Mixed Media

RZA Draws His Wu-Tang Sword in Movie Soundtracks

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 10:20 PM EST

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The RZA is a genius at putting music to fight scenes, and even better at putting the sounds of fight scenes to music. To complement this Wired interview with Bobby Digital himself, here's a Riff rundown of the Wu-Tang Clan co-founder's best cinematic work.

1. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
This Jim Jarmusch mob/samurai drama is a hybrid of Japanese, African American and Italian American cultures. Who better to compose the soundtrack than the man who first synthesized East Asian martial arts culture and New York hip-hop on the Clan's 1993 debut, Enter The Wu-Tang? RZA sets an eerie tone for the movie, with dark and heavy bass lines and samples that propel the movie's narrative forward. During fight scenes, the mellow music matches Ghost Dog's cool, thoughtful demeanor. Works as a stand-alone album as well as a soundtrack.

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More Newspaper Woes

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 9:33 PM EST

USA Today, the largest U.S. newspaper by circulation and Gannett Co.'s flagship publication, announced this week its plan to cut 45 newsroom jobs, or about 9 percent of the editorial staff, because of declining revenue.

And, there's more bad news. The Denver-based MediaNews Group, which operates Detroit's two daily newspapers, announced last month that it would offer buyout packages to employees with a goal of cutting 110 positions. Houston Chronicle honchos announced at the end of October plans to cut about 5 percent of the paper's work force through layoffs and the elimination of open positions. Check here for a Mother Jones report that explains what's really breaking America's newspapers.

Help Save Africa With a Subpar Madonna Cover Album

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 4:43 PM EST

The second I hit play on Through the Wilderness, a Madonna tribute CD, I was mad at it. It starts off sounding like an Allman Brothers album, and though I love the Allman Brothers, and the first track, a Jonathan Wilson rendition, has some pretty chord changes, La Isla Bonita was not meant to sound long-form jam-band style with tambourines. Tambourines! I have to admit, I was instantly ready for hating.

But soon came the Golden Animals' "Beautiful Stranger Blues," which is fun and ho-down appropriate—truly the band's own incarnation—and a lovelier-than-the-original "Live to Tell" (loveliness, after all, is hardly Madonna's strong point) by the Winter Flowers. "Hung Up" (the Tyde) and "Oh Father" (Giant Drag) are pretty good, and Alexandra Hope's acoustic "Lucky Star" is something you'd put on a lovey mixed CD, an improvement over the Material Girl's version.

Still. Though some of these interpretations are interesting or even really likeable, on the whole the collection lacks a quality and cohesiveness, which means I wouldn't want to listen all the way through it again. After all, people listen to Madonna because her pop is fun, not for her stunning lyrics or compositions, and that fun isn't overall adequately captured or re-created here. The album is a charitable endeavor—25 percent of profits go to raisingmalawi.org—but if you really want to support the cause, I'd suggest donating straight to the website.

Party Ben's European Tour Update #1: Poland

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 9:32 AM EST

mojo-photo-pbpolskie.JPGGreetings from the land of Pierogi and pope-worship, as I'm ramping up the first leg of my amusing little European DJ tour here in Poland. It's my first time here, and my impressions are colored (perhaps unfairly) by the years I lived in Russia: the language, culture and even the look of the place is both oddly familiar and totally weird. Poland seems to have had a head start on capitalist enterprise, and the city is full of fancy restaurants, nice hotels and brightly-lit shops, but the Stalinist "Palac Kultury i Nauki" still towers over the city and rickety old tramways share the rails with fancy new models. But every time I forget I'm in the Eastern Bloc, someone will swear using an all-too-familiar elaborate Slavic-rooted verb construction, and I'll remember: this ain't Vegas.

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.

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?

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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.