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Posts by Jeremy Johnson
They didn’t choose the easy path. Here we have one the most anticipated albums in recent history, produced by the futuristic godfathers of Electronic Dance Music. Without warning, Daft Punk has snapped the rubber band of social trends back onto the giant beats and cold shrieks of the Dubstep generation. Their 4th studio album, “Random Access Memories” offers a smooth rebuke to the jarring and the intense. The album is a slow burn, assembled with love by the French duo and an assortment of live musicians and musical legends. Aside from the instant summer anthem “Get Lucky” one does not simply listen to single tracks off of this album. This collection has been thoughtfully produced to be ingested from beginning to end. Each track benefits by the context of the ones that precede and follow it.
Is it the artist’s responsibility to make their art quick and easy to digest? This responsibility has certainly been mandated upon popular music. The monetization of art and media demands increasingly easier and easier singles and snippets for the masses. Micro transactions and commercial sampling rights rule the day. Popular musicians must wait for the captive audiences of a concert to express more than their most popular riff. It is their last stand against shuffle and our collective short attention span.
Daft Punk’s creators, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, are no longer bound by such creative restrictions. They’re rich, they’re almost 40, they’re largely anonymous. They spent a ludicrous amount of their own money on “Random Access Memories” and they don’t seem to care if you like it very much. Very few of the tracks are radio friendly. Some of them, like “Lose Yourself to Dance” (featuring Pharrel Williams) just never seem to get going, a song with no real beginning or end, just a rolling chorus over and over again. But when you listen to it fade into the schmaltzy, over the top broadway inspired anthem “Touch” (featuring Paul Williams) it starts to make sense. “Touch” by the way, thanks to Paul Williams’ wildly expressive voice, is one of the more transporting songs on an album that easily carries you away. The transition from “Touch” to “Get Lucky” takes you from the bright lights of Broadway to the smoky corners of a 70’s dance hall effortlessly and begins the best parts of the track list.
This attack on contemporary music began in the studio. Rather than sample many of the beats and tracks that construct each song, musicians, many of them the actual session musicians from the original recordings, were brought in to record the selections live. Legends like Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers and Pharrel Williams team up with full orchestras to recreate a time when entire arrangements were not available at the touch of a button. It produces a sound that remains distinctly analog despite the near omnipresent Daft Punk vocoder.
It’s an impressive result if listened to in full. The third track “Giorgio by Moroder” begins with a spoken word interview with the man whose early use of the synthesizer helped shape the transition of music through the disco era. His stories lay the foundation for the rest of the music on the album. They warn you with his words that they will be going backwards and looking forward, that their aim is to make the music they want without fear of judgement. There is a richness and inspiration to this album that really starts to gain steam in it’s second half. In headphones you can truly hear the care and effort that went into each moment of every song. The high end stereo systems that came into fashion in the 70’s would benefit greatly from the mixing and engineering behind this effort. The sound is very cinematic, it’s themes carry you forward and tell you a story of music and what they think it can be. In the final track, “Contact” a sample from Astronaut Eugene Cernan aboard Apollo 17 implores us to look further, “There’s something out there”, his crackling voice tells us. The imagery of space implies the future, yet fittingly it is described to us by an astronaut of the past. Their message is clear.
In this time of Taylor Swift, Skrillex and Justin Bieber, I can’t help but enjoy the idea of an open minded teenager pressing play on track one of “Random Access Memories”. I imagine this future musician at their computer with headphones on, allowing them to hear each nuance and fluctuation of beat, pitch and tone. I picture this child without a deep musical context, just discovering what music shapes them and feeling as though Daft Punk has produced something breathtaking and new. It’s the same space I reflect back to before I began to realize how much of the rap and popular music I grew up with were really just sampling the power of the beats that came before them. In “Random Access Memories” Daft Punk takes a personal stand against the machines that they so effectively helped to bring to prominence. They strike back against the beats of tomorrow and stake their claim in music as something more than just DJ’s or producers. At this level, when directing musicians with sheet music and created beats, are they not elevated to composers? This collection of songs will live on past it’s time at the top of the charts. Much like “Homework” inspired a generation of DJ’s and musicians, “Random Access Memories” will tell it’s own story by the music and themes it inspires others to create.
HOLLYWOOD, CA- Though I’ve observed the Scion brand for years I’ve enjoyed very limited interactions with the cars themselves. This all changed last week on assignment for MANjr at the luxurious W Hotel in Hollywood, CA. Members of mainstream auto and lifestyle media descended upon Toyota’s Scion Experience to learn about and drive the 2014 versions of the tC, xB, xD, iQ and the sporty FR-S.
