A Special Snowflake
- Aug 2, 2010
. - * - . . - * - . . - * - .
. - * - . . - * - .
"It's not an ordinary snowman. It's a man from outer space."
Crappy rundown venues, heckling drunks, a noxious cloud of exhaled cigarettes: all of these things are highly unpleasant. Yet the night still seems valuable. The humanity still seems valuable. What is it about seeing bands in person---crammed into a large volatile crowd of people---that keeps me coming back time and again? I come away feeling like I've gone on a pilgrimage. Something great occurred, and in the midst of it all, I was there.
This weekend I saw Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) of Animal Collective fame. Opening for him was Blues Control, a duo I've mostly ignored over the years who ended up playing a pretty tight set of proto-metal riffs, angular dance grooves, and tropical lounge music all smashed together and dipped in reverb like a noise band interpreting some college radio station's entire playlist. Cheesy looking 3D models of weed plants paraded across the backdrop, swaying from side to side, keeping time with the music as vibrations from low notes shook my ribcage. The sheer physicality of these sound systems is a phenomena I'm never quite prepared for even after all these years; it manifests as a weight pressing down on your chest and radiating outward in every direction. This sensation is a defining mark of artists like Sunn O))) or even Merzbow whose live performances are literally heavy, enveloping the listener and bringing on an almost meditative numbness. With Blues Control the effect wasn't as persistent, but every piano key felt like a fuzz glove giving me a thump.
Panda Bear's set was mostly new material from his forthcoming Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper album. He also had some intense visuals. As the opening drones rose and fell, crashing waves and pulsating color patterns were projected onto a screen behind him. It reminded me a bit of the television show Land of the Lost. Eventually this segued into one of the catchiest songs I've heard from this guy, and the colors turned into a barrage of random images---people, animals, food---all morphing into one another. This was accompanied by an irritating strobe light that was used way too much; as an accent it would have been fine, but instead it was like the ending to Alien. I have a moderately high tolerance for that kind of thing, but I found myself shutting my eyes or staring at the floor half the time. From what I could see though, glow-in-the-dark painted women tumbled around on a rotating bed. Their body parts began to multiply until there was a large sun like mandala of limbs all hypnotically waving. Panda Bear played "You Can Count On Me" at one point, but most of the tracks were new and flowed from one to the next. It was a good show, but the crowd was pretty lackluster where I was standing. One of my pet peeves is rigid people who stand there with their arms folded or right by their sides (or worse yet, dicking around with their smartphones), refusing to dance or get into the music like they're too sophisticated or hip for that kinda thing. Come on, embarrass yourself a little.
Anyway, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper should be awesome when it manifests.
The crowd's energy is a bigger factor than some might think. Granted, some artists demand silent awe as they relate the depths of their tortured person or play ambient music or orchestral scores. In other cases though, it's a feedback loop of sorts: stirring the artist who stirs the crowd.
I've talked about Boredoms' live shows a lot before, but they're the perfect example of using crowd energy. The crowd is usually positioned in a circle around the band so as to focus their energy in a single point. eYe has some interesting theories about the audience and forming a 'cosmic turntable' of sorts, but on an entirely practical level it makes for a more intense experience.
Here are some of their various incarnation over the years...
2003 - 2006: 'Vooredoms' configuration that consisted of four drummers and eYe on turntables. These shows would open with eYe waving handheld spheres that would glow and could trigger and control sounds. It was beautiful to see him move about as if weaving drones into thread. This was always a really versatile form of the band, a 'core unit' of sorts that could be modified as in Super Roots 9 which features a full choir on Christmas Eve 2004.
2007: 'BOAdrum 77' with 77 drummers arranged in a spiral around the band in Brooklyn on 7/7/7. Many of these drummers are well known, such as Zach Hill who would play with the band until the end of 2011 when he would focus exclusively on Death Grips.
2008: 'BOAdrum 88' with 88 drummers arranged in a spiral around the band in LA on 8/8/8. There were actually two concerts at once, with Gang Gang Dance leading the one in Brooklyn this time. During this time the band also debuted the 'Sevena,' a guitar with seven necks (or more?) that eYe played using a bow string.
2009: 'BOAdrum 9' with 9 drummers and the Sevena. The first show actually took place on a boat during an eclipse. The second show was on 9/9/9 in New York, and the third was at the ATP festival. In this configuration the band would be carried on platforms by the audience who would hoist them onto the center stage as they drummed.
2010: 'BOAdrum 10' with 10 drummers and the Sevena in Melbourne on 10/10/10. The floating platforms return as well.
2011: 'BOAdrum 111' with 11 drummers and the Sevena. Took place in Island Quarry on Byron Bay, Australia. This time, there were also 100 cymbalists positioned around the band in two concentric circles.
