THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Damned United

The Damned United
directed by Tom Hooper
written by Peter Morgan, based on the book by David Pearce
Cast: Michael Sheen (Brian Clough); Timothy Spall (Peter Taylor); Colm Meaney (Don Revie); Jim Broadbent (Sam Longson)
(Sony Pictures Classics, 2009, 97 minutes)

When It Reigns, It Pours

I saw this great film, penned by hottest-Brit-screenwriter-of-the-moment Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and starring hot-Brit-actor-of-the-moment Michael Sheen (he played Tony Blair in The Queen and David Frost in Frost/Nixon), at the Landmark over the weekend. I like British soccer and my girlfriend likes British films, so it wasn't a hard sell to get her to go to a movie ostensibly about the Leeds United football club and the dismal 44-day reign in 1974 of its enigmatically brilliant-cum-destructively megolomaniacal big mouth manager Brian Clough (pronounced "Cluff" as in "rough"), a former star striker (251 goals in 274 games for Middlesbrough and Sunderland) who at one time was called the Muhammed Ali of British football for his brand of brash trash-talking.

Besides, though my GF Amy would much rather watch Cops or the Home Shopping Network, she'll tolerate watching soccer games if Ray Hudson's announcing ("I like that crazy Geordie guy - he's funny!") or if Chelsea or Tottenham are playing - the former because she loves the band Madness and singer Suggs wrote the anthem "Blue Day" for his East London heroes...

Suggs Song Blue

...the latter because she loves their Shakespeare-derived name Hotspur (although everyone just calls 'em "Spurs"). She also likes Stoke City because their team name is The Potters (after the pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent) and Hull City because they make her think of the Rutles song "Finding Your Bride in the Arms of a Scotsman from Hull." Plus she loves all the drunken singalongs in the bleachers and will start laughing the minute she hears a good "Here we go" or "Who are you?" from the stands. So, like I said, it wasn't a hard-sell.

I knew nothing about Clough or the Leeds United "glory years" of 1961-1974 when they dominated English football under manager Don Revie, but I remembered liking Leeds in the early Noughties during their last spell in the top-flight Barclay's English Premiere League - right before financial troubles at the big club finally saw them relegated to the minor leagues in 2004. (They currently toil in the 3rd-tier League One.) Under manager David O'Leary (1998-2002), Leeds routinely finished in the EPL's top five and I loved his lineup, which before financial woes included Robbie Keane, Alan Smith, Jonathan Woodgate, and Australian superstars Harry Kewell and "The Duke," Mark Viduka. I'll never forget seeing "Super" Viduka score four goals to single-handedly lift Leeds over Liverpool 4-3 at Elland Road in 2002. (It's hard enough to forget Viduka as is, because he bears an uncanny facial resemblance to comedian Fred Willard!)

Separated at Birth: Willard and Viduka

Super Viduka's 4-goal spree against the Reds

The big man's deft touch and ability to hold the ball up while being muscled in the box made him the definitive back-to-the-defender striker, the likes of which are only seen today in the form of Chelsea's Didier Drogba or Barca's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

But I digress...back to the film, which despite all this talk of football isn't really so much about kicking a ball around as about things like male bonding, interpersonal relationships, ego and one man's Capt. Ahab-worthy obsession - not to mention that particularly Anglo "us vs. them" fixation about Northern vs. Southern that dominates all aspects of British sport and culture (whether it turns up in Morrissey lyrics or in rivalries like Mancunians Oasis dissing Londoners Blur). The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips saw the film mainly as the story of a rocky marriage between Brian Clough and his lifetime assistant coach and best friend Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall of the Harry Potter films and BBC TV's The Street). In fact, it was Phillips insightful review "Small Soccer Tale Pays Off Big" (reprinted in last Friday's Baltimore Sun) that sold me, the soccer fan, on this film being more than just an 11-on-11 kickabout. His words, reprinted below, do more justice to this fine film than I am capable of.


Small soccer tale pays off big

by Michael Phillips
Tribune Newspapers critic
October 16, 2009

In most sports movies the big moments are big: Robert Redford's star-spangled mega-homer in "The Natural."

By contrast the best of many good scenes in "The Damned United," a winner for soccer fans and soccer idiots alike, is a small one. Brian Clough, one-time English footballer turned failed manager of the Leeds United club, spends a match alone in the changing room. Through smeared windows we see, and hear, the crowd roaring approval in between tense, uncertain passages of time. Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in "The Queen" and David Frost in "Frost/Nixon," portrays Clough, and he's marvelous, suggesting warring strains of confidence and doubt in his nervous pacing and darting eyes.

Sheen dominates director Tom Hooper's vivid examination of arrogance, pride, Humpty Dumpty-size falls and self-rehabilitation. He is not, however, the whole show. Drama is a balancing act, and one of the great strengths of screenwriter Peter Morgan lies in the way he juggles characters and shifts the expected emphasis from one playing field to another.

Morgan's work for the screen often pivots on a shadowy antagonist, as with dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" (which he co-wrote), or with Richard Nixon in Morgan's own adaptation of his play "Frost/Nixon," or with British royalty as embodied by Helen Mirren in "The Queen." The same strategy applies in "The Damned United" and its use of Don Revie, the successful manager of Leeds United before Clough's disastrous 44-day tenure. The reliable, granite-like Colm Meaney does a fine job with Revie's sneers and smiles, but it's not his story. Nor does "The Damned United" devote much screen time to how Clough and his invaluable assistant manager, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), went on to glory with the Nottingham Forest club.

Rather, Morgan sticks to his dramatic guns and gives us Clough, in present-tense 1974 and flashback sequences, as he realizes how much he needed Taylor, and how much his Leeds players detested him. The crucial story here is about a marriage dissolving and then reconstituting. Clough and Taylor are the symbolic spouses (they had real ones as well). "The Damned United" reminds us that backstage characters often have the most to tell, and Sheen and Spall are both first-rate character men who happen to be tackling leading roles.

The grim Yorkshire weather is captured just so by cinematographer Ben Smithard. The movie gives you its little dose of triumphalism in a coda, but one of the chief virtues of this unusually honest sports film is its determined focus on the losing before the winning, and the hard lessons to be learned from it.

Oh, as a postscript, I have to mention that while attending this weekend's Sherlock Holmes Society event at the Enoch Pratt Central Library, I sat behind a guy wearing a yellow-and-white English football scarf for...Leeds United! I had never seen anyone wearing Leeds gear in all my time in all the soccer bars in Baltimore until that Saturday afternoon. Something must be in the air...a strong Yorkshire draft coming across the pond to Charm City. Anyway, I told the guy about the movie and he was excited...

Private Eleanor

Private Eleanor: On top of the world

Thanks to the Enoch Pratt Central Library's local music collection, I just discovered my favorite local band: Private Eleanor. And as luck would have it, they no longer exist. Typical me: I don't miss my water 'til my well runs dry. The album I heard was their fourth and final recording from 2007, Sweethearting. As the band is currently on hiatus, it remains their swan song in absentia.

