Video Tuesday #39
"Plaster Casts of Everything"
"Do The Whirlwind"
Architecture In Helsinki
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"Plaster Casts of Everything"
"Do The Whirlwind"
Architecture In Helsinki
Photo by Simon Weller
Lee Bob Watson is not going to the Next Big Thing. He won't be setting the next magazine-cover trend and he's dangerously out of step with French house and Brooklyn lofts. You also won't see him leapfrogging to the top of the Hype Machine anytime soon. Thank God for that. Although "living in the past just won't do" as he claims in one song, his music is refreshingly old-fashioned, classic more than contemporary, a rejuvenated update on time-tested tropes. He reminds me of other great blenders of rock, country, folk, soul and Southwestern like Howe Gelb and Alejandro Escovedo, but also older pioneers like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
Watson's greatest asset is his passion, which reliably threads through the album. When he punishingly declares "It's not enough!" on "Stranger To Myself," his voice soars to a desperate but convincing octave. When he suggests "Let's start a band" on the song of the same name, he does it with a joy and an excitement of discovery that you rarely hear expressed anymore. Led by Marc Snegg's rollicking Joplin-esque piano, the music backs up that sense of rebellion and youth. And even tracks that are more restrained, like meditative opener "Landfill," stand out with Watson's pithy observations and committed deliveries.
Although his deference to tradition is admirable and effective, there are also moments on Aficionado that take bold chances. The most notable is the penultimate song, "1958," which starts out slow and conservative, a house band at an Eisenhower-era school dance. You can practically see the girls in pink dresses and boys in pomade and navy-blue suits standing a respectable distance apart, the punchbowl and chaperones on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Watson is moaning, "Things are gonna change. Things are gonna change" like a promise or a warning. Midway into the song, things do indeed change, when the placid music is suddenly overtaken by a psychedelic, electric, acid-trip Beatles groove. And even after that sonic dialectic, he keeps on chanting, "Things are gonna change. Things are gonna change" like a celebration or a law of physics.
In a way, "1958" is an appropriate summary of Aficionado at large. It's a look back and an appreciation of what came before, but also a reassessment and a fresh, inspired interpretation. Lee Bob Watson isn't interested in chasing trends or sounding dated, but rather in chronicling the debris and the junkheaps of generations. If he's a man out of time, that's because he also makes music that feels so wonderfully timeless.
Aficionado comes out on Grassroots Records on August 24th. You can preorder a copy of it here.
* MP3: "Landfill" - Lee Bob Watson from Aficionado
* MP3: "Let's Start A Band" - Lee Bob Watson from Aficionado [Preorder it]
* Artist Website: Lee Bob Watson
|M.I.A. at Studio B, 7-25-07|
"Pull Up The People"
* MP3: "Boyz" - M.I.A. from Kala
* MP3: "XR2" - M.I.A. from Kala [Preorder it]
|"Central and Remote"|
The Russian Futurists
Simian Mobile Disco
Annie Clark has style. Recording as St. Vincent, the Texan native and Sufjan alum has charm to the max, a voice that can scoop into the lower registers, and a confidence that wins me over every time. But just as importantly, she has styles, with songs that draw on a gamut of genres and moods. There's the electric guitar squeal on opener "Now Now," wailing through the outro and suggesting more rockiness to come. Instead, we're then treated to romantic love songs, percussion-led snapalongs, cabaret-pop and piano interludes. The songs synthesize lots of influences into a cohesive set, where everything flows lovelily for the forty-three-minutes plus of Marry Me.
The centerpiece of the album though is still "Paris is Burning," even so long since its first appearance. A manic waltz, it starts out slowly and spills into a nimble melody for whirling dervishes. It's something Kate Bush could've done circa Hounds of Love, which, coupled with the obvious Feist comparison and maybe some Cat Power, starts to give you a sense of its abundant style.