2012: The band added guitarists into the outer ring of their formation (which technically began back in 2011 at the I'll Be Your Mirror festival). Inside this ring would be a smaller ring of drummers. eYe would be in the middle, triggering certain sounds that corresponded to certain drummers who would play while the others remained silent, all the while the guitars would create waves of music. At the ATP festival that year there were 6 drummers and 14 guitarists.
2013: 'The Floating Guitar BORchestra of Boredoms' was formed. It consisted solely of guitars arranged in a circle with amplifiers pointing inward toward the audience. Later that year, '7x13 BOAdrum' with 91 drummers arranged in a spiral took place at the Freedommune0 <Zero> One Thousand festival in a huge convention center outside Tokyo.
2014: On the 20th of September, Boredoms played by the sea in the morning with six drummers and a ring of 20 cymbalists around them. In the outer ring are 8 guitarists with the amps facing inward. During the Autumnal Equinox, Boredoms played at the base of Mt. Fuji with the same configuration as above.
I still maintain Boredoms are the greatest live band in the world right now.
. - * - . . - * - .
Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World
"It was the loudest concert I've ever heard; it sounded like a war with bombs going off"
A friend's synopsis of their live show was my introduction to DFA'79. This was ten years ago when You're a Woman, I'm a Machine had debuted, and people started adorning themselves with the iconic double elephant noses on pink shirts. It was discovering that the band was a duo---bassist and drummer---that really sold me on the aforementioned war zone, though. There's something about a two person dynamic in music that appeals to me, especially when it takes the form of a stripped down rhythm section. Bands like that tend to have a raw, primal quality. It's certainly a fitting vector for DFA'79 and their propulsive dance rock, even if a lot of their live intensity is lost on recordings. Also one can say of these guys what can be said of the best music duos: that they sound like a full band. Granted they don't come close to the likes of Ruins in that department, but then again Ruins don't make music you can dance to, do they? So while I could never really understand all the hype behind DFA'79, I could certainly appreciate them for what they were. That they split up after their seminal debut seemed unfortunate, though it lived up to the romantic ideal of "die young and leave a beautiful corpse." Better that than risk going stale.
Ten years later a gnarled bass guitar yawns like a monster coming back to life from its suspended animation. These are the opening seconds of "Cheap Talk," the first track off of The Physical World. What amounts to vaulting over a sophomore slump in the most dramatic way possible: as a highly anticipated comeback album. It would have been worthy of rolling eyes if not for the fact that these guys seem completely sincere despite the journalistic fervor that surrounds them. There's very little pretension here; just two people rediscovering their love of making music together. At least that's how The Physical World sounds to me. That layer of sleaze grease glimmering under the lights of their debut has been shed, and in its place is a layer of dirt. Snark gives way to intensity. Yeah this is heavier sounding than their last one. Even so, I suspect many fans will feel right at home within seconds of hitting play. For me though the real hooks lie in unexpected places: the ending to "Right On, Frankenstein!" or the feedback in "Virgins" that threatens to overwhelm the song or the synths lurking in the depths of "Crystal Ball."
Even if it doesn't get the same kind of hype, this is a more solid album than their debut.
Khun Narin Electric Phin Band
Every now and then I'll encounter music that carries the full weight of its creators' surroundings, music that doesn't tell a sequential story so much as capture the feeling of a time or place in its transmission. Khun Narin is just such music. I was introduced to it by a friend of mine who showed me an amazing YouTube clip, and I honestly don't know if their full name is Khun Narin or Khun Narin Electric Phin Band, or if Electric Phin Band is just the title of this album or if the album is self-titled or what. That kind of adds to its mystique though; this album isn't a stage in its creators' musical career, but rather it's nearly one in the same as the people who made it. As if they have their own pocket dimension (kinda like SCP 106 --- my vague reference for this post). In fact, I'm told bands like this play all over Thailand in random locations, off in their own world and ignoring everyone around them. The main instrument being played throughout these tracks is the Thai Phin which is where the band's moniker comes from, only on these tracks it's electrified and almost sounds like someone picking a guitar. There's a definite scrapyard quality to the music, like it's being produced with makeshift odds and ends, so I can see the comparison people have been drawing to Konono No.1. This also has the same kind of hypnotic quality with repetitious percussion that goes on into infinity, clanging and banging. I'm also picking up shades of Flower Traveling Band if they were to have sped up on those motorcycles they were riding butt-naked.
