Monday, June 30, 2008

(06.30.08) Recommends:

Life Is Beautiful, An Exhibition of the Art of Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash aka MBW.

From what we understand, MBW is a French filmmaker who was working on a documentary film on street art. At some point he abandoned the project, or put it on hold, and tried his hand at creating "street art" himself. This is his first exhibition.

We enjoyed this exhibition; in fact, we have now seen it on multiple occasions (including during the ridiculously entertaining opening night reception/party). We think everybody in LA who is interested in street art or indie art or modern art would get something from checking out the exhibition. If nothing else, one walks away impressed with the sheer size of it: the space is an old CBS television studio, and both levels of the studio, as well as a substantial court yard, are filled to the brim with art.

We were certainly impressed -- blown away, frankly -- at the ambitiousness of the exhibition. But we cannot decide whether MBW's work, as individual pieces, is compelling, or if the work becomes compelling when displayed on such a large scale. We are not art critics by training (we're not even amateur art critics), but we are going to attempt to blog through this question regardless.

[Note: If you are not interested in reading a self-indulgent, rambling, uncalled for stab at art criticism -- and we suspect this is the majority of you -- scroll down below. There are pictures! You've been warned.]

In the press reports on MBW, comparisons to Banksy and Shepard Fairey are often bandied about. We are only familiar with Banksy's stencil work, and since we didn't really notice any stencils in the show, we don't really see the comparison.

We get the Shepard Fairey comparison to a limited extent. Both artists are into reinterpreting iconic figures. Both obviously bring a profoundly artistic vision and bent to their work. But we are also struck by a difference. Shepard Fairey is, above all else, a designer. His work is always intricately crafted and aesthetically pleasing; his pieces are simply a pleasure to look at. We imagine you could hang one of his pieces in your house -- even one of, say, a gigantic Andre the Giant head -- and the lettering and the bordering and the overall look of the piece would be such that when a guest noticed it hanging, the first reaction wouldn't be, "oh, you must be an Andre the Giant fan," but rather, "oh, that print is pretty to look at; it's so cool."

MBW, as we've mentioned, is a filmmaker. So he still brings that creative eye that sets him apart from the non-creatively inclined. But, on the whole, we do not find his individual pieces nearly as compelling as, say, Shepard Fairey (please understand that we understand that such comparison adds no value to any conversation; it's like saying "I don't find the Strokes nearly as compelling as the Beatles." (yes we like both the Strokes and the Beatles, no, we're not saying Shepard Fairey is the Beatles or MBW is the Strokes; it's why we encouraged you to skip this entire section).

Perhaps the print that people will eventually most associated MBW with, is a re-interpretation of Andy Warhol's classic series of Marilyn Monroe. MBW keeps the hair and general face structure, but adds the faces of random members of pop culture: Spock, Larry King, Michael Jackson, even a trio of John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama (which can be seen on a billboard at Sunset and Gower, in the building that houses the exhibition).

But, as opposed to, say, a single Obey Giant print, each single MBW Marilyn Monroe spin-off seems a bit of a novelty. Like, we can imagine them being sold at one of those touristy shops that sell t-shirts of varying degrees of offensiveness (you know the kind of t-shirt shops we're talking about, right? The t-shirts usually have references to sexual proclivity or drunkenness or drugs; there's almost always an entire Bob Marley section; the rage at these shops during the primary season was an Obama/Clinton shirt adorned with the slogan "bros before hos" etc. etc.). And we imagine if you hung a single one of these in your house, a guest's first reaction would more likely to be "oh, you must really like [fill-in-the-name-of-the-person-substituted-for-Marilyn Monroe]!" or "oh, you must have a wacky sense of humor!" rather than "oh, that's really pretty!"

But somehow, when there's an entire hallway filled with these Marilyn Monroe spin-offs, it works. It's like this with a lot of the exhibition. The pieces are a bit repetitive, but there's something about the mass scale that creates a pleasant effect that we're not sure individual pieces could muster.

So we imagine this will be the primary question that comes out of the exhibition: It works en masse, but can it work on an individual scale?

[Note II: this ends the gratuitous (& quasi & pseudo & uncalled for) art criticism.]