Private Eleanor
Beechfields (2007)

The band's introspective dreampop sound has been compared favorably to everyone from American Analog Set to Yo Lo Tengo, with nodding winks along the way to Big Star, The Go-Betweens, Mojave3, Red House Painters, Elliott Smith, and Wilco. Me, I hear SF's Sneetches in there for some reason. Whatever musical signposts they point to along the way, Private Eleanor's sound is (was?) definitely Twee with a capital T. And I like that. I mean, how can you not love a band that names an album Deciduous?

PE performing live

Though they've gotten some good national press, my favorite description of Private Eleanor comes from the Baltimore City Paper's Jess Harvel, who's a good a music writer as there is around town:
"Private Eleanor makes music so perfect for solitary drives on the cusp of late night/early morning that you want to rewind back a decade and listen to the band's music on an unlabeled C90 in your old beater's tape deck...The drizzly, cinematic sweep of Stahl's road-weary, twentysomething heartbreak is more sharply observed than ever, set to a lush swirl of bells, vibraphone, Hammond organ, and Rhodes piano meticulously arranged for the tingling of spines, crisply recorded and hitting all the band's now well-established sweet spots...Each song works beautifully as a little standalone slice of baroque indie-pop."
- Jess Harvel, Baltimore City Paper

PE performing live at Fletchers

According to the band's blog circa June 2009, leader Austin Stahl recorded a solo record that's available for free download at AustinStahl.net.

"It's a record I made by myself at home, just for fun (much like the earliest PE stuff) but I liked it enough to want to share it with you. This is the first music I've ever released under the name Austin Stahl. Go download it! If you like Private Eleanor music at all, I think you'll enjoy it." Heads up, Stahlinists!



Private Eleanor's back catalog is now available digitally at their digital store: privateeleanor.bandcamp.com.

Their first three records had never been available digitally, until now... And their first album, Deciduous (2002), had been out of print completely, unavailable in ANY form, for over five years. As Austin Stahl says, "Well, we've remedied that at long last. Go get them all!"


Here's the band's press bio from the Beechfields record label.


“Built upon sturdy melodies and the type of harmonies rarely practiced these days, they dared to be genuine and pretty, hurt and poppy, confused yet direct. They made pop that the likes of Teenage Fanclub and Mojave 3 would happily call their own.”
—John Foster, BrightestYoungThings.com

Private Eleanor was a band from Baltimore, Maryland, who over the course of little more than five years was responsible for four records of unfashionably lovely folk-pop. For now, they’re on indefinite hiatus, having left behind little but those remarkable records – full of sly hooks, sparkling textures, and evocative, poetic lyrics as good as any you’re likely to hear.

Songwriter Austin Stahl began the band on a four-track cassette recorder in the bedroom of a Baltimore rowhouse, crafting a pair of intimate albums with the help of a rotating cast of friends. Stahl was soon hailed as the city’s best songwriter by the local City Paper, and began performing live with a full-time band. The higher-fidelity No Straight Lines followed in 2005, gaining slightly wider release (via Maryland label The Beechfields) and earning critical accolades on a national level (75orless.com called it “the final album Elliott Smith should have made.”). Before long, the band was bringing its subtle, harmony-laden pop songs to half-empty rooms throughout the nation.

Sweethearting was released in 2007. Recorded and mixed with the help of T.J. Lipple (Aloha) and Chad Clark (Beauty Pill), the album was performed mostly live in the studio, and showcased more than ever the vocal harmonies between Stahl and fellow singer Marian Glebes. The shifting backdrop provided by Chris Merriam (drums), Bruce Sailer (bass), and Drew Stevens (Rhodes/piano/organ) made for the band’s most varied and sonically deep record – at times the hushed vocals and vintage keyboards call to mind American Analog Set; other moments resonate with the quiet emotion of Ida or Red House Painters; some of the louder, catchier songs could pass for Yo La Tengo tackling your favorite Big Star tunes. It was the band’s best-received record to date, but they were unable to tour behind it and went on hiatus soon after.

As of this writing, Private Eleanor has no current plans to perform or record. Two new compilations feature what are, for now, the band’s final recordings: Love Goes On, a tribute to Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens, for which Private Eleanor was chosen to contribute a cover of the title track; and This City of Neighborhoods, a new compilation from the Beechfields Record Label.

The Beechfields Record Label
P.O. Box 6732
Towson, MD 21285



Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shepherds of Berneray

The Shepherds of Berneray
a film by Allen Moore & Jack Shea
(Canada, 1981, 54 minutes)

filmed and edited by Allen Moore
conceived and produced by Jack Shea
narrated by Finlay J. MacDonald
executive produced by Robert Gardner
principal characters: Kate Dix, John Ferguson, Angus Beag MacLeod, Angus and Chirsty Ann Munro, John and Christine Munro

The original Ram's Head, Live - from Berneray!

Last night I was among a handful of cineastes that were treated to a special screening of Allen Moore and Jack Shea's 1981 documentary The Shepherds of Berneray at the Hexagon on N. Charles Street. The event was the latest offering in Miguel Sabagol's continuing "Free Wednesday 16mm Film Series" at the Hexagon, which the Baltimore City Paper named "Best Multi-Purpose Space" in its 2009 Best of Baltimore issue.

Allen Moore

I only heard about the screening because, in addition to being an award-winning cinematographer for Ken Burns and a well-respected film instructor at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, Allen Moore is also a regular patron of the Enoch Pratt Central Library, where he often pops in to check out titles from our 16mm film collection. So when he mentioned last week that he was screening one of his films at the Hexagon, I had to give props to a filmmaker and lenser that I greatly admire. I wasn't disappointed. At the risk of sounding like a hyperbolic fanboy, I think film historians will rightly rank Moore's cinematography alongside that of the all-time great lensmen. And, beyond knowing how to frame and present "pretty pictures," Moore is also an accomplished director and editor, at least from I've seen of his own films.

Small wonder then that the film - made with funds from The Film Study Center, Harvard University, The Highlands and Islands Development Board of Scotland, and The Scottish Arts Council - won a CINE Golden Eagle, a Red Ribbon at the American Film Festival, and a Special Mention of the Jury at Cinema du Reel. Soon after completing The Shepherds of Berneray, which was shot over 12 months from May 1978 to 1979 and took another 18 months to edit, Moore received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in Filmmaking from December 1982 to November 1983.

So what and where is Berneray? Quickly searching the Internet for a Wikipedia article, I learned that Berneray (Scottish Gaelic: Beàrnaraidh, from Old Norse for "Bjorn's island") is a small island to the north of North Uist in the Sound of Harris, Scotland.

It is one of fifteen inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides, measuring 2.5 acres with a population (as of May 2009) under 124 permanent residents. It is famed for its rich and colourful history which has attracted much tourism - including Charles, the Prince of Wales, who in 1987 visited the island to live a normal Berneray life as a "crofter" (small-scale farmer). (Prince Charles lived and worked with a crofter for one week and his visit spawned the 1991 television documentary, A Prince Among Islands; he returned to the island in 1999 to formally open the causeway connecting Berneray and Otternich on North Uist). Its main industries are fishing and sheep, but because seafood is a valued export to the mainland, the island's lifeblood is its sheep. Hence the focus of Moore's remarkable film, which documents one year in the life of the sheep and their Gaelic-speaking (and singing) keepers, split into seasonal chapters.

