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January 22, 2007 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-01-22

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, January 22. 2007 - 5A

Photos courtesyof Sidecho
They cut a striking silhouette, but Stars of Track and Field offers little more than that.
'Stars' stumble on
the starting block

Daily Arts Writer
Dropped into the year-end schedule as qui-
etly as his "Million Dollar Baby" was two years
ago and inspiring a simi-
larly forceful reception
from critics, Clint East- *
wood's "Letters From Letters From
Iwo Jima" went from an Iwo Jima
obscure passion project
to a forerunner in the At the
awards race. But while Showcase and
its deft direction and Quality 16
Oscar-bait source mate- W
rial prove more than a
match for that turnaround, can a man, even one
as peerless as Eastwood, sell a film that dares
to humanize America's fiercest enemy in its
deadliest international war - and do it while
war again holds sway over the nation? Oh. And
there are subtitles, too.
Like most films that seek precision and tact
in their depiction of war, "Iwo Jima" is a char-
acter-rich story in which the war serves as both
backdrop and driving force. As the Allies bring
Germany to the brink of capitulation on the
European front ofWorld War II, American forces
inch closer to Tokyo, encounteringthe vehement
resistance of a cultural philosophy they could
never hope to understand. Perhaps the grittiest
battle of all was fought on the eight square miles
of sulfur from which the movie takes its name
- Iwo Jima, a crucial foothold for the American
invasion of the Japanese mainland.
Just months ago, "Flags of Our Fathers,"
Eastwood's sister film to "Iwo Jima," told the
American side of this same struggle, and the
two films are tied together by more than just
Eastwood's direction. Both explore the incom-

Daily Arts Writer
The band is named after a Belle
and Sebastian tune. They're from
Ore. The **
cover of their
debut album The Stars
has flowers of Track
and a dove and Field
on it. Perhaps
it's expected Centuries Before
that there are
even more Sidecho
flowers and
birds when you open up the case.
Unfortunately for Stars of Track
and Field, Centuries Before Love
and War confirms the suspicions
one might have about the group's
role in the indie-music scene: a
repackaging of recognizably indie
Oddly, Stars of Track and Field
almost acknowledges its own
banality. "We called the CD Cen-
turies Before Lave and War due to
the fact that all the lyrics deal with
maligned memory and love loss,"
bandmember Kevin Calaba said in
the group's press release.
One of the group's (self-pro-
claimed) unconventional charac-
teristics is its lack of bass. When
bass player Moxley Stratton left a
few years ago, the band replaced
him with a faceless, digital fourth
member, making this,
their first full-length
album, also their first
attempt at the com-
bination of analog
and digital. The
results are sub-
The album's
first track,
begins with a
quiet blend of
digital drum
and keyboard
samples. It
with electric guitar
and simplistic vocals

rhyming "face" and "space," and
then - getthis - fadeswith a blend
of quiet digital drum and keyboard
samples, perfectly adhering to the
pre-packaged definition of indie
Many of their songs also con-
tain lyrics with strangely graphic
undertones. Take, for example, the
chorus in "Movies of Antarctica":
"Faded prints and sample times /
Novas thrashing in your eyes" and
in "Fantastic," the lyrics "You'll
light on fire / I'll be outside / Last
one to'notice / Run for your life /
I watched you suffer from the first
floor." Though these lines are prob-
ably metaphorical, this scopophili-
ac behavior is one of the creepier,
more novel aspects of the album.

They need more sliced tomatoes on the front lines.
prehensible despair of war, the kind that envel-
ops soldiers even as they struggle to bring it
upon their enemy. While "Flags" pointed out
that even "the right war" may have been fought
with indelible wrongs that linger decades later,
"Iwo Jima" allows an even more personal por-
trayal of the Japanese war front, seen through
the eyes of Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi
(Ken Watanabe, "The Last Samurai") and a
motley handful of his doomed division.
A young soldier named Saigo (Kazunari
Ninomiya) serves as our guide to the private
insecurities of the Japanese infantry, and the
film takes great care to portray him and the rest
of his unit as drafted civilians whose reluctance
and uncertainty define the audience's view of
them. Raised in an empire that touts giving
one's life for the emperor as the greatest of all
duties, it's inconceivable for these soldiers to
privilege their own lives, or even those of their
families. Kuribayashi puts the mentality best
in his solemn farewell to one young soldier:
Though he swore to fight till death to protect
his family, just the thought of his family makes
that a difficult task.
The film explores in great detail the Japa-
nese army's strict code of honor, particularly
the belief that suicide is better than capture.
While American audiences may recoil at the
thought of entire regiments killing themselves,
it's fascinating to note that we're not nearly as
repulsed by hundreds of thousands of young
men killing each other.

