Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Some Favorite Films

Another occasional list. Recently seen enthusiasms.

Not the Terry Gilliam version, but the far superior Czech marvel that inspired it. A fantastical mix of cut-out animation, live action, and deliberately unreal backgrounds. Whimsy at its finest.

-HAPPINESS (Agnes Varda, 1965)
Candy-colored French pastorale, complete with Bach reveries, and true romance. Only there's one lover too many in this mix. And an unaccountably creepy undertone that only expands in your mind once the film is over. Nearly perfect.

-OUTER SPACE (Peter Tcherkassy, 2000)
Reedits a cheesy 80s horror film starring Barbara Hershey into 8 minutes of pure abstract visceral terror. Like Eraserhead, but with claws and fangs. Terrifying and exhilerating.

-ACTRESS (Stanley Kwan, 1992)
Normally hate bio pix, but this virtually reinvents the genre giving you both the story of a tragic Hong Kong silent film star from the 20s as well as a faux documentary about the making of the movie itself, which actually enrichs and deepens the original drama.

-Z (Costa Gravas, 1969)
For years I've mistakenly assumed this was just some middlebrow thriller. Stupid me. It's a top-rate political film about the overthrow of the Greek government filled with scenes of gripping tension, terrific performances, and an impassioned tone that comes off as a genuiue cri de coeur.

-PROVIDENCE (Alain Resnais, 1976)
How is this movie not better known?! Featuring an incredibly witty script and stellar English cast led by a career turn from John Gielgud. It's clearly a major influence on Charlie Kaufman, only this moves between various levels of reality and skips around in time with much greater sophistication and ease -- plus it delivers a whalloping emotional payoff. Hard to imagine the person who wouldn't love this. Not someone you'd want to meet for drinks.

-TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (Charles Burnett, 1991)
Ancored by a sly performance from Danny Glover, this movie creeps up on you. At first it seems like a typical family melodrama until people start hypnotizing chickens and invoking hoodoo enchantments. The elderly folks here are the wild ones, bringing the old ways into a middle class suburban Los Angeles neighborhood with deeply unpredictable results. Masterful.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Open up and read.

Recently finished up a comprehensive and solidly done new Iggy bio, Open Up and Bleed, by British journalist Paul Trynka. I haven't read Iggy's autobio, so I'm not sure how much of the same ground is covered, but Trynka does a yeoman's job of capturing all aspects of Iggy's career -- his home life, musical achievements, extra-musical relationships -- if not setting any stylistic milestones. The central conceit is a Jekyll & Hyde-like narrative that pits Iggy vs. Jim in a battle for the singer's soul. Trynka is quite solid and believeable on the music itself, praising what's great while also calling out the dogs in Iggy's oeuvre. He also seems to have spoken to anyone who ever came within ten feet of Iggy's dick, which amounts to a lot of people.

Iggyophiles may already be aware of this odd encounter, but I wouldn't have believed Trynka fully until I finally watched it myself. Here is Iggy performing on the Dinah Shore Show, in support of The Idiot, I believe:

The band is Iggy, Bowie, and Soupy Sales' kids. Elsewhere on youtube you can find more Iggy from this appearance, speaking with Dinah on the couch. A few years later, Iggy appeared on Tom Snyder's show, "Tomorrow." You can hear the audio from this interview at Post-Punk Junk. And for an articulate reivew of the upcoming Stooges album, Marcello has it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Enthusiasms (#3 in a continuing series)

those novels are the dreck, but his early nonfiction is jaw-droppingly amazing, never more so than in this linguistic tour-de-fucking-force. have some interest in kesey, the pranksters, and the like, but it's really the prose that gets me going here, the amazing way he limns various minds and flavors the words with their moods and impressions (not just druggy either, no way). and while i thought he woulda been more sneering, it's a pretty fair and sympathetic account of a tribe's brave and foolhardy journey into that place where there are no words - and back again.

The Fire Engines : CODEX TEENAGE PREMONITION : sounds
glasgow punk that barely recorded anything on wax, just friends taping their rehearsals and gigs and mr. peel once coaxing them into his studio. velvet underground fans with itchy fingers and crazy riddims, going spastic in three directions at once but still getting that ole jangle-drone. going. a neat trick. far more loose than their compatriots in orange juice or joseph k. fun stuff, don't even mind the fidelity.

Toshio Matsumoto : FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES : pictures that move
the cream of the very creamy japanese new wave film movement of the 60s-70s. the new wave where there were no truffauts but fifteen godards. yow. this film was one of the main influences on 'a clockwork orange.' an outrageous-but-controlled pastiche of styles - including documentary, experimental, fashion-shoot images, and more. it busted taboos with its look at gay life, telling a fractured oedipus story of fighting geisha 'girls' against a backdrop of youth revolt, rock freak-outs, u.s. treaty protests, and dada pageants.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Songs of the year.

"Living in Sin in the USA" - Oakley Hall. It starts with the melancholy in Rachel Cox's voice, and gets better from there. Oakley Hall was one of my favorite discoveries of 06, from an SFJ tip. His offhand reference, and the ready availability of the album at eMusic, allowed me to get to the songs without any further mediation. It's a rare joy to be able to come to music with no real expectations or sound associations, and rarer still to find the music totally winning. This melody just kills me, and when Cox and Patrick Sullivan harmonize, it's that Gram/Emmylou wet dream all over again. It's Richard and Linda after a few strokes with the whetstone. It's John and Exene after a particularly grim whiskey bender. But with uplift; aren't we all living in sin in the USA? Is there any other way? It can be ugly, I guess. Here it is beautiful, and sad. The band name is borrowed from an author, who is himself one of several Oakley Halls. He doesn't seem to mind the association.... [Buy Gypsum Strings at eMusic, CD Universe.]

"Soul Pride" - The James Brown Orchestra. When my son was an infant, he cried bloody murder for months. In my saner moments I could try to reassign the sound, imagine it some kind of Aylerite wail. But it was mostly an insane time, so the cry sounded like itself, and it hurt all of us. Sleep was a blessed reprieve, for him and us, But sleep did not come easily. One method that seemed to work was to dance him into oblivion, particularly for daytime naps. I tried, with him slung over my shoulder, everything: Fela, Sly, Lee Morgan. Sometimes these worked, sometimes they didn't. But this track never failed us. Thinking back, I'd have to say that there was a little violence in the dancing; I think there's a little violence in the music, too. A sublime rhythmic violence. And even though there may be something a little obtuse about remembering JB with a track on which he does not appear (co-writing credit, though), Brown's innovations are all rhythmic to me. His singing, exhortations, movement, drive, music--all in service to rhythm. And that's what I hear here. Jesu, it's glorious. Oblivion, here I come. [Buy Say It Live and Loud at CD Universe; "Soul Pride" is also on the seemingly deleted Polydor instrumentals collection, naturally called Soul Pride--highly recommended.]

Honorable Mention
"The Blues Are Still Blue" - Belle and Sebastian. Because Marc Bolan's estate could probably use the royalties. And because the fact that this kind of thing has been done well before doesn't mean we don't feel the same excitement and happy little vibrations when it's done well again. There is always room--always--for the good choogle. And keep chooglin. [Buy The Life Pursuit at eMusic, CD Universe.]

Apologies to Perpetua for the format swipe.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

When Jop Goes Pazz

List freak action. We recently posted the Top 10 Most Popular Downloads over at Destination: Out. But for those curious about our (mostly) non-jazz tastes, here's our take on the year in pop music for 2006.


1. JUNIOR BOYS So This Is Goodbye (Domino)
1980s New Wave distilled down to its sublime essence and injected with impossible yearning.

2. ART BRUT Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Downtown)
Released last year in the UK, it was still the most fun rock record of the year in this country.

