Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Ghost of Brian
Wilson Lingers

The Ladybug Transistor,
Can't Wait Another
Day, Merge Records

In theory, I like this New York combo as I'm a fan of baroque pop—you know, artfully-arranged popular music with brass
and strings. Progenitors include the Three Bs: Burt Bacharach, the Beatles, the Beach Boys...and anything touched by the hand of Brian Wilson associate Van Dyke Parks.

Featuring contributions from such esteemed guests as the Aislers Set, Architecture in Helsinki, the Clientele,
and Roy Nathanson (the Jazz Passengers
), The Ladybug Transistor's fifth full-length fits that description to a T.

Unfortunately, I can't get past Gary Olson's somewhat wooden voice. I tried, but I just couldn't do it. If the music were louder
or his vocals quieter, it might not bother me so much, but they're front and center on every track, except for "Here Comes the Rain"—consequently, my favorite song on the album.

Maybe if Olson were a tenor. The baritone in pop is a tricky thing. I dig Scott Walker, but he's a one-of-a-kind. He doesn't talk-sing, like Lou Reed. In his younger days, he belted it out, and he had the pipes to pull it off. I enjoyed the rest of Can't Wait Another Day, but it mostly makes me want to listen to London labelmates the Clientele for a dose of the baroque graced with some truly exquisite tenor vocals (especially on their early records).

Silver Sun, Dad's Weird Dream,
Hands Music [7/3/07]

Not to be confused with California's Silversun Pickups, Silver Sun hails from the UK (specifically Walthamstow). Like the Ladybug Transistor they also appear to have been influenced by the Beach Boys. James Broad even sings like Brian Wilson, except his band rocks harder (faster tempos, blasts of feedback, etc.).

While listening to their latest record, I was also reminded of Cheap Trick and Adam & the Ants—maybe even a little Romantics. Dad's Weird Dream,which was produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead), isn't a full-on New Wave flashback; it's a mid-Atlantic synthesis of punk-pop, '70s style stadium rock, and a hint of glam. According to the All Music Guide, they're big in Japan—guess they really are following in Cheap Trick's footsteps.

Endnote: The title is a reference to Spoon's "The Ghost of You Lingers." Not so coincidentally, Britt Daniel is one of my favorite vocalists. Coincidentally, his quartet records for Merge. The Ladybug Transistor plays the Crocodile Café on 8/7. For more information about LT, please see their official website (at which you can listen to the entire record). Incidentally, here's Splendid's take on a Ladybug Transistor/Clientele throwdown:

Labelmates duke it out over which act is the spiffest bunch of folkies to ever grace the hallowed Merge roster. One trots out Simon and Garfunkel, the other the Left Banke. The storm clouds
are forming when that bloke out of Clientele produces a copious amount of ganja and the whole crew gets spliffed outta their minds and discusses why Nick Drake's
Pink Moon was, in truth,
a more complete work than
Five Leaves Left.

For more information about Silver Sun, please see their official website or their MySpace Page. The Ladybug Transistor image swiped from their website (James William Hindle credited).

Slogging at Home and a Broad

Not only a great artist,
but also a freedom fighter.

-- Miriam Makeba on Nina Simone


The film fest is over and I'm no longer blogging for The Stranger, so here's a follow-up to one of my posts. To see all Slog entries pertaining to the 33rd Seattle International Film Festival, please click here. Thanks to Bill for the following.

Nina Simone as Soundtrack Signifier

Fresh Air, the Hungarian movie about the lavatory attendant, features another Nina Simone song: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" [written by Bennie Benjamin], the first third of which is played uninterrupted under a shot of the attendant's daughter laying awake at night, trying to figure out what to do.

Endnote: Bill adds that Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter features a Nina Simone number and that Monkey Warfare references the artist (via LP). Unfortunately, I missed both; Winter only screened once, but the IMDb lists a 9/19 release date.

Also, I wore my Simone t-shirt when I interviewed Steve Buscemi. "Who's that?" he asked. "Nina Simone," I replied. "She's great," he said (David Lynch said the same exact thing when I asked him about using "Sinnerman" in INLAND EMPIRE).

Incidentally, Bill saw 104 films to my 62. Makes me feel like a slacker, but it was the best I could do, and I still fell behind on some personal business, although I kept up with all my Amazon assignments. By way of comparison, Sean saw 66 selections, Steven saw 36, Tom saw 31, and Kevin, who was out of town for most of the fest, saw one. Simone image from In These Times.

Monday, June 18, 2007

More and More

When I'm drivin' in my car
And that man comes on the radio
He's tellin' me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can't get no, oh no no no
Hey hey hey, that's what I say.
-- The Rolling Stones, "Satisfaction"

Begushkin, Nightly Things, Locust Music [6/19/07]

If folk and pop go together like milk chocolate and caramel, folk and goth go together like dark chocolate and chilies. Personally,
I find the combination irresistible, but the contrast isn't for everyone. Then again, sweet plus sweet gets old real fast.

Brooklyn one-man band Begushkin's music is folk-oriented—instruments include mandolin, accordion, saw, and violin—but Dan Smith makes Richard Thompson sound like Lou Christie. Smith isn't a basso profundo or anything like that. His style is conversational, but he sounds like he's making grave pronouncements about dark doings in bleak places.

Nightly ThingsBegushkin
"Nightly Things" (mp3)
from "Nightly Things"
(Locust Music)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
More On This Album

He captured my attention instantly, but I wouldn't want to get too close. And with lines like "You would be my monkey girl / and I would be the dude," Begushkin come within a hair's breadth of self-parody. To keep my culinary analogy going, Nightly Things tastes good, but too much at one time could cause indigestion.

