Monthly Archives: December 2011

SILENT SCREAM The Artist

An interview with the director of this year’s Academy Award
favorite, now gradually trickling into theatres while wowing critics… the envelope
please…

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

This Christmas season – and by
extension the cinematic award nominating season of the Oscars and the Golden
Globes – the very best of its movies arrive laced with an old world
sensibility.

 

When it comes to the colorful emotive
3-D children’s film Hugo, it hardly
seems the case (though 3-D certainly had its start in the ‘40s) that the past
has much to do the proceedings. Other than it being set in the ‘30s, in a Paris train station where
the young orphan “Hugo Cabret” (Asa Butterfield) takes a shine to a persnickety
toy seller (Ben Kingsley), while a dastardly station inspector (Sacha Baron
Cohen) attempts to rustle him into an orphanage. Yet, Hugo is based on a true
story in that the torn down toy seller (who has a connection to the film’s
informational device – an old timey automaton) is Georges Méliès, a pioneer in
pre-cinema cinema. A Trip to the Moon,
a famous 1902 Méliès short, was cheaply duplicated by his rival, Thomas Edison,
so that Méliès could make no money from his discoveries. Bitter, Méliès became
a toy seller until Hollywood
rediscovered his inventiveness in the early ‘30s before his passing in 1938. As
is the case with the Lumière brothers, there would be no cinema without Méliès’
innovations and clever art work.

 

Director Michel Hazanavicius’
already-acclaimed (it nabbed six Golden
Globe nominations
this week, and is already hitting film critics’ best-of
lists for 2011) The Artist, though,
goes several steps further. Or backward.  The new French black-and-white silent film
(lensed in Hollywood) is about the Hollywood
silent film era which means it is about America and its dream merchants,
for sure. But it is far more intimate than that, despite its varied sweeping
scores and Busby Berkley-worthy sets.

 

It is a love letter to the art
form which America
turned into an industry. It is a love letter to American brashness, boldness,
bigness and confidence. It is a love letter to the very idea of an industry
that allowed swashbuckling men with wry mustaches and confident smiles to
remain silent until the talkies came in and it could allow quietude no longer.
For some, the silence was golden and sound was devastating. When, in its first
scene, carefree top-of-the-heap movie star “George Valentin” (Jean Dujardin) is
being tortured by his captors, the title card: comes up “Speak!”; an alarm goes
off. Soon that will become a mantra, then a dictate, then a curse to those who
were unconfident that their fans would still love them if they spoke. Like
Valentin who goes through the melodrama’s paces with vigor then torture then
resolve then the brightest of ideas.

 

Bring in a comfortably chummy
co-star and live-in buddy in the guise of a lovable Jack Russell terrier; an
unspoken love and dedication from a nobody admirer (“Peppy Miller,” played by
Bérénice Bejo), who becomes Valentin’s biggest rival (other than his own ego,
fear and reluctance); exaggeratedly mugging faces (especially that of a studio
boss played by John Goodman); Age of Hollywood esprit (and decoration); and a denouement that involves, as it
always does in the world of pre-‘50s realism, a tap dance; and you have in The Artist what is probably this year’s
Academy Award winning favorite.

 

At the very least, The Artist is an American audience
favorite according to what its director/writer Hazanavicius has witnessed.

 

“The strength of the responses has
been overwhelming,” says Hazanavicius. “You can’t expect that or rather that is
not something I expect.” Hazanavicius goes on to say that the first time that
he screened it in the United
States was during the Telluride Film
Festival of 2011. Yes, people were laughing loudly. But for a culture that
doesn’t take to uproarious laughter (unless it is Jerry Lewis), Hazanavicius
was in a panic. “I was afraid at that moment as that level of laughter is. That
is not something the French do unless it is hilarious. I could not tell if the
audience was enjoying the movie or laughing at the movie. Finally, I could tell
that the Telluride audience was delighted. Here, in the United States, people express their pleasure
much more than in France.
People from many countries are enjoying the movie but it is special here. We
are telling your story and you people are touched by that I think.”

 

Hazanavicius goes on to say that
there’s something very special in the manner in which The Artist speaks to
we-the-people. “It’s an American story with American characters. Maybe because
it was made by a French director is something more touching for American
audiences.”

 

Audiences everywhere know Hazanavicius
for his camp action suspense driven films (and French hits) OSS 117, Lost in Rio and OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (both starring Dujardin and Bejo), the sorts of films that “Valentin” might’ve
played if he came up in the Bond ‘60s. Hazanavicius, a sort-of a formalist of
period filmmaking, wanted to make a silent film, one where the expressiveness
of the faces pushed the story forward. The highly stylized and immediately
charming The Artist has that in
spades. For Hazanavicius, the format came first.

“It was just something I wanted to
do.” Then he tried to figure out what sort of story would work best for his
silvery halides and his faster frames per second. “What would thematically
serve the silent medium?” asks Hazanavicius. “I thought the love story and
especially the melodrama. The format moves you to be poetic in a way yet to be
melodramatic. I also wanted to put funny things in it.”

