Saturday, May 26, 2007

Absurda

Absurda is a brand new David Lynch short film that premiered last week at Cannes. Very good, very trippy and very haunting. It has already become one of my favorite of Lynch's short films; certainly as good with The Amputee or Premonition Following an Evil Deed, and probably on-par with Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times).


The Week in CDs

The Week in DVDs

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Live - The Clientele & Beach House @ The Casbah, San Diego 5/22/07

Hearing The Clientele for the first time is not something you easily forget. The London dream-weavers cast such a serene mood of glacial reverb and elegant melodies that the songs can become as much a part of your surroundings as a part of your life. The first time I heard them was just after The Violet Hour had come out in late 2003. I had taken a trip to Hawaii and brought the album along with me. Needless to say, the band immediately grabbed me and provided the perfect backdrop for those two weeks of extended lounging and distant sunsets (the violet hour indeed). And every two years since then, like clockwork, they have dropped another magnificent album from the heavens. 2005 brought Strange Geometry (their apex so far) and now in 2007, we have God Save the Clientele, an album that shows their growth as a band with the integration of very subtle tweaks to their idiosyncratic sound.

Their show last night at the Casbah consisted of a good helping of songs from all points in their catalog, but it is to the band's credit that they can so seamlessly blend the newer sounds with the older tunes. They had to struggle through sound problems the entire night though. New member Mel Draisy never could get in sync with the sound guy enough to get her violin working properly; and if you've ever heard a Clientele song, you know how important that violin is. They persevered though, perhaps taking the opportunity to rock out a little more (well, rocking out as much as The Clientele can "rock out") with some extended guitar solos and the like. They have consistently been one of the most underrated band in modern music; but who knows, that may all change soon.

Beach House stole the show though. Presumably still touring behind last years gorgeous self titled debut (an album that has slowly but surely become one of my favorite records of the last couple years), Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally filled the venue with their golden haze of soft keys and echo-laced guitar. When I saw them last year opening for Ariel Pink, they had pretty bad sound problems, but last night everything came through perfectly. Whether that was due to luck or the fact they have upgraded from a discman to an ipod for their percussion tracks is unclear. Whatever is was, they still managed to drape a hypnotic cloud around a handful of songs from their debut; songs that, only a year after their release, already feel timeless. They even played a couple new songs, one that could almost pass as a (gasp!) pop song. The direction they move in will be interesting to watch.

Post Brit-pop also-rans the Electric Soft Parade opened the show with some good humor and some nice tunes as well.

The Clientele











Beach House









Electric Soft Parade





Saturday, May 19, 2007

CD Review - Sly & the Family Stone Reissues



A Whole New Thing (***)
Dance to the Music (**)
Life (***)
Stand (****1/2)
There’s a Riot Goin’ On (*****)
Fresh (****)
Small Talk (***1/2)

The rise and fall of Sylvester “Sly” Stewart is nearly as infamous as the recordings he made with his groundbreaking funk/rock/soul outfit the Family Stone. After cutting his teeth in local school bands as a teenager, Sly landed a job in 1963 as a disc jockey at San Francisco R&B radio station KSOL, where his disparate playlists first began to reveal his unique personality. Throughout his tenure in the mid-60’s, Sly had no problem puzzling his audience by following up a James Brown track with a Bob Dylan protest song and in the process unwittingly helped diversify the FM radio boom that was set to occur in the proceeding years. In addition to this, Sly began to produce records by local San Francisco bands such as The Mojo Men and the Beau Brummels. So when he finally decided to start his own group, he was already pretty well versed in the process of writing and recording. However, Sly had no interest in forming a stereotypical soul or funk band; he wanted to challenge people’s perspectives by integrating into his music a modern psychedelic sound. In terms of personnel, the group he recruited was as diverse as their sound—a multi-racial, multi-gendered septet including Sly’s siblings Rose and Freddie Stone, Cynthia Stone, Jerry Martini, Larry Graham and Greg Errico. This mix of race and gender was unheard of in 1967, setting Sly and the Family Stone apart from any band that had come before. The flamboyant hippie visual aesthetic they adopted was just another tip of the hat to the direction Sly wanted to take his band. It’s no wonder Sly named their first record A Whole New Thing. And now, on the 40th anniversary of its release, Epic/Legacy is finally reissuing all seven albums by the original Family Stone.

