This is music DVD. All you can eat.
Here comes another volume of Warner's interactive music video magazine, this time offering excursions into post-punk, pop metal, radio-friendly techno, psychedelic pop, and even a touch of light soul. It's a nice snack, but after two hours, you might want something more.
Facts of the Case
As noted in previous reviews of Circuit issues, the magazine is divided into four sections. Let's cruise through this volume's offerings:
Bandwidth: four artists are profiled here. First, BT, a techno musician who states quite plainly that he is "not a DJ," but a "musician" and "composer." He is good looking (a bit like Brad Pitt), pretty articulate, and shows off his home studio and a perky video (with imagery borrowed from Aronofsky's Pi) for a radio-friendly techno number. Then, Fu Manchu, a car-obsessed hard rock band. Not much here, but it is amusing to picture these guys in high school air-guitaring to BTO and Steppenwolf records. Third, long-standing alt-pop weirdos Ween. They play a pretty acoustic song in a park, then meander through an interview in which they theorize that their typical fan is "some kid at home smoking weed." They are affable, but seem puzzled by their own success in recent years. Fourth, Victoria Williams, a folksy (she proudly shows off her homemade curtains!), friendly guitarist who wants to write music that is "good for people." She is notable mostly for forging ahead with a music career while struggling with multiple sclerosis.
Breakthrough: only one act, Beachwood Sparks, is profiled here. They play late-'60s style guitar pop, showing a big Byrds influence. Although they describe themselves as "post-modern" and "psychedelic country music," this is really just a bunch of kids playing bubblegum pop.
Undercurrent: Negativland, a group of experimental, audio-collage performance artists that has been around for nearly two decades, is profiled here. You may remember their legal troubles a few years ago, when they were sued by U2's record label for unauthorized sampling. I remember them from college, back when audio collage was still avant-garde. Here they perform two live songs. Although their work still seems mired artistically in the 1980s, their influence on much of the modern rock scene (especially electronica and hip hop, whose use of sampling is possible because of the legal battles Negativland and others fought) is significant.
Front Row: four popular touring acts are featured here. The Apples in Stereo play peppy psychedelic pop. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci spend a lot of interview time explaining why their name doesn't mean anything, then play their brand of Welsh rock, sounding a lot like Dexy's Midnight Runners. The biggest surprise behind Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise is that Bradley is a good friend of trailer-trash rapper Kid Rock. Bradley and his band play warm and comfortable '70s-era light soul. Finally, Modest Mouse, an up-and-coming alt-rock act with a grindy Sonic-Youth-style guitar sound, offers up a tune.
The disc is rounded out with some movie trailers (for Ready to Rumble and Any Given Sunday, if that gives you an idea of the target demographics) and an indie-rock trivia game which unlocks a "secret film" (a short entitled "Burnout," which is essentially a music video for an Australian version of Tom Waits).
Every month, I enjoy—and by "enjoy," I mean "endure"—yet another issue of a free subscription to a CD-ROM music magazine which shall remain nameless. The last issue, which I haven't even released from its prophylactic shrink-wrapping tempts me with the sounds of Limp Biskit wannabes Papa Roach and David Cassidy wannabe Joey McIntyre. There might be a good game demo on it, but more likely some Quake wannabe that gives me migraine headaches. When first confronted with Circuit 7, I was afraid that it would also throw a truckload of missing talent at me. I was quite surprised to find that the DVD was not all that bad. That is not to say that it is terrific. It is much like that Stephen Wright joke where he comments that his clothing size is an "extra medium." This is Circuit 7 in a nutshell. This disc is an Extra Medium.
It is interesting to note that all the acts on the disc, with the possible exception of Negativland, all perform upbeat and positive songs. Everyone seems perky. It is also pretty curious that all the acts, except for Robert Bradley, are white. And even Bradley's music is fairly harmless '70s light soul (although he is a great singer). Little about Circuit 7 is challenging to its young, male, white, middle-class audience (arguably the largest target demographic for DVD players anyway). The only conspicuously political act, Negativland, is a bit long in the tooth relative to the other bands here (well, 20 years is forever in the music industry). And the token girl-with-guitar, Victoria Williams, sings happy songs free of sticky social issues.
Some of the artists are quite talented. BT stands out as a potentially shrewd artist, already branching out into film soundtracks and other areas where he might have some career longevity. Ween, while an acquired taste, has already shown legs in the industry. The Apples in Stereo and Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise put on energetic live shows, and would be worth seeing if they come to your town. Most of the rest are pretty disposable.
Technically, the disc appears much like its predecessors in the series. Video is a mix of interviews, outdoor footage, club shoots, and a couple of professional music videos. Apart from the professional stuff, the bulk of the footage, while well mastered, is often cut hastily and lit awkwardly (particularly glaring is Ween's live park performance, where one camera is overexposed and the other is lit properly, causing a jarring effect as the two cut back and forth).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Am I just getting old and I can't appreciate that crazy music those darn fool kids listen to nowadays? I'm not sure. I mean, most of the music when I was a kid was crap too, and "classic rock" stations, which are aimed at my age group, make me itchy. I love music: I have several hundred CDs ranging from rock to classical to jazz to world music. James Brown to Japanese koto. Electronica to Robert Mitchum singing calypso (yes, it is as funny as you think it is).
And I am glad Circuit 7 highlights musical acts that appeal to less mainstream audiences. Looking back at the reviews of earlier volumes, I was pleasantly surprised (and I mean that sincerely) to see them feature The Residents on the cover of volume 5. Wow, it only took 30 years for the most authentically "alternative" band in America to become "hip." However, for the most part, none of the acts on Circuit 7 really stand out as innovative. Perhaps this is exactly Warner's intention: commercial success with a series like Circuit depends on giving people a taste of something familiar with just a little extra spice added. Many of the acts on this disc will remind you of other artists and musical genres. And if you already like those artists, you might like the new ones you hear on this disc.
The packaging and "operation instructions" promise alternate video tracks and both 2.0 and 5.1 channel sound. No alternate video actually appeared on the disc, and the disc only appears to contain one soundtrack.
If you fit the demographic profile for Circuit 7, you may find one or two bands on this sampler magazine worth investigating. The disc is pretty reasonably priced ($15 list; around $10 online) and is a pretty painless way to explore the modern music scene.
Warner Brothers is released on its own recognizance, in the hopes that future volumes might take more chances and introduce the audience to really new music. Only the market will judge the quality of the artists on this disc; in that area, the court will suspend judgment.
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