Berneray: Shaped like the headstock on a Fender guitar

The documentary begins and ends with an elderly woman (Kate Dix) speaking in her native Gaelic (thank God for subtitles!) outside her croft, a perfect bookending of the year's journal. Moore's print looked absolutely pristine and flawless, with nary a scratch on the screen. Shooting with a non-synch sound Bolex 16mm camera, he was able to follow the shepherds and their flock through every nook and cranny of the island, capturing both its natural beauty (the gorgeous blue skyline and shoreline in summer, the blooming flora in the spring) and the raw unpredictability of its stormy, wind-swept winters.

I liked his editing touches, little things like the footage at the island's church where the minister reads "The lord is my shepherd" to the shepherds, and the sheep point-of-view shots when they are being dipped into an anti-tic bath.

My fellow Pratt librarian (and fellow film geek) Marc Sober was also in attendance, and I knew the avowed vegetarian was in for a rough viewing experience during the no-holds-barred footage depicting the inevitable killing and eating of sheep (the islanders eat a lot of mutton - they save the tasty lobster for export to the mainland and the $$ it promises in return). As was the Maryland Film Festival's Eric Hatch, another vegetarian I spotted, sitting in front of Marc Sober (I'm pretty sure I saw Eric looking away during the more grisly segments!).

Moore leaves nothing out as far as documenting the sometimes harsh lifestyle entailing by living off sheep on a remote island. There's the birth and death of sheep, branding the flock by cutting off part of the ear, the inevitable wooly-bully sheep shearing, even an "old school" cirmcumcision of a ram by an old-timer who bites off the skins and spits it out! (I'm glad I ate before the screening and not after!).

Remarkable as the natural beauty of Berneray and Moore's cinematography are, the film is more than just a visual record of a remote land and people. Key to its translation of Berneray's culture is the poetic language of its people, which Moore captures not only in the Gaelic monologues of grande dame Kate Dix (who, Moore said afterwards, unfortunately passed away before the film's completion), but in the native folk songs of Mary MacAskill, Duncan MacKinnon and Christine Munro, and the poetry of the Bard of Berneray, Duncan MacLeod of Besdaire (1906-1980).

"Moore has become renowned in filmmaking circles for the way he portrays the intimate relationship of a culture to its environment, a vision he calls primarily poetic," wrote Baltimore Sun critic Linell Smith. He was referring to Moore's award-winning 1990 film Black Water (co-directed with Charlotte Cerf), which documented an artisanal fishing village in northeastern Brazil struggling to survive the impact of industrial water pollution, but he could just as easily have been talking about The Shepherds of Berneray. For Moore is an ethnographer as well as a photographer and documentarian, one just as interested in understanding the best way to present a foreign culture as a lensman is interested in the best way to present images to the human eye. Like his camera, Moore's eye is unflinching, direct, and true. And the impressions he leaves on our eyes are indelible.

Related Links:
Isle of Berneray website
The Shepherds of Berneray @ Internet Movie Database
Scottish Screen Archives
Allen Moore's MICA bio
Allen Moore @ Florentine Films
Black Water @ Icarus Films

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Woe is Poe On Film?

Are Poe's short stories best served by shorts?

In today's Baltimore Sun, Chris Kaltenbach penned an article ("Macabre movies miss the mark") about the dearth of quality film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's tales. While Kaltenbach liked Jules Dassin's 1941 adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart (which is available as an extra in Warner Brothers' The Complete Thin Man DVD boxset), he regretted that it was only 20 minutes long, lamenting that most feature film adaptations - usually by Roger Corman during his reign at AIP - missed the mark, though he gave a grudging pass to Corman's Nicolas Roeg-lensed 1964 version of The Mask of Red Death.

It's an interesting debate, one that makes me think that Kaltenbach was onto something. Maybe the master short story teller was best served by the short film medium, and maybe The Tell-Tale Heart was the Poe story best translated to film. In that case, here's a shout-out to my favorite Poe short, the 1953 UPA animated version narrated by James Mason.

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)
Directed by Ted Parmelee
Narrated by James Mason

This Oscar-nominated short is essential viewing for Poe afficionados. It surprisingly comes from UPA, the studio whose animation style is most often associated with Mr. Magoo cartoons (as well as Gerald McBoing-Boing, for those who remember him!). James Mason's narration is inspired and atmospherically pitch-perfect! It captures the mood, tone and feel of Poe's story perfectly and is an incredible piece of work. Director Ted Parmalee also helmed a critically acclaimed adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes (1953) and went on to direct many TV episodes of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

Watch it here:

For some reason this short turned up as an extra on the 2004 DVD release of the feature film Hellboy.

OK, while we're on the subject of Tell-Tale Heart shorts, another of my favorites for your consideration - though it takes outrageous comedic liberties with the Poe tale - is Jill Chamberlain's (much sought after) Poe-meets-Sex-in-the-City spoof The Tell-Tale Vibrator.

The Tell-Tale Vibrator (1999)
Written and Directed by Jill Chamberlain
(USA, 9 minutes, color)

"Let's just say that the title says it all in this provocative and extremely funny film"- RISD Film Festival catalog

I first saw this at the MicroCineFest in 1999. It played the festival circuit that year, winning the Jury Prize for Best Screenplay at the Atlantic City Film Festival and Best Short at the Saguaro Film Festival. As the title suggests, this humorous short tells the story of a single woman who, when her parents come to visit her in her new apartment in New York City for the first time, becomes unnerved by the tell-tale, albeit familiar, buzzing sound coming from her bedroom bureau.

Does anyone have a copy of this (hmmmm, Skizz?)? I remember it being really funny.

Related Links:
UPA's animated Tell-Tale Heart (YouTube)

Friday, October 23, 2009

American Psycho: The Mix Tape

"Hit play baby!"

I watched American Psycho (2000) when it was on TV a few nights ago. It's a fun film, as far as over-the-top black comedies based on novels by Brett Easton Ellis go, with a number of great quotes - like Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)'s Worst Pickup Line Ever ("You're a fucking ugly bitch. I want to stab you to death and then play with your blood" - c'mon, has this line ever worked, fellas?) - but what was most memorable to me wasn't all the severed heads in Bateman's fridge or all the bodies hanging on meat hooks in his closet. No, the most shocking aspect of the film (and book) was Patrick Bateman's music library: Phil Collins, Huey Lewis, and Whitney Houston. Yes, I know: surely this is tell-tale signs of a sick and twisted mind!

To see a video montage of all of Patrick Bateman's monologues about his favorite musical artists, click here.

