Sunday, December 21, 2008

Media Potluck Holiday Feast Volume 1 (2008)

Christmas music is everywhere this time of year. Since the beginning of November, the air has been littered not with the cheerful dust of snowflakes, but a mess of mediocre audio. Certainly classic recordings have their charms, but the classics are over played and mainstream holiday songs are mostly of flimsy facades of holiday cheer over less than inventive songwriting. As a genre, Christmas music is very limited. It takes a lot of creativity to create a truly stand-out holiday song. Throughout the years, many brave and artful souls have undertaken the challenge, either to render the cliches warm and heartfelt again, or simply to turn the whole concept on its head.

I'm pleased to present you with a new holiday tradition: Media Potluck's Holiday Feast, a collection of worthy holiday tunes to make the festivities more merry, bright, and palatable - complete with track-by-track commentary! These tracks are the very best of holiday music; from blatantly Christmas-related, to commentary on the hectic gift-giving season, or simple celebrations of wintertime. Some tracks are more common than others, some are quite eclectic, all of them guaranteed to give you a break from dross of the shopping mall sound system.

Enjoy Media Potluck's Holiday Feast Volume 1 now in podcast format HERE.

Media Potluck's Holiday Feast Volume 1 (2008)

1) Shirley Walker - “Winter Reveries [Excerpt from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1]”

A beautiful and mysterious-sounding wintery bit of classical music from the Barry Levinson film, Toys. The film deserves a Media Potluck article all on its own (check back later this month). It's an incredible holiday film that's watchable any time of the year. This song appears in the opening scene of the film and leads into the following track, "The Closing of the Year." Shirley Walker, who serves as conductor on this track, was a frequent collaborator with Danny Elfman and is perhaps most notable as the composer of the entire score for Batman the Animated Series and its spin-offs.

2) The Musical Cast of Toys Featuring Wendy & Lisa - “The Closing of the Year"
Along with John Williams' "Somewhere in My Memory" from Home Alone, "Closing of the Year" is a Christmas song so smartly composed that it gained an existence past the film that spawned it. Though lesser known than the aforementioned track, "Closing of the Year" has since been recorded by opera-types as a holiday tune and occasionally gets airplay on holiday stations. It was written by mega-producer Trevor Horn and score composer Hans Zimmer who jointly crafted Toys' wonderful score and soundtrack. Wendy & Lisa are the musical duo once a part of Prince's Revolution. Since the late 80s they've released their own albums (their fifth came out a year ago) and have written a number of television scores. This version of the song comes from the Toys soundtrack album and blends in from the first track. The extended single is longer and features vocals by Seal. Check out the video of that version HERE.

3) The Smashing Pumpkins - “Christmastime”
The Smashing Pumpkins are an unlikely source for a heart-warming Christmas hit, but they delivered one. This track was released in 1997 for the third installment of the A Very Special Christmas compilation series. Whereas major artists such as Paul McCartney and Elton John made new holiday hits of the cheery party variety, the savage, alt. rocking Pumpkins did just the opposite. The low key, harmonic styling of "Christmastime" was a direct product of the era the band was heading towards with their electronica-influenced 1998 album, Adore.

4) Jethro Tull - “A Winter Snowscape”
In 2003 prog rockers Jethro Tull released a full-blown Christmas album. Though this may seem odd to the casual eye, Tull released a Christmas song as early as 1969 and other Christmas songs, or winter-themed tunes ever since. The album features new recordings of these tracks as well as new songs. This track is an instrumental composed by Tull guitarist Martin Barre.

5) David Bowie & Bing Crosby - “Peace on Earth/ Little Drummer Boy"
In 1977 David Bowie appeared in Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, a television special, and sang a duet with the acgingcrooner. Often referred to as one of the weirder moments in television history, it's something that has to be seen/ heard to be fully understood. The "Peace on Earth" portion of the duet was written especially for Bowie who in actuality was none too fond of "Little Drummer Boy". This song is among several Christmas tunes parodied by the cast of Adult Swim's Venture Bros. and released online. Check those out HERE.

6) Mark Mothersbaugh - “Snowflake Music [From Bottle Rocket]”
A short instrumental track used in the Wes Anderson film Rushmore. The original version of this track appeared in Bottle Rocket, Anderson's first full-length film, and his first collaboration with Mark Mothersbaugh.

7) The Darkness - “Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)"
A comedic rock track from modern Brit glam rock outfit The Darkness. The comedy aspect of the song may fall on deaf ears without a little morsel of information, so allow me to educate: "bell end" is slang for the head of the human penis.

8) Chris Squire & Alan White - “Run With the Fox”
Chris Squire and Alan White are two members of Yes. Following the 1980 breakup of the band, these two continued working together and attempted to form a supergroup with Jimmy Page called XYZ (Ex-Yes and Zeppelin). The project never panned out and in very short time Yes reformed. Between those two events the duo released one track – "Run With the Fox" an unusual, but spirited holiday tune that can't help but conjure up visions of various animated films about quadrupedal woodland animals.

9) Crash Test Dummies - “Jingle Bells”
In 1992 folk rockers the Crash Test Dummies released a Christmas single of their rendition of "The First Noel". The version was traditional but made distinctive by lead singer Brad Roberts' very deep voice. Years later this spawned a whole album of traditional Christmas song re-renderings, including this track. If you ever wondered what "Jingle Bells" would sound like if sung by pagan tribes or demons, well, now you do. The album is amazing, pick it up HERE.

