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March 06, 1992 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 1992-03-06

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, March 6, 1992- Page 9

Irony-fest '92: Valentine plays with j
MBV: Vague music in vague times !

Junks

by Annette Petruso

Washington
Masala is
" of racial
conflict
Mississippi Masala
dir. Mira Nair
by Marie Jacobson
Mlississippi Masala will quite pos-
sibly be remembered as one of the
most intriguing films of '92.
Featuring the Oscar-winning Denzel
Washington and striking newcomer
Sarita Choudhury, director Mira
Nair (Salaam Bombay!) weaves a
compelling tale 6f homesickness,
romance and racial tension.
Demetrius (Washington) and
Mina (Choudhury) have fallen in
love. He owns his own carpet-clean-
ing business; she works for family
friends in a small roadside motel in
Greenwood, Mississippi. That's the
plot.
Oh yeah - Demetrius is black,
and Mina is Indian.
And when their relationship is
* discovered, their families react with
scorn and derision. As individuals
and as lovers, Demetrius and Mina
are left to determine their place in a
world that refuses to dismiss differ-
ences in skin pigmentation.
As Demetrius, Washington gives
his responsible young carpet-cleaner
a magnetic charm that electrifies his
on-screen romance with Choudhury.
And with an awkward sweetness,
Choudhury competently portrays the
restlessness of Mina's life.
Masala artfully explores a
formidable subject with courage and
originality. Prejudice, Nair insists, is
not merely a problem that rears its
ugly head in white and Black-
Hispanic-Asian relationships; it is a
learned evil that lurks deep within all
our hearts, waiting to be exorcised.
There are no easy answers.
Masala has come under fire in
the Indian-American community for
its uninhibited portrayal of the diffi-
culties between Mina and her family.
Nair seems to run roughshod over
traditional values, insisting happi-.
ness in America lies not in time-
honored custom but successful as-
similation of mainstream American
mores.
Perhaps the best way to view the
movie, then, is to remember that Ma-
sala is no more about the experience
of all Indian-Americans than it is the
story of all African-Americans. The
film is a story of individuals strug-
gling with cultural disparities and
their place in the world.
Masala is a spicy dish, one that
challenges all of us to reconcile our
differences - real and imagined -
with understanding and compassion,
not indigestion.
MISSISSIPPI MASALA is playing at
Briarwood and Showcase.

W hen trying to come to terms
with something unearthly, power-
ful, and truly unlike most organized
euphoria - namely the "music"
that My Bloody Valentine makes
- one resorts to adjectives and
catch phrases: subtle yet simple;
complexly elusive; androgynous;
nonchalant yet serious; feedback;
songs that never end yet are a
whole unto themselves; or
overblown yet understated.
Talking to MBV's Kevin
Sheilds, the band's leader/co-gui-
tarist/co-vocalist/sampler, it be-
comes obvious that the "music" un-
cannily reflects the man, and per-
haps, the present state of the world.
Sheilds' halting, quiet speech as we
talked on the phone from his hotel
room in Chicago echoes Loveless
(MBV's new album) and the bliss-
ful ambiguity of guitar wash.
On Loveless, lyrics dissolve into
the music to form a complete sound
of alternate reality. Though other
guitar bands like Swervedriver blur
songs similarly, MBV takes the
idea to its logical fruition in its
complete break with the past.
"Words are important to us be-
cause that's the only way we can be
confident in what we're doing,"
Sheilds explains. But "once we feel
that we've done justice to what we
think and that we don't think a lot
of rubbish, then ... the importance
of people understanding stops
pretty much there."
Hence fan's complaints that they
couldn't make out the words on
MBV albums. Sheilds says that the
band couldn't understand why.
Dischordah
by Skot Beal
I got the first Jawbox disc,
Grippe, because I had heard a few
of their songs and they were pretty
cool, and it only costs about eight
or nine bucks at most record
stores. At first I wasn't completely
hooked, but it's the kind of thing
that just gets better the more you
listen to it. Now I play it about ev-
ery other day, and I'd say it's one
of the best investments I've made.
Jawbox is kind of melodic and
kind of punk, but whatever you
call it, it's really powerful, really
cool.
One immediate question that
comes to mind when you see this
disc in the "J" bin at Schoolkids is,
"What the hell kind of name is
'Jawbox' ?"
"We pulled that name out of a
Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,"
explains Kim Coletta, the band's
bass player, "and it is Scottish
slang for the talk that goes on
around the sink when you're
washing up the dishes."
When Grippe was released,
Jawbox was a three-piece consist-
ing of Coletta, Adam Wade on
drums, and Jay Robbins on guitar