One piece that absolutely floored us was the below Run DMC piece. When we first walked into the room, we thought it was simply a painting of Run DMC, which would fit into the "random cultural icon" motif. We chuckled. But then we moved closer to the painting. Only to realize that it was not a painting. But rather, was made of broken chunks of vinyl records. We stood in front of it, mouths agape, for several minutes. We would move closer, then further away from it. Trying to figure out how it works. We're still not sure how MBW pulled this off, but it's instantly become one of our favorite pieces of art.














Ultimately, say what you will about this exhibition and MBW. But it's pretty hard to disagree with the following:








---

For more information on exhibition dates and hours:
Life Is Beautiful website.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

(06.29.08) Recommends:

The Petrojvic Blasting Co.

We came across this band in the very best manner one can possibly come across a band. We were out on an early Friday evening, walking around our neighborhood, taking photographs (and taking advantage of another rare warm Los Angeles evening), after celebrating happy hour with a friend. All of a sudden, we hear the distant sound of accordion. So we kick around a few buildings, walking up stairs and peeking around corners until we stumble into the back patio of something called Crane's Hollywood Tavern, where we witnessed players of fiddles, accordions, and the occasional and sundry brass insrument entertaining a crowd gathered for something called The Honeybee Lounge, which is some kind of party that outfits guests with one dollar glasses of beer. No joke, that. It was one of those completely lovely moments destined from birth to be a Friday Evening. Perfection very nearly distilled.








The band is made of two brothers. They appear to be in some sort of negotiations to acquire the fiddle player. We think the fiddle player should acquiesce. Or the brothers should make him an offer he can't refuse. WWTGD? [1] Because this threesome is killer. Yes, we just said killer.

Unfortunately for us, we could only stick around for about an hour. Also unfortunate for us, we know nothing more about this band than what we've gleaned from the band's cryptic website, which is to say, we really don't know much at all. (In defense, we're not sure the website is actually "the band's website"). But we are very hopeful that we'll see these guys playing around town again soon. Yesterday we posted some audio of the show that we recorded. Check it out.







Finally: If anybody reading this knows more about the band, please write in and give us the low-down!


---
[1] Make it work, obvs.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

(06.28.08) Recommends:

An Experiment with Audio Blogging.

This is a test. If the sound quality is aggressively bad -- um, yeah, we already know the video is aggressively bad -- we'll probably kill the post, or at least update with regular pics and commentary on this band. But for now, we want to see how this turns out.


video

Friday, June 27, 2008

(06.27.08) Recommends:

American Teen.

On Wednesday, we were invited out to see the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary film American Teen, as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival.

A couple notes to set the scene before we discuss the film.

First, as we've mentioned before, as a general rule we've never really been film buffs. But a carve out to this is documentary films. We're more likely to go see a documentary that generates lots of buzz than any other genre of film.

Second, this might be a very obvious point, but Los Angeles knows how to do film festivals. The screening was held at the Ford Ampitheater, nestled in the Hollywood Hills. It's like a miniature Greek Theater (blogged about here). Here's the view as we first entered:




LA is usually stunningly beautiful during the day, but then the temperature drops precipitously at night. However, one of the positive residual effects of the recent LA Heat Wave has been warm summer nights. So the scenery and weather left a big impression for the festival to fill.

Luckily, the fest was up to the task. First, before the screening, Sunny Day Sets Fire (blogged about here and here) performed a set. They have a song that appears in the film. This is probably the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of. They really took advantage of the setting.

Second, they had lots for people to eat and drink. Despite this, we ran into a very talented photographer who bought us a beer. The point of all of this is to say that the crowd was in a very jovial mood.

Finally, and the point of this post, the movie was amazing.


---


The film follows the lives of several high school seniors in Warsaw, Ind.

This sentence, alone, will probably be the root of all criticisms you will read about the film.

First, it will lead to uncontrollable preconceived notions/mental protests from anybody who was college-aged or younger starting in roughly 1992. Will the film, these people will wonder, actually capture the lives of these students, or will the students, trained by years of Real World begets Road Rules begets Survivor begets Laguna Beach begets The Hills and friendster begets myspace begets facebook begets blogger ubiquity use the cameras to push their agendas just like Puck and Pedro used the cameras to promote the rights of booger eaters and AIDS sufferers, respectively, during Real World San Francisco?

