was apparently offered $400,000 to keep quiet. Mr. Winehouse sounds awesome, can I just say that? Anyway, Winehouse's wobbly, slurring performance at the MTV Europe awards last week raised some eyebrows as well, and oh, it's Friday, why not watch that here:

  • John Coltrane, 101

    | Thu Nov. 8, 2007 10:00 PM EST
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    I love jazz biographies as much as the next music nerd, but Ben Ratliff's latest book on jazz giant John Coltrane, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, transcends typical expectations of a biography. It documents how one of the most famous and revered jazz musicians of all time actually developed his sound, style, and technique.

    Coltrane, in the hands of this New York Times music critic, is a man constantly searching—and practicing—and pushing himself to the next level musically. He's also a music theory-obsessed saxophonist that people didn't always know what to make of, but he was consistently invited to play anyway; and repeatedly blew people away with his power and tenacity.

    The first-person accounts given by fellow musicians, friends, peers and admirers are the charm of the book. French-horn player David Amram recalls Coltrane sitting outside of a club, eating a piece of pie and talking about Einstein's theory of relativity. Testimonies from rock musicians help contextualize Coltrane's influence outside of New York's jazz clubs. The Stooges' singer Iggy Pop, known for his wild physicality on stage, explains "What I heard John Coltrane do with his horn, I tried to do physically." Mike Watt, bassist for the post-punk band The Minutemen, says "[Coltrane] didn't want to get fuckin' nailed down. That's the anarchistic spirit."

    In short, it takes Ratcliff 200 pages to describe how an amazing, controversial jazz man worked to transform himself and the instrument he played, and as a result, challenged what people thought (and still think) jazz music should sound like.