Even more than those women though, Clark has a special playfulness with lyrics that must be noted. She takes on subjects as weighty as war, religion, faith, love and desire, but finds fresh ways to elucidate them. On the title track, she's flirting her way down the aisle, imploring, "Let's do what Mary and Joseph did/ Without the kid." On "Your Lips Are Red," she says (semi-autobiographically, it'd seem), "Your skin's so fair, it's not fair." She might even get meta on us, opening a midpoint song with "Wait! I'll be swifter than the speed of light," as if afraid our attention is waning, and closing the album with a sinuous "I'm outta here." By that point though, I'm too enchanted to stop listening. Right away, I start back up at the top, swifter than the speed of light being my style of choice.
* MP3: "Paris Is Burning" - St. Vincent from Marry Me
* MP3: "Your Lips Are Red" - St. Vincent from Marry Me [Buy it]
* Artist MySpace: St. Vincent
By now, everybody knows about the droll, cringe-inducing pleasures of the original (and still best) Office. It's rightly joined the pantheon of modern comedy landmarks. But fewer people stateside are in the know about Armando Iannucci's The Thick of It, a show that takes a similar approach and shares a similar humor as that beloved mockumentary of Wernham-Hogg's desk jockeys. Rather than office politics, the show takes on the mire of politics proper, zooming in on the ludicrous, undefined and fictional Department of Social Affairs. Instead of buffoonish boss David Brent,we get the slightly less buffoonish Minister Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham), who's at once lovable and bumbling and self-serving. But even with their differences, any Office fan is guaranteed to love The Thick of It, which pays off with nearly comparable dividends.
As with the best of British humor, it's not afraid to be dark and depressing in the pursuit of laughs. It's also not shy about being offensive and sexual and misanthropic and honest and believably mundane, wihch pretty much ensures it'll never surface on network here. (Indeed, our own domestic maestro of comedy, Mitch Hurwitz of Arrested Development fame, was working on a remake that ABC passed on.) Abbot and his inner sanctum of assistants, advisors and underlings are well-meaning but consummate line-toers. They think of their constituents as simpletons and a lot of times they're proven right. They survive on a uniquely English brand of skepticism and cynicism, and the situation never fails to rise to their ground-level expectations.
Hugh Abbot: the man, the myth, the fool
The crux of every episode is some major malfunction at headquarters (with Hugh usually to blame) and Abbot's army struggling to contain it. There's a level of absurdity at play that they could keep getting into such ridiculous binds and escaping them even more ridiculously, but probably not as much as real-life citizens would like to pretend. It's all about spin and theatrics, climbing up the social ladder where every rung is another PR disaster. it's about how few degrees to the PM you can claim and how many pins you can stick in the voodoo dolls of the opposition. And of course, it's about admitting your mistakes as soon as the media tide turns, but repeating the very same cycle the following week.
Besides the disarmingly incisive writing, the other major strength of the show is the acting. Since it's shot in a modest verite style, it'd be easy to overlook the performances as similarly offhand and natural. (The British voters haven't though, presenting Langham with both a British Comedy Award and a BAFTA.) So much of the acting is noteworthy, from Abbot's Special Advisors, Glenn Cullen (James Smith) and Ollie Reeder (Chris Addison) to his Director of Communications, Terri Coverley (Joanna Scanlan). Most showy and over-the-top is the brilliant scenery-chewing, -swallowing, and -digesting of Peter Capaldi, who plays Malcolm Tucker, the PM's Press Coordinator. Tucker is a Scottish terror with a mouth like a gas-station urinal. (Tellingly, the show even has a special swearing consultant to keep the scripts at the cutting edge of obscenity.) He makes Ari Gold look like June Cleaver, and that's when he's in a good mood.
A rare moment of calm for Cullen, Coverley and Reeder
The Thick of It is ultimately a very apt title for a show so eager to dive into the depths. It nudges and winks at the inanities of democratic government and makes us laugh at the sheer artifice of the system. And it kindly reminds us that there are even worse fates than working nine-to-five in an office. Like, say, being in office.
(Currently, all six half-hour episodes and the hourlong Christmas special are available on YouTube here and here. Another one-off episode just recently aired in Britain, but like the special, it didn't include Langham in it. He's under investigation for some serious crimes, so the future of the show is unresolved for now. Alternatively, you can also order an import DVD of the first six episodes here.)
Part one of episode one
Art by Kyle Ranson (via Get Underground)
* MP3: "Clear Island" - Liars from Liars [Preorder it]
* MP3: "Your Lips Are Red" - St. Vincent from Marry Me [Buy it]
* MP3: "For Reverend Green" - Animal Collective from Strawberry Jam [Buy other Animal Collective]
Check out more art by Kyle Ranson on his site here.
|If Mancino ever does a covers album, they need to tackle a take of "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" by Puff Daddy featuring Mase. After all, this is a band that thrives on challenges, leaping over hurdles with the zeal of a track-and-field star. Back in March, the last time I'd seen them, lead singer Mike Grimes was rocking through the flu. In April, drummer Jonathan Mason played on even after a very recent appendectomy. And now this time, neither Mason nor his vital organs could make the date, so, on a week's notice, Grimes and keyboardist Nadim Issa pared down to accommodate. (Mason had work-related obligations, but let's start the rumor that he was facedown in a pillow of losing tickets and cigarette ash at the OTB.)|
Because the show always goes on. Drumbeat or no drumbeat, healthy immune system or no, Mancino steps up their game no matter the daunting scale of the obstacle. (For their next show, I'm expecting all three to escape from being straitjacketed and submerged in glass tanks before launching into their opening number.) And while Mason's rhythmic presence was missed, Grimes and Issa ably did more with less. The key characteristics of the band's sound--the springy ebullient melodies, the joyful harmonies, the snazzy wordplay--came through just as clearly. Grimes, on acoustic guitar, sounded just as confident and natural. Issa, stationed behind his trusty Technics, brought his reliably inexhaustible bounce. Even as a duo, Mancino managed to be just as dynamic.
The other act I caught at Neon Lights that night was De Novo Dahl straight outta Nashville, Tennessee. The five-piece came on stage decked out in loud vintage suits Bedazzled with cobras, spiders, and owls. The bassist, Keith Lowen, also had a belt beaming the band's name on a scrolling marquee like a stock ticker. In my mind, their wardrobe was their home base personified: quirky country flair through a bold, funky lens. (Okay, granted there are parts of Cashvegas that are decidedly unfunky, but try telling that to the honky-tonk joints and the giant statue of Billy Graham.)
"McEnroe's Poetry" (featuring Bryan of Subinev on tambourine)
The brash outfits also helped to foreshadow their sound, although there were heaping helpings of rock, pop, bluegrass and electronic mixed in too. Whatever genre they were spotlighting at any given moment, the band cranked up their enthusiasm to practically unprecedented levels. In a space that can only hold about seventy people, they seemed to be playing for thousands. De Novo Dahl: part pep squad, part stadium rockers. Most uncontainable of all was lead singer Joel Dahl. He was a frontman extraordinaire, swaggering and swaying with the inborn cocksure stride of a rock star. He was a goofball and a paramour, a wildcat and a shook-up soda bottle. His every movement was dramatic and his shaggy curls flopped and flailed so entertainingly they could've qualified as the opening act.
Throughout their set, the band stood five feet in front of me, but they always projected that inimitable larger-than-life quality. The music was huge, the performance was oversized, and of course, the costumes never stopped shimmering.
"Sexy Come Lately"
* MP3: "L'amour (or Less)" - Mancino from Manners Matter [Buy it]
* MP3: "The Funk" - De Novo Dahl from Cats and Kittens [Buy it]
* Previously: L'amour (or Less) @ Union Hall, 3-3-07
* Previously: Two steps to the left: Mancino MP3s
Thanks to everyone who came out to the show on Friday. Hopefully, you had a good time too. Just in case you weren't there, below is a list of what I played. Get your hands on these tracks and you too can have your very own Nerd Litter dance party.
"Ice Cream" – Muscles
"Careful" – Hot Chip
"On My Shit" – The Clipse
"Golden Years" – David Bowie
"Hit That" – M.I.A.
