Wednesday, August 22, 2012


 Among the many excellent tunes I have blasting from my speakers right now, the females are impressing me the most. Last year female releases dominated music with Jill Scott, The Joy Formidable, Beyonce, Tune-Yards, Sophie Hunger, Little Dragon, Lady Ga Ga, St.Vincent,Wild Flag, Nneka and many many others. 2012 hasn't shown signs of turning the reigns over to males anytime soon. As Beyonce says in her female anthem Run The World (Girls); "My persuasion can build a nation".

FIONNA APPLE - THE IDLER'S WHEEL IS WISER THAN THE DRIVER OF THE SCREW AND WHIPPING CHORDS WILL SERVE YOU MORE THAN ROPES WILL EVER DO:  Fionna Apple doesn't just redefine dark music with bitter soul, she IS dark music with bitter soul. She owns pain in away few other artists ever have. Pain is her muse and we the audience benefit greatly. Fionna has kept this album a great secret for six years, allowing no press or visitors of any kind. Unique to her approach is the use of only acoustic instruments, as in only real pianos, real drums, and acoustic upright bass. So the result is incredible on the numbers when she goes off into jazz passages. The percussion of the stand up bass echoes beautifully with the resounding boom of her piano, not many pianists can make a piano boom like Fionna! And of course those lyrics..."My heart's made of parts of all that's around me, maybe that's why the devil just can't get around me."

NORAH JONES - LITTLE BROKEN HEARTS: Lookout Fionna Apple, Norah Jones got dark too! Perhaps because this album came after a nasty break-up. She and producer Danger Mouse(who co-wrote and played on the album as well) went into the studio with no songs written before hand. The two collaborated brilliantly on two songs from Rome(Last year's fictional Italian movie soundtrack by composer Daniel Luppi and Danger Mouse).  Little Broken Hearts delivered on Rome's promise. She speaks here about heart break in a much heavier way than anything she has previously attempted. Norah even threatens to kill the female that stole her man!"Now I'm not the jealous type, never been the killing kind. But you know I know what you did, so don't put up a fight." I am so proud of my longtime crush Miss Norah Jones! And Danger Mouse has proven he has consistent brilliance.

REGINA SPEKTOR - WHAT WE SAW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS: This one goes down as the sweetest and most hopeful album I have heard this year. Regina Spektor is optimistic about trauma without denying the weight of life's burdens. Consider the following lyrics: "Love what you have and you'll have more love. You're not dying...Everyone knows you're going to love...though there's still no cure for the crying." Spektor was born in Russia but studied classical piano in New York, this might account for her unique sound. One can hear touches of The Beatles (specifically Abbey Road) , and also circus-like melodies, something you might hear from Doris Day if she hung out with Neil Young. But none of that is to say this is retro. No What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is totally modern in it's concepts and production value. Music for broken hearts that refuse to quit smiling.

EMA - PAST LIFE MARTYRD SAINTS:  I always get a little more curious about just what Erika M. Anderson(EMA) has come up with here. This is an album you can purchase and still be chewing on a year later. I knew I liked it, but I couldn't tell you exactly why or what it was. Her attitude is punk, her sound is hypnotic, with vocals that land between spoken word and a soulful howl - bringing to mind Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Bjork, The Flaming Lips and even R.E.M. There's really only one real rocker on the album, Milkman(also a single), but not once does Past Life get boring or soft. Every song presents a different style and form, there is no uniform structure on the whole. So obviously I still can't figure EMA out, but I can't wait to see what she comes out with next. I am hooked!

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP KINGS - I LEARNED THE HARD WAY: This album came out in 2010 but it could have been released in 1960 on Chess Records. It is impossible not to hear Etta James and Ruth Brown in the powerhouse voice of Sharon Jones. The Dap Kings hail from Brooklyn, NY and have pioneered a revivalist movement of  60's funk and Soul on their own label Daptone Records. In order to achieve this sound they have done away with all digital recording, going with only older analog equipment (a technique also favored by Jack White of The White Stripes) and through using vintage instruments as opposed to updated equipment. Charles Bradley's 2011 album No Time For Dreaming (also on Daptone Records) follows this same format, channeling the sounds of Otis Redding and James Brown. For old school Soul fans this revivalist movement is music heaven!