3. THE LIARS Drum's Not Dead (Mute)
Early PiL as seance, rising the dead, making the zombies twitch and moan in rhythm.

4. GHOSTFACE KILLAH Fishscale (Def Jam)
Earns his sample of the Rocky theme.

5. ORNETTE COLEMAN Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
A late career blooming that encapsulates the maestro's interests in classical, world, funk, and right, jazz.

6. DESTROYER Destroyer's Rubies (Merge)
"Why can't you see, a life in art and a life of mimicry - it's the same thing?!"

7. OOIOO Taiga (Thrill Jockey)
Joyful chants, crazy rhythms, dadaist pop, folk-jazz hybrids - enough to make you forget about the Boredoms (for a while).

8. BURIAL Burial (Hyperdub)
Mapping the abandoned city block by desolate block, using only a rumbling echo and a high hat.

Sometimes the tunes feel too simple, but the aching sense of despair eventually seeps into your marrow and starts to almost feel comforting.

10. JOANNA NEWSOM Ys (Drag City)
Still digesting.

11. BEACH HOUSE Beach House (Carpark)
Sweet and mournful drone songs that avoiud self-pity and drift into timeless melancholy.

12. SONIC YOUTH Rather Ripped (Geffen)
Trying to make their Parallel Lines and mostly succeeding.

13. THE KNIFE Silent Shout (Mute)
Eurotrash synth-pop that's tougher than leather.

14. BORIS Pink (Southern Lord)
Released on import last year, this Japanese metal trio detonated my stereo this year by fusing the sludgy and the fast, both at once.

15. HOT CHIP The Warning (Astralwerks)
Squelchy combo of Aphex Twin and Paul McCartney, futuristic electro-soul you can hum in the shower.

16. SCRITTI POLITTI White Bread Black Beer (Nonesuch)
That voice, stirring as ever; the music, a surprising mix of elastic grooves, sixties pop hooks, and slowed-down hip hop beats.

17. MATMOS The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast (Matador)
Brilliant miniature audio portraits of everyone from disco deejay Larry Levan to German philospher Ludwig Wittgenstein to the Germs' Darby Crash - cig burns, hair droppings, and rat cages included.

18. TOUMANI DIABATE'S SYMMETRIC ORCHESTRA Boulevard de L'Independence (World Circuit)
Block-rocking Cubano beats meet sinuous kora grooves, writ large for the dancefloor.

19. ARCTIC MONKEYS Whatever You Say I Am That's What I'm Not (Domino)
After the hype and backlash, what remain are the songs, the swagger, the heedless forward momentum, the tongue-tied desire to chronicle the right now.

20. YO LA TENGO I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador)
Some soggy parts, but the best tracks hold their own with anything in their catalog.

Lastly... SCOTT WALKER The Drift (4AD)
Either a work of godlike genius or a howlingly pretentious bauble. Scorched earth opera for the 23rd Century. My friend Mike: "Objective terms like good doesn't even seem to apply here..."

Bubbling under: Bob Dylan; Final Fantasy; Thom Yorke; Cat Power; Dave Burrell; Mission of Burma; Odyssey the Band; Asobi Seksu.

Haven't got yet or still listening: Clipse; The Roots; Andrew Hill; Wolf Eyes; Bonnie Prince Billy; Kode9 and the Spaceape; Vijay Iyer; The Coup; Grizzly Bear; Abrams/Lewis/Mitchell; Lupe Fiasco; Om.



PRINCE "Black Sweat"

BOB DYLAN "Ain't Talkin"

YEAH YEAH YEAHS "Cheated Hearts"

RACONTEURS "Steady, As It Goes"

GRAHAM COXON "Tell It Like It Is"

TV ON THE RADIO "Wolf Like Me"

LUPE FIASCO "Kick, Push"

THOM YORKE "Black Swan"



1. JEAN CLAUDE-VANNIER L'Enfant Assassin Des Mouches (Finders Keepers)
The arranger of Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson steps out with this insane mix of lush orchestrations, funk grooves, jazz textures, rock guitar, and music concrete. Essential weirdness.

2. MOONDOG The Viking of Sixth Avenue (Honest Jon's)
Perfect primer of the music of this homeless, Viking-helmet-wearing composer whose fans include Stravinsky, Charlie Parker, and Tom Waits. His tunes triangulate between them.

3. DELTA 5 Singles (Kill Rock Stars)
Hailing from Leeds and friends with the Gang of Four, this male-female combo artfully chart "the distance between us."

4. JOSEF K Entomology (Domino)
Dapper and jagged. Franz Fernidand with the smirk wiped off their faces.

5. KHAN JAMAL Drumdance to the Motherland (Eremite)
Dubbed-out, Afro-vibe free jazz smoldering from a basement in Philly.

6. THE WRENS Silver and Secaucus (Wind-Up)
The frantic, power-pop flipsides of The Meadowlands.

7. BRIAN ENO AND DAVID BYRNE My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Still spooky.

8. OHM+ The Early Gurus of Electronic Music
Alvin Curran, Alvin Curran, ALVIN CURRAN!

9. CLUSTER Soweisoso
Lovely pastoral electronica from the early 1970s.

10. Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies from the Canyon
The orphaned daughters of Joni Mitchell finally find a context - and a moment.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

List this!

Heya. Maybe you've seen so many best-of lists your eyes are bleeding. But please don't let that stop you from checking out these two worthwhile compilations from somewhere left of the dial:
Doug Schulkind, FMU Wonderkind
Eleventh Volume.
Hope these prove illuminating.

And: everything we do gonna be less funky from now on....

Here is a good place to pay respects, if you can't make it to the Apollo tomorrow.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Taking liberties.

Haven't always been one for memes, but The Bad Plus opened up their musicians' survey to all comers, and it's a hard one to resist....

1. Movie score. Rosemary's Baby
2. TV theme. Barney Miller (bass! how low can you go?); Police Woman
3. Melody. Beach Boys' "I Know There's an Answer"
4. Harmonic language. Sleater-Kinney's "Step Aside"
5. Rhythmic feel. CCR's "Heard it Through the Grapevine"
6. Hip-hop track. PE's "My Uzi Weighs a Ton"; 3rd Bass' "Wordz of Wizdom"
7. Classical piece. Bach 2-pt inventions (little shallow here)
8. Smash hit. The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony"
9. Jazz album. Jackie McLean's Destination Out! (natch)
10. Non-American folkloric group. New Pornographers
11. Book on music. Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful

A) Name an surprising album (or albums) you loved when you were developing as a musician: something that really informs your sound but that we would never guess in a million years: Rolling Stone Record Guide - "Old Blue"
B) Name a practitioner (or a few) who play your instrument that you think is underrated: Eric Marathonpacks. Hank Shteamer. Mike McGonigal (where you been?)
C) Name a rock or pop album that you wish had been a smash commercial hit (but wasn’t, not really): Mekons' Rock n Roll
D) Name a favorite drummer, and an album to hear why you love that drummer: Philip Wilson, Dogon A.D.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Arrivals, departures.

Wanted to note, with sadness, the passing of Ellen Willis, cultural critic par excellence. Her VU essay in the Greil Marcus-edited Stranded --- amid celebrations of Desperado and Linda Rondstadt, and well in advance of the '80s reissues that made it a whole lot easier to get with this band --- is a wonderful thing to behold. SFJ also reports on his brief interactions with Willis.

Also, while we're cranking up the Victrola, we can also recommend an extraordinarily rich Sun Ra post over at Durutti, in which we learned that the incoming governor of Massachusetts is none other than Pat Patrick's son. Holy cow, we are behind in our reading....

Monday, September 18, 2006

Attention beauty parlor dirtbags.

