The Riff - June 2007

Celebrex May Lead to Death, or Just Tripping Out

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

This may be the weirdest commercial I've ever seen. I just saw it for the first time last night during Olbermann, and I was dumbfounded. It's apparently a spot for Celebrex, and I had to look it up afterwards to find out that it's a pain reliever, because I was so hypnotized by the visual effects I had no idea what was going on. First, there's the weirdly creepy "all the lines turn out to be text" effect, which you don't notice right away. It's very cool technically, and quite beautiful, but kind of has "Big Brother/Matrix" overtones, like, "everything in the world is made of fine print!" Then, out of nowhere, the voice-over gal says something like, "Celebrex may lead to heart attack, which can lead to death." Death? What?! That's bad, right? Is that in the fine print somewhere along the side of the coffee cup? But, thankfully, there's a lovely ambient acoustic guitar soundtrack—reminiscent of, I dunno, Air's "Cherry Blossom Girl" (link NSFW)—that lulls you back into a state of tripped-out bliss. Look at all the bubbles.. they're made of words! So pretty! And it goes on... and on... and on... for two and a half minutes. Did I dream this, after some bad salmon? No, it's on YouTube:

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Live Review: The National at Bimbo's, SF, 6/27/07

| Thu Jun. 28, 2007 7:51 PM EDT

mojo-photo-national.jpgI admit it, I'm lazy. I'm like a four-year-old, shiny things get my attention. So I like bands with style, gimmicks, "bits." We only wear red, black, and white! We have crazy fake wings and giant sunglasses! We sound like we're from the 80s! It grabs me, so I tune in. The National don't care. They are not those bands. And so: six middle-aged Brooklynites in Ross Dress For Less shirts shamble onto the Bimbo's stage and ease into "Start a War," an understated track from their new album Boxer, and I'm searching for a way in. Are lead singer Matt Berninger's half-sung half-spoken lyrics a reference to greats like Leonard Cohen, or is he just sleepy? Are the chiming, open guitar chords reminiscent of U2, or just simplistic? Suddenly, the singer steps back, and the guitars hit a strange, surprising note; the song jumps up a notch, to somewhere more haunting, more disconcerting. These are the moments the National seems to live for, and a key to understanding the band: "Stick with us," they seem to say, "and you'll be rewarded."

The show isn't perfect. Their second song, "Mistaken for Strangers," seems underwhelming, kind of like "Interpol Lite," and I wonder why the drums are so quiet. Right on cue, somebody shouts "more drums!" when they finish. But maybe that guy and me are wrong: the National don't want to be Interpol. They want their brooding, subtle songs to creep up on you, not bash you over the head, and if that means the drums are kept a bit down in the mix, so be it.

Who's that kooky guy with the violin? Padma Newsome, who isn't technically in the band, and you can tell: he jumps around the stage, plays his violin ukulele-style, and bangs a tambourine like his life depends on it. It's an interesting counterpoint to this most thoughtful of bands; almost like, well, something shiny to grab your attention. Either way, the National deserves it.

Upcoming US tour dates and some videos after the jump.

Amy Winehouse Crying Out for Help to Spin

| Thu Jun. 28, 2007 2:27 AM EDT

mojo-photo-winehousefielder.jpgUK sensation Amy Winehouse has grabbed headlines worldwide with a self-mutilating incident during an interview with Spin magazine. The singer reportedly carved "I love Blake" (referring to new husband Blake Fielder-Civil) into her stomach with a leftover shard of broken mirror from the Spin photoshoot. Apparently Mr. Fielder-Civil was hanging around too, and caused his own controversy when he threatened to "slit the throat" of a bystander who said he looked like actor Ethan Embry. Winehouse brushed it all off during the interview, saying "I don't care about any of this... I write songs because I'm f***ed in the head."

Wikipedia explains self-injury as a dissociative mechanism, separating the mind from feelings that cause anguish, a phenomenon most often seen in women, although statistics are unreliable since self-injurers tend to conceal their injuries. Not this time.

Winehouse's current single, "Rehab," climbs from number 10 to number 9 on the Billboard Top 10 this week, with her album remaining at number 10; one can only wonder if her American success has proven too much for her to deal with. See my previous post for her upcoming tour dates.

