Friday, July 31, 2009

Where should I start with Scott Walker?

OK, OK, I get it. I've read of his greatness enough times now, and in comparison to other artists I love (Mark Hollis and David Sylvian, primarily, but also Momus and anyone else who's done Jacques Brel) that the time has come: I'm ready for Scott Walker. The obvious starting point, as far as I can tell, is the compilation 5 Easy Pieces, but I prefer to get to know an artist album by album rather than through an anthology. Chances are I won't enjoy his early works as much as the later ones. So, random Walker fan who fond your way to this blog, which is Scott Walker's best album?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

XTC "Yacht Dance"

I'm in a nautical mood tonight.



XTC "Yacht Dance" (MP3)

Outtakes, B-Sides, and Rarities #2: Echo & the Bunnymen "Angels and Devils"

Echo & the Bunnymen was, without question, my favorite band in high school. That, right there, should be enough to make you stop reading. Click away, quick! I won't mind. Hell, I won't even know.

So, granted, the fact that I'm writing about my favorite band from high school twenty-plus years on means I'm incapable of rational consideration of the band's music. Enough has been said elsewhere about the Bunnymen's trailblazing, its passion, its updating of sixties rock sounds, and its rollicking live performances. A couple of the old guys (singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sargeant) are still going strong--if by "going strong" I can mean "showing occasional flickers of the brilliance that once roared like a bonfire on their records." And I mean just that. They still call themselves "Echo & the Bunnymen," but without Les Pattinson on bass and Pete DeFrietas on drums, they'll never be half as good as they once were. McCulloch could help things along by singing like he gives a damn, but I'll save that rant for another day. You can hear clips from four of their newest songs ("Think I Need It Too," "Do You Know Who I Am?,"Proxy," and "Drivetime") at the band's official MySpace page. These come from their upcoming October release, The Fountain. None sounds particularly exciting, but it's hard to judge from snippets. I'll include the best song from their most recent album below, for good measure.

In any case, here's a B-side the Bunnymen tossed off in some studio in San Francisco while on tour supporting the Ocean Rain album. The song is "Angels and Devils." Rather than describe it, make pronouncements of its genius, or tell you what the song means to me, I'll say only this: The guitars on "Angels and Devils" are exactly the guitar sounds I'd make in my wildest art-rock-star dreams, if only I could play.

DOWNLOAD: "Angels and Devils" by Echo & the Bunnymen
ALSO: "Scissors in the Sand" from the 2005 album Siberia

Here's a performance of "Angels and Devils" from 2001, when they made it a staple of their live shows:


And here's the original band, circa 1985, in a live-acoustic-on-camera performance of the still new single that was backed with "Angels and Devils," "Silver":

To Shoot or Not to Shoot; to Mock or Not to Mock

Lately I feel an urge to make a movie. I have no project in mind, but I've got a talent for working with whatever limited equipment, resources, actors, and locations may be at hand. And a talent neglected will wither away or gnaw at the edges of your days. Or both.

So, I may audit a filmmaking course at my university, assuming such auditing lies within the bounds of etiquette. I have no camera, but then I never did. The Mac G4 I bought in 2000 is obsolete and, with its original processor limping along, surely incapable of handling video files. I know no actors in Oklahoma. I find the regional architecture and geography generally uninspiring, save a few buildings on campus*--where I don't really want to shoot, precisely because they're on campus. But, for me, story generates itself. I never run short of ideas. All I need is a camera.

Without one for seven years, I've left unfinished business in the mockumentary genre. Though The Office has pretty well done mockumentary to death in recent years, that show (as done by NBC) is both narrow in approach and lacking in fidelity to the genre. For instance, no matter where the characters go, the cameras follow with implausible consistency. When characters visit restaurants, other businesses, and the odd outdoor setting, no one they meet responds awkwardly, as if cameras are present. And when cast stays in the office, the editors often cut from one angle to another in a way that should reveal a camera. If the show were a real documentary, you'd see the other cameras and their operators. In other words, it would be impossible to have cameras everywhere that The Office does without seeing one onscreen. Furthermore, the writers omit all meta-considerations of the "documentarists" themselves. Who is making that documentary? What is their agenda? How is their massive project funded? Where and when does the program air? What are the effects of its airing on the office staff? Are they famous? Do viewers recognize them on the street? And so forth.

As you can see, I've given the genre a lot of thought. Despite the success and ubiquity of The Office--and don't get me wrong, I enjoy it, especially the original BBC version--there are many stones that remain unturned. Or unmocked.

But do I aspire to a career in filmmaking? Nah, not anymore. I'm not sure I ever did. Movie-making would be, perhaps, more than a hobby for me; and it would certainly answer my artistic impulse. But this would not be my vocation. Oh no, I wouldn't risk life, limb, nor pocketbook to do it. And besides, I have no idea how I'd cast my movies, should I ever get my hands on a camera. That's no small obstacle.

Just thinking aloud here....

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You can view my 45-minute mockumentary, MOCK, on Youtube (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). And here's a short I acted in, directed by Robert Vaughn:


* For whatever reason, some of the campus buildings...


...remind me of Siena, Italy:


Do you see it? Wishful thinking? Am I crazy?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

MOMUS "Hairstyle of the Devil"

Here's the great, neglected, coldhearted, intellectual genius of pop at his peak, tossing off a single the Pet Shop Boys couldn't have made in their wildest dreams.



Download: MOMUS "Hairstyle of the Damned"
Donate: iMomus

Outtakes, B-Sides, and Rarities #1: Talk Talk, "It's Getting Late in the Evening"

I've long intended to add MP3 files to the irregular rotation of things I post on this blog. To inaugurate the feature, I will post a series of ten or so favorite outtakes, B-sides, rarities, and lost (or otherwise lesser known) songs.

First up--and probably my favorite--Talk Talk's "It's Getting Late in the Evening" from 1986:

This arrived as a B-side for the "Life's What You Make It" 7" and 12" singles, and was later (much later) included on Asides Besides (a spotty retrospective of dance mixes and previously uncollected tracks released by Caroline Records in 2000). Though recorded during sessions for the bestselling album The Colour of Spring, "It's Getting Late in the Evening" foreshadows the moves Talk Talk would make with their next album--the band's creative breakthrough into something entirely new--The Spirit of Eden. Everyone and his sister who writes about Talk Talk mentions Mark Hollis's heroin addiction as both a creative influence and obstacle. I don't care to explore the connections between drug use and the music he made. After all, the music is all I can experience firsthand. And what sublime music it is.

"It's Getting Late in the Evening" opens softly. A tentative organ and tambourine rhythm is shadowed by distant electric guitar scrapes. Hollis sings, "Everybody's laughing," and we don't know if they're laughing in pleasure or mockery. The effect disorients us until the song ebbs into a poetic (and characteristically unintelligible) verse about redemption followed by what amounts to a chorus: "The tide shall turn to shelter us from storm,/ the seas of charity shall overflow and bathe us all." The whole affair feels fragile, if hopeful, as the song shifts into a slow orchestral swell that, twenty-plus years later, might sound vaguely familiar to fans of Bjork, the Cocteau Twins, or Sigur Ros. Yet, at the time, the gradual progression toward a luminous flash--a flash that never quite arrives--proved breathtaking. This swell plays more as a gentle ascent to heaven than some wild, abandoned, rock-star-testosterone-driven release. Now and then someone laughs in the background or drops something, and the wash of strings and woodwinds takes over. And the wave does indeed bathe us all.

In the second verse--more stark and fragile than the first, twisting through the quiet wake of the near-climax--Hollis makes believe his exile (our exile?) comes by choice. He hasn't been lifted to heaven, after all. He has merely raised his eyes and arms heavenward with nothing more substantial than tattered hope.

Considering the music Hollis would later make, he (and we) had much to hope for. It's tragic that he ended his solo career a decade later, shortly after it began.

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Download: TALK TALK - "It's Getting Late in the Evening"
Buy: TALK TALK Asides Besides

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Was Meant for the Stage

I've surveyed youtube, and this is far and away the best video of my favorite song of the decade, so far:

The Decemberists, "I Was Meant for the Stage." Enjoy!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Beloved Stranger

If you listened to my shows on KRCC way back when, you might remember hearing the songs of Cindy Lee Berryhill. I've never heard anyone else play her songs on the air, but she's a musical hero of mine--and I've only just discovered her as a Facebook friend and gotten to know a sliver of what she's been up to in recent years. A couple nights ago in San Francisco, there was a benefit concert to help pay for the care of her husband, Paul Williams. Here's a video from that concert, featuring her beautiful song "Beloved Stranger":



And here's the link to a biographical/donation site. Check it out.

Paul Williams