Friday, October 31, 2008

R Is for Reviews

H Is for Hellgate, Come for the Peaks, Stay for the Val-
leys
, self-released
[12/2/08]


It’s a hex, at best, that I’ll never rest / and I don’t have time for
such a pretty, pretty princess.

-- "Pretty, Pretty Princess"

If Laura Veirs were to crank the volume up—way up—she might morph into a parallel-world version of H Is for Hellgate, i.e. front woman Jamie Henkensiefken and band. Before listening
to their second full-length, their publicist informed me that
they put a feminist spin on math-rock (the band's bio contri-
butes the descriptor "indie-prog"), which sounds about right.

And when Henkensiefken talk-sings, they're at their best (the brief male counterpoint on "Be Prepared to Die Alone" sounds out of place). Consider Come for the Peaks, Stay for the Valleys jam rock for the brainy set...or brainy rock for the jam set.



Joel Plaskett Emergency, Ashtray
Rock, MapleMusic Recordings

Like Mott the Hoople, this Canadian trio occupies the sweet spot between David Bowie and the Hold Steady, i.e. they have a glam-pub rock thing going on.

While Plaskett's guitar playing evokes
Spider from Mars Mick Ronson, his—
and guest Ian McLagan's—ivory tick-
ling would fit right in with the the Faces or the E Street Band
(from whom the Hold Steady have borrowed a few moves).

With Dave Marsh on drums and Chris Pennell on bass, Plas-
kett builds a bridge between the '70s and the '00s with ease.



The Kindness Kind, self-titled, Don't Be a Lout [11/18/08]

Imagine that Holland's Shocking Blue emerged in the 2000s
instead of the '60s, and you might conjure up something similar
to Seattle's the Kindness Kind. In other words, euphonious-
ly-named front woman Alessandra Rose recalls Mariska Veres,
and her breathy, yet powerful pipes dominate the proceedings.

If there's nothing as catchy here as the Blue's iconic "Ven-
us" ("She's got it / yeah baby, she's got it"), their sopho-
more release presents a pleasing mix of soaring vocals,
expressive piano playing, and persuasive percussion.



Scarlet Blonde, Bedroom Super-
stars EP, HyperMEDIA Recordings

Sheffield duo DawnyVic (Dawn Firth) and Ditch (Richard
Godbehere) comes across as forward and backward-looking at
the same time. The samplers and sci-fi synths are in full effect,
but the electro-pop/modern rock acts they resemble most—Yaz, Curve, and Garbage—made their bones in the 1980s and '90s
(the twosome augment their beats with bass and guitar). If Firth doesn't have the range of Alison Moyet, she has the attitude of Shirley Manson, which goes a long way with this sort of thing.



TAT, Soho Lights, Sony/Red

TAT: n. rubbish, trash, "an old load of tat" (orig. unkn.)
-- Press kit definition


I can't imagine why anyone would name their band TAT, but
far worse names abound and their lead singer just happens to
bear the name Tatiana DeMaria, so this London trio gets a free pass. (Dogs Die in Hot Cars, however, don't.) On their debut, the
threesome combines alt-rock, metal, and the kind of explicit
language that goes down better on the stage than on the radio,
despite the commercial sheen. Hard rock for the iPod generation.



Endnote: The record release party for H Is for Hellgate
takes place at the High Dive on 12/5; the Kindness Kind
holds theirs at the Tractor Tavern on 11/20. For more infor-
mation about the latter, please click here or here; for the
Joel Plaskett Emergency
, here or here; for Scarlet
Blonde
, here or here; and for TAT, here. Images from
H Is for Hellgate, Planetary Group, and SummerSet Artists.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reelin' in the Years: Part Five























Chapter Two: It's All Relative
More snaps of the family (click here for Chapter One)

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

Above: Dad and Granddad; between high school
and college. In purely cinematic terms, Dad served
in the Army post-M*A*S*H, pre-Apocalypse Now.


















Grandma Fennessy. After her death in 1969, my
grandfather moved back to Ireland, never to return.





Mom
wash-
ing the
dishes.
There's
some-
thing
uninten-
tionally
noirish
about
this
photo.



















Mom strikes a pose.


















Mom and Dad in the Mad Men years.


Mom, me, and a bear.




Mom, me, and some chickens.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Endnote: Click here for Part Four ("Celebs
Invade Seattle"). Cross-posted at Facebook.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cigarettes and Coffee, Cigars and Cognac

Blackmarket, The Elephant in the Room, No Office Records [11/11/08]

Lake Havisu's Blackmarket have produced a perfectly serviceable, but unremarkable debut. I don't doubt their sincerity, but feel like I've heard this CD before, and would argue that working with producers like Sean Slade (Radio-
head) and Matthew Ellard (Weezer) wasn't to their benefit. A few unruly idiosyncrasies would be preferable to such a safe sound.