 

Hazanavicius managed to be
authentic without aping the silent film form. He filmed in Hollywood’s old back lots. He sped the frames
per second so everyone seemed to move faster. Ludovic Bource, Hazanavicius’
composer-of-choice for the last twelve years, created a richly varied and
period evocative score. “Old Hollywood films
and classical music had to become his second languages. I asked a lot of him.
He had to immerse himself in the spirit of that kind of music from that era
like Franz Waxman and Elmer Bernstein in particular. He’s not a classical
composer so he had to study hard and when he did it, then had to follow the
track of the story, the emotional track. He had to understand every turning
point.

 

Hazanavicius did something simple
when it came to filming: he succumbed to the period entirely. He laughs as he
states that when most directors try to re-create, they merely think about the
period but don’t bother trying to shoot it as they did then. “For instance, you
can’t shoot a character and action from the 1930s with a Steadicam because that
didn’t exist then. I can’t work like that. I tried to work with the old
devices, the way shots were framed then and such.”

 

Though already well versed in the
era, Hazanavicius had to immerse himself in the silent film lexicon – “American
films mostly, especially during the last five years of the silents like
Murnau’s Sunrise and King Vidor’s The Crowd and
anything from Max Sennett’s studio.” Other influences though were films from
John Ford, Singin’ in the Rain, Citizen
Kane
(which you can sense in The Artist’s hazy light and shadows), and Sunset Boulevard, the latter known for
it’s themes of new stars vs. stars from the past and the notion of “they had
faces then” that blow throughout The
Artist
like warm familiar breezes. Those faces then had to be spot on when
casting for silence; in particular “Valentin” who goes from winkingly Douglas
Fairbanks-like to subtly fearful. As both leads had starred in Hazanavicius’
previous works (Bejo is the director’s life partner with whom he’s fathered
children), he had them in mind before the film started to roll and had written
the screenplay around.

 

“I had to think of them as actors
and human beings and their faces made into fantasy,” says Hazanavicius, of Bejo
and Dujardin. “Everybody else though, their faces had to say something before
they spoke. Expressive actors. I could not work with poker faces.”

 

There’s not a poker face in
Hazanavicius’ deck. There’s nothing but aces in The Artist.

 

 

[Pictured in photo:
Jean Dujardin (George Valentin) and Bérénice Bejo
(Peppy Miller); courtesy The Weinstein Company
]

LOVE IN THE MIDDLE OF A FIRE FIGHT Iggy and the Stooges

 

The world’s forgotten
boy plays
Raw
Power, leaves San Francisco in ruins with the force of a
second great earthquake.

 

BY JUD COST

Waiting
out the opening act tonight (December 4) in the lobby of the Warfield Theatre,
stuck in a narrow strait between the always mobbed bar and the long line for
the merch table, I had to endure a single-file parade of what must have been
the most, shall we say, unattractive rock ‘n’ roll audience ever assembled in
San Francisco. It easily eradicated the previous benchmark at the same venue
for Motorhead a few years back. A large crowd of people over 50 in hideous
t-shirts, bad hair and studded leather apparel is not a pretty sight. But make
no mistake about it, these were Iggy’s People.

 

Iggy
Pop had the common sense to sprint onstage in no shirt whatsoever. Of course,
the Ig still has the chiseled bod to pull it off as he approaches his first
Social Security check next spring. And “the world’s forgotten boy”
still has all the double-jointed moves of his youth, as he visits San Francisco
once again to play the show that was canceled in September when he broke a leg
falling off stage (hopefully, not after some misguided soul told him to
“break a leg” before he went on that night).

 

This
is not the “I Wanna Be Your Dog” Stooges of Elektra Records fame.
This is the current version of Iggy and the Stooges with a silver-haired James
Williamson on lead guitar, Mike Watt on bass and Steve McKay on tenor sax;
tonight, subbing for Scott “rock action” Asheton, who is ailing, is
Larry Mullin on drums. The lineup is playing the repertoire of the similar
outfit who last appeared here at Bimbo’s 365 Club in January of 1974, right
after the release of their wallpaper-peeling Raw Power album. It’s a triumphant reprise of one of the most
skull-grinding sounds ever created in a recording studio. And, unlike the
top-heavy, all-bass mess of the 2007 appearance of the original Stooges (same
joint), they nailed the sound tonight, a remarkable feat since it entailed the
equivalent of getting a good board mix of an erupting volcano. Indoors.

 

They
immediately violated rock-show rule number one – Never play your best stuff
first – by launching earsplitting versions of “Raw Power” and the
album’s piece de resistance,
“Search And Destroy,” right off the bat. Since the death of James Brown,
Iggy is now undeniably “the hardest working man in show business,”
and the second hardest are the dozen black-shirted, beefy guys assigned the
task of keeping Iggy alive one more night, in spite of himself. As a demented
force of nature, there is no way you can stop our boy from running full-tilt
like an NFL linebacker into a gigantic stack of amps, hard enough to almost
knock them over. All you can do is limit the peripheral damage and keep rock’s
MVP off the Injured Reserve list.

 

 

 

 

Iggy
picks up an industrial-strength mic-stand and swings it full-force into the
stage floor, like a lumberjack chopping wood, and a black-shirt restores it to
its upright position. Iggy picks up the mic-stand again and hurls it across the
stage like a javelin. Or he dumps half a plastic bottle of water on the stage
floor before spinning it like a discus into the adoring mob, and a black-shirt
is johnny on the spot to mop up his mess with a towel to prevent electrocution.

