Sunday, September 25, 2011

Great Songs of the '90s: Temple of the Dog's Hunger Strike

It's hard to explain what this song and its vid. meant at the time to kids all over, but let me try. It meant that even the side-projects, back-story-fill-ins of the Seattle/NW scene completely killed. And this song, apart from a couple of heavy chords, is just a soulful rocker that Aerosmith or Bruce Springsteen could have done. Hunger Strike therefore meant that the whole axis of rock, not just its alternative-metal-punk subcultures, had shifted to.... Discovery Park on the far side of Magnolia in Seattle. Beautiful man.

Great Songs of the '90s: Dre's The Day the Niggaz Took Over

The angriest, most potent, most downright frightening track on Dre's monumental The Chronic (1992).
One thing that feels quite distinctive about the early-mid '90s period: there were lots of different music scenes, all of which were worth exploring, and the key works in each new area were genuinely astounding. The effect was that if you only bought one grunge album in 1994 it was probably Superunknown, and that was a great choice! If you only bought one rap album in 1992-1994 it was probably The Chronic, and that was a great choice! If you bought one ambient/IDM album it was probably Aphex Twin... And so on. The good and the popular and well-known were highly in-synch, so if you explored in any direction the rewards were immediate. Relatively self-contained near-masterpieces that taught you how to speak a new musical language were obvious everywhere....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Great Songs of the '90s: Blur's To The End

Sigh. The best track from Parklife had one of the greatest vids. ever.

Update: Blur fans have often wondered about the gal in this vid. (i.e., playing the Delphine Seyrig role). I've often seen people suggest that she's Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab, but that's clearly wrong. Happily, the woman in question recently identified herself on youtube as Amanda Doyle. She's still working as a model, and has kept her looks and then some. (Her Rachel Weisz-y, super-good-version-of-a-girl-you-might-actually-know look doesn't really go out of style I'd say.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Great Songs of the '90s: Lucas's Lucas with the Lid Off

The song's great but, of course, it's inseparable from its video, which definitively announced (as in 'Who the hell made that thing I just saw?') the arrival of Michel Gondry. Gondry had already made a bit of a splash with his vid. for Bjork's Human Behavior, but this new vid was at another level (the gap between these two vids roughly corresponds to the gap between Gondry's first two feature films, Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine). Above all, this song and vid. is a reminder of just how explosive and exciting music overall was for a while in the early-mid '90s. Huge movements were underway like grunge and industrial and gangster rap and trip-hop and ambient and IDM and grind-core metal and jungle and different flavors of electronica and brit-pop - all of which were pretty great and worth checking out - but there were also fantastic pop outsiders and one-off things around. I don't actually remember hearing Lucas with the lid off on the radio (but it was a moderate-sized hit so someone must have played it), but MTV would play its ker-razy video occasionally, especially late at night (they ended up nom'ing it for one of their vid. awards). In that context, it was a little like stumbling into the best dream you'd ever had.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Great Songs of the '90s: Tricky's Overcome

Closely related to Massive Attack's Karmacoma, Tricky's lesser-known track is better. Needless to say, it's not often that someone gets the better of MA!

'You're a couple, especially when your bodies double.
To placate, and then you wait for the next Kuwait. Karmacoma.'
Best couplet of the '90s? Probably.

Great Songs of the '90s: Elliott Smith's Everything Reminds Me of Her

Arguably the most brutal, tragic, mental health-related early death in pop music between Cobain and Winehouse, Smith's guitar on this track is supernally beautiful, and the song itself is so great it should be a standard by now. Sigh.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Great Songs of the '90s: Nirvana's All Apologies

Like most people, I prefer the unplugged version to the one on In Utero. Truth be told tho', any number of Nirvana's unplugged tracks could be on my list.

Great Songs of the '90s: Ace of Base's The Sign

Swedish pop genius and Abba's visual template in particular re-emerged at the height of grunge. It was truly refreshing and connected subterraneanly with the Abba reawakening birthed by Priscilla Queen of the Desert and, esp., Muriel's Wedding in 1994. Unfortunately, the band (three of them including the two gals were siblings) had some of Abba's ultimate instability. Rather like Agnetha before her, Linn ('the blonde one') had evident misgivings about being the visual focus of the group and maybe about pop-music generally. By 1998 she was half out of the band and never again a focus, and soon after that she seems to have become a full recluse.

Oh well, we'll always have All that She Wants and The Sign! The vid. for the latter is a bit of a wonder - Linn kills it and is apparently happy to do so (however fleeting that feeling was for her), and the vid. itself is boundlessly energetic with insert shots of Ankhs and other symbols seemingly influenced by dream sequences from Ken Russell's Altered States! This felt a little odd at the time but the slightly mystifying/unsettling feeling it evoked in viewers helped 'weigh down' the poppy froth of the music in my experience (again the template is Abba, whose videos used Bergman/Persona shots in the same sort of way).

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Realistic Relativistic Spacecraft and Impact Events

As everyone knows by now, impacts from space have occasionally devastated much of life on earth, most recently and famously in the K-T boundary impact event, 65 million years ago, that appears to have killed off most dinosaurs. Typically, impactors from space that come from within the solar system arrive at 20-50 km/s. And the specific impactor that shmushed the dinosaurs' world was probably a hard/dense rock (not ice), say 3000 kg/m^3, 10-14 km in diameter. That's remarkable: something doesn't need to be 'the size of Texas' (a la Michael Bay's Armageddon (1998)) or to be travelling at anything like relativistic speeds (say > .1C = 30,000 km/s) is required to obliterate much of life on Earth.

