Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The In


The world is filled with instrumental alt-rock acts, most of
whom fall into distinct categories. Mogwai and Explosions
in the Sky have that cinematic thing down to a science (hence
their inclusion in numerous movies and television shows).
Groups like Pelican and Belong trod a more metallic path.
Then there's the textural Tortoise and their various off-shoots.

Matmos, an electronic duo formed in San Francisco and
based in Baltimore, sounds nothing like any of these outfits.
That's because they have little interest in traditional instrum-
entation, and their eighth album builds on their reputation
for evolution and experimentation—it's no wonder they've
collaborated with the endlessly iconoclastic Björk.

As an example of their ingeniousness, on 2001's A Chance
to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, they incorporate the sounds
of liposuction and on 2006's The Rose Has Teeth in the
Mouth of a Beast, they turn to a cow's reproductive tract.

This all-synthesizer, no-contact mic release brings back
the halcyon days of Perrey-Kingsley (best known for "Flight
of the Bumblebee"), Wendy Carlos (the composer behind the
futuristic score for A Clockwork Orange), and other synth
stylists. Parallels abound with a few retro-minded modern-
day artists, too, like Stereolab and Cornelius (sans the vocals).

According to the press
notes, this seven-song
set employs "the classic
'60s/'70s/'80s consum-
er electronic rigs of Arp,
Korg, Roland, Waldorf,
and Moog, and modular
systems from Electro-
Comp, Doepfer, and Akai."

Martin C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, an English professor at
Johns Hopkins, also call on outside instrumental experts, like
Jon Leidecker, Jay Lesser, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Sarah Ca-
hill, and Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra Arkestra, who plays the
Electronic Voice Instrument (EVI) on "Mister Mouth."

Except for the 24-minute title track, none of the selections top
four minutes, but no one would confuse them for pop singles.
Standouts include the ever-changing "Supreme Balloon" and
Couperin's "Les Folies Françaises," which recalls the score for
Barry Lyndon. (Let's face it: Kubrick's films are one of the least ac-
knowledged influences on modern music.) In addition, legendary
minimalist Terry Riley appears on one of three bonus LP tracks.

Endnote: Matmos plays Seattle's Triple Door on Mon., 7/7.
For more information, please click here. Post title courtesy
Perrey-Kingsley's 1966 LP The In Sound from Way Out!;
swiped by the Beastie Boys for their instrumental CD of
'96. Images from Sound on Sound and NewMusicBox.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Half Light, Sleep More, Take More Drugs, Do
Whatever We Want, Groove House Records [6/3/08]

Half Light plays dreamy rock. Good for dark bars, candlelit
basements, long drives; some enjoy making cookies.
-- From the band's MySpace Page

Seattle singer/guitarist Dayna Loeffler has logged
time with Voyager One and the Purrs, two of
the town's finer music purveyors, but she has her
own thing going on with Half Light. Not that it's
a world away from her other outfits. She's still
doing the space-rock thing and doing it well.

This nine-song debut presents a harmonious array of effer-
vescence, a blissed-out cross between vintage shoegaze and contemporary alt-country. Accordingly, the band cites Ride, Slowdive, the Cowboy Junkies, and Mazzy Star among their in-
fluences. Extra credit for Megan Bailey's artfully-designed, eco-friendly packaging using recycled stock and vegetable-based inks.

a'tris, Lensing, Offensive Tie Records [6/17/08]

Music and film are inherently intertwined. I frequently look to film
for inspiration and hope that my music has a bit of cinematic flair.
-- Mason Taylor

Berklee College of Music grad Mason Taylor (piano, vo-
cals) leads this Boston alt-rock quartet. Despite their Am-
erican pedigree, they're more closely aligned with the UK's
Coldplay, Snow Patrol, or Elbow. Like those acts, howev-
er, a'tris is just too polished and po-faced for my taste.

I've enjoyed a few Brit-pop tunes in my time, but Taylor's
catch-in-the-voice singing rubs me the wrong way. I'm all
for male sensitivity and vulnerability in pop music, but
when it's highlighted and underlined, I get antsy. A
perfect fit for commercial alternative radio.

Blackmarket, Blackmarket EP, No Office Records [6/24/08]

This Lake Havisu band isn't bad, but I've heard it all before:
more modern-rock radio fare. Their high-profile production
team includes Sean Slade (Radiohead, Dinosaur Jr., Hole) and Matthew Ellard (Morphine, Weezer, Elliot Smith), indicating they're either deep-pocketed or well connected. Either way, Blackmarket isn't distinctive enough. Not yet, at any rate.

Dearestazazel, Be Mine, One Eleven Records [7/8/08]

She sells sex by the seashore / every night with someone new.
-- Dearestazazel, "She Sells Sex by the Seashore"

This Atlanta foursome could be related to Washington DC's Juniper Lane, about whom I wrote earlier this year, "This stuff
is as slick as it is familiar." Dearestazazel are new wave re-
vivalists who think big: big drums, big synths, big guitars, and what sounds like big hair (bass tends to get lost in this musical genre). Apparently, Pat Benatar and Berlin are back in style.

It's all very 1980s and not in an ironic way, which may come as good news for some, but since I can't look back at the MTV era without irony, Be Mine feels like an extraneous flashback.

Teenage Head with Marky Ramone, Sonic Unyon [6/10/08]

On this collection of covers and re-recorded tracks, these first-
generation Hamilton, Ontario punks come on like a more burly
version of the Ramones. "Top Down," the first track, even con-
jures up the unruly ghost of "Chinese Rocks," that infamous col-
laboration between Dee Dee Ramone and Johnny Thunders.

That said, Frankie Venom doesn't sing—or even try to sing—
like Joey Ramone. I suppose no one can. Instead, he has more
of a rock or power-pop-oriented voice; more like BÖC's Eric
Bloom than D.O.A.'s Joey Shithead. No surprises here, but
Teenage Head deliver a fun ride into punk's past.

Endnote: With support from the Purrs and other locals, Half
Light celebrates the release of their new record at Seattle's Comet
Tavern (922 E Pike St.) on 6/6. For more information, please click
here or here, from whence the image at the top originates (taken
by Paul Gibson at the Comet). For Tablet, I once wrote that the
Purrs, with which Loeffler continues to collaborate, "Sound like
Love fronted by Steve Wynn from the Dream Syndicate."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gangster, Gangster

Gangsta, gangsta!
It's not about a salary,
it's all about reality.

-- N.W.A., "Gangsta, Gangsta" (1989)

Toujours Rêvé d'être un Gangster (***1/2)
(Samuel Benchetrit, France, 2007, 113 mins.)

The array of bumblers at the heart of I Always Wanted to Be
a Gangster stand in opposition to the snap-brim sharpies play-
ed by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon in the 1960s. Those
Gallic gangsters had smarts and savoir faire; this group has a gift
for gab, and that's about it. The only similarity is that writer/dir-
ector Samuel Benchetrit (Janis and John) shot his heartfelt
valentine to the crime films of yore in luminous black and white.

From the moment the hapless Franck (Edouard Baer) steps out of his tiny motorcar wearing tights on his head, legs dangling down the back, it's clear he isn't cut out for the gangster life. Franck confirms that suspicion by walking into a signpost—after all, it's harder to see through tights than nylons.

So, he fails to rob the roadside diner in his sights, but along
the way, Franck meets beautiful robber-turned-waitress Sus-
ie (Anna Mouglalis, Merci Pour le Chocolat, Crime Novel).
As with some of the other characters, Benchetrit fills in her
back story with jaunty music and silent-movie title cards.

Their episode segues into three others, all revolving around
Susie's spacious diner and encompassing a gloomy teenager,
two kindly kidnappers, a couple of pop stars (Alain Bashung
and Arno as themselves), and five aging bank robbers plan-
ning a final heist (one of whom is played by Jean Rochefort).

