Sunday, April 25, 2010

Are You Sleeping? 

Chris Estey recently put out the following call for contributors. I've included my responses below. 

Hey! You are getting this because I am a fan of your work. I am putting together a thick, community fanzine about music and sleep and dreams for publication in June 2010 and was wondering if you could send me back a few words about this subject. I will cut and paste verbatim what you give me as long as it's good. Here are the questions. Feel free to answer any you want to and ignore any that you want to. 

What is your favorite song, or are your favorite songs, about sleep? 

Harry Nilsson's "Are You Sleeping?" from The Point, a favorite record as a kid, a favorite record as an adult. And I still haven't seen the animated film (in any of its iterations), but I had the gatefold LP with the illustrated booklet, so I'm familiar with the story. The lyric in the title is the kind of thing a parent might ask a child, but it works as pillow talk, too: "Are you sleeping?/Can you hear me?/Do you know if I am by your side?/Does it matter, if you hear me?/When the morning comes I'll be there by your side." (The tune combines one of Nilsson's music hall-style melodies with a multi-layered vocal atop a lilting samba rhythm.)  Every track, from "Everything's Got 'Em" to "Think About Your Troubles" offers several interpretations, which helps to explain The Point's enduring appeal. Depending on my mood, "Are You Sleeping?" is comforting, romantic--even macabre. I mean, you might also utter those words to someone in a coma or to a person who's just died. In other words: it's Nilsson at his best. Second choice: "Comfortably Numb." Even if Floyd weren't singing about sleep, the lyrics follow a sort of dream logic, i.e. "When I was a child I had a fever/my hands felt just like two balloons..." Roger Waters told Rolling Stone that an experience with tranquilizers for stomach cramps inspired the scenario, i.e. there's a fine line between songs about drugs and songs about dreams.

What is the most interesting or weirdest dream you've ever had about music?

It's always the same: the dreaded disc jockey dream. After two decades in the biz, it's part of my DNA. I've been semi-retired for a few years now, but still experience it every few months. Since I got my start in the 1980s, the dream always revolves around carts that won't play and records that are scratched, broken, or missing. In other words: it's more about silence ("dead air") than noise. 

Do you use music to sleep by? Have you ever? What was it and when, if not now? If now, what music do you listen to sleep by? 

As a kid I slept with a transistor radio under my pillow. I grew up in Alaska, so alternative radio wasn't an option. I don't think we even had AOR in the mid-1970s, so I listened to Top 40. I have no idea whatever happened to that little radio, but it served me well.  

The remaining questions: 1) Is there any music that puts you to sleep? 2) Do you ever dream about songs? If so, are they usually songs you've heard or made up ones in your head? 3) If you dream about songs frequently, do you maybe have a top five? 4) Do you dream about records? If so, any recurring ones that exist? 5) Do you dream about records that don't exist? Do you remember any of them? 6) Do you dream about record stores? If so, is there one dream about them you can tell me? 7) If you are a writer, have you ever written about music from your dreams? 8) If you are a (even kind of, sort of a) musician, have you ever written a song in your dreams, and actually created music from it? 9) If you are a writer, has writing about music affected your sleep and dreams? 10) If you are a (even kind of, sort of a) musician, how does performing music affect your sleeping? 11) What was your most noteworthy dream about a concert? 12) What was your most noteworthy dream after a concert, if you remember one?

Slightly edited from the original text. Images: The Saw Pit and Rate Your Music.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Movie of the Month, Part 17: The Missing Person

Movie of the Month: Part 17

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

(Noah Buschel, US,
2009, 95 mins.)

Top-lined by two Oscar
nominees and dipped in
dusky shades of gold and
brown, The Missing
delivers a styl-
ish take on the private-
eye genre. The efficient Miss Charley (Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone) sets the story in motion when she hires gin-soaked pri-
vate investigator John Rosow (Michael Shannon, Revolution-
ary Road
) to trail Harold Fullmer (Frank Wood), a mystery
man traveling across the country with a Mexican boy.

On Rosow's assignment to return Harold to his wife, he tracks him
by train from Chicago to Los Angeles, both cities existing in a sort
of timeless space, neither past nor present (Rosow digs old-school
jazz, but lives in a world filled with cell phones and Segways). On
his journey to the West and back, he discovers that Fullmer went
missing after 9/11; Rosow turns out to have secrets of his own.

Like Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (or Robert Altman's The
Long Goodbye)
, writer/director Noah Buschel’s third feature
conjures up a tone so off-kilter, it sometimes slides into surreal-
ism, as when the dyspeptic detective dreams about a woman
who may not actually exist, but Rosow is no Mike Hammer
tough guy—he's smarter and more sensitive than that.

