Friday, July 25, 2008

All Those

The May

I wanna be on the list, a taste of a perfect dream.
Shiny nights glowing skin, chocolate melting kiss.

Damn, I wanna be on the list, too. Singer/guitarist Catty
Tasso dominates the latest EP from this San Francisco
quartet, and she fills the front woman spot with ease.

Neither all-pop nor all-punk, Tasso occupies that strong
yet spirited midpoint, like Blondie's Debbie Harry or the Pix-
Kim Deal before her. She also evinces the trace of a Ger-
man accent, which is ironic, since she hails from Chile.

As for the six songs on the May Fire's follow-up to 2006 CD
Right and Wrong and 2007 EPs Plastic Army and La Victor-
, they're catchy but not insubstantial. Good, solid stuff.

Peter Bradley Adams, Leave-
Sarathan Records [8/5/08]

“The unusual title and theme of the album is inspired
by a line from the Mark Strand poem titled 'The View':
‘He’s always been drawn to the weather of leavetaking.'"
-- Peter Bradley Adams

If you're in the mood for country-
oriented folk-pop, Peter Bradley
is your man. Unfortunate-
ly, I'm never in that kind of mood,
but I refuse to hold it against him.
It's my "issue," if you will; not his.

Raised in Alabama and based in Los
Angeles, Adams has a well modulated
tenor, and his string and piano-decor-
ated second album goes down easy.

Better yet, it isn't too pretty, i.e. too slick or saccharine,
but more distinguishing characteristics would be ideal. Many
sincere and talented musicians walk the same path; Adams
might wish to veer further off-course next time around.

Digital Primate, Siege Mentality, Public Opinion [import]

Digital Primate fuse reggae with techno and hiphop.
Songs "I Don't Give a Fuck" and "My Bush Would Make
a Better President" give some indication as to where
these Melbourne ladies and gents are coming from:
they may be pissed, but they still wanna dance.

As the group states in Siege Mentality's CD booklet, "Please consider the current state of the world and work out your own position within it." (They include websites.) Plenty of profanity, skittery grooves, and production from the Mad Professor.

The Discovery, EP, Pforder Records

It isn't usually fair to judge a CD by its cover art. That said,
the Discovery's self-titled EP bears an unappealing paint-
ing of a frame-filling eye: a black and gold swirl stands in for
the iris, while a snot-like tear oozes from the inner corner.

The four songs from this Arizona
outfit are clunky, Jamaican-in-
fluenced pronouncements about our
troubled world. The fourth track
splices original lyrics with Phil
Collins' "In the Air Tonight."

I wouldn't say the music sounds exactly like the picture, but neith-
er quite works—not for me, at any
rate. And I like "In the Air Tonight."

Hypatia Lake, Angels and Demons,
Space and Time
, Reverb Records

Hypatia Lake keep doing that voodoo that they do—and
do well—on their third disc. As with Your Universe, Your
and ...And We Shall Call Him Joseph, the Seattle band
follows in the footsteps of S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things.

Recorded and engineered by Scott Colburn (Animal Collec-
tive, Arcade Fire), the only significant difference seems to be increased clarity, i.e. more separation between instruments.

A dramatic and moody muse continues to guide these men,
who also bring to mind such diverse acts as Pink Floyd, T-
Rex, Gary Numan, and Ennio Morricone, especially on the
angelic, windswept "Jeremiah, Close Your Eyes Now."

Rurik, Re-education, The Athir Creative Inc.

Rurik consists of two excitable fellows, Christofer Dale (key-
boards) and Kevin Jackson (drums). Their second record, after Definition of Order, features fast-paced dance-rock in the Sparks or Devo mode. It doesn't qualify as new wave revival, however, since the production projects more of a post-millenial sheen.

Unless you're hopped up on something (or naturally hyper-
active), it just might wear you down. Except for "Every Time I
Ride Alone," Rurik remains revved up from start to finish, but
a few more mellow moments would've been most welcome.

War Tapes, War Tapes EP, Sarathan Records [9/16/08]

I feel like I've heard this LA four-piece before. They produce dark,
atmospheric post-punk that recalls U2 and Interpol. The thing is,
no one can do what those Irish rockers do—and bands like In-
terpol and Editors just make me wanna listen to Joy Division.

It isn't cool to admit, but I've always had a soft spot for U2.
Yes, it's partly an Irish thing, even though they rarely sing a-
bout their homeland anymore (see "Sunday, Bloody Sunday").

In any case, since the 1980s, the
Alarm, Big Country, and hundreds
of others have tried to fill their shoes,
but few have come close. Now we
can add War Tapes to that list.

