Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It rocks! Kicks Asses!

It's the new video from Stereo Total! Actually, I prefer the
music to the visuals, but I love to quote that line, which comes from the band (and yes, Asses is meant to be capitalized)...

Endnote: Click here for my review of Paris <-> Berlin, which
was released by Kill Rock Stars last Tuesday. Video from YouTube.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

CD Reviews: Travels With Jerry (and Zach)

Flugente, self-titled, Mootron Records [9/18/07]

It's not fashionable to sing about the government or politics.
-- Flugente, "It's a Modern World"


The solo debut from Brooklyn's Jerry Adler (The Blam) documents a trip through Europe. The troubadour-oriented
songs reference Holland, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

It isn't bad—obligatory reference to Van Gogh aside ("I could cut my ear off")—and Adler [left] has the right kind of voice for that whole talk-sing thing—like Dylan with clearer nasal passages—but
I get the same feeling from this release as I do most live albums.

When they're good, I tend to think, "Wish I'd been there." Otherwise—Cheap Trick's Live at Budokan aside—I prefer studio recordings. Same for travelogues. In which case, though, whether well done or not, I still tend to think, "Wish I'd been there."

Hearing about other people's travels is never as interesting as doing your own traveling. I'm sure there are near-exceptions, like reading the works of Bruce Chatwin, but ain't nothing like the real thing.

Granted, my experiences in France were different than Adler's—it was the mid-1980s, and I was accompanied my parents—but I'd rather return than listen to someone else's thoughts about the country (I've never been to Holland, Germany, Italy, or Spain).

Interestingly, fellow Brooklynite Zach Condon (Beirut), who relocated from Albuquerque, has squeezed two albums out of his travels through Europe. The Gulag Orkestar was influenced
by the Eastern European music he heard—and played—while
visiting Paris. His upcoming release is a full-on French effort.

It's cool that these men have come up with such different approaches to their European vacations, but I prefer the
baroque Beirut over the stripped-down Flugente.

Granted, Condon's been accused, in some quarters, of "ethnic profiteering," i.e. playing Rom music, even though he isn't of Eastern European descent—although he's never pretended to
be something he's not—while Adler performs in the traditional,
i.e. universal, singer/songwriter style. In any case, in the live context, the two would make for an intriguing double-bill.

And I'm thinkin' about going home
And I'm thinkin' about when next I will roam.
-- Flugente, "I'm Thinking About Going Home"

Endnote: I first encountered the phrase "ethnic profiteering"
in Ira Robbins' Trouser Press biography of the House of Pain
(I penned the entries on Nick Drake and the Beta Band).

Hmmm, Irish-Americans rapping about...being Irish-Americans. It's hard for me to see what's so problematic about that. If anything, the group became less interesting when they dropped the Irishness by the wayside; it was their ace in the hole. For my take on the whole House of Pain phenomenon, please click here.

Images from Spin (Condon) and Flugente (Adler). Click the Spin link to download an MP3 of Beirut's "Postcards From Italy." Also, Adler's publicist reports that he now lives in Manhattan. Nonetheless, the AMG profile cites Brooklyn (guess he moved).

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Monkey Business

Some March music reviews that fell between the cracks.

Grinderman, Grinderman, Mute/Anti-

Not to be confused with the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave's new combo may not be necessary, but it sure is fun. Grinderman make
their entrance by echoing Melbourne’s notorious Birthday
Party, but without that death-obsessed junkie pallor.

On the ravers, such as "No Pussy Blues" (yes, the lyrics are self-explanatory), Cave and Seed mates Martyn Casey, Jim Sclavunos, and Warren Ellis (the Dirty Three) buzz, howl, and moan with the best of the garage-oriented no wavers. Mix the Doors with the Velvet Underground and the Stooges—all the American stuff Aussies were grooving to in the 1970s—and shake well.

That said, the mask starts to slip as the party winds down.
On the quieter numbers, like "Man in the Moon," Grinderman
enter Bad Seeds territory, which seems rather redundant—since
they're still active—although it certainly isn't a bad place to be.

Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare, Domino

How to follow up the fastest-selling debut in British history?
Why, look to Spinal Tap, of course, and crank everything up
to 11. The second blast of literate punk from Sheffield's finest comes on louder and faster than Everything People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, but something got lost in the transition
from internet sensations to international superstars.