 

 

 

Our
boy says very little, but when he points at some (imaginary, believe me)
good-looking girl in the sea of gyrating spectators and screams, “You, the
blond! You’re real pretty, but your pretty face is going to hell!” that’s
the signal that the next song will be “Your Pretty Face Is Going To
Hell.” After half an hour of coyly tapping the hands of fans in the front
row, Iggy decides it’s time to get closer to the unwashed masses, sprints to
the front of the stage with the force of long-jump Olympic champ Bob Beamon and
dives face-down into the horde with the Gold Medal style points of high-diver
Greg Louganis.

 

To
their credit, no one tears off a limb as the ultimate souvenir of this
“streetwalking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.” The crowd
eventually carries him, like some Egyptian deity, close enough to the stage
where a black-shirt can grab him by the back of his pants, exposing secondary
cleavage, and hoist him back on the stage. Iggy climbs to an alcove stage right
and actually reclines for a few moments like an ancient Assyrian warrior posing
for a frieze now hanging on the walls of the British Museum.
But that’s it for his R&R tonight. Time to return to the fray.

 

 

 

 

With
most of Raw Power now dispensed with,
the boys light up the vintage “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and Iggy gets
“right down in his favorite place,” on the floor. Never sedentary for
long, he jumps up and, with one arm tucked behind his opposite shoulder in a
chiropractor-defying move, urges everyone to join him onstage for a group dance
to “Shake Appeal.” No one needs a second invitation. Thirty seconds
later, the stage is crawling with writhing bodies like the plague of locusts
that once invaded Salt Lake City.
When the song is over, they quickly return to the mosh pit with no one needing
to be tossed into space like a loaf of yesterday’s stale bread.

 

 

 

 

The
verdict of all three judges is unanimous: At the end of the night, Iggy Pop
retains his welterweight world championship belt as “the runaway son of
the nuclear A-Bomb.” It was something you may never see again. In spite of
all the near misses, apparently no one had to be carted off to intensive care.
It was everything you could want from Iggy Pop. It was “soul radiation in
the dead of night.” It was “love in the middle of a fire fight.”
Wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

 

 

[Photo
Credit: Bese Zoltan/via Iggy and the Stooges on Facebook]

 

 

 

THE MIDAS TOUCH King Midas Sound

One of dubstep’s most
prolific groups commissions one of the year’s best remix projects.

 

BY RON HART

 

Two years ago, dubstep’s first power trio, King Midas Sound,
released their imaginative Hyperdub debut, Waiting
for You
. The acclaimed 2009 LP offered a unique blend of Lover’s Rock
reggae, atmospheric garage beat scene and hypnotic electronic soul poetry that
played upon the talents of members Kevin “The Bug” Martin, Kiki
Hitomi and Roger Robinson with an equal sense of footing within the mix. For
the group’s anticipated follow-up, in lieu of creating a record of entirely new
material, KMS recruited a host of their most prolific compatriots to rework the
songs from Waiting For You to radical
and imaginative effects. It’s truly a wild and diversified bunch on hand for Without You (also released on the Hyperdub
label) and reads like the content page of the greatest issue of XLR8R ever published, including Green
Gartside of Scritti Politti, Gang Gang Dance, Flying Lotus, Joel Ford of Ford
& Lopitan fame, Nite Jewel, Hype Williams, Kode 9, Ras G and Deep Chord
among others. Each artist invited to remix brings their own unique variation on
the King Midas sound, so to speak.

 

And while it is, in theory, a remix album, hearing the way
Gartside puts the Scritti spin on “Come and Behold”, or Nite Jewel’s
sorrowful synth on “Lost” in contrast to Fly Lo’s cosmic dancehall
variation on the instrumental track or Ras G’s visceral stoner dub reloading of
“Cool Out” gives Without You a
life entirely unto its own.

 

BLURT recently conducted an email interview with the
members of KMS about the new album, their current sonic kicks
and whether or not they believe dubstep has jumped the shark.

 

King Midas Sound will be on tour in the United States
come spring of 2012. Keep your eyes peeled.

 

***


BLURT:
What was the reason behind doing a remix album as opposed to an album of
new material after the two year lull between records?

KEVIN “THE
BUG” MARTIN: It was a mixture of aesthetic choice and realistic
practicality. We had met a lot of allies since making Waiting For You, that we felt we def shared an affinity with, and
it was clear that we wouldn’t be finishing a new album till 2012 at the
earliest, and we felt for a reworks record to stay fresh, it needed some temporal
link to the original. So if we had left it much longer it might not have
remained valid. And I also liked the idea, again, of relating this album to the
music I love most, which is reggae, and re-envisioning the album in a Jamaican
style, in the same way we had reconstructed Lovers Rock in our image for the
original release…

ROGER ROBINSON: We were also looking for a practical way to curate all these
new great bands and artists we met whilst touring and a rework album was the
most practical option.

Do you guys have any new material in the
hopper as we speak? What kind of direction are you guys going with your new stuff, if so?

MARTIN: The sound
is constantly evolving and had been heavily effected by our live experiences,
as we have been learning on our feet what works in the live arena…The second
part of the King Midas documentary, which we recently released, gives a pretty
good indication of the sound we are moving towards, which is basically an
attempt to connect lyrical intimacy with a monolithic wall of sound, where
waves of mid range fuzz and 50,000 watts of low end pressure collide haha.. And
thus far, we have finished the next single ‘Aroo’ which u can hear a segment
of, within the doc, and we are about half way through the recordings of the next
album…

ROBINSON: New songs are being written all the time but not all of them will
make the next album.

