Thursday, March 24, 2011

Track Review: Battles f/ Matias Aguayo - "Ice Cream"

Battles have made it nearly impossible not to compare and contrast their two incarnations—in fact, they seem to be all but encouraging it. Last August the math-rock supergroup took a chink to the armor when de-facto frontman Tyondai Braxton bowed out after just a handful of EPs and one mammoth full-length, 2007’s Mirrored. Rather than replace Braxton, whose filtered chipmunk cadence delivered one of the most unexpected left-field pop cuts in recent memory with “Atlas,” the remaining trio soldiered on with the recording of their forthcoming sophomore album, Gloss Drop, sans lead vocalist. Augmented instead by a rotating cast of guest collaborators, Battles look to be at a crossroads, and not just between line-ups. Faced with the realization that their dynamic may be irrevocably alerted, these omnivorous experimenters seem to be re-building their sound from the ground up.

It’s somewhat logical, then, that “Ice Cream,” our first taste from Gloss Drop, would sound so eager to please. Rather than the muscular man-machine rhythms which powered Mirrored, this track lays into a manically looping guitar/synth volley almost immediately, sending all additional instrumentation into a supporting role. Thankfully, the buzzing melody retains Battles’ unique sense of humor, but it’s a shame that John Stanier’s typically pummeling work behind the kit is reduced here to a comparatively gentle gallop. Guitarists Ian Williams and Dave Konopka take a slightly different approach this time out as well, swarming the main melody in fits and bursts while mostly opting out of offering anything too concrete, swelling around the margins with some well rendered texture.

The track’s skipping rhythm seems to be consciously serving guest vocalist Matias Aguayo. To his credit the former Closer Musik founder and Kompakt producer steps into the track pretty confidently with a series of escalating grunts and continues to wordlessly ride the track’s light bounce for the duration. In fact, the vibe here isn’t unlike something off Aguayo’s own goofy electro vox-pop experiment Ay Ay Ay (2009), which raises the question of whether the song was written specially for Aguayo or if he was commissioned after the fact. It wouldn’t make a difference to the quality of the song, which is enjoyable enough on its own terms but a little anti-climatic in the shadow of such a galvanizing debut, but it makes the prospect of some of the album’s other guest turns—from Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino to Boredoms leader Yamantaka Eye (seriously, the mind reels at the potential of the latter)—look all the more promising. [CMG]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Essentials (Film): The 1980s