Scion gives their customers exactly what they want. The “Pure Price” philosophy gives the buyer one price for each model. There is no bundling of features, no trim levels, no interior packages. One car, one price. No haggling, no sneaky sales techniques. Which is not to say that the Scion cars are homogenous in any way. Whether online or at the dealership each individual buyer can tailor their new car to exactly the features and specs they want and can afford. The dozens of options available have the potential for countless variations and customization, all done in a simple, straight forward and accessible way.
The ever changing nature of Scion’s buyers make them very nimble in their marketing. What was once a brand focused on hip hop and graffiti evolved quickly with it’s customers to adopt dub step and retail art. Authentic relationships have been forged with young artists, producers, clothing and shoe designers to continue to not only reinforce the brand’s place in the youth marketplace but to also learn from and adapt to the shifting economics and desires of Generation Y. Flash has been replaced with practical. Transporting people has become transporting things, premium sound systems become standard, fuel economy becomes paramount. Though the Scion brand is proudly associated with the boxy xB, they go beyond the square with these three models in 2014.
The best selling car in the Scion flock, this sporty coupe comes loaded with features and drives great. You sit low to the ground and feel wider than you are thanks to numerous design accents. The steering wheel fits around you, bolstered seats hold you in tight. Like all Scions, it comes with a banging sound system with bluetooth and aux input standard. The tC has tight handling and rides smoothly. It accelerates quickly and efficiently to the top end of city driving and does it without jerking you forward and back as the engine shifts up and down. At about $20,000 you get a lot of new car for your buck, with Kelley Blue Book’s top 10 resale value, you retain that buck over the life of the car. Check out some of these standard features
- Panoramic Moon Roof
- 18” Alloy Wheels
- 8 Speaker 300 Watt Sound System with 6.1” Touchscreen Display
- 2.5 L 4 cylinder engine
- 172 HP
- 31 highway MPG
- $19,965 MSRP or $189/MO 36 month lease
If we’re giving out awards for the launch, most surprising would have to go to the little Scion iQ. This diminutive car is so small you can fit two in one standard parking space and do u-turns on residential streets. Parallel parking is so simple it feels almost foreign. Here’s the surprising part. This car, on the inside, doesn’t feel tiny at all. It has a reasonable amount of legroom, decent headroom and an acceptable amount of cabin space for a driver and his passenger. The little engine showed some spunk at city speeds and navigating through Hollywood and Koreatown’s congested streets made for a simple and fun drive.
- 6 speaker 160 Watt Sound System with 6.1” touchscreen display
- 37 combined MPG (best non hybrid fuel economy)
- 50/50 split fold rear seats
- 2 Year, 25,000 mile free maintenance program
- 11 Airbags, including an industry first rear window air bag
- $16,420 MSRP or $139/MO 36 month lease
Here’s the car everyone’s asking about. The FR-S represents the culmination of a partnership with Subaru to design and engineer a front engine, rear wheel drive sports car for both brands. This car could quickly become a cult classic. Front engine rear wheel drive cars make great track cars for drifting enthusiasts and Scion knows it. Knows it so well in fact that one of the demonstrations made sure to mention that 4 racing tires could be fit in the back with the seats folded flat. Shifting and gear management was made easy thanks to the engine’s growling internal sound creator. The car has some fire in it’s belly for sure, the low center of gravity and tuned suspension gave it great handling in and out of the winding roads of the Hollywood Hills. The car has a good push off the line and gets up to speed quickly and efficiently. Stay tuned for more on the FR-S, we’ve put in a request with Scion for more time with this little beauty.
- 2.0L 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC VVT-i D4S injection boxer engine
- 200HP at the top end of 7,000 RPM / 151 FT. LBS of Torque at 6400 RPM
- Macpherson Strut front/ Double wishbone rear suspension
- 8 Speaker, 300 Watt sound system with 6.1” touchscreen display
- $25,255 MSRP or $293/MO 36 month lease
AUSTIN- The symbolism of the setting was not lost on me. In early March, while the youth and energy of South by Southwest swirled all around us, I joined fellow media members at the more traditionally luxurious Barton Creek Resort and Spa. Our welcome assignment was to push and test the 2014 Lexus IS series on roads and the track. While we were given unfettered access to the entire IS line, my focus was primarily on the IS 350 F-Series.
