Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day... on Saturday!

No one will be surprised when I say things move quickly in New York. One of the things I’ve had trouble with since moving here almost two months ago is concert attendance.

I missed Frightened Rabbit because I didn’t expect the show to sell out and didn’t realize the tiny club sold advance tickets. I was slow to respond to news of Liz Phair’s acoustic performances of Exile In Guyville and of course they sold out before I could get a ticket. I also didn’t get tickets for My Bloody Valentine’s upcoming September shows, though I think I might still be able to.

This has become a chronic problem.*

Add to that list the shows that the reunited Feelies are playing at their old haunt, Maxwell’s, in Hoboken, on Monday and Tuesday.

I’m not going to claim that I’m some diehard fan of the Feelies, or that I’ve listened to them for years. I’m not, and I haven’t. But I am a fan of indie rock and its history, and a lot of the music I like today has roots in the Feelies. And I do like a lot of their stuff.

But once again I didn’t react or didn’t get the word and I am ticket-less. There aren’t even any for sale on craigslist. Argh.

So to soothe my pain at not being able to go to the show, and to hopefully turn some of you on to a seminal but sorely overlooked band, and to mark the 100th post of this blog with something that’s not just “the latest thing,” today I bring you “It’s Only Life” by the Feelies.

Side note for fellow music nerds: Following the disbanding of the Feelies, drummer Stanley Demeski would join Dean Wareham in Luna. “It’s Only Life” certainly has some of that familiar Luna (and Lou Reed) sound. Even the guitars sound Luna-esque.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy.

And thanks to Ben for his kind words over at ICBINB!

* However, it looks like I’ll get the see the Oranges Band open for the Smoking Popes next Saturday. Wahoo!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The sincerest form of flattery

I went to the Mets vs. Mariners game last night (thanks for the invite, KF!) and my friends and I had a good chuckle when I pointed out the Geico and Casio logos on the outfield wall at Shea Stadium.

I’ve done installation checks for outfield wall advertising before. And I know that in the negotiation process for a sponsorship deal like this there’s a lot of discussion about what other advertisers’ logos are in the stadium, specifically in nearby areas or areas with similar sight lines. As such, I can’t believe this happened.

It’s bad enough that the Geico logo (which I have to assume is predated by the Casio logo) looks like such a copy job when compared side-by-side. But actually putting these logos side by side for thousands of fans to see again and again kills me.

Here’s a larger comparison (sorry for the lame cell-phone pic above):

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pictures from the weekend

At the end of last week I stumbled upon a post on Russell Davies’s blog entitled “How To Be Interesting.” (Not that I was feeling some specific need in that department, mind you.)

In it, he suggests that interesting people are interested (in things and in general) and that interesting people share their interests. Sounds pretty simple.

Russell goes on to provide a list of 10 things you can do to be more interested and to share more. Number 1 is to take a picture each day and post it to Flickr.

I’m not going to do that, but I think I will try to take more pictures and force myself to post some of them here, maybe every week (partly because regularly scheduled topics will help me keep this blog updated now that I’m working again). Seems like a good way to share more of my life with my growing number of geographically scattered friends.

To that end, here are a couple pics I took yesterday in my neighborhood. (Neither is what I would call creative—or even good photography—but that's not what you're reading this for anyway.)

Madison Avenue looking south from E. 67th Street (this is the east end of my block)

E. 67th Street looking west toward Central Park (which is at the end of the block there). My building is the fourth in on the left.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A day of brands

Cool exercise posted on Make The Logo Bigger earlier today. Blogger Bill Green kept a log of every logo he interacted with (not all the ones he saw; that would be crazy) and charted them.

As he mentions, Jane Sample did this on her blog last month, but Bill took it one step further, plotting an awesome chart detaling the many instances where he interacted with brands over extended periods.

Read the Make The Logo Bigger post here. Read Jane Sample’s here. Check out the timeline chart below (click to enlarge*).

* Rookie.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

Girl Talk (a.k.a. Gregg Gillis) released Feed The Animals yesterday. As promised (and previously mentioned on Super Floss) the new album was released as a pay-what-you-wish digital download. The download site isn’t a cool as Radiohead’s In Rainbows site was, and bringing PayPal to the party seems a little weird to me, but I guess that’s the difference when you’re not hugely famous.

