Monday, April 28, 2008

Maggie May, Part II

“Maggie May” doesn’t have
a chorus. That isn’t necessarily
the first thing you notice about
it—you’re more likely to pick up
on a ringing phrase, or a partic-
ular blaze or choke in Rod’s voice, or on the thumped double-beats that kick-start each verse. But nonetheless, there it is—or isn’t

—an absence of chorus. So there’s little space or inclination for Rod
to collect his thoughts or swallow his feelings. The song rambles,
part harangue, part misty-eyed memory, part licking wounds,
pausing only to restart at once—
yeah, and another thing!

-- Tom, Freaky Trigger

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

Amazon DVDs: A Room with a View (Masterpiece version),
White Mane (from The Red Balloon director Albert Lamorisse),
A Date with Judy (Technicolor musical with Jane Powell, Eliza-
beth Taylor, Carmen Miranda, and my man, Robert Stack),
War, Inc. (produced and co-written by John Cusack), Hiro-
shi Teshigahara's Antonio Gaudí (special features review),
The 4400 - The Fourth Season [four-disc set], and
Maggie Smith at the BBC [three-disc set].

Amazon Theatricals: Baghead (return of the Brothers Dup-
lass), Elite Squad (Brazilian policier about drug enforcement
in the favelas), Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (steroid exposé),
and Gonzo (Alex Gibney takes on Hunter S. Thompson).

Still playing: My Blueberry Nights, Blindsight, Then She
Found Me
, and Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? Concert review of the Dirtbombs, the Ian
Fays - Dylan's Lost Years
, and Tim Fite - Fair Ain't Fair.

Seattle Sound: An in-
terview with Bret Luns-
ford (Beat Happening, D+).

Siffblog: A Chat with Dav-
id Gordon Green
Shotgun Stories, a SIFF
, The Saga of Anatahan,
and caps of Elite Squad and Opium: Diary of a Madwoman.

Video Librarian: The Pied Piper of Hützovina (profile of Gog-
ol Bordello's Eugene Hütz), Belle Toujours (Manoel de Oliviera's
sequel to Belle du Jour), Bella (pro-life indie), Sunflower (from
the director of Shower), The Business of Being Born (Rikki Lake
looks at natural childbirth), My Blueberry Nights [click here for
my Amazon review], Daughters and Sons - Preventing Child
Trafficking in the Golden Triangle (doc short), Ballroom Boot-
camp (TLC), That Was the GDR (doc on the German Dem-
ocratic Republic), and Growing Up Online (PBS doc).

Endnote: Click for Maggie May, Part One. Since first writing
about the song a year ago, I still haven't picked up a copy of
Every Picture Tells a Story. This month, I decided I had a more
pressing need for some Jacques Dutronc, but I'll always have a
place in my heart for early-'70s Stewart. Images from the AMG
and B-side. Shotgun Stories opens at the NWFF on 5/9.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Man Who Fell to London: Gary Numan's Replicas Redux

The Man Who Fell to London


Banquet (9.4)

The first full-length from synth-pop pioneer Gary Numan
plays like The Man Who Fell to Earth come to life. That isn't
a mistaken reference to David Bowie's sweeping 1970 song "The Man Who Sold the World," but rather to Nicolas Roeg's arty 1976 film with the pop star as a freaky-deaky dehydrated spaceman.

Granted, David Bowie was a significant influence on Numan,
who sported a similar bleach-blond hairstyle at the time he re-
corded Replicas—gone by the time of "Cars"—but it wasn't the glam racket that appealed as much as the trio of chilled-out platters the Thin White Duke cut with Brian Eno in Berlin.

Numan's lyrics extend sci-fi themes the former Davy Jones
first explored in "Space Oddity." Just add a dash of Kubrick's
2001: A Space Odyssey, a dose of Philip K. Dick, and Gary's robotic phrasing, and there you have it: "Me! I Disconnect
from You," "Are 'Friends' Electric?", "Praying to the Aliens,"
"When the Machines Rock," and "I Nearly Married a Human."

The song titles tell the whole story. Just as Numan felt "disconnected" from the punk movement, he felt a similar remove from the human race. (Billing Replicas as a Tube-
way Army album was the re-
cord company's idea, not his.)

As the liner notes reveal, Numan (born Gary An-
thony James Webb) was just another London punk when he chanced upon a Moog in a rented studio. Tired of the violence at
pub shows, the synthesizer allowed him to reinvent himself—to make a new kind of music and to attract a less aggressive audience.

As he explains, "It was clear to me that the scene was dying
and I wanted to do something else." As a model, he looked to Ultravox, another British act that recorded in Germany. Nu-
man would soon eclipse Mitch Ure's outfit (even swiping Vox keyboard player Billy Currie), and this #1 UK record holds up wonderfully well 29 years after the fact (over the years, his
songs have been covered by everyone from Blur to Beck).