2014 Lexus IS – The Look
Whether you love it or hate it, you can not help but notice the new spindle grill. It’s not only the clear focal point of the car but it represents a design shift throughout the brand favoring a more modern, aggressive look. People saw this car coming, I counted at least four head turns and two double takes during our road test. The roof line, like much of this car, leaves you with the not so accidental impression of the LFA super car. When still, the car takes on a very strong and dignified air. It waits patiently for you, like some massive exotic pet waiting to be led on a stroll around the grounds. The new look translates well in the flesh, the controversial grill is simultaneously the beginning and the end of each line. This continuity gives it a sense of belonging and purpose that doesn’t translate well in photographs.
2014 Lexus IS – The Feel
The tech and amenity packed cabin continues the intuitive and driver centric theme.The bolstered seats in the IS 350 F series hold you securely in place. The driver’s seat quickly gave me the impression of a cockpit as I adjusted the electronic seat and steering column controls to fit my preferences exactly. At 6′ 4” tall I found the leg room to be more than sufficient and perhaps more surprisingly there to be enough head room for me to keep my neck straight up and down without my head touching the ceiling. The remote touch system allows you to interact with the onboard computer system with far less driver distraction than a traditional touch screen. The analog clock sits proudly in the center of the dash, a nod towards traditional standards in the sea of sleek modern elements. The car was designed around the driver and it shows. All of the minor flaws I found were passenger specific. The back seat had enough leg room to fit me comfortably but the head room was decidedly lacking. It was a non issue amongst my smaller counter-parts, they found the back seat to be a comfortable and pleasant ride. The passenger seat mostly succeeded as well. The comfortable bolstered seats held you tightly while both screaming around the track and coasting through a school zone. I found the cup holder’s placement to be a bit awkward for the passenger’s left arm and interacting with the car’s controls from the passenger side was at times less than ideal. A lack of a designated position for the ever present smart phone was a surprising omission in such a modern and well thought out car. Bluetooth does allow for considerable control over your phone through on board buttons and voice activated commands. The car manages to pack in the technology and amenities expected in a luxury sedan without feeling clunky or crowded.
2014 Lexus IS – The Drive
Our driving experience really went up another notch at the Driveway Track on the edges of Austin.
The “sound optimized” exhaust begins to growl at just over 4,000 r.p.m.’s and the S+ driving mode really shone as I came out of my first turn and put the accelerator to the floor. There was little to any body roll and the car shifted seamlessly through it’s 8 speed automatic transmission. It found and passed 60 MPH in about 5 seconds, quickly climbing into the high 80’s before leveling out a little. The car, when pushed on the straightaway, gathered another burst of momentum as it crossed from the mid 90’s to over 100 MPH. The “G Force Artificial Intelligence” feature helped the automatic transmission down shift quickly and smoothly as I approached the linked turn at 106 MPH. The car decelerated to under 60 MPH as I entered the turn and got down to the safer speed of 46 MPH coming out of the apex. From there it was back on the throttle, testing the body roll at over 80 MPH with some well timed tugs on the steering wheel. Overall the car felt stable at high speeds, though it did jump and bump a bit in the various elevation changes despite it’s 3,700 pound heft. It outperformed the competitor cars provided to us easily. It honestly wasn’t a fair comparison, the IS 350 F Series was raised on tracks around the world, the competitor cars, though in the same class in comfort and price were certainly not born, bred and optimized for such aggressive driving and it showed. At all times behind the wheel of the Lexus I felt in complete control. I came out of my track day feeling like I had ridden a roller coaster a dozen times, surely a good sign for a sportster.
2014 Lexus IS – The Bottom Line
The 2014 Lexus IS may stop just short of a full redesign but it does signify a clear adjustment in the aim and scope of the brand. It represents a successful combination of luxury and track inspired engineering to give you a sportster that is truly fun and exciting to drive. Overall, aside from the lack of available manual transmission, the car left me wanting little. The paddle shifters certainly shift quickly and they do allow you to use your RPM’s to harness the power of the engine. I’m just partial to the more traditional clutch and stick shift available on many other sports cars. Though the automatic is dynamic and responsive it does seem a shame to not even offer one the opportunity to drive such an exciting car with a manual. Maybe next year. Europe’s sales numbers await.