 

KIKI HITOMI: We already
recorded a single track ‘Aroo’, you can hear the track on our documentary video
part 2. This song is about a girl turned in to a wolf howling for the man he is
dead or she lost. It is based on the Japanese Manga story Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka. It is about a Korean soldier lost war and his head was
replaced  with that of a wolf by enemy. After that he could communicate with spirits of
wolves and fall in love with the princes of wolf spirits. However when he lost
his wolf head and turned in to normal human, he also lost his ability to
contact with spirits. She waited 1000 years and both reborn as human, to die
together and turned into the universe in the end. I would like to make music video based on this story. We are also making three
ambient drones/tone poems that will be on the B-side for ‘Aroo’. They will be
three short films based on 3 colours directed and filmed by Spanish artist,
XXIIRII, and collaborating with an amazing dancer Alberto Velasco.

 

 

#1 – Alberto Velasco from XXIIRII on Vimeo.

 

How did you decide who to reach out to
for the remixes on Without You?

MARTIN: I guess I am the one to blame for the choice of collaborators…As i
mentioned earlier, we wanted to reach out to new friends or kindred spirits, as
i didn’t want it to be an empty rent a big name endeavor, and i didn’t want the
album to totally lose sight of the original aesthetic or overall sound of King
Midas Sound, as so many remix albums ultimately sound cynical, cold and
unrelated to the artist’s original intentions. We wanted to put together an
album that had ghosts of our sound, but which would contain mutant interpretations.

ROBINSON: Yeah, Kevin’s done so many great compilations and records that he had
all the experience and led on it.

In regards to the Green Gartside version
of “Come and Behold”, how did you come about reaching out to Green,
and who in the group is the Scritti Politti fan?

MARTIN: Again it
was me. I had read a feature on him in The
Wire
magazine, and I asked Lisa Blanning if they had a contact I could have
for him, as I had always been a huge admirer of Green’s work lyrically, tonally
and philosophically. Luckily I sent him the original album, and he loved it,
and we moved forward from there. His whole vocal approach, using his voice as a
beautifully fragile, androgynous tone generator, was very much in keeping with
what Roger and I had discussed, when we first decided to form King Midas Sound.

How did you first hear of Ras G?
MARTIN: I had been tipped off to Ras G by Jamie (Kuedo) years ago, when J was
sharing the same studio complex with me, then Kiki and i saw him play an
astonishing show in Shoreditch where he came across like some hot wired Lee
Perry for the DSP generation. So ill; and actually I had met him very briefly
before that when we had played a show together in Amsterdam, but he was
tripping so heavily on a mountain of magic mushrooms that he had entered
another zone, and wasn’t really able to communicate so much…hahahahaha…

HITOMI: Me and Kevin went
to see Ras G’s gig in London.
We knew his music from the net, but when we saw his set first time and he blew
us away totally. It was best show we had seen last year 2010. It was groovy,
heavy and mad chaos. He was manipulating MPC player so fast like a ninja. So
then we asked him to do rework. I love his chaotic laser guns and sirens dub.

 

How did you link up with Flying Lotus? Who else
from his Brainfeeder camp do you admire?
MARTIN: I saw his first
ever show at in London, and have gone to virtually every show he has played in
~London since…I think he is outstandingly talented, and it’s a pity that so
many people have bitten his style so hard, as it makes it so difficult for him
now…But I’m sure he will reinvent himself, as you can tell he has music
pumping through his blood…I cant remember how we met exactly. I do remember
it was Morgan Zarate that played me his music first, saying “I know your
gonna love this”, just as 1983′ was released. I also remember i was so
into his sound that i asked him to play the launch party for my London Zoo album which ended up a
complete disaster for many reasons, most of which i still feel guilty about. And
yeah, I like a lot of the Brainfeeder artists like Matthewdavid, Samiyam and
Martyn. They are obviously a label with a strong vision and release high
quality music. They are large…lol.

ROBINSON: I really like Austin Peralta, Teebs and Thundercat.

What are your thoughts on the whole hype
fit behind dubstep and do you feel its reaching its exhaustion point? Why or
why not?

MARTIN: You know by
now, I must admit, I’m pretty much past caring, although, it’s been astonishing
to see it grow from 20 producers watching each other spin tunes at Plastic
People to the monster that had been created by now. But as I’ve said before,
any scene that can include such variation as Burial, Shackleton, James Blake,
Cloaks, Skream, Loefah, Coki etc… is always gonna throw up some interesting
tracks. It’s now become like any scene, where 5 percent is revelatory and the
rest is filler.

ROBINSON: I think great music never goes out of fashion no matter what you call
it.

Kevin, where do you stand with your
Techno Animal project from the early 00s with Justin Broadrick of Godflesh/Jesu fame and has there been any talk of
revisiting it any time soon?

MARTIN: Definitely
not. I am working occasionally with Justin again, but we would never reform
Techno Animal, that sort of decision is against my nature. But having said that
I hope at some stage we both have a fresh idea that would enable us to work on
a full project again…J is my soul brother for sure, and I love where he’s
gone with the Pale Sketcher project.

Kevin, are there any plans for a new
proper album by The Bug any time soon?

