February 25, 2014

Slowdive’s “Slowdaze” mix explores shoegaze’s legacy

Slowdive’s “Slowdaze” mix explores shoegaze’s legacy

Though heavily derided by a press more interested in grunge and the burgeoning Britpop movement, the influence of shoegazers like Slowdive has been quite pronounced in recent years. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine post-rock artists like Mogwai, Sigur Rós, and M83, or indie acts like Memoryhouse, The Radio Dept., and Yuck — not to mention the whole “nu gaze” movement — without Slowdive and the other shoegazers having paved the way back in the early ‘90s.

So it only makes sense for the recently reunited Slowdive to post a 75-minute mix of their favorite songs that consider shoegaze’s influence. Or, as Simon Scott puts it:

Since we broke up shoegaze began to globally snowball as an influence on new artists, and today it is crossing over new musical boundaries into genres including metal and hip hop. Therefore we've included a few bands, not naming any names, who have gone on to form bands after hearing shoegaze music or seeing Slowdive play live back in the early 1990s.

Most of the featured bands (e.g., Mogwai, Sigur Rós, Bowery Electric, Boards of Canada, Fennesz) are no-brainers. However, others, like Pedro The Lion and Sun Kil Moon, might raise a few eyebrows, if only because billowy clouds of guitars aren’t really in their sonic palette. But as Scott puts it, “these different styles and individual tracks flow well together and create a vibe that feels like shoegaze tinged with each track worthy to be included whatever genre it derives from.”

If nothing else, be sure to listen to the stunning Nils Frahm song that closes out the mix. (It begins around the 1:07:45 mark.)

Benny the Astronaut’s Spaceship Spaceship SPACESHIP! is one sweet ride

Benny the Astronaut’s Spaceship Spaceship SPACESHIP! is one sweet ride

Like many others, I saw The Lego Movie and thought it was thoroughly entertaining and enchanting, and even a bit emotional. The movie is filled to the brim, and then some, with gags upon gags, and to the movie’s credit, they’re all hilarious. (I’m hard-pressed to think of a single joke that truly fell flat.)

One of my favorite running gags involved Benny, a “Blue Classic Spaceman” who spends most of the movie wanting to desperately build a spaceship (and operate computer technology from the 1980s). I won’t spoil anything for the nine of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, but suffice to say, Benny gets his time to shine and it’s one of the best moments in a movie filled with great ones.

Benny’s moment was particularly fun for me because the craft he builds is a reference/homage to the one Lego set I wanted more than any other as a kid: the Galaxy Explorer. Benny’s own spaceship, a.k.a., “The LEGO Movie Spaceship Spaceship SPACESHIP!” may be a bit more complex and modern looking, but it definitely evokes the classic’s shape and lines.

The 940-piece set arrives in stores in August and will cost $99.99. I think it would make for a nice weekend project with my boys. If I don’t decide to keep it all to myself, that is. (Which, I know, complete goes against the movie’s theme.)

Photo by Miriam Kramer.

February 20, 2014

Elsewhere: Google goes faster, musical robots, Olympic logos, science’s martyrs & child suicide

Elsewhere: Google goes faster, musical robots, Olympic logos, science’s martyrs & child suicide

There’s been plenty of controversy and debate surrounding Comcast’s impending purchase Time Warner. Here’s a pretty straightforward, even-handed assessment of what the deal might mean — and here’s one that’s a bit snarkier. Meanwhile, Google has announced that they’re developing high-speed internet connections as fast as 10 gigabits/second, or 1,000 times faster than your average internet connection. Which shouldn’t be too surprising, given their previous Google Fiber program. Hopefully, Comcast/Time Warner is paying attention and realizing they can’t rest on their laurels (or their crappy service).

Squarepusher is teaming up with a band of robots — which features a 78-fingered guitarist and a 22-armed drummer — for the aptly titled Music for Robots EP. He promises that “in this project familiar instruments are used in ways which till now have been impossible.” (Or, as my friend Ryan tweeted, “Nice to see the Chuck E. Cheese band’s been practicing, honing their chops. I saw ‘em back in the day—had a raw, rough sound.”)

The 2014 Winter Olympics logo may not be as showy or graphical as previous Olympics logos, but that’s by design: “These days, to woo the Internet generation, brand logos need to not only fit on posters, hats, clothing, and jumbo-TV screens but work successfully on tablets and iPhones.”

On the 400th anniversary of Giordano Bruno’s execution, who was burned at the stake for heresy (and has since been seen as a martyr for science), James Hoskins considers what we moderns can learn from his death: “We have been sold a 19th century cultural narrative that science and religion are at war. We’ve uncritically accepted that narrative and allowed it to skew our interpretation of the past, distorting how we view such episodes as Bruno’s execution and Galileo’s trial.”