Released in 1967, A Whole New Thing announced the arrival of a new voice in contemporary music. Its triumphant opening track “Underdog” wonderfully describes the Family Stone’s situation at the time, as they attempted to break through prejudice and bring society together through song. Small traces of Sly’s genius are evident in many of its songs, most notably in the trippy psych-pop of “Trip to Your Heart” and the subversive rave-up “Dog.” It was certainly out of step with the sound of the time, which is probably why it bombed. It is far from a consistent listen, with a couple of forgettable ballads and some James Brown funk approximations (“Turn Me Loose”) that can’t quite step out of the shadows of their influence. It wasn’t even released on CD for the first time until the 90’s, so this particular reissue is welcomed.

Perhaps sensing they were ahead of their time, the band’s label suggested that Sly “dumb down” his approach to songwriting. This compromise resulted in “Dance to the Music”, one of the era’s most famous songs. Embracing the universal theme of dance, the band hit upon a formula that would help catapult them into the stratosphere of popular culture. The resulting album Dance to the Music unfortunately seems to exist only as a vehicle for the title track, with nearly every song a variation on its theme. The epic monstrosity “Dance to the Medley” is the most overt offender, helping fill out the first side of the album while accomplishing less in 12 minutes than “Dance to the Music” does in 3. This was the dreaded sophomore slump and remains the nadir in the Family Stone’s otherwise impeccable catalogue.

They rebounded nicely with their second release of 1968, Life. However, in another string of bad luck, there was just no song quite as anthemic and accessible as “Dance to the Music,” causing the album to be overlooked and largely forgotten, even today. It is a more than worthy listen however, especially in order to experience the full evolution of Sly. By this point, it was fairly certain that, if nothing else, Sly would open the album with its best song, and Life is no different. Flexing a previously unseen muscle, “Dynamite!” is perhaps the Family Stone’s most overt flirtation with rock. Buoyed by a stinging guitar riff, the song crackles with suspense, making it perhaps the highpoint of the Family Stone’s early period. Sly’s dark sense of humor is apparent throughout the record, just look at the song titles: “Chicken,” “I’m an Anima,” “Jane is a Groupee” and “Plastic Jim.” This would be the last appearance of Sly’s optimistic outlook on life. Things were about to get serious.

Up until this point, Sly was a fairly happy guy, buying in (as many did) with the hippie lifestyle and Summer of Love ideals of peace, love and understanding. The nation’s problems were growing darker by this time however, and it was time for a statement. Released in 1969, Stand! was the call-to-arms that many had been expecting from this forward thinking band for years. As good as some of the moments on their first three records were, it wasn’t until Stand! that Sly put together his first truly essential album. It is at turns inspirational (the title track and “You Can Make It If You Try”), hateful (“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey”) and paranoid (“Somebody’s Watching You”), perfectly encapsulating the discontent of a nation while calling on the common folk to make a change. “Everyday People” was the hit though, a slice of soul heaven sent down to inspire and unite. Nearly every song is a classic, making it perhaps the best starting point for the uninitiated. The album shows how far Sly had come in only 2 years, but retains the vibrancy of his early music, which would only return periodically over the next 5 years. At the end of the 14 minute dub-funk instrumental “Sex Machine,” you can hear a voice in the background say, “We blew your mind out.” Nothing could describe the feeling of Stand! any better than that.

In the period following the release of Stand!, Sly receded from the spotlight. Lost in a snowstorm of cocaine, his behavior became erratic. Live appearances were frequently delayed or missed altogether; his communication with the band members was non-existent. At the exact moment when Sly could have conquered the world, he fell into the abyss. Feeling pressure from the record company, Sly released the epochal “Hot Fun in the Summertime” single in late 1969 to overwhelming popularity. He still couldn’t get it together though. As they waited endlessly for Sly to reemerge, Epic would release the Family Stone’s first Greatest Hits collection in 1970. Sly’s disaffection was not at all unfounded; by 1970 Martin Luther King had been assassinated, The Rolling Stones’ infamous Altamont massacre had taken the last breath from hippie idealism, the Black Panthers were breathing down his neck for a more radical political statement and Nixon was sending more troops to Vietnam by the day. Instead of fighting back, Sly retreated to his rented Bel Air mansion, where he would almost single handedly record his grandest statement to date.

