Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Damnit. I've already failed my own one-review-a-day challenge. Oh well, no Survivor prize basket this time! Onto more pressing business. Just caught the tale end of A Mighty Wind on HBO. That's one I don't mind them playing to infinity and back in the coming weeks and months. I've been a fan of Christopher Guest ever since I encountered an embryonic version of his Corky character on an old episode of SNL: Martin Short and Hairy Shearer play a pair of brothers/synchronized swimmers preparing for the 84 Olympics. Shearer is the capable one, Short pretty much plays himself (gut-bustingly hilarious), and Guest is the slightly effeminate, no bullshit trainer that pushes them to be better than the best and obsessively puts his hands together in exalted praise.

Mighty has an undeniable charm, mainly because the dream troupe of actors, who've covered this terrain for years now, bring some depth and emotion to their often absurd/stupid characters. I don't mean to come down hard, they're old dysfunctional friends from way back. But everything in Guest's world is exaggerated to the point that we know it's all just in fun, never to be taken too seriously. Not the most subversive social satire out there, though Guffman was close (for that level of closely-observed behavioral scrutiny these days check out Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm), but they're pros that ooze an emotionality not found on current generations of SNL or Mad TV. None need look further than the Eug Levy's dead on portrayal of Mitch to see the above in action. Sure the music's not so hot. It's obviously a fairly mainstream folk scene that's put under the scope here, but there's the later-Beach Boys like career grubbing of the Main Street Singers to guffaw at (complete with the indespinsble Fred Willard as the clueless hack manager), the incredible production design (those album covers are a hoot and a half--Meet Mitch and Mickyactually looks like something that belongs in your collection). But ultimately, it's Mitch that sells things for me. Levy's seemingly broad characterization of this guy that looks sort of like a Jewish Country Joe and talks like Chris Walken after an extensive mental rehab, is a lot more than just a one-note caricature. Sure he's a joke, but he's drawn from a real pool of visionary burnouts that us obsessive fans of 60s and beyond psych rock know all too well, and we like this guy. His happiness matters to us more than anyone else's in the movie. I don't know if that's because I really dig Levy in this type of role or because I identify so closely with the character, but either way I buy it. Also doesn't hurt that everyone plays his/her own instruments. Authenticity, people! *claps hands vigorously*

Monday, March 29, 2004

I've decided for the next week I will write at least one review a day about recent musical arrivals to the house of womb. First up:

Liars They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (Mute). The first Liars disk was decent, but a bit too close to the current brand of depthless "new wave" that's been hyped in NYC lately. I must admit though I think the Yeah Yeah Yeah's got a good shot at being the next Blondie now that they've started to write songs and broken the MTV barrier, but that Liars debut, with the annoying title reminiscent of a rejected Godspeed You Black Emperor album title, seemed to confuse quasi philosophic politicking and "dance punk" (read as gang of four wankery with hip-hop beats) for some kind of interesting rock perspective. The music wasn't bad in a post Go4/Wire high on the chronic kind of way. Lots of energy, a cpl sweet freakouts, and at least two hippidy-hop break beats, but mostly what I remember are the affected sneers and all that rancid angularity, and little in the way of memorable songs. Call me a black souled cynic--I get it all the time.

They Were Wrong evinces a similar repellent quality, but in a much more compelling way. As we know, strife breeds great art, and this, a concept album inspired by the Walpurgisnacht, the date in German folklore when witches fly to Brocken mountain and perform rituals that celibrate Spring's arrival (the season of sex and war) and resulting witch hunts is about as cold and seductive at the same time as a rock record can be. It also has that rare gift of sounding fresh and unique. At a time when tons of lesser bands, The Rapture chief among them, are recognized by mass media outlets as funkafying/ revitalizing da punk, The Liars are actually doing just that!

On opener "Brocken Witch" pulsing synth buzzes in shadow over tantric drum fills, high-pitched guitar screech and chanted vocals culminating in a refraction of negative tension that spans the entirety of this breath-taking sonic adventure. It's just so refreshing to hear a band that realizes that "dance music" can be unnerving--the aural equivalent of a stun-gun to the spine--and still make you wanna get ya freak on, hang from rafters and dance around flaming pyres. At least half of this album is just astonishing to my ears: the sickly infectious pop/noise looping of "There's Always Room on a Broom" posits post-breakdown Beach Boys harmonies against squealing machine guitar noise. The phenominal drop-beat echo chamber punk psych of "Fenced Other Gardens With Bones of Our Own" has to be heard to be believed. And by the time we reach the paranoid anthem of "Holds Hands and It Will Happen Anyway", it's apparent we're swimming in murky, bubbling waters, and for some reason it feels really good. Come on in! The water's boiling.

With this album, The Liars leap way out ahead of the pack and make a hypnotic racket worthy of the praise of elitist blaggerts and alienated taste-makers such as myself that draws not just from the oblique guitar screech and clang of previously mentioned bands, but goes further into the realms of true post punk visionaries like This Heat and 23 Skidoo without sounding like just another tribute band at all. The production throughout is simply phenonenal. No lie, this is the r'n'r shit. Hear with no fear.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

When there are no more innovative ideas in Hollywood, the dead will mock great art.