Finally, the YouTube moment I've been waiting for:


...seemingly posted by the creator. As I recall, these MTV shorts featured the vocal talents of Mr. Andy Dick, among others.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I love a Trey Azargoth solo.

Mountain Goats at the Voice: "If you bring in a guy to rap over your indie-rock song, what is that? That's an invitation for Pitchfork to make fun of you." Really great conversation; Darnielle, to steal his description of Morbid Angel, is fucking awesome.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Summer Reading List

Summer is flying by. Here are some titles I hope to read before the long days turn into early evenings.

-HOPSCOTCH by Julio Cortazar: The great put-it-together-in-any-order-you-want novel. Was loving it and thinking some sections (Berthe Trepat! The all-night jazz listening session!) were among the best I'd read anywhere ever. Then I got snagged in midair on a clothesline stretched between apartments in small town Argentina. Time to finish up.
-RIMBAUD by Graham Robb: biography of the 19th century punk poet, derranger of the senses, seasonal tourist in warm climes, and later African drop-out.
-UBIK by Phillip K. Dick: Summer and sand somehow mean sci-fi to me. This seems like a good place to dip my toe in the salty sea of Mr. Phillip. Paranoia-a-go-go.
-VIRTUAL LIGHT by William Gibson: Because I loved Neuromancer. And Pattern Recognition. And Idoru. And Count Zero.
-THE SONNETS by Ted Berrigan: 14 lines at a time is about my attention span these days.
-SKIPPER BEE BY by Ron Rege Jr.: Pictures without words. A graphic novel that seems to be inventing something close to a new language using pipe-smoking elephants and guitar-loving mice. Read it years ago and it boggled me. Newly reissued and time to revisit.
-CLOSER, FRISK, and TRY by Dennis Cooper: The first three parts of his five book "George Miles Cycle." I strongly suspect he's the best American writer putting pen to paper these days.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Not The Drama You've Been Craving

Well it wasn't a huge surprise after Carrie talked publicly about how she "played every show like it was her last because as far as she was concerned it was." Not a huge surprise after Corin talked about wanting to be a more full-time mother and back away from rock and roll. Not a huge surprise after Janet talked about the difficulties of trying to talk Corin back into the band, the hardships of making The Woods and the negative energy surrounding the entire process. And didn't Corin warn everyone early on that she wasn't always for the spotlight - singing "You've got me -- for now" in "Dig Me Out"? But none of that cushions the blow of hearing that Sleater-Kinney has officially broken up.

I suppose this is the point where I start to wax poetic about the band's great achievements but if they aren't self-evident to you at this point I don't know what to say. I don't feel the need to defend or reinforce the obvious fact that they were the best band of their generation, both in the studio and on stage. Being an all-women group and staying on an indie label got them somewhat rooked in the critical sweepstakes but whatever. Quality will out. There isn't a single album in their catalog that is less than excellent and they produced three bonafide masterpieces, at the very least. And anyone who saw them live knows the passion and energy they put into every single show they played. They were an all-or-nothing band and I never once saw them come up short.

My favorite memory was of their show at The Cooler in NYC, their first tour with Janet and before Dig Me Out was released. The place was packed to the gills and so hot that I could barely see for the sweat pouring down my forehead. But the performance was so powerful that the band seemed to knock me out of my body, leaving no room for intruding physical sensations, demanding and grabbing every ounce of attention. As soon as the song stopped I was immediately back in the room, drenched in sweat, jostled by bodies on all sides, uncomfortable as hell, but then the next song began and I was completely transported. Or maybe just completely subsumed by the sound. Rarely have I ever been so blissfully and forcefully enveloped by music.

For a long time Sleater-Kinney was the music I reached for when I was having bad days, when I needed inspiration, when I was feeling euphoric. It was music that demanded and delivered a huge emotional commitment - and it was up to whatever high or low you could throw at it. As a band, Sleater-Kinney always seemed to work at a higher and keener emotional pitch than their peers. If I rarely could attain that pitch myself, their music served as a benchmark to strive towards. A reminder of the creative and interpersonal intensity you might still summon in this age of easy irony.

