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The Millennial Years – 5 Songs You (May) Have Missed

November 25th, 2009 No comments
5 Songs You (May) Have Missed

5 Songs You (May) Have Missed

And so we conclude the musical journey through the 00s with five songs that stood out in one way or the other. These are pretty much a post scriptum to the albums from the last weeks: Five songs of very different styles, certainly not the most seminal pieces around, but still very well worth a listen. As the title suggest, the selection focusses on songs that are rather unknown, but still too enjoyable to be left unmentioned.

Binder & Krieglstein – Piraten (2006)

Arguably the most unexpected comeback of the 00s were pirates. Starting with that Gore Verbinski movie about a theme park attraction, to the long-anticipated sequel of everyone’s favourite adventure game series this year – Pirates are back. Big time.

And as with all inexplicable and bizarre phenomena of popular culture, there is a soundtrack to it. Even outranking Cartman’s pirate song from this season’s South Park episode Fatbeard, we have this little gem by austrian musician Binder Krieglstein. With guest vocals by Eva Jantschitsch, who you should remember as Gustav from the album list, this song comprehends the very essence of the pirate-boom: Utter and complete nonsense.

[youtube t-WukWa8alM]

Boards of Canada – Music Is Math (2002)

Won’t get away without an ambience track on this list either. Music Is Math is probably the best song Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada ever did. When  the dreamy, fragile beauty  of the track slowly unfolds into psychedelic disharmonies of noise, one just cannot help but be amazed. If there are still people out there flaming about electronic music, it’s probably because they did not hear this song yet.

There is quite a bunch of nice unofficial videos around for the song, this being one of my favourites.

[youtube n0P1JsMTWc0]

Sophie Barker – Secret (2005)

Let’s stay dreamy for a while. You may remember Sophie Barker’s voice from In The Waiting Line from Zero 7’s debut album Simple Things. She has been involved with several projects since then, including a record with children’s songs and her first solo album, Earthbound. From the latter comes this piece, which is the perfect song for cloudy, dusky winter afternoons. Listen and be enchanted.

[youtube yQ11Uy7i17w]

Pornophonique – Sad Robot (2007)

Unless you occasionally hang around at comic conventions in Germany, you probably have never heard of Pornophonique. The two young men from Darmstadt exercise in a unique crossover style mixing acoustic guitars with 8-bit chiptunes. Their debut 8-bit Lagerfeuer is available for free download from their homepage, along with eight wonderful cover artworks by some of Germany’s most talented comic artists. The opener Sad Robot even got its own comic book by artist Holger Hofmann, which can be purchased as well.

I will stop sounding like an advertising machine now and leave you with the song…

[youtube u7Dg3LrhmIY]

Asobi Seksu – Strawberries (2006)

Let’s finish off with a personal favourite of mine. From their second album Citrus comes this piece of shoegaze-galore by New-York-based, asian-influenced band Asobi Seksu. Masterfully blending elements of J-Pop with good honest alternative rock, it’s one of those tiny, shiny songs that you will listen to every once in a while and whenever you do, it will light up your day. Enjoy and keep it dear.

[youtube yJNsKqm1Xqc]

Coming Up Next:

Video Games! *cheer*

Categories: The Bizarre

The Millennial Years – 15 Pop Albums Part 3

November 14th, 2009 1 comment
15 Pop Albums - Part 3

15 Pop Albums - Part 3

Welcome again to a new episode of the Millennial Years Retrospective series. This week with the remaining five from our selection of 15 Pop Albums of the 00s. Have fun!