Benzos, Branches, Stinky Records [8/7/07]

When a record fails to fire my imagination, it's hard to find anything interesting to write about it. So it goes with the second
full-length from this New York quartet. Branches isn't terrible,
but all I can really say is that it's mid-tempo alternative rock. While the press notes cite Doves, Explosions in the Sky, and Aphex Twin, the All Music Guide references Radiohead and Travis.

Short for Benzodiazepines, Benzos produce a smooth post-rock sound that could fit just as easily on KEXP as KNDD, although chances are good the former wouldn't find it distinct enough,
while the latter wouldn't find it catchy enough. On the plus side, this foursome is hardly inept and lead vocalist Christian Celaya has a decent voice. I don't dislike it, but I prefer artists who take more chances—even when those chances don't completely pay off.

KJ Sawka, Cyclonic Steel, Wax Orchard [6/26/07]

Local drummer/producer Kevin Sawka's sophomore release showcases various strains of electronica, like
trip hop and drum 'n' bass. Some tracks are instrumental, others feature vocals. For the most part, it's dance—as opposed to trance—music, although there are a few chillout moments here and there. Cyclonic Steel brings to mind modern mixmasters like the Chemical Brothers and DJ Shadow.

For the most part, I found it quite pleasing. Towards the end, my mind started to wander both times I listened to it, but I think that has more to do with me than the recording, i.e. I don't mind electronic music, but it's never been one of my favorite genres. Granted, I did catch both Wax Tailor and Various in concert this year, but they're among the select few that have managed to break through my resistance. As for KJ Sawka, he's off to a great start.

Endnote: Click here for KJ Sawka's video for "Montreal." For more information: Begushkin's MySpace Page, Benzos' official website or MySpace Page, and Sawka's official website or MySpace Page. Sawka and Nightly Things images from their sites. Red
Fire Exotic Candy Bar image from Vosges Haut-Chocolat.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Musique Automatique

Stereo Total,
Paris < -> Berlin,
Kill Rock Stars [7/22/07]

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

What is described here are dark cinematic scenes including danger-
ous night cruises by car. Everything has to become a bit brighter.
-- Stereo Total on "Mehr Licht" ("More Light")

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

Do you like Plastic Bertrand's "Ça Plane
Pour Moi"
or Kraftwerk's "She's a Model"?

How about male-female duos, like
the Raveonettes or the Kills?

How about Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin Fé-
or Wim Wenders' Kings of the Road?

How about Radio On, a British film influenced by the
German New Wave
(by way of the French New Wave)?

How about Cinemania? Directed by 30 Century Man's Stephen
Kijak and German-born Angela Christlieb, this American docu-
mentary features songs by—you guessed it—Stereo Total.

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, this
Berlin-based electro-pop twosome is for you.
alternating male and female vocals combine naïvety with so-
phistication, the crude trumpet and Casio blasts are charming,
and the witty lyrics are in French, German, and English. Plus,
some of the tunes truly rock, especially "Plus Minus Null."

Other songs include "Plastic" and "Chewinggum." Aside from
the great titles, the press notes include band descriptions of
each number, which I found incredibly helpful, since my
knowledge of French and German is limited (to say the least).

To wit: "A rebellious teenage
girl's got the devil in her body.
That's nothing more than the
October Revolution in the
world of hormones" ("Miss
Rébellion des Hormones")
and "The lyrics of this 'soft-
rock track' is a collage of
text lines taken from the
gay porno movie Rasp-
berry Reich
by Bruce
La Bruce" ("Baby

Granted, not all of the comments are quite that insightful,
but they sure are entertaining, i.e. "It rocks! Kicks Asses!
This is modern music!"
("Moderne Musik"). That it is!

Paris <-> Berlin is album number seven from Françoise
Cactus and Brezel Göring, and it's just as winning as ever. Al-
so, their Serge Gainsbourg cover—at least their third so far—
"Relax Baby Be Cool," is aces. One of my favorite CDs of the year.

Click here for my review of follow-up Baby Ouh!

Endnote: Stereo Total plays Chop Suey on 9/3/07.
For more information, please visit their official website or
their MySpace Page. Images from their site and Music Club.

Friday, June 08, 2007

the Living Is Easy

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

Amazon CDs:
Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

Amazon DVDs: One Punk Under God (miniseries about evangelist Jay Bakker), Picket Fences - Season One [six-disc set], Welcome Back, Kotter - The Complete First Season [four-disc set] (the Sweathogs go digital!), Malpertuis (horror-fantasy with Orson Welles,
Michel Bouquet, and Jean-Pierre Cassel!), The Emperor's New Clothes (with Sid Caesar), and The Beauty and The Beast - The Second Season [six-disc set] (click here for the first season).

Amazon Theatricals: Goya's Ghosts (Milos Forman directs Stellan Skarsgård), Death at a Funeral (black comedy from Frank Oz), September Dawn (true-crime story with an LDS twist), Sicko (Michael Moore takes on the US healthcare system), and Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog remakes Little Dieter Needs to Fly).

Siffblog: Killer of Sheep and revamped versions of Army of Shadows, Innocence, Love Streams, Pusher II, and An Interview with Michel Gondry (only the formatting has been changed).

Slog: They Have Faces: Part Two
and Four, He Should Have Been a
, About a Soundtrack, Right-
eous Brother
, Dance, Dance, Dance,
Dance, Dance
, Man of One Face,
Many Personalities
, Crafty Work:
A Chat With Bülent Akinci
, and
An Interview about Interview
[with Steve Buscemi]

The Stranger: An expanded version of my Paprika review.

Endnote: I'm still waiting for Otto Preminger's Porgy and Bess, starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, and Sammy Davis Jr., to hit DVD. I'm thankful SIFF held a screening at the Cinerama a few years ago. I might never have seen it otherwise. Images from Wikipedia and ISAM/Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive.