A requiem for Green Day

Posted by Mike Amin On 8/28/2009 2 comments
Ah, Green Day. Possibly one of the best bands of the 90's, and one of my all-time favorites. It's a shame they broke up and stopped making records after 1999... wait, what? Nah, nah - that can't be Green Day - that sounds like Scissor Sisters... no, maybe more like Robbie Williams... No wait, maybe more like... well, NOT Green Day.

Obnoxious fictional scenarios aside, this post is about Green Day and how one of the best bands ever has completely transformed over the last 10 years, and left the old Green Day for dead.

While many people may remember Green Day in the 90s, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize they sound like a radically different band in 2009. Green Day's early material had a tremendous impact on the mainstream appeal of punk with their release of Dookie in 1994. The album was amazing - maybe one of the best ever. Not to say their earlier releases weren't good: 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and Kerplunk are terrific in their own ways. While the latter two had lower production values, the songwriting and music was amazingly infectious and still hold up to this day. Dookie raised the bar on production and it was one of those rare moments where major label support actually helped improve a band. Case in point: "Longview".

UPDATE OCT 27 2009: Looks like Warner has removed the video for Longview and Warning from YouTube, no doubt because they want to push people to the Green Day website. Anyway you can check out the music video here:
http://www.greenday.com/site/picsnvids.php#videos


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueO1Lh6S0Do

It wasn't just "Longview" though - Dookie is a masterpiece from beginning to end, and it opened up punk rock to millions of American teens. Thing is, there was an honesty to the music, despite being on a major label. To me, that is the essence of punk rock: honest, kick-ass music.

Insomniac, Green Day's follow-up to Dookie, came out toward the end of 1995, and was panned by critics. This was not surprising as there was a tremendous amount of pressure on the band at the time, and no doubt their popularity was overwhelming, mainly to the band themselves. I recall vividly seeing interviews with Green Day in 1996, just after Insomniac was came out. Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt were humble punk rockers, and their goal was to just create good music, album sales or popularity be damned. This was the essence of the band I loved, and the same reason I love punk rock: the goal is to create good stuff. Check the boys out in a 1996 interview below - they discuss the fact that they don't really expect the album to sell more, but it didn't really matter to them:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7x64G00RZA

Insomniac has actually gotten better as the years have gone on, and there are a number of highly underrated songs on it, including "Stuck With Me", "No Pride", and what may be the best track off the album (as well as the closing track), "Walking Contradiction". Not only is "Walking Contradiction" an excellent track, but it could be the best video Green Day has ever done after "Warning" (the band has never had particularly compelling music videos). Check it out:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dN_fps-tia0

Post-Insomniac, I was fortunate enough to meet the band in 1997 as they were passing through Montreal to support the outstanding just-released album Nimrod. I chatted with them for a bit and was not surprised to see that they were fairly cool, down-to-earth folks, who were more interested in playing great tunes than being rock stars. This really came through on the album.

Nimrod demonstrated that the guys could create amazing punk rock and even tip their hats to associative punk rock genres like melodic hardcore on "Platypus (I Hate You)" and surf on the instrumental track "Last Ride In". Unfortunately the lead single "Hitchin' a Ride" was a mess, and it seemed to have been created in order to regain mainstream appeal. Bad news for those unfortunate casual listeners that ran out to buy the album because they loved "Hitchin' a Ride"... the rest of the album, with one other exception (as I will detail below) was a focused, brilliant punk rock ride which was slicker than Dookie but just as compelling to any pre-Dookie Green Day fan because the music was still honest.

Then something major happened. As a listener got toward the end of the album, a frighteningly bizarre track popped up... that track was the now ubiquitous "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)":


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFgok5SceLw

What the...? Why is there a sappy acoustic track on a Green Day album? And why does it sound like James Taylor with a string section?? Hardcore Green Day fans were baffled, and it got worse. Light rock radio stations started to pick the song up. LIGHT ROCK. The idea of Green Being played on a light rock station was mind-blowing to anyone who had been following the band closely up to that point... unfortunately I knew this was the beginning of the end, because it all went to hell from that point on. And not in the good way.

