Friday, May 20, 2011

Record Review: Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo

Gruff Rhys has been on the scene for roughly two decades now: nine albums deep ring-leading the psychotic-pop troupe known as Super Furry Animals, and meanwhile he’s collaborated with Gorillaz, Sparklehorse, Mogwai, and Simian Mobile Disco, among others, somehow finding time to start a side project with Boom Bip called Neon Neon and record two previous solo albums (and let’s not even get started on his film work). That’s a lot of Gruff, even for those of us who still consider SFA one of the most sorely underrated bands of their time. What all that activity has done is paint Rhys into an enviable corner of cult celebrity wherein his fervent fan base will unquestionably inhale whatever hot air he is currently exhuming in a kind of indentured servitude to the man who wrote “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck.” It’s also, paradoxically, left those only passingly familiar with the man without much of a thread to connect the many loose ends littering Rhys’s catalogue, resulting in exhausted responses to much of the recent Furries material, including 2009’s wonderful Dark Days/Light Years, which, unapparent to most, was one of the band’s best albums.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 1 - Jean-Luc Godard: The Political Years (1968 - 1979)

"In this introductory entry in a continuing reevaluation of cinema's standard bearers, film fans Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh dissect mid-period Godard, giving the French experimentalist and agent provocateur a long deserved defense of his post-'60s output."
Jordan Cronk: One of the reasons we wanted to embark on this series—and the reason we lifted the format of Counterbalance wholesale (thanks guys!)—is our mutual belief that the post-1968 work of Jean-Luc Godard is amongst the most vital cinema of the last 40 years or so, despite the general public and mainstream critical community’s near-complete disregard for it. An open dialogue between the two of us certainly isn’t going to change many minds already made up, but in most cases I believe that film fans aren’t even aware that Godard is still as prolific a filmmaker as he is. And, of course, you touched on this recently in your PopMatters essay on late-period Godard, which you aptly described as his “invisible cinema.” I’m curious to hear why you think this mindset has come to be the norm: Is it the simple fact that many of the films are not widely available, or is it - to be completely reductive- the fact that Godard moved from making his most accessible films to his most imposing and outwardly confrontational? I mean, the distance between Breathless and Film Socialisme is all but unmatched in modern cinema.

Calum Marsh: I think there are probably a lot of different factors at play here, and that those factors sort of play off of one another in a way which is depressingly cyclical. So you’re right that your average film fan probably isn’t even aware that Godard is still working, and that that lack of awareness is in large part due to his late-period work’s general unavailability, but then because people are unaware of it you’re never going to see it suddenly available—there’s no demand because there’s no supply and vice versa. I think what we tend to forget as film lovers is that we’re still primarily film consumers, and that our consumption is still an element of business; we’re talking about an industry which requires us to spend money, and if there’s no money to be made there’s unlikely to be product readily available for us to consume. The point being that as far as Godard’s current reputation is concerned, only the stuff that’s readily available on DVD—so essentially only his “first wave” work, spanning Breathless through to Two Or Three Things I Know About Her—is what counts to the people whose opinions form and then reify canons. Maybe the idea is that if it’s totally obscure or unavailable, it’s not worthwhile? That if it were good it would be around and easily watchable?

Track Review: Ford & Lopatin - "Emergency Room"

A group such as Ford & Lopatin can only exist on sincerity. Any hint of irony and there’s a good chance the music will lean towards novelty. It’s something of a blessing, then, that Joel Ford (of Tigercity) and Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) preemptively switched from the conceptually appropriate but cheeky Games moniker to their surnames. It’s a move that not only goes a long way towards legitimizing the project, but at the same time manages to align the duo with a legacy of synth-based architects stretching from Cluster & Eno and Harmonia to Tangerine Dream, Harald Grosskopf, and Nuno Canavarro. Sonically, however, Ford & Lopatin mostly dig on ‘80s gameshow kitsch and B-movie nostalgia, and “Emergency Room,” our first taste from the duo’s debut full-length Channel Pressure, aptly serves as both a solidification of their aesthetic and as a very serious update of vintage synth-pop production.

