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January 08, 2009 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-01-08

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4B - Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Violent action, Hong Kong style
By BRANDON CONRADIS cop (Tony Leung) working for one also manages to transcend its place
SeniorArts Editor of the men responsible, slimy gun- as a mere exploitation piece, even
smuggler Johnny Wong (Anthony wowing critics who would pan sim-
There was a time when no one Wong). Eventually the two cops ilar films.
filmed a gunfight like John Woo. pair up and the result is a climac- The film is also a fantastic show-
Calling him a director is less apt tic showdown with the Triads that case for Chow, the kind of lead
than calling him a choreographer, as turns a hospital into a war zone. who takes a flatly-written role like
his films' action scenes recall care- Now, it must be admitted that "Tequila" and turns it into a char-
fully staged dance numbers where "Hard-Boiled" is ridiculous. Scenes acter who is nothingshort of mythi-
music is replaced with the sounds of vicious bloodshed are spliced cal. The movie wouldn't be half as
of gunfire andthe actors exhibitthe with moments of syrupy light- good without him, as he emanates
grace and fluidity of ballerinas. It's heartedness, like when Chow takes the kind of effortless cool other
hard not to sit transfixed, guffaw- a break from plugging holes in bad action stars couldn't achieve had
ing at the outrageousness - and guys' heads to care for a fright- they doused themselves in Arctic
elegance - of it all. The violence in water. When he slides down a ban-
Woo's films is often just as beautiful ister, guns blazing in both hands,
as it is painful to watch. it's like witnessing the second com-
"Hard-Boiled," made in 1992, is John W oo ing of Steve McQueen.
Woo'smagnumopus,thelastfilmhe But this is first and foremost
made in Hong Kong before fleeing delivers a w ild, a John Woo film, and the action
to the United States as reunification scenes are what make "Hard-
with China drew near. It's the film classy ride. Boiled" the masterpiece it is. The
that best exemplifies his penchant oft-noted climax is the obvious
for turning what could have been centerpiece (it takes up the entire
standard "big-car-go-boom" action second half of the film, after all),
set pieces into stunning displays ened infant, who promptly pees on but the opening scene, set in a tra-
of color, sound and movement. But his leg. But the film is so visceral it ditional Hong Kong teahouse, is
more importantly, it's damn fun. doesn't matter. Sometimes running really what perfectly captures the
Woo's most famous leading man, full-force, sometimes stumbling, - pardon the pun - explosiveness
Chow Yun-Fat ("Crouching Tiger, it nevertheless always manages to of Woo's style. It combines strik-
Hidden Dragon") plays Inspec- reach the next level of outrageous- ing imagery with eye-wincing nas-
tor "Tequila" Yuen, a cop from the ness, culminating in a trance- tiness at its pinnacle when Chow,
Clint Eastwood School of Shoot inducing climax. covered in flour, is splattered with
First, Talk Later. He's cool, he's Here, Woo does what only a bright-red blood after shooting a
tough and he's bad at taking orders. select few directors could ever do: gangster in the head. It just goes
When his partner is killed in a shoo- turn a typical piece of genre fare to show that even the basest of
tout with gangsters, he sets off on a into art without alienating its core genre films can be elevated to a
quest for revenge that inadvertently audience. "Hard-Boiled" is raucous, higher level by a filmmaker with
endangers the life of an undercover fast-paced and entertaining, but it vision to spare.

We promise, most of the people on this list aren't such weirdos.

From page 1B
#4: Portishead - Third
After an 11-year hibernation,
former trip-hop trailblazer Por-
tishead has delivered something
much greater than a serviceable
"comeback album." Third is a rare
instance of a band truly redefining
itself. Portishead scraps its creepy/
sexy formula of yore for something
closer to creepy/ugly. As Beth Gib-
bons moans her trademark confes-
sional lyrics over jarringly glitchy
dreamscapes, the band achieves
such hauntingly voyeuristic pathos
that, at times, the album is almost
uncomfortable to listen to. For a
hint at the album's gutting abra-
siveness, the lead single is aptly
titled "Machine Gun." With Third,
Portishead has birthed what could
easily be the most innovative album
of the year. And while it may not be
pretty, it's anything but a misfire.