The unholy union bet-
ween Tangerine Dream-
like ambience and proto-
metallic crunch never sounds
as schizophrenic as it should.

And "Down in the Park," which strikes the perfect balance between
pop melodicism and Existential dread, remains one of the most
seductively spooky singles of the post-punk era—up there with
Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" and Bauhaus's "Bela Lugosi's
Dead." The second disc features outakes, which sound almost
as polished as the final product. The biggest difference is that
Numan sounds softer, warmer—almost, well, human.

Endnote: I've been a fan of "Down in the Park" since 1982 (cue
my favorite phrase: Boy, do I feel old). The thing is, I thought Nu-
man was singing "Down in the park with the Franco Five." I lov-
ed the idea that he was mixing it up with the Italian or Spanish
mob. (In Hyde Park? Or Kensington...?) The actual line reads,
"Down in the park with a friend called Five." Of course.

As for The Man Who Fell to Earth, I saw it with my Mom up-
on its release. It freaked me out. Haven't seen it since, though I'm
looking forward to picking up the Criterion DVD—complete with
Bowie commentary. In the interim, i.e. the '80s and '90s, I became
a fan of Bowie in Berlin, Roeg in the '70s, and all things Rip Torn,
so it'll be interesting to see how that crazy combination plays
today. Images from Jalopnik, Posteritati, and Torrent Portal.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Haunted When
the Minutes Drag

The Old Haunts,
Poisonous Times,
Kill Rock Stars (8.3)

Since 2001, the Old Haunts
have been hiding in plain sight. That isn't to suggest they're an unknown quantity, but the trio would be a more natural fit for Sympathy for the Rec-
ord Industry (original home of the White Stripes) or In the Red (domicile of the Dirtbombs). Or even Vice (see the Black Lips).

Not that Kill Rock Stars doesn't boast a diverse roster—it ranges from the sadly-departed Elliot Smith to the major-bound Gossip—but the Old Haunts are coming from a slightly different place.

Like 2005's Fallow Field and 2006's Fuel on Fire, Poisonous
Times—their first to feature former Bikini Kill drummer Tobi
Vail—isn't full-on garage-punk, but the genre underpins their
intentionally wobbly sound, which incorporates blues and
country influences (Vail, incidentally, is a label employee).

In a geographic sense, their off-center music isn't rooted to
one location either, since comparisons to NYC's Television,
LA's Gun Club, and Portland's Dead Moon wouldn't be mis-
placed (like KRS, the Old Haunts are based out of Olympia).

Rounded out by co-founder Scott
Seckington on bass, guitarist Craig
Extine wields a vibrato-laden warb-
le that recalls both Jeffrey Lee Pier-
ce and Jack White, and the latter has
never made any secret of his affection
for the late Gun Club front man (the
'Stripes used to open gigs by play-
ing Fire of Love over the PA).

Overall, though, Poisonous Times seems more introspective than previous recordings. Several selections rock as hard as before, but there are more quiet ones, which share an REM (circa "Radio Free Europe") or Velvet Underground (circa "Pale Blue Eyes") vibe.

On the Dirtbombs' Dangerous Magical Noise, Mick Collins blasts
through a lament called "Stuck in Thee Garage." It's a place he
didn't want to be; on Poisonous Times, the Old Haunts prove
the garage may be less confining than Collins suggests.

Endnote: "Haunted When the Minutes Drag" comes from Love
and Rockets
' Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven. The Old
Haunts play the Sunset Tavern on 4/17. For more info, please
click here. Images from the AMG and the Old Haunts website.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Movie of the Month

I recently reviewed the following DVD for Video Librarian, and thought it was worth sharing. Lately, I've been getting into German films that tackle the years just prior to and after the reign of Hitler—I've had enough Nazis to last a lifetime, thanks very much—especially those made during or concerning the GDR era. There are a number of reasons why, but the main one is this: They tend to take on privacy and free speech rights. These issues are never going to go away, making the best of these films universally relevant.
The Rabbit Is Me, i.e. I Am the Rabbit, is a great place to start.
Also, I don't mention this in my review, but the film offers a female
character who manages to find her voice within the midst of an
incredibly repressive environment. She's a feminist for the ages.


With its nouvelle vague-like cinematography and clear-
eyed narration, The Rabbit Is Me dresses its political mes-
sage in the garb of melodrama. Based on the banned novel by Manfred Bieler and set in 1961-62, Kurt Maetzig's “decadent
and nihilistic” film was also banned in the German Democrat-
ic Republic (GDR) and remained unreleased until 1990.

Maetzig's heroine, the East Berlin-based
Maria Morzeck (Angelika Waller), studies
by day and waitresses by night. Raised by
her Aunt Hete (Ilse Voigt), Maria plans to
become a Russian translator. After her
brother, Dieter (Wolfgang Winkler), ends
up in jail for "subversive activities," the
19-year-old meets a middle-aged man for
whom she feels an attraction (the scene in
which he flirts while munching on a brat-
wurst is particularly amusing). As she
tells him, "I believe loving someone is the essence of living.”

Unfortunately, Paul Deister (Alfred Müller) is the judge who
put Dieter away, and while he isn’t an SS officer like Black Book's
Sebastian Koch, his entrance into Maria's life anticipates Paul
Verhoeven's Dutch adventure (in which Carice von Houten's
Jewish entertainer pulls one over on the Nazis). Similarly, Mar-
ia yields to Deister's advances to speed the wheels of justice,
but her heart gets in the way. Throughout, Maetzig withholds
judgment. Maria, after all, was having premarital relations
before Deister came along—and his wife is no dummy either.

The extensive extras in-
clude biographies and
filmographies, a 1999
interview with the un-
repentant Maetzig, a
1993 interview with for-
mer GDR Minister of Cul-
ture Hans Bentzien (1961-
66), an informative made-
for-TV documentary on "The Rabbit Films" (
DEFA-Film and the 11th General Assembly
), an essay
on the era, and a photo gallery. The Rabbit Is Me is
highly recommended, especially for fans of the more re-
cent GDR-related scenarios depicted in Goodbye, Lenin!
and the
Oscar-winning Lives of Others. (K. Fennessy)

[Slightly edited from the original text.]

Endnote: Though set during WWII, Sophie Scholl: The Final
is another great German picture with a strong female prot-
agonist. The movie received an Oscar nomination (losing to South
Africa's Tsotsi), but failed to attract the attention it deserved in
the US, possibly because it was deemed a bummer (the swasti-
kas slapped all over the marketing materials can't have helped).

Not only is it superior to The Counterfeiters, which won this
year's foreign-film Academy Award, but it's more relevant to
today, especially for cartoonists in Denmark, authors in China,
or filmmakers in Thailand, i.e. anywhere in which criticism of
one's government can lead to harrassment, censure, or even
murder—state-sanctioned or otherwise. Images from
, Chronik des Deutschen Films, and Verbotene Filme.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Singers and Players

Casket Salesmen, Sleeping
Giants, Longhair Illuminati (6.1)

Left: Traffic (1967-1975)

The Casket Salesmen offer up a perfectly listenable brand
of prog-oriented alt-rock. Phil Pirrone (vocals, bass), Nathan Lindeman (vocals guitar), and assorted guests can play and
sing, which makes Sleeping Giants a fairly painless experi-
ence (interestingly, four musicians provide programming).

The duo embrace pretension without apology—one lyric men-
tions "a marionette in your memory"—and their songs aren't
particularly hummable, but there are far worse crimes against
humanity. Lindeman's adept solos and Steve Borth's occasional saxophone blasts bring to mind a post-millenial take on ELP or Traffic. That said, the blood-red cover art creeps me out.

Your Highness Electric, The Grand Hooded
Phantom, Longhair Illuminati [6/3/08] (6.2)

Your Highness Electric comes on like Led Zeppelin re-
born as a Louisville power trio with a glam-rock twist. It's spooky
the way vocalist/guitarist Brandon Bear Bondehagen (!) conjures
up the ghost of Mother Love Bone's Andrew Wood. No doubt he
and his band mates also grew up on bottom-heavy metal, like
Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Queen (note the band's name).

Damned if I can tell what Bon-
dehagen is going on about, but
his screaming could give Ozzy
or Wood's old roommate, Chris
Cornell, a run for the money, so
I'm willing to overlook the in-
anities. In other words, I'm try-
ing to forget I ever heard lines
like, "Our albatrosses just want
to be friends" and "Me and my moustache came to play..."

Right: Led Zep's Robert Plant

Wolfmother fans might give The Grand Hooded Phantom
a go. It's only missing artwork by Frazetta (see Molly Hatchet's
Flirtin' with Disaster), though the crown is a classy touch.

Ride the Boogie, self-titled, Longhair
Illuminati/Boogie Disks [6/17/08] (4.8)

There's no excuse for a name like Ride the Boogie. None. Whatsoever. Apparently, "[Adam] Tymn coined the name by describing what he thought these songs would make you wanna do." The Colorado quartet has ties to the Warped Tour, and it's a phrase with which a skateboarder might have some familiarity.