Hollywood has always had a nasty case of recycleitis--digging up the dead bones of cult classics and retrofitting them for current post MTV/internet youth markets. They did it with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and failed miserably (according to reports--never saw it. Does this make me an asshole?), and now they dare the undareable and release a new version of the grandpappy of all apocalyptic zombie epics, Dawn of the Dead, to a viewing public largely consisting of pill-popping gamers and under age Rolling Stone subscribers who probably think George A. Romero is a guy who makes frozen pizza. Everyone else on the other hand is too busy balking at such heresy to ever consider viewing the damn thing in the first place, but they will...just wait.

The original Dawn, released in 78, remains one of the most unique apocalyptic thrillers ever filmed. Scream all you want about it being dated and cheapo fake blood; this one's plenty graphic enough (and quite honestly a lot more horrific than its slickafied big budget follow-up, Steven King was right about that much), and the character development is basically unparalleled for a horror movie. The ingenious set-up of having Fran working as an assistant producer for a local Philly newscast gives the audience an instant glimpse into the chaos befalling the world, or at the very least, Philladelphia, in less than five minutes. If pros working on a newscast are losing it and heading for the hills, you know the rest of the world gots ta be fucked.

So basically my point here is just something along the lines of what we always knew: Less is more. Less budget, less cuts, less CGI...There are dozens of chilling, often hilarious human moments in the original Dawn along with a sense of real pacing. Set your eyes on the redneck zombie hunt montage to see what I mean. It's simply one of the funniest and most honest scenes in film history, and it's informative at the same time. Always push that story forward! Is this an action/horror flick or some kind of neorealism in disguise? Li'l bit of both? It's moments like this that put this movie in the pantheon of great 70s American cinema, and considering that's probably the last great era (not to mention thee greatest) of American filmmaking, that's some serious praise. "Attica! Attica!"

The true measure of a good flick of any kind ultimately answers the question, "do we give a fuck?" with a loud, resounding yes. From alpha to omega we care in Romero's flick, because more than being a subversive rumination on surviving in a dying (and often reviving world), it's about maintaining some humanity in an inhumane world. What is humanity? To me it's compassion, empathy, love, memory and more. For being such an obvious gore and monster freak, Romero has a profound grasp on the human side of things, and that's why we keep coming back and watching it over and over. That freaked out soundtrack by Goblin doesn't hurt either. It's not the effects, it's not the abdominal destruction, the head explosions (that stuff rules though)--It's Rog, Peter, Flyboy and Fran, a gaggle of zombies who have more character than the entire cast of the new version, and of course the Hell's Angels (at least that's who I'd like to think the biker raiders are) with the great Tom Savini in top form. His "cameo" in the new film as a cop is pointless. Same for Ken Foree as a talking head on a news show.

The first Dawn is probably the most richly metaphorical horror film ever made. It could be the basis for a thesis on consumerism, social paralysis, mass hysteria, cultural segregation and forced integration/fear of the other, etcetcetc...But then you already knew that. Apparently this new Dawn of the Dead is about some sort of rabies like disease that takes over the world in less than a day (original!). A lot of people are crushed by rogue ambulances, and at one point two mall buses are converted into zombie-chompers for the sake of escaping the dreaded mall (read as consumerist prison). I suppose the zombie-chomping buses are a hold over from Romero's never-filmed Dusk of the Dead, which actually features just such a vehicle in its script. This new Dawn is more like condensed cross between a remake of all three original films, plus one that was never made, and Jackass with a vague nod to Fulci's Zombie thrown in for the die-hards...and it's about as entertaining and senseless as all that would suggest, but you will not care in the end. Who gives a fuck about stock, 2-dimensional assholes and heroes? Well Lucio Fulci did of course, but I expect more from Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley. These people have done some great stuff!

I'm not saying it's not worth seeing, but I am fairly disappointed that Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later has more of an impact while being a straighter, less ironic piece of work. Movies about the walking dead can't be so deathly serious, we know that. It's just too absurd a premise, but they can't just be a 1st person shoot-em-up video game either. Seriously, fuck MTV. Fuck the death of storytelling. Long live George Romero, and if the success of this flick does finally get him the green-light on Dusk of the Dead, then maybe all this sacrilege will not be in vain. Rant over.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Saturday (finally) at SXSW:

After somehow rolling out of bed around noontime, we found ourselves down at Trophy's Bar and Grill, where we had to beg to get one very big fried hamburger that was actually pretty good, but makes you think maybe they should excise the "and grill" part of the sign if they're so reluctant to deliver the whole grill thing. Made it in time for the last two songs or so of August, TX's set. This is a four piece that specializes in drifting guitar washes over hypnotic bass/drums and proves a perfect hangover chaser with a mellow, expansive wash of ambient guitar haze and minimal groove that helps this old wilderbeast slowly readjust to the harsh day's glare. My Education follows a similar trajectory with a slightly expanded lineup (including violin of course - it's usually either violin or sax with these guys). More agreeable mellow/build-up psych on a Sa-turd-ay afternoon before we...

