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Vs. The (Pop) World

By Juan Manuel Freire

Vs. The (Pop) World  Juan Manuel FreireAfter this August, Finland won’t bring black metal or Fonal to my mind, but rather the dubstep-pop of Skream’s “Outside the Box”, which I listened to for the first time while I was walking to the monument dedicated to Sibelius in the Töölö district of Helsinki. (I got stuck on it, and it became my soundtrack for waking up from a deep sleep in a too-comfortable hotel bed).

From now on, if they talk to me about Sibelius, maybe I won’t think so much of sad waltzes as of wild sub-basses and future-tense synthesisers. This is the latest of a long series of more or less unheard-of dualities created during trips: Paris reminds me of the Islands of Montreal; Dublin sounds like afro-beat in my head; and Nashville no longer seems to me so much the cradle of country as that of art pop, just because I went to (and almost died in) a Twin Sister performance there. I encourage you to share your musical-travel associations in the comments below.

Life Post-InceptionAmong the many beautiful things that can be said about the film of the year, “Inception,” one (maybe the biggest) is that it might even go so far as to change your perception of reality. Even momentarily, it can make you see everything around you as a subtle, reptile threat: people, streets, buildings, tops. You can look at the fact that it isn’t so dream-like as less of a problem than a good choice: it’s a world almost like ours, and this is why it’s so simple to get into it, feel it, and become uneasy; that Nolan and friends have kept the over-the-top effects in line only helps you to immerse yourself on various levels even more. By the way, from now on, if people talk to me about Piaf, the first thing I’ll do will be to think of Cobb… and to wonder again: what if he himself were the object of a real, honest-to-goodness inception?

Finally in the Suburbs

If the imposing “Inception” looks to be the film to beat this 2010, then “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, is the album that should be at the top of the most lists for the end of the year. It might have a few extra minutes, but it stands out for its ambition fulfilled, its joyful, fluid diversity, and especially for the quality of its music. Mature songs about maturity and the commitments and depressions that go along with it, in a sort of return to the nostalgia of childhood of “Funeral”. Absolute gold medal for “ We Used to Wait”, even if it’s only for the verse that reminds us that we used to wait for letters to arrive: how can we have given up that wonderful agony? In spite of everything, there is hope for humanity. Arcade Fire believes that we can do a good job if we stick together. That’s why they finish with the melancholy but inspiring “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” a disco turn that we hope doesn’t end up just becoming a curiosity. Here we enjoy it live, and directed by Terry Gilliam.

Régine and Robyn

Dreaming is free. Or not. Thanks to “Inception”, we have learned the price of dreaming, although some people may say the film isn’t very human. But I dream of a solo album from Chassagne, electro-pop, along with Robyn and friends. The series “Body Talk” by the latter is looking to be the great electronic pop event of the year (Lady Gaga? Really?), and if the first part left you speechless, the second is even better—crude, vibrant, and ragingly intense. Heart, brain, and a hook. A hit? Only one? “Love Kills” (it isn’t a version of Freddie Mercury).

Robyn - Love Kills

For Those Who Do Have Television The most outstanding television news in recent weeks is of course that homage that Weezer made to Hurley from “Lost”in the title (just “Hurley”) and the cover (a candid close-up of Jorge García) of the new album, which will always be legendary, even if it’s as weak as “Raditude”. On the other hand, we should also celebrate the return of “Mad Men”, a lively, fresh new beginning, with the promise of an S&M relationship included, and the arrival, on AMC as well, of “Rubicon”, aparanoid conspiracy series in the line of the great 70’s political thrillers like “Three Days of the Condor”, “All the President’s Men” and “The Conversation”… Low technology, high intensity. And at times, with an elegance worthy of James Gray. (Seriously, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him direct an episode.)

Caroline and the Church of the Holy Ghost If you need to give a song charm, call Caroline Polachek, although you might not get hold of her. Lately everybody needs her, and so we can see her next to MGMT (a cover of “‘Til Tuesday” in Bonnaroo), Sebastian Blanck (three songs of the unfairly ignored “Alibi Coast”), Jorge Elbrecht of Violens (Justin Bieber’s overwhelming “SGIN,” mentioned in the previous Vs.) or Washed Out ( “You and I”). And now we have her in “I Know, I Hear” by Holy Ghost!, retro-current disco-pop masterpiece that the Prophet 5 synthesiser apparently has a lot to do with. Even with the Prophet 5 involved, like in “Alias”, the video isn’t directed by Jack Bender, but rather by Ben Fries.

Ghostly Lindsay Since the last Vs., Lindsay Lohan has had time to get into and out of jail. Her stay was short. 13 days. People who bought themselves a FREE LINDSAY t-shirt on Amazon, Cafe Press or Customized Girl have a right to be angry, because they’re out of date so quickly. At Tri Angle Records they couldn’t care less whether L. Lo is in or out: her mixtape of witch house covers, “Let Me Shine for You”, far from having some sort of political intention, is an exercise in luxurious pop experimentalism in which Lohan is practically a ghost (like Britney Spears in her last two albums). It is worth downloading it to listen to the type of corrosion that Babe Rainbow, Oneohtrix Point Never, or Laurel Halo have subjected poor Lindsay. I hope she is reborn: those who mock her downfall should go to the nearest video club to rent “A Prairie Home Companion” (Robert Altman, 2006) or, without looking any further, “Mean Girls” (Mark Walters, 2006). She’s a bad girl, but she’s good.

Beach Library

The long summer is supposed to be ideal for finally picking up those classic volumes that have to be read in order to make it possible to understand everything that came afterwards, everything that we read today, that we’ll read tomorrow, and so on until the end. The other choice is to get your hands on a few of the recent publications of all kinds piled on the desk and surrounding area—to let yourself be seduced by the call of the shiny and new. This is what I did, what I do every summer—what can I say? But it has usually been fruitful. I feel obliged to share a few philo-pop items with you, like the first issue of “CBGB” (BOOM! Studios), a series of comics about the club, about the artists who played there, but also the audience; “Document and Eyewitness – An Intimate History of Rough Trade” (Orion), a fascinating oral history of the British label and, particularly, its laconic factotum Geoff Travis, by Neil Taylor; the latest issue ( “The Festival Issue”) of the free PDF literary magazine Five Dials, with writings by musicians like Kele Okereke, Ryan Adams, Dean Wareham, or an inspired James Murphy; and finally, the book of short stories “Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever” by Justin Taylor (Harper Perennial), about youth, confusion, and existence, with many references to the Grateful Dead or the Pixies, and a lovely defence of music, like this one: “It is good, finally, just to pass minutes with music - any kind - because in silence you fall out of time. No. It's the other way. You don't fall out, you fall in. You get stuck, like running through a field and you twist your ankle on a rock. And you just lay there.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. the (Pop) WorldOther recommended reading is “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour” (Oni Press), the sixth and final volume of the saga created by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It’s more rounded than the film by Edgar Wright, if you ask me, though it pains me to say. Anyway, whatever its creator may have said at the time, the comic and the film end the same way: Scott ends up with the same girl in both of them, although I won’t say who it is. But don’t think that the film is lacking in finds, it has plenty of them, although its structure could be improved. For example, all of the music (and how it is used), from the score composed by Nigel Godrich to Beck’s grungy songs for Scott’s band, Sex Bomb-omb, including the contributions of Broken Social Scene (they are behind Crash And The Boys) or that recovered cover of Sade ( “By Your Side”) by Beachwood Sparks, which literally kills in the movie. Let’s listen to “Ramona”, Scott-Beck’s song dedicated to the Amazon carrier of our dreams.

Beck - Ramona (Scott Pilgrim vs The World Original Sound)

M.I.A., the Backlash Continue Diplo would be priceless in an alternative “Sálvame”, (a tacky Spanish gossip show) because if you press him a little, he can talk a blue streak. And his accusations against Maya have continued lately with declarations like these, in Pitchfork: “But it's dangerous when you keep putting out the politics, because she doesn't really stand for anything at the end of the day. More importantly, she stands for getting people to talk. If kids can have some sort of social responsibility, that's cool. But if they're not actually having social responsibility and they're kind of hiding behind it, that's kind of useless, or even worse.” Pharrell also had a few words for the artist at the dance in May in the MET: “The best bit was me and Pharrell having a fight,” said Arulpragasam to London’s Time Out. “He was just telling me off like crazy… He was like, 'You know you can't keep giving people that s**t, you have to hand out the sugar'. I was a bit offended.” But now M.I.A. has just released a video clip for “XXXO” that is total eye-candy.

Pop Viper vs. Pop Viper

We started with good films and we’re ending with bad films. But the kind that is so bad that it’s good. Two almost forgotten superstars of pop, Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, face off in “Mega Python vs. Gatoroid”, a production from studios specialised in rank plagiarisms of The Asylum ( “Snakes on a Train”, “Transmorphers”, “The Da Vinci Treasure”…). The beef that didn’t come up when both of them were competing in the 80’s charts takes shape now in this monster movie only suitable for people who really eat them up. Debbie Gibson is an animal activist, Tiffany a park ranger who has caused a lot of trouble by giving steroids to some crocodiles. The latter has a better chance of winning in a hand-to-hand fight, because she already participated in “Celebrity Wrestling”, but you’ll have to see the film (go get ‘em, tiger!) to find out how the fight on the peak ends. We’ll talk about it later, girls/guys!

5x14 1) Best Coast/Crazy For You: Of the recent wave of girly garage, Dum Dum Girls are even better, but Bethany Cosentino makes you like her. 2) School Of Seven Bells/Disconnect From Desire: Less fog, better songs, and certain airs (welcome ones) of Dubstar. Not for cynics. 3) Shit Robot/From The Cradle To The Grave: A lot of robotics, no shit. Sophisticated disco-pop with its peak in “Take Em Up 2”. Long live DFA. 4) Versus/ On The Ones And Threes: Unforgettable riffs and loads of pop hooks, in the stellar return of some indie rock classics. 5) Magic Kids/Memphis: Pop that is as familiar, but refreshing as that of Apples In Stereo. Their songs gave shine to the summer. Shameless joy. Next:Christopher Nolan’s love for Michael Bay, Ra Ra Riot, and other under-appreciated indie groups, the sitcom “Big Lake,” Wyclef Jean’s presidential drama, the disappointment of the Klaxons…

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