Arts Reviewing, Music Review

La Femme et Londres: When French surf punk comes to Scala

Originally published on Fuse Magazine UK
29 May 2014


There’s something really magical about being trapped in a mosh pit of belligerent Britons and being mercilessly jostled to “psycho tropical” French surf punk — especially if you’re stuck with limited linguistic proficiency and no idea what the fuck anyone is saying.

La Femme, if you couldn’t have guessed by the name, are an impossibly hip Parisian band that write most of their lyrics in native tongue – not that it really matters. Continue reading

Arts Reviewing, Music Review

London Goes Neon! – Neon Trees bring “Pop Psychology” to Heaven

Originally published on Fuse Magazine UK
8 May 2014


Nothing quite brings out the tamest, soberest, and straightest crowds to LDN’s infamous Heaven like a 14+ rock show –- but despite the usually rowdy venue’s uncharacteristic tameness, Neon Trees threw a fine party.

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Arts Reviewing, Music Review

The Best Record You Never Got to Buy (And Never Will)

I know what you’re thinking: “buy?”

If we’re all being honest here, the concept of “buying” music is either 1) a luxury we don’t have (a few new CD’s or another payment towards rent/tuition/credit cards) or 2) don’t really want, considering there’s so many ways to trick the system into getting music free.

I’m not really here to debate the merits of illegal downloading – I’m mostly here to talk about the one record that I would definitely have bought if that was the only way I could stand to ever enjoy it, and/or would 100% definitely buy in the future if it was ever released – even if I had to pay an absurd amount of £££ on some oddly colored, limited edition out of 50, only available somewhere obscure like Japan or the Czech Republic, vinyl to get it. It’s that good.

The record, or rather mixtape, in question is Frank Ocean’s 2011 nostalgia,ULTRA, and its outlandish sampling of popular songs by popular bands (The Eagles, MGMT, Coldplay, etc.) has ensured it will never ever evereverever get released commercially. Thankfully, you can still enjoy it online!

The fact of the matter is, a lot of these sampled tracks are surprising improvements over the original versions. Ocean’s silky smooth vocals work well over ethereal tracks like Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” and MGMT’s “Electric Feel” – especially the latter track, reworked as “Nature Feels,” a sexy, sensual song about “makin’ love underneath the cherry trees” that vastly surpasses MGMT’s original spacey, druggy (and admittedly, a little contrived) track.

Ocean’s take on The Eagles’ immortal “Hotel California” might seem a little blasphemous to diehard lovers of classic rock, and will definitely rub more than a few listeners the wrong way. Here, Ocean’s broken-hearted lyrics about an ill-fated “American Wedding” pay homage to the original’s own disgruntled/fated-by-beauty lyrics in a way that’s particularly relevant to modern society’s rush wedding culture (here’s looking at you Britney Spears, Kim K and whatever your short-term spouses’ names were).

There are plenty Ocean originals worth checking out on nostalgia,ULTRA as well – look out for “Dust,” an almost soothing, less angsty expression of Drake level emotivism over a pounding drum beat. “We All Try” sees Ocean in similarly moody territory, this time waxing philosophical about religion, human nature, abortion, and—perhaps most salient given the singer’s recent coming-out via Tumblr post—gay marriage. If you still need convincing that “nostalgia” is a worthy listen, also note that his staple songs “Novacane” and “Swim Good” originated on this mixtape.

Really, you’re cheating yourself if all you’ve heard from Frank Ocean is Channel: Orange.

The same legal reasons that keep nostalgiaULTRA from being released probably keep us from linking you to it or embedding the album here – what do I know, I’m a writer, not a lawyer. But hypothetically, the internet is a pretty big place and Google is a pretty magical tool for finding whatever you want 

Arts Reviewing, Film Review

Kunze’s “Mobilize” is Nothing to Phone Home About

Until very recently, the closest I had ever come to viewing a documentary was watching a 4 minute clip of “Titicut Follies,” a 1967 documentary about the horrors of mental institutions, on Youtube. The clip was more enthralling than a piece of 47-year-old film (replete with the telltale crackle of primitive sound tech) had any right to be, and it completely changed my perceptions of documentary filmmaking.

When I sat down to watch Kevin Kunze’s “Mobilize” several days later, my newfound interest in documentary filmmaking shattered faster than an iPhone screen hitting pavement.

Kunze’s “Mobilize” (2014) is a smartly titled documentary about cell phone radiation. Deep within the iPhones and Androids and occasional flip-phones we’ve all got pocketed is a lurking danger — made even more terrifying by the notion that the cell industry knows, and is actively campaigning to keep consumers unaware. There’s certainly interesting details in Kunze’s documentary: longitudinal studies of heavy cell phone users show increased risk of cancers near where people use their phones the most, children’s brains absorb more radiation than do those of adults – yet companies like Fisher Price market products for their tiny hands to play with smartphones, and (my personal favourite) President Obama appointed the former CEO of a prominent cell industry group to lead the FCC – a questionable choice, asking an ex-industry bigwig to regulate the companies he used to work for.

With so many interesting morsels of information, it’s a shame that so much of it is muddled by Kunze’s constant narration. Whereas the aforementioned “Follies” ingeniously dropped viewers into an argument between two men with no context at all, forcing them to engage with the action onscreen and work to draw their own conclusions, “Mobilize” tugs the story along with a plodding, one-sided conversation that no one asked to be a part of.

It’s no fun being babied through a story one can follow along on one’s own, especially when the ceaseless voice-of-God narration style draws an 84-minute-long film into what seems like twice the length. Why not cut half the narration and use only what absolutely needs to be said to clarify and tie the film together?

