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  • FullSizeRender (2)     Everyone gathered on Tuesday night to see not only the documentary Danny Brown: Live at the Majestic, but also to see the famed rapper Danny Brown himself. Best known for his 2011 album XXX, the Detroit native has been quiet in recent years. Apart from voicing the Fresh Off The Boat theme song and writing a Seussian children’s book, Brown hasn’t released any new work or played many shows of late. This fact made his appearance at House of Vans all the more exciting. Those who had sustained themselves with the recorded versions of “Grown Up,” “Dip,” “Smokin & Drinkin,” and “25 Bucks” and longing to hear them live would finally get the chance.
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  • The House of Vans sounds more like a lesser family in HBO’s Game of Thrones than a concert venue. At least in Brooklyn. Here, the famed shoe manufacturer is better known for its clothing than its concert space. Vans shoes, snapbacks, backpacks and hoodies can easily be found in just about any corner of the borough, but mention the House of Vans to a passerby and you’re likely to be met with confusion. Other venues like Irving Plaza, Terminal 5, and MSG have risen to the level of the common vernacular, amongst concertgoers and non-concertgoers alike; odds are even your landlord has heard of those. While the House of Vans doesn’t toil away at the level of obscurity of say Cake Shop or Palisades, the name doesn’t carry the weight it normally does. Out on the wider concert circuit, Vans rules supreme as sponsors of the famed Warped Tour. Here, it is just lesser known and that is a mistake.*
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  • First Run Features/HBO Documentary Films

    First Run Features/HBO Documentary Films

    Veteran documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, (The War Room, Startup.com) have teamed up again for a timely film about a subject that has been much in the news lately: animal rights, specifically the issue of humans keeping and imprisoning animals—as pets, for experiments, or for other reasons. Unlocking the Cage follows the efforts by attorney Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, to change the way  animals are regarded in the eyes of the law. As he sees it, “The line between humans and nonhuman animals is at an irrational place.” Specifically, Wise is fighting for great apes, elephants and cetaceans (dolphins and whales)—all acknowledged as cognitively complex beings—to be considered “persons” as opposed to “things,” from a legal standpoint. After all, as he persuasively argues, corporations, ships and other inanimate bodies have achieved legal personhood and its accompanying rights; why not a thinking, feeling chimp? Wise describes his mission early in the film as “a hell of a war,” but one whose time has come.

    The film shows how Wise and his legal team (Monica Miller, Natalie Prosin and Liddy Stein) bring several lawsuits before various New York State courts, on behalf of captive chimpanzees. Wise, who possesses a gentle, avuncular personality, tells about his epiphany as a young, idealistic lawyer, upon reading Peter Singer’s seminal 1975 book Animal Liberation. Having always wanted to represent the underdog, he found his ideal specialty: animal rights law. He formed the Nonhuman Rights Project and began looking for likely clients, ultimately deciding that caged chimps would be a good start. The idea wasn’t to change federal law overnight or even to win initial lawsuits, but to lay the groundwork for an eventual overhaul of the legal standing of animals.

    First Run Features/HBO Documentary Films

    First Run Features/HBO Documentary Films

    We watch Wise and his team locate chimps with less than ideal lodgings in various animal farms and “sanctuaries” in New York State. There is confusion and pushback on the part of some owners who love their animals and believe they’re well cared for, but, as Wise explains, the issue is not animal welfare, but animal rights.

    The film includes interviews with primatologists who explain how chimps and gorillas understand language and express emotions, as well as their need for socialization and autonomy. We also visit proper sanctuaries in which animals —many retired from circuses and other employment—are not locked in cages, but are housed in outdoor enclosures similar to their native habitat. As his mission progresses, Wise experiences setbacks both legal and otherwise, including the sudden deaths of would-be clients at two different facilities.

    Eventually he and his team file suits on behalf of four chimps, including two kept in SUNY Stonybrook’s Primate Locomotion Lab. The lawsuits are extensively covered by the press and Wise appears on The Colbert Report, among other shows, patiently explaining how certain human beings (women, children, slaves) were not considered legal persons at one point. Predictably, there are a lot of Planet of the Apes jokes, and we hear various justices, some more sympathetic than others, struggle with the idea of habeas corpus for animals. It’s clear that our thinking about animals in general has evolved; thirty years ago, Wise’s mission would probably have been ridiculed, and certainly not taken as seriously by the court system.

    First Run Features/HBO Documentary Films

    First Run Features/HBO Documentary Films

    As he loses decision after decision, the pragmatic Wise is unflappable, and we can’t help but get caught up in his search for a judge “who’s willing to see the plaintiff in a different light.” Eventually he finds one, and even though it’s a partial victory, the seeds for limited animal personhood have been sown.

    According to the film, the NonHuman Rights Project is currently working on behalf of circus elephants. Not so coincidentally, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus have just retired their last performing elephants. Whether or not Wise is around to see an actual change in the law, history is clearly on his side.

    Unlocking the Cage opens May 25 at Film Forum.

    Marina Zogbi

  • In part 1 of this series, we looked at a video that showcased an artist as a role model, another that shed light on the creative process of an up-and-coming band, and a third that brought international superstars back to their old digs to be humbled by their beginnings. For this installment, we’re going to revisit the political music video with TARICA’s “But, Anyway” as well as examine the success of the web series with a look at NPR’s Tiny Desk.

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  • Braids Companion EP

    Montreal based experimental pop/rock band Braids are set to release the follow up to the critically acclaimed album, Deep in the Iris  on May 20th. The four songs for the EP were recorded in August 2015 shortly after the band completed work on Deep in the Iris, but we’re surely not talking about B sides here.

    With Companion, the band continues with a similar minimalist approach musically, but as you listen to the title track which begins by deeply focusing on the beautiful soaring vocals of Standell-Preston, the tension builds as the synthesizer takes a growing, more profound role in the track.  The vocals and music provide a fantastic balance of emotion in the build up, and as the song begins to fade out with a delicate piano, a whispering vocal joins in, “Remember when I pushed you in, you were surprised that you floated.”

    The second track, Joni, takes a more powerful, upbeat approach with its booming, break-beat musical structure. Lyrically, the song addresses dealing with life’s uncertainties and the personal challenges that come with it.  On the other hand, Trophies for Paradox gets back to the common topic of relationships and all the complexities that go with it. The music composition is also more complex with added guitar elements in the mix.  Perhaps, my favorite song on the EP is Sweet World.

    The composition of the track provides a pure energy rush as it unfolds with a driving style not found with the other songs on the EP.  Overall, this is a very strong release, and is some ways more impressive than Deep in the Iris.

    Braids is a band that’s still evolving and exploring new ideas which is refreshing given the state of music today.  In many cases, the first release from a band ends up being their best, but it seems certain that the best is yet to come from this talented trio.