Friday, August 29, 2008

Style and Formula

The Big
Pond Publishing [9/2/08]

Chris Cotton's blues repast includes a healthy serving of
folk and country, recalling Taj Mahal and other front-porch
stylists. As is often the case with this kind of music, the spot-
light shines brightest on the main player's voice and guitar.

Eight other musicians, including his regular sidemen—
Vance Ehlers (upright bass) and Justin Markovits (per-
cussion)—pitch in, but Cotton owns this particular show.

For fans of Mahal, John Lee Hooker, Creedence Clearwat-
er Revival, George Thorogood, and other acts that boogie
and choogle, The Big Sea will go down easy. While Cot-
ton may not trump those artists, he doesn't sound like a
carbon copy either. Note, for instance, the addition of sit-
ar to "The Last Man." Raga in the Delta? Sure, why not.
Cotton makes the unique combination work just fine.

John Eichleay, John Eichleay,
Copper Beech Records [10/7/08]

Based in NYC rather than
the UK, former jazz guitar-
ist John Eichleay sings
like Noel Gallagher, but
you wouldn't mistake him
for a one-man Oasis. There's
no Beatles worship going on here, though this ex-Berk-
lee student produces 10 pleasingly moody pop tunes.

If there are no "Wonderwalls" on Eichleay's self-released debut,
he and his band mates scratch a similar musical itch. The set's
secret weapon: versatile organ player Adam Klipple, who con-
jures up the ghosts of circuses past. As for that jazz training, you
won't find much evidence of it on this disc, and that's okay. Jazz
and pop don't always make for the most pleasant bedfellows.

Oh My God, Fools Want Noise,
Split Red Records [10/14/08]

Babies want their toys / fools want noise.
-- Oh My God, "Fools Want Noise"

Putting a creepy toy monkey on the cover of your
CD is one way to get attention. It's also a way to creep
people out. The cymbal-clapping chimp also figures in
the fold-out booklet, in which the goggle-eyed one drinks,
smokes, and hangs out with this Chicago-based band.

What any of this has to do with Oh My God's post-hard-
core quirk-rock, I couldn't say. On their fifth full-length,
the enthusiastic four-piece, who previously recorded as
a trio, add crunchy guitar to their synthy metallic sound.
Given the choice: I'd take the monkey over the music.

Prodigy, H.N.I.C., Part 2, AAO Music

You chinchilla soft / I'm brillo pad coarse.
-- Prodigy, "The Life"

You know the formula: booming bass, jazz-funk organ samp-
les, and lyrics about money, the law, and the ladies. Sprinkle
with profanity and liberal use of the n-word, and you're good
to go: West Coast rap in the NWA/Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg mode.

I can appreciate all those cats, especially Snoop, but second-
generation gangsta doesn't do it for me. Mobb Deep's Prodigy
does what he does well, but he isn't bringing anything new to
the party. If anything, this genre is starting to sound...tired.

Secret Dakota Ring, Cantarell,
Serious Busines Records [10/28/08]

When a band adds strings to their sound, it usually results in
something stately or sorrowful, but Andy Ross's Secret Dak-
ota Ring keeps things light as the string section saws away.

In that sense, he recalls Kanye
West and Wax Tailor in the live
context, since both prove that
strings don't have to suck the
air out of the room—in fact,
they'd suffer without 'em.

As it turns out, Ross doubles as the guitarist for OK Go and
co-founder of Serious Business Records, and Cantarell fol-
lows-up SDR's 2004 CD, Do Not Leave Baggage All the Way.

Though only two songs take advantage of that fabulous
string section, Ross insures that they're used well. If the
other tracks are less notable, they still get the job done.

The Swear, Hotel Rooms and
Heart Attacks, self-released [8/26/08]

Platinum blonde belter Elizabeth Elkins of the Swear
calls to mind female front women of the hair-metal era,
like Pat Benatar and Lita Ford, while her Atlanta quar-
tet straddles the line between alt-rock and metal.

In their publicity photo,
drummer Jerod Snider
sports a New York Dolls
t-shirt and bass player
Kevin Williams wears
eyeliner, which seems
telling, since the group
mixes and matches genres.

