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

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Cereal Killings (1992-1995)

James Sturm's The Cereal Killings was a comic book mini series published between 1992 and 1995 by Fantagraphics Books.

I first encountered The Cereal Killings around 2003 in a bizarre and grimy news and book shop called Clark's Out of Town News in Fort Lauderdale. It had existed for many years with its entrance hidden from the road by the rising ramp of the Andrews Avenue draw bridge. Only when it became a part of Las Olas Riverfront, and upgraded its entrance to a dimly lit corridor leading to and from a parking garage, did I notice it. In addition to the newsstand essentials they stocked counterculture erotic art books, homebrew versions of radical texts such as The Anarchist Cookbook, and a porn section of ancient VHS tapes, a boxed male blow up doll at least two decades old, werewolf erotica, and swinger personals magazines. Very little product moved from Clark's once it had been entombed there. It was a strange land of mysteries and I mourn its passing.

The true and tangible gold of Clark's was their comics section. There were all manner of Kitchen Sink, Fantagraphics, and even smaller alternative press comics that had been there since the early nineties. They'd actually sealed some of them in plastic which had accumulated a fine layer of sticky dust. Among these wrapped comics were issues 2, 4, 5, and 6 of The Cereal Killings. I bought an issue out of curiosity and quickly returned for the rest.

In Cereal Killings cartoon mascots are actual people, working day-to-day in the real world. The cereal mascot life is similar to being an actor or sports player - the mighty can fall and the old is replaced with the new. A number of beloved mascots have died recently in seemingly unrelated and understandable ways; regardless the newspapers are making a spectacle of the deaths and calling them cereal killings. As a result of this bad press the industry is in a slump. Carbunkle, once one of the few human mascots, has become a cereal agent. He was the brainchild behind marshmallows and the sugarberry, but he, like may of his cerealebrity friends are becoming washed up. When Dougie the Sugar Duds frog dies from an obesity instigated heart attack, Carbunckle starts being visited by terrifying visions of his dead clients. These visions lead him toward a new approach: a healthy cereal. In the 50s Kelcog once produced a corn cereal whose mascot was a scarecrow. The line didn't last very long and the Scarecrow disappeared - Carbunckle thinks he's the industry's next big thing, but he has to find him first. The visions increase and he's starts to become obsessed.

Sturm's heavily shaded and simplified style gives the anthropomorphic cartoon characters a distinctly eerie look about them. The older mascots are becoming out of place and the 90s are frequently contrasted with the cereal heyday of the 50s through flashbacks. Sturm builds a commentary on how food products have become a part of American entertainment, like deities in some ways, and how cereal advertising manipulates consumers. He did heavy research on the bygone days of the cereal industry and the strange religious origins of the Kelloggs company. All these elements meld into the dark and affecting mystery of The Cereal Killings.

Cereal Killings was Sturm's first book. He's since become quite a presence in the indy comic world, best known for his Eisner Award-Winning books Golem's Mighty Swing and Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules. In 2004 he co-founded The Center for Cartoon Studies. Cereal Killings ended with issue 8 (which was chapter 9 due to the previous book being a double-issue). Sturm considered collecting a revised Cereal Killings but has since decided against it. At his approval I am able to present you with issue 4, the first issue I read, and a prime example of the dynamic storycraft the series has to offer.

READ IT: The Cereal Killings Chapter 4
BUY IT: Mile High Comics,

- Cap