• 1940s •1950s • 1960s • 1970s •
• 1980s • 1990s2000s

Berlin Alexanderplatz / Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1980)
The Big Red One / Samuel Fuller (1980)
Every Man For Himself / Jean-Luc Godard (1980)
Germany, Pale Mother / Helma Sanders-Brahms (1980)
Gloria / John Cassavetes (1980)
Kagemusha / Akira Kurosawa (1980)
Melvin and Howard / Jonathan Demme (1980)
Mon oncle d'Amérique / Alain Resnais (1980)
Out of the Blue / Dennis Hooper (1980)
Raging Bull / Martin Scorsese (1980)
The Shining / Stanley Kubrick (1980)
The Aviator’s Wife / Éric Rohmer (1981)
Blow Out / Brian De Palma (1981)
Francisca / Manoel de Oliveira (1981)
Le pont du Nord / Jacques Rivette (1981)
Lola / Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1981)
Modern Romance / Albert Brooks (1981)
My Dinner with André / Louis Malle (1981)
Possession / Andrzej Żuławski (1981)
Reds / Warren Beatty (1981)
You Are Not I / Sara Driver (1981) 
Blade Runner / Ridley Scott (1982)
Burden of Dreams / Les Blank (1982)
Fanny and Alexander / Ingmar Bergman (1982)
Finye / Souleymane Cissé (1982)
Fitzcarraldo / Werner Herzog (1982)
A Good Marriage / Éric Rohmer (1982)
Moonlighting / Jerzy Skolimowski (1982)
Passion / Jean-Luc Godard (1982)
The State of Things / Wim Wenders (1982)
The Thing / John Carpenter (1982)
Too Early, Too Late / Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub (1982)
White Dog / Samuel Fuller (1982)
À nos amours / Maurice Pialat (1983)
L’argent / Robert Bresson (1983)
City of Pirates / Raoúl Ruiz (1983)
The Eighties / Chantal Akerman (1983)
The King of Comedy / Martin Scorsese (1983)
My Brother’s Wedding / Charles Burnett (1983)
Nostalghia / Andrei Tarkovsky (1983)
Pauline at the Beach / Éric Rohmer (1983)
Sans soleil / Chris Marker (1983)
Sudden Impact / Clint Eastwood (1983)
Three Crowns of the Sailor / Raoúl Ruiz (1983)
Videodrome / David Cronenberg (1983)
Full Moon in Paris / Éric Rohmer (1984)
Love Streams / John Cassavetes (1984)
Manuel on the Island of Wonders / Raoúl Ruiz (1984)
My Friend Ivan Lapshin / Aleksei German (1984)
Once Upon a Time in America / Sergio Leone (1984)
Paris, Texas / Wim Wenders (1984)
Repo Man / Alex Cox (1984)
Stranger Than Paradise / Jim Jarmusch (1984)
Yellow Earth / Chen Kaige (1984)
Brazil / Terry Gilliam (1985)
Day of the Dead / George Romero (1985)
Hail Mary / Jean-Luc Godard (1985)
Lost in America / Albert Brooks (1985)
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters / Paul Schrader (1985)
Mix-Up / Françoise Romand (1985)
Ran / Akira Kurosawa (1985)
The Runner / Amir Naderi (1985)
Shoah / Claude Lanzmann (1985)
Taipei Story / Edward Yang (1985)
A Time to Live and a Time to Die / Hou Hsiao-Hsien (1985)
Vagabond / Agnès Varda (1985)
Blue Velvet / David Lynch (1986)
Down by Law / Jim Jarmusch (1986)
Dust in the Wind / Hou Hsiao-Hsien (1986)
The Green Ray / Éric Rohmer (1986)
Hannah and Her Sisters / Woody Allen (1986)
The Horse Thief / Tian Zhuangzhuang (1986)
Landscape Suicide / James Benning (1986)
Life is a Dream / Raoúl Ruiz (1986)
Mélo / Alain Resnais (1986)
Mon cas / Manoel de Oliveira (1986)
Routine Pleasures / Jean-Pierre Gorin (1986)
The Sacrifice / Andrei Tarkovsky (1986)
Stand by Me / Rob Reiner (1986)
The Terrorizers / Edward Yang (1986)
The Blind Owl / Raoúl Ruiz (1987)
Boyfriends and Girlfriends / Éric Rohmer (1987)
The Dead / John Huston (1987)
From the Pole to the Equator / Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi (1987)
Full Metal Jacket / Stanley Kubrick (1987)
Housekeeping / Bill Forsyth (1987)
House of Games / David Mamet (1987)
King Lear / Jean-Luc Godard (1987)
King of the Children / Chen Kaige (1987)
Robocop / Paul Verhoeven (1987)
Under the Sun of Satan / Maurice Pialat (1987)
Where is the Friend’s House? / Abbas Kiarostami (1987)
Wings of Desire / Wim Wenders (1987)
Yeelen / Souleymane Cissé (1987)
Ariel / Aki Kaurismäki (1988)
Chocolat / Claire Denis (1988)
Damnation / Béla Tarr (1988)
Dead Ringers / David Cronenberg (1988)
Distant Voices, Still Lives / Terence Davies (1988)
Grave of the Fireflies / Isao Takahata (1988)
Heathers / Michael Lehmann (1988)
Landscape in the Mist / Theodoros Angelopoulos (1988)
My Neighbor Totoro / Hayao Miyazaki (1988)
Rouge / Stanley Kwan (1988)
A Short Film About Killing / Kryzsztof Kieślowski (1988)
A Short Film About Love / Kryzsztof Kieślowski (1988)
A Tale of the Wind / Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan (1988)
They Live / John Carpenter (1988)
The Thin Blue Line / Errol Morris (1988)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? / Robert Zemekis (1988)
The Asthenic Syndrome / Kira Muratova (1989)
Black Rain / Shohei Imamura (1989)
A City of Sadness / Hou Hsiao-Hsien (1989)
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover / Peter Greenaway (1989)
Crimes and Misdemeanors / Woody Allen (1989)
The Decalogue / Krzysztof Kieślowski (1989)
Do the Right Thing / Spike Lee (1989)
Drugstore Cowboy / Gus Van Sant (1989)
Gang of Four / Jacques Rivette (1989)
Mystery Train / Jim Jarmusch (1989)
O Sangue / Pedro Costa (1989)
Recollections of the Yellow House / João César Monteiro (1989)
Santa Sangre / Alejandro Jodorowksy (1989)
Say Anything... / Cameron Crowe (1989)
sex, lies and videotape / Steven Soderbergh (1989)
Sweetie / Jane Campion (1989)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Track Review: Ponytail - "Easy Peasy"