Really it's the phin playing that elevates this. Those of you who are into long, meandering hippy guitars should definitely give this a spin, 'cause this is one of the best psych rock albums I've heard in years. It flutters by in its echoing wind-swept electric majesty, dancing in circles around sunlit streets like some kind of happening, gradually lifting off but always landing again under the weight of its own context. I say that because of how unique this music will sound to most listeners. To those listeners---and me---this is the Electric Phin Band. To those playing, this is simply music.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Float Along - Fill Your Lungs / Oddments
Over the last few years, this psychedelic court has been sending out bizarre and gnarled rock transmissions that have mostly gone unnoticed outside their home base of Australia. Which is a shame because they've unleashed some truly great drug-soaked garage jams in the vein of John Dwyer's Thee Oh Sees. This latest double album though is something else. Part one, entitled Float Along - Fill Your Lungs, kicks off with an incredible sixteen minute long opener that sets the tone for what's to come: some of the most spaced-out, lysergic yet hook-laden music these guys have ever recorded. The vibe here is generally more laid back than, but the tracks swirl around and pulsate and warble at times like they're being pulled into another dimension. Those who prioritize clean sounding production and immaculate recordings should definitely look elsewhere. Amidst the cosmic debris however are moments of truly sweet---even achingly beautiful---songwriting
The second half, Oddments, is somehow more down-to-earth and weirder at the same time. On several tracks the band scratches their garage rock itch only to follow it up with a quiet, pastoral number helmed by quivering "Hurdy Gurdy Man" style vocals. As a whole, Oddments seems to jump around without a care from one style of hallucinatory rock to another, offering up more of a grab bag style that fits with its cover; it also offers a nice contrast to the more unified sounding first half (which was technically released last year?). At the end of the day, the King Gizzard and his scaly Lizard Wizard should appeal to fans of John Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees, Kurt Vile, Ty Segall, or even the three or four people out there who listen to Lamp of the Universe's brilliant ragas.
A raucous hippy dippy extravaganza of baby oil light shows cast on the crumbled brick walls of run down alleyways.
X - Aspirations
Speaking of crazy Aussie bands, I've lately felt a need to revisit X. They were a late 70s rock band who melded psych and punk tendencies in a bubbling cauldron that pretty much overflows on tracks like "You Are Alright By Me..." and "Poorly Behaved Motor Vehicles" and "Another Dope Song" and "I Soiled My Pants..." This stuff is simultaneously so stupid and so cosmically aware, so with it and so insane. It's a friend you love who barks at strangers.
Really the craziest part of all is how these guys remain so unknown, even within most music circles.
Do yourself a favor and check 'em out if you haven't already.
This year has seen a lot of mammoth sounding metal albums and the promise of more to come. Among the latter, I'm eagerly awaiting Electric Wizard's newest burnt offering, the rather forebodingly titled Time To Die. Spoilers much? The track "SadioWitch" has already broken out of its tomb, and wow does it sound ghastly in the best possible way. Like the guitars were soaked in vats of rotten blood and restrung with barbed wire. They're also joined by their old drummer who was originally kicked out of the band for being too high to actually play anything at live shows; he went on to be awesome in Ramesses, so his presence should contribute even more sludge on this new album from the Wiz.
Then there's Sunn O)))'s bizarre but wholly appropriate collaboration with crooner Scott Walker. Apparently it's titled Soused. I was kinda hopping they'd stick to Scott O))), but as far as alternatives go Soused is a good'un. A teaser trailer was released because every album gets a trailer now for some reason. From the brief clip, this collaboration sounds really strange and unsettling. Which is good.
Oh, and there's a new track from Sleep of all bands. Apparently they've gotten back together, though when asked if they're working on a new album, they said there's no new material aside from this single ten minute long track (which is short by their standards). Still, it's nice to have some new Sleep as a fan of the band. Nice and kinda baffling. It starts to make more sense though when you realize this track sounds just like Om, one of Sleep's offspring who are still active. More specifically, this track sounds like Om circa Conference of the Birds. Before they became a Middle Eastern folk band. Which is fine by me, as I liked Om's older incarnation.
Really the purrfect companion to all this metal is cats:
This is going on my coffee table.
. - * - . . - * - .
Earth - Primitive and Deadly
How fitting the relationship between Earth and Sunn O))). The latter named themselves in tribute, both to their amps and to their muse, saying the Sunn revolves around the Earth in their archaic band's cosmology. Over time that heliocentric cosmology was superseded by modernism: now the Earth revolves around Sunn O))), at least insofar as they're on the Southern Lord label and overshadowed by the very subgenre they helped to pioneer. Musically though, Earth has never gone in circles (or ovals). They've been wandering their entire lives, going from place to place, never staying still for long. From the crushing gravity of Earth 2 to the rocking depth charge of Pentastar to the western apocalypse of Hex to the psychedelic sunrise of The Bees Made Honey. One of the true pleasures of being an Earth fan is getting to follow their evolutionary progress.