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

Endnote: The title of this post comes from the May
Fire song "The List." They play the High Dive on 9/2,
while Hypatia Lake plays the Comet on 7/31. For more
information about the former, please click here, from whence
the image at the top originates; for the latter, click here, from
where I swiped the poster graphic. For more about Adams,
click here; for the Discovery, here; and for Rurik, here or
here. All other images from Planetary Group.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back to the Future

The American
Dollar, A Memory
Stream, Yesh
Music [8/19/08]

Explosions in the Sky
proved that instrumen-
tal rock could become both
popular and lucrative.

The Texas outfit provided the soundtrack for the foot-
ball film Friday Night Lights, then the NBC series, and
they've been selling out mid-sized venues ever since.

The American Dollar's John Emanuele and Rich Cupolo
ply a similar sound, and it's also been co-opted for the small
screen (see MTV's Battlegrounds). Whether the Queens duo's
similarity to EitS is coincidental or intentional, their third CD
serves wonderfully well as the score to an imaginary film.

Waves on Waves, self-titled, VIP Group [9/9/08]

This flamboyant Nashville
trio—throughout the cov-
er art, they cavort in head-
dresses, eyeshadow, ear-
rings, and tattoos—pumps
out 1980s-style synth-pop.

Front man Thornton (one name only, please) has a gentle yet forthright voice, akin to post-Soft Cell Marc Almond.

Sexually ambiguous imagery aside, Waves on Waves (for-
merly Thornton) play it pretty safe on their debut. Lyrics
like "Today I wrote the Holy Book" ("We Want To") join with
sweeping synths and Edge-influenced guitar work. The shiny
results recall a less dance-oriented Erasure or Spandau Ballet.

Wax Fang, La La Land, Don't Panic! Records [10/14/08]

Wax Fang's leader lives to shout. You can envision Scott Carney
in your mind's eye—even if you've never seen pictures of him be-
fore. There he is on stage, arms stretched out to the sky. Or may-
be he's on his knees, beseeching the crowd to heed his words.

Sounds off-putting, doesn't it? The thing is, some guys can pull
off these sorts of dramatics, namely Queen's Freddie Mercury.

Well, the aptly-named Carney sounds
nothing like Mercury, but I'll be damn-
ed if the Louisville singer/guitarist
doesn't make the old-school front man
schtick seem fresh. In fact, he's so good
at the loud stuff that when he turns the
volume down, as on the introduction
to "Cannibal Summer," he falters.
Briefly. This man wasn't meant for
the ballad, but the operatic rocker.

Partially recorded at Memphis's famed Ardent Studios with
drummer Kevin Ratterman and bass player Jacob Heustis,
Carney's follow-up to Black & Endless Night recalls the tight-
trousered days of Queen, Bowie, and The Rocky Horror Show.

La La Land isn't small or subtle. It's big and intense. By all
rights, this thing should suck. Miraculously, it doesn't.

Endnote: Every other CD that comes my way these days
sounds like an '80s flashback. Not counting the indie music
of the era—especially the bands on Rough Trade—I don't
share the nostalgia that fuels these musicians, though I'm
trying to be understanding. That said, I'm more tolerant
of the '70s revivalists, because that's my favorite era.

For more information about Waves on Waves, please click
here or here; and for Wax Fang, here. Images from the My-
Space Pages for the American Dollar (album cover by Greg
Brophy) and Wax Fang (I own that same edition of The Rock
Yearbook). The latter, incidentally, list Kenneth Anger, Werner
Herzog, Terry Gilliam, Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabokov, and
Journey (!) among their influences, to which I say: Right on.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

of Play

Every few
I check
to see
my re-
(and oth-
er pieces)
are ending up. Here are some of the more interesting results.

Amazon review of Born Into Brothels

Bohemian Aesthetic:
Amazon review of Sara Bareilles - Little Voice

Amazon review of David Ford - I Sincerely
Apologize for All the Trouble I've Caused

[I also reviewed his new disc for KEXP; it's pretty similar.]

Out and About Vancouver:
Amazon review of No Country for Old Men

Running Rooster:
Amazon review of H.R. Pufnstuf

Salt Lake Public Library:
Amazon review of State of Play

[Soon to be a major mo-
tion picture...that will not
surpass the miniseries.]

Seattle Film and Music Office:
Kathy Fennessy at Siffblog recently had the opportunity to visit the set of Lynn Shelton's new feature Humpday, which stars Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) and Mark Duplass (co-director of Baghead) in a story of "male bonding taken too far."

