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Updated: 2013-07-08T19:27:14Z

 



Dark Places

2013-07-08T19:22:44Z

Kimee Massie sweeps the floor of Nadia Salon, a full-service hairstyling emporium located in the Pittsburgh neighborhood Shadyside. The lights are low, and if you ignore the Schwarzkopf hair dye display, the pink spray bottles at every stylist’s station, and the art-deco Marilyn Monroe print hanging on the wall, the room does resemble a yoga […]

Kimee Massie sweeps the floor of Nadia Salon, a full-service hairstyling emporium located in the Pittsburgh neighborhood Shadyside. The lights are low, and if you ignore the Schwarzkopf hair dye display, the pink spray bottles at every stylist’s station, and the art-deco Marilyn Monroe print hanging on the wall, the room does resemble a yoga studio. The unsprung parquet floor, the mirrors, and the low hum of pre-class energy overpower all the jars of barbicide, and push aside any hints of this being a place where people requested highlights or buzz cuts hours before.

After Kimee finishes, she sets up her mat in front of the sinks. The opening track of Melvins and Lustmord’s album Pigs Of The Roman Empire seeps out of the speakers into the room, all intermittent war drums and tectonic rumbling. BLACK YO)))GA, an hour-long yoga class set to the music of Bohren & der Club Of Gore, Om, Sunn O))), Catacombs of Doom, and other drone and ambient metal bands, has begun.

“I always start my classes by saying, ‘You’re letting go of judgment, competition, and expectation.’ You know? You’re here for yourself,” Kimee tells me after my first session of BLACK YO)))GA. She, her husband Scott Massie, and their friend Chad Hammitt are chatting with me in a coffee shop. We’re all radiant, and I’m prattling on about how great I feel, how connected I feel to my body, how spiritual and lifted I am. The three of them smile and thank me. This is the first interview I’ve ever given where my subjects can actually see I’m wearing sweatpants.

Chad doesn’t play bass, but he looks like a real bass player’s bass player, broad shoulders and raven hair. Kimee and Scott are dipped in tattoos all they way down to their feet, where they both have matching “O)))” logos. “We got them in November of last year, right after we started BLACK YO)))GA,” says Kimee.

Scott is the “Head Mother Fucker In Charge” of Innervenus, a Pittsburgh metal/heavy/punk/doom collective that puts out records, books shows, and promotes bands. Kimee is the collective’s art director and “cult leader”; Chad handles packaging design and manufacturing.

After Kimee became a certified yoga instructor in 2012, she and Scott began tossing around the idea of BLACK YO)))GA. The idea was to conduct a vinyasa class and set it to a different type of music, something separate from the New Age that so many other yoga studios use to soundtrack their practice. “We touched a bit on trip-hop in the beginning,” says Scott. [...]




Final Count

2013-07-08T19:23:19Z

When people look back at the NBA Finals from Anno Domini Twenty-Thirteen, they’ll likely avoid sifting through all the narratives, subplots, and hijinks that came along with the Greatest NBA Finals Of The Twenty-First Century™. That’s not to say those gif-able moments, ensuing Twitter eruptions, and ESPN “First Take” reactions aren’t important; it’s just that […]When people look back at the NBA Finals from Anno Domini Twenty-Thirteen, they’ll likely avoid sifting through all the narratives, subplots, and hijinks that came along with the Greatest NBA Finals Of The Twenty-First Century. That’s not to say those gif-able moments, ensuing Twitter eruptions, and ESPN “First Take” reactions aren’t important; it’s just that this year’s matchup—which had seven possible future Hall-of-Famers, plus maybe one more, on the court—transcends keyword-laden, super-crawlable posts. The numbing sensation of game-by-game analysis has caused plenty of jaded basketball fans to remain mum, even when there are six games in the books. Each successive contest blotted out commentators’ breathless, bloviated narratives, which have come to define the major sports league that’s best embraced social media. The San Antonio Spurs were—and still are—a team for basketball traditionalists, a fact made more obvious with every pained Gregg Popovich sideline interview, every smart defensive rotation on the back end as Tim Duncan chirps out instructions to his teammates, every declaration of “respect,” like the one Miami’s Dwyane Wade uttered after his team won the decisive game. Wade was instrumental in getting the Heat past their toughest challenger of the Big Three era in Miami on Thursday night, despite a deep bone bruise in his knee. But Wade also indirectly explained why the Spurs are the favorites of anyone who can remember seeing Lew Alcindor’s skyhook in person, or who remembers the era when all of a game’s relevant stats were contained in its boxscore. Some of just want to watch basketball, uncluttered by Points Per Possession analytics and snap judgments. Wade also heaped praise on the Spurs’ 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard after Game 7: “We went through that whole series and a couple of those guys, I ain’t heard their voices yet. They don’t say nothing to ya, they just kick your butt. No trash-talking. Kawhi Leonard, I don’t even know how he sounds. But he’s a bad boy.” That’s the Spurs: blank stares, hungry appetite for loose balls, and little time for the fluff surrounding the contemporary game. Leonard is being touted as the next great Spur, one who can light you up without the slightest quiver in his countenance, win or lose. The Spurs’ offensive efficiency, defensive game planning, and wonderfully placid expressions brought their very best against the Heat in Game 1. Some will say the Spurs stole that win after Tony Parker hit a bank shot immediately after falling down and with the shot clock buzzer so close to zero. But the NBA’s Twitter Illuminati jumped into hyperbolic bromides about the end of the Heat, LeBron’s difficulties scoring, and San Antonio’s very real chance to steal this series. (The Finals’ 2-3-2 format rewards the team with the on-paper disadvantage; if the “away” team can split its first two games, a home-court sweep of Games 3, 4, and 5 can lead to the title.) The Heat stormed back in Game 2. On the strength of a 35-3 run that blew the Spurs off the court in the third and fourth quarters, Miami evened the series, and the pundits again flip-flopped. Now, the likelihood of the Spurs hanging with the Heat was unlikely. When the Heat wanted to, they could beat anyone, and the only way the Spurs were going to win this series was if the Heat beat themselves. This was the tired refrain before Game 3, a chorus echoed since King James’ Decision® to head south. Then Game 3 happened; t[...]



Trophy

2013-07-08T19:21:24Z

What kind of music makes you dig into yourself? Jeremy Larson traveled to Pittsburgh and connected the dots between enlightenment and drone metal at a class called BLACK YO)))GA. The name is an homage to the group Sunn O))), which I can absolutely appreciate; their music caused me to have an out-of-body experience last year […]

What kind of music makes you dig into yourself? Jeremy Larson traveled to Pittsburgh and connected the dots between enlightenment and drone metal at a class called BLACK YO)))GA. The name is an homage to the group Sunn O))), which I can absolutely appreciate; their music caused me to have an out-of-body experience last year at the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, although the rattling chairs in Raleigh’s cavernous Memorial Auditorium no doubt helped. Also in this issue: A reflection on the NBA Finals that were, and an argument for looking back on the series as a whole instead of reacting to each individual moment as a potential climax in a narrative that’ll probably be destroyed anyway. Dig in, and namaste.




Silver

2013-06-21T00:35:53Z

Voting with one's music-buying dollars at the record store (or, in this case, the Target at Broadway Mall).

Much of this week’s music-related talk was dominated by Kanye West’s humble and gender-balanced Yeezus, but on Tuesday night I hit up my local Target to vote with my dollars and pay cash money for Talk A Good Game, the new album by Kelly Rowland. It’s a solid R&B collection with a wonderful narrative arc—woman falls into a bad romance and, after getting out of it with assistance from her friends (in this case, her former bandmates in Destiny’s Child), she’s so liberated so as to seem like she’s soaring way above earth, then has a solid back-to-reality landing anchored by “Street Life,” a booty-shaking funk jam. Its release was overshadowed by the bluster and bombast emanating not just from Kanye, but from his fellow men of hip-hop J. Cole and Mac Miller, but it’s probably the album from this week’s new-release slate I’ll be listening to the most over the coming summer weeks. It will also pair well with this issue, which has tales of spying and sipping and coming of age.




Firetrucks

2013-06-21T00:21:21Z

Fiction by Chiwan Choi.

I sat on the floor of my big sister’s room with my back against the wall. Rachel was on her bed reading her book. We kept the door locked and listened to the radio. There was a piece of loose string hanging from the left sleeve of my T-shirt. It held my attention.

Rachel flipped the pages noisily and sighed now and then. She had a way of working her books. They were all bent and creased and smudged. It was her way of loving them. I pulled on the string and watched her body shift and her teeth chewing on her lower lip and the pages being turned. Her pipe was on her nightstand. [...]




To The Dogs

2013-06-21T00:21:53Z

A visit to Woofstock, North America's self-proclaimed "Largest Festival For Dogs."

I don’t envy a publicist’s job, considering how many PR emails writers like me instantly delete. But sometimes, as when the invitation to “North America’s largest festival for dogs” entered my inbox, they reach an easy mark. Woofstock, which has now been running in Toronto for a decade, entices 150,000 canine attendees every June with gourmet dog food and DNA testing. USA Today once named it “one of the top 10 places in the world to celebrate animals”—which seems like an amorphous criterion, but sure, probably. Our illustrious mayor is a fan, too. I haven’t had any pets since a family dog passed away during university, and I just wanted to wander around in “pug voyeur” mode. The Woofstock powers that be let you do that twice, beginning with a preliminary “fashion show” that featured Liberace, Oscar the Grouch, Bad-era Michael Jackson, and a pup dressed as My Little Pony (yes, the TV show), as well as several attempts to scramble gender stereotypes through bulldog costuming. Maybe this accounts for my focus during the festival proper, during which I photographed only the most stylish dogs, as well as the occasional human. [...]




Mutant Limes

2013-06-21T00:14:31Z

The Bud Light Lime-A-Rita (and its strawberry cousin), reviewed.

Is it wrong to steal a whatever to feed my starving whatever? This is a philosophical query humans have often pondered. The answer, of course, is Who cares. Why should we expect an almost 14-billion-year-old entropic universe made up of unknowable dark mass to make some kind of objective sense?

Even if you think: OK, what about killing babies, isn’t that wrong? I mean, yeah, on this planet, for the most part. But the universe is a big place. Maybe there’s a distant planet where the dominant sentient lifeforms are plant-based and their version of “people” actually grow from seeds, and “babies” are some kind of virus that an alien life form littered onto the planet to crawl around picking the seeds and eating them because they’re just stupid hungry babies. In that case, shouldn’t the dominant plant-based lifeforms kill the babies before all the seeds get eaten and their species is eradicated? I kind of feel like they should, particularly if other solutions like childcare and prison are just as unaffordable and unscalable on that planet as they are on this one.

My point is: We are utterly alone in a cold dark corner of a chaotic and meaningless universe where there is absolutely no reason or objective truth.

My point is: It’s okay to drink as many Lime-A-Ritas as you want. You don’t have to feel weird about it.

Because the thing is: THEY’RE SO GOOD.

The Lime-A-Rita (or Bud Light Lime Lime-A-Rita, if you want to use the full name) (you don’t) is maybe one of history’s most wondrous and complicated beverages. [...]




I Spy

2013-06-21T00:18:30Z

Finding the One Page With A Message in Harriet The Spy, which turns 50 this year.

Over the years I’ve owned at least three copies of Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. Alison Bechdel probably has, too; she told the New York Times she read it 70,000 times, and I’ve read it at least once a summer since the 80s. Harriet is a middle grade book that’s almost 300 pages, so librarians recommend it to sharp, weird, not-quite-YA girls like I was. We lug it around proudly, and still.

The copy I read now, an original hardback from 1964, has two inscriptions—in 1976, a mother gave it to her kid for Christmas; in Christmas 1990, that daughter gave it to hers. On the right, both daughters wrote their names in case the book got lost. It’s sweet to see the girls’ scribble next to their mothers’ steady hands, and what really kills me is how one inscription is to “Cheri Ann, love Mom,” but the name the girl writes in the corner is CHERYL. Clearly Cheryl is someone who would appreciate Harriet M. Welsch, 11-year-old spy.

Going back even further: Harriet the Spy was the first book Fitzhugh wrote and illustrated herself, after collaborating on 1961’s Suzuki Beane, a downtown spoof of the Eloise books. In 1928 Fitzhugh was born in Memphis to Millsaps Fitzhugh and Louise Perkins. When they divorced, Fitzhugh lived with her grandparents before moving in with her wealthy lawyer father, and then, breakneck, she moved North to go to Barnard. Ursula Nordstrom, the legendary Harper’s editor who published Harriet, said Fitzhugh wasted no time teaching herself to talk like a New Yorker—with a Brooklyn accent, no less: “Yeah, etc.”—in large part to distance herself from the racism she’d seen growing up. Fitzhugh’s obituary stated firmly that she was to be buried above the Mason-Dixon Line.

She was married briefly to Ed Thompson, her high-school sweetheart, but after their divorce Fitzhugh dated women too, maybe because by then Millsaps had died and she could support herself okay on the inheritance. Fitzhugh started custom-tailoring men’s suits and wore them all the time. Nordstrom remembers Fitzhugh at one of the Harper’s parties: “We were playing records and Louise—who looked like a twelve-year-old little boy with short curly hair, and she always wore pants long before anyone else did—got up and started to dance by herself. She was marvelous—such rhythm, and on her face a rapt inner contemplation of the music and the beat, and the general pleasure she was experiencing.” When Nordstrom told her so, Fitzhugh responded, “Well, my mother was a hoofer.” (Both Suzuki Beane and Harriet the Spy have full-page illustrations of dancing people, rapt and happy.)

The modest advance for Harriet, remembers Nordstrom, meant lots because the Fitzhugh family did not approve of their daughter’s Northern life and had cut her off. [...]




Friday Night Flights

2013-06-14T00:09:01Z

Remembering the non-MTV outlets for music videos, one (usually rock) block at a time.

Thanks to decades of corporation-sponsored hagiographies, the occasional terrific independent book (Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks’ oral history I Want My MTV being the best), and, yes, their seismic and lasting cultural impact, MTV is synonymous with the music video. But during the early days the channel was far from the only place to watch them. Just like any other pop-culture phenomenon, MTV found legions of imitators eager to siphon off some of its success. While most of these imitators were born out of the desire to score a quick buck, they also filled a need; MTV rolled out to non-major markets somewhat slowly, leaving open a gap that was filled by both cable upstarts and major networks.

No other network devoted themselves solely to music videos. [...]




Over Mulholland

2013-06-14T00:23:54Z

"Free Fallin'," "The Middle," and the squishiness of memory.

Years ago I preferred videos that told a narrative (“Papa Don’t Preach”) or were visually cool (Squeeze’s “Hourglass”) to the glorified fashion shoots. The best one, a-ha’s “Take On Me,” combined those two aesthetics, and to this day, I will fling myself against the walls of a narrow hallway, imitating the animated love interest’s thrashing attempt to become real. (But only if I’m sure I’m completely alone.)

The videos that have stuck with me most, though, are the ones that soothed a pain I didn’t even know I had.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I work in Hollywood. Those two places are not the same. The first is where people live and work; the other is a construct. The media image of L.A. is so dominant, you can probably run the montage in your head: palm trees, sunglasses, bikinis, women with facelifts and shopping bags. This image drew the millions of transplants who spend so much time complaining about Los Angeles when they get here. [...]




Jukebox

2013-06-13T23:59:27Z

Remember the music video? Sure, it's around (and still causing controversy, sort of!), but gone are the days when it would dominate entire afternoons of multiple basic-cable channels.

Remember the music video? Sure, it’s around (and still causing controversy! Clips with dancing naked women get “banned” from YouTube and picked up by their corporate partner!), but gone are the days when it would dominate entire afternoons of multiple basic-cable channels. This issue, honoring that art form, is being presented in conjunction with The Soundtrack Series, who in turn are co-presenting a night of storytelling with Maura Magazine on Friday, June 14, at the Museum Of The Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Come on out—the event starts at 7 p.m. and will feature work by me, Dan Charnas, Ronica Reddick and Peter Aguero, as well as Dana Rossi and Zachary Lipez, both of whom have their own video recollections in this issue. (And if you come early, you can loiter around the Spectacle exhibit, which I wrote about in Issue 14. It’s closing June 16 and it does have a room where you and your pals can sit on the floor and have classic clips beamed into your face…)




Mac On Mars

2013-06-14T00:25:09Z

How did the most popular band of the '70s get utterly lost a decade later?

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How did the most popular band of the ’70s get utterly lost a decade later? Ridiculous drug use is a good guess, but no. Fleetwood Mac were on drugs in the ’70s and they did just fine.

The answer is the music video. Sure, there were videos in the ’70s, but a lot of them were performances on Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special or disco videos featuring a boot-scooting Andrea True that were pretty lenient on production quality. When the ’80s rolled around and boom went the MTV, videos were taken much more seriously as their own formidable animal. As video evolved, as artists challenged each other and continued to push the boundaries of video conventions, it became clear that in order to succeed in music in the ’80s, you needed a video to represent who you were as a musician, and who you were had better be sexy. Edgy sexy, pretty sexy, nerdy sexy, scary sexy—whatever. Sexy. The advent of the MTV music video placed much more of an emphasis on an artist’s sex appeal, and whether that artist was not only comfortable in front of a camera, but knew how to Madonna that camera until the viewer on the other side was rendered a quivering pile of twitchy, uncontrollable desire.

And let’s face it. That was not Rush.

But of all the bands that had a hard time making the transition from the “heard and mostly unseen” ’70s to the “gimme face, gimme body” ’80s, Fleetwood Mac stood a fairly solid chance. Here were five fairly attractive people (some more than others) whose whole thing was sex. [...]




Under the Boardwalk

2013-06-14T00:26:06Z

Looking at Santa Cruz then and now through the eyes of Huey Lewis and The Lost Boys.

Over the Hill

A few weeks ago, I drove for an hour and a half down the coast of California from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, where I was born and raised. Santa Cruz is a small city of about 60,000 people that maintains a unique identity due in part to its physical location. It’s not really a suburb of anything. A bay separates it from its nearest southern neighbor, Monterey; to the east, mountains offer a physical barrier against San Jose and the series of strip-mall towns and vacant office-parks that bleed Silicon Valley into the Bay Area. To the north lies Devil’s Slide, a winding oceanside highway pass that makes access from San Francisco more of an adventurous undertaking than a practical one.

I’ve been driving that familiar stretch of coast since I was a teenager, but on this trip, I found it changed. Devil’s Slide was suddenly inaccessible—my car was detoured into a tunnel through the mountain that had been hotly debated and in process for so long I never expected it to actually be finished. I felt uncomfortable. My familiar landscape had changed before I had a chance for a cognizant last trip through it, to take its hairpin turns and clifftop railings as fast as possible one last time.

On the old Devil’s Slide pass, I had been able to smell the ocean three curves of the road before I saw it. In the new tunnel, flickering lights and oversized fans mediated the atmosphere. To make myself feel more at ease, I found an ’80s radio station and sang along out the window as I took the tunnel’s perfectly straight grade at 60 mph. At the end, I emerged out of the mountain above the Pacific like a surprise. The familiar glint of the spring blue ocean was still there, whispering in my peripheral vision, as reliable and far away as every recalled chorus I sung out the window.

One of those songs was “If This Is It,” from the 1983 Huey Lewis and the News album Sports. Last month, the album’s 30th anniversary was celebrated with a questionably necessary “deluxe” re-release. I was seven in 1983, too young for MTV (or TV at all, thanks to my hippie parents), but as soon as I had to access that most coveted of cable networks (via friends’ houses, usually), I memorized the images flickering across its playlist. The doo-woppy “If This Is It” wasn’t as layered as “I Want a New Drug” or as popular as “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” but its video elevated its status from breakup ballad to full-fledged summer song. [...]




Raptured

2013-06-14T00:23:06Z

Why the video for R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" is the greatest film ever made.

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When I was 18, I was with my mother at Friendly’s. She was having dinner and I was having a Fribble, as my face was puffed out twice its normal size from a beating I’d taken over a girl. I was talking about how strange it was that, in my current disfigurement, girls seemed particularly flirtatious. My mother looked at me and said “Well, women like a sad guy.” She didn’t look like she thought too highly of these women, or that she shared their sentiment.

When I was 18, I graduated from Simons Rock College of Bard and promptly failed to leave town. I’d only managed to stay in school because a campus shooting my first year invalidated everybody’s academic probation. Now that most of my friends were banned from campus and I finally knew 21-year-olds, it seemed ungrateful to not wear out the welcome that had been extended at the cost of so much blood. I rented a house and let everyone stay there on the unspoken condition that they never thanked me and never cleaned.

When I was 18, R.E.M. was a mid-eighties folk-rock band that became more famous for being less insufferable than U2 while still purveying the same vaguely messianic pomp for agnostics. They worked with willful obscurantism, shirtless adolescents on skateboards, and fetishizing the fact that they didn’t play guitar solos. The singer was rumored to have kissed Morrissey in the same way Siouxsie and the Banshees’ version of “Dear Prudence” was supposedly about Ms. Siouxsie’s relationship with Debbie Harry. Occasionally, the members of R.E.M. wore hats.

R.E.M. was not my favorite band growing up. [...]




Watch

2013-06-13T23:58:01Z

The other night a friend reminded me that my first instinct upon hearing about Kurt Cobain's death (on the radio) was to go downstairs to my dorm's computer lab and attempt to ferret out further details online.

The other night a friend reminded me that my first instinct upon hearing about Kurt Cobain’s death (on the radio) was to go downstairs to my dorm’s computer lab and attempt to ferret out further details online. This was 1994, shortly after I’d seen Kurt and Nirvana play what was later chronicled in Rolling Stone as one of the band’s worst shows ever; it was at the Aragon Ballroom, and the one image that remains seared in my mind is one of two shirtless guys, their middle fingers extended, hooting at the band during “Rape Me.” That night, the rationales for riot grrrl were brought into sharp relief. How much has changed since then? Not much save the volume—I don’t have to dial in to get updates on dead celebrities (even when they’re not dead), and dudes who find light misogyny something worth celebrating are just a click away. Hide out in this issue’s tales of virtual pop stars going upmarket and indiepop celebration.




Taking Time

2013-06-14T00:27:23Z

Indiepop serendipity, discovered in a long-gone chain store.

Finding your own way into music is not an easy task. You conflate genres; you lose track of history; you’re never entirely sure where certain artists stand in relation to others. Entering some scenes without context can be liberating, and can allow for clearer insights into the music; entering others blindly can result in completely missing the point. Your own musical history could be a series of invigorating experiences, or one of false starts. And you could wind up having unexpectedly warm feelings for a now-shuttered electronics chain.

The Nobody Beats the Wiz on Route 36 in Eatontown, New Jersey is a left-field response in the category of “influential early record store.” Other nearby stores had more indie-leaning selections on hand: Vintage Vinyl in Ocean (now closed), Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank (going strong). But a larger number of the albums I bought that I considered essential then—and still do now—came from The Wiz’s music section, a sprawling rectangular area in the back of the building, row upon row upon row. My uncle would often give me gift certificates to the store, and I would calculate just how many CDs I could end up purchasing with the amount. (Their CDs were often priced a few dollars cheaper than, say, those at the Sam Goody at the mall, which didn’t hurt.)

The majors’ alt-rock binge, the healthy selection of Britpop played by local alt-rock station WHTG, videotaped episodes of 120 Minutes, and close readings of SPIN’s record reviews pointed me in the direction of quite a few unlikely major-label signings—the Boo Radleys, Teenage Fanclub, Shudder to Think. Unrest’s “Isabel,” released on 4AD and named after the artist Isabel Bishop, was part of that ecosystem and it quickly made its way inside my head, thanks to its subterranean melody, disproportionately buoyant yet entirely fitting bassline, and horrifically, surrealistically bleak lyrics.

And so I picked up the EP when I saw it at The Wiz. [...]




The Real

2013-06-14T00:28:10Z

Japan's biggest virtual pop star goes high-culture in a splashy opera. But will it leave her core fans behind?

People swarmed around the star of The End—an opera “free of any human appearances”—ten minutes before she was to appear on stage in the second of three shows in the production’s Tokyo run, a much-hyped set of performances following a string of sold-out dates held on the other side of the country last year. Nobody was in a rush to get to their seats. At least not until they snapped enough photos of the Louis Vuitton-clad figure in the posh theater lobby—a statue of Hatsune Miku, Japan’s most popular virtual entertainer.

For her Tokyo opera debut, Miku performed at Bunkamura Orchard Hall, nestled in a high-end shopping mall in Shibuya. Most of the hall’s productions boast large casts and elaborate sets; for The End, though, the stage contained only three opaque screens and what appeared to be a cube behind them. When the lights dimmed, synthesized strings swelled and, moments later, the sparse setup burst with color. Miku stood in the middle of it all.

Miku began life as a glorified advertising campaign for a singing-synthesizer software called Vocaloid; she rose to prominence online thanks to her adaptability and accessibility. Crypton Future Media, the company that created Miku in 2007, placed her image under Creative Commons’ “Attribution Non-Commercial” license, which allows fans to alter her image and create songs, movies, comic books, and art with it. (The resulting images can’t be used for the artists’ commercial gain.) She’s been portrayed as a cutesy child, a scantly clad adult, a ripped bodybuilder and a goth among hundreds more.

The End, though, is the latest attempt by the people behind Miku to rebrand her as high culture. It’s billed as an opera, its intricate songs—composed by musician Keiichiro Shibuya—standing in stark contrast to the pop, dance, and metal tracks made and uploaded to free video-sharing sites by Miku-loving amateurs. Most tellingly, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director Marc Jacobs designed Miku’s wardrobe; all the dresses are in checkerboard patterns of black and white, green and white, and so on. Crypton wants to reach a new, lucrative audience by turning its digital star into a luxury item and piece of “authentic” art—even at the cost of what made Vocaloid so interesting in the first place.

The Vocaloid technology existed for several years before Miku’s birth, but Crypton only had trouble keeping up with the demand for its “vocals plus android” software after her introduction. [...]




14 Indiepop Albums To Hunt Down On The Internet

2013-06-13T23:54:33Z

A very biased list of albums from that genre that are worthy of love and praise—not to mention inclusion on any mixtapes you might be making for crushes

The definition of “indiepop” is nebulous. Is it defined by a sound? Well, not really; the next-wave of My Favorite, the psych-tinged dream lanscapes of Lilys, and the stark confessions of Lois certainly shared roots, but took them in wildly different directions. Indiepop is more of a feeling than anything, a longing for something better that can only be expressed by getting a few friends with instruments together and hitting record on a four-track, or a laptop, or even a boombox.

