If you've had your ears open in the last few decades, you've heard the Amen Break. It's in everything. Commercials use it all the time and drum and bass and hip hop rely on it for the basic beat behind practically every track. What started as a drum solo on the B-side of a soul 45 from 1969 became the groundwork for an uncountable amount of music. Take a listen, you'll recognize it immediately even though it's about six seconds long:
Clip from "Amen, Brother" by the Melvins. Audio co. Wikipedia.
The Amen Break. Got it, right? Now think back to watching Scooby Doo. Remember the brief sound clip that happened every time a character would dash in mid air and then zoom off? It was a quick bongo beat and then a “zip!” That's sound effect is called the Bongo Run:
Audio co. 8bitcollective
Logo by glomag.
Well, animalstyle of the 8bitcollective chiptunes music group had a brilliant idea. What if you were to make tracks revolving around the Bongo Run instead of the Amen Break? Well, the result spawned one of the tiniest and most insignificant yet incredibly entertaining electronic music subgenres ever: Scoobycore.
TALKTOANIMALS' breakcore track “Scoobie's Doobie 48 Hour Challenge” is my favorite:
hartfelt's “I Would Have Gotten Away With It” is a close second:
Oh, and if you've got twenty free minutes, you can also check out this short documentary on the Amen Break. The video isn't particularly relevant, so you can just have it on in the background:
I can’t really explain why I enjoy La Roux as much as I do. Her voice is shrill, her overly-repetitive beats were found in a box outside of the Human League’s apartment, and she honest-to-god rhymed “box” with “locks” in one of her songs. But still. I’ve listened to her self-titled album over and over again these last month or so. I have more creative music, but I don’t care. There’s this odd, effortless-pop niche she fills for me and I am glad for it.
Photo, edited, co. La Roux.
Maybe it’s the guilty pleasure of hearing a twenty-two year old sing breakup songs, or the fact that her entire aesthetic is 1995 by way of 2015. Or maybe the fact that she made a name for herself (she’s had a #2 album and a #1 single in the UK) without either being conventionally attractive – and emphasizing the fact! – or particularly original. What I really think it is, is the earnestness of her sound. She knows she’s cribbing, but the doesn’t matter to her. She sings her heart out to obvious lyrics over remaindered rhythms and it just works. And I can’t get enough of it.
Saturday night, some friends and I went to a show at Cake Shop. Ostensibly, we went there to see Zola Jesus, but ended up leaving before her set – in fact, I felt a little bad as we put on our coats pretty much two feet away from where she was waiting to use the bathroom. I'm not completely familiar with her work, but I wanted to see her live as she was one third of the quasi-supergroup Former Ghosts, whose debut album was one of my favorites this year. She'll be opening for Xiu Xiu when I see them in April, however, so no big loss.
The band I want to speak about is White Ring, composed of Bryan Kurkimilis and Kendra Malia. According to the band playing after them, this was their first live set ever. Their set-up was pretty bare-bones: Malia was on the mic, with enough reverb to make it sound as if she were in a hallway nested matreshka-style within a dozen other hallways. Kurkimilis had a Yamaha (?) and a Macbook. The synth drum-beats (offsetting the drones) were incredibly, almost insultingly simple and her lyrics were incomprehensible. This didn't affect my enjoyment of the group at all. They got their dark, minimalist-gothic ambience just right. The simplicity and complete artificiality of the set was a conscious departure from both dissonant and untuned folk-Goth on one end and dramatic synth-dance productions on the other.
Image, edited, co. White Ring.
Two aspects of their set stuck out for me – the use of gun samples and the shrieking. I don't usually hear samples of guns cocking (chick-chick) and shooting (boom) outside of hip-hop, but their presence, played to the beat of the music and simultaneously creating their own, was not only attention-grabbing, but genuinely interesting and novel. Malia's shrieks and screams were also well-placed, bringing the rising tempo and mumbling lyrics to a head.
An aside: as someone with crippling stage-fright for even the most inconsequential of presentations, I'd like to commend Bryan Kurkimilis on keeping his own in check. The dude was scared and it showed, but it didn't affect the quality of the show at all. On the other hand (and equally likely), if intense fear is part of his stage persona, I'd like to congratulate him on his successful wholesale embodiment of the emotion.