...Decide to head over to Waterloo Records for an Iron and Wine instore performance, and more sardine-like body-cramming into the aisles of one of my favorite places on earth. Waterloo and its various employees have steered me towards some of my most prized and consistently enthralling purchases over the last decade or so, and usually at a good price too. Iron and Wine are quiet and downhome, as expected, and all the kind patrons give the trio, including a sister on guitar/vocs, hushed reverence. I also manage to procure some jim dandies for my "new stuff" pile, given I want candy, and this is thee candy store. Items I brought back from my little festival sojourn:

+ Mu Mu (Akarma) awesome heavy vinyl reissue package.
+ Southern Lord Let There Be Doom 2 CD comp
+ Davis Redford Triad Blue Cloud CD (Holy Mountain)
+ Reynols Pacalirte Sorban Cumanos CD (Beta-lactam)
+ Circle Prospekt CD (Ektro)
+ Steven Wray Lobdell Automatic Writing By the Moon CD (Holy Mountain)
+ Anticon Label Sampler: 1999-2004 CD
+ The Black-Eyed Snakes Rise Up! CD (Chairkickers)
+ Khanate Things Viral CD (Southern Lord)
+ Volebeats Bittersweet CD (Third Gear)
+ Jack Rose Opium Musick LP (Eclipse) Given away as a gift.

...and probably another title or two I've forgotten. So Iron and Wine are sweet, maybe a bit too sweet. Could'a used a bit more bitter. We pass by a rock art gallery where another day show is underway with people like Boxcar Satan, Kinski, Davis Redford Triad and some local garage/noise acts tearin' it up. More free beer--must uphold ancient trad of milking SXSW for every last free drop of the stuff. But then comes news from the front! Vancouver's Unicorns have in fact made it through for their SXSW shows. Two Texas shows were already cancelled when a member was held up by border authorities (I'm sure it was the one with the mop hair, creepy creepy!). So we hauled butt over to Club D'ville where we confronted with a barrage of cute pink shirts and tall skinny boys.

The Unicorns are a trio, a kind of 3 Stooges on acid, with Larry on guitar/bass/vocals, a mod-haired Moe doing the same and playing keyboards, and Curly, as a guy who actually has curly hair, playing drums (quite ferociously). Together these three are just a pure joy to behold--classic guitar-pop worthy of the early Flying Nun daze smashed up against funky synth-psych concoctions and regular Beefheart blurt-outs. Amusing stage banter as well--sample line: "Austin smells like cum." But I suspect every town these sexy lads stumble through smells like cum. Regardless, energy and performance wise, this is a real treat, balancing genuine rockism with a gift for pop invention, and they even played that theme song of theirs too, "I Was Born a Unicorn." I wish I was more than a horse.

Things begin to blur, crowds begin to bleed into one another. Everyone looks the same, wears the same special festival badge, writes for the same lame Scandinavian newspaper, smokes the same Native Spirit cigarettes (rolls their own), uses the same silly cell-phone ring tones. Hell on earth? Or just a little place called Hillywood? Austin is located right on the cusp of the Texan hill country, making it a regular retreat for the entertainment eleet, but this was more akin to trench warfare.

We swing over to the Parish for a spell to catch Dosh, part of the Anticon showcase. Nice big-beat electronica with laid back grooves and oscillating textures that I wish would've gone longer than the anointed 20 min or so set that we were privy to. I'm never really disappointed with anyone in the Anticon crowd, and Dosh's minimal hiphoptronica goes down smooth like a shot of gray goose.

Back to the notion of hell on earth. It was time for Khanate (pronounced con-8) at the Ritz Upstairs. The ungodly doom/no-doom quartet of noise torment formed from the ashes of some of extreme metal's most respected noise terrorists can be seen as Stephen O'Malley's "rock band" reaction to the masterful minimal drone sludge of his Sunn0))), or just an attempt to aurally capture the state of doom and creeping torment as precisely as humanly possible. For an inspired dissection of their debut CD written by psychedelic magus Julian Cope, click here. They play two "songs" this night...the first opens with the singer conjuring screeching mic hiss for a good three minutes before O'Malley's guitar drones and James Plotkin's bass vibrations start to rumble. Enter incredibly eerie tape noise and monstro drum anvils, but there is never any kind of real movement forward here. Riffs are torn apart, broken down, grooves hinted at and then left dangling over the cliff, screaming from the heat of flames below. Songs stretch into infinite chains of tension begging for release--some sort of resolution--which never comes. This is a kind of sonic reinvention of heavy metal, doom, black, whatever you want to call it...and quite hypnotic and appealing given all its inclinations to actually repel the listener. I love the vokills. This is something new. This makes my skin crawl with delight.

And there was more to go, but we mainly only saw bits and pieces, a few songs from Consonant's set (Mission of Burma light?), one or two songs by Themselves (asked to leave the premises for some mysterious reason at this point), and a cpl songs by Thalia Zedek--remember her? Me neither. Just kidding, Come were the shit, but her night-ending set, performed mostly to members of Silkworm and the New Year. And was that Joel Phelps in the corner? It seemed kind of sad at the time, but such is her world-worn delivery. Members of many bands that really mattered to me throughout the early and mid 90s stuck here on a patio playing to themselves. The rest of the world had apparently moved on. I'm sure the New Year had a good crowd though. They always do.

All in all, the fest was a bittersweet experience, just like that great Volebeats EP I scored. The Voles were incredible, the ultimate good vibe party-rock group, and super sweet guys too. Big Star seemed more workmanlike though, "check, please!", and the Unicorns were simply themselves, which was plenty for me. I'm glad we got to see them. And I'm glad we made it through alive, with change to spare. But I'm making a pledge here and now: Never Again! In the words of Alan Dubin, SXSW can be summed up in two words, "No joy!"

