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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sunny Intervals: Call And Response (2007)

At probably the longest release on Wee Pop! Records so far, Andy’s (of The Pocketbooks) lo-fi pop side project Sunny Intervals' Call And Response is a sprawling yet intimate epic that keeps it’s promise of whisking you away on adventures all over United Kingdom. The first song, “Let The City Run Away With Us” is pure pop bliss with Andy speedily spitting out words while maintaining melody and an acute sense of humor as “We’ll live through the drive-bys, the knives and the crack dens.” But don’t worry, Andy reminds us that “I’m like Jay-Z with several problems but the city just ain’t one.” I have never heard a more powerful set of lo-fi electronic drumming then on “Sunset On Parliament Hill,” my favorite track on the album. The guitar also comes out rushing fast and ferociously, racing against the falling sun along the horizon. However things slow down to a trickling piano and a warbling guitar to remind us that “Nothing seemed so special as the Sunset on Parliament Hill,” that “Nothing seemed so precious as the glitter in your platted pigtails.” Orchestral synths wash beautifully over us in “Sixty Seconds To Fall In Love.” There is desperation in his voice, the kind one would get when flushed in a face-to-face rush with that girl. We make due in these kinds of situations by quick recalling anything culturally relevant and then forget it, losing ourselves to the groove of the song and the moment when “We’ll multiply and the heat wave turns into a meltdown.” Sunny Intervals' Call And Response manages to fit the sublime into a set of songs that will carry you away to the UK or anywhere.

Sunny Intervals-"Sunset On Parliament Hill"

Sunny Intervals on myspace
Sunny Intervals site
Wee Pop! Records

See Your Fragmented Self In I’m Not There (2007)

So If I were in the Todd Haynes film I'm Not There concerning Bob Dylan I would play the seventh Dylan.

As a young student I would discover Bob Dylan through easily palpable sources (ala “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” by The Beatles) because I didn’t like his voice at first. But, I’d soon be familiar with Christian Bale’s character Jack Rollins, the prophet, finger-pointin’ folkie. Bale gleefully exudes the stereotypes I had about Dylan (the kind most people have) leaving me optimistic and expectant but vulnerable.

At this time I re-picked up the guitar and like Marcus Carl Franklin’s character Woody Guthrie, I picked up my heroe's songs pretty well, harp and all. I could start naming all of his influences, move a crowd and fake my way through any trivia contest. Like Franklin I could charm my way through all the standards (Just hear my desperate versions“Blowin’ In The Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin”), but I didn’t yet realize that imitation leads nowhere.

Finally I tried to branch out on my own, wildly and chaotically in the same vein as Ben Wishaw’s Arthur Rimbaud. I feel like I can provide a commentary on my current situation and I do well during the interrogation like cool Arthur, but after awhile the pressure gets too much to me and I start to lose my composure. I just cannot take these hounds and flashbulbs anymore; they do not say who I am.

I grab my weapon (“Not in any literalized sense”) and I decide to blow them away like Cate Blanchett’s Jude Quinn. “I refuse to be heard,” she exclaims nervously, neurotically; she’s a ghastly site, a person not quite centered and on a witty, fierce defense. And oh does she defend well against the likes of ravenously selfish fans, confused reporters, Michelle Williams as Coco Rivington (Edie Sedgwick) and Bruce Greenwood as a BBC journalist. I feel things starting to crack; I know that I cannot survive very long on drugs (maybe it’ll help The Beatles deal with those hard days and nights), apparent disinterest, angered disassociation and witty cool.

Maybe I should turn to God. Maybe I’ll see angels in the street like Jack Rollins. Christian Bale could lead me in the right direction as Pastor John singing the magnificent gospel of “Pressin On.” Could this be the freedom I need from the wary eyes of those who seek to impose on me like they’re trying with to do with Jude? It could be, but that would end in comfort and stagnation. So instead I start to hurt those around me without realizing and get caught up in the electric period of the man I’m imitating.

Heath Ledger as Robbie and I now have some problems with women and our own egos due to this ease of cynicism and wit that we borrowed from our heroes (The Godard references are perfect). Like Robbie I could only break through by listening and letting those around me listen (Charlotte Gainsbourg is the most gorgeous, striking woman on the planet).