This album is not quite like 1996's Pentastar which is the only other album of theirs to feature vocals. For one thing, it lacks the sublime passages of minimalism everyone seems to forget Pentastar has. Instead, Primitive and Deadly feels much more cinematic and epic in keeping with their latest incarnation's sound. The vocals are stretched out across the tracks' vast landscapes like groups of nomads or settlers, and just as they eventually become one with the land, the singing becomes another instrument amidst the guitars and percussion. Speaking of which, Earth is really musically proficient here as the twin guitar work of Dylan Carlson and Built To Spill's Brett Netson screeches and soars. It also manages to chug pretty hard at times; there's an awesome moment at the very beginning where the band goes into full on Melvins mode.
If there's one issue I have with Primitive and Deadly, it's that Earth missed an opportunity to do more with the vocal component. The human voice can be a diverse instrument, and having an emphasis on reverberations (see the Into The Drone documentary on the band) in chants would have been intriguing. Or even just a wider array of singing styles. I'd go so far as to say I wouldn't fault anyone for thinking the vocals were vestigial. Having said that, I personally feel the vocals contribute to an exquisite outcome. The lyrics convey and solidify certain themes and, together with the unique voices behind them, help to establish a palpable mood.
I remember going into the small record shop by my college and seeing that iconic blue skied cover for the first time. It really stuck in my mind. I actually went with Pentastar as my first Earth album though, and I came to know them as artists of pace and timing. Hex just reconfirmed that. When I finally came back to that blue sky, the drones of Earth 2 seemed confusing to me until I realized they too were all about units of time as expressed in oscillations. That solidified my fondness for the band. This year I've been anticipating Primitive and Deadly more than even Sunn O)))'s collaborations. Now that it's hear, I can honestly say I'm not at all disappointed. This is definitely one of their busiest sounding albums, but even with two guitars wailing, the steady drum march ticks off the seconds as they turn to minutes and the guitars as they stretch and expand. Listening to these compositions, I feel as though a solid dissolves or melts, changing form and becoming both new and the same all at once. Or perhaps they're like living beings that mature and grow.
DRCarlsonAlbion - Gold
Fans of Earth who want something more minimal sounding should check out Dylan Carlson's Gold soundtrack. This is a beautiful collection of spare soundscapes that run the gambit from lonesome country western to more abstract drones. In that way, it bridges the gap between younger and older Earth. A solo guitar affair aside from some cymbal or chimes here and there.
Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden
At an intersection between funeral doom and the NWOBHM lies Pallbearer, a group who manages to invoke the spirit of some long lost metal entity like Scald or Revelation, only heavier sounding and catchier all at once. I'm tempted to say this is to doom what Uncle Acid is to 70s inspired heavy rock or Ghost BC is to black metal: almost poppy in its catchy hooks and likely to piss off serious fans of the genre because of it. Which just makes me love it all the more. Either way, Foundations of Burden is a heavy, lumbering beast of an album. The guitars are sludgy as hell. The drums are pummeling. The vocals aren't growls, but they have a sorrowful and commanding presence.
YOB - Clearing the Path To Ascend
Last year YOB's classic doom LP Catharsis was re-issued. It reminded me of my fondness for these guys. If you, reader, want to start off down their path to doomed ascension, I wholeheartedly recommend Catharsis. This year YOB is back with a new album: four tracks, none of them under 10 minutes in length. Clearing the Path To Ascend is also a return of sorts to YOB's groovier and more melodic style which was less present on their last few albums. There's still dissonance and ferocity to be found throughout, but the album gets to some very jubilant places. The tear jerking tail end to "Marrow" in particular sounds triumphant even in the face of "Nothing To Win." Perhaps YOB has finally cleared a path to ascend.
This year has seen the release of many highly anticipated albums. Chief among those is Aphex Twin's first full length album in forever, Syro.
Just knowing this record exists is somewhat surreal. Listening to it is like a homecoming of sorts. I've actually had it since Monday (the 22nd), but I knew it was going to be something special when I heard the preview track "Minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix]" several weeks ago. Turns out it's better than I had imagined. Simply put, Syro is stunning. It puts a creepy smile on my face from ear to ear like its mastermind, Richard D. James. I'm going to need more time to digest the album though. It's extraordinarily intricate, with an attention to detail that reveals the artist's mastery of his craft. For now I'll just wrap this up by saying it's definitely one of the top albums I've heard this year. Expect more on it in coming entries.
Here are some other electronic albums I've been listening to lately:
Venetian Snares - My Love Is a Bulldozer
Breakcore isn't something I listen to often, admittedly. When it comes to Venetian Snares though, I feel an almost compulsive need to hear everything in his discography. To me it's like an ongoing explosion wherein the stylistic center of kick drums and breaks is blown apart in a number of directions. The result is a body of work that's surprisingly diverse given the rigidity of form with which it works. My personal favorites are the spacious interiors of Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding, the seasonal affective dirges of Winter In the Belly of a Snake, and the gruesome, suffocating industrial vignettes of Doll Doll Doll. I also think the higher dimensional island dabbling of his Cubbist Reggae EP is interesting and worth further exploration.
None of Aaron Funk's tendencies as Venetian Snares are so highly regarded perhaps as the neoclassical; to that end Rossz Csillag Alatt Szuletett is seen by many as his magnum opus due to its fusion of noisy junglism and a dramatic score. Whereas that album elevated breakcore to lofty heights, this year's My Love Is a Bulldozer seems to drag the concept of high concept back down. It's hard not to take these theatrics as self deprecating when their avatar is a grandiose painting of Funk as a centaur. Which is not to say there's no sincerity in these tracks, an definite oversimplification of things. The introduction sets the stage in the usual Venetian Snares hell: Winnipeg. From there, Bulldozer progresses with a somber ambiance that gives way at times to ferocious intensity before receding into mistiness again. The album is at its best to my mind when it finds its stride between these two extremes however, lurching with the awkward-but-awesome "Your Smiling Face" or the warbling futuro sounds of "She Runs" and "Shaky Sometimes."
Overall Bulldozer seems somewhat uneven, but when I see the centaur on the cover I feel as though the album was designed with this in mind. Just as any one of its components could be taken seriously on its own, the centaur becomes this ridiculous creature when viewed as a whole. In much the same way, this album takes several electronic and orchestral compositions and crafts an absurdist suite out of them.
Fennesz - Bécs
Endless Summer is one of my all time favorite albums. With it, Fennesz helped change the landscape of electronic music. Thirteen years and a number of other releases later, he returns to the Editions Mego label to release Bécs, To my mind this new album isn't really a successor---even spiritually---to Endless Summer, but it does have the same origin and end points. If anything, it travels along the trajectory of 2011's Seven Stars EP by bringing strummed guitar melodies back to the forefront, only to surround them with blizzards of luminous snow and flashbulb glare. At other times the instruments get overdriven to the point of crumbling like some kind of lovestruck shoegaze Dead Raven Choir. The glitchy micro-worlds of dream logic that bubble up, hang, and pop seem less emphasized now, but they're still very much present on tracks like "Paroles" and "Sav." This gives the album a finish of gradual deceleration.
When it's all said and done, I feel like Fennesz still stands out amongst the crowd. His music retains a glassiness and laptop hewn delicacy that has more in common with the likes of an Oval than the washed sounds conjured by most ambient artists or vapor enthusiasts. It's not a worn picture so much as a worn rock, porous with many tiny little holes from all the erosion.
Vessel - Punish, Honey
Out of inky black silence comes the sound of on old ratty drum, the sticks hitting the rims and each other in a cacophany that grows until it explodes with chimes and sirens. "Red Sex" picks up with its purposeful shuffle, joined by a woozy whining noise that gets contorted into a really catchy hook somehow. Fragments lurch and wobble against a void, eventually receding back into the darkness before something else materializes in its place. Scenes like "Black Leaves and Broken Branches" play out in grayscale with little context, yet still invoke sinister feelings. Any points of familiarity have been distorted in a fun house mirror. Vessel is much more of a nightmarish entity here than on their previous album, the fantastic Order of Noise.
Despite this, there are still moments of beauty to be found in Punish, Honey's surrealist world. "Drowned In Water and Light" sounds like a funeral procession, and its steady electro dirge eventually gives way to smouldering drones. "Euoi" starts off sounding rather spooky, but it settles into a blacksmith-forging-something groove as the restless spirits decide to form a choir and single hymns. "Anima" reminds me of an old PC game were you talk to shady fortune tellers in back alleys.
"DPM" is an eject button of sorts; it's purposeful and mechanized, a means of sending the listener back to reality via the water damaged soundtrack to some 80s cop drama that never existed. In the end, I find Punish, Honey to be a stronger and better built album than Order of Noise as a whole, though it doesn't have as many stand out tracks as the latter. Either way, Vessel's noisy approach to electronica is exciting. It makes for really strong LPs that have a lot to offer in their dark depths.
It's an interesting time to be a Wu-Tang fan. Music journalists had a field day with a rapper loosely connected to RZA who got high, cut off his own genitals, and hurled himself out a second story window. Then there's all the alleged angst over their final album that's in the works. Seems Raekwon got PO'd and refused to be on it. After some back and forth misunderstandings and Interview drama, the two have reconciled to some extent. Last I heard at least. Theatrics aside, Raekwon had a point when he criticized the first single off the forthcoming album. Having heard it, I gotta say it didn't do much for me. Then again Wu-Tang hasn't really done much for me lately with the exception of Ghostface Killah. I still consider myself a fan though. Wu-Tang was my gateway into hip hop (along with Public Enemy), and I remember getting 'The Purple Tape' aka Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx in the 90s. Speaking of which, 'The Purple Tape' was re-issued not too long ago. The cassette tape was literally purple at first, so it was cool to see new purple tapes being made for that album. Nostalgia demanded I get one. That, and a love for amazing music.
