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September 28, 2004 - Image 8

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2004-09-28

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Tuesday
September 28, 2004
arts. michigandaily. com
artspage@michigandaily.com

ART s

8

al

MELISSA

RUNSTROM

The benefits
side from standing in long lines to
purchase outrageously overpriced
ks, there isn't a whole lot to
complain about when buying a book these
days. It is not a difficult thing to do, espe-
cially in a place like Ann Arbor, where
bookstores seem to litter downtown.
In addition to traditional stores, there is
also the convenience of online shopping.
Almost every bookstore has an online divi-
sion. Additional discounts and the ease of
shopping at all hours of the night makes
buying on the Internet ideal. I would be
willing to bet that overall book sales have
increased because of online vendors.
This considered, there was a time when
people thought Internet vendors, like Ama-
zon.com, would either fail miserably or
succeed in leading to the downfall of tra-
ditional stores. It had been feared that since
online stores have reduced overhead and
can charge less for their books, that they
would steal patronage from local stores.
The e-book also spelled disaster for tradi-
tional paper lovers. Initially, the same peo-
ple who love to buy bound volumes feared
that too many would download books to
their computer or PDA and there wouldn't
be demand for paper copies.
These worries were pointless; the only
thing that the Internet and e-books have
done is help the industry by giving custom-
ers more options and cheaper price tags.
What happens when competition is
taken away though? Now there seems to be
something new to fear in the book world,
and it takes form in the behemoth that is
Barnes & Noble.
Last January, America's largest book-
store chain expanded its publishing busi-
ness by purchasing Sterling Publishing for
a considerable sum. Sterling is best known
for its variety of how-to and informative
nonfiction titles. Barnes & Noble already
published on a small-scale basis like other
large chains - typically classic works that
are no longer copyrighted. However, by
acquiring Sterling they have changed the'
dimensions of the bookseller/publisher
game. Not only are they producing best-
selling books, but the store's original pub-
lishing division, Barnes & Noble Books,
is beginning to churn out more popular
titles.
"Weird U.S." by Mark Moran and Mark
Sceurman and an unauthorized hardcover
edition of "The 9/11 Report" are two of
their newest releases. Barnes & Noble
Books published "The 9/11 Report" in
relative secrecy, adding to the controversy.
Most publishing houses announce their
future releases months in advance, in order

of B &N
to drum up as much excitement as possible.
But according to The New York Times,
Barnes & Noble chief executive Stephen
Riggio said the company didn't make a
habit of announcing upcoming releases.
Barnes & Noble, playing the roles of
bookseller and publisher, is in an oppor-
tune position to turn a large profit. It has
eliminated the cost of actually buying the
title to distribute, so the company can sell
their books for less and still make big gains.
"The 9/11 Report," published by Barnes
& Noble, sells at half the list price of the
WW. Norton & Company hardcover. Bor-
ders, the nation's second largest bookseller,
and the wholesale distributor Costco have
both stated that they would no longer carry
Sterling titles, according to The New York
Times. The companies view selling the
books as a conflict of interest.
Borders apparently has plans to expand
its publishing division as well. What hap-
pens if Barnes & Noble decides not to
carry Borders' books?
I can see the predictions now: Instead of
going to one store to find what you need,
you have to make the trip to multiple book-
shops. Barnes & Noble would carry half
the books ,while Borders would carry the
rest. The two business-savvy companies
would have made exclusive distributing
agreements with individual publishers not
to sell their products elsewhere. Then the
independent bookstores are left high and
dry with few major titles to offer, unless
of course the publishers band together and
stop selling to the superstores.
Obviously, this scenario is unlikely, but
it is no more far-fetched than thinking that
online sales will bring an end to traditional
bookselling. As for Borders' decision to
ban Sterling Titles from its shelves, I haven't
seen that happening either. Amazon.com,
the company in charge of Borders' online
division, is still selling the books, and the
store on East Liberty Avenue still sells the
older titles.
It is important to be informed about the
company you are buying from and what
they are doing in order to decide if you
want to support their actions. More likely,:
however, the two super chains of the indug-
try will swallow their pride and carry the*
other's titles.
This new development hardly spells
disaster for the consumer, rather it pres-
ents a new opportunity to buy high caliber
books at a reduced cost.
Melissa's too busy buying books at
Barnes & Noble to respond, but if you
must, e-mail her at goghrun@umich.edu.