2014 Lexus IS
Est MSRP $35k – $61k
Available June, 2013
AUSTIN- At this point, if you haven’t been to Austin, Texas for South By Southwest you’re probably in either two camps. In camp A you have the people who want to get down here so freaking bad they can taste it. Every year that goes by without their presence at this festival fills them with the longing of a child watching recess from detention. If you’re in camp A you’re likely a music enthusiast with some sort of plan to get your ass down here, one day, soon.
If you’re in camp B, you get it. You’re tired of hearing about how great Austin is. You’re tired of seeing #sxsw a thousand times a day. You assume it’s all hype at this point. SXSW is now 26 years old. It’s got to be blown out. Everything great in music dies at 27 anyways. Corporate America has discovered a gold mine for “trend setting young adults with disposable income” and it can’t possibly live up the hype. Right?
It does. Oh it does.
SXSW is a music festival like none I’ve ever seen. There are literally thousands of acts playing nearly 24 hours a day. Trying to sift through where to go, who to see, how to get in, and what to do is enough to turn anyone with a penchant for organization crazy. It’s simply impossible. Just let it go.
Everywhere you look there is a band playing music. Real bands, hometown heroes, up and coming acts, LA, NYC, Nashville, Chicago bands. People you’ve never heard of who might become your new favorite band are playing right next door. Find them.
How do you deal with it all? Here’s a few tips for the man on the move in Austin.
Don’t get too hung up on details but before you arrive I would strongly suggest scanning sxsw.com for the list of announced bands. (Music acts, comedy, etc are listed under “showcase”) Cherry pick some acts you want to see. Follow them on Twitter, like their Facebook page, etc. Don’t try to plan your whole trip. Too many things change, too many things are TBA. You’ll have to change your plan a hundred times and it’ll end up being wasted time. Good immersion therapy for OCD and type A planners. Go with the flow.
Pay a couple of bucks to a site like RSVPster.com. They will RSVP you to the dozens of sponsored parties that get a lot of the big name acts. Their site is a gold mine of information for attendees. Use it. If you have the money, buy a badge ahead of time. You’ll skip every line, you’ll get into every official event. You don’t need one to enjoy the festival but if you have the coin it opens doors and keeps you in the clubs and out of line.
Invest Your Time Early
On your first day go wait in line for your wrist bands. You’ll thank yourself later. Just do it. You need them even if you have a badge and you can only pick them up at certain times. I know, you’re finally at South by, I need BBQ and a drink and some tunes, right now. Hurry up and wait, it’ll pay off later.
Start Your SXSW Experience on Twitter
Not on Twitter? Join it, if not just for this. Search for #sxswtips #sxsw #sxsecrets. Save those searches, check them regularly. Nothing on the web can keep up with Twitter. No web site, no schedule, no app. Twitter was made for days like these. Passion Pit goes on in 30 minutes, next door? Find out on Twitter. Rumors of Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk being deposited in a field by an alien spaceship? Find out on Twitter. Nearly every venue has an associated hashtag. Half the time I’m just using it to find out the name of the band on stage, who’s up next, who plays here tomorrow. Find it all on Twitter. It’s the internet’s whisper chamber, embrace it.
Continue It on Instagram
Best for use while on the ground in Austin, searching Instagram’s hashtags and nearby photos will give you approximately 860 words more per look than twitter. Searching nearby might tell you that John Wayne Bro is absolutely killing the club two doors down while you can’t get a drink for some act you’re not even into. There is a party happening everywhere. Find the one you want.
Download The Official SXSW App
The sheer volume of acts in town take away from this app’s usefulness. It’s not their fault, it’s just nearly impossible to sift through and organize everything they have happening. You set a few search parameters, a search area, a time frame and get moving. You scroll for 3 minutes and realize you’re still searching 10pm in a .2 mile radius. It has purpose and value but don’t rely on it exclusively.
Go Straight to 6th Street
There are other pockets of activity but 6th street is the beaten path for a reason. Get in a taxi and say, “6th and Congress please.” That’ll drop you right where you need to start. Google maps is your friend. Get your bearings. That big lit building that looks like an angry owl is at 4th and Congress. If you’re looking at it the numbered streets decrease. (3rd, 2nd…) If it’s at your back the numbers go up (6th, 7th, 8th). Know where you are, it’ll help later. Walk down 6th, take it all in.
Don’t Get Bogged Down With Information
When in doubt, walk into your closest bar and order a drink. Regroup, watch a band, have a drink. Plan your next assault. Most shows seem to start on the hour so if it’s quarter past go catch one in progress and start checking your area.
