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  • CONCERT REVIEW: Sex Between Hipsters and Robots

    • Purity Ring at Le National. Photo Laura Pellicer

    • Purity Ring at Le National. Photo Laura Pellicer

    Canadian electronic music duo Purity Ring played to a sold-out crowd at Le National on Friday night to kick off a tour supporting their first album.

    Singer Megan James and instrumentalist Corin Roddick received critical acclaim for the singles that worked their way through the online music world and then for their 11-track album Shrines. They were voted “Best New Music” by Pitchfork.

    From where I stood—nestled near the speakers towards the front of the stage—the sound was ethereal. Glitchy deep bass stretched across the floor while James’s high, soft vocals floated from above.

    It was miraculous that an indie electro band sounded better live than on the album and delivered a performance that actually kept my attention.

    Roddick lit up the stage by beating against mini geometric snares attached to his MIDI controller. The lighting system was designed by Roddick and the band’s clothing was by James, making Purity Ring a truly DIY effort.

    James punctuated her dark lyrics by beating a massive Celtic-style drum which threw beams of light into the crowd. The air was thick with not just light but other potent substances.

    “I feel high, from the air,” said a guy standing behind me.

    I realized I was possibly feeling the effects of more than just the music.

    “Crawlersout” was first on the line-up, but it was the sound of “Lofticries,” arguably their most popular track, that got the crowd.

    And then the rap began.

    That was jarring. A member from the opening act Young Magic joined Roddick and James onstage for a little musical interlude on their track “Grandloves.” It was an awkward attempt at rap. These two are better left to their own devices.

    Surprisingly, Purity Ring’s rendition of a Soulja Boy song later in the show worked, and the dance parties were back. And then the inevitable happened—with only 11 tracks under their belt, the show wrapped up.

    “There was no encore probably because they have no other songs,” said a friend. “It was one of the shortest shows I’ve seen in a long time.”

    But a short set list seemed a small price to hear Purity Ring perform tracks that I’ll continue to have on repeat.

    Why? Because it sounds like sex between hipsters and robots. And I’m into that.

  • Django Unchained is a Spaghetti Western Feast

    • Christoph Waltz as Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django in DJANGO UNCHAINED

    The year is 1858. We are at the brink of the American Civil War and the peak of slavery in the southern United States. It’s a perfect backdrop for another dose of Quentin Tarantino.

    Tarantino is back to embracing his beloved Spaghetti Western style of filmmaking, which his fans saw so vividly depicted in Kill Bill: Vol. 2.

    The film opens with a great bit of dialogue reminiscent to the tense and unsettling opening of Inglourious Basterds, that quickly establishes the two main characters and the link that binds them.

    Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, and Tarantino fans will remember Waltz for his portrayal of sadistic Nazi Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Here, he’s the German-born dentist, with a comical tooth wobbling on top of his coach, and he’s searching for a black slave named Django.

    Schultz’s conversation with Django’s owner unfolds as he announces his intention of buying the slave. The conversation, in true Tarantino style, does not go smoothly, but of course Schultz gets the man he came for. He and Django set out together.

    Without his characteristic strong openings, Tarantino’s films would be a lot less memorable, but they are always essential sequences that perfectly set the tone of his films.

    After freeing Django, Schultz reveals to his new companion that he is a bounty hunter; he needs Django to identify some criminals he is looking for. Despite the man’s erratic behavior, Django agrees to work with him, in order to seek revenge on these men, who had that tortured his wife in a very Kill Bill -esque flashback.

    Django is the classic silent and intriguing Spaghetti Western anti-hero with a dark past. After the usual shooting training sequence, it is agreed that he has become the west’s fastest shooter.

    After accomplishing their task, the newly free Django wants to find his wife, who’s supposed to be at a cotton plantation in Mississippi. Schultz agrees to accompany him—but only if Django helps him on a couple of bounties first.

    When the partners arrive at the plantation, they discover that Django’s wife is the property of Calvin Candie, a francophile and sadistic businessman, in a strong performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.

    The very graphic nature of the violence portrayed in Django Unchained might be unsettling for some viewers, even those accustomed to Tarantino’s style, but it almost always serves an aesthetic or dramatic purpose. Except for the third act.

    Sadly, the film’s final moments are wasted in an incoherent slaughter that may leave viewers scratching their heads at the film’s unsatisfying conclusion.

    However, in pure Tarantino fashion, this pleasure of a movie pushes us in another one of the director’s twisted revisionist fantasies—with comedic undertones. His love for Westerns comes across clearly in a whole host of references to Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci’s work.

    A must-see this holiday season for anyone who is willing to have some Confederate blood with their popcorn.

  • Values and Reality Don’t Mix in Promised Land

    • (l to r) John Krasinski, Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon on the set of the contemporary drama Promised Land, an Alliance Films release

    This isn’t the typical “small town vs. big company” story. Although there are clear good guys and bad guys throughout the movie, each character seems to switch from one role to the other as the narrative progresses.

    Steve Butler (Matt Damon) is a likable and moralistic natural gas company sales executive. But like all good anti-heroes, his experiences have skewed things to the point where his morals are out of step with reality.

