Saturday, January 30, 2010
and...eventually...some more likely delectably devlish commentary here
and updates here....and here....
Friday, January 29, 2010
Pantha Du Prince is a German DJ specializing in minimalist techno, sometimes wandering, lightly grooved affairs with faint danceable beats, overtures of errant mystery and dreamlike, cerebral scatterings. In fact, the album’s aptly titled, considering his dabbling in the world of “dark ambient.”
Pantha Du Prince - "The Splendour"
Utilizing a blend of synthesizers, sequencers, lab-tops and modulators, Hendrick Weber fluffs, coaxes, dumps and smoothes out a deluge of rich synth textures while plodding down various percussive elements, deep booming house-ready bass, clackety metallic chops, and bells ranging from cathedral clangs to wind-chimes. Each of these movements start out spacious and, again, seeming to wander, but eventually, one interlocking element, maybe one dominant melody from the synthesized bass will start to pulse stronger and stronger and the rhythms fall into place – but it never blows the doors off for a dance party – it remains even keel and pleasingly meditative throughout. The risk being that electro cognoscenti’s reduce it to their “studying/reading soundtrack,” though I would argue some entries can make for a good night drive companion. Indeed, not to be cheap, but, fans of the hot hipster stuff be it Neon Indian or Animal Collective could quickly fall in love with the cascading vocal melodies of “Stick to my Side.”
Heart of my Own will provide you an excellent sampling of Canadian-flavored folk, from its 20-something golden-haired songstress, with cherubic ching-a-ring of her autoharp and her sturdy, angelic voice. “Run”’s swaying melodies perfectly captures similar melancholic sensibilities of what we Yanks call the “Americana” genre, or just traditional folk/singer-songwriter stuff, so maybe the land of the Canucks is not so different.
The dressings are that of steady toe tapping percussion, poignant string accompaniment and, its strongest facet, the wispy rush of the vocal harmonies. It easily captures that vibe of rustic, earthy pop, the cabin haven that any ponderous and reflective poet traveling ‘long the amber wave framed highway. She’s able to blend the slower, meditative ballads for sitting and sipping by a crackling fire (“Sugar and Spice”) with the more rousing string-teased rush and run of poppier-folk romps (“Gold Rush”).
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The human face is bound and furled in brown curled poofed hair and wiry beard strands, while the human body is encircled by keyboard, microphone, numerous pedals for delay, loops and echoes, a sampler and maybe a guitar, with his form hoisted upon a drum stool, with amps behind him. This is the bridge from whence BJ Warshaw launches Shooting Spires – his face as obscured by hair and thick-rimmed glasses as his melodies are brushed, layered and masked by static and airy drones and caustic clattering beats, ranging from claustrophobic gurgles, to stretched out invigorating drives, to vertigo-inducing pans and pivots.
Noise-pop enthusiasts will know BJ from his long tenure in Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor, which he started with Dan Friel back in 02. Fans of said-band’s chrome-cut clang and churn style will fit comfortably into BJ’s other project, Shooting Spires (which visits Detroit via the MOCAD – on Feb 5th, on a bill with Deastro).
Shooting Spires may be the perfect middle ground between the dreamy fuzz cascades of early ambient composers (the cherubic elements of Silver Apples) and the more confrontational weird wail and acerbic yowled arias of eventual punk-ified takes on ambient/noise (the brow-raising, ear-bending elements of Boredoms) lassoed and swung about across the star-dotted skies by something like a folk-lsh sensibility in that singer/songwriter vein, with an undeniably NY-tinged/Warm Jets-era Eno vocal style, with a voice showing grace in its high-range articulation at some points (see “A Million Drops”), and then losing itself in the squall of the driving beats and surged synths – (see “Right”). His voice, like everything else in the mix, is not left untouched by some kind of pedal or reverb.
The Deep Cutz Interview: Shooting Spires
Shooting Spires - "Right"
DC - Chart a story for us – where and when and how, does this project start?
BJ – Initially, it started as a drone/ambient project as a way to explore and experiment my increasing interest in playing with electronics. I had started occasionally performing solo with various instruments and pedals, I think, as early as 03 or 04. In the winter of 06 I went through a rough period; ended a relationship, hated my job, felt generally stifled and in a rut. I basically locked myself in my bedroom, (at the time, a tiny, windowless cave in a larger warehouse/loft-space in Brooklyn), and worked on music every day after work, which was what became the first, self-titled Shooting Spires record.
DC – So, just a cathartic release at first, not necessarily any direction yet…
BJ – I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what this music would be, had no intention of releasing it, didn’t set out to write ten songs. I think it started to sound like a record about half-way through that writing process. Most songs started out as a simple loop, either a looped drum beat, or some oscillator blips or a beat made with the Casio-SK-1 sampler. Like, I’d just make some awful noise with my mouth into a sampler and use that static sound to construct a beat and then write some chord changes over that and then a melody, and then I’d overdub various other noises and instruments.
DC - …meaning behind the name?
BJ – I think I started calling the project Shooting Spires around this time I was deciding the songs were worth releasing, in some way. Originally I wanted to simply call the project Spires, but that was already taken. I went through a long list of modifiers and ended up sticking with ‘Shooting Spires’; I like the ambiguously threatening nature of the words, and think of it both as a reference both to natural phenomenon and religious iconography.
DC – and, inevitably, I have to ask, how would you distinguish this from Parts & Labor?
BJ – Formally, Shooting Spires is just me writing, recording, creating. So in that aspect it’s a bit more unfiltered and in some ways less refined than Parts & Labor. More ideologically I think of Spires as more of a traditional singer/songwriter project, albeit with a very different instrumentation than your typical acoustic guitar slinging troubadour. P&L is a band, with all the advantages and hurdles of having multiple musicians contributing to the writing process. But, both definitely inform each other. The new Shooting Spires compositions I’ve been working on sound less like P&L than, say, those songs on my first record. Over the summer I reworked my set-up: I’m now using a laptop and an electric autoharp.
DC – Could you share your thoughts on noise experimentation? How your regard, or philosophy, has changed, in terms of that style/practice/genre?
BJ – My favorite music is music that sounds both familiar and strange at the same time. I strive for this balance in all the music that I make; experimenting with different instruments and sound devices is a key aspect of bridging this divide. Take, “A Million Drops,” – I made that beat using the aforementioned Casio SK-1, clicking my tongue in the microphone and putting it through some delay and other processing. But to me it does sound really organic or insect-like, rather than sounding like the typically sterile beats you find in most electronic music.
DC – What have you been working on lately?
BJ – I’ve been making a lot of field recordings with my iPhone and using these found sounds as source material for constructing beats. I’m also way into using the electric autoharp in the new setup. Traditionally it’s a folk instrument and sounds, to me, very Appalachian, but, I’ve been running it through various guitar effects, pedals and making loops using the laptop. I like thinking of it as having one foot in the past and one in the future.
DC – and next?
BJ – I’m working on the cover artwork for a four part series of split LPs being released by Atlin Village (Germany-based label that released debut Shooting Spires S/T). Shooting Spires is one of the musical acts involved, along with Oneida, Xiu Xiu, Women, DD.MM.YYYY., Pterodactyl, Chad VanGaalen and Pit Er Pat. It’s gonna be a beast.
P&L is also hard at work on a new record, deep in the writing and demo-making process. We’re hoping to record it in March. I’m hoping to get the second (Shooting Spires) album done this year too.
2 / 5 – MOCAD – with Deastro -
The Juliets are comprised of singer/pianist Jeremy Freer (formerly of
Freer and Masson’s longtime collaboration flourishes, in the studio and on record, pounding through stately waltzes on keys and drums with their mellifluous wispy harmonies as Mitchell and Myers weave and saw in mesmerizing moans.
Freer said the recording has felt a very natural process, aided invaluably by the rich chemistry and years’ worth collaboration between him and Masson. “It’s a strong collection of people that are virtuosos and songwriters in their own right,” said Freer, noting that even if he’s the “central” songwriter, Masson and Donolan are both gifted writers and that a song’s fruition is bolstered by the classically trained talents of Mitchell and Myers. “Most art is born out of a need for selfish release or an egocentric desire to create something beautiful,” Freer incants, reflecting on their bond, but, “…with collaboration, it becomes a giant psychic parade, which is usually a lot more f*cked up and interesting.”
He stresses, “Both Mitchell and Myers are the badasses of the band,” noting his awe at Mitchell’s blend of aggression and melancholic beauty, and admitting Myers to be “the lead guitar player” of the band. Adding, "I'd rather hear her wank off then any of these little boys on guitar. Me, Scott and Kip have been in the same circles for years. The familiarity with each others musical progression has made working together that much easier. I feel like I could start any kind of band with these people and would be could. We could start a Tom Waits cover band if we wanted to. We could start a Lady Ga-Ga cover band if we wanted to. We could start a T.Rex cover band. Whatever gets our rocks off."
Going back to that balance of "delicate" and "knock-down," and the richness brought by shared sensibilities as well as unique perspectives, Freer said, "I mean, shit, Motown could make you cry, move and escape into wonderland all at the same time. Thats what we want out of music and thats what we hope to bring."
Finally, "We will be giving (Parade) away as a free download in February (info). We just decided that if we were going to take the time to record we might as well go all the way. Plus Scott says the he doesn't believe in e.p.s He says they are for the weak of heart."
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Wild Beasts, through their years have been considered a band that can be a bit polarizing - connected, as most often noted, to the distinct yowling falsetto of it's lead singer prancing and bleating over shining guitars and punchy post-rock drums - all that "acquired taste" stuff can be exasperating - since, one hopes, in this age when fat cats no longer try to push "familiar" things on you for the quick sell and instead blogs hold influence by giving out mp3's for your free sample, that, all...or most bands, are acquired tastes...
Wild Beasts - "All the Kings Men"
Anyway - check it out - even if Pontiac is a long drive for you Detroit-set hipsters, England's even further away...
Not grandiose, not flamboyant, not-high-concept, but…real…, upfront, in the moment, identifiable, with emotions ranging from bored and antsy (“Outta Here”) to snotty brutishness (“2 Girls 2 Fuck”) to lovelorn (“Friday Night”) to financial woe (“I Need Dinner”) to good time self destructive bro-downs (“Friday Night” again) to distractive drugs (“Friday Night” again) to nihilistic and violent (suicidal?) tendencies (“Crash Your Car”). And hey, if you sift through the barebones beats and bladed guitar riffs, you can even find some faint fragments of a catchy pop thing (bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-“Bad News Beers”) or the actual space provided for smoother, driving rhythms on drum and bass and a solo-opportunity for a high clangy guitar (“Create of Habit”), clocking in as the longest entry at just over 95 seconds.
Kommie Kilpatrick, Detroit’s five-piece answer to gen-u-whine classic hardcore (be it Redondo/Long Beach or DC circa ’81) with their lecherous lash and elbow-winged slam-dance ready guitar onslaught, provide us 11 songs in 10 minutes, on “Weird City.” It’s emotion pared to the bone (“Stabbed Tonight”)…a seemingly ever-growling and spastic style that asks, in the true sense of hardcore punk, “you wanna know how I’m feeling?” and then answers by spitting a slurp of beer in your face, right before punching it.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
“Even before,” said perennial Detroit musician(/writer/filmmaker) Troy Gregory, “they had it pretty rough in Haiti.” He recalled visiting there as a child, “It was pretty much just this big jungle with housing in it. And you doubt they have building codes like we do. It’s already a pretty damn poor country; (the earthquake was) like, going into some kind of broken down trailer park and a tornado hitting it…”
Friday and Saturday, the Magic Stick hosts consecutive fundraising concerts (minimum donation $8) with 20 bands in two nights, and money raised towards retired Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton’s planned excursion next week with a team of aid volunteers to provide medical assistance, helping the purchase of supplies (bandages, antibiotics, antiseptics etc). Morrow said that soon after the quake, Majestic owner Papa Joe Zainea contacted Gumbleton, who had already helped establish a clinic (Klinik Sen Michel) in Port Au Prince, and asked the Bishop, “how we could help?”
Morrow, who’s already proven his knack for enlisting, organizing and promoting local performances with previous multiday festivals like Metro Time Blowout and (Majestic-hosted) Fucking Awesome Fest, was able to find twenty-plus bands within days. “The response from the Detroit music scene was exactly what I expected – swift and unselfish.”
Copper Thieves –
"It puts everything into perspective,” said Copper Thieves singer/guitarist John Nelson, voicing the Michigan perception of widening our gaze beyond our own economic travails and empathizing with those who, now, have it even worse. “All the bands are doing this for one cause, not to get paid, not to be cool, you’re doing it to help out in any little way you can; if it’s just taking one evening out of your life and playing music for fun, which you do anyways, it’s totally worth it.” The Copper Thieves include Nelson, Christian Doble, Andy Roy, and newest Thief Tony Rochon. The quartet recently performed the café as well as a packed Blind Pig show (in Ann Arbor) opening for the Hard Lessons. Their first record is available online (info: jackholmesproducts.com/copperthieves) and hope to crack out a follow up by late summer. Distinct from Nelson’s longest helmed project, New Grenada, Copper Thieves is a healthily collaborative project when it comes to songwriting, which makes sense, considering it was the songs Roy, the drummer, had developed initially that started the band – by bringing in Nelson play the riffs and to develop vocal melodies. From there, Nelson got Doble to play bass, a subtle pop maestro who developed his chops with Kiddo, and much later, after their debut, Tony rounded out the line up on second guitar. “We wanted to do something that was more classic rock sounding—more, sorta 70’s riff rock, but not in an ironic way, we’re coming from a pure place with it.”
Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor –
"It’s almost like, God, what shit isn’t heavy right now?” Sean Morrow, singer/guitarist of Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor regretted, again echoing local concerns, a recent fire near his home, cuts to school funding, Michigan’s unemployment rate. “You just hope to do something. That there’s some hope at the end of the tunnel.” SoYSY, Morrow, Rick Sawoscinski and Eric Oppitz, recently self released their epymonious 2nd full length, self-produced, self-recorded, and followed with a self-booked Midwest/east-coast tour to support it. “We built the studio, recorded it, wrote all the songs, produced it all,” said Morrow, acknowledging the keen help of Dave Feeney for the mixing. The band silk-screened record covers, t-shirts and developed their own Web site and lead their own PR attack. DIY-ethos is important to them, and their proud of their work, but they aren’t stringent about being solo – “the most important thing we do is write the music and put stuff out that we know we can back up.”
“It’s impressive how quick (the show/line-up) happened,” said Secret Twins drummer Timmy (Tim) Thomas, “it’s a really noble move of (Morrow/Zainea). You gotta do what you can! That’s an epic tragedy.” The Arbor/Ypsi duo (with singer/guitarist Dina Bankole) have hit a high for chemistry and collaboration, with recent writing and numerous shows; they’re talking to Quack!Media with the hopes of recording a debut full length soon, and touring. “We’re excited to do our part,” Thomas said of the benefit. In the meantime, they’re developing new material and, having only played together since last April, also developing their friendship. Recent adventures include fruitful rehearsals, assisting a recording project with the U-M school of music, working things out with Quack!Media, and attending Monster Jam, “the most epic monster truck rally,” as a “band field trip” facilitated by “quite a few $9 beers.”
Electric Fire Babies:
“We’re all about bringing people together,” said Electric Fire Babies singer/guitarist Lo-Fi-Bri, “so we jumped on it right away.” After a year of big shows, including opening for the Dirtbombs, CityFest, Zombie Dance Party and Mittenfest, the trio (with Justin Audio/Miss N) are currently working on their debut EP, with a surge in writing spurred by their new spread of electronics and choice gear. Lo-Fi said that the band’s main operative is unifying people on the dance floor with their style of punkified/funkified, garage-flavored soul and house revival – thus that they were very happy to do what they could to help the cause, if, specifically, through bringing everyone closer with relentless beats.
Gregory lamented the irrational sensationalism of some of the coverage, like if a handful appear to be looting, that it is tacitly presented as a rampant problem – of course, in the chaos of an earthquake aftermath, there will be some lawlessness. But, at the same time, “there’s relief workers going under tons of rubble and garbage and shit to save somebody.” He notes that there are “sheer acts of compassion” as well as “indifference. Just as when you saw in New Orleans, (Katrina aftermath), people wading through sludge to save people! It can be a vanquished task. You hear stuff about people, even, just, to rescue a dog. Whereas, just as many people probably say, it’s just a dog…”
Gregory, meanwhile, hopes to release an album’s worth of material online around March, as he tires of waiting for a label, (“I didn’t record the songs for me, I do this for other people so, might as well get it out there.”) Gregory said he’ll debut his local-artist-studded feature film World War Love, Mar 14 at Cliff Bell’s. His latest project/line-up includes Scotty Hagen, Mary Alice, George Jacobsen, Jimmy Dado and Joey Leoni. More on the way from him, including more songs (already written) and a new movie, eventually.
Many more bands on the bill – these were just the cats I caught up with at deadline…
Full line up and times:
01:00 AM FRIENDLY FOES (pictured at top of post) (MAIN STAGE)
12:00 AM FOUR HOUR FRIENDS (MAIN STAGE)
11:30 PM SECRET TWINS (SIDE STAGE)
11:00 PM CHARLIE SLICK (pictured above^) (MAIN STAGE)
10:30 PM OLD EMPIRE (SIDE STAGE)
10:00 PM BLACK JAKE AND THE CARNIES (MAIN STAGE)
09:30 PM FAWN (SIDE STAGE)
09:00 PM THE COLD WAVE (MAIN STAGE)
08:45 PM THE HANDGRENADES (SIDE STAGE)
08:30 PM DESIGNASAUR (MAIN STAGE) JANUARY 30th 01:00 AM BUMP (MAIN STAGE)
12:30 PM SISTERS OF YOUR SUNSHINE VAPOR (SIDE STAGE)
12:00 PM ELECTRIC FIRE BABIES (MAIN STAGE)
11:30 PM TROY GREGORY (SIDE STAGE)
11:00 PM THE JULIETS (pictured above ^) (MAIN STAGE)
10:30 PM DECIBILT (SIDE STAGE)
10:00 PM MICK BASSETT AND THE MARTHAS (pictured at top of post) (MAIN STAGE)
09:30 PM TBA (SIDE STAGE)
09:00 PM COMPUTER PERFECTION (MAIN STAGE)
08:45 PM TBA (SIDE STAGE)
08:30 PM BODY HOLOGRAPHIC (MAIN STAGE)
Thursday, January 21, 2010
I’ve often started my descriptions of drummer Scott Stone’s playing by having no recourse but to say, the man is like a machine! And I mean that in the most complimentary way – built with bricks, hands like a vice grip, elbows arched as the roots for the forearms and fingers to flail downward in pummeling devastation, heart and mind synched like a metronome. And one of the more enthusiastic and outgoing elements in the local scene.
It’s fitting then, I guess, that he drums for two bands that both respectively embrace the intermingling of sequenced drums and synth with a human drummer – making his job ever more intricate and often requiring him to don headphones and look like some studio session player amidst the live chaos. Both of these bands have shows coming up: the dark trancey noisy-experimental freak-electro-pop of Marco Polio & The New Vaccines plays the Woodward Avenue Brewery in Ferndale (1 / 28) with Prussia, Hi Speed Dubbing and Designasaur –
and the more indie-rock leaning, yet still heavily synth-pop fueled vigor of The Rogue Satellites play the Majestic Café (2 / 12) with the ever-rousing Carjack and (Grand Rapids’) Mue Sephei. thewabsite.com; majesticdetroit.com
You can see him at PJs Lager House - 1/30 - more info
Also, coming in from Brooklyn, is the serene baroque pop of Clare and the Reasons, playing with Nouvelle Vague. Read about Clare and the Reasons at NPR - for the "song of the day."
You can see them at the Crofoot - on 1/28 - more info
some random ramblings on the 4-songs collected on the 7" - available - (but you can also get a 10-song-CD) more info
Jan 21 - 2010
"T-minus 10…9…8…” and so on, as a crackled mission control voice counts down to the ignition of 52-Week-High’s “Tapas,” the flipside opener of a 7” that elsewhere includes declarations that “time is of the essence,” time to get moving, time to get shit done, in the rushed and ravenously industrious calendar year that the band name would suggest. 52-Week High represents the recorded fruition of songs stockpiled through the last couple years by the wiry bander and bassist Keith Thompson (of Johnny Headband, Electric Six, Desktop) flourished with the production and instrumental contribution of fellow Detroit-based musician and, like Thompson, appreciator of synth-inflected, swaggering, metal-leaning rock, Jonathan Weier (of The Dead Bodies), and aided by the shredding abilities of guitarist Jon Babich (alias Alexander Soundczech), metal maven balladeer Steven Tuthill (alias Perry Pegasai), and also with drummers Mike Alonso (Electric Six) and Adam Cox (Dead Bodies).
At the center of it is Thompson finally embracing a front-man role, flexing his bassmanship and belting out his anthems in a range from howl n yowl (on the pummeling opener “Stimulus”) to lower, shimmying sing-speak (“Market Dictates”). We’re essentially tumbled into an already speeding van, ricocheted around the bench-less back at 60 mph from the very press of ‘play’ on “Stimulus,” with a very aggressively riffed guitar punch that builds into a hook with the drums feeling like the a two-pound monstrous knock upon a metal door – it’s a quick, tough, invigorating rocker that sizes you up, instigates you and, for lack of a better term—yet, perhaps fitting in the spirit of classic heavy metal—provides a face-melting solo that swerves and roars all over the room, knocking shit over until it finally breaks through the window—complete untamable rock shit.
The title track (which, the actual title-itself, one dissects like an initially confusing vanity license plate…but for the sake of following the time/essence theme, could be slurred together “isn’t over!”?) is the most layered and cerebral of the entries – following a krautrock kicked motorik percussive drive under spacey-guitars and an ever churning synth-gurgled engine – as we get up to speed and start cruising down this autobahn, strange and cherubic fuzzed voices “nah-nah-nah” us along with this dreamy tone that waves its way across the sky, which, along with these tribal drums that chop and plod their way in, would make this something like a roadtrip with Neu, Dan Deacon and LCD Soundsystem (listen for those dreamy piano prances towards the end to ease us out of side one…)
“Tapas,” named for a Spanish appetizer Thompson likely could have lived off whilst touring that country with E6, brings those gritty cathartic guitar surges back (along with another wild snaky guitar solo) and bolstered by heavy-metal lion roar of Tuthill – less the hooky fist-pumper of “Stimulus,” “Tapas” is more of a go-for-the-jugular and maybe-break-some-chairs-in-your-basement/sick-of-this-shit rock-out, all guitars and howls. It details a period of frustration and inertia for Thompson, spending “six years of my life / living in a shack” while he worked in video production and thus had his time eaten away, “getting nothing done,” still-able to perform in bands, but unable to find time for songwriting – thus the catharsis of 52-Week-High and all this stress upon finally getting things done. “Stimulus,” similarly, details selling your house and renting a van, abandon your ties and hit the road.
Then we come to “Market Dictates,” a minor-masterpiece of dance-rock that stresses about the universe closing in to dash the hopes of selling a condo in this bleak economy. This shimmery guitar plucks and pulls you in and we lock into a characteristic JHB/E6-feeling hook, muscular-yet-glitzy, riding this infectious beat tailored to a discoey side-to-side hustle. All the while synths are whirling and careening around, like sirens, or UFO photons or animalistic growls
52-Week-High is above all, liberating – as one can’t ignore Thompson’s therapeutic casting-off of various time-wasters, be they day-jobs or condo-created-stress and finally birthing a fine batch of his own songs – then girded and propped by fellow Detroit rockers who share Thompson’s love for progressive metal, aggressive guitars, and all things synth-surged that could ride an arc from industrial, to alternative, to heavy metal, to pop.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Listen: - Yeasayer - "Ambling Alp"
Or visit the Web site for the song/video -
Compared to Yeasayer’s still-phenomenal debut, this album feels like warm sunrays upon your short-sleeve tenders arms, a tumbling into the welcoming tickle of the verdant grass, an all night twist into the gurgle and hoot of the moonlit forest until sunrise – as opposed to their very stirring yet so very austere original sound. There are inevitable dance jams on here, conjuring things as glitzy and flirtatious as a Timberlakean midnight groove. While elsewhere, there’s the more cerebral, but still freewheeling road-trip romp of self-assurance and self-discovery.
The arty-folky-space-rock NY group have gone from their first record’s strange and invigorating hybrid of abstruse NY-art-punk/jazz sensibilities melded upon Indian/West-African folk-flavored tribal haunts from their past and stretched their arms into the coat of east coast flavored experimental indie-rock, spacey-psychedelic, but more attuned to our Radiohead/Animal Collective-tested ears. Now, before thou who lovest their past forays into dark and apocalyptic churnings of ghostly roaring harmonies and mantra-esque choral chants and twingey bewitch-ments, you will find the occasional zing of familiar flavors – like the swirling fog of those synths wafting into throaty ooo-wee-ooo-ooo-oooh harmonies from the ensembles that flex and warm up the space for the now reverb-less, echo-less vocals of “Madder Red,” (dig deeper and you find gristly burning guitars sounding almost angry to get out and groan, being calmed by the shoulder pat of subtle synth swirl dressings). “Ambling Amp” is probably the most potent punch of pop – with polyrhtyhms of steady chops running atop a hypnotic and dancey bass groove. But all their undulating accoutrements of synth and tablas and sitars and whatever other fun toys are, like before, outshined by the beauty of their voices – in harmony, yes, but often allowing solo singers to finally rise to the forefront for some poignant pop balladry.
"A Book of Songs for Anne Marie"
Baby Dee's Drag City release throws a wide arc of emotions for any listener willing to sit beside the harp-plucking, piano tickling songstress – you’ll be charmed, even delighted, taken aback by a dynamism both swishy and breathtaking, saddened by an austere air, tear-jerked, perhaps, by the melancholic beauty of those wintery piano strikes. Ballads like the subdued sway of “Unheard of Hope” into “Black But Comely” is the ideal winter blues soundtrack – because they both embody the potential beauty found in an otherwise dreary, lulling, overcast snow blown mid-season afternoon. Not that this is entirely the sweet and reviving hot cocoa escape type record, but more like the meditative churn of a tome-sized novel of short stories, some fantastic, some so universal it reminds you of your own past heartache.
Her singing style will be offsetting at first, because of its flamboyance, (it can, at times, be as playful, wavering and distinctively throaty as some exaggerated singing woodland creature from an animated movie, but her inflections waver, keeping you on edge, smooth and cooing, to low and biting, angelic to coarse, and jumping between a serenade to a sing-speak. Definitely an album for the soul of winter – which, half-past the fifth minute of “Anne Marie Does Love to Sing,” may push some to bring out something sunnier.
But there’s beauty in this, "not a tree of sticks but a forest…with boundless reaches…”
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The world of distraction - Haiti, Jay Reatard, the seemingly cheap but necessary comfort of music and ESPN
Haiti - How to Help (Red Cross)
More info (Huffington)
Preface - Tune into almost any channel: all MTV networks, ABC, HBO, CNN, NBC, Comedy Central, VH1, CMT...to watch George Clooney, Wyclef Jean and Anderson Cooper co host a live telethon to raise money for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti - more info -
Jan 22nd - 8pm - tune in - help if you can
also recommended reading- Barbara Dehn - at Huffingtonpost
So onto some rambled essay
Jan 15 - 2010
I was disturbed by three things – an earthquake in
At the gym, it is, not unlike handfuls of individual lap-topped sippers in a coffee shop, crowded solitude.
Like standing at a urinal, we, for a time, behave as though we’re in our own world – even if there’s a strider to the left and to the right, even if that one old dude’s shorts are definitely too short, even if they’re huffing louder than you and thus constantly reminding you of their presence and proximity.
No, most of them have headphones on anyway. Hooked up to their iPods. With everyone’s hearing blocked by headphones, you can actually say whatever you want to them, at a moderate level, and they won’t realize you’ve just said something. They are being swayed by their own personal soundtrack. What are they listening to? The Dead Weather? Vampire Weekend? John Mayer? Lady Gaga? Some personal playlist of their favorite Pearl Jam songs? Taylor Swift? The score to Avatar?
The pasty white quintessential grandma is rocking Public Enemy; the balding, ever-grinning, bespectacled 50 year old dude with the cake and cookies love handles is listening to the Twilight saga audio books; the awfully cute, book-ish looking mousy girl is giving David Lee Roth’s “Eat Em and Smile” a try.
Who knows. There are so few of us in this stuffy space of groans and sighs and coughs and the white noise of the whirring cardio machines, who do not wear headphones, who do not own iPods, who in fact, resign ourselves to subjection of the sounds of the gym.
The televisions, four of them, are all on mute. One of them displays the unspeakable tragedy, the aftermath and the preceding recovery, of the recent earthquake in
And I, feeling alone as I do my own little urinal peeing workout, pause and reflect on how vulgar it feels – that, though the talking pompadour is on ESPN, an all-sports “network,” and the images of the earthquake victims wandering the rubble-laden streets is that of an all-news “network,” I can’t help but think, that
Wow…, pompadour has to come into work today and continue the same old song and dance of dissecting the off-the-court goings-ons of overpaid athletes, dissecting all the angles of a solitary play that took three seconds to occur, making predictions about which “team” will “win” and, most importantly, a longwinded explanation as to why and how.
And all the while, something that clearly matters more, the earthquake and the lives forever altered, the crumbling country, on the screen to the left, goes on, but is, not only unaddressed by the humans on the screen to the right, it is as if we’re watching two different worlds. One where, not only did the earthquake most certainly happen, but it is the main focus, fully explored, dissected. In the other, any idea or discussion of an earthquake is nonexistent. Earthquakes don’t happen in the screen on the right – the sports network, or the entertainment news program, or the reality-TV program, or the game show – because, it’s almost as if Earth itself doesn’t exist, while we’re there…
When our eyes can’t take much more of the screen on the left, we just turn to the screen on the right. Pure escapism. That is, for those of us not rocking an Eric Clapton best-of, or U2’s “Beautiful Day,” those of us stuck watching the volume-less tv screens.
It made me, I’ll admit, feel a kind of disgust for this callous, selfish escape that we slip to – the turning of the page, the flipping of the channel, the escape into headphones.
Well. Yeah. Shit. Ugh. It’s hard, it’s painful, it’s sad, it is a staggeringly poignant case of empathy. It’s an unspeakable, and for many of us in the
But we can turn on ESPN and hear an almost gossipy-feeling news report of Mark McGwire’s admittance to steroid-use. We need it to distract our emotional energy.
I think I related to the pompadour who had to come in to work, knowing the same news updates about the earthquake, and still do what is his job, his role, and provide us with what can feel like distractions, even if its his livelihood. Because I have to sit down and write album reviews, or think up keen questions to ask a British band I’m calling up for an interview later today. I have to work as a music journalist, just as he has to work as a sports journalist.
So how much of “journalist” work involves preparing coverage on what can be, vulgarly in the case of arts and belittling in the case of sports, to “entertainment.”
I’m trying to decide if our embrace of the next television screen represents a need for quick, fleeting catharsis. Like that first big belly laugh, however long it takes to surface, after a funeral. Something to ease our cares and make us feel a new, happier or at least carefree emotion. If we flip to the next channel so quickly, does that mean that we are not completely cold and careless and selfish, that we can feel for them, and in fact, it hurts us and worries us and saddens us so much that we’ll grab at Mark McGwire’s steroid straws to give us that first-belly-laugh feeling.
Well, maybe. But I don’t know. One hopes we don’t change channels or turn pages before we find out HOW WE CAN HELP.
Anyway, even if I have my zealous, idealistic moments of romanticizing music as art – I have to reconcile that many people treat it as another distraction – like all these bobbers and striders here in the gym pumping up with overcooked Led Zeppelin in their ears, or Rage Against The Machine, or Feist or Christina Aguilera or whatever…
Are any of these grandmas and palookas listening to Jay Reatard? His latest album sounds so poppy and freewheeling, it could make for ideal escape (that is if you don’t listen to deeply to the lyrical depictions of isolation, feeling trapped, and casual suggestions of a looming death)– but that’s the other thing saddening me, is his, Jay Reatard, aka Jay Lindsey’s recent, still-mysterious/possible homicide death. I didn’t know him, I just listened to a lot of his music. I feel like I know him.
But, this week, it’s been a strange fluctuation of sorrow – the most extreme and utterly baffled sadness felt for the victims of the earthquake, and the more nuanced hit my heart takes when a favorite singer, or artist, dies suddenly, and so young, when a voice inside the chamber of our otherwise distractions, is silenced – and that that becomes the news that the journalists of the music journalist function, report.
I didn’t know him. Just like I didn’t know anyone in
But all those television screens up there, if just momentarily, made me think about the way we experience sorrow – and posit the amount of empathy we’re able to conjure for our fellow human. Why don’t we talk to each other more, when we’re here working out, get to know each other. Cuz, when the shit hits the fan, when an earthquake hits, we will need each other, we will have to depend on another to help us out and we must always be ready for that. As long as we remember that, as we flip the channel, as long as we know that tragedy is not silenced and is, often, still being documented, still actually happening back on that “last channel” and that that can be our real life any day now, well, then we’ll, in some small way, be ready. And be ready to talk to one another, call out for one another, when it does come.
Cuz if I pull my groin and cry out, will anyone with their iPod on hear me? Maybe not. But eventually someone will unplug and come help.
On a musical note, made to feel callous in the face of the Haiti tragedy, but more of a personal ode of a fan with his headphones and record sleeve...
– A quasi eulogy for Jay –
I was often disconcerted by Jay’s lyrics – especially in the song “Rotten Mind,” - “I see myself high up in the sky, people around me hoping I don’t die… I know where I wanna go and I don’t want to be this way / surrounded by people that want to watch me fall…” with the chorus, “I don’t wanna be / I don’t wanna be…be this way.” This coming from an artist who’d just signed with one of the most credible and well regarded indie-rock labels, Matador, for the release of his biggest-to-date and very well-received album, his now-final album, “Watch Me Fall.”