Announcing their hiatus in mid-2010, Baltimore quartet Ponytail elicited unexpected reconsiderations of the phrase “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.” The band’s kaleidoscopically skewed take on art-rock may directly appeal to those who continue to believe Deerhoof fell off sometime after 2005’s The Runners Four (a memo we apparently didn’t get; I mean, you’ve heard Deerhoof vs. Evil, right?), but in the run up to their return album, Do Whatever You Want All the Time, Ponytail’s stock across various indie demographics has never been higher. So if a little time off pursuing various side projects and solo endeavors is all it takes for Ponytail to come back rejuvenated, then our time romanticizing their brief initial run will not have been in vain.

Churning their way through a bubbling synth intro, Do Whatever opener “Easy Peasy” finds Ponytail deploying shards of their sound in carefully allotted, escalating patterns. As such, it should do little to quell anticipation, but before long the band’s tumbling forth with their trademark guitar curlicues and elastic percussive displays. Instruments playfully careen off one another, each vying for the listener’s attention in anticipation of singer Molly Seigel, whose vocal acrobatics more often than not divert ears with her mix of wide-eyed euphoria and gut-level intensity. After teasing her entrance for a couple minutes, she finally arrives, staying pretty well within the pocket as she rides the track’s cresting guitar loops and cartoon-ish synth riff. For their part, the band level out their familiar dynamic range for the track’s first half before guitarist Dustin Wong drops a searing solo and drummer Jeremy Hymen hits the accelerator for the duration, climaxing in unison with Seigel.

It all tumbles to a close just as it seems the band is reaching for fifth gear, leaving me particularly interested in how they plan on building on this song’s rallying momentum across the LP. With curious eyes fixed on their next move, Ponytail not only have the networks now available for maximum indie exposure at their disposal, but also the retina-damaging cover art courtesy of kindred spirit Yamantaka Eye and a satisfying comeback track under their belt, setting up a potential breakthrough for a band that could just as easily remain a cult item. The ball is in their court, but something also tells me people won’t be sleeping on Ponytail this time around. [CMG]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Record Review: Destroyer - Kaputt

Leave it to Dan Bejar to inject the indie world’s continued obsession with the 1980s with a welcome dose of sincerity—and this via some of the era’s cheesiest and most potentially ironic signifiers. Bejar’s ninth album as Destroyer doesn’t feel like an answer or a retort to these trends, rather Kaputt feels like another swerve in Bejar’s long and winding artistic road, one that has led him from acoustic lo-fi (1998's City of Daughters) to restless midi-experiments (2004's Your Blues) to studio-finessed indie-prog (2006's Destroyer’s Rubies). By these standards, then, arriving in 2011 with slow-mo sex jams is rather logical, particularly when one steps back to attempt contextualization of the Destroyer project.

This brief outline would seem to suggest that this was an easy destination for which Bejar to arrive, when in fact the last few years have been, by all accounts, some of the most challenging and apprehensive of his career. He’s done everything from publicly decry the art of recorded music to attempt rejuvenation via collaboration (see his recent collaborations with Tim Hecker and Scott Morgan of Loscil), emerging with a couple of EPs in the process but no sign of a full-length since 2008, the longest drought of his career. All of a sudden this icon of unencumbered lyrical regurgitation seemed to be at a loss for words. Kaputt earnestly answers all these questions and ably sets Bejar forth into his third decade as if this moment of doubt were just a hiccup on the way towards a new artistic plateau.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Track Review: Julian Lynch - "Terra"

I’ve been searching for the better part of a year now to locate the seams in the music of Julian Lynch. The Underwater Peoples stalwart so effortlessly stitched together elements of folk, electronic, and ambient music across the length of his breakthrough LP, Mare (2010), that each began to blur into the next to the point where the line between the organic and the synthetic was all but imperceptible. As a result, the album had a tendency to float by unnoticed if one wasn’t zoned-in to Lynch’s methodology, which he’s mentioned has roots not only in his upbringing but also his studies in ethnomusicology. “Terra,” the pre-release teaser and title-track to his forthcoming album, grounds his more flighty inclinations in something approaching a pop framework.

Saxophone snakes its way to fore, continuing its unexpected resurgence in indie circles while introducing the track’s suave melody alongside lazy-afternoon acoustic strums and Lynch’s high and ever-so-slightly more confident vocals. Once again these ingredients fold gently into Lynch’s wistful wash of synth and circular hand percussion, but the results are neither cluttered nor exhausting. In fact, Lynch continues to make some of the most peaceful and comforting music around—the instrumental portions of the song even bring to mind the easy-going amble of the Band or Neil Young. Just as things begin to grow too relaxed, however, we’re introduced to a comparatively assertive guitar-synth breakdown, stamping out a structure not always clearly defined in Lynch’s prior work.

