Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fountain of Everything















Vivian Girls, Everything Goes Wrong, In the Red

So often on their second record, a band will tighten things up in
order to present a more precise version of their signature sound.
To which, Brooklyn's Vivian Girls say, in essence, "Screw that!"

On Everything Goes Wrong, they crank up the volume,
quicken the pace, and color outside the lines. This full-steam-a-
head approach breeds excitement, but at the expense of finesse,
i.e. their schoolyard sing-a-long vocals are even unrulier than
before. Not that I'm complaining—not much, at any rate.

As on their self-titled debut, the trio's girl-group harmonies get
the job done, but enunciation goes out the window as if their vo-
cal chords are straining to keep up with the hands that pound
the drums, beat the bass, and strum the guitars (the drums
on "Double Visions" are so loud, in fact, I briefly thought
someone was trying to break down my door).

This isn't to suggest that the
ladies are slumping through
their sophomore release, but
rather that their latest long-
player more closely duplicat-
es the live show, where they
trade instruments, Beat Hap-
pening-style, and stretch
out their songs like taffy.

It's a solid follow-up, if less catchy than before, as if the
Raincoats decided to cover Hüsker Dü by way of the Dick-
ies, i.e. a cohesive album rather than a collection of singles.
Granted, I was expecting the latter, so I was disappointed
at first, but this CD stands up to repeat plays like a trouper.

Click here for my Amazon review of Vivian Girls, and
here to stream their Chantels cover, "He's Gone."









Hot Day at the Zoo, Zoograss - Live
at
the Waterhole, INTA Records

I'm talkin' about whiskey drinkin' all through the
night. If all goes right, I'm gonna find a fight.
-- HDATZ, "Blues for Jimmy"

Hot Day at the Zoo are a throwback to the itchy, country-infused days of Little Feat, Canned Heat, or even the Rolling Stones in their down-home moments (when they would pretend they were from the Deep South instead of the London suburbs).

In front of a boisterous crowd, these cats raise a ruckus with
banjo, mandolin, upright bass, and whiskey-soaked vocals. You
can probably predict what this disc sounds like, and that's okay:
HDATZ aren't reinventing the wheel, just giving it a spirited spin.



Mascara, Fountain of Tears, Mr. Fibuli's Records

Singer/guitarist Chris Mascara and compatriots Matt Graber
and Bo Barringer lay down some driving rock on their second
full-length. If Fountain of Tears isn't strictly indie, prog, or
metal, it resides somewhere in the margins between those gen-
res, though they manage to recall Firehose on title track "Ai-
nadamar," a tribute to Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.

A veteran of Rock Band and the Blue Man Group, Mascara comes
on like a theatrically trained performer—think The Rocky Horror
Show's Riff Raff—which lends the album a '70s feel, i.e. Meatloaf,
Alice Cooper, etc., for which I have a high tolerance, though I
could do without the fright-night theatrics of "High School," on
which Mascara moans and groans through lines like, "The shit
I pulled out of my rectum/was red, was red, was red..." Ack.

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

Endnote: For more information about the Vivian Girls,

please click here. You can also catch them at Seattle's High
Dive on 2/13. For more on Hot Day at the Zoo, go here;
for Mascara, here. Henry Darger painting of the original
Vivians from Shake Your Fist; band pic from ShowClix.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Movie of the
Month: Part 12

I recently reviewed the
following film for
Video
Librarian
, and thought the
results were worth sharing.

IL DIVO [****]
(Paulo Sorren-

tino, Italy, 20-
08, 110 mins.)

With his audacious portrait of Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, Paulo Sorrentino (The Consequences of Love)
reinvents the biopic—or at least turns it inside out.

If comparisons to Nixon aren't completely off the mark, they're
also misleading (New York Times critic Stephen Holden's cita-
tion of the British miniseries I, Claudius makes more sense).

While Oliver Stone offered a conventionally Freudian reading of
the former president, Sorrentino trades back story for something
more intimate, yet enigmatic by presenting the seven-time PM's
scandal-plagued reign from his subject's unique perspective.

And what
a subject!
Toni
Servillo
(Gomor-
rah, The
Girl by
the Lake)
plays An-
dreotti as
a hunched-up, jug-eared cross between Richard III and Nosfer-
atu's Max Schrek ("Il Divo" translates as the God or the Di-
vine). Instead of walking, he glides from dark room to dark
room—his other nicknames include the Prince of Darkness,
the Black Pope, the Sphinx, the Fox, and the Hunchback.

