Tuesday, March 25, 2008

(I'll Be
There) by
Your Side

Priscilla Ahn, A Good Day, Blue Note/EMI [6/10/08]

Are you sleeping, can you hear me
Do you know if I am by your side
Does it matter if you hear me
When the morning comes I'll be there by your side.

-- Harry Nilsson, "Are You Sleeping" (1971)

The presence of Bernville, PA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter Priscilla Ahn on Blue Note makes perfect sense. While she isn't cut from the same cloth as label superstar Norah Jones—jazz plays no obvious role in her repertoire—she works, to keep the seamstress analogy going, with comparable fabric (like, say, the botanical prints of Britain's Liberty mills).

A Good Day may be a sin-
gular affair, but it has more
of a paisley-pop vibe than
that of your average solo performer. "Masters of Chi-
na," for instance, recalls
Harry Nilsson's "Are You Sleeping" (from The Point), while "Astronaut" exudes a similar Beatles-meet-Nilsson spirit with carnival-esque ambiance and multi-tracked "ah's." (The credits cite Ursula Knudson on mus-
ical saw and the Bird and the Bee's Greg Kurstin on keyboards.)

This isn't to suggest that A Good Day comes on like a full band effort, but rather that Ahn isn't simply setting confessional words to acoustic melodies (not that there's any shame in that game).
On a few tracks, like "A Dream" and "Red Cape," however, she slides down the slippery slope into adult contemporary territory. That's always a danger with this kind of music—the lines between mellow and easy listening become blurry (the fault lies with unadventur-
ous melodies and fuller production rather than prosaic lyrics).

At this point, it's worth
noting that Ahn has tour-
ed with Joshua Radin, Sara Bareilles, and Jones assoc-
iate Jesse Harris, who ply a more commercial version
of a similar folk-pop sound.

Produced by Joey Waronker, who captures every nuance of her liquid soprano, A Good Day introduces an appealing talent, but Ahn is at her best
when she sounds most like herself. Some degree of overlap
with associates is to be expected, but on songs like the inti-
mate "Wallflower," she makes the most vivid impression ("No
one sees me / please excuse me"). Of course, she may be speak-
ing as a fictional character rather than from direct experience,
but role-playing sometimes yields the most true-to-life results.

The more predictable selections may garner greater attention
and/or radio play, but they make less of an emotional impact.
The more Ahn reveals, the more compelling her work becomes.

Click here to sample tracks from A Good Day.

Endnote: For more information about Priscilla Ahn,
please click here. Images from Issho and Ahn's MySpace
Page (photographers: Henry Diltz and John D. Fox III).
Oh, and everyone should own a copy of The Point.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

March into the Muck

Outkast's André 3000 and Big Boi

The Dreamscapes Proj-
ect, Pity in a Heartbeat,
Figmental Records [5/6/08]

It's beyond me why any
band would want to sound like an acoustic version of Live, but there you go. The thing is, Washington DC's Keith Center isn't as accomplished a singer as Ed Kowalczyk, but he projects just as much "passion" and "intensity." The quotation marks are be-
cause he delivers his lyrics like a musical theater performer.

That doesn't mean he isn't sincere, but there's a difference between
being in touch with your emotions, and knowing how to express
them most effectively. What may have begun as heartfelt gets
buried beneath layers of artifice. The result: insincerity. To quote
the band's "Food for Thought," It's like "a deer wrapped in a tissue."

Cross-posted at Fuzz.com.

Juniper Lane, Wake from Yourself, DJ Boy

The Washington Post describes this DC quartet's music as
"polished, radio-ready rock." Most reviews go on to compare
Juniper Lane with U2 and Coldplay (alas, the Arlington
Connection lumps the Irish U2 in with other "British bands").

It's true, all true. Singer/songwriter/keyboard player Vivion
Smith has a healthy set of lungs and a Pat Benatar-like range,
but this stuff is as slick as it is familiar. On their third full-length,
the foursome sounds like Evanescence and dozens of other dark-
tinged female-fronted AOR acts. But much less interesting.

[munk], Modest Among the Living, Waxboy Media [3/25/08]

Right: Jeff Lynne of ELO

The third album from Boston's [munk] appears on his indie imprint, but it's a major label recording in all but name (his songs have featured in TV shows, online promos, video games, and other commercial enterprises).

Entering the scene like a factory-stamped product of the cor-
porate machine, [munk] trades in a combination of musical
and lyrical clichés. Like Center, he may have poured his heart
into this thing—note the ever-present catch in voice—but he doesn't have anything original to say, and he's chosen a partic-
ularly tired means by which to say it, i.e. over-enunciated modern
rock. Bonus points for the revealing liner notes. Otherwise: pass.

Cross-posted at Fuzz.com.

Note: I received a message from [munk] thanking me for my review, even though
it isn't positive. Now I really wish I liked his CD more. Good manners are in short
supply on the Web. Kudos to [munk] for his graciousness and understanding.

Endnote: I'm not opposed to mainstream music, and own sever-
al platinum-selling albums, like Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love
and ELO's Out of the Blue, to name two examples, but both
outfits have a distinctive sound. Further, their records don't all
sound alike, and yet, when you hear their music, you know it's
them. The same can't be said about the groups above, even though
they released their material themselves. Sometimes, "indepen-
dent" is just a label classification. For more information about
Juniper Lane
, please click here or here; for The Dreamscap-
es Project, here or here; for [munk], here or here. Outkast
image from Critical Acclaim, ELO from the All Music Guide.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Reelin' in the Years: Part Two

Click here for part one

I took the following pictures at several different First Fridays, circa 2004-2006. The location: Wallingford's Blue Star Café. FF
is a long-running monthly opportunity for Seattle film writers and friends to eat, drink, gossip, kvetch, commiserate, and exchange and/or purge DVDs, CDs, and printed materials. Oh yeah, and to drink. Note that my weapon of choice is a disposable black and white camera, so the photo quality is a little...interesting.

Above: Sean Axmaker and Mark Rahner looking shady.

Sean telling me to stop drinking cider...or something. I have
no idea, incidentally, who took this pic. Whoever you are: your
composition skills are boss. David Bailey—watch your back!

Tom Keogh, Robert Horton, Jeff Shannon, and
Steven Fried go crazy with the condiments.

Richard T. Jameson: relaxed, Bob Cumbow: sur-
prised, and me: giddy as a goddamned school girl!

Clarke Fletcher and Jeff.

Saving the best—and only color photo—
for last: Mark and Bob prop
up Clarke.

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

Endnote: Click here for more film folk photos.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Real Dirt (on the Dirtbombs)

An excerpt from the best
Mick Collins article ever

I had this idea that I'd take
a bunch of songs by well-
known R&B performers and do rock versions of them for the
fourth Dirtbombs album," Collins says. "But when Greg Cart-
wright [of the Oblivions, Compulsive Gamblers and current-
ly, Reigning Sound] played me Phil Lynott's "Ode to a Black
Man" [from the late Thin Lizzy frontman's solo album, So-
lo in Soho], I said, 'I have to record this song before some-
body else beats me to it!' And in order to record that song, I
to do the entire rest of the album around it. So Ultraglide
in Black came second, when it was supposed to be fourth.

I love it that Lynott inspired this project. I had no idea. It was,
in fact, 2001's Ultraglide in Black that led me to pick up 1980's
Solo in Soho. The latter isn't a complete success (Mark Knopfler's
limpid guitar playing sounds out of place), but "Ode to a Black
Man" is a great song. So is Lynott's punk-rock tribute "Talk in '79."

And here's a bit about
the history of the band:

MT [Metro Times] contributor and former Dirtbomb Chris Handyside remembers the show [the group's first gig] starting with Mick introduc-
ing the band as "Two black guys, a Jew, a Mick and a Newfie walk into a bar and the bartender says ‘What is this? Some kind of joke?' No, it's the Dirtbombs." However, a live recording from the show reveals Mick's intro as: "Not only do we suck … we're loud!"

Frankly, this is the kind of article that makes me question my
very existence. Seriously. Over the years, I've reviewed count-
less Collins records
, interviewed the man, and played his music
on the radio, but I could never sum up the mega-faceted singer/

songwriter/guitarist as brilliantly as writer Michael Hurtt does
in his epic feature. It's a must-read for anyone interested in
Motor City rock from the 1980s to the '00s—even for those
who aren't down with the Dirtbombs, the Detroit Cobras,
or the White Stripes (although that certainly wouldn't hurt).

Endnote: Ultraglide in Black's "Chains of Love" appears—twice!—
in Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. According
to the band's bio, they've also sold one of their songs to...wait for
it...Wal-Mart. And yet, Hurtt notes that Collins still lives at home
with his dad. Frankly, the guy could use a little coin. To quote
DVD Verdict, by way of the US judicial system: Not guilty.

I'll add a link to my Fuzz.com review of We Have You Sur-
rounded once it's been posted. In the meantime, click here
for some kind words about the new disc from The Weekly's
Hannah Levin. The Dirtbombs play Neumo's on 5/13. For
more information about the group, please see their official
. Images from Model D and GigPosters.com.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Fistful
of Film
(and Music)

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

Amazon DVDs: The Air I Breathe (introspective thriller with Forest Whitaker and Brendan Fraser), Five Days [two-disc set] (British miniseries with Janet McTeer), My Boy Jack (with Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe as Rudyard Kipling's son), The Color of Freedom (Mandela docudrama with Dennis Haysbert), and Un-
stable Fables - 3 Pigs and a Baby
(animation from Henson Co.).

Amazon Theatricals: Run Fat Boy Run (with Simon Pegg), Snow Angels (fourth feature from George Washington's David Gordon Green), Shelter, Son of Rambow (from SIFF '07), and Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris on Abu Ghraib).

Still playing: Caramel, Charlie Bartlett, Chicago 10, City of Men, and Penelope.

Fuzz.com: CD reviews of Teedo,
Vendetta Valentine, Dub Pistols,
Voyager One, Jill Cunniff, Lucy
, Fad Gadget/Frank Tovey,
the Dirtbombs, Monade, Ut, the
Dreamscapes Project
, and [munk].

