"I don't know that I ever was in a rage."
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
I love the way Set The Timer opens - a quick inhale and we're off into the folk-tinged art-rock of the Talking Heads and 80s Athens, Georgia propping up a giant melodic hook that sounds remarkably similar to the theme song that Giorgio Moroder wrote for The Never Ending Story.
I remember, in high school, riding in the car with my mother, listening to the radio. Primal Scream's Rocks came on, and my Mom kept on counting out the times she could hear Bobby Gillespie doing a deep inhale. It ruined a song that already wasn't very good. That album Give Out But Don't Give Up, and that song in particular was a shrill, incessant and insistent waste of time - the sort of pineapple haired post-glam creaky hipped that somehow Robyn Black made a name for himself with and (I'm really aging myself here) the Black Halos. I think I saw Robyn Black loading a guitar into the back of a car on Queen Street West the other week. There's little more off-putting than seeing a dyed black hair rocker, like some toothless vampire, in the sunshine, which is why I imagine downtown Hollywood is a particularly ghastly place.
Give Out But Don't Give Up is even more depressing when one considers it was the follow-up to Screamadelica. That sort of recorded-inhale-as-punctuation is a near constant presence in most contemporary radio pop these days, and it baffles me as to why - it's totally obnoxious and disorienting, similar to hearing the fingers slide between chords, a side-effect of the 90s mania for too brightly recording acoustic guitars.
And speaking of Hollywood and tragedy - I wonder if the last song Jonathan Brandis listened to before he took his own life was The Never Ending Story theme? Production companies that pitch to Lifetime Movies - feel free to use this idea for the cold open of Descent Into Darkness: The Tragic Demise of Jonathan Brandis, Victim of Hollywood, but I'd like a writing credit. Get in touch - I could come up with a pretty bang-on rendering of his last cri du couer to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Tatyana Ali. To say nothing of the tangential links to The Church of Scientology via Will Smith! As Paul Thomas Anderson will soon be releasing The Master - a film based on the origins of Scientology, and David Cronenberg is soon to be shooting Maps To the Stars - based on the moral decay of two Hollywood child actors (Haim and Feldman?), the Jonathan Brandis morto-pic will surely be a hot property, uniquely positioned to take advantage of the zeitgeist, the twin poles of predatory grooming in Hollywood: The Church of Scientology and perverts.
(Jesus, writing about Primal Scream... I'm truly entering my Mojo magazine years. I even found a couple of grey chest hairs this afternoon.)
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Here's yet another gem in the crown of lo-fi powerhouse Arbutus Records. Paula's Relaxed Fit is the debut solo outing of David Carriere of TOPS/Silly Kissers. It's a remarkably buoyant contribution to an already enjoyable body of work that mines a similar vein as Ariel Pink or the more lively elements of the Postcard Records back catalog, albeit with a pedigree all its own. Guest appearances by Cadence Weapon and bandmate Penny Jane of TOPS make the package even sweeter, as well as expert mixing and mastering duties by Sebastian Cowan - who, by the way, often goes unacknowledged for his studio acumen and skills. Go grab Relaxed Fit off of Bandcamp and make a monetary contribution to their ongoing mission to keep music interesting.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Friday, May 25, 2012
I was anticipating Beach House's latest album Bloom to be another stunning achievement, deeply affecting and moving, etc, having enthusiastically loved their prior output... But no such luck. I didn't loathe it, but just as with the most recent Destroyer album, it went in one ear and out the other. Neither colourless nor terrible, just workmanlike. I couldn't hum a melody from it with a gun at my temple.
Not so with Ms. Domino's 1986 version of Aretha Franklin's dazzling torch song... The hypnotic guitar-interplay mirrors Felt, with a rockabilly twang on the leads, her voice is rich in character and depth. Throaty, even! A sweet soporific lullaby for the droopy eyed positioned between the morose ballads of Christine McVie in Fleetwood Mac and the Baltimore-bred sleepwalking hymns of (yes) Beach House and Cass McCombs.
