Vol 3 No. 3 ///// Mar 2011
BEATS ON THE SILVER SCREEN OSCAR PICKS 2011 REVIEWS FOR RADIOHEAD CUT COPY & MOGWAI
80 Minutes of Music that
Patronizes & Degrades Women
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR A: EURIPIDES. EUMENIDES. Q: What the Grecophilic tailor said to the clumsy client with torn pants. I know it's only been a couple weeks, but the March issue includes our Oscar predictions and personal choices, which explains the early release. In this month's feature story, Quin Slovek looks at the recent Beat film craze and how it effects the respective legacies of the movement's major poets. We also talked to Milwaukee funk band Kings Go Forth frontman Andy Noble about the group's unexpected popularity and his love of obscure soul 45s. Reviews include the new surprise Radiohead record, Cut Copy, Mogwai, and more. We also welcome two new writers to the squad (Omahans Katie Cook and Anna LaHood) and a new assistant designer (Jessica Teel). It should be nice to have a few more females on board, but if they ever act up, I will kindly direct them to his month's playlist...
Vol 3 No. 3 ///// Mar 2011 FEATURE
Analyzing the Beats' recent film comeback, plus our Oscar picks
Read reviews for Cut Copy, Drive-By Truckers, Lykke Li, Mogwai, PJ Harvey, and Radiohead
INTERVIEW An exchange with Andy Noble of Milwaukee funk/soul band Kings Go Forth
80 Minutes of Music that Patronizes or Degrades Women
ISSUE CONTRIBUTORS Editor-in-Chief James Passarelli
Pat Passarelli Ainsley Thedinger
Kathryn Freund Jessica Teel
Featured Writers Anna LaHood Katie Cook Rob DeStefano James Passarelli Asif Siddiqi Quin Slovek Ryan Waring
Web Design Greg Ervanian Rob Schellenberg
Photography Ankur Malhotra James Passarelli Sandy Sharkey Stark NY
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2011 WORDS: Rob DeStefano / James Emerson / Anna LaHood / James Passarelli / Ryan Waring
AT A CHRISTMAS GET-TOGETHER, a family friend asked me if I thought, for the most part, the academy awards the deserving films. When I expressed my general contempt toward recent Oscar presentations, he requested a list of years in which the Best Picture winner was undeserving. Hm…1990 (Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas), 1994 (Forrest Gump over Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction), 2000 (Gladiator over Traffic), 2002 (Chicago over The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Gangs of New York), 2005 (Crash over any other film made in 2005). And those are just the painfully obvious ones! But before this takes the path of an outright tirade (oh no, am I too late?), I will express my satisfaction with this year’s nominees. And I will not downplay the difficulty of this year’s decisions – each category this year is likely to at least produce a respectable winner. Still, we cannot leave you without our thoughts— here are our picks and our Oscar predictions.
Best Picture NOMINEES Black Swan The Fighter Inception The Kids Are All Right The King’s Speech 127 Hours The Social Network Toy Story 3 True Grit Winter’s Bone
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: The Social Network OUR PICK: Black Swan
A Golden Globe isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? An Oscar. The Social Network built its dedicated fan and critic followings with the same memorable lines that invited lampoon. Without David Fincher’s vision to support them, they might be lost in the hype, but the veteran director ties together the many talents behind the film in the Mark Zuckerberg biopic. Though The King’s Speech is the clear favorite with twelve nominations, we have a sneaking suspicion Fincher’s impressive digital age comedic drama will pull of the upset. Still, the true number one has yet to be mentioned. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan brings new meaning to the words “movie experience,”
combining Clint Mansell’s brilliant transformation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Matthew Libatique’s awesome cinematographic luster, intermittently delicate and nauseous camera work, and a solid cast. Its superior finale alone is enough to merit its nomination. Considered by many to be too jarring or sexually exploitative, Black Swan has been unfairly cast into the art film pigeonhole. Observed apart from such aspersions, however, the film stands not only as the best film of the year, but also one of the best of the decade. *Special honors to the wonderful Winter’s Bone for our own new category, Best Use of a Ferret in Motion Picture. JP
Actor in a Leading Role
Colin Firth was our “should be” pick last year for his riveting performance in A Single Man. He lost to an equally deserving Jeff Bridges, but Firth seems to have attracted more than just our support in 2011, as all accounts suggest that his stammering George VI in The King’s Speech might make for one of the least suspenseful envelope openings since the Pony Express. Firth is certainly overdue for the award, but a win here does not at all indicate a reward based on his body of work. His King George is astonishingly accurate (although co-star Guy Pearce is the historical monarch’s spot-on doppelganger) and especially unique, despite Firth’s previous shy roles. Javier Bardem and Jesse Eisenberg are close behind, and James Franco’s performance in 127 Hours is a distant fourth, distant as in Buckingham Palace to Bluejohn Canyon. RW
NOMINEES Javier Barden (Biutiful) Jeff Bridges (True Grit) Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) James Franco (127 Hours)
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: Colin Firth OUR PICK: Colin Firth
Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale finally proved that his weight-fluctuating method acting is no gimmicky compensation. The high-flying critical momentum of his performance as the eccentric boxing has-been-turned-trainer should withstand the hiccup at the anglophillic BAFTA’s and deliver him the Oscar. His only competitor is Triple Crown winner (Oscar, Tony, Emmy) Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, George’s speech therapist in The King’s Speech. Why is no one talking about John Hawkes? The lone small-name actor of the group, Hawkes brings added backbone to an already exquisite Winter’s Bone as Teardrop, Ree Dolly’s hard but caring uncle. With sparing dialogue Hawkes lets his eyes speak for him, and, having little knowledge of his background, we nonetheless share an intimacy with him like that of a real uncle. The scene in which Teardrop stares down the craven town sheriff with a rifle in
his lap sends chills down the spine. I commend the academy for the nomination, but it’s a shame that it will be nothing more. JP
NOMINEES Christian Bale (The Fighter) John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) Jeremy Renner (The Town) Mark Ruffalo The Kids Are All Right) Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: Christian Bale OUR PICK: John Hawkes
Actress in a Leading Role NOMINEES Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole) Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) Natalie Portman (Black Swan) Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: Natalie Portman OUR PICK: Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the tormented Nina Sayers in Black Swan gives a beautifully disturbed take on the intensely competitive world of professional ballet. Portman’s fragile brilliance rides on her wholesome talent to evoke a range of emotions from the audience as her sanity wanes. Her stunning dedication—which demanded significant weight loss and tireless dance practice—s shines through, as she encompasses an aggressive edge while still maintaining a naïve clarity. In the end, Portman’s struggle with good and evil leaves viewers with a rare glimpse of a thor-
oughly unraveled character that is so physically and emotionally crippled, it’s frightening. Michelle William’s heart wrenching role in Blue Valentine is the only nomination for the film, and the young Jennifer Lawrence was the solid base of Winter’s Bone, but neither has enough to overcast Portman. The only foreseeable upset would be Annette Bening for her depiction of a kind-hearted yet overbearing lesbian doctor, mother, and wife in The Kids Are All Right. Bening has been nominated twice before, but never taken one home. AL
Actress in a Supporting Role NOMINEES Amy Adams (The Fighter) Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech) Melissa Leo (The Fighter) Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: Melissa Leo OUR PICK: Melissa Leo
Ordering a fight on Pay-Per-View should be a different experience than watching a movie about boxing. Generally speaking, the effective sport movies articulate either the rise or the downfall of an athlete by means of the utmost human perspective: This Sporting Life and Raging Bull. The Fighter takes an interesting approach to the genre by focusing its attention on the family involved; this isn’t to say we don’t see Wahlberg or Bale undergo a character arc. The dysfunctional family is a refreshing bunch to observe; they’re comical, angry, vulnerable, desperate, and distressful. I accredit the matriarch, Leo, as the dictator of these emotions. She delivers an often-loud performance—and the academy does love these—but her family’s blue-collar woes and the film’s subject matter warrant such an energetic display. Leo succeeds at thinning the line between the character and the performer, making Alice Ward intensely believable and captivating.
