Monday, March 21, 2011

Essential
Charm


Keren
Ann,
101
,
Blue
Note-
EMI

[3/22/11]

I've been
following
Keren
Ann's
career
since she
lived in France, sung in French, and collaborated with musi-
cian/producer Benjamin Biolay, who's since married (and col-
laborated with
) Chiara Mastroianni. That was a long time ago.

[Image above from the album; click here for the single cover art.]

When she first signed to Blue Note, Keren Ann, who divides her
time between New York and Tel Aviv, still sang a few songs in
French, but her fourth effort for the label is an all-English affair.
(Though I've also followed Biolay's career, I've enjoyed Ms. Zei-
del's output better, since she has a greater facility with a hook.)

Fortunately, her essential charms remain intact. Every record is
slightly different than the one before, but it's hard to imagine her
selling out, as it were, or going down a completely new path--only
her mod Vidal Sassoon-like hairstyle marks a significant change.



There's a reason she shares a label with singer/songwriters like
Norah Jones and Priscilla Ahn--pretty women, pleasing melo-
dies--but I prefer her releases, since they offer more of an ed-
ge, which may not be evident at first listen...so keep listening.

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

My name is trouble, my first name’s a mess
No need to greet me, I’m here to confess
That if you let me hold you, I won’t hold my breath
And if you let me love you, I will love to death.

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

As with previous recordings, her sixth album opens with an ex-
quisite pop gem, in this case "My Name Is Trouble," in which a
wistful vocal floats over a chiming, quasi-psychedelic keyboard
pattern. It's bouyant and noirish at the same time, reflective of
the cloak and dagger cover--just substitute pistol for dagger.



There are at least six remixes on YouTube, none of which im-
proves it in any way. This Hecedemon version, however, stands
out from the rest as it slows the song down instead of speeding
it up, and replaces playful organ with stately piano. Haunting.

The rest of the album, I'm happy to say, lives up to the promise
of the single. At times, 101 recalls the French duo Air, back when
a female vocalist was part of their arsenal (see Moon Safari, Virgin
Suicides
, etc.). Keren Ann's songs are more succinct--no long, in-
strumental passages--but they give off a similar luxurious glow.

"Run with You" and "Strange Weather," in particular, feature a
vibrant mix of strings, heavenly choir, and effervescent keys.

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

79 Star Trek episodes, 78 revolutions per minute , 77
developing nations...72 virgins, 71 solar eclipses, 70 souls
in the
house of Jacob...66 verses, 65 notorious crimes...

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

There's no filler, but the most distinctive material opens and
closes the set, ending with the title track, in which she counts
from 101 to 1. It's her most overt statement about her Israeli
heritage yet, though she includes pop culture references, too.

And that about sums up Keren Ann: as a student, she was prob-
ably at the top of her class, but she was also the first--maybe the
only one--to debate "Ginsberg and Korsow," sneak flasks into
school dances, and steal smokes behind the gymnasium. The
warm meets the cool, the tough meets the tender: the folk-
pop chanteuse meets the trenchcoat-clad femme fatale.

Click links for reviews of 2002's La Biographie de Lu-
ka Philipsen
, 2005's Nolita, and 2007's Keren Ann.




Endnote: Click here for an interview with Keren Ann,
who plays the Triple Door on 6/17. For more information,
click here or here. Image from Blue Note/EMI Records.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hypnotic

Moon Duo,
Escape
, Woodsist


Dark, buzzy, propul-
sive, and minimal.

-- Andy Beta,
SF Weekly


San Francisco's Wooden Shjips came first, but Moon Duo (Er-
ik "Ripley" Johnson and Sanae Yamada) has quickly acquired a
similar reputation for gloriously unhinged guitar work and hyp-
notic motorik rhythms (yes, I overuse the word "hypnotic").

Last year's mini-LP Escape follows up on 2009's Killing Time
EP on Sacred Bones, and features only four tracks, but they're
plenty expansive (the release clocks in at 28:48 minutes).



