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Review: Diplo/Santogold – Top Ranking (2008 ) August 3, 2008

Posted by ashiah in Music, Reviews.
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Back when Santogold was just a rising artist with a popular Myspace page, everyone wanted to pigeonhole her as the new M.I.A. This was wrong for several reasons. One, it minimized Santogold’s true potential. And two, M.I.A. was a newbie herself and so the scene didn’t necessarily need “a new one.” But after the success of “Santogold,” a genre-bending punk/ska/hip-hop journey (nothing like M.I.A., by the way), I’m starting to wonder if the comparisons were fueled by the media or by Santogold and Diplo.

“Top Ranking” is clearly just another attempt at recapturing the brilliance of “Piracy Funds Terrorism,” the last Diplo mixtape made with M.I.A. But what’s so blindingly great about “Top Ranking” is it doesn’t even try to hide their motives. Yes, this is “Piracy Funds Terrorism” part two with a different, similar singer, but what’s so bad about that?

“Top Ranking” combs through a long list of artists from various genres — reggae, hip-hop, electro. Diplo brings his trademark unique spin on the tracks and even perfects a couple of Santogold’s original tracks, like “Creator” and “L.E.S. Artistes.” Unfortunately, the album can’t help getting a bit overindulgent in certain interludes that disrupt the flow of the album. There are two to be exact — an ’80s interlude with Devo, The B52s and a reggae interlude with Warrior Queen, Shinehead. But these don’t hinder the album, which quickly recovers from a so-so track with incredible ease.

But the moments that really shine are when Santogold is in the picture, but surprisingly, her presence isn’t as grounded as M.I.A.’s presence was on “Piracy Funds Terrorism.” But alas, here I am trying to compare the two again. But at least I know this isn’t my fault.

Santogold – I’m a Lady (Diplo mix featuring Amanda Blank)
http://www.fileden.com/files/2008/7/23/2016138/04%20-Im%20a%20Lady%20%28Diplo%20Mix%20ft%20Amanda%20Blank%29.mp3″

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DVD Review: Persepolis (2007) June 27, 2008

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Based on a graphic novel, Persepolis is a uniquely animated, critically acclaimed film that deals with the everyday turmoils of a teenage girl trying to have a normal life admist political distress in Iran. The story is a sweet mix of both humor drama, but is executed in a creatively visual way. In one of the special features on the DVD, co-director Marjane Satrapi explains the reason why the movie is animated instead of live action, saying that a live action movie makes the movie about race, unintentionally alienating others. She says animation, on the other hand, has a wider appeal and can be identified with by all races and backgrounds. This is essentially the driving point of the movie. Even with a war-torn Iran as a backdrop, main character Marjane is still just a teenager who wants to get drunk and listen to Iron Maiden. Special features include two making of featurettes, as well as commentary on selected scenes, and a Q&A filmed during the Cannes Film Festival. The English dub isn’t too painful either, but I still recommend watching it in French with subtitles. Hilarious and affecting –highly recommended.

Film reviews: Memories of Matsuko (2006) / Strawberry Shortcakes (2006) June 17, 2008

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Director Tetsuya Nakashima is quickly becoming one of my favorites. His unique style of bright colors and cartoonish landscapes bring a fresh look to his films that are always noticeably his. But probably the most interesting thing about him is how his style translates. His films are always like candy for the eye, but they’re not cheesy, not overly-saturated, and not cheap. The colors and playful directorial techniques fit the film and don’t come across as gimmicky. That’s why Kamikaze Girls worked. And that’s why Memories of Matsuko is one of the most moving, enjoyable films I’ve seen in awhile.

Memories of Matsuko starts off like a classic old Hollywood film with a booming musical score and a soaring shot of a young girl singing a song. Clearly this is Nakashima’s parody of musicals but with darker undertones. The film actually starts in the present where Matsuko’s nephew Shou finds out his aunt, although he had no idea she existed, was murdered. As he cleans out Mastusko’s apartment, the drab, depressing circumstances of her death makes him question what kind of life she lived. The rest of the film is then told in flashbacks. As a child, Matsuko was constantly seeking attention from her father who loved her sick sister more. At 23 she became a successful junior high school teacher, but was fired after she tried to cover for a thieving student. After that, her life spirals. Her family disowns her, she is forced to work at a massage parlor, she serves time in prison, and is used and abused by every person she lets into her life.


Not as happy as she looks.

As depressing Matsuko’s story is, Memories of Matsuko isn’t a drab test-of-your-limit mood killer a la Lars von Trier. Most of Matsuko’s flashbacks are told in flashy musical montages that are enjoyable, yet heart wrenching at the same time. The reason the formula works is because it’s a classic tragic dramedy and Matsuko is our tragic heroine. Sure she had flaws and made many mistakes, but no matter what she chose in her life, she was always doomed from the beginning, which makes Matsuko so empathetic.

It’s rare to have a film that makes you laugh and cry within the same scene, but Memories of Matsuko is an interesting romp through the updated hypercolor lenses of a tragic figure.

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Slice of life dramas about lonely people in the city are nothing new, and the first half of Strawberry Shortcakes almost seem laughably cliched. The film follows four characters independently, and they are all uniquely different from each other. Where I found the film cliched was in each character’s motivation. Each character (all female) moans about how badly they want a man, as if having a man will complete them and solve all their problems.


They just got the news “Arrested
Development” was canceled.

The first character, a girl who’s a receptionist at a call girl business, prays to a rock she finds on the street for a male companion. Another character, an actual call girl, sells her body as she waits around for an old college friend to fall in love with her. The third character is a stereotypical prissy girl who folds her boyfriend’s clothes after they have sex; she thinks finding God is through finding the right boyfriend. The last character, an artist, grows depressed after her ex-boyfriend sends her a postcard saying he got married…and she often cries while masturbating.

Although I had my share of grievances with the film and characters’ relentless struggle to look for men to fulfill their lives, as the film continues, the characters evolve and go through inner changes that shape their wants. Although all four characters want men, none of them actually get one. They all learn to deal with their loneliness not through a man in white armor, but through themselves and each other. It’s a simple movie with a simple message, and although it’s 30 minutes too long, everyone can probably empathize at being in a stage in their life where they feel lonely and pathetic.

DVD Review: The Orphanage (2007) June 9, 2008

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Much like how Eli Roth relied on Quentin Taratino’s producer credit to give the extra leverage Hostel needed to become a hit, newcomer Juan Antionio Bayona can thank Pan’s Labryinth‘s Guillermo Del Toro for the extra international attention his small gem is receiving. But without the Del Toro name, it’s doubtful The Orphanage could become anything other than just a small Spanish horror flick — the kind that might occasionally pop up on your Netflix recommendations list as you stroke your chin and say, “The Orphanage, eh?” Actually, on second thought, that is exactly how I heard of this movie.


Aww, someone wants a hug.

The Orphanage is more of a thriller wrapped in a family drama than a horror flick. Sure there are ghosts and plenty of creepy moments, but there are less “Boo!” moments and more subtle, uncomfortable scenes from an involved family thriller. Laura (BelĂ©n Rueda), a former orphan in the orphanage, has returned back to the place she grew up to start a new orphanage for disabled children. Once she moves in, she notices her son is speaking to an alarming amount of invisible friends. As strange occurrences happen around the orphanage, the disappearance of her son brings her over the edge and she tries to investigate the history of the orphanage and its spooky inhabitants.

In a lot of ways, The Orphanage is similar to Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, a horror film that also dealt with child ghosts and family drama. The main difference between these two is that The Orphanage has great tone and style, but is less polished plot wise. There are many glaring plot holes in the story, but the film doesn’t suffer from these mistakes. The payoff is still just as rewarding, and the more sinister moments will still linger way after the movie has ended. Maybe next time Juan Antonio Bayona won’t need Guillermo Del Toro’s name. His debut shows he can stand on his own.

The four word snack review May 20, 2008

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Here’s a tiny snack-sized review of all the things I’ve watched and listened to lately–all in four words or less.

Recently watched films:
Iron Man (2008 )
Will spawn lackluster sequels

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008 )
Two words: Emo Harold

Sunshine (2007)
Naked monster ruins everything

Recent music:

Martina Topley Bird – The Blue God (2008 )
Not interesting without Tricky

Zeigeist – The Jade (2008 )
Cheesy Swedes love electronics

Tickley Feather – Tickley Feather (2008 )
Innovation through cheap production

Nine Inch Nails – The Slip (2008) May 12, 2008

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Over the past few years, Trent Reznor has gone from obnoxious recluse releasing albums decades at a time, to pissed off digital media innovator. Sure he introduced label-less ways of releasing music online pre-Radiohead, but during all this internet pioneering, when did he forget about the music? It appears Reznor is more interested in influencing the industry than influencing genres. Of course, that’s probably because he’s been making the same album over and over.

There might be a new sense of an ambiance, drone direction in The Slip, but it’s not enough to impress me. It’s as if the quality of the music has decreased with the quality of the presentation. An album released for free online in low quality simply doesn’t demand the same kind of standards. It’s like when people work from home. They don’t put on a suit to sit in front of their computer, so eventually they just start wearing jeans, then pajamas, and then eventually they get too lazy to work at all. Instead, they spend their days watching episodes of Maury and only spend an hour or two doing any actual work. Reznor has the same mind set. Reznor needs to worry less about the industry and more about himself as an artist. But hey, at least it’s better than Ghosts I-IV, which I’m sure is all most fans care about.

M83 – Saturdays=Youth (2008) April 23, 2008

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The first time I heard “Saturdays=Youth” in its entirety, my thoughts were, “I bet this is gonna be an album everyone likes but me.” It’s a frustrating place to be in, because now this entire review will be on the whiny, defensive side. (I went through something similar during TV on the Radio’s “Return to Cookie Mountain.”) The problem isn’t that I have faults with the music itself, my faults are with the direction of the music in relation to the artist who made it. For example, I hated Bjork’s “Volta” last year, but if the album was made by someone else, say an up and coming, fresh-faced new singer, than “Volta” would have sounded OK. But because “Volta” was made by Bjork, a well-known, respected musician, the shortcomings of “Volta” were simply unforgivable.

So back to M83. Their latest album is all about the sweet naivety and simpleness of youth. The album reaches back into the ’80s to recapture the young, vibrant spirit of that era. On that note the album succeeds. The music here sounds like the perfect soundtrack to an ’80s teenager. The problem is M83 is touting their album as a concept album, but they’ve been doing this all along. All their albums get much of its inspiration from the ’80s, and their past album “Before the Dawn Heals Us” was already treading into teen angst waters. Possibly the best description I heard about that album came from Pitchfork who described it as “emo Tangerine Dream.” I didn’t like “Before the Dawn Heals Us” either, but mostly because its descent into angry teen ’80s culture sounded laughably “try-hard.”

On “Saturdays=Youth” M83 does the same thing but with less seriousness and less ambitions. They no longer sound like Tangerine Dream, but more like every other forgettable ’80s band we occasionally remember once in a lifetime. I remember the M83 of their first two albums that delved more into experimentation and electronics. What happened to that M83? Oh yeah, that guy left (seriously, the once duo is now a one-man show). M83 is capable of doing better than this. The track “Couleurs” is a testament of that. An amazing track that builds over a pumping, repetitive beat, only to explode into another direction. That’s what M83 needs. Everything else on this album is just a small fragment of their capabilities. It’s not a bad album, but it is a let down.