Album Reviews, Music

Review: California X – California X

californiaxI am not sure if it is merely coincidence that both California X and Dinosaur Jr. hail from Amherst, MA, but while Dinosaur’s pedigree is an established one, it shouldn’t take long for California X to emulate their more famous city mates. True to form, California X’s love for a heavy guitar riff is something out of the J. Mascis songbook but there’s just something incredibly refreshing and pulsating about this self-titled debut.

38 seconds into the opening salvo of “Sucker” and you get an inkling of what the rest of the record will sound like; a giant wave of grunge-soaked post-rock that has more surprises than it does homages. Take the percussion heavy intro to “Lemmy World’s”; an albatross of a song sonically, but resplendent with pretty melodies and soaring vocals.  “Spider-X” is full tilt rock n’ roll while “Curse Of The Nightmare” has a little Braid in its undercarriage. But it is with “Sucker” that the release really gets you- a mammoth 6.43 long; its slow but ascending nature is what California X is as an album. It is a mostly mesmerizing exercise into turning it loud and letting it loose.

Sure, it sounds like Dinosaur Jr., but it’s got some Jawbox, some Burning Airlines and some Braid in there along with a lot of its own attitude. The only remaining question is: where has this been for the last few years? California X is sludgy, noisy and anthemic; a real pretty kick in the eardrums and it’s been awhile since a thick guitar riff and a melody sounded this good. (Don Giovanni Records)

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Music

Still Lame: Vans Warped Tour Australia 2013

Back in a 1998 issue of Flipside Magazine (the punk one), the Warped Tour got a righteous lambasting in a column detailing the tour’s mall punk lineup, excessive prices of bottled water and the general lameness of the music festival routine. It was a terrific piece detailing a punk rocker’s bewildering and angry journey into a then bubbling underground; a soon to be mass produced factory-line punk rock show. At the time, the Warped Tour was in just its third year, and already its predictable transformation was seen as inevitable.

News has come to light that the Warped Tour will return to Australia for the first time since 2002 and people seem to be excited about it. But in what capacity does Australia need the Warped Tour? It doesn’t of course, but for co-organizers Kevin Lyman and Soundwave honcho AJ Maddah, this is just another clever, money printing venture meant to tap in to the already saturated, exhausted alternative music touring scene.

But you see, Lyman and Maddah are brilliant entrepreneurs. They saw a gaping hole in a scene bursting into the mainstream and filled it with their money-hungry, intelligently forward-thinking dongs. When Warped Tour pulled the plug on their Australian adventure in 2002, Maddah saw a perfect opening in the genre and grew what eventually became Soundwave in Perth from some extreme sports/music festival called Gravity Games. True to form, the first Soundwave in 2007 featured many of the same Warped bands- Thrice, MxPx, Unwritten Law etc- that became the staple of Lyman’s annual touring circus. And as the year went on and the festival grew, it very much became the Southern hemisphere’s alternative music festival.

You can say they’re “different” AJ, but they’re not.

So here we are, drenched in music festivals and broke because of $10 bottles of water and $100+ tickets, and we’re getting the Warped Tour in December, just 3 months before the annual Soundwave Festival. It is another preposterous money grab at the poor kids who love alternative music and can only seek refuge in the giant arms of Maddah and Lyman. And save your time from announcing the bands, I’m sure half of them will have been here on Soundwave. Same festival, same bands, paying for it all twice.

I am unsure who is the bigger villain here; Lyman and Maddah or all the people who bought in to all of this bullshit. Growth and success come with choice. With success comes the idea that you can still be at the top of your mountain while giving back to those who put you there. Perhaps alternating the years in which Warped and Soundwave tour? Maybe kids are just stupid enough to buy a ticket to the same festival twice.

There are pages and pages worth of bile reserved for all the music festivals currently on the Australian market. We are slowly seeing the market implode as the garbage festivals are weeded out of the pile. Imbecile promoters interested in the bottom line more than an artist is interested in the biggest paycheck out of a 30 minute performance. As festivals fall, we will find a balance in what music, and in certain cases punk rock specifically, is all about.

Queers frontman Joe Queer said it best;

You play music because there’s something inside of you that says you have to play music … The Warped Tour changed it. Fuck it. To me a punk gig is a small sweaty club with the audience right in your face knocking over the mic stand and boogying off the energy. 

