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Archive for January, 2010

Backed by Ninja Tunes records, hip hop producer Blockhead, better known to his momma as Anthony Simon, has been making killer solo albums since 2003. His latest album The Music Scene harkens back to the hypnotic trip-hop experimentation of his debut (Music By Cavelight). Tracks like Daily Routine and It’s Raining Clouds are so deliriously eerie that you almost fear for those gorgeous strings. What if the guitars tear them down? What if the percussion blasts beat them into a senseless pulp? This is not one of those instrumental hip-hop albums that you play in the background to make social conversations less painful; this is the stuff that conversations are built around.

*****

Surfer Blood really love their guitars. Most indie rock bands are too bemused by their own eclecticism to give a hoot about those clean-sounding guitar riffs around which glam rock and grunge gratuitously fornicated (incidentally leading to the birth of Nineties alternative rock). These lads from West Palm Beach have kept it simple on their debut Astro Coast. A meaty riff to kick things off, a hasty verse here and there that leads to hastier choruses and yes, more riffs. No mish mash of electronica, no turntablism and certainly no front man hogging the spotlight with his Robert Plant impersonation. Just Surfer Blood and their fucking guitars. Three other guitar-driven albums you ought to listen to – REM’s Monster, Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight and Dinosaur Jr’s Farm.

*****

Now-defunct Company Flow once comprised MCs El-P, Bigg Jus and Mr. Len. Their 1997 debut album Funcrusher Plus was a cult favourite, especially for those who were just about to pledge their allegiance to Cannibal Ox. Filled with dystopian verses that require a second listen to decipher and gnarly Lynchian samples, it acted as precursor to industrial hip hop (which never really took off). The Fire In Which You Burn is a favourite of mine, with mechanical beats wrapping their legs around a lovely Sitar sample while EL-P, Bigg Jus and J-Treds from Juggaknots spit razor sharp rhymes about top seeded tennis players, terrible surgeons and enlightened apostles. If Cannibal Ox had never released Battle for Asgard, If David Lynch ever gets bored with Trent Reznor, he should Company Flow a try.

*****

I don’t think I fully understand TV On The Radio. Much like Animal Collective, they seem keener on escaping genres rather than focusing on the music itself. With Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone leading jazzy sing-alongs and the rest of band curiously fiddling with curious instruments, their music is at least surprisingly tight for its lack of a genre. Dirtywhirl, from the Return To Cookie Mountain album, however is one track I’d go out of the way to recommend. A rumbling bass note sets the pace and Adebimpe sings out-of-breath “Oh there is a murderess amongst us, her love is a violent spiral, hurling in upon us, conjured up at the birth of the world” and just as the cowbells kick in with faux vocals whispering, “dirty little whirlwind, defender, destroyer, I found you”, you know this will only get better with further listening. Ahem I think I’m going to give TV On The Radio another listen.

*****

Hailing from one of those kooky British counties (Wokingham), The Cooper Temple Clause were a modern progressive rock sextet that you’ve never heard of because (a) they split up in 2007 (b) you can’t get over Dream Theatre’s Pull Me Under (c) many of you are under the impression that progressive rock didn’t survive the Nineties. Shelve every Porcupine Tree album you own and save yourself from the ignominy of recalling those ghastly Mike Portnoy drum solos. Progressive rock has er…progressed. Their first two releases – See This Through and Leave and Kick Up The Fire And Let The Flames Break Loose – bring back memories of Radiohead’s OK Computer with its gorgeous shifts in tempo and lazy vocal arrangements that threaten intensity when the music picks up pace. Hell you don’t even have to appreciate this genre to listen to tracks like Murder Song. A slight fascination for the way music transcends itself just to give us something different to listen to would do just fine.

Watch

Blockhead – It’s Raining Clouds

Surfer Blood – Harmonix

Company Flow – The Fire In Which You Burn

TV On The Radio – Dirtywhirl

The Cooper Temple Clause – Murder Song

Buy

Blockhead’s The Music Scene

Surfer Blood’s Astro Coast

Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus

TV On The Radio’s Return To Cookie Mountain

The Cooper Temple Clause’s See This Through and Leave

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Home Movie: I was looking for an appropriate response to Christopher Denham’s Home Movie. It eluded me until a week ago when I met an eccentric antique collector, Mr John Moses, in Kilpauk. Proudly standing in front of his vintage 1937 model Madras-made bicycle, he said “You can beg, borrow, steal or afford the latest Mercedes or Porsche, but you can’t get your hands on my bicycle unless I decide to sell it…that might not sound like much, but it should definitely count for something”. In the same vein most Hollywood directors can throw up thrills and chills in their films, backed by celebrity actors, deep pockets and given the fact that technology is more or less wasted on making stuff bigger and sharper than they already are. However it takes a special kind of director to craft such a thrilling film with a shoestring budget and unrecognizable talent. Christopher Denham has done just that. Using home-made video footage to document the Poe family’s descent into a frighteningly real nightmare, the director creates a superbly tense atmosphere that doesn’t quite let go until the last scene. The cast is fantastic too; despite the little acting that was actually required, they do a real nice job of drawing our attention. The children, Amber Joy Williams and Austin Williams, were so creepy that I expect every one of you to beat the tar out of the next hippie who tells you, “Oh think about the children”. Adrian Pasdar and Candy McClain are also equally convincing as their freaked-out parents who aren’t quite sure what to make of their dastardly kids.

Home Movie is not only better than other ‘footage found’ horror films such as Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project (yet to see Lake Mungo), but also stays truer to this genre by downplaying visuals and staying away from convenient dramatism. The reason why people are raving about those while ignoring this far superior film is because people are stupid enough to fall for viral marketing. Another theory of mine is that people are wankers. Whatever. Go watch Home Movie.

Big Fan: Patton Oswalt has been known in the industry for a few things, but acting has never been one of them. Matter of fact, the absurd cameos he has in comedy films have been his claim to errr sort of fame. He’s been that guy whom the audience looks at and thinks “oh isn’t that the guy who slips on a giant rubber eel and falls into a tub of noodles in that Ben Stiller movie? Man that was so funny”. Cackling quietly, they’d then second guess themselves almost instantly…”Or was that an Adam Sandler movie?” This is why Robert D. Siegel’s Big Fan should turn out to be a really big deal for Patton Oswalt. Not only has he acted his chubby little heart out, but he’s pouched a lead role in one of 2009’s best films. Oh yes, Big Fan had the biggest heart out of all the films released last year and for a film to be in possession of one without harboring any sugary sentiments to either its storyline or a few of its characters almost constitutes to a fucking miracle.

The plot of the film is quite simple. Paul Aufiero, a downbeat parking garage attendant who is also an obsessive New York Giants football fan, has his life wrecked after his favourite sportsperson in the while wide world beats him up very badly at a nightclub. From then on his life becomes a shameful struggle instead of just being what it has always been – comfortably numb. First, Giants star player Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) is sidelined after the incident, which only means that his team is going to suffer for it. Then there is the assholish rival team supporter ‘Philadelphia Phil’ (Michael Rapaport) who has another reason to trash talk Paul on his favourite radio show. Worst of all, he has to deal with a family which already considers him a subliminal loser. Some of dialogues he shares with his mom (Marcia Jean Kurtz) are so cathartic that it almost difficult to listen without flinching (you don’t have to be a 40-year-old nihilist to know that having to fend off questions from your mom about masturbation is painfully embarrassing).

Kevin Corrigan gives a decent performance as Sal, Paul’s best (only) friend and fellow Giants fan. Its been a while since I have seen onscreen buddies not give in to clichéd emotional responses such as hugging and saying shit like “you and me, we are going to get through this, man” when things go awry. These are just few of the nuances in Big Fan that makes me say shit like “the film’s got a big heart” but then again Robert Siegel also wrote The Wrestler, so I don’t feel as big of a dumbass as I rightfully should. For what its worth, hands-down, the most likable anti-feel good movie of 2009.

