Monday, December 29, 2008

Movies for Music
Lovers: 2008 Edition

Part two (click
here for part one)

Though I compile a top 30 every year, I find positions 21-30 the most difficult to compile. Simply put, they're films I liked. A lot. But with reservations. But I still liked them. A lot.



Second runners-up:
21. Tell No One (Guillaume Canet)
22. Ballast (Lance Hammer)
23. Doubt (John Patrick Shanley)
24. Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen)
25. Mister Foe (David Mackenzie)
26. Synechdoche, NY (Charlie Kaufman)
27. Baghead (Jay and Mark Duplass)
28. Cadillac Records (Darnell Martin)
29. Jellyfish (Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret)
30. The Visitor (Tom McCarthy)

Note: The stunning chase sequence in Tell No One equals the chase sequence in The Dark Knight—and probably cost millions less to execute. Granted, it recalls The Marathon Man, but I'm not so sure that's such
a bad thing...I just wish the ending had been less sentimental.

Top reissues:
1. The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi)
2. Faces (John Cassavetes)
3. Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel (Alain Resnais)
4. Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian)
5. The Saga of Anatahan (Josef von Sternberg)
6. La Chinoise and Vivre Sa Vie (Jean-Luc Godard)
7. The Exiles (Kent McKenzie)
8. Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
9. Ashes of Time Redux (Wong Kar-Wai)
10. In the Land of the Head Hunters (Edward S. Curtis)



[Top retrospectives still to come.]

Other notable films (in alphabetical order): 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu), A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin), Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry), Bigger, Stronger, Faster (Christopher Bell), Blindsight (Lucy Walker), Boy A (John Crowley), Erik Nietzsche - The Early Years, Part 1 (Jacob Thuesen), Fear(s) of the Dark (Various), Girl by the Lake (Andrea Molaioli), Grace Is Gone (James C. Strouse), Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood), Hidden Face (Bernard Campan), Iron Man (Jon Favreau), It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine! (Crispin Glover), Jar City (Baltasar Kormákur), Miracle at St. Anna (Spike Lee), Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine), I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster (Samuel Benchetrit), The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona), Patti Smith - Dream of Life (Steven Sebring), Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud), Pineapple Express and Snow Angels (David Gordon Green), Recount (Jay Roach), Searchers 2.0 (Alex Cox), Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols), Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle), Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris), Strange Culture (Lynn Hershman Leeson), Stuck (Stuart Gordon), Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein), Ten of Dreams (Various), Time to Die (Dorota Kedzierzawska), Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen), Wall-E (Andrew Stanton), The Wrecking Crew (Denny Tedesco), and Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait (Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno).

Note: The Emmy Award-winning Recount was produced for HBO, but betters most theatrical releases, while Gran Torino doesn't open (outside New York and Los Angeles) until January. Also, Dream of
Life originally made my doc top 10 until I remembered At the Death House Door from Hoop Dreams directors Steve James and Peter Gilbert. For anti-death penalty prop-
onents, it's a must-see, though there's noth-
ing heavyhanded about their approach.

Films I missed (in alphabetical order): Alexandra (Alex-
ander Sokurov), Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi), Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani), The Duchess (Saul Dibb), La Duchesse de Langeais (Jacques Rivette), Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsia-Hsien), La France (Serge Bozon), Heavy Metal in Baghdad (Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi), I've Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel), My Effortless Brilliance (Lynn Shelton)*, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Eric Rohmer), and Still Life (Jia Zhangke).

* I look forward to watching the screener, which I received months ago, and feel guilty that I haven't yet. I've also got one for the Oscar-shortlisted Flow floating around here somewhere...

Note: This is only a partial list. I just wanted to explain why certain contenders are otherwise absent. If it seems as if I see everything under the sun, I don't. Alas. So thank God for DVD. And thanks to the Grand Illusion Cinema, the Northwest Film Forum, and the Seattle International Film Festival Group for another year of fabulous screenings. Finally, all praise to France and Japan for continuing to provide some of my favorite film experiences of this or any year.



