Stylus’ talk of DnB basslines today has got me all nostalgic for the good ol’ days. Or the days after the good ol’ days when I started to explore DnB from overseas, hungry for releases from the elusive collectives and producers I grew to love and learn about years afterward.
One of the men responsible for the look of many of those releases, of course, is Dave Nodz. The ever-reliable Woebot currently has an interview with the man up on this site and even commissioned him to make a t-shirt for his site. Surely there’s a DnB lover in your family that you’d like to surprise this Christmas?
This was my second time seeing John Darnielle and Peter Hughes rip it up live, and between being the Best Man at a wedding this weekend and sundry other things, I am woefully late in writing about it. So late, in fact, that Carl Wilson has already done a masterful job of discussing the concert, here, in a fantastic post that covers pretty much everything that I was thinking of talking about (although my set list is more complete than his - I was front row centre, scribbling down each song as it came on, and only the opening ditty I still can’t track down (possibly a new one?), although Darnielle graciously gave us the title). I incredibly glad to run into Wilson’s post while trying to track down the actual title of the Franklin Bruno song that the Goats covered fantastically during the encore because he bothered to remember the between song banter more than I had, and John Darnielle’s stage presence is worth paying $15 for all by itself. The songs were amazing, and astoundingly done - I’d seen him do “Lion’s Teeth” where the chorus just drops into nothing before, but seeing him work similar magic with the more simpatico moments on Get Lonely took my breath away.
Yes, like the guy shouting for old songs I could have done with some more history (I would kill to hear “The Young Thousands” live), but the Mountain Goats last two records are arguably highlights of Darnielle’s whole career, so I don’t begrudge his focus on them at all. And of course, songs I thought were merely good on record, like “Wild Sage” and “In The Hidden Places” were revealed as absolute highlights, one of the funnest parts of seeing these guys live.
Unlike Wilson, however, I have a little more space, and I’d like to mention Christine Fellows. Playing keyboards and with a band composed of a drummer, a cellist/zylophonist and a full-time percussionist who was actually valuable, she put on a fantastic show; I’d never heard her before, although I think she’s played Guelph quite a bit, and I bought her latest album Paper Anniversary as soon as the show ended. Darnielle dedicated “Get Lonely” to her as a sign of the high esteem he holds her in (as Wilson notes, he mentioned her as one “whose boots I don’t consider myself worthy to polish”), and although I’m familiar enough with the songs to speak convincingly or even coherently about them, after her set I can see where he’s coming from. As the unconventional band setup indicates, she wasn’t exactly rocking out, but her songs managed to marry a level of sonic detail you don’t often get with live music with the kind of energy you can only really find there. The only thing disappointing about her performance was that her cellist didn’t re-emerge when the Mountain Goats played “Dilaudid” (and even then their acoustic-and-bass rendition was a lot of fun).
“Design Your Own Container Garden”
New Monster Avenue
Moon Over Goldsboro
You Or Your Memory
Going To Cleveland
In The Hidden Places
Game Shows Touch Our Lives
Houseguest (Nothing Painted Blue cover)
The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton
Two documentaries premiering at the festival take a look at musicians who were attacked for opposing American wars. The U.S. vs. John Lennon chronicles the former Beatle’s conflict with Nixon’s government over Vietnam, while Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing follows the country trio as they’re attacked by their right-wing fan base for opposing the invasion of Iraq.
The U.S. vs. John Lennon is easily the better of the two films. Consisting almost entirely of talking heads, the film offers accounts from a number of Lennon’s comrades, but also whistleblowers from within Nixon’s administration and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. We also see archival interviews with Lennon in which he expresses the reasons for his pacifism and demonstrates his famous wit (“time wounds all heels” is a personal favourite).
I was pleasantly surprised by Lennon’s intelligence. It’s easy to get the impression that all he had to offer was a megaphone and platitudes, but co-directors David Leaf and John Scheinfeld reveal that there was genuine thought behind his actions. I don’t think I’m the only one to have made this mistake. Even a song as political as “Imagine,” with its anti-religion, anti-nationalist, anti-capitalist message, is often mistaken for feel-good fluff.
To be sure, Lennon had some questionable associates. One can debate whether or not the Black Panthers were a necessary component to the civil rights movement, but their advocacy of violence should have been anathema to a self-styled man of peace. And yet, it’s easy to side with Lennon against the disgusting likes of Nixon, Kissinger, and Hoover. The infuriating latter half of the film is very effective in its focus on FBI phone tapping and attempts to deport Lennon, ostensibly due to a marijuana conviction in Britain.
It’s clear that Leaf and Scheinfeld mean their film to be a comment on the contemporary anti-war movement. It’s impossible to entirely deny the parallels between Lennon’s story and the times we live in, but of the many differences between Vietnam and Iraq, one looms largest over this film’s narrative: the draft. The involuntary enlistment of citizens into an armed conflict was what made Vietnam so unpalatable to large swaths of the American public. This was a time when “Support the Troops: Bring ’Em Home” carried significant moral weight, and comparing Vietnam’s conscription to the all-volunteer army in Iraq just doesn’t work.
Worse still, the only interviewee shown making an explicit connection between Nixon and Bush is Gore Vidal. This parallel might have had more resonance if not drawn by a man who still believes it was wrong for Roosevelt to make war with the Nazis and thinks that the United States was behind the 9/11 attacks.
Even so, I was really enjoying this movie. The music was great, the story compelling, the politics generally admirable. And then Yoko Ono had to ruin things by claiming that the U.S. government assassinated John Lennon. Sure, it’s a dramatic ending to the film, but anyone who knows anything will walk out baffled and irritated. It’s not as though I don’t think Nixon’s gang was capable of assassination, but they were long out of power in 1980. Who gave the order, Jimmy Carter? Rogue elements within the government? Next you’re going to tell me that the United States was behind the 9/11 attacks.
Though the material is similar, Barbara Koppel’s Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing is a very different film. Instead of relying on archival footage and post-facto interviews, Koppel had the benefit of following the Dixie Chicks as they recorded their most recent album and faced the fallout of saying they were “embarrassed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Though her relationship with the band only began in 2005, Koppel had access to footage shot by a crew documenting their 2003 tour. This means that Shut Up and Sing contains the only existing footage of Natalie Maines uttering her infamous words. (Actually, her words don’t even warrant “infamous”. Is not liking the President really that big a deal? I’m sure the fools protesting the comment weren’t exactly fond of the last few Democrats in the Oval Office. And really, it’s not as though Maines called Jesus gay or claimed Muhammad was deceived by Satan. How about just “famous”?)
As a result of the comment, the Dixie Chicks go from being America’s sweethearts, performing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, to being labeled “Saddam’s Angels.” They’re right not to apologize and their enemies are almost universally idiots, but after seeing how John Lennon was treated, the plight of the Dixie Chicks just isn’t all that impressive. Lennon incurred the wrath of a sitting President, but even George W. Bush pays lip-service to the Dixie Chicks’ right to criticize him. Sure, he also dismissively says “if a few people don’t want to buy their records, their feelings shouldn’t be hurt” but that doesn’t even crack the top 100 stupidest things he’s said.