1 Day: Penny Woolcock’s 1 Day comfortably sits next to a long list of hoodie movies released over the past few years that have waxed lyrical about Birmingham’s gang lifestyle. I am not sure if the realism portrayed was entirely authentic, but given the lack of theatrical emotions it certainly lends itself to that notion. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Penny Woolcock has roped in real-life gang members to play most of the parts. There’s one scene in which the lead character breaks down in front his mom that stands out with its dull glow of optimism that is so fragile that we feel incapable of appreciating it. As is the case with most hoodie films, the music is fucking awesome. Loads of UK grime rap here to sink your teeth into. One particularly cool detail is the incessant rapping included in the dialogues. Real nice touch as it adds to the film’s explosive lyricism.

Dylan Duffus (a barber in real life), who plays Flash, is someone the UK film industry should start paying attention to if they care to nurture any sort of home-grown fresh talent. His entrance into films is something that could make for a good opening line in a congratulatory piece about him seventy years from now.

As Guardian has reported…” After school, Duffus became a barber, but always wanted to make films. When a relative told him a director called Penny Woolcock was in town, looking for local people to act as researchers for her next film, Duffus called her, met her in a pub and ended up on the team, first as a script consultant, and then second assistant director. There weren’t enough men during auditions so Duffus stood in as Flash and eventually Woolcock offered him the part.” Also featured in the film are Ohran Whyte (Pest), Duncan Tobias (Evil), and Yohance Watson (Angel).

There has been some sort of a furor regarding the film’s release in UK as many cinema halls have refused to play it, citing police pressure. Apparently the Birmingham police department thinks that 1 Day glorifies the gangster lifestyle…which is just plain silly considering the film seems more of a precursory warning to aspiring hoodies than anything else. Another lesson for the day, folks. Cops are people too…yup, wankers by default.

The Invention Of Lying: Ricky Gervais’ debut film The Invention Of Lying has an important lesson in it for future comedians. When you think you’re ready to direct a film, just laugh it off and tell yourself, “nah maybe I’ll just write the screenplay”. The first 30 minutes of the film are incredibly stupid, but the worse is saved for when we realize that Ricky didn’t intend to cast himself as the leading man for the sake of parody. Not since Kamal Hassan donned 13 roles in Dasavatharam (little known fact – he also played the golden statue, Mallika’s dancing pole and one of the jasmine flowers that Asin wears on her head) have I seen an actor/director give himself such an elaborate fellatio on-screen.

Come Ricky, you can do better than this. At least Steve Carell only acts in lame comedies.

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Avatar: Very few films have made me think about life to the extent Avatar has. James Cameron’s latest film is so ridiculously boring that my mind wandered to places that I never knew existed. For instance, I discovered that I cannot in fact wiggle either of my ears. By the time the actors started spewing those awful one-liners, I realized that I used to have more North Indian friends back in school than I did for the past few years. Halfway through the film it also dawned upon me that I could do the following things while watching a film – cut nails, have a shave, take a bath and watch music videos on the laptop. By the time the film ended, I was pretty sure that deep down inside I am a hardcore Republican Hippie who practices Kabbalah. Seriously folks, apart from grossly lending itself to distractions, Avatar deserves more shit than Russia did communism. All the special effects in the world could not make this watchable. That’s like saying you’d watch Titanic again just to see how elaborate the set designs were.

The Cottage: Hands-down one of the decade’s most entertaining horror films. There is so much of fun in Paul Andrew Williams’ film that I didn’t want it to end. I was hoping for yet another jaded and clichéd twist towards the end just to see how else perversely entertaining it could be. The Cottage isn’t just dumb kitschy fun either. Yeah there are mutilated cannibalistic rednecks, psychotic Koreans wielding machetes, ruthless British gangsters and creepy small town folk, but still what entertained me the most were the crispy, razor-sharp dialogues.