Here's one of their newer tracks, entitled “Roses” and set, inexplicably, to either the opening or ending scene of Stanley Kubrick's Lolita. I'm not sure if this is a fan video or not, but it's notable that the creator of the video kept the gunshots in from the original soundtrack. I've been told that White Ring will be releasing an EP this spring:
Courtesy of Pendu Magazine, here's a video of Saturday night's set:
Click to Enlarge
Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, 1985, Marv Wolfman & George Perez
The above page is one of my favorite examples of the usage of panel-breaking. I don't think that's the official term for it, but its one of the numerous techniques which separates the old guard of comics from the new. The fourth panel links directly to the twelfth, as the dimension ships hops from Earth-3 to Earth-1. Certainly, the creative team could have laid the page out in the exact same manner without the use of the lightning bolt, but it wouldn't convey the same snap, the same urgency of action. In film, you can use both motion and sound to relate the energy expenditure, in a novel you would a split-second moment with paragraphs of detail and metaphor. Within a comic, you can use the limitations of the medium against it. When eliminating the gutters as a temporal constraint, the fantastic element of dimension-hopping shines through.
I've always kept a folder of images hanging around on my hard drive. Sometimes I'll go in there for inspiration or just to witness a little museum of my own making. Perhaps I could start a Tumblr like a pair of friends did, but god knows I have my hands full with this blog. So here is one particular favorite from my collection:
Photo co. here
This is Alan Moore and Jack Kirby at some comics convention presumably between 1986 – when Watchmen began its run – and Kirby's (born in 1917 as Jacob Kurtzberg) death eight years later. Moore was one the more prominent horsemen of comics' British Invasion during the 1980s when, for better or worse, the medium took a turn toward dark and more “adult”-oriented storytelling and art. Heroes gained human features and human weaknesses. Like any revolution, this one went way overboard; darkness begat senseless ultraviolence, clever self-reflexivity begat pointless referentialism. But whether you enjoy him or not, there is no doubt that Moore's hand was one which pushed the medium into a new era of creativity.
In the same way that Moore and his ilk transformed comics, Jack Kirby invented them. Teamed up with the much more recognizable Stan Lee, it was Kirby's brush which gave birth to the Fantastic Four, The X-Men, the Hulk and many other characters and teams for both Marvel and DC. In the 1970s he was given nearly free creative reign at DC. This resulted in not just in the creation of Darkseid – a favorite among villains in the DC universe – but also with the injection of the beat and hippie culture as a genuine aesthetic (comics, as a rule, tend to run a a bit behind the dominant counterculture). In the pages of his Fourth World books, he developed a psychedelic line, mixed media and wrote with the pounding urgency of youth. Kirby opened the door that Moore would later kick open (and Grant Morrison would, later still, take off the hinges and reattach upside-down.)
So there you have it. Two men embodying two generations which pushed an entire medium, its audience in tow, well past its comfort zone and closer still toward artistic legitimacy.
Image co. Wikipedia
As far as looks of all-consuming and self-immolating lust go, you will never beat Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter) responding to Stanley Kowalski's (Marlon Brando) drunken screaming in the 1951 version of A Streetcar Named Desire. This scene takes place, if I am recalling the plot correctly, after he has been kicked out of the house after, yet again, beating his pregnant wife Stella.
Considering it was on while I was supposed to be at school, I'm not exactly sure how I've watched as much Kids in the Hall as I believe I did. Perhaps it is the fault of the speeding-up of time due to aging. What was a few sick days from school here or a weekend-long Comedy Central marathon there all gets lumped in together as a quasi-false memory of spending my formative years watching the show regularly. The KITH memory that stands loud-and-proud in my mind is first encountering the “Sausages” sketch.
I can actually pinpoint when I first saw this. It must have been around my junior year of high school as that was time when I received a bootleg copy of Eraserhead off eBay. This was before broadband and filesharing was a Thing, so I had to pay upwards of $30 for a copy of a VHS copy of the Japanese LaserDisc. Anyhow, the point is that I saw “Sausages” and immediately connected it with David Lynch (or, rather, Eraserhead, which was the only Lynch film I had seen at that point.) Something about the pitch-black almost-humor, the collapsing industrial setting, the dreaminess of it all screamed of Lynch's intentional obscurity. When I discovered the plethora of KITH videos on YouTube and informed my Eraserhead-loving best friend, she immediately demanded to watch “Sausages,” affirming my connection. If you've never seen Eraserhead here's a trailer so you can compare.:
Comparing the two side-by-side, I've noticed a few direct references. There is definitely an overlap in the scoring of the two; most of the background noise is composed of industrial drones raised to foreground volume levels. Both films contain unconsummated love affairs, and both feature infirm older characters. Finally, there's the overlap between these two shots, which I refuse to believe is any sort of coincidence.