Endnote: Cross-posted at Facebook.
Tell No One image from Killer Virgo.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Songs for Swingin' Cin-
eastes: 2008 Edition

Click here for 2007's Songs for
Swingin' Cineastes and here for
2008's Movies for Music Lovers


As ever, I like to rock, but
with the '80s revival in full
swing, I decided to give in and
embrace the synth-pop I used
to resist. It never seemed particularly cool or edgy, but rather safe, sanitized, and incredibly bourgeois. And maybe it is. May-
be I am, but I like what I like, and 2008 was a better year for
keyboards than guitars, so I went, willingly, with the flow.

In the end, though, it's still about the voice. My Spanish may be
rusty, but that doesn't matter when it comes to Argentinian TV
star-turned-indie sensation Juana Molina, since she spends as
much time scatting and sighing as she does singing. She could do
anything with that airy voice, and I would gladly follow along.

As for the Dirtbombs,
not only do they rock, but
Mick Collins
is one of the
nation's finest vocalists. I
asked him about his style
once, and he laughed. He
doesn't seem to think he
has one, but it's that com-
bination of humility and flexibility that makes him such a great
front man—his guitar-playing is nothing to sneeze at either.

Every other singer below is equally compelling. Not necessar-
ily in a technical sense—whatever that means—but in terms of
personality, sincerity, or even quote-unquote insincerity, i.e.
Gary Numan's robotic drone
. Me? I connect with it.

Lastly, I realize there are some old folks on this list. What can
I say? I was born in the '60s, and grew up with these fellows.
Against all odds, they've still got the goods, and yet it's far too
easy to take them for granted. Don't. It's unlikely we'll see their
kind again. Randy Newman, for one, is a national treasure.



The Tops
1. Juana Molina - Un Dia (Domino)
2. The Dirtbombs - We Have You Surrounded (In the Red)
3. Santogold - Santogold (Downtown/Atlantic)
4. Santogold & Diplo - Top Ranking (Mad Decent)
5. She Keeps Bees - Nests (self-released)
6. Vivian Girls - self-titled (In the Red)
7. Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue (Warner Brothers)
8. Mercury Rev - Snowflake Midnight (Yep Roc)
9. M83 - Saturdays = Youth (Mute)
10. Matmos - Supreme Balloon (Matador)

Note: For most of the year, the Dirtbombs were at #1, but I use a
simple litmus test for the top spot: not what's "best," but what I listen-
ed to most, and the answer is Un Dia, a record with no real beginning
or ending; it just flows from track to track. Another litmus test: did I
buy the t-shirt? In the case of the Vivian Girls: yes. (The only oth-
er band t-shirt I purchased this year features a fabulous Queen logo.)




Runners-up
11. Deerhunter - Microcastle/Weird Era Continued (Kranky)
12. Linda Lewis - Lark (Collector's Choice) [reissue]
13. Howlin Rain - Magnificent Fiend (Birdman)
14. Shearwater - Rook (Matador)
15. Joan as Police Woman - To Survive (Reveal)
16. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours (Modular)
17. Karl Hector & the Malcouns - Sahara Swing (Now Again)
18. Calexico - Carried to Dust (Quarterstick/Touch & Go)
19. Randy Newman - Harps and Angels (Nonesuch)
20. James Hunter - The Hard Way (Hear Music)

Note: Unclassifiable British singer/songwriter Linda Lewis or-
iginally came in at #10, but after some friendly persuasion from
Randall Roberts, music editor of The LA Weekly, I gave her spot
to Maryland-based electronic duo Matmos. What the hell, they
killed it live...also, on 3/8/09, I switched out the Department

of Eagles with Deerhunter after catching up with Microcastle.

