Sunday, January 30, 2005

Still playing catch-up with all the big Oscar contenders of '04. Most recently that means "The Aviator" and "Riding Giants," both of which totally kicked ass as far as I'm concerned. The former is the best thing Scorcese's done since "Kundun." Leo Decaprio has a mad glint in his eye that suits the disturbed flyer well. It sucks to have to praise him, but dem's da breaks. People wanna think Scorcese has lost it and "gone Hollywood" (I'm one of 'em), but I'd say "The Aviator" proves otherwise while literally going Hollywood at the same time. "Riding Giants," directed/edited by the same guys that did the righteous "Dog Town and Z Boys" a couple years back, gives the history of big wave surfing the kind of mythical resonance it deserves. I'm not a surfer, but like every young lad who goes through that "I wanna be an astronaut" phase, I've always dreamt of riding a big giant or two. Almost sounds perverse. Speaking of which, I love the name "Laird Hamilton." What a beautiful man. Also, see "Million Dollar Baby" if you haven't. Boxing movies may not be your gig, but you've never seen one directed by Eastwood with this kind of film noir atmosphere. He's a genuine renaissance man making personal, artsy fartsy indie films in the deplorable studio system like it's still 1952. My hat's off to the guy.

The return of American Idol on the airwaves has got me thinkin' of hot new pop contenders in '05. I've not seen one show of this season so far, and I'm'a feelin' the hurt in my bones. Apparently the keyboardist of Dallas area psych rawkers The Falkon was on last week, and I know there are wonderful new clowns and angels of many stripes to be gawked at and groaned over, but Lord help me, I've missed it all! Needless to say, I feel a great gulf between myself and our abominable American culture beast...it's lonely.:-( In terms of my own American idolatry, Antony and the Johnsons are coming on early as strong contenders for true Idol status. For those who don't know, Antony is a very tall cross-dressed singer and musician, but his fashion appears to be more derived from the early 70s glam androgyny of David Bowie and Andy Warhol's Factory than New Orleans drag queens. His voice is a tremulous, operatic wonder that draws inspiration from the jazz croon of later Tim Buckley and classic soul balladeers, and conveys lyrics that are personal and emotionally direct, usually as multitracked harmonies. Then there's his band, an accomplished chamber pop ensemble that specializes in artful baroque arrangements, mellow jazz scapes and majestic pop symphonies, always performing with a knowing ear towards experimentation. Antony's voice and style may not be for everyone, but those who can make the hurdle will find something that rivals a Pedro Amaldovar film in its ability to flesh out the humanity of characters that most mainstream media would call anything but. Antony is no joke, and a lot more sonically interesting than *insert hyped crooner of the moment here*. The music on the brand new "I Am a Flower Now" (Secretly Canadian) deftly sidesteps any sensational spectacle and lands directly in the realm of classic post glam balladry that makes me melt. Think Scott Walker, later Big Star, early 70s Lou Reed, Roxy Music, etc...

And what about this Cass McCombs character? "Prefection," released last year on 4AD and this year on Monitor in the US, is a fab slice of ethereal post punk cum soul psych that manages to remind me of plenty of eras and artists but maintains a timelessness throughout with its plentiful serving of minimal post punk/ethereal pop falling somewhere between John Lennon to and Soft Cell. Sugary sweet and lovingly rendered from beginning to end, yet Cass can kick up a worthy guitar crunch when needed over the ever present early 80s synth wash. Pretty much what you'd expect from a guy whose band has featured members of Palace, the Curtains, Long Live Death, The Oxes, Deerhoof and others. Another newbie comes to me via a package from the very kind Alan Davidson aka The Kitchen Cynics, whose "Compulsive Songwriting Disorder" has just been issued on CD-R by Audiobot. His chum Phillip Johnston plays a very accomplished mix of jazz psych in the Gong and Caravan mold along with true blue psych folk gems and spacious acid detours on the self-released "Sundaram" CD-R, featuring lyrics on one track penned by Davidson. This is a an absolutely captivating surprise that I hope more people will hear. Rarely does a self-released demo come with these kinds of complex harmonies and such a wide musical berth (incorporating guitars, flute, bass, mellotron, etc) that's fully dressed for mass consumption. Contact Phillip here for more info. In the same package Alan threw in the Kitchen Cynics' brand new self-released "Master of the Fuzzy Fadeout," which features 18 more mellow psych folk pop gems anchored on his languid vocals and trippy-dippy noise effects, introduced by John Peel of all people. Includes a Green Pajamas and Fairport cover, a re-recorded version of Bridget St. John's "Ask Me No Questions" and a guest contribution from Jesse Poe of the moody chamber folkies Tanakh.

Also of interest are two recent releases on the forest/noise/psych/folk chroniclers, Secret Eye. First up that means The Big Huge, who weaves a stark folk pop spell on "Crown Your Head With Flowers, Crown your Heart With Joy," a bittersweet confessional of home spun acoustic pop that's worthy of comparison to Neutral Milk Hotel, Will Oldham (albeit with more wyrd folky/banjo inclinations) and sounds a lot better than Bright Eyes. Quite beautiful, really. Finnish free noise groovers Avarus return with their second album released in North America, first one "III" was for HP Cycle, this time for Secret Eye. "Jättiläisrotta" is about as fine an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink clatter fest as I've heard from these wild fuckers yet. How to describe it? Feral, unhinged psychotic tribal jams that alternate between clattering collage and driving kraut pulse. Nice to see these lads/ladies readily available on our soil. A mini tour can't be far off...

Now...for the psych: First of which is the Danish power trio Hurdy Gurdy. A year or two after the recording of their self-titled disk they would mutate into the incredibly gorgeous acid folk butterfly Amber, but this is what I've been lookin' for, Akarma's reissue (from 2002, still widely available) of the self-titled Hurdy Gurdy, issued in 71. The vibe is thunderous heavy blues psych in the Cream/Experience mold that's flawlessly executed as complex power trio jams and intricate jazz interplay that features some truly mind-boggling acid leads from singer/guitarist Claus Bøhling. There's also an extended Indian styled raga (with beautiful sitar) that exposes the more ethereal realms Amber would explore a year or so later. Bless Akarma for resurrecting this beauty complete with their trademark album style packaging. Yeeessss, more good shit that hits on a similar head/gut level can be found on Miminokoto's excellent "III" (Siwa), still available in a limited vinyl edition from Siwa. These vintage studio recordings are a nice inverse to the more damaged live disk released last year on Last Visible Dog. Fans of LSD-March, High Rise, White Heaven, Broomdusters (members of all of these bands comprise the power trio lineup) and other scorched power jammers need this one asap. A more in depth review of this should be posted in the next Foxy Digitalis update. More to come, kiddies...

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