It's impossible to separate the myth from the leg-
end - in 1967, Brian Wilson's proclaimed "teenage
symphony to god" was destined to become the great-
est pop record ever released. The stories surrounding
Smile were legendary - Dennis Wilson declared
that it made Per Sounds, the Beach Boys' master-
piece, stink. Gonzo journalists and those around the
Beach Boys' sessions called it "genius" and "the best
album ever made." However, after the departure of
lyricist Van Dyke Parks and intense pressure around
Wilson from both Columbia Records and his fellow
Beach Boys (notably Mike Love), Wilson scrapped
the project and set the master tapes ablaze.
Smile was born in the summer of 1966 when
Wilson and visionary lyricist
Van Dyke Parks began work-
ing together. In response to the Brian Wilson
musical British invasion, they Smile
set out to make a very American
response - both in its humor Nonesuch
and wide-ranging subject mat-
ter - that would have been something radically dif-
ferent from the music of their contemporaries.
Over the past four decades, fragments from the
original Smile sessions have appeared on various
Beach Boys collections and bootlegs. The most infa-
mous of them all, an official bootleg entitled Smiley
Smile, included three final cuts from the original ses-
sions: "Good Vibrations," "Surf's Up" and "Heroes

01

ute piece. culminating in the reworked "Good Vibra- something Ijust can't explain."
tions." the core of Parks's lyrics still h
The album's opener, "Our Prayer," is a choral num- tentious look at humor, philos(
ber echoing the great works of Bach and Palestrina the rose-colored glass of Amer
- a modern thesis on harmony, it's perhaps one of Whereas the Beach Boys's
the most beautiful works in Wilson's catalog, and Pet 5'ounds could be conside
the most ambitious of the Beach Boys' harmonies. mentation and orchestration,
The Wondermints equal Wilson's musicianship with an experiment in vocal poly
perfect harmonization and instrumental proficiency. track uses the voice as accom
Wilson's voice is much coarser and less fluid than it mostly doubled melodies. The
was 37 years ago, but his enthusiasm and presence "Wonderful" and "Child of the
on the tracks triumph over any minor incongruity. par the Wondermints were w
Wilson's compositional mastery comes into play Boys. The way their vocals pla
on the epic "Heroes and Villains." A musical roller in Wilson's lead reverberates
coaster that jumps from fully orchestrated passages strings arrangement.
to a cappella harmonies, Wilson's disregard for the Smile is one of the gra
verse-chorus-verse structure and his wild, erratic rock'n'roll productions ever,
tempo changes mark significant departure from typ- album is composed of fragn
ical pop music: Wilson not only challenged typical orchestral instrumentation.rect
pop conventions, he advanced them as well. even the sounds of crunchingv
Lyrically, Smile was a masterstroke and the cul- animals. By releasing Smile, B
mination of a young genius in Van Dyke Parks. His his entire career and the myth
playful poetry complimented Wilson's musical craft, resurrecting the most painful
Often times, Parks finds the most intriguing lyrics offering it for the world to scr
come out of his clever word play. On "Wonderful," he its present and final form, is
writes, "One / Maybe not one / Maybe you too / Are' piece, but exists as a milestone
wonderin' / Wonderin' who I Oh, wonderful you!l are the history of recorded music.
wonderin'." Parks rejoined Wilson in this endeavor casts Wilson in a redemptive
to rework some of the original lyrics, casting a more light, one in which he can
reflexive tone in the words and making Smile feel finally earn the respect he
appropriate for Wilson at present. This is most notable deserves and smile alongside
in "Good Vibrations," the most famous track on the the greatest composers of the
album. The first verse now goes, "I, 1 love the color- last century.