Sunday, March 21, 2004

SXSW Fried-day breakdown:

First things first, my gal pal, a friend and myself hit up the lovely Church of the Friendly Ghost on the south East side of DT Austin for one of the many day parties that invariably sprout up around these mega-fests, and this is a good one. We arrange it so we will be able to catch Comets on Fire, Primordial Undermind and Kinski all in one cool row. The breakdown goes like so:

Comets - The definition of the word incendiary. If any one band's gonna save flailing 4-on-the-floor punk psych stomp/ free jazz from the gallows, it's this young quintet of Stooges/High Rise obsessives. This stuff sounds as fresh as it is hot, and I mean it's fuckin' hot! It's rare that a young band comes off as so tight and even well-rehearsed (there I said it!), but totally destroyed and untouchable at the same time. Young, tuff as shit dirt bombers of the highest order. I want/need more.

Primordial - As far as I'm concerned, they just keep getting better. Yet a different lineup than the last time I caught them, with guitar/vocs, bass, sax, electronics and drums. Chunky, sprawling jazz-psych splatter that somehow congeals into a 4 headed dragon of tidal doom and breaks apart into a thousand shards of glistening starlight and reforms, back and forth all over again and so on and on...and back and forth, and up then down, and sideways...and where was I?

Kinski - Think they played a cpl new ones, plus a cpl off the excellent last album, and what can I say? I am a fan of what these cats and kitty do. Amped up power guitar storms of high head-banging velocity and diligent complexity. Sonic Youth circa 89 is probably the strongest reference part, but just like their namesake, Kinski merges an unyielding sense of insane anything-can-and-will-happen power chaos with a very deliberate and pointed attack.

Some down time, food, beverages, blister-doctoring, the whole thing's a mess during SXSW, but this is why we rock - to engorge ourselves, drink as much free beer as is humanly possible and slowly corrode our precious joints. We find ourselves at the Secretly Canadian showcase and catch Swearing at Motorists, a sort of old fashioned power trio ('cept they're just a duo) similar to Philly's Photon Band, with some vague ties to Guided By Voices and a similar inclination towards classic minded melodicism. I totally dig their mastery of dynamics, but no real surprises here. I imagine that's part of the charm with this stuff, and both the actual Swearers had that rabid been-rockin-too-long look in the eye that I found rather pleasing. They closed with "Borrowed Red Bike," which is about as close as I come to a favorite SAM song...nice.

We catch about two songs of Br Danielson's Daniel Johnston/Velvet Undergroundy bent pop songs when I begin to suffer near convulsions of incompatibility with Br's "I'm playing in a big tree costume and singing like Alvin the Chipmunk high on crack and you think it's wacky but somehow also moving" stage presence and insisted we spill out into the street like so much mishandled change. This would mean missing Sufjan Stevens (sniff), but it would also mean catching the last part of the Bodeans and the entirety of Big Star over at the Austin Music Hall.

Sidenote: Did anyone know that that hot French indie actress Julie Delpy was a singer? Me neither!! She was in town a day or two before...missed the set, but what's really amusing is the critical description I read - "lumbering, aimless psych rock...," cept the reviewer said the last song was just her solo on guitar, and really smooth if you feel me ticklin' ya with that feather down below.

So we catch a few songs of the Bodeans, excellent classically minded power pop/guitar rock drawn from the Byrds, Band, Talking Heads and many other bands as far as I could tell. I didn't expect much, but these guys had obvious hooks, a few genuine hits and played like REM drunk on Jager.

Big Star (Alex, Jody, Ken and Jon) close things out with just what I expected - a solid, if not slightly undwhelming set of power pop/psych classics including a big chunk of "#1 Record," "I Am the cosmos," both of Jody's songs ("Way Out West" and "For You"), and plenty of covers (Kinks, Todd Rundgren, etc). As with the Volebeats, I was caught in a kind of unflinching state of awe from start to finish, though I think the same lineup played a stronger show when I saw them a few years ago on New Year's Eve in New Orleans. They still nailed the smoldering guitar noise break in "Don't Lie to Me" perfectly though. When Big Star's in town, it's like close family or a closer simply gotta drop in for a cup of tea and a few words of catching up.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Thursday at SXSW:

--Starling, TN - dulcimer inflected mountain music/roots psych, expected a full band, got one guy surrounded by dulcimers singing traditional heart sick road songs that would've made Townes Van Zandt proud. Only catch a few songs, nice outside patio area, sporadic raindrops--a fitting setting.

--Constantines - Emo's day party, Constantines are another band who owes its existence to 16 Horsepower. Capable big band attack with violin, vaguely rootsy, vaguely post punk/rock informed, not entirely memorable, but good stuff.

--Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players - yet another loveably dysfunctional pop act like the Danielson Famile or Daniel Johnston, they perform what seems like spontaneous explenations of randomly chosen slideshows: neat trick, occasionally entertaining. My favorite part of their set is the little girl on drums, about 10 years old who looks bored, chews gum lacklusterly and can barely keep the tempo.

--+/- - has to be the new band of the Baluyut bros of the once great Versus, though that's not confirmed. They display the same cool mastery of dynamics, sweet trancey pop songs erupting into tightly wound Fugazi/Wire-esque rawk explosions. Their show leaves me pleasently amazed and of the opinion i'd actually like the album.

--Decemberists - Mountain Goats light, not the revelation I'd hoped for, and their all acoustic jugband setup was not well suited to the filled to capacity club. But in a more intimate setting I can see the appeal.

