Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movies for Music Lovers: 2009 Edition


Click here
for the

I'm always pleased when my top 10 doesn't look like anybody else's, but I'd never set out to create something unique just to stand out from the crowd. Not unless my heart was really in it.

Last year, it was all about the re-release of Jerzy Skolimowski's long-lost Deep End (and this year, the reissue of two forgotten Sylvester albums from the early-1970s top my music list).

But not all years are created equal. In 2006, I gave pride of place
to 1969's Army of Shadows, indicating that the year had nothing
better to offer—not that I don't stand by Jean-Pierre Melville's
amazing movie—but I really would prefer to celebrate the new.

The minute Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker ended, I knew I'd
found my #1, even though there were still six months left in the
year. As it turns out, dozens—if not hundreds—of film critics felt
exactly the same way
. So be it. It's my number one with a bullet.

For some, the picture pro-
vided their first exposure
to Bigelow (Near Dark) and
Jeremy Renner (North
Country), which is great—
better late than never—but
I've been pulling for these
underdogs for years. Same for Anthony Mackie, who made my list
three year ago with Half Nelson. He's a fine actor who deserves
more leading roles of his own (and also rates a mention for his
charismatic portrayal of rapper Tupac Shakur in Notorious).

Note: The links lead to my Amazon, SIFF, Siffblog, and Video Librarian reviews.

The Tops:
1. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
2. Il Divo (Paulo Sorrentino)
3. Precious (Lee Daniels)
4. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)
5. Public Enemies (Michael Mann)
6. Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog)
7. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp)
8. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone)
9. Hunger (Steve McQueen)
10. Bright Star (Jane Campion)

11. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
12. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
13. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
14. Goodbye, Solo (Ramin Bahrani)
15. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel)
16. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis)
17. Tony Manero (Pablo Larraín)
18. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins)
19. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas)
20. Lake Tahoe (Fernando Eimbcke)

Note: I wish so many critics
didn't find it necessary to dis-
parage Anderson's previous ef-
fort, The Darjeeling Limited, in
order to praise Fantastic Mr.
Fox. Couldn't Fox be appreciated
on its own merits? Further, I
prefer Darjeeling to his debut, Bottle Rocket, among Martin Scorsese's favorite films of the '00s. (For once, I disagree with the director. And I'd also like to see more love for The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou).

Second Runners-up:
21. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh)
22. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)
23. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze)
24. Black Dynamite (Scott Sanders)
25. Tie: Big Fan (Robert Seigel) and The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)
26. The Silence of Lorna* (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
27. Humpday (Lynn Shelton)
28. Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski)
29. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
30. The Merry Gentleman (Michael Keaton)

* Also known as Lorna's Silence. Either way: she isn't very talkative.

Note: For my money, A Serious Man and The Informant! are
the year's saddest comedies. While watching both, I laughed. But
afterwards, I wanted to cry. As for The Wrestler and Big Fan, Ro-
bert Seigel penned the pair. And Roy Andersson's morbidly hilar-
ious You, the Living misses
my top 30 only because I saw it in '08.

Top Documentaries:
1. Stranded (Gonzalo Arijón)
2. Soul Power (Jeffrey Levy-Hinte)
3. The September Issue (C.J. Cutler)
4. Tyson (James Toback)
5. Audience of One (Michael Jacobs)
6. The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins (Pietra Brettkelly)
7. RiP! A Remix Manifesto (Brett Gaylor)
8. Invisible Girlfriend (David Redmon and Ashley Sabin)
9. Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner)
10. The Queen and I (Nahid Persson)

Top Rediscoveries:
1. Skidoo (Otto Preminger)
2. Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda)
3. Model Shop (Jacques Demy)
4. Lola Montès (Max Ophüls)
5. Dillinger Is Dead (Marco Ferreri)
6. Funeral Parade of Ros-
es (Toshio Matsumoto)

7. Phase IV (Saul Bass)
8. The Rain People (Francis Ford Coppola)
9. So Long at the Fair (Terence Fisher)
10. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (Paul Mazursky)

Note: Most of these titles screened as part of the Northwest Film
Forum's year-long '69 series. Skidoo is wacked-out, hippie-dippy fun
with a Harry Nilsson score and an all-star cast. The music is available,
the movie is not. To quote Adam Sekuler, "Skidoo: you gotta be there!"