While the band doesn't eschew vocals, they downplay them; those
that do materialize never compete with the oceanic instrumenta-
tion--guitar, organ, and drum machine--which takes center stage.

They're like a cross between Neu!, Suicide, and Loop (their AMG
bio also cites Spacemen 3 and Silver Apples). On the title track,
however, Johnson and Yamada speed up the pace, lighten the
mood, and evoke Jesus and Mary Chain by way of Suicide.

Click here for "When You Cut" from upcoming album Mazes.




Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong,
Slumberland/Collective Sounds
[3/29/11]

I definitely see this album as keeping with what
we started doing at the beginning, only more.
-- singer/guitarist Kip Berman


Their first record was a hit, so New York's Pains of Being Pure
at Heart
have upped the ante--and will probably meet with even
greater success. Belong doesn't represent a radical departure,
but rather a bigger, bolder version of their signature sound. Cre-
dit the participation of producer Flood (PJ Harvey, U2) and mix-
er Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain).

If anything, it's too slick for my taste what with the super-sized
guitars and drums. If John Hughes were still around, and still
making movies about disaffected teens, these songs would fit
comfortably on the soundtrack next to selections from Simple
Minds and the Psychedelic Furs, which is good news for '80s re-
vivalists, but I prefer M83's spacey, electronic take on the era.

Click here for my review of their debut.



Seapony, Go with Me, Hardly Art [5/31/11]

I am obsessed with this band.
-- Marco Collins, KEXP


Seattle trio Danny Rowland, Jen Weidl, and Ian Brewer offer up
reverb-drenched pop in the C86/Slumberland/Simple Machines
vein. Tour mates Pains of Being Pure at Heart have helped to re-
vitalize this style, on which Seapony puts their sunny stamp.

Other than their timekeeper, an Alesis HR-16, though, there isn't
much new going on here, and I'd prefer greater urgency--"I Real-
ly Do" and "Nobody Knows" feel a little sluggish--but the tam-
bourine-shakes and handclaps keep things humming along.

Click here for "Blue Star" and here for "Dreaming."




Endnote: Moon Duo plays the Funhouse on 4/8, while Sea-
pony
plays the Havana Social Club on 4/4 and the Crocodile on
4/22 with Pains of Being Pure at Heart. For more informa-
tion about the latter, please click here. Image from SF Weekly.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The
Other
Girls


I don't
wanna be
like the
other girls.

-- Vivian
Girls, "The
Other Girls"


Vivian Girls, Share the Joy, Polyvinyl Record Co. [4/12/11]

Intentionally or otherwise, Brooklyn's Vivian Girls have always
sounded like the Shangri-las for a new era: sweet vocals blended
with volume, distortion, and spoken-word vignettes. They began
as ladies with attitude, driving rhythms, and a sense of unease.

It was pop music, and it's still pop music, but sprinkled with
the gloom of goth-rock. They aren't predicting the end of the
world or even the end of love, but the trio favors minor key
melodies and harmonies that convey more sorrow than joy.
When they sing, "It's all all right with me," they don't sound
doubtful, so much as resigned, thinking they can't do better.

As Cassie Ramone explains in the press notes, "These songs
focus a lot on the themes of alienation, reconciliation, identity,
and trying to figure out what really matters in life. It's a dark
album, but unlike our first two albums, it has a happy ending."



A lot has changed since 2009's Everything Goes Wrong, about
which I had mixed feelings. The Girls moved from In the Red to
Polyvinyl, drummer Ali Koehler left to join ex-tour mates Best
Coast (Fiona Campbell now fills her spot), bass player "Kickball"
Katy Goodman issued her debut as La Sera, and guitarist Cassie
formed the Babies, whose self-titled release just hit the streets.

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

They ain't comin' back, it's too late. They
shot my baby, but they killed my faith.
--"Sixteen Ways" (Green on Red cover)

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

The good news is that these side projects are worth your while
if you have any interest in the parent band. More important-
ly, Share the Joy, which takes its title from a Burt Bachrach-
Hal David composition, is a solid effort from Cassie and crew.
I still prefer their first record, brief running time aside, but
they've tightened things up since Everything Goes Wrong.