This concern, while never completely leaving our mind, was not much of a concern in the end, owing primarily to the fact that Nanette Burstein proves to be an incredibly thoughtful, humane, non-judgmental, talented filmmaker.

The second criticism we anticipate is that the film merely highlights the uselessness and frivolity of the modern American public high school system and the modern American teen; that a generation of complacent kids will cause America to lag behind in the global economic race for ... well, whatever it is, exactly, that we're globally and economically racing for. This, like the Real World Question, we ultimately dismiss because all of the students featured in fact display big ambitions. The ends of the ambitions differ -- getting to college, getting to a college of a particular prestige, getting to a college of a particular geography, becoming less of a nerd and feeling like you fit in, whatever -- but each student shares an equal vigor in reaching those ends.

We don't want to offer too many spoilers to the film; the film is a joy and people should experience it with virgin eyes. So we'll just say that it runs the gamut of emotions:

  • At least three times we began crying (including near the end when we had to do that guy thing of quickly, but discreetly, rubbing our eyes in an attempt to dry them before the lights came up -- "we're cool, we're cool, good movie, should we head out now, wanna grab another beer, we're cool, really, stop looking at us," etc. etc.).
  • At least a half dozen times we burst into laughter, literal bursts such that we had to check the person sitting in front of us to see if we had spit on them.
  • We cringed out of embarrassment at the behavior of both parent and child.
  • We sighed heavily out of righteous indignation at the obnoxiousness of both parent and child.
  • Our hearts burst with optimism for the future when we saw a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The crowd on Wednesday -- the "jaded hollywood set" -- was as animated as any movie crowd we've ever experienced. And this movie will certainly play well in the Midwest -- it's filmed there, and as midwesterns we saw a lot of our high school selves in the picture. We fully expect this film to be the break out star of the late-summer movie season.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

(06.26.08) Recommends:

Without Words.

The latest from Andrew Bird in the NYTimes Measure for Measure blog.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

(06.25.08) Recommends:

Five Thoughts That Randomly Occurred To Us Throughout Last Night's Alison Krauss/Robert Plant Concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, Calif.

01. The Greek Theater has to be one of the most perfect concert venues in the country.




We generally prefer to see our shows in small dark bars or clubs. However, if we must go to a bigger venue, there are few that we'd rather go to than the Greek Theater. It's almost completely surrounded by the trees of Griffith Park and somehow maintains acoustics that sound as good as any venue you'll go to.


02. The reports of the music industry's death are greatly exaggerated.

One hundred and twenty five bucks. That would have been the number to say if you were on The Price Is Right and were asked to name the retail value of our seats. These were not even the most expensive seats. And all these seats were taken. I'll see your p2p network and raise you $36mm in ticket sales.

03. Quiet ubiquity.




Alison Krauss is everywhere. She's had her hand in dozens and dozens of records. She's won 21 -- twenty one! -- Grammy Awards (though we like to think none of these were quite as satisfying to her as being crowned Old Time Fiddle Champion at the 1984 Winfield (KS) Bluegrass Festival). She might be the most influential modern figure in bluegrass with her contributions to soundtracks to Oh Brother Where Art Thou? and Cold Mountain. Yet you never really "hear" about Alison Krauss, yaknow? As far as we can tell she does not get DUIs or spend time in rehab or jail. When you hear about her in LA it's because she's coming through town after convincing one of the Biggest Badasses in the History of Rock Music to put out a countryish-folkish record. And people will pay big bucks to see her. 100 years from now people will still be considering Alison Krauss's music. We think there might be a lesson in there for member's of today's (quasi, pseudo, or otherwise) entertaining class.


04. Greek Theater + Alison Krauss + Robert Plant turns Ostensibly Reasonable and Professional Adults into Texting Schoolgirls/Fanboys/Ninnies.

US: 8:38pm: god i love this venue!

THEM: 10:00pm: last song chills.




US: 10:01pm: goose bumps. omgomgomgomg.



THEM: 10:06pm: holy shit.




US: 10:47pm: omg.




THEM: 10:49pm: such an amazing show.




