Obscurity Points // Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

September 21st, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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There are many for whom this J-Pop sensation is the farthest thing from obscurity. Most of them, however, live in Japan. Or live in their own American-Otaku cultural bubble that resembles a cartoonish version of Japan. Otherwise, as we all know in North America, it’s not good unless it’s in English, right?

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a Japanese pop star, but more importantly, she’s exactly what North Americans would expect a Japanese pop star to be like: she looks and sounds like a highly sexualized 14-year-old; her songs are super poppy and high energy; her videos and lyrics are colorful and completely absurd in the way only the Japanese can be; and both her music and videos nod often at anime and video games. But it’s also all incredibly enjoyable. Her best songs seem to just explode with gorgeous pop hooks, and the production is big, beautiful and bright, but not in the soul-less way that American pop is. It also all sounds very tongue in cheek, like these writers and producers try each time to see how saccharine and wacky they can make a song and have it still be a hit.

So far, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has released three full albums. I haven’t heard her first, 2012′s Pamyu Pamyu Revolution, but her last two, 2013′s Nanda Collection (my favourite) and this year’s Pikapika Fantajin, are both fairly consistent collections of Japanese pop craziness. For the last two weeks they’ve dominated the soundtrack of my workouts.

Beyond Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, I don’t really know any J or K-Pop, but if any has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them. And if you haven’t heard any kind of pop preceded by the first letter of an Asian country, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is probably a great place to start.

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel

September 21st, 2014 | Print | 0 Comments

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Set in Brooklyn, Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel is Anya Ulinich‘s semi-autobiographical (it’s not clear where the line of fiction is drawn after protagonist’s name change) account of a woman diving into the modern world of dating at the tender age of 37. The work explores in-depth not only the classic conflicts of male-female relations, but also the cultural difficulties of the Russian-Jewish American immigrant experience.

With two young daughters to care for and two failed marriages in the rearview, Lena travels back to Russia for a government-sponsored literary tour. There she rekindles her old romance with Alik, an intellectual but odd man she loved when they were children. Upon returning to America though, she realizes that the cultural distance between them has grown too great – so she gets onto OkCupid. And for the first time in her life – having stumbled into one marriage and then another at a young age – she learns just how crazy, but fun and interesting, it is to be single; able to meet and sleep with all kinds of different characters every night. That is, until she meets one on a bus who really sparks her interest…

Reading the novel as a 24-year-old Jewish-Canadian guy, I found the character of Lena to be odd, but endearing. She kept dating – and often quite liking – the worst and weirdest guys (so much so that the book could serve as an advisory notice of why not to use OkCupid). At one point, puzzled, she tells an American female friend of hers about a guy she dated who called her ‘crazy’:

“How am I crazy?! I pay my parking tickets!… Plus, I was nice about the peeing pitbull! And I brought the beer! And I told him how much I liked him… what’s so funny?”

To which her friend responds, “It’s just that you already listed all the reasons he called you crazy!”

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Yeah, she’s still getting the hang of ‘the rules of the game’. And when she does stick with one guy, he’s one of the most puzzling characters yet. But I guess I already knew from reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot that Russian chicks be crazy. On that note however, I could relate to her particular Russian intellectualism, how she often interprets her own life through the works of authors like Chekov or Tolstoy.

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel deals with some fairly weighty issues, and yet everything feels so cordial. The novel is written with a wonderful humour and warmth. It’s very human, and touching, and in that combination of intellectual depth, humour and pathos, it felt much like the wonderful Jewish-North American experience books of Saul Bellow and Mordecai Richler. I’m glad ‘Lena’ tossed her ‘terrorist romance novel’ at the end. When real life is this interesting, who needs fiction?

Feuchtgebiete (Wetlands)

September 17th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments

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The 2013 German film Feuchtgebiete (called Wetlands in English) has finally made its way over to North American shows and it’s a pretty disgusting movie (in a most German way) but with a good heart.

The film follows Helen, an 18-year-old girl obsessed with sex and all manner of gross bodily fluids. She also enjoys doing drugs. But, lest you think she’s a hopeless case, she also dearly loves her little brother and her parents, who got divorced several years ago much to Helen’s dismay.

One day while shaving, she accidentally slices an artery or something in her tush. After diligently going to school (in one of the funniest sequences of the film, as everyone in class stares at the copious amounts of blood dripping down her legs) she ends up in the hospital. There she befriends a handsome young male nurse named Robin, and hatches a plan to get her parents to come see her at the same time and presumably fall back in love upon seeing eachother again.

As disgusting and batshit crazy as Helen is, she is enormously entertaining and charming. I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with her in real life, but to watch her for an hour or two is undeniably fun.

Feuchtgebiete pulls off an admirable balancing act, never letting the emotional elements of the film get drowned out by the outrageous, and so never letting things devolve into a dumb gross-out fest. The pacing allows time for characters to interact and introspect, but keeps the overall energy of the film high, with a punk rock sensibility shoving everything forward. The ending of the film is, however, not at all believable. It’s no big twist – you can see it from a mile away – but I’ll refrain from giving it away here. In any case, it’s a minor dumb point in what is, for the most part, a very entertaining film about a very crazy girl.

