Monthly Archives: April 2009

Review: Depeche Mode “Sounds Of The Universe”

A rum and coke.

That’s the motivation/courage I needed to write a review of the 12th full-length release from Depeche Mode, Sounds of the Universe. It’s not to say that I’m afraid that Dave Gahan is reading this right now, sharpening his knives. Nor is it because this album is so bad that I have to be buzzed (maybe tipsy) to begrudgingly write a review for it.

I’m drinking because I’m afraid of what I’ll say by the time the last period is entered.

Truth is, I’ve been going back and forth on this album since the day it first graced my headphones. Some days it’s like Gahan, Eigner and Gore wrote this album for me. Other days, it feels like they’re asleep at the wheel, and I’m the doomed passenger.

For the record, I’m a midpoint Depeche Mode fan: from 1984’s Some Great Reward to 1990’s Violator. Yeah, I’m all about it. So when I heard Sounds of the Universe‘s single, “Wrong,” my spidey senses were tingling. A song that reverberated a “Stripped” era of songwriting. So if you’re like me, breathe easy. Sounds of the Universe follows with that classic Depeche Mode song-craft……..which is a blessing and a curse.

I mean, fact is, Sounds of the Universe sounds exactly like you figured a Depeche Mode album would. The opener, “In Chains,” is heart stopping. Other songs ( “Wrong,” “Hole To Feed,” “In Sympathy,” “Come Back”) call back to the Music for the Masses that I love to blast from my speakers.

However, the new side of Depeche that occasionally creeps out on the album ( “Fragile Tension,” “Spacewalker,” “Perfect,” “Jezebel”) simply just fall flat. In fact, “Jezebel” kind of makes me wince when I hear it. Apologies to Gore, who sings on the track, but the song is just simply unappealing.

So, therein lies the issue. Depeche Mode can still sound like Depeche Mode, yet can offer really nothing new to the people. I’m grateful that Gahan is still out there, making music that I’m happy to think dark thoughts about. But at the same time, I’m kind of disappointed that in 2009, they can’t stretch the boundaries like they used to.

Ultimately, Sounds of the Universe has something to offer for everyone, especially Depeche Mode fans. However, you may be disappointed that it won’t lead you to new heights.

-Chase

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Top This, Marilyn Manson

Once upon a time, Alice Cooper struck fear into the hearts of millions by wearing a snake like a necklace and prancing around with a girl’s name.  I think it was Lester Bangs who wrote: “If you thought Billion Dollar Babies was hot, just wait until he discovers green screens and rap music! When he does, look out children! Applying that Tasmanian devil glottal scope, that yellow-eyed depravity to the urban sound of way out will surely make the world fart blood*.”  Or something like that.

*Not actual words of Lester Bangs

Chris

Video: Dan Deacon & Ensemble live @ The Ft. Worth Modern Art Museum

One thing you can’t call Dan Deacon is boring. That much was made abundantly clear this weekend as he and his “big band” ensemble turned the Ft. Worth Modern’s sculpture garden into a bizarre makeshift playground studded with trippy green skulls, crystal cats and mass foot races. “If he had brought a giant parachute,” a friend of mine noted, “he would have perfectly replicated Kindergarten.”

As succesful as the live-band approach turned out, I’m pretty sure Dan will never be invited back to the Modern. At one point, he organized a crowd-swallowing bastardization of London Bridge which, he stressed, should stretch through the museum itself, past the bathrooms, through the exhibits nearest the sculpture garden, and back out through the other entrance. Needless to say, security put a stop to that. The game stretched out through the garden into what began to resemble Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, but was rightfully not allowed in the doors of the Modern itself. 

The set was airtight and, despite an understandably long set-up process, was executed masterfully. The drummers from highly percussive, noisy post-rockers Teeth Mountain (who, it should be said, were absolutely terrific) helped bring Bromst‘s organic assault full circle into was was a staggering explosion of rhythm and guttural energy.  

It goes without saying that seeing Dan Deacon live is a sort of draining experience: beyond the organized sprinting, “sassy-as-fuck” dance contests and massively executed childrens’ games, just being in the presence of such staggering walls of sound is enough to make anyone feel a bit spent afterward. 

Unfortunately my camera died just as the first band (Denton’s own Fight Bite) took the stage. Luckily for us, it’s 2009: 

“Woof Woof”

“Baltihorse” and “The Crystal Cat”

“Snookered”

“Silence Like the Wind”

Jezy

New Film: “Earth”

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In addition to being a totally bodacious friend and fellow lover of killer music, my sister Lisa is also quickly becoming a very well-respected environmentalist blogger.  I admit that I haven’t been as steadfast in my adherence to living a green lifestyle, but I’m trying, and my sis has certainly set quite an example.  Because of her blog, Retro Housewife Goes Green, she is constantly sent free environmental products to test, and recently was even asked to participate in a conference call interview with the makers of Disneynature‘s first feature, Earth.  In addition, she was given a press pass to an advanced screening of the film and given permission to bring along one guest.  She asked me, so this past Wednesday we went to Bricktown in Oklahoma City to see the movie, and for an evening it almost felt like we were important people.  We got to move to the front of the line and were given first choice in seating.  I’m bragging about all this because it felt cool, so deal with it.

Earth is an award-winning nature documentary made by the BBC and released internationally in 2007.  In keeping with the general lagtime of the United States in regards to anything having to do with planetary preservation, it is finally seeing release here on April 22nd (Earth Day, natch).  It is a companion piece to possibly the greatest show ever to air on television (with apologies to The Wire), Planet Earth, and was directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield.

