Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Have You Heard Of: La Melodia

In Netherlands on October 27, 2009 at 10:05 am

I know I just recently covered the Netherlands, but I’ve decided to make a return visit to highlight up-and-coming rap duo La Melodia. I saw them live at a global hip-hop showcase this past week at CMJ in New York City and loved their blend of old-school hip-hop, bossa nova, and soul. It was especially nice to see such a self-assured and spunky rapper in the form of MC Melodee since there seems to be a dearth of female rappers in the mainstream American rap scene.

Melodee and DJ/producer INT met and first started collaborating in the Dutch city of Eindhoven; they began by opening their own record store and taking a DIY approach to their musical career (this included making their own sound systems). After landing a European tour with Oh No, Wildchild and Percee P, they released their debut album Vibing High, first in Japan and eventually across Europe and the United States. Today they reside in the capital of Amsterdam and are currently working on completing their sophomore album which they hope to release by the end of the year.

After their performance at 92Y in TriBeCa, in which their setlist included both older songs and new, as-of-yet unreleased material, I decided to purchase Vibing High. I was definitely not disappointed; featuring 20 songs of warm, retro hip-hop it offers up a refreshing change of pace from the generic ringtone rap that tends to dominate stateside. Sonically it is far closer to Little Jackie than, say, Soulja Boy or DMX. With their laid-back rhymes and soulful beats, this is music for cruising through a city on a hot summer afternoon. I can’t recommend it enough, especially to fans of retro hip-hop.


Have You Heard Of: The Mondrians

In Switzerland on October 13, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Incorporating elements of garage rock, psychedelia, power pop, and good ol’ fashioned rock’n’roll, Swiss indie band The Mondrians first hit the music scene back in 2005 with the release of a set of homemade demo recordings called Pearl of the Lake. They followed this up with several more demos throughout the next couple of years and began their assault on mainland Europe, playing shows in Switzerland and France, before trekking across the English Channel to attempt to impress the notoriously tough British music press and audience. After doing just that the band journeyed to Spain in 2008 to begin work on their debut album with producer Gordon Raphael (The Strokes, Regina Spektor, Skin). After a little over a year of working on it, self-titled album was finally released to iTunes on September 30, 2009 and will be physically released in Europe on November 5.

Quirky album opener “Jesse James (the Gentle Borial of a Hero)” sounds like The Beatles circa The White Album, though with a modern twist. Other songs, such as “Reason to Live”, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, “So What for Candide”, are sonic soulmates to The Strokes. Still, they aren’t afraid to slow things down and go introspective; look to “Out of Bananas” and the eight-minute long album closer “Christmas On Your Windows” as evidence. Their debut clearly marks them as a band who knows exactly what sound they want and exactly what they’re doing. It’ll be interesting to see them evolve in the coming years, especially if they are able to find a fair amount of critical or commercial success either stateside of overseas.

Home, dir. by Ursula Meier

In Switzerland on October 13, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Home, Switzerland’s 2010 Oscar submission, tells the interesting story of one family whose unique way of life is threatened by the opening of a previously unused freeway by their house. The film stars legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert as the family matriarch, and Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet as her husband. The two characters preside over a seemingly idyllic and happy family of five, but the introduction of the freeway brings about cracks in the family structure in strange and unique ways. Reactions from those who have seen the film at various festivals, such as those at Cannes, San Francisco, and London, have largely been positive (it’s currently at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes); critics have noted its strong performances (particularly from Huppert), originality, and thematic ambition. It has also been deemed “a deeply disconcerting provocation about the future of civilization” (Empire), “as unsettling as it is sensual” (Daily Telegraph), “a nightmare metaphor for the horrors of the modern world” (Observer), and “one of the strangest horror films of recent years” (Sky Movies). It played the art house circuit in the US back in May, but as of yet does not have a DVD release date.

Theo van Gogh (1957-2004)

In Netherlands on October 6, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I’m going to take a slight detour from the norm this week and discuss the work of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, rather than a single upcoming film. And to answer your question, yes he is in fact related to famed painter Vincent (or as Theo would have called him, great-great-great uncle). With that out of the way, Van Gogh gained popularity in his native country through a series of unique, and oft-controversial, actor-driven films like 06 (1994), Blind Date (1996), and Interview (2003). The latter two have both been recently remade for American audiences, with actor Stanley Tucci both helming and starring in 2009’s Blind Date and Steve Buscemi doing the same for a 2007 version of Interview.

Van Gogh began a career as a newspaper columnist in the ‘80s, gaining prominence for his controversial attacks on actors, politicians, writers and others he associated with power and “the establishment”. A fierce atheist, he also turned his attention towards critiquing modern religion. In the ‘90s he began to focus on Islam, culminating in the 2004 short film Submission which was broadcast on Dutch public television. In the film four Muslim women deliver monologues that call attention to the misogyny and violent treatment of women found in various passages in the Qur’an (these are also written in ink all over their bodies). Though many applauded the film for asking tough questions about Islam and women’s rights, it caused outrage amongst the Muslim population. Both Van Gogh and screenwriter Ayaan Hirsi Ali faced numerous death threats following the film’s airing, and on November 2, 2004 he was brutally murdered in public by Mohammed Bouyer, a member of the Dutch terrorist cell the Hofstad Network. The aftermath of this tragedy was marked by attacks on mosques and Muslim schools, and further counterattacks on Christian churches. In the end, eleven other men were arrested for the conspiracy to also assassinate Hirsi Ali.

Whether or not you agree with Van Gogh’s politics or views, his tragic death should stand as a reminder of the affront of free speech and civil liberties that is still rampant in this supposedly modern world. Such acts should never stand, and it appears that Hirsi Ali (who still faces repeated death threats) plans on going through with Submission: Part II because otherwise she “I would only be helping terrorists believe that if they use violence, they’re rewarded with what they want”*.

Have You Heard: Bonne Aparte

In Netherlands on October 6, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Dutch noise-rock outfit Bonne Aparte hit the music scene back in 2006 and released their self-titled debut album in Spring 2008. Occupying a musical land somewhere between Jesus & the Mary Chain and Nine Inch Nails, the six-person group throws together a mish-mash of instrumentation (clashing drums, guitar, keyboard, and synth) with intense vocals (courtesy of Gerrit van der Scheer) and a wall of dissonance. Tracks like “Taste of Snow” and “Come to Rest” typify this post-punk style, while the minute-long instrumental “….” shows off their flair for the experimental with little more than ambient noise and light instrumentation. With a running time of a little over 20 minutes for 11 tracks, the album moves along at a brisk pace and the songs never overstay their welcome. The band sings primarily in English, so its easily accessible to an American audience (especially fans of experimental noise rock).