Sunday, December 31, 2006

A New Review for a New Year
The Willowz, Chautauqua, Dim Mak [3/20/07]

Another line-up change, another label. Not to worry, the Willowz still sound like the Willowz. The Anaheim aggregate still rocks hard, Richie Follin still sings at the top of his range. Hey, it worked for Geddy Lee, it worked for Fred Cole--it worked for Jeffrey Lee Pierce, too. The Willowz may sound more like the White Stripes as a quartet than trios like Rush or Dead Moon, but you get the idea. Guitarist Follin and bass player Jessica Reynoza form the core of the band. As with Chicago's Ponys, a garage-punk group founded by a couple, I'd imagine that these two are an item (Reynoza's always been the only female member). According to their website, Aric Bohn (guitar) and Loren Humphrey (drums) are the new members (Tony Mann fills the drum seat on the disc). As with ex-couple/former Sympathy labelmates the White Stripes, the Willowz also alternate between hard and soft. While the Stripes base their sound in the blues, the Willowz enter country-rock territory when they turn the volume down. At these junctures, Neil Young comes to mind (he likes those

 high notes, too).  

As much as I enjoyed 2005's [The Willowz] Are Coming, a revamp of their 2004 mini-album on Dionysus, and Talk in Circles (also 2005), I didn't love them. I'm not sure why. I'm a sucker for melodic garage-punk with bursts of feedback frenzy. Chautauqua is, essentially, more of the same, but it's better somehow. I haven't put my finger on the reason yet. I guess it's because the sound is fuller--a little piano, a little brass--and Follen's voice is, relatively speaking, stronger. On the other hand, it seems to me this release works better as an album than as a series of singles. That's sure to come as good news for some listeners, bad news for others.

The Willowz - "I Wonder" (dir. Michel Gondry)

Incidentally, their name might not ring a bell, but if you've seen The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Science of Sleep, you've heard the Willowz. Michel Gondry, a big fan, hasn't just featured their material in his movies, he's also directed videos, like "I Wonder," for the band [see above]. In addition, they appear, during the end credits, in the new film about Sympathy's anti-mogul, The Treasures of Long Gone John. If you like LGJ-approved acts like the White Stripes, the Gun Club, and the Stooges, the Willowz are definitely worth a listen. I'm hearing a lot of Blue Cheer on Chautauqua, too, and that's always a good thing.


Here's my Tablet review of their previous album: The Willowz, Are Coming, Sympathy for the Record Industry (B) Anaheim trio the Willowz are like several garage bands at once. Guitarist Richie James's high-pitched vocals evoke Dead Moon’s Fred Cole, though he's not at that level yet. Then again, James is a few decades younger--he's got time. When he duets with bassist Jessica Reynoza, the Willowz sound more like a ragged Raveonettes. Reynoza isn't a great singer either, but she equals James in attitude. Are Coming is an expanded version of the Willowz self-titled debut and includes "Something" and "I Wonder," both featured in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Click here for my review of Talk in Circles. Click here for my review of The Treasures of Long Gone John.


Endnote: The Treasures of Long Gone John opens at the Northwest Film Forum on 1/5. Ghost on the Highway: A Portrait of Jeffrey Lee Pierce opens on 1/8. The current issue of Resonance features my timeline of Gun Club co-founder Kid Congo Powers (for the upcoming issue, I take on Ari Up). Images from the official Willowz website and the IMDb (Gael García Bernal and Alain Chabat in The Science of Sleep), video from YouTube.

Friday, December 29, 2006

When the Shillelagh Meets the Hood: Part Seven

When the Shillelagh Meets the Hood 

Part Seven: A Bundle of Contradictions 

I'm a little black boy 
and I don't know my 
proper place 
I'm a little black boy, 
get my head in its 
I'm a little black boy
I just play my bass 
I'm a little black boy, 
it's no disgrace. 
-- Thin Lizzy, "Black Boys on the Corner" (1973)

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

I considered presenting a paper at next year's Pop Conference, but for various reasons, decided against it. See below for my proposal. Frankly, I don't think it would've made the cut, and Phil Lynott means too much to me to risk it. At some point, I'll write something up for this site, but I still have a lot of reading to do. 

Over the past year, I've acquired Stuart Bailie's The Ballad of the Thin Man and Mark Putterford's The Rocker, but haven't had any luck tracking down an affordable copy of Philomena Lynott's out-of-print My Boy, and it's an important piece of the puzzle that was Phil Lynott, since his mother cast a big shadow over his brief life.  

Thin Lizzy - "Whiskey in the Jar" (1972) [short version] 

Vagabond of the Western World: The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Phil Lynott 

Black, white, Irish, West Indian, bastard, bass player, punk, poet, ladies man, husband, drug addict, and dad. The late Phillip Paris Lynott (1949-1986) was all that and more: A bundle of contradictions. All of which served to shape his music, both solo and as the leader of Ireland's enduring Thin Lizzy. Nowhere are those contradictions more apparent than on 1973's Vagabonds of the Western World, an album that tanked upon release, despite the fact that it arrived in the wake of one of Lizzy's biggest hits, a prog-rock version of Irish traditional "Whiskey in the Jar" (now part of the album, it was originally only available as a single). The staggeringly diverse recording also features an ode to Lynott's grandmother Sarah, ballads influenced by heroes Elvis Presley and Van Morrison, trade- mark—downright silly—stomper "The Rocker," and the heaviest funk jam of his entire career, "Black Boys on the Corner." All of which is to say that Lynott's work was the product of a specific time, place, and sensibility, yet continues to gain resonance with each year, from the inclusion of his songs in literally hundreds of movies and television shows, and even an upcoming big screen biopic. By taking a song-by-song look at Vagabonds, I will outline the contradictions that defined Phil Lynott—and make his music more relevant than ever.

