Sunday, November 25, 2007

Don't Look Back

Every few months, I check
Google to see where my re-
views (and other pieces) are ending up. Here are some of
the more interesting results.

AMG reviews of Lloyd Price - Lawdy Miss
and the Incredible String Band - U

Cheater Pint:
AndMoreAgain review of Cheater Pint - Dark Side of the Pint

Don't Look Back:
AMG review of Scientists - Blood Red River

We Heart Music:
AMG bio of the All Girl Summer Fun Band

The Imagination Movers:
Amazon review of the Imagination Movers - Stir It Up

Legacy Recordings:
AMG review of Alejandro Amenábar -
The Others
[original soundtrack]

Palm Pictures:
Amazon review of The Work of Director Stéphane Sednaoui

RoyaList Online:
Amazon review of Marie Antoinette

Amazon review of Hinder - Extreme Behavior

The Washington Post:
Amazon review of Second Generation

Endnote: Yes, I can now say I've been "published" in Bill-
and The Washington Post! No doubt they have a lic-
ensing agreement with Amazon—but still. It is what it is.

Also here's a shout-out from Hot Splice, "Kathy Fennessy has posted an interesting reaction to Bruce Weber’s Let's Get Lost
over at Siffblog. I must admit, I didn’t know Weber was most recently known for his photography of Abercrombie & Fitch models. Though the cinematography for Let's Get Lost is cred-
ited to Jeff Preiss, I’ll surely be considering the juxtaposition
of Chet Baker’s jazz milieu with that of the modern fashion scene when I see the film next week." In addition, The National Soc-
iety of Film Critics
continues to highlight my Amazon reviews,
like the cult-astic Over the Edge (Matt Dillon's first film).

Don't Look Back image (Pennebaker shoots Dylan) from
The Sacramento Bee. Click here for I'm Not There review. In
the film, Todd Haynes recreates scenes from the documentary.
He also recreates scenes from Murray Lerner's Festival. (Click here for my Siffblog review.) In Haynes' version of events, Newport is rechristened "The New England Jazz and Folk Fes-
tival." For those who can't get anough Newport-era Dylan, Ler-
ner has just issued The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at
the Newport Folk Festival
. Click here for more information.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Not My Home

Rademacher, Stunts, self-released [12/4/07]

What if we all drove sportscars / and lived in amuse-
ment parks / and we always did right / and never did
wrong / and every song was only three minutes long?
-- Rademacher, "Not My Home"

They're from Fresno, God help them. The best thing
for them to do is get famous, and get the hell out.
-- Fallen Not Broken

It's not my home, it's theirs. That's because this guitar-based quartet hails from Fresno. Though I wasn't raised in California, I did live in Daly City (just outside San Francisco) for a year, and
I used to visit the area often, so I have some familiarity with Northern California, but I've never been south of Carmel. That said, Stunts isn't really about California (Fresno or otherwise).

It's about more universal concerns, like the passage of time
and the desire to stave off the nine-to-five life. Hey, I can rel-
ate. I don't wanna grow old. Nor do I wanna work in an office.

As Malcolm Sosa sings—referencing the Talking Heads—in "Today Is Dif-
ferent, "Now time may not
be holding us / but time is
not a friend I trust / I nev-
er liked him much / No I
never liked him much."

[In "Once in a Lifetime," David Byrne sings,
"Time isn't holding us / time isn't after us."]

In "On Yr Marks," Sosa sighs, "I've got a couple thoughts in
my head / if I didn't I guess I'd be dead or at work / wear-
ing a button down shirt." I hear you, brother. I hear you.

It's to Rademacher's credit that I can cite their lyrics without making them look bad. Songwriting is an elusive skill. It's not that a lot of musicians can't do it. There are millions who can. They add their words to music, and off they go. Those lyrics, as sung, may sound just fine. They may even make perfect sense. But when you read them as prose or poetry, they fall apart—they fail to scan.

I'm not claiming Rademacher are the world's greatest lyricists, but they're quite good. They have something to say, they know how to say it, and they know how to make it work musically. There's some humor, there's some insight. It's harder than it looks.

As for the music, it sounds good, too, and Sosa's vocals meld pop melodicism with rock urgency. He reminds me of someone, but I can't put my finger on who. His bandmates include Greer McGettrick (bass), Brad Basmajian (guitar), and Eli Reyes (drums).

Stunts producer Aaron Espinoza (Earlimart) has al-
so worked with Elliot Smith, Kim Deal, and Lou Barlow.