Do I understand everything yet? No, there still is that whole fame and identity entrapment thing to confront. I decide to leave for awhile, maybe grow a beard and live a simple life ala Richard Gere’s Billy the Kid. I even live in a surreal world with carnivals, funerals, Halloween and animals. I try hard believing that I’m free from it all, but I really do care and I am forced to stand up and fight once again.

I jump back into the fray with Jude who is now dealing with a Fellini-esque circus around her. Can it be true that “Death is so part of the scene right now”? Is a motorcycle crash the correct way to escape? At the time it seemed the only appropriate tactic to get off the whirlwind. I don’t blame Jude for it one bit. Is reinvention death? Maybe in some circles, but I’m sure those are the circles you want to get out of.

Seeing the Todd Haynes masterpiece I’m Not There was like staring into a mirror.

Bob Dylan however remains as elusive as ever.

Bob Dylan-"I'm Not There"

I'm Not There on IMDB
Great review in Film Comment
Part 1 of an interview with Todd Haynes
Part 2
Part 3

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mp3 of the Week-“Cocaine (Live)” by Bob Dylan

I recently (yesterday) found Live At The Gaslight 1962, an album released a few years ago (at Starbucks exclusively for awhile). It is a small sample of songs Bob Dylan sang pre-Freewheelin’ days at The Gaslight CafĂ© in New York before he exploded into the spotlight. The track “Cocaine” is a song written by Luke Jordan in 1929 and what's remarkable about Dylan is that even in 1962 he could take many blues and folk standards like this song and brand them with his own sensibilities. There is simplicity and plasticity of Dylan’s version of "Cocaine." The refrain, “Cocaine all around my brain,” is so morbidly catchy that he lets it swirl over and over again until his voice cracks and he mumbles the ending; enhancing the effect of a man falling apart due to this “delicious” (err) drug.

Bob Dylan-“Cocaine (Live)”

album info on Wikipedia

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Existential Hero: A Winter's Tale Told In Spring (2007)

Hey everyone out there in blog land, I feel terrible for neglecting this place like I’ve been lately but I have a good excuse. As some of you may know I am also a musician and operate under the name Existential Hero and I recently just finished my third album A Winter's Tale Told In Spring. I obsessed over it for months working on a solid collection of songs that function cohesively as a whole album. I think everyone will be surprised, there is much more focus, nuance and diversity this time around, but you can be sure it still doesn’t lack the sincerity and simplicity that some of you have come to love from my music. I’m only charging four bucks just to cover shipping a bit, believe me I’m not in this to make money, I really want everyone to hear what I have to say (In song form).

The cover was done by Evan Koehne:

Here is the tracklist:

And two tracks to tide you over!

Existential Hero-"A Winter's Tale Told In Spring"
Existential Hero-"Timothy Treadwell"

Existential Hero on myspace

Monday, November 12, 2007

Radiohead: In Rainbows (2007)

I attempted to write a review for Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows a few weeks ago and I just couldn’t do it. And it wasn’t because of a dislike or love of it or because of writer’s block, I just wasn’t ready; and I still don’t think I’m ready. That album lives on a higher plane of existence then most of us. It as if we were running a race and suddenly we found ourselves alongside Thom and the boys only to realize that we hadn’t caught up but that they had lapped us. That’s how I feel about In Rainbows. Most critics claim it is a return to simplicity, yet I feel it is more in tune with my racing metaphor. It aesthetically and intellectually appears simpler than what Radiohead has done in the last few years, but I feel it is gone somewhere else entirely. The problem is I just can’t quite grasp onto it. I’m using three dimensions to describe it when I should be using five or six, but I’m trying my best.

The glitch-pop opener “15 Step” rattles your bones (courtesy of Colin Greenwood’s roarin’ and tumblin’ bassline) and yet feels strangely warm with Thom’s soulful voice and the seemingly random children’s choir “yeah!” Thom understates, “Fifteen steps/then a shear drop” and then before we have a chance to think about it the song fizzles into nothing before exploding into the next track “Bodysnatchers.”

