Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Lie Down in the Light
Not prone to use such vocab, but this is Will Oldham's "best" album, his "masterpiece," my "album of the year." Call it the polar opposite to what's often considered his most fully-realized work, I See A Darkness, full of life and light. In making such a proclamation though, it's difficult to pinpoint just what it is about this album. He's audibly happy and in love, and for some reason, that's led to song structuring that feels perfected yet not strained. Of course, he said-she said dialogues are present, as is his ever-present naturalism.
Rather than the "first thought, best thought" in his approach in the studio, it seems like there's a place for everything here, be it a clarinet or a guitar tone right out of "Rock'n'Roll." The best example I can conjure off the top of my head occurs on "So Everyone," which seems at first like its chords are based upon Fred Neil's "The Dolphins." But whereas that song was world-weary, finding solace not in another human being but in submerging that pain in the animal kingdom, here Oldham finds his peace in his betrothed. That it's a blowjob song appropriate enough to play at a wedding reception is just the cherry on top.
A few months back, listening to a promo of the new Boris album, I kept being struck by the "rupture" inherent in its sonics. That is, until I paid enough attention to realize that it was just an edited, truncated promo. Such rupture is instead best put on display here: re-vitalizing a decade-dormant career only to riddle their telltale sound with shards of ancient synthesizers and drum pads. Or else plunking in an homage to The Jerk that endearingly --albeit wholly-- derails the album's momentum. Recurdling sour times only to leave listeners in an ice-bath. Laid flat by the appearance of "Threads" (which could totally be covered by Sunn O))) ), I kept hearing behind Beth Gibbons's mewl this hole where a man's voice could've been harmonizing. That is, until I realized the hole was in fact a man's howl. I think it clenches into that Morricone-esque yip nearer the end, but I'm always so unsure.
Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part One
It'd be easy to say that Erykah's been getting her daily dose of Parliament/ Funkadelic, but then I thought that maybe she's just watching Spongebob with her kids and getting all those tweaked voices from there instead. But much like Bill's paternal turn in Kill Bill, Erykah also weans her kids on kung-fu matinee, too. A true pothead's album: indulgent, meandering, prone to lean and headnod, super-paranoid, silly, messy, weirdly anal retentive, knee-deep in dusty funk, apocalyptic.
Lindstrøm: Where You Go I Go Too
As I stated on the I Love Music message board, this is the Ys of Neo-Disco, every bit as expansive and endgame for its respective musical subgenre, save HP's effort is Jacuzzi-warm instead of chilly.
Blues Control: Puff
Toumani Diabaté: The Mandé Variations
Earth: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
Low Motion Disco: Keep It Slow
Daniele Baldelli and Marco Dionig: Cosmic Disco?! Nah...Cosmic Rock!!!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Husbands dir. Cassavetes
A friend sweetly and unexpectedly bought me a bootleg copy off of eBay of my favorite John Cassavetes film, to this day not available on DVD (thanks AAAA). The only noticeable effect of such a transfer is that there's this weird artifacting on the black fabrics, which makes the funeral scene turn slightly psychedelic. This marked my fifth time through the film, and I realize that the promise I made to myself a decade previous upon my first viewing of the film --that I would one day be as sartorially unfuckwithable as Mssrs. Cassavetes, Gazarra, and Falk-- has still not come to pass. I also lament that there's no sort of Smell-O-Vision here, especially as the bender the three husbands indulge in stretches on ever longer. If only you could get a whiff of Peter Falk's vomit and cigarette breath.
Seriously though, click this and sign the petition to have Husbands released on DVD.
Battle of Algiers dir. Pontecorvo
Since the Iraqi War is no longer front-page news, it may be best to learn about our enemy via a forty-year-old documentary-style story on how Algeria threw off French occupation. The Criterion set is heavy, revealing that the film was made less than five years after liberation, on the very streets that were covered in blood and rubble but a few years previous and including a roundtable discussion with Richard A. Clarke (author of Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror) about the movie's effects. Mandatory viewing for both Al Qaeda recruits as well as US special ops.