Top Reissues
1. Gary Numan & Tube-
way Army - Replicas Redux
(Mute)
2. Arthur Russell - Love
Is Overtaking Me
(Audika)
3. Rodriguez - Cold Fact
(Light in the Attic)
4. The Shop Assistants -
Will Anything Happen
(Cherry Red)
5. Steinski - What Does It All Mean?
1983–2006 Retrospective (Illegal Art)

Note: Click here for my review of Wild
Combination - A Portrait of Arthur Russell
.


Other notable efforts (in alphabetical order): Arbouretum/Pontiak - Kale EP (Thrill Jockey), the Black Keys -
Attack &
Release (Nonesuch), Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig!!
Lazarus!!
Dig!! (Mute), Department of Eagles - In Ear Park (Ma-
tador) Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat), Al
Green - Lay It Down (Blue Note/EMI), Hercules and Love Af-
fair - self-titled (DFA), the Last Shadow Puppets - Age of the
Un
derstatement (Domino), John Matthias - Stories from the
Water
cooler (Counter), Sam Phillips - Don't Do Anything
(Nonesuch), Jay Reatard - Matador Singles '08 (Mata-
dor), TV on the Radio - Dear Science (Interscope),
Vampire Weekend - self-titled (XL Recordings),
Various Artists - Thank You Friends: The Ar-
dent
Records Story (Big Beat), and Various
Artists -
On Vine Street:
The Ear-
ly Songs of Randy New-
man
(Ace Records).



Top track: MIA - "Paper Planes" (DFA remix)

Note: The song features, quite exuberantly, in Danny Boyle's Slum-
dog Millionaire
and also helped to promote David Gordon Green's
Pineapple Express, in which it does not otherwise appear...des-
pite Robert Christgau's Slate-based claims to the contrary.


Top show: The Dirtbombs at Neumos in May. They re-
turned in November, but I missed the second gig. How can
you top perfection? Matmos, Holly Golightly, and Battles
at Bumbershoot were also excellent...and I'm still kicking
myself for missing Howlin Rain, M83, Shearwater, and
the Vivian Girls, who played the same night as Go-
lightly, so thanks to KEXP for broadcasting live sets
from M83 and the 'Girls, who both sounded great.




Endnote: Cross-posted at Facebook. The links lead
to my CD reviews for Amazon, AndMoreAgain, and
Fuzz.com (R.I.P.). This year, I also covered music
for KEXP and Seattle Sound. Juana Molina im-
age from
Sem Fio; all others from the archives.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Movies for Music Lovers: 2008 Edition

deep%20end7.jpg

Click here for the 2007 edition and here
for
2008's Songs for Swingin' Cineastes.

I'm still working on a complete list, i.e. positions 21-30, top re-
issues, and other notable titles (I also look forward to catching up with Wendy and Lucy and The Wrestler before the end of 2008). In the meantime, here's the gist of my film year. Click the links be-
low for my Amazon and Siffblog reviews and/or interviews, plus Steven Fried's post on My Winnipeg. Where my pieces aren't avail-
able online, I've used excerpts from my Video Librarian reviews.

The Tops:
1. Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski)
2. Milk (Gus Van Sant)
3. Man on Wire (James Marsh)
4. The Bank Job (Roger Donaldson)
5. Frozen River (Courtney Hunt)
6. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
7. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin)
8. The Secret of the Grain (Abdellatif Kechiche)
9. Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog)
10. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)

Note: Every year, I compile a top 50, counting documentaries and reissues, but if a non-narrative/pre-existing title impresses sufficient-
ly, it might make my top 10, as in the case of Deep End, My Winnipeg, and Encounters. Since the former never received a proper US release, it's almost like a new title, though Skolimowski finally issued a film
in 2008, Four Nights with Anna, which is making the festival rounds.

elite%20squad.jpg
Wagner Moura in Elite Squad

Runners-up:
11. Elite Squad (José Padilha)
12. The Band's Visit (Eran Kolirin)
13. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
14. You, the Living (Roy Andersson)
15. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman)
16. Reprise (Joachim Trier)
17. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)
18. The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat)
19. Momma's Man (Azazel Jacobs)
20. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)

Note: What an amazing year for Israeli film! Aside from The
Band's Visit and Waltz with Bashir, Jellyfish made my top 30
(of 2008's animated features, I also enjoyed Wall-E and Fear(s)
of the Dark). You, the Living is still seeking distribution.

thompson.jpg
Gonzo!

