Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Record Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien

Cymbals Eat Guitars emerged a couple years back with both a typically indebted ‘90s indie rock sound and one of the more questionable band names in an era with no shortage. But two uncommonly confident, intriguing albums later, they seem all but content with letting listeners come at their moniker however they choose. Most would probably opt to ignore such a thing in light of such well executed guitar rock, even despite the Velvet Underground reference, but there seems to be something there that a surface level read not only hints toward but encourages. Their aesthetic has thus far not allowed for too much beyond the titular instruments, and I gather that’s the point, a suggestion that “indie rock will eat itself” or some such notion, and that it has been doing so for at least a decade now. Unlike, say, their contemporary ‘90s pillagers in Yuck, who’ve mostly narrowed in on a singular influence, Cymbals Eat Guitars fold in a wider, more brainy spectrum of classic indie rock touchstones. And they’ve only gotten bolder: the band’s new album, Lenses Alien, though not quite Perfect From Now On (1997), is still as expansive and intricate an indie rock record as you’ll hear all year.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 10 - Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker

Perhaps best known for his sci-fi magnum opus, Solaris, the ReFramed team celebrate another brilliant genre effort from the Soviet movie master.
Calum Marsh: Andrei Tarkovsky is certainly no stranger to critical acclaim, and, unlike many of the other filmmakers whose largely misunderstood works we’ve deigned to celebrate in these pages, his oeuvre’s place within the annals of cinema continues pretty much unquestioned. As far as reputations are concerned, Tarkovsky towers above even the most widely respected luminaries of the industry, and vocal detractors, if he could be said to even have them anymore, are few and far between. And so there’s a sense in which Stalker, Tarkovsky’s slow-burn sci-fi masterpiece and what I consider to be his supreme artistic achievement, is something of an unusual selection for us.

But I think you’ll agree with me, Jordan, when I say that our ReFramed series isn’t just about notably divisive films—it’s also about films which for one reason or another ought to be considered and approached in a new way. And Stalker is just such a film. Though it’s widely respected as an arthouse classic, and though it routinely appears on critics’ best-of lists and film school syllabi (and likely will for generations to come), I get the sense that for many viewers, Stalker has lost the freshness and vitality which makes its greatness so enduring.

Tarkovsky is, of course, the master of arty minimalism, and long takes are Stalker‘s bread and butter. But it’s what he invests in those lengthy silences, the energy and dynamism which come to fill the empty spaces, that makes this such an unforgettable experience. I worry that while students and cinephiles will be trained to “appreciate” Stalker in the abstract, we as viewers will forget to love Stalker for what it is: one of the purest distillations of the power of the cinema ever produced.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Record Review: Stephin Merritt - Obscurities

When you’ve written roughly 5,000 songs for something like a half dozen musical projects, a rarities compilation is probably an inevitability. For Stephin Merritt, who once went all in with an album comprised of, as its title promised, sixty-nine love songs, you’d have to imagine the soil being particularly fertile for one-offs, experiments, B-sides, and the odd commission. And if anything, Merritt’s new Merge-stamped Obscurities compilation only confirms this assumption. What it does in addition to this, however, is evidence a well considered objective beyond the process of simply compiling for posterity’s sake. Which is certainly a rare approach, especially when one considers the sheer amount of material that Merritt probably has lying around. Obscurities stakes a more refined, deliberate stance: comprised of fourteen consistently enjoyable and in some cases plain devastating tracks—most all from the pre-69 Love Songs (1999) era—the comp admirably depicts an artist with a remarkably fluid pop sense who’s restless process found an outlet across various projects but who maintains an approach to songwriting that is unique to him alone. It’s safe to say that if you’ve had any prior interest in Merritt’s work, Obscurities is self-contained little gift unto itself.

InRO Feature: Home Movies - July and August (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.

"Although Jordan Cronk and myself have four more months to spend deep in our respective caves, with the year’s remaining releases, I guarantee we'll be talking about more than a few mentioned here by year's end. With the latest Home Movies, we're straddling both summer months: the summer release calendar for July came in like a lamb and went out like a lion by the end of August, with a handful of major debuts. August was so packed, in fact, that we would be remiss not to mention some of the many gems we missed, including two films by Lee Chang-dong (the long-delayed “Secret Sunshine” from Criterion and this year's “Poetry”); a new Blu-ray of the Coen Brothers' debut film “Blood Simple”; a long-overdue US release of Agnes Varda’s 1975 documentary “Daguerreotypes”; a Blu-ray release of Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man”; and new Blu-rays of “If…,” “Orpheus,” “Naked,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “High and Low,” all from Criterion. What we have covered below, however, is no less of a smorgasbord, including one of the most exciting releases to come along in some time, and our pick of the month: Eclipse’s “Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara.” Kathie Smith [Feature by Jordan Cronk and Kathie Smith [InRO]

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Record Review: Mister Heavenly - Out of Love

Nick Thorburn tends to thrive when set against the spark of new collaboration. Very few of his musical projects have survived beyond an album or two, and the one that has exhibited some semblance of longevity, Islands, has suffered because of it. Up to now, he’s tended to find an artistic kinship, work the fresh dialogue into an exciting new sound, and offer fruit equal parts unexpected and sweetly satisfying—that is, when it’s not simply out-and-out baffling (see: Th’ Corn Gangg). At first blush, Mister Heavenly, Thorburn’s new project with Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus) of Man Man and Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse, doesn’t seem likely to disrupt the established pattern—there’s an intuitiveness on display evidencing a group of highly talented musicians working toward each other’s individual strengths without ceding the spotlight to any one personality. In other words, Mister Heavenly sounds like its own unique thing, and with a handful of excellent tracks littered across their debut LP, Out of Love, you can pencil this in as another well-considered Thorburn endeavor to keep an eye on. That the album is far from great, however, is, in a sense, gratifying, as for the first time in a while it seems as if the best work from a new Thorburn project may actually lie ahead.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 9 - Éric Rohmer's Le Rayon Vert

Considering his overall career, critic turned filmmaker Eric Rohmer's 1986 effort has the ReFramed team falling over themselves with praise - and rightfully so.
Jordan Cronk: Out of all the original Cahiers du cinema critics-turned-filmmakers, the recently deceased Eric Rohmer is perhaps the least appreciated, despite having arguably the widely accessible (stylistically speaking) catalogue. He was certainly the classicist of the group—and thus perhaps the most subtly groundbreaking—but his body of work is a rather extraordinary, single-minded entity unique to cinema history. And the six films which make up his mid-career “Comedies and Proverbs” series are at once his least seen but to my mind most universal, three dimensional creations. His recently restored 1986 feature The Green Ray—currently touring the States under its original title, Le Rayon Vert—is equal parts centerpiece and standalone masterpiece, the single most moving, mysterious, and transcendent film in a career with no shortage of worthy candidates.

This, of course, is only an opinion that’s very recently begun to take a more prominent foothold in the critical community, many still preferring the more rigidly formalistic style perfected in his early Six Moral Tales series. But I’m curious to hear where you fall on this spectrum, Calum—and to hear how you think The Green Ray fits into such a vast filmmography—since there are arguments and pleasures to be made and appreciated amongst both periods—and that’s to say nothing of the subsequent Tale of Four Seasons series, which is richly rewarding in it’s own right.