Certain Christian leaders have criticized video games and those who play them (especially men), but Richard Clark pushes back against such thinking: “Men have been criticized by Christian pastors and leaders for continuing to embrace videogames well after adolescence, for investing themselves in imaginary battles and competitions when there are real battles to be fought and genuine challenges to embrace. But these criticisms are the result of misguided generalizations that assume that approaches to videogames are uniform and inevitably harmful.” Related: Here are ten video games that Jesus might love to play.

Kevin Roose infiltrated a “black-tie induction ceremony of a secret Wall Street fraternity called Kappa Beta Phi” and what he found was totally (but not really) surprising: “Here… was a group that included many of the executives whose firms had collectively wrecked the global economy in 2008 and 2009. And they were laughing off the entire disaster in private, as if it were a long-forgotten lark.”

Ross Dreher writes about the misperceptions that often plague homeschoolers: “True, we Christians who homeschool — and by no means are all homeschoolers Christian — are likely to be more traditional on gender roles than others, but there’s a vast sea of difference between total egalitarianism and the strict gender roles embraced by the Quiverfull families.”

Back when the Internet was still in its infancy, it was easy to find a username, a unique identifier for your online activities. But as millions and millions of people interact online, the entire concept of having a username is becoming a relic. Or, as Wired’s Mat Honan puts it, “One of the best things about the online world is how it lets us be whoever we want to be. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice that just because someone else got there first.”

Who knew that a movie based on plastic building blocks could be so deep? According to Eric Brown, The Lego Movie (and particularly its catchy theme “Everything Is Awesome”) is actually a brilliant parody of creeping fascism: “It takes modern radio homogeneity to its logical extension and knowingly creates a pop hit celebrating cultural goose-stepping. The song gives a tangible weight to Lord Business’ desire for control over the Lego World and his desire for homogeneity, but it also comments on the real world.”

The Belgium government recently voted to remove any age restrictions from euthanasia, meaning that terminally ill children can now commit suicide provided they’re in pain and have parental consent. Not surprisingly, the decision has raised quite a bit of controversy. Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic when she was 17, recently voiced her own criticism of the new law: “We have long held that children do not have the cognitive ability to make adult decisions; this is why they are considered minors. We limit a minor’s decision on tobacco, drugs, and alcohol until they are adults; yet somehow Belgium believes that a minor can make a decision about taking his or her own life.”

February 19, 2014

I’m hooked on the “Guardians of the Galaxy” trailer

I’m hooked on the “Guardians of the Galaxy” trailer

If you’re of a geekier persuasion, then you’ve probably already seen the trailer for Marvel’s other comic book film for 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy. Heck, you’ve probably watched it numerous times throughout the day; I know I have. I’m a big Chris Pratt fan, thanks to Parks and Recreation and The Lego Movie, and I like what I’ve seen so far; I'd watch the movie just for him alone. However, the icing on the cake is the presence of John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz as intergalactic police officers in the Nova Corps. (Serafinowicz’s line at the end of the trailer is just perfect.)

At the end of The Avengers, with the post-credits reveal of Thanos, I knew Marvel was about to take a risk by delving into some of their more cosmically themed titles. And when it was announced that they were making a movie based on Guardians of the Galaxy — one of the more obscure titles in their library — I was both confused and impressed. It struck me as a rather gutsy move following the huge successes of the Iron Man and Avengers films. (Of course, if you’ve made a couple of movies that have grossed over a billion dollars each, you can probably afford to take some risks.)

All studio politics and shenanigans aside, the film looks like it’ll be a hoot. I just hope the entire film maintains the irreverent tone of the trailer. Comic book movies can be a bit sanctimonious, which — let’s be honest — is sort of why we love them, but it’d be fun to see that get deconstructed a little by, among other things, a gun-toting raccoon. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this Guardians of the Galaxy intro, courtesy of Wired.)

If you’re feeling particularly geeky, then check out director James Gunn’s breakdown of the trailer. Geeks and nerds will appreciate the closeups of the various characters, including one of former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan as the assassin Nebula.

Guardians of the Galaxy will open in theatres on August 1, 2014.

Rivulets returns to warm your wintry heart with “The Fire” single

Rivulets returns to warm your wintry heart with “The Fire” single

It’s been three years since Nathan Amundson released a Rivulets album — that’d be 2011’s We’re Fucked — but a new Rivulets album is planned for later this year. In the meantime, Amundson has released a new single titled “The Fire.” In keeping with the fine Rivulets tradition, it’s a sparse-yet-intimate song consisting of little more than Amundson’s hushed voice, some stark acoustic guitar, and the forlorn sounds of a train in the background. Definitely recommended for fans of Damien Jurado and Low.