In response to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, Sly titled his next album There’s a Riot a Goin’ on, a record that stands as one of the most uncompromising and flat-out best releases of the 1970s. The recording of the album is nearly as legendary as what was actually released. Sly holed himself up in his mansion with a bevy of instruments and a single drum machine, which would provide the creeping backbone for this mangled masterpiece. Nothing Sly had done before or would do after sounded anything like Riot. He endlessly overdubbed and erased his songs, which in turn deteriorated the tapes to the point where every sound on the record is covered in an odd, mystical haze. The famous album cover (finally restored to its original design for the first time) just added to the mysterious sounds Sly was pioneering. He had already experimented with drum machines on other artists’ records, but Riot marked the first time that synthetic percussion would dominate almost the entirety of a single record. The grooves on Riot are second to none. “Luv n’ Haight” is a brooding, disorienting opener (with the legendary lyric “Feel so good inside myself, don’t wanna move”); “Family Affair” is a sparse mechanical machine while “Space Cowboy” slides along like a burnt out comet. Riot’s terrain is a hazardous and engulfing one, a walk on the wild side that the few who were involved with it have ever spoken about it. It very nearly ended Sly’s career.

The depths Sly plumbed for Riot were deep. There was nowhere for Sly to go but up, and up he went with his full-on funk workout Fresh, released in 1973. Still retaining the seriousness of his last two records but lightening the subject matter, the album would mark Sly’s last great statement as an artist. Fresh is the sound of Sly stretching out, re-embracing those early melodies but marrying them to his odd production flourishes. “In Time” and “Thankful and Thoughtful” proved Sly could still get by on coolness alone while “Frisky,” “Keep on Dancin” and “Babies Makin Babies” reinserted some of that old sense of humor that had defined his early years. However, the cover of “Que Sera, Sera” and its themes of resignation give the biggest glimpse into Sly’s headspace at the time; he was done fighting, it was time slow things down.

The final official Sly and the Family Stone album Small Talk is frequently overlooked but is home to quite a number of classics. Mirroring the album cover, Sly was settling into domesticity with his wife and child, and the record has an easy, carefree charm that sent the Family Stone out on a peaceful note. The defining characteristic of the album is the abundance of studio chatter that is left on the recording, with the title track in particular even featuring Sly’s crying baby in the background. “Can’t Strain My Brain,” “Time for Livin” and “Better Thee Than Me” are all late career highlights for Sly, but “Loose Booty” trumps them all with its hip-hop rhythm and endlessly catchy chorus. Of course at this point I can’t hear the song without thinking of the Beastie Boys, who liberally sampled the track all over Paul’s Boutique standout “Shadrach.” Although the fact that three white teenage boys from New York would become so inspired by the song is testament not only to his influence but to how Sly mapped the course for modern funk and hip-hop.

After Small Talk, Sly ducked out of the spotlight and has rarely emerged since. He released a few embarrassing records under the Family Stone moniker in the late 70’s and early 80’s, none of which retain any of the spirit or vivacity of the original lineup. He has been in and out of rehab and has never been able to fully get his life back together (there is hope however; Sly has scheduled a very rare live performance with the Family Stone for the summer time). These seven albums had been near the top of the “must-be-remastered” list, but thankfully they have now all been re-released with authentic cover art and full track lists (that means Riot’s title track is finally present, all 0:00 of it). The bonus tracks that round out each disc are nothing too special, although the instrumental versions of many of the songs give a nice glimpse into Sly’s writing process. The albums are available individually in limited edition gate-fold packaging or together in a massive box set titled “Sly and the Family Stone: The Collection”. Though not every album is an essential purchase, each is an important release in the (hopefully) continuing saga of Sylvester Stewart.

Tio Bitar



Dungen har gjort den igen. Uppföra lik du veta. Er den så god som Ta Det Lugnt? Sannolikt inte , utom den er söt darn fantastisk.

Translation: Amazing

Listen

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dead Horse



There has been a myriad of fantastic full length albums released in 2007 already; more so than any recent year I can think of in fact (seriously, I could make a top 50 list already). But if one thing has defined 2007 for me, it has been the string of great EPs that have been unleashed. Beirut, Deerhunter, Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective and Of Montreal have all dropped solid EPs already, none of which reek of cash-in or stop gap stink. And now you can add the Dead Horse remix EP to that list, in which the Junior Boys enlist an A-list of modern electronic artists to reconstruct songs from the fifth best album of 2006, So This is Goodbye.