And here, for all you text lovers, I give you the American Pyscho Mix Tape, a Populist Manifesto of Song:

1. Genesis - "Susudio"
(from the 1986 LP Invsible Touch)

Patrick Bateman: Do you like Phil Collins? I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn't understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where Phil Collins' presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group's undisputed masterpiece. It's an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. (Christy, take off your robe.) Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. (Sabrina, remove your dress.) In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. (Sabrina, why don't you, uh, dance a little.) Take the lyrics to "Land of Confusion." In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. "In Too Deep" is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as anything I've heard in rock. (Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole.) Phil Collins' solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like "In the Air Tonight" and "Against All Odds." (Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it.) But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is "Sussudio," a great, great song, a personal favorite.

2. Huey Lewis and The News - "Hip To Be Square"
(from the 1987 LP Fore)

Patrick Bateman: Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?
Paul Allen: They're OK.
Patrick Bateman: Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercial and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far much more bitter, cynical sense of humour.
Paul Allen: Hey Halberstram.
Patrick Bateman: Yes, Allen?
Paul Allen: Why are their copies of the style section all over the place, d-do you have a dog? A little chow or something?
Patrick Bateman: No, Allen.
Paul Allen: Is that a rain coat?
Patrick Bateman: Yes it is! In '87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.
[raises axe above head]
Patrick Bateman: Hey Paul!
[he bashes Allen in the head with the axe, and blood splatters over him]

3. Whitney Houston - "The Greatest Love of All"
(from the 1985 LP Whitney Houston)

Patrick Bateman: Did you know that Whitney Houston's debut LP, called simply Whitney Houston had 4 number one singles on it? Did you know that, Christie?
Elizabeth: [laughing] You actually listen to Whitney Houston? You own a Whitney Houston CD? More than one?
Patrick Bateman: It's hard to choose a favorite among so many great tracks, but "The Greatest Love of All" is one of the best, most powerful songs ever written about self-preservation, dignity. Its universal message crosses all boundaries and instills one with the hope that it's not too late to better ourselves. Since, Elizabeth, it's impossible in this world we live in to empathize with others, we can always empathize with ourselves. It's an important message, crucial really. And it's beautifully stated on the album.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Greatest Mix Tape Ever

That there independent music the kids are listening to nowadays, seriously...you would never understand. I'm going to ride my fixed gear bike to the copycat - Vol. 1
A Tophat Production (2009)

My friend Chris Schatz just made me the best CD "mix tape" ever, the sarcastically named That there independent music the kids are listening to nowadays, seriously...you would never understand. I'm going to ride my fixed gear bike to the copycat - Vol. 1. It's great because this two-disc compilation saves me the headache of deciding which of today's Generation YouTube bands I need to check out, as I only know three of the bands in Chris's superlative mix, specifically Of Montreal, Dengue Fever, and MGMT (and the latter only because their "Time To Pretend" is used as a theme song on cable TV's Sundance Channel). But with a primer like this, I'm ready to jump on the listed bands' respective bandwagons.

Thanks, Chris! You rock!

Here's the song tracking - and beautiful accompanying packaging - of this epic Photoshop production. I've only listened to the first disc so far, because I like to listen to stuff over and over until I get sick of it, but so far the standout tracks to me are The Faint's "The Geeks Were Right" (from their debut album, Fasciinatiion), Be Your Own Pet's "Becky," and twee-twangers Tullycraft's hilarious "Georgette Plays a Goth."

That there independent music - Vol. 1, Disc 1

That there independent music - Vol. 1, Disc 2

"They are young and on the edge of this extraordinary Baltimore..."
That there independent music, inner sleeve

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Fat Mattress

Hey, I forgot to mention in my Globe Poster posting an important detail about this Jimi Hendrix poster...namely, the band listed in the lower right as the support act: The Fat Mattress. Despite the dumb name, which sounds like some jam band, the Fat Mattress is actually a rather significant band for Hendrix completists, as it was the folk-rock side group Noel Redding formed during his time as the bassist in the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

According to Wikipedia, Redding formed the group in 1968 in Folkestone, England, with vocalist Neil Landon. Redding played guitar and also sang, with the band rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Jim Leverton and drummer Eric Dillon. The band released two albums, Fat Mattress (1969) and Fat Mattress II (1970), before splitting up in 1970.

According to a reviewer of their first album on Amazon,
"What the listener got with Fat Mattress was a solid, sometimes folky/woodsy, sometimes mystical rock band - very English and very stripped down, without pyrotechnics or pretensions. Songs like "Mr. Moonshine," "She Came In the Morning" and "All Night Drinker" (with Chris Wood of Traffic fame lending his flute, giving the song a style similar to early Jethro Tull) could have been staples on FM radio had the album been properly promoted. If you're at all into this type of music and wish to hear some of the little post-Experience music available by the late Noel Redding, you owe it to yourself to dig for this one."

Related Links:
Richie Unterberger's Bio of Fat Mattress (allmusicguide)
Fat Mattress (Wikipedia)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me

and Other Astute Observations

Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations
A Decade's Worth of Cartoon Reporting for Reason Magazine
by Peter Bagge
112 pages, Fantagraphic Books (2009)

I've loved Peter Bagge ever since I started reading his Buddy Bradley and Hate comics back in the Nineties when Seattle's hipster grunge scene was reigning supreme. Post-Hate, Bagge dropped below the radar for a while, had kids, and became a libertarian ("the other 'L' word" in his words). But regardless of his politics or life situation, Bagge has always maintained a critical eye for pretentiousness and pomposity - whether it be from the left or the right - as this collection of comic rants from his Noughties stint at Reason magazine ("the magazine of free minds and free markets") makes clear.

The book is organzied into thematic chapters of comtemporary American stupidity - Stupid Sex, Stupid War, Stupid Business, Stupid Arts, Stupid Politics, Stupid Tragedy, Stupid Boondoggles - culminating in "Our Stupid America." Bagge is even-handed enough to follow-up a dig at war protesters (with whom he sympathizes in idealogy if not execution) with an even harsher lambasting of pro-war zealots, and he even takes his libertarian chums to task - including his beloved Ron Paul ("In Search of the Perfect Human Being") - but what struck me most was his take-down of modern art and artists in "'Real' 'Art'" (Reason magazine, August/September 2004). They already made a movie out of Daniel Clowes' lampooning strip "Art School Confidential" but had Terry Zwigoff elected to make a documentary instead of a narrative film, he might well have used Bagge's cruel observations as source material. Brilliant stuff. I'm sure the old school folks at Baltimore's Schuler School of Fine Arts would be proud!

Real Art, page 1

Real Art, page 2

Real Art, page 3

Real Art, page 4

The Long Goodbye

directed by Robert Altman
MGM, 1973, 112 minutes
Cast: Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson, Mark Rydell

It's Fall, my favorite season and the time of year when I revisit the things I love most...like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels. Spying a new edition of Chandler's best, most mature work The Long Goodbye (1953) at Daedalus Books & Music, I quickly devoured it. It was one of the few Marlowe novels that wasn't pieced together from short stories Chandler had previously published in pulp magazines (a cherry-picking technique he called "cannibalizing" his own narratives).

Chandler's late great masterpiece

The following week at Daedalus, I saw the DVD reissue of Robert Altman's 1973 adaptation of The Long Goodbye, starring Elliott Gould at the height of his anti-Establishment, anti-hero popularity (Little Murders, Getting Straight, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, M*A*S*H), and picked it up, remembering only that I liked it when I saw it some 20 years ago. It's a command performance, Elliott's favorite in fact, but with Chandler's rich prose still fresh in my mind from reading The Long Goodbye, I was somewhat irked at the liberties taken with the source material.