"For us, it was like people
could've just easily come out and
said, 'Oh yeah that band who re-
fused to use any distortion whatso-
ever.' ... It's like, 'What,' that
means nothing, that sounds ridicu-
lous, you know? ... Now it's like I
can see what they're talking about.
It's kind of ironic."
What MBV's songs are really
about, then, is as elusive as the mu-
sic itself.
Sheilds explains, "Pretty much
feelings, situations ... I can't speak
for Bilinda (Butcher, the band's
other vocalist/guitarist/songwriter),
but mine are just about ... say
there's a situation going on in a
room, right? And it's in the middle
of a house, and you can walk
around the room and there are four
doors opening on to the room and
you just kept catching a bit as you
pass each door.
"And say it was an argument.
From the beginning of the argu-
ment, you would hear enough to
understand completely what it's
about. It's like dispersive imagery
all tied into the same situation be-
cause it's more a description of the
situation as opposed to the narrative
... It says something very clearly
but hearing the first few bits doesn't
make as much sense as taking in the
whole thing in at once and that's
why it's not a narrative ... a narra-
tive is meaningful as it goes along.
"... We take a lot of liberties
with the idea of describing things."
Drummer/Sampler Colm O'Cio-
soig's minute-long instrumental
track on Loveless, "Touched," has
no ambiguous words or noises,
subverting previous musical con-

structions differently than the rest
of the album. Mixing with the ex-
pected guitar sounds, the program-
med strings swell into a melody
resembling a TV commercial or a
sample from an old Muzaked
version of classical music.
"It's just playing tricks with a
mixture of people's perception and
their preconceived idea about what
things are," Sheilds explains. "It
was just made up on a computer.
"It's just a simple, direct hooky,
catchy part which is why you asso-
ciate it with something on TV be-
cause - bang, immediately you get
the message, there's no time
wasted. And the fact that it sounds
old, from some other thing, is sim-
ply just because of the production
on it - making something that was
very hi-fi quality sound very dis-
tant, copied."
Simon Reynolds writing in the
New York Times claims that the
meaning and relevance of MBV's
vigorously understated musical and
lyrical din reflects social undercur-
rents in Britain. Sheilds, with quali-
fications, agrees with Reynolds'
idea.
"Music most certainly reflects
times more than it's ever given
credit for, without question,"
Sheilds says. "And the people who
are laughable miss that context,
they miss the fact that a lot of
things are in context with their time
and the people who most criticize it
are people who are most unattached
with their time.
"Like in England, for example,
there's an extremely pathetic at-
tempt at recreating the sort of ex-
citement of punk with bands like

MBV's Kevin Sheilds, top right, says in England now "there's an extremely
pathetic attempt at recreating the sort of excitement of punk with bands
like ..." Jawbox?
the Manic Street Preachers. There's is you're thinking about. It's a lot
a huge list of bands who jump up more honest ... And in England,
and down and play sort of energetic people are trying to suppress that
beat rock music and the sloganism with a kind of cozy sort of attitude
and sort of the imagery and the about what rebellious music should
whole attitude is so fifth hand ... be about.
It's a reaction against the sort of re- "The whole thing about the
alities of where music is going ... Times and all that business, if we
"Punk rock, the Sex Pistols or were living in revolutionary times
whatever, was relevant to the time with a clearcut enemy to attack,
when people ... thought they had an then I think music would reflect
enemy and now people know there that a lot more. It would be point-
isn't an exact enemy anymore. You less making a lot of music because
have to figure out what is the en- it would feel very irrelevant, but it
emy, even though it's there and it's doesn't feel pointless, what we do,
in control, but you don't know ..." because I feel honest."
Which is where MBV and other
guitar wash bands fit in. MY BLOODY VALENTINE head-
"These people (including MBV) lines a gig at St. Andrew's Hall on
are less straightforwardly verbal Saturday. Also performing are
with their attitudes and their mu- Dischord's Jawbox and Shudder to
sic," Sheilds continues. "It's less Think. Tickets are $9.50 at
straightforward because you can't TicketMaster (p.e. s.c.). Come
think in a straightforward way around 9p.m., they'll probably kick
when you don't really know what it in about 10.