Sadly the rest of Ms. Domino's work doesn't always add out - hopelessly dated sounding experiments with canned drum loops and an over-reliance on studio "texturing" drag it into the Lilith Fair swamp... Actually, not a swamp - if only she had only recorded something in a backwoods bog! - but rather the estrogen-saturated chamber of some strip mall Yoga studio. The sort of globe-trotting treacle that Tilda Swinton's character in We Need To Talk About Kevin would have on her walkman while hitchihiking through Andalusia. Jane Siberry and frozen yogurt.
Tread forward at your own peril or content yourself with her album East and West and a late period contribution to Stephen Merritt's project, The Sixths.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
"Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf."
- Prince Philip, to group of deaf children standing next to Jamaican steel drum band,
visit to new National Assembly for Wales, 1999
My admiration for the gaffe-prone Royal Consort is mostly predicated upon his predilection for incredibly out-of-touch comments (he once said he practiced Dontopedalogy - the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it)... I don't agree with the comments, but I appreciate his tendency to make them. And so it is with the Duke of Edinburgh's recorded comments on steel drum bands. Another noted Anglophilic crank favourite of mine, V.S. Naipaul also found steelpan distasteful, writing to his father of his brother that "the news that Shivan is beating pans is distressing."
Forgive this post's title...
The historical background and origin of steelpan bands is compelling stuff - Trinidadian musicians fashioned tuned steelpans out of 55 gallon oil drums that littered the region during the oil exploration boom of World War II and oil companies would go on to sponsor competing teams throughout the region and internationally - a demilitarized post-colonial evolution of British marching bands. Steelpan competitions were highly contested events, and eventually most oil companies withdrew support when violence began to mar them. If you thought the oil industry was a money-grubbing blight of fat-fingered philistines, please recall this noted contribution to music and culture. I hope that in 2071 or whenever the tar/oil sands are depleted in Alberta, we shall see a resurgence of the mighty steelpan, as competing bands play against each other amidst the backdrop of a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape.
In the 1970s, popular music was not so changed by the Beatles that it was poor form or anomalous for musicians to interpret the works of other musicians, treating recent top hits as new standards. A band could build an entire career as a cover band and do quite well, thank you... In fact, as much as the Beatles made it a necessity for new bands to write their own material, they also contributed to the canon in a way that wasn't foreign to Cole Porter - providing chart-fodder for Ella Fitzgerald and others.
The 20th Century Steel Band was a London-based steelpan and their bread and butter was the high-energy interpretation of recent funk, soul and R&B songs like Papa Was a Rolling Stone, Theme from Shaft, and, as above, a cover of Love's Theme from Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra and Sam & Dave's Hold On, I'm Coming. Interestingly enough, their lasting legacy is the song Heaven And Hell (Is a Place on Earth - their debut-album opener with an oft-sampled break that would become a standard of its own, popping up in songs by The Jackson Two, Grandmaster Flash, Spoonie Gee, Geto Boys, Chubb Rock, Salt n' Pepa, Positive K, The Jungle Brothers - far too many to mention here.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Before Portishead and other vitamin-D deficient Anglophone producers set to a wholesale plundering of the work of film composers John Barry and Bernard Hermann, in turn giving the world the unwelcome gift of Trip Hop and the adjective "cinematic" as a critical term denoting the addition of vinyl pop & hiss sounds and postmodern ennui - the equivalent of a sepia filter (or hey, Instagram!) - a relatively gorgeous Swede translator by the name of Virna Lindt infused the icy cold archness & languid irony of Cristina and Amanda Lear (ex-models' musical output, a genre unto itself) with human warmth and her own appreciation of the big-room orchestral pop of soundtracks gone by.