Stupid and Contagious:
Amazon review of the Kills - No Wow

Style Wars:
Amazon review of Style Wars

Sylvia Juncosa:
AMG review of Various Artists - Away from the Pulsebeat

Endnote: GreenCine Daily linked to my pieces on Funny Games,
David Gordon Green, and Hal Ashby, while Prost Amerika cross-
posted my reviews of La Chinoise, Shotgun Stories, and The
Saga of Anatahan and my Sound interview with Alexis Ferris.

The NWFF also linked to my Ashby tribute, my Humpday
, and my Shotgun Stories review. Also, click here
for a photo from a NWFF panel ("Critics Critiqued") in
which Jay Kuehner, Charles Mudede, and I participated.

Images from The Medium Is Not Enough (John Simm,
State of Play) and Digital Entertainment News (Simm
as the reporter; David Morrissey as the politician).

Friday, July 11, 2008


Words to
live by
from Ron-
ald Bergan
for the

[I]f objective film criticism, like democracy, is never attain-
able, it should not discourage critics from trying to achieve it. Anything that minimises the complex personality of the critic standing between the film—that obscure object of desire—and the prospective viewer, must surely be encouraged.

There is no need for the writer to use the first person singu-
lar, which is superogatory. At least it should be used spar-
ingly. A review is not about the critic but the film.

"Slow". This is often employed without even the adverbs "too" or "so". When a critic calls a film "slow", it is immediately taken as pejorative. Would one criticise a piece of music by saying it is slow? The word itself carries no negative connotation. It is as neutral as "fast", "shot on video" or "in black and white", although these terms, even unqualified, can also carry with them some prejudice. Slow usually implies that the critic has found the film boring, another meaningless subjective term. If someone announces that they find opera or Shakespeare boring, it says nothing about opera or Shakespeare, but about the speaker.

"Too Long". Time is ex-
tremely subjective. The
criticism doesn't really
have anything to do with
the running time of the film,
but with how the critic exper-
iences that time. One could sit
through 3-4 hour films which
don't feel long, while a bad
15-minute short seems in-
terminable. A critic who thinks a film is "too long", is again revealing that they have become bored with the style or content and not the length.

"Pretentious" or "obscure"...generally
means the critic has not understood the film.

Click here for Evan Derrick's take on the same topic

My favorite rule from Derrick's post:
2. Respect the Medium You Are Criticizing:
To put it plainly, when reviewing films, don’t be a prick.

Despite my support for Bergan's words, I've committed some of the very crimes he rails against, but I'm working on it. In fact, I'm committing one right now by using the first person (hard to avoid in a blog context). Elim-
ination, however, may not be advisable with the kind of writ-
ing I do, i.e. short reviews aimed at a general audience.

To my surprise, most commenters disagree with Bergan. As
one notes, "Impartial artistic critique is by definition impossible,
or if it were possible it would be lacking in true emotional con-
tent and would hence be worthless." Point taken. If his aren't
necessarily "words to live by," they're certainly "words to think
about," and I've been thinking about them for several days now.

Endnote: Thanks to GreenCine Daily for drawing my at-
tention to these pieces. Earlier today I was compiling a list
of the 10 most essential Spanish-language films, so I had to
find a place for Luis Buñuel. 1977's That Obscure Object
of Desire, however, doesn't count, because it's French, des-
pite the participation of fellow Spaniards Fernando Rey and
Ángela Molina, and Los Olvidados isn't available on DVD,
so I opted for Viridiana...even though I've never seen it.

Images from Flickhead, i.e. Molina and Carole Bouquet (click the
link for more info about Allan Tannenbaum's photograph), Sag-e-Laila (I love Bouquet's smirk; very Buñuel-esque), and The New York Times (Rey as Mathieu and Bouquet as the elusive Conchita).

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Artists of Varied Persuasion, Part II

Various Artists, No Band Is an
Island, Knw-Yr-Own Records [8/5/08] (***1/2)

The floor is sticky / the screen is all aglow.
Sitting alone / at the motion picture show.
-- Calvin Johnson, "Sitting Alone at the Movies"

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

It's foolish to expect to like every song on a
various artists compilation, and I didn't like
every one on No Band Is an Island, but
the ratio of hits to misses is impressively high.

Bryce Panic ("Masterpiece") and Kimya Dawson
("We're All Animals") provide my least favorite sel-
ections, but I still feel that Dawson's whimsical work
enhanced Jason Reitman's Juno; separated from
an engaging narrative, however, it isn't my thing.

Also, "Animals," which features kids and the goofy "Uncle Bob,"
is directed more at children than adults ("When you get older,
your body will grow hair...some people shave theirs off, but I
let mine grow...the hair on my leg feels like long johns...").

As for Panic, I found his rapping irritating, but he does have a
way with words ("Naomi Klein wrote about me in The Nation").