In their press kit, for instance, Creative Loafing compares Elkins to Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde, indicating they see her through a punk lens. I hear more hard rock, while their biography cites Garbage, Joan Jett, Morrissey, Social Distortion, and Billy Joel.

Of course, alt-metal is a well established subgenre, so it isn't as if
the Swear are dishing up something startlingly fresh, but it's still
mostly a boy's club, which sets them apart a little. Folks feeling
nostalgic for Girlschool and the like should give them a shot.

Endnote: For more information about Chris Cotton,
please click here or here; for John Eichleay, here or
here; for Oh My God, here or here; for Secret Dako-
ta Ring, here; and for the Swear, here or here. Imag-
es from John Sadlier Brown and Planetary Group.

Friday, August 22, 2008

For the
Price of

A Chat with Mark
and Jay Duplass
(click here for part five)

Kathy: I want to go backwards a little bit. Steve kind of touch-
ed on this, but you were talking about how you have to think on
your feet when you’re filming, and that’s part of the story. You
see them writing the script; they’re thinking on their feet, so
you’ve got your process built into the film, but I’m also won-
dering with your cast—and I’m guessing that maybe Greta
doesn’t fit this description—but to what extent do they feel
like under-employed actors? To what extent do the other
three feel like, ‘We should be getting more work, darn it.’

Mark: I think all of them feel that way to a certain extent.

Kathy: It does seem very sincere.

Mark: Greta exudes confidence, and she is good, and
I exude confidence and we’re all okay, but we’re vain,
and we would love to be getting hired all the time.

Kathy: The fact that they weren’t more famil-
iar to me made it seem more real. I looked up
Ross’s credits, and he’s done a lot of stuff—
more than I realized—but because I didn't
recognize him, it seemed more realistic.

Mark: That’s the key. That was the reason we couldn’t
do this as a studio movie about under-employed actors.

Kathy: It wouldn't work with Julia Roberts. And the
fact that Ross, to me—and I can’t be the first one to say
this—looks like Dermot Mulroney just makes it better.

Mark: He does! [laughs]

Kathy: That reminds me
a little bit of Michael Shan-
, because if you look at
Michael’s credits, he did
Bug, he did Before the
Devil Knows You’re
, and now people
know who he is, but he’s
been in all these movies I’ve seen, and I never…

Above right: Shannon in Shotgun Stories

Mark: That’s true. You never knew the name.

Kathy: Exactly. Why would it take me so
long to—it’s the same thing with Ross.

Steve: Did there come a point when you had to tell the
actors, ‘Don’t act too well, because if you act too prof-
essionally, you’ll start to look like professional actors.'

Jay: We never went along that line. We just worked
with their motivations in the moment. As long as they’re
not at the comedy; as long as they’re just playing it straight,
playing it serious, then they’re always on the right note.

Kathy: I think that’s also how Judd Apatow's sets work, which is interesting because they’re on a bigger-budget level than yours.

Mark: But there’s a similarity there. A lot of those guys are
big fans of our movies—of actors and stuff like that—and they've
said similar things, so I think it is. I think you’re right.

Jay: It’s pretty similar. They just have 400
times as much money. Maybe more than that…

Mark: Or 4,000. We met
Jonah Hill at SXSW one year,
and he was like, ‘Every day
on our lunch break, while we
were shooting Knocked Up, we
watched The Puffy Chair.’

Left: Katherine Heigl and
Seth Rogen in Knocked Up

Jay: We were like cool…
but that movie sounds
stupid, and then it be-
came this gigantic hit.

Kathy: I’m sure you’ve gotten this question before,
and unfortunately I didn’t write down the name of
the company, but I’ve seen your short This Is
John, and there’s a commercial on TV that is
your short. How do you feel about that?

Mark: We knew it would happen at some point, and I don’t nec-
essarily believe they ripped it off. I believe the idea was in the zeit-
geist, it was in the atmosphere, and could actually have been in-
spired. It’s so there. We actually—when we made the short, we did
talk about how it would make a great commercial at some point.