MARTIN: I’m deep into new Bug material right now. I’ve been working a lot with
Flowdan, Daddy Freddy and Death Grips, plus there will be a few more surprises.
The new material will stretch the parameters of the old sound. More aggressive
in one direction, and more danceable in the other. It will be recognizably Bug,
but more twisted…haha.

 

I was perusing your Blogger site and I’m
loving it. Who is generally the one who posts regularly and do you guys have an m.o. when it comes to posting or is it just a feel thing? And who is the big Nick Drake fan? Do you feel Nick’s music is ripe for a remix project?

MARTIN: No m.o., strictly
love…And yeah, I was the one who posted the Nick Drake homage. He’s
incredible. Everything can be remixed, but the question remains, how much merit
is contained in the end product…To step out from Nick Drake’s shadow is a big
ask.

HITOMI: All three of us
post on the blog. If you see any Japanese word in the end of the post, that is
my post. It is really good for the three of us to let each other know what we
are into now and share the inspiration for our new material.

ROBINSON: I think Kevin post the most then Kiki and them me last with posts my
posts are any without K-Bug on the end and no Japanese writing.

I love Kiki’s Dummy Magazine mixtape you guys posted in October. What inspired the set list and can we expect more mix tapes on the site in the future?
HITOMI:  King Midas
Sound has many inputs from different types of music as we don’t fit in any
genre! We cannot explain what we are especially in our live set and where we
are heading to now. Basically I wanted express what King Midas Sound is about
by the Dummy Mix Tape. If you love the mix tape, come and see our show. You
will experience the same essence from each track I mixed together. If you see
our show, you totally understand what I mean and it al makes sense. And Yes, I
will make another mix tape soon for Japanese promoter and art collective crews,
‘Goodweather’ from Nagoya.

This time, I will probably make a mix tape more based on my favorite vocalists across
a wide genre. Exciting!

MARTIN: We are starting up
our own comprehensive website very soon, and all previous mixes plus new upcoming
ones will be posted there. I reckon Kiki and Hype Williams both smashed it both
their recent mixes. Kiiiiilllleeerrrr….


King Midas Sound seems to be quite attuned to a lot of new music going on. Who are you all listening to these days?

MARTIN: The Weeknd, Emptyset, Frankie P, Levon Vincent, Stylo G, Gonja Sufi’s
new shizzle, Anything on the Pressure Sounds label, Bangs & Works 2 on
Planet Mu (plus any new footwork I can get to here), Nadja, Death Grips, Tim
Hecker etc., etc.

HITOMI: I am listening now
to WU LYF, Wiley, Dr Octagon,  Modeselektor  and a lot of 70’s- early 90’s reggae.

ROBINSON: Shabazz Palaces,
Joker, Bonnie Prince Billy, ASAP Rocky, Oneohtrix Point Never.

 

 


10 Lost by King Midas Sound

13 Miles And Miles by King Midas Sound

HOLD THE EGGNOG The Jigsaw Seen

In how
we learn how to make a not-exactly-a-holiday-album.

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

Why would any self-respecting rock band make a Christmas
album?  The bargain bins are tipping with
seasonal detritus, ill-advised forays into holiday cheer. My own favorite, a
cassette that wore out years ago, was The
Reggae Christmas
, which, I dimly recall, had Eek-A-Mouse’s version of “The Night
Before Christmas.” It was just the thing to clear the room of all relatives
over the age of 30, damned useful in those days. But really, after a whole
month of schlepping through Target and Macy’s and waiting on hold for a Lands’
End operator, who has any real need for more Christmas music?  Surely we can agree that no version of
“Jingle Bell Rock” is either a) music, or b) any kind of holiday.

 

Tell that to the Jigsaw Seen, LA’s best mod-referencing,
power-chording, melodic rock band, an outfit that has made not one but two
holiday recordings, the first a 2006 EP called What About Christmas, the second, out now, a full-length named Winterland. And here’s the shocker:
they’re both pretty good.

The secret, says Dennis Davison, is to not really make a Christmas album. “Very few of the songs are actually about Christmas,”
he says. “Even those are not really so much about Christmas. They just happen
to take place during Christmas. So, yeah, we were very conscious of the idea
that we didn’t want the whole concept to come across like a bunch of cornball
Christmas songs.”

 

The Jigsaw Seen has been together since 1988, when Davison
moved from the East Coast to California
and met up with guitarist Jonathan Lea. Their first album Shortcut Through Clown Alley was released in 1990, but the band
didn’t really develop their current mod-psychedelic sound until the 1991 EP My Name Is Tom. “When I first started, I
was probably more into a folk rock kind of thing. I liked the Turtles and the
Left Banke,” says Davison. “We still obviously have that element in our music
now. But we’ve moved away from that pretty early on into a little more dark, a
little heavier sound.”

 

By the mid-1990s, the band had settled on a core line-up of
Davison and Lea, plus bass player Tom Currier and drummer Teddy Freese. Zenith, released in 2000, won critical
praise and a Grammy nomination for Best Packaging for Lea, who is also a
graphic designer. A series of compilation tracks, a covers album, and a couple
of EPs got the band through the aughts, and then, in 2010, their Bananas Foster followed. Terrascope, the UK arbiter of psychedelia, called
the album’s 11 tracks “highly-orchestrated mini-symphonies,” and concluded
“Variety and overall tone make this an impressive work.” Meanwhile, BLURT enthused in its review, “With Bananas Foster, as the old pop song
goes, they’ve finished their lifelong spiritual walkabout ‘out of the
commonplace into the rare.’ This is their best album ever.”