I also have mixed feelings about Kaisle Feeled's "My Wave's
Your Wave," a long acoustic jam, Sandman the Rapping Cow-
boy's "Barack Obama (Will Rock Your Mama)," a weird hiphop-
country hybrid ("He's got a rad personality / his skin is brown"),
and ...WORMS' repetitious "Abide," in which the Oregon quartet
screams "Bye-bye, atmosphere!" over and nauseum.

That leaves most every-
thing else, highlights of
which include: "Lion
Tamer" (Mirah), "Sup-
port Your
Local Bandid-
os MC" (Photosynthesis),
"Mysterious Ways" (Nate
, above), "Wind Sum-
mons" (Mt. Eerie), Leiber &
Stoller's "She's Not You" (Bryan, Frank, and Bob), "Do the Dol-
phin" (Coconut Coolouts), "Cowboy Lullaby" (Khaela Maricich,
the Blow), "My Music Is My Sweat (Dub)" (Angelo Spencer et
l'Orchidee d'Hawaii), "Sitting Alone at the Movies" (Calvin
Johnson, Dub Narcotic Sound System), and "Certainty" (D+).

Except for the drum machine, I dug Karl Blau's jazzy "You
Can Use Your Words," as well, which comes on like a one-
man cross between George Benson and Mose Allison (!).

If the primary goal of a compilation is to introduce artists
from which listeners will want to hear more, this 22-track
set successfully primes the pump, and several of these
acts have full-lengths on the way, like Dawson's Alpha-
butt (on Olympia's K Records), Ashley, Photosynthes-
is, the Pyramids, and the reissue of Maricich's 1998
Look For It in the Sky It Will Always Be There (all on
Anacortes's Knw-Yr-Own Records). And on that
note: congratulations to Knw-Yr-Own, which roar-
ed back into life this year, on their 21st anniversary!

Click here for Part I: Various Artists - Music from Northern Ireland

Endnote: Started by Bret Lunsford (Knw-Yr-Own, D+, Beat
Happening), the seventh annual What the Heck Fest takes place
in Anacortes from 7/18-20 and features several of the acts on No
Band Is an Island, i.e. Ashley, Blau, Coconut Coolouts, D+, Daw-
son, Graves, Johnson, Maricich, Mirah, Mt. Eerie, Ô Paon, Photo-
synthesis, Spencer, Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive To Death,
and ...WORMS. Also, click the links for reviews of D+ - On Purpose-
1997-2007: Hits, Rarities and Live Cuts
and Mt. Eerie's Micro-
and Black Wooden Ceiling Opening. Images from Spin
(Johnson; photo by Alex Crick) and Knw-Yr-Own (Ashley).

Friday, July 04, 2008

Artists of Varied Persuasion

Various Artists, New Music from Northern Ireland, Northern Ire-
land Music Industry Commission

If you had asked me, before I received this compilation, to name
a few acts from Northern Ireland, I would've cited Van Mor-
, the Undertones, and Stiff Little Fingers (I might've even made a case for Undertones spin-off band That Petrol Emotion).

According to this two-CD set, Snow Patrol, Ash, and the Divine
Comedy [right] also call the North home. (In a recent article for
The Independent, Andy Gill describes Snow Patrol as "the weedi-
est of the Coldplay copyists trailing in the band's wake." Ouch.)

The only other name that rang a bell was Oppenheimer, since I just
reviewed their second CD, Take the Whole Midrange and Boost It.

To judge by these 28 tracks, Nor-
thern Ireland's music scene isn't
significantly different from that
of the Republic of Ireland—or
even America and Great Britain.

Nonetheless, these sounds aren't
as off-kilter as some of the stuff
that's been coming out of Scotland
and Wales (courtesy Arab Strap,
Mogwai, Super Furry Animals,
etc.), but the compilers probably chose to focus on those
artists most likely to cross over into the commercial arena.

Also, women are conspicuous by their absence. One female per-
former, Claire Sproule with the wispy "Waiting," out of 28 equals a
measly 4%, not counting Chris Elliot's Jupiter Ace house anthem
"Dreams Come True" featuring singer/songwriter Alison David.

Are there significantly fewer women in Northern Ireland,
fewer female musicians, or are they just not receiving the nec-
essary encouragement? If this compilation is representative, there's a story in there for some enterprising music writer.

So, most selections are all right, but not mind-blowing—
though Lafaro and the Answer [below] certainly rock hard
enough. I'm glad Northern Ireland has become a more pleas-
ant place to live, and I hope that continues to be the case, but a
blistering punk landmark like Stiff Little Fingers' Inflammable
Material never would've emerged from the North of today. Hap-
pier times make for happier music. I wish no one unhappy times,
but I need more tension in my tunes, regardless as to the genre.

That said, Londonderry lad Neil Han-
non (the Divine Comedy) stands out
like a velvet suit in a rack of t-shirts.
He contributes the Spanish-inflected
"A Lady of a Certain Age" (off 2006's
Victory for the Common Muse), the
story of a bright young thing who
turns into a careworn dowager as she
drifts through Europe. Aside from his
own records and work with Tom
Jones, Ute Lemper, and Charlotte
Gainsbourg, Hannon appears in Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.

Things I learned from the liner notes: composer David Holm-
es (Out of Sight, Ocean's 11) hails from the region. Also, out-
er Belfast's the Answer features a vocalist who shares a sur-
name with the best known actor to emerge from the North.

His name is Cormac Neeson and, as his first name indicates
(see McCarthy, Cormac), he sings as if he'd been raised in the South—
the American South. (As Neeson told the BBC in 2005, "We play
high voltage rock and roll for the most part—bit of blues going on
there, bit of soul.") As with Hannon, Neeson just may have the
goods to conquer the wide world beyond his tiny country.

Philomena Lynott thinks so. According to The Independent:

The ultimate stamp of approval, though, came when Philo-
mena Lynott
, mother of late Thin Lizzy legend Phil Lynott,
allowed The Answer's Micky Waters a go on the black, mirror-

scratch-plated Fender bass that her son is pictured with on the
cover of Lizzy's seminal 1978 album, Live and Dangerous.

"It was incredible—too much, almost," says The Answer's
bass guitarist. "Philomena had it locked in her basement and,
because Phil wrote on it, you could feel all that history, all those
songs. We played a gig to help raise funds for the bronze statue of
Phil that went up in Dublin, and that was Philomena's way of say-
ing thanks. She's a lovely woman. We call her the queen of Ireland."

Endnote: Aside from the paucity of women, Music from
Northern Ireland, a promo-only release, appears to be 100%
(to judge by the booklet photos). I could raise a ruck-
us about that, except I suspect the North isn't as integrated as
the Republic (and I'm not suggesting the South doesn't have a
ways to go). I'm sure that will change as Northern Ireland
becomes a more attractive travel destination. For more infor-
mation about the Answer, please click here or here. Images
from Planetary Group, the All Music Guide, and Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

in July

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

Amazon DVDs:
A Woman of Independent Means (mini-
series with
Sally Field)
[two-disc set],
Psych - The Complete Second Season [four-disc set],
and Grant Gee's acclaimed documentary Joy Division.

Amazon Essentials: I'll be creating four lists: African,
German, Italian, and Spanish-language cinema (Ousmane Sembène, Werner Herzog, Federico Fellini, Bernardo Ber-
, Víctor Erice, and Guillermo del Toro, here I come!).
Also: Indian cinema, Stephen Frears, and James Ivory.

Amazon Theatricals: Brideshead Revisited (see
below), The Wackness (Sir Ben Kingsley rides again),
and Hamlet 2 (with Steve Coogan and Elisabeth Shue).

Still playing: Baghead, Gonzo, and Wanted. Gary Numan - Replicas Redux [click here for
blog version) and Matmos - The Supreme Balloon (click
here for blog version). I'll also be attending (and taking pic-
tures) when Matmos plays Seattle's Triple Door on 7/7.

Siffblog: An Evening with the Bobcat, Last Year
at Marienbad
(Alan Resnais), A Colt Is My Pass-
(with Joe Shishido, Bad Motherfucker) and
an interview with Mark & Jay Duplass (Baghead).

Coming soon: interviews with Courtney Hunt (Frozen River),
Tia Lessin (Trouble the Water) and Alan Ball (Towelhead); all
conducted at the 34th Seattle International Film Festival.

Video Librarian: Genesis - When in Rome 2007/
Come Rain or Shine [three-disc set], Movin' on Up -
The Music and Message of Curtis Mayfield and the
Impressions, Meatloaf - In Search of Paradise, A&E
Biographies of John McCain and Barack Obama,
Roxy Hunter and the Secret of the Shaman Mov-
ie, Manswers: Best of Season One, Tour Smart,
Buddy Miles: Changes, and Ja Rule: 2005.

Endnote: Image of Anthony Andrews (Sebastian Flyte)
and Jeremy Irons (Charles Ryder) from Navelgazer. In
Julian Jarrold's new version of Evelyn Waugh's text, the
parts are played by Matthew Goode (Match Point, The
Lookout) and Ben Whishaw (Perfume, I'm Not There).