Kathy to Steve: I don’t know if you watch much TV, but there’s
a commercial… They have a short, and it’s just Mark, and he’s
trying to leave an answering message, and it just gets…crazy.

Mark: He’s trying to perfect his personal greeting.

Steve: What product are they selling?

Kathy: A phone, if I’m not mistaken—
some kind of cell phone service.

Jay: Yeah, at some point, we were like,
you know, we should try to sell this as a
commercial idea, because it’s going to hap-
pen soon…but somebody already did.

Steve: You’ve already talked in this interview
about the Seattle audience. There’s a huge at-
tempt by the authorities to tempt people to
make films here. Have you ever consider-
ed Seattle as a venue for making a film?

Mark: Absolutely. I was here last year shooting this movie
called True Adolescents that, I mean, literally I was here for
five weeks and not only do you get all the distinct, different
neighborhood looks and feels, but we went out to Forks and
shot at the beaches out there. It was incredible. I’ve never
seen Northwest weather to be like that, and it's amazing.
I would just say we would probably do it during the
summer, so we don’t get rained on.

Steve: You get money.

Right: Maggie Brown and Am-
ber Hubert in We Go Way Back

Mark: Yeah, they have
breaks and stuff like that.

Kathy: Have you seen [Lynn Shelton’s] We Go Way Back?

Mark: Lynn’s film? Yeah.

Kathy: Because she does a great job—and the same with Old Joy, although that’s Oregon. Both of those films get all that nature in there, and it becomes part of the story. It’s not just scenery.

Steve: What’s Lynn like to work with as a director?

Mark: I’ll know in about two weeks. [laughs] But so far, and I’m not just saying this, she’s unbelievably respectful, and there are ‘dude’ characters in this movie, as well [My Effortless Brilliance was a dude movie], and she’s looking to the dudes to tell her what dudes are like, so she's very—she just listens, and takes our ideas, and that’s how the storyline comes about. She’s very similar to how Jay and I work; a little more loose in structure, but a little less plot and genre-oriented, because Jay and I like to pound, pound towards the audience. Hers is gonna be a little more ‘floaty’ in that Old Joy way, but the same ethic, in terms of letting the actors lead.

Kathy: Did you do scenes with Melissa Leo in True Adolescents?

Mark: I did. Our agent just ended up signing her.
We’ve been big fans of hers for a long time.

Kathy: Did you see Frozen River when
you were at Sundance? She’s very good.

Mark: Still haven’t seen it. We didn’t get to see
any movies at Sundance, because we were so
busy. It was a totally different experience.

Jay: We’ve actually enjoyed the festival here. Sundance,
for better and worse, it’s a market, and we had no idea the
amount of press and not only that, but what is involved
when your film starts to sell and you start meeting people…

Mark: It was our second feat-
ure there, and that was the dif-
ference. When we showed The
Puffy Chair, we had only
shown shorts and done
a couple of interviews.

Above: Mark in This Is John

Jay: We premiered late, and no one even knew what it was.

Mark: We got there [this time], and everyone knew who we
were, and everyone had expectations, and it was intimidating.

Steve: I have the most unprofessional question anyone has ev-
er asked, but I’ve wanted to know this since I was six, but in your
film, there’s a part in it, in which a girl gets her 'baps' out. At what
point in the screening process does the actress find this out?

Mark: Luckily, Greta was not really worried about
that too much. She has a history in cinema…

Steve: I always wanted to know this, and you’re the first guys I’ve
asked. I didn’t think Sergei Bodrov [Mongol] would answer.

Mark: We were talking to her, and we were like, ‘You
know, you don’t really have to do this,’ and she was
like, ‘I don’t care. I’ll do it. I can get fully naked.’

And with that we wrapped up our interview, and Mark and Jay
Duplass went off into the damp Seattle afternoon. I'm happy to
say the weather had cleared up by the time Mark returned
later that summer to appear in Lynn Shelton's Humpday.

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

Endnote: Baghead continues to expand across the US.
Please click here for a list of release dates. Image from
The Austin Chronicle, CSPV, and The Duplass Brothers.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

For the
Price of

A Chat with Mark and Jay Duplass (click here for part four)

“Well-made and genuine, yet also simplistic and unre-
markable. That is just what its makers intended it to be."
-- Neil Morris,
Indy Week

Here's a continuation of the interview Prost Amerika's Steve
Clare and I conducted with writer/directors Mark and Jay
Duplass at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.

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

Kathy: I have a question about time and not budget. What
were the lengths of the shoots for The Puffy Chair, Baghead,
and The Do-Deca-Pentathlon? How did they compare?

Mark: Puffy Chair was a three-week shoot initially, and then
we did a week of re-shoots and some road footage. And then
Baghead was straight three weeks—a little easier to shoot.

Kathy: That sounds really short.

Jay: Baghead was three weeks, no days off, re-
shooting consistently for all that time. To me
that was the issue. We did so much work.

Mark: And Do-Deca was four and a half weeks. A little more time.

Kathy: For you guys that was almost leisurely. I just interviewed David Gordon Green, and that was a question I asked him, as well.

Mark: I love that guy.

Kathy: He’s great. I think George Washington was
between 19 and 21 days or something like that, but
for Snow Angels, he had 45 days, which to him was
incredible. I’m curious as to how these things com-
pare. In comparison, 21 days seems so short.

Mark: We could definitely use some more time. We have a small crew—days are not that expensive—so we’re definitely expanding a little more.

Left: Green with Paul Schneider

Kathy: Do you work weekends, too?

Mark: We work six-day weeks.

Kathy: Green said he works five-day weeks.

Jay: Five days would be incredible, because you know
what’s gonna happen is you work five days and then
one of those weekend days, you have to do re-con.

Mark: Or re-shoots or something on your one
day off. We’re really working seven days a week,
because our day off is for prepping and stuff.

Jay: Our crew gets one day off, but we don’t, but having four
and a half weeks on this last one made a huge difference.

Mark: It’s a bit of a bigger movie. There are more set changes.

Kathy: And it’s through Sony?

Mark: No, we did this all independently.

Steve: What’s next in terms of timeline? This festival
ends, and then it opens in which towns on what dates?

Mark: Baghead starts June 13th in Austin;
then on July 4th, I know it goes to Portland.

Jay: And on July 18th, it’s here. Then it goes to New York and LA after what we consider to be our special cities, the places we want to take it.

Right: Steve Zissis, Elise
Muller, and Greta Gerwig.

[After this interview Sony moved the Seattle opening to 8/8.]

Steve: We hear you. Make no mistake, as representatives
of the Seattle film industry, you’re preaching to us, because
we like the idea of being the capitol of the independents…

Kathy: But there are still people in Seattle who
need that New York or LA stamp of approval,
and those people are everywhere you go.

Mark: Hopefully, this Baghead thing will work out.

Steve: Well, once we’ve run this interview, they’ll be queu-
ing around the block. All we have to do in Seattle is say these
are nice guys, and they’re not spoiled, and people feel a bond,
because everyone likes to think of themselves as nice people.

Mark: That’s good. We work really hard to present our-
selves as not conceited assholes…that we are. [laughs]

Steve: Which reminds me. On that point, during the ques-
tion-and-answer last night, you called somebody an asshole.
I wanted you to make me a promise that every time you
come back to Seattle, you’ll call somebody an asshole.

Mark: You got it [laughs]

Steve: Even if it’s me.

Kathy: Who did you call an asshole?

Mark: Someone who asked what the budget was.

[Baghead takes to task people who ask this question at festivals.]

Steve: I actually like that he called someone an ass-
hole. So often when stars come up, the questions are
sycophantic and the answers are sycophantic.

Jay: That’s our thing. Q&As can be horrid, but if you
just let it go, and go with how horrid... It’s like what
we were talking about, just trying to keep it fresh.
Don’t feel like you need to give an obvious answer;
give up what’s coming to you at that moment.
That’s something people usually enjoy.

Mark: It’s better than: DVX100AP.

Steve: This is one of the
things—I can’t speak for
Kathy—but I know when
I do an interview, I always
try to imagine how many
interviews you’ve done,
and what you’re sick
of talking about.