That works fine as an explanation, but it fails as an excuse.
The only excusable explanation is this: "I lost a bet." Truth be
told, RtB's mellow-metal debut bears a trace of funk, but the Dap-
Kings have nothing to fear from these Denver slackers. And lest I
seem overly-critical: their lyrics revolve around Cuervo, Jack,
shitty grins, slurping and burping, and moustache rides.

Toy Gun Cowboy, Big Blue, Gut-
ter Groove Records [5/13/08] (7.2)

Everyone is praying for you.
Everyone is hoping you'll come through.
-- Toy Gun Cowboy, "Big Blue"

Toy Gun Cowboy's
sophomore release was
"inspired by a Jet Blue flight
that had malfunctioning lan-
ding gear." The follow-up to
2006's Star?...Or No Star?,
Big Blue "tells the story of
humankind's voyage from the
Garden of Eden to the melding
of souls on the semi-defunct
plane." Okay. The album is the
product of Lakewood, CA-based multi-instrumentalist Matthew Erickson, who wasn't a passenger, but rather an observer.

Above: the Eels - Souljacker

Hard to say whether he pulls the concept off, because the songs
work fine on their own, but the record evokes a low-budget cross
between the Beatles, ELO, and the Eels (in "Looking for a Park
Bench," Erickson even refers to a "boxcar bully," which brings to
mind Mark Oliver Everett's "Bus Stop Boxer"). In other words: it's
nerdy retro-futurist pop. And I'll be damned if it isn't half bad.

Endnote: Not only do I love Traffic, but I dig the Spencer Davis
Group and Blind Faith, too. Every one of those musicians knew
how to dress. The key word is paisley. That said, I draw the line at
Steve Winwood's leather jacketed, bourgeois-baiting solo career.

As for the above, though I review every CD that comes my way,
I reserve the right to stop doing so without notice; increasingly,
it's hard to find time when I've got more than enough work to keep
me busy. Plus, I like to listen to music for the fun of it, and miss
discovering stuff on my own. On that note, I'm a few years too
late—they no longer exist—but my current favorite album is Mc-
lusky Do Dallas. Also, CHEM087 introduced me to several
Scottish acts I'd like to get to know better. I don't know what's up
with all these Welsh and Scots players: small countries, big talents.
Lately, I can't get enough. All images from the All Music Guide.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A 21st

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

Amazon DVDs: A Passage to India (special features review),
Strange Culture (with Tilda Swinton and Thomas Jay Ryan),
Crazy Sexy Cancer, King Corn, Dangerous Crossing (with Jeanne
Crain), and Father Knows Best - Season One [four-disc set].

Amazon Theatricals: My Blueberry Nights (Wong Kar
Wai goes Americana), Blindsight (six vision-impaired teens
attempt Everest), Then She Found Me (Helen Hunt dir-
ects), and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

Still playing: Run Fat Boy Run, Snow Angels, Shelter,
Son of Rambow, and Standard Operating Procedure.

Film Comment: I offer a reader's com-
about Tony Kaye's Lake of Fire.

[It's now available on DVD; don't miss it.] CD reviews of Howlin Rain - Magnificent Fiend,
Big Dipper - Supercluster: The Anthology, Various Artists -
(Chemikal Under
ground retrospective),
Mission of Burma - Vs., Vashti Bunyan - Some Things Just
Stick in Your Mind
Dark Meat - Universal Indians (17-piece
outfit from Athens, GA), Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours, and
an interview with Australian electro-pop duo the Presets.

SIFF: Several blurbs for the annual festival guide.

Siffblog: Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait (with
music by Chemikal Underground act Mogwai)
and A Chat with David Gordon Green continues.

[Zidane review to coincide with 6/13-15 encore.]

Video Librarian: Caramel [click here for my Amazon re-
view], Chantal - Live at the Pyramids, Congorama (Canad-
ian indie), Fireworks Wednesday (Iranian drama), The Rab-
bit Is Me (once-banned East German entry from the DEFA
library), PU-239 (HBO tele-film with Paddy Considine), Son-
ja (indie coming-of-age), King Corn, Sharkwater, Hannah
Takes the Stairs [click here for my Siffblog review], Board-
ing Gate, Stanley Jordan Trio - The Paris Concert, Stran-
Culture [click here for my Amazon review], and The
Air I
Breathe [click here for my Amazon review].

Endnote: I've also been working on a top-secret music project
for a few months now. More details to come.... Zidane, A 21st
Century Portrait plays the Northwest Film Forum from 4/4-11.
According to Peter Bradshaw, “Zidane is the best sports movie I
have ever seen and a wonderful film that brilliantly marries up a
daringly experimental style with a popular subject.” For more
information, please click here. Image from Between Planets.