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General Pop Culture Travels

It’s A Party in The USA – Thailand Part 7

Yesterday we arrived in Ayutthaya and set up camp in a hostel called Tony’s Place. While there are some minor flaws (zero water pressure in the shower) this is hands down the coolest place I have ever stayed at while abroad. The whole front of the building is a giant deck / restaurant which is swarming with a mix of traveling folk and it’s directly across the street from Christine’s favorite bar, Chang House.

There is WiFi and decent food in the terrace as well as a tourist information desk, it very much blurs the line between hotel and hostel. Everyone here is super friendly and I’m typing this while eating a delicious BLT breakfast (I got a little tired of chicken and rice).

Our room has cable tv so we settled in and relaxed for a bit and flipped through stations before settling on MTV Africa (an odd thing to broadcast since Thailand is not in Africa). I haven’t watched MTV in years, in fact I’ve been pretty actively boycotting it since around 1997, so whenever I do catch it for a while I’m always blown away by what I see. 8 videos in a row and 7 of them (including Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus) clearly used and overused auto-tune. I’m sickened, is there any musical talent required anymore? Geez. Anyway this frightened me worse when I realized I was watching MTV Africa, not MTV US, these pop stars and the ads for Jersey Shore are representing America to a lot of people and they look up to it, that is really scary.

After that we went to Chang house and hung out with Christine’s friend Earth. Awesome guy, we split a bottle of “Blend” whiskey (Distilled by Red Bull, cheap and not half bad, considering) and attempted to overcome language barriers and had a good laugh doing so. From there we went to another bar where Earth’s band was playing and found some French guys and Christine’s coworker Dan from the UK. We had a really good time talking about cultural differences and I wound up telling the one gentleman from Paris my trick to getting a Parisian to speak English, he had a really good laugh and admitted he had no doubt it would work.

From there we went to a nightclub where there was a Thai rock band playing. I was exhausted but it was a lot of fun. It seems a lot of Thai rock is set on a reggae beat so it’s very, very similar to the ska punk I grew up with on Long Island which is very strange but very comforting. Eventually the band busted into a Thai Punk cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance which turned out to be surprisingly good.

Thai covers of American music are actually really huge over here in the touristy areas but they are quite amusing to those of us who natively speak English because most, not all, of the singers don’t understand the words to what they’re singing. The singers will butcher the lyrics but hit the notes, tones and timing near perfectly. It’s an amazing phenomenon and very entertaining nonetheless. From there it was time for bed, but as a whole the day turned out to be really enlightening and fun.

Today we’re catching a boat tour around the city and checking outcome old ruins, I can’t wait to take pictures and to share them with y’all. Cheers!

Categories
Pop Culture

“Stop! Take some time to think…

…figure out what’s important to you.”

Those words are from the chorus of a track entitled ‘Stop’ from Floridian rock group Against Me!’s latest release ‘New Wave.’ The album and this line are significant because it’s not just the group’s newest; it’s their first on a “major label.” A big step for a band that is known for being outspoken against the government, big corporations, and the music industry. Although ‘New Wave’ has received praise from industry critics, the major label signing has caused Against Me! to be the target of an intense amount of scrutiny from the scene it arose from and it’s one-time “fans.”

Akiva Gottlieb of the Nation, in an excellently composed and structured piece, delves into the band’s recent struggles. However, the writer’s opinion of the group and it’s front-man, Tom Gabel, show through quite clearly. With lines like “If you can’t stop a war, you might as well make money, right?” peppered throughout, it steers far from objectivity. Even flirting with becoming an attack piece itself near the end, as if the writer herself were personally offended by the band’s actions. Although she took the time to interview Gabel himself and include quotes from him, they are not without snide remarks about his recent arrest or criticism. She reinforces her ideas with a quote from another critic of the band’s actions, Mike Conklin of The L Magazine:

“when you say the same things over and over again, as loudly as [Gabel] did, into a microphone no less, to countless impressionable teenagers, you’ve effectively lost your right to just decide one day that you didn’t mean any of it.”

