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The Millennial Years – 15 Pop Albums Part 1

October 31st, 2009 No comments
Millennial Years - Music

15 Pop Albums - Part 1

Music is arguably the most subjectively perceived pop-cultural medium. In no other media is the range of styles as versatile and the preference of tones as controversially discussed. We present you a selection of fifteen remarkable pop albums, which you may or may not like, naturally biased by this author’s personal taste, but nonetheless a hopefully sufficient representation of the decade.

This list is composed of three parts à 5 albums, the latter of which will be released in the next two weeks. As with all articles in this series, they are presented in the fashion of a list that could inadvertently be mistaken for a ranking.

15. Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)

Daft Punk - Discovery (2001)

It just had to happen. If for nothing else, releasing an album called Discovery in the year of 2001 made Daft Punk deserve a place on this list. Fortunately, its name is by far not the only positive aspect of this album.

Could there be a greater redemption from the abomination of Eurotrash electronics haunting dance floors throughout the 90s than this euphony of synthpop loop samples and auto-tuned vocals? Considering its ingredients, Discovery shouldn’t work. It should be yet another pointless dancefloor album, that only a mother could love. But strangely enough, it ain’t. Instead of repeating worn-out genre conventions yet one more time, Discovery manages to create something harder, better, faster, stronger. Its heritage is omnipresent these days. The excessive and excessively creative use of electronic elements in pop music in recent years clearly shows the influence of those few good electronic albums placed in the dark period where synthie sounds were the opposite of en vogue. Discovery stands out in particular because despite its pioneer status it does not succumb to the avant-garde. At the end of the day, Daft Punk still remain first and foremost a highly listenable band, which is proven by their unbroken popularity to date.

Special credit must be given to the visual reinterpretation of the album that was created in collaboration with anime artist Leiji Matsumoto. Interstella 5555 expands the animated music videos from the album’s singles into a feature-length musical picture.

Track Picks:

One More Time

Aerodynamic

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

14. White Stripes – De Stijl (2000)

The White Stripes - De Stijl

Garage Rock. If there is a single genre that rigorously dominated the early 00s it’s probably the rough and dingy sound of unpolished garage rock. One of their pioneers was this peculiar duo from Detroit, known as The White Stripes. Before that one single from Elephant became popular in football stadiums around the world, before their breakthrough album White Blood Cells shattered the foundations of what was known as rock music at the time, they released this piece that is considered by many as their purest: De Stijl holds the very essence of garage rock. As minimalistic as it gets, yet still unsuspectedly rich and highly musical. Self-recorded for a ridiculous 500$, this album has been an inspiration for countless aspiring rock bands following their lead. And despite its lacks in finesse compared to later works of the Stripes, it is also a fantastic piece of music.

All the key elements making up the stijl of the Stripes are already there. The instrumentation is dominated by guitars (in all variations), drums and the ever so melancholic voice of Jack White. Supported by the occassional piano, blues harp and a violin in I’m Bound to Pack It Up, this minimalistic setup is all the Whites need to offer a colourful buffet of acoustic treats. Be it Blues, Punk or Classic Rock, the mere variety of musical influences will make you keep listening over and over again. Even this many years after its initial release, after Jack White has long been ascended to the rock olympus, this album has not lost the slightest of its quality or power. If there is any album on this list that deservers to be considered a true classic, it is probably De Stijl.

Track Picks:

Hello Operator

I’m Bound To Pack It Up

Let’s Build A Home

13. Wir sind Helden – Die Reklamation (2003)

Wir sind Helden - Die Reklamation

Who would’ve thought that all it took to revive German-speaking pop music after over a decade of almost complete apathy, was but two words: Guten Tag. When the Helden released their first EP in 2002, it hit the nation like a furious storm after a long, torrid period of drought. By breaking with countless conventions restricting musicians at the time and establishing a previously unheard creativity, paired with the pure joy of creating new sounds, they paved the way for a whole new generation of German musicians. Although international acclaims were not as euphoric as the record would have deserved, Die Reklamation without a doubt ranks among the best German pop albums ever.

Be it the wild, untamed energy of their debut single, or the wonderfully sad songs residing at the end of the album, there is next to nothing which is not to love on this seminal record. Paired with some of the shrewdest lyrics you will ever encounter, the Helden found the perfect formula for enjoyable, non-shallow pop. Almost immediately following the success of Die Reklamation, countless follow-ups emerged in the charts, causing a popular interest in German-speaking pop music unseen since the days of the Neue Deutsche Welle in the 1980s. In the end though, none of those ever managed to reach the standards set by this initial spark.

Track Picks:

Guten Tag

Müssen nur wollen

Außer Dir

12. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2005)

Arcade Fire - Funeral

Every once in a while, there is a record that manages to transcend the bounds of mere music, creating something so touching and ethereal, it comes close to the brink of magic. If there was a single record in the last ten years that managed to approach this border, it must have been Funeral by Canadian band Arcade Fire.

It is hard to describe the uniquely enchanting melange of unexpected instrumentation, prominent vocals and weird stylistic cross breedings stuffed into the 50 minutes of their debut, that so vigorously rejects classification into any musical genre. If nothing else, it remains a piece of such intense and pure beauty, you will never get tired listening to it. A record that leaves you dreaming and wondering until, eventually, it makes you want to cry fervent tears of joy.

Track Picks:

Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)

Neighborhood #2 (Laika)

Rebellion (Lies)

11. Chicks on Speed – 99 Cents (2003)

Chicks on Speed - 99cents

Three years after their surprise success Kaltes Klares Wasser established their fame on the better dance floors around the world, Munich-based electroclash grrl group Chicks on Speed released 99 Cents, an arty, subversive musical commentary on modern life. Featuring an impressive roundup of collaborating artists, ranging from German singer Inga Humpe (2raumwohnung) and french DJ/musician Miss Kittin to Canadian enfant-terrible Peaches, 99 Cents offers a wild ride through musical landscapes, deliberately disrespecting any conventions or expectations encountered along the way.

The result is an incredebly dense album, offering a lot more than you might have ever asked for. While it could seem cumbersome at times to unsuspecting ears, the album will make it worth your while, should you decide to grapple with it. Unless you’re scared by intellectually challenging, meta-critical experimental music, paired with subversive cynicism, there is really nothing that can stop you from liking this record, once you invested the time it requires to sink in.

Track Picks:

We Don’t Play Guitars

Culture Vulture

Fashion Rules!

Stay tuned…

As we continue the Millennial Years Retrospective next week with the second part of our pop music series.

Categories: The Bizarre

Movie Review: Das weiße Band

October 25th, 2009 No comments

The Sins of the Fathers

The White Ribbon/Das weiße Band
Directed By Michael Haneke
Starring Ulrich Tukur, Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Josef Bierbichler
Das weiße Band at the imdb

“Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte” (A german child’s story) is the innocent subheading on the movie-poster, written in Sütterlin script. It is a movie that is in many ways typical for Haneke’s œuvre, but at the same time a most surprising and unexpected piece. Set during the final months before the outbreak of World War I, Haneke describes the microcosm of a small Protestant German village as a mirror for German society in the early 20th century. It is a flawed, crumbling society that is slowly decaying from the dark secrets harbored within. Ultimately it is a haven of innocence that turns out to be the most vile and corrupted root of violence.

Formally, large parts of Das weiße Band are reminiscent of Haneke’s early works, namely his adaptions of literature for Austrian television (in particular Die Rebellion, whose starring actor Branko Samarovski recurs as the peasant in White Ribbon). A cool narrator comments the surrounding plot from the off, and although he is supposed to have personally witnessed and participated in the events described, he seems distanced and largely unaffected by the unfolding plot. Following his typical scheme, Haneke presents the narrator as a mere neutral observer, who may very well have a personal judgement, but never discloses it to the viewer. This impression is amplified further by the unagitated, sometimes almost documentary cinematography, trying very hard to avoid any adjudgement. The final verdict is left entirely to the viewer.

While this may not surprise viewers familiar with Haneke’s work, it should be minded by those who don’t: Haneke demands the audience to stay aware and thinking. This is as far from entertainment as it gets. Even more than in his recent films, visually explicit scenes are omitted almost completely. Truely shocking shots as in Caché are amiss, although the movie in its entirety remains quite shocking. It is a growing sense of uncomfortableness inwardly built up that dominates major parts of the movie experience and eventually, due to the absence of a climactic finale, is preserved well beyond the end of the film. Although the movie concludes with the outbreak of World War I, the plot does not, as most questions are left unresolved, with countless references dangling in mid-air, pointing to a period decades from the movie’s setting. It is left up to the viewer to tie up those lose ends and ultimately discover the story’s most powerful conclusion by oneself. While this will not leave you in the best of moods, it will certainly leave you eager to dissect Haneke’s message.

Due to its minimalistic style, the plot of Das weiße Band is rested almost entirely on the acting, which fortunately ranks among the best ever to be seen in German-speaking cinema. The faces, gestures and, most notably, the voices are almost hauntingly intense and make even the most cliché-driven moments of the script come alive and real. It is remarkable how the movie manages up to twenty characters, most of them only barely expositioned almost entirely through concise and memorable acting.

Although one is likely to miss it, special credit must also be given to the historical accuracy present in even the smallest details of the movie. The sets are gloriously old-fashioned, from the crumbling plastering in the farmer’s houses to the bourgeous interior of the Baron’s mansion, every location feels utterly credible. The unique semi-authentic language based on early 20th century German literature completes the experience, resulting in a clearly old-fashioned, although strangely familiar setting.

At last, some words about the film in the context of Haneke’s complete works. His movies have always dealt with violence in one form or another, and with the origins of violence in particular. This felt artificial and even tedious at times and brought him a reputation as a difficult and stubborn director. So it is even more remarkable how well Das weiße Band works even for viewers completely unfamiliar with Haneke, without sacrificing any of its complexity or ambiguity. With regard to this, the movie must ultimately be considered Haneke’s true masterpiece.

Conclusion: Don’t expect an easy watch, don’t you dare! But when attended open-minded, mindful and observant Das weiße Band will prove to be one of those experiences, that remind us why people still make and watch movies to date: To broaden our horizon, to leave us thinking, doubting and eventually reasoning. Don’t expect an easy watch, but be prepared for a most fruitful and fertile experience.

Categories: Movies

The Millennial Years – A Pop-Cultural Retrospective

October 24th, 2009 No comments

The Millennial Years - A Pop-Cultural Retrospective

It has been almost ten years now, since the digits switched from 19xx to 20xx and though computers did not crash on New Year’s Eve, the hysteria surrounding Y2K gave an impression of the growing importance of digital media.

Through the internet, popular culture experienced a bloom of diversity and sub-cultures, making it increasingly hard to identify the iconic cultural streams that truly dominated the decade. To celebrate the colourful variety in works of culture experienced over the last ten years, this blog is going to present you a couple of lists of influential, recommendable works from The Millennial Years.  A wide range of media in popular culture, from music, to video games, to comic books, will be covered, featuring several prominent (or not so prominent) representatives of the respective media.

While the works featured may not be recognized as the most iconic, influential or ‘best’ representatives of their respective media, they all stand for a certain defining aspect of the last decade and are, if nothing else, the very foundation this blog is built upon.

This new weekly series will start at the end of next week and run until the end of the year. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Categories: The Bizarre