It certainly sounds like he’s taken cues from his time on the road, having played shows backed by members of fellow New Jersey acts Real Estate, Big Troubles, and Family Portrait, among others. And if “Terra” is any indication of Lynch’s mindset during the recording of his third album, then the results could prove as ingratiating as his live setup has promised and as functional as some of his label-mates’ more immediate material. [CMG]

Friday, March 11, 2011

CMG Op-ed: "Tomboy" Preview

The whole idea behind a “listening party” is admittedly kind of futile. It’s certainly admirable for labels or record stores or those with stock in a specific artist to encourage a communal listening experience for a new album in the download era, but it’s almost equally ineffectual in regards to detailed appreciation. Not only are you hearing the album in question only once, but depending on the circumstances, the music may have to fight off everything from indifferent crowd noise to questionable equipment playback.

This is what our new releases have been reduced to, then: gimmicks. Sure, gimmicks to help stoke anticipation—and in this sense a gimmick with the added function of re-creating a bit of that album-era aura of discovery—but one so exclusive and random as to not have a whole lot of impact outside of the few individuals genuinely invested in a specific artist. Conveniently, I am one of those people, at least in regards to Animal Collective, and early last week I was lucky enough to attend just such an event for the experimental pop group’s most widely accepted member, Noah Lennox, and his newest solo album as Panda Bear, Tomboy.

Before I dive into the specifics of what I heard this evening, let me say that this is in no way a critique of Tomboy. Despite living in an era of instantaneous opinion, I wouldn’t dare relay any kind of in-depth analysis at this point, particularly on just a single listen and let alone on a work carrying such ridiculous expectations. Further, as the event was held at Malo Upstairs Lounge in Silverlake, California, the environment wasn’t exactly—as I mentioned earlier—ideal for parsing out minute details through the inebriated chatter of many of the attendees. Instead, I’ll simply be outlining the general feel of the album, perhaps pointing out various sonic characteristics along the way, while hopefully establishing a base for what looks to be a familiar if logical extension of some of Lennox’s most recent work as both Panda Bear and with Animal Collective.

The first thing you probably noticed about Tomboy as bits of information began to be revealed is its fairly traditional eleven song track list. Person Pitch (2007), of course, had only seven songs to its name, two of which ran over twelve minutes in length. Tomboy, by contrast, works a more structured trajectory, with nearly every song falling in the four minute range, save a semi-brief opener and the comparatively extended penultimate track, “Afterburner” (which, perhaps not coincidentally, seems to be one of the more interesting pieces here). And given the personnel associated with the album, I was keen to hear what (if any) influence the presence of former Spacemen 3 member Sonic Boom had on the final mixes. It turns out that many theories about the record—including some talk about a pronounced techno-bent, spurred on by a recent track being debuted as limited edition single on Kompakt—may ultimately prove…well, if not false, then at least misguided. Below, then, you’ll find a brief primer on Panda Bear’s Tomboy, out April 19th on Paw Tracks.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

InRO Feature: Home Movies - February (2011)

"Although some would have you believe the grim reaper is ready to sign their death certificate, DVDs still represent your best opportunity to see films—old and new, domestic and foreign. Streaming and on-demand services are becoming more and more prevalent, but they still have a ways to go before they turn my collection into stacks of shiny coasters. For every title I own available by alternative methods, I have ten others that aren’t. Short of having your own stockpile, now may be the time to adopt your local video store. As the ubiquitous red envelope delivery service starts slowly phasing out physical DVDs and Blu-rays in favor of streaming movies, many releases will not be available on Netflix and not yet available for streaming, as is the case with many of the selections below. Hunkering down for the next phase of home distribution most likely means that the dedicated cinephile will have to be savvy at navigating all the options, including slapping down some cash for the likes of an imported Mizoguchi box set, or a pristine Blu-ray of Visconti’s “Senso,” or simply a plain old DVD of the Swedish film “The Girl” that you can’t find anywhere else." Kathie Smith [Feature by Jordan Cronk and Kathie Smith] [InRO]

(Note: For archiving purposes, I've included my personal contributions to this column below. Please follow the link provided above to read the entire feature - JC)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Track Review: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Belong"

We already knew, based on their charming debut album, that Pains of Being Pure at Heart had a pretty good handle on all things Sarah and K Records. Not quite as evident that first time around: the seeds of ’90s alt-rock littered amongst the band’s tangle of fuzz pedals. Then again, it’s only been a couple of decades since many post-Nevermind (1991) upstarts similarly used (unconsciously in most cases, lest we give some bands too much credit) the Pastels, Beat Happening, and the Field Mice as stepping stones to major label pay days and 120 Minutes spots. In other words, we should have seen this coming.

