Friday, July 29, 2011

Podcast: End of Radio #36 - Songs for Life (Folk II: 1960 - 1979)

"Continuing their series on folk and its various permutations, your End of Radio co-hosts, Jordan Cronk and Brian Webster, arrive at the heart of the genre’s legacy, pulling tunes from around the globe to draw on the similarities, connections, and intertwining fates of a movement which continues to turn up buried treasure."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Track Review: Martin Newell - "Heroin Clones"

Below a friendly note to listeners and the requisite track list, the back cover of Martin Newell’s 1985 album Songs for a Fallow Land features—in place of, say, production credits—this brief aside: “Recorded four track in a bedroom in shameful poverty. It can be done. Now do it yourselves.” Few statements embody the indie ethos more accurately, but in 2011 the sentiment rings truer than ever, as precociously budding artists the world over have taken to their bedrooms to lay down their very own skewed iterations on the pop formula.

Perhaps best known nowadays as frontman for left-field ‘80s pop pillagers the Cleaners from Venus, Newell also had a concurrent run of solo releases, most all recorded and distributed via cassette tape. That should tip you off to the recent spike in interest for Newell’s collective work: just as the mid-aughts turned up dozens of forgotten folkies, elevated in turn to forebears of the New Weird America movement, so too have modern lo-fi AM gold fetishists and hypnagogic pop producers begun to tip their collective hand, shining a long overdue light on some unique artists from the era they so joyously plunder.

Earlier this year, Fixed Identity, a new label run by psych-tinged electro weirdo Gary War and Taylor Richardson of Infinity Window, inaugurated their imprint with a reissue of Newell’s mid-‘80s cult item. Originally released in an edition of 100 cassettes—and still very limited for this reissue, with just 500 vinyl copies available—Fallow Land sounds like a curious young artist indulging equally in his love for XTC, the Beatles, and various acid-pop outliers, but with a distinctly ‘80s synth sheen coating the proceedings.

Closing out the first side is “Heroin Clones,” which doesn’t sound much like anything else on the record but is nevertheless its most immediate glam-pop number. Equal parts Bowie, T. Rex, and George Harrison—check the tossed off, “Taxman”-referencing declaration of “Beep beep / Beep beep,” which punctuates the second verse before falling headfirst into the appropriately addictive chorus—“Heroin Clones” jerry-rigs some sort of faulty drum machine to pound out a series of proto-blast beats underneath the infectious thrust of the vocal melody. Ten years later, with a beefed up rhythm section and a technician’s touch, it could all pass for a Suede deep cut.

Instead, artists such as Ariel Pink, Big Troubles, and the aforementioned Gary War have run with these and other ideas presented across Fallow Land. Elsewhere in the liner notes, Newell concedes that “Fallow Land sounds flawed but inspired and full of energy whenever I listen it now,” adding that “I have no idea what people will make of it. Let’s find out shall we?” I’m not sure what to make of it myself, but you can surely count me as believer. [CMG]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 6 - John Cassavetes' Love Streams

In this week's installment, our cinematic revisionists revisit John Cassavetes last feature, the magnificent Love Streams.
Jordan Cronk: We’ve mentioned it a few times already in this series and compared it to one of the only films that seems to exist on a similar wavelength (California Split), but now we can dive into the glories of what in a spiritual sense is John Cassavetes final work, his magnificent 1984 feature, Love Streams. I recently had a chance to revisit the entire Cassavetes catalogue during a Los Angeles retrospective of his work, and seeing all these films in close proximity to each other, where I could weigh their respective charms and characteristics, only confirmed for me that this is his single best picture, the one that consolidates all his strengths and most lucidly translates his many themes as a storyteller. I don’t know about you, but to me this is simultaneously his most watchable and rewarding work, which makes it an even greater crime that the film has never made its way to DVD.

Calum Marsh: I know we’ve expressed our frustration over the unavailability of certain great and important films on DVD before, but the fact that Love Streams—which I agree is the best of John Cassavetes’ many excellent films—has never seen the light of day on home video in North America is outrageous in a singular way. We’re not talking about some egregiously difficult or even especially abrasive arthouse experiment languishing in the perpetual obscurity; we’re talking about a really resoundingly great film from one of the most important (and well-regarded) filmmakers ever. You can find almost all of his other films with relative ease, some of which are considerably more challenging or strange. Which isn’t to say that Love Streams is totally accessible by Hollywood standards, but it’s a rich, inviting work, full of beauty and vitality. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Love Streams is the kind of film which can effectively change you, or that it’s emotional impact is…well, it’s unforgettable. I really like a lot of Cassavetes films but I love this one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Record Review: Vampillia - Alchemic Heart

Note: This review was co-written by myself and fellow CMG staff writer Calum Marsh.

Like many experimental ensembles, Japan’s Vampillia move in calculated, lumbering steps, their gait a site of both intimidation and potential ridicule. For the past half-decade, the self-described “brutal orchestra”—that description delivered without a wink, tellingly—has established a reputation that borders on infamy, waylaying unsuspecting ears via marathon live shows bent equally toward the theatrical as the apocalyptic. Considering their set-up—an amorphous assemblage of pianos, violins, guitars, drum kits, turntables; eleven pieces in all—it’s understandable that they’ve mostly avoided the studio.

Until now, anyway. Trafficking in black-metal texture, laptop improv, orchestral stirrings and post-rock expanse, Vampillia arrive in 2011 with Alchemic Heart, an overwhelming debut split evenly between two twenty-four minute tracks composed in collaboration with underground metal act Inswarm. Featuring contributions from ex-Swans vocalist Jarboe—here playing the Laurie Anderson to Vampillia’s Colin Stetson, with whom they share an affinity for implied apocalyptic sentiment and overarching menace—and white-noise overlord Merzbow, Alchemic Heart is textbook epic. Make no mistake: we’re talking egregiously, unashamedly Epic here, a self-contained post-rock universe that’s just a few Ents short of Tolkien.

Monday, July 25, 2011

InRO Feature: Year In Review - Halftime Music 2011

Note: For archiving purposes, I've included my personal contributions to this feature below. Please follow the link provided in the introduction to read the entire feature.

"As promised, here's our very late mid-year reckoning, pt. 2: the top 10 albums of the year so far. The most intriguing observation I can offer here relates to statistics. Whereas our film list was topped by Malick's transcendent 'Tree of Life,' which many of our staffers (rightly) picked as their personal number one, the top spot-holder here didn't earn that designation from any of us. It's the album most everyone at InRO just really likes—and considering all our genre biases, even that level of consensus means something. Even still, here’s to the possibility that 2011’s true great uniter is still on the horizon." Sam C. Mac [Feature by InRO Staff] [InRO]

Thursday, July 21, 2011

InRO Feature: Home Movies - June (2011)

Note: For archiving purposes, I've included my personal contributions to this column below. Please follow the link provided in the introduction to read the entire feature.

"As we slowly slide into a new era of hyped-up US paranoia, trumpeted by the Republican’s construction of a social malaise, the release of “Kiss Me Deadly” comes at just the right time. Fifty years on, this cold war-era masterpiece continues to be incredibly influential through its cynicism, surrealism and its unbelievably apocalyptic ending. It's film noir at its best and, recently released by Criterion on Blu-ray, it’s our pick of the month. Also included here is a grab-bag of releases that span the silent era to the Romanian New Wave. Our import of the month, Tsai Ming-Liang’s “Vive L’amour,” comes from Taiwan, and is one of six new restorations heralded by Sony Music Entertainment." Kathie Smith [Feature by Jordan Cronk and Kathie Smith] [InRO]

Friday, July 15, 2011

Track Review: Chalk Circle - "The Slap"

Long before the era of Bandcamp and Soundcloud, there was such a thing as label and scene loyalty, so much so that bands actually yearned to sign with specific—often times regional—imprints. Chalk Circle, an all-girl quartet from suburban D.C., is a perfect example. Plying their trade in the nascent, early ‘80s punk uprising, and influenced by overseas contemporaries such as the Raincoats and LiLiPUT, Chalk Circle predictably looked toward the local up-and-coming Dischord roster as the perfect destination for their sub-three chord punk-rock.

Not everything on Post Present Medium’s recently released compilation of twelve of the band’s fifteen original tracks would seem to fit the model of methodical post-punk Dischord is most known for nowadays—all dubbed-out bass lines and vicious guitar eruptions, the likes of which Fugazi, Jawbox, and Smart Went Crazy exemplified in the mid-‘90s. At the time, however, their sound aligned more closely with Dischord’s punk-flavored, “harDCore” (as Don Fleming puts it in the accompanying liner notes) output. The stars never aligned for Chalk Circle and Dischord, but as one more band defiantly doing their own thing against the backdrop of a testosterone-fueled scene, they seem to fit the identity of the label as much as anyone.