5. Olli Schulz & Der Hund Marie – Warten auf den Bumerang (2006)

Olli Schulz & Der Hund Marie - Warten auf den Bumerang

In the early 00s a movement of young independent musicians gathered in Hamburg under the record label Grand Hotel van Cleef. Bands like Kettcar, Tomte and Death Cab for Cutie established a new sound in the tradition of the famous Hamburger Schule, a counter movement of bands emerging in reaction to the Neue Deutsche Welle in the 1980s. One of those ‘van Cleef’-bands was Olli Schulz & Der Hund Marie (literally: Olli Schulz and the dog Mary), founded by Olli Schulz and Max Schröder. With classic guitar-based pop-rock and clever German lyrics they represent a style of music that, despite its increasing popularity, is known for being very down-to-earth and honest. After two studio albums, band leader Olli Schulz moved from Hamburg to Berlin and wrote the third album for Labels Music, a member of the EMI group. The increase in budget and the change of artistic environment resulted in not only the band’s best album so far, but also one of the finest examples of German indie pop as a whole.

From the powerful up-beat opener In jede Richtung and the quietly musing Schritt für Schritt, to the nonsensical Kleine Meise, Großes Herz — the album offers a taste of almost any likeable facet of German indie music. Furthermore, the band was able to demonstrate their skills with more complex arrangements for the first time, as can be heard on Wenn das Leben dich beißt, which they handled masterfully. Held together by the distinctive vocals of Olli Schulz, the songs will will carve their way into your head, where they will rest warm and comfortably, only to pop up again every once in a while. And it will be a welcomed pleasure whenever they do.

Track Picks:

In Jede Richtung

[youtube OshlFqYG_qk]

Was Macht Man Bloß Mit Diesem Jungen

[youtube mHWuP07Ssls]

Wenn Das Leben Dich Beißt

[youtube X8r323JWcdc]

4. Zero 7 – When It Falls (2004)

Zero7 - When It Falls

One problem with Downtempo is its lack of distinctive melodies. Apart from an expedition to earth’s satellite by two fellas from France in the late 90s, how many downbeat records do you actually know? Well, you should at least know this one (and you probably already do, be it with or without your knowing). After their 2001 debut Simple Things, British electronic duo Zero 7 brought us this fantastic piece of ear-caressing chill, a landmark in ambient music called When It Falls. The cover art describes the listening experience better than any words: A colourful explosion of bliss filling up your head, as your mind drifts away under the Warm Sounds engulfing your thoughts.

Featuring an impressive roundup of guest vocalists, including the ethereal voices of Sia Furler, Sophie Barker and Tina Dico, backed up by a wide collection of unobtrusive electronica, When It Falls manages to be relaxative without being boring. Although its melodies may seem shallow at first, you will soon recognize its melodic versatility. A visionary record with the wonderful quality of being fit for almost any mood the listener may be in. Just close your eyes and become adrift in the dandling sweeps of this masterpiece.

Track Picks:

Home

[youtube ljEgVfC8zEw]

When It Falls

[youtube FOBVLTHacCU]

Morning Song

[youtube 3yW6hDj1E-A]

3. Feist – Let It Die (2004)

Feist - Let It Die

It was a slow start for Canadian musician Leslie Feist. After her debut Monarch went by more or less unnoticed, her second album took its time before truely finding its fans. No wonder, as this piece certainly won’t open up on a hasty first listen. It takes some effort to cherish the tilted harmonies and sparing arrangements so typical for Feist’s early works. Nonetheless, they contain a twisted charm, that can be very addictive once you have fallen for it.

We have the dreamy melancholy of Gatekeeper and Let It Die, the swingy serenity of One Evening and Leisure Suite, and don’t forget the lighthearted friskiness of Gatekeeper and Inside and Out. While it is a versatile album, it is still heavily coined by Ms. Feist’s beautiful voice, merging a widespread range of emotions into a single piece of art. So forget every prejudice you might have against Canadian music: This album will make it worth your while.

Track Picks:

Gatekeeper

[youtube dCrr1zu2wcA]

When I Was A Young Girl

For once, not the album version but a live performance.

[youtube hysbjX2r7GE]

Inside And Out

[youtube NmG0sPyZJBg]

2. Lemon Jelly – ’64 – ’95 (2005)

Lemon Jelly - '64-'95

In a list celebrating pop-culture under the influence of the internet, there had to be an album like this, featuring songs based on samples gathered from a period of almost 30 years. While British duo Lemon Jelly’s earlier works were more reminiscent of the Zero 7-school of ambient sound collages, this one is much more upbeat. Nine tracks celebrating the glories of remix-culture in all its grandeur. The album was initially released as both CD and DVD-versions, the latter featuring unique visual interpretations of the songs.

