Friday, March 31, 2006

Witness for the ax-ecution.

It’s like being in the back of the room at some kind of human sacrifice.

There's a long and wonderful interview with Marc Ribot at the unsung (by me, anyway) All About Jazz site. The interviewer really knows his stuff and allows Ribot room to go deep. I especially liked the guitarist's take on Ayler --- noting his links to ritual music, and talking about how Ayler's recordings are as much about a frozen (and lost) moment in time as a collection of tunes --- that what we hear listening now is not necessarily what happened in the room. I dunno; sounds better when he says it.... Also, Ribot has the ability to sound like a fan, in his enthusiams, which makes his assessments and pronouncements much easier to take.

I'm no guitar god worshipper (have to look up the spelling of Yngwie evvy time, for example), but ever since the tri-fecta of Rain Dogs, Big Time, and Big Heart, I've been totally sold on Ribot. Were this an mp3 site, you would find a link to "Big Time" right here:

Jazz? Sure, I suppose so. All I know is it makes me get up and boogie evvy time. Evvy. Single. Time.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mashup Monday.

Hi. How are you? Nice to see you again. When I first heard Evolution Control Committee's Herb Alpert-meets-Chuck D. train wreck, my head spun on its axis like a pinwheel. And it held a smile the whole way. The tune was on a mix, natch, from a friend (hey, Chilly), who offered no supporting or identifying information. I guess it's technically a mash-up, but lest you dismiss that trend as being so very 2002 (or was it '04?), this track hails from 1994, and can be heard in its two-minute entirety at the bottom of this post. I recommend skipping the post's text at first; this piece is ideal coming atcha with no context at all. (If it doesn't play on your machine at first click, saving it to your desktop might help.)

As a bonus, the Clash/Missy boot, "Burning Hot Jazz" by AgentLovelette, found elsewhere at The Pop View is, as she so aptly puts it, really, really hot.


Nikki Sudden has passed. Notices and songs can be found here and here. And of course here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Can + AC/DC = Th' Faith Healers

My math may be a little fuzzy, but that's close enough.

Th' Faith Healers, the early 1990s UK quartet that made barely a splash in those indie-boom days but whose mix of Kraut Rock drone, relentless propulsion, and all-out rawk made them one of the few bands from that period to be what they call "ahead of their time."

Th' Faith Healers, who claimed that Thee Hypnotics won their "e" in a late-night poker game. A story Greil Marcus included in every article he wrote about them - and he wrote several - and later proclaimed them "a great combo who made the most blithelessly extreme music of the decade."

Th' Faith Healers, who released a several EPs and two albums on Elektra - Lido and Imaginary Friend - and then broke up before they could record the tracks they wrote for their third full length. Unclear whether it was creative differences or sheer public neglect.

Th' Faith Healers, whose brand new Peel Session EP collects many of the tracks from that very same coulda -been, shoulda-been album. And now they've reunited, played SXSW to universal raves, and are booked to blow through the Mercury Lounge later this month.

Th' Faith Healers, whose lead singer Roxanne Stephen raves about her favorites in a recent Dusted Top 10, shedding some light on the group's musical influences and proving her good taste by also discussing brilliant filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) and author Iain Sinclair (Lights out for the Territory, Lud Heat).

Th' Faith Healers, a band whose albums I only bought because of my friend Mark's adament recommendations and promptly underrated but curiously never sold back. But returning to them several months ago, I found they've only grown in stature, swagger, and raw power. Lido is more rock, whether it's the unhinged hardcore '60s putdown "Hippy Hole," Feelies play heavy metal rush of "Moona in a Joona," or their fab amphetimine cover of Can's "Mother Sky." But good as that is, Imaginary Friend is even better. The songs are stronger, the buzzing drone is more nuanced, and they groove as much as they rock - which is quite a bit on both counts. Best album closer ever: "Everything, All at Once, Forver" - a loping and corruscating 20 minute piece that keeps ebbing and flowing without once breaking its hypnotic spell. (This is where they win their "e" back). It's a song you want to get lost in and promptly do, the type of music that is difficult to find your way out of again. What the group might do for an encore is nearly impossible to imagine, but I'm not going to make the mistake of selling them sort this go round.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A book you need to read.

The Book of Ruth by Frank Lentricchia.

Not to be confused with Jane Hamilton's novel of the same title.

Since we seem to be drifting further afield from reporting on articles about music these days (could it be we're slowly morphing into something else?), I thought I'd take this opportunity to flog one of my favorite books of recent years by an author who has the pole position in the race to become The Greatest Unknown Writer In America.

Frank Lentricchia made a name for himself in academia as a critic. He was famously dubbed by the Village Voice as 'The Dirty Harry of literary criticism' and is perhaps best known for his book 'Introducing Don DeLillo' which did just that for many readers. His work on modernist writers such as Eliot and Stevens is also highly regarded, but over a decade ago he turned his back on criticism to dedicate himself to prose.