"Slow Hands" (Britt Daniel Remix) – Interpol from "Slow Hands" EP [Buy it]
"Hustler" – Simian Mobile Disco
"Multiply" – Jamie Lidell
"She’s A Rejector" – Of Montreal
"D.A.N.C.E." (Tittsworth Remix) – Justice
"Psycho Killer" – Talking Heads
"Vans" – The Pack
"Sea Lion Woman" (Chromeo Remix) – Feist [Buy other Feist] [Buy other Chromeo]
"It’s The Beat" – Simian Mobile Disco
"It’s Like That" – Run DMC vs. Jason Nevins
"Separated By Motorways" – The Long Blondes
"Boy Like Me" – Patrick Wolf
"Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" – LCD Soundsystem
"Chocolate, Raspberry, Lemon and Lime" – Muscles
"Yea Yeah" (Ocelot Remix) – Matt and Kim [Buy other Matt and Kim]
"I Guess The Lord Must Be in New York City" – Harry Nilsson
"Natural One" (UNKLE Remix) – Folk Implosion
"Purple Grapes" – DJ Shadow ft. The Team
"Black Cab" – Jens Lekman
And be sure to check out Jezebel Music to see what else they have coming up.
Tomorrow night, I'll be DJing local stalwart Jezebel Music's monthly Consignment show at Galapagos in Williamsburg. I'll be doing a pre-show set starting at 8, and then sets between the three bands, Hunt Club, The Vandelles and Woman. I'm planning on a fun mix of dance, electronic, hip hop, indie rock, pop and even a few classics thrown in for good measure. (One example of what you might expect featured below.) The show is free and it should be a fun night for all. Come by and say hi.
* MP3: "Careful" - Hot Chip from The Warning [Buy it]
* Band MySpace: Hunt Club
* Band MySpace: The Vandelles
* Band MySpace: Woman
Photo by Patrick Ecclesine
* MP3: "It's The Beat" - Simian Mobile Disco from Attack Decay Sustain Release [Buy the import]
* MP3: "Boy With A Coin" - Iron and Wine from Boy With A Coin EP [Preorder it]
* MP3: "Fledermaus Can't Get It" - Von Sudenfed from Tromatic Reflexxions [Buy it]
You can check out more work by Patrick Ecclesine on his website here.
|"You! Me! Dancing!"|
"It's The Beat"
Simian Mobile Disco
"Suffer For Fashion"
"Fledermaus Can't Get It"
"What's A Girl To Do"
Bats For Lashes
|Beth Gibbons sings like honey drips. Not just in its slow, tempting downward crawl, but in that you can practically taste the labor of a hundred robbed bees. In every heavy breath and every breathy heave, you can feel the energy that her confessions are expelling, the exact toll they're exacting. In every droplet of song, you have to bear the sting to reach the sweetness.|
The dichotomy was never more apparent than on Portishead's 1994 debut Dummy. Part of the mid-'90s holy trip-hop trilogy, along with Massive Attack's Blue Lines and Tricky's Maxinquaye, Dummy left deep dents when it hit the landscape. It won Britain's Mercury Prize when that was still relevant and it broadened my twelve-year-old impressions of how sultry and slithery music could sound. Now that the album is itself twelve years old, fast approaching its teen years, its classic status has only strengthened and its influence widened if sometimes unfortunately (i.e. the glut of watered-down lounge-act imitators).
But what's most striking about Dummy today is how exciting it still sounds. It's timeless in the literal sense, and probably in the figurative one too, with Gibbons in perpetual ache and Geoff Barrow's soundscapes and samples still surprisingly contemporary. More than Maxinquaye and far more than Blue Lines, it's held up as an ahistorical entity rather than a document of its time and its place.
After all, how can any single time or place hope to pin down Gibbons' singular voice? It's too slippery and too sinuous. It curls in and around Barrow's beats, it pours over the ghostly dulcimer moans and slinks under the measured stomps of drum machines. It's a creature with wings and the nectar it produces. It's a substance that never spoils and a hard-won feast of gold.
* MP3: "Roads" - Portishead from Dummy
* MP3: "Wandering Star" - Portishead from Dummy [Buy it]