Friday, March 23, 2012

Record Review: Julia Holter - Ekstasis

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

The remarkable new album by Julia Holter unfolds within the space of a difference: “This is not ekstasis / This is ecstasy,” a difference of expression that is more profoundly a difference in our being—or rather, the difference that is our being, that scatters us from ourselves and thereby sanctions our existence. This is ekstasis, literally “being outside oneself,” as it was first defined by the ancient Greeks and again by their great student Martin Heidegger (who also called it transcendence): as always already concerned and involved with a world that is “other” and cast beyond ourselves into a past that is no longer and a future that is not yet, we step out of the stasis proper to natural beings and enter into the distinctive play of presence and absence that is proper to human existence. “We go outside,” as Holter more succinctly puts it. And what do we find outside the cozy confines of our own skin? Nothing but the abyss of the other, and the uncertainty of a dark night? Or can we also find a bliss greater than any that we could kindle ourselves? The other, manifest not as a dark night but a warm radiance? Something like…ecstasy?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 21 - David Cronenberg's The Brood

David Cronenberg, one of Canada’s most widely renowned filmmakers and the patron saint of arthouse horror, has recently graduated to the critical upper-class.
Calum Marsh: David Cronenberg, one of Canada’s most widely renowned filmmakers and the patron saint of arthouse horror, has recently graduated to the critical upper-class. He’s spent the last decade shedding his reputation for vulgarity and establishing a new name for himself as a purveyor of serious drama, earning mainstream acclaim (and impressive grosses) in the process. Fresh off the promotional trail for last year’s well-received A Dangerous Method, a dry-martini of a drama about the tumultuous relationship of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Cronenberg—who turns 70 this week, remarkably—is wrapping up his latest project, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel Cosmopolis.

For better or worse, it looks like Cronenberg is pretty much through with the strange and personal genre films that launched his career, having not touched anything resembling the low-brow since 1999’s outstanding (but poorly received) sci-fi anti-blockbuster eXistenZ. His career is probably in a healthier state as a result—in the very early 2000s, before he’d made the transition, he was barely scraping by, and was even forced to forgo his own salary to get Spider produced in 2002—but it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that the man who made Eastern Promises in 2007 is the same man who made Videodrome, one of the most radical and intelligent genre films of all time, way back in 1983.

Record Review: Lee Ranaldo - Between the Times and the Tides

Even as third in the Sonic Youth songwriting hierarchy, we’ve had an inordinate amount of time to get to know Lee Ranaldo. Thirty years in fact. But his two song average on any given SY record notwithstanding, Ranaldo has remained arguably the most elusive member of the group, even as he’s been the most consistently forthright and lucid when discussing the band’s various approaches to songwriting and the thematic strains coursing through their discography. Few SY lyrics are anything less than obtuse, but Ranaldo has a very particular way of saying a lot of interesting things without revealing a whole lot of himself in the process. I’ve seen the band perform “Skip Tracer” at least four times over the years, and while it’s still unclear what “Row house/ Row house pass through/ Let the city rise up/ Twister, dust buster, hospital bed/ I’ll see you, see you, see you on the highway” means, it remains one of the most memorable Ranaldo lyrics by dint of his lax intonation and vivid way with imagery.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Record Review: The Men - Open Your Heart

It may be premature to call it a trend, but Brooklyn-based band the Men have recently begun utilizing album titles as extensions of their narrative. Or so it would seem. While it’s just as likely coincidental—both 2011's Leave Home and their latest, Open Your Heart, can be read as traditionally delineated titles too—I can’t help but feel like they exist as artist/audience discourse rather than as admonitions. The Men's debut for Sacred Bones felt in many ways like a spiritual rebirth, and while they didn’t literally transplant themselves from their Brooklyn home, they nonetheless left the confines of localized, self-released obscurity for national distribution and wider consideration. Open Your Heart is an even more direct decree—and again, not a suggestion toward artistic agreement but rather a curt announcement of the potential effect this record will have on you, the listener. This is a confident, some might say cocky, edict coming from what can occasionally feel like a punk band with identity issues. But it’s consistently impressive how coyly the Men tug at the heartstrings across this record’s expansive sonic terrain.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Andrzej Żuławski's Szamanka

Note: I wrote this brief description of Andrzej Żuławski's Szamanka for the Cinefamily repertory theater, who are screening the film as part of the first-ever U.S. retrospective of the Polish director's work--concurrent with an identical series running in Brooklyn--on Saturday, March 31st, 2012. Below is the unedited copy.

Andrzej Żuławski's unrelenting 1996 feature, Szamanka, took the Polish provocateur’s skewed vision of sexuality to dizzying new extremes, realizing Manuela Gretkowska’s scandalous novel as something equally visceral and assaultive to the senses. The experience, then, is exactly that: less plot-driven exposition—indeed, the narrative is almost completely incomprehensible—than a careening series of sexualized set pieces, each more uniquely bizarre than the last. The szamanka (“she-shaman”) herself is a character of fierce, streamlined concentration, manipulating the emotions of a disconcerted anthropologist determined to reconcile the recent death of a shaman with that of this man-eating figure of female empowerment. That actress Iwona Petry fell into self-inflicted obscurity—some claiming the psychological torment of the role leading to a breakdown and subsequent journey toward enlightenment—only adds to the singularity of one of the most committed performances in all of Żuławski. By the end of the film—which is quite literally a feast of the cerebral—a certain numbness will have no doubt set in, the ferocious tactility of Żuławski’s images an exorcism of life’s grotesque underbelly and the galvanization of career’s worth of unsettling themes. [Cinefamily]

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blu-Ray Review - Plan 9 from Outer Space [Legend Films]

In the post-irony era, the term "guilty pleasure" has become one of the most loaded phrases in our everyday entertainment vernacular. We've experienced the Screams and the Grindhouses, the Joaquin Phoenix meta-meltdowns, and the Banksy art-circuit brainwashings—not to mention the entirety of the reality-television industry. At what point, then, did we collectively admit that shitty things and, by extension, shitty people doing shitty things to one another in front of camera, could be something of an art form unto itself? Without a durational degree of separation we're left to gravitate toward what intrinsically appeals to us, I suppose, but at some point in the last decade it's become ever more rare to find the high- and low-brow arts relegated to their own corners of the critical conversation; it's just as common to see the latest Sacha Baron Cohen character battle it out with the newest Lars von Trier antihero for top-10-list real estate.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Record Review: The Caretaker - Patience (After Sebald)

I’d really hoped that this review could transcend the most obvious observations provoked by the music of the Caretaker, but I continue to find it not only appropriate but truly beyond coincidence that so much of my experience with the music of Leyland Kirby over the years has been tied up in memories. Though I distinctly remember my first exposure to Kirby’s unapologetically nostalgic sonic experiments, his 72-track digital album Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia (2005), the specifics of that release eluded me for years. It could be that I just didn’t listen to it all that much—I highly doubt a single, uninterrupted sitting ever transpired—but as Kirby has moved toward the forefront of the experimental music scene over the last couple of years, the intangibility of those pieces have, ironically, solidified in my memory bank as one imposing, impressive, but at four hours in length, not very functional mass of drone.