The song “Faust Arp” reminds me of a twisted nursery rhyme with Thom’s lyrics rolling off each other quite delicately and the use of strings in this song remind me why rock ‘n’ roll decided to use them in the first place. Johnny Greenwood also plays off The Beatles quite insidiously with acoustic picking reminiscent of “Blackbird” and “Julia.” When we reach the lines “I love you but enough is enough/enough” I am completely perplexed because I want to know how this mysterious lover got to this point. What did it take to reach the breaking point?

Immediately after we are treated to the emotional outpouring in “Reckoner”; my favorite I think. Thom’s voice has never been more perfect. This song is played completely straightforward, almost. Phil Selway’s drumming messes with your subconscious and coupled with Thom’s wail it leaves you even more rattled.

“House of Cards” appears next, somewhat chilled out, but sounds immense. Thom’s voice echoes while guitars and buzzing violins come out from the murk to reinforce the sense that in this relationship there are edges we can never really reach, we just glimpse fragments.

The closer “Videotape” is a song that can in some ways only exist in our time. Even though questions of legacy have always been possible never before has so much evidence existed of our everyday lives. Thom sings, “You shouldn't be afraid/because I know today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen,” but in some ways that’s hard to swallow because it’s coming through the filter of the video medium (not to mention the mp3). Can we find comfort in this digital age when everything is filtered and isolated in so many ways? I think maybe that is what Radiohead is trying to answer with In Rainbows and in many ways it is the question that defines their whole career. If we can believe that “today has been the most perfect day,” then what does that say about our humanity? Radiohead come closest to answering that question more than anyone and maybe one day we we'll catch up to them and understand what they’ve been telling us.


Dead Air Space: Radiohead's blog
Guide to In Rainbows courtesy of Pitchfork
In Rainbows on Wikipedia
Previous articles from this blog

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Take a Ride On The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

The Darjeeling Limited features Wes Anderson in peak form. It is an amazing film that met my expectations and exceeded them. It has all the trademark “Wes Anderson-isms” (creative use of slow-mo, killer soundtrack, dead pan delivery, family explorations, brilliant and colorful mis-en-scene, etc.) and then some.

The plot of the film follows Adrian Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson as brothers taking a spiritual journey to India a year after their father’s death. Those who criticize Wes Anderson for style over substance are not actually watching. The Darjeeling Limited is perhaps in some ways Wes Anderson’s most openly serious of all his films, but it hits home in all the right places. Each brother is so nuanced and you really understand how the dynamics of family function. When Jason Schwartzman’s character asks his brothers, “I wonder if the three of us would've been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people,” there is a genuine sense that family does mean something; it’s more than just blood.

One great thing about the film that surprised me somewhat was its open satire of the “spiritual journey.” Owen Wilson’s character militarily plans out each day and makes his brother agree to “find themselves.” Anderson brilliantly conveys that we cannot make planned epiphanies and that these exotic landscapes are not just places where whites can reconcile their issues; India and it’s people in the film are living breathing entities and these young men cannot absolve themselves so easily.

Did I mention that killer soundtrack? Although there is no Mark Mothersbaugh this time around, Wes Anderson effectively uses music from old Satyajit Ray films as well as a few great classic rock tunes. Most noticeably he uses three tracks from The Kinks. There is a scene about half way through with the song “Strangers” that nearly brought me to tears and is on repeat as we speak. I would believe that Wes Anderson’s use of music in films has no rival; it is of a perfect synthesis with the images and the themes.

I know Wes Anderson had worries about what the effect of putting Hotel Chevalier (the short film featuring Jason Schwartzman’s character and his ex-girlfriend played by Natalie Portman) before would have on how the audience perceives the narrative focus in The Darjeeling Limited, but I’m happy to say that it really just adds a nice flavor and poignancy behind certain scenes and does not detract from anything.

It is hard for me to write a compact review for this after only seeing it once, but my initial opinion is that it is one of Wes Anderson’s finest works and continues to reveal him as one of the greatest filmmakers in the last fifteen years. The reason why The Darjeeling Limited works so well is that in spite of (or because of) our own human failings, amazing things can still happen.