10) mc chris - “Evergreen”
Adult Swim personality and rapper, mc chris, renders a charming portrait of the dead-beat drug-addled youths who work part-time at Christmas tree tents. If you like your holidays full of laughs and cuss words, this is the song for you.

11) Bob & Doug McKenzie - “The Twelve Days of Christmas"
Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas' legendary comedy duo, The McKenzie Brothers perform their stumbling and confused rendition of a holiday classic. Hoser accessories such as beer, back bacon, and toques replace the original song's golden rings, French hens, etc. Endless fun. Last year, a full animated video was made for the song in preparation for the long-awaited Bob & Doug animated series which premiered this year.

12) Grand Buffet - “Stocking Stuffer”
Grand Buffet are a Pittsburg-based rap duo specializing in synthcore beats and head-scratching, mirth-making rhymes. This tale of one young man's encounter with Saint Nick is sure to warm your heart.

13) Tom Tom Club - “Il Est Né”
The funky, dancey husband-wife team of Talking Heads members Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth present a chill rendition of a traditional French Christmas carol. In 2002, "Il Est Né" and another track, "Christmas in the Club", were made available for download on Tom Tom Club's website. The tracks were taken down after the holidays passed and didn't return again until 2007, when they released a single called Misletunes. The single features both tracks and the CD version features two additional mixes of "Christmas in the Club".

14) Kate Bush - “December Will Be Magic Again"
A magical Christmas song from the likewise enchanted Kate Bush. It appeared on a single in 1980 and has appeared on finer Christmas compilations ever since. There are two versions. The version featured on the Holiday Feast favors a caroler sound, while the other rendition has a more minimal production and starts with chanting. The latter was featured on the 1979 BBC television event, The Kate Bush Christmas Special, you can watch that clip here. The TV special has recently been rebroadcast on the BBC, but a commercially available version has yet to surface.

15) Loreena McKennitt - “Snow”

McKennitt spins the words of Canadian poet Archibald Lampman into a Celtic ballad of wintertime beauty. What better expression of Christmas' roots than a pagan-esque worship of nature and perhaps the winter solstice?

16) Spinal Tap - “Christmas With the Devil"
From their second (real) album, 1992's Break Like the Wind, Spinal Tap explores how Satan celebrates the yuletide spirit. Here's a hint: it involves BDSM.

17) "Weird Al" Yankovic - “Christmas at Ground Zero"
Continuing comedic variations on the holidays, we move to the master of musical comedy: Weird Al. His "Christmas at Ground Zero" aptly plays upon the 1980s' paranoia of impending nuclear holocaust and attempts to dress up the scorched black remnants of humanity with tinsel and Christmas cheer. Truly there's a bright side to everything.

18) Run-D.M.C. - “Christmas Is"
The lesser-known of Run-D.M.C.'s two Christmas singles. The first was "Christmas in Hollis" (1987). "Christmas Is" was released in 1992 and is a fantastic product of its time, discussing the consumerism of the holidays. A choice example is the kid's Christmas list at the end: "yeah, that's right - give up the dough. I want my Ninja Turtles, I want my bike, I want my Sega Genesis, I want my Nintendo, and turn my mommy lights back on!"

19) Phantom Planet - “Carol of the Bells”
A compelling synth-rock version of the most famous Christmas instrumental of all-time from the band best known for having had Jason Schwartzman as their drummer and writing the theme song to The O.C.

20) Ben Folds - “Bizarre Christmas Incident”
Piano-rocker Ben Folds details a none-too-pretty encounter with the corpse of Santa Claus on Christmas morning. Allegedly the song was composed for the Grinch film, but was turned down. Too explicit? Perhaps. This song first appeared on Maybe This Christmas, a counter-culture Christmas compilation that lasted three albums between 2002-2004.

21) Shogo Sakai - Snowman
Every installment in Shigesato Itoi's video game series, Mother (called Earthbound in the US), has featured the "Snowman" theme composed by Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka. It's been reworked several times in the past. This version appears on the soundtrack to the final installment of the series, Mother 3, and was arranged by that game's composer, Shogo Sakai.

22) The Band - “Christmas Must Be Tonight”
From The Band's 1977 album, Islands. "Christmas Must Be Tonight" is a soulful retelling of the birth of Christ. No gaudy evangelicalism, just beautiful music and a tale for the ages.

23) My Morning Jacket - “Xmas Time is Here Again”
And so ends the album with an easy-going meditation of harmonies and jingle bells from Southern rockers My Morning Jacket. This song if off their Christmas EP, My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style, released early in their career, between their first and second albums.

Happy holidays, Internet

- Cap & Nick

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Silicon Dream (1987-1995)

"Rambo in studio one kills an alligator
Arnold Schwarzenegger's son beats the terminator"

My friend Chad showed me what he feels may be the next big internet sensation. These are several videos from German synth-pop group Silicon Dream. It is definitely a product of the culmination many artist who came before the groups and its main member, Klaus Munzert.

I am extremely surprised this music is from 1987, this sound is definitely reminiscent of what was going on in Italo Disco the early 80s. But who am I to judge!

Here is a 2007 interview with Klaus Munzert.

Andromeda reminds me a lot of the Pet Shop Boys song Pananero.


- Nick

Monday, December 15, 2008

Repo Man (1984)

A week or two ago, my brother called me up with some news that he stated was about to make my day. Needless to say, it made my year. What was that news? The announcement of the sequel to 1984's cult classic Repo Man. The sequel, entitled Repo Chick and slated to be produced by David Lynch, will be the first return (in film at least) to the Repo Man franchise by director Alex Cox since the film's original release.