Rademacher are in the same vicinity. If anything, they sound more like Earlimart, but with a harder edge. Less distinctive than Espinoza's other clients, perhaps, but they're on their way. They've been around for three years, three EPs, and countless gigs—and their experience shows.

If Rademacher can maintain the quality displayed on their first full-length release, they've got a bright future ahead of them. That is, of course, easier said than done, and office jobs may be just around the corner. Then again, as Sosa sings in "If U Got Some Magic," "Some questions are tough." Or as he seems to answer himself in "Letter to Fresno," "I guess we'll have to wait and see."

What if we stopped wearing underwear / and gave up trying
to comb our hair / and we just went to the movies everyday / when was the last time we went to the movies anyway?
-- Rademacher, "Not My Home"

Endnote: For more information, please see the official Rademacher website or their MySpace Page. Images from
Inflight at Night (click to download "If U Got Some Magic"),
Google Images, and the band's site (Rachael Olmstead credited). Stunts is available for pre-order ($10 including P&H) direct-
ly from the group. And to watch the Talking Heads's artfully schizophrenic video for "Once in a Lifetime," please click here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Revenge of the Nerds: Part Two 

I'm continuing to collect reviews and articles about "the new comedy of the sex- es," both studio and indie, wherein the (disheveled) geek gets the (hot) girl. Click here for part one. I haven't given up on the form, but as the following critics note, women are the real losers in these scenarios. 

From Dave Kehr's review of Social Issues in American Film: 

When the infantile hero of Knocked Up decides to reform and become a responsible parent, he manages to land a job, sign a lease on a fabulous apartment and conjure up room- fuls of furniture on credit—all during a single montage se- quence. This despite being an undocumented alien (a Can- adian!) with a drug habit but no college degree or work experience.  

From Carina Chocano's review of Lars and the Real Girl: 

Lars and the Real Girl may be a self-consciously cute, low-budget art-house comedy, but its central conceit is a perfect metaphor for what's happened to male and female characters in mainstream comedies. He's a schlub, she's beautiful. He's active, she's passive. He's maladjusted, she's placid. He's unreliable and immature, she's patient and forgiving. He's funny and charming, she's conventional and dull. He's the subject, she's the object." 

Click here for my review of Lars & the Real Girl. Incidentally, the "girl" in question is actually a love doll, so you can't really compare her to Katherine Heigl's character in Knocked Up... or can you? Either way, Chocano hits the nail on the head with her metaphor. These women might as well be made of silicon. 

And from Amy Taubin's eulogy for mumblecore: 

[Joe] Swanberg has explain- ed that he was moved to make Kissing [on the Mouth] as a rejoinder to what he felt was the buttoned-up quality of [Andrew] Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha. And indeed, his greatest talent is for getting at- tractive, seemingly intelligent women to drop their clothes and evince sexual interest in an array of slob- by guys who suffer from severely arrested emotion- al development. Swanberg is the DIY Judd Apatow. 

Click here for part three 

Endnote: Like Taubin, I prefer Bujalski and Aaron Katz to Swanberg. Click here for my review of Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation and here for Swanberg's Hannah Takes the Stairs. Like Katz's films, Dance Party USA and Quiet City, it doesn't sell its female protagonist short. Lars and the Real Girl, which is worth seeing for Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer, continues at the Harvard Exit. Incidentally, Justin Rices's band, Bishop Allen, is featured in the new Sony TV ad (Rice takes the lead in Mutual Appreciation). Taubin's right: mumblecore est mort. Film stills from Bright Lights Film Journal.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Making the (Green)Cine

Making the Cine

For the past few years, GreenCine's David Hudson has linked to the maj-
ority of my Siffblog reviews. These
are the most recent occurences:

"Kathy Fennessy, writing at the Seattle Film Blog, is reminded of 70s-era sitcoms: "If anything, My Brother's Wedding is even funnier than a boxed set of Sanford and Son, Good Times, or What's Happening....Burnett's targets may be similar—shiftless sons, judgmental parents—but the combination of real people, authentic locations, and higher-stakes situations only makes the humor seem that much richer"... The Mumble Without a Cause series rolls on at the Northwest Film Forum through October 3 and, at the Seattle Film Blog, Kathy Fennessy's caught up with Hannah Takes the Stairs. Well, she's not won over: "I didn't find the scenario implausible. Nor did I think the acting was terrible. I just didn't care"... The Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival opens Friday and runs through October 21 and, at the Seattle Film Blog, Kathy Fennessy previews André Techiné's The Witnesses, "an elegy for lives lost in vain. And forgotten. 'Life-affirming' may be a stretch, but The Witnesses is anything but depressing"... "When I think about Lumet and the tragedy, I flash back to Long Days Journey into Night (1962)," writes Kathy Fennessy at the Seattle Film Blog. "More so than his '70s-era police pictures and corruption classics (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Network, etc), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead evokes Eugene O'Neill, Anton Chekhov, William Shakespeare, and even a few of those Greek guys"... Kathy Fennessy at the Seattle Film Blog on The Landlord: "Though Harold and Maude would secure his reputation the following year—once it caught on, that is—[Hal] Ashby's first film proves he had the touch from the start." At the Northwest Film Forum from Friday through Thursday.