If the eventual explanation for his unusual behavior doesn't
completely satisfy, Margaret Colin (Gossip Girl) as a sly se-
ductress and John Ventimiglia (The Sopranos) as a Serpico-
obsessed cabbie help to make The Missing Person an en-
joyable outing for fans of noir and character pieces alike.

It also proves that Michael Shannon is ready for more star-
ring roles after a string of strong supporting parts in mov-
ies like Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Bad Lieu-
tenant: Port of Call New Orleans
. Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 16: The Beaches of Agnès

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text.
For more Shannon reviews, click the links for Shot-
gun Stories
The Runaways, and My Son, My Son,
What Have Ye Don
. Cinematographique image.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

in a


Blissed out buzzsaw.
-- MySpace tagline

I usually try to avoid thoroughly retro releases, but a record that
sounds RIGHT NOW! with overt references to the past is more
than okay by me. In fact, I'd say it's ideal, and the Dum Dum
navigate that tricky path with élan. L.A. singer/songwriter
Kristin Gundred, AKA Dee Dee, turned to producer Richard Got-
tehrer (Blondie) for her first album, which lends it a girl-group-
post-punk feel that never quite crosses the line into new wave.

Click here for "He Gets Me High."

Gundred also solicits licks from Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick
Zinner, which reinforces the NYC impression, and yet her quartet
doesn't sound exactly like any of the bands to emerge from that
area (then there's her alias, which recalls Dee Dee Ramone).

When I mentioned that I was looking forward to getting the
full-length, after hearing a few songs online and on the radio,
a friend quipped, "You're welcome to borrow my Shop Assis-
tants albums," and the Dum Dum Girls do recall the UK's
celebrated C86 era, but again, they aren't reproducing it.

As with the Vivian Girls, who once claimed drummer Frankie
Rose, they draw as much from the 1960sthe Shangri-Las, Nan-
cy Sinatra, from the '70s and '80s. Then there are the Sub
Pop outfits of the '90s, like Velocity Girl. Or K Records acts, like
Lois. Or even the Aisler's Set. They echo those sounds, as well.

So, Gundred isn't reinventing the wheel. Then again, it isn't call-
ing out for reinvention. More importantly, she has the songs, the
voice, and the attitude. If you're gonna sing, "My baby's better
than you," you need to sell it, or you'll sound like you don't real-
ly mean it, but Gundred does (the credit, "Many thanks to my
anchor, my husband Brandon" adds weight to her claim).

I Will Be comes on with such
force and conviction, in fact,
that you'll know within the
first few seconds whether it's
for you or not, meaning that
the immediate attraction I felt
could translate into immedi-
ate dissatisfaction for a listen-
er of different sensibilities.

In any case, the more I listen, the more I hear: the way Gundred
channels Siouxsie's dusky tones on "It Only Takes One Night," ev-
en though the music never gives in to the gloom of goth, or the
way that "Bhang Bhang, I'm a Burnout—which sounds more
like "I'm a porno"—recalls Britain's Primitives (who only
released one record of note, but it sounded as much like
an instant classic in 1989 as I Will Be does now).

Click here for "Bhang Bhang, I'm a Burnout."

If the Dum Dum Girls have a clear leader, they're still a
and Jules and Bambi round out the line-up, giving Gun-
dred's songs
the ballast they need. It's only April, so it's too soon
to proclaim
I Will Be the year's best debut—although at 29 min-
utes, it's certainly one of the shortest
but it's doubtful I'll hear
a better one
between now and and the end of December.

Endnote: Subject header from The New York Times, i.e. "Dum
Dum Girls
, from Los Angeles, is the project of singer Kristin Gun-
dred, who here goes by Dee Dee, and who sings tart lyrics in a
sweet tone
buried beneath layers of haze." ("Dum Dum Girl" is
the title of a Talk Talk song.) The band plays Neumos on 10/22,
opening for the Vaselines. For more information, please click
here or here. Images from Sub Pop and The L.A. Times.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Non-Brit Britpop

Spirit Kid, self-
titled, RPL Audio

Emeen Zarookian's Boston
combo serves up a particu-
larly persuasive brand of
power-pop, like Badfinger
on helium, while the piano-
filled "Wait a Minute" cap-
tures the charm of peak-era
Harry Nilsson or Paul Mc-
Cartney. His first full-length
plays like a more well scrub-
bed version of From Bubble-
gum to Sky (a good thing).

Click here for "My Imagination" and here for "You Lit Up for Me."