05. Could a reunion be better than this?



At the end of 2007/beginning of 2008 there was lots of chatter -- plus a reported $200mm offer to Plant -- about a LedZep "reunion." But we're not sure whether such a thing could make, say, Black Country Woman, sound as vital and alive as did upright basses and mandolins and fiddles and Alison Krauss.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

(06.24.08) Recommends:

Forest Fire, Survival (Catbird Records, 2008).

This record might be one of the more interesting things to happen to country music since Uncle Tupelo gave the world No Depression in 1990. Which means, of course, that the record isn't really even country. It's more like sparse, low-fi, rock music that has enough space in it to come off as a bit haunting. The owner of Catbird Records -- which, if you haven't figured out already, has, over the past few years, developed into one of the most interesting record labels we have -- calls it "homegrown hymns for those with no religion." It's absurd to evoke names such as the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, the Replacements, or even Uncle Tupleo, on a band's first full length album. But at various points all of these bands put out songs that could be called sparse, low-fi homegrown hymns for those with no religion. And at first listen, you're going to hear all of those bands. And that's why we're forced to start this recommendation with the sentence we do.

What's also pretty cool about this record is that Catbird Records is using the "Radiohead Model" by giving consumers options: listen to it as a free stream, a free download, or buy it for whatever price you'd like. (Of course the main difference between this and Radiohead is that Forest Fire does not suck[1].) Go here to make your choice.

So there you have it. Go give this music a listen. It's without doubt one of the year's best releases.



--
[1] (rant) Seriously, people. Isn't it about time we have a wholesale reconsideration of Radiohead? They have to be the most overrated band of our lifetime. Seriously. Every song is several minutes too long, with the same incomprehensible warbling vocals and monotonous computer-generated wall of noise. Now, don't get us wrong. We're not anti-lyrics-that-don't-make-sense, or anti-long-songs. In fact, we've surely been to more Phish concerts than you, and we really enjoyed almost all of them. We get that that type of music can be transcendant.

But here's the thing. Radiohead's music isn't transcendant as much as mostly just annoying.

We think Radiohead fans probably fit into two categories: (1) the group that just doesn't know any better; and (2) the group that was unduly influenced at an early age.

If you are a die-hard Radiohead fan in the former group, we have a challenge for you. We have hours and hours of live Phish shows on tape (hah!) and CD. And we're pretty sure we could make you a 45 minute mix (the length of one side of a 90 minute Maxell XL-II tape, for the old school tape traders in the audience) of live Phish that will make you realize that, on the one hand, "jammy" music can be incredible and, on the other, Radiohead puts out almost uniformly boring music. We certainly understand it's a band's perogative to put out boring music, we are just perplexed by all the Radiohead worship, and after our challenge we're sure you will be too.

What's more concerning to us are die-hard Radiohead fans in the latter group. These people are like the 13-year old who starts smoking cigarettes because he wants to impress the seemingly cool 14-year old of the group. And by the time the 13-year old realizes smoking was not cool, he is either too hooked to do anything about it, or has died of lung cancer. Since we do not wish death upon any music fan, all we are left with is to say that that smoking is not cool and the 14-year old was not cool (didn't you ever stop to think that maybe if he was so cool he would have been able to find friends his own age??) and Radiohead is not cool. (/rant)

Monday, June 23, 2008

(06.23.08) Recommends:

Concert Photography, vol. 15
Sunny Day Sets Fire,
Oxford Collapse,
Frightened Rabbit,
The Roxy,
West Hollywood, Ca.
06.22.08

So we went to see the show that we talked about in this post. As you can tell by the original post, we thought the bill was simply Oxford Collapse and Frightened Rabbit, which was certainly a strong enough bill to get us out of the house. Then we showed up at the venue and saw they were selling Sunny Day Sets Fire merch at the merch table. And the following conversation took place:

Us: Why are you selling Sunny Day Sets Fire stuff?
Them: Um [pause] [followed by eye roll] they're the opening band.
Us: Oh, cool, we didn't know that, we like that band!
Them: [another eye roll].

To be fair, our confusion was also furthered by the fact that, inexplicably, the merch table was also selling posters of Meet Dave. Nobody was able to give us a credible explanation as to why.



This was Sunny Day Sets Fire's first US gig. We enjoyed it. Before we even knew they were on the bill, we were scheduled to see them play Wednesday as part of the LA Film Festival. So we're looking forward to seeing them again.