I was always blown away by his masterful blend of punk and pop sensibilities – and not in some cheap, sugary, contrived way, but in a very real feeling presentation, a blend of hard shredding guitars, obliterating drums, but such a tight delivery – and those his high airy voice could feel so chilly, there was a still a soulfulness to it. The quickest, easiest, dirtiest reference would be the Ramones impeccable ability to take classic 50’s pop head-bobbing giddy gush and glory with a seemingly leather-jacket-clad toughness. But unlike the Ramones, there was convincing pain and darkness – and not snotty, irrational, juvenile anger, but an almost poet-like sorrow at the mere desolation that can be apart of everyday life. There was such a sympathy to those who felt all alone in the world, but a simultaneous rejection of the pettiness of being accepted – “they don’t even know like me…” he’d sing on “Hiding In My Hole” –
The word is not yet in, on what caused his death – though authorities are now investigating it as a homicide. Perhaps I’ll say more soon – but the writing, his isolation and discomfort and self-loathing, was all over the walls of his last release – “I don’t deserve the best…” “They control me my feeble brain, telling me to go insane – I can’t do it anymore…”
It’s utterly tasteless, when specifically noting the strong somberness of the lyrical tone, but “Watch Me Fall” is still one of the most amazing, well-constructed pop/rock records of the last decade – seething with ravenous drums, blurring-blade guitar riffs, hard-jerking riffs and also, at points, a delicacy and charm.
Monday, January 18, 2010
This Ann Arbor based trio presents an epiphany of miniamlist indie-pop - called When The Sheet Hits The Fan - ...which has already been out for more than half of a year (which makes me your classic Johnny Come Lately blogger...) but I'm not here to wear the hat of bandwagon jumper and say santimonious things to create false hip-ness, or cred, or whatever...
It's pure, pleasing pop - with a farfisa and a drumkit and heavenly vocals (...and some guitars) - in the spirits of, altogether, early girl-group pop acts, latter 90's dark and delicate dream pop and a bit of spacey atmospheric sound sculpting mixed in - it's quirky, it's charming, sometimes dark and weird, but mostly - (especially in this mostly blah of a winter) downright springlike.
(out now on Kanine)
Surfer Blood Myspace
Surfer Blood Blog
Its interesting how schizophrenic “internet-based favor” can be – a hoard of faceless blogs can pounce at the first toss of a fresh piece of meat, skin it and wear it before they apparently discern just what species of animal they’ve desecrated with their attention and hoopla. It seemed, back in November when this album leaked, that we had, yet another, next big thing fervor starting – but this West Palm Beach quartet of surfy/reverb/hand-clappable pop lovers have already received some backlash from quickdraw bloggers who would castigate it for its familiar taste and aroma, revealing its shared (or cribbed) molecules from easy-stepping, shiny power-pop charmer acts like Weezer or The Shins.
Well, this review, I assure you, is free of bitter-bastard-isms, because I only just finally found this album and spun it this week – so it’s still fresh – which, like recently uncorked wine or homemade peanut-butter cookies, is when Astro Coast is at its best. Delicious fuzzy guitars, simple and steady rhythms, power-chord riffs, cajoling hooks, very car-stereo-road-trip-ready, very fancyfree out on the town at night kind of soundtrack balladry – all nicely fuzzed by a penchant for classic lo-fi scuff-rock, and utilizing an airy and echoey reverb vocal effect to put a nice twist on these surf-pop rockers. But while some (jaded) will find it too lucid or quickly staled – others should treat it for what it is, a fine document of a young band finding their way with wholesome, if a little naïve, flavors of tested indie-power-pop, with their own, steadily-developing, signature.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
The Glass Orphans are a collection of Detroit musicians who performed original material as “the house band” for a recent independent theatre production of a burlesque-tinged psychedelic interpretation of Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland.
For any local bound Lewis Carroll lover who made it out to this freak-ified, strip-tease-laden, sultry rock n roll flavored labor of love, this will play like a literal soundtrack, as the lush arrangements, like the sweet scorch of incense or the billowy comfort of silken red sheets, warms the mind back to the vivid imagery of the baby-blue-clad Alice twirling onto a large metal ring-shaped swing, or the belly-dancing/bungee-dancing caterpillar’s hypnotic sway or the Mad Hatter and March Hare’s unique levitation! Though it does play like a traditional soundtrack, the band and their tunes can stand on their own (if one slides by sporadic telling-references like quoting a Carroll poem as in the psychedelic whirlpool swell of the grand ballad, “Twinkle, Twinkle” or name dropping Alice in the pensive and slow-burning blissful shuffle of “Mad Hatter’s Throne”.) At the end of the day, it’s sturdy psyche-tinged surf, murky, wavy, cerebral at some points, able to shake hips to, at others.
Wonderland’s strengths shine in it’s rewarding, almost-documentarian-capturing of the collaboration of four prominent energies, the disarming blend of the docile and bewitching lead-vocals of Kate Nickerson; the tremolo-heavy, western-tinged space rock style of the heart and soul players, Mike/Hussain/Paul/Benny, (also the heart and soul of Electric Lion Soundwave Experiment), and main songwriters Drew Bardo (of a varying style between blues and punk) and Rabeah Ltief (who delves into 60’s psychedelia and soulful, tripped out ambience). Songs range from jam-able shimmies of tumbling drums and guitars ripping all over in surf-toned glory (with the sax splaying all out in a jazz sensibility) “Five Alarm”; “White Rabbit Boogie,” then to single-ready minor masterpieces of waltzy psyche-pop “My Immaculate Mind,” then to unabashed 60’s-scorched reverb-soaked struts “The Queen’s Inquisition”; or the swirling, downright hallucinogenic “Down Inside.”
The strongest entries include “Alice vs. The Catepillar,” a tone-worshippers movement, very explorative and building and heavy on the pedals for those guitars, with intertwining guitars and snaky sax, and also potential piece de resistance, as much for those cascading guitars as for that perfect synth-led-march as for the trade off of lead vocals between Ltief/Bardo/Jane, on the epic “Mad Hatter’s Throne.”
Good ol' Photo Recon - Woodman, Oblisk, Rue Moor Counts, Electric Lion Soundwave Experiment, Oscillating Fan Club
(94% of photos by Mike Milo)
It had been a while since I could make a nice tear through the town and get a good sampling of bands - Friday, DC visited the Majestic Cafe to partake of Oblisk and Oscillating Fan Club (below: the first is developing/performing new material, while the second has something on the way this Spring).
