Thursday, June 26, 2008

Float On

Take the Whole
Midrange & Boost It,
Bar/None Records

The wild sounds and colors blend together madly like the
pop/rock equivalent of a Bollywood musical full of too-bright
colors, people dancing wildly, and big smiles all around.

-- Tim Sendra, All Music Guide

With a title like Take the Whole Midrange & Boost It, I was
expecting something with more oomph, but Oppenheimer's
space-age pop is lighter than air. It's like ELO on helium, and Jeff
Lynne's combo weren't exactly heavy (ah, but they were good).

These mad Belfast scientists, Rocky and Sean, have talent to
burn, but there's isn't a lot to grab onto. Carefully-enunciated
choir-boy vocals layered over Vocoder, Moog, Casio, and E-bow
emanations makes for a dreamy, robotic sound (Do androids
dream of electric sheep? No, they dream of Oppenheimer.)

Granted, pop doesn't have to have a dark side, but if it's too light,
it might just float away. The one exception is "The Never Never," on which guest vocalist Matt Caughthran adds some protein-
filled crunch to Oppenheimer's electronic soufflé.

Rachael Sage, Chandelier, MPress Records

Despite Rachael Sage's feisty lipstick-red haircolor,
Chandelier is thoroughly mersh singer/songwriter stuff
(you won't find any indication of a punk-rock past here).

Her achingly sincere vocals and intricate piano-playing re-
flect classical training, and I'm sure she crafted this record
with care, but I have zero tolerance for ladylike Lifetime-mov-
ie-of-the-week material.
If you're into Jane Siberry, Sarah Mc-
Lachlan, or Rachael Yamagata—though on "Mexico," Sage cites
"Costello, Emmy Lou, and Steve"—you may feel otherwise.

Topaz & Mudphonic, Music for Dorothy, MOWO! Inc. [8/26/08]

Austin singer/sax player Topaz McGarrigle cranks out the jazzy boogie-woog-
ie on Music for Dorothy.

Clearly, he's spent a minute
or two with Little Feat and
the Allman Brothers Band,
and that's okay. I may have been born in the East and raised in
the North, but I've got a high tolerance for Southern-friend rock
'n' roll (granted, Skynyrd doesn't do it for me, but you can't win
'em all). Bring on the harmonica, the Hammond B3, and the Wur-
litzer electric piano! And lyrics about frogs and cicadas. Some-
where Kandia Crazy Horse is nodding her head in agreement.

Endnote: Images from the All Music Guide and Planetary Group.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Listening Station

The Age of Rockets,
Hannah, Desolation
Yes, Hesitation
No Music [9/23/08]

Like Death Cab for Cutie or the Postal Service (both featuring Seattle singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard), Andrew Futral's New York trio Age of Rockets serves up glitchy pop with little-
boy-lost vocals. It may not be completely original, but if you're down with Gibbard and other soft-spoken gentleman of the indie-rock persuasion, their second platter offers abundant appeal.

As for Gibbard, I don't mean to sell him short; he's good at what he
does, and I don't doubt his sincerity. His brand of music isn't quite
my cup of tea, but I've never understood the hate certain people
harbor towards it (as if he were Dick Cheney's more evil twin).

It doesn't make a man weak or effeminate because he wears his heart on his sleeve; on the contrary, exposure takes risk. Plus, anyone who uses a harmonium (see Age of Rockets multi-in-
strumentalist Saul Simon Macwilliams) is all right in my book.

The Dirty Hearts, Pigs, Socyermom Records [7/22/08]

At first listen, Austin's Dirty Hearts rock out like Social Distortion with more funk in their step, i.e. brass-punctuated punk. But that was just the opening track ("Record Store").

Altogether, their sophomore disc plays more like the Replace-
ments or Elvis Costello & the Attractions (the keyboard playing recalls Steve Nieve). They aren't ripping off their forebears and they aren't devoid of style, but the Hearts splice together sever- al genres—new wave, post-punk, etc.—with a harder edge. Other than some daft lyrics ("I'm alone like the bitches in heat" and "I'm thinking t-bone/you're thinking tofu spread"), Pigs isn't half bad.

Falcon, Falcon EP, Friends of
the American Songbook [7/22/08]

Falcon is not a tribute band.
Falcon plays all new material.
-- From the Falcon press kit

Anyone who dislikes this EP will surely feel like a heel, since the material springs from the pen of a musical prodigy who succumbed to spinal meningitis in 1988 at the age of 14. Two of his Petaluma Junior High friends formed
a band and, with his family's blessing, they intend to draw exclusively from Jared Falcon's 336-song repertoire
(the Brooklyn quartet includes Longwave guitarist
Shannon Ferguson and drummer Jason Molina).

If I wanted to pick nits, I'd say that Neil Rosen's voice
squeaks too much and that "Listen In" is a mite repet-
etive, but all five tracks put most teenage scribbles to
shame, and the gentle arrangements showcase Fal-
con's introspective lyrics with affection and respect.