The film utilizes a few select scenes from Planet Earth, but there is no reason to complain about the overlap since it is staggering to view those moments in high definition on a giant screen.  The movie is being marketed as a modern update on Walt Disney’s nature documentaries of the 1950s and is being billed as family friendly.  The majority of the audience watching with us was indeed comprised of young children, and they all seemed completely engrossed in the film.  However, adult audiences will find just as much to enjoy, and I urge everyone to see this in theaters while you have a chance. Oh, and the American version is narrated by Darth Vader rather than the British version’s Captain Picard.

Chris

Swans – “New Mind” (1987)

“sleep heavy with tired trees/the mute tortures the struggles of flesh in its bruised husk…”–Tristan Tzara from “Approximate Man” (1931)

Michael Gira continues to document these mute tortures and the struggles of flesh with The Angels of Light, but he does so with a slightly softer touch than he did during his Chernobyl-bleak days fronting Swans.  Which isn’t to say that his music has become any less powerful, but sometimes it’s necessary to spend time with his “purely abstract, surreal, and violent” era (as Justin Broadrick would say).

This promo was released to accompany Children of God, which is one of the high points of the Swans discography.

Chris

Crystal Castles Cancel Concert, Put on Bitch Fest

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…and today Silence in Architecture morphs into TMZ Lite.

As was already reported by Gorilla vs. Bear, Crystal Castle’s scheduled concert in Dallas last night hit an Axl Rose-sized snag when said band decided to pretend they were actual rock stars.  That is to say, they kicked SiA-approved openers VEGA off the bill for allegedly jacking equipment and proceeded to cancel the show altogether, citing the Grenada’s supposed lack of an adequate sound system.  As someone who has witnessed a few (great) shows at the Grenada, I’m having a tough time swallowing that swill.  In addition, Alan Palomo of VEGA adamentally denies the former accusation.  Taking into account that the Grenada backs Palomo’s version of the story and he is a friend of Jezy, I’m much more apt to discount CC’s frankly ludicrous statements.

While I’m sure the crowd was quite perterbed by CC’s diva-ish behavior, we can fortunately report that the situation didn’t escalate into a Montreal-style Guns ‘N Roses riot; perhaps because the ironic mulleted fan is less hopped up on testosterone than the real deal.  In any case, the Grenada and VEGA appear to come out as the more mature participants in this rather silly, yet unfortunate, drama.

So here’s my brief lecture for Crystal Castles: It is unwise to begin acting like Rock Stars hopped up on diva juice before you prove yourself capable of actual stardom.  At least when Lars and Axl decided to shit on their fans they had already sold millions of records.  Most people stole your debut and the recycle bin is just one mouse click away.

Suck on that 8-bit shit, fuckas.

Chris

Word Porn: Sherman Alexie – “Indian Killer” (1996)

Having established his slot in the contemporary American canon with his 1993 collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and the novel Reservation Blues (1995), Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer finds its author at a point during his career in which he can attempt to exercise some of the literary clout his work thus far has earned him. The Alexie of 1996 is allowed the freedom to play with genre without fear of critical pigeonholing, a luxury not afforded to the Alexie of 1993 — or any first-book writer, for that matter. Accordingly, he gives us a hard-boiled crime novel which sets out to   manipulate the line separating the popular from the literary while confronting the host of complications plaguing the relationship between American Indians and Americans of European ancestry.

On paper, Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer sounds exceptionally promising: a deranged serial murderer dubbed “The Indian Killer”  is on the lam in Seattle, scalping white men throughout the city and leaving a calling card of two crossed owl feathers at the scene of each gruesome murder. Such a foundation in the hands of a talent like Alexie suggests that the reader should expect both first-class genre writing as well as thoughtful observations on race relations in America. Unfortunately, what Indian Killer offers in its attempt to deliver such a novel is an uneven balance of genre and insight in which both halves compete in a shouting match with no clear winner.

Ultimately, Indian Killer‘s biggest problems lie with its characters. The novel is populated by static, two-dimensional stand-ins motivated by little save their respective ethnicities. One can’t help but get the feeling that Alexie cares little for and possibly even hates every last character in his novel; and, if their fully-fleshed personhood isn’t respected by Alexie, there is little hope that it will be respected by the reader. This creates a disconnect between the audience and the text which may be desirable in certain post-modern contexts but adds little value to a social novel which depends on its depiction of living, breathing people interacting in complicated ways which the reader can recognize as human.

In one of the novel’s many subplots, the young revolutionary Marie Polatkin repeatedly locks rhetorical horns with a laughable Literature professor whose Native American Lit class Marie finds offensive and fraudulent. Her perpetual, combative corrections regarding ethnic customs satisfies her attempt to find “an emotional outlet in the opportunity to harass a white professor who thought he knew what it meant to be Indian,” (61) but offers the reader very little in regard to truly understanding one of the novel’s most prominent characters.

By denying his central figures this necessary complexity, Alexie reduces them to transparent pawns in his literary experiment. However, this isn’t to say that a novel should be without its static, stock characters. As demonstrated by the “Testimony” chapters of the novel, in which eye witnesses are interrogated regarding the Indian Killer’s brutal murders, this two-dimensional approach to character sketching can be a breezy, effective way to push the crime narrative. The reader doesn’t require that the middle-aged bystander at the casino murder, the severely beaten hitchhiker or grief-stricken mother the young boy kidnapped by the Indian Killer have rich personal histories wrought with complex motivations and detailed voices. These characters exist to tell the reader about gunshots, mysterious screams and broken limbs; they exist to serve the genre.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the function of all the characters in Indian Killer. In the end, one can’t help but feel that Alexie has gone slumming in the paperback thriller aisle in order to bring something interesting back to the shelves of literary fiction; but Alexie’s name alone cannot save Indian Killer from being little more than a flat, thrill-seeking novel whose social resonance is lost in the murky waters of its own pastiche.

Jezy