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October 28, 2004 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-10-28

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily - Thursday, October 28, 2004 - 9A

Mos Def's half-baked
rock experiment flops

'Matrix' FX supervisor speaks

By Zach Borden
Daily Arts Writer

By Andrew M. Gaerig
Daily Music Editor

Mos Def's record as a progressive
hip-hop leader and ultra-talented emcee
absolutely can't be questioned - his
collaborations with Talib Kweli and DJ
Hi-Tek cemented that years ago. His first
solo disc, Black on
Both Sides, mar-
ried his inimitable Mos Def
charm with dirty, The New Danger
underground beat-
making and con- _ Geffen _
tributed to Mos's
quest to be The Most Enviable MC on
the Planet: talented, credible, handsome,
creative and dangerously intellectual.
Too much, however, has happened
since the release of Black. In fact, his
new album The New Danger carries so
much weight on its beautifully packaged
shoulders that it's difficult to rip the jewel
case open. Danger asks fans to forget
so much. Like, for example, the made-
for-MTV movie starring Mos opposite
a member of Destiny's Child. Like the
fact that Kweli, the emcee to which Mos
will always be compared, has released
two albums since Black. Like the game

that hasn't changed so much in the past
five years: Musical production, a mixing
of mainstream and underground scenes
and the emergence of the commercial
rap single as a viable form of artistic
expression. Five years have passed, and
the growing, fertile underground hip-
hop community hasn't heard a damn
thing from one of its charter members.
It's clear from the very beginning that
Mos is no longer interested in being just
a rapper. His on-again, off-again band,
Black Jack Johnson, permeates much of
the production on the album. The jazzy,
sparse beats Mos usually flows over
are often replaced by jarring electric
guitars, reggae and blues melodies and
rock band rhythms. "Freaky Black" is
the most egregious offender. A terrible
metal riff runs over live drums as Mos
rants incoherently over the top, shouting
out the name of his band 60 times.
"Boogie Man Song" is a different kind
of evil: Unfocused, lackadaisical pro-
duction does nothing to salvage a trans-
parently soulful Mos chanting "I am /
The most beautiful boogie man." While
everyone else is dealing with a war, an
election, rising costs of living and a seri-
ous lack of great underground rap, Mos
seems to be too focused on becoming
hip-hop's Anthony Keidis.

On the rare occasions when Mos's
newfound rock experiment works, fans
are reminded why he remains important,
even amid the unfortunate unfolding
of The New Danger. "Ghetto Rock" is
hazy and unfocused, yet Mos still turns
amazing braggadocio over a skanking
guitar riff. "Sunshine" is the requisite
soul sample and the comfy home to
his most straight-forward - and best
- verse. "Sex, Love & Money" is prob-
ably the closest Mos comes to the for-
ward-thinking mix of experimentalism
and soul-hop that it's so easy to envision
him dreaming up.
Mos is still one of the most inter-
esting, talented rappers on the planet,
but his record receives its first blemish
here. The New Danger is a half-baked,
over-thought disappointment. There's
enough sonic collage work here to
draw in the underground crowd, and
die-hard fans will probably not be
scared off, but there's little here to rec-
ommend Mos to the growing progres-
sive hip-hop audience.

There is no question just how
important special effects have become
in the world of entertainment, as they
are an essential filmmaking tool. Yet
for all the publicity actors get, when
audience members rave about effects
they rarely know who is behind the
magic.
One of the leading visual effects
supervisors working today is Univer-
sity alum John "DJ" Desjardin, who
has an impressive list of credits that
stretches back nearly 20 years. Cur-
rently, Desjardin's work can be seen
in the football drama "Friday Night
Lights" in which he filled the stadi-
ums with crowds in the movie. Des-
jardin returned to his alma mater and
sat down with The Michigan Daily to
talk about his work.
A native of Grand Rapids, Desjardin
attended the University as a film and
video studies major. Growing up, he
was inspired by several science-fiction
films heavy on effects such as "2001:
A Space Odyssey," "Close Encounters
of the Third Kind" and "Blade Run-
ner," which Desjardin cites as "the
greatest optical effects film of all
time." He also has fond memories of
seeing Ridley Scott's cult classic when
he was a Wolver-
ine. "I remember
the movie (hav- "If the audit
ing a premiere) in is impressE
Angell Hall, and
waiting in line for something
it. When it ended, tell the difj
people left the
auditorium asking between w1
'What was that and what's
about?"'I' d
Followinggrad- I've done n
uation, Desjar- - Jc
din headed off to Visual
Los Angeles with
a former room-
mate. He got his start pretty quickly
on less-than-memorable films doing
graphics work. Even though digital
effects are now just about everywhere
in the filmmaking process, the tech
guru reflected that in the past "they
were confined to post production."
Not every moviegoer knows his
name, but Desjardin's presence with-
in films has been constant. He did
impressive work through the ground-
breaking "Matrix" sequels as a the
visual effects supervisors.
Desjardin spent several years work-
ing with the Wachowski brothers,
who wrote and directed the success-
ful trilogy. He acknowledges that the
brothers "are private people, but they

Look guys, I just came to drop my ballot off.