Jawbox softens your hands while you listen

and vocals. In December of 1990,
they expanded by adding guitarist/
vocalist Bill Barbot. Now they
have a new album produced by Ian
Burgess (whose producing credits
include Big Black and Pegboy)
due out in May, and since the
lineup change the songs seem to
fit together more.
"I feel like on our first album it
was kind of a mishmash of differ-
ent styles," says Coletta. "We
weren't real sure of the direction
we were heading and I think I'd
even go so far as to say that we
recorded that album too early.
Like we weren't ready to record
but we were just so excited we
jumped the gun; we had the songs.
Stylistically, I think it's really
kinda wacky. Now the new songs
feel more coherent."
Even if it took a while for
Jawbox to find their musical di-
rection, they have always had a
handle on their lyrics. The words
can be pretty elusive at times, and
a lot of people have different in-
terpretations. Though none of the
songs are clearly politically moti-
vated, sometimes a song will be
described as being about "animal
rights" or "global warming,"

which is completely not the case.
These misconceptions are frus-
trating for the band, because it
seems like people often read too
much into their songs. Coletta,
who writes about half of the lyrics,
says that it makes her feel uncom-
fortable when people analyze them
that closely, as though they were
poems which could stand alone.
"Lyrics are really importanlt to
us," explains Coletta. "In some
ways, important criteria for us is
that they sound good with the
music. In a lot of ways, to me,
they're soundbites, like cool
sounding phrases.
"And not that they're devoid of
meaning or anything; often they
have great meaning. You know,
pulled from my personal things or
something I read in the newspaper.
I get inspiration everywhere for
lyrics. But it's important that they
work with the music. Actually,
we're not enclosing a lyric sheet
on our next album. It's kind of an
experiment. We just wanna see if
people listen to the music more."
One misgiving that Jawbox had
about their first album is that the
songs sounded too polished and
didn't capture the crunch that they

have live. The new album is more
guitar-heavy, and they are much
happier with the way the songs
sound. On this tour, at least half of
the songs they play will be new
material. "They just feel better.
Louder or something," explains
Coletta.
"I have a great tolerance for
bands doing a lot of new mate-
rial," Coletta continues. "I think
it's really interesting. Certainly I
want to hear the classics too. But
we feel like maybe we don't have
any classics."
This tour's audience will be
surprised by a rather interesting
cover tune. Jawbox has covered
several songs in the past, including
Joy Division's "Something Must
Break" on Grippe. "We're onto an
R.E.M. cover now. We're gonna
be on an R.E.M. tribute record.
You should know that 'cause it's
quite funny. There's gonna be a
bunch of bands covering R.E.M.
songs. We'll probably be doing
that this tour. We do the song
"Low" (from Out of Time), which
is pretty crazy because, you know,
that song has cello and bongos.
It's fun. Covers to me are just
temporary; they're like fleeting

moments. It's just for fun. We
never play them that long."
Fun is something that is nor-
mally not associated with a band
on Dischord records, the label of
Fugazi's Ian MacKaye. Bands
from Washington D.C. are often
expected to be overtly political,
which is not true of Jawbox.
Although they are very happy
working with Dischord, Coletta
explains that being on Dischord
can be a minor drawback.
"In some ways, all Dischord
bands have to kinda fight the
'Fugazi disease.' They get most of
the media attention and so some-
times people take what Fugazi
holds as values and apply it to all
of the Dischord bands, and that's a
very hard thing to labor under.
People naturally assume every
show by Jawbox (or insert any
other Dischord band name) will be
$5 and all ages. The reality is not
all our shows have been $5 and all
ages. Sure, that is the ballpark, but
we don't always have the clout
Fugazi does."
JAWBOX opens for My Bloody
Valentine Saturday at St. An-
drew's.

_ __ _ e

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