Despite his leadership of the Christian Democratic Party and ties
to the Vatican and the Mafia, Andreotti comes across as an isolat-
ed man with plenty of supplicants, but few friends (and a silent,
supportive spouse). Under his watch, assassinations of his critics
ran rife, even if he never did time for murder. His refusal to co-
operate with terrorists also led to the death of leftist rival Aldo
Moro (focus of Marco Bellocchio's fine Good Morning, Night).




Il Divo won seven David di Donatello Awards in Italy and the
Jury Prize at Cannes and has inspired comparisons to the work
of Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Fran-
cis Ford Coppola. There's a certain coldness to it that will sure-
ly leave some unmoved, but it's undoubtedly among the most
fantastic-looking films of the year. Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 11: Endgame



2/2/10 update: It would've been nice to see Il Divo score a nomina-
tion for best foreign language film, but one Oscar nod—for best make-
up—is better than nothing. For the complete list, please click here.

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. According to
a YouTube commenter on the trailer above, "The opening song
is 'Toop Toop' by Cassius, the second one is 'Nux Vomica' by the
Veils." Images from Cinemavistodame and The House Next Door.
The Un-
real Is
Real

Broadcast
and the
Focus
Group,
Inves-
tigate
Witch
Cults of the Radio Age, Warp Records

"You feel that this is all really happen-
ing, and you’re in it up to your neck."
-- Lee Arizuno, The Quietus review

Birmingham's Broadcast (Trish Keenan and James Cargill)
and artist/musician the Focus Group (Julian House, the foun-
der of Ghost Box Records) fill this collaboration with 23 tracks
of beautiful, sometimes scary weirdness (House has design-
ed every one of Broadcast's eye-catching album covers).

I love the beauty, which stems from the
union between Keenan's multi-tracked
mutterings and the chiming, cascading
lullaby-like melodies, but have mixed
feelings about the darker pieces. They
clatter and clamber like incidental music
from the films of John Carpenter or the
Brothers Quay, and the cinematic feel
is admirable, but also unsettling.

It's one thing to watch those kinds of
pictures, and move on, and another to
linger in the sinister worlds such filmmakers create. If your
collection includes the scores to Suspiria and Eraserhead, you
may feel otherwise. After a few listens, I proclaim it a mixed
success, but this one is growing on me by the second

11/28: After spending several weeks and dozens of spins with
this disc, I've come to adore it, but don't intend to change any
of the words above, since other listeners may have the same
experience, i.e. my initial concerns dissipated—and com-
pletely disappeared—through repeated exposure.

Note: Warp is advertising this release as an
EP, though it contains 50 minutes of music.



Brett Gleason, The Dissonance EP, self-titled [1/19/10]

"The unreal is real if you're a believer!"
-- Brett Gleason, "Futile and Fooled"


Long Island-born, Brooklyn-based Brett Gleason mixes dark
metal with post-bop and bright pop. As he pounds away on the
piano and keyboards, his detached voice floats above the din. The
somewhat plodding blend of light and heavy plays like result of
studying Nine Inch Nails at home and Duke Ellington at school.
Imagine a prog-rock outfit covering the entirety of Joe Jack-
son's Body and Soul, and you've got the general idea.



Audra Mae, Haunt EP, SideOneDummy

A smoky-voice alto, Audra Mae combines country-tinged torch
songs with tracks by the Decemberists ("Eli, the Barrow Boy") and
Marilyn Monroe (Lionel Anemone and Ken Darby's "One Silver
Dollar") and an adaptation of a letter by a Civil War soldier.









Along with mournful accordion, brushed drums, fingersnaps, and
whistles, the Oklahoma native works up a spacious, slow-burning
atmosphere that should appeal to fans of Patsy Cline, Julee Cruise,
and Eleni Mandell. David Lynch would do wise to give her a listen.

Bonus: Mae's cover of Dylan's "Forever Young" as feat-
ured in The Sons of Anarchy (and not included on this EP):










Endnote: For more information about Broadcast, please
click here; for Brett Gleason, here; and for Audra Mae,
click here. Expect a new full-length from Keegan and Car-
gill in 2010. Images from Fact Magazine and Last.fm.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

We Had Sylvester

Sylvester and the
Hot Band, The Blue
Thumb Collection,
Hip-O Select

San Francicso didn't need
me. They had Sylvester.
-- Bowie on his failure to

sell out the Bay in '73

This might be my fav-
orite release of 2009—
it's certainly in the top
five. No matter that
The Blue Thumb Collection contains material recorded between 1972-73.