 

Winterland, the
band’s fifth full-length, was originally intended to be an EP, a place to
gather all of the winter seasonal material Davison had produced over the years.
 “I’d written a few Christmas songs years
ago and we never really did anything with them. We used to play them live
around Christmastime,” Davison explains. “We always thought, oh, we should
compile these on an album one day and try to do a theme around that.” The 2006
EP showcased one of these tracks, “What About Christmas” as well as some seasonal
material recorded live, but Davison felt that the band had more to say about
winter.

 

“When it came time to do Winterland,
we decided to record ‘What About Christmas,'” he says. ” We thought would make
a good lead-off track, because it’s really a song that contemplates the coming
of Christmas and the exaggerated emotions that people feel around that time.” The
band also planned to record a couple of older songs – “Candy Cane” and
“Winterland’s Gone” – to fill out the EP.

 

 Yet along the way,
Davison found himself writing a whole batch of new songs, not so much about
Christmas as about his late-1980s move to LA. In rapid succession, he penned
“Christmas Behind Me,” “First Day of the New Year, and “Dreams of Spring.”

 

 “The album became
about leaving Baltimore
and that whole winter landscape behind me, and also leaving family, moving on
and starting a new life,” he says. He adds that he also saw cold weather as a
metaphor for depression, and the album as a story of overcoming it. “I couldn’t
leave the record as just a dark depressing winter landscape, I had to let the
listener come out of that. So that’s why I wrote ‘Dreams of Spring,’ for the
end of the album. It’s the end of winter and coming out of isolation.”  

 

 Right at the end of
the recording period, he added “Snow Angels of Pigtown,” the album’s stand-out
track. “I said to Jonathan, ‘You’re going to kill me, but I’ve got one more
song that I think really has to go on the album.’  But it worked out. We knocked it out pretty
quickly,” says Davison.

 

Lea suggested a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Circle of
Steel,” and convinced Dave Davies to sing on it. (Lea has been playing in
Davies’ band since the early ‘00s.) 
Having one of the Kinks in to sing harmonies on your record is, Davison
says, a “strange” experience. However, it turned out that his voice and Davies
were close matches. “When I first heard his voice with my voice, I was like
wow. We had no idea whether our voices would work together, but I think they
do. A lot of people when they heard it, they just thought it was me singing
harmonies with myself,” he says. “It turned out great. I’m really happy with
it.”

 

Today, the Jigsaw Seen is most often compared to late 1960s
bands, not just the Kinks but the Who and the Zombies and other lesser known
mods. Davison says he discovered these bands relatively late, after a
punk-obsessed adolescence and a fascination with Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Lou
Reed. “After a few years, punk sort of died out for me after a while and seemed
sort of stale, and so I looked back more at older music,” he remembers. “That
era, the late 1960s, was sort of a golden age of pop music. It was before music
got super commercial, before figured out that they could make music that was
commercial without being very creative about it. ”  

 

 Yet though the Jigsaw
Seen evokes the 1960s, Davison bristles a little at the “retro” label. “We just
sort of make some music that comes naturally to us and there’s not much we can
do about it,” he says. And, as time goes on, fewer and fewer people really know
what the 1960s sounded like anyway.  “I’ve
noticed that a lot of people will lump the 1960s and the 1970s together, as if
they were one decade. They’ll talk about disco being from the 1960s,” he adds.
“It doesn’t really mean that much to me anymore, what people think. They’re
usually wrong.”

 

Ed.
Note: Go here to read a concert review of the Jigsaw Seen, live in San Francisco, December
2, 2011.

 

SONG OF THE MAGICIAN Tim Buckley

The late, legendary
vocalist – and Jeff Buckley’s father – remains ripe for rediscovery. A deluxe
reissue duly sets the process in motion.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

 

There’s a curious quirk in the way folkrock-cum-avant-troubadour
Tim Buckley’s back catalog has been handled. Following his tragic overdose death
in ’75 and starting around 1990 when the Enigma Retro label issued the
revelatory, critically hailed Dream
Letter: Live in London 1968
, Buckley has been archived and annotated to a
degree that rivals his ex-wife Mary Guibert’s tireless efforts to ensure their
late son Jeff’s legacy gets preserved for posterity. It’s not every day a
father and son get the proverbial hot-sexy-dead! treatment (and neither Buckley ever came close to selling in the numbers
that Jim Morrison and the Doors enjoyed). But both Buckleys were loved in their respective
lifetimes, and they remain eternally ripe for rediscovery by new generations of
music fans.