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

I am your main man if you're looking for trouble
I'll take no lip 'cause no ones tougher than me 
If I kicked your face you'd soon be seeing double 
Hey little girl, keep your hands off me 'cause I'm a rocker.
--Thin Lizzy, "The Rocker" (1973)  

Endnote: Part six in a series. Click here for previous entry. I also have many CDs yet to explore. In the past year, I've picked up Vagabonds (natch), Jailbreak, and Solo in Soho. And of course, I own Johnny Thunders' heartbreaking So Alone, on which Mr. Lynott—along with his pals in the Pistols—lends his expertise. Card image and lyrics from Lynott's official website, The Roisin Dubh Trust, T-shirt design from DJ Tees, and video from YouTube.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Brooklyn in Da British House (By Way of a Mouse)

Danger Mouse, The Grey Album, Bootleg [2004]

I pray I'm forgiven
For every bad decision I made
Every sister I played
Cause I'm still paranoid to this day
And it's nobody fault I made the decisions I made
This is the life I chose or rather the life that chose me
If you can't respect that, your whole perspective is wack
Maybe you'll love me when I fade to black.
-- Jay-Z, "December 4th"


By now, everybody knows about The Grey Album. The thing is, not everyone has actually heard the record, since it was never--and will never be--officially released. Brian Burton, AKA Danger Mouse, had been kicking around the fringes of the music world for years before he put this thing together. In one fell swoop, it made his rep, leading to Danger Doom, Gnarls Barkley, and production work for the Gorillaz and the Rapture, among others.

The concept is simple: Combine Jay-Z's Black Album (2003) with the Beatles' White Album (1968). Brilliant. Well, I have a confession to make. Up until now, I was familiar with exactly one Jay-Z track, "99 Problems," and that's only because it's on the Mark Romanek DVD. Yeah, I realize that makes me the lamest of the lame, but my taste in hip-hop runs towards the indie/alternative stuff. That said, I know the Beatles. Who doesn't? So, I find it easiest to evaluate this recording from a pop-rock perspective.

I don't hear any Beatles on the first track, "Public Service Announcement," but the second, "What More Can I Say," makes extensive use of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The third, "Encore," opts for "Glass Onion." Track four, "December 4th," is built around the break from "Cry Baby Cry." Wow. This is where things really come together (as the Beatles might say). Shawn Carter, AKA Jay-Z, recites his biography over one of the Beatles' loveliest melodies. In a perfect world, this would've been released as a single.

This brings us to Rick Rubin-produced slammer "99 Problems," pretty much the polar opposite of the track that precedes it. This jam still sounds more like Rubin than Danger, as the latter stitches Jay-Z's rap to the guitar line from "Helter Skelter" and some big-ass beats (according to the AMG, Rubin swiped those beats from Billy Squier). It's the logical successor to those Aerosmith/Run-DMC and Public Enemy/Anthrax rap-metal mash-ups of yore. If not for EMI's legal team, this could've been released as a single, too.

On track six, "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," Danger Mouse slices and dices "Julia" into such tiny slivers that I could barely recognize it.
I had an even harder time identifying the Beatles songs in the remaining tracks: "Moment of Clarity," "Change Clothes," "Allure," "Justify My Thug," "Interlude," and "My 1st Song."

Jay-Z - "99 Problems" (dir. Mark Romanek) [Clean]

The biggest question I had about this CD before listening was this: who predominates, Jay-Z or the Beatles? Or does Danger create something so new that it transcends his source material? Because Jay-Z's relaxed, yet authoritative voice is the first and last thing I noticed--many of the samples are barely recognizable--I would say that The Grey Album is mostly for the hip-hop heads. I guess that isn't too surprising. What would be really cool, however, is if Danger created a sequel in which the White Album is in the forefront and The Black Album is in the background. The Grey Album makes me appreciate the producer's talents behind the boards and the rapper's skills on the mic, but it also makes me miss the equally resonant voices of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.


I did this project because I love the Beatles and Jay-Z.
I knew when I produced The Grey Album that there might be questions and issues that this project would bring up, but I
really don't know the answers to many of them. It was not
meant to be anything but an artistic expression, and I still
hope that that is the way it's perceived.
-- Danger Mouse press release, 2/23/04

Endnote: Images from the AMG and the NME, lyrics from A-Z Lyrics Universe, and video from YouTube. Please click here for more information about Danger Mouse, here for the history of The Grey Album, and here to download your own copy.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Supergroup, the Power
Trio, and Polly Jean

Dungeon Family, Even in Darkness, Arista [2001]

They don't use our music
to get high / They use
our music to get by.
-- Dungeon Family, "Follow the Light"

Ever wonder what would happen if Outkast joined forces with their Atlanta counterparts, like Goodie Mob? If so, you've probably already given this disc a spin. Well, another chart-topping duo, Gnarls Barkley, has me digging through the Cee-Lo Green archives for more treasures to excavate. (Even in Darkness also pre-dates Outkast's phenomenal Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.)

As with Parliament-Funkadelic, many players make up this supergroup. Fourteen may be a crowd, but the music isn't as messy as that number indicates. There are some great P-Funk-style jams here, like "Trans DF Express" and "Follow the Light." There's also a fair amount of filler, but it all goes down pretty easy.