Too bad there are not enough Joe Queers left in the world. And too bad not enough listeners of whatever the hell consists of punk music today know who Joe Queer is.

Both festivals and their promoters are no stranger to endless amounts of criticism and drama. Maddah being the most notorious with his trigger happy twitter account and his incessant need to pick fights with the likes of that Good Charlotte guy, Travis Barker and anyone who generally rubs him the wrong way. If only someone could add an extra “think before you hit send” button just for him. Just as if we could add a “think before you buy” one to everyone thinking about buying a ticket to Warped Tour Australia 2013. But if you are too stupid to do so, well, there’s nothing I can do about it except to tell you, like those in 1998, you are fucking lame.

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Film

Hollywood & The Argo-nuts

Near the end of Argo, there is an extended moment of tension that puts you side by side with the 6 American hostages caught in Iran. Even though you know how it’ll end, Ben Affleck’s direction on Chris Terrio’s screenplay is a great exercise in well-executed drama and anxiety. The moment is held in a brief light when a few Iranian revolutionary guard are bewildered and amazed by a fake film’s storyboard about alien spaceships. It is a small, but telling moment, a rather fantastic homage to an older time in film making and the sometimes ridiculous nature of Hollywood as a product.

The film has historical inaccuracies so glaring that former President Jimmy Carter had to make a point about it, and there seems to be some sort of stigma to Affleck directing (everyone knows he didn’t DIRECT Daredevil right?), but if I had a vote for Best Picture, I’d give it to Argo.

The film’s competition are your checklist award winners and it may come down to what you’re feeling this year. You could pick the foreign film (Amour), a spiritually charged epic about an Indian Boy (Life Of Pi), a grand ol’ musical (Les Miserables), a Steven Spielberg flick (Lincoln), an unconventional romantic comedy (Silver Linings Playbook), the racially charged (Django Unchained) and the complete mind-evisceration (Beasts Of The Southern Wild). This leaves the two war-themed movies Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.

Hollywood frontrunners have been undecided these past few weeks on just which of these films will inevitably win. Some have said it’ll come down to Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty, which is fair given both of the films merits. But you could really make an argument for all of them.

So why Argo? Because it is a well-crafted statement about a politically important time in history as well as a humorous self-flagellating stab at the ridiculousness of Hollywood itself.

We are to assume that $45,000 gift bags for nominees at an an awards ceremony congratulating themselves is a worthy cause. And it is always a joy to know that somewhere in LA, there is a cast of people whose sole purpose is to make ridiculously rich people even more ridiculously rich. But it is this ridiculousness that has captivated us for so many years. Dialogue in Argo said it best; “So you want to come to Hollywood to become a big shot without doing anything? You’ll fit right in”. Why do you think the film’s events transpired as they did? Because among a myriad of spy-related action and tomfoolery, the Iranian captors were captivated by the nutty premise of a Space-alien saga being filmed in the country.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Hollywood actually does see the ridiculousness of what they all do, have fun with it, reap the rewards and still endear themselves to the public? I know Argo is a serious film, but it still takes a moment to make fun of itself and it’s competition.

Perhaps the Oscar voters aren’t that meta, and Argo probably won’t win. But it should. Why? Because Argo fuck yourself.

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Basketball, Sports

Dwight Howard and His Merry Band of Clowns

At 1 minute past the trade deadline this past day, the Los Angeles Lakers officially became characters in Dwight Howard’s ongoing comedy saga. With the failure to trade Howard this half season, the Lakers are now in the same preposterous position the Orlando Magic were last season; in the big ugly palms of Dwight Howard.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has spent the better part of the last few weeks steadfastly denying the Lakers would even consider trading Howard. They were but thinly veiled proclamations of stubbornness that disguised the fact that these orders most probably came down from Lakers Executive VP Jim Buss; the son of the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss. Jim was the architect of the Lakers traumatic early season changes that included coaching changes, the non-hiring of Phil Jackson and the trade of Howard to a ‘see how it goes but we really want you to sign long term’ deal.

The season of course, has been a disaster for the Lakers and while much can be said about its sputtering futility, this trade deadline debacle is just another boneheaded non-move by Jim Buss more concerned about covering his own ass than giving Lakers fan all they care about: winning now.

So how does Dwight Howard fare? Well, once again he is the King in his court of jesters, ruling the roost of buffoons too blind to see that it is just plain bad, bad business to let him run the organization. And let’s face it, from now until the end of the season, he runs the Lakers.