The first Monkeys set didn’t ignite the UK charts simply because
it rocks, but because Alex Turner pens such witty words. Plenty
of musicians can shred. Like prime Ray Davies, however, only so many can write, and Turner’s tales fight a losing battle with the music this time around. Neither a grave disappointment nor a bold step forward, Favourite Worst Nightmare is the sound
of a band that’s chosen brawn—and cowbell—over brain.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Some Loud
Thunder, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

It’s the oldest trick in the musical book: record a second album that's just a slicker version of the first. With assistance from producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips), Clap Your Hands Say Yeah bunk the trend by impersonating an old transistor radio (hey, it worked for Perfect Sound Forever-era Pavement). Hardly experimental or "difficult," Some Loud Thunder is simply darker and less direct, and that's bummed out a few fans, but the Brooklyn band deserves props for their moxie.

Except for the Brian Eno-meets-Television "Underwater (You and Me)" and the death disco strains of "Satan Said Dance" with its Children of the Damned chorus—both as beguiling as anything on their debut—Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's sophomore outing doesn't just dodge a slump, it sidesteps the very notion, neatly separating the men (and women) from the fly-by-night fan boys.

Noisettes, What's the Time Mr. Wolf, Universal Motown

This multiracial threesome has toured with Bloc Party and TV on the Radio, but looks can be deceiving. French for hazelnuts, Britain's Noisettes sound nothing like either (and let's face it, noisettes easily trumps filberts). The flamboyant trio does share stylistic similarities with New York's retro-rocking Earl Greyhound, however. Singer/bassist Shingai Shoniwa belts it out rather than mumbles or moans, but can torch it up as needed. She’s Ella Fitzgerald fronting the Experience, and Dan Smith and Jamie Morrison are just as pale and hirsute as Hendrix’s cohorts.

Together, Noisettes generate a combustible energy, but their first effort is too stuffed with, well, stuff—jazz tempos, metal solos, etc. What's the Time Mr. Wolf never succumbs to tedium, but more focus in the future will surely serve these Londoners well.

Other Men, Wake Up Swimming, Robcore Records

Whether in Pinback or some other outfit, there's no mistaking
Rob Crow's understated pipes, but Other Men represents something new. Or as he titles track three, they’re "Kind of Off
to the Side a Bit." In collaboration with Heavy Vegetable's Travis Nelson (guitar) and Manolo Turner (drums), the San Diego-
based bassist/vocalist pursues a more prog-oriented path.

The inaugural release from his own Robcore imprint doesn't ramble on endlessly—it's no Tales from Topographic Oceans II—but the tunes are rougher around the edges than most Pinback artifacts. Gone are the atmospheric piano and synth flourishes.

The bass-heavy result lies between melodic math-rock and angular post-rock. If you've ever wondered what “Roxanne”-era Police would sound like on downers or Tortoise on uppers, the answer lies within the virtual grooves of Wake up Swimming.

Endnote: John Hillcoat-directed video from YouTube.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Seven Percent Problem

I've been collecting quotes and articles about the dearth of female directors in America and Britain for almost a year now. These pieces say what needs to be said, so I'll just add one thing: If this is something that concerns you, support these filmmakers whenever you can.

This has nothing to do with pity. If you don't like a woman's work, there's no reason to feel obligated, but if you enjoy their efforts, don't wait until her film appears on DVD. See it in the theater—
on opening weekend. Barring that, don't rent the film—buy it.

These may seem like small gestures, but they do make a
difference. Me and you and everyone we know can help
these women to make a living at their craft. Simply slide a few
dollars their way from time to time. If you're broke, write something for your blog, write an article, write a fan letter.
There are any number of things you can do—do them.


[Click author names to read full articles.]

Only seven percent of British filmmakers are women and only
12 percent of screenwriters. The figures are similar in America, and only three female directors—Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion
and Lina Wertmuller—have been nominated for Oscars.
-- Kate Kellaway, The Observer

Seven percent of the world's directors are women and this event (Créteil
Films de Femmes, International
Women's Film Festival) presents a panorama of shorts, documentaries
and feature films dedicated exclusively to this marginalization.
-- Moira Sullivan, GreenCine Daily

Of the 8,500 directors represented in
the Directors Guild of America, about 13
percent are women. That figure includes women
who work in television, which has long been
considered a more welcoming environment.
-- Mary F. Pols, The Contra Costa Times