Since I'm not familiar with the other acts (Organized Noize, et al), I can't say how this one-off compares. All I know is that I like Big Boi, André 3000, and Cee-Lo, and I like Dungeon Family, too.

Sadies, Tales of the Rat Fink, Yep Roc [original soundtrack]

Known to back Neko Case on occasion, Vancouver trio the Sadies bash out the rockin' score for Tales of the Rat Fink, which was released earlier this year. You don't have to be a soundtrack aficionado to dig it, however, as they've designed the disc as a stand-alone effort, with every number named after a venue they've visited: the Borderline, the Bottom of the Hill--even Seattle's own Crocodile. There are 26 zippy tracks all together.

The clubs may have little to do with Ron Mann's Ed "Big Daddy" Roth documentary, but it's still a cool idea. If I didn't know otherwise, I'd swear these instrumentals were recorded in the 1960s. They sound like Link Wray jamming with the Ventures combined with a few hot rod and buzzing fly sound effects.

Please click here for my review of the Tales of the Rat Fink DVD.

PJ Harvey, The Peel Sessions: 1991-2004, Island

John's opinion mattered to me. More than I would ever care
to admit, for fear of embarrassment on both sides, but I sought his approval always. It mattered. Every Peel Session I did,
I did FOR HIM. It is with much love that I chose these songs,
in his memory. A way of saying "Thank you" once more.
-- PJ Harvey's Peel Sessions liner notes

What distinguishes the true artist from the workaday model is that artists take risks. PJ Harvey's debut, Dry, knocked me out, and I secretly hoped she'd make the same album over and over again. That's not what artists do. And I haven't embraced everything she's done, but I always respect the effort, because it comes from the heart. Since Harvey eschews trends, her music will never date, like this 12-track collection, which celebrates her career as much as that of the BBC's John Peel. The late DJ features prominently in the CD packaging. Clearly, the admiration was mutual.

As for the sessions, they stem from 1991, 1993, 1996, 2000, and 2004. The final selection, "You Come Through," was recorded in tribute to Peel, while the only cover is a fiery version of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle," which is also the highlight. The Peel Sessions may be less essential than Dry or Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, but it's a fine overview of a remarkable artist.

Please click here for my review of the PJ Harvey DVD,
On Tour: Leave Quietly.

Note: Image from the AMG (Jonnathan Mannion), video from YouTube. Still to come: The Grey Album and Cee-Lo solo.

Friday, December 22, 2006

An Army of Movies:
My Top 30 for 2006

Or maybe that should be an army of films, since I do tend to gravitate towards the art house. And this year, few big-budget spectaculars captured my imagination. Granted, I quite liked Déjà Vu, Casino Royale, and the underrated Superman Returns, but I wouldn't necessarily describe them as great.

As for why I compile a top 30 instead of a top 10, it's simply because I find 10 titles too restrictive, even if it's the end-of-the-year standard. I see a lot of fine films and want to recognize as many of them as possible. Anything beyond 30 seems like overkill, so I list most docs and re-releases separately. In other words, it's really a top 50, although I try to pretend otherwise...

Since I caught 300 films this year, my top 30 represents 10%. Unfortunately, that means I had to give the boot to the eminently enjoyable Russian Dolls and Wristcutters - A Love Story, because I couldn't find space for them. (The latter remains undistributed, which is a shame.)

Where possible, I've provided links to my Amazon and Siffblog reviews.

The Tops:
1. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville) [1969; first US release]
2. The Proposition (John Hillcoat)
3. Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt)
4. We Go Way Back (Lynn Shelton)
5. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden)
6. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
7. Inside Man (Spike Lee)
8. The Intruder (Claire Denis)
9. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
10. Duck Season (Fernando Eimbcke)

Bonus: Click here for Lynn Shelton's Harvey Danger video. Band leader Sean Nelson served as music supervisor on We Go Way Back.

Runners-up:11. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Michael Winterbottom) [I actually caught this in 2005]12. The Queen (Stephen Frears)
13. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater)
14. Dave Chappelle's Block Party (Michel Gondry)
15. Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic)
16. Time to Leave (François Ozon)
17. Heading South (Laurent Cantet)
18. The House of Sand (Andrucha Waddington)
19. Lemming (Dominick Moll)
20. Friends With Money (Nicole Holofcener)

Note: Because I had to review it for Amazon, I watched The House of Sand twice. It holds up. The undeserved hostility directed towards Friends With Money sank a film I found more meaningful--if prickly--than Lovely and Amazing. As Cyndi Lauper, by way of the Brains, once sang, "Money changes everything." We're all obsessed with the almighty dollar, so why don't more filmmakers explore the issue? And I've said it before, but y'all slept on Dave Chappelle's Block Party. For shame!

Second Runners-up:
21. The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry)
22. Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski)
23. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu)
24. Little Children (Todd Field)
25. Art School Confidential (Terry Zwigoff)
26. C.R.A.Z.Y. (Jean-Marc Vallée)
27. United 93 (Paul Greengrass)
28. Brothers of the Head (Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe)
29. The History Boys (Nicholas Hytner)
30. Idlewild (Bryan Barber)

Note: I haven't seen Letters From Iwo Jima or Inland Empire, and it looks like I won't be able to until January. 12/28: By now, however, I have seen Children of Men and Dreamgirls--and liked both very much. Bill Condon and Alfonso Cuarón haven't let me down yet (granted, I haven't seen Cuarón's much maligned Great Expectations, but that's a conversation for another day...). Nonetheless, I'm leaving 'em off for now. To find a spot for even one means kicking something else to the curb, and that's a move I'm unwilling to make at the moment. Suffice to say, I wish audiences had embraced Dave Chappelle's Block Party and Idlewild as warmly as Dreamgirls. And as much as I admire Volver, a return to form after the misfire that was Bad Education, Pedro Almodóvar is coasting too much on his considerable charm. As for Babel, I think it's one of the most overrated films of the year. Excellent acting aside, there isn't much "there" there.

1. Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? (John Scheinfeld)
2. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig)
3. Darwin's Nightmare (Hubert Sauper)
4. Sketches of Frank Gehry (Sydney Pollack)
5. Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple
(Stanley Nelson)
6. Neil Young: Heart of Gold (Jonathan Demme)
7. Metal: A Headbanger's Journey
(Sam Dunn, Scot McFayden, and Jessica Joy Wise)
8. Heart of the Game (Ward Serrill)
9. Who Killed the Electric Car? (Chris Paine)
10. This Film is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick)

Note: I haven't seen Iraq in Fragments or Deliver Us From Evil. Who Is Harry Nilsson isn't currently available in any form. Once I've transcribed my interview with the extremely gracious Mr. Scheinfeld (The US vs. John Lennon), I'll create a link to it.

Re-releases1. Sátántangó (Béla Tarr)
2. Spirit of the Beehive
(Víctor Erice)
3. Classes Tous Risques
(Claude Sautet)
4. Black Orpheus (Marcel Camus)5. Mouchette (Robert Bresson)6. Camera Buff (Kryzstof Kieslowski)7. Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (Peter Whitehead)8. Love Streams (John Cassavetes)9. Brigitte and Brigitte (Luc Moullet)10. I Am Cuba (Mikheil Kalatozishvili)

Endnote: I reserve the right to tweak this entry before the end of the year. The titles aren't likely to change (much), though I may mess about with the order, with the exception of my number one picks, which are pretty solid. 12/26: I just made my first change, trading Spirit of the Beehive for Half Nelson (Spirit now replaces Damnation on the re-release list). How could I forget Half Nelson? Thanks to the poster who reminded me. Click here for my top 10s for 2003-2005. All images from the archives, which means I can no longer recall the original sources, but official sites are the most likely culprits. Titles: Army of Shadows, The Proposition, The Science of Sleep, Who Is Harry Nilsson, and Mouchette.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

When the Shillelagh Meets the Banlieu, the Shtetl, and the Heart of Darkness

The following comes from a piece in Salon about controversial Nobel laureates. I've always thought Samuel Beckett was The Man as far as playwrights are concerned. I have a great deal of admiration for those who can say so much with so few words, and Beckett was a masterful minimalist.

Of course, I'm also a great admirer of his more verbose Irish-American "cousin," Eugene O'Neill. In both cases, they exploited the English language for all it was worth. This piece proves Beckett was The Man in numerous other ways--plus, he had the best damned hair next to Seymour Cassell. Happy 100th, Samuel!


"Terrific. He'll have them on their feet. I can hear it from here."
-- "Director," Catastrophe (1982)


[T]here is a writer who embodies all the ideals the Nobel stands for: Samuel Beckett (Ireland 1969), whose centenary year this is. Unbeknown even to many of his closest friends until after his death, Beckett had been a member of the French resistance during the war and received the Croix de Guerre. This is all the more admirable in that Beckett was from a neutral, if not impartial, country. (Sinn Fein was not entirely unsympathetic to the Axis powers on the dubious principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.) Beckett was deeply committed to human rights; he firmly and totally opposed apartheid, and from a very early age was hostile to all forms of racism and anti-Semitism; he supported human rights movements throughout the world, including Amnesty International and Oxfam. He lent his prestige to freedom movements behind the iron curtain, worked on behalf of the campaign to free Vaclav Havel and was a vigorous opponent of censorship. Though hardly a saint, he also apparently gave away most of his Nobel Prize money to those who needed it. True to character, Beckett did all of this out of the public eye, with no finger wagging, no pious speeches; for he exemplified, to his roots, in his writing, in his life, the adage "Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re"--discreet in form, strong in content. A noble laureate indeed.
-- George Rafael, "The Ignoble Prize" (2006)

"Act Without Words II" (10-minute film sans dialogue)


The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him. He’s not fucking me about,
he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation
or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I
don’t want to buy—he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy
or not—he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy
his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone
unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body
of beauty. His work is beautiful.
-- 2005 Nobel laureate Harold Pinter

Endnote: I've read a few Beckett stories in my time, but for my money, they don't have the same kick. My favorite Beckett play: Krapp's Last Tape. Runner-up: Rough for Theatre II.
Pinter quote from Samuel Beckett Resources and Links. While I'm at it, I love Pinter, too. He gives a fine performance in David Mamet's "Beckett on Film" adaptation of Catastrophe, although the true star of that show is Sir John Gielgud in his final performance--and he doesn't even say a word. Talk about a masterful minimalist! Image from Beckett Centenary Festival, video from YouTube.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Into the Light

Aereogramme, My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go, Sonic Unyon Recording Company [2/6/07]

At the door, the curator took the old man's hand with an extra firmness. "My heart has a wish, Father: that you would not go."
-- William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist (1971)


Compared to their debut, My Heart Has a Wish is a kinder, gentler affair. Granted, the title comes from a line in The Exorcist that didn't make it into William Friedkin's frightfest, but there's nothing scary going on here. In fact, the Scottish quartet are sounding more like fellow heart-on-their-sleeves countrymen Snow Patrol these days and less like the more elliptical British and American acts they once called to mind: My Bloody Valentine, Slint, etc.