My obsession with Repo Man began before I knew it was a cult classic, or that I would one day be writing about weird underground films on a blog for the hip internet masses. I was introduced to this film back when the only source of influence on my tastes was my father. I remember watching this film on TV with him a number of times as a child. I would go to school and try to explain the plot to my friends, only to receive looks of complete confusion: "See, there is this car, and in the trunk is this alien thing that lets out a bright glow and vaporizes people and only leaves their shoes."

Of course at that age I was unaware of all the small subtleties within the film - the fact that the "alien" in the trunk might actually be a neutron bomb, or the nods toward the nuclear war scare of the 1980's.

The film opens with our protagonist Otto, a down and out punk kid living in the bright and rusted landscape of east LA, losing his job and befriending a strange group of repo men (who are all named after beers - Bud, Lite, Oly, Miller). They end up looking for a 64' Chevy Malibu being driven by a crazed scientist named J. Frank Parnell, who claims to be the inventor of the neutron bomb (which may explain what is in the trunk). Also looking for the car are a set of cheapskates called the Rodriguez Brothers, as well as an organization known as the United Fruitcake Outlet (U.F.O.) that believes the trunk holds aliens (another explanation for the bright glow), and government agents. Amidst all the searching are machine gun fights in hospital stairwells, contemplations of a cosmic unconsciousness, car repossession, the "repo code," and a who's who of the 1980's punk music scene (both in soundtrack and actors).

In high school I visited the local video store where I grew up, and found a copy of the film on VHS for sale as they purged their collection. For the next few years I would watch it religiously. This film contains elements that I am uncontrollably attracted to and have found in several other films - They Live, Terminator, Miracle Mile, Blade Runner, etc. All these films deal with Los Angeles in the 1980's: solitude, doomsday, all while featuring the unmistakable aesthetic of the time. The worlds in these films are filled with chain link fences, bright pavement, dark alleys, fluorescent lights, the Second Street Tunnel, and feelings of helplessness and isolation in a city populated by thousands.

I don't know if I was born with some kind of natural draw toward such themes, or if the influence came directly from my father. Most likely it is the latter. But while he watched these films strictly for entertainment's sake, I have taken my observations to the next level by placing them on par with other respected pieces of art. All of these films, especially Repo Man, speak to a different audience and culture than most films but should be respected for their own merits.

Repo Man contains several strange elements that run throughout. One of the first and most noticeable is the labeling of products, or the lack thereof. Most products in the film are labeled simply with what they are, underlined by a blue line. For instance "Beer" or "Food." This may be a commentary on consumerism or just an interesting aesthetic choice. At one point Miller, the repo shop's mechanic, spouts an eloquent speech on how we all share a "cosmic unconsciousness" which allows us to pick up on others' thoughts subconsciously:

Miller from Repo Man:
"A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."

Later in the film a painting on a diner window can be seen advertising a plate of shrimp. Repo Man is full of small details like this that one might miss if not careful: like a man playing the part of one of the repo men's wives in the background of a party, or Jimmy Buffet as an FBI agent. The film contains a thick weave of slight variations on the norm that creates a world seemingly close to ours, but wholly different.

But it isn't just these small visual cues that I identify with. I find Otto's growth in the film to be an interesting subject. Otto begins as a punk kid kicking a can on the side of the street, and changes into a conservatively dressed repo man whom repossesses cars and gets paid to sell out his fellow citizens who have landed on hard times like himself. Repo Man seems to look with a skeptical eye on the punk lifestyle that sprouted its existence. In one scene, Otto comforts his dying friend Duke in the wake of a convenience store shootout. Duke, who has spent the entire film pulling small time robberies, coughs up blood and wheezes from a shotgun blast to his torso:

From Repo Man:
Duke: "The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am."
Otto: "That's bullshit. You're a white suburban punk just like me."
Duke: "Yeah, but it still hurts."

While Otto aligns himself with the same background as Duke, it is obvious Otto has changed and grown away from where he began in the film. Otto forces Duke to accept responsibility for what he has done instead of laying the blame on those around him, like so many that I grew up with. The film reveals the natural progression of the many who choose this lifestyle (or just kids in general) from angst filled youths to mature adults who can channel their aggressive feelings of injustice towards making actual change, like becoming activists or artists who can motivate people and bring to light important social and political issues. Just as Alex Cox has done with his film.


Nuclear War. Of course. What else could it be about? And the demented society that contemplated the possibility thereof. Repo-ing people's cars and hating alien ideologies were only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg itself was the maniac culture which had elected so-called "leaders" named Reagan and Thatcher, who were prepared to sacrifice everything -- all life on earth -- to a gamble based on the longevity of the Soviet military, and the whims of their corporate masters. J. Frank Parnell - the fictitious inventor of the Neutron Bomb - was the central character for me. He sets the film in motion, on the road from Los Alamos, and, as portrayed by the late great actor, Fox Harris, is the centrepoint of the film."
While I love other films that deal with nuclear war, like Dr. Strangelove, the themes of such films don't seem quite fitting for an audience of early 1980's punks, artists, and "outsiders." It may sound stupid to point it out, but I feel it is an important aspect of Repo Man, films of this nature, and art in general. Artists take a subject like nuclear war and make it their own. They claim it for their culture and respective lifestyles.