Endnote: Talk to Me opens today in Seattle at the Meridian. Click here to read A. O. Scott's review, and here for my interview with local filmmaker Lynn Shelton. Kasi Lemmons image from MIT News Office, Talk to Me poster image from IONCINEMA.
I'll be adding more links to this post in the months to come...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

CD Review: Bitter:Sweet's The Mating Game and The Remix Game


Lets go to Mexico and drink margaritas.
-- Bitter:Sweet, "Dirty Laundry"

Bitter:Sweet, The Remix Game, Quango [8/7/07]

The remix version of Bitter:Sweet's The Mating Game seems custom-made for high-end bars and boutiques. It's hard not to like, but there isn't much foreground action going on here—it's
the epitome of background music. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld might say, that there's anything wrong with that. I'm a big fan of Air's Moon Safari, and I can't begin to count the number of times I've encountered that album in commercials, movies, even trailers, like Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

I'm sure Moon Safari gets a
lot of play in hip watering holes and eateries, but I don't tend to frequent such places, so I couldn't say for sure.

And that brings me to another characteristic of this sort of sophisticated electronic pop: it has a high-class vibe to it.

It's impossible to imagine Bitter:Sweet tunes spinning in places where lower-class people congregate. That doesn't mean it's elite music for elite people, but it definitely gives off a wiff of...money.

Since I'm not familiar with the original album, I can only evaluate these remixes. The most interesting is Roy Dubb's "Take 2 Blue."
It sounds like a modern-day "Mr. Sandman," although I have no idea if that's due to Dubb, AKA the Gotan Project's Christoph H. Müller, or Bitter:Sweet's Shana Halligan and Kiran Shahani.

Of the 12 mixes, my favorite is Yes King's version of "The Mating Game." I don't know where I've heard the original song before—possibly on KEXP—but it was instantly familiar. (Selections from The Mating Game have also been featured in Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and The Devil Wears Prada.) The title track is definitely the catchiest number on The Remix Game. So much so that it almost crosses over from background to foreground music...almost. If flutes, vibes, sultry female vocals, and bossa nova rhythms are your thing, this disc is for you.


8/18 update: When the publicist found out I hadn't heard The Mating Game, she was kind enough to send a copy. If anything,
I prefer it, but that isn't to suggest it's far superior to The Remix Game. The original simply rocks a little more—especially the harmonica-laden "Overdue"—although the remix of "Take 2 Blue"
is practically a different song. In a good way. The original, "Mr. Sandman"-free version is rather listless in comparison.

Endnote: Shana Halligan is the daughter of Dick Halligan from Blood, Sweat and Tears, while Kiran Shahani is a former member
of Supreme Beings of Leisure. Bitter:Sweet play Seattle's Chop Suey on 8/11/07. Images from Quango and Pure Music.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dead End Kids
on a Leaky Boat

Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash.
-- Winston Churchill

Have you heard of the Pogues? They're like a drunk Clancy Brothers. They, like drink during the session as opposed to after the session. They're
like Dead End Kids on a leaky boat. That Treasure Island
kind of decadence. There's something really nice about them.
-- Tom Waits on his new favorite band


Waits on Rum, Sodomy & the Lash:

Their music is like
the brandy of the damned
Pogue Mahone
they are the last
pure hearts
from Dickens, Joyce, Dylan Thomas
to Christy Moore
like Red Diamonds,
Pirates, full of malarkey
they're little giants,
they're Bill Sykes
They are all orphans
and they are leaving
on the 2:10 train
with no ticket
Rapscallion, angry, weeping
passed out songs, songs
that seem to be born
effortlessly, or
not born but found
on top of an old wood stove
like a Bowler hat

and The Pogues know
where the little people go
and they follow them
they're as old as treasure island
songs that we all should carry
I learnt 'em and sung 'em
and changed 'em
and passed them on
down the wild blue road
as Shane MacGowan and The Pogues
warm their hands
on a fire
made from chopsticks
and a horse pulls a milk wagon
up the steep, wet cobblestone
street and stumbles
to his knees, bloodying them
as a man
no bigger than my thumb
dances in the broken glass
and jumps rope with a shoe lace
the song he sings
is one by The Pogues.

This pithy introduction to Rum, Sodomy & the Lash is signed "California, March 2004." The 1985 album, arguably their best, was produced by Declan MacManus, AKA Elvis Costello, who explains, "I saw my task was to capture them in their dilapidated glory before some professional producer fucked them up."