Friday, August 17, 2012

2011: The Year That Music Got Better! (Pt.2)

More of my favorite picks from 2011:

CUT/COPY - ZONOSCOPE: Zonoscope is the third release from Australian pop/synth band Cut/ Copy. Listening to it I found the reminiscence of early eighties pop kind of spooky. The opening song Need You Now sets the tone for a fascinating New Order-esque retro pop journey that stays strong through the album's closing track, a fifteen minute electronic opus called Sun God.  The hooks are catchy, the choruses fused with Regan-era idealism and more than a replica or eighties rehash band, Cut/Copy seems to have been transplanted through time while riding with Michael J. Fox in his DeLorean. Though Zonoscope is primarily a mellow ride and never really shifts gears , I found the hypnotic trance to be a fun and addictive ride indeed.

FLEET FOXES - HELPLESSNESS BLUES:   Fleet Foxes are one of the bands this past year that "had me at hello". On the first track, Montezuma, singer/songwriter Robin  Pecknold opens with the following lyrics: "Now I am older than my mother and father, when they had their daughter. What does that say about me? Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love, could I wash my hands of just looking out for me." Wow - right? Helplessness Blues is a gorgeous symphony full of introspection and soulful longing set to soaring choruses of harmonies and beautiful acoustic melodies. Think Neil Young on a nature retreat with a copy of Thoreau's "Walden."

THE KILLS - BLOOD PRESSURES:   This is The Kills fourth studio album so they are not newcomers to the scene, but comparisons to The White Stripes are inevitable. A guy/girl duo with a sparse garage rock sound, punctuated by heavy blues beats and raunchy punk rock attitude. The Kills distinguish themselves, however, by taking cues from experimental rockers like The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith. The commanding, seductive vocals of American singer Alison Mosshart interweave flawlessly with the dirty punk rock guitar riffs of the U.K. born Jamie Hince. The result is an ear pleasing, booty shaking, kick in the jugular with a stiletto heel, balls out, rock 'n roll experience.

TUNE-YARDS - WHO KILL:  Mariel Garbus' project Tune-Yards is a storm of looped beats, layered with African rhythms, ukeles, pots and pans from her kitchen (literally!), her own crazy/beautiful vocals, electric bass, horn sections, and anything else she can get her hands on to make a song.  Mariel's  2009 release Bird-Brains was recorded on a handheld voice recorder and self-released on a recycled cassette tape. Tune-Yards' second release, Who Kill, has garnered attention from Rolling Stone, Spin, and the New York Times. This is the stuff dreams are made of kids!  To say Who Kill is experimental is an understatement, but there is also something so warm and familiar about this album. Like good conversation over a great cup of really strong coffee.

JAY-Z & KANYE WEST - WATCH THE THRONE:  Leave it to Jay-Z to point out that Kanye isn't just a pompous ass. He has actual talent.  Niggas in Paris and  Otis(Jay-Z and Kanye rap over Otis Redding's vocals looped to a sick bass beat) are among a few choice tracks, reminding us that often the most talented artists are also the most fun.  Jay-Z and Kanye also take time on New Day to talk to their children about not making the same mistakes they made. We of course get to hear about Beyonce once or twice and then Kanye says about his own child's mother;  "I woulda never let his ma move to L.A. She couldn't take the pressure now we all pray". So it's not all just silliness and that's what makes Watch The Throne a great album and not just this year's guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eyes Wide Shut: Adventures In Dreamland

