Sunday, April 29, 2007

Remembrance
of Things Past

I recently upgraded the following Siffblog entries, all from 2005-2006. The point was to jazz things up with new—or better quality— images, cleaner formatting ("Symmetry! symmetry!"), links, and the like. So, if you missed any of them the first time around...

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (dir: Jacques Audiard; with Romain Duris), The Bridesmaid (Claude Chabrol; Benoît Magimel, above), A Chat With Robinson Devor (five-part interview), Festival (Murray Lerner; Bob Dylan, etc.), Free Zone (Amos Gitai), Histoire(s) du Cinéma (Godard), Kryzstof Kieslowski Short Films, Max and Grace (AKA My Suicidal Sweetheart), Pusher II - With Blood on My Hands (with Mads Mikkelsen), Russian Dolls (more Duris!), Sherrybaby (with Maggie Gyllenhaal), Shopgirl (with Claire Danes), Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (best foreign-language film nominee), Spirit of the Beehive (Víctor Erice),
and The Treasures of Long Gone John (with the man himself).



Endnote: Time permitting, I plan to revisit all my reviews to ensure that the layout is consistent throughout. For those unfamiliar with Siffblog, the site began as a forum for Tablet writers to cover the Seattle International Film Festival. Since the paper collapsed, Mike Whybark has kept the site going. Now contributors post reviews, interviews, and other bits of business all year long. (Aside from siffblog.com, you can access the site using cinelucida.com, cinecrit.com, and cinescopist.com.) After covering the fest for Siffblog for three years, I'll be writing for
The Stranger this time around. Image from The Villager.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Here Comes the Sun

Lavender Diamond, Imagine Our Love,
M a t a d o r
[5/8/07]

Earth is the most beautiful planet so don't forget to
laugh at the sunsets.

-- Becky Stark, 12/23/06


Possessing a rare five-octave vocal range, she displayed
the ability to imitate instrumentation and even birds.

-- Wikipedia entry on Minnie Riperton




Based on last year's Cavalry of Light EP, I was looking forward to the full-length debut from this Los Angeles quartet. They haven't let me down. On the contrary, they've surpassed my expectations.

My only complaint is that ecstatic nursery rhyme "You Broke My Heart," which dates from 2005, doesn't appear on Imagine Our Love, but that's good news for those who picked up the four-track disc. Led by world peace proponent Becky Stark, Lavender Diamond makes folk for dream-pop fans, dream-pop for folk fans.

That description may be over-simplification, but it's a start. For one thing, the classically trained soprano doesn't have one specific singing style. She has a few, though all are related. Sometimes, she sounds like a traditional folk singer, sometimes like a sunshine pop chanteuse (especially when she harmonizes with herself).

Comparisons abound to such disparate artists as Emmylou Harris, Shirley Collins, Nico, Karen Carpenter, and Kate Bush. I don't hear any of them—especially the deep, dark Nico—but Stark does has a similar sort of hyper-feminine thing going on. Instead, I hear Free Design, Starless and Bible Black—even a little Joan Baez.

Stark, who began her career
as a bird-like character named Lavender Diamond, can hit the highest of the high notes. And it's impressive, but I don't think she's merely trying to show off, although she comes close on "Dance Until Tomorrow," in which she gives Maya Rudolph's opera-trained mother Minnie Riperton
a run for the money (see the glass-shattering "Lovin' You").

Some people simply express themselves best at the top of their range. Some, like Nina Simone, and—yes—Nico, at the bottom.
It isn't just what you're born with, but what feels most natural. When I think of the soprano in pop, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell are the first women who come to mind. Stark doesn't sound like them either, but in a sense, she's following in their footsteps.

At the same time, she's carving out her own path. I can compare her to other vocalists—or try to, at any rate—but Imagine Our Love is a unique creation. Folk and dream-pop mingle with gospel ("Side of the Lord") and country ("My Shadow Is a Monday").

Wikipedia classifies the band, which includes Jeff Rosenberg (guitar), Steve Gregoropoulos (piano), and Ron Regé Jr. (drums), as "New Weird America," but not freak-folk (or psych folk, as they call it). That makes sense, although Lavender Diamond is more pop-oriented than some of the artists most closely associated with freak-folk, like Joanna Newsom. In other words, the classification isn't innacurate, but it is somewhat misleading.

As for the lyrics, there's some intriguing stuff here. I'm not sure about "I'll never stop a bullet / But a bullet might stop me ("The Garden Rose"), which evokes "I Gave My Love a Cherry"—so brilliantly deconstructed by John Belushi in National Lampoon's Animal House—but none of Stark's other words gave me pause.