Mash-up albums, as a genre, are great for their cleverness and their diversity and I think my brain likes figuring out what the elements are. Sometimes, though, they can create “unscratchable itches” when some small sample is familiar but escapes defining.

There’s not much worry of that on Feed The Animals. Girl Talk uses plenty of samples from hugely popular songs. Here, the talent is not in record bin diving (as it is with DJ Shadow), but in layering things we’ve heard a million times so that they sound fresh but familiar.

Case in point, about 20 seconds into “Set It Off,” Gillis throws Jay-Z on top of Radiohead and then puts Mary J. Blige over the Guess Who’s “These Eyes.”

Check out “Set It Off” by Girl Talk from Feed The Animals:

And get the album. What have you got to lose?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What am I, 13 years old?

I know it's totally juvenile, but when I read this story about Jamie Lynn Spears having her baby, I totally LOL'd on the brief description of baby daddy Casey Aldridge.

Really? You don't say.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The fix is in?

Earlier today* AdAge ran this story on the findings of a survey on perceptions of the NBA, specifically whether the outcomes of some of its games—especially the important post-season games—are decided in advance. A whopping 41% of respondents said they believe “it’s either very likely or somewhat likely that the NBA alters the outcome of games.”

Beyond the sheer size of the number who believe these games are fixed, this news surprised me for two reasons:

First, the respondents aren’t a bunch of basketball curmudgeons who, like me, have a hard time watching even a moment of a regular season game. No, these people identify themselves as NBA fans. They’re moderate to heavy consumers of the sport. They cheer in victory and jeer in defeat. They buy jerseys. They clap thundersticks. They throw ice at Ron Artest.

Second—and more surprisingly—the survey was completed prior to the recent allegations from the crooked ex-referee, Tim Donaghy, that NBA executives and referees manipulated game results to boost ticket sales and TV ratings. In the market research world they call that a pre-test. Imagine how many people now believe the NBA is rigged, after Donaghy’s allegations became public.

Basically, a huge chunk of the core NBA audience just came out and said they believe professional basketball is about as real as professional wrestling. It doesn’t mean they won’t watch it (obviously—pro wrestling has a huge fan base), but it does mean the NBA is a long way from holding the lofty place in American culture that professional baseball and football do these days.

And it also signifies a major slide from the days of Magic and Bird, Wilt and Kareem, Dr. J and Chocolate Thunder.

Actually, thinking back to that Pistons/Pacers fracas, it kinda felt like pro wrestling, didn’t it?

* You** gotta love the timing of this story, what with the potential for the Celtics to win the NBA Championship tonight.

** Unless you’re David Stern, in which case, sucks to be you.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Happening ain’t

I really hadn’t planned on seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s the Happening. I’d always felt a bit burned by his films in the past, though I think I’ve somehow seen most of them. To me, his work suffers from over-promising and under-delivering. But it was Friday night and I was recovering from Thursday night’s extravagance. So there you go.

The basic plot of the Happening is this: Some unseen thing is causing people, upon exposure, to commit suicide—immediately and usually en masse. Science teacher Mark Wahlberg, his wife (the forever girlish Zooey Deschanel) and others flee the city in an attempt to avoid contact with whatever it is, with mixed success.

The film opens on two young women sitting on a bench in Central Park, one with an open book in her lap. Apropos of nothing, book girls announces, “I forgot where I was.” It sounds ominous to the audience, who know a bit about what they’re in for. Innocently, the other girl seems to realize the question pertains to the book and replies, “You’re at the part where…” and reminds her friend. Wait, so the girl who isn’t reading the book knows exactly where her friend is in the book? Yeah that happens. This forced interaction—created only to get that opening line—is a harbinger of the clunky dialogue to come.

The Happening is, quite simply, a disaster, and while watching it, it became clear to me that M. Night Shyamalan has no idea what he’s doing.

Much of the script is poorly written, and often awkward in its inclusion of details that Shyamalan surely intends to add authenticity to the language. Case in point, Deschanel on the phone to someone who might be her lover: “You’ve got to stop calling me. We had tiramisu, that’s it. It’s over.” Tiramisu? Did Wes Anderson walk on the set that day?

Shyamalan can’t even write believable newscaster dialogue.