Style Over Narrative

Then I realized that Altman, like Chandler, was always someone more interested in style - and especially language and characterization - over narrative. For his part, Chandler even admitted as much when, during the filming of The Big Sleep (1946), a confused Howard Hawks (besieged by his head-scratching script-writers William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett) contacted Chandler to ask who exactly killed whom and the author famously replied that he himself wasn't sure! Likewise, Altman was only attracted to the script of The Long Goodbye when he was given the assurance that he could cast Elliott Gould as Marlowe and that he could tack on his own, anti-hero ending. So, purists beware, if you want adherence to Chandler's novels and dialogue, watch Bogie in Hawks' The Big Sleep or Dick Powell in Edward Dmytryk's Murder, My Sweet (1944). (Interestingly enough, The Long Goodbye and Hawks' The Big Sleep shared the same scriptwriter, Leigh Brackett - though she passed away before Altman's film was released in 1973).

And Altman, who wasn't interested at all in faithful adaptations of someone's else's work, was more interested in the idea of what it would be like for an Old School '30s and '40s-era hard-boiled romantic like Philip Marlowe (for that's what Chandler considered him and Marlowe even describes himself in The Long Goodbye as "a romantic...I hear voices crying in the night and I go see what's the matter") to be placed into the middle of the sexually liberated, New Agey hippie landscape of 1970s Southern California. In fact, "Rip Van Marlowe" was his working title for The Long Goodbye. And he gave Gould, like all the actors he worked with in his career, free reign as far as improvisation. "I make them do the work...do what they're trained to do, to act," he said.

So after Elliott Gould has been finger-printed at the police station and wipes the ink all over his face while doing a blackface impression of Al Jolsen, it's a total ad-lib. Gould's Marlowe is an update for sure, but his sarcasm and attitude are firmly in the Marlowe tradition of the '30s and '40s. But even in his day, Chandler considered his P.I. a throwback, a "man out of time" who is out of synch with the values surrounding him - or in Chandler's words, "this strange and corrupt world we live in." "Nobody understands me," Marlowe tells Mrs. Loring in The Long Goodbye. "I'm enigmatic." Another character in the novel, the Latino thug Mendy Mendez, seems to sense this too when he refers to Marlowe as "Tarzan on a big red scooter" - that is, someone out of his element, stubbornly clinging to his archaic vine (and values) in a mechanized modern age.

And the rest of the casting is inspired as well, with Nina Van Pallandt as the blue-eyed ice-princess wife Eileen Wade, Sterling Hayden as madcap alcoholic writer Roger Wade (a second, but excellent, choice following the death of Altman's good friend Dan Blocker), the menacingly meek Henry Gibson as the quack Dr. Verringer, and former Major League Baseball pitcher (and Ball Four bad boy author) Jim Bouton (great '70s Jiffy-Pop bouffant!) as Terry Lennox. But Altman's most brilliant casting coup was signing Mark Rydell to portray the loony sociopathic Jewish mobster Marty Augustine (this character was a complete Altman-Brackett invention, standing in for and expanding the novel's Hispanic gangster Mendy Mendez). I love Rydell's first encounter with Gould when he tells him he "should be keeping shabbos" instead of wasting his time with a schmuck like him. And, of course, the scene in which he and his thugs take their clothes off - while attempting to force Marlowe to - so that no one has anything to hide behind in their interrogation (a scene also featuring a non-speaking but pectoral-flexing, cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger as a bodyguard!). I wonder if Gould's quip in this scene - after Rydell says he used to be self-conscious about taking his clothes off because he didn't get his first pubic hair until 15 - about how Marty must have felt like one of the Three Little Pigs, was also an ad-lib. Hilarious scene and vintage Altman.

And speaking of traditions, the Hollywood studios have a long one of mis-marketing their releases. The Long Goodbye was no different. When the film opened in Los Angeles and Chicago, the original poster for the film showed Gould holding a gun and looking like a classic Bogart-era gumshoe with the tagline "Nothing says goodbye like a bullet." It was an anachronistic pitch to a genre (and audience) that just wasn't happening in the post-Easy Rider 1970s American cinema.

Another poster showed Gould with a cat on his shoulder and cat food in his hand, a gun sticking out of his pants and a ciggie stub sticking out of his mouth, and Nina Van Pallandt walking her dog in a doorway. The tagline was "I have two friends in the world. One is a cat. The other one is a murderer." This tough guy neo-noir pitch tanked with audiences as well.

The cats, dogs, gats and blondes poster

Altman complained about the posters and the producers came up with the idea of getting Mad magazine's legendary cartoonist Jack Davis to come up with a hipper poster. One that reflected the irreverent, sarcastic "no heroes" spirit that Elliott has mastered in th early '70s. The result, shown below, was used for the film's New York release where, suddenly, the film "killed," in Altman's words.

Jack Davis' poster for "The Long Goodbye"
ensured its cult status

"We did great box office but by then it was too late." And so The Long Goodbye missed out on being a commercial success but gained its long-running status as a cult film in the process. Thank you, Jack Davis!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rachel Getting Married ** 1/2

Rachel Getting Married
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Sony Pictures
USA, 2008, 113 minutes

Jonathan Demme seems like a cool guy, but while he makes good movies, he's never made a more than one great feature film outside the domain of his obvious first love: music. His concert films - like the Talking Heads doc Stop Making Sense, Neil Young: Heart of Gold and Storefront Hitchcock - are remarkable, but other than Silence of the Lambs (and possibly the Oscar-nominated Philadelphia, which I've never seen), his narrative feature films never quite hit the mark for me. (Full disclosure: I've never seen The Agronomist, Demme's 2003 documentary about Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist Jean Dominique - which is supposed to be great.) Case in point: 1986's Something Wild, a cult-ish film which had a great soundtrack and started off as a wacky romantic comedy filled with interesting characters only to run out of steam (and ideas) the last hour as it reverted to being a predictable crime movie. It was like two different movies. The moment was lost somewhere.

That said, I rented Rachel Getting Married last night from my grocery's store's Red Box vending machine. It's good, the music's great (as usual), and props should have gone (and did) to star Anne Hathaway who, like Kristen Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long (a French arthouse import that was also, surprisingly, available for Red Box rental), is asked to stretch as an actress by playing an unlikeable character and - here's where the craft comes in - make audiences care about her. That takes some chops, and Hathaway has them. But right off the bat I thought her co-star, veteran TV actress Rosemarie DeWitt (Standoff, Mad Men, United States of Tara) - who plays Hathaway's sister, the titular "Rachel" who's getting married - was better and on the male side, Bill Irwin was terrific as the "Can't-we-all-just-get-along (at leat until the wedding's over)?" dad. Mather Zickel kind of annoyed me, though, not because he was bad, but because he just looks looks too damned much like a young George Clooney - and I find that distracting.