Benchetrit's sophomore ef-
fort is that rare film that can
unite usually divisive movie
lovers, from fans of French
films noir to American com-
edy connoisseurs, with the
filmmaker taking his poker-
faced cues from everyone
from the Keystone Kops
to Jean-Pierre Melville by
way of Jim Jarmusch. The
title, incidentally, comes from Ray Liotta's wistful
line in Goodfellas, "As far back as I can remem-
ber, I always wanted to be a gangster."

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

Endnote: Images from the British Film Institute, Britannica,
and the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, at which I Always Wan-
ted to Be a Gangster won the World Cinema Screenwriting
Award. A US release date hasn't yet been announced, but you can
soon catch Liotta as the ineffectual mayor in Battle in Seattle.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Accidentally on Purpose

D+, On Purpose - 1997-
2007: Hits, Rarities and
Live Cuts
[5/27/08] (7.8)

Lunsford's droll vocals are charming, as is the self-
deprecating wit which drives many of his songs.

-- Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide

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

You wouldn't expect slick from bass player Karl Blau, guitar-
ist Bret Lunsford (Beat Happening), and drummer Phil Elver-
um (Microphones, Mount Eerie), and this D+ collection isn't
slick, but who wants that anyway? These 15 tracks may qualify
as "shambling"—an irresistibly over-used term when it comes
to indie rock—but there's enough charm, sincerity, and insight
throughout On Purpose to smooth over the rough patches,
like the seven-inch version of "Heatherwood," which features
one of Mr. Lunsford's more, well, shambling vocals.

For the most part, this Anacortes, WA trio plies a lo-fi approach
to garage-pop. Though the members of Olympia's Beat Happening used to switch instruments, the D+ players stick to their chosen roles. In theory. As Lunsford explains via email, "I’m pretty limited to clunky guitar and minimal percussion. Phil and Karl are extremely multi-in-
strumental. We often go into the studio/living room with lyrics to a new song, and then an hour later we are recording something. Anything might happen. I’ve learned that if I don’t want a kazoo on a song, I’d better hide it from Karl."

Highlights include "Mistake" ("My TV has more channels than
I need / my guitar has fewer string by far"), the fuzzy-buzzy "Jaywalker," the piano and harmonica-infused "We Could Do Anything," and the enchanting "Book." About Lunsford's songwriting, Elverum praises "the quadruple meanings in the words. He builds castles with undiscovered tunnels in them."

D+, the inaugural band to appear on Lunsford's own Knw-Yr-
Own imprint, has been recording for over a decade now, so it
only makes sense to revive the label with an archival release
from their first act (D+ has released five full-lengths alto-
gether). Lunsford and Co. will be issuing On Purpose in a
limited edition of 700 hand-screened and numbered CDs.

Endnote: Images from Knw-Yr-Own. My profile of Luns-
ford appears in the June issue of Sound. Click here for a re-
view of Microphones' 2002 Mount Eerie and here for Mount Eerie's Black Wooden Ceiling Opening, also arriving on 5/27.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Eerie Resurrection

In light of
CD, I've
my 2002
Tablet re-
view of
phones' Mount Eerie (Phil Elverum oversees both projects).

Microphones, Mount Eerie, K Records [7/10]

K Records may have released Mount Eerie, but that
doesn’t mean it’s pop, punk, funk, or folk like many of their
releases—or even some combination thereof. It isn't rock
either, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.

Instead, this concept recording from busy Olympia musician/
producer Phil Elverum (Dub Narcotic Sound System, C.O.C.O.) harkens back to late-1960s/early-1970s Europe in the form of England's jazzy Soft Machine and Germany's forward-thinking Krautrock coterie (Can, Faust, Neu!). Some of the pieces even sound like Pink Floyd at their most experimental, but Mount Eerie doesn't quite qualify as psychedelia or prog-rock either.

It is, ultimately, its own strange beast with (literally) spacey
song titles like "Solar System," "Universe," and 17-minute epic
"The Sun." Mount Eerie is the first in a trilogy to be followed
by Singing from Mt. Eerie and Drums from Mt. Eerie.

Endnote: Click here for Black Wooden Ceiling Opening review (to be released on 5/27). Image from P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

An American Band

The Dirtbombs live at Neumo's on Tues., 5/13/08.

Ko Malina (formerly of Ko & the Knockouts) on bass and backing vocals.

Mick Collins (formerly of the Gories and Blacktop) on guitar and vocals.

Malina and Collins rock the house. Not pictured: bass player
Troy Gregory and drummers Ben Blackwell and Pat Pantano.

Endnote: I was either gonna title this post "An American
Band" (Grand Funk Railroad) or "Some Kind of Wonderful"
(Marvin Gaye by way of GFR). Images courtesy my low-tech
weapon of choice, a B&W Kodak one-time use camera. Memor-
ex traveldrive from my Mom; Adobe Photoshop digitizing by
way of me and Fedex Kinko's. Click here for review.

Friday, May 09, 2008

You Are

Mt. Eerie,
& Sun

I think it would be a lot different. I played in a band and had my own creative projects before I met Bret as a teenager but it was meeting him that made me realize I could ACTUALLY do these things all the time and that it was legitimate and that I didn't need to worry about being invited or not. He introduced me
and my friends to the punk idea of "just do your thing, what-
ever it is, and ignore doubters." I am still living by those ideas.

-- Phil Elverum on Bret Lunsford's affect on his life

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

The advance CD of Black Wooden Ceiling Opening prom-
ises "six loud songs." Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum delivers on
that promise. A combination of new and reworked Eerie and
Microphones material, some selections start off quietly, like "Ap-
petite" and "In Moonlight," but all explode in volume, driven by
howling, churning guitars and pounding, thundering drums.

Despite a few string-generated squeals, Elverum isn't dishing up
hard rock, but rather a post-millenial spin on the soft-loud dy-
namic approach that Slint and other indie acts popularized in the
1990s (his trio includes K recording artist Jason Anderson on bass
and Norway's Kjetil Jenssen on drums). In the press notes, Elver-
um describes the extended EP as "hardcore style (kind of)," which
about sums it up, though his voice is pitched somewhere between
Pavement's Stephen Malkmus and Bonnie Prince Billy's Will Old-
ham. When Elverum hits the high notes, he sounds more like an
Appalachian folk singer than a heavy metal or hardcore man.

Nonetheless, the lyrics
suggest some heavy shit.
"Appetite," for instance,
features the phrase, "Con-
stantly waking up to ob-
literation." It's not hard to
imagine Metallica's James
Hetfield or Megadeth's Dave
Mustaine singing something
similar. Then, in "Don't Smoke," Elverum asks, "Is it because there's
a little part of you that wants to be dead?" That's grim, too, but it's
harder to imagine a speed metal singer railing against tobacco use.

This CD, which comes with a white-vinyl 10-inch live record-
ing and poster, arrives in the wake of K Record's 10th anniver-
sary reissue of the Microphones' The Glow, Part 2, making com-
parisons between the two inevitable. While Elverum's sound has-
n't changed radically over the years, Black Wooden Ceiling
presents a louder, darker version of his vision.

Endnote: I recently interviewed Elverum and Lunsford by e-
mail for Sound. Both play in D+ with Karl Blau. When I asked
about touring, Elverum replied, "We tour occasionally. It's chal-
lenging, because the three of us are so busy as individuals. When
our schedules can match up, it's really wonderful to tour with
those guys. It feels like not even leaving home, we are so com-
fortable together, and so much OF this place, Anacortes." The D+
collection, On Purpose- 1997-2007: Hits, Rarities and Live Cuts,
hits the streets on 6/10. For more information about Phil Elver-
um, please click here, from whence the above images originate.