Archive for July, 2008

Washington, Awash in Oil

The morning headline that Alaska senator Ted Stevens, “who wields outsize influence over federal spending, was indicted on Tuesday on seven felony counts of failing to disclose gifts that he received from an oil services company” (read more at the Anchorage Daily News) was one thing — but another oil-rich bombshell, reported on Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal, far outweighs it: Richard Perle (pictured here), “one of a group of security experts who began pushing the case for toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein about a decade ago…has been exploring going into the oil business in Iraq and Kazakhstan, according to people with knowledge of the matter and documents outlining possible deals.”

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LA Times Guts Book Coverage

Even the most fervent, optimistic newspaper readers had to be humbled by this fatal dose delivered this week by AP: “Regional and national newspaper publishers, already staggering with a drop in ad revenue more severe than the industry has seen since the Great Depression, say the second half of 2008 may be even worse.” Which makes the situation for book-lovers out west even more troubling, given that the Los Angeles Times is folding its standalone Sunday book review section, and thus reducing its celebrated Festival of Books to a “hollow joke,” says Steve Wasserman, a former editor of the Book Review. A sad one, too.

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Katrina Benefit in Chicago with PFFR!

PFFR, the brilliant band / art collective behind Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel is doing a benefit for South Toward Home, an organization devoted repairing and rebuilding the portions of the Gulf Coast that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The evening, from what we can surmise, will be screenings of a bunch of PFFR films from throughout their career. If you haven’t seen either of their shows, a quick Youtube search should soldifiy your attendance if you are in Chicago the night of July 31st. The show is at the Lakeshore Theater, and here’s a trailer with all necessary info for the evening.

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NY Glossies Rally Around Their Own

They “play softball every year,” are “downstairs neighbors” and have an “affectionate rivalry”: That’s why Vanity Fair, wringing a few more drops from the controversy surrounding Barry Blitt’s cartoon lampooning a mujahideen presidency on the cover of The New Yorker (which, like VF, is owned by the parent company Conde Nast), posted this parody cover of a geriatric John McCain in the Oval Office as a sign of solidarity — while across town, the New York Times featured the Conde Nast chairman SI Newhouse on the cover of its business section, trumpeting the titan “who presides over a multibillion-dollar empire built on gloss.” Good feelings all around. New York magazine recently celebrated their fallen founding editor Clay Felker (which made for stimulating copy), but also provided a little contrast to the backslap set with a piece last week by John Lombardi about Hunter S. Thompson, which pointed out that the Gonzo journalist who found solace in Colorado fought to have his “name taken off the masthead” of Rolling Stone after he felt the magazine had been reduced “to a Gap catalogue.”

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Harsh Words for ‘Indie Landfill’

While America is awash in music festivals, in the UK “stages are being raised in city parks, in country farms and on ancient estates for what promises to be Britain’s biggest ever summer of music.” A piece in this weekend’s Independent titled “Does the World Need Another Indie Band?” focused on “indie landfill,” a new term for the endless cycle of bands featuring “smooth-chinned strummers, with their smart-arsed, self-admiring band names almost invariably prefaced by the definite article” who are used to fill “gaping holes” on festival stages. “These days, it’s indie that’s the cholesterol in the veins of popular culture,” writes Tim Walker, “and we need to start thinking about a crash diet.”

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Pitchfork Picks.

Now that Chicago summers have become blanketed with music festivals, we would feel remiss not to mention a few of our favorite bands that are coming through here this year. Pitchfork’s festival is up first, and for the second year in a row, they partnered up with All Tomorrow’s Parties for their kick off night: three bands doing their most seminal albums in its entirety. Mission of Burma is doing their 1982 opus Vs., which, one hopes, the younger indie rock crowd at Pitchfork recognizes as a starting point for much of what their beloved modern set churns out these days. Sebadoh’s Bubble and Scrape will provide light filler, but most eyes are on Public Enemy on Friday night, doing It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, arguably (read: in this writer’s humble opinion) the best hip-hop album ever recorded. Chuck still fights the good fight, we all know what Flav is up to, and last we heard, Terminator X was ran his own ostrich farm. So there’s a lot of room for disappointment. Still, the potential for a monumental performance is omnipresent in everyone’s mind who grew up listening to them (rumor has it they’re even bringing the S1W’s!)