With that pedigree, why does “Belong”—the title track and first taste of the Pains’ upcoming sophomore album—sound so suspiciously telegraphed? The easy answer: Alan Moulder and Flood, the producers responsible for everything from Glider (1990) and Going Blank Again (1992) to Pretty Hate Machine (1989) and Siamese Dream (1993). And in just fifteen seconds Pains announce their intention to follow their producers’ baser impulses with a James Iha-worthy riff aimed directly at arena cheap seats.

Don’t get me wrong, Siamese Dream still kills, no matter the lengths to which Corgan has gone to undercut his band’s legacy. And far be it for me to cry “disingenuous” in a era of aesthetic dress-up and nostalgic affectation, but I’ll be damned if “Belong” doesn’t sound like Pains using their blog-fueled cred to leap frog their built-in audience and shoot towards a Silversun Pickups-sized opening on whatever’s left of the Billboard charts. Sure, the production variances ultimately come down to aesthetic preference, but they’d be easier to forgive if “Belong” were at least comparable to the songs on their debut in terms of songwriting acumen.

See, for all the red-level distortion that tracks such as “Young Adult Friction” had to fight through, you always got the sense that beneath the din lay some pretty strong compositional detail. “Belong,” by comparison, offers all its rewards right up front. The rounded-off edges and beefed-up guitars support a pretty simple sing-song cadence, with verse and chorus structure built on the same twelve-to-fourteen step meter: “I know / It is wrong/ But I know / We still belong.” Inspiring? I mean, the band still exudes a casual confidence, with singer Kip Berman doing an uncanny Billy Corgan throughout; as such, it’s not hard to get swept up in the cresting melody as Pains check off every box on the alt-radio buzz sheet. It’s a curious if logical move for an indie-pop band angling for a wider audience—and it’s easy to see the track alienating as many older fans as it welcomes new ones—but as someone who had Pains of Being Pure at Heart pegged as one of the more promising young pop bands of the last few years, I can only hope that “Belong” works alone as an arena-embracing single while the remainder of the album was reserved for some slightly more idiosyncratic fare. [CMG]

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Track Review: Belong - "Perfect Life"

You can go ahead and file this one under “unexpected development.” Previously a static drone outfit, New Orleans experimental duo Belong have, with their new track “Perfect Life,” apparently taken up the tack of many a recent indie band, grafting synthetic, metronomic percussion under a blanket of soft-focus ambiance, reinventing their MO in all of about two seconds. The results are essentially post-punk, but with its smeared, shadow-y undercurrents, “Perfect Life” probably best slots into the ongoing darkwave revival. Take that how you will, but there’s no denying the track falls more in the line with contemporaries such as the Soft Moon and Abe Vigoda Mk 2 than previous peers William Basinski or Tim Hecker.

This is all just aesthetic observation, of course, and in no way an indictment of this potentially worthwhile left-turn. After all, in their brief career thus far, Belong have proven restless, fascinating experimenters: the haunting October Language (2006), a kind of Disintegration Loops (2003) for the post-Katrina ambient set, stacked shoegaze drone atop molasses-slow chords, while their Colorless Record EP (2008) re-imagined various psych-pop obscurities via laptop digitization. The latter even employed vocals, nicely bridging the gap between what looks to be two very different LPs.

Not unlike the Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s recent stadium rock missive, “Perfect Life” sounds determined to break out of the band’s previous stylistic niche. It’s just as studied and self-conscious a move—perhaps even more so, as this particular strain of gothic new-wave is enjoying a substantial comeback amongst those hell-bent on seeing modern indie continue its entrenchment in the ‘80s—but to these ears it can’t help but feel less interesting. They’ve got the stylistic signifiers down cold (“cold” being the operative word), but here’s the thing. The very fact that I find it difficult not to nod in agreement as each element drops into the tune at exactly the right moment leaves me cold: Belong’s first two records were unpredictable, left open for the listener to build an emotional connection. Once you get past the dramatic shift in tone, “Perfect Life”’s streamlined construction denies us that unpredictability in favor of something very familiar. [CMG]