Next, over to Small's where the camera caught Woodman's inspired set, as part of their 7" release party.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
I am reflecting on this because, well, the red-carpet-set sporting events are coming up soon and I also just watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (for the first time admittedly,) a film that was one of the few films, ever, to sweep the "five major" awards (Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay, Picture), and I can't help, as I often do, but embrace the urge to scrutinize this "award-winning" performance of an actor, in this case, Jack Nicholson, against other performances in his career.
The limits of the Oscars, especially when it involves such an iconic actor with a long resume, leads me to, albeit irrationally, to weigh this apparent pedastol performance against others that I as an Academy of One, would hold higher.
My personal inclincation, for Jack, goes to The Shining. (Again, albeit irrational - I weigh Cuckoo vs. Shining). The portrayal of madness is always captivating because of how frightening it can be, when captured as perfectly as Jack does - because we are staring into the wild feiry eyes, repelled by the creepy tongue-waggings and disturbed by the visceral howls (specifically displayed throughout The Shining) that suggest that this human being has gone beyond the brink, has been possessed by chaos, whose derranged mind makes him as dangerous as a wild animal - and to see that portrayed, in a performance, and have it be believable, makes you wonder how an actor turns that on and off - outside of the filmed experience - that's the real scary part, you're "conjuring" madness and embracing it.
Whereas in Cuckoo's, the performance that was "awarded," he is playing RP MacMurphy - (similar to Jack in The Shining, they are both the characters of a novel, one from Ken Kesey, the other from Stephen King), but MacMurphy, by distinction, is only "pretending" to be crazy, as a ruse to maybe pick up some bucks on some easily-swindled mental patients. So, while I can watch Cuckoo's Nest and consider it a very strong film, all around, certainly worthy of awards, worthy of four stars, etc etc, I can't help but get momentarily be irked that one performance of "pretending" to be crazy gets the honor and the other where he certifiably goes crazy (and beyond) does not - but it brings us back to the flaw of the Oscar's...
It seems to keep score.
If you've already got an Oscar, like, say, you had won one within the last five years, you might get passed over for another performance, regardless if you're current work is more deserving. (See: Russell Crowe passed over for more nuanced and disturbing role in A Beautiful Mind, perhaps because he won for the essentially one-dimensional performance in Gladiator). Whereas, if Jack's nominated for 80's The Shining, the tacit suggestion may be, hey--he just won back in 75 for Cuckoo's...
The other flaw is the 'make-up' Oscar, the one that's awarded almost for combined work of the past performances that were surprisingly passed on (see: Denzel Washington missing for Malcolm X but yet, winning for...Training Day? And/or, Martin Scorcese missing for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Good Fellas, The Aviator and...winning for...The Departed??)
Anyhow...my longwinded point is - whether or not I, subjectively, feel Cuckoo is (or is not) one of Jack's best performances - it is futile (and, almost a waste of all the words I've used so far) to get upset about it - because his winning in 75 was likely just a byproduct of the competition of that year. And, one has to admit that Robert DeNiro probably gave the performance of his life in the film, Raging Bull, for which he won, over Jack, that year.
So, we should reflect on the power of the director, in this case, Stanley Kubrick. For certain directors, the impact of their signature can outshine the performances in the minds and memories of the audience.
When you think of The Shining, you think of an ax wielded against a door with the inevitable delivery of "Heeeere's Johnny," but, you'll also quickly hear those shrieking strings, stabbing their way through the soundtrack, those blunt and sudden dateline black screens ("WEDNESDAY"), the camera chasing scurrying bodies through a maze, the type writer with pages and pages of one sentence, the blood getting off the elevator, the creepy emptiness of that spooky hotel.
The movie itself, it seems, is almost competing with Jack, on who can best disturb/effect the viscera of the viewer. In essence, the power of the film, Kubrick's eery wordless naration by way of camera angle, pacing, editing and soundtrack, could have such a wave of influence thus that Jack's performance becomes (not merely) an (albeit formidable) added gale pushing the tidal wave forward. Whereas in the, by comparison at least to Kubrick, even-keel delivery (with exception of admittedly exceptional editing and good use of close up) of Cuckoo's director Milos Forman.
Then, I thought, this seems to be true with 4 of Kubrick's (arguably) 5 most revered films: The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket. The exception, I would say, is Peter Sellers triple-pronged performance in Dr. Strangelove. Whereas Jack, and commendably Malcolm McDowell (in Clockwork) deliver two of the most memorable performances of all time, the circumstance of the film - (Jack going crazy, and Malcom's evil-reveling-Alex being "corrected" by the State) dominates are regard.
We all remember their performances, but it is Kubrick's hand that frames that devestating close up of McDowell's face in the milkbar, or that positions the camera lying on the ground facing up at Jack, as he bangs on the freezer door (or follows along his dragged-body through the kitchen):
Space, the black obelisk, the monkeys, the classical music all over the soundtrack, and the immortal hallucinogenic time warp sequence are all the bigger stars of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And, does anyone else remember Matthew Modine's (or, for that matter, Vincent D'Onofrio's) impressive turns in Full Metal Jacket? You remember one giving the thousand yard stare at the end - and the other shooting himself in the bathroom, but they are both led more dominantly by the hand of Kubrick.
In a weird way, I guess I was arguing that maybe it would be hard for an actor to compete with the dominating personality/style of a director - and thus, that the often chincy Oscars had no recourse but to give Kubrick's work and his actors that awkward stare that some cosmopolitan mainstream squares in the room would give the avant-garde dude who just hooted a Ginsberg poem in Portugese at the wine and cheese party, and then move on...
Sellers, is the exception - as, even though I would argue Dr. Strangelove to be an invaluable commentary on the Cold War, the arms race, the imbecility of those in power (with such a horrifying effect that such gum-chewing, gun loving, shruggers-off-of-death have their fingers on the buttons) - still, his performance, (with the exception of Slim Picken's riding a bomb like a bucking bronco) is the most memorable facet of the film - and, probably due to Kubrick's 1964-youth and still-developing-style, is able to compete with the director.