The successor to Red Roses For Me, it's my favorite Pogues record, mostly because of "I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day," "A Pair of Brown Eyes," "Sally MacLennane, and Ewan MacColl's "Dirty Old Town." (MacColl was the father of Kirsty MacColl, with whom the group collaborated on "A Fairytale of New York.")

Aside from the great quotes from Waits, Costello, and others, David Quantick's liner notes are full of interesting information, like the fact that
a post-Repo Man Alex Cox
was behind the video for "A
Pair of Brown Eyes." [above]

As MacGowan recalls, "We
just read this interview where he said that he reckoned the Pogues were quite interesting,
and we got together as soon as possible because we knew it
would work because he's such a nutcase as well."

If you don't own Rum, Sodomy & the Lash—particularly the recent remaster—your music collection is woefully incomplete.


People who had never grown up with folk music
suddenly discovered Irish roots. People who had
associated the accordion and banjo with dull family weddings found
new life in old songs. Live music became exciting once more.
And nobody would ever be bored by a banjo again.
-- David Quantick

Note: Images from Celtic Grove (Pogue portrait), Google Images (Tom Waits), and Punk News (Elvis Costello), video from YouTube. The Pogues play Seattle's Fenix Underground on 10/17/07.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gangs of New York

Paul Simon, Songs From the Capeman,
Warner Bros. [1997/2004]

I don't care if I burn;
my mother can watch.
--Nelson Agron (1959)

My dad sent me a copy of this CD as he thought I might find it of interest. Though I was a fan of Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960s, particularly Bookends and Bridge Over Trouble Water, I haven't paid much attention to them since, with the exception of Garfunkel's short-lived acting career (notably Carnal Knowledge, Catch-22, and Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing) and the stray solo track, like Simon's sing-a-long favorites "Kodachrome" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," which was brilliantly reinvented by !!! ("Chk-Chk-Chk") as "Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard."

As it turns out, I do find these remnants of Paul Simon's ill-fated musical of interest. Of course, it's worth noting that his cinematic debut, One Trick Pony, which preceded this Broadway production by 18 years, was also considered a failure. I haven't seen the movie or the musical, so I couldn't say whether they deserved their drubbing, but Songs From the Capeman, which expands on the Latin themes of "Julio," is certainly worth a listen.
Written with Nobel Prize-nominated poet/playwright Derek Walcott, it represents a Simon you haven't heard before—and probably never will again.

This is an angry man narrating, in
first person, the ignoble life of 16-year-old Nuyorican gang member Salvador Agron, who killed two innocent bystanders he mistook for members
of the Norsemen, an Irish gang.

Agron, a member of the Vampires, was known to wear a red-lined black cape, hence "The Capeman." (His best buddy was "The Umbrella Man.") According to Simon's liner notes, Agron showed no remorse for his crimes. And yet, despite a horrific childhood, he became a model prisoner. Though his death sentence was commuted by Governor Rockefeller, he still served 20 years.

Well, I entered the courtroom, state of New York
County of New York, just some spic
They scrubbed off the sidewalk
Guilty by my dress
Guilty in the press
Let The Capeman burn for the murder
Well, the "Spanish boys" had their day in court
And now it was time for some fuckin' law and order
"The electric chair
For the greasy pair"
Said the judge to the court reporter.

--"Adios Hermanos"

It's a strange story around which to build a musical. It's stranger still to think that the same year Linda Riss and Burt Pugach were embarking on the disturbing affair depicted in Dan Klores' Crazy Love, in another part of New York, Agron was making his own bid at infamy. Against all odds, Riss and Pugach are still alive—and together—while Agron died of natural causes at 43.

Recently, I watched 1961's West Side Story for the first time

in ages. I also watched El Cantante, Leon Ichaso's biopic of salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, twice (the first time out of curiosity, the second for work). Marc Anthony, who plays the troubled Lavoe on screen previously played the troubled Agron on stage.

These titles serve as handy reminders that the idea of a Puerto Rican musical or music-oriented film isn't a new one, and Simon's effort neatly slots between the two. Of course, he isn't of Latin descent himself, but nor were Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.

Simon also previously traveled to South Africa for Graceland and to Brazil for Rhythm of the Saints. The Capeman may be steeped in Latin and doowop rhythms, but it's ultimately a New York story, and Simon is the quintessential New Yorker, so his connection to Agron is less nebulous than it may at first appear.

As for Leon Ichaso, he was born in Cuba, and has directed other Latin films like Crossover Dreams and Piñero. Like the latter, a portrait of playwright Manuel Piñero (who, like Lavoe before him, succumbed to AIDS), The Capeman isn't a heroic story, and that displeased many Latin Americans, yet it's deeply sympathetic towards its subject. Simon's intention was to rehabilitate the reputation of this maligned and misunderstood figure. Does that make it the product of white liberal guilt? Possibly, but Simon really did try to get under the skin of Agron and his familia.
But a musical is as much about the music as the story. While theatergoers had mixed feelings about the subject matter, the songs hold up.

There are no classics here,
like Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's majestic "America," but nor are there any sap-fests, like "I Feel Pretty" (although "Shoplifting for Clothes" is just as catchy). For whatever faults it may have, Songs From the Capeman is 99.9% sap-free. As for the Grammy Award-winning Anthony, he guests on "Satin Summer Nights" and "Time Is An Ocean." Unfortunately, Tony Award-winning castmate Sara Ramirez (Spamalot, Grey's Anatomy) is conspicuous by her absence.Fortunately, Capeman castmate Rubén Blades, star of 1985's Crossover Dreams, also guests on "Time Is an Ocean"—it was Blades who wrote "El Cantante" about Héctor Lavoe—but this is mostly Simon's show. In addition, Jose Feliciano sings the 1995 demo version of "Born in Puerto Rico," while the album includes four brief, but flavorful interview clips with the real-life Agron, which lends the proceedings some welcome verisimilitude.

We came here wearing summer clothes in winter
Hearts of sunshine in the cold
Your family rented this apartment
You'd watch the street lamps from your perch
In the sacramental hour your stepfather in black
Preached the fire of the Pentecostal Church
No one knows you like I do
Nobody can know your heart the way I do
No one can testify to all that you've been through
But this will.

--"Born in Puerto Rico"

It remains to be seen whether time will validate the efforts of Paul Simon and his talented collaborators. Almost a decade
has passed since The Capeman opened on Broadway, and it's rarely been mentioned since. The soundtrack, on the other hand, has been issued twice, which indicates ongoing demand.

For my money, Simon hasn't done anything as interesting in the intervening years—and those occasional reunions with Garfunkel don't count—while Anthony, who has since married Jennifer Lopez, appears to have many promising projects ahead
of him.

Meanwhile, Nelson Agron has been dead for 21 years, while Robert Young and Anthony Krzesinski, the faceless phantoms haunting this narrative, have spent 48 years in the ground.
Now that his story has been told, maybe it's time to tell theirs.

Salvador Agron looked like a rock 'n'
roll hoodlum. He looked like the 1950s.
--Paul Simon (1997) 

Endnote: According to Playbill, "The Capeman closed
March 28, 1998, after two months' run at a loss of nearly its entire $11 million investment." Images from Playbill, The Capeman and Umbrella Man Murders, Brad Piddy, and Google Images.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ten is the Magic Number

From Merge's description of the new Spoon album:

It's worth pointing out that Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is comprised of ten songs, the perfect number of songs for an album (see Fulfillingness' First Finale, Seventeen Seconds, Back In Black, The Queen Is Dead, The Charm of the Highway Strip, Nebraska, Nashville Skyline, Heroes, Unknown Pleasures, The Violent Femmes, The Woods, Sticky Fingers, etc.). We’ve also got it on good authority that 36 minutes is the ideal album length.

I love declarative statements like this, but tend to avoid making them myself—they're too easy to pick apart. I mean, the author makes a good point. There's nothing more disappointing than a release that starts out as a good EP before being padded into a mediocre LP. It's better for the artist to keep things brief if they have nothing substantial to add to their original statement.

On the other hand, it's a cinch to come up with counter-arguments: the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, the Clash's London Calling, Bruce Springsteen's The River, Prince's Sign of the Timesamong other classic double-LP sets.

Would any of these albums be better if they were shorter? To some, I suppose, but I wouldn't go there. I like them exactly as they are—self-indulgent sprawl and all. Yet I also like most of the
titles mentioned above, including Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, even if I think they peaked with Kill the Moonlight: 12 tracks, 34:57 minutes. For Spoon, that appears to be the magic formula.

Endnote: I had to look up The Charm of the Highway Strip.
It's a recording by the Magnetic Fields [above], who are better known for 69 Love Songs—69 tracks spread across three CDs.