Additional recognition goes to Hailee Steinfeld for her committed performance in True Grit, though she doesn’t support so much as she does lead—academy voting procedurals and studio executives landed her here. More importantly, the greatest snub award in this category goes to Dianne Wiest for Rabbit Hole. Over the years she’s collected three nominations and two wins for best actress in a supporting role, but this doesn’t discredit her unchanged talent in the recent performance. I say swap out H.B. Carter. RD
If revenue were the primary criterion for film criticism, then Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would be bounds above Citizen Kane on the greatest films list. But money has to count for something. Not that Toy Story 3’s number five position on the list of highest grossing films has much to do with our decision. Its box office numbers simply evince its charm as an animated movie suitable for all ages and its ability to find everyone’s soft spot. Not even its weak villain, eerily similar to Toy Story 2’s Pete the Prospector, or its superfluous use of 3D are enough to detract from the epic sequel. In a rare instance of scale over artistry, Toy Story 3’s Hollywood hoopla outflanks Sylvain Chomet’s heartfelt drama, The Illusionist. JP
NOMINEES How to Train Your Dragon The Illusionist Toy Story 3
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: Toy Story 3 OUR PICK: Toy Story 3
Achievement in Cinematography NOMINEES Matthew Libatique (Black Swan) Wally Pfister (Inception) Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech) Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network) Roger Deakins (True Grit)
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: Roger Deakins OUR PICK: Matthew Libatique
Roger Deakins’ collaboration with the Coen brothers has produced remarkable aesthetics; ranging from the stagnant, oppressive filming of Barton Fink to the technical brilliance and color alterations of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Deakins is one of the best in the industry. His abilities allow films—Fargo for instance—to exude incredibly unique and specific tones, a technique the Coens capitalized on once again in this year’s Wild West interpretation, True Grit. In this second adaptation of the 1968 novel, it is Deakins who displays his mastery of the camera, capturing vast landscapes, snowy wilderness, twilight departures, and horseback gunslinging. It all sounds familiar, but it’s done with tremendous regard for the medium. This is his ninth Oscar nomination—is he due for a statue? Despite his aptitude for style, there is another cinematographer who has treated us to a more vi-
sual experience this year; it might have been a different story if it was one of Deakins' earlier films in the race. Modeling the camerawork and schizophrenic mood of Polanski’s Repulsion, Matthew Libatique heightens these techniques by combining them with images of modern horror and realism—a cocktail that succeeds in the best possible way. Similar to The Wrestler, the handheld form guides the audience through the balletic world of Black Swan. These performers exist in a world of mirrors: the camera was digitally removed from each, authenticating reflections and identities. When the story calls for discomfort, Libatique fills the frame with the image, trapping his subjects. When the story calls for the opposing freedom, the camera mimics the steps of the liberated dancers. The photography of Black Swan suggests the crowning point of artistic and mechanical prowess. RD
Achievement in Directing NOMINEES Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) David O. Russell (The Fighter) Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) David Fincher (The Social Network) Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit)
WINNERS There is no doubt that Fincher’s hand in The Social Network is anything less than extraordinary. The onset of the film’s inception —here’s the snub plug for Christopher Nolan—was all but promising: Jesse Eisenberg would co-star with Facebook. It was a premise that seemed excessive and somewhat revolting, but its release proved to derail these misconceptions almost instantly. The performances, score, and acerbic script culminate under Fincher’s direction, crafting a socially relevant film with themes as universal as human nature. His win wouldn’t be a disappointment; it’s that Darren Aronofsky may be more deserving of an award titled “Best Achievement in Directing.” He is an artist who delicately crafts his own interpretation of a world, then
pulls the viewer deep into it. His ability ranges from the stylish kineticism of Requiem for a Dream to the raw and passionate vision of The Wrestler. The atmosphere of a prima ballerina in his latest, twisted fairytale is also fully realized, benefiting from the best of his skills. Similar to The Social Network, all the elements of Aronofsky’s Black Swan function in unison: the cast, the images, the sounds. Aronofsky takes an absurd idea and makes it his own breed of psychosis. In doing so, he drags his audience into a world so unfamiliar, so claustrophobic, so unnerving… so Aronofsky. He’s establishing himself as an auteur, and although he may not receive acknowledgement from the academy this year, his time will come. RD
OSCAR'S PICK: David Fincher OUR PICK: Darren Aronofsky
Documentary NOMINEES Exit through the Gift Shop Gasland Inside Job Restrepo Waste Land
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: Exit Through the Gift Shop
In a recent New York Times article, Melena Ryzik characterized the Best Documentary Feature as the most open-ended category this year. The category is neck and neck between five highly topical films: the recession (Inside Job), energy policy (Gasland), the validity of street art (Exit Through the Gift Shop), Afghanistan (Restrepo) and Third World junkyard scavengers (Wasteland). Speculation that Exit Through the Gift Shop, about infamous British street artist Banksy, might be a hoax doesn’t really detract from the fact that it’s fascinating, likeable and will probably win. Exit more than deserves a golden
statuette, but the same could be said for the risky war-portrait, Restrepo, directed by journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hertherington. When the primary concern of two filmmakers is simply not getting killed, it’s very hard to say they aren’t deserving. The upset, however, might come from economy exposé Inside Job, for its impeccable critical credentials and timely subject matter. Then again there’s Gasland, a movie the natural gas companies literally don’t want you to see—at the very least, they don’t want it winning an Oscar. QS
OUR PICK: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Original Score NOMINEES John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon) Hans Zimmer (Inception) Alexandre Desplat (The King’s Speech) A.R. Rahman (127 Hours) Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
When the Academy hands out its Oscar for Best Original Score, let’s hope it follows the high standards set by the Golden Globes (has that sentence ever been written before?), which anointed the soundtrack of The Social Network as the best of the year. Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’s electronic-heavy music pervades the tale of ambition and connection in the age of the online life, providing an alternately seething and melancholy counterpoise to Jesse Eisenberg’s
stolid and tight-lipped Zuckerberg. But don’t count out the score for the twelve-times nominated The King’s Speech, which, besides accompanying the sort of British historical drama that the Academy adores, has the solid Alexandre Desplat (Fantastic Mr. Fox) behind it. Nor can you ever ignore the master Hans Zimmer, who lent his hand this year to Inception. But IF is putting its money on Reznor and Ross. JE
OUR PICK: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin is something of a byword for snappy, quip-heavy dialogue. So it might be a bit of a cliché to say his script for The Social Network not only will win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay but should win it— but there’s a reason clichés become clichés, and in this case it’s because Sorkin’s work actually is the standout of the year: the dialogue is witty without being studied, and the script speaks to the zeitgeist without affecting a preachy tone and a desperation to be relevant. It manages to hold the audience rapt while depicting the founding of a website—programming code, financial statements, and all. Most importantly, The Social Network subtly and masterfully tells an age-old tale. “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we're going to live on the Internet!” excitedly envisions Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker. It is in part because of Sorkin’s story of loyalty, creation, isolation, and the universal need to fit in that by the time this line is spoken, it is fraught with significance, and gives the viewer a shudder. JE
NOMINEES 127 Hours (Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy) The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin) Toy Story 3 (Michael Arndt)
WINNERS True Grit (Joel & Ethan Coen) Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini)
OSCAR'S PICK: The Social Network OUR PICK: The Social Network
Original Screenplay David Seidler’s The King’s Speech certainly fulfills every criterion the Academy considers in naming a best original screenplay. Its trenchant story and nimble dialogues might be its finest showcases, but Seidler, who also suffered from a stammer, supplements the King's historical debility with convincing psychological anguish that really personalizes the story. However, its win might be more the result of the film’s recent Mario star power. We prefer The Fighter, the more convincing true story depiction, which lent to Melissa Leo’s and Christian Bale’s dynamic performances and grounded the film’s gritty social realism. Further respect goes to the screenplay for The Kids Are All Right, which chose a mature and tactful approach in dealing with homosexuality and parenthood; it’s structural shortcomings and disregard to conclude the children’s subplots kept it from receiving IF’s pick. RW
NOMINEES Another Year (Mike Leigh) The Fighter (Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson) Inception (Christopher Nolan) The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg) The King’s Speech (David Seidler)
WINNERS OSCAR'S PICK: The King's Speech OUR PICK: The Fighter
Beats on the Silver Screen: Exploring the Recent Craze in Beat-Based Film WORDS: Quin Slovek ILLUSTRATION: Ed Moorman (inspired by Charles Burns)
NO MATTER HOW YOU
define the term “hipster,” both its etymology and spirit relate to the Beats or their stereotypical spin-offs, the beatniks. “Hipster” meant something completely different to the Beat Generation —something more like “jazz aficionado.” The Beats, themselves hipsters and 1950s bohemians, are mostly read today by commercialized post-2000 bohemians. Somewhere right now in Williamsburg or Wicker Park some kindred soul is reading Howl right now and thinking that the line “angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection” applies to him.
The legacies of the Three Kings (William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac) straddle the required reading lists of both young literati and aged hippies. The Beats have enjoyed this status for several decades, but now their kingdom is expanding into the world of film at an increasingly faster rate. Sixty years removed from the Golden Age of Beat, those three typewriter-punching heavyweights are just as celebrated now as ever, and film treatments of authors or their work are the highest and most problematic form of literary flattery.