Maines also isn’t as likeable as Lennon. While he kept his wit and composure throughout his ordeal, Maines exhibits no such grace under pressure. I certainly admire her for not backing down, but her bull-headedness too often results in her refusing to accept the input of her bandmates and manager. Koppel is renowned for fairness to her subject, so this can’t be attributed to malicious editing. Then again, considering how often she had to hear people calling her a traitorous slut, I guess it’s only reasonable to expect she’d be irritable.
What I haven’t found so easy to accept is an exchange in which Maines expresses outrage at Bill Maher for hoping the war is a success. She quickly back off when a member of her entourage defends Maher, but I get the impression that for once she’s just trying to avoid conflict. I was also against the war in 2003, but I never sympathized with the notion that a failure in Iraq would only hurt Bush. Three years later Iraq is a mess, and I hope Ms. Maines feels vindicated. I just feel a bit like crying.
But I really am nitpicking here. As annoying as such scenes can be, it would simply be dishonest to lump the Dixie Chicks and other moderate critics of the war in with the extremist crowd. While the latter claims that George Bush is Hitler and Moqtada al-Sadr is George Washington, Maines and company hardly represent a fifth column. They’re just three women who love their country and couldn’t help but express anger at actions they felt were unjust. What’s more American than that?
As much as I admire Lennon’s and Maines’s bravado, I’ve recently learned the hard way that real courage is telling a bunch of critics that you like The Fall but think Tsai Ming-Liang’s latest is a dud. I doubt even Sasha Baron Cohen has the cojones for that.
Collecting overlooked tracks or “deep album cuts” on some of the year’s better records so far (feel free to add anything I’ve missed):
01. TV on the Radio - A Method (Return to Cookie Mountain)
Sitek and Co.’s cooing, clapping, and tapping moves from fragile to empowering as Tunde Adempibe and Kyp Malone warn us about something I’ve yet to figure out.
02. Evangelicals - Another Day (And Yoor Still Knocked Out) (So Gone)
Psych-poppers slob all over the map with rollicking drums, out-of-control synths and plaintive guitar leads, but it’s the breathtaking moments of clarity that steal the show.
03. Remy Ma - Conceited (There’s Something About Remy: A True Story)
New York rap’s single of the year is also it’s most slept on. Remy rhymes greasy over an Indian flute that would make Timbo flip.” Can’t nobody freak it like I do”. Affirmed.
04. The Knife - Like a Pen (Silent Shout)
Full disclosure: I’m not really feeling the album, but this masterpiece of haunted house keys, spastic percussion and all-around creepiness is quite the headphone trip.
05. Man Man - Ice Dogs (Six Demon Bag)
What starts off sounding like more drunk pirates with pianos abruptly turns into a weary Honus, trumpet stabs and a few chicks who didn’t make it into The Pipettes. Lovely.
06. Be Your Own Pet - Wildcat! (s/t)
Jemina Pearl gives her vocal cords a rest (they need it) while the rest of the band tones down their relentless assault too. Blink and you’ll miss it, and that’d be a shame.
07. Girl Talk - Too Deep (Night Ripper)
Everyone’s favorite illegal masher (brilliantly) has Paul Wall rap over Phantom Planet’s “California”, proving that not any jerk-off with GarageBand can do what he does.
08. Tokyo Police Club - Cheer It On (A Lesson in Crime EP)
Scrappy Canadian kids drop political commentary wise beyond their years. Shout along with the chorus and then take a breath during the arresting Nintendoish synth bit.
09. The Fiery Furnaces - Benton Harbor Blues (Bitter Tea)
In an album that does it’s best do drown and mask nearly all the vocals, this genuine pop gem shines. It can be forgotten how beautiful and crisp Eleanor’s voice really is.
10. Arctic Monkeys - Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secure (Whatever People…)
The guitars are simple plucks yeah, but no track in the Monkeys’ songbook is better evidence that Alex Turner is one of the best first-person narrative writers in music.
11. Envelopes - Massmouvement (Demon)
Swedes dip into Pixie land (both Frank and Sitx) resulting in a rawking (for these guys) sugar high in an acre of dandelions.
12. Hot Chip - The Warning (The Warning)
Raindrop percussion and bells power album’s most minimal moment. Best ballad about your own death that you may ever hear.
13. Band of Horses - Our Swords (Everything All the Time)
Band plagued by stagnation finally goes somewhere. The guitar line gallops along while the chorus triumphantly soars above the smoke from their bonfire.
14. Phoenix - One Time Too Many (It’s Never Been Like That)
Frenchmen really embrace that whole soft-rock Strokes vibe but shun Casablancas’ ennui in order to work things out. Dig that riff and don’t call it a bed wetter.
15. Lil’ Wayne - Hidden Track (Dedication 2)
After the much hyped but ultimately overrated “Georgia… Bush” Dwayne Carter spits a hellacious, unrelenting and jarring freestyle.
16. Destroyer - Water Colours Into the Ocean (Destroyer’s Rubies)
A stealth guitar line layered under a somber guitar parts, steady drumming, Bejar’s voice and of course those hypnotic “la’s” all add up to what is the best sunset song of 2006.
So exciting is the contemporary South Korean film scene that a new book calls it “The New Hong Kong.” With visionaries like Chan-wook Park and Je-gyu Kang leading the pack in recent years, this label seems warranted. A half-dozen new South Korean films are screening at this year’s festival, and the two most anticipated titles have already played.
So recent is South Korea’s film boom that the nation’s box office records are broken at regular intervals. Until recently, the box office champion was the brilliant Korean War film Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War. It’s since been supplanted by King and the Clown, playing in this year’s Contemporary World Cinema program. The film’s plot is simple enough: in 16th Century Korea, two bawdy clowns are arrested for lampooning the king. They face execution unless they give the king (wait for it) the gift of laughter. I realize it sounds mighty precious, but it’s actually a fairly serious examination of the oedipal mania motivating the country’s most brutal rular. King and the Clown is far from perfect, too often relying on excessive melodrama, but it’s a testament to the quality of Korea’s current filmmaking that even my least favourite movie amongst the country’s recent output is this good.
The one thing the new Korean cinema was missing was a great monster movie. Joon-ho Bong has filled the void with his thoroughly entertaining The Host. Formaldehyde dumped into the Han river leads to the mutation of a giant, hideous beast designed by Peter Jackson’s WETA Workshop. You can probably guess what happens next. My one complaint is that The Host would have packed a harder punch had it been trimmed by 20 minutes. As it stands, the monster remains off-screen far too long. I know it worked for Jaws, but this monster’s missing from the middle, after having already been fully revealed (and what a glorious reveal!) rampaging through the streets in the first fifteen minutes. Admittedly this is a fairly minor concern, because though you might have to wait just a bit longer, you ultimately get exactly the payoff you’re looking for. Anyone going to see The Host wants to see two things: a giant crazy-ass monster killing people, and those people fighting back. No, it’s not Floating Weeds, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. And besides, it’s not as though The Host is devoid of any other qualities. There’s some classic Asian slapstick, well-executed family drama, and even a little environmental advocacy and political satire. Seriously. And guess what: it’s well on its way to grossing more won than King and the Clown. Word is that a Hollywood remake is already being negotiated. I don’t really have a problem with that, though I tend to be suspicious of these things when they aren’t directed by Martin Scorsese.
