Film

In Defense Of Sony: We Can’t See The Interview Yet, And Why That’s Alright

By Nathan Smith

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Yesterday, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced the cancellation of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s upcoming film The Interview, set to be released on December 25, 2014. The news comes after earlier announcements that the top five theaters chains in North America were pulling the film and that Sony had cancelled the film’s official premiere. This debacle follows weeks of leaks, supposedly from North Korean hackers angered by the film’s plot, which deals with an attempt by two characters (played by Rogen and James Franco) to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. These hacks began with the upload of Sony screeners to the Pirate Bay (which effectively brought down the internet’s most-famed torrent site), but quickly escalated to the release of information like salary figures and emails between executives and other high-profile employees, which insult everyone from Adam Driver to Angelina Jolie to Adam Sandler; dreadful (and possibly-faked) company powerpoints; and even the screenplay to the latest James Bond film. I can’t help but imagine that almost every Sony production has halted in the past few weeks, with the entire company forced onto damage control as its reputation continues to diminish.

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Best of, Music

Best of 2014: Music Videos

By Nathan Smith

Well, it’s that time of year. The calendar is drawing to a close, so the critical forces that be dictate that we must list out the best for all to see. Let’s get things started with an easy one: music videos. This is a new list for us, so we’ll keep it simple. No rankings, no explanations as to why they’re the best, just the videos speaking for themselves. Three from Busdriver, two from Nicki Minaj, and one for that song your favorite football team played too much. If it matters, hopefully it’s here.

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Music

Smash Cut Presents: The Pitchdork 100, Part 3

We finally did it. Part 1 available here. Part 2 here.

20. Bon Iver- Bon Iver, Bon Iver

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19. Death Grips – Exmilitary

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What better a way to start off the sonic legacy of a band whose career was as tumultuous as Death Grips than with a quote from the infamous serial killer Charles Manson? While setting the mood for the band’s eventual stardom and cult following, it also displays a brash sort of message, where the band proclaims that they are the new kings of underground, experimental rap.  With the unique use of sampling from producer Flatlander mixed with the dark, visceral attack and flow of MC Ride, this tape set the stage for one of the brightest flashes in the pan we’ve yet to see. – Bob West

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Music, Singles

Track of the Week: “Push Pull” – Purity Ring

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By Jack Evans

There was a time when I hated pop music. Like most people who hate pop music, I was in my early/mid-teens, and I was a stubborn rockist; I would concede The Beatles as “good pop music” – but they had broken up nearly four decades prior, of course, and anyway, most good music was old music, right? By the time I got to high school, I’d gotten over the “I was born in the wrong decade” bullshit, but it still took a while for me to embrace pop music. 2012 was a turning point for me in that regard – mainstream hits like Taylor Swift’s Red (uneven but fantastic at times) and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” had something to do with that, but buzzed about electro-pop projects like Passion Pit and Neon Indian provided even more significant gateways, as I was drawn to warm, colorful hooks that offered both catchiness and a degree of complexity. But the band that taught me pop positivity was Purity Ring. The Canadian duo has never been purely a pop act, but between Corin Roddick’s southern hip-hop beats and Megan James’ enveloping coo, the tag certainly applies. Their debut, Shrines, offered a blend of those familiar elements with the unknown and bizarre – pitch-shifted voices, synths that sound like water dripping in reduced gravity, James’ oblique and sometimes disturbing lyrics – that enthralled and enchanted me, and still does to this day. It also sold me on those pop sounds: they aren’t just money-making devices, they’re valuable tools.

Since Shrines, Purity Ring have toured regularly but been near silent otherwise, with a sparse social media presence and a guest spot on Danny Brown’s “25 Bucks” constituting most of their activity. Dropped seemingly out of nowhere (a Facebook post from last month seemed to reference a new album but offered no release dates), “push pull” is the first new strictly-Purity Ring music in over two years. It’s a logical evolution from both Shrines and their work with Brown, a move toward a more pop sound that’s still unique and otherworldly. There’s a traditional song structure at work here, and James’ phrasing and repetition are more radio-friendly than anything on the debut. Even still, “push pull” subverts pop conventions, as Roddick builds tension under the verse beats that fizzles out rather than crashing into the chorus, and he lends the hook an off-kilter three-note pattern that keeps it hovering just above ground. James’ lyrics continue her fascinations with the natural world (thunder, constellations, wind, and skies all get mentions) and romantic body horror (“Make a ladder of what folds and climb up in me”), and it’s that lingering tinge of darkness that elevates “push pull.” It’s blissful, alluring pop, but as James confesses “I crept up in you and I wouldn’t let go” atop that beat that never quite settles, there’s a sense that something’s amiss – it’s Purity Ring playing to their strengths while reminding the world that they’re poptimists too.

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Music

Smash Cut Presents: The Pitchdork 100, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This took us way too long, and I’m really sorry for that. The final part coming soon. Part 1 (with the series introduction) here.

60. Jai Paul- Jai Paul

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Are you there Jai Paul? It’s us, the internet. Should we be angry, or downright joyous toward whomever leaked the infamous Jai Paul demos? After two flawless singles, Jai Paul’s eponymous debut had everyone in front of their monitors, in the clubs, and in their cars simply slack-jawed and drooling. The world needed more, but Paul wasn’t willing to give us any, at least any time soon, and he wouldn’t even mutter a peep about it. On an ordinary Saturday night I innocently download the “new Jai Paul album” that just happened to come out. From the initial bombastic tom slaps of “Track 2”, (now titled “Str8 Outta Mumbai), I was captivated, my eyes left glowing and glued to the screen. I probably looked impressively disgusted. It was sublime. While these songs aren’t technically finished, they create a strangely cohesive masterpiece that has completely taken the crown of contemporary R&B. Each interlude makes you long for more, each sub-bass hit makes you roll your eyeballs and flutter your lids like a deranged savage in orgasm. While this leak may have drawn the creature back into its cage, I’m thankful that we’re able to enjoy these songs right now and dance to them for the rest of time. – Collin Dall

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Music

Any Given Sun-Ye: Big Sean’s Latest Video, Play-By-Play

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By Nate James
Editor’s Note: In addition to being an outstanding visual artist and excellent writer, Nate James knows a helluva lot about two things in particular- rap music and football. Last week I spotted a few of his tweets about the new Big Sean video, breaking it down from the actual football perspective, so I thought I’d give him the opportunity to combine the two things he knows best.
With the high school football season climbing into its fourth month, nerds and dads everywhere are glued to their computers, attempting to promote and evaluate the country’s premier football talent. On Last week, a new prospect came to our attention – Big Sean. We examine his highlight tape, “I Don’t Fuck With You,” to see for ourselves whether he’s worth the hype. From the beginning, Big Sean seems like a divisive prospect. Big Sean is looking to win a playoff game on the road and head to the state championship, so we’ve already got some issues. Games this deep in the playoffs are played at neutral fields, so it’s pretty clear that the school’s leadership has burned a few bridges heading into this one. A newscaster comments in the pregame that he is the “number one high school prospect in the nation” while also hoping that his poor play doesn’t cause him to lose any scholarship offers, which is weird, because damn near any program in the country will forgive just about any offense and let you come to their college for free if you’re in the top 150 prospects. The reporter indicates that Sean hasn’t been playing very well as of late, but this guy is also inexplicably holding a newspaper in front of him while he does the news, so fuck him. Our evaluations begins…Things aren’t going well. It’s rare that you see the top QB prospect in the country held to 14 points in a game, but that’s where we are with 4 minutes remaining in the game and no timeouts left. We get our first glimpse of Sean – he’s wearing #88, a pretty unusual number unless this is 1945 (and it’s still pretty unusual). It could be a Devon Gardner-esque nod to someone we’re unaware of, but he’s also not giving us a lot that indicates he knows what the hell is going on. For an elite QB prospect, he doesn’t even know how to put his chinstrap on right, and the manner in which he wears it is neither Aaron Rodgers’ single-strap, old man minimalism or Deion Sanders’s over-here-just-swangin’ style. He just looks like a 6th grader who doesn’t know how to put it on correctly, and it makes me worried for his safety.This is, however, a team under the leadership of Coach Kanye, a man unafraid to engage with the gridiron avant-garde. With 4 minutes left and no way to stop the clock, they’re understandably throwing the ball. As Big drops back to pass, we see that there are several offensive linemen wearing numbers in the 30s and 40s and several skill players wearing numbers in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Is Coach Kanye attempting to shift the football paradigm by employing smaller, quicker players up front to create numbers advantages and leverage with quickness and pad level, while putting giant goons outside who are just flat out impossible to tackle? Only time will tell, but the offense has struggled up to this point. It’s possible that Coach Kanye is a Chip Kelly of sorts, unwilling to compromise in the unflinching artistic vision he has for his team. It’s not a strategy that I’m familiar with, so I’m eagerly anticipating the results.Our heroic #88 does not get off to a good start. Coach Kanye dials up a seam play that looks like it’ll be coming wide open at any second. As both offensive and defensive coaches say, when the defensive back is still in his backpedal as the receiver is in a full sprint, “if he’s even, he’s leavin’.” All Big has to do is get it behind the defender and we’ve got an easy score. Unfortunately, he gets distracted by one of the opponents’ fans showing him her tits and woefully under-throws directly to the defender. These types of distractions are understandable, but the recent criticisms of the top-ranked prospect are valid – his throwing mechanics are a mess, and his vision has to be called into question if he’s looking in the stands during the middle of a pass play (the possibility that he has a sonar-like sense for detecting visible breasts in his immediate vicinity not withstanding). Coach Kanye appears visibly distraught. These are not the fundamental breakdowns you expect from an elite player.The next minute or so gives us a window into the mind of our star – he attempts to conquer the demons he harbors towards one of the opposing teams’ female students, whom he used to date and had his heart broken by. He, indeed, does not fuck with her. Coach Kanye is less animated, searching his mind for a solution to his star player’s mental and emotional woes. Teyana Taylor seems similarly dismayed. But Big shows grit and leadership – he rallies both his teammates andhimself in a sideline speech. While his doubt remains, Coach Kanye comes correct with the wisdom; “Focus.” Big’s reply is unspoken but palpable: “Ha ha, okay.”