The Beatniks movie poster
A Beat movie could be one of three things: an adaptation, biopic, or a discussion of influence. Any of those would be hard to pull off with fidelity to the writer, the prototype being David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991), which successfully integrated Burroughs’ biography with his controversial work. Hollywood rarely shows this type of consideration to writers, either in biopics or adaptations. When dealing with the Beats’ complicated and ultra-specific personalities, I’m skeptical that Hollywood can even juggle three authors without mangling the legacy of at least one. Ever since William Faulkner went west in search of whiskey money, Hollywood has been a desert mirage for writers. It has also historically enjoyed stereotyping writers, particularly Beats. Hollywood B movies (and, to a lesser extent, television) had an important role in the creation of the image of a coffee-sipping, goatee-stroking, beret-wearer. In the
early 60s, beatniks and bohemians were seen by the society outside North Beach or Greenwich Village as gibberish-spouting jokes. For the first decade of their legacy, before the wave of hippie culture picked them up, Beats were seen as little more than material for trashy movies, pulp novels and general parental concern. Movies like The Beat Generation (1959), The Beatniks (1960) and Beat Girl AKA Wild for Kicks (1960) played up beatniks as dangerous juvenile delinquents and were considered by Kerouac and others as grave misinterpretations of their poetic-spiritual scene. One promotional poster for The Beatniks read: “exploding from the alleyways and ivory towers . . . living by their code of rebellion and mutiny! The Beatniks!” Which is it: alley or ivory tower? What direction are the godless beatniks coming from? It’s time to reconsider the scene, this time focusing on the Beats, not the beatniks. Each of the Three Kings is the subject of a recent or upcoming film project, either just out on DVD (Ginsberg in Howl), currently in art houses (Burroughs in A Man Within), just announced (Burroughs in Queer), or coming to theaters soon (Kerouac in On the Road). These are the only Beat writers that you will see celebrated in the Cineplex, and those four films alone may compose one of the most significant streaks of Hollywood interest in poetic or experimental literature. Poetry or non-traditional fiction is not great movie material, for obvious reasons; young and eccentric poets who romanticized hip disillusionment, drugs, and road-trips are a different story. The Beats have remained relevant for more than fifty years, both
through myths and stereotypes. The Beats work in Hollywood because they romanticized the underworld’s frustrations with a whitepicket era and thus embody an everhip sense of spiritual and societal disillusionment. A Beat movie doesn’t really need to be about poetry, or even literature, to attract an audience. A biopic, or documentary that focuses on the essence of their coolness suffices. At their worst, these films reduce the Beats to black-eyeglass ancestors. At best (as in Naked Lunch), they show them as idiosyncratic authors and flawed humans. The Beats work best when they accentuate a sense of sub-cultural interconnectedness, and thus, they are connected to the hippies of the 1960s and 70’s sneering punks, as well as gay and queer culture, environmentalism, leftism, Zen Buddhism and rock ‘n’ roll. The Beat legacy is broad enough to give Hollywood various themes to explore, but intense focus on Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac perpetuate the misleading notion that these figures “made” their literary era.
or How Allen Ginsberg was Lucky Enough to Know Bob Dylan. Ginsberg and Dylan in 1975 (Elsa Dorfman)
Howl was both critically and popularly well-received after it appeared in art houses last autumn, no doubt due to the involvement of James Franco, an inspired choice to play Ginsberg in Howl, if only because he’s “cool” enough to play him. The role came just after Franco’s unsuccessful attempt at short fiction and just before his Oscar-nominated performance in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Franco was a solid, if calculated, casting choice, not nearly as enjoyable as the strange supporting role Ginsberg played via comedian David Cross in the surrealistic Bob Dylan
ode I’m Not There (2007). It’s not a Beat film, but it does depict a few moments in Ginsberg’s and Dylan’s infamous friendship. Cross plays the middle-aged, potbellied hippie Ginsberg for laughs, and it works. In I’m Not There, Ginsberg is allowed to be funny, strange, and exuberant, qualities that come across quite clearly in Ginsberg’s documentary, The Life and Times of Allan Ginsberg (1994). I’m Not There recalls the cultural overlap between late-era Beat and early-era rock and roll. After all, Ginsberg did stand in the background for Dylan’s “Sub-
terranean Homesick Blues” music video, doing little more than inflating Dylan’s cred. Kerouac inspired Tarantula, Dylan’s one attempt at experimental fiction, and Ginsberg and post-Beat apprentice Anne Waldman toured with Dylan and Joan Baez in the infamous Rolling Thunder stint of 1975-76. And, most notably, there was the Beatles’ decision in the early 60s to stop rocking as the Quarrymen and start playing as beetles with an “a.”
William S. Burroughs: An Eccentric Within If Kerouac is the sexed-up Zeus at the center of the Beat Pantheon, then William S. Burroughs is its Hades. He’s the lord of subculture’s darker elements; as A Man Within puts it, “Ginsberg was the hippie, Burroughs was the punk.” This is a problematic theory for many reasons, most of them ignored in A Man Within, the effort of young Chicago-based documentarian Yony Leyser. Luckily, talking head Iggy Popp steps in and makes an obvious point: William Burroughs did not like punk, no matter how much he may have encouraged or befriended musicians. Instead his relationships probably stemmed from his love of younger men and heroin. Add to this a shared distrust for the establishment, and you begin to see how Burroughs became the elderly salonniere of the 70s punk scene. Yes, he was an “inspiration,” but his primary acclaim was that of crash pad host and creepy uncle. There are dozens of labels for Burroughs: groundbreaking author, experimental artist, failed doctor, exiled wanderer, murderer (he killed his “cover” wife, Joan Vollmer, in a drugheavy game of William Tell), absent father, queer cultural icon, brilliant lecturer, visceral satirist, decadent millionaire’s kid, and, most morbid and astonishing, a man who frequently shot heroin between his toes and still lived to be eighty-three years old. Of his many titles, “punk’s spiritual grandfather” might be the lamest and most misleading. Burroughs changed postwar and postmodern writing so deeply that it forever altered the role of the authorial voice with his wild structural and formal experiments. That and the stranger-than-fiction life are what make Burroughs cool, not the useless fact that when Iggy Pop’s line “here
comes Johnny, yeah,” referred to a character from Burroughs’ 1971 novel The Wild Boys. Give Leyser credit for capturing some of Burroughs’ fascinating personality issues, especially his conflicts with sexual identity (he was a homosexual cultural pioneer who nevertheless despised the term “gay”) and his terribly strained relationship with his son. Yet it’s hard to turn a blind eye when a documentary about an author hardly explores his upbringing, education, writing, or critical reception. The more relevant talking heads (Cronenberg, Burroughs’ last lover, and a handful of post-Beat writers) don’t enjoy as much screen time as the punks, gay icons, and assortment of musicians with whom he had formed relationships in the last few decades of his life. In short, Leyser, by consciously avoiding Burroughs’ postmodern writing, made a documentary with a dubious selection process, a mix of who was alive, who was available, and, apparently, who Leyser liked. When asked at a screening about his choice not to include much of Burroughs’ actual writing, Leyser described his project as more about Burroughs personality, stating, “his books are out there.” Yes, Burroughs’ books are out there and have been for decades, but now that A Man Within is out there the question ultimately arises: if you choose to celebrate an author apart from his work, aren’t you only celebrating celebrity, or perhaps in this case, eccentricity? Considered a postmodern pioneer with an admitted influence in several branches of art, Burroughs was more than a talented, ubiquitous eccentric with a cool group of friends. Though it is entertaining, A Man Within certainly falls within the
“special interest” category, an occasion to use a singular literary mind as little more than a support pole at the center of a wide circus tent of hipness. At the screening Leyser also discussed what he found the hardest thing as a documentary filmmaker: “learning to listen for what a subject is not saying.” A Man Within speaks volumes in what it fails to address. I do hope Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch was not the first, last, and greatest Burroughs movie, but if it is, it got there by being faithful to its author. Steve Buscemi’s new directorial project, Queer, based on the early novel by William S. Burroughs, looks to take this same route, and one can only hope that the straightforward adaptation will bring clarity to his dubious and cultish legacy. That is the burden of Queer scriptwriter Oren Moverman (The Messenger, 2009), and it’s a tall task considering even documentaries have a hard time pinning down the enigmatic eldest Beat. And, unlike Cronenberg, Buscemi and Moverman do not have the advantage of a living Burroughs to weigh in. Burroughs’ strange, multi-faceted personality will always hold a place in the art world. He continues to be seen in strange, dark art projects of every stripe, just as he did when he was alive. Death cannot diminish the legacy of man whose motto was “life is a killer.” If A Man Within is good for one thing, it’s showing just how many different ways a man can be remembered after life kills him.
William S Burroughs by Christiaan Tonnis
On the Road, Again Burroughs’ work was often considered so graphic and stylistically bizarre that it was considered unfilmable, but Jack Kerouac, the Beat that is easiest to picture on the silver screen, has proven to be un-filmable for different reasons. Actors from Marlon Brando to Brad Pitt have pondered playing Kerouac, the rare role that’s both romantic and macho, both brooding and sympathetic. Unlike Burroughs and Ginsberg, Kerouac didn’t identify himself as gay or queer. On the Road is even a road-movie buddy picture, so what has been the hold up? It seems Kerouac missed his chance to get On the Road in cinemas around 1960, when he wrote an unanswered letter to Brando offering the young, already iconic actor the role of the book’s protagonist, Sal Paradise. Later Kerouac’s agent was almost set to sell the rights to Paramount Pictures (who happened to have Brando under contract) when he began fighting with the studio heads over a few thousand dollars in rights.The deal fell through, but when Kerouac discovered how close he had come to working with Brando’s studio, he promptly fired his agent. Was it egotistical to insist the greatest actor of his day play Sal Par-
adise? Perhaps, but regardless, On the Road went into production limbo. Now that the Beat trendiness has spanned its third generation, Hollywood can risk large amounts of money and high-level talent on something as ambitious as a fully formed Kerouac project. If Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t get an On the Road movie financed, then no one could have. After the turmoil of shooting the enormously expensive Apocalypse Now, it’s likely the godfather lost his taste for chaos, but he nevertheless bought the rights to Kerouac’s chef d’oeuvre. Coppola clung dearly to One the Road for over thirty years, but the project never came to fruition due to script-related problems and financial concerns. The adaptation was written and re-written several times (by Coppola and his son Roman) and was even cast at least once in the 1990s, starring Brad Pitt and Ethan Hawke. Now Coppola’s long awaited On the Road movie is finally happening, fifty-five years after Kerouac’s famous Benzedrine-fueled typing session set the famous spiritual road novel into motion. It hits theaters this Christmas. Coppolla handed the directorial reigns to Walter Salles Jr., best known for his beautiful 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries, a film with a similar concept. Thoughtful and visually gifted, Salles is ideal for the complicated mul t i-loc a t ion project, and in December of 2010, On the Road wrapped, after filming in lo-
cations as diverse as Canada, New Orleans, Arizona and Argentina. Coppola had at least two important wishes fulfilled with Salles’ On the Road—that it be filmed in black and white and that it prominently feature young actors. While actors Garret Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) as Dean Moriarty and Kirsten Stewart of Twilight seem like dubious decisions, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen (as William S. Burroughs!), Alice Braga, Steve Buscemi, and Terrence Howard look to bring depth to the film with their respective minor roles. After a half-decade of setbacks and disappointments, one can finally see Kerouac’s landmark novel on film. In the wake of a largely disappointing run of Beat film representations, Walter Salles’ On the Road will be the ultimate litmus test as it attempts to portray both minor and major characters with depth. With The Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, The Beat Museum in North Beach, San Francisco and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights, the famous bookstore almost caddy-corner to the Beat Museum, all in their honor, the Beats don’t need Hollywood any more than it needs them. Yet since these movies do (or will) exist, let them be judged not by how much they focus on their superfluous coolness, but rather how the celebrate, or criticize, the singular minds within the various heads that were put together in the mid-1950s to generate the most organic, intuitive and short-lived scene in American history. In the end, the Beats were not so much about rebellion, spirituality, road travel, sex, or drugs as they were about that most elusive and complex “ism”; not hipsterism but humanism, though the latter is harder to film.
Above: Hedlund and Stewart during filming of On the Road
feature On the set of On the Road
IF Chats with...
FORTH INTERVIEW: James Passarelli / at Southpaw / Brooklyn, NY
Photo by Sandy Sharkey
could have been rich. At the age of nineteen, he turned down a multi-million dollar opportunity to work on Wall Street for a chance to make the music that he loves. No, I’m just pulling your leg. That’s just the kind of nonsense Noble can’t stand. And he’s right. Why should his past—inspirational or mundane— make us approach his music any differently? In reality, Noble is the founder, bassist, and songwriter for the Milwaukee-based funk/soul group Kings Go Forth. Behind the winsome lead vocals of Black Wolf, a fifty-something Milwaukee soul singer, the band’s focus is group harmony, although there are plenty of instruments amongst the ten-person outfit to keep you dancing well into the night. Their debut album, The Outsiders are Back, came in at number twenty-one on our list of Top Albums of 2010. I met up with Andy before a gig at Brooklyn’s Southpaw to talk about the beast’s new burden (the band) and his longtime passion (collecting and selling obscure soul 45s).
I judg it is abo can bec of i no befo way
I think it’s really good to ge music exactly for what s and to have a clear mind out it going into it. And you n’t beat digging for records, cause...you’ve never heard it before, and sometimes one’s ever heard it ore. It’s a very pure y to discriminate.”
INFLATABLE FERRET: IT OCCURRED TO ME RECENTLY THAT THERE AREN’T A LOT OF BIG BANDS FROM MILWAUKEE. Andy Noble: Well, historically there’\s been a number, but there’s not a million. In proportion to the size of the city, it’s probably about par for the course. It’s just that people don’t always think of those groups as being from Milwaukee—like, Violent Femmes are from Milwaukee, and Die Kreutzen…then some really not cool ones too. But some people have done well—the guitarist for the DapKings is from Milwaukee. IF: Do you think there’s something about being from Milwaukee has influences you? AN: If you’re from some place, everything about it influences you. IF: Anything specific? AN: Yeah, I could point out specif-
ics in relation to this group. Soul music was a very regional thing in that different areas of the country had really different sounds. Detroit was very distinctive, and Chicago and Florida, and even California. Chicago being the closest to Milwaukee, most of the soul music from Milwaukee was Chicago-influenced. And you can hear that in our stuff. As far as popular soul groups from Milwaukee, the Esquires and Harvey Scales & the Seven Sounds were the two biggest groups. The Esquires specifically are a pretty direct influence on a lot of our vocal harmonies. IF: You used to own a record store in Milwaukee. AN: I owned a record store for about nine years, and I just closed it a year ago. Maybe when people think about record stores where you go to buy new records, those might be affected by the economy. The kind of store I had, where you sell rare, old records, you can stay in business as long or as little as you want. So it wasn’t really economics so much as it was logistics for me in two different aspects. One is my life with the band—obviously being able to travel around. But it was also kind of cramping my style to get records. You’d think having a shop would be the best way to get records, but the way I get records, I need time, I need to be mobile and be able to go out to people’s houses. So I just figured I could make more money by just doing everything out of my house, which is what a number of my friends have been doing all around the country. IF: You met Black Wolf through the record store? AN: Yeah, he came to the store a couple of times. And I get asked that question all the time, but the fact of the matter is, I met a million guys from a million soul groups through my store, and I didn’t really end up doing anything with them—some of
them I did. It’s just that a lot of guys in their mid-fifties are tied down with families or they just aren’t really that active anymore, whereas he’s still really active and energetic. He’s also a writer. A lot of those guys were just performers, but he can write and help arrange, which is nice. It was just a natural fit. We had made a couple of recordings under different guises years before Kings Go Forth came together, so I had known him. He was just one of the people in the fold, and Kings Go Forth was just a project—it wasn’t really a band. I didn’t try to make a really popular band that traveled around. I didn’t really care about it that much, and I still don’t really care about it that much. It was a project for us to make basement recordings, and I just wanted to do something that was based off harmony vocals. All the other new funk and soul stuff that was around that I had known about since the mid90s—nobody had really done harmony stuff. I’ve always been interested in group harmony soul, so I thought, somebody should do that. And then what happened was the recordings got really popular, and the band had to turn into a real band just by popular demand, not because I wanted to go on the road and not make any money. People really rate live music, but I don’t. I can’t stand it. I never go to see live bands, even ones that I like. But I’ve realized that I’m in the minority—most people are really into live music. IF: But I assume you still have fun when you’re playing. AN: I have fun when we play now, because now we’re pretty good. At first we weren’t really that good, so no, I didn’t have fun. But now the band’s pretty good. Playing the show is still the best part of the day when we’re on tour. IF: But it’s not a passion in the sense that it is for most musicians? AN: We’re a much better live band than most bands, so I would say that we are passionate about it. You’ve got to understand, man—it’s so hard
to bring out a band of this size with that disparate of elements and cultural backgrounds. It’s just a bitch. So once you’re out there doing a show, it’s not like you’re going to do it half-assed. So we throw down pretty hard, and that makes it feel good. I have a lot of animosities about having been dragged into a band at this time, and I think I kind of work them out on stage. Plus, like I said, I’m so cynical about live music, I don’t think it’s really that hard to be better than most groups live because I don’t think they even try. I don’t go see live music because it’s terrible. I think it takes a lot more out of a person to make a really good record than it does to go play a show, especially ones that I see bands play. I’m talking about platinum artists. At some of these festivals, we’re playing with some of these really huge bands, and they just suck—they’re terrible. I go out to see music all the time, but I just go see DJ events. The DJ is over there, the dance floor is over there. If they’re playing great stuff, you can go dance or talk to the DJs about the records. If they’re playing shitty stuff, you can catch a beer in back. But when a band’s playing, you’ve just got to leave if you don’t like it, it’s just so loud. So I just figure, if you’re going to do it, do it right. IF: So do you try to bring as many elements of the recording process onto the stage as possible? AN: I do, but I can’t always do it. The equipment that the guys are bringing is nice stuff and as close as possible to what we used on the recording. We can’t afford to bring our soundman around right now, but when he is there he brings a lot of the old cheap delays and reverbs that we used on the record. But in a way I feel like we’re trying to surpass that first record. When we first started, I felt like we were worse than the record, then I kind of think we tied it about six or seven months ago, and now in the last two or three months we have been pushing that material past where it was.