Top Documentaries:
1. Gonzo - The Life and Work of Dr.
Hunter S. Thompson
(Alex Gibney)
2. Trouble the Water (Tia Lessin and Carl Deal)
3. The Order of Myths (Margaret Brown)
4. Surfwise (Doug Pray)

Surfwise.jpg

Not everyone is cut out to be a doctor, but few medical practition-
ers chuck it all to become surfers who sire nine children and travel
the world in a 24-foot camper. Doug Pray's admirably even-handed
portrait of Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz and clan immediately distinguishes
itself from surfing celebrations like Endless Summer and Riding Giants,
though pro boarders Kelly Slater and Taylor Knox stop by to pay trib-
ute (after all, Doc lived the dream, even bringing surfing to Israel).
Co-produced by son Jonathan Paskowitz, Surfwise is more of a charac-
ter study, and the salty-tongued Doc is quite a character. As his wife,
Juliette, puts it, "For 10 years I was either pregnant or breast-feeding."
As youngest child Josh quips, "We were born because Doc wanted to re-
populate the world with Jews." A tanned and fit 85 at the time of film-
ing, Doc doesn't see any of this as unusual, describing his family, in-
stead as "the most conventional people." (And they do seem surprising-
ly sane.) Nonetheless, all 11 members subsisted on a diet of health food
(including branches), home-schooling, and big waves. For cash, Doc
ran a surf camp and treated the occasional patient. Despite the lack of
creature comforts, it might sound like paradise, except for the cor-
poral punishment and the fact that the kids had to listen to their par-
ents having sex every night. The director behind the fine music docs
Hype! and Scratch, Pray never imposes his views on the narrative,
but rather allows his subjects to speak for themselves. He leaves it
up to viewers to decide whether Doc was genius, madman, or some-
where in between. Easily one of the year's most fascinating films.




5. Up the Yangtze (Yung Chang)
6. Wild Combination - A Portrait of Arthur Russell (Matt Wolf)
7. Billy the Kid (Jennifer Venditti)
8. At the Death House Door (Peter Gilbert and Steve James)
9. Wrangler - Anatomy of an Icon (Jeffrey Schwarz)

wrangler.jpg

Blond, blue-eyed, all-American Jack Wrangler (née Stillman) was one of the top porn stars of the 1970s. Like John Holmes, he wasn't much of an actor, but he gave the people what they wanted: beefcake. Unlike Holmes, he specialized in gay porn, but by participating in Jeffrey Schwarz's perceptive documentary, he doesn’t seek to exploit—or even to condemn—his past, but to prove that there's more to Jack Wrangler than meets the eye. A self-effacing raconteur, he makes his case. Born to wealth and privilege (his father produced Bonanza), Wrangler be-
gan life as an inauspicious runt, but hobnobbed with Tinseltown roy-
alty and soon developed silver-screen ambitions of his own. As the years passed, he also found himself attracted to other men. Though his enthusiasm trumped his talent, he discovered his niche when he seg-
ued from dinner theater and bit parts to exotic dancing and the adult film industry. His improbable biography kicks into high gear when he marries Margaret Whiting, a singer 20 years his senior. As he speaks to the camera, it becomes clear that Wrangler isn't just a story about one man's life in and out of the porn business, but about popular con-
ceptions of masculinity since the 1950s. Throughout, Schwarz, the filmmaker behind Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, cuts between stills, clips (some incredibly rare), and comments from 40 speakers, including gossip columnist Michael Musto, publisher Al Goldstein, composer Marc Shaiman, and author Bruce Vilanch. Frank words
and images aside, the unrated Wrangler is only marginally more explicit than That Man - Peter Berlin, a previous porn portrait emphasizing character and context over shock value.