Kicking off my first movie blog in a while I would like to throw some thoughts down about Eyes Wide Shut.  When Eyes Wide Shut came out I remember hearing something different from everyone that viewed the film. Some hated it profusely calling it overindulgent, incomprehensible, hedonistic and signs that old man Kubrick had gone insane. Many had concluded the latter because of the well publicized fact that Kubrick kept his actors on his London estate for two years during filming.  Others said it was brilliant and a perfect send off for a film genius. I saw the film after it had been out a year or so and I was blown away. I can't say I understood it - but I was happy not to This is a film, like all other Kubrick films, where you have to put yourself completely in the hands of the filmmaker and trust that he is going to guide you along knowledgeably and that he does indeed know where he's going.
That being said, I would like to discuss the meanings of the film, the colors, the plot, and the characters. First of all I feel to accurately view this film you have to look at it as a dream, or a parable. Esteemed critic and writer Roger Ebert calls it "an erotic daydream about chances missed and opportunities avoided".
In the films opening sequence, Doctor Bill and Alice Hartford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) are attending a fancy ball for Manhattan socialites. Kubrick lights the entire scene with white Christmas lights while ballroom music plays softly in the background. Immediately the glow of the lights and music place us in a warm surrounding that also has a floating dreamlike quality. Underneath this warmth and comfort we can sense tension of the unknown.  Cruise is then propositioned by two beautiful women while Kidman is simultaneously preyed upon as she dances with a charming and devilish older Hungarian man. He questions her about her marriage and says: "Is it as bad as all of that?" She replies :"It's as good as all of that." Neither The Doctor or his wife have a reason to doubt their marriage or one another. They don't pause at being propositioned - because they are confident and have their needs met (or so they think.) Then Doctor Hartman is called up to a room where his friend who is throwing the party ,Victor (Sydney Pollack) needs help with a hooker has overdosed. A red pool table is at the center of the room - an obvious symbol here of danger. The threat of danger is getting bolder and now the story is set up for just about anything. That evening, in the privacy of their bedroom, the Hoffman's get stoned in their underwear and Alice tells Bill about a fantasy she had of a sailor she had once passed in a hotel lobby. She embellishes this fantasy to the point of picking a fight with Bill. The cause for this sudden need for a confrontation on their fidelity is unknown, except that it was brought up earlier in the evening and perhaps unearthed some buried feelings and insecurities in Alice. As she talks and continues to poke and antagonize Bill - a strong back light of blue is constantly framing her through the window,  with striking red curtains on either side. Kubrick makes this color choice so bold and obvious we can't ignore it. Blue perhaps representing the depth and mystery of what is happening in this room, and red, the danger of the fire behind it.
After this confrontation Dr. Hoffman wanders off into the night, maybe spurred into action by his wife's fantasy and seeking a fantasy of his own, or maybe just uneasy in his own skin for once and in need of something to comfort him. He goes to a night club - again we see the use of Christmas lights, but this time with shadows and highlights of bright lamps on cocktail tables. The camera movement is extremely important in supporting the "floating" dreamlike qualities of this movie as Doctor Bill is now becoming a bit like Alice in Wonderland.  Kubrick had his secrets that came from his roots as a photographer, and I know they must have been secrets because no one else can make a camera "float" through a room while capturing so much depth of light and shadows. Bill's friend plays piano at the night club and gives Bill the password to an orgy/party, where he must first purchase a costume before attending. This scene and each scene hereafter plays like it's own short film. The characters appear only once, isolated in their individual scenes and these scenes only connect with the rest of the film because Kubrick allows them to.  That's perhaps the key to the dream element of the film's structure. When we have dreams, characters come in and out of the dream with no real connection, sometimes we know them and their relationship to out dream world, sometimes not. Cruise meets a prostitute (with whom he has no sex), a costume dealer who may be offering the services of his young daughter as well as costumes, and then arrives at the films destination -a secret orgy that is about as non sexual as an orgy can be. After Kubrick's death this elaborate sequence was edited for an R rating, though I agree with many others who wish it had been left alone and released as an NC-17. The digital editing blurs genitalia and adds hooded figures to block the activities. The editing certainly interrupts the composition and the depth of the camera's general movement throughout the room. I wonder what Kubrick would have thought of this?

Oddly enough this is the film's most elaborate sequence but what occurs is not really the point of the film. It is the film's destination but it is also not the real destination at all. This is a detour for Doctor Bill, a detour into danger and a necessary detour for himself.  Another unique element of this film's structure, we are lead through a maze and adventure where we feel there is a real threat and danger and we fear for our hero, but when we arrive Kubrick holds on and expands upon those feelings while never truly paying them off.  There is a masked, cloaked figure who rules over the orgy proceedings ,naked women kneel around him in a circle and he chants something ancient and foreboding. Doctor Bill wanders through the mansion, taking it in, exchanging mysterious words with a few of the attendees.
The true destination, is home...when Doctor Bill arrives home, back to his port. This is also the film's most controversial moment.  Nothing has really been resolved but before going to bed he finds a mask, identical to the one he wore at the orgy. The mask is on his pillow next to his sleeping wife. The colors in the room are blue and purple - moonlight coming through the window. No reds, no yellows. Now is the time for those of you who have read this far to give me your opinions and insights as to what you think this means. Kubrick certainly left this open. What does the mask mean? Was she at the orgy? Does she know where he went? Is this her way of saying we are okay now that you are safe and home. I think Kubrick ended this film on a high note of warmth and comfort because we and the character's deserved it. This was a scary journey and The Hoffman's are safe in the shelter of their marriage. Kidman said she saw the film as optimistic, and I completely agree. What are your thoughts readers?