A year after The Cooler show, I saw the band headline at Tramps. Afterwards, my friend Jeff told me the quintessential Sleater-Kinney story: "I was standing next to the stage when Carrie announced the next song was 'Little Mouth.' Somebody nearby started to scream with excitement. And then I realized it was me."

Friday, June 16, 2006

No, just staring at the back of my eyelids for a couple of weeks.

Also, reading Ashley Kahn's bio of Impulse records. Snoozers. An annual report cut with record reviews. Worth a peruse for those, and perhaps the complete Impulse discog. at the back, but unless you got a serious Ed Michel jones, you're better off with the records. One wonders if anyone recognized there's a difference between a book about the making of a glorious album, and one about the company that funded it. For label whores only (and takes one to know one).
Here's something Impulsive for your trouble:
Archie Shepp, "Attica Blues"

Also, gobbling up Jon Langford's eMusic dozen.

Also, working on something that might be of interest to you or someone you know. Be nice; it's a work in progress.

Ornette on Friday, Vision on Saturday: hope to see you there. I'll be the middle aged white guy vaguely redolent of office job.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Double-bacon geniusburgers.

Stopgap measures (not that you asked).

There was much high-end deliciousness on the Interwaves this week, much of it of such a high calibre that the impact was equal parts amazement, gratitude, and shrinkage:

Darcy James Argue reported in detail his impressions of the American Music Center's award banquet/concert Monday night, which featured performances by Matthew Shipp, Meridian Arts Ensemble, and Pamela Z. Honorees included the New Yorker's Alex Ross and jazz's Billy Taylor. Darcy's knowledge of what he's talking about, and forthrightness (whether he knows or not), is bracing. (Many links to be found in DJA's post.) Argue has also indirectly hipped me to a locus of what appears to be a community of composers, and also the great be.jazz, which is one of those blogs I wasn't ready for back when I first saw it months ago? years ago? DJA has also of late brought his musical acumen to bear on two nifty production-related posts, one citing a long Stylus article on compression, and one big-upping Neko Case's loathing of auto-tune.

SFJ did a similar blow-by-blow for the Paris Review's recent big night. Guess who: They should donate some of their good-lookingness to charity because they are fucking up the whole curve just by walking around and being bodacious.

If you already know of the EMP conference, there will be nothing new here, but Carl Wilson, whose digital garment hem I touch with much respect, has two posts worth your time, one on some Stephin Merritt contretemps (I look at Merritt's name now and it easily conjures Stepin Fetchit), and one on everything else.

Tim OT alerted me to the power of the Pitchfork, possibly.

Warning: do not click on this unless you have an open hour, hour-and-a-half in front of you. Really: Best. Wikipedia entry. Ever.

And for the weekend drive: Do not be an angel, but do call home.

Later: Forgot to mention the jazzhead eggheadedness on display at the always superb Point of Departure. PoD main man Bill Shoemaker convened a virtual roundtable on the state of jazz criticism in the twenty-first century: do the old standards apply? Or, as he put it: "What critical methods best assess work from this [i.e., current] period? Do old school expectations of acuity and adept execution still apply? What recently articulated evaluative criteria do you think will withstand the test of time?" Discussing this are George E. Lewis, Fred Ho, Ajay Heble (director and founder of the Guelph Jazz Festival), Caroline Kraabel, and George McKay. And don't miss part two. I confess to finding much of it tough-going, if not impenetrable, and got a lot more out of the Dave Douglas jukebox jury-style feature here, a reprint of a Jazz Review article by Shoemaker from 2004. Douglas has some ears on him. Either that, or he was tipped off, Quiz Show style. Either way, some perceptive listening and commenting from the trumpeter and new label-head. Douglas blogs, and here is his recent, empassioned defense of Miles' Cellar Door Sessions. Bye-ya.