From the fireworks of the opening Come Down On Me, the album takes us on a musical journey, which not only includes typical Lemon Jelly tracks like Make Things Right, but covers all kinds of styles, from the noisy punk of The Shouty Track, to the repetitive minimalism of Slow Train. Nonetheless, the album manages to blend all those styles together smoothly, creating a remarkably deep experience in the progress. A profound meditation over musical genres and influences, culminating in what is probably one of the nerdiest songs of all time: Go, a piece loosely based on Lorne Greene’s Ringo, vocalized by William Shatner. And believe it or not: It’s actually good! If that alone didn’t earn Lemon Jelly their place on this list, I don’t know what else.

Track Picks:

Consider watching these fullscreen HD, they will be worth it.

’88 aka Come Down On Me

[youtube _Ipcwyf-QJo]

’93 aka Don’t Stop Now

[youtube ABJHFpmmhQA]

’64 aka Go

[youtube MGr2zf_x8IU]

1. The Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home (2006)

The Long Blondes - Someone To Drive You Home

If you are honest, there has probably been one or several occasions over the last years, where you just grew sick of all those damn indie bands — especially the ones starting with a ‘The’. In those moments, it becomes quite hard to remember, that all of this riot wasn’t started for nothing, and that in between that uniform swamp of musical fashions, there are a few bands actually worth all the fuss surrounding them. You can only hope to recognize them before it is too late.

In 2006 the British quintet known as The Long Blondes released this remarkable gem of music. Someone To Drive You Home manages to brilliantly unite the qualities that keep us urged on listening to music. It tells stories we are all familiar with: Stories of insecurities and the struggles of finding ones way. But they seem to be set in a world different from our own — a world far more exciting and romantic. A world where, somewhere between the sexy aesthetics of 60s cinema and outbursts of teenage angst at the kitchen sink, there lies a place where only lovers are left alive, a place where it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or dark, where there’s always someone waiting to drive you home. And all of a sudden you realize – What if you were living in such a world? What if there was excitement and romance in our lives as well? How we’d love to be alive in this world… once and never again.

Very, very unfortunately The Long Blondes broke up in 2008 shortly after releasing their second album Couples. Due to a tragic medical condition, lead guitarist/songwriter Donnie Cox was unable to continue his participation in the band. Among their legacy is this record that has long outgrown the initial euphoria surrounding its release and is today a more magnificent piece of music than ever.

Track Picks:

Once And Never Again

[youtube zXY4_oggu08]

You Could Have Both

[youtube ubj06m4n7lw]

Weekend Without Makeup

[youtube lKbkg9eblsA]

Join us next week

As we conclude the musical segment of our retrospective with The 5 Songs You (May) Have Missed. See you then!

Categories: The Bizarre

Movie Review: Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance

November 12th, 2009 No comments

Kill your darlings

Evangerion shin gekijôban: Ha
Directed By Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki
Voice Acting: Megumi Ogata, Yûko Miyamura, Kotono Mitsuishi, Megumi Hayashibara
Evangelion 2.0 at the imdb

Watched at the Asia Filmfest 2009 in Munich.

If you remember my review of Evangelion 1.0, my biggest criticism towards the movie was, that it felt too close to the original series to be of any greater interest. Fortunately, the second movie You Can (Not) Advance does quite well at correcting this issue, although it remains unclear whether this is for better or worse.

It starts right off with the introduction of a new character, Mari Illustrious Makinami, the Fifth Children, kicking the shit out of an angel that is attacking the American equivalent of Nerv. While watching this scene, it becomes clear what Hideaki Anno meant, when he justified the production of the new Evangelion movies by the fact, that animation technique had improved so tremendously over the last ten years. The opening fight easily surpasses any action scene from the previous Evangelion material.

It turns out that Kaji used the chaos surrounding the Angel attack to smuggle ‘Key of Nebuchadnezar’ to Japan, an artifact that seems to take the role the Adam embryo had in the original series. If you remember, the whole Adam/Lilith plot was changed significantly in Evangelion 1.0. Immediately after his return to Japan, another Angel appears which marks the introduction of Asuka, who seems to have undergone a change of names for no apparent reason (Shikinami instead of Soryu). Much like in the Evangelion manga, she finishes her first angel more or less in a single gracious blow. The remaining first half of the movie concentrates on the development of the classic character constellation Shinji/Rei/Asuka. Although some favourite scenes are reprised, such as Rei and Asuka in the elevator or an hilarious reimagination of the Shinji/PenPen bath encounter, this part of the movie glaringly differs from the original material. Asuka is an even more presumptous character than in the tv-series. All of the more childish aspects of her personality have been omitted, being it her crush on Kaji or the occasional happy-go-lucky moments, as seen in the Magma Diver episode. While this does intensify the contrast to her wounded, unsettled inner self, it often pushes her character close to the brink of pure stereotypicalness.

What works out really nice though is the metaphorical cooking plot, in which all of the characters develop an increasing interest in the art of cooking, which is introduced as an image representing the values of family and security. This easily compensates for the absence of some characteristic angel battles, like the synchronous attack on Israfel. The overall tone seems very optimistic, even reminiscent of the Iron Maiden reimagination at times. But of course, this would not be Evangelion, if this was meant to last.

By the middle of the movie the story rapidly changes directions in a most cruel and disturbing way, leading the way for the heavy finale.

The good thing is, Evangelion 2.0 feels like something fresh entirely. While there are several sequences strongly influenced by the original material, the movie unlike its predecessor does not slavishly follow it. However, not all of the new ideas seem to work out perfectly. The introduction of the Fifth Children seems arbitrary at best, as her role does not contribute much to the storyline so far. This is emphasized by the fact that her character seems to be awfully similar to Asuka’s.  The villain-of-the-day scheme still is a big problem for the movie’s pace. You can only squeeze so-and-so many epical dramatic showdowns into an hour of film before tireing the audience — and Evangelion 2.0 only misses that point by the skin of its teeth. That is, at least for people who are familiar with the franchise and are actually expecting each of those.

Fortunately, many of its flaws are made up for by the excellence of execution. Apart from the occasionally blotted CGI shot, animation leaves little room for criticism. The sound editing is okay for anime standards, and the voice acting is once again fantastic. Besides the original cast reprising their roles, Maaya Sakamoto, whose voice you may remember as Aerith from Advent Children, joins the cast as Fifth Children. As always, we have loads of fanservice and the occasional on-screen gimmick for considerate viewers/fanboys. Be it the ‘Deutsche Post‘ stickers on Asuka’s luggage or the arranging of the basins of an oceanic cleaning facility in the pattern of the systema sephiroticum: Be sure to keep your eyes peeled, as there is plenty to spot.

From a dramatical point of view, the movie naturally has a hard stand. While the story advances pretty far (roughly up to the point of episode 19 of 26 in the original series), it still leaves the audience with a dangling cliffhanger. This is also what complicates a final verdict. At best, Evangelion 2.0 offers a great potential for the rest of the series. At worst, it is in many instances a pointless, exaggerated action movie. Things are furtherly complicated by the fact, that most moments of real depth in the movie are founded on knowledge only viewers familiar with the original material will have.

Conclusion: Should you watch this movie? If you’re familiar with the franchise, that would be a sounding ‘Hai’! If not, watch the tv series, then watch this movie. While Evangelion 2.0 may not be the best anime in years, it is certainly worthy of the franchise, adding some interesting aspects to the well-known characters. From the point the movie leaves off, it seems not too unlikely, that by overcoming present flaws, the remaining two movies may very well turn the reimagination into the best contribution to the franchise since Sadamoto’s manga adaption.

For those non-fanboys out there: That’s quite a commendation.