February 13, 2014

Elsewhere: Japan’s ghosts, the difficulties of reason, iPhone rumors, creationism & Hieronymus Bosch

Elsewhere: Japan’s ghosts, the difficulties of reason, iPhone rumors, creationism & Hieronymus Bosch

Cassettes may be dead (more or less) here in America, but according to Kotaku, they’re still a very popular format in Japan, and much of that is due to karaoke fans of “enka” music. Related: I wrote a piece for Christ and Pop Culture a few years ago on the nostalgia of cassettes.

Regardless of whether you believe in ghosts or think that stuff is all a bunch of superstitious hooey, this account of exorcisms, haunting encounters, and other supernatural disturbances in post-tsunami Japan is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and very spooky read.

A Fox Business host claims that The Lego Movie is anti-business. Nell Minow calls that absurd: “This is a movie that is fundamentally a feature-length informercial for one of the world’s biggest toy brands.” This incident reminds me of similar accusations levelled at that staunch bulwark of liberal, anti-capitalist thought, The Muppets. Also, did you know that The Lego Moviebuilds its story upon religious and moral themes” (not to mention ancient Roman architects)?

Sam Harris recently issued a challenge to critics of his book The Moral Landscape: he would personally pay $10,000 to anyone who could write an essay that made him change his mind. However, Jonathan Haidt argues that it’s unlikely Harris will be paying out, and not necessarily because he won’t receive a winning entry: If reasoning is so easily swayed by passions, then what kind of reasoning should we expect from people who hate religion and love reason? Open-minded, scientific thinking that tries to weigh the evidence on all sides? Or standard lawyerly reasoning that strives to reach a pre-ordained conclusion? My favorite part in Haidt’s piece comes near the very end, where he briefly argues for a humbler and more social view of reason.

Rumors are swirling that Apple will release the iPhone 6 later this year, and it’ll come in two sizes: 4.7” and 5.5” (both are bigger than the current iPhone 5). Apple is notoriously secretive concerning their hardware designs, which only fuels more speculation — and inspires lots of concept designs by independant designers. Sometimes the designs are real head-scratchers, but it would not suck if the iPhone 6 looked something like Federico Ciccarese’s concepts.

Speaking of iPhones, April Fool’s Day is still a few months away, but it’s not too early to play a prank or two on your iPhone-carrying friends. The “never-ending text” prank strikes me as particularly devious. (If you decide to play one of those pranks on someone, you can make it up to them by giving them some tips for extending their iPhone’s battery life.)

Earlier this month, Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis fame) and Bill Nye (aka “The Science Guy”) engaged in a much-publicized debate regarding the truth of evolution and whether a literal, six-day view of the Biblical account of creation is scientific or not. Many have written responses and analysis of the debate, including a couple of my Christ and Pop Culture colleaguesBrad Kramer argues that “many young Christians are tired of being forced to choose between the rationalistic dogmatism of the Ken Hams of the world or the rationalistic dogmatism of the Bill Nyes.”

Valerio Amaro asks that all-important question: What would happen if J.R.R Tolkien worked in advertising?

Somebody finally transcribed the 600-year-old butt song from hell in Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. And did you know that it has lyrics?

Sam Solomon explains why he’s done with social media buttons on his site: “Those magical social buttons aren’t worth a damn anymore, and they won’t bring you traffic.” His reasons are precisely why I removed them from Opus awhile back.

What do fan sites devoted to bands on extended hiatus say about fandom? According to Pitchfork’s Christina Lee, they serve as “digital chronicles of how a band's hiatus is felt over time.”

February 11, 2014
PinĂ´

PinĂ´

Otto A Totland (2014, Sonic Pieces)

A collection of poignant solo piano pieces that’s perfect for looking at faded photographs and thumbing through dusty old books.

February 6, 2014

Review Round-Up: “The Lego Movie” by Chris Miller & Phil Lord

Review Round-Up: “The Lego Movie” by Chris Miller & Phil Lord

I confess that when I first found out they were making a movie based on Legos, my initial reaction was essentially an eye-roll. Heaven knows there are plenty of movies and TV shows have been nothing more than commercials, so something like The Lego Movie seemed inevitable. But the voice casting seemed rather inspired, especially with Chris Pratt (aka Parks and Recreation’s loveable bumbler Andy Dwyer) voicing the lead role, and the initial trailers did have a certain infectious je ne sais quoi about them.