Before I even heard the track, Scott had relayed a comparison to Max Tundra, which certainly piqued my interest after the fun but slight day-glo pop gestures of the previous Games EP, That We Can Play (2010). And the correlation holds, particularly with the high, mechanically enhanced vocals, even if Ford & Lopatin haven’t yet added a lyrical dimension to match that of a Max Tundra. What we get instead is almost all surface level pleasure, which could potentially hamper the music’s longevity if the immediacy of the track didn’t keep the listener’s mind wrapped in childhood fantasia with their eyes oblivious to the implications of life’s oncoming ordeals. Riding a sleek bass pulse with light splashes of guitar and synth noise accenting each measure, “Emergency Room” lifts off infectiously yet never surrenders too tiredly to the groove, instead short-circuiting and rebuilding almost imperceptibly, as if to facilitate a breather for a potential protagonist as he or she flees amidst some future-shock sci-fi utopia. And just like most every cult film favorite from the era, “Emergency Room” is entertaining to a fault, with little gravity to funnel emotion but a wide-eyed vision of a musical landscape brave enough to embrace a past many would have us believe never existed. [CMG]

Friday, May 13, 2011

InRO Feature: Home Movies - April (2011)

"Quality, not quantity. Home Movies comes to you a little late this month, but not without a flimsy excuse: distracted by my hometown festival in April, I saw plenty of movies, but none at home. Jordan Cronk picks up my slack, and together we offer reviews of nine Blu-rays (not a single DVD in here, people) with an unapologetic bias for must-have 1080p re-releases. Even though the most recent film in the bunch is from 1989, we nonetheless represent films from four decades, ending with a pair of Michelangelo Antonioni imports from Masters of Cinema. But the crown for the month, at least in our world, goes to the king of kings, Brian DePalma, for Criterion’s Blu-ray release of “Blow Out.” 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.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Record Review: Colin Stetson - New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges

Being as information is now arguably the world’s most everyday luxury, it’s rare for an artist working in any artistic medium to deliver a work so unexpected as to realign everything you’ve previously known or even imagined being created by them. Such is the case, however, with experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson and his impressively ambitious second album, New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges. Part of the reason the record seems so left-field brilliant, at least from my perspective, probably has something to do with Stetson’s prior list of collaborators. Amidst less publicized work with Anthony Braxton and Laurie Anderson (who plays an important role herself on Vol. 2), Stetson has cut studio and stage time alongside TV On the Radio, Arcade Fire, Feist, the National, and other high profile indie mainstays. Good artists all, but none of which belie much of a camaraderie with free-improv jazz or experimental drone. With his new album, however, Stetson has gone from sideline collaborator to out-music demigod, and he deserves every last bit of ink spilled over this singular achievement.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Podcast: End of Radio #34 - Love Without Sound

"For another in a long line of randomly assembled broadcasts, your End of Radio co-hosts Jordan Cronk and Brian Webster spend their latest show detailing some subtle variations in ‘80s post-punk and indie-pop, before tracing the use of electronics in rock music over the course of a few decades."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Track Review: Eleanor Friedberger - "My Mistakes"

Like a lot of listeners, I’m sure, I had all but given up on the siblings Friedberger. With the Fiery Furnaces seemingly exhausting their reserve of what once looked like an endless well of creativity—culminating in a surprising attempt at streamlined indie-pop on 2009s I’m Going Away—younger sister Eleanor has now followed her brother’s initiative and stepped out with a solo album of her own. Matthew’s double-disc solo debut, Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language School (2006), however, would prove a bellwether for the incoherency to come in the band’s next couple years of development.

It’d probably qualify as a mistake on my end, then, to read too much into just a single track from Eleanor’s forthcoming solo endeavor, Last Summer. But “My Mistakes” not only sounds like an advancement on I’m Going Away‘s less-fussy approach to songwriting, but also like the most immediately gratifying, endlessly re-playable pop nugget either sibling’s written in over a half-decade. Perhaps learning from her brother’s mistakes, Eleanor utilizes her Last Summer opener as an olive branch to listeners turned off by her band’s increasingly less convincing experimentation. And in 2011, after years of too many dead-end antics—or in the case of I’m Going Away, too little heart to put across a straightforward persona—“My Mistakes” immediately ingratiates itself as the standalone late spring jam both siblings probably never thought either would produce.

Locked into an almost kraut-like procession of clean, circular riffage and skipping percussion, Eleanor regurgitates lyrics in her typically unpunctuated style, yet in a nice little coup is able to contrast a series of disregarded examples of maturity (“I thought he’d learn from my mistakes,” goes the simple, direct hook) with the brightest, most inviting surroundings of her career. Though it lacks the ambitious prog-leanings of something like Blueberry Boat (2004), it more than makes up for it in loose charm, a well considered pace, and the last minute appearance of indie-rock’s latest go-to, saxophone. I think I can speak for everyone when I say: now this is more like it. [CMG]