 

The rub, of course is that Guibert, via the patient archivists
at Columbia Records, Jeff’s label, has been able to systematically mine, and
control, the younger Buckley’s recorded legacy to an exacting and exhaustive
degree. (To that end, it’s worth noting how Guibert’s legal team is notorious
for combing the internet to ferret out any signs of, shall we say, unauthorized commercial activity as
regards the search term “Jeff Buckley”; pity the poor novice eBayer who posts
for sale, say, some collectible promotional vinyl, CD, or poster, only to wake
up the next morning to discover a Guibert-instigated eBay takedown notification
flashing in neon letters on the computer screen.) Tim Buckley, however, with
his back catalog spread across several labels, has seen his nine studio albums
slip in and out of print seemingly at random, reissued on sundry domestic and
overseas labels, with apparently only his Elektra-era output remaining
available on a semi-consistent basis – and then, only as bare-bones-packaged “super
saver” editions. Indeed, just a couple of months ago, the UK wing of
Rhino Records reissued those five LPs as part of their budget-priced “Original
Album Series.”

 

Meanwhile the gold mined from vaults housing unreleased TB tapes,
though invaluable, has largely been at the hand of myriad collectors who, in
possession of or coming across a trove of audio reels, partnered with indie labels
to shepherd the material into the public’s hands. The discography published at
Buckley archival site TimBuckley.net suggests exactly that. Just to cite a few
titles: there’s the aforementioned Dream
Letter
; Morning Glory, which
collects BBC recordings; The Dream Belongs to Me: Rare and Unreleased 1968 – 1973, unreleased
studio tracks via Manifesto; Honeyman,
another Manifesto Records title, of a ’73 WLIR-FM radio broadcast; Live at the Troubadour 1969, courtesy a revived
Bizarre/Straight imprint that Rhino briefly established; Works in Progress, circa-’68 demos pulled from the vaults by Rhino
Handmade; Live at the Folklore Center
1967
, an intimate early audience recording, on Tompkins Square; and quite a
few more, some of them now out-of-print imports. For some reason, Buckley has
been largely ignored by the bootleggers and pirates, with only a handful of
titles appearing over the years, although collectors do still eagerly swap FLAC
files of the underground DVD The
Starsailor is Coming Home
, a wonderfully-compiled collection of BBC and US
television appearances that include the singer’s jaw-dropping 1967 performance
of “Song to the Siren” on The Monkees along
with the entire live-on-a-soundstage broadcast of 1970 PBS program Boboquivari.

 

So while there is in fact plenty of manna out there to keep
the diligent Buckley collector on the prowl, it’s a damn shame that nothing systematic
in terms of curating his oeuvre has ever been attempted, certainly not in terms
of comprehensive remastering projects or concerted pulling together of tracks
(including period-specific unreleased ones), art and text in the service of telling
the complete story. Granted, son Jeff benefits from the recency effect of
initially emerging during the CD era and also from having been on a single
label during his lifetime. But to the rest of us who love both Buckleys, and
particularly those of us who were smitten by Tim first and therefore gravitated
to Jeff as a result, it just ain’t fair.

 

 

 

Into the gap steps Rhino, who as suggested a couple of
paragraphs earlier has been one of the few constant patrons of the posthumous
Buckley. (Manifesto Records as well, although that label appears to be largely
dormant at the moment.) Welcome Tim
Buckley: Deluxe Edition
, originally offered as a Rhino Handmade mail-order
only item in late 2010 and now more widely available via the distribution
muscle of fellow archivist Light In The Attic. This expanded version of
Buckley’s 1966 self-titled debut is now a two-CD collection boasting stereo and
mono mixes of the original LP, all exquisitely remastered; a bonus disc of
previously unreleased pre-LP material recorded in ’65 and ’66; and elaborate
packaging that, for long-suffering Buckley fans, will make mouths water.

 

It’s evident from the outset what both artist manager Herb
Cohen and Elektra Records head Jac Holzman heard in the artist when deciding
they wanted to work with Buckley. Aside from the octave-traversing elasticity
of the then-19-year-old’s vocal cords, the dozen songs of Tim Buckley are remarkably forward-looking for a product released
prior to Sgt. Pepper’s, a blurry rush
of contemporary folk-rock, garage-spawned psychedelia, orchestrally-tinged pop
and sundry leftfield flourishes. It commences peppily enough with “I Can’t See
You,” Buckley skipping across extemporaneous, poetic lines of romance and
longing while musical foil Lee Underwood lets loose a barrage of twangy, jazzy
guitar licks. The majestic, strings-laden (courtesy arranger Jack Nitzsche) “Wings”
is next, followed by smoky, hypnotic freak-folk template “Song of the
Magician.” From there the rush of aural delights never lets up – jangly rocker
“Aren’t You the Girl,” the modal guitars and swaying strings of “It Happens
Every Time,” a neo-barrelhouse romp called “Grief In My Soul” that features a
young Van Dyke Parks pounding the ivories, the West Coast-style psychedelic
blues of “Understand Your Man.” Over the years Tim Buckley has frequently been typecast as a “folk” album Buckley
cut to get his music-biz feet wet while plotting a path to his subsequent
experimental phase (e.g., 1970’s Lorca),
but nothing could be farther from the truth. Virtually every genre of the era
is represented here, with Buckley testing the limits of his own voracious
musical appetite and rarely, if ever, uttering a musical cliché.