The time is ripe for a Sylvester revival. And I'm not just talking
about the disco icon behind "(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real,"
but the man as a whole: drag performer (see The Cockettes), Bay
Area icon (read The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music,
the Seventies in San Francisco), and gospel-funk entertainer
(hear these two LPs: Sylvester and the Hot Band and Bazaar).

Click here for The Cockettes trailer

Of course, you've got to have a high tolerance for falsetto, since
that was Sylvester's thing. And I do mean thing—or specialty—
and not schtick. There's nothing comical about his use of the up-
per range (to paraphrase an old Southern saying: the higher the
note, the closer to God). Throughout, he shouts, soars, testifies,
and torches it up like a super-powered preacher-turned-diva.



According to Brian Chin's first-rate liner notes, Sylvester lik-
ed to think of himself as Billie Holiday reincarnated, hence the
scratch 'n' sniff gardenia sticker that emblazoned his self-titled
debut, AKA "Scratch My Flower"; he also used to claim Nina
Simone as a relation (my only complaint: the booklet repro-
duces the original artwork but drops the "sniff" option).

Despite his love for the ladies, Sylvester and his Caucasian co-
horts concentrate on material originally written and recorded
by men. In each case, he reinvents the number, rendering some
barely recognizable. What was macho or masculine before—ar-
guably even misogynist—becomes intensely androgynous.


Sylvester shapes his persona

You won't hear Neil Young's "Southern Man," James Taylor's "I'm
a Steam Roller," or Procul Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" the
same way once you've experienced Sylvester's radical reinterpret-
ations. Though I could do without the bitchy screech on "one of 16
vestal virgins," there's a certain poignance to the way he sings,
"wife and the family, kids playing in the driveway" (born in 19-
47, Sylvester died of AIDs-related complications in 1988).

That isn't to suggest that he doesn't rock the hell out of these
joints. On the contrary, Sylvester gives Bowie, Mick Jagger,
Elton John*, the New York Dolls, and Prince a run for the
money in the hard-rocking androgyne sweepstakes—
if such a thing existed, which, of course, it should.

* "Benny & the Jets" era.



Other covers of note: "God Bless the Child," "Nobody's Fault But
Mine," "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," and "Hey, That's No Way
to Say Goodbye." On the Leonard Cohen composition, from 1972's
Lights Out San Francisco, he's joined by Family Stone drummer
Gregg Errico, Santana guitarist Neil Schon on guitar (who would
find even greater fame through Journey), and the Pointer Sis-
ters (the Weather Girls backed Sylvester's disco incarnation).

Lest it seem as if I'm
giving the originals short
shrift, that's only because
there aren't as many of
them. And if they don't
surpass these classics,
they hold their own, par-
ticularly Kerry Hatch's
"Down on Your Knees"
and "All That I Need"
(Hatch played bass and
keys in the Hot Band).

If anything, the new tun-
es funk even harder than
the covers, but of the 19
tracks, my favorite is "My Country 'Tis of Thee," a
song that never meant much to me, at least musically.

Sylvester turns it into an epic Americana jam to rival Funk-
adelic's "One Nation Under a Groove." The instrumental in-
tro offers JBs-style horns, hyperactive harmonica, wacka-
wacka guitar, rubbery bass, and flutes galore. Then our lady
of the lungs enters the scene to bring it all home. (When a
black man sings, "Land where my fathers died," it's hard
not to pause for a moment of uncomfortable reflection.)

For fans of torch singers, glam rock, New Orleans R&B, P-
Funk, and Bay Area titans, like Tower of Power and Sly Stew-
art (San Francisco's other eccentric-genius Sylvester), this siz-
zling set isn't just worth a listen: it's absolutely essential.




Endnote: Images from Imageyenation and The Cockettes.
Misty Water-
color Memories

Walla Walla wa-
tercolor sketches.












Anderson Hall interior.


















Anderson Hall Courtyard.


















Still life with mannequins.

Endnote: Cross-posted at Facebook (with more images).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Memorable
Contrast

Starless
& Bible
Black,
Shape
of the
Shape,
Locust
Music



It's been three years since the last Starless & Bible Black re-
cord, so I expected them to return sounding somewhat differ-
ent than before. They have. Not that they've re-emerged as a-
nother creature entirely, but the opening track, "Say Donny Say,"
has more of a country feel than anything on their self-titled debut,
which combined French chanson with British folk (though Hélène
Gautier hails from France, the band calls Birmingham home).