None of this is meant to imply that South Korea holds a monopoly on exciting new Asian cinema. Case in point: Xiaogang Feng’s The Banquet, a wuxia Hamlet featuring some of Yeun Wo-Ping’s finest choreography. It’s during these thrilling fight scenes that The Banquet soars highest, but finer points of the film’s adherence to Shakespeare’s play are also successful. Then there’s Ziyi Zhang, whose performance reminds me that she’s capable of very good work when not foolishly cast in an English-speaking role. The Banquet’s premise invites comparisons to Kurosawa’s Ran and Throne of Blood, and that it doesn’t always match their greatness can’t seriously be held against it. If it was as good as Ran, it would be the best film at the festival. As it stands, The Banquet is a blast.
“I like your priorities,” a cinephile chum responded when I told him I was skirting the first week of fall semester to attend the Toronto International Film Festival on the flimsy basis that the deadline date for adding classes is two days after the festival concludes. Frankly, I don’t much like my priorities, but it’s nice to be blissfully delusional, so long as I have understanding outsiders to balm the wounds inflicted by misguided rationalizations.
Speaking of misguided, I was planning to ruminate on the process by which I scoured through this year’s typically gargantuan list of films, what I was anticipating and what I was disappointed didn’t make it—I even started composing a detailed (and non-pejorative) analogy of auteurism to alcoholism, which I may include if I can work it in manageably—but the films are rolling by far faster than I have time to adequately explore them as it is, so onto this year’s selections.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Hana, my opener, was the most pacifist samurai film I’ve ever seen, and I wish that quality meant more by its lonesome. It seems that between Nobody Knows and Hana, Kore-eda has tried to make a leap from mood pieces to meat-and-potatoes storytelling, with decidedly mixed results. It’s not that I expect a muscular tone from this would-be subversive tale of a ronin determined to wuss out, but the way Kore-eda lingers on the eccentricities of his milieu—a depressed village seeking resources and motivation—does little to contribute to the rather straightforward emotional through-line of our hero’s “I would avenge my father’s death, but I’m a pretty nice guy” dilemma. As a result, a rather didactic connection between jingoism and economic prosperity prevails where the former appears idiotic and the latter necessary but easy to protract. As one samurai attests, “What’s the point of living without war?” But the film too often foolishly dismisses such statements as the product of a juvenile affinity for vengeance. That said, while Kore-eda has renounced the languorous feel of his previous work, he does show a reflexive theatricality that keeps Hana watchable. A subplot involving a “revenge play” performed to imitate a planned attack attains a catharsis comparable to Renoir circa Rules of the Game when two characters pretend to experience grief as an alternative to actual grief: it’s relief, disguised as sadness, and revealed to be a self-conscious gesture by the grandiose, openly performative way in which the characters express themselves.
Probably better suited to a slot in the middle of the fest when subtitle-reading fatigue sets in, Mike Judge’s Idiocracy is nonetheless a hilarious, fine-tuned satire baffling for its exile from most U.S. screens; the commercial Toronto run was ending on TIFF’s opening night, and I’d be damned if I opted instead for more Hana-style mediocrity in lieu of a chance to catch Judge’s only feature in seven years. The premise deliciously straddles the line between the absurd and the plausible, i.e. that in 500 years pop culture will have rotted our brains and it’ll be up to a cryogenically frozen, intellectually mediocre army man – named Joe Bowers, played by Luke Wilson, allegorically renamed Not Sure – to save humanity. Sounds marketable enough, but here’s a film that bravely attacks our infinite capacity for convenience, showing us a world that much like our own largely focuses on giving consumers the most pleasure with the least effort—the CostCo employee who welcomes customers with a supremely dispassionate “Welcome to CostCo. I love you,” is emblematic of this exchange, imbuing the most meaningful phrase in our language with the passion of a robot, giving a bite-sized piece of everything composed of nothing. The film endorses difficulty, effort, and most obviously intelligence. But what prevents self-congratulation from setting in is that Judge emphasizes Joe’s relative naivete at every turn—one of the film’s most overtly tragic moments occurs when he makes a slip-up common among the future-‘tards—saying “ecomony” in place of “economy”—and he, and us viewers, are the only ones present to criticize him. While it’d be nice to have a world where everyone was smart and articulate, Joe’s problems also stem from a purely selfish desire to be molded and scrutinized by better, more able minds, analogous to the idiots’ excitement when they ask Joe to “do something smart,” as if intelligence were a kind of magic trick when it’s in fact the opposite, a suppression of fantasy and commitment to reality. Anyone who wants to know more about what the hell happened to this film should read this article, detailing not only the corporate savagery of Fox but also how Judge’s passive demeanor led to his downfall, which is all the more moving considering the struggle of Idiocracy’s protagonist, a modest man wrestling with the burdens of the more assertive.
That was the first night, containing 2 movies out of a planned 50 or so. Expect more soon; I’ve already seen a masterpiece, but just haven’t had time to write about it.
Halfway through Sophie Fiennes’s Pervert’s Guide To Cinema, philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that pornography is as conservative as any other genre. Most films are free to depict emotional realism, but are limited to sexual artifice. Pornography suffers from the opposite constraints. Shortbus, with its graphic scenes of un-simulated sex, plays as if writer/director John Cameron Mitchell saw an early cut of Fiennes’s film and took Žižek’s words as a challenge. One critic called it “Manhatten with moneyshots,” and he wasn’t far off.
Most of Shortbus’s buzz is the result of its very (very) graphic sex scenes, which are understandably difficult to ignore. Mitchell films every permutation of ever combination, be it multi-partner, single-partner or solitary. An all-male threesome is of particular interest not just for its audacity, but for the stunning logistics of its blowjob triangle (not to mention the stirring tossed-salad rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”). But I assure you it’s all very tasteful, or at least as tasteful as this material can be.
Shortbus is nothing if not direct, with Mitchell frontloading the action, kicking things off with the best opening montage since Magnolia. It serves not only as a mission statement for the depravity to ensue, but introduces his colorful cast of characters: a gay couple considering an open relationship, the peeping-tom who’s obsessed with them, a dominatrix who’s never had a romantic relationship and, in the film’s best performance, Sook-Yin Lee as a pre-orgasmic sex therapist. Over the next 100-minutes, Mitchell pushes his characters out of their comfort zones (and the audience’s), and the results are hilarious, campy, heartbreaking, emotionally generous, and ultimately quite touching.
And that’s the thing about Shortbus. Behind its shocking veneer and rebel posturing lies an aching, wounded heart. What else would you expect from the creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch?
The 2001 Toronto International Film Festival was horrifically interrupted by the attacks on the United States. A year later the festival presented the world premiere of 11’09”01, an omnibus of eleven short films focused on 9/11. Now the directors behind the three best pieces are bringing new feature films to the festival. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Mira Nair will present their work in the coming days, but the first offering is Ken Loach’s latest, the Palme d’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, The Wind That Shakes the Barley.