Top DVDs:
1. Magnificent Obsession - Criterion
Collection (Douglas Sirk/John M. Stahl)
2. Philippe Garrel x 2: I Can No Longer
Hear the Guitar/Emergency Kisses
3. Made in USA (Jean-Luc Godard)
4. The Exiles (Kent Mckenzie)
5. Careful (Guy Maddin)

Note: I only list DVDs with extras that enhance the viewing ex-
perience in some way. Further, I only list those that I either pur-
chased or reviewed, hence no AK 100: 25 Films by Kurosawa,
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Qual du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Gau-
mont Treasures, Zabriskie Point, The Exterminating Angel,
or The Samuel Fuller Film Collection, all of which appear
on Dennis Lim's list for The Los Angeles Times.

Worthy of attention
(in alphabetical order):
(500) Days of Summer, Ad-
ventureland, The Baader Meinhof Complex, Broken Embraces, Ché, Coco before Chanel, Cold Souls, The Country Teacher, Duplicity, An Education, Endgame, The Firm Land, The House of the
Devil, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus*, The Imma-
culate Conception of Little Dizzle, Inglourious Basterds, Lem-
on Tree
, Me and Orson Welles, The Messenger, The Missing Person, Moon, Séraphine, A Single Man, State of Play, Stel-
la, Sunshine Cleaning, Telstar, Trucker, and Two Lovers.

* Opens at the Metro Cinemas on 1/8/10.

Missed (or haven't seen yet): The Beaches of Agnes, Bron-
son, Coraline, The Cove, Crazy Heart, The Damned United, The
English Surgeon, Everlasting Moments, I'm Gonna Explode, Julia,
Liverpool, The Maid, Next Day Air, Night and Day, Of Time and
the City, Passing Strange, Police, Adjective, Pontypool, Ponyo,
The Road, Still Walking, Somers Town, Sugar, Tetro, Three
Monkeys, Tulpan, Unmade Beds, Up, Whip It!, The
White Ribbon, and World's Greatest Dad.

Note: I'll be seeing The Beaches of Agnes, Cra-
zy Heart, Julia, and Passing Strange shortly.

Endnote: Cross-posted at Facebook and Siffblog.
Images from Film Reference, Action Movie Reviews,
Way of the West, Channel 4, and The Guardian.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Surp-

We Are

On their third full-length, Cali quartet Dios tosses a grab bag of
styles and moods into the mix and makes them into a surprising-
ly cohesive whole. Driving beats collide with acoustic guitar inter-
ludes, while treated vocals spar with enchanting chimes. As with
Black Moth Super Rainbow, they also wield the flute, an instru-
ment making quite a comeback lately, with aplomb. Fans of Beck
and the Beta Band would do wise to give We Are Dios a try.

Note: According to the AMG, "In summer 2004, guitarist Ronnie
James Dio
served Dios with a cease and desist order, citing potential
confusion over his own outfit's name Dio and the younger group's
moniker. In response, Dios changed their name to Dios Malos."

Love ya, Dio, but that's lame—especially since Dios, whose
name comes from the Spanish word for God, consists of four
second-generation, Los Angeles-born Mexican-Americans.

Cosmo Jarvis, Humasyouhitch
Sonofabitch, Wall of Sound
"Well, I'm 19, and I don't know much
about anything, but I ain't dumb."
-- Cosmo Jarvis, "Clean My Room"

About Cosmo Jarvis's self-titled EP, I wrote, "I could
do without a few of his more adolescent lyrics," and I feel
the same way about the New Jersey-to-UK transplant's
two-disc debut (he definitely has a way with a melody,
but one disc would've gotten the job done). That
said, I still like his description of Megan
Fox as "the girl in Transformers."

Static of the Gods, Knowledge
Machine, delVerano records [3/23/10]

The indie rock of Bettie Serveet meets the electro-pop of
the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on this Boston trio's second record, ex-
cept Static of the Gods offer a slightly darker, more under-
stated sound. I feel like I've been down this road before,
but that doesn't make the journey any less pleasant.