0

Kweli struggles to get beyond the basics

SHORT TAKES

MACHA
FORGET TOMORROW
jETSET
Macha's latest, Forget Tomorrow,
meticulously blends urban electric gui-
tars with '80s pop beats, exotic steel
drums and synthesizers. The product
is hypnotic and tempestuous, but also
graceful and elegant.
Macha, however, has a habit of over-
use. The songs have a rich blend of
rhythms and instruments, but some are
too drawn-out, like "It's Okay Paper
Tiger."
Listening to each song individually,
the steel drums are a nice contrast to
the predominantly urban tone, but after
hearing the songs back to back, the beats
become blas6.
Although the music is beautifully
undulating, it can be a little too hypnotic
for comfort - i.e repetitive. But starting
with"C'mon C'monOblivion," the album
picks up and the songs become more
emotional and rhythmically diverse. In

By Evan McGarvoy
Daily Arts Writer

"C'mon C'mon Oblivion," brilliant elec-
tric guitars take turns building and col-
lapsing with enthralling solos.
"Back in Baby's Arms" reiterates
Macha's trademark variety, and with reg-
gae beats and electronica moods, creates
a blend as smooth as swimming under-
water. "Now Disappearing" throws the
listener back into the strange world the
band has come to create. "Sub II" is
interesting and bright, a journey in itself.
However, nothing compares to "Calm-
ing Passengers." Beautifully developed,
it's a multi-faceted, yet balanced piece
of art. Without using words it perfectly
conveys that specific moment of loneli-
ness and exhilaration, like driving down
a highway.
The entire album has a really distinct
flow. Each song seems to pick up right
where the previous left off and takes
the mood one step further. This is more
prevalent in the second half of the album,
as there's much more coherency and con-
nection between tracks. ***
- Kathryn Bawden

The role of conscious, political thought in the hip-
hop community is easily at its most bizarre stage in
recent memory. As Kanye West, currently the genre's
biggest star, walks the tightrope of spiritually conspicu-
ous consumption in the brilliant single "Jesus Walks,"
most of the public stops to praise
West's efforts right before going
out to buy more J-Kwon records. Talib Kweli
What is, perhaps, most trou- Beautiful Struggle
bling about this paradox is that Rawkus
we're blessed to have some of the
most brilliant prophets of hip-hop
change since Public Enemy alive and making records.
Common, Mos Def, Kanye and Talib Kweli all present
themselves as not just stars, but as apostles. The record-
ing booth becomes pulpit, confessional and megaphone.
Much like his 2002 release Quality, Kweli stays away
from the Nubian-bohemian persona of his early career.
Production duties are shuffled between old friend and
former partner Hi-Tek, Charlamange, The Neptunes
and even the subtly bourgeois Kanye.
The Beautiful Struggle, like previous albums from

Kweli, has wake-up calls to black youth about both their
history and the current state of Africans, both in Africa
itself and America. It doesn't take him that long to get
into the preaching; on the opening salvo, "Going Hard,"
he remarks, "People ask me how we wearin' diamonds/
when there's kids in Sierra Leone losing arms for crying
while they mining." Salient point, but didn't Kanye ask
the same question on his album about five months ago?
Therein lies the problem. Kweli isn't saying any-
thing that hasn't already been said. The most evocative
criticisms in hip-hop have always been specific (Public
Enemy), unforgettable (N.W.A.) or inescapable (Kanye,
again). He seems content to cover the bases with no
particular flavor: Women get used, drugs are bad, men
need to be decent and life is arduous. You shouldn't have
to wait for a rapper of Kweli's talent to use his record
space to deliver a Public Service Announcement. Even
worse, the songs sound just as abstract and vague as the
messages. "I Try" is a doppelganger of Quality's "Get
By" and even the album's best track, "Broken Glass,"
doesn't have the year's best cowbell (see: Young Buck's
"Let Me In").
As a rapper, Kweli uses a dazzling vocabulary, ham-
mers out strong narrative passages and manages to
weave in esoteric historical allusions. His voice, unfor-
tunately, has a ridiculous drone factor. It was passable
on Black Star; he and Mos Def traded verses.

0

The inherent problem with timely, socially pro-
vocative hip-hop is much like the dilemma faced by
journalists round the globe: Do you get the message
out as quickly as possible or should you methodical-
ly lay out your facts and deliver them with elegance?
The Beautiful Struggle may be filled with haunting
insights, but like old news, it falls on deaf ears.

I

0

1111 NW Is -- 'I'l''MWM~v. .'.N. 00'

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