Dream Police

September 17th, 2014 | This Is New York | 0 Comments

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I always thought Brooklyn’s The Men were cool, and when I saw them a couple weeks ago they played a very solid show, but I’ve never really gotten into them. But apparently two of main guys in The Men started this new side-project Dream Police and they’ve got an album called Hypnotized dropping November 11th (you can preorder it from the always-awesome Sacred Bones here) and I’m feeling the first (and title) track big time. It’s got this cool krauty chug to it, but it’s also scuzzily American. (via Pitchfork)

Blood Sister

September 17th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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Like Beiju, who I posted about the other week, San Francisco’s Blood Sister also emerges from the ashes of Night Manager. But whereas Beiju went the direction of late-night pop, Blood Sister retreats into the darkness of a very poppy kind of mid-fi post-punk.

Their eponymous debut EP drops September 30th on Bloodmoss Records.

The Marlees

September 15th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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Montreal’s The Marlees manage to sound like they’re from another planet (Marlee’s World, apparently, as that’s the title of their latest album) and, at the same time, like they’re recording in some dank, dim basement or warehouse. They also sound like they’re big Phil Spector/girl group fans. (via Weird Canada)

Terror Pigeon!

September 14th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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I think I saw Nashville’s Terror Pigeon! a couple years ago. If I’m correct, they were playing with Gobble Gobble or Born Gold (same peeps, sorta) back at the Kapisanan Philippine Centre in Toronto. I believe it was one of Daniel Woodhead‘s (aka Moon King) shows, which were always incredible. I could be wrong about all this…

…But if I’m not, the ‘band’ was one dude with an iPod basically starting a party and everyone was getting into it. Also the music was really cool – the kind of hyper-fun ADHD genre that’s popped up in the last couple years.

Anyway…Looks like Terror Pigeon!‘s got a new album dropping in a couple days called LIVE IT UP BEFORE YOU DIE. True say. Though I remember the older stuff being more jovial, from what I’ve heard of the new stuff, it’s got a beautiful melancholy to it, like that feeling that only comes around at 5:00 am when the party’s over and you’re lying on the couch half-awake with some girl’s head in your lap. (via Portals)

Music From Far Off Places

September 13th, 2014 | The Mix | 0 Comments

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When you’re a young person in North America, you think the world is very small. Movies and music and everything ‘good’ comes from here, or England. And maybe Sweden too. But if you’re curious, as you get older you start to wonder about the books they write in Uzbekistan, the music they listen to in Turkey, and the movies they watch in Poland. And as you continue to explore, the world opens up, and you realize what a wealth of art exists out there just waiting to be consumed and appreciated. And with the internet, we actually can appreciate all these amazing things from all the places that seem most remote from us.

Lately I’ve been trying to really explore the music from the countries we don’t really hear much from, at least in relatively mainstream culture. This is a little mix with music from the past and relative present, from countries as diverse as Nigeria, Japan, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Poland, Russia, Finland and India. I made it for others who are curious.

What If? (aka The F Word)

September 12th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments

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What If? – released in some places as The F Word – is an indie teen comedy that just barely transcends its abject indie-teen-comedy-ness by virtue of a cast of talented young actors and a handful of solid creative decisions. It’s also set in Toronto, which scored points with me for sentimental reasons.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, a relatively down on his luck med school dropout who just broke up with his cheating girlfriend. While at a party with his friend Allan (GirlsAdam Driver playing a less interesting version of his character on the show) he meets Allan’s cousin Chantry (adorably played by Zoe Kazan, legendary director Elia Kazan‘s granddaughter), a clever ‘indie chick’ who works as an animator. The two hit it off and Wallace ends up walking her home, only to find out while getting her number that she’s got a boyfriend. Not looking to get friendzoned, Wallace lets her number float off with the wind (apparently we don’t have iPhones to put numbers into in Canada?). As fate would have it though, the two meet again soon outside of The Royal after both seeing The Princess Bride there alone. Wallace ends up walking her home again, and his and Chantry’s chemistry is so irresistible that Wallace gets sucked into the friendzone. He then spends the rest of the movie (predictably) trying to get out of it.

The movie’s greatest asset is the chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan. Or actually, Kazan and everyone she comes in contact with. Not only is she physically cute, but she plays Chantry with such believable charm; the kind that just emanates off a great young actor, like Richard Dreyfuss in American Graffiti or The Apprenticeship Of Dudy Kravitz. Radcliffe does a fine job as Wallace as well, though poor guy, next to the 6’3 Adam Driver he looks painfully short. Not like I should be talking, not being tallest guy in the world either… In any case, if only the script would just chill the fuck out and let these two talk for five seconds without every comment being a witty retort or some kind of audaciously sexual joke that our generation should apparently identify with, maybe we could actually take the relationship seriously. It’s as if the producers were like, “it’s not funny enough – more sex jokes!”

A fairly decent mindie soundtrack and some nice animation help the overall product, but if only they would’ve cooled it with the ‘witty’ banter, What If? could’ve been more than just a fairly enjoyable ‘teen movie’. But at least the film does showcase the talents of Radcliff and Kazan, who both again prove their solid acting chops. And to be fair, I walked out of the theatre with a smile on my face. Credit where credit is due.

XAXAXA

September 11th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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The first band I’ve ever heard of from Macedonia, punk rockers Bernay’s Propoganda, apparently decided a while ago to grab another guitarist and start the second band I’ve heard of from Macedonia, XAXAXA. The music they’re making is still punk, but it’s maybe more kind of pop-punk now. Their new album Sami Maži i Ženi, their third apparently, is available on bandcamp pwyc.