--Davis Redford Triad - Over at the Ritz upstairs for the mighty Triad. Steven Wray Lobdell and his band, including a sax/guitarist from Jackie-O MOtherfucker, of course tear the roof off the intimate Ritz parlour, conjuring massive walls of guitar/drone mojo with a healthy dose of non-sucking white guy sax surfing up and down the sonic slipstream. Without question, sometimes Faust moonlighter Lobdell is one of the modern underground's true guitar gods of the day. Glorious.

--Devendra Banhart - Another cracked set of warped folk transcendentalism from DB and the ever-personable Thor of Angels of Light fame on hand drum. I dig Devendra, many don't for acceptable reasons, but this little, seemingly half-assed show was a good enough reason why I like 'em. The way he recast the incredible Michigan into a trible incantation with only moaned/chanted vocal delivery and percussion is a fine example of his willingness and necessity to always be mixing that big ol pot of creativey goo into something fresh and tasty. My companion? Less than impressed.

--Joanna Newsom - She plays a harp. She plays a harp and sings in a kind of chipmonk lilt that either leaves ya warm and prickly or out in the cold. I think this chick was on Comus's first album.

...a fair share of walking ensues, attempt to get in for the Church gig, line's too long...the Mission of Burma and Little Richard gigs are clear across town...

--Gogogo Airheart - settle on Emo's yet again in time for these guys. Saw them before and was duely unimpressed - like this better though. Funkified angular punk that's all these rages these days, but lots of mid 70s Stones blues swagger crammed into their jagged Gang of Four inspired racket.

--Don Caballero - there's a reason these guys are Gods to some geeks. Much more on the metal side than previous DC gigs I'd captured, this was quite simply the shit. First track, with it's techtonic shifts and hypnotic guitar textures is very Red era King Crimson. The rest a nice assault of controlled torment, Slayer crossed with Gastr Del Sol crossed with...

--High On Fire - "Are these guys Motorhead?" Heard outside the gate as the mighty HOF was winding down. "Exactly" I thought...caught the last two songs of this mammoth trio's set, all three soaked in sweat just mangling their instruments, tearing our spines and livers with wrecklessness rarely glimpsed in the doomosphere. Two songs are probably enough...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Later on in a chair by the window, staring at the cellophane, the rocks crumbled...follow your foot steps, modern dances, blue corpse. You walk alone on the way to the living end.

Have you ever heard of Jandek? Probably...The man is such a genuine superstar that there's a movie out there all about him. Jandek is probably the ultimate example of the sad, near suicidal loner psych madman. I can't even begin to describe the somehow harrowing, utterly unique and ultimately sad story of Jandek; do some Google searching and download those mp3's. Hearing it is being there in an almost empty room, darkness seeping in with the dusk, as one guy makes the most abrasive, detuned guitar clang or zombified slow picking and sings his last breath for an audience of no one, and keeps doing it...over and over and over. Jandek really is a kind of superstar among the psych/weird music nuts the world over, as evinced by the many talking heads in this starkly shot documentary (including my pal George and Dr. Demento among many others), and as this mostly fascinating flick shows the people that love him, or at least try to hear him, certainly seem to empathize and even occasionally understand. The ultimate DIY songwriter/punk/pop/art/noise/whatever arteest, Jandek covers all the bases, and like his music he is all of these genres and styles, and none of them. The first time you hear this music you might be angry or disappointed, but chances are you'll also be curious about the who, why and how of Jandek.

We watched the first half of the 9:30 showing at the Austin Convention Center, and then made a crucial decision to duck out so we could make the Need New Body gig at La Zona Rosa 10 blocks across town, and come to learn later, just as I feared, we missed the great climax of the film which of course said everything and nothing at the same time. There will be other opportunities. NNB are uneven but consistently wild and energetic on record, the live set was similar. Clattery free jazz goof offs breaking down into mountain-freak banjo jams and then exploding in krautrocky punk blurts with lots of laughing, clapping and hoo-hawing in between. I personally wish they'd have toned down the absurdist theatrics a bit and focused more on what they obviously have a knack for, rockin' on the freak tip. More cross-city walking, this time to the Parish for the Merge showcase, where we catch the last part of a band that might have been called the Rosebuds. They looked pretty and sounded decent enough, but I wasn't buyin'. Too many annoying scenesters here as usual, all crammed together, resulting in a human heat reactor. More impressed with Destroyer, exhibits moments of anthemic glammy greatness, but Dan Bejar has such a peculiarly affected delivery, it's hard to hear what the hell he's singing about. The band all looked great though, at one time all donning matching peach colored head bands, as they strutted their way through prime Bowie/Roxy/Eno pop glitz.

Another schedule sacrifice, would have to miss my old pals in Houston's Linus Pauling Quartet ( for more info) to see another band I've fixated on the last few years who I'd never seen before, the Volebeats. Detroit Rock City twangsters with a serious penchant for old psych gems and older country ballads is the call of the day. I love this band, doubt you'll find a more seductive modern mix of Byrdsian spaghetti pop balladry than their album, Sky and the Ocean on Safehouse. Normal guys, a scruffy 5 piece, they played a few new songs, each one better than the one before, some old favorites including "Two Seconds" (I kept calling for 2 Minutes! like a drunk version of the mad newspaper boy in Better off Dead). Set included covers of the 13th Floor Elevators, Beach Boys and Bobby Fuller. Vintage live pop heaven performed by seasoned pros. Asked guitarist/singer Matthew Smith after the gig, "do you like Jandek?" "Yeah, we just saw the movie!" I think they were sitting one row behind us, and they stayed for the whole thing. Six Organs tonight, Sufjan Stevens today? Will I have to miss High on Fire live yet again??? Watch this space...