In the end, though, it has the feel of a transitional release, like
they're still adjusting to these changes. Their third disc isn't bad,
but it isn't great either, and since they've proven they're capab-
le of that very thing, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed.



Endnote: Vivian Girls play the Vera Project on 5/6. For more
information, please click here or here. Portrait from Polyvinyl.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Don't
Despair


Sonny
& the
Sunsets,
Hit after
Hit
, Fat
Possum
Records

[4/12/11]


Girls, don't despair, 'cause soon, I'll be there.
--Sonny & the Sunsets, "Girls Beware"


This album arrived out of the blue. I hadn't heard of Sonny & the
Sunsets
before, other than as a mention from their publicist. Suc-
cessor to Tomorrow Is Alright, Hit after Hit turns out to be a
pleasant surprise--something I wish I could say more often.

Click here for "Reflections on Youth."

If I had to select one term, I would say: party record. Their
sophomore effort isn't raucous, so much as celebratory. The San
Francisco quartet, which includes Kelley Stoltz on drums, puts
their stamp on garage-rock with male-female vocals, a hint of
twang, and lacings of reverb, like a better behaved Black Lips
(Ryan Browne and Tahlia Harbour round out the line-up).

The retro cover art and colorful song titles give some idea as to
where their collective heads are at: "She Plays Yo Yo with My
Mind," "Teen Age Thugs," and "The Bad Energy from LA is Killing
Me" (if anything, it's slowly poisoning the entire West Coast).


"An unassuming, low-key gem." --Tim Sendra on Tomorrow Is Alright

After listening to Hit after Hit, I visited YouTube to check out
their earlier effort, but I prefer this release, which rocks harder,
though their basic sound remains the same. And lest they seem
like a novelty act, the quartet handily dodges that deadly bullet.

Sonny & the Sunsets incorporate humor, but they aren't set-
ting jokes to music. They may inhabit a world of girls and boys
rather than women and men, but that doesn't make them juve-
nile either; they're just keeping the spirit of the garage alive.

Click here for "Mr. Lucky," B-side to "I Wanna Do It."

A friend cited Jonathan Richman--adding but "thankfully not so
gratingly infantile"--possibly in regards to Sonny Smith's aden-
oidal drawl, and I'd agree that there's a little of that here, too.

This fine record comes recommended to fans of the Monkees,
Thee Headcoats, and Holly Golightly. If you're throwing a house
party, and you're looking for something to get the toes tapping
and the heads bobbing: meet your new favorite soundtrack.



Endnote: For more information, please click here. In reading up
on Smith, I found that he counts John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees), Tim
Cohen (Fresh & Onlys), and Shayde Sartin (Skygreen Leopards)
as friends. He's in good company, for sure (at least two of those
gents have played with him). Image from Sonny & the Sunsets.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Movie of
the Month:
Part 26




I recently
reviewed
the follow-
ing DVD for
Video Lib-
rarian
, and thought the results were worth sharing.


FISH TANK - The Criterion Collection [****]
(Andrea Arnold, UK, 2009, 122 mins.)

Britain's Andrea Arnold won a best live-action Oscar for the
2003 short film Wasp, but she takes her intimate technique to a
whole new level with Fish Tank. Newcomer Katie Jarvis plays
15-year-old Mia, who lives in the projects of Essex with her trash-
talking sister and party-girl mother, Joanne (Ken Loach veteran
Kierston Waering). It isn't an easy life, but she finds release by
dancing to hip-hop, which she hopes to do professionally.

Around the time Joanne starts spending time with charming Irish
immigrant Connor (Michael Fassbender in an effortlessly se-
ductive performance), Mia becomes fixated on a white horse who
spends its days chained to an empty lot. Whether she recognizes
the broken-down beast as a kindred spirit or not--it recalls Bres-
son's Balthazar--Mia's life isn't much different. With a lack of ed-
ucation and opportunity, she may never escape the slums.