Endnote: For more information about Cosmo
Jarvis, please click here; for Static of the Gods,
here. Dios image from ...nonphenomenal lineage.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

of the
Part 13

I recently
the fol-
film for
Video Librarian, and thought the results were worth sharing.

(Michael Keaton, US, 2008, 97 mins.)

Last summer, Michael Keaton (Batman, Game 6)
made his directorial debut with The Merry Gentle-
man, a two-pronged character study shot in shades of noir.

The set-up begins in Chicago with Keaton's Frank Logan wan-
dering through the wintery weather. Kate Frazier (Kelly Mac-
), meanwhile, lives in an unnamed town with another man
(Bobby Cannavale), and enters the scene with a bruised eye. Af-
ter her cop companion leaves for work, she packs up her stuff,
catches a plane to the Windy City, and starts a new life.

In the interval, Logan watch-
es a trio of men leave a corner
bar. Moments later, he shoots
one of them dead. Days later,
while planning another hit, he
spies Frazier, now working as
a receptionist, through his
viewfinder. She notices him
on the roof, screams, and calls the police because she thought he
was going to jump. He disappears, but after a second murder, they
return to question her about the man she saw. Now, Frank’s got
two bodies to his name and a connection to Kate, who tells
different people different stories about her background.

From the opening sequence, the film appears to share similari-
ties with John Dahl's Chicago-set You Kill Me, except The Mer-
ry Gentleman isn’t a black comedy, despite a few subtle comic
touches, like the world's most depressing office holiday party.
Plus, the central duo doesn’t meet until the halfway point.

If a first film reveals where an actor-turned-director’s head is
at, then Keaton’s mind resides in a dimly-lit, but not hopeless
place. The Merry Gentleman starts out as a two-hander,
but Macdonald gets all the best scenes, while he barely speaks
a word. Frank’s die is cast, but Kate’s future is unwritten, and
it takes a hit man to help her to write it. Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 12: Il Divo

Endnote: This is an edited version of a longer review.
Click here for the original. Images from Time Out Chicago
and All Movie Photo (Copyright © Samuel Goldwyn Films).

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Every few
I check
Google to
see where
my re-
(and oth-
er ephem-
era) are ending up. Here are some of the more interesting results.

Cinema Cinema:
AndMoreAgain review of Exile Baby

Cinema of the World:
Siffblog review of Skin, Skin

DVD Beaver:
Amazon review of Food, Inc.

Amazon review of This Is It

Hot Splice:
Siffblog photo of director Barry Jenkins

Humpday thanks

Reel Black:
Amazon review of Music Is the Weapon

Reverb Nation:
AndMoreAgain review
of The End of Suffering

Rivercoast Film:
Amazon review of American Meth

The Spiritualized Forums:
Wire interview with Loop's Robert Hampson
Amazon review of Totally Awesome

Endnote: Images from Barry Jenkins's Medicine
for Melancholy and Lynn Shelton's Humpday,
among my favorite films of the year (full list here).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eat, For This Is My Body


ing Us,

Eating Us is like the answer to a dream I didn't know I had.
Imagine if Air re-recorded Moon Safari under the influence of
some powerful psychotropics and invited a few old folkies and
young dance denizens to the party. In an ideal world, the re-
sults from that schizophrenic soirée would resemble the lat-
est enchantment from this mysterious Pittsburgh collective.

Goofy video for a great song.

Don't go looking to the glossy booklet for further information,
however, other than song titles. Like the cover, it consists en-
tirely of black and white photographic collages daubed with
splashes of neon orange. The back of the CD, however,
states that lysergic maestro Dave Fridmann (the Flam-
ing Lips, Mercury Rev) served as producer and that
the participants include Tobacco (voice + music +
visual), Iffernaut (drums), and Ryan Graveface
and Seven Fields of Aphelion (more music).

A few nursery rhyme-like lyrics float to the sparkling sur-
face: "Neon lemonade, eat my face away, na na-na-na na...
you and me, we're gonna melt away, like apples in the
ground..." All the while, Iffernaut pounds the skins like
a mad robot and the synthesizer player, whoe'er he
may be, sets his controls for the heart of the sun.

Eating Us serves as the ideal successor to Fridmann's work
on Rev's motorik-inspired Snowflake Midnight. And when you
least expect it, flute and banjo enter the fray. Though I'm new
to Black Moth Super Rainbow, I love, love, love this record.

Endnote: For more information about
Black Moth Super Rainbow, please click
here or here. Image from Fanatic Promotion.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Acts of Com-

Hotel St. George,
City Boy Lemon,
This Is Tightrope

Add singer/guitar-
ist Matt Binder to
the list of Ameri-
cans who think—
or wish—they'd
been born in Brit-
ain. Growing up,
I was often surpris-
ed by the number
of Brits who sang
sans accent until I heard Herman's Hermits and the Kinks.

This San Diego quartet doesn't bring either act to mind,
though they've probably got a few UK records in their col-
lection, since they combine precise vocals with layers of fuzz
and reverberating beats, like a cross between the Stone Roses
New Order, and the Vapours (that's a compliment, by the way).

Note: Vinyl and digital download only.

Julie the Band, An Act of Communication, Baby Bird Records

An Act of Communication works well enough as far as new
wave-meets-baroque pop goes—trumpets, violins, Cars-like key-
boards—and harder-edged than that description suggests, but this
LA quintet's debut doesn't leave as much of an impression as it
should. Includes a reverant version of the Beatles' "Blackbird"
and a remix of "Foggin Up a Clear View" with Obie Trice.

Seaspin, Reverser EP, self-released

This LA five-piece cooks up
airy melodies in the vein of
My Bloody Valentine and Cur-
ve with Jennifer Goodridge's
delicate vocals floating atop
a three-guitar maelstrom.
You've heard it before, and if
you're like me, you won't mind hearing it again. Ends in a phosphorescent spray of feedback.

Samuel Stewart, The Beginner
EP, Frank Lawless Entertainment

I know I'm a sinner, been doing it
for years, but I'm still a beginner.
-- Samuel Stewart, "The Beginner"

Now based in LA, London singer/multi-instrumentalist
Samuel Stewart follows in the ornate footsteps of Ar-
cade Fire and DeVotchka on this music hall-inspired EP
(I'd imagine he also has a thing for The Threepenny Op-
era). His vibrato brings to mind Marc Bolan and Deven-
dra Banhart, but with fewer folk and glam touches, while
he sounds a little like Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hütz on
the gypsy-oriented "Devil Music." If Stewart isnt work-
ing from the most original blueprint, his talent and ease
of execution make The Beginner worthy of attention.

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

Endnote: For more information about Hotel St.
George, please click here; for Julie the Band, here
or here; for Seaspin, here or here; and for Samuel
Stewart, here or here. Images from Planetary Group.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


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

DVDs: The Edge of Love, Hung (HBO Series) - Season One, Bewitch-
ed - The Complete Eighth Season
[four-disc set], Dare, and
Mental - The Complete First Season [four-disc set].

Amazon Theatricals: Brothers (Jim Sheridan directs
Jake Gyllenhaal, Toby Maguire, and Natalie Portman), In-
(Clint Eastwood directs Morgan Freeman and Matt
Damon), Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar directs
Penélope Cruz), and The Imaginarium of Doctor Par-
(Terry Gilliam directs Heath Ledger).

Still playing (or yet to open): Coco before Chanel,
Law Abiding Citizen, Me and Orson Welles, This Is It,
Where the Wild Things Are, and Youth in Revolt.

KCTS 9: These are some of the press releases I've written or to which I've contributed: CFO announcement, development team announcement, FRONTLINE: Puget Sound's Poisoned Waters, KCTS 9 Chefs 2010, This Emotional Life, The Whole World Was Watching, and Yakima Valley Community Foundation grant.

Video Librarian: Latin Music USA [two-disc set], A Little
Snow Fairy Sugar [two-disc set], You Weren't There - A His-
tory of Chicago Punk 1977-1984, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,
Coco before Chanel, Dirty - The Official ODB Biography, Lost -
The Complete Fifth Season
[five-disc set], The Merry Gent-
, Trucker, Wild Child, Runaway, Shall We Kiss,
and A Wink and a Smile - The Art of Burlesque.