I have been waiting for and dreading a sequel to this film for years. On the one hand, I want to see what became of Otto, as the film ends in a strange climax. I want to know what was in the trunk or if Bud lives, and so on and so forth. But on the other hand, I feel that the answers to any of these questions would ruin the integrity of the original film. It would be like sitting next to Leonardo as he painted the Mona Lisa. It would be fantastic to dispel all the rumors surrounding this painting - but do you really want to?

Despite the presence of a Repo Man sequel coming to film, I can supposedly already find my answers in a graphic novel just released entitled Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday. I remember reading about this book on Alex Cox's website years ago, but had the idea that it was an abandoned project. Looks like it has finally come to light.

According to IMDB, a sequel was attempted in 1997 but failed. It is documented in the film A Texas Tale of Treason.

This brings us to the newest film, Repo Chick. Here is the blurb floating around the web:

"Repo Chick will unfold against the backdrop of the credit crunch and the subprime mortgage crisis in the US, where repossessions of homes, cars and other forms of property is at a new high. ‘The repo business has expanded to everything from boats, houses, aeroplanes, small nations...children[.]'"
Judging by this description, it appears this may be a sequel more in spirit and theme than directly, which I more than fully support. I just hope the film is able to conjure up the same feelings that the original does for me. Often times one goes into a long awaited sequel expecting a similar product, but finds that in the last 15-20 years the filmmaker has grown, changed, and wants to take the franchise in a new direction. (See Indiana Jones and Escape From L.A.) We will just have to wait and see.

Here are a few more facts I couldn't fit in:
  • The film was produced by Michael Nesmith of The Monkees fame.
  • The film includes two of my all time favorite actors. Harry Dean Stanton, Bud, appears in a plethora of 1980s films that I am sure you have seen, as well as showing up in Alien, The Green Mile, and Cool Hand Luke. And I went to high school with his nephew's son.
  • I am also a huge fan of Sy Richardson, who plays Lite. Sy is featured in several Alex Cox films and has a bit role in another 1980s sci-fi film favorite of mine, They Live. Supposedly Sy's character in Repo Man was the influence for Samuel L Jackson's in Pulp Fiction.
BUY IT: Amazon
HEAR IT: Amazon
READ IT: Amazon

- Nick

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Kate Bush & Cocteau Twins' Fruitopia Ads (1994-5)

Eclectic TV Ads Volume 2
In 1994 the Coca-Cola company debuted a bold, new bottled juice beverage line, Fruitopia. It wasn’t just a fruit drink; it was a concept, a gateway to a higher plain of flavor, the one path to real, ultimate thirst quenching. Coke banked on the early nineties’ Summer of Love nostalgia trip to market their Snapple-competing drink to Generation X’s wannabe hippie crowd. The result was a striking, psychedelic television ad campaign that made Fruitopia out to be a, like, totally mind-opening beverage, man.

The following 30 seconds will not inspire:
violent crime,
a religious experience,
conspicuous consumption.
It may, however, make you thirsty.

This was the ethos behind Fruitopia’s initial ad campaign. Trippy, kaleidoscopic images of fruit and swirling, gushing liquid primed your palate; while curious, consciousness-bending ponderings whimsically invited you to become that wild-eyed free-thinker you always knew you were. The ads were extremely eye-catching. I remember being mesmerized at the age of 10 by their hypnotic images and always eager to see what weird thing they’d say to me. As funky as the visuals were, they wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if not for their accompanying music. Music so diverse, meditative, and, as it turns out, composed by none other than legendary songstress, Kate Bush.

All the 30 seconds spots from 1994 collected.
Just as filmmakers moonlight in the advertising world so too do musicians. It seems not so unusual that quirky, creative workhorses like Devo and They Might Be Giants would lend their talents to marketing, but Kate Bush doing advert work seems strange. Yet the Fruitopia ads were an appropriate fit for Bush's character and a worthy vehicle for her experimentation. You can tell she had fun coming up with the variety of sounds and toying with how much could be done in a 30-second time frame. During 1994 nine 30-second ads aired as well as a 60-second ad that played in theaters (featuring an extended version of one of the 30-second tracks). In 1995, during the Academy Awards, one additional ad aired. That's 10 total songs. Details, including all the weird Fruitopian messages, can be found here, and you can listen to the songs below.

Oddly enough, the ads with Bush's music never made it to her native England. Instead, the British Fruitopia ads featured music by Scottish dream rock big-shots Cocteau Twins and So-Cal up-and-comers The Muffs. None of the Muffs' spots have made it to the Internet but a Spanish ad with the Cocteau Twins can be seen here: offers downloads of their two Fruitopia songs:

FILE: Cocteau Twins Fruitopia Commercial 1
FILE: Cocteau Twins Fruitopia Commercial 2

One of the Cocteau Twins' Fruitopia songs was later remixed by Spooky, under the title “Hypo-Allergenic“, and appears on his Found Sound LP. As for Fruitopia, its ad campaigns were never again as provocative as the initial batch, and in 2001, the drink was taken off the market in the United States, but if your feeling nostalgic, Fruitopia can still be found in Canada, Australia, and a few other countries.

Please enjoy this thirst quenching playlist:

- Cap

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eclectic TV Ads Volume 1

The world of television advertising is a weird and mysterious place. Around 90% of it is utter crap all fast sells on automobiles, cleaning products, or weirdly sexy CGI kangaroos. Fortunately for television viewers, many of the poor souls trapped in the advertising biz are constantly trying to work an angle to deliver something that not only sells, but entertains. In the decades since the music video made innovations in the short-subject world, many of the finest directors of advertising have climbed the ranks all the way up to feature film directors and sometimes big-shot directors are even lured into the commercial field.