In recent years, the Palme d’Or lavished attention on gems like Elephant and The Pianist. Then there was the aberration of Michael Moore winning the prize that should have gone to Oldboy. I don’t yet know if Loach has made a better film than Babel or Volver, but for the time being it seems that the Cannes Jury’s returned to form.
Set in Ireland from 1920-23, Loach’s film depicts the growth of the Irish nationalist movement during the Irish War of Independence, and its splintering during the subsequent Civil War. Though the subject is expansive, Loach keeps his canvas intimate, centering the action on two brothers, Damien and Teddy O’Donovon, played convincingly by Cillian Murphy and Padriac Delaney. Employing the naturalist style he’s known for, Loach creates a film that, while not striving for the documentary-realism of Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday, manages to convincingly portray the action with a credible, urgent sense of veracity.
Predictably, British conservatives are attacking Loach, claiming that he’s made an unabashedly anti-British, pro-IRA film. I wonder how many of these commentators stayed through the film’s second half, or watched it at all. Loach is certainly sympathetic to the IRA’s nationalist goals, but his portrayal of Britain’s brutality, while certainly not balanced, is fair.
A more justified argument is against Loach’s use of the IRA to comment on current events. When prodded by the sympathetic Socialist Worker, Loach admitted that he finds the Irish nationalist movement largely analogous to the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Regardless of your opinion on those wars, it should be evident that there’s a substantial difference between people who want to expel an occupying force in a bid to achieve democratic self-determination, and people who’d rather install reactionary theocracy. But while I can understand why some of Loach’s critics have allowed his comments to colour their judgment, they are wrong to do so. Loach never allows his contemporary concerns of creeping American empire to overpower his period drama. Yes there is talk of “occupation” and “martyrs,” but surely such conversations occurred in 1920s Ireland.
This isn’t the type of hyperbolically anti-British film Mel Gibson would make, nor does it subtly whitewash imperial sins like Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. The historical truth is undeniable: the British Empire, whether in Ireland, India, or anywhere else the Sun Never Set, was often a ruthless, oppressive entity. If depicting this truth makes The Wind That Shakes The Barley Niall Ferguson’s most-hated film of the year, so be it.
This is the first of several posts I’ll be making from the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival.
A while back Nick Sylvester theorized that Gnarls Barkley had “… found themselves or been forced into one of the more fascinating instances of the publicists and publicity engines becoming more “artistic” than the albums and artists themselves.” I don’t completely agree with him, but I see his point. Anyone who heard Gnarls’ album sampler knows that the rest of the tracks on St. Elsewhere are filler, made to get an album out just as “Crazy” was blowing up. But I also think that the core tracks of the album, “Crazy,” “Smiley Faces,” “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” are the work of two guys trying to go at something special and different. But after watching phased out can-you-even-call-them rockers OK Go at the VMAs last week, it was obvious that the general public, and even some venerable rock critics, have been had by a group of sell-outs to the likes of which we may have never have seen.
What OK Go has done is admirable. That is, become rather famous (and presumably successful) by being a band that isn’t about the music. Yeah, I know that robotic pop-stars like Cassie and Young Dro get churned out of major label factories at night and are at the top of the Billboards that same day, but those type of acts start out as cons from the beginning. OK Go have been around for a minute, they’ve got a few EPs and two full-lengths to their name, and started out as a honest-to-goodness band. Late last year they released a now legendary video of themselves simultaneously dancing to one of their songs. It blew up on MySpace/YouTube and gave the band a glimmer of exposure, which they parlayed into a tour playing first on a three-band bill headlined by Panic! at the Disco. The video was alright at best, but anyone who had seen Napoleon Dynamite should have been thoroughly unimpressed. Fast-forward to last month, and OK Go are back to irrelevance. So they leak this video of them doing choreographed shit on treadmills, which to anyone who has jumped off a treadmill, was, again, thoroughly unimpressive. MTV got wind of the noise from the internet and stuffed them onto the VMAs already bloated performance list.
The performance wasn’t as boring as it was insulting. The band made no attempt at even acknowledging that they actually had their music playing to, and MTV probably could’ve played a different band’s song all together without OK Go even noticing or caring. It was also kind of sad. Here we had four guys in three-piece suits jumping on fucking treadmills, which once had actual musical aspirations, being puppets on national television. When MTV said jump, these assholes asked how high.
But as much as I hope that OK Go is never heard from again, their use of the internet as the most powerful medium in music is truly historic. It’s most historic because the band is its own “publicity engine.” No big idea from the beginning. No larger power at work here, no major label threatening to cut their deal if they don’t become this or that, just four guys who once gave a shit about their craft but who now suck at two. And the saddest part is that at the end of the day, the most we can say is more power to them.
1. Banksy “sabotaging” Paris Hilton’s debut album by replacing the artwork with doctored copies featuring slogans such as “Why am I famous?” and “What do I do?”, and photos of a topless Paris with the head of a dog, is pretty pointless.
2. This is “graffiti artist” Banksy, whose book you can find on the “recommended” stand at all good Waterstones, and on the coffee tables of social science lecturers and Liberal Democrats across the nation.
3. Doctored copies of the album are now going for Ł400 on eBay. Way to smash vacuous capitalist icons, Banksy!
4. Banksy also replaced the CD of vacuous instant million-selling pop star Paris Hilton’s debut album with a mix by Dangermouse.
5. Dangermouse became famous by mashing up The Beatles and Jay-Z on The Grey Album, kids.
6. And became a vacuous instant million-selling popstar as half of Gnarls Barkley.
7. A picture of Paris Hilton’s nipples is hardly shocking when one can find on the internet, inside about thirty seconds, extensive video footage of her being rogered senseless by that bloke who I forget who he is.
8. Also her nipples have been in just about every tabloid in Britain at least once, probably including The Daily Express.
9. Banksy’s latest work, a picture of a naked man climbing out of a woman’s bedroom window as her husband comes home on the side of a prominent street in Bristol, was the subject of a council-sponsored public vote to see whether it should stay or it should go.
10. It stayed! 97% voted in favour. This means effectively that the council may as well have commissioned it. Which they may have, in fact, done. Much like Paris Hilton’s PR may have, in fact, commissioned Banksy’s stunt.