Perhaps the most talked about bit of Wu-Tang news though is the other new album: a 'secret album' that they've been working on for years that will exist as a single copy. RZA wants to tour the album in museums for a while, and the idea is to let fans go and hear it there before auctioning the one-of-a-kind album off to the highest bidder. I think that's both an incredibly cool and an incredibly stupid idea. As a fan I'd have no qualms about paying to hear it at a museum, though the rationale of wanting fans to think of music as art by sticking it in a museum is kind of flawed in my opinion. Music is normally not like a painting where you go to see the original; some folks have argued about prints and images on the Internet making paintings widely available, but you can't duplicate the full extent of technique (ie. brush strokes) in two dimensions. Music can be copied; paintings can't. However things are a bit more complicated, because music does exist and thrive in museum settings in the form of sound installations. If RZA treated this one-of-a-kind album as an installation and accompanied it with visuals or some interesting means of hearing it, I think his point would have more legitimacy. In the end though none of that matters because I'm being presumptuous here when talking about art and legitimacy in the same breath. I can only hope that this album doesn't end up in the hands of some eccentric tycoon or Saudi prince who keeps it for himself. A businessman or record exec on the other hand would most likely license it and sell copies. Then again, fans of the band would do the same thing; there's a Kickstarter trying to raise money to buy it, but it's going to be several million short I'm sure.
In other hip hop news, I'm really psyched about Run the Jewels 2.
"Oh My Darling Don't Cry" was released as part of the Adult Swim Singles Program (which incidentally released that new Sleep track mentioned above). You can download it for free. If it's any indicator, the new album is going to be really dope. Oh my!
. - * - . . - * - .
Has-Lo & Castle - Live Like You're Dead
Something about this joint feels really right. Hard to put my finger on it exactly, but I think it has a lot to do with an alchemy between sounding playful but skillful, laid back but forceful. I also found these guys really endearing even though I've never heard anything by them before now. There's an abstract familiarity about a lot of it; I hear shades of other artists I like in both the flows and the production. The latter in particular has an Edan feel at times even though it shuffles along at mid tempo and comes off as more stoner-y in execution. Thankfully this isn't weed rap, though. It's too self aware and has too sharp of a focus for that. Beats and samples have a really strong nostalgic quality to them, but Live Like You're Dead isn't 'retro' in any precious way. It uses the past as a frame of reference for the present's absurdity. The title itself comes from a Malcolm X quote: 'I live like a man who is dead already.'
The flows are often silly but have a critical edge to them; these are rappers who can both see the humor in and feel the headaches of life's absurdities. Some of these tracks get a little too goofy for me to listen to them regularly, however. "Hennessy-Yak" and "The Big Ole @ss" wear out their welcome pretty quickly. The latter actually bumps pretty hard, but there's only so much 'so-in-so's big ole @ss' I can take. In terms of wordplay and references, these guys are pretty impressive. Their style isn't that technical most of the time, but it allows the listener to hear everything clearly. These tracks also make fair use of vocal sampling; using clips of people talking can really drag things down if not done artfully, and it's nice to hear that's not the case here.
Overall, a great record from a great hip hop duo.
Prince Po & Oh No - Animal Serum
Speaking of hip hop duos, this is one of the big ones. I really enjoyed Oh No's Ohnomite album back in 2012 which more or less introduced me to his production skills. On Animal Serum he continues to show his versatility by backing Prince Po, a much-respected hip hop veteran. Pharoahe Monch also joins them on one of the tracks. So yeah. A biggun.
Does it live up to the hype, then? I think it does. These tracks hit hard, as Oh No creates dystopian landscapes for a hungry sounding Prince Po to do his thing. The guest spots on the other hand range from decent to great, but they all mesh well enough with Animal Serum's world. Everyone sounds pissed, and everyone's out for blood. Sonically, there's enough variety to keep this from getting monotonous. "Where U Eat" has a really cool vibe; if lasers could ever ask questions, I think they'd sound like this. "Smash" gets an injection of soul and brass. "Bearz" has turntablism and xylophones. "Starflyer Milez" is an exercise in videogame seduction. There's actually a lot going on here, and it's kind of overwhelming for an entire play through. Those of you who like to sink your teeth into meaty albums and spend a long time digesting it all are in luck. Nice to see that when so many albums are just 'chicken nuggets' of a few hit singles bound by filler.
Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories is now a series. After watching the first episode, 'Hole,' I'm not sure what to think. It's definitely going for a disturbing kind of vibe, relying on T&E's ability to make viewers feel uncomfortable. The original Bedtime Stories was about a haunted house and was pretty goofy. Here's what I wrote about it last year:
On halloween Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories aired. It was pretty damn entertaining. Zach Galifianakis steals the show as he often does whenever he joins them in their antics (psst, check out the ridiculous Absolute Vodka promotions they did together a while back too). In this 30 minute special the trio is forced to live the rest of their lives in a haunted house---y'know, rather than, like, a single night---in order to gain an inheritance of one thousand dollars each. Lots of Three Stooges spoofs, obvious horror props, and indulgence of their respective fixations: Zach once again dons an obscenely large wig and bathrobe while Tim and Eric trowel on the news anchor makeup and dress up in z-list talent-scout-on-cocaine attire. There's one particularly bizarre moment where Zach acts like he's having an off-camera psychosomatic break when his stunt double falls down a flight of stairs; when he tries to explain his problem to the rest of the crew, you can hear the tears welling up in his voice like he's really honest-to-goodness upset and deranged. Which is why I like Zach. The ending is a typical left field thing that smacks of script writers giving up, only it's followed through with a ton of emotional conviction, so it's great. Also really cool hearing Beach House do the theme music.
. - * - . . - * - .
I'm one of the world's worst cinephiles. My film watching has come to a standstill thanks to work, and I haven't even been able to write about what little I have seen lately. A standout was The Comedy with Tim Heidecker. It really affected me, and there's a lot I'd like to say about it. Another film I'd like to talk about soon is Putney Swope.
For now though, here's something I wrote about the film Boy (Oshima,1969):
. - * - . . - * - .
Of all the major names in Japanese cinema, Nagisa Oshima is perhaps the one with whom I'm least familiar. Critics have dubbed him "Japan's Godard," owing to his style's definite New Wave character and a willingness to broach socially uncomfortable topics, though from what I've seen of his output thus far I'm inclined to think of him as "Japan's Truffaut" instead. There's a distinct humanism at work as opposed to Godard's more cosmic philosophical scale, though Oshima's characters maintain a certain impersonal distance and never quite warm the cockles of one's heart quite like Truffaut's. Instead one feels pity for most of them.
Boy tells the story of a family of con artists living in Japan, the incidents of which are based largely on an actual case: a couple and their children eeking out an existence by staging automobile accidents. More specifically, a down-and-out war veteran uses his current girlfriend and his son from a previous relationship to purposefully get hit by cars, faking severe injury in order to pressure drivers into settling without involving the police. It's a risky con both because of the ever-present threat of actual police involvement but also because of the genuine physical harm the woman and young boy face. Of course, the mastermind can't get involved himself because of a supposed and oft cited war injury; it's a cowardly and base arrangement that makes skin crawl, especially given how impressionable the young boy is and how he wants to please his guardians. The performances get more and more daring, the payout bigger and bigger as the family continues to press their luck. Eventually that luck runs dry. A motorist calls them on their bluff by bringing police into the picture, and now---having been seen by local authorities---the fakers get spooked and decide to lay low for a while. During this time, long-simmering turmoil between family members starts to come to a boil, and the rift between the boy's father and his father's girlfriend widens day by day. She wants the stability that, to her mind, settling down and raising a family promises to afford; she sees the cons as a means to an end. For the boy's father a life of crime is itself an end.
Caught up in the middle of this dysfunction is the young boy. Retreating into his inner world, he fantasizes about science fiction heros and advanced civilizations adrift in the far reaches of outer space. His little brother, still a toddler, seems fascinated by these stories and serves as an audience, always asking his older sibling about the aliens. It's a motif that certainly speaks to Japanese kitsch of that era. Scenes of a store display with its human-sized robot and cosmic crusaders advertising hats and other sundries brings to mind the film Giants and Toys (Masumura, 1958) which captures that period of gleeful insanity. I can't help but make parallels between the boy's drawing comfort from such things and the larger cultural landscape using monsters and aliens to cope with the horrors of the atomic age. The boy asks for a yellow hat being advertised by the Lost In Space-style robot, an object that ends up symbolizing his imagination. Later on the film will contrast this with another 'found' item: a rupture in the form of a red boot. Before this however, the hat is trampled on and discarded by the boy's guardians. The world of adults is harsh and impatient. I suppose there's irony to be found in the fact that the father's scheme is itself a fantasy, both in its unlikeliness to succeed in the long-run but also because of the faking involved. There's no tolerance for child's play because it takes away from the playacting that is the boy's 'job' in the eyes of his father. This play---the staging of automobile accidents---begins to mutate into a fixation on injury and death, and the natural childhood drive to test boundaries is corrupted into a sepia toned confrontation between the boy and his own mortality.