Against Me!’s position is that they are misunderstood, and the whole ‘sellout’ movement against them is a ridiculous waste of time and a case of hugely missing the point of their music. They push on, and ‘New Wave’ is as harsh as ever on the industry with songs like ‘Up the Cuts’ and its title track. However, many ex-fans critics feel differently. Some have even gone as far as to book protest shows against them, and others have published guides to subverting the band’s concerts. The justification is often lacking, however, just coming down to this whiney chorus from the peanut gallery of ‘They signed to a major label! How can they be critical! Hypocrites! Sellouts!” Ms. Gottlieb’s article, for instance, hinges on one sentence that the writer uses to justify much of her perspective on the band:

“Maybe the band’s subsequent jump to Sire Records–itself a subsidiary of Warner Bros., and thus a part of Time-Warner, the world’s largest media conglomerate–doesn’t pack the same epochal punch as Bob Dylan going electric, but the results again seem to justify the decision.”

However, it would seem this crucial line is horribly factually inaccurate.

Yes, Sire is, in fact, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, however, despite the name, they are not a part of Time Warner. WMG was sold off by Time Warner in late 2003 to an independent group of investors and is now entirely independently owned and operated. These days, despite its ‘major label’ status, WMG targets its business much differently than it had in its past. In recent years WMG has focused on signing a lot of the more prominent independent punk bands to get into more niche markets with less focus on the mainstream. Groups like Rancid and Less Than Jake have found homes where they previously wouldn’t have been considered “commercially viable.” Warner these days has become, apparently, a welcoming home to bands who want major label distribution and production without having to sacrifice their creative vision and values.

I think this often goes unknown or misunderstood by a lot of Against Me!’s fans, and I imagine it played a significant factor in a lot of bands decisions to sign to WMG labels.

The whole thing goes back to the age-old ‘What makes someone a sellout?’ argument that any of us might have written about in our high school journalism classes. Unfortunately, as trivial as that argument is, it still doesn’t have a clear answer. Personally, I tend to believe that the claims against Against Me! remain mostly unfounded and short-sighted. I feel like it’s one more case of closed-minded people who claim to be open. An unfortunate side effect often bred in punk culture. People who claim a “counter-culture,” but ultimately have a problem with anyone making a living selling their art or wanting to disrupt something other than a local basement show.

While I see some values in the criticism, I think it’s unwarranted in this case. Certainly, there is a moral difference between signing to a huge independent label that only makes music, and signing to a global conglomerate media, or electronics, company that makes bombs for the government.

So in Against Me!’s own words:

“All the punks still singing the same song.
Is there anyone thinking what I am?
Is there any other alternative?

Are you restless like me?”

Sadly, I think “the punks” are missing the point.

Categories
Technology

Rules of the Audio Cleanup Game

Since March, I’ve received a lot of feedback regarding my cleaned up remix of the Gimp version of ‘Supernothing.’ (In case you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, take a look at this post here.) In fact, the .mp3 file generates the majority of the traffic that this site receives. So much so that I needed to up my hosting plan.

I don’t mind, though. As a Streetlight Manifesto fan, I’m just glad to be contributing and helping other people enjoy their music as much as I do. I’m delighted that people are grateful for the work I did, and I appreciate the comments and messages regarding it. Most of which come from people from Skachilles (the official unofficial Streetlight Manifesto message board.)

It’s because of this response that I am writing this. The majority of the messages come with questions as to what I’m working on. As well as encouragement that I work on more. Most ask me to take a crack at Catch-22’s ‘Rules of the Game’ EP. I figured I should post something of a follow up to that since I get asked so often.

Although I’m a graphic designer, not an audio engineer, back in March, I was very excited by the work I had done. As such, I took a serious stab at cleaning up ‘I’m Better Than You.’ I even went as far as to buy good studio headphones to work on the project. However, once I got into it, I found that the recordings of ‘Rules of the Game’ are a bit more challenging than ‘Supernothing’ was. Partially due to the recording quality, partially due to the speed/intensity of the songs, but mostly due to my personal lack of expertise.