Many trade analysts and pundits postulated the merits of a Dwight to Brooklyn trade and it all made perfect sense. In return, the Lakers would receive Brook Lopez who is a far better fit alongside Kobe than Dwight is. At the moment, Dwight’s point production is actually lower than Brook’s (16ppg to Lopez’s 18.8ppg) and while Howard at his best is a defensive beast, Lopez’s game is far better suited to Kobe’s “me-first, win-at-all-cost” attitude. So why didn’t it happen? Because it makes too much sense and because Jim Buss is too stubborn to give up his grand plan of having Howard as the Lakers’ future centerpiece.  The only problem? It is a future that clearly won’t start until Kobe hangs up his sneakers, which is, two, three years away at the very least? And if he’s got the same kind of fire Michael Jordan had, he’ll never want to walk away from the game. Did we somehow forget that Kobe is still one of the best players in the league today?

The Lakers will spend the rest of the season trying to please Howard, hoping he’ll resign a long term contract at season’s end. But he dislikes Kobe and hates Mike D’Antoni’s system, and if nothing changes, Howard will walk and will likely sign big money deals with teams that can afford him, like Dallas or Houston. Will they have to fire D’Antoni? Trade Pau? Make Steve Nash play soccer? I’m sure if Howard could fire Kobe, he would. Once again, a player has a franchise (the Lakers of all teams) in the palm of his hands. No surprise the player is the same one who sank the Magic last year.

This is not good for the NBA. A franchise should always be bigger than its players, and yet over the last few years, we have learned that in the case of David Stern’s modern NBA, this is not to be.

Jerry Buss was a visionary; he brought the Lakers and all of Showtime to the world and turned a ramshackle team (Buss bought the team, along with the LA Kings and the old Forum for a measly $67.5 million back in 1979)  into one of sports’ most valuable, loved and respected franchises. His son, Jim, is a nitwit; just another jester in Dwight Howard’s Merry Band of Clowns.

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Basketball, Featured, Sports

Never Be Like Mike

Perspective is the end argument when it comes to unresolvable sports questions. We live in an age where talk and discussion is paramount regardless of whether we will ever find the answers or not. It is the very nature of sports talk radio. This weekend marks the 50th birthday of Michael Jordan, and coincidentally, LeBron James has been playing historically unmatched basketball over the last few weeks (30 points a game, 60% shooting in 6 or more games in a row). It has been a golden opportunity for talk radio to once again highlight the oft-discussed topic of whether or not LeBron is as good, or better, than Michael Jordan.

The answer is simply: no. LeBron James will never be as good as Michael Jordan.

But the reasons behind the answer are more to do with perspective then it does with statistics. Numbers do play a big part, let’s not forget, 6 rings to 1, no final losses to 2. However, it’s a little more intangible than that.

I’m in my early 30s and during the height of Jordan’s powers I was a teen growing up in Indonesia. With feet firmly planted in Air Jordans and head soaring to the basket, there was a mystical element to Jordan. It was an aura of invincibility that made a scrawny Asian kid believe that while I would never make the NBA, the times I flew through the air in my backyard were just as great.

People talk a lot about intangibles and killer instinct. We know Jordan had it, and we know Kobe has it. The last few years have been about whether or not LeBron has it. We balked at this idea when he bailed on Cleveland, laughed when he no-showed in fourth quarters, and definitely believed he didn’t when the Heat came up short against Dallas. But last year, on their run to the championship, he showed something. And now, in their defence of the ring, he’s been playing like no other. Unstoppable, gazelle-like, men amongst the boys- LeBron is head and shoulders better than anyone else in the league.

Yet, LeBron is a victim of our time. Media oversaturation, promise, “The Chosen One”, everything rolled out on a red carpet since high school. Back in 2003, I wrote that the hype that followed LeBron would “devour everything in its path” and in a way, it devoured LeBron too. Every ounce of greatness he has achieved and will achieve will never match this generation’s ridiculous expectations.

IN A SEA OF TREES

Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins.

This is a list of Hall Of Famers who never won a ring because of Michael Jordan. This doesn’t include all of Reggie Miller’s teammates on those Pacer teams, Barkley’s, Ewing’s Knicks, Wilkins’ Hawks. And it doesn’t include Shawn Kemp. None of them won a ring because each year Michael Jordan and his Bulls stood in the way. The two years he went to play baseball were the only chance Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had to win theirs; otherwise they’d be on this list too.