There’s also the nonsensical “Do you like hot dogs?” scene, which feels like it’s aiming for a David Lynch-ian sense of unease via the bizarre. A more serious film buff could probably explain why Lynch and Anderson are able to employ odd dialogue successfully to create moods, and why it fails here. Perhaps it’s because there are plenty of odd visual details in their films (wardrobe, hairstyle) and the wacky dialogue simply fits better. Visually, the Happening looks about as odd as Footloose.

Wahlberg is completely unbelievable as a high school science teacher, and he struggles with a few of his lines as if he’s just learned some of the words during the run-through. Wahlberg can deliver funny, though, and this skill saves us from hating his character. Deschanel is simply flat and uninteresting.

But it’s Shyamalan’s decisions that make this thing a stinker from start to finish. Characters continually behave in ways that threaten the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. Shyamalan’s blocking renders numerous scenes unbelievable (perhaps most notably, a concerned group of that gathers around a panicked woman on her cell phone talking to her daughter). And he haphazardly tosses in what might be red herrings that simply interrupt the flow of the scene (ominous nuclear reactors quietly spouting smoke in the distance in one scene).

One of the more impactful images (included in the trailer) is of construction workers willfully jumping off the top of the building they’re working on. Shot from below, we see them step into the sky and plummet toward us. For my taste, this scene is too close to one of the most nightmarish events in recent history, that of the World Trade Center victims leaping to their deaths. Shyamalan includes the sounds of these bodies hitting the ground, a sound those of us who watched footage from the Trade Center lobbies that day will not likely forget. Shyamalan’s borrowing of this most harrowing moment—for “entertainment”—is galling and careless.

When all is said and done, the Happening seems to be a quasi-zombie film, with [SPOILER ALERT; SKIP THE NEXT FEW PARAGRAPHS] a message about being nice to Mother Earth and a possibly a commentary on consumer technology. If that sounds like an odd combination, well, it is.

As horrific as the idea of contagious mass suicide is, and as suspenseful as some of the images are, the affected individuals are a danger to no one but themselves (hence quasi-zombie). Additionally, the fleeing, the moments of comic relief (some of which are intentional), and what I’ve termed the Footloose quality to the look of the film (to reinforce the interruption of the naïveté of the everyday) further connect the Happening to zombie cinema.*

I won’t go into the Mother Earth part, other than to say it seems almost lazy to make “be nice to the planet” the primary message of a suspense film.

The consumer technology component is a strange and subtle theme. The print ad for the film shows Wahlberg and Deschanel standing amid dead bodies, one sporting an identifiable iPod, another with a cell phone in hand, equating gadgetry to death. In the film, it isn’t until our heroes’ phones have no signal that they seem to enter a safe area. And the final house they visit is noted for the absence of any electrical lines running to it. It’s completely off the grid. But whatever Shyamalan’s point about technology is, he never really makes it.

One almost gets the sense that Shyamalan’s creative process consist of him having striking visions of nightmarish scenes (often the ones that end up in the trailer) and that his task is to piece them together via a sensible story that incorporates these vignettes and delivers some point. The problem is that the stories are weaker than the vignettes and the points often feel like afterthoughts.

There’s no doubt Shyamalan is adept at creating mesmerizing visuals and compelling situations that persuade people to drop $12 at the theater. In the end, though, I think Shyamalan’s gift is not making interesting movies, but making interesting movie trailers.

* Another overlooked piece of the zombie cinema canon: Hotel Rwanda. No, I’m not kidding.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

Sorry the blog’s not been getting updated as much as you and I would both like lately. I wish I had a good explanation for it, but I don’t.

To ease your pain (and get you off my back already), I bring you Super Floss’s most-anticipated regular column—except for, perhaps, Yeah, that’s how you do it (I know, those are awesome, huh?)—TGIFSOTD.

Today’s tune comes from the new solo album by ex-Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard. I will admit to not having heard much of it yet, but I do like the sound of today’s track.

From the new Robert Pollard album Robert Pollard is Off to Business, here’s “Gratification to Concrete”:

UPDATE: Song link fixed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What do you do for money honey

So far this year it seems like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are in some sort of contest to see who can eliminate the most barriers between the band and their fans.

Much has been made of Radiohead’s release of In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-wish digital download. Then came their release of “Nude” as a single, with the song’s stems available for fan remixing and sharing via the a band-backed website. Radiohead also invited fans to create videos for any of the In Rainbows tracks as part of a contest.