Endnote: Image from Band of Thebes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fountain of Everything

Vivian Girls - Everything Goes Wrong (In the Red)

So often on their second record, a band will tighten things up in
order to present a more precise version of their signature sound.
To which, Brooklyn's Vivian Girls say, in essence, "Screw that!"

On Everything Goes Wrong, they crank up the volume,
quicken the pace, and color outside the lines. This full-steam-a-
head approach breeds excitement, but at the expense of finesse,
i.e. their schoolyard sing-a-long vocals are even unrulier than
before. Not that I'm complaining—not much, at any rate.

As on their self-titled debut, the trio's girl-group harmonies get
the job done, but enunciation goes out the window as if their vo-
cal chords are straining to keep up with the hands that pound
the drums, beat the bass, and strum the guitars (the drums
on "Double Visions" are so loud, in fact, I briefly thought
someone was trying to break down my door).

This isn't to suggest that the
ladies are slumping through
their sophomore release, but
rather that their latest long-
player more closely duplicat-
es the live show, where they
trade instruments, Beat Hap-
pening-style, and stretch
out their songs like taffy.

It's a solid follow-up, if less catchy than before, as if the
Raincoats decided to cover Hüsker Dü by way of the Dick-
ies, i.e. a cohesive album rather than a collection of singles.
Granted, I was expecting the latter, so I was disappointed
at first, but this CD stands up to repeat plays like a trouper.

Click here for my Amazon review of Vivian Girls, and
here to stream their Chantels cover, "He's Gone."

Hot Day at the Zoo - Zoograss: Live
the Waterhole (INTA Records)

I'm talkin' about whiskey drinkin' all through the
night. If all goes right, I'm gonna find a fight.
-- HDATZ, "Blues for Jimmy"

Hot Day at the Zoo are a throwback to the itchy, country-infused days of Little Feat, Canned Heat, or even the Rolling Stones in their down-home moments (when they would pretend they were from the Deep South instead of the London suburbs).

In front of a boisterous crowd, these cats raise a ruckus with
banjo, mandolin, upright bass, and whiskey-soaked vocals. You
can probably predict what this disc sounds like, and that's okay:
HDATZ aren't reinventing the wheel, just giving it a spirited spin.

Mascara - Fountain of Tears (Mr. Fibuli's Records)

Singer/guitarist Chris Mascara and compatriots Matt Graber
and Bo Barringer lay down some driving rock on their second
full-length. If Fountain of Tears isn't strictly indie, prog, or
metal, it resides somewhere in the margins between those gen-
res, though they manage to recall Firehose on title track "Ai-
nadamar," a tribute to Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.

A veteran of Rock Band and the Blue Man Group, Mascara comes
on like a theatrically trained performer—think The Rocky Horror
Show's Riff Raff—which lends the album a '70s feel, i.e. Meatloaf,
Alice Cooper, etc., for which I have a high tolerance, though I
could do without the fright-night theatrics of "High School," on
which Mascara moans and groans through lines like, "The shit
I pulled out of my rectum/was red, was red, was red..." Ack.

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

Endnote: For more information about the Vivian Girls,

please click here. You can also catch them at Seattle's High
Dive on 2/13. For more on Hot Day at the Zoo, go here;
for Mascara, here. Henry Darger painting of the original
Vivians from Shake Your Fist; band pic from ShowClix.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Movie of the
Month: Part 12

I recently reviewed the
following film for
, and thought the
results were worth sharing.

IL DIVO [****]
(Paulo Sorren-

tino, Italy, 20-
08, 110 mins.)

With his audacious portrait of Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, Paulo Sorrentino (The Consequences of Love)
reinvents the biopic—or at least turns it inside out.

If comparisons to Nixon aren't completely off the mark, they're
also misleading (New York Times critic Stephen Holden's cita-
tion of the British miniseries I, Claudius makes more sense).

While Oliver Stone offered a conventionally Freudian reading of
the former president, Sorrentino trades back story for something
more intimate, yet enigmatic by presenting the seven-time PM's
scandal-plagued reign from his subject's unique perspective.

And what
a subject!
rah, The
Girl by
the Lake)
plays An-
dreotti as
a hunched-up, jug-eared cross between Richard III and Nosfer-
atu's Max Schrek ("Il Divo" translates as the God or the Di-
vine). Instead of walking, he glides from dark room to dark
room—his other nicknames include the Prince of Darkness,
the Black Pope, the Sphinx, the Fox, and the Hunchback.