Dead Horse kicks off with Hot Chip's overhaul of "In the Morning". The English electro-soul quintet blaze through the best song of 2006 with no shame, adding their own lyrics and that Warning patented micro-groove. As good as this song is though, it is amazingly still the most predictable and ordinary cut on the record. Up next is Tensnake's anthemic tech-house revamp of "FM". This stands as easily the most shockingly original vision of any song here. What was once a quiet, nearly ambient coda to a fantastic record, is now a throbbing electronic waveform, placing it amongst the best songs of the first half of the year. But most of the online buzz about this EP came from the advance leaks of Carl Craig's fantastic remix of "Like a Child", which moves from glistening house into a chopped-up vocal loop, escaping unscathed as it floats weightlessly for 10 plus minutes. And as if you could handle even more, dub-step maven Kode 9 lends a hand, reinventing "Double Shadow" as a lock-stepped dubbed-out creeper, retaining almost no signs of the source material. In fact, there are very few instances on the entire record where I can even hear original Junior Boys music. So keeping with that theme, ambient producer Marsen Jules closes out the EP with a formless, blissed out take on "FM", which sends the record off on a cloud of hypnotic beauty. You'd be hard pressed to hear a better remix record than Dead Horse this year, let alone a better EP. And oh yeah, it's 40 minutes (!) long. Who do these guys think they are, the Fiery Furnaces?

Listen

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Declare Independence



Now, I'm not going to get into the specifics of Bjork's new record Volta; you could go to hundreds of websites, blogs or message boards if you want to get in on the mudslinging. I will say that it is hugely disappointing and leave it at that. It does however house some good songs like "Earth Intruders" and "Innocence". But then there is "Declare Independence", which is one of the best songs of the year period. It's like Bjork gone noise rock, with a clipped and mangled electronic drum beat and Bjork sing-speaking some of her most extreme political lyrics of her career. It's the most show stopping and shocking moment on a Bjork record since "Pluto" from her 1997 masterpiece Homogenic.

Listen

Friday, May 11, 2007

DVD Review - Pan's Labyrinth



"Although Del Toro took the long road to success (see Hellboy), he has swiftly rebounded with a wonderful and truly important film not only for the fantasy genre, but for dramatic film in general. Love it or hate it, I guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like Pan’s Labyrinth." [Continue Reading]

Watch the trailer

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Salute to New Order



"My morning sun is the drug that brings me near
To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear
I used to think that the day would never come
That my life would depend on the morning sun..."

Formed from the ashes of the legendary Joy Division, the four members of New Order would chart a near unprecedented course through the 1980's, releasing countless singles and albums, many of which helped define the classic era of Manchester dance rock. Taking cues from Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk in combination with the bass heavy grooves of Joy Division, New Order would release the epochal "Ceremony" single in 1981 and never look back. The run of singles they produced in the 80s is nearly unparalleled, including such classics as "Blue Monday", "Bizarre Love Triangle" and "True Faith". I encourage everyone to pick up Substance, their 80s spanning singles collection; you'd be hard pressed to find a stronger collection of music from the era. Their sophomore album Power, Corruption and Lies was their watershed moment though, and it remains one of the great statements of the 1980s. Today is indeed a dark day, as one of the greatest and most influential bands of all time has called it quits after an illustrious 25-plus year career. It was full of ups and downs, but it was never less than interesting; most of the time it was just flat out thrilling.

To Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert:
I salute thee. You will truly be missed.


Blue Monday



True Faith



Confusion



DVD Review - Fur



"The film bears traces of the more surreal work of David Lynch and Federico Fellini, but the first person that came to mind when I saw Fur was Stanley Kubrick. If the legendary director were still alive, Fur is the movie I’d imagine him making following Eyes Wide Shut. It’s haunting, chilling and thought provoking; a movie that very quietly pushes the boundaries of contemporary film." [Continue Reading]

Watch the trailer

Saturday, May 5, 2007

CD Review - Leonard Cohen Reissues



Songs of Leonard Cohen (****1/2)
Songs from a Room (****)
Songs of Love and Hate (*****)

I have long wondered what would have happened if Leonard Cohen had never picked up an acoustic guitar. Having already published a novel and a book of poetry by the mid 1960’s, Cohen could have easily made a career as a poet, and I guess in a way he did. Moving from his native Canada to the United States in 1967 to pursue a career in music, Cohen would develop a strikingly original sound in stark contrast to the psychedelic movement that dominated the late 60’s (Sgt. Pepper’s and Forever Changes would be released the same year, with Odessey & Oracle following in ‘68). Utilizing the sparsest of instrumentation, Cohen would lay bare his nasal-inflected vocals, inviting listeners to dissect his lyrics, which are as honest and emotional as any ever written. Now, on the 40th anniversary of the release of his debut album, Sony has re-issued his first 3 studio albums, all re-mastered with added bonus tracks.