Mostly I've been too dazzled by the voice and the instrumentation, which includes woodwind and brass, to dig much deeper. "Like an Arrow," for instance, follows the same trance-like trajectory that makes "You Broke My Heart" so effective. Stark repeats the line, "Heart like an arrow...closer," repeatedly as
the piano and drums build around her. Much like My Bloody Valentine's "Soon," I could listen to it on a permanent loop. I've always agreed with James Brown that when you find a good groove, you should "do it to death," as it were. That they do.

Suffice to say, I'm crazy about this record. Those allergic
to sunshine and flowers are advised to stay far, far away.

*****

Lovin' you is easy 'cause you're beautiful.
-- Minnie Riperton, "Lovin' You" (1974)




Endnote: For more information, please see the band's official website, their MySpace Page, or their Matador Records entry. Lavender Diamond plays Seattle's Sonic Boom on 5/8 at 11pm and The Triple Door on 5/22. Images from Matador and Soul Walking.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Good Vibrations

The Oh Sees, Sucks
Blood, Castle Face

This music, these people...offer
nothing but proof that songs
...and sound for that matter...can play us as instruments.
--Dave Sitek, TV on the Radio


***** ***** ***** *****

Although Sitek didn't produce the fifth CD from the Oh Sees
(formerly Orange County Sound or Orinoka Crash Suite—take
your pick), he was behind the boards for last year's The Cool Death of Island Raiders. His band has also toured with them.

They don't sound much like TV on the Radio, but I can
see why he likes them. I do, too, which is surprising, be-
cause John Dwyer (vocals, guitar) hails from the Coach-
whips
, and that Bay Area band never did it for me.

Then again, if I'm not mistaken, Brigid Dawson (vocals, per-
cussion) has played with Lavender Diamond—at least that's what
the press notes say; I haven't been able to verify that connection
yet—and this quartet sounds more like them than the 'Whips.

Just imagine a gauzier 'Diamond as fronted by the ghost(s) of
Syd Barrett. Jigmae Baer (drums) and Sweet Petey Dammit
(guitar) complete the line-up. The first three OCS records, in-
cidentally, were Dwyer solo efforts (LD drummer Jeff Rosen-
berg, Dwyer's partner in Pink & Brown, guests on his debut).

For the most part, this is pret-
ty narcotized stuff. I have a high tolerance for that. For those who don't, it'll all prob-
ably sound rather aimless and attenuated, but I like the slow and quiet as much as the loud and fast. (Same for movies.) If anything, I need records like this to help me unwind, and I find the combination of brushed drums, theremin, and saw very re-
laxing indeed. Granted, I have no interest in music so mellow
it puts me to sleep, and the Oh Sees dodge that bullet handily.

Dwyer and Dawson, who often sing in unison, compete with the
feedback that ebbs and flows throughout the record. Consequent-
ly, it's hard to make out the lyrics. Sometimes I can tell what they
are singing, sometimes not. With neo-psychedelia, that tends to
work best. I don't want to hear every word, since I'm looking for
an experience more than a story or collection of stories. Maybe
the stories are compelling. I'll have to listen more closely to say
for sure...although that sometimes leads to disappointment.



For now, I'm enjoying Sucks Blood in much the same way
I've been enjoying Greg Ashley's Painted Garden. Is psyche-
delia coming back into style, or have I just been out of touch?
(Most likely, a combination of the two.) I've always been a fan,
so I'm digging this resurgence. As long as the acts continue to
avoid sounding like carbon copies of the psych heroes of yore,
I'm all for it. Theremin lovers: meet your new favorite band.

***** ***** ***** *****

Endnote: The Oh Sees
play the Vera Project on 6/2.
Incidentally, I often complain
about cover art that isn't quite
up to snuff. I'm sorry to re-
port that Sucks Blood falls
into that unfortunate cate-
gory. The front features an
unappealing illustration, but
the back is a winner. It's simply a snapshot of a work of embroid-
ery, but I find the image—a tiger surrounded by red, orange, and
blue flowers—quite pleasing. (Must be the Henri Rousseau fan in
me.) For more information about The Oh Sees, please see their
MySpace Page. Images from the AMG, MySpace, and Promonet.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Looking Back at Keren Ann

In my post about Keren Ann's upcoming record, I referenced Tablet, so here are the CD reviews in question. Both are from 2005, Tablet's final year.

Keren Ann, Nolita, Metro Blue/Blue Note (B+)

One year after her stunning English-language debut, Not Going Anywhere, French singer/songwriter Keren Ann returns with a quieter, more intimate affair. Recorded in Paris and New York—"Nolita" is North of Little Italy—the lyrics are in French and English. Keren Ann’s approach is, as ever, subtle and sophisticated, but never stuffy. Once upon a time, Nick Drake traveled to France to record with François Hardy, to whom Keren Ann has often been compared, but Drake was lost in one of his famous funks and nothing came of it. Nolita sounds like what could've resulted from that should've-been-historical meeting.



Lady & Bird, Lady & Bird, Capitol-EMI [France] (A-)

Keren Ann's latest album, Nolita, is among her best. That said, I like Lady & Bird, a concept collaboration with Iceland's Bardi Johannson, even better. It has the lovely vocals one would expect from Ms. Zeidel blended with some appealing weirdness, like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Night of the Hunter—both musically and thematically. That said, I don't quite "get" the concept; something about two lost children named Lady and Bird, but the tunes are great and the covers, "Stephanie Says" and "Suicide is Painless" (the theme from M*A*S*H), seal the deal.



Endnote: From time to time I'll continue to excavate my Tablet reviews and Wire interviews, since they're either not on-line or hard-to-find. Click the Lady & Bird link above to sample a track from the album (via YouTube). Keren Ann image from Le Plan.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Three Is (Not)
the Magic Number

The Locust, New Erections, Anti-

C'mon stiffs, we must demolish and level together...in the dead of everything...in the cold-sweat
of the night, heat of the freon freedom fight, New Erections
is exactly what we wanted. -- The Locust press statement

*****

If a band's gonna name their record New Erections, they must not want me to like it. Okay, I'm only half joking. I felt the same way about Smog's Dongs of Sevotion, but it won me over anyway.

Phallic allusions aside, the
two acts have little in common, but I'd opt for Bill Callahan's soft-spoken folk-pop over the Locust's "sci-fi-art-noise-spazz-core" anyday.

I gave the Locust's third effort a chance (I'm not familiar with albums one and two), and I
realize this San Diego combo has a devoted following, but
their grinding nihilism ain't for me. It's Nitzer Ebb without
the hooks, Bad Brains without the beats. Thumbs down.



Weatherbox, American Art, Doghouse Records

These fellow San Diego dwellers offer professionally deployed math-rock with an emo twist. Or something like that...it's always been easier for me to describe music I like than music I don't.

Sometimes, for professional reasons, I have to fake the funk, like writing about teen faves Dashboard Confessional or Fall Out Boy. Maybe Weatherbox should also hook up with Babyface, as I kinda like Infinity on High—better than American Art, at any rate.



Wooden Stars, People Are Different,
Sonic Unyon Recording Co.

As Jim Morrison once noted, "People are strange" (when you're a stranger). But Depeche Mode said it best: "People are people."

I like some of the acts on Sonic Unyon—see the Nein and A Northern Chorus—but this Canadian quartet is almost as dull as Weatherbox. They formed in 1993, so they pre-date emo, but they share a math-rock approach to rhythm. In other words, the bass player does a lot of the heavy lifting. In funk, that's a necessity. Outside of funk, I prefer bass you can feel rather than hear.

That said, People Are Different, their fifth full-length, may appeal to fans of Adrian Belew or late-period King Crimson. And, of course, it keeps the venerable "people are..." tradition alive.



Endnote: Images from the AMG. The Locust deserves props for their unique image. Those outfits don't look comfortable, but they're certainly striking. Also, they put just as much effort into their song titles, i.e. "Who Wants a Dose of the Clap?" and "The Half-Eaten Sausage Would Like to See You in His Office" (2003's Plague Soundscapes). Still, I prefer Clinic's scrubs—their music, too.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April is the Cruelest Month

These are the reviews
and other assignments
I'm working on this month.


Amazon DVDs: Siouxsie - Dreamshow: Live at the Royal Festival Hall With the Millenia Ensemble (bring on the black eyeliner...and the dancing horses!), Full House - The Complete Sixth Season [four-disc set] (click here for my reviews of the first five seasons), The 4400 - The Third Season [four-disc set] (click here for one and two), Melrose Place - The Second Season [eight-disc set] (click here for one), Pink - Live from Wembley Arena (click here for Live in Europe), Al Franken - God Spoke (documentary from the makers of The War Room), John and Mary (Peter Yates directs Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow), and S*P*Y*S (spook spoof with Donald Sutherland
and Elliot Gould post-M*A*S*H...hence all the asterisks).

Amazon Theatricals: Disturbia (thriller with Shia LaBoeuf), Hot Fuzz (buddy cop spoof from the makers of Shaun of the Dead), Diggers (small-town drama with Paul Rudd, Maura Tierney, etc.), Fay Grim (Hal Hartley's sequel to Henry Fool), The Hip Hop Proj-
ect
(doc about music program for at-risk youth), and Once
(Irish award winner with Glen Hansard from the Frames).



Resonance: Expansion of the following DVD review.

RADIO ON (Christopher Petit / Plexifilm)
As the Modern Lovers once exclaimed, "I'm in love with the
radio on."

In "Roadrunner," Jonathan Richman had 1950s America on his mind.
In Radio On, critic-turned-filmmaker Christopher Petit transfers the
phenomenon to 1970s England, exchanging exultation for something
more enigmatic. Shot by Wim Wenders regular Martin Schäfer, the
first-timer's monochromatic road movie captures a time of Bowie in
Berlin, Kraftwerk on cassette and Wreckless Eric on the jukebox. It's

Get Carter gone punk. Instead of Michael Caine, star of Mike Hodge's
crime classic,
David Beames plays DJ Robert B. Like Carter, he's try-
ing to unravel the mystery of his brother's demise. Radio On makes
for the ideal double bill with Border Radio, the restless debut from
fellow Wenders acolyte Alison Anders. Petit's project may be chil-
lier,
but the patina of time only makes it seem cooler than ever.

Seattle International Film Festival:
I'm continuing to write notes—or "blurbs"—
for this year's program guide.

Siffblog: Two or Three Things I Know About
Her
(Godard on the Americanization of Paris),
Glastonbury
(Julien Temple on the 37-year-
old music festival), and Oscar nominee After
the Wedding
(Mads Mikkelsen alert!).

And I received the following from Doug Block:

catching up with old emails that fell between the cracks when
i starting getting overwhelmed with distribution matters.
meant to tell you at the time how much i appreciated your
review, and particularly the writing. the film has gotten a lot of
reviews, and they've virtually all been very positive, but yours
was among the most perceptive and well written. wish we had
more of that quality of criticism here in good ol' new yawk city.

That made my day! (Please click here for my review.)



Endnote: I made the cover of the current issue of Resonancetwice. This is a first (and a second). See issue #53 for interviews with David Lynch and the Brothers Quay. For more information about Araki, please click here for the lively transcript of a San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) round table with Araki, Jon Moritsugu, and Marcus Hu. Araki image from The Evening Class, Mikkelsen from the archives.
The Madcap Laughs


Greg Ashley,
Painted Garden,
Birdman Records



"This kid's a star..."
--Greg Dulli, the Afghan Whigs (2003)


*****

On his second solo album, Greg Ashley (the Mirrors, the Gris Gris) pursues a soothing, psychedelic muse. His follow-up to Medicine Fuck Dream (2003) combines Ashley's gentle voice
with acoustic and electric instruments, including the occasional burst of brass, shake of the tambourine, and toot of the kazoo. Other voices also join in occasion, like Ali Rose, who sings lead
on the twisted girl group psych-pop of "Sailing With Bobby."

The way I see it, there's good-trip psychedelia and bad-trip psychedelia. As a solo artist, Ashley, who recorded Painted Garden in his native Kosse, TX and adopted Oakland, CA, falls firmly in the former camp. There's nothing mean or menacing going on here, with the possible exception of "Pretty Belladonna," which evokes Her Satanic Majesties Request-era 'Stones.

Download "Fisher King" (mp3)
from "Painted Garden"
by Greg Ashley
Birdman Records

Buy at iTunes Music Store

Stream from RealNetworks / Rhapsody

For fans of bad-trip/blues-based psychedelia, this record may be too um, "airy fairy," but I find Ashley's good vibes just as appealing as the Black Angels' bad ones. Then again, I have a high tolerance for the folk-oriented stuff, having grown up on Syd Barrett, the Incredible String Band, Robyn Hitchcock, and Love & Rockets.

Ashley isn't imitating any of those artists, but I do hear echoes of Leonard Cohen. In its natural register, his voice resembles Daniel Ash, but the boy does like
to fool with Mother Nature (hey, that's not nice!). The results remind me of Cohen's "Suzanne."

On "Medication #5," for instance, Ashley takes on a darker, more conversational tone,
alternating with a prettier, more conventional approach.
(The previous song title, "Caroline and the Orange Tree,"
also brings to mind the famous line, "And she feeds you
tea and oranges / That come all the way from China").

Considering that I'm not familiar with his previous work, I can't predict how much attention Painted Garden will attract, but those who dig Cohen, the Pretty Things, Animal Collective, the Skygreen Leopards, and Brightback Morning Light—as well as
the other artists I've mentioned—will find much to savor on
this album. Here's hoping it finds the audience it deserves.



Endnote: "Medication #3" appears on the Gris Gris' self-titled debut (2004), while "#4" appears on For the Season (2005). Birdman Records is the brainchild of Dave Katznelson, who signed the Flaming Lips to Warner Bros. Click here to sample Medicine Fuck Dream and Painted Garden. Greg Ashley plays Seattle's Sunset Tavern on 4/27. Images from Birdman.