Desperate for affection, she flirts with Connor, who flirts back,
innocently at first. She pushes further and so does he, until the
night he crosses a line. Soon, and in an entirely different way, she
becomes as obsessed with the man as the horse, but the danger
she faces in trying to free the creature is nothing compared to
the danger she represents in trying to punish the man.

Fish Tank begins as a social-realist character study before Ar-
nold shifts gears into thriller territory. In the untrained Jarvis's
hands, Mia remains sympathetic even as she gives in to her bas-
er instincts, but the director doesn't withhold hope, and her film-
making is looser and sexier than in her grim, if gripping debut,
Red Road
. Supplements include interviews with Waering (vi-
deo) and Fassbender (audio only), three shorts (Milk, Dog, and
Wasp
), and an essay by Ian Christie. Highest recommendation.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 25: Still Bill



Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. Jane Eyre,
which features Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, opens at the
Egyptian on Friday, 3/18. Image from Reverse Shot via IFC.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Pronounced Shift



Times New Viking, Dancer Equired, Merge [4/26/11]



I don't know why Times New Viking switched from Matador
to Merge, but they re-materialize on Dancer Equired minus a
few rough edges. Since they're both fine labels, I can't say whether
this marks a step up or down--guess it's more of a lateral move.

The press notes aptly and affectionately describe the trio's past
methodology as "pissy histrionics." Instead of an over-amped
garage band, however, the Cleveland combo now resembles a
peak-era Flying Nun act with a trickbag of jangle and chime.

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

Click here for "Ever Falling in Love" and here for the mini-docu-
mentary Hello, We Are Times New Viking from Columbus, Ohio.


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

Vocally, the three-piece, which shares mic duties between
keyboard player Beth Murphy and drummer Adam Elliot,
doesn't sound like the Chills, on which Martin Phillips took the
lead, but there's a musical similarity. When Elliot sings solo,
they also recall Guided by Voices. Like that fellow Ohio out-
fit, these three prefer short snippets over epic workouts.



I'm reminded of the transformation the Ponys made when they
moved from In the Red to Matador. They also shed some of their
garage trappings, though they didn't pick up as many pop moves
as Times New Viking. And the latter has always been a pop
band at heart. Plus, Murphy's bittersweet keyboard playing
continues to lend a dreamy feel to everything they do.

Dancer Equired only took a few spins to work its magic. It
doesn't herald a major change in direction; rather a pronounc-
ed shift. I wish I could claim I was a believer from the start, but
I didn't discover the band until 2009's terrific Born Again Re-
visited
. I can't predict how old fans will react to their fifth
full-length--for me, it ranks among 2011's best releases.

Still to come: Keren Ann - 101, Sonny and the Sun-
sets - Hit After Hit, and Vivian Girls - Share the Joy.




Endnote: Times New Viking plays the Sunset
Tavern on Tues., 6/21. Image from Clash Music.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

March
Reviews


Amazon DVDs: Eastbound & Down - The Complete Second Season and Hot in Cleveland - Season One [two-disc set].

Amazon Theatricals: Poetry (with Yun Jung-hee), Jane Eyre (with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender), Win Win (with Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan), A Somewhat Gentle Man (with Stellan SkarsgÄrd), The Conspirator (with James McAvoy), and Happythankyoumoreplease (with writer/director Josh Radnor).

SIFF: Eight notes for the program guide (links to come).



Siffblog: The Woodmans, Aaron Katz's Cold Weather, and
a revamped version of Shohei Imamura's Pornographers.

Video Librarian: Alonzo Bodden - Who's Paying Attention?,
Falco
, Fish Tank - The Criterion Collection, The Taqwacores,
Barbie - A Fairy Secret
, Big Time Rush - Season One: Volume
One
[two-disc set], Invader Zim - Season One, The Little En-
gine That Could
, Marillion - Live from Cadogan Hall, Soul-
ive - Bowlive: Live at Brooklyn Bowl,
A Somewhat Gent-
le Man
, The Swimsuit Issue, and Who's the Caboose?



Endnote: "Polka Dots" (1976) image from Fans in a Flashbulb.