In honor of two indiepop festivals hitting New York City in the space of a fortnight—the NYC Popfest, which took place around the city as May turned into June, and Chickfactor 21, which happens at The Bell House in Brooklyn June 11 through 13—here is a very biased list of albums from that genre that are worthy of love and praise—not to mention inclusion on any mixtapes you might be making for crushes. (This list leans toward the female-fronted and C86-inspired, and my hope is that it inspires rebuttal-list kudzu.) I’m offering minimal information here so as to increase serendipity, but if you want a one-stop taste you can check out this Spotify playlist to sample some of the wares; others are long out of print, but worth the deep Googling.

14. [...]




Nickelback In Suspenders

2013-05-30T22:23:43Z

Are Mumford & Sons the next Nickelback? They could be, if they aren't careful.

Ask a person on the street who their most hated music act is, and there’s a good chance the answer will be “Nickelback.” The Canadian post-grunge act is notorious for playing a derivative take on end-of-the-millennium rock, full of clichés and light on substance, heavy on soundalike songs and lyrics like “How did our eyes get so red/ What the hell was on Joey’s head?”

Nickelback may take a lot of flack for being generic and boring, not to mention offensive to women and people who think Pearl Jam’s Ten didn’t really need to be improved upon. But the seemingly permanent backlash against them among a certain type of person—not to mention the staggering-by-current-standards record sales accompanying said disdain—raises a question: How did another band that specializes in cookie-cutter take on an important American genre not only avoid such great backlash, but receive great acclaim? They may have won Album Of The Year at this year’s Grammys for their megaselling Babel, but Mumford & Sons are proving themselves to be the Nickelback of folk.

In 2001—on September 11!—Nickelback released its third album, Silver Side Up, which spawned the monster hit “How You Remind Me.” That ballad topped Billboard‘s year-end Hot 100 for 2002, and it’s easy to see why: The U.S. was desperate for a return to normalcy, and a bland rehashing of the relatively calm ’90s provided some sonic comfort. The production was glossy, sterile, and so heavily compressed that it turned a pop song into an aggressive rock ballad. “How You Remind Me” runs down a lovers’ quarrel, and is filled with references to drinking away the woes amid introspection—well, as much introspection as could come from frontman Chad Kroeger, who admits in the song’s opening line that he “never made it as a wise man.”) Silver Side Up has gone eight times platinum since its release.

But Kroeger is smarter than he gives himself credit. After the success of “How You Remind Me,” he and his band decided it was in their best interest to write it again. A two-year period during which the band changed the lyrics around and moved a chord here and there resulted in “Someday,” from their fourth album The Long Road. While stating that it is the “same song” as its megaselling predecessor may seem exaggerated, intrepid online listeners have provided evidence: Playing both songs at the same time reveals that they perfectly match up. [...]




Flock

2013-05-30T22:26:05Z

I ran. I ran so far away. I ran so far away from Mumford & Sons and screeching brides and into the arms of a punk shrine in deep Brooklyn.

When thinking about what I’m going to name an issue, I sometimes engage in a little bit of creative visualization—close your eyes and think of [blank], that sort of thing. And the combination of women in wedding dresses, kids moshing in the basement of a temple, and Mumford & Sons getting all gussied up in their old-timey outfits made me think of the word “flock.” A flock of sheep, herded by the Mumford dudes, maybe using the banjo as a crook from time to time; a flock of true punk believers in an undulating, moshing mass (and probably cocking the occasional glance at the Mumford guys); and finally, a flock of brides, their gowns billowing like clouds as they run down a pastoral hillside—although the ones featured on Bridezillas, which gets a eulogy of sorts in this issue, would probably be kicking up a cacophony that recalls a flock of particularly enraged geese.

(Thanks to Robert Barry Francos of FFanzeen for the photo on the cover, which also illustrates Jaya Saxena’s story about the Punk Temple.)