Wading through endless blogger hype so you don’t have to…
COLD WAR KIDS
Fullerton, CA area group are in the running with Tapes ‘n Tapes (yay) and Sound Team (meh) for the annual Apple of the Blogger Eye Award. Their recently skewered by Pitchfork internet “hit” “Hospital Beds” clocks in at a pedestrian 4:48 but feels twice as long. A four-note piano loop slowly bludgeons as singer Nathan Willett rips off Jack White at his bluesy nadir wailing about your nieces and cousins putting out a fire. The nonsensical lyrics wouldn’t sound out of place on The Loon, but the music is totally devoid of any tangible emotion and is as interesting as this year’s Real World (read: not very). Thankfully “Hang Me Up To Dry”, also found on the Up In Rags EP, drops the piano out of the forefront and replaces it with a steady guitar lick. Lyrics here have Willett giving up to an abusive lover (you almost feel for him), but at least we have the guitar solos to look forward to. POTENTIAL: LUKEWARM
THE LITTLE ONES
The cover art hearts the Shins and we get pop that the band hopes will change your life too. The band’s Sing Song EP has one of the most slept on songs (and best bridge) of the year in “Lovers Who Uncover”, a song that reaches for the stars and almost touches them. And the Little Ones have chops too. On “Lovers…” the handclaps star, drums rumble along on “Cha Cha Cha” and dual guitars get their due on closer “Heavy Hearts Brigade”. A little deviation from verse-hook-verse-bridge-hook-hook wouldn’t hurt, but again, these guys can fucking play. On tour with French Kicks. POTENTIAL: BOILING
Though saddled with an obviously terrible name, 120 Days are Pitchfork approved and getting a major blog push after Norway’s recent Řya Festival. Breakthrough single “Come Out (Come Down, Fade Out, Be Gone)”, a beautifully arranged synth orgy, deserves all the hype. Though no other songs from their upcoming Vice release have been, um, released, “Sedated Times” from a 2004 EP pushes the bass to the front but can’t help but succumb to dreamy synth madness. In other words 120 Days> Junior Boys. POTENTIAL: BOILING
Birdmonster’s goal is to “Rock so hard that one of [them] faints” (actual quote). Work harder fellas. We’re met with your every day bass/guitar/guitar/drum lineup, but Birdmonster can occasionally make things interesting. So they may be a few steps away from Foo Fighters and Wolfmother, but “Cause You Can,” off of their upcoming debut No Midnight, builds up a rather attractive rhythm and “The Resurrection Song” goes all distortion on us, which I happen to love. Lyrics are all run-of-the-mill rawk, but that isn’t what Birdmonster is, or should be, about. Also on tour. POTENTIAL: SIMMERING
Before I got distracted by the shocking news that a singer in a multi-million selling rock band has taken some drugs, I was intending on posting this…
Yesterday I went into Virgin Megastore Exeter, picked up Idlewild by Outkast, noted its hideous lenticular cover, and decided outright there and then that I wasn’t going to waste Ł9.99 of my money on this crap.
Does this mean that I’ve failed in my capacity as a reviewer? Three years on I can count on the fingers of both hands the tracks that I’d still be pleased to hear from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. I can’t remember the last time I listened to Aquemini even though, if you asked me, I’d say it was great. Ditto Stankonia. Ditto a dozen… no, a hundred… no, a THOUSAND other records sitting in my stacks.
I’m stockpiling records on the off-chance that I might want to listen to them at some point in the future. If I take out a small moment of my precious, time-is-money time, and actually think about what this means… I’m spending money for pleasure that I’m never being pleased by. On a very basic level, this is insane. Insane like smoking when you know it kills you and makes you stink is insane, like getting the same newspaper every day when all you do is whinge about it is insane, like tailgaiting someone who cut you up is insane.
I’ve gotta start exercising some discretion. Does anybody want to buy a load of secondhand CDs?
This makes so much sense. They really will live to regret their future. The only question is why are people surprised by this (scan fan forums - the kids are distraught) - Chaplin’s a puppet, a puppet for Rice-Oxley who writes all the music, a puppet for the record company, a puppet for the fans to project their nice-nice ideas on, a puppet for everyone. He’s in a great big enormous shite pianorock band and he hates himself - of course he’s going to be gorging the sweeties to make life bearable.
Here’s a piece by Associated Press music critic David Bauder on how little he knows about the Top 40. He does an interesting rundown of common themes and topics found in today’s Top-40, but he makes a great comment that the niche-oriented record industry and Mp3 technology has further splintered American pop culture. “If you want to ignore the Top 40, it’s quite easy,” he writes.
Do you believe that the Top 40 is losing its cultural relevance?
A few new and fairly good bands that aren’t receiving much press/blogger hype:
Envelopes are a Swedish five-piece that have been heavily compared to Architecture in Helsinki, but where AiH uses a toy chest full of instruments, Envelopes sound is based through the electric guitar, and some of the most memorable moments on their debut album Demon are when the instrument is allowed to shine (the outro of “Glue”, the solo on “Massmouvment”). But what I love most about Envelopes is their wide-eyed and instantaneous look at the world around them. Their writing is peppered with things that any average Joe might blurt out to a friend in every day situations (“You’re the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!” or “If I were you… I would watch out for that guy over there”). That matched with the couldn’t-be-more-perfect voices of vocalists Audrey Pic and Henrik Orrling make for one of the most refreshing albums of the year.
Tokyo Police Club
So it turns out that the best new UK post-punk band is actually from Toronto. TPC’s debut EP A Lesson in Crime has post-punk hallmarks (simple guitar play, literary politics, interjecting keyboards) but blows a number of bands with that same recipe out of the water with a relentless energy that makes their songs stampede out of speakers. Expect major hype surrounding these guys as they embark on a tour of the US and properly release A Lesson in Crime stateside.
The Young Knives
The Young Knives operate in the vein of a majority of post-punk bands, but what separates YK from every other NME Band of the Century is that upon first listen it is obvious that this band is having fun. So while haters will throw out “It’s the Futureheads Take Two” insults when their debut The Voices of Animals and Men hits, the Young Knives are a lot more Art Brut then they are Kaiser Chiefs. Their latest single “Weekends and Bleakdays (Hot Summer)” is instantly grabbing and features the least pretentious refrain of the year (“This! Is! The! End! Of! The! Summer!). Finally, a post-punk band that even Eddie Argos can like.
What current artist will have the best greatest hits compilation? Early candidates are…
“Gimme the Light”- 2002
“Like Glue”- 2003
“Get Busy”- 2003
“Baby Boy (with Beyonce)”- 2003
“I’m Still In Love With You”- 2004
“We Be Burnin’”- 2005
“(When You Gonna) Give It Up To Me”- 2006
In terms of consistently great singles, there might be not one artist in pop music right now that can step to Sean Paul. His should-be-cheesy girl/guy ballads seem effortless but are always arrestingly tremendous, and his singles are always great dance tracks. His ability to maintain success with an audience that most likely doesn’t understand 80% of what he says speaks to his brilliance with melody and his penchant for always sounding fresh in an age of follow the leader.
My Chemical Romance
“I’m Not Okay”- 2005
“The Ghost of You”- 2006
Out of the whole Wapred Tour brigade, these may be the only guys who are actually genuinely good. The hooks are anthemic but nauseating, the guitars are fast and dumb and the songwriting is ace. We’ll see if they can keep it up, but anything half as good as “Helena,” will be a triumph.
“And Then What”
Jeezy’s debut Thug Motivation 101 might be coke-hop’s best non-mixtape album and every single off of it is an absolute monster. Jeezy has a unique ability to carry great hooks by himself and though much is made of his ad-libbing he is lyrically at the top of the game. In a region where everyone seems like a carbon copy of a carbon copy, Jeezy’s vibrant personality is a breath of fresh air.