Blackmarket, St. Vincent Decor,
Mine and Yours Records

This Lake Havasu, AZ trio plies a bright brand of pop-rock
that would provide a better fit for commercial than college
radio (so it's unfortunate that the former ignores most in-
dependent releases). It isn't slick, so much as smooth in
a Britpop way, like Los Hermanos Gallagher with a lit-
tle Franz Ferdinand on the side. St. Vincent De-
isn't the most original CD I've ever heard,
but it's a solid release that improves on their
last long-player and offers some nice acous-
tic interludes, such as "Catch and Release."

Click here for "Tongue Twister," here for "10 and 2,"
and here for my review of Elephant in the Room.

Makaras Pen, self-titled, Projekt Records [6/15/10]

A traditional creature in Hindu mythology.
-- origin of the band's name

Born in Buffalo, this able four-piece combines the hard (the band)
with the soft (Emma Willis's vocals). See also: Lush, Curve, and
the Cranes. It's an old trick, and Makaras Pen sounds like a
throwback to a decade or so ago (the press materials des-
cribe them as "female-fronted shoegaze renaissancers").
The group's first album offers a competent interpreta-
tion, but this genre has never done much for me.

Endnote: For more information about Spirit Kid, please
click here or here; for Blackmarket, here or here; and
for Makaras Pen, here. Image from Planetary Group.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Roll Over Beethoven


A new CD from Stereo Total is always cause for celebration.
The hyper-sensitive and humorless need not apply, but all oth-
ers are welcome. "Ladies Toilet," for instance, offers a bathroom
that speaks to its patrons, but it isn't gross, just funny. The la-
bel describes their lyrics as "anarchistic, lewd, poetic in an over-
wrought way, sometimes very sad and sometimes very silly."

Later, they wonder what John Waters' favorite actor-actress
might have toted about in "Divine's Handbag" (perhaps "an old
sandwich from a dirty kitchen sink"). Since they sing in English,
French, German, Japanese, and Italian, I can't always tell what
they're saying, though the titles give some indication, like "An-
dy Warhol" (not the Bowie number), and their Franco-Teu-
tonic take on electro-pop is in universally-understood effect.

If Françoise Cactus handles most of the vocals, someone else,
possibly partner Brezel Göring, steps up to the mic for "I Wan-
na Be a Mama" ("I will teach him how to kill, oh yeah, I wanna be
a mama!"), but only Cactus could do justice to the closing tracks,
the playful "Violent Love," which evokes the New York Dolls, and
"Baby Ouh," the duo's take on Serge Gainsbourg-style chanson.

I also like the theremin that decorates "Du Bist Gut Zu Vögeln"
and the chorus of whistling that permeates "Tour de France."
All told, they've issued another winner: fun, but not insub-
stantial; smart, but not pretentious. Let the party begin!

Click here for my review of Paris <-> Berlin.

Endnote: Stereo Total play Chop Su-
ey on 8/31. Image from Kill Rock Stars.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April Reviews

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

Amazon DVDs: Life - The Complete Series
[four-disc set]

Amazon Theatricals:
Mother and Child
Naomi Watts and Annet-
te Bening), The Joneses
(with Demi Moore and
David Duchovny), The
(with Ciarán
and Iben Hjejle), Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy
"holds a mirror up to hipsters"), and Oceans (Jacques Per-
rin of
Winged Migration and Microcosmos co-directs).

Still playing: Alice in Wonderland, Crazy Heart, Diary of a Wimpy Kid,
The Ghost Writer,
Please Give, Remember Me, and The Runaways.

SIFF: Three notes for the program guide (links to come).

Siffblog: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?,
(Lynch produces, Herzog directs, and Shannon stars) and
Mid-August Lunch (from the co-writer of Gomorrah).

Video Librarian: For Love of Liberty - The Story of Ameri-
ca's Black Patriots [two-disc set] , Hey Hey It's Esther Blue-
burger, The Jacksons - A Family Dynasty
[two-disc set],
The Real Housewives of New Jersey - Season 1
disc set]
, Toddlers & Tiaras - Season One [two-disc
, Beeswax,
I Am Ireland/Freedom [two-disc
Loins of Punjab Presents [two-disc set],
Living for the Day After Tomorrow
- Com-
plete Collection
[two-disc set]
, Meshu-
, and Summer Hours.

Endnote: Though I consider Michael Shannon
(My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done) a handsome
man, he can look pretty freaky from certain angles,
something the picture above uses to eerie advan-
tage (giving My Son co-star Udo Kier a run for
the money). Image from Sound on Sight.