This is the first in an ongoing symposium of highly stimulating commercials - Media Potluck style! So sit back, relax, and dig this:

7up: I don't know the origins of this commercial, I wish I did. It's a juxtapositional feast of 80s - Pac-Man fever unleashed not in any intensity but in the smoky, soft focus haze of Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" and gorgeous Tron-like computer graphics. The lyrics of the song are shamelessly re-done to assure me of the crisp and alluring refreshment of 7-up, but it only serves to make the experience more surreal, serene, and weirdly transcendental.

Parisienne Cigarettes, Parisienne People by David Lynch: This is one of those aforementioned instances of a known director doing ad work. Eccentric filmmaker David Lynch has, in fact, done his fare share of commercials from a perfectly normal pregnancy test ad to the intense "Third Place" PS2 ads. This cigarette commercial is 1000% Lynch, and totally amazing for it. Were I to actually have seen it on television I may have had some sort of magical aneurysm.

American Cancer Society - Smoking Fetus by David Fincher: Before he was directing hits like Fight Club and Alien 3, David Fincher made a name for himself in advertising. His ad work is as dark and distinctive as his films. His first work is relatively famous and stands out as perhaps one of the most eerie, maybe even downright scary, commercials of all time - a creepy fetus puppet smoking in a translucent womb. Yeegh.

Let's examine some other Fincher ads. In 1993 he directed a series of ads for AT&T called "You Will". The ads promoted a collection of futurist concepts conjured up by the telecommunications company. Fincher delivers on all AT&T's wildest dreams but does so on his terms, painting a smokey, worn, lived-in 15-minutes in the future as opposed to any sort of antiseptic utopia of modern convenience. Perhaps the strangest and most startling thing about these commercials is that most of these innovations are now part of our daily lives. Back then it was still sci-fi.

- Cap

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Radio Hepcats (1996)

The official soundtrack for Hepcats. What better way to compliment a cinematic comic book than with a soundtrack? This album was compiled by Hepcats creator Martin Wagner and was included with a special edition of issue zero. The CD and the accompanying album art were sealed in a plastic bag, BYO jewelcase. A pretty awesome concept.

The album features some awesome early 90s alt rock acts that I had zero exposure to prior. Sounds range from chill, to ethereal with some heavier stuff in the middle. All of the tracks are sure to delight, and accompany the comic perfectly. There's even a track of actual score for the album, "Erica/Kathryn's Decision" by William McGinny. Aside from the themesong to Nextwave, this is the only instance I can think of where music was composed for a comic. (If you can think of any other, please let us know.)

FILE: Radio Hepcats

01 Mistle Thrush - Wake Up (The Sleep Song)
02 An April March - The Red Dots
03 Curtain Society -Ferris Wheel
04 Soul Whirling Somewhere - Unhittable
05 No-Man - Infant Phenomenon
06 Visible Shivers - After Glory
07 William McGinny - Erica/Kathryn's Decision
08 Siddal - Secrets of the Blind
09 No-Man - Heaven Taste

A while back, spinning off of a discussion about Radio Hepcats on the YahooGroup, Wagner put together some new Radio Hepcats compilations for download on the iTunes store.

Check 'em out:
Radio Hepcats Chill
Radio Hepcats Rock

- Cap

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hepcats (1987-1998)

The late 80s and early 90s were a boon period for independent comics, particularly self published ones. The rise of the graphic novel with works such as Watchmen and Maus, cast comics in the public eye for the first time as a medium of powerful storytelling possibilities. Out of this particular phase, four major self-published bodies of work arose: Dave Sim's Cerebus, Jeff Smith's Bone, Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, and Martin Wagner's Hepcats. Both Cerebus and Bone's finite stories concluded in 2004, Strangers in Paradise in 2007, all of them outlasting the self-publishing boom. Hepcats never concluded and ceased publishing with the second book of the first graphic novel, Snowblind, unpublished. Yet, even with only volume 1 of Snowblind (issues 2-10) having seen print, it's is still regarded as one of the greatest indy graphic novels of all time.

Hepcats began as a comic strip for The University of Texas' student newspaper. The characters all have cartoon animal heads, but regard one another and function as humans. The anthropomorphism is an aesthetic choice, a throwback from Wagner's earlier strip at the University of Huston, where the mascot was a cougar, and so were all the characters. Seldom (the comic strip) to never (the comic book) are the character's animal features referenced.

The series follows four friends: Arnie, Erica, Joey, and Gunther and their lives in and out of college. The strip grew in popularity and the characters grew in depth- in time the four panel comic strip format yielded less gags and more thought. By the time the comic book began, the charm and drama of the characters and stories were nothing but purely and realistically human. This was the driving force of Hepcats - real people and real problems told realistically. Unlike slice of life memoirs or most comics attuned to average life, Hepcats is told through a crisp cinematic story - too good for television, too complicated for movies.

I'm tempted to discuss the plot, but I don't want to spoil anything. Hepcats issues 0-10 are available for free online! Issues 11 and 12 are promised to be uploaded in the near future, and eventually The Collegiate Hepcats (the first collected Hepcats book, featuring all the strips) may be available. Be on the lookout for issue 11 - it's brutal, one of the most intense single issues of any comic ever. Once, I was loaning the series to a friend of mine and his mom picked that issue off the floor, though she's read a random comic, maybe connect with her son better... yeah, she was traumatized.