“Shut Up”- 2000
“Take it to Da House”- 2001
“I’m a Thug”- 2001
“In Da Wind”- 2002
“Let’s Go”- 2004
Before the South was huge Trick never was, and now that the South is…Trick still isn’t. Which is kind of sad because “I’m a Thug” should have been one of the biggest songs of its year; same with the pre-Gnarls Cee-Lo assisted “In Da Wind.” Admittedly, his latest work pales in comparison to his earlier songs, but Trick was the South’s biggest star long before T.I., Lil’ Wayne, etc.
An open letter to Neko Case was posted to Turntable earlier this summer. I wrote a similar one to Brett Anderson, lead singer of Suede and The Tears.
I love your voice. I’ve loved it since I first heard “Beautiful Ones” on the radio years ago. My favourite one, though, is “Still Life” the last track on Dog Man Star. The way you howl in the middle of the track: “Still life / All I ever do / There by the window quietly killed for you.” It makes me shiver every time. Some people think your singing is weepy and girlish. They’re right. Your singing sounds girlish and weepy, but that’s why I love it. On one song though, “Trash” your singing irritates me. It sounds like you had some helium before going to studio. Maybe you didn’t like it either? You did re-record the vocals for Suede’s singles compilation.
Almost all of your lyrics are terrific. Of course this is just a fanboy-opinion, but I think most people agree that you’ve made some brilliant things. Early on, you really hit the feelings of kids stuck in suburbs in the 90’s. Even if I didn’t know a thing about suburbia, drugs, love, or depression, when I first heard Suede you made it possible for me to imagine it.
I even liked A New Morning. Nobody really hated Suede’s last record, it just didn’t matter anymore. I think that you and Bernard should keep The Tears alive. Though you were dropped from your label there must be plenty of chances for your band. It’s been ten years since Suede was big, but people still remember you. It doesn’t matter if you have only hardcore fans nowadays, so does Morrissey. Here Comes the Tears was a wonderful album and you should do more records with the Tears. It would be a pity if a song like “Europe After the Rain” was never recorded. You could have it so much better.
The Magnolia Electric Co rolled through the upper altitudes last night, taking the stage at Denver’s Larimer Lounge on the second night of their tour of under-appreciated time zones. The Magnolia Party Posse, so dubbed by strangely intense touring mates Ladyhawk, followed his Great Midwestern-ness, Jason Molina, around a series of tunes from the upcoming Fading Trails and Nashville Moon albums.
Several years ago I had to pillow talk my friends into spinning Didn’t It Rain, but Molina’s making things much easier these days, coating his gloom ‘n’ doom in sweet tea and tartar sauce. The band, which now includes a full-time piano man, were still finding the reins, fumbling through the song choices, but they choogled downhill whenever Molina’s steely tenor warbled or guitarist Jason Groth gyrated jus’ a lil’ bit. A cover of the Classics IV, um, classic “Spooky” mingled with “I’ve Been Riding with the Ghost” and amped takes on “Hammer Down” and “Just Be Simple” out-ripped their recorded kin. The formerly hostile Molina, ending songs with more than a few “thank you kindly”’s, has officially moved into the Neil Young Persona Assimilation Phase III – his live show offers few surprises but he makes hay with plenty of gritty, inspired tunes. Walk on.
Playing in a traveling band: Hit the link for the remaining MEC dates. Guitarist Groth is blogging about the gigs hereabouts. Fading Trails will drop September 12 on Secretly Canadian, while Molina’s solo joint, the decidedly autumnal Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go, hits shelves August 22.
I’ve so far resisted posting anything from YouTube.com here at the Turntable, partially because I’m uncomfortable swiping external content and calling it a day’s work. Beyond that, though, YouTube embodies both the blessing and the curse of the Internet’s democratizing effect: that it gives everyone a voice. (Also, like democracy, the Internet is still largely reserved for above-lower-class citizens of developed nations, but that’s a whole other ball o’ wax.) The Internet has made good on its promise as an infinite receptacle of information, accessible to all. This is a very good thing. But what about the fact that it’s a forum for not only astute and credible observers, but also ignorant louts and downright morons? This is, at the very least, a lamentable side-effect – what Jon Stweart might call “the upset stomach and diarrhea of democracy.”
And not everyone’s so pleased about the ease of access to information. In a recent interview with the Village Voice, Hospital Records mayor domo, Dominick Fernow, explained his contempt for the Internet thusly:
It takes the sweat out of the underground. It just makes everything so fuckin’ easy. There’s no passion, no pursuit. You might as well be checking your fuckin’ account balance.
For those not old enough to still have boxes of VHS & cassette tapes collecting dust, this could just be sour grapes. But Fernow has a valid point. If music were coffee, the Internet would be Starbucks: sure, it’s ubiquitous, efficient, and the selection is endless… but who friggin’ cares? It’s the difference between complacently picking up a Grande Gut-rot-accino, and finding a superb local café tucked down an alleyway. Which will give you a greater sense of aesthetic satisfaction and personal intimacy?
Here’s where I become the very thing I’ve been railing against… I submit for your scrutiny the 18-year-old video for the anthemic “Teenage Riot” by Sonic Youth:
And therein we see the old means of cultural dissemination at work. In the four minutes spent listening to the song, there are more names dropped and influences winkingly acknowledged than in a week’s worth of Pitchfork. Iggy Pop, Sun Ra, Jad Fair, Patti Smith, the Fall, the Birthday Party, Einsturzende Neubauten, Black Flag, Tom Waits, Daniel Johnston – the video is a veritable Cliff Notes for ‘80s underground rock. Yet this isn’t calculated image construction. This is Sonic Youth establishing their lineage while smacking the future in the face with history—a Rosetta Stone of punk rock.
Et voila! What Sonic Youth could only throw into the ether of cable music television with vague hope of being absorbed, I’ve now served to you with the speed & plain understanding of a fast food fry cook. Sure, it’s convenient. But do you care?
But it’s a fruit plate Brett Sparks carries on stage. Offering it to the crowd before realizing there’s only enough for him.
It’s these tiny interactions that make The Handsome Family, husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks, as endearing as their songs are exponential.
They are a Johnny and June for the download generation; a seemingly sober Rennie (she’s drinking Diet Coke) keeps Brett, who downs three bottles of beer during the set, in check. But it’s Brett who counts off all the songs, songs that are full of suicide, ignorant automatic sinks, and sad milkmen. Songs, like the great Appalachian folks tales of yore, that tell stories of woe and betide, hope and beauty, liquor and everyday life.
In an age where country music has become a commodity, much like milk, pasteurized and sterile, The Handsome Family are a welcome respite from the factory flavor of the commercialized soul pop country pap currently circumnavigating the charts.
On this tour, drummer, Jason Toth, and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Dorocke have joined the two-some, providing intricate inter-play on several slower songs, and a backdrop of sound for others.
“My Sisters Tiny Hands” cascades like a champagne fountain, crystal clear. “Weightless Again” loses its air organ intro, but not its appeal. “Bottomless Hole,” from 2003’s Singing Bones, is turned into a rollicking, rocking romp, with Brett enunciating his lyrics as if they’re stuck in his teeth. Spitting them out like shrapnel.
Other times his words drop like rotten apples from a tree – part country crooner, part Mark E. Smith.