IF: I’ve read that it’s a compilation,
or is that wrong? AN: Not really. I can tell you exactly what it was, and then you can figure out what you want to call it. We made a 45, then we made another 45, and another 45. And then we turned them all into a record. I had about five songs, and we needed about five more to make a record, but when I was making the last five songs, I tried to make them fit together to make an actual album. By the time I signed off on it, it was not a compilation. And if I would have been making an album all along, it would have happened at the same pace anyway, because it’s so hard to get them together in one space, even once a week. The way the format works, it’s like, you record songs—especially in this day and age, how important is that really? People download one or two songs or buy a 45 from a band. I guess people still think about things in these epoch moments—like, you
put out an album and that’s this era for the band or whatever. But I think it’s not that simple—you’re just always kind of writing and recording, and then there are hot spots. And every once in a while, a record company will need one CD to put out. So that will be what you’ve done for the last two years. So in the way that people refer to our album as a compilation, I would actually say that every album is a compilation. IF: Where are you at for your second album? AN: Nowhere. I shouldn’t say nowhere—I’ve been writing for it for a while. But we’re not anywhere on it because we’re getting flogged out on the road so hard that we can’t do anything back home. And what happens is, since people have kids and families and careers and stuff, once we go back everybody has to
I who nob it’s It e cou the
jump back into that really hardcore. We’re going back to Milwaukee on Tuesday, and it’s not like we’re going to be in the practice space on Wednesday working on a new song. We won’t be in the practice space for another two weeks because we have to get our lives back together. And then, by that time, we’ll have to go on the road again.
that being a soul group right now, everybody wants to see it live, so we’ve got to go out there. We’re still playing our first show in a lot of places—like we played in Philadelphia last night, and it was our first show there ever. For all intents and purposes, for everyone who just saw us last night in Philadelphia, we just started to exist. So it’s really hard to balance it.
I can’t make an album like this right now. I would have to impose a purposeful and well-thought-out mor a torium on shows for a decent amount of time to get anyt h i ng done on another r e cord, which I ’ m probably going to have to do sometime.
I’ve been talking to friends of mine who have been in touring bands and who have consistently put out records and asked them how they do it. Usually how you do it is that everybody in the band is a professional musician—when they go home, they just jump back in the studio and start practicing and recording again. But for us it’s not even close to that simple.
It’s not like I’m a fisherman o has one secret spot that body else knows about— definitely not that simple. encompasses the whole untry, and sometimes whole world.”
IF: But at the moment the demands so high?
AN: Yeah, and I think
Left and above: Kings Go Forth performing at The Union Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin. (Ankur Malhotra/ Madison Music Review)
So the second record’s going to be tougher, and I probably will have to make it like a more traditional record where you say, “Okay, this is a month when we’re going to have to do another record,” which will probably make it not as good. But maybe it will make it better—I mean, I’m openminded to that. The band’s definitely good enough. There’s enough talent in the group that we could maybe make a semi-off-the-cuff record and have it surpass the first in certain aspects. I like to think about the songs individually like a kid or a dog or a cat.
album rth's 2010 Kings Go Fo e Back. Outsiders ar release The
I don’t record the same drum sounds in every song—I know this song has to be fancier than this one, and this one has to be rougher, this one needs to have strings, this one needs to have vibraphone, or this one needs to have a bigger room. So it’s not my preferred method to do a record in a short period of time, but I may have to do it. IF: Other than loving music, what draws you into finding obscure music? AN: Well, that has a lot of different angles to it. Some of them are very altruistic, and some of them are very selfish and competitive. When you’re a DJ in my scene, you need to have records that nobody else has to distinguish yourself, so that part I selfish and competitive. Part of it is just the thrill of discovering great music that no one has heard of, and many times helping those artists to get the songs licensed to compilations or reissues to get them some money, which I’ve been involved with for about ten years now. I had my own label, and I’ve helped Numero Group and Jazzman with a lot of that stuff.
Also, and this is a little it loftier of a concept—what I really hate about new music is that it’s really tough to judge things for yourself these days because you get so plowed over by press and hype. And when you’re just out there in attics and basements and stuff, it’s just you and the music. Something looks interesting, and you listen to it, and it’s good. It’s a very direct way to find music without any bullshit or spin being put on it before you get it. Because that’s how the music industry works. Usually by the time somebody buys a CD, there has to be a story—“Oh, they found this guy in the Bronx, and he used to play the piano-“ And people buy the story, and I just think that’s bullshit. You should just listen to the music, and you shouldn’t be clouded
with those things before you see it. I think it’s really good to judge music exactly for what it is and to have a clear mind about it going into it. And you can’t beat digging for records, because you’ve just never heard of the shit before. You’ve never heard of it before, and sometimes no one’s ever heard it before. It’s a very pure way to discriminate. IF: How do you go about searching for records? AN: I’m not really going to say, to tell you the truth. There are too many other people who try to copy it. So I can’t really say much about it, except to say that I do many different things. It’s not just one technique. It’s not like I’m a fisherman who has one secret spot that nobody else knows about—it’s definitely not that simple. It encompasses the whole country, and sometimes the whole world. And I will say this: the best way to find many of these obscure records is to go to the people who made them, the bands themselves, the people who were involved in booking bands, promoting bands, running small record companies in that era. IF: So would you even tell me who your top five artists are if you could think of them? AN: No, that doesn’t have anything to do with that. And that changes everyday. People who are into rock might really like Rush, and they’re into a group from beginning to end. They may like some albums better than others, but they really buy into a group wholesale. With 45s, a lot of these groups only put out one. And it’s a 45, so it’s two songs. Sometimes the b-side is an instrumental, so it’s just one song, you know what I mean? So the loyalty factor is a lot lower, but yeah—I could easily name you five people who have multiple releases that I enjoy. But even that would change everyday. But I could rattle some off for you. IF: Could you? AN: Sure. People that I consistently play records by: Lee Moses, Lee Williams & the Symbols, The Impres-
sions—they’re not obscure, but I still love them…obscure groups that have a really good track record…Apple & the Three Oranges from L.A. They’re had just a small amount of 45s, but they’re all really amazing…The Montclaires, The Young Mods from Ohio. Harvey Scales and The Esquires are two groups that put out tons of great 45s. So that’s like seven. There’s millions though. Like I said,
Photo by Stark NY
it changes everyday. And most of the artists you play, you probably only play one title from. Getting into 45s was an extension of collecting LPs. I collected LPs first, but after a while, I realized that on every LP I was grabbing, I just liked one song, and it ended up being a waste of space. 45 rpm single, I’ve heard called the greatest form of American art, or something like that, but it really is very succinct. It’s just the best. I got
into that and the portability of it. Another thing you have to realize about 45s is that if you were a small group that didn’t have a lot of money or a record label behind you back then, you couldn’t afford to put out an LP. And you couldn’t even afford to record enough songs to comprise one. So many more musicians recorded just one or two 45s than put out LPs, and I mean many many more. There are probably ten independently released
