Saturday, October 22, 2011

Record Review: Various Artists - Not the Spaces You Know, But Between Them

It’s not quite the charity compilation, but the label anniversary comp is one of the banes of a music writer’s existence. Whether you’re ultra familiar with the imprint in question or not, compiling a strict greatest hits package is never preferred, while cover commissions are even more dubious. And then there are format limitations and restrictions, limited edition expansions and exclusive packages, and the fact that die-hard fans, being this particular products largest market demographic, are buying these things regardless of reviews or critical endorsement. Which brings us to Three Lobed Recordings’ Not the Spaces You Know, But Between Them, nominally an anniversary collection celebrating the small North Carolina-based experimental label’s ten years of existence, but also a worthy example of how a commemoration of this nature can transcend inherent limitations, doling-out in equal measure rewards for both the curious and the well-collected supporter.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 12 - Aki Kaurismäki's Drifting Clouds

In this week's installment, the ReFramed team discusses the Finnish filmmaker who, more than any other foreign filmmaker, influenced the contemporary American comedy we see today.
Calum Marsh: Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki is hardly a household name in this country, but his influence on contemporary American cinema simply cannot be overstated: beloved by Hollywood’s best and brightest and borrowed from liberally by more auteurs than you can count, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the comedy world has been to some extent defined by Kaurismäki’s contributions to it, even if sometimes indirectly. His authorial voice is so clearly defined (and consistently sustained) that it’s easy to spot imitators, though few have the gift for comic understatement that seems to come to him so naturally.

His most widely renowned disciple, the iconic indie legend Jim Jarmusch, practically built his career on copping Kaurismäki’s trademark deadpan, and as far as all that much-loved “sad and beautiful world” stuff goes, Jarmusch, to his credit, is probably the next best thing to his idol. But if you begin to account for the strong influence Jarmusch himself has had on lesser contemporaries—everything from Zach Braff’s entirely lame debut Garden State to the filmography of Jared Hess counts here, as far as I’m concerned—you get a pretty clear idea of just how deep Kaurismäki’s residual influence runs.

Our topic of discussion this week, the sad and beautiful Drifting Clouds, shows off just this distinctive sense of humor. But with an emotional range much broader than what you might find in his more straight-forward comedies like Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Drifting Clouds also speaks to Kaurismaki’s less-discussed skills as a dramatist. Steeped in melancholy and (almost) devoid of hope, this is a film that’s funny, yes, but also incredibly moving—disarmingly so, in fact, since the force of the thing is entirely unexpected. It’s really something else, as I imagine you’ll agree.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Record Review: Mark McGuire - Get Lost

Mark McGuire has been releasing a steady stream—and I do mean steady; like thirty some-odd releases in four years steady—of solo and collaborative CDRs, cassettes, LPs, and compilations. This alongside his work with not only his Cleveland-based synth/drone collective Emeralds, but also no less than seven other projects few beyond his inner circle are consciously privy to. Safe to say McGuire is at the forefront of a newly minted guard that I touched on a few months ago in regard to Sarah Lipstate’s latest album as Noveller, Glacial Glow, spurred on by his half-decade rise to prominence which puts him in a unique position where a guy not even a quarter century old can assume veteran status on the back of a few increasingly visible (and available) long-form works that test the boundaries of basically notated, loop-based guitar exploration.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Record Review: The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient

It’s not often a small but rising band can lose their most visible member and in one fell swoop emerge with their breakthrough album. In the three years since their promising debut, Wagonwheel Blues, Philadelphia-based collective the War on Drugs have toured the circuit hard, picked up some nice notices as a committed live act, and generated a lot of curious ears as their original guitarist Kurt Vile made inroads to a wider audience on the back of a few increasingly strong solo albums, culminating with this year’s outstanding Smoke Ring for My Halo. With expectations simultaneously heightened and deflated as a result, it’s doubly impressive that the band’s newest album, the awesomely titled and completely spot-on Slave Ambient, would be such a step forward, both in confidence and execution. They haven’t missed a beat in the interim, and the fact that this extended family has essentially produced two of the year’s most satisfying breakthroughs by simply getting that much better at what they do is almost difficult to reconcile with undue pressure now being such a collateral concern when attention is so easily diverted and subsumed elsewhere in entertainment.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Podcast: End of Radio #37 - Crowded in the Wings (Folk III: 1980 - 1999)

"For their third in a four part series on folk music and its many descendants, your End of Radio co-hosts Jordan Cronk and Brian Webster till the dry soil of the ‘80s and ‘90s before emerging with a playlist heavy on alt-country, somber acoustics, and era-appropriate folk-rock. Yet even in the folk diaspora of the late century, they find plenty to mull over and reflect upon fondly. "

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 11 - Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day

In this installment, our ReFramed team discuss a lost masterpiece from a landmark Taiwanese director that deserves more attention than it's received in the past.
Jordan Cronk: I think it was somewhat inevitable when we started ReFramed that early on we would opt to cover films that one or both of us have a strong personal connection with or, barring that, one’s which we are simply appalled for as major works that have yet to be recognized as the masterpieces they truly are. And this has certainly happened (see: Frenzy and Family Plot; also: California Split). Recently, however, we’ve discussed some critically canonized works (The Green Ray; Stalker) that for one reason or another haven’t been embraced by larger audiences the same way that cinephiles tend to champion them.

The trend could be said to continue this week as we approach Edward Yang’s 1991 New Taiwan Cinema landmark, A Brighter Summer Day. The difference in this case being availability: never before released on R1 DVD (and with very few legitimately manufactured discs in any region), and caught in what’s become a year’s long restoration and distribution project, A Brighter Summer Day currently stands as perhaps our most obscure pick yet, despite its standing as one of the critically defining works of the ‘90s and perhaps the touchstone of the Taiwanese New Wave movement. But with the film’s long rumored arrival on Criterion DVD still apparently in the works (with the restored print still touring, many were hoping it would surface in 2011, but that doesn’t seem to be the case), A Brighter Summer Day stands one of the best chances yet at actually being “reframed” by a more general cinephilic audience in the very near future.

And it’s a film that deserves every accolade and new fan it accumulates: an epic in the durational sense (the film runs about four hours in total) but intimate and personal on a narrative scale, A Brighter Summer Day is one of cinema’s most absorbing, effortlessly spun tales of youthful abandon, familial bond, political turmoil, and intertwined, tragic fate. Once it’s out there it won’t be a film that needs further superlatives tossed its way, but if we can stoke anticipation for its inevitable arrival to a wider set of eyes then just maybe Yang’s masterpiece will eventually take its rightful place among modern cinema’s most beloved works.