Speaking of distractions, that's what derails Rachel Getting Married from being more than just another "good" film about dysfunctional families with good ensemble acting. As a director, Demme is sometimes addled with attention deficit. The most obvious distraction is the whole music thing. Much was made about the musicians that appear in the film - TV On the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe is remarkably good as the groom Sidney (though his best performance is in 2001's Jump Tomorrow), and others get cameos as friends (Fab 5 Freddy) or wedding musicians, including Robyn Hitchcock, Tareq Abboushi, Demme's son (playing "Here Comes the Bride" on electric guitar a la Hendrix playing "The Star-Spangled Banner"), and various other notables I shoud know but don't because I'm not that hip. The music's good, the musician cameos are cool, but so what? They don't add anything. They're a nice touch, but...distracting! (Demme also gives cameos to some of the 9th Ward folks he met while filming his 2007 New Orleans mini-series Right To Return: New Home Movies from the Lower 9th Ward.)

Likewise, Demme gets distracted with pacing - the wedding testimonials go on way too long, the 12-step meeting confessionals go on too long, the wedding party celebrations go on too long, the teary feel-good hugs across the aisle between the two ethnically diverse families - because he can't decide where to cut. And the result is, as with Something Wild, "the moment is lost." Same with the narrative. At the start ofthe movie, Ann Hathaway's Kym character goes to a 12-step meeting where she meets Mather Zickel. Later, hen she arrives at her family home, there's Mather Zickel who, it turns out, is the groom's Best Man. Cut to a basement scene where Hathaway and Zickel are shown fucking. But then, other than a few supportive lines from Zickel to others about "how hard it is for rehabbers to deal with family," that whole narative thread slips away. More lost moments.

OK, now to Hathaway. She's really good in this film, but 90% of her acting early on is chain-smoking (in a most "unglamorous" way!) and snarling...and the plot has her inevitably get behind the wheel of a car after a predictable contretemps with her aloof mater familias Debra Winger and even more predictable car crash (having in the past killed her brother after driving off a bridge while zonked out on drugs, it's the "relapse" crash we've been waiting for the whole movie)...but all that's been done before in every other rehab/relapse tearjerker on the Lifetime Channel. No, the scene that really got to me, and the scene that makes the movie and doesn't "lose the moment" comes after the crash. Hathaway returns home, cut and bruised like she's auditioning for lead zombie in Return of the Living Dead (as pictured below), and esilently nters her sisters's room.

Anne Hathaway after a Goth makeover

DeWitt looks at her broken down little sister and neither sibling says anything. Cut to a silent, trembling Hathaway in a bathtub, being cleaned up and fixed by her sister. It's a poignant, touching moment, and no words or over-acting taint the moment. It looks and feels real. And it makes the film for me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tokyo Gore Police ** 1/2

Tôkyô zankoku keisatsu
Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura
Japan, 2008, 109 minutes

"The Japanese have singlehandedly fine tuned the art of making freakishly bizarre cult movies that defy logic." - General Disdain, thecriticscritics.com
On the recommendation of my ex-GF Elisa (who has impeccable good taste - except when it comes to men like me), I added this to my NetFlix queue. Here's the cartoonish plot summary from IMDB: "Set in a future-world vision of Tokyo where the police have been privatized and bitter self-mutilation is so casual that advertising is often specially geared to the "cutter" demographic, this is the story of samurai-sword-wielding Ruka and her mission to avenge her father's assassination. Ruka is a cop from a squad who's mission is to destroy homicidal mutant humans known as "engineers" possessing the ability to transform any injury to a weapon in and of itself."

Now when she suggested it, E probably was thinking back to the days when we would laugh out loud watching similarly themed Asian gorefests like Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky and, to be sure, I would recommend it as a great background flick at a large party. If you want gore, look no more. But these days I'm past being shocked by gross-out gore films of this ilk. I've seen Riki-O, Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo, the Iron Man and even more recent vintages of the genre such as Robert Rodriguez' Planet Terror. I've been there, done that, and I'm sated thank-you.

Not that there isn't much to recommend in Tokyo Gore Police. This movie is stylishly directed, beautifully shot, smartly edited, and stars Eihi Shiina (the creepy acupuncturist from Takashi Miike's Audition, a former Japan Chanel model and a captivating presence of whom director Yoshihiro Nishimura has said, "She is the only actress in the world who can look so beautiful just standing in the midst of a gushing spray of blood" - which is high praise, indeed), but at 11 minutes shy of two hours it overstays its welcome; it should have ended after about 70 minutes. The special effects and make-up people had too much say in the final product. (OK, I just Googled the director;s name and found out - surprise! - his background is in make-up and special effects!) If you've seen one decapitated torso gushing blood geysers, you've pretty much seen 'em all and don't need to see the trick repeated a half dozen more times. We get it: gross, right?

To see Audition's captivatingly strange Eihi Shiina...

...one must also watch lots of this

Director Yoshishiro Nishimura makes a number of nods to Western films and directors (especially Lynch and Dali), from Darryl Hannah's kicking/screaming death scene in Bladerunner to repeated references to Paul Verhoeven's fake commercials in Starship Troopers. Of the latter, I loved the hari-kari knife ads and the "Wrist Cutter G" ad targeting trend-conscious teenage schoolgirls:

That said, Tokyo Gore Police isn't for everyone, as its gore borders on the pornographic. So if the sight of a genetically mutated penis shooting out of a guy's pants like a bloody, javelin-sized sheesh kabob sounds a little too extreme, this one's not for you (having already seen Tetsuo and Urotsukidôji: Legend of the Overfiend, I merely yawned and fetched a beer; the Japanese - like many male porn stars - love the penis-as-weapon motif). As critic General Disdain observed "This blood infused nod to a George Orwellian future proves [the Japanese are] still on a plane of existence few can think of ascending to." Or would want to! In fact, right after seeing this I read The Onion spoof article "Japan Pledges To Halt Production Of Weirdo Porn That Makes People Puke" and I thought, that's about right as far as the extreme Japanese film mindset goes!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Best Pratt Sounds of 2008

One Librarian's Media Advisory

Inspired in equal parts by my friend Chuck, a library regular who writes the music blog Pratt Songs (which features reviews of the records he checks outs from Enoch Pratt's Central Library), and my former co-worker Tyson (who ordered many of the records lauded in Pratt Songs), I decided to jump on the end-of-year "Best Of" bandwagon and list my personal picks for the best records I checked out of Pratt Central's Sights & Sounds Department last year.

I List It Myself

These aren't necessarily new albums released in 2008, merely the best ones I checked out from the Pratt's impressive music collection. They are listed in no particular order and serve as my attempt at a listening Reader's Advisory for those occasions when a patron asks me, "What do you recommend?" or "What have you heard that you like?" (It happens.)

Best Pratt Sounds 2008

  2. (Spoon Records, 2007 reissue)
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    Tago Mago is arguably the best album by Krautrockers Can and certainly their most experimental, with two songs clocking in at 17 and 11 minutes each. It was was originally released on vinyl as a double LP in 1971 and was the first studio album featuring "vocalist"/frontman Damo Suzuki (who replaced the nervous-breakdown-bound Malcolm Mooney). Pratt also owns Can's follow-up to Tago Mago, 1972's Ege Bamyasi.