Actors Andy Serkis (David) and Reece Shearsmith (Peter) engage themselves in some of the funniest conversations I have heard in horror films…ever. They play two blithering idiots who kidnap the daughter of a ruthless gangster, hoping to hold her for a ransom that would give them and the soul of their mum a bit of solace. Of course, things go conveniently wrong (very horribly too) as the previously mentioned assortment of crazies are out to get them and we, the audience, are treated to worthwhile thrills and kills. Just so you know director Paul Andrew also made the brilliant London to Brighton and Andy Serkis played both Gollum in LOTR and Kong in King Kong.

Bottle Shock: I don’t get wine. Neither its complexities nor its taste. Still it is hardly irritating to hear someone wax poetic about it on film, especially given that two talented actors – Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman – are the ones doing all the waxing in Randall Miller’s Bottle Shock. Loosely based on the ‘Judgment of Parisblind wine tasting of 1976 in which French wine lost out infamously to California’s finest for the first time ever, Bottle Shock looks to chronicle the lives of all those that changed after the historic tasting session. While for most part it carries itself dignifiedly as a semi-serious comedy the film sometimes charmingly threatens to go indie on us, but then sadly lacks the idyllic grace (something which Alexander Payne’s Sideways had in aplenty).

Pullman plays Jim Barrett, a winemaker at Napa Valley who accidentally submits his chardonnay for the infamous wine testing, thanks to his stoner son Bo (Chris Pine) and a snobbish sommelier from Paris – Steven Spurrier (Rickman). Pullman and Rickman in fact many times actually save the film from its lightweight script with their acting chops while the rest stand in distance and gently sulk about how Sideways should have never happened. Maybe Bottle Shock would have lent itself to more appreciation then.

The Visitor: Let’s briefly pretend that the Academy actually appreciates talent. Man, I tell you, Richard Jenkins should have won the Best Actor award for his role in Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor. Good…now that we got that out of the way, let me tell you why his performance in The Visitor is one of the finest and one of the most realistic I have seen all year.

Too often we have seen intricately-woven characters in films ignore the very human trait of feeling awkward and looking the part in favour of far more extravagant emotions such as indifference and surprise. One of the fantastic things about Jenkins’ performance is the attention he has paid to making his character’s body language seem remarkably honest. He plays Walter Vale, a forlorn widowed professor who prefers miserably failing at piano lessons than going through most of life’s chores. An educated man with unshakeable determination that he could never truly be happy. Enter Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira) – a Syrian djembe player and his wife, a Senegalese jeweler craftswoman. Two people who live on the other side of people like Professor Vale. Free-spirited, unperturbed and full of love for music and each other. Their lives irrevocably tangle with the professor’s as together they discover the closeness of being human and the unnatural comfort of being drawn towards music. Gosh I’m making this sound like a Lennon-McCartney lyrical collaboration but fear not, The Visitor has lesser tolerance for painstaking clichés than Hitler had for Jewish male ballerinas. Also, special mention to Hiam Abbass, who plays Tarek’s mother. The grace with which she acts is enough for us to imagine her moving like colours on a canvas.

I’m sure of it, years from now I’m going to adjust my horn-rimmed glasses and hassle my grandkids/pet snakes until they agree to listen to me complain about cinema. “They just don’t make movies like they used to,” I’ll scream, pointing my cane with malicious intent and tossing dusty DVD copies of Thomas McCarthy’s first two magnificent films – The Station Agent and The Visitor – at the ungrateful bastards.

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Electronic duo The Future Sound of London have been dabbling with psychedelic rock music under the Amorphous Androgynous moniker for nearly two decades. They have created a collage of sounds, with space and funk conspiring together to lead our mind to wonderfully weird places. The 2009 compilation album – A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding in Your Mind – sees Amorphous Androgynous remix a unique array of musicians from Sixties beat songwriter Donovan and avant-garde jazz flautist Bob Downes to space rock legends Hawkwind and Indian classical genius Hariprasad Chaurasia. Their epic remix of Oasis’ Falling Down is a trip by itself. So elaborately eclectic that we should never forget to mention “just don’t try dropping acid while listening” any time we recommend it to someone.