That shift distinguishes their follow-up, though their approach
to traditional genres remains refreshingly untraditional. Center-
piece selection "Les Furies," for instance, is full-on space-rock
and yet the quintet avoid sounding like Stereolab copyists by
adding smatterings of Jimmy Page-style acoustic guitar.

In fact, the piece evokes old-
school prog-rock, like Pink
Floyd or King Crimson, more
than any recent inner-space
explorers. Crimson once nam-
ed an album Starless and Bib-
le Black, so it only seems fit-
ting that they would enter
the equation at some point.

Shape of the Shape is another fine effort from an unjustly
obscure outfit, though I'd love to see them rock out more next
time. As John Schacht puts it in his AMG review of their first al-
bum
, "on occasion a synth roar creates memorable contrast,
like low-flying jets tearing over a green countryside," adding that
it's "the more robust cuts that leave the deepest impression." I
couldn't agree more. Starless's restraint is admirable, but "Les
Furies" proves what they can do when they set it aside.



Jay Bolotin, self-titled, Locust Music

"One of the three best songwriters in the country,"
-- Kris Kristofferson

According to his liner notes, Jay Bolotin recorded this LP in
1968 when he was "17—maybe 18" years old (though he sounds
more seasoned). A student at the Rhode Island School of Design,
he pursued an art career by day and a music career by night.

When he
signed a
contract
with ABC,
he thought
he was on
his way.
He record-
ed his de-
but in
NYC with
musicians
including drummer Bobby Mason from the Fugs (I particularly like David Mowry's lyrical lead playing). He writes, "People in the control room were inhaling amyl nitrate from little glass vials and smoking cigar sized joints. I had never seen anything like that."

At times, the Kentucky native sounds like Leonard Cohen; at
others, like Harry Nilsson. The 10 elegant tracks offer a pleas-
ing combination of poetry and pop (but without the pomp or
pretense that can attend to the former). At times, he even
predicts Britain's slow-burn Clientele, though it's unlikely they
could've heard this rare recording until its re-release this fall.

Bolotin now lives in Cincinatti. In the notes, he says that "some-
thing honestly upset me about those songs back then." They
were haunted by "a sense of yearning for grace that I feared
would not—could not—be fulfilled, either by me or by my gener-
ation." With the hindsight of 40 years, he concludes, "Yearning
for grace seems not to diminish with age." Suffice to say: grace in-
fuses his first record, no matter the psychic toll it took to make it.



Endnote: For more information about Starless & Bible Black,
please click here or here. Images from the band and Gimme Tin-
nitus
. Jay Bolotin's "The Jack Leg Testament" from libbyrosof's
Flickr photostream
(click here for more pictures from the series).

Sunday, November 01, 2009

November
Reviews

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


Amazon DVD: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (with Michael Douglas and Amber Tamblyn), Moonshot (Apollo 11 doc), and
Lie to Me - Season One (with Tim Roth) [four-disc set].

Amazon Theatricals: Youth in Revolt (Miguel Arteta
directs Michael Cera), Me and Orson Welles (Richard Link-
later directs Zac Efron and Christian McKay as Welles).

Still playing: Black Dynamite, Coco Before Chanel, Law
Abiding Citizen
, This Is It, and Where the Wild Things Are.

KCTS 9: These are some of the press releases I've written
or to which I've contributed: King County executive debate invite, Seattle mayoral debate, Nicholas Kristof invite, Veteran's Day programming, Ask the Governor invite, Ask the Governor broadcast, and Development Team announcement.

Siffblog: Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum.



Video Librarian: Beyond Wiseguys, Footsteps in Afri-
ca - A Nomadic Journey, Ask Not, Baghdad Twist, Free-
way Philharmonic, From Russia, For Love, La Corona, In-
tangible Asset Number 82, New World Order, Not Just a Bad
Day, The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, Black Dynamite,
Egon & Donci, The Haunted Airman, Invisible Girlfriend, Not
Your Typical Bigfoot Movie, Otis Redding - The Best: See
&
Hear
[CD/DVD set], The Starting Line - Somebody's
Gonna Miss Us, Woodpecker, and Vega$ - Sea-
son One: Part One [three-disc set].



Endnote: Images from Screen Daily and IGN.