Next up was Oxford Collapse. There was a period back in '06 when we went about six weeks with listening to nothing but Please Visit Your National Parks. It's unclear whether we were even eating/showering during this period, so hooked were we to thi song.











The main attraction was, of course, Frightened Rabbit. They were really fun. Pretty straight forward live reproductions of the songs (in a good way). Lots of loose stage banter (again, in a good way). The crowd was really responding. It was a good set. We're going to be hearing lots more about this band. And that's a good thing.





















Sunday, June 22, 2008

(06.22.08) Recommends:

Connecting Consumers of Hyperlocal Content with Producers of Hyperlocal Content.

So, Hyperlocal blogging. Placeblogging. Citizen journalism. Whatever you call it, the idea is you see something of interest happening in your neighborhood or community and you blog it. Bloggers and citizens and venture capitalists (see, Outside.in, twitter, et al) are just getting out of the gates figuring how it's all going to happen. But there is no dispute that it will happen. Over the last several decades we have witnessed media consolidation of an unprecedented scale, and we are now at the beginning stages of the biggest media decentralization in the history of the world. You can laugh at this idea or take it seriously. We're choosing to take it seriously. And having come of age on the internet (we were high school freshman when the first internet browser was commercially released), we strongly urge everybody take it seriously.

Here's an example that shows there is demand for hyperlocal content that is not being met with supply. Yesterday afternoon, as we were descending our neighborhood of Beachwood Canyon, two police cars were urgently ascending it. While this does not happen tremendously frequently, in a city as big as Los Angeles it still happens enough that you don't think about what's happening. Probably a small fire, you shrug off.

But as we came back to our neighborhood, later that afternoon, we noticed that the Franklin Ave. entrance to Beachwood Canyon was blocked off by police presence. We thought this was stranger than the urgent police we previously had seen, but we were still reluctant to draw any connection. This is Hollywood after all, sometimes streets just close down for filming or whatever.

But then a curious thing happened. We got online. And one of the first things we do when we get online is browse the page that tracks our blog's analytics. And starting at 6pm, and steadily continuing until currently, we were getting lots of traffic directed by google from people searching some form of "hostage beachwood canyon" due to the combination of our frequent blogging about our neighborhood and one random post where we jokingly said our camera was being held hostage by a terrorist. In fact, if you currently google the term, our blog will be the first hit. Here's a screenshot of our analytics page (clicking on the pic brings up a bigger image):



So, we did some googling of our own. Currently nothing in the LA Times. Currently nothing in the local blogs we frequently check. But something happened last night in Beachwood Canyon that is a concern to residents. And the first instincts of those residents was to search the internet for more information. It may or may not have even been a hostage situation; the story has not been told, but people want the news and are willing to go to sources outside of the mainstream to find it.

Filling this void, eventually, will be this new form of citizen media. At some point in the near future, I [to drive home the point I'll step outside my usual use of "we"] won't be the only one who will be able to see that people around my neighborhood are searching in abnormally and statistically significant numbers for hostage news. Last night might have been a disconcerting way to see the future. But the future usually springs forth from discontent.

Things are changing, people. And we all get to play a role in the resolution of that change. This should be exciting to us all.

Update: here's a news clip calling the whole episode a hoax.

Friday, June 20, 2008

(06.20.08) Recommends:

Things You Can Do Over Lunch on Broadway Between 9th & 6th Streets.

01. Attempt to stalk Johnny Depp.




02.
Sell hippies bags filled with pencil shavings.




03.
Get some divine inspiration before ...




04.
Risking your entire paycheck at one place.




05.
If you lost your pants at the arcade, you can purchase a new pair.




06.
No need to feel selfish for the purchase, you can buy some for your family, too.




07.
If you did really well at the arcade, you can buy your Significant Other some jewelry.




08.
If you only did okay, you can purchase your Significant Other some perfume.




09.
If you did less than okay, you can purchase your Significant Other a nice head dress. [note: Perez Hilton sez these will be all the rage for Summer 2K8].




10.
Of course, all of this presupposes you even have a Significant Other, which may or may not even be likely.




11.
The street is big, so you may get lost, but you shouldn't have a hard time figuring out where you are.




12. Remember to eat.




13. Forget how to spell.