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Movie Review: ‘Restrepo’ – 15 Months At War


Photo | Tim Hetherington

Last night, I had the chance to see the feature-length war documentary “Restrepo”. The movie chronicles a platoon of U.S. Army soldiers based in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley over a full 15 month deployment. Unlike many documentaries that focus on war, “Restrepo” doesn’t debate politics. Instead, filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger managed to document life during war through the eyes of the soldiers themselves.

Considered one of the most dangerous places in the U.S. military, The Korengal Valley, only 6 miles long, claimed the lives of almost 50 U.S. soldiers in a mere five years of combat (before U.S. retreat in April 2010). Early into this platoon’s deployment, Army medic Juan “Doc” Restrepo was shot during combat and died in the helicopter en route to the hospital. Honoring the memory of their fallen comrade, his platoon created “OP Restrepo”, a remote outpost where all 15 men lived high in the mountains of the Korengal Valley. No narrator, no TV commentators, no interviews with politicians. Instead, it’s a story that showcases who these soldiers really are, what they’ve done and how they’ve managed to endure.

Haunting is the only word that comes to mind after watching this film. Every preconceived notion that I had about war was erased within the first two minutes. Quickly I realized that all the political debates about this war are really just another way to avoid the actual reality of the situation. Seventy percent of all bombs dropped in Afghanistan are dropped in the Korengal Valley. It’s impossible to completely understand how these soldiers feel while literally living in one of the most dangerous places on earth. They’ve experienced such incomparable emotional trauma (in most cases before the age of 25), that literally only another solider could ever understand. “Restrepo” creators stated that their only goal was “to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment”. They succeeded.

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— In November 2010, “Restrepo” premiered on the National Geographic Channel. It was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2010. Co-filmmaker Tim Hetherington was killed in April 2011 in an R.P.G. attack while documenting the political uprising in Libya. Shortly before his death, Tim completed “Infidel” a collection of photos taken while stationed in the Korengal Valley. Tim was 40 years old.

Staying Power: Lady Gaga

Abraham Lincoln BoomBox

Photo | 13thFloorGrowingOld

Recently, I’ve been thinking… I showcase a lot of different musicians, but who has that “it” factor. Ya know? That certain something that separates the fads from the truly talented. Twenty years ago, was anyone predicting the artists with staying power, or were they so wrapped up in their current trends that they couldn’t see that far? Did anyone actually consider that “Marky Mark” Wahlberg could go on to have an extensive career in film? Would anyone believe that Body Count’s Ice-T could be better known for his acting role as a police detective instead of his controversial music career? This got my mind thinking. Who are those certain celebrities today that will be just as relevant in 20 years?  And that’s why I’m creating ‘Staying Power’, a blog column that delves into the past to reveal the immortal artists of the future.

I know it’s cliche, but the first person who comes to my mind is Lady Gaga. She’s created a hole in the market that consumers didn’t even realize they wanted… and then filled it with herself. People that are too young to remember Madonna, never got a chance to immerse themselves in the late 80s/early 90s “Be Yourself” music scene.  The in-between time where gangster rap and punk rock hadn’t quite taken over yet, and “pop music with a message” (actually created by the artist) dominated. Lady Gaga’s management obviously figured out that it was time for “a new Madonna”. I can see Lady Gaga in twenty years, touring the world and still releasing new music (exactly like Madonna today).  She has created her own brand, opposed to just riding out a fad.

I want to sit here and list off the people I think will still be relevant in twenty years, but I’ve decided to only showcase one artist per blog post.  This topic is obviously open to discussion and I’m curious: Who do you think will still be relevant in twenty years?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Jennifer Lopez ‘On The Floor’: Another product of the hit making machine

Audio Faders

Photo | join the dots

Many people believe that a “hit song” can be created by anyone that has the proper resources and a group of talented musicians surrounding them.  A recent hit single, J Lo’s ‘On The Floor’, gives this theory some merit.  J Lo hasn’t had a hit in 4 years and hasn’t had a massive mainstream hit in 7, so the success of her new album is extremely important to her career.  She obviously needed a hit, so (like many artists choose to do) she recruited the help of some of best producers in the business.  RedOne (Producer for: Lady Gaga, Backstreet Boys, Akon, Usher) and Pit Bull joined forces.  They chose to sample a ridiculously catchy hook from a late 80’s french pop song ‘Lamabada’ by Kaoma.  So yes, this hit song was manufactured by a few of the best producers and songwriters in the industry.  But, does that make it any less of a success?

Regardless of the number of people who ended up working on the project, the outcome is still just as relevant.  If all artists chose to alienate producers and songwriters who could help advance their career, we would rarely see a radio hit that could achieve mainstream success so quickly.  So yes, again, it’s sad to accept that your romantic idea of one lonely struggling artist writing a hit single and being discovered by a record exec at a dive bar isn’t quite as possible as you thought.  But, then again it might happen… eventually.  The point is, record labels need hit singles to make money.  They don’t like “mights”.  If a song “might” be a hit, they’ll rarely take the chance.  That’s why they have every major producer and songwriter in their back pocket, so when they have a triple threat (like J Lo), they can guarantee a successful album which translates into more and more money for them.

Jennifer Lopez (feat. Pit Bull) ‘On The Floor’

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Kaoma ‘Lambada’

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Dear Simple Plan, Please fire your marketing department.

Simple Plan

Photo | The Interlude

Dude!  Remember Simple Plan!?  These guys have been outta the scene for a few years, but they just popped into my head for some reason.  So, I had to share with you one of their songs that (in my opinion) was never marketed properly.  The song isn’t insanely life changing, BUT it does have those perfect harmonies, hooks and progressions that make it a textbook radio hit.  YET, when it was released back in 2008, radio programmers never managed to take complete advantage of it.

OK, I’ll put this into simple terms for you: Maroon 5 gets constant radio play (even for their songs that are 5+ years old!) because they have record label reps that constantly work with radio stations to increase their radio “spins”.  An artist could have an amazing song, but without the correct support from a reputable firm, the song will never see the light of day.  It really just seems to me that radio programmers have forgot what radio actually is.  IT’S ABOUT THE MUSIC!  They’ve stopped independently seeking out new music entirely.  Instead you’re forced to listen to songs that were released solely because a record label “traded” (tickets, cash, ipods (but not for long), gift cards, anything for “listeners”) with a station so that their artist can get radio play, which translates into downloads, which translates money for themselves.  Depressing, I know.  But, it’s true.  So, check out Simple Plan‘s “Your Love Is A Lie” and you’ll understand what I’m ranting about.

Simple Plan “Your Love Is A Lie”

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What is “Math Rock”?


Photo | prusakolep

If you put progressive rock, post-punk, experimental rock and fusion jazz into a blender full of lighter fluid, you’d end up with Math Rock.  Gaining popularity in the mid 1980s, this new genre has taken rock music to an entirely new level.

Unlike most rock music that typically uses a basic 4/4 time signature, math rock uses a variety of atypical time signatures (like 13/8, 7/8) and frequently starts and stops the rhythm entirely.  It takes obvious cues from jazz music (which also features changing meters), yet it has managed to create its own distinctive sound entirely.

In the late 1960s, rock musicians began to experiment with unusual sounds and structures.  Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd and Rush, to name a few, laid the foundation for what modern day math rock has become.  At the time, listeners didn’t know what to call this new genre.  Was it Rock?  Was it Jazz?  Maybe, Razz?  Up until the mid 1980s, it was commonly grouped in with “progressive” or “experimental” music.

Starting in the late 80s, math rock bands began to pop up all over the country.  By the mid 90s, they had pushed their way into Europe and Japan, too.  Today, math rock is alive and well.  The astonishing part is, that in almost 25 years, math rock hasn’t crossed into the mainstream.  It’s amazing to think that an entire genre of music can remain “underground” for such a long time.  Below, I’ve included a few samples from recent math rock bands.  I’ll let the music speak for itself.

The Mars Volta “Goliath”

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Toe “Long Tomorrow”

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Battles “Race: In”

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