I'm not sure this is an improvement. The band always had a strong sense of melody, but I miss the angst. Perhaps they got it out of their system on the Seclusion EP or the In the Fishtank collaboration with Isis (I couldn't say, because I haven't heard either 2006 release). From an instrumental perspective, there's more going on here--strings, bells, etc.--but Craig B.'s singing is more conventionally pop-oriented. Not bad, but needs more edge.

And here's my Tablet review of their first record:

Aereogramme, A Story in White, Matador (2002)

Like Arab Strap and Mogwai, Aereogramme hails from Glasgow and shares a label, Chemikal Underground, which licensed this release to Matador. While listening to A Story in White, however, visions of American acts of the 1990s, like Slint and Seam, danced in my head. Maybe it's because I'm more familiar with the US arm of the loud-soft axis, but Aereogramme takes me back to those days. (Their guitar squall also reminds me of Swervedriver, but I always thought those Oxford lads sounded more American than British.) Not that there's anything retro about this recording; the quieter sections are just as likely to incorporate electronic blips and beeps as cello and piano. What distinguishes Aereogramme most are Craig B.'s vocals, which range from tender and boyish to throat-shredding anguish--and his are not the lyrics of a happy guy--but the overall effect is more cathartic than gloomy.

Endnote: The Heart Has a Wish press release indicates that Craig B. has been dealing with serious throat problems of late, so Aereogramme's stylistic change is also about self-preservation--better to have a "small" voice than none at all. Still, I miss the caterwauling of yore. Also, A Story in White was followed by Sleep and Release in 2003, so Heart is actually album number three.

As for The Exorcist, I saw it the year it came out (I was eight; the other kids were jealous, because their parents wouldn't take them to an R-rated film). Suffice to say it terrified the, uh, hell out of me. Tried to watch it on TV four years later and couldn't get through it--even with edits, commercial breaks, etc. I was babysitting and had just put the little girl to bed; the timing couldn't have been worse (strange house, no companions, etc.).

I caught the director's cut a few years ago and got through it without shielding my eyes. It remains the scariest movie ever made. The most disturbing thing about seeing it as a kid is that all the horrible stuff happens because of a kid. Knowing that Satan was the true culprit did nothing to set my mind at ease. I'm still glad I saw it when I did. Images from MovieMaze and the AMG.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Greatest: My Top 20 for 2006

I'm just riffing on the title of Cat Power's latest. I don't really present any of these titles as "the greatest." They're just my favorite records, reissues, and singles of the year--nothing more to it than that.


Top 20:
1. Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere (Downtown/Atlantic)

Who saw this one coming? Two shape-shifting tricksters who forged their reps via hip-hop, producer Danger Mouse and rapper-turned-soul man Cee-Lo Green, greet a welcoming world with the most exuberant pop platter of the year. Adding to the funky feat are lyrics that couldn't cut deeper. It's all here: depression, schizophrenia, suicide...necrophilia. And hey, isn’t that the ghost of Sly Stone lurking between the lines? St. Elsewhere is a chocolate cupcake slathered in dayglo frosting and sugary happy faces. Inside: blood red filling.
If there's a hell below, we're all gonna go. Dance while you can.

2. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am... (Domino)
3. Cat Power - The Greatest (Matador)

After You Are Free, Cat Power could've knocked out You Are Free: Part II and the cult of Chan wouldn't have cared. Instead Marshall hopped a train to Memphis, booked a room at Ardent Studios, where Big Star laid down their most sublime sides, and crafted this soulful gem with help from Al Green secret weapons Mabon "Teenie" Hodges and his brother, Leroy. What could have been an epic white girl-gets-her-black-on embarrassment ranks as Marshall's most subtle offering—this time, the now-sober singer takes a page from the Dusty playbook and trades catharsis for restraint. Reinvention doesn't come much sweeter.

4. Lily Allen - Alright, Still (Regal/EMI UK)

A pretty girl with a filthy mouth: it should be a recipe for success.
More often than not, it’s sound and fury signifying a major bummer.
In the case of this trash-talking Londoner, daughter of comedian Keith Allen, the exception proves the rule. With the voice of an angel,
the 21-year-old sings words so true—about Tony Blair’s England,
about two-faced geezers—they couldn't be funnier, set to jaunty
ska-pop grooves that'd turn Prince Buster emerald with envy.
Alright, Still is A Clockwork Orange as interpreted by Bananarama
on an epic bender. In other words, it's really about sex.

5. Juana Molina - Son (Domino)

Like Seattle's Rosie Thomas, Juana Molina plies two trades:
comedienne and musician. Not at the same time, naturally. On her fourth full-length and second domestic release, the Buenos Aires-based polymath, best known to South Americans as the star of Juana and Her Sisters, comes on playful and pretty, rather than comic or crude. With a clear and gentle voice that evokes Astrud Gilberto and Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier--she lived in France as a child--Molina whisper-sings atop woozy keyboards, exotic sound effects (bird calls, radio static), subtle percussive elements (cymbals, gongs), and airy acoustic guitar (delicately finger-picked in the Nick Drake style).

The singer/songwriter, who recently returned to Argentina after a sojourn in LA, speaks a universal language. On the self-produced follow-up to Segundo, she splits her breezy vocals between Spanish phrases and wordless utterings. Rather than Ella Fitzgerald-type scatting, Molina employs multi-tracked "ahs," "oohs”--even a whistle
or two. Spanish for "they are," Son is the answer to the musical question: Are Juana Molina's new songs as beautiful as before?

6. Be Your Own Pet - Be Your Own Pet
(Infinity Cat/Ecstatic Peace)
7. The Black Angels - Passover (Light in the Attic)
8. Starless and Bible Black - S/T (Locust Music)
9. Wax Tailor - Tales of the Forgotten Melodies (Decon)
10. Marisa Monte - Universo Ao Meu Redor
(Metro Blue/Blue Note)

11. Lady Sovereign - Public Warning (Def Jam/Universal)
12. Thee Emergency - Can You Dig It? (BlueDisguise)
13. Delta 5 - Singles & Sessions 1979-1981 (Kill Rock Stars)
14. Broadcast - The Perfect Crayon (Warp) [compilation]

Spanning 1998-2003, The Perfect Crayon blends B-sides, EP cuts and other enchanting ephemera into 18 tracks of audio bliss. At their gauziest, the British quintet-turned-duo, vocalist Trish Keenan and bassist James Cargill, conjure up Twin Peaks-era Julee Cruise ("Small Song IV"). At their spaciest, they float through the atmosphere like a jazzier Tones on Tail ("One Hour Empire") or Swinging London songstress Lulu fronting Cologne’s uncompromising Can ("Still Feels Like Tears"). All three selections, incidentally, come from 2003’s entrancing Pendulum EP. At other times, when they strip away the vocals and crank up the drums, they approach harder-edged Daft Punk territory ("DDL,” from All Tomorrow’s Parties 01). For those who found last year’s Tender Buttons a tad too reserved, this convenient collection presents a more unbridled version of the Birmingham band.

15. Brightblack Morning Light - ST (Matador)
16. Spoon - Telephono/Soft Effects (Merge) [reissue]
17. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife (Capitol)
18. Nellie McKay - Pretty Little Head (Hungry Mouse)
19. Gomez - How We Operate (ATO)
20. Black Merda - The Folks From Mother's Mixer
(Funky Delicacies) [reissue]

Top Reissues:
1. Tom Waits - Orphans (Anti-)
2. Al Green - The Belle Album (Hi/Capitol)
3. PJ Harvey - The Peel Sessions (Fontana/Island)
4. Bill Withers - Just As I Am (Columbia/Sony)
5. Various Artists - Brothers on the Slide:
The Story of UK Funk (Discotheque UK)
6. Dead Moon - Echoes of the Past (Sub Pop)
7. Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band -
Bongo Rock (Mr. Bongo)
8. The Gentle Rain - Moody (Sunbeam)
9. Sisters Love - Give Me Your Love (Soul Jazz)
10. Skull Snaps - Skull Snaps (Aztec Music)

Maximum Mixtape:
1. Gnarls Barkley - "Crazy" (St. Elsewhere/Downtown/Atlantic)
2. Thom Yorke - "Black Swan" (The Eraser/XL Recordings)
3. Lavender Diamond - "You Broke My Heart"
(Cavalry of Light EP/Matador)
4. Johnny Cash - "God's Gonna Cut You Down" (American V:
One Hundred Highways/Lost Highway)
5. The Gossip - "Listen Up" (Standing in the Way of Control/
Kill Rock Stars)
6. Lady Sovereign - "Love Me or Hate Me"
(Public Warning/Def Jam/Universal)
7. Beck - "Nausea" (The Information/Interscope)
8. Lily Allen - "LDN" (Alright, Still/Regal/EMI UK)
9. The Roots - "Don't Feel Right" (Game Theory/
Def Jam/Universal)
10. Love Is All - "Busy Doing Nothing" (Nine Times That Same Song/What's Your Rupture)

Bonus track: The Dropkick Murphys - "Shipping Up to Boston" (The Departed/Warner Brothers) [original soundtrack]

Northwest Notables:
1. The Gossip - Standing
in the Way of Control
(Kill Rock Stars)
2. The Old Haunts - Fuel for Fire (Kill Rock Stars)
3. M. Ward - Post-War (Merge)
4. The Long Winters - Putting the Days to Bed (Barsuk)
5. Unwed Sailor - Circles/The White Ox (Burnt Toast Vinyl)

As the old ad slogan goes, "If you want to capture someone's attention, whisper." Few musicians have taken that adage closer to heart than Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford. Hot on the heels of the hyper-minimalist "Circles" EP, consisting of two expansive instrumental tracks, The White Ox witnesses the addition of vocals to his musical modus operandi. On "Gila" and "Numbers" Daniel Burton's whispered words rest gently atop a bed of acoustic guitar, bass (Ford's weapon of choice), flute, and spare percussion. As with the EP, James Marsh, the modern-day surrealist behind every Talk Talk album cover, supplies the eye-catching artwork. Not so coincidentally, Ford's ambient waves of sound seem likely to appeal to fans of Spirit of Eden-era Talk Talk, along with other tuneful minimalists like Brian Eno and Tones on Tail.

And here's the mini-essay I contributed to the Jackin' Pop poll.


Every year, it's as much about discovery as re-discovery. Since I graduated over two decades ago (!), I decided to concentrate on music from my high school and college years. Of particular interest: Those artists who didn't seem quite cool enough back then (ah, the 20s...). Hence, it wasn't until 2006 that I added Parallel Lines to my collection. I mean, how can I embrace Be Your Own Pet and Lily Allen, but not Blondie? While I'm at it, why should I pick up Show Your Bones when I can head straight for that new Bow Wow Wow collection? On the other hand, I see no reason why I can't enjoy Standing in the Way of Control as much as anything by ESG--and Keep on Moving proves they still got it.