Above: Gerwig, Zissis, Ross Partridge, and Muller

Mark: I appreciate that.

Kathy: I try to read as many interviews as I
can beforehand, but you only have so much time.

Jay: You can’t read everything.

Mark: You guys are great

Jay: Yeah, this is a great interview.

Steve: Well, thank you.

Kathy: It probably helps that I saw Baghead a
long time ago, so I’ve had time to think about it.

Steve: I saw it last night, so I’ve not had time to think about it.
Because I end up reviewing so many—as I’m reviewing films, there
has to be a level playing field—unlike Kathy, I never read anything
about a film beforehand… The whole thing was new to me.

Kathy: But reviewers have been pretty good about
not giving the film away. I didn’t know how it was
going to end either, and I liked not knowing.

Jay: That’s one of the most exciting things to us about
the film: the process of discovery. Not only about
what’s going on, but what the movie actually is.

Click here for part six

Endnote: For the record, I disagree with Neil Morris
that Baghead is "unremarkable," but I appreciate what
he's getting at in the quote above. The film doesn't draw
any undue attention to itself, i.e. it isn't flashy or tren-
dy, but that's kind of remarkable in this day and age.

There are no more Seattle screenings, but Baghead con-
tinues to expand across the US. Please click here for a list of
release dates. Images from Sony Classics and Movie Habit.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thoughtful and Cooperative

D+, What Is Doubt For,
Knw-Yr-Own Records

D+ represents democracy
in action. Bret Lunsford
(Beat Happening) found-
ed the band, but on the
evidence of their six full-
lengths to date, he doesn't
lead in the traditional sense.

For some groups that might spell anarchy, but in this case, Lunsford, Karl Blau, and Phil Elverum (Microphones, Mt. Eer-
ie) all sing. In fact, they often share vocals within songs, and their voices are just different and similar enough that this approach works wonderfully well. All three have an intense yet laconic style; they can harmonize, but you can still tell them apart.

So, if the vocals are fairly "neat," as it were, the arrange-
ments can get a little messy. "Wishful Thinking," for in-
stance, comes off like two or three tracks played at once.
That isn't, however, a bad thing, and Lunsford acknow-
ledges that songs often take shape during jam sessions.

In the end, though, they do take the form of finished
songs, not doodles or sketches (although Guided by
Voices managed to build an entire career out of that
sort of thing). D+ never recalls Beat Happening, but
there's still a minimalist aesthetic at work, resul-
ting in brief silences between notes and words.

It's easy to say that D+ sounds
so thoughtful and cooperat-
ive, because they're based in An-
acortes, rather than Seattle, Port-
land, or even Olympia (where
Beat Happening hung their hats).

Maybe it's even lazy to make that claim, but I'm sure there's some truth behind it. When I interviewed Lunsford earlier this year, he admit-
ted, "Olympia was almost over-stimulating. I'm happy to be home and have all of these creative friends around me. It is all very rich."

And yet, as the title indicates, he still has his doubts. Not
about Anacortes or about his friends, but about life. And
not about whether it's worth living, but how best to live it.

In "Certainty," Lunsford asks questions, like "I don't
think I know who you are," "I don't think I know
that I failed," and "I don't think I know where
I'll be." In "Wishful Thinking," he notes,
"Think I think, but I ignore more."

There's as much thinking going
on as asking. Like most of us,
he's unlikely to find the ans-
wers any time soon, but at
least he's on the right path.

Click here for my review of
D+ - On Purpose: 1997-2007

Endnote: Images from Knw-Yr-Own Records.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Stars &

A loud and loose trio, Boston, MA's Muy Cansado play rock
and roll with a little country on the side. After a couple of listens,
they don't bring any specific bands to mind, but if pressed for
comparisons, I would cite the Replacements and the Pixies.

Chris Mulvey handles the regular-guy vocals and Joey Santiago-
style guitar-slinging, but bassist Lisa Libera, who has more of a
post-punk approach, pitches in for "Erased." She should do
that more often. Stars & Garters is well worth a listen.