You can actually watch the entirety of Eraserhead on YouTube if you so desire. I suggest against it, but I realize not everyone has access to Netflix or indie theaters. So, this user seems to have the entire film in even better quality than I first witnessed it. But I urge you, if it is ever playing at a midnight showing at the local college or revival house, go see it. It's one of the best experimental films to have ever come out of the United States. And always remember what David Lynch has to say:
I just watched Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry for the first time and I have to say that I was really, pleasantly surprised by how much of a “film” it was. I’m usually used to his films being shot like, well, just a regular film, although with plenty of artful shots. As far as “artful” I’m specifically I’m thinking of the stage-framed planetarium scene in Manhattan and the “who the hell is talking?” long shot in Annie Hall.
Deconstructing Harry is cut very, very strangely. Individual shots are cut in such a way as to collapse time. Like a Hemingway story, everything that isn’t exactly necessary to the vision is cut with no respect for jarring the viewer. These quick cuts happen in mid dialogue and occasionally giving Harry just enough time to say “uh,” scratch his head and then, bam, another cut. You can see it in this clip wherein Harry solicits a prostitute. The first time I saw these cuts happening I honestly thought there was something wrong with the stream I was watching.
One thing of note is that Woody Allen’s trademark neurotic character is a genuinely dirty old man in this film. Even in Manhattan, wherein he played a 40something divorcee dating a seventeen year old, there was a certain amount of pathos to the relationship. The film used her age to force you to concentrate on her unnatural precocity and emotional strength. In Deconstructing Harry he cheats remorselessly, solicits prostitutes and tries to convince a woman to love him when it is really in her best interest to flee as far as possible from his advances. He closes in on Humbert Humbert territory in the way he elicits pity and identification for/with a character who, in retrospect, is just a terrible person.
Harry is an author whose stories constantly intrude on his life. Occasionally he will simply tell one, and they almost always feature a Harry Block stand-in. On of the tales he spins involves the first time he hired a prostitute – his love of hookers being a running theme – and he is played, fantastically, by a young Tobey Maguire. Another is the film’s cold open, which is then taken apart - deconstructed if you were - by his homicidally furious former mistress, furious at Harry’s co-opting of their failed affair for his hit novel. My personal favorite is the darkly hilarious and very, very Jewish “Max’s Dark Secret,” which is brought up by his brother in law as an example of Harry’s self-loathing anti-Semitism. The Star Wars Bar Mitzvah alone is worth it.
Anyhow, it is one of the current selections on Netflix’ Instant Watch feature, so gamble your time and give it a whirl. It really redeems the rest of his 1990s output.
If there is one thing nearly every Soviet child grew up watching, it is a cartoon by the name Nu Pogodi!/Ну, погоди! The title translates, roughly, to “Well, Just You Wait!” and the plot of the individual episodes is, for all intents and purposes, a prolonged chase scene. In fact if you ask anyone who grew up watching this show to describe it in a phrase, “the Russian Tom and Jerry” is what you'll hear most frequently.
Image co. Wikipedia.
There are two main characters: Wolf (Volk/Волк) and Hare (Zajats/Заяц). As the show falls along the lines of a funny animal cartoon, the animals walk upright, speak and have distinct personalities. Wolf is a social undesirable: he's a smoker, a vandal, a minor criminal, an awful guitar player, &c &c. A friend of has made the case that Wolf is a unflattering caricature of an urban Soviet gypsy/Roma; personally, I don't really see it – he seems more of a slacker/bohemian type to me – but it is something to keep in mind. The Hare, on the other hand, is a model Soviet. Socially conscious and morally upright, he participates positively in society and causes harm to no one. Well, no one except Wolf, who is constantly and unsuccessfully trying to capture and eat him.
Image co. English Russia.
Some of my most fond memories involve watching show. I was practically weaned on it. My paternal grandfather had a reel-to-reel and he would set it up in his bedroom and project the show onto a sheet, while a record of the sound effects played in the background. My maternal grandmother had a smuggled black-and-white VCR on which I would watch bootlegged Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry cartoons, but somehow I always appreciated the projector more.
Here are two of my favorite episodes. Pretty much every single episode may be found on YouTube by searching for "Nu Pogodi". You don't actually have to know Russian to enjoy watching; like the old Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons, almost everything can be gleaned from context. Wolf usually shouts a single phrase per episode, which is a variation on the title. Oh, and don't bother with the 1990s episodes.