Coming Soon: Beck Beer, TV on the Radio "Staring at the Sun" Brand Tequila, M.I.A.'s Super Premium Hard Lemonade?

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 5:37 PM EDT

mojo-photo-afiabsinthe.jpgAnybody thirsty? Billboard.biz reports that Interscope Records has just entered an agreement with Drinks Americas to "develop various drink products" with Interscope artists. The oddly-named Drinks Americas (I guess they're including Central and South?) currently produces tasty beverages like Donald Trump's Super Premium Vodka and Willie Nelson's Old Whiskey River Bourbon, and I can't imagine buying either of them. Okay maybe Willie's whiskey.

Now, we've already seen a hot Bay Area hip-hop style get its own energy beverage, but the mind reels at the co-branding opportunities that could emerge from this deal. The label's roster includes mainstream hitmakers like Fergie, Enrique Iglesias and 50 Cent, as well as critical favorites like Feist, Wolfmother, and even Simian Mobile Disco. You can find their complete list of artists here; post your own ideas for artist-themed beverages in the comments, and if you're lucky, maybe you'll see them soon at your neighborhood 7-11.

American Film Institue Releases their Top 100 Films of All Time

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 5:10 PM EDT

Last week, the American Film Institute released their latest top 100 American films of all time. While it is arguable that the list is a marketing ploy since it is accompanied by promotions from AOL, Best Buy and Moviefone, it at least brings attention to some great films that younger generations have yet to see.

All my favorite critics weighed in with their takes on the list with Jim Emerson celebrating the arrival of Nashville on the list, Keith Phillips over at the A.V. Club pointing out that the list "kinda sucked," and Roger Ebert stating "lists like these cry out to be disagreed with." So, in the spirit of dissent, let me jump into the fray of film geeks with opinions.

What bothers me most about this list is that the ballot of 400 movies from which to select is predetermined, and although I have combed AFI's website, I still can't figure out who gets to decide which movies make it onto the ballot. But, despite making it onto the ballot, even great movies like Fargo and The Third Man were bumped as lesser movies (as far as this film geek is concerned) such as The Sixth Sense arrived on the list.

Notably absent from the list were any movies by David Lynch, The Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch, or Terrence Malick, all directors who have made films essential to gaining a complete picture of American cinema. But the list isn't all bad. This year, the list includes more silent films, which were mostly ignored in the first list AFI put out in 1998. All critique aside, the AFI's top 100 serves a purpose — it makes me want to go home and watch a movie, but if you are looking for a must-see list to get your cinefile on, I recommend this one. It is far more wide-ranging and (gasp) even has foreign films in the mix which the AFI list lacks as it limits itself to American films. Unlike every other comparable national film institution, the American Film Institute restricts its focus to films of its own nationality.

Go here to check out both the 1998 and 2007 lists and let your inner film geek out and tell us what you think about them!

—Martha Pettit

Neato Viddys on the Intertubes

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 4:57 PM EDT

No Top Ten this week since I was back home in Nebraska for the weekend (I'll have a posting on a snazzy new Omaha music venue later this week), but in the meantime enjoy some new music video clips, and one that's not so new but still very good.

Kanye West – "Stronger"
In which Kanye West invites Daft Punk (whose "Harder Better Faster Stronger" is sampled prominently) to watch him emerge from a weird EKG-looking machine in bulge-enhancing briefs, and then dance around in a denim vest and louvered sunglasses while Japanese subtitles explain it all

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – "Rockers to Swallow"
In which a leotard-sporting Karen O performs the band's new song (from Is Is, out July 23rd) in front of funhouse mirrors to an appreciative crowd, filmed by what appears to be surveillance cameras
Watch on Yahoo! Music here

Ali Love – "Secret Sunday Lover"
In which the young British singer (featured on the new Chemical Brothers single, "Do It Again") imagines himself in a kind of campy spy-slash-disco movie. He even gets the girl at the end

Interpol – "The Heinrich Maneuver"
In which director E. Elias Merhige portrays a surreal, slowed-down (and possibly reversed) Los Angeles street scene (apparently referencing the song's bitterness towards a West Coast ex-lover) complete with eye-rolling "surprise" ending which almost ruins it

Sonic Youth – "Teenage Riot"
The original video, in which the band perform the "hit" from their just-rereleased masterpiece Daydream Nation. Also featuring, um, everyone from Pee Wee Herman to Sun Ra

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MCA Pimps Bad Brains

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 5:54 PM EDT

It's only fitting that MCA of the Beastie Boys (Adam Yauch) pumped out the newest and ninth full-length Bad Brains' punk album, Build a Nation, which hits record stores today. The Beastie Boys first dabbled in punk before riding the rap genre all the way to stardom and, for years, Yauch has claimed that the Bad Brains were a huge influence on his music.