As you might imagine, this move was met with much suspicion in both the academy and reviewing community. Didn't this guy know his place? Many reviewers just assumed Lentricchia was moonlighting and more-or-less ignored his superlative novellas 'Johnny Critelli' (lyrical meditation about transformative powers of memory) and 'The Knifemen' (brutal, headlong narrative about crippling effects of remembering). His ambitious follow-up, 'The Music of the Inferno,' a Joycean evocation of his Utica, N.Y. hometown is both harrowing and howlingly funny. It's actually not dissimilar from 'The Sopranos' in tone and Philip Roth's 'The Human Stain' in subject matter, although it predates both. It was met by an even more stultifying silence.

The neglect from both critics and readers began to seep into the work. Amazingly, Lentricchia transformed this material from self-pity into something hilarious, lacerating, and poignant. 'Lucchessi and the Whale' unfurls the story of unknown writer Thomas Lucchessi in remarkable and occasionally surrealist snippets that recall the Calvino of 'Mr. Palomar.' The centerpiece of the book is a long section that grapples with Melville - another writer unknown in his time - and The Great White Whale and stands as some of the most imaginative criticism about 'Moby-Dick' and a wonderful prose reimagining of the same. Despite its significant and singular achievements, the book was below the radar of even the most astute lit blogs.

All of which brings us to his latest: 'The Book of Ruth.' It's simply a great novel - in terms of its narrative sweep and propulsion, its creation of compelling characters, its stinging wit, and the jaw-dropping rhythms and quality of its prose. The blurb on the back from Jay Parini has it exactly right when comparing the book to both Graham Greene and JM Coetzee. It's of that high quality. The plot sounds ungainly in synopsis - it involves a reclusive photographer, linked to both Casto and JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis, who is hired to snap pics of Saddam during the runup to Gulf War I - but it works perfectly on the page. Thomas Lucchessi makes another appearance but this time he's less a comic figure brilliantly sketched with one hand, and a more fully rounded individual as befits the narrative of this book.

It's a sad irony of the publishing industry that Lentricchia's most accomplished, accessible, and purely enjoyable novel had to be released by a small press with little funds to publicize it. We like to believe that great art eventually - decades, even centuries later - reaps the acclaim it deserves. But why wait? Seek this out now.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Truth in advertising.

A hearty thank you to the discerning folks at Best of the Web, blog edition, for recognizing Chemistry Class as one of the finest chemistry blogs going. We will do our damnest to hold up our end of the orbital.

And a sincere welcome (and apology) to those readers approaching from the BOTW chem blog page. In case you're wondering, see here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Words words words.

"He was not the Visser I had known in Paris. Prison had broken him. Once his passions had been in his eyes, but now they were in his mouth and cheeks."

---A Coffin for Dimitrios, by Eric Ambler

Friday, March 10, 2006

Around the horn.

When Morrissey and I started The Smiths, we thought pop music was the most important thing in the world. Johnny Marr remembers The Queen Is Dead, twenty years on. (Twenty? Jesus Christ.)

Various unintentional influences have crept into our work, some of which were quickly removed: The Moody Blues, Tubeway Army, Wings, always Wings, never The Beatles, Eno of course, you can't play ebow (a bow for electric guitars) without sounding like Eno, Modern English, middle period post-Gabriel Genesis, The Stranglers, 10CC. We're still trying to find a way to insert some dub/white reggae in the mix, just as an intellectual exercise, to see if we can do it without being dropped from the label. New Pornos live at the 9:30 in DC on March 6, courtesy NPR. Weak mix, but a solid hour of songsmithery, and three of finest from Twin Cinema. That NPR host sucks ass, however.

Trick or treating with Carlos D. Other Music snuff film [scroll down].

Blogwatch: wordsandmusic and word the cat. Word. And music! To emulate/imitate/assiduate/inhalate. How missed till now? See also the latest Point of Departure, and don't miss this signal lesson in how not to respond to an artist's criticism of your review.

I got fucking awesome taste in music, as the first four of my 3,497 songs that came up on shuffle will dictate. David Cross et al. discussing their shuffle-playlists at The Onion AV.

The lilting melodies of Trio Matamoros, Orquesta Aragon and the compositions of the great composer Lecuona are some kind of holy grail of the heart in the same way that the legendary bluesman’s few recordings are to many rockers. David Byrne gets all Latin curatorial on us, but at least there's two-and-a-half hours of music to support the syllabus.

And finally: You and I differ on many things. I like Queen Latifah. You do not. I'm open to your opinions, as long as you know that they disgust me. The incomparable Jeff Johnson, on his disagreements.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I want my BBC.

Couple of interesting docs on BBC Radio 2 right now. One, which started this week, looks at plagiarism and plundering in music history, sort of a rip-offs 101. The first thirty-minute program looks at fairly well known cases, including a Brian Wilson/Chuck Berry rip, the George Harrison/Chiffons case (we hear Harrison say that he was ripping off a different song), and a ZZ Top/John Lee Hooker cop. Hooker actually chimes in at one point. Could get more interesting as the series, called It's the Same Old Song, rolls into hip-hop.

And then there's this, part three of a four-part James Brown audio-bio, Get Up for James Brown, with current interviews with Brown and many associates, including a notable turn with soul sister Marva Whitney, who makes it plain in stating that she. does. not. hate. James. Brown: "You must gives props to whom props are due." The statement does not come easy. Lots of great music snippets, too, mostly from the JBs band of the early 70s, including "King Heroin," "Hot Pants," "Soul Power," "Stoned to the Bone," "Talkin' Loud," "Think," "Got to Have a Job," "Doing It to Death." The British context makes for an odd tone at times—the host is unusually interested in where Mr. Brown's nicknames (Hardest Working Man, Mr. Dynamite, etc.) came from—and the JB expert will likely be bored, but it's never less than respectful and it's not like you're going to hear a four-hour radio doc on JB on American radio, mind.

These programs have about a minute of lead-in from previous shows, so don't be alarmed if they don't cue right up. In one case, it's Joan Armatrading reporting from her music journey through the Caribbean.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A great year for movies.

Not that you'd particularly know it from the Oscars. An unusually bland, safe, and boring selection this year. Yeah yeah, they chose some "darker indie films" but what choice did they have? The studios produced so few good movies this year that the Academy's back was to the wall. And they still punked out.

At least the Oscars give me an excuse to air my Best Movies of the Year list since I was too far behind in my viewing to post it in January. Still haven't seen Cache, Mysterious Skin, and a few other celebrated films. But this year's crop was so strong that my picks for 11-20 could have easily been my Top 10 in just about any other season. And there were plenty of wonderful movies that didn't even make the list, from fun popcorn fare like Batman Begins to smart political thrillers like Syriana, Munich, and The Constant Gardner to quirky gems like You Me and Everyone We Know. Anyhow, the list:

1) The Century of the Self
Visionary doc about the direct role Freud's theories have played in advertising and gov't, tracing Freud's nephew Alan Bernais - who invented the term "public relations" and was later employed by the CIA - and his daughter Anna, who was also hired by the government in the late 40s and whose ideas about therapy were based on her beliefs that analysis should help people conform to their environments and smooth over any deviations. Also looks at the 60s backlash against these ideas and how radical politics were later co-opted by the self-centered pursuits of EST in the 70s and by advertisers who hit upon the idea that people can be made to feel like they are expressing their individuality through purchases. Commodify your dissent, indeed. The movie comes full circle by examining the Clinton and Blair governing philosophies of marketing political initiatives to target demographics. Even-handed, dense with factual backup, and filled with startling images and juxtapositions, director Adam Curtis unrolls his four hour narrative in an always entertaining and striking manner.

2) Memories of Murder
A straightforward but hardly simple police drama that seems familiar at first but slowly reveals itself to be one of the most trenchant character studies, haunting crime stories, and layered meditations about obsession in ages. Filled with both unexpected humor and horror, it's also a very subtle critique of Korean history.

3) 2046
Long rumored, many years in the making, Wong Kar-Wai's lovelorn epic bounces between Hong Kong in the 60s and the sc-fi world of the future. One of the most visually ravishing films ever made, it's brimming with terrific performances, dense narratives, and creates a sense of loss and longing so palpable you're sure those emotions have taken shape right in front of your eyes.

4) A History of Violence
A taut thriller worthy of Hitchcock. About how you can have two different personalities and be completely sane. Among other things. A perfect 90 minutes.

5) Old Boy
A cold-blooded Jacobean revenge tale worthy of Webster. With a nod to Tarantino and set in modern day Seoul. Virtuoso filmmaking.

6) Chain
Half-doc, half-drama, Jem Cohen spins a one-of-a-kind tale about people marooned in the nowhere zone along those endless, lookalike, mini-mall stretches of highway. Are you in New Jersey or the outskirts of Brussels? It all looks indentical and feels numbingly the same. Shot on locations in 10 countries and over 100 suburbs, it's a singular tour de force.

7) My Summer of Love
Ah, the throes of teenage passion. This sun-drenched, delicate wisp of a film embodies those times when play-acting at being in love crosses the line into something else. Faking it so real you're beyond fake. And then back again.

8) The Holy Girl
With novelistic density, this film unspools its soap-opera plot in the most oblique manner possible while still making it magnetic. The story: Girl who lives in hotel has vision of Virgin Mary and falls for older guy who molested her but really wants her mother. The result: The transubstanciation of pulp into art.

9) The New World
Terrence Malick's worst movie, which means it's still one of the most stunningly beautiful and jaw-dropping things you'll ever see. Career performance by 15-year-old newcomer who plays Pochahontas. Filled with lovely longeurs, radical editing, and an emotional whallop of an ending.

10) Werner Herzog trifecta: Grizzly Man; Wheel of Time; The White Diamond
None of these by themselves might been so high on the list, but together they attest to the continuing vitality and strangeness of The World's Greatest Documentarian. Herzog avoids the "facts of the bean counters" for the "ecstatic truth." Filled with oddball digressions and searing images, deadpan humor and moments of pure visual rapture.


11) The Beat My Heart Skipped
12) Brokeback Mountain
13) Last Days
14) Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
15) Tropical Malady
16) The Squid and the Whale
17) Capote
18) Land of the Dead
19) Save the Green Planet
20) Saraband