I've also been getting in touch with my Irish roots through the music of That Petrol Emotion and the Pogues (new remasters plus bonus tracks!). Overall though, I can't imagine being nostalgic about the 1980s--it was such a crappy decade in so many ways--but with more and more modern-day musicians taking their cues from post-punk and new wave, I find myself gravitating towards the original inspirations. Sometimes in addition to the acts they've influenced, sometimes at their expense. Then again: Reagan vs. Bush II. It often feels like the 1980s all over again... Unless things change radically between now and then, I predict I'll be taking the same approach towards 2007.

Endnote: Click here for my 2003-2005 lists. Reviews from Amazon, Resonance, and Seattle Sound. (Yes, I realize I referenced Tones on Tail twice.) Images from Google (Danger Mouse), Wax Tailor (same), and Burn to Shine (the Gossip).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Brightblack Morning Light Is Gonna Let It Shine

In early September, I interviewed Rachael and Nathan from Brightblack Morning Light by email for a profile that ran in the Seattle Weekly later that month. (They prefer to be addressed as Rabob and Nabob, so I went with the flow.) As with most such pieces, I was only able to use a few quotes--the word count was 750--so for those who'd like to learn more about the duo, here's the complete transcript. I would also recommend Daniel Chamberlin's interview in the July issue of Arthur. Expect to see Brightblack Morning Light's Matador debut making a lot of top 10 lists for 2006. 

Hi Nabob. Thanks so much for answering these questions. So, how did you meet Rabob? 

Nabob: We met as she was playing music in a band in Alabama. I had moved back there from Humboldt County in Northern California. She came over to my house and began playing in Rainywood, which was forming around then. 

Did you have music lessons or are you self-taught-- or some combination of the two? How about Rabob? 

Nabob: Self-taught. 

Rabob: I learned from my grandmother, mostly old time gospel songs. 

Nabob: I love Aretha Franklin's gospel record from the '60s. I'm a fan of folks gathering to enhance themselves, usually they use songs to help gain enhancements. 

You were Rainywood, now Brightblack Morning Light. Do you see your band name as a living entity or is the current one meant to be permanent? 

Nabob: The out of press Ala.Cali.Tucky record is not a Brightblack record, it's a Rainywood record, although it says "Brightblack" on it, because Rainywood wasn't going anymore, yet we had made a record with Paul Oldham and then my friend printed "Ala.Cali.Tucky" onto vinyl, and at the time we were meant to tour, we had moved into not playing anymore Rainywood songs...umm, we had moved into some different songs, but saw the blessing of a friend publishing our songs, so we told him we were calling the current project Brightblack. Brightblack is meant to be a project and Morning Light is the very first Brightblack long-play recording endeavor. So Brightblack is a collective for continuance and it is meant to describe a tonal color of something. Umm. It's a way to participate, it hasn't been a forced endeavor, and Will Oldham [Bonnie Prince Billy] encouraged our participation, and now Matador encourages it. We never sent Matador a demo or anything; instead, a favorite band, Slint, reformed in England and asked us to come play the celebration of their reformation! We did that, my first time out of the USA! 

Rabob: Yes it was inspiring to [see] Slint back together and they curated the All Tomorrow's Parties we played.... Melvins played, too!

Is Brightblack Morning Light primarily a band or do you see it as part of a larger whole?

Nabob: I'm not interested in bands generally. Brightblack is a tonal and song endeavor. As life goes on, I hope to embrace the potential of other endeavors; human potential is as vast as we allow it to be. I wouldn't want to embrace a living pattern that I find terrible or non-holistic, yet "civilization" is such a maze of reactions and conclusions.... Brightblack Morning Light serves as a pattern of participation with both human and non-human input. It's a reminder and a recurring question, "How was the morning spent?" It could be a testimony to the possibilities of each day, at least for me, to help keep alignment with the Now.

Have you met Julia Butterfly Hill? (I noticed the link to her site.) 

Nabob: I attended both of the supportive rallies that celebrated each year she lived in the ancient redwood tree named Luna, where local folks came out in support of Julia's vigil in the ancient redwood tree. We would rally below the mountain and then hike the four-hour uphill walk to Luna. There she was, barefoot on the tree! She lived up there and didn't come down for two years! She was protesting clear-cutting trees, and also the use of pesticides in the wild. She gave voice to these issues in a resonant and inspiring way. Yes, we eventually met and played Frisbee together. 

Do you ever miss the South? 

Nabob: We were just on a musical tour all over the Southeast USA and enjoyed it. I haven't had my own room in four years. I've been essentially living out of a tent; that is a result of many decisions and circumstances, but is also a good way to keep the Be Here Now vibe going! The South I knew is rapidly changing. Television and actors with LA accents are changing the nuances of the Southern Accent. The woods are being developed into malls and shit at alarming rates, with little consideration for the environment. This is due to a strong disconnect between the people and the Earth. I wouldn't call the politics in the South progressive, historically, and we all know how it effected civil rights, and it also effects the environment in a negative way. My attraction to the West is the positive and growing Movement around organic farming and restoration of native plants. 

In interviews, you've mentioned My Bloody Valentine. Did you ever get into the Spacemen 3 or Mazzy Star? 