Categories: Movies

Monkey Island Outtakes

November 10th, 2009 No comments

As you all may know, Lucas Arts recently released a remake of the very first Monkey Island game. In the course of this, they had to dig through the original scripts from 1990 and stumbled over some sections that did not make it into the final game.

Brace yourself, for a most enjoyable nostalgic read as the Lucas Arts Workshop blog unveils Secret of Monkey Island – The Deleted & Extended Scenes.

Categories: Games

The Millennial Years – 15 Pop Albums Part 2

November 7th, 2009 No comments
15 Pop Albums - Part 2

15 Pop Albums - Part 2

Welcome back to the second part of our musical retrospective of the 00s. We continue this week with five more remarkable pop albums. Enjoy!

10. Portishead – Third (2008)

Portishead - Third

When Portishead announced their first studio album after almost ten years of absence, it gave rise to both enthusiasthic anticipation and reserved scepticism. With the great days of Trip-hop long gone, people inevitably wondered what the trio from Bristol would have to offer. Fortunately, any doubts preceding their comeback were in vain. Their third studio album was an instant hit, uniting old and new fans in admiration. However, the most remarkable aspect of Third is the fact, that they accomplished this not by just imitating their established 90s sounds. With Third, Portishead managed to reinvent themselves for the 21st century and they did it with such radicalness and consequence, it would have easily crushed any lesser band.

After an impelled opener, ending literally in the middle between two beats, the album blossoms into a garden of sounds, both strange and beautiful. Be it the trippy The Rip; the  the frighteningly calm Deep Water; the drugged oscillating between jazz  and oriental in Magic Doors; succumbing to the driven beat of We Carry On; losing yourself in the cacophony of noise climaxing Threads; or the merciless monster that is Machine Gun — the mere abundance of ideas and styles present on Third could have lasted for a dozen albums. Condensed into eleven pure tracks, melting together under the ever so fabulous voice of Beth Gibbons, it provides an experience that can be overwhelming to the point of overstraining, but once you wrapped your mind around the twisted genius of this album, you will love it forever.

Track Picks:

The Rip

[youtube e1brxvvJe10]

We Carry On

(Not an official video, but it fits quite well)

[youtube dNg9SQxip5A]

Machine Gun

(Not exactly the album-version, but differences are negligible)

[youtube 1iWj0tO7qjg]

9. KT Tunstall – Acoustic Extravaganza (2006)

KT Tunstall - Acoustic Extravaganza

Time to catch your breath. With some wonderfully light hearted pop by Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall. You may remember her lovely Suddenly I See as the opening soundtrack of Devil Wears Prada. Her finest record in contrast, is also her least known. Acoustic Extravaganza was initially released for exclusive mail order through her website in 2006 and remained largely unattended. Recorded in the intimacy of a small studio in Scotland with only a minimal band setup, this record feels like a warm, personal ‘Thank You’ to her fans from the debut album Eye To The Telescope. It is a very straight record with few surprises, but what it lacks in musical excellence it makes up with charm and honesty. It’s the kind of music you would play when sitting with your friends around a bonfire on a lovely summer night. The kind of music that may not change your life, but you will nonetheless keep whistling under the shower when no one is listening.

And what’s not to like about this album? The winkingly bitchy Ashes, with its hilariously funny lyrics and catchy country tune? The bluesy Boo Hoo, this moanful hymn on absent friends? The tenderly melancholy Change, that drives tears into your eyes whenever you listen to it? Face it, you don’t really have a choice. Plus, the album comes with a DVD. What are you still pondering about? Go get it now!

Track Picks:

Ashes

[youtube WwEq017UmEc]

Change

[youtube z0KKSBaREdo]

Miniature Disasters

[youtube sD7FmaEHBUM]

8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (2009)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released Zero as the first single from their new album earlier this year, it caused quite some surprise. Instead of your usual indie-meets-garage-rock-101, this was a dancefloor track. With dominating synth-sounds, lightly backed up by guitars and skillfully glued together with Karen O’s punky vocals, this song was a wild mixture of styles and influences. Yet, it is but one facet of the remarkably versatile third studio album of the band, demonstrating the endless possibilities alternative pop music offers these days.

