Monday, August 26, 2013

Record Review: Julia Holter - Loud City Song

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

Loud City Song begins quietly, above the city. “Heaven, all the heavens of the world.” An urban stargazer distracted by the quiet sky, soon brought back to earth: “Are you looking for anything?” The album is often like this: Julia Holter sings a line or two from one perspective and then shifts without notice, capturing at once the anonymity and singularity of urban life. Any city is like every city if you look at it from above. To focus on what is in front of us, we have to shelter ourselves from that openness: “I don’t know how I wear a hat so much…The city can’t see my eyes.” But it’s harder to shut out the sounds; easier to let them flow through you, the rhythms of the streets becoming the gateway to the subconscious. “All singers with eyes closed.” Searching for the right note, maybe, or the right voice—or finding the song in a stranger’s interjections: “How could you sing / That every day I talk to you.” Holter has often included found sounds in her music, covertly recording her grocers and neighbors, and those reappear here. But these are pure supplements, like illustrations in fantasy novels. The real story is told in the music. Through her, here, the city sings.

DVD Review: Eclipse Series 39 - Early Fassbinder [Criterion]

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1969 debut feature, Love Is Colder Than Death, begins with a telling dedication to fellow directors Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Marie Straub, and Damiano Damiani (the latter via a relatively obscure reference to the characters in his 1966 film A Bullet for the General). Besides registering as a reverent tip of the hat to a handful of presumed inspirations, it also plays as nominal stylistic blueprint for the rebel German auteur's initial flurry of creativity. After cutting his cinephilic teeth in local art houses and stoking his artistic muse as head of the experimental performance troupe the Antiteater (quite literally "anti-theater"), Fassbinder, all of 24 years old at the time, would conceive, shoot, and debut his first work in less than two months time in the summer of 1969.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Record Review: Julia Brown - To Be Close to You

We’re living in an era of immediacy. Maximalism, EDM, Youtube, Spotify, Yeezus—across all platforms and genres there seems to be little reason to forgo indulgence. There are certainly pitfalls to such an approach to both creation and consumption (Yeezus, in particular, is an interesting case as it solicited both approaches, failing miserably at each), but in an age of instantaneous satiation, why wait around for anything to impress, let alone music, when there’s something equally enticing just waiting to be sampled? Take for instance CMG’s last two Albums of the Year: The Seer (2012) and Black Up (2011). Two great records, but also experiences one wouldn’t likely classify as immediate. Visceral, sure, but neither offering up the lateral pleasures of, say, a Japandroids or an A$AP Rocky. We certainly are not alone in our admiration of Swans or Shabazz Palaces, of course, but both of their recent records were quote-unquote achievements that announced their arrival even as they withheld instant reconciliation. It makes you wonder what small scale releases we may be overlooking as we’re inundated with sounds harder, better, faster, stronger than the last.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Film Review: Chad Hartigan's This Is Martin Bonner (2013)

This Is Martin Bonner begins with a bait and switch. Spending, as we do, the first few minutes of the film essentially watching a prisoner vulgarly vent about his post-parole options, it would be understandable to prematurely peg the film as an angry sort of criminal diatribe. But soon we realize that this introductory sequence isn't about the prisoner at all, but about the volunteer counselor sitting across the table from him, a meek older gentleman, Martin (Paul Eenhoorn), who attempts to defuse the inmate's rage seemingly out of sheer responsibility, with little extraneous effort beyond stock rebuttals—not a raised voice, a blunt retort, or even an angry look. Turns out it's one of Martin's first days on the job, and now relocated from the East Coast to the unexpectedly cold expanse of Reno, Nevada, it's not exactly the profession he would have chosen for himself at this stage in life. Yet it's this unassuming approach to both narrative development and characterization (we never meet the prisoner again, and Martin isn't what anyone would consider a typical protagonist) that epitomizes This Is Martin Bonner, a modest, beautifully told second feature by Los Angeles native Chad Hartigan.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Blu-ray Review: André Téchiné's The Bronte Sisters [Cohen Media Group]

The work of director André Téchiné is cinema outside the margins. His narratives are unruly, dynamic creations, often melodramatic and more than a little heartrending. In the best of his work (say, Hôtel des Amériques, Rendez-vous, or Thieves), there's a palpable sense of engaged inertia, of lives colliding and emotions brimming forth unexpectedly. This inclination to portray the most basic human impulses in all their messy glory, this "willingness to court danger," as Kent Jones put it in an early issue of Cinema Scope, wasn't always part of Téchiné's methodology. His early work, no doubt inspired by his time spent as part of that second generation of Cahiers du Cinéma critics turned filmmakers, approached cinema from a more formalist, Brechtian position. The Bronte Sisters, Téchiné's 1979 dramatization of the English sisters' tragic rise to literary prominence, then, may initially feel less of a piece with the directors' wider corpus, and more of a refinement of an initial aesthetic understanding.