From Page 3B
guitar part and added in effects on
Reaktor (music-synthesizing soft-
The product is a three-min-
ute piece that uses heavy reverb
behind delicate plucking on an
acoustic guitar, an organic sound
that gently slides into glitch-heavy
electronic ambient rhythms. The
music itself is reminiscent of
guitarists like Kaki King, and it
sounds like Nick Drake backed up
by trance music.
Ching-Mei Lin, a PhD candidate
in Musical Arts in Composition at
Rackham Graduate School, derived
her piece from her discontent with
Michigan winters.
"The piece consists of two move-
ments. The first movement is 'Bit-
ter Chill,' which describes a violent
Michigan winter with fast and
restful musical gestures," Lin said.
"The second movement is 'Sun on
the Snow,' which represents the
visually content picture after a
harsh winter with slow, harmonic

Lin's piece is more classically-
based (versus pop-based) and
makes use of the alto saxophone
and marimba, instruments that
produce both tense, quick-tempo
rhythms and longer, more drawn-
out sounds.
Jack Stratton, School of MT&D
junior, spits out some pop-tunes
in "EZ Mac," a song with Fresh
Prince of Bel-Air influences and
witty, ironic lyrics.
"I wrote the entire flow in a
freshman anthro lecture over
five weeks," he said. "There's a
little Afro-Cuban-meets-hip-
hop going on ... It-was all original
even though it has an old-school
sampled feel." The song itself uses
complex drumbeats and choruses
imbued with keyboards tickling
out minor-based melodies. Strat-
ton is a three-time "New Music on
the Block" winner.
Other winners include Stewart
Randolph, School of MT&D senior
and Kevin DeKimpe, a School of
MT&D junior.
Huang described the compe-
tition as a "good opportunity to
showcase .. my music," and get a

recording deal in the process.
It's a little-known fact, but all
students can become certified to
use the recording studio on North
Campus after registering formulti-
week studio orientations at http://
Simoni also recommends that stu-
diverse sounds.
dents register for PAT 201, Intro-
duction to Computer Music. ,
There are a lot more record-
ing options for musicians than to
lock themselves "in an air tight
isolation booth in East Quad,"
which is what Stratton did, or in a
semi-private dorm room. Making
use of the University's recording
opportunities can help burgeon-
ing artists create award-winning
music - artists who, unlike Kanye
West, are pinching pennies and
just beginningto hammer out their
catchy beats.

pedal-smitten opener? Check.
Swirly My Bloody Valentine trib-
ute? Check. Lazy-river guitar bal-
ladry that explodes two-thirds of
the way through into a surging
coda of crystalline noise? Check.
But something about Microcas-
tle is supremely refreshing in a
year suffering from a drought of
good, old-fashioned indie rawk
(in other words, it's good). There's
always going to be a demand for
well-crafted songs with sticky
melodies, and Deerhunter fills it
here with confectionary aplomb.
Oh, and Bradford Cox's wistfully
milky tenor is cause enough for a
love letter.
#9: Times New Viking - Rip It Off
With their densest serving of
io-fi squalor yet, Times New Viking
proved just how listenable pure
cacophony can be. On the trio's
third album, melodies, guitar riffs
and'synth licks bleed together into
a swollen mass of tape-bursting
sound. The barely distinguishable,
co-ed vocal attack of Beth Mur-
phy and Adam Elliott is so fun that
the entire affair is almost childish,
but the feedback burst it pierces
through is so abrasive it should be
x-rated. Completely disrespecting
basic audio conventions, the dis-
torted bubblegumofRip ItOffrelies
entirely on energy for its thrills.
And that energy is undepletable.
#10: Okkervil River - The Stand
On. 2007's brilliant The Stage
Names, Will Sheff and Co. seem-
ingly found true comfort and dex-
terity as a band. With this year's
quasi-sequel The Stand Ins, the
band relies on its effortless musi-
cal swagger while inscrutable
frontman Sheff turns an intently
focused eye on lyrical themes. The
result is one of the great bi-polar
records of the rock era. While the
country-inflected instrumentation
is downright giddy at times, Sheff
relentlessly sermonizes, with vary-
ing degrees of transparency, about
the pitfalls of being an artist. If he
truly suffers from any of the disil-
lusionment of which he sings, he
masks it well, because the album is
his most inspired effort yet.

tive, morphing vocals challenge
listeners to keep trying. Songs like
"Courtship Date" and "Good Time"
are sonically complex but main-
tain the warm invitation of a solid
groove. Crystal Castles doesn't just
sound like music from the future
- it could actually be the future of
music. E


#13: Department of Eagles - In Ear
Brooklyn has seen its share of
talent lately, and duo Department
of Eagles is no exception. Grizzly
Bear co-lead songwriter Dan Ros-
sen takes his sophisticated Tin
Pan Alley pop in a slightly differ-
ent direction with the help of his
college roommate, Fred Nicolaus,
creating a sunnier and less dreary
collection of songs with arguably
more variety than his primary act.
The arrangements of In Ear Park
are vast, almost to a fault, though
the simpler pop moments on songs
like "Waves of Rye" and "No One
Does it Like You" give it a charm
all its own. While Department of
Eagles is more a project between~
friends than a full-blown band, In
Ear Park deserves an attention all
its own, which serves to further
highlight Dan Rossen's increasingly
adventurous songwriting.