But honestly, what changed my mind was the fact that my sons recently got their first Lego kits, and my oldest especially has taken to them. I’ve rarely seem him so focused, so intent. Suddenly, the idea of a Lego-inspired movie seemed rather brilliant, provided that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller could pull it off, and it seems that they have. The Lego Movie currently has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, having amassed a slew of glowing reviews.

Drew McWeeny, “‘The Lego Movie’ delivers pure delight for young and old fans alike”:

Beautifully shot, impeccably paced, and with a voice cast that nails it in every role, large or small, “The Lego Movie” is a genuine delight, and it makes me suspect that there’s nothing Lord and Miller are incapable of as directors. At this point, they have earned the benefit of the doubt from me. They could announce that their next film was a snuff movie and I was the star, and I'd still be excited to see it. If you’re a parent, you can genuinely look forward to taking your kids to this and to the conversations you’ll have afterwards, and if you’re just a comedy fan, prepare for 100 minutes of consistent joy.

Keith Phipps:

It certainly works as a feature-length Lego commercial, but it also doubles as a feature-length reminder of how toys can serve as catalysts for creativity, letting kids get lost in worlds the toymakers never imagined.

Drew Taylor:

… a degree of cynicism is probably warranted, considering just how closely the movie could resemble a feature-length commercial (and to be sure, whole aisles of toy stores are currently being flooded by the stuff). But it turns out that “The Lego Movie” is an absolute blast — a whip-smart, surprisingly emotional family film where the toy property is seen less as a concrete template than a tool for seemingly limitless potential.

Jason Gorber, “THE LEGO MOVIE Is Brickin' Fantastic”:

I mean, sure, it’s only February, but this is one of the funniest, most clever animated films in years. Not since Who Framed Roger Rabbit has a film both toyed with (pun intended) and adhered to (pun again!) what has come before, a beautiful balance between the novel and the unique. It’s a kids film for adults, and an adult film for kids. Basically, just ignore the age that’s listed on the box, it's only there as a guide.

The Lego Movie opens in theatres February 7, 2014.

February 5, 2014

Elsewhere: Slowdive, Daft Punk, The Cure, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Moral Nihilism

Elsewhere: Slowdive, Daft Punk, The Cure, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Moral Nihilism

For this installment of “Elsewhere,” I’m experimenting with a new format, both in terms of design and voice. Enjoy!

Last week, it became official: Slowdive has reunited for some concerts and possibly a new recording. So it shouldn’t be surprising that folks are revisiting their music. Paste’s Zach Schonfeld boldly claims that Slowdive’s Souvlaki trumps My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless as “the definitive shoegaze statement.” For example, he calls it “Rumours for the dream-pop set, a bracing chronicle of heartbreak that finds each contributors to that heartbreak playing equal roles.”

Related: Club AC30’s Robin Allport remembers when he first heard Slowdive and considers their legacy and The Fly offers “An Introduction to Shoegaze” featuring a nice assortment of music and video clips.

Meanwhile, in music news from last week that most people heard about, the Grammys happened, and one of the gala’s most acclaimed performances was Daft Punk and Stevie Wonder’s. I've watched the performance a number of times, and it leaves me with a big smile every time, especially when Stevie Wonder brings it home with “Another Star.” It strikes me as a definitive Daft Punk experience given how it reveals the love and appreciation they have for their influences and collaborators.

And finally, in music news that has my inner angst-ridden high school student absolutely giddy, The Cure have announced their musical plans for 2014: a new album titled 4:14 Scream, a couple of concert DVDs, and a new “Trilogy” tour during which they’ll play The Top, The Head on the Door, and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me in their entirety. Which means it’s time to break out the red lipstick, mascara, and black fingernail polish.

Taylor Marshall wonders whether or not The Beatles promoted abortion in their music. Simcha Fisher has written a solid, thoughtful (and slightly cheeky) response:

Our main job isn’t to apply ‘censor’ bar across everything that doesn’t come straight from the Baltimore Catechism. We take what is good. We’re supposed to be experts at identifying what is good. We’re not supposed to be screaming meemies who bite our lips and blush every time someone dips into a minor key.

Related: Marshall’s analysis reminds me of the time Glenn Beck tried his hand at art history and criticism.

Alissa Wilkinson reflects on what she learned from the life and work of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died earlier this week from a heroin overdose. Hoffman was one of Hollywood’s finest actors, capable of playing a wide range of characters. Consider that he played both the gentle Phil Parma (Magnolia) and the despicable Dean Trumbell (Punch-Drunk Love). Jared Keller reminds us of an even more tragic side to Hoffman’s death: he was a father as well as a great actor.