The line-up on Saturday kicks off with Gypsy brass kingpins Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar, but the early afternoon one to watch is Jay Reatard. His brand of punk-tinged garage rock is infectious to say the least, and his live show is notoriously insane (which is the only reason we can figure he’s playing so early in the line-up: the less booze and people there are, the less chance of something crazy happening). Miami Ice, the out-pop album that Icy Demons let loose last year is a dazzling and bizarrely angular piece of work, and they never disappoint live. Vampire Weekend dubs themselves “Upper West Side Soweto”, which is reason enough to make their 5pm slot your dinner break, and then return to see Kenyan Benga rockers, Extra Golden. Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker is an undeniable force who, at 45, still outperforms people half his age. LA duo No Age is blazing a trail of skate-rock anthems and punk rock inspiration across the world, and Pitchfork deserves a nod for letting them headline one of the stages Saturday night.

The festival has been paying a cursory tribute to the heavier side of rock, last year with Mastodon and this year with Japanese stoner-rock trio Boris playing earlier in the day on Sunday. King Khan & The Shrines’ soulful-garage rock sets are great fun. Ghostface and Raekwon will undoubtedly blow through an assortment of Wu-bangers, and Dinosaur Jr. — if their last live tour was any indication — have shown little sings of deterioration as they’ve gone on in years. And although Spoon has played the festival in the past, their sets can be unpredictably good.

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… But Is It Funny?

With so much being written about the touchiness of jokes, it’s time for a quick roundup of sacred cows getting ribbed: In the current NY Review of Books, Zadie Smith writes about how Franz Kafka and his friends used to burst out laughing when he read his work out loud; Slate pokes fun at the real way terrorists greet each other (it’s not with fist bumps); the NY Post is indignant that baseball’s golden child got taunted by Canadian seat-warmers; and The Economist evaluates Communist jokes, from the Iron Curtain to present day: “Many of the jokes told about past Soviet leaders are now told about Vladimir Putin (Stalin appears to him in a dream and says: ‘I have two bits of advice for you: kill your opponents and paint the Kremlin blue.’ Putin asks, ‘Why blue?’).” A classic.

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Franchises Lose Their Patriarchs

Rocky Aoki, “who sought to offer diners a sense of magic and entertainment at his Japanese steakhouse Benihana,” has passed away at 69 — last month, Wilbur Hardee, founder of the Hardee’s franchise (along with a wave of fast-food joints in North Carolina) died at 89, joining such recently deceased pioneers of mass-consumed indulgences as JR Simplot (aka Mr Spud), who is “credited with giving the world the deep-frozen French fry” and Herb Peterson, the creator of the Egg McMuffin, making for solemn trips to the drive-thru this year.

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The United States of Abu Dhabi

It seemed as if the strangest story of the week would involve the European scientists who are giving Rubik’s cubes to octopuses to determine their favorite tentacles, but it’s been topped by an update on a previous post on this site about the sale of the Chrysler Building to the Abu Dhabi Investment Council — it happened. (Read more here.) And as this piece in the New York Times proves (”Foreign Investors Pile Up More Pieces of Americana“), the sale is far from strange — it’s the new norm.

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The Best $5 You’ll Spend This Week

We’ve been fans of Steve Stein’s (aka Steinski) for a while: We published an interview with him in our Hip-Hop Nuggets Issue, and we count he and his partner Double Dee as legends in the hip-hop world, and in music production in general (read up here). In January of 2008, the duo opened up for DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist on their “Hard Sell” tour and the end result is “Who Owns Culture?” a 60-minute live mix from those nights that is as eye-opening and profound as it is light-hearted and head-nod-inducing. Keeping hip-hop as the unifying theme throughout the set, the pair runs through a dizzying series of quick cuts, and brilliant spoken word samples, ranging from soulful sermons to snippets from the Big Lebowski. And at 5 dollars for 60 minutes worth of music (encoded at 320 kbps in case you were worried about the sound quality), it’s a damn good deal. You’re going to nod your head, learn something and get a bargain. Don’t think, just click.

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