Kunze features a plethora of prominent and eloquent speakers on both sides: Steve Wozniak and a delightfully sleazy snakeoil salesman-cum-PR guy for CITA representing Team #cellphonesaretotallysafewepromise versus prominent SF politicians Mark Leno, Gavin Newsom and Eric Mar, independent political darling Dennis Kucinich, 9 or so Doctors of various scientific know-how, AND famed DJ Steve Aoki discussing the dangers of cell phones. So many heads with so much information to share should’ve been allowed the chance to joust, so to speak, unadulterated by excess commentary.

A particularly confusing bit of commentary surrounds celebrities who are paid to do cell phone commercials, suggesting that they are partly at fault for promoting dangerous products. Ok, sure, celebrities are definitely kind of capitalist puppets, but introducing that tangent largely out of nowhere and during a second half of the documentary that was otherwise quite strong just muddles the previous arguments. What happened to blaming the cell phone industry for buying studies to spin as “inconclusive research” and shoveling money into lobbyists pockets any time dastardly politicians try to regulate their products? If the point was that the government and industry alike aren’t doing enough to protect their citizens/consumers, why not stick to strengthening that completely valid argument instead?

Yes, Kunze’s documentary got me thinking harder about how much time I spend on my phone and what that might mean for my future. No less than five times since I viewed his film have I caught my phone too close to my face and whipped it away, terrified of the eventual repercussions. I’ve spoken to at least three people about how crazy it is that iPhone manuals are hazardous but no one knows that (a fact mentioned in Kunze’s film), and have strongly considered ditching my phone-under-pillow morning alarm system in favour of something less likely to kill me – but I haven’t once recommended that anyone watch “Mobilize.” Nor do I intend to.

I wanted to like it, I did. I love any medium of information that sets out to make serious changes regarding serious problems. I like learning of things I’ve never heard, and otherwise may never really have paid attention to. But I’m going to abide by the same harm reduction principle the film exalts and say that if anyone wants to learn about cell phone radiation, there’s probably a more interesting way out there. I could even easily have forgiven the cheesy ‘90s graphics, the occasional grating sound quality (most unforgivable during Steve Wozniak’s interview, a very important one) and inconsistencies in audio volume throughout the piece — if a film at least has some heart to match the drive I’ll forgive the blemishes.

“Mobilize,” however, suffers from a micromanaging directorial technique that seems to place concept and presentation above allowing the actual content to shine. That’s extremely detrimental, especially to someone like myself with little interest in documentaries but a strong desire to learn. I wouldn’t wish this film on anyone interested in delving into the dangers of cell phone radiation, but I would scour the Internet to find an episode of 60 Minutes or something, perhaps a nice multimedia New York Times piece to educate them better (and faster).

I’d even consider pointing interested parties to the “Mobilize” website so they could find further reading on the topic, and learn some facts without having to watch the actual movie …but there aren’t any external sources or further reading present on it.

Oh well.
1.5 stars out of 4.

If you insist, you can view “Mobilize” next on
Wednesday, December 17th  @ Koret Auditorium / SFPL
(100 Larkin St, San Francisco)

Arts Reviewing, Dance Review

Lenora Lee – NOT Lost in Translation

I’m in Dance Mission Theater, thumbing through the dually English/Traditional Cantonese program of Lenora Lee Dance’s 7th Anniversary Season show and flashing back to a recent psychology class. The topic: How can you reasonably trust that a translator can express, from patient to therapist and back, the intricacies of human experience? Stress? Heartache?

I’m oversimplifying the question here (sorry Dr. Chun), but it’s a good place to start when viewing Lee’s hour and 45-minute long, 4-piece dance show.

At the core of it all is the idea of movement as expression– “Our first language,” as Lee explained during a preview* of her upcoming show –and the innate communication our bodies themselves translate. This idea unfolds via martial arts-tinged dance, and vis-a-vis the history and culture of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. It’s consistently tense, electric, emotionally engaging, challenging even– and completely fitting of the tumultuous times Lee’s ancestors have seen in a city that consistently forsook them.

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Arts Reviewing

“Slow Falling Bird”: A Fast Descent into Madness

I’ll be honest, when I walked into “Slow Falling Bird,” I did so with low expectations and fingertips itching faintly at the promise of a snarky review later. Said play’s script demands a spectral unborn child who lives atop a basketball hoop, two human cast members somehow dressed as crows (to narrate the action, because why not make them crows, right?), lots of singing, and an underlying plot line about the maltreatment of refugees seeking asylum in cruel Australian detention centers. Did I mention that all of this is expected from a cast of student performers still working to cut their teeth on a college stage?

“Slow Falling Bird” places a cast of 9 in the Woomera Immigration Detention center, South Australia, described as “at once a real place; and a place inside a desert of the mind.” While initially Woomera and inhabitants seem as dry as their desert surroundings, the play chronicles a slow descent into madness that leaves only 3 characters unscathed.

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Arts Reviewing, Music Review

Oakland Shouts for Tears For Fears

It’s exactly 8:59 p.m. when the house lights dim and drums begin to pound. The Fox’s hype music has long since faded to silence, yielding in favour of a sultry voice slinking through the speakers. It’s Lorde, a disembodied voice singing the first few bars of “Everybody Wants to Rule The World,” but she’s not the star here– in fact, no one seems to recognize her voice, or even care. The percussion pounds more frequently, almost urgently, spotlights flashing but never illuminating the stage (which, by now is a tiny swarm of musicians taking their places). It’s a rapid, dramatic buildup that could only be fit for one of the most infamously emotionally charged bands of the ‘80s and in a flash of light, said band is illuminated.

Tears For Fears are back, and for the next few hours, Oakland is their world to rule.

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