Mar, The Sound, Ring Road Records [9/07/08]

After spinning Mar's fol-
low-up to The Silence three times now, I still can't think
of anything interesting to
say about it. Like a less agitated My Bloody Val-
entine (or Spain without
all those jazzy embellish-
ments), singer/Rhodes player Kyle Reidy's Arkan-
sas outfit offers up perfectly pretty dream-pop.

Just as their Iceland-recorded debut featured contributions
from Jimmy LaValle (the Album Leaf, Black Heart Procession)
and Gunnar Tynes (MúM), the new CD features violinist Anton Patzner (Bright Eyes) and cellist Zoe Keating (Imogen Heap).

As background music, Mar (a reference to Reidy's mother) gets the job done, and never distracted me from the project I was im-
mersed in at the time—but when it was over, I forgot all about
it. Consider The Sound a work aid...rather than a sleep aid.

Natalie Portman's Shaved Head,
Glistening Pleasure, Team Swan

Do you wanna see Shamu with me? Yes, I do. I love Shamu!
-- "Sophisticated Side Ponytail"

The name screams "novel-
ty act," but it's the music
that counts, and this Seat-
tle quartet's first full-len-
gth is a bundle of fun.

I mean, if you aren't in-
to electro-pop or elect-
roclash or whatever the kids are calling it these days, Glis-
tening Pleasure
might not rock your world, but they
manage to capture the high spirits of CSS, the Go! Team,
and United State of Electronica without actually aping any
of those combos (for one thing, their lyrics are a lot sillier).

If anything, Natalie Portman's Shaved Head are more deep-
ly rooted in the 1980s, even if these 18-20 year olds were pre-
natal during the new wave era, making me—at least—a decade
older than their target audience. What the hell, let's dance!

Note: NPSH are on tour with CSS through
August (click band name above for dates).

Endnote: Images from Falcon (Mayumi Nashida), the Age
of Rockets
(Jenny O.), Mar (Brandon Jennings and Red Bal-
loon Pictorials), and Natalie Portman's Shaved Head.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Heavenly Pop Hits

Baskervilles, Twilight,
Secret Crush Records (***/2)

Imagine Mates of States with
a hyperactive horn section, and
you'll have some idea what the
Baskervilles sound like.

At least that's the formula the
14 songs on their second full-length bring to mind, since these fast-paced ditties feature boy-girl vocals and boisterous keyboard-playing. Others tunes recall slightly more sedate UK out-
fits, like Heavenly and Belle and Sebastian (Mates hail from
San Francisco, the Baskervilles from New York).

I'm not surprised Seattle's KEXP has been playing the heck out
of this thing. It's extremely accessible, and in the best possible sense (since "accessible" sometimes means watered-down).

The aptly titled "Smash," in particular, deserves to be a hit,
and it might not be entirely coincidental that the title rhymes
with the Primitives' irresistible 1988 single "Crash." (Ah, but whatever happened to those Brit-poppers...)

Since the Baskervil-
les revive fond memor-
ies of jangle-pop acts, like
Chris Stamey and Game
Theory, it only makes sense
that Let’s Active’s Mitch
Easter returned to prod-
uce Twilight or that the
Bongos’ Richard Barone
(“Barbarella”) helped
to arrange “Smash.”

"Sweet and Sour" and "Moves" also deserve wider exposure, but without the push of a major label that might not happen. With hope, however, the band has made a few videos, since they have the goods to conquer MySpace/YouTube with ease (granted, they aren't spring chickens, but I'd like to think that's a minor obstacle).

It certainly doesn't hurt that Stephanie Finucane (keyboards, guitar) and Rob Keith (guitar, trombone) have great voices, both together and separately; Keith even has that mid-Atlantic thing going on, which might seem pretentious in another context, but works like a dream with the Baskervilles' bouyant melodies.

Note: this entry has been altered since original posting.

Endnote: Images from the band's MySpace Page ("Baskervilles
in Japan" and "Who Took the Tape?"). Incidentally, as one of their influences, they list fabulous Frenchman Jacques Dutronc. Yes!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

North to Alaska,
East to Harlem

Gladys Knight
& the Pips,
Claudine &

Pipe Dreams:

Shout! Factory


How can I work out this sweet relation?
-- "Mr. Welfare Man" (Claudine)

It isn't impossible to evaluate a soundtrack when you aren't
familiar with the film—I've done it plenty of times in the past—
but it's a compromise at best without the accompanying narrative
to provide the proper context. In this case, I haven't seen either
Claudine or Pipe Dreams, the sweet music from which has
been combined by Shout! Factory onto one compact disc.

Released in 1974, the former revolves around a single Harlem
mother of six (Oscar nominee Diahann Carroll) and the
garbage man who steals her heart (James Earl Jones).

Though he doesn't lend his
mellifluous vocals to the mix,
Curtis Mayfield wrote and
produced the score, setting
socially conscious lyrics to
mid-tempo funk and string-
saturated soul (both sound-
tracks were originally issued by Buddha Records).