Besides its endearing young soldiers (whom
no audience could mistake for enemies), the
film's portrait of Kuribayashi is what makes
the film a worthy character piece. In reality, Lt.
Gen. Kuribayashi was among the most daring
and brilliant officers on the Japanese side, and
Watanabe brings sufficient honor and rever-
ence to the role while still humanizing him to
non-Japanese audiences.
Having lived and studied in America, Kurib-
ayashi considered the country to be the world's
foremost armory and thus opposed Japan's
course of provocation. His time in America also
put him in the unenviable position of under-
standing, and perhaps even pitying, the young
marines who stormed the beach he was com-
missioned to protect, and the diligent officer
was then seen by his peers as weak and, even
worse, an enemy sympathizer. One of this film's
harshest wartime cruelties is simply that its
bravest minds end up its most dismissed.
Much like "Flags," "Iwo Jima" isn't perfect
- it lacks thematic coherence, which leads it
periodically to fall back on war-movie cliches,
like the too-curtly-cut flashback sequences
between Saigo and his pregnant wife. But East-
wood's dedication to the delicate story is clear.
Will critical acclaim nudge Middle America
into seeing a film about the people who killed
thousands of its own soldiers? Time will tell,
but like last year's "Brokeback Mountain," the
most thematically challenging American films
may remain largerly unseen.

An elaborate
rehashing of all Shapiro goes 'Disco'

s e.
A lack of musical ability is not
what makes the album disappoint-
ing. Band members Jason Bell,
Kevin Calaba and Daniel Orvik
all know how to play their instru-
ments and manipulate sounds, and
both Calaba's vocals and Bell's har-
monies are pleasing to the ear.
What doesn't work is the bleak
absence of remotely creative,
which makes the album downright
pathetic. Stars of Track and Field
is so bent on fitting the indie mold
that their music teeters danger-
ously on the fence between emu-
lation and imitation - and the
comparisons, or sources of inspira-
tion, are extensive. The guitar on
"Movies in Antarctica" sounds like
Coldplay, the digital drum beat on
"With You" like The Postal Service
and the intro to "Fantastic" like
If this album were released
10 years ago, Stars of Track and
Field might deserve some praise
for its efforts. But it wasn't. And it
. 29,7:30 P.M.

to little effect

uct ofi
tion o
scene c
late '70
sized s

By MATT KIVEL arrangements of the '70s. Electronic
Daily Arts Writer beats and synths pervade the eight
songs on the Shapiro/Agebjorn con-
o music was a distinct prod- coctionDisco Romance's. Agebjorn's
its time - easily mass-pro- arrangements are lush and roomy,
and using minimal instrumentation to
ble, a heighten the tension before and
reflec- ** N A during the soaring choruses.
if the Shapiro's performance is sweet
club Sally and unassuming. She doesn't proj-
of the Shapiro ect her voice like a typical pop diva
s. The Disco Romance but rather lets the words roll off in
ent Wind-Up a restrained and breathy croon. Her
ha- obvious contemporary is Annie, the
inger- singer who covered similar Euro-
iters and championed the pop territory on 2005'sAnniemal.

Sally Shapiro has disco chops: glitzy singles with little substance.

I'll be by your side tonight / When
the world is falling all apart / I'll
be by your side tonight." There's an
effortless familiarity to the melo-
dies, as if these songs were written
in some bygone era.
WhereAnniemal was captivating
and unpredictable, Disco Romance
falters as a full-length album, with
the revelatory singles frontloaded
on the tracklist and the rest of the

record homogeneous and overlong.
Agebjorn repeatedly reaches into
the same bag of production tricks
with diminishing returns.
Individually, the songs are club-
worthy forays into electro-disco,
suggesting the genre may be better
relegated to EP and single releases
rather than full length LPs. Disco
was sustained by singles, and Disco
Romance is a case in point.

dynamic of producer-performer, a
throwback to the early years of pop
music when producers controlled
nearly every aspect of composing
and recording while artists were
left to deliver precise performances
(the Bee Gees being a notable excep-
tion). The music was ornate and
kitschy, self-consciously disposable
with strong hooks and flimsy lyrical
Disco's high period was relative-
ly brief, but its impact carries on to
present day. Producer John Ageb-
jorn and his reluctant disco queen,
Sally Shapiro, still make songs that
reflect the ideals of the disco era;
they're romantic and groove-based,
with steady dance beats and memo-
rable choruses.
But although the music is solidly
disco in its construction, the instru-
mental textures are a far cry from
the horns and overblown string

Do we really
need to bring
back disco?
But while there are many paral-
lels between the two, Annie's more
innovative and domineering musi-
cal persona lead to a more mature
and debut record.
That said, Shapiro's lead singles
"I know" and "I'll be by your side"
are instantly catchy and rival the
best of Anniemal. Both songs are
led by Agebjorn's oscillating mix
of synths and bass drum, which
precisely compliment the straight-
forward lyrical phrases, "When
you feel so lonely in your heart /



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