7A&Flm'f. l

#5. Vampire Weekend - Vampire
2008's dubious "buzz-band"
award goes to none other than
(drum roll please) New York prep-
rockers Vampire Weekend. These
Columbia University grads have
been condemned for their clean-
liness in music and dress (which
apparently makes them sonically
and visually boring) and have
been accused of having an obses-
sion with Paul Simon's Graceland,
which apparently influenced their
record a little too much. Ralph
Lauren sweaters and classic rock
idolatry aside, Vampire Weekend is
a breathtaking synthesis of Afro-
pop and indie-rock that will make
the most uptight hipster loosen up
from e arms-folded, at-attention
positi n. When it comes to Vam-
pire Weekend, ignorance is bliss.
So, tune out the critics, put on your
dancingshoes and bask in the sim-
ple elegance provided by a truly
stunning debut album.
#6: Stephen Malkmus and the
Jicks - Real Emotional Trash
In a year packed with complex
andmulti-layered albums, Stephen
Malkmus and his backing Jicks
seemingly decided to just sit down
and record some really great jam-
sessiony tracks. Songs like "Real
Emotional Trash" ramble on for-
ever, but they never feel too long.
And Malkmus still has a talent
for enveloping listeners in quirky,
meandering tales ("Hopscotch
Willie") and commanding roars
like Pavement on steroids ("Balti-
more"). It's nothing too complex
and nothing too astounding, but
Real Emotional Trash is clearly one
of 2008's most pleasing, seemingly
simple albums, and it stands above
a whole lot of others.
#7: Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever
Given three months alone in
a Wisconsin cabin, most would
whittle the hours away by read-
ing, drinking or maybe just bang-
ing their heads against the wall.
But songwriter Justin Vernon had
loftier goals: He spent his time
creating one of the best albums
of the year and one of the best
musical debuts in recent memory.
For Emma, Forever Ago is a spare
and ethereal alt-folk affair guided
by Vernon's anemic falsetto. Its
deliberate pacing and dynamic
control make the journey from the
plaintive chill of "Flume" to the
triumphant thaw of "For Emma" a
memorable one.
#8: Deerhunter - Microcastle
Whatever the "X Factor" is,
Deerhunter's got it. On paper,
Microcastle isn't going anywhere
indie music hasn't been a bil-
lion times before. Dreamy, delay

#14: Atlas Sound - Let the Blind
Lead Those Who Can See but Can-
not Feel
Bradford Cox might have been
the man of 2008. Releasing an all-
out blast of fervor in Microcastle
with his main group Deerhunter,
Atlas Sound let Cox explore his
deeper, darker and more electronic
and computery side. With the elec-
tronic flourishes of Let the Blind
Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot
Feel found on "Recent Bedroom"
and '80s-like tracks like "Ativan,"
Cox went all-out on the emotion-
ally strong and complex spectrum.
Some of the tracks are rather com-
plicated ("Cold as Ice" and "Small
Horror"), but fit right at home away
from Deerhunter material. Partly
scary, but always compelling, Cox
knows what he's doing.
#15. The Hold Steady - Stay Posi-




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#11: Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter ill
2008 was Weezy's year. The
New Orleans-raised rapper's Tha
Carter III was not only the best-
selling album of the year, but it was
also the artist's most ambitious
(and best) production to date. The
record treads the fine line between
hip hop and pop, producing a col-
lection that cannot be confined to
one definitive label. It gravitates
among repetitive party beats ("A
Milli"), soulful guitar-strung odes
("Shoot Me Down") and utterly
ridiculous sci-fi inspired concoc-
tions ("Phone Home"). Whether
he's comparing his haters to dif-
ferent seasons of the year or simply
making vulgar comparisons to lol-
lipops, Lil' Wayne's syrup-soaked
anthems have defined the year
and it's doubtful that he's stopping
anytime soon.
#12: Crystal Castles - Crystal Cas-
While listening to Crystal Cas-
tles's debut album, you might get
the sudden urge to start shooting
8-bit fireballs andbreakblocks with
your head. With Atari synths and
gritty digital beats, the duo conjures
up heaps of video game nostalgia
while still managing to sound com-
pletely futuristic. But what makes
this album one of the year's best is
not the experimentation with clas-
sic Nintendo sound bytes. Beneath
all the blips and studio manipula-
tion are innovative and masterfully
written pop songs. "Untrust Us" is a
sing-a-long that's impossible to sing
along to - yet Alice Glass's seduc-

Consistency in music is a lost art.
Releasing four albums in five years
is practically unheard of in modern
day rock'n'roll. The Hold Steady
has accomplished this feat with
great songwriting, solid musician- 4
ship and a unique sense of style.
Stay Positive continues to satisfy
with tales of love and faith mixed
in with the required dose of "sing-
along songs," as lead-singer Craig
Finn readily admits to be his band's
forte in standout opener "Construc--
tive Summer." Finn's vocal vitality
throughout the album solidifies an
underlying theme of growing older
while holding onto the best parts of
youth, which resonates with both
the young and old alike.



SUNDAY, JAN. 11,8 P.M.
TUESDAY, JAN. 20, 8 P.M.


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