Big, Coach Kanye, and the Lions find their way back with the ball. It isn’t explained how, but we can only assume that it’s due to Coach Kanye’s impenetrable defense. Big completes a post to #77, once again testing Kanye’s unorthodox personnel groupings. The throw is a complete duck and his ball flight is soft as hell, but these defensive backs are terrible and it works out okay. E-40 provides colorful commentary from the press box, immediately cementing himself as the greatest football commentator of all time. During a timeout, Coach Kanye signals the crown jewel of his high-concept offense, as a running back wearing #50 and weighing at least 300 pudding-filled pounds has his number called and attempts to put his team on the back. Okay, I just realized that it’s actually DJ Mustard, so I love my life. Anyway. It’s an impossibly ballsy call when down two scores and with no timeouts, but Mustard runs over everyone, despite a mechanically train-wrecked exchange from Big. If I can offer any critique for Coach Kanye it’s that his teams, while innovative, lack fundamentals. We’ll return to this later.

Mustard’s run over two puny and visibly-afraid tacklers ends in a touchdown that brings the score to 24-21. Still down three, I’m assuming they onside kick or something. But who cares, because they get it back with 10 seconds left and our guy has a shot to take his team to the state championship. This is where Coach Kanye’s genius appears to takes hold. The Pirates’ middle linebacker screams at Big that he doesn’t fuck with him. Their defensive line is absolutely jammed inside (ostensibly to stop DJ Mustard). They have a 1-and-3 technique on one side and a 2-and-4 technique on the other, which basically means that every single interior offensive lineman is covered up while leaving the outside (or the secondary, depending on where the hell everybody else is) comically vulnerable.

Our hero takes advantage of this, avoiding the rush and beginning to scramble. In addition to the fact that he has quite a ways to go in terms of throwing mechanics, he also holds the ball like a toddler. You’re really killing me here, Sean. The end of the ball points upward, the back end is uncovered, and worst of all, his ball security is both swaggerless and fundamentally unsound. It’s not as if he’s one-handing it like Walter Payton; instead, it looks like a bad Peewee game. Nonetheless, he puts a spin move on a couple defenders (as the aforementioned linebacker that doesn’t fuck with him runs completely in the opposite direction), and scores the game-winning touchdown. He dives once he’s already about 4 yards deep into the end zone, which is risky, as a lot of hyper-conservative, no-fun-having-ass referees will flag you for such displays of celebratory humanity.

All is well, as our protagonist gets to deny the lover who jilted him and walk off into the sunset with a newfound sense of self-love that requires no outside affirmation. The newspaper declares him “the most recruited player in history,” which comes off as a little suspect since he sucks something awful as a football player. Although visibly bad at everything, Big has shown the ability to rise of above his own demons, rally himself and his teammates in the process, and find a way to win when all seems lost. While there are clear doubts about his ability to be successful at the next level, Big’s odes to pettiness are a good fit at the high school level, where he is unquestionably one of the greatest of his time.

Nate James is a graphic artist and writer from Toledo, OH. View his art here.