Similarly, Nine Inch Nails released Ghosts I-IV back in February as a direct download with a free option and, like Radiohead, Trent Reznor launched a contest for fan-created videos. About a month ago, NIN released a new album, The Slip, via the band’s website, offered at no charge (with CD and vinyl formats to follow in July). There’s also this friendly little note (at right) on the site. How much more open can you get? (You can check out the remix site here.)

Though Prince gave away CDs of his latest album, the specifics of his deal suggest he’s more focused on the financial bottom line than connecting with fans in any new and meaningful way. (And as some music writers have noted, fans were actually eagerly awaiting the Radiohead and NIN releases.) Plus Prince deserves an asterisk for his role in the “‘Creep’ at Coachella" imbroglio.

Although some have said a successful free or pay-what-you-wish distribution model requires a large and dedicated fan base, the news on the street is that the new GirlTalk album will be released along the same lines as In Rainbows. So that theory will get tested.

Then there’s the news that Metallica may be considering some form of free digital download for their next album. I’ll believe this when I see it. No one’s forgotten the band’s fan-skewering Napster debacle of 2000 and it’s interesting to see the public’s reaction to this news. It’s almost like they see Radiohead et al. as members of an elite group that Metallica doesn’t deserve to join.

Perhaps reinforcing the idea that Metallica doesn’t get it, the band recently previewed some of their new songs to select music journalists in London but when those writers posted articles about what they’d heard, the band demanded the articles be taken down. As the article states, “Metallica held a listening party for music reviewers and was surprised when some of them wrote reviews? That has to be a public relations first.”

And at the Luddite end of the spectrum, Wired reported yesterday that AC/DC is completing a deal to distribute its new album in CD-only format and exclusively at Wal-Mart locations (a similar model was employed by the Eagles in 2006).

Stepping back from all this, it’s interesting to think of the kinds of music each of these artists make and also the way they get that music to their fans. The artists who do more to challenge the limits of popular music itself also seem to do more to challenge the old music distribution model.

Or so it seems.

Perhaps it’s all about aligning with consumer behavior. Compared to AC/DC fans, surely the diehard Radiohead fan is more technology savvy, more likely to use Firefox, more likely to have a Flickr account. If that’s true, then the old distribution model is outmoded for the Radiohead fan.

Or maybe it’s some amazing alignment of both factors. Maybe AC/DC has about as much interest in offering a pay-what-you-wish digital download of their new album as the typical AC/DC fan does in tweeting, blogging, or getting the band’s music off some website.

Maybe the band and its fans are simply in perfect accord.

Wouldn’t that be sweet?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Famous photos reimagined

I’ve made no secret of the joy I find in interesting juxtapositions. Along those lines, I love this series of recreations of famous photographs using Legos.

It’s great that the photographer, Balakov, provides links to all the original photos as well as an image that shows his set up for each shot.

More great Lego shots on Balakov’s Flickr page.

Via Brand Flakes For Breakfast.

More fun indeed

I can hardly believe it myself, but I am a fan of these new spots for Six Flags.

Yes, I can see how they could be annoying but I think they’re funny and I like how the device reinforces the brand name. Advertising is full of examples of engaging spots that don’t connect the idea to the advertiser. No issue with that here.

The spots are largely retail, focusing on specific offers, which is not typically the best opportunity for great creative. I can’t find what agency created the spots (done in-house, perhaps?) but I think they did a good job with a difficult assignment. And the device is ripe for spoofing.

There’s been some talk about these spots being racist. This blogger went so far as to say the racism in these spots is “off the charts.” Seriously? Let’s all just settle down. There’s certainly a nod to the over-the-top wacky Japanese game shows many of us have seen. But racist? I don’t see it. Advertisers will always strive to connect to the latest thing as a way to get attention, and I see this as just another example.

There are other, perhaps earlier, versions where Flagman (as he’s called) seems kinda angry. Those don’t work for me nearly as well. It’s his intense but joyful delivery that I like. Here’s another.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s, er, video of the day

Funny* from the Onion.

Age-Progression Technology Indicates Missing Child A Prostitute By Now

Wait, why does it have to be a Cleveland Browns jersey? Can't we pick on another team for awhile? Like the Buffalo Bills, maybe? (Sigh.)

* Super Floss does not guarantee you will find this funny.