The three songs here don't accurately represent the range of Ms. Lindt's output - the lumbering cover of Michel Lagrand's The Windmills of Your Mind, the absurd dead-eyed naivete of The Dossier on Virna Lindt, and finally, her Tot Taylor-produced debut single, Attention Stockholm - virtually a template for 3/4 the output of Belle and Sebastien... Great songs, yes, but there are other songs, more adventurous, sort of like Sparks and Yello Magic Orchestra, especially on 1985 Play/Record, which was, predictably, a hit in Japan.
Had Lindt's influence been felt more deeply, Trip Hop might have a more noble pedigree and not reached its nauseating limit in the studied melancholy of Mono's 1996 sap-fest Life in Mono The song, a barely concealed rewrite of The Windmills of Your Mind, was a prominent part of (the not-unloveable overwrought) fever dream melodrama of Alfonso Cuarón's film adaptation of Great Expectations. Or not... Who knows if we would have been spared the existence of Black Box Recorder - an ignoble and wholly reprehensible musical clusterfuck that has forever tarred the name of Jesus & Mary Chain's John Moore. (The wholly calculated effort to get famous and to get into Sarah Nixey's pants succeeded on one count, at least.)
But Trip Hop will continue to live on forever, along with drum & bass, in the scores of police procedurals on American network television, and in the dusty CD-piles buried in the back of a closet by Unmarried Women of a Certain Age.
Note: When I think of Dickens style of writing, I think of the Book of Mormon, a tedious a Holy Book as I've ever read... An entire post-Christian mythology written by a group of autistic people sitting around a table playing Exquisite Corpse - and so it came to pass, and so it came to pass, and so it came to pass...
I've spent countless hours, if not days, searching through the Trouser Press, dollar bins and the back-alleys of Discogs.com, and it's very rare that I come across a chart-topping song or artist in the new wave/post-new wave pop genre that I've got no familiarity with. (Even rarer that I actually enjoy the song). In this case, I came across the Woodentops in Oliver Assayas' 1986 film Disorder - a film that presents with weightier issues than those that make up a subgenre of post-punk trainspotting films- the Clash's Rude Boy, Penelope Spheeris' Decline of Western Civilization and Suburbia. As anthropological curios & points of reference for context-hungry teens they serve their purpose - as an illuminating or even halfway interesting piece of art, not as much. Assayas' meditation on the corrosive of guilt and murder without consequence , each in their own way, are Cliff-notes Dostoevsky for their respective class/subculture.
This song shares the same manic urgency of The Feelies or Human Switchboard, but has more adventurous production and instrumentation. The obvious touchstone for Rolo McGinty's brashly confident voice is Echo & The Bunnymen's Will Sergeant.
Alright, it's back to R&B for a little while, so I don't end up investigating bands that shared bills with the Housemartins.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
Melissa and Samuel are fraternal twins, estranged from each other since college and re-united by the death of their mother. After their mother's funeral, at the wake, they are visited by a kindly gentleman, who identifies himself as a professional colleague of the obstetrician who delivered them. He is a clinical pathologist, and he reveals that they alone possess a genetic resistance to form of rare form of pulmonary disease which has been mysteriously ravaging the state of Florida. However, this resistance can only properly be studied in conditions most akin to the womb, as their lungs must be filled with oxygen-rich amniotic fluid.
Out of a sense of obligation towards their departed mother (a medical researcher herself), they agree to participate in a nine-month long experiment, living together in a synthetic womb, filled with amniotic fluid.
As Melissa and Samuel are both entertainment reporters, they make their living reporting from the red carpet of awards ceremonies and covering holiday parades. The Holy Father's mother succumbed to the disease herself, and, moved by the twins' sacrifice in the fight against this crippling disease, the Vatican has donated an old Popemobile, which will be modified to cradle the synthetic womb-orb, allowing them to perform their duties.
Driven together, the siblings must navigate the image-obsessed world of their professional career and their own long-lingering resentments towards each other... In a fake womb.
Posted by Jay Watts III at 11:04 PM