Siffblog: Michael Haneke's US remake of Funny Games, Jean-
Luc Godard's long-lost La Chinoise, and an interview with Green (whose filmography includes All the Real Girls and Undertow).

Video Librarian: The Last Emperor - Criterion Collection [four-
disc set] (click here for my Amazon review), Tell Me You Love Me
- The Complete First Season [four-disc set], Pierrot le Fou - Criter-
ion Collection (click here for my Siffblog review), American Car-
ny, Ziggy Marley - Love Is My Religion, Bugs! A Rainforest Ad-
venture, Lost in Beijing, Summer Palace, Origin: Spirits of the
Past, G.I. Jesus, Blue Man Group - How to be a Megastar, Hip
Hop Awards 2007, and Robyn Hitchcock - Sex, Food, Death...and Insects.

Above: Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto in 1967's La Chinoise.

Endnote: I'm included among the thank-you's in the re-
vised edition of Bob Cumbow's The Films of Sergio Leone
(along with a number of other friends and associates). It's
an honor to be associated with either gentleman. Speaking
of fistfuls, Rhino's Ennio Morricone anthology is subtitled
A Fistful of Film Music; more recently, Seth Gordon sub-
titled his King of Kong doc, A Fistful of Quarters. Images
from Britannica Junior Encyclopaedia and Movieposter.com.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

(Dawning of a) New Era

Dub Pistols, Speakers
and Tweeters, Defend
Music Inc. [5/6/08]

In theory, I'm all over this album. Reality is another story. It's not that I dislike the music; it's that the concept is more compelling than the creation.

Take Lily Allen, for example. The petite potty-mouth created something new and exciting out of her love for Blondie and the Specials—to say nothing of X-Ray Spex and Wreckless Eric.

The third full-length from these fellow Londoners features a
cover of Blondie's "Rapture," vocals from Terry Hall of the Specials, and a more up-to-the-minute approach than its predecessors (thanks to the hiphop and techno touches).

But good grooves aside, this post-big beat venture lacks the attitude and personality of Blondie's Autoamerican, the Spec-
ials's self-titled debut...or Allen's irresistible Alright, Still.

The Pistols also take on
"Gangsters" (the Specials),
"Peaches" (the Stranglers),
and "You'll Never Find" (Lou
Rawls). Hall, incidentally,
sounds just as dreamy on
"Rapture" as on the Fun Boy
Three version of "Our Lips
Are Sealed" (on which his trio
were joined by Bananarama).

The parade of non-originals gives the impression that Speakers and Tweeters is an '80s tribute album or greatest hits collection. As such, it's pretty good—despite the scarcity of dub promised by their name (at least until "Stronger" rolls around). I guess I just have impossibly high standards when it comes to certain genres, like ska and two tone. In fact, this disc would serve as a swell par-
ty record, and to quote Heart, I bet these guys kick it out live.

Cross-posted at Fuzz.com.

Voyager One, Afterhours in
the Afterlife, Loveless [3/25/08]

Seattle's Voyager One have found what works, and they're sticking to it. The duo's modus operandi is a stripped-down,
post-millenial take on shoegaze. If their fourth full-length is less memorable than Spiritualized's first, Lazer Guided Melodies—to name one possible influence—they share the same sonic space.

Peter Marchese even sings as
if he were born in Britain, al-
though that isn't to suggest an affectation on his part; shoe-
gaze vocalists often evoke England no matter their country of origin. It's one of the qualities that distinguishes the subgenre from post-rock, which isn't as closely associated with
the UK (and where vocals are submerged or reduced even further).

Marchese and Jeramy Koepping both handle guitars, keys, and
programming. Aside from vocals, the multi-talented Marchese
adds bass and drums to the mix. Guest musicians supply the rest
of the sounds. Afterhours in the Afterlife is recommended
to fans of Spiritualized, the Dandy Warhols, and tour mates Black
Rebel Motorcycle Club, whose influence can be felt most keenly
on "The Future Is Obsolete," which rocks harder than the rest.

Cross-posted at Fuzz.com.

Here's what I wrote about
Monster Zero for Tablet:

If you've been missing Ride
and thinking that solo Rich-
ard Ashcroft doesn't quite
measure up to Verve (or ev-
en U.N.K.L.E.)—Voyager
One should cure what ails
you. The locals have taken
the old shoegazermobile out
of the garage, dusted it off, and slapped on a new coat of paint. And they certainly aren't trying to pretend they've never heard any British bands from the 1980s and '90s—as if their sound just somehow sprung from out of the air—because they take on Echo and the Bunnymen's delightfully ridiculous "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo." The lyrics are as silly as ever ("Bed-
knobs and Broomsticks" anyone?), but musically, it's always been one
of the Bunnymen's best, and Voyager One give it their own distinctive
spin by slowing it down and stretching it out into a nifty new shape.

Endnote: For more information about the Dub Pis-
tols, please click here; for Voyager One, here. Images
from MySpace, the All Music Guide, and All Mixed Up.