With ‘Supernothing,’ there is a lot of silence and lows in the song. That gives me more to work with to take out the ambient tape noise. When working with a song like ‘I’m Better Than You,’ that’ is not the case. Thus far, I’ve had no luck with any of the other recordings and haven’t produced anything worth releasing or commenting on here. I haven’t given up entirely, but at this time, it’s not within my skill level, nor is it high on my list of priorities. (No offense!) 

While I appreciate all the encouragement and feedback, what it comes down to is this: I’m a graphic designer, not an audio engineer.

It’s just something I tried out and got lucky. I’m going to keep trying, and I’ll keep you guys posted should I manage any other future miracles, but I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up too much.

Thanks again for the interest and kind words, keep me in your bookmarks if something pops up, here will be where to find it.

Categories
Pop Culture

Killers singer ‘offended’ by Green Day

Apparently, Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers, was a bit annoyed by Green Day‘s 2005 DVD ‘Bullet In a Bible’. In particular, the performance of American Idiot and how Billie Joe pumps the audience during it.

“I just thought it was really cheap,” he explained. “To go to a place like England or Germany and sing that song – those kids aren’t taking it the same way that he meant it. And he [Billie Joe Armstrong] knew it.”

After reading the article, I tend to agree with him. There are parts of ‘Bullet In A Bible’ that kinda struck me as Green Day deliberately missing their own point and playing up anti-American hatred. That said, to get offended is somewhat ridiculous if you ask me. What were they supposed to do, not play the song?

That said, the phenomenon he’s referring to does bother me. While I was in Ireland in 2004, there were a ton of kids wearing ‘Not My President’ shirts with swastikas drawn on Bush’s forehead. I wore that shirt with pride as an American just as I sing along to American Idiot. With pride in my nation and what it stands for, in civil disagreement of my government’s policies. Not because I hate my country, but because I love it. Somehow I don’t think those kids in Europe get that. In that sense, I agree with Flowers, and it scares me.

It’s just a shame it he is saying it a year too late, and for shameless self-promotion:

The Killers frontman said he believed that his band’s new album ‘Sam’s Town’ is a much better representation of America.

“People need to see that, really, there are the nicest people in the world here!” he declared. “I don’t know if our album makes you realise that. But I hope it’s from a more positive place.”

(Via Punknews)

Categories
Pop Culture Technology

Impressed with Myself

So recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Streetlight Manifesto and the earlier projects of their singer Tomas Kalnoky.

Tomas was the original singer/writer for the cult favorite ska act, Catch 22, best known for their 1998 record ‘Keasbey Nights‘, which many will argue to be the band’s best (or only good) album. Well back before Catch 22, Tomas was in a punk band named Gimp.

After Gimp disbanded, Tomas reworked one of their songs, ‘Supernothing,’ from a slow acoustic track to the faster, more upbeat version that appears on Keasbey Nights. The original, perhaps because it is so different, has become a favorite among fans. Sadly the only copies of this album floating around the internet are of poor quality. Probably due to having been taken directly from tape copies that, it seems, were not high fidelity to start with.

Tonight I had a bit of free time and decided to throw Supernothing into Soundtrack Pro to teach myself the software and to see if I could do anything about the quality. I was surprised by the results. I managed to correct the volume problems and remove almost all the tape hiss with just a few clicks. I’m impressed with Soundtrack and how easy it was to do without noticeably distorting the audio. If someone like myself, who is virtually tone-deaf, could manage to do something with it in a matter of minutes, that says a lot.

The immediate difference is subtle but evident at loud volumes, through a car stereo or headphones. The removal of the hiss, and the boosted volume makes it vastly more listen-able than before in my opinion.

I’m debating doing more of this type of thing with some other projects, including ‘Rules of the Game’ Catch 22’s pre-Keasbey demo that is also only on tape, but I’d like some feedback on how people think this sounds first.

Anyway, I’ll let you be the judge of my work.

You can check out the original here:

And my cleaned-up version:
http://www.subism.com/audio/gimp/supernothing.mp3