After a lag in Wagner's self-publishing, Antarctic Press picked up Hepcats in 1996 for a huge relaunch, including the brand new, full color issue zero. The series ran reprints of the previous issues and was intended to continue with new issues beginning at issue 13 (Snowblind part 2 begins with issues 11 & 12). Issue 12 came and nothing followed. Martin Wagner's withdrawal from the comics industry has been the subject of much drama and gossip but, suffice it to say, times were tough and the job just wasn't paying the bills any more.

Thanks to the internet, this was not the end of Hepcats. The fan community on Martin Wagner's YahooGroup provided encouragement and he's committed to finishing Snowblind for publication online. Currently, he's in the process of completing a minicomic set in 2008, post Snowblind. Though it was never intended for anyone other than the fan community, Image has asked to feature it in their Popgun Anthology.

After 20 years Hepcats hasn't aged. It's still rich with freshness and modernity. The characters are lovable, the story is heartrending, and the art is rendered with an architect's preciseness. It's a comic anyone can connect with, and everyone can fall in love with (just give mom a warning before she reads issue 11).

READ IT: Hepcats issuse 0-10
READ: The Minicomic

Also, you can score a hardcover copy of Snowblind direct from the artist (very limited quantities) here. AND you can also order original Hepcats art as well as other cool Hepcats items from him via the YahooGroup. Support the man and his craft.

BUY: Snowblind
BUY: Hepcats art etc.

- Cap

Hooverphonic Presents Jackie Cane (2002)

There's been a tremendous turnout of concept albums so far in the 21st century, but rock operas have been few and far between. As the current decade draws to a close, narrative albums are making a grand return, with offerings by both Green Day and The Decemberists this year alone, but the musical atmosphere wasn't always this fertile. At the turn of the 21st century modern music was, by and large, still struggling against the awkward spell of the late-nineties. Now, in this much-improved musical environment, is an opportune time to examine one of the first rock operas of the 21st century: Hooverphonic Presents Jackie Cane.

Hooverphonic is a Belgian group that emerged in the mid-nineties as trip hop swept Europe. Trip hop's already experimental fusion of electro and hip hop encouraged further mutation and the band dove right in. By their second album, Hooverphonic were hard at work cross-pollinating and maturing their European electropop sound with myriad other musical styles. The band's first three albums were released in the States with some success, (I first heard them on a Volkswagen commercial) but just as they were making headway Sony pulled their US distribution. Their forth album, Hooverphonic Presents Jackie Cane, is a masterpiece that never made it to North American shores.

In Jackie Cane, Hooverphonic draw from the theatrics of 1960s film scores to illustrate their unique rendition of a classic tragedy: the rise and fall of a would-be starlet. Jackie wants to be a famous singer and she leaves behind her twin sister and the ramshackle part of town she grew up in to peruse her dream. Her twin feels betrayed and abandoned by her other half. While she sits alone, at home, Jackie becomes a huge success - but her fame takes its toll. She spirals into substance abuse and returns to her sister, with whom she hopes to find comfort. Jackie’s sister never wants them to be separated again. To ensure this, she serves Jackie a poisoned meal and kills herself. It’s been suggested that the album's narrative is from Jackie’s perspective as she reminisces in her dying moments.

Much of the verification of these details comes from a strange piece of writing behind the disc in the jewelcase. It’s full of illegible and sometimes missing words as well as odd grammatical errors:

The album originated from a track called “Jackie Cane” which appeared on Hooverphonic’s previous album, The Magnificent Tree. It illustrates in brief, the rise and fall of Jackie’s career. ("Jackie Cane was everybody's sugar/ she gave it all wherever it took her.") The song wasn’t included on the Jackie Cane album, but serves as an over-arching introduction of sorts. With Jackie Cane, Hooverphonic play up their penchant for string arrangements, James Bond-esque guitar riffs, and psychedelia as well as add jazz and Latin influences to their sound. The result is a collection of Broadway-worthy ballads and dance numbers, such as "Sometimes" and "The World is Mine", next to dark, hallucinogenic tracks like "Jackie's Delirium and "Shampoo". Jackie Cane's extreme, but cohesive variance in sound and style, mixed with its impressive, downright cinematic narrative, make for a phenomenal experience. If there is a hall of rock operas somewhere in the cosmos, Hooverphonic Presents Jackie Cane deserves a prestigious place among its grand displays.

When listening to the album I like to add "Jackie Cane" as the first track, acting as sort of an opening titles to the full narrative experience. Another addition to the chronology of the album is "The Contract", which was a b-side on the “Sometimes” single. The track has a very specific place in the album’s narrative - between “Human Interest” and “Nirvana Blue” where Jackie signs her contract to stardom. "The Contract" also offers some meta commentary on the act of making a concept album: "did you really think about creating/ a masterpiece rarely presents/ itself at the door of your imagination/ accept these conditions even if there's really not much to accept."