Endnote: Thanks, David. Thanks, GreenCineBefore the Devil Knows You're Dead continues at The Egyptian Theatre, The Landlord opens at The Northwest Film Forum this Friday, and My Brother's Wedding is now available on DVD with Charles Burnett's first film, Killer of Sheep. Images from the archives.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Their Charm Is Sad and Deep

Brian Dewan, Words
of Wisdom, Eschatone Records [11/13/07]

I cannot sing the old songs
Their charm is sad and deep
Their melodies would waken
Old sorrows from their sleep / And though all unforgotten still
And sadly sweet they be / I cannot sing the old songs / They are too dear to me / I cannot sing the old songs / I sang long years ago / For heart and voice would fail me / And foolish tears would flow / For bygone hours come o'er my heart / With each familiar strain / I cannot sing the old songs / Or dream those dreams again.

Like Yo la Tengo's Fakebook, Words of Wisdom—subtitled
The Humanitarium Series: Volume One—is a collection of cover songs. Only three artists are cited, however, since the other 13 old-timey folk numbers were penned by "unnamed persons."

The press notes explain
that Brian Dewan "unearth-
ed [these songs] in old schoolbooks, garage sales,
and in attics and basements." He's also been kind enough
to include the fanciful and poignant lyrics as part of the gatefold packaging, for which he provided the watercolor paintings [see below].

Here are the words to "Tobacco's But an Indian Weed" (for
my chain-smoking friend Clarke...who never visits my site):

Tobacco's but an Indian weed / Grows green at morn, cut
down at eve / It shows our decay, we are but clay / Think
on this when you smoke tobacco / The pipe that is so lily white
In which so many take delight / Gone with a touch, man's
life is such / Think on this when you smoke tobacco / The
pipe that is so foul within / Shows how the soul is stained
with sin / It doth require the purging fire / Think on this
when you smoke tobacco / The ashes that are left behind
Doth serve to put us all in mind / That unto dust return we must
Think on this when you smoke tobacco / The smoke that doth so
high ascend / Shows that our life must have an end / The vapor's
gone, man's life is done / Think on this when you smoke tobacco.

If you're wondering why Dewan has only released three records in 14 years, it's because he's been providing album artwork for the likes of David Byrne (Uh-Oh), They Might Be Giants (Lincoln), and Neutral Milk Hotel (the interior of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea).

His piece for the latter ("Flying Victrola") is almost as enchanting as Jeff Mangum's magnum opus. The notes indicate he's also worked on projects for Sesame Street and the Blue Man Group.

Dewan's follow-up to Brian Dewan Tells the Story (1993) and The Operating Theatre (1998) is a one-man affair with the artist on autoharp, electric zither, organ, and accordion.

Of the solo efforts I've heard this year, Words of Wisdom is among the best, though I have mixed feelings about "The Mountaineer's Wedding," on which Dewan—Shakespeare-style—plays both parts. The point of a true solo project is to handle everything by yourself, but I would've preferred a fe-
male voice to a male falsetto. But hey: A for effort.

Click here to listen to "Only a Brake-
man" and here for "Words of Wisdom."

Endnote: The great thing about having a blog your friends
never read: You can talk about them with impunity, and they'll never know. Huzzah! Seriously, I know of two who drop by on occasion, but everyone else is fair game... For more information about Brian Dewan, please see his official website or his MySpace Page. Images from the Planetary Group and the All Music Guide (Byrne's Uh-Oh and They Might Be Giants' Lincoln).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Oh Well

The Mystix, Blue Mor-
ning, Mystix Eyes Records

This is bluesy soul at its fin-
est and least pretentious.
--Hal Horowitz on the Mystix

Mystix frontman Jo Lily is the kind of raspy-voiced vocalist who sounds like he started smoking cigarettes and mainlining bourbon as a toddler. I mean, you wouldn't mistake him for Tom Waits, but he could be Tom's long-lost Boston cousin [that's Peter Green to the right].

When a group combines rock, R&B, blues, and country, they risk coming off like just another bar band. On their follow-up to Satisfy You, this Beantown quintet succeeds in dodging that particular bullet—not as handily as Waits and crew, but close enough.

Granted, "the kids" aren't
likely to dig Blue Morning, but I doubt the Mystix are losing any sleep over their lack of youth appeal. And by kids, I don't just mean young'uns, but listeners of all ages who only gravitate towards the newest, hippest, most cutting-edge sounds.

That said, the record does include a couple of covers. I didn't realize they weren't originals until I checked the liner notes, which is always a good sign. They're Jimmy Reed's "I'm a Love You" and "Rattled," which credits Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty—Traveling Wilburys alert! Clearly, catering to the hipster crowd isn't their primary objective.

The outfit is rounded out by Bobby Keyes (guitar), Marty Richards (drums), Marty Ballou (bass), and Tom West (keyboards). Lily, who doubles on slide, conjures up Duane Allman on "Yolanda," specifically "One Way Out"—my favorite Allman Brothers performance next to "Midnight Rider." Separately, the musicians have played with Jerry Lee Lewis, Ben E. King, Duke Robillard, and John Hammond. These guys have paid their dues. And it shows.

Endnote: "One Way Out" is actually a cover, but the Allmans really made it their own. You know, if I had any cool cred, I'm sure I just squandered it by acknowledging a soft spot for that band. To quote Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac: "Oh Well"...a song that used to both frighten and enthrall me when I was in junior high (Richie Unterberger uses words like "tense," "grave," and "portentous" to describe it). For more information about the Mystix, please see their official website. Green image from the All Music Guide.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Endurance

Love in October, Pontus,
the Devil, and Me, The
Musik Group [1/22/08]

On their first full-length, these Minneapolis musicians serve up alt-rock with a side of new wave. Led by Scandinavian-born brothers Erik and Kent Widman, the track "Vi Gar Till Revolución" is sung entirely in Swedish.

For the most part, though, Love in October's
debut (after a 2006 six-song EP), sounds more Am-
erican than European, like a harder-rocking Weezer.
You know—upbeat, fast-paced, and slightly adenoidal.

Aside from Erik (vocals, guitar,
piano) and Kent Widman (bass),
the line-up includes Charlie Abbott (guitar) and Chresten Hyde (drums). The two appears to be new additions
as the booklet credits Nik Pfeifer and Brian Boesen. Both Widmans handle the all-important Moog duties.

As for that Swedish song, it serves as a reminder that ABBA sang in English for a reason—and not just because it sells records to non-Swedes. I don't find the language unpleasant, but it doesn't lend itself well to pop music (and you could say the same about Norwegian, since Sondre Lerche and his brethren sing in English, too). All in all, Pontus, the Devil, and Me makes for a nice, breezy listen.

The Selmanaires, The Air Sales-
men, International Hits [1/22/08]

Click here to download "Reason and Change."

The first thing I noticed about this Atlanta quartet were the smooth, echoey vocals. They sound like a cross between David Bowie and Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes. As it turns out, two people are singing in unison—twins Herb and Jason Harris (Tommy Chung holds down the bass, while Mathis Hunter handles the drums).

As influences, the Selmanaires claim 1960s psych-pop, 1970s post-punk, Krautrock, and Motown. I don't hear much—if any—R&B on The Air Salesmen, but that unusual combination of styles helps to make up their appealingly unsettling sound.

"Unsettling" is also how Shohei Imamura once described his work. Though the American band has nothing to do with the Japanese director, I've been attending an Imamura retrospective for the past few weeks, so he's been infiltrating my consciousness. (Imamura's complete phrase
was "messy, really human, Japanese, unsettling.")

Although "unsettling" is sometimes used as a pejorative, I like
the idea of something that takes you by surprise, forcing you
to see the world a little differently. That's what Imamura did; on
their second long-player, that's what the Selmanaires do, too.

Further, their publicist makes a case for "ass-shaking beats,"
and on "Broken Mirrors in the Mud" and "GMAFB," i.e. "Give Me
a Fucking Break," they do indeed bring the grooves. That doesn't
make the Selmanaires a dance band, but post-punk/Krautrock
aptly describes their off-kilter approach to the dance floor.

There's a harmonious balance between Can fluidity and James
Chance & the Contortions angularity. Not as disco-oriented as
the former—think later singles like "I Want More"—or as jazzy
as Mr. Chance, but you get the idea. I can easily imagine the
Selmanaires sharing a bill with LCD Soundsystem. And I
mean that as the highest of praise. One of the year's best.