The year 2000 hit, and Warning came out. It was startling. The band started to depart from their core sound... no longer did we hear punk rock chords and great songs - instead, we had what sounded like a cross between burlesque music and mainstream rock. Think an entire album of "Hitchin' a Ride". Really? REALLY? What happened? Maybe it was the fact that Rob Cavallo was no longer on board as a producer (he had produced every Green Day album up to that point). In fact, I have not been able to find who actually produced the album (there is no credit), which leads me to believe they boys produced it themselves. Maybe they were getting tired of their old punk rock sound, or maybe they were just getting older and wanted to start appealing to a different, more mainstream audience, but either way, it didn't work for me, and many I'm sure many other fans. Perhaps the only redeeming part to Warning was that the band released the awesome video for the title track, which is also the only decent song on the album:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da0JwKT3GyM

An album of covers, Shenanigans, dropped in 2002 and it was fairly good for what it was, but simply because when you're covering Ramones songs it's hard to go wrong. At this point though, there was a glimmer of hope that Green Day would come back and knock our socks off like they did with Nimrod. They were Green Day, after all, right? We could forgive the aptly-named "Good Riddance" and bland disaster that was Warning because we figured the guys we always knew and loved would do what they do best: honest punk rock.

Enter American Idiot. This is probably what most true fans agree was the turning point of Green Day from punk rockers into a mainstream rock act. The album had a over-produced sound, with tons of reverb and a larger-than-life sound. This is punk rock - it should NEVER sound larger than life. These guys sounded like cheesy over-the-top stadium rock acts, as opposed to a humble punk trio belting out three-chord goodness. Who knows how many studio players they had on this album, but the sound transformed - subsequently, so did the band. While the record didn't necessarily have bad songs on it, the sound and feel was just not Green Day. It was something else, something foreign to those who played Kerplunk over and over on their walkman until the cassette got worn out and a new one would have to be recorded at a buddy's place.

The attitude changed.

No longer were these guys who just wanted to create good music. Instead, they wanted to be the biggest band in the world. They had a message, maaaan. The took the popularity of 2000s-era emo and capitalized it in a big way, pandering to millions of kids just discovering Green Day. The band themselves started to sound like egomaniacs in interviews: our music is important. WE are important. Buy our record.

You can't exactly blame them. American Idiot was HUGE. I'm sure dump trucks full of money started appearing at their places of residence, and the fame... oh, the fame. They started playing massive shows to 40,000 people and whatnot. They were rock gods, once again. And the guys, well into their 40s late 30s, probably realized this was a last chance at staying relevant.

Green day's latest album, 21st Century Breakdown, is more or less an extension of American Idiot (both could have easily been packaged as a double album), and with it comes the official end of Green Day. The album is essentially a pop-rock effort.

Both albums represent the shift of Green Day from pop-punk trio to 70s rocker-esque gandiose sideshow, which is fundamentally the reverse of the concept of punk, and therefore the core fans have been alienated, but the band has attracted literally millions of casual listeners. They say timing is everything - Green Day succeeded in capitalizing on both the shift in teenage musical tastes and the political conditions of early-2000s America. They now represent a style of music that is rife with over-ambitious complexity - something that is very hard to swallow for me and for old-school fans. What happened to a guitar, bass and drums? Do you really need an entire ORCHESTRA behind you? You might as well rename yourselves Metallica and start drinking FibreCon.

We have to thank Green Day for the legendary albums they did - unfortunately the band we loved no longer exists. Goodbye Green Day - rest in peace.
I've been trying to find a way to stream all the video and audio files I have stored on my MacBook over to my PS3. The PS3 itself supports the Universal Plug n' Play (UPnP) protocol so this should be easy enough, right? After reading the boards and doing some research, the two best options appeared to be:


While PS3 Media Server is a great price (nothing dollars), it is a little unwieldy to use for novices, and I in fact had to play with some settings just to get it to actually connect to my PS3. My setup involves a 2GHz Core 2 Duo Black Macbook (the machine is more than 2 years old) connecting to my network wirelessly via a Belkin router, and my PS3 also connected wirelessly through the router. Most of my media is stored on an external 1TB USB hard drive, which is obviously connected to my Mac.

After playing with PS3 Media Server for a bit, I noticed that while some video files played fine, some others were extremely choppy. The streaming times were also very slow (took a while to get a decent initial buffer stream rolling). I decided to try Medialink and see if a piece of paid software would work out better.

After setting up Medialink (very easy, although I had to power on my PS3 BEFORE I started the UPnP server from my MacBook for it to be recognized), I noticed the same problems happening: video stuttering or choppy. This choppiness was happening only with certain video formats (presumably because the streaming bit rate is too high?), including:

- .vob files
- .mp4 files (only some of them)
- Video_TS folders (yes, I was able to stream a full DVD over the network, but I had to play each .vob file independently -not good news if your DVD has many different chapters).
- Most .avi files seemed to play fine, some some of the higher-quality movies had intermittent choppiness.