*****

AM’s Grand Opinion is one of those gorgeously effortless pop songs written and played by one of those singers/songwriters inspired by Wilco. While most times lacking the virtuosity of Wilco, AM still kicks it up a notch in this track and settles into a groovy vibe that even includes a thirty second tribute to the Eighties sound and shy saxophone licks that coax our ears every now and then. Do check out their/his Future Sons & Daughters album. Carefree melodies for the iPOD generation and somehow still very listenable.

*****

Black Moth Super Rainbow is not the stupidest band name you’ve heard. There are three anally–retentive bands out there in contention for this award. The Ass Baboons of Venus, Accidental Goat Sodomy and of course, The Anal Retentive Mississippi Scavenger Hunt. So you can listen to BMSR, without paying attention to the insipid christening, and enjoy the sound of American folk and electronica being put through the loveliest of meat grinders. It wouldn’t be fair to call this pop music. In fact their album Eating Us, with its many intense freak out moments, sounds so insecure that it barely qualifies as music. Yet in this fragility lies a vault of lovely noise. For instance, astronauts should be mandatorily asked to dream to the track Iron Lemonade. Space just wouldn’t feel right without it.

*****

Sunn O))) comprises the who’s who of experimental/noise metal. With musicians from Khanate, Burning Witch and Goatsnake, they have made skull-crushing doom music for the better part of the decade. Thankfully, they have also developed a fondness for spaced-out droning that is as much jazz as it is metal. I hardly listen to as much drone and dark ambient music as I used to, but one particular track from Sunn O))) recent album Monoliths and Dimensions hijacked my attention. The song Alice, their tribute to avant-garde jazz pianist Alice Coltrane (Yup, John Coltrane’s wife), is seductive, brooding and lushly orchestrated. The sound of a lonely trombone flourishing at the end of Alice amidst wavering improvisational jazz is just about the prettiest thing I have heard in this genre.

*****

Amazon says that San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips “play a minimal, droning brand of garage-styled psychedelia with a noticeable ’60s influence”. According to Pitchfork, their music has a “dash of 1970s Kraut two-note rhythm, a gauzy Spacemen 3 filter, and a garage-rocked low-fi fetish.” The fiery, desert groove-driven Down By The Sea of their Dos album fulfils a sick fantasy of mine. A fantasy in which Bono never met Edge and instead got roped in as a vocalist by Joy Division to replace Ian Curits during the Eighties.

Watch

Amorphous Androgynous & Oasis – Falling Down (Remix)

AM – Grand Opinion

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Iron Lemonade

Sunn O))) – Alice

Listen

Wooden Shjips – Down By The Sea

Buy

Amorphous Androgynous’ A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding in Your Mind

AM – Future Sons And Daughters

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us

Sun O))) – Monoliths and Dimensions

Wooden Shjips – Dos

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I don’t get the hype over Animal Collective, considering their status quo as the indie darlings of 2009. Their album Merriweather Post Pavilion has topped many lists made over the past few weeks. It has critics dangling on its every hook and every lyric, and bloggers gushing over it, talking about it how is the best pop album since Beach Boys dropped Pet Sounds on the late Sixties. Like I said, I don’t get it. Animal Collective is too cutesy for me. Their orchestrated mess of melodies seems contrived and sometimes too lost in its own complexities. Sort of like indifferent people who make it a point to make others fully understand the extent to which they don’t give a fuck. Of course, there is that song No More Runnin. Probably the only song of their 2009 album that doesn’t turn me off. It moves effortlessly and strangely, daring you to move along with it. Like a mad, mad breeze.

*****

You should pay more attention to women like Neko Case, Regina Spektor and Cara Beth Satalino. Achingly delicate vocals and dreamy notes that would have your toes twitching in pleasure. Cara Beth is so conventionally unpopular that Google only has precious little information about her. She doesn’t dramatically croon. She doesn’t over accentuate monosyllables. She sure as hell doesn’t have one of her songs remixed by a member of her boyfriend’s posse. She sings, plays the piano, strums the guitar and probably yawns a lot after sex. Whatever. After listening to her sultry single Bizzaro, I say, shame on Google.

*****

Dance Punk. Electro Pop. Indie Disco. Irregardless of how you want pigeonhole MGMT, the bottom line is that they make incredibly catchy music. Their sophomoric album Oracular Spectacular lives up to the hype that preceded it. Chockfull of colourful guitar melodies and synthesized beats that wash over them, it rightfully should have invaded every dancefloor, along with Mika’s Life in Cartoon Motion, in 2007. The track The Youth has MGMT dreaming a dream that could make hippies collectively sob for three days. Even as they sing “this is a call of arms to live and love and sleep together, we could flood the streets with love or light or heat whatever,” you feel no anger. Only the strange sensation of music bringing out the optimist inside you.

*****

Mika is a cocktail of synth pop, cough syrup and Freddie Mercury. Some have compared him to Lady Gaga, but I can only see similar intentions. See, she fails where Mika succeeds – making ridiculously fun music that doesn’t insult one’s intelligence. If only Star World didn’t incessantly playing the chorus of Love Today to introduce every one of their dam sitcoms, it would sound infinitely more refreshing than it does. Grace Kelly is pitch perfect and if you haven’t shaken a hip to it, do it before life sucks all the fun out of you. Relax (Take It Easy) should be given an international bravery award. From the stupid song title and the sampling of a horrible 80s pop rock song (Cutting Crew’s I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight) to the infusion of techno and a chorus that goes “relax, take it easy for there is nothing that we can do”, it boldly goes to strange places and comes out sounding good. I’d totally go gaga over the prospect of him recording a Freddie Mercury tribute album.

*****

Israel-based Panic Ensemble, comprising Feldman, Kraus, Yarkoni, Golandsky and Yarkoni, is an art rock cabaret group that makes wonderfully whimsical music. Sometimes folkish, sometimes jazzy and always tight. “Spring From Your Heart” from their self-titled debut is one of my favourite discoveries of this year. There is something so very sensual about a delicate voice singing, “I’m closing down on you my butterfly, dance…so the stars will remember” as the rest of the band gently launches into an orchestral folk section. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Panic Ensemble!

*****

I loved the hell out of French indie band Phoenix when I first heard them on their fourth album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix a few months ago. Their brand of shiny electronica rock music gave me sugary goosebumps then, but now they all seem so suddenly ordinary. And then I stumbled upon their epic Love Like a Sunset. Over seven minutes of beautiful post-rock riffing drenched in glossy reverb and shimmering acoustics. One of those songs that make me go “ahhh”.

*****

Who’d have thought the coming together of the discreetly Christian pop rock band (Coldplay) and an evidently mediocre East Coast rapper (Rick Ross) would make for such a spectacular mashup? More props to Plan B and his Paint It Blacker mixtape. If only he got someone else to write his lyrics, I’d hardly have to take him off my daily playlist.

*****

In 2007, The Hoosiers released The Trick to Life – one of the best modern garage pop albums since Blur’s Think Tank. These lads from Sweden sound notoriously drunk on coffee and high on the visceral energy of music. You might mistake them for White Stripes rip off # 23, but that’s only because bouncy garage riffs kickstart a few of their songs. The single Cops and Robbers struts around the speakers, with the swagger of garage rock and roll and a hint of the low-brow eccentricity that made bands such as Madness and Mighty Mighty Bosstones irresistibly likeable during the early Nineties. Stay tuned to their sophomore Album Deux.

Watch / Listen

Animal Collective – No More Runnin

Cara Beth Satalino – Bizzaro

MGMT – The Youth

Mika – Grace Kelly, Relax (Take It Easy)

Panic Ensemble – Spring From Your Heart

Phoenix – Love Like A Sunset

Plan B, Rick Ross and Coldplay – Hustling

The Hoosiers – Cops And Robbers

Buy

Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion

Cara Beth Satalino’s Crowded Mouth

MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular

Mika’s The Boy Who Knew Too Much

Panic Ensemble’s Self-Titled

Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

The Hoosiers’ The Trick to Life

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