But what if an impactor is out at one of these extremes? Well, supposing that 'something the size of TX' means a 10^4 (a 100x100) scaling up of mass from the actual K-T event impactor then K-T-level impact energy results from only 1/100 the v, i.e., only .2-.5 km/s = 200-500 m/s, the speed of current fighter planes.

And what about a space-ship moving at relativistic velocities, i.e., the sort of thing that travel to the stars 'without warp drive' will require? Won't it look like a very dangerous projectiles to any other life-forms who spot it, as it were, in-coming?

Suppose as a kind of base-line that the sort of space-ship that could conceivably sustain technological life for 20+ years would be at least the size/mass of the largest current aircraft carriers, which are about 100,000 long tons = ~ 10 million kg. For simplicity, ignoring relativistic effects, how fast does does an aircraft-carrier-scale ship have to be going to have the kinetic energy of the K-T impactor?

Current estimates of the K-T impactor energy are 400-420 x 10^21 J. Solving for v we get that the aircraft carrier would have to be traveling at ~ 90,000 km/s ~ .3C to do K-T-type damage. If we take relativistic effects on kinetic energy into account, the sufficient-for-a-K-T-disaster v computes out to ~ .29C.

On the one hand, then, why build a Death Star when you can devastate a planet just by ramming something the size of the Starship Enterprise or Space Battleship Yamato into it (at anything like their normal speeds)? On the other hand, the sorts of moderately large spaceships humans might use to get to the stars over a generation (e.g., accelerating continuously at 1 g for the first half of the trip then decelerating at the same rate for the second half) are going to look like menaces to intelligences at the other end. If the decceleration goes wrong, e.g., fuel runs out early or some such thing, then those ships will 'come in hot', at a non-trivial fraction of C, and will threaten to destroy civilizations and possibly life more generally at their destination. Look out.

Great Songs of the '90s: Underworld's Dirty Epic

The best mind-bending long-form dance track of the '90s in my view.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Madonna's W.E.

All the early word suggested that W.E. had the godawful (almost inevitably unsatisfying) Julie and Julia, unbalanced nobody&somebody ('Wally and Wallis'), dual-time-period structure, and that it further might borrow a trick or two from Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Uh-oh! Probably only someone as instinctive and masterful as Almodovar could get a nobody&somebody structure to fly, and Marie Antoinette would have been a disaster but for Sofia C.'s exquisite, hipster taste - so really isn't copiable or a template for anyone else.

And given that Edward VIII was an appalling, unlikeable guy in reality (whether Simpson was too is disputed), a female-centric, outsider/American like Madonna will be tempted, as art of being highly sympathetic to Simpson, to be evasive about Edward VIII. That is, if you don't soften the realities of Edward somehow, Simpson may start to look like a complete idiot, and at worst like a complete reprobate herself. So Madonna's likely going to be doubly tempted: to elide both Simpson's own significant sympathies with and ties to the Nazis, and the basic fact that she married a guy who honestly dreamed during WW2 of a Nazi victory and of his own future as Hitler's lieutenant-ruler over the remains of the British Empire is going to pall for most people. The latter point lends itself to a story of grim irony: Wallis Simpson saves the UK and the world by inadvertently helping to bring low the horrifying Edward VIII. But that's not a very romantic tale and, in any case, it's complex and can't be squeezed into half a film, so doesn't sound at all like what Madonna's offering.

First reviews of W.E. from the Venice Film Festival including this bollocking from the Guardian suggest that all of the structural and stylistic and thematic chickens that seemed to loom over this film have in fact come home to roost, e.g., apparently the modern-time-period parallel female figure in the film, Wally (played by Abby Cornish) says of Simpson and Edward VIII that they were 'naive not Nazis'. Well, we await the context of that quote - perhaps Wally is being an airhead when she makes that remark. But, preliminarily, 'Double uh-oh! What a trap Madonna's fallen into!' Apparently, however, the film has some nice cinematography, design, and (maybe) music.

I'm a big Madonna fan overall, but this project sounded bad from the beginning, has a pointless/stupid title (see discussion below), and now appears to be tepid at best in actuality. I will wait for a few more reviews before making a final decision about whether to see W.E. at a cinema, but things aren't looking good.

W.E.'s title makes me think of Zamyatin's We (hence our image above). And, seriously, wouldn't M. have enjoyed making a film of that more? Her music video work with, say, Fincher on Express Yourself and Romanek on Bedtime Story, etc. should have given her some clues about how to stage that sort of intelligent, dystopian sci-fi. And We's character, I-330 is an erotic subversive who says things like "There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite." One wants to say, "C'mon M., that's you! Film that." W.E., by way of contrast, sounds more like a film representation of M.'s faux-British accent. Triple uh-oh insofar as that's so.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Charlotte Kemp Muhl

I first came across her a few days ago at Stereogum in this image from their Serge Gainsbourg tribute concert coverage:
As in 'Who's that sitting behind Beck?'
It turns out that she's Charlotte K M, girlfriend and sometime musical partner of Sean Lennon, and also a top model in her own right. This tumblr page has the basic evidence that she's one of those truly spooky beauties who never takes a bad picture and who can look like almost anything while always looking exactly like herself. When the camera loves you in that very specific, strong way (you're Audrey Hep. or Milla Jov. say), Hollywood and fame more generally usually comes knocking (and ordinary mortals feel like killing themselves!). It'll be interesting to see whether that happens in this case. At any rate, here are a couple of nice images of CKM in casual musician mode:

Reading around, CKM has done a few silly interviews (leading some people to claim she's vapid and a calculating dater/climber, etc.), but otherwise she seems to have impressed people with her smarts and general sensibility. We'll see.