10. Joy Division (Grant Gee)

Bonus: Patti Smith - Dream of Life (Steven Sebring)

Note: It's beyond me why The Order of Myths and Up the Yang-
tze weren't shortlisted for a best documentary Oscar. The Acade-
my Award nominating committee instead selected Patrick Cread-
on's I.O.U.S.A., which displays all the artistry of a PowerPoint
presentation. Ms. Brown's doc premieres on PBS next year.


mishima.jpg
The year's best cover art

Top DVDs:
1. Mishima - A Life in Four Chapters (Paul Schrader)
2. Touch of Evil - 50th Anniversary Edition (Orson Welles)
3. Le Deuxième Soufflé (Jean-Pierre Melville)
4. Class Tous Risques (Claude Sautet)
5. Pierrot le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard)
6. Miss Julie (Alf Sjöberg)
7. Fallen Women [box set] (Kenji Mizoguchi)
8. The Rabbit Is Me (Kurt Maetzig)
9. The Furies (Anthony Mann)
10. The Small Back Room (Michael Powell)

Click here for part two



Until next year!

Endnote: Cross-posted at Facebook and Siffblog. Images from
Buzz Sugar, Collider, J4HI, Marmalade Skies, and Nippon Cinema.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Welcome to My Record

Dent May, The Good
Feeling Music of Dent
May and His Magnif-
icent Ukulele, Paw
Tracks [2/3/09]

Joyce and Camus, you know
I've never read them / I'm
here just for the booze.
-- "At the Academ-

ic Conference"

Take Dent May's word
for it: His music will, in-
deed, make you feel good...
assuming you like crooners with a sense of humor, not about his music or "the girls on the square" who make him "feel blue," but about modern life and its myriad idiosyncrasies.

On The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele, the singer/songwriter/uke-plucker
avoids irony like the plague. And if his accomplished debut doesn't improve your mood, it won't be for lack of trying.

Based in Taylor, MS, May draws inspiration from the likes of Serge Gainsbourg and Lee Hazlewood, and plies a singing style that re-
calls Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame and the Magnetic Fields' Steph-
en Merritt, but his Tropicalia-influenced arrangements conjure
up bygone days, and he can hit higher notes as the need arises.


"Oh, Paris!" The "luckiest boy" on the Lower...Left Bank?

On subsequent listens, offbeat and unexpected touches assert themselves, like the glam-tastic guitar at the end of "Girls on the Square" and the megaphone on "God Loves You, Michael Chang" (if it isn't a megaphone, May's using some other kind of voice-altering device). Then again, the independent-minded gents
of Animal Collective discovered him while touring the South
and issued his record through their Paw Tracks imprint.

Suffice to say, May sounds nothing like his supporters, so it's to their credit that they saw the value in an artist who doesn't fit in-
to any convenient categories. Plus, May offers invaluable advice
like "You can't force a dance party," adding, "For you, I'll try."



Endnote: Next to Lance Hammer's Ballast, which made my
film top 30, I proclaim The Good Feeling Music of Dent
May the best thing to emerge from Mississippi in 2008. Oth-
er May influences of interest include the Holy Trinity of Tab,
Gandalf, and John Waters. The musician plays Neumos with
the New Pornographers' A.C. Newman on 2/21/09. For more
information, please click here. Images from his MySpace Page.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Keen Melodic Sense

The Bird
and the
Bee, Ray
Guns Are
Not Just
the Fut-
ure, Blue
Note/
EMI
[1/27/
09]

Worry not. Though Los Angeles duo Inara George and Greg Kurstin offer a more expansive, experimental version of their patented lounge-pop on Ray Guns Are Not Just the Fut-
ure, their keen melodic sense remains fully intact.

While their first long-player took cues from bossa nova and sunshine pop, their second recalls John Barry's James Bond themes (with Inara sounding more like Phoebe Snow than Shir-
ley Bassey), the softer side of glam-rock (see handclap-driven opener "Fanfare"), and Air's Moon Safari—with dance beats.