After doing some digging, this helpful page turned up:


Good old Khoji made a suggestion to hook my MacBook up to the router with an actual cable. I did, and voila! Problem solved. I had my files streaming smoothly and playing great on my PS3. Unfortunately my apartment setup doesn't allow for me to keep my laptop connect via cable, so I did the reverse: I hooked up my PS3 to the router via cable, and had my MacBook connected to the router wirelessly. The setup still worked great! Nice - now I can watch the entire 4th season of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job without using a USB stick! Audio files worked fine too, although the PS3 playlist and organizational tools are terrible, so good luck trying to stream that 1994 Euro party mix you took 6 hours to put together in iTunes.

The only downside to using Medialink is that it can't transcode files on-the-fly (unlike PS3 Media Server), although I've only found this useful for formats the PS3 doesn't support - mainly .mkv files. I tested PS3 Media Server with a .mkv file and it worked great - unfortunately I have no idea where PS3 Media Server is temporarily storing this transcoded file - an issue if hard drive space is at a premium (which on my MacBook it is). Hope this helps some folks out there running into issues...

Now THIS is music video quality at its peak

Posted by Mike Amin On 8/14/2009 1 comments
Great use of compositing, excellent choreography, 'staches left and right... what more could a music video aficionado ask for? Moses Znaimer, take note:


Original page where this gem was found is here: http://gallery.me.com/bentendoisme#100090

8-bit music video - No Escape! by Arman Bohn

Posted by Mike Amin On 8/10/2009 0 comments
On the topic of compelling music videos, check out this one for No Escape! by Arman Bohn:



Of course, this has been done before (very, very well, I might add), by Junior Senior for their hit Move Your Feet:



But there are a couple of things I appreciate about Arman Bohn video: first, the graphics were created by Bohn himself - nice artwork. Second, the video was developed with almost the OPPOSITE approach of our friends Linkin Park for their vid New Divide, as detailed in a previous post. Bohn has taken something gloriously low-res and created a simple, effective piece of art. With the upcoming Tron sequel, the storyline is very a propos. Come to think of it, the "living things inside your video game" kind of reminds me of the old all-CG kids show Reboot. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Didn't think so.
The quality of music videos is on a rapid decline. This could have something to do with the lack of music videos being played anywhere on US television (luckily Canadians still have the luxury of several music video-only channels, including MuchLoud, MuchVibe and MuchRetro). More likely, there are few real innovators in the medium... in fact, no has even come close to approaching the genius of Michel Gondry.

Although he may be in full movie-making mode right now (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, etc.), he created some of the best music videos of all time: Let Forever Be by the Chemical Brothers, Fell In Love With A Girl by the White Stripes, Walkie-Talkie Man by Steriogram... the list goes on. In fact, no one has even come close to replicating what he has done. Unfortunately, he has developed a following of art school kids who THINK they are doing something innovative, when in fact they are doing a very poor imitation of his work. Case in point: my buddy Payam (check out the link to his site in my sidebar) just sent me a link to the latest Lily Allen video for her track, Fuck You:


The video is a great concept - but totally fails in the execution. This is more like a demonstration of special effects (basic ones, at that) rather than a fully thought-out piece of art. in the video, no one is even reacting to Allen as she manipulates the world around her. If someone stretched my face, I think I'd react! These are the kind of details and care Gondry put into his work, and what really set it apart. It's precisely why his videos were so compelling, and went beyond just a showcase of special effects. Another example - Kraak & Smaak, with their video for Squeeze Me:



Awesome concept. But hollow execution. This is cool effects for the sake of cool effects.

All of this got me thinking: maybe we've reached a plateau in terms of what can be done in music videos. This is due to accessibility to technology, perhaps. When Gondry was innovating, he was doing things with special effects that had never been seen - but because of recent CG advances, in 2009 there is little we haven't seen already. More importantly, easy access to these effects has made creators lazy. Very lazy. Gondry had to put a ton of thought and a TREMENDOUS amount of effort into planning some of his videos, mainly because the effects were so complex and costly. Today, any person with a PC and moderate skill can pull off sophisticated-looking effects - so why bother putting any real thought into the SUBSTANCE of the video?

If there is anything out there I'm missing, please let me know. I'm starving for amazing music videos and it pains me to see my favorite medium in such a state. Next step: just make them myself...

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