Saturday, December 23, 2006

Neko Hits #45

Rolling Stone's top-fifty for 2006 is in, and its not a complete steaming pile of crap. In fact, Neko Case made on this year's list. Not too shabby.

Eno Exhibits Latest Talent with Ambitious Art Show

Musician Brian Eno will debut his light and sound project at a British comtemporary art gallery.

The installation,"Constellations (77 Million Paintings)," is the result of Eno working with software experts to create "a computer programme that continually fuses layers of more than 300 of his 'paintings' to create up to 77 million permutations. The paintings are in the form of slides coated with paint which, when dried, are scratched to produce abstract works which are digitised at high resolution."

Apparently he has put Andy Warhol's Empire to shame: "It has been estimated that it would take more than 9,000 years to watch the entire show at the fastest speed available on the software. The images can change within 15 seconds or at the speed of the hour hand of a clock."

from The Independent

Inflation Is Up

I’ve been noticing strange things this season, apart from the West Coast-like climate (which is itself experiencing an Ontario-like December. Sends chills, but I digress.). Inflation is up. Everywhere. And it’s getting weird.

First, a house on my street has a roughly ten-foot snowman on it’s four-foot “lawn.” Ok, I think, cute, but obnoxious. Whatever. Then I’m walking to a party and encounter an inflated merry-go-round featuring Santa, a snowman, and Rudolf. Motorized. Not ok, not cute, and definitely obnoxious.

What the hell?

And it’s not just the east end or just Toronto. This damn scourge has spread across North America! Why? It’s not attractive or funny, and by definition not innovative or creative. And if everyone’s doing it, it’s not cool. So, what motivates someone to put an inflatable anything on their lawn or roof?

Perhaps the New York Times can provide a clue: “The magic of the Airblown is that you buy it, plug it in, and it’s ready to go,” said Sharlene Jenner, the marketing manager for Gemmy, a company that first made its mark six years ago with a wall-mounted singing fish known as Big Mouth Billy Bass, and began making Christmas floats soon after. “You’re going to make a big statement without 20 hours of work. It’s a lot of decoration for the dollar, in other words.”

Ah, it’s all about convenience and “making a statement.” Of course, that statement is the same damn one everyone and their frigging dog is making…but who wants to stand out from the crowd?

From the same Times article: “A grand tour of some of Long Island’s most ambitious Christmas displays suggests that the inflatable decorations are scarce in lower-income neighborhoods, but they are also rare in pricier places, where the culture of understatement seems to rule: white lights twined with fresh evergreen sprigs, etc.”

I would have to agree with the less-is-more school of thought on this one. I’ve seen the simple strings of light on nearby low-income apartments and I think they hold the same beauty as the simple strings of lights and evergreen on neighbouring high-income houses.

And a simple tug on the power cord will resolve the inflated issue for one night.

Now, about the mechanized carol-singing, hip-swinging snowman at the restaurant at the end of my street. Maybe a call to David Lynch is in order…

Wacky Copyrights

The beloved RIAA just loves to dig itself deeper.

In his article for Stereophile, Wes Phillips writes:
In the heated debate over new digital technologies and their impact upon the traditional recording distribution system, we've grown used to intemperate dialog, but an organization now charges that "mechanical royalties currently are out of whack with historical and international rates."

Here's the twist: The group is the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). And here's the part that won't surprise you: Their solution is to lower the rate they pay music publishers and songwriters for using lyrics and melodies to create sound recordings.

Just keep giving them enough rope...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Pogues-mas

Only four more pouring days left before Seán Mac Gabhan's (Shane MacGowan) birthday. So belly up to the bar now, buy the lad a pint, and get your sorry ass in court to bear merry tidings:

Once we're on that stage we become the troubadours of old, and we make our joyous noise. Afterwards I continue the far more serious business of holding court: whether backstage or back at the hotel. My birthday's the December 25, so congregations of people coming to praise me this time of year have a fitting

via The Guardian

Monday, December 18, 2006

Music in a Nutshell #1

In the past, I’ve reviewed single records at some length; not bloody great essays, but around 350 words more or less. (I’ll leave the book-length treatises to the 33 1/3 authors.) These days, however, I’ve taken to summing things up, giving my first impression based on a handful of listens. One’s headspace and situation (on the bus or in life) plays a huge role in how one experiences music. So if I hate a record today, I may love it to death in a month. And visa versa. So, what I thought I’d do is provide a nutshell first blush at recent purchases.