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Well, I'm about to head down to Austin for the love/hate affair that is South by South West. Hopes: that I will see Comets on Fire, the Volebeats, Khanate and Jackie-O Motherfucker live; I will drink as much free microbrew as humanly possible without passing out behind the wheel; I will find good parking; I will have fun with someone special; I won't die; the world will still be here when I return. Hasta luego!

Monday, March 15, 2004

I was listening to a talkshow on NPR the other night (long live NPR), and there was a program with an African American host, probably the Tavis Smiley show, and Tavis was interviewing a jazz pianist, I don't remember who. He was one of Quincy Jones' many discoveries and the author of the Taxi theme song (written before the fact), and many other genre staples too I imagine. As I listened, I couldn't tell the ethnicity of either the host or the guest at first (don't ask me why I even consider such things, but I do), but soon enough the inevitable "whose got soul?" question came up, and I soon inferred from the discourse that the host was black, and his guest white. And get this, his guest, the white fellow, was one of those sacred "white people with soul"...That's right! A white guy with soul in the year 2004--I was stunned! Obviously not a Justin Timberlake fan. I came to learn that the guy was on of a very short list with other esteemed white soul honoraries such as KENNY LOGGINS and JAMES TAYLOR among its golden ranks. Great pillars of body moving smooth groove, indeed! What exactly is the berth of this guy's exposure to the larger world of jazz and pop and who does or doesn't "have soul"? I know, I know, he's probably too busy having a family, a day job as a respected writer and a life to develop any real taste on the subject at hand, but I still have to take a moment here.

"Soul" to me is like so many of those other genre buzz words that journalists come up with to simplify complexity and explain the unexplainable. There is unquestionably a soul music genre, as exemplified by greats Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, etc, and they call it soul for a damn good reason...but there's also quite obviously "soul" in the definitive sense of the vernacular: that is the central or integral part; the vital core of a being. When it comes to the question of that soul, ethnicity or creed has little to nothing to do with one's measure. You either got it or you don't. You can argue that all conscious creatures have it, and someone out there might be foolish enough to agree with you, but I've seen enough blood-thirsty Nazi vermin in this world to know better. Soul is precious, and to be able to share it with someone else is probably the most precious gift one person can give another. That's why all those zombie movies are so inherently disturbing. It's not the constant barrage of imaginative eviscerations and watermelon-like head explosions that make us go "eww"...It's the idea of life without a soul. Who wants that? Who already has it? I bet you know at least one zombie in your immediate family or social ranks. So, unlucky reader, I have taken it upon myself to assemble a list of 7 great soul songs in the definitive sense, no particular order, complete with descriptions and explanations, for the soul-impaired:

1. Steven R. Smith "Lineaments" from the album of the same name, Emperor Jones (2002). Yes, it's an instrumental, and a non jazz one at that, but I dare you to find a more cosmically aligned harmonic concordance. Builds from a low rumble of scattered percussion and cranking gears; smoke from broken rays of guitar drone and bowed strings slowly smolder in the distance before massed guitar symphonies wail against wind swept dunes. A sense of massive space viewed intimately, awe mixed with humbled devotion.

2. Angels of Light "Kosinski" from Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home, Young God (2002) A haunting kiss goodbye to someone dear. This has to be heard to be felt, with its shimmery wall of acoustic guitars and Michael Gira's hypnotic vocal painting an enchanted image of fading life and obscure mystery against a backdrop of swelling overtones, haunted violin and choral arrangements.

3. Alexander "Skip" Spence "Diana" from Oar, Columbia (1969) A moan of despair from a broken heart. The damaged intricacy of Spence's fingerpicking, along with his gruff world-worn voice, relay some of the most tangible sadness and regret ever heard in a song with words that cut through to the marrow of what it is to be lost and in need of finding.

3. Alastair Galbraith "Everybody's Got Pain" from For the Dead In Space, Vol 3, Secret Eye (2003) Though Galbraith didn't write this, it's instantly Galbraithian in tone and execution, with his strangely familiar Kiwi accent and stark acoustic picking in top form, but it's the lyrics of universal pain and empathy delivered with conviction that make a song that could be trite sound so profound and true in a way that very few will ever match, or even understand. May just be the most disarming cover put to record since the Band forged "I Shall be Released" in harmonic gold.

4. Low "In Metal" from Things We Lost in the Fire, Kranky (2001) A perfectly naked song...a love song, but not that kind. One written from a mother to her daughter, as a variety of sentimental metaphors are applied in a conversation between mom and infant with a tenderness very rarely glimpsed in pop. The music, building from a hushed whisper to something more rousing and provocative sees Low at an impasse where faster tempos and alternate energies are paradoxically entwined--now there's a metaphor for a parent's love.

5. Chris Knox "Light" from Seizure , Flying Nun (1988) A sweet, strumming singalong of a song to make even the most dire cynic at least a temporary idealist. There's no great revelation here, merely an introspective glance at the sunrise and a knowing breath of satisfaction delivered in Knox's trademark minimal psych-pop manner. He hits the universal chord in terms of what it takes to live (and feel) life between the shadows.