The film seemingly hints at the possibility of death as a means of escape. Certainly, when mental diversions are no longer sufficient on their own, the boy is compelled to take action in the physical world. He initially tries running away via Japan's extensive public transport system. Ultimately the plan is ill conceived and doesn't last; it brings to mind Truffaut's 400 Blows, only as an abortive and far more banal rendition. The boy remains stuck in purgatory. Over time however he begins to forge an alliance with his father's girlfriend whom he regards more and more as a mother figure; she too clings to fantasy in the hope of eventually settling down and devoting herself to a more traditional family life. Even this has unfortunate consequences though as it drives a bigger wedge between the two and the father who suspects a conspiracy. In his world, this newfound connection between his son and his girlfriend could only mean they're planning to cheat him or even cut him out of the picture entirely. The girlfriend's ideal family life is simply incompatible with his plans. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this is found in the father's pressuring her to have an abortion. Mortality appears throughout the film, and its relationship to one's hopes and dreams is a centerpiece of sorts. In the beginning for example the boy would amuse himself for hours on end with his daydreams, abandoned and neglected, while pacing in circles around a conical funeral monument. It's an orbit whose revolutions clock the passage of time on an individual level. Death is always there, drawing closer with each pass, but it remains 'fantastic' as an incomprehensible abstract. There is only the suffocating singularity of 'now' for the boy as he sings a traditional folk song; the past, much like a future of aliens and space travel, is for him a trajectory for the imagination. Death itself becomes the subject of fantasy as well.
Later on in the film the boy witnesses a tragic event. It's caused by his impressionable younger brother for whom there is no bluff or reason to flinch from oncoming traffic, for whom there is no playacting, only child's play. The parents flee in horror with the toddler, leaving the older boy behind to confront the aftermath all by himself. Death is now an immediate reality. It now has a face. It remains largely incomprehensible however, and like all trauma it ruptures any semblance of order in one's life. The boy does not flee from it. In what is the first of two extremely moving scenes, he stays at the scene until the authorities arrive. Curiously enough though he's practically invisible with no one so much as stopping to question him. In the silence following their departure, he plucks a single red boot from the wreckage and keeps it on his person. For me this boot is less an overt symbol and more a remainder. When the boy's guardians try to get him to throw it out like the hat before it, the sentiment is not one of intolerance toward the dreams of others, but rather a fundamental incompatibility, like a pin to a bubble. The boot resists integration into the order of fantasy.
The climax of the film occurs, for me, when the boy takes the boot and runs off vowing to never return. His little brother tags along despite his insistence against it, and the two end up in a snowy field. As the toddler watches from some distance, the boy constructs a strange little geometric mound out of snow, setting the boot into it as a centerpiece. He proceeds to explain the significance of the thing to his little brother and to himself. It's an alien from Andromeda. In fact it's the principle alien around whom his fantasies center. With growing intensity of emotion, the boy details the alien's history; the alien is brave because it can live alone without feeling pain. This is the boy's last ditch, pitiful attempt to bring his fantasies to fruition. Confronted by his own inadequacy the boy attacks his creation, and it's at this point that the alien becomes a gravestone of sorts, mirroring the burial mound's conical shape from earlier in the film. The grave is perhaps part monument to the deceased and part monument to the ultimate futility of retreating into childhood fantasy. The boy not only comes face to face with death, but he also must confront the reality of his own painful existence. Unlike his alien hero, he is largely powerless. Yet in some sense the geometric construction remains irreducible and can neither be a solution nor dismissed outright. There is a very real element to it as fantasy just as there is a frightening reality to the exterior surfaces we assume we hide behind. What really dwells beneath? Is the real fantasy not this something behind the fantasy?
After this episode in the snow, the boy recounts how everything worked out in the end. He describes their going to church and celebrating Christmas. They end up moving into a big house. Only we later see them in cramped living conditions as the police arrive. They've been caught. Even to the bitter end though the boy continues the family's ruse in pathetic futility, covering for them with a weary indifference during questioning. Things end in a rather neo-realist way as the family is shown riding together in a railcar surrounded by police. The silence here speaks volumes, as it conveys the seemingly infinite distance that can exist between persons even when they're sitting right next to one another.
The musical score for Boy is appropriately uncertain and cold. It stayed with me for quite a while afterward with its sparsely plucked, angular strings and clinking percussion.
What strikes me as most noteworthy about this film's production is the casting of the boy for whom the film is named. Everything hinges on this role, and the director decided to use an unknown orphan to play the part. His understated performance is carried out with touching sincerity.