Bad Brains is a band often credited with originating the hardcore sub-genre of punk rock. All four members were African American, and they mixed reggae with punk music. Some say they should have picked one or the other. I say they were, and still are, um...bad ass.

The album is pretty damn good but it's not breaking any new ground. Much like their previous recordings, there are songs that are lightning fast, as well as slower, dub reggae ones. Lyrics float between themes of Rastafarianism and social commentary. It's a time capsule for fans of a band that, by mixing reggae and political themes with aggressive and loud music, influenced a huge chunk of what we call alternative music today.

—Gary Moskowitz

The Incredible Shrinking News Media

| Mon Jun. 25, 2007 2:34 PM EDT

The San Jose Mercury News recently launched yet another round of editorial cuts -- This makes three in just the last 18 months, a cut of nearly 17 percent that will leave the paper with 200 newsroom positions, down from a peak of 400 just seven years ago.

With the San Francisco Chronicle's recent announcement of its own staff slicing, coupled with major regional media consolidation, the Bay Area is starting to feel like the incredible shrinking news area.

But the Bay Area is not a case in isolation. Media consolidation is plaguing media outlets across the nation. In our March/April 2007 issue, Mother Jones found that equity-chasing investors and the FCC are key players in the incredibly expanding media mess. Wall Street, the Bush Administration and technology are all in the mix, too.

—Gary Moskowitz

Indie Publishing Takes a Big Hit

| Fri Jun. 22, 2007 7:39 PM EDT

Any bookish type will tell you that some of the most interesting and innovative copy in bookstores and libraries often comes from a small independent publisher that is willing to take a chance on an author. So when PGW (Publishers Group West), one of the main distributors for these scrappy DIY publishing houses, got put on the chopping block back in January, it was looking like rough waters ahead for indie publishers.

When PGW's parent company went bankrupt, all of its assets were frozen, which meant that publishers were not paid for any sales from the last quarter of 2006 (which includes December, the most profitable month for any retailer). Eventually the company did get taken over, but publishers only received 70 percent of what they were owed. Being a bookish type myself, I have been following the ongoing drama via Shelf Awareness for the last six months, but you can get the full story over at Salon.

Some small publishers folded, others were bought out, and among the indie houses still standing, many are struggling. Included in this list is one of my personal favorites, author Dave Eggers' publishing group McSweeney's, which lost an estimated $130,000 in actual earnings. They're having a big sale on their website in an effort to raise money to offset their losses. Keep one of my favorite publishing houses alive by buying some cool stuff. My personal recommendation? This shirt.

—Martha Pettit

Sopranos Finale Goes On and On and...

| Thu Jun. 21, 2007 5:31 PM EDT

mojo-photo-sopranos.jpgIs this a sign maybe David Chase was onto something, the fact that nobody can stop talking about the thing, almost two weeks after it aired? Here's some updates, fallout, and more parodies:

- The accompaniment to the finale, Journey's 1981 hit, "Don't Stop Believin'," has surged back into the charts in the wake of the show's publicity, reports Billboard.biz, up 371% in digital sales (currently residing at #26 on iTunes), with their Greatest Hits album up 111%. Grab A+D's freestyle mix of the track for your next party: "Don't Stop Believin' In Planet Rock" (mp3)

- Wanda Sykes gave her theory about the show's ending on Conan O'Brien last night: "He whacked his family. The son's annoying, whining all the time, the daughter can't park… he just whacked 'em." Alternately, for evidence supporting the "Tony is dead" theory, check out, ahem, tonyisdead.com.

- Hillary Clinton's spoof video drew over 500,000 hits to their website, according to her people, beating the day they launched the freakin' campaign. Even Giuliani brought it up, saying "I still prefer my 'Godfather' imitation, but you know, I have a lot more practice at it." Whichever random Clinton aide thought this thing up, give them a damn raise.

More parodies after the jump.