The Shackeltons, The Shackeltons, Loveless [1/29/08]

It's gonna be cold / it's gonna be cold / in the sea / the sea of love!
-- The Shackeltons, "The Ship"

Because they're on Loveless, I assumed the Shackeltons might be local, but they're actually based in Chambersburg, PA. I had already heard the first track, "Your Movement," as it's gotten a lot of play on KEXP (morning DJ John Richards co-owns Loveless).

I've also heard "The Blood" before. They're the two strongest tracks on this quintet's self-titled debut, but there's no filler here. Arguably, Mark Redding yells too much, but he's got the lung power for it. At times, he sounds like Frank Black, but his group is grittier than the Pixies.

Instead, they come on like a stripped-down Franz Ferdinand or more garage-oriented Fugazi. Despite the number of players, there's a fair amount of "negative space," i.e. breathing room, on The Shackeltons. It's a surprisingly minimalist effort—something you'd expect from a smaller combo.

As you might have guessed, the group took their name from Antarctic explorer—and formidable Irishman—Sir Ernest Shackleton. In the press notes, guitarist Dan Schuchman explains, "Each member of the band can relate to the feeling of being shipwrecked in a cold, unforgiving world, and gathering the strength to make it back home, or at least finding one." Okay, that's a bit much, but you've got to be glad these guys found each other.

Redding and Dan Schuchman are joined by Eric Fisak on guit-
ar, Justin McDaniel on bass, and Sean Hallock on drums. Mc-
Daniel also plays melodica, balalaika, mandola, and kalimba.

Aside from the volume and intensity, Redding delivers
his lyrics as if they were pronouncements from God.

"The Ship" (see above) is a prime example. Normally, I'd have a problem with that sort of self-seriousness, and when it comes to groups like the consistently over-the-top Arcade Fire, I do, but this outfit's instrumental approach is unpretentious enough to compensate.

It isn't orchestral, operatic, or baroque. Instead, the Shackeltons generate a compelling tension between the melodramatic vocals and the visceral music. And therein lies
their strength or—to complete the analogy—their endurance.

Endnote: For more information about the Shackeltons,
please visit their official website. As for the Endurance, it
was the name of Shackleton's legendary vessel—and the title
of George Butler's fascinating documentary about his historic
journey. (Note that the group spells their name differently.)

Shackleton image from Wikipedia, Love in October from
their official website, Selmanaires from Atlanta Music Guide,
Shackeltons (band and amp) from their MySpace Page; credits:
Shana Novak and Gregory A. Perez. (Dig that Mudhoney t-shirt...)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

November Reviews

November Has Come

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

Amazon DVDs: Full House - The Complete Eighth Season [four-disc set] (click here for seasons one through seven), MI-5, Volume 5 [five-discs worth of British spooks], Wedding Daze (Jason Biggs and Isla Fisher), and Blame It on Fidel! (the daughter of Costa-Gavras directs the daughter of Gerard Depardieu in one of the year's best films). I've also been contributing cataloging assistance to the Art House and International stores.

Amazon Theatricals: I'm Not There (Todd Haynes on the
many faces of Dylan), How to Cook Your Life (food prep as Zen practice), The Orphanage (Guillermo del Toro-produced hor-
ror), and The Walker (Paul Schrader directs Woody Harrelson).

Now playing: October reviews of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Control, Gone Baby Gone, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Lars and the Real Girl, Reservation Road, and the Shohei Imamura retrospective.

Seattle Film Blog: The Landlord (Hal Ashby’s first), Baby Doll (DVD
review of the Kazan klassic), and revamped versions of Lem-
(Dominik Moll's second) and A Chat with Lynn Shelton.

Note: I was planning to review Tony Kaye's abortion doc Lake of Fire, but time got away from me. These pieces, however, are worth a look: Voice review and LA Weekly interview ("What fascinated me was that I’d read some interviews with people who were actively pro-life and actively pro-choice, and I found myself agreeing with everybody 100 percent"). Time permitting, I'll review the DVD when it comes out.

Endnote: A nice, low-key funk-pop jam, "November Has Come" derives from 2005's Demon Days. Incidentally, I picked up the first (self-titled) Gorillaz disc after watching Roger Michell's The Mother (Daniel Craig plays the man who seduces the older woman of the title). There's a great scene where her grandson bops around the house to "Clint Eastwood" (click for the video). I had to have that record. Image from the CIA (Cinematic Intelligence Agency).