The Kinks-"Strangers"

The Darjeeling Limited on IMDB
Official Site

You Tube Video of the Week-“Eh Hee” by Dave Matthews

This song and video is fucking breath of fresh air. Let me take a few steps back though. Dave Matthews Band is the most misrepresented band in history, or at least since I’ve been alive. Commonly associated with frat houses and the like, their music doesn’t seem to fit that crowd at all. Sure there are a few “Drinking” songs, but if you really listen, Dave Matthews is singing songs about life, peace, and grappling with concepts of religion and God. He has the lyricism and wit of some our greatest modern songwriters and I will never understand how they became linked with the frat crowd, but alas that’s how most music aficionados see them. They were my favorite band when I was younger and I am sad to say I haven’t been keeping up with them as much as I should. Last week I stumbled back and discovered that Dave Matthews (as a solo artist) released this new song “Eh Hee” on itunes as well as a video too. He played all the instruments himself and recorded it in a day. Again, this is a fucking breath of fresh air, not only for Dave Matthews fans, my own conventions regarding my relationship to Dave Matthews and the Dave Matthews Band, but music in general. Simple, insistent drums frame a bluesy guitar, deep horns, piano keys like raindrops and Dave Matthews appearing with his best southern drawl this song captures the turbulence, fear and paranoia in the chaotic world we live in. The video is also something to behold. Shot as a single take and in time-lapse photography, Dave Matthews sits on a barber chair whilst being subjected to various “things” like eggs and paint. He sits there convulsing and laughing while dancers in white provide the backdrop. It’s a slice of Avant-Garde while maintaining a sense of meaning and purpose.

Altnerate "Sand In The Face" cut of the video
Dave & Tim Reynolds version
Nancies.org the best DMB site out there
Dave Matthews Band website

Mp3 of the Week-“God Only Knows” by Isto

Who is Isto? Some say he is more beard than man, a lumberjack, half a bee, a living legend not only in the You Tube world but throughout. Some even say he is a real-life version of Tom Bombadil, but even more musically inclined. Whoever he really is, Chris “Isto” White has over a 100 songs on You Tube (and more on his site) of him playing songs on classical guitar. Some are originals and some are covers, but no matter what he plays it is exceptional and I would even say magical. I have never been head over heels for The Beach Boys, but who doesn’t love “God Only Knows”? I discovered Isto’s version and fell even more in love with the song. The lyrics really penetrate deeper with the simplicity of a classical guitar and Isto’s voice rises and falls perfectly. The stellar ending extenuated by his desperate and rough delivery gives us the true feeling of “What I’d be without you”. Did I say that he is a fucking amazing guitar player?

Isto-"God Only Knows"

You Tube Page
Isto on myspace
The video of him playing "God Only Knows"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Desmond Reed-Guinea Pigs EP (2007)

Since I discovered Wee Pop! Records I’ve been doing my best to try and snatch up all their releases. Desmond Reed is a musician from Orange, Massachusetts and the Guinea Pigs EP is a small slice of his smart brand of lo-fi four-track pop. There are only three tracks on this EP and like other Wee Pop! albums this demands and requires repeated listens. The obvious center point to this EP is the first song “Guinea Pigs” which had me giggling over how silly and cute it sounds (The album cover also adds to the humorous effect). However the song maintains a certain dignity and you’ll get sucked into the world of the song singing along, “At least I have my guinea pigs whoa oh!” Let us not forget the other two songs on this EP that stand out to me along the same lines if not more. “Neat” is in many ways about being ignored and we all can relate. With only that fact, this song hits home perfectly and Desmond Reed’s lyrics express all the memories any of us have ever had about girls and boys we pinged after in high school. My favorite track, “First Proud, Then Sad” takes a statement like the title and shares with us life lessons that sound truer the older we get. If anything Desmond Reed proves that there still is nothing more powerful than a boy and his guitar.

Desmond Reed-"First Proud, Then Sad"

Desmond Reed on myspace
Wee Pop! Records