While the film's depiction of both torture and terrorism tactics (see women hiding their bombs in their baskets or police using live wires on suspects) are chilling and spot-on, there's something else at work. We see how effective both strategies are, in that the bombs kill hundreds of innocent civilians, rally Algerians to their cause, and entice the oppressors into more self-defeating policies, while the gruesome torturing of captives allows the police to capture/ kill the insurgents and their leaders. Yet at movie's end, both terrorism and torture fail. And yet, due to some intangible movement that the camera does not register, liberation still occurs. Even the film itself professes to have no answers as to why independence finally comes, why the populace finally rallies and throws off the French. It is, as Clarke states though, about an invisible war, a war of ideas.
2 or 3 Things I Know About Her dir. Jean-Luc Godard
Perhaps it's as Godard intended, to have the Law of Diminishing Returns enacted on celluloid. While my first viewing of this film imparted a giddy and heady rush, each subsequent viewing has turned into more of an pedantic slog. It's also incredibly noisy, with a near-constant clamor of construction work and a clanging pinball machine. There's still whispered Brecht, mere reportage of the senses, 'Nam polemics from the mouths of babes, endlessly quotable lines like "Language is the house man lives in" and "If you can't afford LSD, try a color TV," but it tells of things to come (like the execrable Le Gai Savoir, which we also suffered through. That said, it has two of his most poetic visual musings, one involving the play of tree-dappled light atop a candy-red car hood, another of that cosmic cup of stirred coffee.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The Pawnbroker dir. Sidney Lumet
MoMA's theatre must run an elderly special, as we were the youngest people in the crowd by a good three decades. Caught this early Lumet flick as part of the museum's ongoing (and simply exhaustive) overview of jazz-inflected soundtracks for American and world cinema, Jazz Score, I would've written this up for my soundtrack column, save that I can't find any usable clips for this film on YouTube. Lumet weds Quincy Jones debut film score to the gritty B&W cinematography of Boris Kaufman, and shows how a cage can follow a man. Who knew that 1960's Harlem bore such close resemble to concentration camps? Or that in the middle of this depressive/ redemptive film would appear the theme from Austin Powers?
Crazed Fruit dir. Ko Nakahira
Also part of the MoMA Jazz Score series. This directorial debut from Nakahira (who --according to critic Donald Ritchie-- was assigned more middling fare ever after) was the first film of Japan's new wave, kin to Rebel Without a Cause and Breathless. Was delighted to learn that this film features the first score of Toru Takemitsu, whose significant soundtracks I dig immensely. Here, Takemitsu presents a winsome interplay between Hawaiian steel guitar and muted trumpet. Damn YouTube, why is there no clip of the subtle seduction scene, wherein the slight movements of fingers, thighs, and quick glances (all while the sea heaves and seaweed wags and sighs) hint at the urges teeming just beneath the surface? One of my favorite scenes in recent memory. And the ending remains jarring some fifty years on.
Cat People dir. Jacques Tourneur
Reading Martin Scorsese's lecture/ book on American cinema got me excited about trolling deeper into low-budget noirs, which prove that whole "necessity is the mother of invention" adage. Can't afford special effects to transform Simone Simon into a black panther (no afro wigs and hip-huggers in the 40's)? Then convey such animalistic change and its attendant fear and bodily terror via shadows, shrieks, the disorientation of light that comes from a pool, the held shot of an otherwise orderly descent of stairs growing more ominous merely through deepening lines of shadow.
Gun Crazy dir. Joseph H. Lewis
Again, as recommended by Scorsese, a raw and careening predecessor to Bonnie and Clyde. The gun-loving guy is disgusted not by death, but instead by the resulting convenience: "Two people dead? Just so we can live without working?" Too many incredible shots to be had here: the camera on the floorboards of the getaway car, the tracking shot through hallways of carcasses or else a looooong backseat shot that follows the heist and pistol-whipping of a cop outside of the bank before following them on the getaway, then that discreet smile back at us as they speed away. And is there a sexier cinematic entrance than that of Peggy Cummins (as Annie Laurie Starr) firing her six-shooters at the county fair?
Looking at IMDB now, it makes sense that Dalton Trumbo helped on the screenplay. Check this dialogue:
Him: "It's as if nothing were real anymore."
Her: "I'm yours. And I'm real."
Him: "But you're the only thing that is. The rest is a nightmare."