    He comes from a small town that decayed after a big plant closed down, so he thinks convincing other small-town types to sell property to the natural gas company is the only way they can survive. He’s there to give them a lifeline.

    In the opening scene, Butler is getting praise from a gas company bigwig over his ability to buy twice as many towns as his peers—for half the price. He buys towns up acre-by-acre so that the natural gas company can then extract resources.

    The environmental risks of fracking are Butler’s boogeyman throughout the sales process.

    While Butler and his partner, Sue Thomason (played by Academy Award-winner Frances McDormand) sit in citizens’ living rooms and convince them that selling their property to the gas company is all things to all people, it’s clear that they’ve done it countless times before.

    Director Gus Van Sant does an incredible job establishing how human and down-to-earth the two characters are before we even see them doing their dirty business. Damon and McDormand are pitch-perfect in scenes of casual joking, delivered in the kind of shorthand that old friends develop.

    Butler has the chip on his shoulder from his hometown going extinct and Thomason has a faraway son who has no time for her. Both of them look worn and ragged throughout the feature—far from the portrait of powerful corporate sales people that we’re used to.

    Because they’re so likable and decent, seeing these two execs as the film’s protagonists feels a bit like watching a movie centered on the trials and tribulations of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies—sure, he wants to take over the world, but try to see it from his point of view.

    Despite knowing that what these execs are doing is wrong, we get enough into their mindset to root for them. The impoverished small-town people sure make it difficult for them, though. And the annoying Austin Powers type making cameos just long enough to foil our two execs’ plans is environmental activist Dustin Noble (played by the ever-likable John Krasinski).

    Not only does the aptly named Mr. Noble help reinforce the town’s doubts over whether the price of this easy money is far too high, but he even makes moves on poor Butler’s in-town love interest.

    Within the confines of this rural town, the big exec is actually the little guy and the townsfolk and environmental representative threaten everything he’s worked for.

    It makes perfect sense that this movie is being released in January because the direction, script and acting make it a serious Oscar contender.

    It even has controversy; pro-fracking groups were upset in advance that this movie might sway public opinion against them. But the recent explosion of gas lines in West Virginia might be doing that too.

    This movie is also extremely timely, as the conversation over how to meet energy needs without relying on foreign oil—and protecting the environment—is ever-present in our society.

    Promised Land in theatres Jan. 4, 2013

  • One Last Glimpse of Red

    L’École de la montagne rouge displayed its combat art in Création en temps de crise sociale, a show at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s design centre.

    ‘’We tried to create an exhibition faithful [to the strike’s spirit],’’ said Olivier Charland, one of the members of L’École de la montagne rouge. ‘’We wanted to reproduce how it felt to be in our studio—but also how it felt to be in the street.’’

    Photos by Flora Hammond

  • Desert Rock at the Casa del Popolo: Six Organs of Admittance Review

    • photo Erin Weisgerber.

    When a band sets off in a new sonic direction, sometimes what comes out in the end can come across like bad karaoke. Everything sounds a bit off, like they are struggling to make the songs their own. But for the few bands that can pull off a dramatic shift in sound, the audience eventually comes around and gets into it.

    Six Organs of Admittance tried something different on their latest album, Ascent, and recently brought this new sound to the Casa del Popolo Nov. 29.

    Despite the shifting roster, guitarist Ben Chasny has remained at the forefront of Six Organs of Admittance since their inception in the late 90s. The band has produced some of the best acoustic drone-rock around, but earlier this year fans were introduced to a new electric guitar-based sound that was heavier than previous albums. But this shift in sound is neither surprising nor new.

    For Ascent Chasny teamed up with Comets on Fire, something he wanted to do for years. In 2008 Comets on Fire went on hiatus, so the new Six Organs of Admittance album is a welcomed reunion.

    Before starting the set, Chasny joked that he brought his acoustic guitar, but decided to instead play electric, since the opening band’s set was acoustic-based.

    “There can’t be two acoustic guitars,” Chasny said.

    From the onset it was clear that if you were expecting to hear the mellow acoustic songs from Shelter from the Ash, or Asleep on the Floodplain, you were in for a surprise. With very few breaks, Six Organs of Admittance ripped through several songs, taking the audience on a long, hypnotic trip more suited to a desert spirit journey than Casa del Popolo.

    The highlight of the set was the track “Closer to the Sky,” which eventually dissolved into a louder version of Lou Reed’s “Vicious”.

    Chasny quietly sang the lyrics, making them almost unrecognizable, but the steady bass-riff, and rambling guitar solos gave away the cover.

    The opener was a brand new project of Arcade Fire’s Richard Parry. It was their first performance, a point brought up throughout the set as Parry joked that people shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions, or provide feedback.

    The three-piece played stripped down acoustic songs that incorporated beautiful vocal-harmonies and subtle electronics, which give them an other-worldly feel. While all the songs were quite good, one of the better songs was unnamed, but had a backstory.

    “That song was about a boy whose parents fell asleep on the beach, so he eventually turned into a fish,” Parry said.