soul LPs from Milwaukee, tops. And there are probably three hundred to five hundred independently released 45s. So there are all these musicians and singers and bands you’d never heard if the LP was the only format. So you really get to hear a lot more of a cross-section of what was actually going on in a city during one era through 45s. IF
REVIEWS The King is Dead Radiohead (XL Recordings/ATO)
The conversation piece of this weekend more than likely included the release of Radiohead’s new album, The King of Limbs. Not to stray too far away from their groundbreaking free digital release of 2007’s In Rainbows, the digital download was made available on Friday for $9.00— torrenting such a cheap piece of art is just wrong, as most music lovers can attest to. The band pulled the wool over our excited eyes by releasing a day earlier than reported, because sometimes a good thing just can’t be held back from the masses any longer (if there is anything that Radiohead has not mastered, it’s the art of the tease). For those who didn’t partake in the online purchase, their eyes were filled with a spastic Thom Yorke in the video of “Lotus Flower.” Either way you went, Radiohead was all a buzz. Similar to pre-existing Radiohead work, the entire album is impossible to comprehend in a short amount of time. With each new listen opinions will change. Their music is so malleable with your own emotions as a listener that no one will have the same feelings for the same album. Upon first listen, The King of Limbs is melancholy or can even be called rainy day music. No jittery “15 Step” or intense “Bodysnatchers” to be found, which is disconcerting at first. Never judge an album by the first listen, especially a Radiohead album. These songs are sad yet dense. It is likely that a fan of Thom Yorke’s lone solo album The Eraser will be more accepting of The King of Limbs than an “Amnesiac” fan. Short and sweet with only eight songs in thirty-seven minutes, there is still no easy cut through all that’s
going on in these tracks. Gone are the days of innovative and accessible rock. What lies ahead is meticulous evolving and redefining of their electronic talent. “Morning Mr. Magpie” is an easy favorite for veteran Radiohead fans for its angst: the beat is bouncing; the high-pitched synth is alarming and whirling. The last third of the song grows louder only to leave off with Yorke making his last point, and ending with the white noise of a TV and birds outside. The song leaves the listener out of breath. “Feral” continues Radiohead’s longtime theme of anxiety. Bass— which plays a massive role in the album but has been left out in others—sneaks in to progress into the disjointed and garbled lyrics. Aronofsky would surely utilize it in an overdose scene, one that emphasizes loss of placement in reality. As the only instrumental track on the album, it does a fantastic job of shattering the sadness. “Codex” is the most haunting track of the entire album. The slow
beat is similar to a pulse, the lyrics are clear and chilling: “no one around/no one gets hurt.” The background is filled with ghostly calls into the echo chamber, making for a soothing lullaby for the downtrodden. When the time arrives to whip out a “recovering after a breakup” playlist, “Give Up Ghost” will fit in perfectly. The sweet guitar melody and Yorke’s cooing gently wraps around the heart in a calming embrace. The song is simply beautiful. Snap out of it by listening to “Bloom,” and get lost in the thicket of loops of beats. Keep listening. The album will grow on you just as Kid A and In Rainbows managed to do. The King of Limbs may just become the masterpiece that was missing all along. For a wild experience, listen to the album in alphabetical order. Trust me.
Drive-By Truckers Go-Go Boots (ATO)
A friend of mine once showed me a 64-song bracket of the best Grateful Dead songs. Its creator, whose name escapes me, argued that the Dead, while being lauded as the jam band granddaddies, rarely get due credit as songwriters. I can’t help but think that the Driveby Truckers suffer from the same oversight. Drive-By Truckers are an anomaly - pop-tinged country rock for people who don’t like terrible music. Their catalogue bleeds blue collar, or at least a sky blue mixture, and their instrumental forcefulness makes them one of the more exciting live rock acts in the country, both key factors in the popularity of their last four albums. But just as they offer respite to the tasteful country-minded, they give a grounded alternative to the often pretentious, over-constructed compositions that dominate indie rock. Simplicity can easily be confused with deficiency, but make no mistake: Drive-by Truckers are deft lyricists and cunning musicians. They are nothing if not dexterous; Go-Go Boots, the Athens band’s ninth LP, is the greatest testament. They spread themselves as thinly as possible on the hour-long record without sounding desperate for variety, sharing vocal and instrumental duties. Sometimes the results are traditional, but they aren’t always what you would expect. “Cartoon Gold,” for instance, sounds bare bones despite its full instrumentation (drums, banjo, bass, piano, dobro, and two guitars). Pianos and organs play their humble parts in the late Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section guitarist Eddie Hinton’s grand “Everybody
Needs Love,” one of the album’s few uplifting tracks. As for the general mood of the album, here’s primary vocalist Patterson Hood on the matter: “If [2010’s] The Big To-Do was an action adventure summertime flick (albeit with some brainy and dark undercuts) this one is a noir film.” His words strangely resemble those of a critic rather than an artist, but they’re spot on. Go-Go Boots’ strength lies in its darkness. Perhaps the words “religiously themed” would have shed a little more light on it. John Neff’s cool, ominous slide guitar on the title track is the perfect canvas for the story of an adulterous Southern preacher and the pain his hypocritical actions cause his family. The eight-minute “The Fireplace Poker” has a similar, though more concentrated, story, also revolving around a preacher’s vices. Even less conspicuous lyrics, like the use of “Jesus” as an intervention, spring up throughout the album. The theme helps draw together the ambitious fourteen-track record (or fifteen, if you buy the vinyl). Of course, it drags at times, as is expected, but it doesn’t cause too much of a problem. As with many albums by artists as prolific as the Truckers, in the short run, it’s not about the album as a whole. Instead, we seek isolated gems, and they come right on queue, in “GoGo Boots,” “The Fireplace Poker,” and “Where’s Eddie,” the second Hinton cover. Then there’s “Used to Be a Cop,” Hood’s quietly frantic narrative of a man who has lost everything, who “used to be a cop but I got to be too jumpy/used to like to party till I coughed up half a lung…I
spread themselves as thinly as possible on the hourlong record without sounding desperate for variety.” got scars on my back from the way my daddy raised me/I used to have a family but then I got divorced…Used to have a car but the bank came and took it/I’m paying for a house that that bitch lives in now.” It’s as heavy as they come and their most powerful song to date, Go-Go Boots’ greatest payoff. At the present moment, those payoffs come in small doses, but the album still has a deep impact. Keep it stored away for sometime a couple decades down the road. That’s when you’re bound to receive its greatest rewards.
Lykke Li Wounded Rhymes (LL Recordings)
I suppose I must address the inexorable threat to my journalistic integrity that composing this review presents. See, Lykke Li and I are lovers… In one of my erotomaniacal mental constructs. So please appreciate the difficulty with which I mask my limerence in the name of wholesome, objective journalism. Screw it. A review that doesn’t address Lykke Li’s sex appeal omits a serious part of her craft. I feel terrible admitting it, but when I saw Li live shortly after she released her 2008 debut, Youth Novels, I left without remembering any of the set list. Every song might as well have been Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” as far as I was concerned. The teen movie bombshell, backlit and front-fanned, strutting down the high school hallway in slow motion suddenly became something more real than a cliché. But Youth Novels succeeded independent of any onstage gyrations. The combination of her soft, airy voice, playfully fragile lyrics, and heartaflutter rhythm and bass also teased until frenzied. Wounded Rhymes shows a role reversal of sorts. Rather than coo like a seductive siren to lure in her prey, Lykke Li plays a much more active, confident Maenad, whose best weapon is a communicable love fury. Provocative lead single “Get Some” best showcased the metamorphosis last December. Off the heels of subdued, melancholic “Unrequited Love,” the track’s voracious timpani and Li’s D&S lyrics epitomize the shift from “Little Bit” Betty Boop to black widow. So too do the forceful keys of opening track “Youth Knows No Pain” show a much more focused, controlled, calculating artist.