November 4, 2006:
I'm actually looking forward to getting Yo La Tengo’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass and The Shin’s Winching the Night Away. Meanwhile, I've got The Clash's London Calling on repeat. What a fucking great album! One the best ever recorded. Definitely in my top five. Oh, so good...

November 16, 2006:
My self-imposed "exile" of about ten years means that many "indie" bands of the 90s are new to me. This feels good because the members are about my age now; I'm not being sung to by a squeaky kid for whom the 80s is both a genre and retro. I also notice I'm more open to genres I wouldn't have considered in the past, so that's all new to me now, too.

Nostalgia gets twisted when you buy old stuff in a new format with newly found recordings (Clash special editions, Beatles demo recordings). You sort of change a light bulb on an old lamp to shine a new light on things.

So what do I plan to buy this week? I'm reaching back to last year for the second Interpol release. While this sounds ironic (re: my "squeeky kid" comment), I liked that their first record felt more influenced than carbon copied.

Hmm. I guess you could call this a "hipster replacement."

November 18, 2006:
Well, Interpol was absent from my dealer's bin, but my ears pricked to the sweetness emanating from his speakers. Irene's Apple Bay made my toes tap and my face smile on a grim November day, making the purchase a necessity. According to their website, this is their debut. It has hints of the Smiths, Jonathan Richmond, Velvet Underground, and Reindeer Section. The lyrics are odd. At times they're saccharine then turn frank: "Think about the way we used to meet, dear. Think about he way the sunlight kissed our feet, but your got cold feet...Think about the way we used to touch, dear. And think about the way you used to fondle by crotch. But you got cold feet." (from "Cold Feet"). Oh, those wacky Swedes.

December 2, 2006:
One cannot Christmas shop for CDs without treating oneself. Ok, I can’t. Hell, I have a hard time walking past a record store without poking my head in. So, after I visited the jazz department at Sam the Record Man, I meandered down to the regular section whereupon I clapped my eyes on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. (“For me? Aw, Phil, you shouldn’t have!”) I’ve coveted this record for about a decade. It is definitely in my top ten. Unapologetic, Christmas-y pop goodness. Love me some “Marshmallow World” by Darlene Love. Fabulous stuff!

December 17, 2006:
I picked up Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister (part of my ongoing rebuilding of the backlist). Interesting. A colleague at work calls them "creepy," which I kind of get, but I like nonetheless. This one sounds like a mix of British 60s psychedelia and the Velvets. I'm sure I'll hear more as I spend more time with it.

Movie Review: Down in the Valley

Title: Down in the Valley
Director: David Jacobson
Writer: David Jacobson
Year: 2005 (film), 2006 (DVD)

Every generation of American filmmakers has its idea based on lore about how the West was won. Indeed, the mavericks of western legends range from sheriffs to outlaws, from homesteaders to cowboys. And when the boundaries pushed closer to the Pacific, we can include Oakies and prospectors. With pushers come those who are pushed over: Indians and Mexicans. Down in the Valley takes these characters and flips the genre on its head. The American West was lost. And no one cares.

Ok, one person cares: Harlan Fairfax Carruthers. He misses the old ways. He misses the frontier. And like the cowboy he reinvents for himself, he is alone. Even when he meets the station wagon (covered wagon) full of teens, in particular Tobe. No one understands. And, in keeping with the Western, when the cowboy literally crosses the fence of Tobe’s homestead, there’s hell to pay. Her father, Wade, is the country sheriff. Down in the Valley is rife with these lovely unwitting archetypes.

Writer/director David Jacobson, while not wanting to make a sociological study of his film (see the special features), paints both broad and subtle strokes concerning modernity. The wide vistas sliced by power lines are obvious. But there is a wonderful exchange between Wade and his son Lonnie about gumption:

Lonnie: The meek shall inherit the earth.
Wade: (Laughs) Where did you here
that crap?
Lonnie: Television

All the performances are stellar. Evan Rachel Wood, Rory Caulkin, and David Morse play off each other naturally as a family headed by a single father trying to keep his teenagers out of trouble. Harlan encompasses Edward Norton and moves in his skin with the grace of wind-driven tumbleweed.

The DVD’s special features include a Q&A with Norton and Jacobson with Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers that give some insight into the writing of the script. The deleted scenes answer niggling questions about some minor plot points, but also raise the question of why were some cut in the first place.

Overall, Down in the Valley adds a fine nuance to a beleaguered genre and reminds us that “money is the root of all confusion.”

Take note of the gorgeous soundtrack featuring Peter Salett, which provides the wonderful backdrop.

Movie Review: Erasurehead

Title: Erasurehead
Director: David Lynch
Writer: David Lynch
Year: 1977 (film), 2002 (DVD)

So Sunday I was able to scratch Erasurehead off my list of movies to see. Despite my appreciation of David Lynch’s films, I’ve been reluctant to view this one; its reputation for weirdness intimidated me. However, one thing I want to do in 2007 is whittle said list down to more of a list and less of a chapter.

The fellow at Film Buff confirmed Erasurehead’s weirdness, but assured me it was worth seeing. My money says most viewers imbibed prior to its screening. Not my style, but I did have a can of Strongbow close at hand. It took me close to two hours to finish, so my reaction is sober.

Many have described Lynch’s debut feature film as a masterpiece. I have a hard time with that; how can one’s first full-length film be one’s best? Certainly, it bespeaks of later cinematic ingenuity, but a masterpiece? I think that’s the acid talking.

Erasurehead feels like a young filmmaker with something to say. It’s definitely over-the-top and chock full of symbolism, be it conscious or no. The director readily admits that his life in Pittsburg informed his film: the industrial environment, the constant mechanical noise, the small communities that spring up amidst the machines. Other things crop up. Filmed in black and white, Erasurehead had a classic 1950s feel to it despite its being shot in the 1970s. The atomic-age Woman in the Radiator seemed somewhat Fellini-esque; indeed, the whole picture appeared to be informed by postwar Italian cinema.

Certainly postwar Italy bore little or no resemblance to postwar America, but what I got from Erasurehead is a comment on the American dream. So in this way, it’s a comment on promises unfulfilled. That the promise of a family, a job, a house, a car, and a stable life is a pipe dream: the pipes in the X’s house, the radiator in the apartment, the pipe-style headboard and footboard. Recall Bill X’s comment, “I remember when this was pastoral, before the pipes.” Admittedly, my analysis is very rudimentary and cliché. Nevertheless, I think it’s borne out.

I don’t think the basis of the film is particularly weird; indeed, I think its actually quite normal. Henry works at a boring job, lives an uneventful life, has a girlfriend, Mary X, who he doesn’t see much, and finds out she’s had his child. He meets the family and makes average conversation. It’s the space between that’s discomforting. Conversation isn’t fluffed up with non sequitors to fill the air. Who hasn’t felt strange “meeting the parents”? Mind you, we don’t all have the same eerie experience with chicken, but the meal never feels right, never tastes the same. People always look a little strange. Lynch merely stretched that sensation out—way out.

So the new parents set up house in Henry’s dire little apartment, and we get glimpse at their child, the one Mrs. X calls “premature” and Mary says, “Doesn’t even look like a baby.” Yup. Looks pretty strange and we recoil. But think about it. How strange does it really look? Don’t most parents (usually fathers) describe their newborns as appearing “alien”? They’re wrinkly and wet and red and cry and demand and get sick... Mary’s frustration and sleep deprivation are hardly weird. Lynch just skews them thus. Makes me wonder if he was, in fact, a new dad at the time. He seemed to nail it just right.

There’s lots of other things going on in Erasurehead: the man on the planet, the pencil machine, losing one’s head, etc. But if you really think about it, David Lynch has merely given form to the various neuroses from which we all suffer, and it makes us uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is good because it makes us squirm, which makes us move. Otherwise, we are like he morbidly fat man on the couch and become one in the same.

I highly recommend sitting through the “Stories” special feature on the DVD. Lynch has a wonderful speaking style, which is echoed in his films. His new venture, Inland Empire, did the festival circuit in 2006 and appears to have had a limited release. Hopefully, wider screenings are planned for 2007.