I know. Boring. But do it anyway. You need to hydrate, it’s hot, you’re walking everywhere, you’re probably having too much to drink. Know your limits. Don’t be that guy.
Pick a Liquor, Drink It on The Rocks
Beer will slow you down and make you wait in line for bathrooms. I prefer whiskey. Get a drink, sip it. Maintain the buzz without getting sloppy.
Charge Your Phone
Seriously consider buying one of those backup battery packs that hold an extra charge. Turn your screen brightness down, charge your phone whenever and where ever you can. Bring your charger out with you.
Mayhem rules. You will see so many bands your head will spin. Taking notes is boring, take a picture of the band, post it online with their name. When you get home check ‘em out and buy some of their music. That’s right, I said buy music. It’s fun, try it.
“Stay out late, sleep in… Do not take a night off” -Robin, Los Angeles, CA
You’re only here for a few days. Get your rest but don’t bone out of the nights, that’s where it’s at. Don’t push so hard during the day that you miss the best part.
Talk to Strangers
Don’t just stare at your phone all night making video recordings you’ll never watch. Talk to the people around you, make a friend for the night or life. Find out who The Airborne Toxic Event is and that they are about to rock Buffalo Billiards, connect with your fellow humans. It feels good.
Go Back Next Year, Do It Better
Last week I had the good fortune to attend “The Balvenie Rare Craft Whisky Tasting Experience” hosted by Balvenie brand ambassador Lorne Cousin. Lorne is a charming Scotsman, scotch expert and internationally known bagpipe player. His assignment for Balvenie finds him touring the United States in a wood chassis Morgan convertible visiting local craftsmen and highlighting the Balvenie brand.
Balvenie is a rare breed in today’s spirit marketplace. Every stage of production screams handmade craftsmanship. Much of their barley is grown on site; it is malted by hand using the traditional floor malting method. Their barrels are maintained by on-site coopers, their copper stills are kept up by a master coppersmith in their employ for over 50 years. Each batch of whisky is tasted daily by the Balvenie Malt Master, David Stewart. He alone decides when the whisky is ready to be bottled and sold.
It’s an incredible process that takes well over a decade to complete. That process results in some of the most pleasant and drinkable whisky I’ve every enjoyed.
One of the problems with whisky is that it’s often described as an acquired taste. Most of the more popular brands are dark and thick, with a bite to those first few sips. It’s enough to keep your casual consumer away, for fear of becoming the girly man who coughs after each draw off of his glass. No such fear with a Balvenie. They had a half a dozen scotches out for sample and each sip illustrated what a premium product they sell. In an age of homogenization and brand consistency, Balvenie embraces the subtle differences in its products that hand crafting produces.
Here’s my take on a few of the stand outs.
The accessibility of the Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 year really stood out. It manages to be rich yet smooth at the same time. It sat on my tongue and brought out notes of vanilla and raisin. The sweetness of the malts and the thickness reminded me of honey, the color was light amber, the finish warm and smooth. It’s just the kind of scotch that new comers can sip and enjoy (responsibly, of course).
The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year old found itself on the other end of the spectrum. Single barrel scotch is transferred directly from the barrel to the bottle, no blending or mixing of other varietals takes place at all. This scotch is full bodied, has a strong peppery first sip but a very smooth and sweet finish. Definitely the biggest pop of the bunch, I could feel the heat of its 47.8% alcohol content as it sat in my mouth. The finish impresses but was surprisingly short. I would have enjoyed another second or two of that warm sweetness. The good thing is, with a single barrel scotch, each run of bottling is different so you can enjoy (responsibly!) your bottle, buy the same brand and get a slightly different drink.
The purpose of the event was to promote the brand’s new 17 Year Doublewood. Truly the belle of the ball in my opinion, too. It’s an infinitely accessible scotch, very drinkable for newcomers to the genre. It’s sweet on the tongue, light yet slightly full-bodied. The malts and honey really come out and the peat flavor is gentle and pleasant. Its finish is smooth and lingers nicely in your mouth and down the pipes.
All in all quite the successful debut for me here at MANjr. Having so many of the Balvenie products out and available for tasting really showcases the premium nature of their product and allows the taster to delve deeper into the subtle nuances of each individual offering.
If you want more info on the Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow’s scheduled stops you can visit www.balvenie.com/roadshow. You should also check out a documentary they had produced about the 2011 version that featured Andrew Weir, The Morgan and Nicholas Pollacchi.