Friday, October 26, 2007


Finally got around to reviewing this Teshigahara boxset for my "VHS or Beta" column over at Idolator. Tried in vain to seek out the soundtrack for Woman of the Dunes, so as to post it here (it's on Volume 4 of the Film Music of Toru Takemitsu CD set that came out a few years back), but I guess the whole OiNK bust didn't help (not that I use bit torrents, but I often ask friends who do to do my dirty work for me).

Anyhow, since it's not about Britney Spears (though I asked Gawker graphics department to Photoshop Britney's face onto the nekkid woman of said dunes to guarantee five-digit hits), I doubt it'll get many reads. Perhaps to make it easier to digest, I cut out two paragraphs of background on Teshigahara, writer Kobo Abe, as well as the other (fatally-flawed) movies of the set. Putting them here instead:

Teshigahara is an intriguing figure in Japanese cinema. He was the son of Sofu Teshigahara, who founded a flower arrangement school and art discipline, Sogetsu. It’s one thing to rebel against a father who wants you to be a shoe salesman, but quite another to buck against one who invented an entire aesthetic. Still, Teshigahara avoided the family business and began to dabble in surrealistic painting, indebted to the likes of Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali, and Antonio Gaudi (he would make a documentary about Gaudi in 1984) before moving into film. He worked outside of the studio system (a rarity in those days), setting up his own production company, making documentaries about woodblock artists and heavyweight champions before adapting the books of Abe for the screen.

The pair's first collaboration is the confounding Pitfall (1962). Part ghost story, part murder-mystery, part documentary exposé, part allegory, it’s a morass (it's not everyday that a young boy eyewitnesses four brutal deaths and then gets to eat all the candy he could ever want) held together by Takemitsu’s outbursts of prepared piano, harpsichord, and scrapes that resound as if from the bottom of a cistern. For 1966’s film The Face of Another, Takemitsu juxtaposes a stately Viennese waltz with eerie swells of glass harmonica. It can’t quite make the story of a man who has a face transplant work, though. John Updike once called Abe’s no-exit situations “cheap suspense” and a good source of “readerly exasperation,” and these two films are prime examples of it, feeling more like over-extended episodes from The Twilight Zone, pregnant with an inescapable dread.

Monday, October 22, 2007

beta on the newstand

Going all Web 0.0, I am on the newsstand this month, with my lengthy --and now ancient-- exchange with Vashti Bunyan (which Pitchfork turned down for being too obscure), published in the inaugural stateside issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope. The October issue of Paste has me weighing in on The Darjeeling Limited, Ace in the Hole, Days of Heaven, as well as small features on both Luc Sante and Robert Wyatt.

I also placed a review in Vibe about The Complete On the Corner Sessions boxset. While I'm thrilled to be working with Bad Boy (read: Sean-Jon), edits from higher up were slightly off. "The last of Columbia's vault plundering box sets shows how Miles did away with jazz players and critics altogether with a fillip of his middle finger" turned into "the latest of Columbia's vault-plundering box sets shows how Miles enthusiastically flipped the bird to jazz players and critics altogether" (emphasis added). The closing thought also got switched up: "It's impossible to fathom teen pop, techno, or Timbaland without its innovations: Loop-based, edit-heavy, yet open-eared, even a jazz master like Miles became a slave to the beat." Now it ends: "Davis and his crew are all there, hiding in plain sight." At least buy it for the "77 Best Weezy Songs of 2007."

And while you're at it, the Panda Bear interview in The Believer is a swell-read, as are the small pieces about Eden Ahbez and Aldous Huxley in the new Stop Smiling (Holly-wuud! Issue).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Am told that in the more upscale Anglophone parts surrounding the McGill campus, you can spot them, but I don't spy an iPod once during my week in Montreal. The city itself is so bereft of noise pollution (the whumph! of Nerf maces don't count) I have no need to even pull mine out. Instead I can feel my skull de-pressurize, no longer battered on all sides by truck brakes and indie rock deadlines.

Sans earbuds in the populace, it means conversations and interactions beyond the norm, but in a city where girls will do something as crazy as make eye contact with strangers, that is almost a given. Where such a dearth of ayo technology is most noticeable is in the shop soundtracks. Rather than being subjected to employee iPod shuffles that put The Grey Album next to Nirvana next to Madonna next to Sufjan Stevens next to Journey that ruin almost any bar/ coffee shop/ boutique experience in Gotham, instead it seems that full albums still rule Montreal. (Radio rules as well: my first night, I hear not just cuts from the On the Corner box set, but also Alice Coltrane and a noise that could only be Pierre Henry's brainwave-melting Cortical Arts III.)

Not saying it's all great. When you go and get a crepe and "Two Tickets to Paradise" blares out from the kitchen, it means that if you sit to manger, you'll soon be subjected to the rest of Eddie Money's hits, which doesn't include the follow-up "Two Pickets to Tittsburgh." Better to let the cold drizzle fall on that folded-up Nutella goodness. And while sipping coffee to the somnambulent strains of Cat Power's The Greatest offsets the effect of the caffeine, almost every girl seated there rocks that Chan-look, so I give it a pass.

In the course of a single day I hear:
Serge Gainsbourg Comic Strip at an internet café
Ali Farka Touré Red Green at a soup spot
Albert Ayler (one of the weird later vocal albums) at a used bookstore
and Joe Tex at another café, which basically means that I want to move there.

Monday, October 08, 2007

beta week ever

Sunday - Animal Collective
Discussion at the bar about a friend's music project (which apparently sounds like Junior Boys) reveals that Phil Collins has become the most crucial artist of the 80s. It dovetails nicely with my pet theory that the most influential Beach Boys album for the 80s generation is not Pet Sounds but rather whatever one had "Kokomo" on it. That's the one that everyone grew up on, believing the band to be The Suck, until Napster (or maybe watching Forrest Gump) proved otherwise.

Still not proceeding just yet to Webster Hall (so as to avoid $8 beers) we muse that surely there's another artist from the 80s who is secretly crucial. Paul Simon's Graceland? Maybe, but you can't just go on the fact that there are more NYC media-centric thinkpieces on Vampire Weekend than actual VW songs, so Simon is out.

Then it happens. "Bowm-bowm-bowm-doo-doo-doo-doo" comes on over the bar speakers, the opening moments of TVOTR's "Ambulance." And then it all makes perfect sense, as we stagger towards the Animal Collective: Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is the skeleton key for all of Brooklyn rock.

Monday - Control press screening

Most of my thoughts are covered here. Forget to mention that the gent who plays Hooky here is also Maxwell in Across the Universe (he's a dead-ringer for the next Kurt Cobain bio pic, too). As the VHS or Beta piece states, I find Closer to be physically affecting and I wonder what other music out there causes a similar reaction in folks. One friend says "The Marble Index." Anyone else?

Tuesday - War/ Dance press screening

Out in December, I believe, so as to angle for Oscar consideration in Best Documentary. A story about three teens in a northern Uganda refugee camp who travel to that country's National Music Competition. Thankfully, the film isn't pedantic in unpacking the struggle. In fact, the depiction of these rebels as inscrutable bogeymen who kill in the night actually works in this context.

Back to Graceland, and a quote from the New Yorker profile on artist Kara Walker, about the inclination towards "the vision of 'tribal art' as a tool to be used by more sophisticated Western artists...the message...was that people of color don't exist unless whites say they do." Seeing the film's subjects (one an orphaned child, one bade to commit atrocities already, another who wails at the overgrown marker of her father's otherwise unmarked grave) as they perform and dance, it's self-deceiving to continually paint African music as this naif ebullience, as if it conjures some longed-for, uncomplicated humanity. To reduce the irreducible innovations of musicians like King Sunny Ade or Fela and make it heel to Ivy League quandaries is infuriating. But then again, so is the film's use of eerie ambient washes and b-rolls of thunder to storytell some of these children's waking-nightmare stories. Just hearing a 14-year-old talk about having to bludgeon some peasants to death with a hoe and then bury the hacked chunks in a shallow grave doesn't need any editing room pizazz.

