House Of Tudor

Japanese cartoon-pop, and Baffling dissent

Since the 1998 release of the queerly confectionary, completely irresistible Kero! Kero! Kero!, eX-Girl has been stretching its lollipop-colored wings, trading winsome Japanese girl-bandness for noise and dissonance — with mixed results. The trio's tribute to the fictional Japanese band the Water Breakers (recorded as Pink Lady) was rough and grating, and its a cappella work, Big When Far, Small When Close, sounded chunky at best and messy overall. But, as the group's new album title promises, Back to the Mono Kero! is a return to eX-Girl's early work, albeit a return filled with hard-won experience. On the opening song, eX-Girl sings about its longtime producer Hoppy Kamiyama, “Can't go back to his home, Poor King Frog.” The ladies continue in elegant chapel harmony, “Since he's got this strangest place/ He don't know the way to fix the space plane to his planet Frog.” Suddenly, their demonic cartoon voices take over with a nonsensical staccato of froglike ribbiting matched by a rugged, pushy guitar line. “Let's get excrements of dog, marshmallow stuck to the sole of red shoe/ High purity heroin and the atom heart mother,” shouts one of the overindulged nymphs, as the ominous Valkyrie chorus rides over a thunder of percussion and guitar.

The song — “Waving Scientist @ Frog King” — is a nearly perfect synthesis of eX-Girl's early cartoon pop and its overwhelming desire to scramble eardrums. While not all the tunes on Back to the Mono Kero! are as gleefully triumphant — there is some tiresome intemperance midway through — the girls benefit immensely from their newfound muscle. Even a cover of M's 1979 hit “Pop Musik” sounds like an integration between Czech art-rockers Uz Jsme Doma and the Banana Splits. And, as always, eX-Girl has the best outfits this side of sleep — something between go-go dancers and hookah-smoking caterpillars. eX-Girl performs on Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Great American Music Hall with Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and the Get-Go opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 885-0750.

Long before the feral strains of Iggy Pop songs were used to hawk prepackaged cruise vacations on TV, The Baffler was frothing at the mouth, sickened by the “alternative culture” pervading corporate handbooks and advertising campaigns. Indignant and disillusioned, the Chicago-based journal publicly asked “Alternative to what?” well before it was hip to do so, and set about attacking every money cow to which its writers could lay pen. In the 1997 collection Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos From the Baffler, the editors, Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland, turned their ire on numerous figures who helped further the stench of commercial “rebellion”: Henry Rollins, Bill Gates, Coca-Cola, hippies, Donna Karan, MC Hammer, the beats, the Monkees, Eddie Vedder, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Wal-Mart, Benjamin Franklin, the Home Shopping Network, Esquire, Generation X, The Preppie Handbook, and Joseph Goebbels, to name a few.

To The Baffler, real dissidence — meaning anything that resists consumer culture — is impossible to maintain for much longer than a month, since that's about how long it takes an advertising firm to repackage insurgence as a marketing pitch. Therefore, is it surprising that big ad companies have approached “culture jammers” like the Billboard Liberation Front about work? Not really. It's more surprising that the BLF said no. (Naturally, “manipulated” billboards ended up appearing anyway — without the BLF getting a penny.) Is it unsurprising that The Baffler was not swayed one inch by the “new economy”? Sadly, the journal's greatest strength is also its weakness: its refusal to deform to the cultural imperative. Quite simply, the short attention span of the 21st-century American, especially that of the intellectual pessimist, demands variety, and The Baffler has but one note — cursing the ominous ch-ching of a cash register. Even I would have liked to see the new issue, subtitled “The God That Sucked,” devoted entirely to religion, or at least the sordid economy of religion, but it's not. The volume is just another well-written, pinched-lipped collection of essays about the market's many villainous forms, with some special attention given to our own little burg. Predictable or not, the issue's damn fine reading.

As if God himself were peeved at the new issue, The Baffler's office was consumed by a fire in April, destroying all its computers, files, archives, and back issues. To get the magazine back on its feet, musicians and writers are putting on a series of benefits in cities across the country. In S.F. Barbara Manning and the Go-Luckys will perform along with Harvester and the Moore Brothers, and Editor in Chief Tom Frank will rant with contributors Christian Parenti and Martha Bridegam (whose “Fear and Lofting in a Silicon Boomtown” paints not a pretty picture of our city), on Saturday, Sept. 1, at Slim's at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 522-0333. For those going to Burning Man or otherwise unable to attend, donations can be sent to the Baffler Recovery Fund, PO Box 378293, Chicago, IL 60637. And don't forget to circulate copies of Commodify Your Dissent among your neighbors; it'll help keep things in perspective.

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