Click here for my review of their self-titled EP.



The Coral Sea, Firelight, self-released [10/7/08]

Your soul is your true self and cannot be wounded.
-- From their MySpace Page

Like Jeff Hanson, Rey Villalobos wields an androgonous
voice (I thought he was a woman at first), but Villalobos
replaces Hanson's intimacy with layers of keyboards.

On the Coral Sea's second record
(after 2006's Volcano and Heart),
Villalobos and Cali colleagues take
the same kind of quasi-operatic ap-
proach as Mercury Prize winners El-
bow. If that's your scene, Firelight
offers a particularly pillowy variant.

The Singhs, Supersaturated, Redstar

On their third disc, this Boston quintet
produces slick danceable anthems in the mode of U2,
New Order, and Chic. Eighties inspirations aside, the
multi-layered production has a contemporary feel.

Packaged like a precious gift (the gatefold digipak swims in
images of gold wrapping paper) and recorded in the West In-
dies, Supersaturated offers music to background cognac-
and-cigar soirées. In other words: it's above my pay grade.



We Are the Mystery Tramps, self-titled, Queue Records

What do I know anyway? I'm just some dumb kid.
-- "A World Like This"

We Are the Mystery Tramps raise a mighty ruckus on the follow-up
to 2007's Cure for the Common Misconception.

Judging by their photos, this Boston-by-way-of-Lynnfield, MA quartet hasn't left their teens far behind (in "Last in Line," Eric Grava even suggests he has ADD).

That doesn't make their third release immature. On the con-
trary, the foursome sounds wise for their years as they com-
bine introspective lyrics with professional musicianship.



Endnote: For more information about Blackmarket,
please click here; for the Coral Sea, here; for the Singhs,
here or here; and for We Are the Mystery Tramps, here.
Images from the MySpage Pages of Blackmarket (photo by
Bryan Sheffield) and the Coral Sea (poster image). We Are
the Mystery Tramps portrait from their official website.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reelin' in the Years: Part Five















Chapter One: It's All Relative
Snaps of the family. My favorite soap opera.

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

Above: My grandfather, Edmund Francis Fennessy, in
the Irish Guards, circa 1918. A lifelong member of the IRA,
he was the ultimate badass. That said, I can't quite make
him out; possibly the guy in the back, to the far right.

















My grand-
mother, Marguerite "Rita" Mitchard, and her

sister, Elizabeth "Bet" Mitchard, just off the boat
from Liverpool.
Note the golf clubs.
















Grandma Ransom (née Scav-
etta, later Kiley) and Mom.



















Mom sings a tune.


















Dad as a teen. After his stint in the Army (working
underground), he became
a spectacle-sporter, and
has been wearing aviator-style frames ever since.











Mom in a photo taken, developed, cropped,
and
crinkled by Dad.

Click here for It's All
Relative: Chapter Two


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

Endnote: Click here for Part Four ("Celebs Invade Seat-
tle"). Cross-posted at Facebook. Thanks to my Dad for taking/preserving, scanning, and sending these images.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Perfect Pairing

The Aug-
ust issue
of Sight & Sound, the world's finest film magazine, featured a cover story called "The Lost World of the Double Bill." Of the "50 per-
fect pairings" chosen by their panel of experts, here's my favorite:


CHRIS DARKE (Critic, UK)
__________________
Radio On

Chris Petit (1979)
__________________
Withnail & I
Bruce Robinson (1986)

A pair of DVDs drops through the letterbox. But which to
watch first, Petit's morose monochrome masterpiece or
Robinson's paean to binge-drunk backchat? Downer first,
then the upper; one film bleeds into the other, both of them
road movies. Radio On is a long and winding cul-de-sac,
Withnail a pissed-up, full-circle detour. Hangovers squared.

Robinson reprises the 1960s' fall-out as two fingers
to Thatcherism (you know Danny the Dealer's going
to reinvent himself as a property magnate). Petit leaves
post-punk London in an old banger and discovers England
still stuck in the 1950s (Sting whispering Eddie Coch-
rane, Kraftwerk and Bowie offering visions of more fut-
uristic vistas). One film sings, the other doesn't—Pet-
it can't get a word in over Robinson's thespy gargling.

They conjure semi-accidental x-rays of national transition up there with Performance for nailing things on the verge of vanishing, including the car-
eers of both directors. The penalty for creating two slow-burn classics is banishment, silence and back-row, bar-room cult love. Contrary to the advice offered in Withnail, you should always mix your films. Later that afternoon, S&S asks for 200 words on my dream double bill? Sorted.

___________________________

Click here for my review of Radio On and
here
for Rudy Wurlitzer's appreciation.



Endnote: I love the way Richard E. Grant looks
like a dissipated vampire in the pic at top. Images
from A Piece of Monologue and Warped Reality.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Flower Power

Once upon a time, in another life, I created art. I wasn't an artist, per se, as I've always found that term pretentious (and I feel the same way about the word writer). For the most part, I sketched and I drew. My working-class weapons of choice included lead and colored pencils, ballpoint and felt-tip pens, charcoal, oil pastels, and correction fluid.

I won a few
prizes along
the way, which
was rewarding,
but the real sat-
isfaction was in
the doing, which
I found meditat-
ive and emot-
ionally fulfil-
ling. Once pen
hit paper, the
outside world
melted away.
All that mat-
tered was the
work and the
desire to
complete it.

In high school and college, I turned to painting and printmaking, two forms I never quite mastered (I was even worse at sculpture). Though I obtained my bachelor's degree in studio art, I chose not to pursue that field. It's a long story. More telling is the fact that I minored in English.


Suffice to say, radio and writing, music and film were calling my name in a way art was not, but I still get the urge from time to time. I suppose I always will, although I can never find the time, and I'm not so sure I was good enough to make any money from my work. Not that I'm getting rich from writing...but I make a living at it. Instead, I take the occasional photograph and assemble the occasional collage. These activities fulfill a similar need to express myself in visual terms.

In a way, I feel relieved that I'll never know whether I could've made it as an image-maker. Because I took myself out of the equation, I can't say I failed—or won. Instead, I look upon all those years of outlining, shading, and cross-hatching as something that helped me to deal with whatever was going on in my life at the time. Drawing allowed me to work through situations I couldn't otherwise wrap my head around.

In this instance, it was simply a pleasant way to pass the time and to
create something purely decorative. I could claim that this picture
references pop art in some way, but really it was just an opportunity
to repeat the same form in slightly different permutations. Also, it
permitted me to combine painting and drawing, since these pencils
doubled as watercolors with the judicious application of H2O. I've

still got them around somewhere. Someday, I'll dig 'em out again.

For more pictures, please click here.

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

Endnote: I have no idea when I drew this picture, since I rarely
date my work, but would estimate I knocked it out shortly after
graduating from college. After years of angst-filled paintings and
prints, I wanted to return to the simple sketches of childhood.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Dia de los Muertes

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


Amazon DVDs: This Am-
erican Life - Season One
, Sergei Bodrov's Mongol -
The Rise of Ghengis Khan
(with Tadanobu Asano),
David Mackenzie's Mister
Foe
(with Jamie Bell and Sophia Myles), Tommy O' Haver's An American Crime (with Catherine Keener and Ellen Page), Orson Welles' Touch of Evil - 50th Anniversary Ed-
ition
(special features review comparing and contrasting the
three versions), Michael Moore's Slacker Uprising, Kenji Miz-
oguchi's Fallen Women
(Eclipse box set with Osaka Elegy, Sis-
ters of the Gion, Women of the Night, and Street of Shame),
and Sold Out - A Threevening With Kevin Smith.

Amazon Theatricals: Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme directs Anne Hathaway to a certain Oscar nomination) and Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman's animated documentary).

Still playing or yet to open: Battle in Seattle, Burn After Reading, Chicago 10, Flash of Genius, Igor, Lakeview Terrace, Man on Wire,
Miracle at St. Anna, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, and I.O.U.S.A.

Siffblog: Kent Mackenzie's long-
lost Exiles, an interview with Tia
Lessin
(co-director of Trouble the
Water
), and the continuation of a
chat with Alan Ball (Towelhead,
True Blood, Six Feet Under, etc.).
Also, if I have time: Wild Combi-
nation - A Portrait of Arthur Russell.

Video Librarian: Billy the Kid (click here for my Amazon review), John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Live at Iowa State University, Dinosaur King - The Adventure Begins, The Mindscape of Alan Moore [two-disc set], Gangland - The Complete Season One [four-disc set], 14 Women, Gaelic Spirit, Roald Dahl - The Making of Modern Children's Literature, Al Foster Quintet -New Morning: The Paris Concert, Jewel - Esssential Live Songbook, Talib Kweli - Live at the Shrine, Ripple Effect, and Rocky Horror Tribute Show.



Endnote: I love Halloween, but my all-time favorite
holiday is Dia de los Muertos. Images from Wikip-
edia and Thaneeya McArdle ("Rejoicing Quietus 2").