Wednesday - Damon & Naomi/ Boris
Damon and Naomi's strongest suit is curation, from the Exact Change imprint to International Sad Hits Vol. 1 to slowing down both George Harrison and Caetano Veloso on their last album of sloooooow ballads. Within These Walls is no different, although its curatorial aspect lies in how they match Damon's twelve-string and Naomi's keyboard to their collaborators: Espers' cellist to Bhob Rainey's microtonal horn (he looks as if he just left a Supertramp recording session with Ornette's toy horn) to Michio Kurihara's understated plasma leads. With his big hair and furious strumming, Damon at one point actually achieves the sound of Tim Buckley's Starsailor.

Thursday - Mix Tape reading

See three short stories read aloud centering on pop song appearance in the story: Spinanes, the Human League, and the Ramones. Bummed not so much for not knowing how to participate in future readings (I am) but in missing the reading that involves the main character getting a BJ whilst dressed as Harry from Harry and the Hendersons.

Friday - Wordless Music series
Wordless, my ass. Beirut bleated a week or so back, as does Sandro Perri tonight. Is this what Arthur Russell wrought, a non-singing made into singing via loops and sparse effects?

The church is packed and hell-hot. Are there really that many Columbia students into neo-classical music by one-time Bjork collaborators? Muhly is sneaky, performing a piece entitled "Mother Tongue." His soprano recites strings of numbers and every phone number and address she can think of. Swear that amid "962560773" and 43102458465" I can hear subliminal messages like "104.5 KZEP" and that most baleful string of numbers, "90210," throughout.

WIll Oldham comes out to sing a few songs with Valgeir's arrangements. Is that what all the kids are here for, "Bonnie" Prince Billie? As the overlong schvitz/recital finally wraps, the secret is revealed: Sigur Ros is gonna come out and do an acoustic set. So that's why the church is packed with believers? Okay, so I don't speak Hopelandic, but seriously, does anyone in the crowd realize that they've just been listening to twelve minutes of Adult Contemporary?

Saturday- Arcade Fire/ LCD Soundsystem
Most! Important! Concert! Ever!
It is here that I coin a new word: "Whipster." It's sorta like a "Blipster," except you're white. The island acrawl with them, it proves that this is definitely the Whipster Generation.

Monday, October 01, 2007


I know I wasn't alone in my underwhelming response to the latest Animal Collective, but as the band in the past has proved fully capable of boring me live --even in the throes of true fandom-- surely the inverse seemed possible, too. While their last NY show had the now-trio grappling with a new set (wholly excluding SJ), for their homecoming last night, they had fully come to terms with (gasp) audience expectations.

It was downright anachronistic, as AC actually delivered the hits, those known sounds, and most-startling of all, total satisfaction. I can't think of a time, in the dozen shows I'd ever witnessed, ever recognizing more than a quarter of their set, yet they both drew heavily from the current album and from previous highs, delivering throbbing versions of "Who Could Win a Rabbit?" and "Leaf House." Album cuts that previously left me shrugging (like "#1" and "Fireworks") were both bass-bludgeoning and high-freq tingly all at once, meaning they sounded like big glittery techno tracks.

I may have been alone in these feelings though, especially in light of the Brooklyn Vegan bitch-fest, where the bass was a complaint, as was the setlist, as was the exclusion of certain songs, as was the set length, as was the beer prices, as was the parking, as was the...all of it boiling down to a pissing contest between the seniority of fans who took stemmy bong hits to Person Pitch when it leaked in January versus those who stole Jam in July, between those who graduated this spring versus those who already moved to the Williamsburg campus last September.

Regardless, what came across on disc as sonically-thin and stagnant, revealed innumerable onion layers live. Through the night, I could glean African pygmy chants, Kompakt's Pop Ambient series, Franco-picked Congolese, dub, Tropicalia, and happy house (well, two of the three dudes did work at Other Music) in these songs, yet none of it ever seemed willful or didactic; instead everything gleefully hit at once. Perhaps the night was put best by a text message my friend received mid-concert: