Thursday, April 30, 2009


The best film of 2009 so far is "Crank 2", the story of a hitman chasing down various baddies who stole his heart, literally. Yes, it is the BEST film of the year (so far). Now I know there are more "artistic" or "indie" endeavors out there, but that kind of authenticity is soooo boring. It's been quite awhile since I sat in a movie theater and thought "I can't believe this! This is cr-a-zy!" I don't want to ruin the witty fantasia on display too much, but suffice to say I never imagined I'd see Godzilla, REO Speedwagon and hilariously gratuitous public sex in the same movie.

Perhaps a better approach would be to say that "Crank 2" belongs at the top of the cinematic pantheon of Kinetic Eye Candy. This is a relatively new sub-genre of film (that I coined - due props, represent!) that combines an aggressively personal (and often innovative) visual style with breakneck pacing. Most (but not all) Kinetic Eye Candy films are either Action or Sci Fi. They include:

The Road Warrior

Pee Wee's Big Adventure

The 5th Element

Natural Born Killers

Baz Lurhman's Romeo and Juliet

Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle (
no joke)

Hard Boiled

Fight Club

District B 13

To varying degrees, style is the substance in Kinetic Eye Candy. This is also the main criticism of the genre's detractors. But if "meaning" in gallery artwork is often expected to be found solely on the surface, why can't that apply to commercial film?

The visceral jumble of metal and motors in the last 20 minutes of "The Road Warrior"

is a celluloid counterpart to the work of John Chamberlain:

The ballet of gunfire in "Hard Boiled"

is as elegant and detailed as any Renoir

The bombastic explosion of color, composition and cultural reference in "Charlie's Angels 2"

belongs to the same pop art tradition as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and David LaChapelle

Visual art, regardless of the medium or role in the marketplace, can equally and legitimately lead the viewer into a moment of the sublime or emotional catharsis by the unfolding of carefully crafted and intelligently executed imagery designed to inspire and exhillerate. This is the expressed purpose of Kinetic Eye Candy, and "Crank 2" is one of the best examples. Go see it!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Soft Rock vs. Smooth R&B

So My friend Alex keeps insisting that Steely Dan and Sade both fall under the genre of Soft Rock. I know he does this to annoy me (mission accomplished!), but it did inspire a clarification of what differentiates

Soft Rock


from Smooth R&B:


Soft Rock was developed in the mid 1970's by LA session musicians who played on both rock and r&b records. The sound was a combination of r&b rhythm in mostly mid tempos, sophisticated arrangements (that sometimes utilized jazz harmony), emotionally restrained vocals, and pristine production highlighted by low-tuned and naturally mixed drums, guitars with chorus and/or slight phaser, electric piano and a tasteful wash of reverb on everything (except the drums).

Soft rock artists/musicians often appeared on each other's records (in particular backup/lead singer Michael McDonald, guitarist Larry Carlton and various members of what would become the band Toto, especially drummer Jeff Porcaro), which enabled a consistency in style and sound to develop. The overall feeling of Soft Rock was detached cool, and water images easily come to mind when listening to it. Love was either something quietly pined for or softly fought for; moments of emotional intensity were rare and generally saved for choruses and guitar solos. Notable Soft Rock artists/groups include Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins (pre-Footloose), Ambrosia, Player and Christopher Cross.

Choice Cuts

(you may have to click "skip this ad" at the top of the page):

Player - "Baby Come Back"

Kenny Loggins - "Who's Right, Who's Wrong"

Michael McDonald - "I Keep Forgetting"

Ambrosia - "Biggest Part of Me"

Smooth R&B had it's initial seeds planted in 1970s soul music. A few individual
artists such as Marvin Gaye, Minnie Rippington, and Barry White chose to turn down the gospel-influenced emotional catharsis of soul music in favor of something slower, quieter and more sexy. This laid the groundwork for what would become known in the 1980's as Smooth R&B. Smooth R&B was defined by slow to mid tempos, heavy reverb, programmed drums, buttery synths and acoustic piano, deep bass and stylized, emotive vocals. As opposed to Soft Rock, which was created by a collaboration between singers and musicians, Smooth R&B was created mostly by singers collaborating with a producer (or group of producers). But the initial stars of the genre (most notably Luther Vandross) split their sexy Smooth R&B material with more conventional pop ballads and uptempo numbers.

However, by the end of the 1980's and into the 1990's, as the envelope of sexuality was being pushed more explicitly in pop music, Smooth R&B became fully established as it's own genre. Artists and vocal groups could more easily define themselves by the aesthetics of the sexual and sensual without having to balance it with tamer pop material. While there were plenty of male artists doing solid work (Babyface, Blackstreet, Al B Sure), it was two female artists who arguably contributed the most to the genre at that time: Anita Baker and Sade.

Anita Baker's jazz-inflected phrasing and spare instrumentation became a benchmark for style and production. She also separated herself from other Smooth R&B artists by focusing mostly on acoustic instruments. Her musical influence can still be heard in the Smooth R&B spinoff genre of Smooth Jazz, with instrumentalists like Boney James, Kenny G and Dave Koz assuming the role of the singer.

Then there was Sade.


Yes, she indeed was (and still is) very beautiful. But beyond her beauty lay an alluring, airy swoon hinting at an emotional depth floating just below the surface. This, combined with a seamless blend of subtle beats, lush synths and delayed guitars made her music the most artistically ambitious of the genre. Her music also became the cultural crossover soundtrack to a generation of teens getting it on between the years of 1985 and 1992. I particularly remember the drummer in my suburban high school band saying something to the effect of "there's nothing betta than 'Love Deluxe' when her parents are outta town, It's so frickin hot."

As mentioned earlier, credit should also be given to the producers in creating Smooth R&B. The music would not have been possible without the fine work of people like Quincy Jones, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Babyface and Marcus Miller. A whole other post could be written about their work.

Choice Cuts:

(you may have to click "skip this ad" at the top of the page)

Luther Vandross - "If Only for One Night"

Al B. Sure - "Nite and Day"

Anita Baker - "Giving You the Best that I Got"

Sade - "Cherish the Day"

In short, the differences between these two genres can be summarized by the basic terms of mating ritual: Soft Rock is the candlelit courtship and Smooth R&B is the red wine seduction.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hello again....R.I.P. Denim as Cultural Capital

it's been awhile. you look good. do you feel good?

"wherever you go, there you are", as my friend Buckaroo Banzai said.


i totally forgot how jean commercials used to be so "american", "cool" and "sexy". that whole branding concept is gone. I think the the fall of the soviet union, the internet and growing resentment of our fine yet flawed supernation killed the american jean fetish market.

Barack Obama, fix our economy with SEXY COOL JEANS!!!!!