    (Soul Jazz Records, 2007)
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    This great compilation from the fine-taste arbiters at Soul Jazz Records takes a look at the UK's DIY movement, an independent music genre that flourished in the post-punk era. Its 22 tracks span the years 1977 to 1986, and while a few are obvious or familiar names (Buzzcocks, Scritti Politti, Swell Maps, Throbbing Gristle, Thomas Leer) the rest were complete unknowns to me - but pleasant discoveries, like Kleenex's "Ain't You" and Patrick Fitzgerald's "Babysitter." Sonically, it's a mixed bag, from primal low-tech punk doodlings to to experimental synth noodlings, with funk, dub, electronica and synth-pop to boot. I blogged about it previously (and in more depth) in "Forward Into the Past."

  6. (Hotpie & Candy, 2000)
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    This is easily the blackest, baddest, funkiest, sweetest soul music I've ever heard. But it's by the whitest of whitebreads - Germans!. Hotpie & Candy was a small German label (a subsidiary of Soulciety Records) that released a series of singles between 1992-1995. All of these releases were by a band from Munich called The Poets Of Rhythm whose members included the very un-soulful-sounding Teutons Jan Whitefield, Max Whitefield, Boris Geiger, Till Sahm, Malte Müller-Egloff, Wolfgang Schlick, and Michael Voss. This German funk band (consider that oxymoronic term: German Funk!) recorded under various pseudonyms (Bo Baral's Excursionists, Bus People Express, Karl Hector & The Funk-Pilots, Mercy Sluts, The, Mighty Continentals, The, Neo-Hip-Hot-Kiddies Community, New Process, The, Organized Raw Funk, Pan-Atlantics, The, Polyversal Souls, The, Soul Sliders, Soul-Saints Orchestra, Soul-Saints, The, Syrup, Whitefield Brothers, The Woo Woo's), releasing albums in the guise of "compilations" by "Various Artists" between 1992 and 2002. Ha! Don't be fooled like I was. Despite their tighter-than-James-Brown sound, the Poets remained relative unknowns outside of Deutschland until they were discovered by DJ Shadow in 2001; Shadow helped bring them to the attention of London's Ninja Tune records, where their Define Discern release reached a broader Western audience. For more info, see my blog post "Kraut Funk."

  8. (Astralwerks, 2006)
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    For the longest time I ignored this CD, until I realized it was affiliated with James Murphy of the very clever LCD Soundsystem. In fact, DFA Records is the New York City-based independent techno/electronica record label founded in 2001 by Murphy along with Tim Goldsworthy and Jonathan Galkin. (According to Wikipedia, the label's original name was Death From Above Records, but was changed to DFA following the September 11, 2001 World Trade center attacks - for obvious reassons!). Because DFA has an distribution deal with EMI, they get to remix a number of major label acts, including the Chemical Brothers, Le Tigre, Hot Chip, Gorillaz, Goldfrapp, Nine Inch Nails, and Fischerspooner. I thought this was going to be nothing but same-sounding techno babble, but it's surprisingly good and full of variety.

  10. (Astralwerks, 2006)
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    DFA's follow-up remix edition is even better. Listening to Le Tigre's "Far From Home" while chugging coffee really gets my engine running during the morning commute.

  12. (Minty Fresh, 2006)
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    I love this record of snappy French pop-punk sung by the very skinny, very sassy, very sexy chanteusse Isabelle Le Doussal. I thought they were relatively obscure until I saw a TV commercial using "Je Ne Te Connais Pas" to sell BMWs! Advertisers must like this Prototypes-for-commercial-success band because their "Who's Gonna Sing" was previously used to hype the Apple iPod Shuffle. My fave tracks are "Gentleman" and "Danse Sur La Merde" ("Dance On the Shit"). If you like Plastic Betrand, perky pop or sexy French girls (and who doesn't?), you'd like this album too.

  14. ( Soul Jazz Records, 2002)
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    Rather self-explanatory: Reggae meets Disco. And it works, especially on Blood Sisters' "Ring My Bell" and Carol Cool's "Upside Down." Plus Reggae meets Hip-Hop with Xanadu & Sweet Lady toasting away on "Rapper's Delight" and Reggae meets R&B when Derrick Laro and Trinity give Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" the dancehall makeover. Good times, mon, good times!

  16. (Soul Jazz Records, 2004)
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    This is "disco" before it became a pejorative term associated with John Travolta, polyester pants and wide open collar shirts. Yes, there was a time when it was cool (and more R&B/Soulful)! In fact, Gallery impressario Nicky Siano - Studio 54's most famous DJ - preferred the terms "dance music" or "house party" for the legendary underground soirees held at his SoHo loft. Artists represented here include Genie Brown, The Temptations ("The Law of the Land"), The Supremes ("I'm Gonna Let My heart Do the Walking"), The Trammps ("Love Epidemic"), The Isley Brothers ("Get Into Something"), The Bar-Kays, Bill Withers, Gloria Spencer, vernon Burch, Loleata Hollway, (Delaney-less) Bonnie Bramlett (!?), Brenda and the Tabulations, and Exuma and Zulema (the latter of which sound like skin diseases). Oh, and a Pointer Sisters song "Yes We Can Can" which pre-dates Barack Obama's slogan by some 25 years!

  18. LIVE AT THE OLYMPIA, PARIS 1971 (Polydor, 1971)
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    Listened to this while stuck in a monstrously long line at the vehicle emissions center and it helped me overcome my stuck-in-park road rage. This live concert captures the Godfather of Soul at the height of his powers, with a tight band (including Bootsy Collins on bass!) and hilarious band interactions. Standout tracks include Phelps "Catfish" Collins' scorching guitar solo on "Ain't It Funky Now" and JB's vocal mania on "Sex Machine" (why this classic, with its invocations to "Get on up! Get on the scene like a sex machine!" hasn't been used in Viagra ads is beyond me - too subtle perhaps?). I was giddy by the time the technician hooked up my exhaust pipe, and not from the fumes.

  20. (Columbia/Legacy, 2005)
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    The soundtrack from Martin Scorcese's definitive Dylan documentary. Exactly the kind of exhaustive musical retrospective you'd expect from fanboy Marty.

  22. RARE AND UNRELEASED 1961-1991
    (Columbia, 1997 reissue)
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    Being a Dylan devotee, I already had this, but I was happy to see the library get all the Bootleg Series releases. This 3-disc one is the best (I especially love "Mama You Were On My Mind" and "Suze (The Coughing Song)," an instrumental punctuated only by Dylan's phlegmatic hacking at the end, of which he comments "That's, uh, the end"), which is saying a lot considering subsequent Bootleg Series releases include the 1964 Philharmonic Hall concert, the legendary 1966 Royal Albert Hall show (which elicited the famous cry of "Judas!" when things turned electric), and the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

  24. (Warner Bros., 2003)
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    Sometimes you need some relaxing, ambient background music to chill down with after a long day at work. This is that music. I hadn't explored Metheny's back catalog until I saw him on Elvis Costello's talk show Spectacle, but I figured that if Elvis vouched for him, he must be OK. Once again, Elvis did not steer me wrong. Instead of the jazzy fusion stuff for which he is better known, this is straight ahead acoustic virtuoso material. Dare I say it? It's beautiful.