The intricacies of Jackie Cane's narrative don't readily present themselves. Many elements of the primary story such as Jackie's rise to fame and her decline into drug addiction and/or madness are easy to pick out, but key aspects such as Jackie's twin sister and the actuality of her murder are less clear. Below is my ideal track listing for the album ("Jackie Cane" and "The Contract" included) with my notes on the story’s chronology as I've come to interpret it:

1) "Jackie Cane" An opus to the main character telling of her rise and fall as a starlet.
2) "Sometimes" Addresses the rift growing between the sisters due to Jackie’s desire to become a singer and her eventual departure.
3) "One" Discusses the bond between the twins, but also their duality. It’s in both Jackie and her twin’s perspectives and supports the theory that the album is looking back from the point of Jackie's death. "I had to leave but now I'm coming back/ we had to see/ you're white and I'm black."
4) "Human Interest" Jackie struggles with doing what it takes to become a star and bracing herself for paying "the dreadful price of success."
5) "The Contract" Jackie finds herself in a record executive’s office presented with the conflict of signing a part of herself away.
6) "Nirvana Blue" The cathartic moment before Jackie takes the plunge into making her big break. "I just jumped out in the open/ without knowing my parachute will save me."
7) "The World is Mine" Jackie’s rise to fame as a media darling.
8) "Jackie’s Delirium" A hallucinogenic nightmare as Jackie’s drug abuse and neurosis creep up on her.
9) "Sad Song" The depression and fallout of Jackie’s drug addictions leads to an unsuccessful stint in a California rehab clinic.
10) "Day After Day" Jackie is let out of rehab, but it didn't work. She now hides in the "organized chaos" of either her actual house or the "house" of her career. The track references an earlier Hooverphonic song, “Pink Fluffy Dinosaurs” as a drug metaphor.
11) "Shampoo" Jackie realizes that her sister might be a means of filling the void that’s grown inside of her. Perhaps, even though they're at odds, they’re family and they need each other. "You're the thorn in my side/ you ache and ache and ache/ still I can't live without/ you being near." In the lyrics booklet the song's title is framed, “in the SHAMPOO lies the truth”.
12) "Others Delight" Called “preparing OTHERS DELIGHT” in the booklet. Entirely from the twin’s perspective. She discusses her fractured feelings since Jackie’s departure. "I knew that you would leave/ your goal was more important than my grief." The word “preparing” in the extended title alludes to “The Last Supper.”
13) "Opium" Jackie rationalizes that devoting herself fully to her music might be how she can pull herself out of her addictions. "Music is opium for free." There is a chance for her to redeem herself.
14) "The Last Supper" This song is from the twin's perspective. Jackie’s twin poisons a meal she makes for Jackie. She hopes to end Jackie's torment: "let me save you from this unbearable hell." The song mentions Park Güell, which, though it seems unlikely, might be the setting of this song. This would place Jackie’s home in Barcelona.
15) "The Kiss" Written as “THE KISS of death” in the booklet. The twin kisses her dying/dead sister goodbye. There's implications that she ends her own life somehow was well.

Jackie Cane is near impossible to find in US stores. Fortunately, the Internet is to the rescue. Not only is the album readily listenable on various sites, but it's not too hard to purchase either. Though it used to be a pricey import, Amazon now offers the album at a reasonable price and the US iTunes offers some (but not all) of the tracks. Finding the "Sometimes" single is trickier. It's available on ebay or Amazon from time to time and the French iTunes store has the single for download. Also, there’s a 14-track Japanese edition of Jackie Cane that supposedly has the track on it. A thread on Hooverphonic’s forum has details on finding the song. For additional Jackie Cane fun, many of the tracks on Jackie Cane also have lounge style revisions with an orchestra on the band’s fifth album, Sit Down and Listen to Hooverphonic, and there's a French lyric version of “One” called “Tu Es Moi”.

Check out Hooverphonic Presents Jackie Cane:

Discover Hooverphonic!

- Cap

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Ocean Blue (1989)

In 1989 the positive influence of 80s dreamy rock acts such as U2, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Dream Academy, and Cocteau Twins combined to give birth to their first worthy offspring: The Ocean Blue. These childhood friends from Hershey, Pennsylvania took to heart the stylings of all their European progenitors and expanded them into beautiful, pastoral soundscapes. Along with groups such as Miracle Legion they brought the New Romantic sound to a more rural locale, gravitating towards certain folky aspects of the alternative movement that was about to take place. Their music is fun, energetic and contemplative with lyrics not bogged down by gloominess or excessive self-obsession, as many of their idols (*cough* Morrissey) were inclined to be. The Ocean Blue's sound is well displayed in their self titled debut from Sire Records. It's the perfect narration for youthful outdoors frolicking - actual or imaginary. Check out this video for Drifting, Falling and I think you'll get the picture:

Drifting, Falling - The Ocean Blue

The band did very well for themselves at their debut and by the time of their second album, Cerulean (1991), their notoriety was growing. However, global perspective shifted away from their musical direction as the tidal wave of grunge overtook the rock music industry. The band still exists, and is still producing quality music. Most recently, they produced an EP in 2004 and word is a new full-length album is on the way soon.

BUY IT: Amazon, iTunes

- Cap

Saturday, October 18, 2008

ASG's Video Jukebox aka The VJ (1994)

I present to you the VJ, another find from old GamePro backissues. The VJ is a perfect example of both mid-nineties electronic excess (virtual reality, Interfilm) and the struggle of the advertising industry to communicate with the ultra hip youth culture. A recipe for bad ideas and imminent failure.

The VJ's selling point was that you'd never have to go through the hassle of changing game cartridges ever again! Just rack and stack, JACK! Never again think to yourself, "Oh man, changing SNES games BITES! It would be RAD if I didn't have to do that." In that day and age you were already tethered to the console by a chord, chances are you didn't have to go far to swap cartridges. Thing is though - the VJ didn't actually save you the trouble of getting up and switching games. You still had to walk up to it and press the switcher, there wasn't a remote. And as far as keeping things nice and tidy, the VJ might put all your games in one place - but it didn't conserve space. These bad boys were 30" wide, a foot deep, 6" tall - freaking huge! Yeah, you could shell out 300 bucks ($49.99 apiece) to get 36 games hooked up on 6 networked VJs, but you'd end up with a new piece of living room furniture, or a whole set if you service your other supported consoles.