6. Chris Bell "You and Your Sister" from I Am the Cosmos, Rykodisc (1992) Bell wrote so many songs like this. Songs about damaged lovers and devoted losers and not giving up. It melts me every time I hear it in a way I can't really communicate other than to say that when he sings "Your sister says that I'm no good/ I'd reassure her if I could," I know he's letting me in. It's fitting that Alex Chilton lends some incredible harmony backing on what's basically a song about second chances.

7. Nagisa Ni Te "Song About a River Crossing Song" from Feel, Jagjaguwar (2002) A subtle folk-pop masterwork from Japan's most prized abstract folk group about the need for a steady hand when crossing over the sharp rocks at the river's bottom. Such a plaintive image rendered in brilliant multiple hues with hypnotic electro/acoustic guitar employed with perfect restraint. Rich vocals, harmonies, rhythms and a masterful sense of pop structure that never fails to floor me every time I hear it.
Kickin' it wit da homies, watching my Dallas maverick pummel the Clippers (big deal), I find myself revisiting the most played "hardcore gangsta" rap album of the last year yet again and finally having to concede Get Rich or Die Tryin' is about as stone cold a monsterpiece of phat gangsta, shot-to-shit-but-still breathin' super dope dank as you're likely to come across in 2003. I'm not any kind of guru mind you, nor do I follow all the scenes and sub-scenes with any knowledge, but I do know that Dre got rich for a reason. Fool gots talent. There's nothing the least bit innovative or fresh about this 50 Cent album, other than it's one man (and a host of collaborators)--one ripped mother fucker human man--being flat-out honest in his opinions of fame, females, da street and Eminem. Does that mean it's in any way pure or artistic? Don't ask me. I do know it's insulting and lame like the best commercial hip-hop/gangsta rap of the last 10-15 years, but it's also absurdly hook-laden and just plain pleasing after however many beers and/or camel lights. And considering how 50 mostly slurs his lyrics anyway, creating his own kind of super-stoned monotone drone pretty much all the way through, it doesn't really matter what he's sayin'. Never more so has the term "style over substance" been so adequately, and perfectly, employed. I probably won't ever buy it (who buys anything in this day and age?), but I'm more than happy to chill with this in the background next time a splizzy makes the round. It all brings me to the current upswing that white music culture's fixation with black music culture has taken. Pretty much since the days of slavery in this country (AMERICA for our non-North American contingent), there has been a fascination and silent envy of the sense of enlightened mystery that comes with old gospel numbers and the sacred blues of our African American brethren. Music that captured an entirety of pain in 3 minutes of string-bending transcendental acoustic wonder and groaned recollection of failed loves and broken lives. Don't get me wrong here, it's my theory that basically all cultures are stuck in a symbiotic relationship with one another in which one is being influenced and/or influencing the other constantly, sometimes in broad, obvious ways, others in the most simple and incidental. It's no secret that much of the greatest, and most striking native music in 19th and 20th century America originated from black musicians, but then any time with one of Harry Smith's amazing Folkways compilations proves the same with white musicians. The blues may have been first, but when you get to the last 100 years, it's jazz baby and nothin' but that owns the innovative mindset of the hipster elite. There was still room for classical of course, and big band and swing and small subsets of avant-garde experimenters working in fields not yet identified in the larger scheme of things, but time would certainly tell. The goldmine of American folk music during the first half of the 20th century was largely unknown by the listening public. If you were a wordily sort interested in American music chances are you were diggin' the jazz. But as we know, by the time the 50s rolled around, white boys were playing amped up versions of black blues songs, and black boys were playing rockabilly tinged bluegrass songs, and pretty much the whole mess became forever entangled in a mass of incestuous influence. And you's a beautiful thing, simply because rock and roll, THEE reason for why I'm here right now typing these words, not to mention breathing these breaths, was born from two seemingly opposed cultures to create one monolithic force of unparalleled aural unity. Forever lost in its collective purple haze, In Hendrix I Trust.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

...But the legend of the rent was real hardcore!

I'm not the biggest Jack Black fan, but I did know the first time I saw the overactive hobbit/troll in action in the magnificent teen rollerblading action epic, Airbourne, he was going to eventually "touch me, babe." And I felt a similar epiphany the first time I saw Richard Linklater's definitive Austin loser chronicle, Slacker, which for better or worse put a name and a multitude of faces on an emerging subculture of disgustingly observent yet ultimately unmotivated individuals that I soon found myself a part of. This was back in the pre Nirvana daze mind you, pre Pavement and Superchunk's "Slack Mother Fucker," and of course before blogging ruled the ether world.

Linklater went on to nail the experience of my teenage Texan upbringing with an uncanny accuracy in Dazed and Confused and won a permanent balcony seat in the theater of my heart by introducing the world to John Wooderson, the penultimate realization of the hip cat as loser paradox circa 1976, some 12 years before the slackers of Slacker were slacking their days away. And one can only relish the perfect type-casting of Ben Afleck as O'Bannon, the burly paddle weilding asshole with an unlhealthy obsession for teen boy ass. And don't even get me started on Parker Posey...a GODDESS, people!