Despite his leadership of the Christian Democratic Party and ties
to the Vatican and the Mafia, Andreotti comes across as an isolat-
ed man with plenty of supplicants, but few friends (and a silent,
supportive spouse). Under his watch, assassinations of his critics
ran rife, even if he never did time for murder. His refusal to co-
operate with terrorists also led to the death of leftist rival Aldo
Moro (focus of Marco Bellocchio's fine Good Morning, Night).

Il Divo won seven David di Donatello Awards in Italy and the
Jury Prize at Cannes and has inspired comparisons to the work
of Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Fran-
cis Ford Coppola. There's a certain coldness to it that will sure-
ly leave some unmoved, but it's undoubtedly among the most
fantastic-looking films of the year. Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 11: Endgame

2/2/10 update: It would've been nice to see Il Divo score a nomina-
tion for best foreign language film, but one Oscar nod—for best make-
up—is better than nothing. For the complete list, please click here.

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. According to
a YouTube commenter on the trailer above, "The opening song
is 'Toop Toop' by Cassius, the second one is 'Nux Vomica' by the
Veils." Images from Cinemavistodame and The House Next Door.
The Un-
real Is

and the
Cults of the Radio Age, Warp Records

"You feel that this is all really happen-
ing, and you’re in it up to your neck."
-- Lee Arizuno, The Quietus review

Birmingham's Broadcast (Trish Keenan and James Cargill)
and artist/musician the Focus Group (Julian House, the foun-
der of Ghost Box Records) fill this collaboration with 23 tracks
of beautiful, sometimes scary weirdness (House has design-
ed every one of Broadcast's eye-catching album covers).

I love the beauty, which stems from the
union between Keenan's multi-tracked
mutterings and the chiming, cascading
lullaby-like melodies, but have mixed
feelings about the darker pieces. They
clatter and clamber like incidental music
from the films of John Carpenter or the
Brothers Quay, and the cinematic feel
is admirable, but also unsettling.

It's one thing to watch those kinds of
pictures, and move on, and another to
linger in the sinister worlds such filmmakers create. If your
collection includes the scores to Suspiria and Eraserhead, you
may feel otherwise. After a few listens, I proclaim it a mixed
success, but this one is growing on me by the second

11/28: After spending several weeks and dozens of spins with
this disc, I've come to adore it, but don't intend to change any
of the words above, since other listeners may have the same
experience, i.e. my initial concerns dissipated—and com-
pletely disappeared—through repeated exposure.

Note: Warp is advertising this release as an
EP, though it contains 50 minutes of music.

Brett Gleason, The Dissonance EP, self-titled [1/19/10]

"The unreal is real if you're a believer!"
-- Brett Gleason, "Futile and Fooled"

Long Island-born, Brooklyn-based Brett Gleason mixes dark
metal with post-bop and bright pop. As he pounds away on the
piano and keyboards, his detached voice floats above the din. The
somewhat plodding blend of light and heavy plays like result of
studying Nine Inch Nails at home and Duke Ellington at school.
Imagine a prog-rock outfit covering the entirety of Joe Jack-
son's Body and Soul, and you've got the general idea.

Audra Mae, Haunt EP, SideOneDummy

A smoky-voice alto, Audra Mae combines country-tinged torch
songs with tracks by the Decemberists ("Eli, the Barrow Boy") and
Marilyn Monroe (Lionel Anemone and Ken Darby's "One Silver
Dollar") and an adaptation of a letter by a Civil War soldier.

Along with mournful accordion, brushed drums, fingersnaps, and
whistles, the Oklahoma native works up a spacious, slow-burning
atmosphere that should appeal to fans of Patsy Cline, Julee Cruise,
and Eleni Mandell. David Lynch would do wise to give her a listen.