While the above ad of the guy with games shoved into his head is pretty tubular, check this VJ ad out. The text really speaks to what a rebellious and wise crackin' youth in a jean jacket I am:

I love the VJ, it's so bad. What was odd about all the youth slang and lingo of the early to mid-nineties is that I never heard anyone use it in reality. If any of my friends or I did communicate with these rude dude inflections it was because we were interpreting what adults in advertising, television, and films had themselves interpreted 90s youth culture to be. Maybe I lived in the wrong town for it, but I'd swear that these too cool for skool kids with their funky funky fresh styles didn't actually exist... particularly not as white video gamer kids.

The VJ epitomizes much of the gaming scene of its time. Lots of third (and sometimes first) parties were looking to hook gamers into the next big thing and always bit off more than they could chew. They ended up with poorly conceived, expensive pieces of hardware nobody wanted. '94 and '95 were particularly brutal years, offering the VJ many likewise mediocre contemporaries such as the Aura Interactor - which claimed to be virtual reality, but was actually just a big vest with speakers that vibrated to simulate actually being in the game! Awesome!

All Systems Go (ASG) Technologies, who produced the VJ, went belly-up in their attempt to enter the gaming world (though they may actually still exist.) There's almost no information available online about them or the VJ. It's verified that the promised Atari Jaguar version didn't come out, and their gah-rose! game Hosenose and Booger never made it either. The Genesis and SNES VJs were slated to be released Christmas '94, but I'm curious whether they actually dropped or not. (If anyone has ever seen one or finds one, let us know!)

In my quest for Video Jukebox info I came across some other fun stuff- earlier concepts going by the name "Video Jukebox."

First up is an actual jukebox that played videos!

I've never seen one of these and I desperately want to. They store 40 music videos and 160 additional records. Tapes with new programming come every month and genre-specific collections can be ordered. A 25" monitor was built into the unit, but you could mod it out with a projector if you wanted.

From 1981 to 1986 HBO ran a half-hour long music video show called Video Jukebox. The show actually pre-dates MTV. No one is hosting any episodes, but check out these title animations. I can't help but suspect these are the products of some noteworthy studios, but I've got no info.

- Cap

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Zombi 2 (1979)

We have all seen the classic zombie films Night of The Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, etc. However there are literally hundreds of other zombie films that have been release in the last 50 years. In my opinion the zombie films (and most horror films) coming out of the European market in the 1970s and 80s (Italy specifically) shine above the rest. They seem to have a particularly high level of respect for the subject type, audience, and the medium of film in general. These are by no means zombie films being produced by Antonioni or De Sica. The films contain plenty of gore and other horror trimmings much like American films yet they retain a distinctly European flavor.

One film that stands out particularly in my mind is Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2. Where is Zombi 1 you ask? George A. Romero's classic film Dawn of The Dead was released internationally as Zombie (or Zombi for our Italian brothers and sisters.) Dawn and this film (or Zombi 3 and Zombi 4 for that matter) actually have no connection what so ever. To many this was seen as a quick way to cash in on Dawn's success. But to me, and many others, Zombi 2 stands on some strong merits of its own.

By the way, just to further confuse things, Zombi 2 was released in the US as Zombie. Go figure.

An abandoned boat drifts into New York harbor, the police investigate and are attacked by a zombie hiding in the closet. The police contact Anne Bowles, the daughter of the boat's missing owner, and soon she and Peter West, a handsome reporter, are on their way to the island of Matool where her father was last seen. The two meet up with a boating couple, Brian and Susan, and soon they are on their way to the island. During their journey they witness a fight between a zombie and a shark...

The group ends up facing a cursed tropical island full of zombies in what I see as a fresh approach to the zombie genre. It provides an interesting mix between scientific explanation and voodoo myth that leaves the viewer unsure of the causes the zombism. David Menard, a doctor living on the island, attempts to understand and rationalize what is happening with science to the disapproval of his island native assistant who claims the horrible outbreak is a curse. Eventually even the doctor gives up hope on his research and kills his remaining patients as they turn into the living dead.

A majority of the film takes place during the daylight hours on the lush tropical island of Matool, a move I feel is a departure from most horror films that use darkness to up the "suspense" factor. Even the scenes that take place at night are able to retain the hot, sweaty, sticky feel of the tropics. Ah, beautiful!

For a more detailed synopsis of the film, notes on its production, release, and re-releases please visit Wikpedia, this fan page, and a very detailed review here.

Zombi 2 has a great electronic heavy soundtrack provided by Fabio Frizzi. The film's score is a strange mix of island rythms, minimal synth percussion, and eerie organ chords. When I found the soundtrack available in a double release with 1981's Cannibal Ferox I had to get it. To my surprise Frizzi's work on Cannibal surpassed that of Zombi 2.

In light of this I have provided samples from
the double album release.

Zombi 2 aka Zombie

01 Frizzi, Fabio - Main Title
02 Frizzi, Fabio - The Dead On Main Street / VooDoo Rising

Cannibal Ferox

03 Frizzi, Fabio - Cannibal Ferox
04 Frizzi, Fabio - NYC Aftermath

FILE: Samples from Cannibal Ferox (1981) and Zombie (1979)
BUY IT: and

- Nick