From the heavy-dance openers Zero and Heads Will Roll, the album soon changes directions, favoring much more quiet, but nonetheless powerful pieces, be it the high-pitched Skeletons or the dreamy Hysteric. Intermitted by two old-school indie rock tracks Dull Life and Shame and Fortune, which are the only songs on this record truely reminiscent of the Yeahs’ earlier works, the album is above all an incredibly cool showcase of  a band that has well exceeded the borders of mere genre music. With It’s Blitz the Yeah Yeah Yeahs unmistakably proved that they are one of the most interesting and versatile bands to date.

If you plan on getting this album, be sure you get the Deluxe version, as it contains additional acoustic versions of four songs from the album. In spite of popular beliefs, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are actually best when played acoustically.

Track Picks:

Zero

[youtube DxZGYGojPeE]

Heads will roll

[youtube Dt0IlrQYOxM]

Hysteric (Acoustic)

[youtube ssewwKzI2Rk]

7. Gustav – Verlass die Stadt (2008)

Gustav - Verlass die Stadt

The band project under the lead of Austrian musician/artist Eva Jantschitsch is probably one of the most curious out there. With the majority of songs arranged  on an ordinary notebook computer, featuring impressively sophisticated lyrics in both German and English, and a sound oscillating between arty minimalism and overwhelming grandeur, Ms. Jantschitsch managed to create her little niche in the endless refuge of alternative music. Supported by some incredibly catchy tunes, Gustav manages to be political without being obtrusive, demanding but not tiresome. When her first album Rettet die Wale was released in 2004 many claimed this was a futureless concept. Those critics were proven wrong in 2008 by the release of the formidable Verlass die Stadt, which managed to consequently extend the concepts of the debut. Introduced in the course of a magnificent concert seamlessly merging the homemade electronic sounds typical for Gustav with traditional Austrian folk music, the performed songs easily surpassed any expectations.

With influences ranging from Austrian folk punk like Attwenger, to artistic post-modernism in the tradition of Chicks on Speed (under whose label the record was also published), Verlass die Stadt offers a bitter sweet cocktail of sounds, messages and impressions. With no song quite like the other, you can enjoy the album a hundred times and still find something unexpected on the hundred-and-oneth listen. Stimulating and challenging (in the best sense of the word), an album that will reward the considerate listener to the fullest.

Track Picks:

Abgesang

[youtube W1Vte9m2OnM]

Total Quality Woman

(Again: not an official video, but it fits.)

[youtube _AAA5PMqQdk]

Ifall

[youtube xstbjzjvh4s]

6. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid (2008)

Elbow - The Seldom Seen kid

Elbow was one of those bands you probably wanted to like for a long time, but never quite managed to. With a few remarkable songs here and there, they were always barely missing the border of being a great band. That was in any case true until this album skyrocketed. The Seldom Seen Kid, which was announced as their last studio album, is a glorious swan song from the ever so underestimated band from Manchester.

There’s the vibrantly simmering opener Starlings, followed by the beautifully nostalgic The Bones of You and the inconspiciously touching Mirrorball, before climaxing in the irresistibly catchy Grounds for Divorce. The later parts of the album are dominated by quiet, sometimes grievously personal songs like The Loneliness of the Tower Crane Driver or Friend of Ours, intermitted with rhythmic treasures such as An Audience with the Pope or the criminally cool The Fix. Overall, a perfect mixture of highly listenable songs, that you just cannot help but enjoy.

And we lower our heads in awe, as a great band leaves the stage.

Track Picks:

The Bones of You

[youtube -DwFjqt-Wk4]

Grounds for Divorce

[youtube 6g-imjcBQ9Y]

The Fix

[youtube 0s-L3dahX98]

Be prepared…

As the final five of Millennial Year’s albums will be revealed — next week, exclusively on these very pages.

Categories: The Bizarre