Cohen had actually made a small name for himself in the music world prior to releasing any albums, having leant lyrics to Judy Collins, who would turn “Suzanne” into a hit in ’67 (the lyrics have origins even further back, having actually been the words to a early Cohen poem). But by December ’67, Songs of Leonard Cohen would emerge fully formed—a near perfect hybrid of poetry and acoustic folk. Despite Cohen’s constant clashing with producer John Simon over the sonic embellishments, the album is still regally stark. I was first exposed to the sounds of Songs of Leonard Cohen through their use in Robert Altman’s film McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and none of the medleys have gone far from my head since. The moody atmosphere and delicate arrangements of songs like “Winter Lady,” “The Stranger Song” and “Suzanne” are just as awe-inspiring and moving as the day they were written. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of a better side of 60’s music than Side 1 of Cohen’s debut.

Going into his next album, Cohen had distinct demands for new producer Bob Johnston (who had previously worked with Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan): there were to be no unnecessary accompaniment to any of these new songs and especially no percussion. What they achieved was an even subtler and at times more difficult album, one that dealt head-on with social issues such as war and religion. The chorus hooks weren’t always there, but the lyrics were as poignant as ever—from Cohen using the Biblical story of Abraham & Isaac as an allegory for the Vietnam War, to the heartbreaking suicide lament and counter culture dissection “Seems So Long, Nancy.” Despite the poor showing commercially compared to his well received debut, Songs from a Room is home to many great songs, particularly “Bird on a Wire” and “You Know Who I Am.” It’s often overlooked because of what came before and after, but Cohen’s sophomore outing is one of his most rewarding albums.

After the release and subsequent commercial failure of Songs from a Room, Cohen would burrow even deeper into the darkness in the early 70’s. Sticking to his formula of zero percussion and minimal instrumentation, he would build on the dourness of his previous record and unleash his strongest collection of songs yet, appropriately entitled Songs of Love and Hate. Expanding the arrangements and piling on even more atmosphere, Love and Hate contains only 8 songs, each a perfect realization of Cohen’s torment and desire. The opener “Avalanche” is a pure, slow moving death march, burying the listener into the deep recess of Cohen’s mind. The overwhelming nature of the album is broken only once, for the side 1 closing, call-and-response jam “Diamonds in the Mine”—at 3:50, it’s no wonder it is the shortest song on the album; there’s no room for any light. Side 2 is pure desolation though, moving through 4 lengthy classics, one of which is “Famous Blue Raincoat,” perhaps the apex of Cohen’s early work. The penultimate track “Sing Another Song, Boys” (recorded live at the Isle of Wight in 1970) is the climax of the album with Cohen and his backup singers moving toward a denouement worthy of a gospel choir. The album ends with the epic “Joan of Arc,” re-establishing the character that had haunted his debut album, bringing full circle this trio of classic albums.

Songs of Love and Hate marked the last time Cohen would keep things so simple. The rest of the 1970’s saw Cohen adding and experimenting with instrumentation, with sometimes interesting but occasionally forgettable results. However, his first three records are the purest distillation of the Cohen aesthetic. It wouldn’t be until 1988’s fantastic I’m Your Man that Cohen would be able to fully integrate more modern sounds into his music. One needs look no further than these three records to find the heart of late 60’s and early 70’s folk music. Each of these reissues are expanded with bonus tracks, the most interesting of which are the two songs appended to Songs of Leonard Cohen, “Store Room” and “Blessed is the Memory.” These early Cohen records have always had a hollow, seemingly infinite depth, making them feel ageless, but these reissues are cleaned up nicely and sound even better than the late 80’s CD versions that are sitting on my shelf. Whether you are new to the world of Leonard Cohen or a long time fan, these reissues are cause for examination and ultimately, celebration.


Thursday, May 3, 2007

SY @ Coachella

This made the heat and the long lines and the 10 straight hours of standing up all worth it.

100%



Candle



Mote


Pictures

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

CD Review - Neil Young Archive Series



Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live at the Fillmore East

"Recorded just months before the release of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Live at the Fillmore East presents Young in a typically carefree and exuberant mood, and with the help of the perennially underrated Crazy Horse, they absolutely destroy these songs, the majority of which have been classic rock radio standards." [Continue Reading]

Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall

"It marks the second release in the ongoing Neil Young Archival Series, which was kick-started by the Crazy Horse-backed, jam-laden Live at the Fillmore East. So now, in a complete 180 from its predecessor, we get a down turned and emotional set of songs, which on the whole, happen to be slightly better than the Fillmore disc." [Continue Reading]

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

DVD Review - Little Children



"Little Children is a staggering achievement on nearly every level and has undoubtedly established Field as one of America’s most important filmmakers..." [Continue Reading]

Watch the trailer