While Air and Stereolab are also often described as retro-futuris-
tic, the Bird and the Bee distinguish themselves from those European outfits, even if they're following a parallel formula.

The reasons are simple: 1) Inara's bell-clear voice, 2) the absence of any Krautrock influence, and 3) those aforementioned beats, and Ray Guns is a dance record—a particularly atmospheric one, but a dance record, nonetheless, as the single "Polite Dance Song" indicates. That doesn't mean the whole thing moves quick-
ly, just that it's designed for dancing of some kind. The title track, for instance, is perfectly engineered for a waltz or a foxtrot.



As with their debut, there's a cuteness here that more hardened listeners might find irritating, but Annie and Lily Allen fans will probably feel otherwise, and producer/multi-instrumentalist Kurstin helped to construct Allen's stunning Alright, Still, so those comparisons aren't as off-base as they might seem.

Like those ladies, George has a sweet voice, but there's a con-
trasting spiciness to her lyrics, as in 2006's "Fucking Boyfriend."
If there's nothing as angry on this disc, George continues to question—rather than to celebrate—male-female relations.

In "You're a Cad," for instance, she laments her tanglings with a "cad and a bounder," who she also brands a "dog and a cheat" and a "rascal and a rogue." And irresistible for all that. The word de-
scribes Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, too: irresistible.

Click here for my review of 2006's The Bird and the Bee



Endnote: I'll admit it, I also use the phrase "keen melodic sen-
se" in my Amazon review of Frightened Rabbit's Midnight Or-
gan Fight
. Herewith, I plan to retire it...for the time being.

Earlier this year, for KEXP, I wrote the following about the 20-
08 edition of Air's Moon Safari: "10th anniversary of Air’s doub-
le-platinum debut. The first disc features the original record, the second consists of demos, remixes, and radio sessions. There's also a third DVD featuring a documentary and videos, all direct-
ed by Mike Mills of Thumbsucker/Butter 08 fame." For more information about the Bird and the Bee, please click
here or here. Image from Bumpershine.com.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Smarter and Saltier















Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Catnip
Dynamite
, Oglio Records
[2/3/09]


By the name, I assumed that Roger Manning was the same
gent
who recorded for SST and Shimmy Disc in the 1980s. Au
contraire! And I suppose that's partly why this arranger/session
musician/Jellyfish co-founder uses his middle name plus "Jr."

Manning's glam power-pop exists a solar system away from
that other fellow's antifolk tunes. Instead, he recalls ELO, Cheap
Trick, and Sweet—three of my favorite bands. Better yet, he
evokes the era of teenyboppers and shiny shirts without falling
into the tribute-artist trap. Manning comes close, but I'd rath-
er listen to a man who takes inspiration from Jeff Lynne and Rob-
in Zander than James Blunt and Michael Bublé (sorry, guys).
Plus, the US bonus tracks include Thomas Dolby's "Europa and
the Pirate Twins" and Elton John's "Love Lies Bleeding."



Mr. Russia, Teething, Lens Records [2/17/09]

This Chicago quartet pounds out screamo sans guitar. Sample lyrics from "XOXO": "Wanna get you down on your knees, baby baby, say please" and "Baby baby, let me under your skirt, baby
baby, I swear it won't hurt." Then in "Pretty Girls,"
Ivan Russia yells, "Pretty girls don't make mistakes!" Repeatedly. (Inset photos indicate on-stage megaphone use.) Granted, these charming lyrics might represent role playing, as in Husker Du's "Diana," wherein a predator speaks from his point of view, but it's hard to tell, though Russia has described the former as "a catcall," i.e. "the boy keeps trying to get the girl." I'll buy it—but I don't have to like it.



Marykate O'Neil, Underground,
Nettwerk/71 Recordings
[2/3/09]

I just don't think the underground is ever
over, I just think sometimes it is harder to find.
-- Marykate O'Neil


Combined with her forthright,
girlish vocals, Boston-to-New
York transplant MaryKate
O'Neil's piano-based melo-
dies make for a smarter,
saltier version of "Have
a Nice Day"-era pop.

On her fourth full-length,
O'Neil sounds like a folkier, slightly more nasal Carole King or
Nellie McKay (and I don't mean "nasal" as a putdown; O'Neil uses
more of a "head voice" than a classically-trained diaphragm voice).

If her faster-moving, mandolin-decorated cover of "Different for
Girls" can't quite compete with Joe Jackson's sublime original, it's
still refreshing to hear a woman take on his very male frustration,
i.e. "What the hell is wrong with you tonight/I can't seem to say
or do the right thing" (I fell in love with that song back in high
school). Jill Sobule ("I Kissed a Girl") provides
"vocals, gui-
tars, casio, organ, drums, knee slaps, dancing, and producing."




Or, the Whale, Light Poles and Pines, Or, the Whale, LLC

Ever since we parted ways, my notes are flat.
-- Or, the Whale, "Death of Me"


On Light Poles and Pines, this San Francisco collective ramb-
les their way through 13 tracks of tuneful indie-pop with country
trimmings. The wood-grain CD cover, with its stylized painting of
a farm, pretty well sums up the sounds within. Or, the Whale's
music isn't simple (or simplistic), but rather bright, clean, and
woozy all at the same time. My tolerance for country-oriented
anything is low at best, so I can't say I love this record,
but it's a
pleasant enough way to pass the time. Extra credit for the well
honed harmonies, the omnichord,
and the always-welcome saw.



The Pains of Being Pure at Heart,
self-titled, Slumberland
[2/3/08]

Jangle, jangle, jangle all the way home. On their buoyant deb-
ut, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart live up their extrava-
gant billing with a pure-hearted approach to noise pop. Previous
comparisons to House of Love and (early) My Bloody Valentine
make perfect sense, and yet this boy/girl quartet doesn't sound
much like the Vivian Girls, who've been compared to many of the
same shoegaze/C86 acts, but have a more pronounced girl group
sound (though closing track "Gentle Sons" does boast that immor-
tal "Be My Baby"/"Just Like Honey" beat). If you remember the
Mighty Lemon Drops with fondness, you're sure to feel the
same way about this fabulously jangly foursome.

Click here for an mP3 of "Everything with
You"
And here for "Young Adult Friction"



Endnote: For more information about Roger Joseph Man-
ning, Jr.
, please click here; for Marykate O'Neil, here; for Mr.
Russia
, here or here; for Or, the Whale, here; and for the
Pains of Being Pure at Heart
, here or here. Cheap Trick
image from MOG; O'Neil (by Sarah Bastin) from her website.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

World of Echoes: Reprise








I recently reviewed the following for Video Librarian, and thought it
was worth sharing. Click here for my review of the theatrical feature.

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (***1/2)

It's hard to be ahead of your time, even if, in retrospect, Charl-
es "Arthur" Russell wasn't doing anything all that unusual. He
sang, produced, and played the cello. There's nothing overtly
strange about his music, except that it's ethereal without ever
entering the more recognizable realms of psychedelia or new age.

And there you have the makings of a cult artist, which is
where Wild Combination begins, when Russell was just
another Iowa kid, playing in the school orchestra. After his
father, Chuck, discovered pot paraphernalia in his bedroom,
they fought, and Arthur hit the road. The year was 1967.

In an archival interview, Allen Ginsberg recalls meeting him in
the Bay Area, where Russell accompanied his readings, an association
that continued after he moved to New York in 1974. There, Arthur
combined folk, avant-garde, proto-punk, disco, garage, and house.


DVD extra - Jens Lekman performing Russell's "A Little Lost"

While he was experimenting with different musical forms,
he was also "transitioning" from straight to gay. Granted, his
musical approach wasn't mainstream, and he recorded under
a variety of pseudonyms, but he never really "played well with
others." It turned out for the best, since he was always meant
to be a solo artist, and it's in that mode that he recorded the
singular songs for which he's best remembered today.

Fittingly, Matt Wolf's debut is more than just a by-the-num-
bers biodoc about an obscure artist, since the 24-year-old
has unearthed an impressive array of rare material, staged
evocative recreations that rarely draw attention to them-
selves, and lined up eloquent speakers like Philip Glass, Er-
nie Brooks, and Russell's partner, Tom Lee. If his portrait
sounds more like a rock documentary than a queer film,
that's because it plays that way until the touching final act.

Extras include 25 minutes of performance footage (1985-
'89), a rambling yet revealing 1970 cassette letter to his par-
ents, Ginsberg's chant at his funeral, and spare and sympath-
etic covers by Arthur’s Landing (featuring Brooks), Joel Gibb
(Hidden Cameras), Verity Susman (Electrelane), and Jens
Lekman
, who appears in the film. Highly recommended.



Endnote: This is the second title in my embarrassingly irreg-
ular Movie of the Month series. Click here for the first entry,
The Rabbit Is Me, one of the finest reissues of 2008, and here
for Chris & Don. Image from JamesWagner.com ("from Terrace
of Unintelligibility by Phil Niblock, courtesy of Audika Records").

Monday, December 01, 2008

December Reviews: A Double Dose of Wu

These
are the
reviews,
interviews,
and other
ephemera
I'm work-
ing on
this
mon-
th.


Amazon DVDs: Poor Little Rich Girl - The Barbara Hut-
ton Story
[two-disc set] (with Farrah Fawcett), Patti Smith -
Dream
of Life
, Wu - The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan,
and Saxondale - Complete Seasons 1 & 2 [three-disc set].

Amazon Theatricals: Doubt (Oscar bait with Meryl
Streep, Amy Adams, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Noth-
ing Like the Holidays
(Latino dramedy with Alfred Molina
and Freddy Rodríguez), and Timecrimes (Spanish time-
travel thriller to be remade by David Cronenberg).

Still playing or yet to open: Breakfast with Scot, Burn After Read-
ing
, Igor, Lakeview Terrace, Let the Right One In, Milk, Nick and Nor-
ah's Infinite Playlist
, Rachel Getting Married, and Waltz with Bashir.



Siffblog: Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, Carl Theodor
Dreyer's Day of Wrath, and my tops of 2008 film list.

I also cleaned up the following: After the Wedding, Army of Shadows, Bamako, Brigitte and Brigitte, Colossal Youth, Eight Deadly Shots,
Festival, Half Nelson, Mala Noche, Mutual Appreciation, My Suicidal
Sweetheart (formerly Max and Grace), Russian Dolls, Skin, Skin, Sophie
Scholl - The Final Days, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, The
Witnesses
,
and chats with Gregg Araki, Lynn Shelton, Robinson Devor,
Keith Fulton, and John Scheinfeld.
The pieces were searchable, but the old links point-
ed to corrupted pages. A blogger's work is never done!

Video Librarian: Gitane Demone - Life After Death [two-disc set], The House of the Rising Punk, Live from Abbey Road - Best
of Season One [two-disc set], Smashing Pumpkins - If All Goes
Wrong [two-disc set] , Johnny Winter - Live Through the '70s,
Wu - The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan, ZOOM - Back to the
'70s [two-disc set], Deciphering Dyslexia, Going on 13, Grey,
Black and Blue – Nursing Home Violence, Just Me, Dear Talu-
la, The Female Face of AIDS - Crisis in Malawi, Nickelback -

Live at Sturgis 2006, Passion & Power - The Technology of
Orgasm, Living Colour - New Morning: The Paris Concert,
Chic - Live at Budokan, and The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye.



Endnote: Images from Rock the Bells (Day 1)/Flickr
(7/28/07) by Undisputed Wes (SitDownStandUp.com).