Alissa Wilkinson has also penned a great essay explaining why Christianity Today reviews R-rated films: “…we want Christians to be some of the most thoughtful conversation partners and culture makers you can find.”

In light of his receiving a Golden Globe lifetime achievement award, Woody Allen’s adoptive daughter Dylan has detailed the sexual abuse she suffered at his hands. Allen has never been prosecuted and has denied the charges. Not surprisingly, this has reignited the age-old debate over how one responds to art made by represensible and questionable artists, i.e., if Allen is truly guilty, does that somehow “contaminate” his art? Adding some more fuel to the debate, Damon Linker argues that Allen is a moral nihilist, which certainly doesn't make him a child molester, but it does render him powerless to condemn such actions.

My Christ and Pop Culture colleague Derek Rishmawy has written an thoughtful piece dissecting the “myth of isolated worship” in response to this Donald Miller piece. Rishmawy writes: “The idea that a Christian can experience healthy, Christian worship and community outside of the context of church is an American myth that Miller seems to have played right into. A healthy, functioning Church is about putting Christ on display for the world to see, not our individualism.”

The AV Club has written a nice primer to “the bullshit-strewn career of Penn & Teller.”

Naomi Wolf explains how porn has damaged our views of sex, but not necessarily in the way you might think: “The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’ Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.”

Finally, photographer (and geographer) Kilian Schönberger treks across Europe taking photos of places that look like they belong in old fairy tales, e.g., gloomy forests, ivy-covered castles. Basically, I want to go to there. (The photos are all stunning, and made all the more impressive by the fact that Schönberger is colorblind.)

January 29, 2014

Slowdive Returns

Slowdive Returns

Longtime readers will know that Slowdive is one of my favorite bands, if not my absolute favorite band. Indeed, I even went so far as to call them “one of the most perfect bands to have ever graced God’s green earth” in my review of 2004’s Catch The Breeze compilation. But as much as I've loved their music since discovering them in 1995 — the same year they released their swan song Pygmalion — I never thought they’d actually reunite.

And yet, that's precisely what’s happening. After the launch of an official Slowdive Twitter account and a series of countdown tweets, Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, et al. have revealed that they’ll be playing at Spain’s Primavera Sound festival in May alongside the likes of A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Arcade Fire, Chvrches, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, and Pixies.

Very excited to announce that Slowdive will be performing at @Primavera_Sound 2014. More info and announcements to follow.

— Slowdive (@slowdiveband) January 28, 2014

Even more exciting than concert dates, though, is the possibility of new material, which Halstead and Goswell discuss in an exclusive interview with The Quietus.

“The initial impetus was the idea of doing some new music,” Halstead explains, a revelation to get the hearts of the shoegaze hardcore all a flutter. “It seemed easier to do that because it’s not so public. But then we thought it would be good if we could raise a bit of money to make the record, and doing a couple of gigs would enable us to do that. And that’s the way it shaped up — while we’re rehearsing we can see if we’ve got another record in us.”

And then there’s this cheeky little bit concerning the challenge of playing music together again after nearly two decades:

“In the first rehearsal, the first song we tried was ‘Slowdive’ — the first song on the first EP,” Halstead says. “It was one of the more straightforward ones, and we had a real goose bumps moment. We all just looked at each other. It was quite creepy. It was like, ‘We were good!’ There’s only three albums — well, and quite a lot of EPs — to choose from. We will definitely be playing some stuff from Pygmalion, as we never got to play that record live before. I think the live set will be a pretty fair reflection of our career and our hits — or not hits as they were.”

The entire interview is an excellent read, though if you’re even a marginal Slowdive fan, you’ve probably already read it, maybe even more than once. What seems obvious from the interview is that Halstead and the others are in a good place collectively, and enjoying playing together again. Or as Halstead puts it:

“We want it to be fun for us, but we also want the people who are into Slowdive to come and see the band and enjoy it for what it is. I’m not interested in any critical reappraisal. I meet a lot of kids who got into the records after we split up and they say, ‘I’d love to have got the chance to see Slowdive play live.’ So for them, this is a nice opportunity and I hope they come out and enjoy it.”

Naturally, there’s bound to be some critical reappraisal, given that Slowdive will be sharing the Primavera stage with bands that they’ve no doubt influenced (e.g., Mogwai, Deafheaven). Once derided by the press, shoegaze/dreampop has seen a huge resurgence in recent years, from Sigur Rós and M83’s soaring post-rock anthems to the dreamy sounds of Memoryhouse and Pure Bathing Culture to the “metalgaze” of Deafheaven and Alcest. As such, it’s nice to see one of the genre’s shining jewels reunite and be able to take full advantage of the good will that’s been building for them and their music for the last two decades.