Separately, "On and On" and "Make Yours a Happy Home"
landed at #2 on the Hot Soul chart. In addition, Knight
and the Pips cover Mayfield's "The Makings of You"
(from his 1970 debut, Curtis) and the Ralph Ellison-in-
spired "To Be Invisible" (from 1974's Sweet Exorcist).

That said, the Claudine soundtrack seems likely to please fans
of Knight more than Mayfield for the simple reason that the
lady's fine voice takes center stage (and seems to echo director
John Berry's emphasis on Carroll's Claudine over Jones's Roop).

"Hold On," in particular, shows how down and dirty Knight could
get given the right material. The Pips, on the other hand, sound
flyweight, but then that was the quartet's formula: female grit
tempered by male gloss, an inversion of the usual equation.

In the liner notes,
Knight reminisces,
"We did that album
in a weekend! Cur-
tis had in mind the
songs he wanted to
do, but he was literal-
ly writing as we were
recording. We lived in
that studio [referring
to Curtom in Chicago].
We had our food brought in. We slept there."

By contrast, Pipe Dreams, soundtrack to the 1976 pipeline
picture starring Knight and husband Barry Hankerson, covers
more ground, but Dreams was considered a dud (since I grew
up in Alaska, however, I've always been curious about it).

In the liner notes, A. Scott Galloway reveals that
Knight neglects to even mention the film in her auto-
biography, Between Each Line of Pain and Glory.

Heavily-orchestrated top 20 soul tune "So Sad the Song"
(written by Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser from Diana
Ross's Mahogany hit "Do You Know Where You're Going
To") and "Follow My Dreams" (Reverend James Cleve-
land) witness Knight going for a soaring Barbara Streis-
and sound (circa "The Way We Were," a song Knight
and the Pips would cover that same year), but oth-
er selections retain more of Claudine's earthiness.

Set to a jaunty piano mel-
ody, "Pot of Jazz" (Ivory
Joe Hunter) almost sounds
like an outtake from Out-
kast's criminally under-
rated Idlewild (granted,
the soundtrack didn't do
poorly, but too few peop-
le actually caught the duo's prohibition-era musical).

Other songwriters include Pip Merald "Bubba" Knight, Tony Camillo, J. & M. Spikes, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill.

For followers of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Claudine &
Pipe Dreams marks an essential purchase, but the 16-track
CD (14 vocals plus two instrumentals) serves just as well as
an introduction for new or curious listeners, particularly
those who only know the group from the top 10 pop
and soul sensation "Midnight Train to Georgia."

Endnote: By coincidence, I recently picked up the remastered Superfly soundtrack (as a kid, I played my dad's record all the time). The irony is that Claudine was conceived as a response to blaxploitation films like Superfly, yet Mayfield composed both.

He was also behind the scores for 1975's Let's Do It Again, 1976's Sparkle, and 1977's Short Eyes. The liners reproduce a story he related to Rolling Stone in 1993, "One time I was in downtown Chicago, and right on State Street, three of my movies were playing at the same time. And they had my name on all the marquees, lined up. It was quite a sight to see."

Images from Amazon, The Cocoa Lounge, Kalamu,
and Martini and Jopparelli's Music Selections.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

(Moon in) June Reviews

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

Amazon DVDs: Recount (HBO docudrama with Kevin Spacey and Tom Wilkinson), For One More Day (Michael Imperioli and Ellen Burstyn reunite for another Mitch Albom adaptation), The Criterion Collection - Classe Tous Risques (click here for my SIFFBlog review), The Criterion Collection - The Furies (Anthony Mann directs Walter Huston and Barbara Stanwyck), The Criterion Collection - Mishima: A Life in Four Parts (Paul Schrader directs Ken Ogata), and Bonneville (with Jessica Lange and Joan Allen). 

Amazon Theatricals: The Great Buck Howard (with John Malkovich and Colin Hanks) and Wanted (with James McAvoy). 

Coming soon: Baghead, Elite Squad, and Gonzo. Robert Pollard - Is Off to Business and Joan as Policewoman - To Survive.

IndieWIRE: Coverage of SIFF's second half

Seattle Film Blog: Capsules of Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, The Great Buck Howard, Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait, and Derek and Baghead. Also, a look at favorite film lines, a preview of a Hal Ashby retrospective, thoughts about a beloved song from an ill-fated film, and a visit to the set of Lynn Shelton's next feature, Humpday. 

Above right: Dexter Fletcher in Derek Jarman's Caravaggio (1986). 

Video Librarian: Surfwise (Doug Pray's follow-up to Scratch), Dangerous Dance (from Israel), Til Death Do Us Part (documentary about women who killed their abusers), Keali'i Reich-el - Live in Concertand Limp Bizkit - Rock Im Park 2001. 

Endnote: Performed by Robert Wyatt, "Moon in June" comes from Soft Machine's Third. Images: The New York Times and Urban Image.