It was apparent from the start that Linklater wanted to be an arteest in a commercial game first and foremost, and like his greatest heroes, make movies that were both personal and unique to his experience, but also somehow universally accessible and "honest". This would result in the small, but winning French inspired romanticsm of Before Sunrise (a sequal is in the works), the perhaps overly familiar Suburbia, which is essentially Dazed and Confused reset in the mid 90s with post punk values (skip this one and catch Penelope Spheeris's most excellent shocker of the same name for something more worth your while). He officially hit a rough patch with 98's mostly forgettable Newton Boys, which had plenty of charm and arty references but lacked anything resembling real fire. The only thing I really remember from its over 2 hour running time is the end credit footage which features one of the real Newton Boys appearing on the Johnny Carson show or some such 50 years after the fact. This should've been something closer to Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid, but instead comes off like Young Guns if it were made in the mid 70s by Francoise Truffaut. I know the comparison suggests potential for success, but...think again, pardener. By 2001 things were looking brighter and a lot more interesting. With the help of dozens of Austin area artists, actors and animators (not to mention a few industry heavys), Link assembled and released one of the most perfectly surreal and mind-blowing films of the last decade in Waking Life, an essential DVD purchase for any fan of abstract animation, pocket book philosophizing and a fascination with the boundaries between consciousness and dreams. Released roughly around the same time was the much more alienating Tape. Where Waking Life is a metaphysical, multimedia take on themes originally explored in Slacker, and completely nonlinear-or-narrative in style, Tape, based on a play, features only three actors, spans real time and is filmed on one set using DV. Austin's golden boy (and non UT alumni I might add) getting back to his esoteric roots?

As Linklater was trying to like, keep it real, man, Black was riding his own surge of creative bubbly goo, landing the coveted roll of Barry in everyone's favorite indie jag-off, record-spotting yuckfest, High Fidelity, not to mention a string of hilarious shorts with his folk-metal duo Tenacious D, but soon after there was danger of some serious Jim Carrey-like type-casting with a series of mostly forgettable, but usually fun anyway, teen/slacker comedies that aren't really worth the bandwidth, but Saving Silverman, also featuring the brilliant Steve Zahn, is worth an afternoon cable gander. Funny though how this "stubborn new culture" captured so strikingly only a decade earlier by Linklater was now being commodified and mass-produced for the MTV/Jackass generation like so many dried out Mcsausage biscuit sandwiches.

Fast forward to the year 2003 and the reason I'm blabbering thusly, our man Black and our man Link come together via the bridge of scribe Mike White's most excellent School of Rock, a completely predictable, formulaic coming-of-age romp that snooty assholes like myself are supposed to scoff at, but should actually love and cherish, and sure enough it's an extremely marketable, audience freindly bit of inspired lunacy. In the same way that Linklater reinvogorated the coming of age/teen party flick with D&C, he totally reinvents the inspirational teacher/coming of age genre, a Hollywood staple for some 50 years now, with a the same undeniable truth and power found in The Blackboard Jungle (the first major studio film to use rock music in its soundtrack) or Dead Poet's Society, but none of the high-fallutin self righteousness. Those films, good as they are, are all very astute and touched in partaking their respective paths to academic divinity. School of Rock gives the epiphanies and the heart and soul back to the working stiff, or in this case the gigging loser, Dewey Finn, who's of course anything but stiff here. Black owns this movie from the first time we see him on stage in a smokey rock club, banging his amp, telling the soundguy "turn it up" and then abruptly releasing a hellfire harmony scream into his mic. There's no question that his life is the sacred r n r, and while his bandmates in No Vacancy are growing tired of his antics and mainly just wanna hit it big, or at the very least win the Battle of the Bands, Dewey envisions something greater and more mythical in his tornadic mind. He is an ultimate creation, the archetypal rawk fan and an oblivious con man of great emotional clarity. He may not have "what it takes" in the conventional sense--these sorts rarely do--but with the help of such instantly loveable kids (killer casting), who actually play their own instruments (with a little help from tech consultant Jim O'Rourke!) and good writing where it matters, Black's rousing, over-the-top speeches about the purity of rock as rebellion and the evils of MTV ring so very, very true. With lesser hacks--you know, the folks responsble for half of Adam Sandler's filmic output and those Mandy Moore movies--this could've been total cutesy nonsense, but all three of the parties responsible, including Mike White (also the man behind the incredicly creepy Chuck and Buck), have a natural gift for finding the subtle "real life" nuances amid the more broad absurdities that speckle the human landscape, while operating squarely in a known and predictable genre. The set-up basically resolves itself, but we're still honored to see this ride through from start to finish, especially in Dewey's van. Truth be told, the title sequence has more creative value than the entirety of most Hollywood films, but it's just a signpost of wonderful, hilarious, and mostly honest things to come. Not sure what to make of Linklater's upcoming After Sunrise. As with all his genre work, I'm sure he'll once again do the date movie proud, but his adaptation of PK Dick's A Scanner Darkly is what I'm currently licking my chops over.
Womblife is a place for me to jot down ramblings and opinions on the mind, heart and soul as well as varying pop and sub-pop cultural phenomena of importance mainly to myself. I have no idea how relevant this information will be to the world at large, but it will be ongoing in an irregular sense all the same. This is mainly a place for me to organize my thoughts and concerns and get them down in an accessible format before they flutter away into the cosmos forever. The focus here is mainly on the arts (audio, visual/ conscious, subconscious), with the occasional foray into truly inane blather. Please forgive any lack of coherence or formality, though I'll certainly try.