Sleeping in the Aviary, Expensive Vomit
in a Cheap Hotel
Science of Sound [10/14/08]

"The best three-piece
since Grand Funk."
-- From their MySpace Page

Quirky title aside, this
Madison, WI quartet brings
the noise on the follow-up to
2007's Oh, This Old Thing?

Granted, noisemakers include ukelele, tea kettle, accordion, and
saw, but don't be fooled. Creativity and quirkiness don't have to go
hand-in-hand, and Sleeping in the Aviary keeps cuteness at bay.

In fact, singer/songwriter Elliot Kozel's lyrics are downright
dark ("She had a pawn shop gun in her teeth," "I'm old, but
I'm young enough to die"), and the band can get as quiet
and spooky as the grave. "Gas Mask Blues" combines
the two approaches particularly well, as it begins like
an Appalachian lament before exploding into full-
bore rawk. Keep an eye on these kids.

Click here to sample a few tracks.

Two Sheds, EP, Filter US Recordings

Oh, it breaks my heart to be alive.
-- "To Be Alive"

Two Sheds deliver torchy
folk-rock. Caitlin Gutenber-
ger writes and sings swirling,
string-laden, waltz-like songs
with backing from Johnny
Gutenberger, Russel Miller,
and James Finch, Jr.

Ms. Gutenberg whispers, drawls, and bites into cer-
tain words just like Rickie Lee Jones and Lucinda Williams before her. Here's hop-
ing her career shines as bright and lasts as long.

I enjoyed the credits almost as much as the music:
"To Be Alive" features "cat food crunching" from
Buddy the Cat, while the EP was "recorded, en-
gineered, produced, mixed, pickled and drank
by Robert Creek and Two Sheds at the Han-
gar and at the home (Sacramento, CA)."

Click here to sample a few tracks.

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

Endnote: For more information about Muy Cansado, please
click here or here; for Sleeping in the Aviary, here; and for
Two Sheds, here. Images from Planetary Group and the
Two Sheds website
. And for the record, I love Grand Funk!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Magnificent and Beautiful

Here I do something magnificent and beaut-
iful and people ask why. There is no why!
-- Philippe Petit on his Twin Tower stroll

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

These are the reviews and other as-
signments I'm working on this month.

Amazon DVDs: William Friedkin's The Night
They Raided Minksy's
, Stanley Kramer's The
Secret of Santa Vittoria
Jellyfish (Israeli a-
ward winner), The Price of Sugar, Twenty-
Four Eyes -
Criterion Collection, A Grand-

pa for Christmas (with Ernest Borgnine),
and Priceless (with Audrey Tautou).

Amazon Theatricals: Man on Wire (the best docu-
tary of the year), The Rocker (with The Office's
Wilson), Bottle Shock (with Bill Pullman and
Rickman), Lakeview Terrace (with Kerry Wash-
ton and Patrick Wilson), and Ping Pong Playa.

Still playing (or yet to open):
Brideshead Revisited, Gonzo,
Hamlet 2, The Wackness, and Wanted.

Siffblog: Jean-Luc Godard's Viv-
re Sa Vie
and interviews with the
Duplass Brothers
(Baghead) and
Courtney Hunt (Frozen River).

[Baghead and Man on Wire open on
8/8, Frozen River on 8/15, The Rock-

er on 8/20, Vivre Sa Vie on 8/22, and Lakeview Terrace on 9/19.]

Video Librarian: disFIGURED, Inside the Circle:
A B-Boy Chronicle
, Snoop Dogg: Drop It Like It's

Hot (I loved this), Depression - Out of the Shad-
ows, Love Iranian-American Style, Mixed Bles-
sings, Men Are Human, Women Are Buffalo,
Intimidad, REO Speedwagon: Live in the
Iggy & the
Stooges - Escaped
Maniacs, Water (from the makers of
What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?),
We Are Together (South African
music doc), Phineas and Ferb:
The Fast and the Phineas,
and Recount (click here
for my Amazon review).

Endnote: Meanwhile, work continues on my special sec-
ret music project, which I've been at for four years now.
Images from The New York Times (James Ricketson/Mag-
nolia Pictures and Discovery Films) and
The Errant Aesthete.