Brett, with a baritone so low, you could run a river through it and call it a valley, steps aside on a couple of occasions to let Rennie take the reins. She also provides the in-between song banter. Comic fodder that doesn’t feel out of place in the World Café setting, which, with its table and seating setting, low lights and candles, is more akin with a comedy club than a music venue.
This doesn’t distract from the songs, which they pull from every album except 1996’s Milk and Scissors, showcasing a rich and varied back catalogue.
They finish, aptly, with “So Long,” a paean to dead pets, before returning for a two-song encore, fruit plate in hand. Launching into song, Brett wishes out loud for a napkin. You see; it’s not just the Rolling Stones who take country music to the masses and come back with sticky fingers.
As hip-hop fans and critics alike try to search for the Next Houston, focusing on San Francisco (nope) and Miami (nuh uh), Chicago is quietly positioning itself to take the crown. Though one of its star rookies, Rhymefest, caught one hell of a brick with his debut, the City of Wind still has everyone’s Next Big Thing (Lupe Fiasco), the game’s best comeback story (Common) and The Real Big Thing (Kanye West). So naturally they should be ranked in order of worst to best. Without further adieu:
Back in the day (like when I was in 7th grade) Twista was a relatively unknown MC who rapped a hundred miles a minute and showed up on random DTP tracks like Luda’s “Freaky Thangs” with lyrics like “I’m feelin’ you Luda / Smoking my Buddha / Coochie recruit-a / Coming at the fatty in a platinum Caddy.” Then he hooked up with Kanye and started making exclusively R&B-hop like “Overnight Celebrity,” instantly turning himself into one of the most grating and annoying people in music. Twista’s career is/was really a tragedy.
The best (only?) thing that Rhymefest had done up until Blue Collar was co-write “Jesus Walks.” “Jesus Walks” is a damn good song with damn good writing, which would indicate that ‘Fest could put together a few hit singles and a rather successful album. So far, preliminary reports on his debut Blue Collar indicate otherwise. The album’s best tracks are that in spite of ‘Fest rather than because of him. Don’t get it twisted, I still like Blue Collar, but lyrically nothing here compares to the writing on “Jesus Walks.”
Unless one wades the murky and dangerous waters of the mixtape game (or has snatched the leak of Food and Liquor), the only thing we have to go on regarding Lupe is his verse on Kanye’s “Touch the Sky” and one of the finest singles of the year “Kick, Push.” As a lyricist Lupe isn’t curing cancer, but on “Kick, Push” he shows a knack for not getting in the way of a great beat and the ability to tell a compelling story. His debut (the aforementioned Food and Liquor) is easily one of the most anticipated rap debuts of the past three/four years, and hopefully—for the northern half of the country—this thing ends up following through.
Last year’s Be was one of my favorite records of the year. I don’t buy into the whole notion of “seasonalalbums” but if, Be isn’t the album for breezy early fall than nothing is. Common is obviously the city’s best lyricist, but his career was in a coma until he started working with the next man on the list.
Haters will hate (myself definitely included) and Late Registration was wildly overrated, but when Kanye says that he is just important to rap as MJ was to the NBA, he is probably right. Everyone above him in this list would be either floundering or buried (not literally) without him. He gets knocked for not being a great lyricist but in a genre that is dominated by the three same themes, Kanye usually brings something new to the table, or least fresh (and usually hilarious) approaches to those same themes. As far as creative minds go, Kanye may have no equal in hip-hop right now as even a Late Registration hater like myself can admit that the album was beautifully arranged and composed (word to Jon Brion).
First, a confession: I’ve almost entirely missed the Broken Social Scene boat. Nothing personal, mind you, but for one reason or another, I’ve made it this far without hearing much of this Canuck collective. Does this fact automatically disqualify me from reviewing solo releases from BSS members? I sure hope not, because—caution thrown to the wind—I’m about to do it. Wish me luck.
First up is Feist’s remix album, Open Season. Let’s not beat around the bush about this one—it’s a stopgap release, designed to capitalize on the success of 2005’s (or 2004’s, depending on where you live) Let It Die. But despite the slightly crass nature of such a product, there’s enough good stuff here to make it worth Feist-fans’ hard earned cash, including a stripped-down rendition of the formerly disco-fied “Inside & Out,” One Room One Hour’s bossa nova rendition of “Gatekeeper” and Frisbee’d’s chilled out remake of “Lonely Lonely.” And the Postal Service version of “Mushaboom” would be a great slice of bubbly electro-pop—if only we could erase Ben Gibbard from the proceedings. Alas. Some of the re-imaginings of Let It Die’s tracks aren’t quite as successful, and there’s probably one “Mushaboom” remix too many here. Is Open Season essential? Nah. Will it tide you over until Feist’s next release (currently slated for early 2007)? Yup.
Next we’ve got Amy Millan’s long in the making Honey From The Tombs, a slightly schizo release that flits between slightly old-timey folk and big, lush pop songs. The combination doesn’t always work—while listening, you get the feeling that the album is the result of a bunch of different disparate projects that don’t quite hold together. That quibble aside, there are plenty of great songs on Honey, including the wonderfully melancholy opener “Losin You” and harmony drenched “Baby I.” And Millan’s vocals are lovely throughout.
Hmm, so Broken Social Scene has both Feist and Millan in its ranks, huh? Maybe I should check that band out.
So are the Jayhawks broken up? On hiatus? Or what? The truth is, it doesn’t look like even the long-running Minneapolis band’s members know for sure. But said members are keeping busy with various projects.
Golden Smog, the so-called “alt-country super-group” that has at various times in its on-again-off-again existence included members of the Jayhawks, Wilco, the Replacements, Soul Asylum, Run Westy Run and probably a dozen other bands, recently unleashed Another Fine Day, which is another fine addition to their infrequent catalog. As with so many other bands pigeonholed in this genre, “alt-country” is for the most part a misnomer when it comes to classifying Golden Smog. From the Revolver-esque opener “You Make It Easy,” to the sunny harmonies and infectious chorus of “5-22-02” to the “Sunday Morning”-ish vibe of “Cure For This,” the Smog is nothing if not a pop-rock band in the mode of Cheap Trick, Big Star and the Kinks. And despite the fact that they only get together once every eight years or so, (their last release, Weird Tales, dropped in ’98), they do sound surprisingly like a band, a cohesive collection of players. While there are a few missteps (the overwrought power ballad “A Beautiful Mind” and the revved up rawker “Corvette”), the bulk of Another Fine Day is solid enough to make one wish Golden Smog wasn’t a just a side-project for those involved. Check it out here.
Meanwhile, Jayhawks drummer Tim O’Reagan has filled the void left by his band’s uncertain status by recording his pleasantly mellow self-titled solo debut. Tim O’Reagan features contributions from former ‘Hawks Gary Louris and Mark Olson, as well as guest spots by Son Volt bassist Jim Boquist and even the drummer’s parents, though most of the playing is handled by O’Reagan himself. The bittersweet results would’ve been right at home alongside the work of the best 70s-era singer songwriters, like Neil Young, John Prine and Jackson Browne. And if I’m not mistaken, there’s even an altogether welcome whiff of Bread floating through the eleven tuneful tracks here. Listen and buy here.
In this age of wan vocalizing and introspective frontmen backlit with a diffuse, inoffensive white bulb, the young Brazilian groups CSS and Bonde Do Role represent the sheer latex glide and punk-rock sugar shock of everything contrapuntal to Coldplay. The yang to their yin is the shamelessly party-rocking Diplo, enough of a cheeseball to drop the beat out and ask the crowd how they’re feeling tonight, enough of a seasoned showman to already know the answer. Put the three together, and you’re in for some nasty weather on the dancefloor - Bonde Do Role spark the night off, Marina and Pedro putting Bowie and Ronson to shame in the suggestive onstage antics category, while still reserving enough energy to inflame even the most tepid of crowds. Nobody in B-more is speaking a whiff of Portuguese, but it’s hardly an obstacle - the chunky bass and relentless energy of the singers speak for themselves.
CSS prove to be a bit of a surprise - the synth trappings of their debut album have been excised in favor of three (!) guitars and a boisterous live rawk sound, but by mid-set we’ve all been too seduced by their unabashed gleefulness to give a damn about expectations. By the time Diplo gets behind the wheels, the party is lubricated enough to slide on sandpaper. Not that this makes our boy play it safe - dropping up-to-the-minute acappellas (”Hustlin,” “Me and You,” “What You Know”) over breakbeats and samples from the Cure to Cashmere, it gets funkier and rowdier minute by minute. By night’s end the kids from Bonde Do Role and CSS have climbed back onstage, exhorting the crowd, pouring beer on each other, just generally making a mess and filming the whole damn thing (I’m checking Youtube as we speak). Plan on missing out on this circus? Consider yourself clowned.
Ok, so “Trapped in the Closet” has come, seen, and conquered, but we really should have seen this on the horizon. Kells cut his hip-hopera teeth with idol-turned-collaborator Ron Isley in a series of videos stretching back 10 years. Isley plays Mr. Biggs, a gangster kingpin whose lavish homes and comely women are continually penetrated by the occasionally remorseful Kelly.
Mr. Biggs is introduced in the “Float On” remix as a rather unassuming pony-tailed crooner. Lil Kim steals the spotlight in this video.
Not content to ruin only Mr. Biggs’ relationships with his pure animal magnetism, Kelly moved on to hurt those closest to Biggs. Kelly Price plays Isley’s goddaughter in 1998’s “Friend of Mine,” a woman scorned by — who else? — R. Kelly. Unfortunately, no bursting-into-the-bedroom scene, although there is a very odd phone conversation with Kells in bed and Isley in what looks like a hotel lobby.
Perhaps on the defensive after repeated humiliations, Mr. Biggs goes after his daughter’s paramour in B2K’s “Girlfriend.” As if teen romance needed more drama! Will Smith appears as “The Godfather,” a role that might have gone to R. Kelly if his reputation with teenage girl love hadn’t already preceded him.
2006 is more than half over and bloggers have been frantically compiling “half year” best-of lists. But we’ve been going back EVEN FURTHER, to those long gone days of 2005, checking out a number of releases from that year that for one reason or another, we didn’t give the proper attention. Don’t be afraid–2005 is alive.
First up is the Speakers‘ perfectly lovely Yeats Is Greats. As the cheeky title suggests, the album consists (mainly) of legendary poet William Butler Yeats‘ poems set to music. The Speakers (a San Francisco-based duo consisting of Brian Miller and Peter Musselman) do a fine job of creating a hushed, country-blues vibe to match the melancholy of Yeats’ words—the closest analogue I can think of is early Palace Brothers. But with better lyrics, obviously. Try as he might, Will Oldham is no William Butler Yeats! Miller also supplies the lead guitar for Jolie Holland, so if you dig her, definitely check out the Speakers. Order the CD and check out samples here.
Next in our overlooked 2005 series is the Double’s muy excelente Matador debut, Loose In The Air, which sees the Brooklyn band expanding upon the experimental, dark sound of their earlier releases (including the much raved over Palm Fronds), and exploring slightly more straightforward songcraft on songs like the snappy “Idiocy.” Interpol comparisons have been rife, but we see them more in the heavy, exploratory vein of their other Matador labelmates Mission of Burma. Download “Idiocy”.
2005 also saw the sophomore release from Charlemagne, Detour Allure, which saw mastermind Carl Johns mostly eschewing the dusky country rock of his debut for a more power pop groove. And he’s mostly successful in this switch-over–songs like “(We Are) Making Light” and “Fave Unknown” are cool and catchy blasts of poppy goodness. Listen and buy here.
Last but certainly not least, we’re finally getting around to listening to Neil Young’s Prairie Wind. The recently released political screed Living With War might’ve gained more headlines, but Prairie Wind is probably the album that will have more staying power. Sure, there’s a bit of cheesiness here, and a few melodies we’re fairly certain Uncle Neil has used at least three or four times before, but the bulk of the album is great—especially the yearning “Falling Off the Face of the Earth” and the gorgeously meandering “It’s A Dream.” Song samples here.
Hip-hop blogs and message boards have been inafrenzy for the past few weeks over who Ludacris was taking shots at (I’m not buying this) on his new diss track “War With God”. The popular pick seems to be T.I. (who he’s had previous beef with), with Lil’ Wayne and Young Jeezy in a close second and Rick Ross in a laughable fourth. Also, a few months back the same blogs/message boards were discussing whether or not T.I./Jeezy/Wayne were the South’s equivalentof Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas. They’re on their way, but to take this whole thing full circle, I think that, at the top of his game, Luda is actually better than the south’s three. The past few years definitely haven’t lent any proof to that theory, but “Southern Hospitality” is better than pretty much anything that either of the three has ever done.
Of course, Ludacris’ problem is that “Southern Hospitality” was his second single, off an album six years old. Lately he’s become a parody of his old self, doing repulsive sex jams like “Splash Waterfalls” (froggy style?) or ridiculous self-promotion shit like “#1 Spot.” What I’m getting at here is that hopefully whatever has pissed Luda off enough to put out a (reasonably biting) diss track will push him into making music like he was making four, five, six years ago.
Along the same lines: the other day, I heard Eminem’s “Without Me” on the radio in a cafeteria where I couldn’t demand that it be turned off. It followed Yung Joc’s “It’s Going Down” (a really good song) and some robotic R&B track that I didn’t recognize, and when “Without Me” came on it sounded like a breath of fresh air. By all means the song is average at best, but Em’s presence and charisma blew away the previous two songs, one of which is/was the country’s number one single. Point here is that Eminem and Ludacris have loosely followed the same career path. Early in their careers they were both critically and commercially acclaimed, then both became shells of what they used to be, putting out singles and albums that were mediocre money-grabbers.
In Eminem’s case, maybe the death of his best friend will keep him from making more tracks impersonating Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, but we have nothing but this as any evidence that that might actually happen. As for Ludacris, tracks have been floating around the internet from his forthcoming LP. With one we get two steps forward, but with the other we get two steps back.
I’ve got no heart-wrenching ending paragraph here, just hope that two of my favorite rappers become just that again.