Frontman's act doesn't propel 'Explosion'

By Amos Barshad
Daily Arts Writer
Sounding outgunned and out-
manned, Jon Spencer yelps, "You're

never gonna top
gonna beat us /
band?" And then
the drums kick in
on "Damage," the
first song off of
Blues Explosion's
latest record of
the same name.

us, you're never
Can you dig my
Blues
Explosion
Damage
Sanctuary

his spoken-word baritone style fit-
ting in well with Spencer's world-
weary confidence.
Thankfully, no attempt was made
to instill any sort of hip-hop sensi-
bility - the results might have been
disastrous. The same can be said for
Dan the Automator and DJ Shadow's
contributions as producers. Automa-
tor has worked with Blues Explosion
before, on 1998's Acme; his knob-
twiddling on "Crunchy" and "Help
These Blues" does not deviate from
the band's sound. Shadow's work on
"Fed Up and Low Down" is more
evident, with screeching, stop-and-
start Bomb Squad bleeps, but the
song would still benefit from some
more experimentation.
Ultimately, Damage is not effective
because it lacks any element of dan-
ger. Spencer can howl all he wants,
but he fails to pull off the crazed
bluesman image he's striving for.
The band almost sounds predictable
in its attempted trippiness. When, on
"Help These Blues," Spencer opines
that "This is not the devil's music!"

IE
,e
s.
l1t

have a really strong design sense."
Desjardin is quick to dispel rumors
about the brothers, saying he had a
great relationship with them and they
bonded over their love of comic books.
The talented visual effects supervisor
helped shepherd the sequels early on
in pre-production right through the
end of post-production, and also col-
laborated on the videogame "Enter
The Matrix."
Yet for all the
┬░nce major effects
d by filmsdDesjardin
has done, he has
or can't also worked on
erence films that don't
rely heavily on
hats real special visuals.
fake, then As a computer
1 b" graphics supervi-
iy jOi . sor on Cameron
in "DJ" Desjardin Crowe's Oscar-
effects supervisor winning "Almost
Famous," Desjar-
din was involved
with the Stillwater concert scenes and
"changed signs to reflect the period
(of the '70s)." Crowe approached him
to create a shot to be used in one of
the film's most memorable scenes
- when the members of Stillwater
confront one another on an airplane
caught in heavy turbulence. The pric-
ey shot took about six weeks to com-
plete, and involved exterior shots of
the airplane flying through a stormy
sky. When the shot was completed,
Crowe approached Desjardin about
taking the shot out since it "ruined the
timing and flow of the scene." Des-
jardin was disappointed, but easily
forgave Crowe since the writer-direc-
tor admitted that it was his first time

using visual effects in a film.
For all the behind-the-scenes work
he's done, does Desjardin have any
desire to make the leap to direct-
ing a la other visual effects supervi-
sors? The special effects whiz used
to direct his own movies growing
up, but he's more than happy to stay
on the technical side of things. "I
like to work with directors and help
them complete their vision, but I'm
not opposed to directing if the right
project came along." In fact, one
almost did - toward the end of pro-
duction on "The Matrix" sequels the
Wachowski brothers approached him
about directing a film, but the plans
fell through.
When it comes to the future of
visual effects, Desjardin sees it as a
very bright field that's only going to
get better. "I believe Kerry Conran's
'Sky Captain and the World of Tomor-
row' (which was done entirely with
blue screen), makes a more powerful
statement than George Lucas' 'Star
Wars' prequels in showing where we
are now with visual effects." Desjar-
din is also amazed at what filmmaker
Robert Rodriguez has done and how
his efficient, low-budget style has
utilized special effects well and has
changed people's perceptions.
As far as the films he's most proud
of, Desjardin says that "'TimeCop'
is still fun to look back and watch"
but the two "Matrix" sequels remain
his favorite despite the polarized
response to them. Nonetheless, it's
all about the work for this talented
man. "If the audience is impressed by
something or can't tell the difference
between what's real and what's fake,
then I've done my job," he says.

As the track
seems to drop down and lock into
its groove. Spencer goes on preach-
ing and pontificating, working up a
vocal maelstrom, and never sounds
all that convincing. But that's not
really the purpose here. Blues Explo-
sion's style-over-substance approach
means that the only stated goal is to
make twisted-blues rock'n' roll, not
to make a point.
"Damage" is followed by "Burn It

Off," another raucous boot-stomper
that goes nowhere, before the album
slows down on "Spoiled." The soft,
almost tribal-like drums and female
backup vocals make the song sound
haunted and hallowed. It's a wel-
come break from the run-of-the-mill
riffing that pervades the rest of the
album and a style the band should
consider employing more. Else-
where, Chuck D's vocals on "Hot
Gossip" are surprisingly effective,

I
I

It's not a curse term. let's keep all Michigan cheers that way.

"We want Michigan to continue being a place that
cheers vociferously for the Michigan team."

-Lloyd Carr, UM Football Coach

}

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