But don’t let that lead you to believe Lykke Li has aligned with the latest wave of misguided, pseudo-feminist divas like Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Li’s plight is of a transgender nature and far too personal for her to assume any Rosie the Riveter carnation anyway. Wounded Rhymes captures the process of her self-discovery, as Li constantly oscillates between her damaged and witchy personae. The former naturally resurfaces on slower takes conducive to lover-scorned, meditative soliloquies, particularly “Unrequited Love” and “Sadness Is A Blessing,” both more thoughtful diary entries of self-improvement rather than male-loathing, girl power rhetoric such themes often elicit. Those two songs also best exemplify the marked doo-wop pop influence throughout the album. Wounded Rhymes is a Swedish-filtered revival of 50’s malt shops, 60’s Motown and the specter of Phil Spector (though he’s not officially dead). At times slightly ham-fisted (the “shoo-wopshoo-wop” on “Unrequited Love” seems a little superfluous), the effect is certainly effective, particularly the intense wall-of-sound choruses on “Youth Knows No Pain” and “I Follow Rivers” and lush harmonies on closer “Silent My Song”. Lykke Li makes a nice modern day Ronette. Granted the album is much indebted to the production of Bjorn Yttling, who hollows out a cavernous niche through which Li’s vocals either shake each anthem or quiver through sparse space. As is the case on her debut, the arrangements are richly diverse and give layered choruses an electric jolt of energy once all the instruments converge. Most prominent still is percussion. Aside from the pro-
impressive sophomore performance from a Swedish siren on her way to more American exposure.” fuse timpani are more organic beats on “Unrequited Love” and the bubbly ecstasy of “I Follow Rivers”. With such a prolific catalogue of rhythmic devices, the absence of any percussion on “I Know Places” underscores its serene lyrics. But Lykke Li’s soft murmur too often shields her lyrical content, which though solid, still has its cringeworthy moments. “Rich Kids Blues” is definitely the “Complaint Department” of the album, but there’s a lot less to criticize than on what was still marvelous debut. Wounded Rhymes as a whole is an impressive sophomore performance from a Swedish siren on her way to a wave of American exposure, which is both a blessing and a curse. More people should hear Li’s nuanced craft: pop that’s emotional without being sensationalist. But that will most certainly mean a teeming fan base of threatening males. Lykke, your love is requited.
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Mogwai Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Rock Action Records/Sub Pop)
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the seventh studio album by Mogwai, combines the many phases of the band’s career into one coherent whole. This is both good and bad. Good because it’s a potent distillation of what Mogwai does best, and bad because if you’re expecting the band to make a radical break from its past, you will be disappointed. Before I move on, a brief history lesson: some dumbass rock critic (I’m looking at you, Simon Reynolds) back in the 1990s coined the equally dumbass phrase “post-rock” to describe a certain brand of electronic music from the period that dispensed with the conventional structures of pop music—think Stereolab, Laika, Seefeel, and the sort. Somehow the term was then applied to more guitar-oriented bands like Slint, Tortoise, and Labradford. Before you knew it, lazy critics were throwing around the term to describe any bands that were doing instrumental music with cinematic aspirations—soundtrack music, if you will, but not ambient. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, and Explosions in the Sky were trotted out as exhibits A, B, and C. But no band seemed to be associated with post-rock more than Mogwai, our erstwhile heroes from Scotland who blew a hole in the indie music scene with the monumental instrumental masterpiece Mogwai Young Team in 1997. If you could hook up the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey to a bank of Marshall stack amps, this is what it would sound like: majestic, overpowering, profound, dirty, ugly, and beautiful. Over the years, Mogwai has treaded the instrumental rock path with some notable variations. Occasionally, there are lyrics. But they
seem to zigzag between two main stylistic approaches: the heavy as fuck monumental ten-minute orgy of metal sound, and the deeply disconsolate (and often meandering) numbers perfect for afternoon melancholia. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will combines all of this into a neat fifty-three-minute whole but adds a more accessible bent, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Despite Mogwai’s reputation as a nonmainstream music operation, there’s also something of a pop sensibility in action here. Here, Mogwai embrace melody without reservation, and fortunately they are killer ones. Like the best Mogwai albums, Hardcore combines pop with adventure: every track begins at one place and ends up at another, often in unexpected places. The first track, “White Noise,” begins with staccato guitar notes punctuated by thundering drums, sounding a little like those Steve Albini-engineered drums from the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa. As instruments pile on, we get full-blown Mogwai in rock mode—soaring above you somewhere. “Rano Pano” ups the guitar distortion with an eerie refrain right out of a 1950s horror movie. Both “San Pedro” are “George Square Thatcher” are urgent, continuously moving, Mogwai on some crazy shock and awe mission. The latter is one of the few tracks on the album with vocals—albeit processed sufficiently that the words seem unobtrusive. There are signs here of the old Mogwai—“Letters to Metro” harks back to the slow and world-weary tones of their late nineties work—instrumentals built on languid piano and guitar figures that could be soundtracks to that transitional scene in your favor-
time it's all over, you are back at the beginning and wiping perspiration off your upper lip.” ite but forgotten British indie film. The final track, “You’re Lionel Richie,” heads into metal territory, perfect for late night solo head banging. My favorite track here is the six-and-ahalf minute “How To Be A Werewolf”; over a driving drum pattern, the band builds mood and tone, minute after minute, adding different flavors, increasing tension, uncoiled about halfway into it until it explodes. By the time it’s all over, you are back at the beginning and wiping perspiration off your upper lip. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will sounds completely unified, meant for a complete listen. There are no missteps here. It is Mogwai in total control, flying at cruising speed, having oiled its cylinders and engineers into a heavy, beautiful, and frightening machine. Mogwai may never get back to the halcyon days of Young Team, but this is still a welcome highpoint in their discography. To get the full benefit of the record, buy and crank it up to eleven.
Cut Copy Zonoscope (Modular)
It’s funny how much a few words—one article—can change. I’m talking about my great disappointment at learning that one of the songs on Cut Copy’s latest album is titled “Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution,” instead of “Blink and You’ll Miss the Revolution,” as singer Dan Whitford had announced on stage during their summer tour. A lot is in a title, but if titles were of great significance, Cut Copy would be at the zenith of mediocrity. Most of the new album’s song names could be Jennifer Lopez singles (“Need You Now,” “Take Me Over,” “Where I’m Going”). In fact, without Jenny’s discography on hand, I would be shocked if at least one of them wasn’t. On the other end of the spectrum are the garish “Blink” (a good name no matter what article it uses) and “Strange Nostalgia for the Future,” a possible reference to IF writer Asif Siddiqi’s obsession with the many facets of nostalgia. Speaking of titles, how about Zonoscope? I say it’s fabulous. At times the Melbourne group’s third LP sounds more like an 80s electronica revival album than either of their first two releases, but that’s not always a con. Stuttering synth dominates the album in the layered opener, “I Need You Now,” the first Cut Copy track that I have ever had to listen to multiple times to like (three times, to be exact). Yes, many of the songs take a while to get used to, and that might say something about how much the band has grown since 2008’s In Ghost Colours. The music is instinctual as ever—it’s just that the new Cut Copy has noticeably different instincts, and they’re bound to draw different instincts from lis-
teners. Some songs, like “Need You Now” and “This is All We’ve Got” sound rhythmically constrained and linear, but never calculated, one of the most common perils of a band’s second or third full-length. Zonoscope mixes trademark techniques like seamless segues and traditional love song lyrics with bold, if not quite daring, changes. “Where I’m Going” is the most radical departure, complete with hopscotch big beats, triumphant background “YEAH”s, and a “Baba O’Riley” key break, and it’s a success. Even the fifteen-minute epic, “Sun God,” is impressively exciting and durable, though it might serve better as background or workout music when it’s not in climax or in the middle of its extravagant pseudophilosophical questions (“You got to live/you got to die/so what’s the purpose of you and I?”). Plastic bell effects on “Pharaohs & Pyramids” and “Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution” lead Cut Copy away from their usually organic electronic atmosphere, and again it works. They are the album’s two best songs. Cut Copy are still best when they don’t stray from their groovedependent foundations. Solid bass lines, the band’s most fierce weapon, hold together the ethereal synth and drum armies of “Corner of the Sky” and “Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution.” Expert acoustic/electric blends on “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” recall early dance melodies and remind us that Cut Copy can still record in the spirit of their brilliant past. “Sun God” solidifies their title as the mega-stellar Proto Zoa’s nonfictional counterparts. And for all Zonoscope’s soaring
contains quiet moments not quite as danceable but sometimes just as fulfilling; you can certainly find gratification in every nook.” moments, it cannot escape its dull moments. And nothing on it compares to the timeless “Lights and Music” or “Hearts on Fire” off In Ghost Colours (which I included in my list of top ten albums of the decade, an honor that still stands). But just like some moments on their first two albums, Zonoscope contains quiet moments not quite as danceable but sometimes just as fulfilling; you can certainly find gratification in every nook. Probably somewhere between Cut Copy’s first and second albums in pure quality, Zonoscope seems to be just the record they were looking for. And with its obvious hints of progress, it’s probably just the one they needed.