Click here for my review of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and here for Gimme Fiction (11 tracks, 43:52 minutes). Images from the AMG.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What's Goin' On (The Good, the Not-So-Good and the Irritating)

Chili Jackson, self-titled EP, Conscious Records

Chili Jackson is the indie version of Quiet Storm. Produced by Jonathan Plum (Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains),
he isn't slick, but nor is he edgy (the AMG classifies his work as Easy Listening).

Adam Zwig's label is called Conscious Records, and this Portland bassist/singer's soul-pop plays like nursery rhymes with a social conscience—"Why do these things go on / Why do they happen" and "She's my girl / And I wouldn't give her up for the world"—
but his voice is too flat for the music he's trying to make.

Maybe he just needs more experience, maybe a few voice lessons—time will tell—but Marvin Gaye he's not. Chili Jackson's self-titled debut is set to be released on August 14, 2007.

The Hanslick Rebellion, The Rebellion Is Here, Eschatone [Reissue]

The Rebellion Is Here is the epitome of the "you had to be there" live album. I found it a real slog, but the audience at this 1997 Albany, NY gig sounds like they had a blast.

Fortunately, this CD allows them to treasure that evening forever. As for the band, they appear to have grown up on a lot of the same stuff I did, i.e. the MC5, Cheech and Chong, Frank Zappa, etc.

Their stage patter sounds like a deliberate attempt to evoke the sarcastic stoners of the 1970s, while their music is an amalgam of classic rock and post-punk. They cover Del Shannon ("Runaway"), Syd Barrett ("Vegetable Man"), and Jonathan Richman (an unfortunately punk-funkified "Pablo Picasso"). They also reference the Archies, the Velvet Underground, and the Talking Heads.

Suffice to say, I didn't dig it in the slightest. I've got a few records by some of these artists in my collection—notably the Modern Lovers—and this just makes me want to listen to them instead.

Jenny Hoyston, Isle Of, Southern Records

The solo debut from San Francisco's Jenny Hoyston (Errase Errata, Paradise Island, Anxious Rats with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon)
is the rare record that manages to be eclectic and cohesive simultaneously.

To paraphrase Gaye, there's
a lot goin' on—electric and acoustic guitar, drum machine,
video-game sound effects—yet Isle Of doesn't sound scattered.

An example is the bizarre transition between the Suicide-like
"I Don't Need 'Em" which leads into the piercing folk of "Even in This Day and Age." The juxtaposition shouldn't work, but it does.

The tracks sound like they're by different artists, but there's a certain droney quality that unites them. I'm reminded of a few other hard-to-classify artists, but only at momentary junctures, i.e. Come, Kaki King, Scout Niblett, and the Kills. It's a feminine sound, but it it isn't soft. Or hard. Or mean. It's just, um, good.

Leiana, No Going Back, Page Records [9/18/07]

Unlike Isle Of, there's nothing new happening here, but there's no shame
in that game. Leiana's second CD is a throwback to the hairspray and spandex days of Joan Jett and Pat Benatar.

It's more of an American thing than a British one, but a case could also be made for Suzi "Big in the UK" Quatro and Girlschool (and without Quatro to blaze the trail, none of them would exist).

All of this is to say that the Philadelphia-based singer sounds
like a one-woman Donnas. I'd love to say she writes her own material, but just as most of the aforementioned females perform male-penned material—or got their start that way—every song
on this album was co-written by session man extraordinaire Chuck Treece (Bad Brains, the Roots, D'Angelo, etc.).

Treece is also credited with the bulk of the arranging, production, and instrumentation (Leiana gets a co-writing credit). Hey, ya gotta start somewhere. Or maybe he's just a better writer.

In any case, No Going Back is hard rock with a bubble gum twist, and Leiana has the sexy-snotty pipes—and rocker-chick looks—to make this stuff work. My only advice: Drop the ballads, like the listless "Friend," and stick with the fast-paced ravers.

A Shoreline Dream, Coastal EP,
Latenight Weeknight [7/31/07]

These Denver dervishes
serve up atmospheric dream-pop on their new four-song
EP (a follow-up to 2006's
full-length Avoiding the Consequences). It's easy
on the ears, but you've probably heard it before.

Then again, if you're unfamiliar with the shoegazing likes
of the Cure, the Cocteau Twins, the Jesus and Mary Chain,
My Bloody Valentine, Ride, etc., maybe you haven't. Either
way, Coastal isn't bad, but it's not all that original either.

Endnote: If asked to choose between Marvin Gaye and Al Green, I would refuse. For more information: Conscious Records (Chili Jackson), Eschatone Records (the Hanslick Rebellion), Southern Records (Jenny Hoyston), Leiana, and A Shoreline Dream. Images from AllPosters.com (Gaye), Boston Rock Storybook (the Modern Lovers), Southern Records (Isle Of), FreeMP3Mail.com (Liana), and the AMG (A Shoreline Dream).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Soul Shakedown Party

Bob Marley & the
Wailers, Roots, Rock, Remixed, Tuff Gong/
rockr Music [7/24/07]

Though the remix album remains a popular concept,
it hasn't become a science.
It's still an art. Some music works better as the foundation of remixes than others. Some producers are better at reinventing that raw material than others.

Here's the thing: If the remix is too similar to the original, it becomes superfluous. If the remix is too different, the original gets lost. The best producers find a happy medium between the two.

My favorite example is Felix da Housecat's version of Nina Simone's "Sinnerman." There's a reason this mix is everywhere—on the radio and in the movies (notably David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE). Simply put, it's great. But more of the credit belongs to Simone than to Felix. The original is already pretty damn groovy.

Similarly, it's not as if the music of Bob Marley is lifeless stuff, just sitting around waiting for some studio wizard to invest it with movement. So, the idea of remixing Nesta makes perfect sense and, at the same time, seems completely unnecessary.

On this disc, DJ Spooky, Afrodisiac Sound System, et al retrofit Marley for the dance floor, but that's about it. If I had to pick favorites, though, I'd opt for King Kooba's "African Herbsman" and Trio Elétrico's "Trenchtown Rock." Instead of accelerating the pace and boosting the bass, they keep things light and skittery. In other words: more ska, less reggae, and I prefer Trojan-era Marley to the Island years, although I like pretty much everything he ever did.

These 12 tracks make for an enjoyable listen (Cordovan's "One Love" is a CD bonus), and I'm glad they didn't change the originals too much, but I wish they'd changed them more. The perfect combination is an elusive thing, and there are no timeless mixes here, like "Sinnerman" or Max Sedgley's version of Sarah Vaughn's "Peter Gunn" (both part of Verve Remixed, Vols. 2 and 3).

Island head Chris Blackwell proclaims Roots, Rock, Remixed "a great dance party record." He's half right. It's a dance party record, but the only greatness is provided by Bob Marley himself.

Endnote: A Billie Holiday remix album is forthcoming. I have mixed feelings about this—mostly negative. Isn't that a little like remixing Nick Drake? I'm not usually a purist, but you've got to draw the line somewhere. Click the following links for my Amazon reviews of Rebel Music - The Bob Marley Story, Bob Marley and the Wailers - Live at the Rainbow, and Roots Rock Reggae - Inside the Jamaican Music Scene. Image from loomziart.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bummer in the Summer 

All alone on the bone 
when I didn't have a home 
When I saw the way I was 
and I knew where I was supposed to be 
I was twitchin' so I turned 
and it's really hard to learn 
That everyone I saw 
was just another part of me.
--Arthur Lee, "Bummer in the Summer," Forever Changes (1967) 

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

Amazon DVDs: The Flying Scotsman (Jonny Lee Miller on a bicycle), Wild Tigers I Have Known, Black Book (Verhoeven is back—and van Houten's got him), A Crude Awakening, and Full House - The Complete Seventh Season [six-disc set]

Amazon Theatricals: The 11th Hour (Leonardo DiCaprio on global warming), Becoming Jane (Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen), El Cantante (Marc Anthony as Héctor Lavoe), The Ten (Commandments with Paul Rudd), Broken English (Parker Posey falls for Melvil Poupard), and Hot Rod (Lorne Michaels comedy with Andy Samberg). 

Resonance Music: Baby Elephant - Turn My Teeth Up! (Prince Paul and Bernie Worrell), M. Ward - Duet for Guitars #2 (reissue), Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth (expanded edition), and the soundtrack to You're Gonna Miss Me (a collection of tracks from Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators). 

Seattle Sound: An interview with John Sayles
and a sidebar on the Honeydripper All-Star Band. 