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Music

Hopscotch Music Festival 2014: A Review

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By Nathan Smith

In 2014, it seems like every city has a music festival. When compared to big-time players like Bonnaroo, most of these festivals fly pretty under-the-radar for out-of-towners, their audiences consisting mostly of dads fresh off work. However, if there’s one thing I learned from Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina, it’s that being a hometown festival doesn’t mean you have to skimp on quality. The weekend may have started with a longer-than-anticipated drive to Raleigh and a ridiculous amount of rain, but the music quickly made up for it. For a festival as seemingly isolated as it is, Hopscotch boasts one of the most impressive and diverse line-ups of any festival I’ve ever seen, from scuzzy punk to banging trap. In fact, what drew my attention to Hopscotch in particular was its slew of hip-hop acts, so let’s start there.

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Music

Smash Cut Presents: The Pitchdork 100, Part 1

A few weeks ago, Pitchfork released three strangely-timed lists of what their staff believed to be the best songs, albums, and music videos of the decade “so far.” It’s impossible to say what made the music media giant decide August 2014 to be a good time for such a list, but with little hype or fanfare, Pitchfork sent them off into the wild, letting the internet decide their fate. Like almost everything Pitchfork does, it generated quite a bit of online babble; to some, it was just another list, one we shouldn’t take too seriously, but for others it seemed like blasphemy of the highest order. Although I had my share of disagreements with the list, I felt a little disappointed in the way many of my peers responded to it. Pitchfork brought out the heavy artillery for the list’s “blurbs,” giving a little bit of work to some of the best folks in music journalism today, but all anyone paid much attention to were the numbers besides the album’s name. Granted, it’s always this way with such lists, but it got me thinking. I thought we might respond with our own list of the best albums of the decade so far, not as some brash declaration of our being right and Pitchfork being wrong, but rather to propose an alternate way of thinking. I brought on board some of the young folks most knowledgeable about music that I know, and I think we did an interesting job of it. Yes, this list is ranked, but that’s only because people pay more attention to a ranked list than an unranked one. Besides, inciting a little bit of controversy on the internet is fun. Additionally, even though we’ve ranked the list, this isn’t supposed to be in any way a definitive list of the 100 greatest albums of the decade so far. There are plenty of phenomenal and ground-breaking albums that didn’t make it onto the list, and that’s the point. You shouldn’t take lists so seriously, because they aren’t meant to tell you what you should like or listen to or enjoy the most. They’re meant as a starting point in whatever subject they entail, and that’s what ours is: a starting point. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s plenty of good music out there, we’re just here to tell you about a little bit about the stuff that matters most.

What albums would you include on your own list? Let us know in the comments.

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Music, Playlist

smash cuts: bopscotch

hopscotchBy Nathan Smith

Just because school’s in session doesn’t mean festival season has ended; in fact, one of the year’s best lineups is just around the corner. Hopscotch Music Festival takes flight in Raleigh, North Carolina this weekend, and I’m beyond excited to have the opportunity to cover the festival this year. Spread across three days and located at a number of venues in downtown Raleigh, Hopscotch tackles numerous genres, from the experimental hip-hop of Clipping, Ka, and Smash Cut favorite Open Mike Eagle to the garage rock stylings of White Lung, Diarrhea Planet, and Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. Although not quite as out-there as Knoxville’s own Big Ears, Hopscotch embraces music’s full spectrum, blending experimentation and accessibility. In addition to big-name headliners like Spoon, St. Vincent, Thurston Moore, and De La Soul, you’ll also find Hopscotch’s line-up heavy with local North Carolina acts like Tow3rs, Well$, blursome, and Deniro Farrar. Whether you want to play like you’re spending the weekend at Hopscotch or if you’re just looking to familiarize yourself with the line-up before you go, our weekly playlist has got your back. Few festivals seem as devoted to good music of all genres as Hopscotch does, and I can’t explain how excited I am to cover it this year. Maybe we’ll see you there?

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Music, Playlist

smash cuts: feelin good again

bombay

By Nathan Smith

As of today, my sophomore year of college has been in session for one week. The stress hasn’t kicked into high-gear yet, but it will soon; I’m taking 16 hours of coursework (5 classes in total) and 3 of my classes have extra sessions in addition to their normal meeting times. I’m living with someone I don’t know in an apartment I’m still not completely used to, and overall, the experience of becoming an adult- or at least pretending to become one- is pretty weird. As you might have noticed, my schoolwork has prevented me from engaging with the activities that keep me sane, namely watching movies and writing for this site, but there’s one thing that helps make the day a little bit easier to swallow: music. Whether I’m hanging out with friends, writing papers, or walking to class, music helps fill the various voids that the stress of school leaves. We’ve had education-themed playlists in the past, but I’d like to think this one doesn’t just have to apply to college kids- it’s just about feeling good and leaving your worry behind. So let the music melt your troubles away.

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