  26. (Rev-Ola Bandstand, 2007)
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    I had only heard of Mickey Baker thanks to my friend Kenny Vieth, who played me Baker's 1950s Mercury Records session work when he was backing Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five - the standout track was "Caldonia '56," a remake of Jordan's '40s hit that transformed the jump blues original into pure, unadulterated rock 'n' roll. It was one of those guitar sounds that, the minute you heard it, you knew it was the work of a stylist, someone different from the pack - like the first time you heard Hendrix, or Carlos Santana, or Roger McGuinn. A sound unlike all others. Unique. "Caldonia '56" is rightly included here, along with selections representing Baker's work in a number of genres, including country, blues, R&B, rockabilly, rock 'n' roll and, of course, his 1957 Top 40 hit as Mickey & Sylvia "Love Is Strange" (a tune written by Bo Diddley and featuring Sylvia Vanderpool, who would go on to be an '80s rap proponent at Sugar Hill Records).

  28. (EMI, 1996)
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    I'm just glad the library has at least one Hawkwind record (thanks Ty!). The Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London was the UK space rockers 1973 live album, which famously features "Sonic Attack" (written by sci-fi author Michael Moorcock and narrated here by Robert Calvert) and an iconic LP cover by radical Brit graphic artist Barney Bubbles that looks like something out of a Kenneth Anger film. You gotta love a record that has songs/concepts like "Orgone Accumulator" on it!

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    I'm still exploring this one, but right off the bat I was fascinated to hear something other than the usual samba and bossa nova beats coming out of Brazil. Apparently there was a pretty happening post-punk scene in Sao Paulo in the '80s (does this mean there was also a punk scene in Brazil? If so, I also missed that the first time around), including acts like As Mercenarias, Patife Band, Gang 90, Chance, Harry, Akira, Gueto, Cabine, Muzak and Smack. And I had to hear what a band that calls itself Fellini sounds like (the answer: Fellini-esque!).


  32. ANTHOLOGY 65-73(Trojan, 2005)
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    I was never really a fan of formulaic Reggae, but Ska's a different matter, and this is pure '60s ska. "Storm Warning" is the signature outstanding song, but fun TV and movie-themed ditties like "El Casino Royale," "Batman," "Napoleon Solo" and "Top Cat" also stand out on Disc 1, which is dedicated to Trinidad "Rock Steady" guitarist Lyn Taitt's work with the Jets. Disc 2 anthologizes his later work with other ska and Rock Steady artists.

  34. (Daptone Records, 2007)
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    I had never heard of Sharon Jones until I saw a short film at last year's Maryland Film Festival about the aftermath effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (Ben Mor's Help Is Coming) that had a smokin' soundtrack that seemed to fit the city's musical heritage perfectly. The spunky funky song I remember liking was by none other than...Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings! I subsequently learned that the Dap-Kings were Shanghaied by Amy Winehouse to be her backing band in the studio and on the road. This is sassy and brassy neo-soulful fun, sung by a woman whose Old School voice knows from world-weary experience, with "Tell Me" the standout track for me.

  36. (Downtown Records, 2008)
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    Thanks go to my gal pal Bridget for recently turning me onto this one. I had repeatedly looked at the cover - which featured a woman of indeterminate ethnicity (African-American? Hispanic?) spewing gold out of her mouth - and wondered what it was all about. But it took Bridget burning me her copy to clue me to its wonders. I don't know how to classify the music much beyond the library catalog's own generic designation of "underground dance music." There's some dub, some electronic beeps and buzzes, some rock, some pop. And the lyrics to the lead-off single "L.E.S. Artistes" ("You don't know me/I am an introvert, an excavator") were inspirational enough to provide Bridget with the name of her blog. I'm so hopelessly out of it as far as new music goes...I subsequently learned what everyone else in the world already knows: that Santogold is the stage name of of Philadelphia singer Santi White and that her songs have already been deemed democraphically hip enough to be used in commercials for Bud Light Lime, VO5 hair products and video games. Santi White has a great voice - she sounds unlike any other contemporary singer to these ears - and her music is what I imagine Beck would sound like if he took female hormone pills. This is fun and upbeat pop ideal for commuting.

  38. (Hollywood Records, 2006)
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    I usually hate these popular TV show soundtracks that are filled with tracks by the type of soundalike indie rockers that make up college radio playlists, but this one stands out for including Go Set Go's "I Hate Everyone" - the best song I heard all year and the one musical manifesto I would claim as my theme song for life ("Some stupid chick in the checkout line is paying for beers with nickles and dimes/And some old man clipped some coupons and argued whenever they wouldn't take one/And all I wanted to buy was some cigarettes but I couldn't take it so I just left..."). And this is just the "clean" radio version! As I listened to more of the album, I also starting digging Ursula 1000, the lounge music project of DJ Alex Gimeno, whose "Kaboom" sounds like Pizzicato Five sampling Serge Gainsbourg's "Comic Strip" with Japanese singer Izumi Okawara (of J-popsters Qypthone) doing her best Brigitte Bardot impression. Another DJ turned pop star, Anya Marina, sings like Ginger on Gilligan's Island in the way-clever "Miss Halfway" ("All my friends in LA got jobs on Melrose Place/I play Replacement songs and sigh "Waitress in the Sky"). Also delighting my ears were KT Tunstall's acoustic "Universe and U," blue-eyed soulster/Target pitchman Jamie Lidell's evocation of Otis Redding on the rhythm-and-bloozy "Multiply" and The Chalets' "Sexy Mistake," which conjured up memories of Veruca Salt singing "Seether" (too bad these Irish chicks disbanded last year: Erin Go Blah!)

  40. (Interscope Records, 2008)
    Check this item in Pratt catalog

    Last, but certainly not least, is Beck's latest to round off my Top 20 year-end countdown. Thanks go again to my friend Bridget for clueing me in to this return to form by the world's only cool Scientologist. Don't get me wrong - I love Beck, but his last couple of releases were hit-or-miss affairs to me (sorry, I missed hearing The Information other than "Nausea," which the local college radio station played ad nauseum; everytime I tried to grab it somebody else checked it out), with nothing approaching the sweep of such flawless albums as Odelay and Midnight Vultures (the two Beck works I find myself most enamored of to this day). But this one is solid, Jackson. Modern Guilt, produced by Beck and Danger Mouse's Brian Burton, features two collaborations with Cat Power and standout tracks in "Orphans", "Gamma Ray" and "Youthless" and the moody "Chemtrails." And the title song may just be my secondary theme song ("I have modern guilt/I'm ashamed of what I've done" pretty much describes my days as a public access TV producer!). OK, I'll backtrack and try out The Information now (hey, I finally caught up with Lost by watching four seasons in the last two months) so I can once again be engaged with Contempo Pop Culture.