Bonus: Mae's cover of Dylan's "Forever Young" as feat-
ured in The Sons of Anarchy (and not included on this EP):

Endnote: For more information about Broadcast, please
click here; for Brett Gleason, here; and for Audra Mae,
click here. Expect a new full-length from Keegan and Car-
gill in 2010. Images from Fact Magazine and

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

We Had Sylvester

Sylvester and the
Hot Band, The Blue
Thumb Collection,
Hip-O Select

San Francicso didn't need
me. They had Sylvester.-- Bowie on his failure to
sell out the Bay in '73.

This might be my fav-
orite release of 2009—
it's certainly in the top
five. No matter that
The Blue Thumb Collection contains material recorded between 1972-73.

The time is ripe for a Sylvester revival. And I'm not just talking
about the disco icon behind "(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real,"
but the man as a whole: drag performer (see The Cockettes), Bay
Area icon (read The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music,
the Seventies in San Francisco), and gospel-funk entertainer
(hear these two LPs: Sylvester and the Hot Band and Bazaar).

Click here for The Cockettes trailer

Of course, you've got to have a high tolerance for falsetto, since
that was Sylvester's thing. And I do mean thing—or specialty—
and not schtick. There's nothing comical about his use of the up-
per range (to paraphrase an old Southern saying: the higher the
note, the closer to God). Throughout, he shouts, soars, testifies,
and torches it up like a super-powered preacher-turned-diva.

According to Brian Chin's first-rate liner notes, Sylvester lik-
ed to think of himself as Billie Holiday reincarnated, hence the
scratch 'n' sniff gardenia sticker that emblazoned his self-titled
debut, AKA "Scratch My Flower"; he also used to claim Nina
Simone as a relation (my only complaint: the booklet repro-
duces the original artwork but drops the "sniff" option).

Despite his love for the ladies, Sylvester and his Caucasian co-
horts concentrate on material originally written and recorded
by men. In each case, he reinvents the number, rendering some
barely recognizable. What was macho or masculine before—ar-
guably even misogynist—becomes intensely androgynous.

Sylvester shapes his persona

You won't hear Neil Young's "Southern Man," James Taylor's "I'm
a Steam Roller," or Procul Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" the
same way once you've experienced Sylvester's radical reinterpret-
ations. Though I could do without the bitchy screech on "one of 16
vestal virgins," there's a certain poignance to the way he sings,
"wife and the family, kids playing in the driveway" (born in 19-
47, Sylvester died of AIDs-related complications in 1988).

That isn't to suggest that he doesn't rock the hell out of these
joints. On the contrary, Sylvester gives Bowie, Mick Jagger,
Elton John*, the New York Dolls, and Prince a run for the
money in the hard-rocking androgyne sweepstakes—
if such a thing existed, which, of course, it should.

* "Benny & the Jets" era.

Other covers of note: "God Bless the Child," "Nobody's Fault But
Mine," "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," and "Hey, That's No Way
to Say Goodbye." On the Leonard Cohen composition, from 1972's
Lights Out San Francisco, he's joined by Family Stone drummer
Gregg Errico, Santana guitarist Neil Schon on guitar (who would
find even greater fame through Journey), and the Pointer Sis-
ters (the Weather Girls backed Sylvester's disco incarnation).

Lest it seem as if I'm
giving the originals short
shrift, that's only because
there aren't as many of
them. And if they don't
surpass these classics,
they hold their own, par-
ticularly Kerry Hatch's
"Down on Your Knees"
and "All That I Need"
(Hatch played bass and
keys in the Hot Band).

If anything, the new tun-
es funk even harder than
the covers, but of the 19
tracks, my favorite is "My Country 'Tis of Thee," a
song that never meant much to me, at least musically.

Sylvester turns it into an epic Americana jam to rival Funk-
adelic's "One Nation Under a Groove." The instrumental in-
tro offers JBs-style horns, hyperactive harmonica, wacka-
wacka guitar, rubbery bass, and flutes galore. Then our lady
of the lungs enters the scene to bring it all home. (When a
black man sings, "Land where my fathers died," it's hard
not to pause for a moment of uncomfortable reflection.)

For fans of torch singers, glam rock, New Orleans R&B, P-
Funk, and Bay Area titans, like Tower of Power and Sly Stew-
art (San Francisco's other eccentric-genius Sylvester), this siz-
zling set isn't just worth a listen: it's absolutely essential.

Endnote: Images from Imageyenation and The Cockettes.