Nabob: Hey, I really wouldn't want to elaborate on this style of question.... Below I elaborate on the Quiet Quiet festivals I curate and organize, which focus on the here and now. Are you interested in that? I hope so. QUIET QUIET FOREST SPECTRUM was the most recent little festival I curated; it was held at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur. The QUIET QUIET's have been going on rurally for three years. The first included Joanna Newsom and the most recent had a surprise performance from Ramblin' Jack Elliott, who used to sing with Woody Guthrie. The intention is to gather away from the city nearby national or state parks for interesting music. It is a very low-fi endeavor. It's unique in the idea that there is no headliner, which in itself is anti-Industry. I'd like to bring QUIET QUIET gatherings all over the West. 

How did Rabob meet Philip K. Dick's widow? Were either of you familiar with her husband's work beforehand? 

Nabob: I actually worked for Mrs. Dick making her jewelry designs. She was a well known artist before she met Philip K. Dick. She works in copper a lot. I think her designs are wonderful, blending silver and copper! I was living on the beach and working in her studio. Her name is Annie Dick, she is an intellectual rural person. No, I hadn't read any of the Philip K. Dick collections. I did later see the films: Blade Runner and Minority Report

I recently read that Dick produced a single for Japanese vocalist Sachiko Kanenobu, so he must have been a music fan. Has his widow ever said anything about his interest in music?

Nabob: Wow, I never knew that.

Is there one book or album that has had more of an influence on you than any other (musically or otherwise)? 

Nabob: This current Brightblack Morning Light LP.

Have you seen the movie Old Joy with Will Oldham? Do you keep in touch with him? [It's one of my favorite films of the year.] 

Nabob: No I haven't seen any of Will's films. We don't meet up for music much anymore, but do write letters occasionally. For awhile we met up every spring for three years, playing shows. He's not always on the radar and he shouldn't be, it makes for meaningful exchanges. 

Does it bother you when people describe you as a hippie? Is the term outdated? 

Nabob: I don't remember being called a hippie. I am a protester. I am a discontent witness. Umm, I think generalization is outdated. At this moment we all either hate the US government or love it. If you are neither, then you are just being lazy.

If you could choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be? 

Nabob: Homeless. 

Thanks again, Nabob! I look forward to seeing you in Seattle this September. 

Nabob: Some Brightblack Morning Light LP journalist's facts: 
* There are no "bongos" on our LP. 
* The congas were played by myself and Elias Reitz. 
* Magic Andy (Ex-White Magic) mostly played the drum kit. 
* We've been playing live with Meara from the Vermont band Feathers.   


Note: Images from Matador (Alissa Anderson and Magic Andy McLeod credited). I didn't change any of Nabob's words, but did make a few punctuation/acronym substitutions (like LP for Lp). Old Joy opens at the Northwest Film Forum on January 5th.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Mick Collins in Review

While writing for Tablet (2001-2005), I contributed three Mick Collins-related reviews. Since the local alt-monthly n'existe pas, I'm reproducing them here so as to continue to spread the gospel (hey Collins, if you ever find yourself in need of a new publicist, look no further!). I've included the grades/scores I gave each effort at the time. Though Tablet began by using numerical scores, in the final year, we assigned grades, much like the Seattle P-I or Entertainment Weekly. Note that the word count also shrank between 2003-2005, hence the mini-review at the end.


Blacktop, I Got A Baaad Feelin' About This -
The Complete Recordings, In the Red (9/10)

Long before the White Stripes launched their debut and long after the Stooges called it a day, Mick Collins was kicking out the jams with "houserockin'" trio the Gories. Between their dissolution and the birth of the Dirtbombs, he formed short-lived blues-rock monster Blacktop (among numerous side projects). Tracks 1-14, recorded in a mere 18 hours (before he had even finished writing the lyrics), stem from their sole album, I Got a Baaad Feelin' About This (1995). The other 12 (mostly covers) stem from singles. Despite the band's turbulent existence—most of the mon-
ey they made went to feed guitarist Darin Linn Wood's inexhaus-
tible drug habit—the music holds up. And as much as I love the 'Stripes, I believe Collins should be just as famous as Jack White—and Iggy Pop, come to think of it. The man's a Detroit legend!

The Dirtbombs, Dangerous Mag-
ical Noise, In The Red (9.5/10)

Mick Collins claims he doesn't play garage. You could've fooled me. I thought all Collins projects—the Gories, the Screws, etc.—were garage. After giving it a good listen, however, I think he's got a point regarding the Dirtbombs' third. Consequently, my first reaction was disappointment. Far from slick, Dangerous Magical Noise is simply more polished than that grimy new Blacktop collection, I Got a Baaad Feeling About This. It also rocks. Hard. Very hard indeed (two bass players and two drummers can do that). It's just not "garage." Once I got over my surprise, I couldn't stop playing the thing. Collins does, after all, profess an affinity for glam, and the influence of T-Rex and Sweet permeates the entire romping, stomping enterprise. (Along with Hendrix and the MC5.) Plus, the disc includes great covers of "King's Lead Hat" and "Executioner of Love." One of the year's best.

The Dirtbombs, If You Don't Al-
ready Have a Look, In the Red (B+)

Fifty-two non-LP tracks + two CDs (divided between originals
and covers) = 138 minutes of Motor City madness. Funny liner notes, too, including plenty of pics. When drummer Ben writes, "My least favorite Dirtbombs song ever," about "My Last Christ-
mas," it's hard not to agree. (It's not bad, just not one of their best.) As for the rest, there's something here for pretty much everyone: the Sonics-styled "Theme From The Dirtbombs," hyper-speed trib-
al-funk "Maybe Your Baby" (Stevie Wonder), and instant grunge-camp classic "I'm Saving Myself for Nichelle Nichols (No. 3)."

Endnote: Images from In The Red and The Metro Times.