Endnote: No, I'm not having a bummer summer, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to crib from the late Mr. Lee (from whom this site takes its name). Plus, I already swiped Colin Meloy's "July, July" for last year's review roundup. Lyrics from Lyrics Seek, images from Hollywood Hangover and Google Images (Nilsson and Lennon shooting pool—with berets!). Y'know, Arthur looks like Benicio Del Toro in that first pic. Weird...but cool.
Around the World in a Day

Die! Die! Die!, self-titled, S.A.F. Records [8/3/07]

I never told the truth
How can I tell a lie.

-- Die! Die! Die!,

"Auckland Is Burning"

Their name indicates the sounds this Dunedin threesome are putting down, i.e. loud, fast, and aggressive. Fortunately, you can add melodic to that list. (Noise without structure is just...noise.)

Recorded and mixed by Steve Albini, Die! Die! Die! don't recall many other NZ bands, not even those they cite as influences: the Clean, the Gordons, the DoubleHappys, and Bailter Space. Until I read otherwise, I assumed they were from the US or Canada.

Their bio adds that the young trio has already opened for the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Wolfmother and legendary post-punkers Wire, to whom they bear a slight resemblance—way to launch a career.

I would imagine that "Franz (17 Die! Die! Die! Fans Can't Be Wrong)" and "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Mikey" are allusions to the former, although I can't tell whether they're positive or negative (the latter references "Michael").

If I have a complaint, it's that these 10 tunes rush by in a flash. Better, though, to leave listeners wanting more rather than less.

Raising the Fawn, Sleight of Hand, Sonic Unyon [7/17/07]

On their third record, this Toronto trio crafts soaring, pounding anthems with atmospheric interludes. Sleight of Hand lies somewhere between King Crimson and early U2. That analogy is admittedly reductive, but at least it's a start. I've also heard them compared to Explosions in the Sky, and that makes sense, since their music is just as dramatic.

To complicate matters, Raising the Fawn employs drum machine on some tracks, and singer/guitarist John Crossingham doesn't feel the need to plug every hole with his playing ("focusfocusfocus" appears to be ax-free). So any description, really, is bound to be reductive. (The All Music Guide adds the trendy term "sadcore," which I find more amusing than anything else.) Crossingham is also part of Canadian collective Broken Social Scene—with Feist and Metric's Emily Haines—who were responsible for the nifty soundtrack to the great Half Nelson.

Silmaril, The Voyage of Icarus, Locust Music

In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, the Silmarils (Quenya Silmarilli) are three fictional sacred objects in the form of brilliant star-like jewels which contained the unmarred light of the Two Trees. The Silmarils were made out of the crystalline substance silima by Fëanor, a Noldorin Elf, in Valinor during the Years of the Trees.
-- Wikipedia entry on Silmaril

Recorded in Milwaukee between 1973-1974, nine of these 19 tracks originally appeared on Silmaril's self-released Given Time or the Several Roads (1973), while the rest come from unreleased follow-up No Mirrored Temple. Consisting of four men and one woman, this folk quintet appears to have spent some quality time with the collected works of Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band, and Joan Baez—plus, JRR Tolkien and the Scriptures.

Silmaril's sound is pretty and very sincere. There's no irony here, which is to say they willingly—enthusiastically even—enter Ren Fair territory. According to the liner notes, the players met at a Catholic youth retreat, yet their leader, Mathew Peregrine (born Jim Boulet), was gay. Instead of renouncing his religion, he turned to Catholic Pentecostalism, suppressed his sexual orientation and even married, but it didn't last. Though he would eventually embrace his true nature, Peregrine passed away at 41 from AIDS complications. Rob Sevier's liner notes suggest that when he came out of the closet, he came way out. Suppression is a bitch.

These facts are fascinating, but it's hard for me to say how much bearing they have on the music. Throughout, the playing is hushed and the lyrics carefully enunciated—intoned rather than sung. In other words, it's all likely to be too po-faced for some, but Silmaril's talent is hard to deny. The good news is that the rest of the band are all still alive and involved in the arts in some way, whether through music, dance, or "the healing arts" (hey, once a hippie, always a hippie). The Voyage of Icarus is recommended to open-minded folk and psych fans, especially those with a high tolerance for sitars, Catholicism, and of course, Middle Earth.

Endnote: For more information about Silmaril, please see their MySpace Page or Locust Music. Click here to read the Dusted review of their album. For Die! Die! Die, please click here, and for Raising the Fawn, here. Images from MySpace and the AMG.