Thursday, June 12, 2008
A friend of mine is about to undergo an emergency root canal. And as she tussles with tooth pain, she also has to hit her deadlines throughout the process. Listening to music in the throes of such physical pain isn't much fun. I recall how I had to review the needling onslaught of Orthrelm's OV a few years ago while dealing with fallout from food poisoning: horrific body aches, nausea, and a blinding feverish headache. Not fun. Needless to say, I have yet to revisit that album, lest I feel such symptoms again. I am curious as to how music gets coupled with acute physical sensations though, embedded into the nerve endings.
When she told me the "good news" about getting a root canal, my entire body shivered. While my own troublesome tooth (and non-dental plan) was from a few years back, that physical misery was conjured so that I re-lived it for a second. Again, I felt that never-ebbing sear of hot pain, white light, the hallucinatory tremble of my skull from those weeks leading up to the drill. And there's an exact song that encapsulates that pain. When I think about root canals, I think about Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love."
It was a few summers ago and I was out at Siren Festival. It was my first time out at Coney Island and I was with then-fellow Pforker Brandon Stosuy. Unable to chew down a Nathan's hot dog, I wandered instead into the decrepit penny arcade out on the boardwalk, the skull pain masked by the din of skee-ball thumps, Street Fighter, and Dance Dance Revolution noises. As "Crazy in Love" burst forth, that horn line (from the Chi-Lites' "Are You My Woman") incessantly drilled deep into my head (where it would remain the rest of that summer). My skull reached the threshold: all brass blasts, Jay guest verse, arcade noise, Coney Island teen yammer, sweat, leathery local skin flash, skull nerve throb. At "got me going so crazy right now," everything roared white.
It was at this precise moment that the arcade attendant deployed some sort of industrial strength room deodorizer to cut through the pall of B.O. that hung in the hot room. Stunned and stuck in place, I was hit square in the face with that noxious mist. I can't hear that song without all those bells, whistles, and florid stinks flooding back and overtaking me.
Recently, another friend of mine recounted the first time he ever heard the God of Thunder, Prince Far I, on his face-melting dub reggae classic Cry Tuff the Dub Encounter Volume 3. Reduced to a puddle (bong-abetted, no doubt), he then had to be scooped up and put into a Brooklyn gypsy cab. It was a late November night, but for some reason, his cabbie had all the windows rolled down. To top it off, the cabbie had "Unchained Melody" cranked up. Already a bundle of nerves, the cold and the soaring Righteous sound (arranged for maximum beatitude by Jack Nitzsche, natch) shook my friend down to his spinal column. In simply retelling his tale and thinking about the Righteous Brothers, his arms had broken out anew in goose flesh, still cold at the sound of music.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Without my knowing it, writing chums Peter Relic and Dave Tompkins apparently created this hippe-dippie pseudo-entity in the early 70s known as "Peter Tompkins" and co-authored tomes like The Secrets of the Great Pyramid and The Secret Life of Plants. I hold the two of them wholly responsible for inspiring the worst Stevie Wonder double album ever.
Still, there's lots of kooky science goodness to be had in The Secret Life of Plants. Nothing is quite helpful tipwise, like how to prevent root shock, secrets of how to make bulbs bloom, or what Beethoven sonatas will make plants grow best. Should I be playing Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations from 1955 or 1981 for the aloe? Will geraniums thrive better hearing Pablo Cassals's recordings of the Cello Suites or else Yo-Yo Ma's take? Can they hear Wagner looped in the GAS box set? Will the twee-classical of Nico Muhly shrivel them outright?
Instead, there are all these weird experiments that prove that plants are lie detectors, mind readers, can feel the death of any and all animal cells, and have a telepathy that has no bounds, meaning plants have a sense that extends beyond our understanding and conceptions of space and time. So the more I write snarky criticism, the more my plants will suffer? Oh, and they receive transmissions from deep outer space. Weird reports stream in from the Soviets and from India too (Pravda headline: "What Leaves Tell Us: Plants talk...yes, they scream").
They also talk about Goethe's lesser-known career discussing the morphology of plants: "To Goethe the fact that the action of the root of a plant is directed earthward toward moisture and darkness, whereas the stem of trunk strives skyward in the opposite direction towards the light and the air, was a truly magical phenomenon." Even during yoga class now, I keep imagining myself becoming some sort of plant: spine like a stem, face and hands turning towards the sun, growing ever so slowly. Guh, can I really be turning back into a hippie? Even if the archival discovery of this Father Yod album from 1973 makes my skin creep?