Jordan posterizes Ewing

Jordan posterizes Ewing

Jordan had to play amongst the trees in his prime. He had to literally dunk over Patrick Ewing to get his rings, the best centre LeBron has to play against? Brook Lopez? Tyson Chandler? Only Dwight Howard could hold the paint against Olajuwon, Ewing and Robinson (although the way Howard is playing this year, we should think about scratching him off that list too). The calibre of talent Jordan had to overcome for his rings were named Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, Malone, Miller, Wilkins, Barkley and Magic. LeBron didn’t even show up for the fourth quarter against Tyson Chandler.

Then there are those indelible Jordan moments. Over Ehlo, around Sam Perkins, over Ewing, all over Bird, one on one with Wilkins, from the free throw line, standing in the shadow of himself in Barcelona, the shoulder shrug, under the weather, off of Russell. It’s hard to quantify them because you couldn’t YouTube them 5 minutes after they happened- they were at times, mythical occurrences passed on by whispers and VHS videos, but they happened.

For LeBron, I will always remember the shot he hit against Orlando in the conference final as a watershed moment. And right now, I’ll remember how well he’s playing but for someone my age, LeBron’s memories will be The Decision, the Welcome Party and the time he dunked on poor old John Lucas.

This is because I didn’t grow up with LeBron. He’s not a basketball hero to me, just a commodity; a great ball of talent, energy and marketing. I figure this is how the older generation feel about Jordan and people like me when they talk about Bill Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem and Oscar. And I figure this is how LeBron’s fans will feel when in 20 years, whoever is top of the chain then, is compared to LeBron.

Maybe I just dislike LeBron and the NBA today. Or maybe we just know too much of LeBron, like we know too much of everyone these days.

We have tried in vain to find the next Jordan for more than a decade now. We’ve had a line of candidates who all fell short- Grant Hill, Kobe, Vince Carter- and most embarrassingly, Harold Miner- and now LeBron, who for all the talent in the world (which on a pure talent stand point, would probably surpass Jordan), falls short because he is the product of his generation.

But Jordan was Jordan; and for someone of my generation, a larger than life figure who at a given time was as famous as Muhammad Ali was in his prime, known to the citizens of America as he was known to a housewife somewhere in Southeast Asia. They invented The Jordan Rules to stop Michael, until this year, all you had to do was show up in the fourth quarter to stop LeBron.

Like LeBron, I am a product of my generation; pulled into the draw of the NBA when the Bad Boy Pistons had dethroned Magic’s Lakers. They were the villains of a sport in need of a hero. And through all the moments that transcended an entire generation, Number 23, who soared and graced the court like no one before or after, became that hero, the first and last Jordan. 

Bonus video:

This is an old VHS tape called ‘Michael Jordan’s Playground’ that I watched countless times marveling at the Jordan mystique. Most telling is Jordan describing the importance of determination and will in order to succeed and become the best.

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I always through Tegan & Sara were a cutesey little indie folk thing who did their bit while twee girls and boys swooned. But while at the gym a few weeks ago, I was caught off guard by this synth-soaked, gyratingly catchy dance number I dismissed as another quick fire radio grab by some fresh faced band plucked by greedy A&R suits from obscurity. Alas, it was Tegan & Sara going dance pop.

It was quite….. good. And as strange as it is to admit, I’ve listened to this song a plenty and still enjoy it. I won’t be listening to the rest of the album (c’mon man, I’ve got some self respect) but this song, well, good enough for me to have watched the only 3-4 minutes of Ellen’s show I’ve ever watched.

Fat Mike needs to write another song, maybe this time about creepin’ out Tegan.

Music, Sight & Sound, Videos

New Bad Religion Video Sucks

Bad Religion. I love them to death. And no matter how old I get, or how old they get, there’s still a lot of punk rock in me that gets ready to riot riot upstart upstart whenever I crank “I Want To Conquer The World”. Their latest release, True North, some 30+ years into their careers, still holds its own against anything considered remotely punk rock these days.

But let’s not beat around the bush, the video for their latest single “True North”, just fucking sucks. Rolling Stone describes it as some young punk kid jamming to the song while waiting to go out for some “rockage”. No true punk rocker ever looked liked Justin Bieber. Rolling Stone sucks and while Bad Religion don’t, this video is just lame.

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