PJ Harvey Let England Shake (Island)
PJ Harvey has had two careers neatly divided by the turn of the millennium. In the nineties she began with all rage and sexual anxiety with the agro guitar-punk of Dry (1992) and Rid of Me (1993). Still tortured about love and sex, but now adding death, she embraced the swampy blues with To Bring You My Love (1995), turned down the volume with the emotionally tortured Is This Desire? (1998), and then circled back with a suite of love songs to both New York and her lover(s) in the lush guitar pop of Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (2000). Each of these records was a bonafide classic, and each progression seemed surprising yet entirely natural at the same time. Probably more than any other solo artist of the time, she communicated a sense of movement in her oeuvre—she arrived, she submerged herself, and then she moved on.Then came the second part of her career: two albums in the 2000s that seemed underwhelming, skeletal, and hard to hold on to: Uh Uh Her (2004) in which the songs seemed like demos, and White Chalk (2007), in which she forsook the guitar for the piano and sang in a higher register. Now, four years after her last album, we have Let England Shake. Much has been made of the fact that the album is her comment on war and its toll on England. This is not an insignificant fact, for it signals a major departure for Polly, who had always been interested in the internal world of love and sex. Here she takes a giant step into the outside world. Let England Shake is first and foremost a “serious” meditation on the traumatic (and costly) results of war throughout England’s history. Harvey’s point of reference is the
Great War, and particularly the horrific battle at Gallipoli in 1915. The lyrics are heavy with regret but have a personal intimacy—the songs here are populated by young men and their laments, and you imagine a child writing a letter home while stuck in a trench in France. Death is everywhere on the album, but the music is light, sometimes even jaunty, and often pretty (as in “Hanging in the Wire”). Where her last two albums were musically spartan, sometimes sounding incomplete or brittle, the music here is lush, full of reverb, not unlike Is This Desire? At the same time, this is a pop album, as accessible as the guitar-based Stories from the City, but nothing like it. She expands her musical palette with plinks of electric piano, xylophones, trumpets, saxophones, and strange samples (such as reggae singer Niney the Observer’s “Blood and Fire” on “Written on the Forehead”) but it sounds all part of a unified whole, totally organic and not a bit gratuitous. The melodies are relentlessly gorgeous, and not a chord is wasted or superfluous; it’s undeniably beautiful music. The pop centerpiece of the album is “The Words That Maketh Murder,” a creepy song constructed out of a skip-dancing beat wrapped around a simple descending autoharp and a saxophone. She sings, “I’ve seen and done things I want to forget / I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat / Blown and shot out beyond belief / Arms and legs were in the trees.” At the end, Harvey’s long-time collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey hypnotically chant a line from Eddie Cochran’s 1958 hit “Summertime Blues”: “What if I take my problems to the United Nations?”
It’s the most appropriate, ghastly, and comical ending to this soldier’s song. If on one level, the album is a pained love letter to England and its wartime follies, it’s also meant to be universal. In a recent interview with Spinner, she noted, “Some of the songs are taking a look at England and the attraction and repulsion that one feels with one’s nation, and disappointments as well as love, a rootedness in it. But although I’m singing as an Englishwoman in England, I wanted to find language that was also connecting with wherever you live…. No matter where you are people suffer great disappointments in what their governments are doing, or what wars are being waged in their name.” Those are pretty heavy issues for a pop singer. Over the years, as she’s moved away from her early experiments in aggressive rock, Harvey’s music has become more serious, and you get the sense that she takes very seriously the notion that she creates “art.” There is of course a danger in that approach, and it’s easy to see why some would call Let England Shake ridiculously pretentious. How many great poets (not to mention rock icons—Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut anyone?) have tackled the human costs of the insanity of war? How many have fallen flat on their faces? Luckily for us, Harvey shows in Let England Shake that being earnest and serious are not liabilities, that you can be serious and subtle, especially if you have the musical chops to back it up. This is the best war-themed album in a long time, but its greatest power is that even if you don’t care about any of those serious issues, it’s still just as powerful and moving. That is quite an achievement for an artist two decades into her career.
THAT PATRONIZES OR DEMEANS WOMEN Sexism has always pervaded rock ‘n’ roll, and it sure as hell has its place in rap. But let’s be honest. Some of the best songs in history were less than kind to that subspecies of a man, often called a woman. Even though the writers of most of those songs could barely pay Beyonce’s automo-billz. IF decided to look back on a variety basket full of patronizing and sexist songs throughout history. Here’s what we came up with.
3:10 LOOKING GLASS – “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” Clever wordplay always did define Looking Glass’s career. Using the drink as a woman’s name is one of their best, and what a good wife she would be.
3:15 ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA – “Evil Woman” In all honesty, though, she does sound pretty evil.
2:30 JACK JONES – “Wives and Lovers” Jack Jones’s velvet voice is perfect Burt Bacharach’s delightfully sexist song about how all wives should be lovers (hence the title).
2:41 CORNELIUS BROTHERS AND SISTER ROSE – “Treat Her Like a Lady” How exactly does one go about doing that? Well, you know a woman is sentimental and so easy to upset. So make her feel like she’s for real, and she’ll give you happiness.” In their defense, scientific studies confirm this.
5:03 LUDACRIS – “AREA CODES” Ok, Luda. You had us at 205, but you had us suspicious at 317. We might need to see some proof.
2:37 TAMMY WYNETTE – “STAND BY YOUR MAN” Solid proof that women are perfectly capable of singing songs that belittle their own sex. Oh, the irony.
2:10 COLE PORTER – “I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU” Patronizing in every sense, this piece from 1934’s Anything Goes is sexist enough for Frank Sinatra to decide to cover it.
3:34 AC/DC – “T.N.T” “Lock up your daughter, lock up your wife, lock up your back door, and run for your life.” Bon Scott sounds more like a serial rapist than a playboy, but either way, women are his prey.
2:59 BO DIDDLEY – “I’M A MAN” Like many of the master’s compositions, this 1955 Checkers Records b-side has been heavily covered. And that man is on a mission.
05 10 20 10
5:18 FRANK SINATRA – “Luck Be a Lady” Remember how Sinatra loves sexist songs? Well this Frank Loessner love song, originally recorded by Marlon Brando, and then Jack Jones (of “Wives and Lovers” fame), fits just perfect.
2:39 LED ZEPPELIN – “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” As Daniel Craig as James Bond would say, “Women are disposable pleasures.” This one is dedicated to Nick Alitz.
3:41 THE ROLLING STONES – “Under My Thumb” If there are four men in the world who have absolute power over all women on Earth, one of them is Mick Jagger. If there are two, one of them is Mick Jagger. If there’s one, well, that’s probably The Rock.
2:33 PAUL ANKA – “You’re Having My Baby” You heard the man.
3:17 GILBERT O’SULLIVAN – “A Woman’s Place” “Call me old-fashioned,” sings the unapologetic Irish pop star in his 1974 song, “so what if I am?...I’m not
one of those who look for blood from a stone, but I believe a woman’s place is in the home.”
3:47 DONOVAN – “House of Jansch” This one's a shocker for everyone who remembers Donovan as a peaceloving Dylan rip-off (not my own opinion). Let’s just hope I’m reading sexism into a drug reference (or nonsensical poetry) when he sings, “Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree, weep for me, willow tree.”
6:23 EXTREME – “He Man Woman Hater” Can’t think of a band with a more fitting name, and this, like all their songs, is over the top with hatred of the female race, and “eargasmic” riffs (not my word).
4:29 KID ROCK – “Bawitdaba” Of course Kid Rock has far more offensive songs – the man breathes sexism. This one just happens to be a personal favorite, largely because of the title/chorus.
3:17 BLIND ALFRED REED – “Woman’s Been After Man Ever Since” “What a shame it is that women try to be so much like men. They will run for office if they get a chance.” A true prophet from the 1920's.
2:48 BOBBY SHERMAN – “Little Woman” ’61 was a great year, wasn’t it? And there’s nothing like this classic Dion song, packed to the brim with sexism.
2:29 DEAN MARTIN – “Not Enough Indians” If you thought it was impossible to mix sexism and racism, think again. Dean Martin will take you for the ride of your life, even if he can’t say the same for his beloved.
3:20 GARY PUCKETT & THE UNION GAP – “This Girl is a Woman Now” GP & the UG tell the story of a girl whose life was transformed by one man’s tender touch. Now she’s a woman, and things will never be the same again.
5:34 LIL’ JON & THE EAST SIDE BOYZ (FEATURING THE YING YANG TWINS) – “Get Low” Lil’ Jon makes the Ying Yang Twins look like David Banner, which isn’t really saying much, considering I usually can’t tell the difference. Needless to say, they have no qualms with degrading women. How did they make a five-minute song out of this?
Published on Feb 27, 2011
Volume III, Issue 3 is out now – read our Oscar predictions, as well as Quin Slovek’s exploration of the beats on the silver screen. Plus,...