“The Slap,” Reflection‘s centerpiece, seems to bridge the gap between Dischord’s stylistic extremes. The righteous, impassioned lyrics, which conflate misogynist trends with societal advancement, seemed ripped from label founder Ian MacKaye’s ideological songbook as then mouthpiece of the Teen Idles and Minor Threat, while the rubber band bass line, stabbing guitar chords, and slowly mounting vocals seem to predict the trends of some of Dischord’s ‘90s acts, not to mention riot girrrls the world over. It’s a nice clip for the band to operate at, opening up their sound a bit more compared to some of the other more claustrophobic moments on the record. The pretty rudimentary live cuts (the band only played four official shows) really accentuate how competent the group was in a more premeditated, studio environment, and songs like “The Slap”—along with other well-developed tracks such as “Scrambled,” “Reflection,” and “The Look”—evidence a talented band with a lot to say but without the appropriate platform to say it. For fans of not only early ‘80s punk but also modern acolytes such as PPM head Dean Spunt—one half of No Age—as well as Grass Widow and Vivian Girls, I can’t recommend this enough. [CMG]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 5 - Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy and Family Plot

This week the Reframed crew casts its critical gaze on the late career of thriller auteur Alfred Hitchcock, finding unexpected greatness in largely uncelebrated works.
Jordan Cronk: Like we mentioned last time regarding Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock has been canonized and re-canonized so much over the past 50 years or so that it can seem at first glance like there’s not much from his filmography left to reconsider at this point. But sometime after 1963’s The Birds, Hitchcock’s critical and popular stock waned a bit, and as a result there is a good decade-and-a-half worth of work which doesn’t garner nearly the same kind of praise that his mid-‘50s Hollywood work or even his early British pictures still do. In some cases this is warranted, but there are at least two wonderful examples of Hitchcock working at a very high level late in his career, however, and we each have a strong connection to one of them. For me, his 1976 swan song Family Plot is one of his most endlessly entertaining and re-watchable films, while you hold his prior picture, 1972’s Frenzy, as one of his best films, period. These are the only two films Hitchcock made in ‘70s, and I think they make for a nice compare and contrast between his British and American sensibilities, with Frenzy harkening back to his pre-Hollywood work in his home country, while Family Plot exemplifies the humor and classic post-war American filmmaking practices that rocketed Hitch to the upper echelons of cinematic autuers.

Calum Marsh: It’s certainly fitting: Hitchcock essentially had two complete, distinctive careers—one in Britain, from 1922 to 1939, and one in Hollywood, from 1940 onward—and his last two films reflect and comment on that separation in very interesting ways. You’re right that I prefer Frenzy, but so too do I generally prefer his earlier, British films to the more polished Hollywood classics he produced later—perhaps it’s that I’m British-born and simply can’t escape the sensibilities of my heritage, but there’s something so charming and efficient about his British work. He made his career and built his legacy in the US, no doubt, but for my money there are few films more satisfying than The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and, of course, Frenzy, which is not only indebted to the forms and conventions of his formative years but also, I believe, incorporates his decades of subsequent experience to improve upon them.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Record Review: Oneida - Absolute II

Up to this point, Oneida’s Thank Your Parents series has embodied the very essence of unpredictability. Already known for zigging when others would zag, the Brooklyn experimental quintet has seemingly built this loosely defined trilogy on the very basis of impulse: Preteen Weaponry‘s (2008) single, forty-minute jam was only somewhat conveniently split into three parts, while Rated O‘s (2009) three-disc, two-hour duration was, despite its representative sprawl, daunting even for Oneida completists. The through-line with these releases, however, has been their relation to Oneida’s prior work, which takes psych-rock as a foundation from which to branch out into left-field genres such as krautrock, minimalism, and free-improv noise-rock. As a continuation in the evolutionary course of Oneida, these records make a certain kind of sense, particularly with their one constant—virtuoso percussionist Kid Millions—anchoring the digressions and corralling the outsized ambition of the group like a one-man tractor beam.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Record Review: Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact

Synthesizing elements of dance and rock music certainly isn’t a new practice. For the past forty-odd years, artists ranging from Liquid Liquid, ESG, and Gang of Four to LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy, and the Rapture have utilized elements popularized by their forebears to arrive at their own specialized sound. But in the case of the latter three (and an untold number of others), the influences are noticeable and in some instances accentuated simply for listener interaction, thus unknowingly engaging the audience in a kind of feedback loop where the band always has the upper hand with anyone contesting their authenticity. The theory being that a fan of one band should be more or less predisposed to welcome another similarly sounding band, whether what they’re doing in the first place is interesting or, god forbid, original enough to warrant consideration beyond these self-imposed confines.