 

Following those 12 songs is the entire album again in its
original mono mix, something of varying interest depending on the listener’s audiophile-geek
(or otherwise…) predisposition. To these ears, the lusher, more expansive
tracks don’t really work in mono, although a full-on rock number like
“Understand Your Man,” cranked up loud, holds its own quite nicely. Meanwhile,
over on Disc Two one encounters no less than 22 previously unreleased cuts that
appear to have been tucked away in the back of a closet for over 40 years. The
first dozen, “The Bohemians Demos,” were recorded in Anaheim in ’65 by Buckley’s
high school band The Bohemians (they included drummer Larry Beckett, who also
co-wrote most of the material with Buckley), and while appropriately lo-fi,
Handmade has given the demos a decent clean-up job. It’s the sound of kids
working through a garage-rock jones – particularly on Nuggets-worthy tracks like “Let Me Love You” and the twangy “You
Today” – alongside moody folk-rock and the like, such as the Youngbloods-like
“No More” and an early stab at “It Happens Every Time.” Following The Bohemians
session are ten “Acoustic Demos” dating to the summer of ’66 featuring just
Buckley on vocals and guitar with Beckett adding some song intros and spoken
word passages. Several tunes would go on to be re-recorded as full band
versions for Tim Buckley, so it’s
instructional to hear, for example, Buckley’s original (and already complex)
arrangement for “I Can’t See You,” or the subtle Brit-folk inflections of a nascent
“Aren’t You the Girl.” There also comes a delightful moment midway through the
latter cut when for some reason Buckley cracks up laughing and almost stops,
then keeps going; for the remainder of the song you can tell he’s grinning (at
Beckett, presumably) as he sings.

 

The Handmade package is a 6″ x 6″  chipboard-stock cardboard “wallet” trifold
with a crimson string fastener; the two discs are each housed in individual
mini-LP sleeves; and there is a 20 page booklet with track annotations,
striking black-and-white photos (including a devastating Joel Brodsky portrait
depicting a beatific, beaming Buckley), and incisive liner notes from Buckley’s
longtime co-writer Beckett and journalist Thane Tierney. Beckett, writing
movingly of his dead friend, notes, “His tenor voice, strong and pure, [burned]
through octaves and styles, to his own bright melodies… We broke through [the]
distance with music.”

 

He’s right, too – in these songs you can hear the initial
stirrings of something legendary, yet you also bear witness to something
already robust and profound in its own right.

 

For all you aforementioned long-sufferers out there, Tim Buckley: Deluxe Edition offers hope
that eight more studio Buckley LPs will eventually be resurrected in expanded
and remastered form. It’s high time.

 

[Photo Credit: Joey Brodsky]

CLEVO CALLING Human Switchboard

The late ‘70s
punk/post-punk sound of northeast Ohio
lives again via a crucial anthology. Kurt Cobain would have approved…

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

Back in the 1980s, when Cleveland
was trying to snare the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the knock on it was that no
historically crucial rock ever came out of northeast Ohio. Sure, deejay Alan Freed started out there
and popularized the term “rock ‘n’ roll,” but that’s a long way from actually
creating enduring music.

 

It’s now clear that at the very time that debate was raging,
rock for the ages had indeed recently come out of the area. The mass media and
record business – and the Cleveland
business leaders who successfully pushed for the Hall – just didn’t realize it
yet. But from the late 1970s into the 1980s, northeast Ohio was the spawning
ground for memorably idiosyncratic and innovative bands that pushed punk/post-punk
out of New York and England and into the American heartland – Pere Ubu, Rocket
From the Tombs, Devo, Dead Boys, Tin Huey, Bizarros, the Cramps, Pagans, the
Waitresses…and more.

 

And as awareness of these acts’ impact on rock has grown,
interest has deepened. Fans now want to rediscover all of the area’s
avant-garde bands. And the newfound interest in Cleveland’s Human Switchboard is an
especially good example. That band consisted of two students who met at
Syracuse University, Bob Pfeifer and Myrna Marcarian, plus Pfeifer’s friend
from hometown Cleveland, Ron Metz. From 1977 until their 1985 break-up, they
managed only one studio album -1981’s Who’s
Landing In My Hangar?.
 

 

Pfeifer played guitar, Marcarian keyboards and they took
turns on (and occasionally shared) lead vocals. The twin-lead guitar-organ
dynamic, as well as Marcarian’s melodically ominous vocals balanced by
Pfeifer’s anguished, urgent talk-singing, gave the band depth and
dimensionality. Metz
was the drummer; guests played bass and otherwise filled out the sound.

 

Because that record was so good and because the band played New York often enough in
its time to build a following, Human Switchboard has never been totally
forgotten. But it’s taken awhile for contemporary archivists to get to them.
Now, Bar/None Records has released on CD an expanded version of Hangar. It’s a veritable anthology,
containing 11 additional cuts recorded both before and after the album was
produced. (Three are live CBGB performances from 1984.) Plus, a download card
included with the CD accesses 19 more tracks.

 

On the album, the songs’ lyrically crackle with informed,
knowing romantic tension. Some build with wrenching drama – especially the
stop-start tension of “Refrigerator Door,” which Kurt Cobain reportedly once
called “the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of punk” and which features, at its chorus,
Pfeifer’s declarations of love in Slovenian, his parents’ native language.  The punk energy is also apparent in songs
like “(Say No to) Saturday’s Girl,” “No Heart,” “(I Used To) Believe in You”
and “Book on Looks,” all of which hold up well next to music of the era by
Elvis Costello, Blondie or others. It’s good to have it back.

 

 

“Different elements of the band have talked about doing this
for the last 15 years,” says Pfeifer, in a phone interview from his L.A. home. “There were
conflicts about how to do it and who to do it with. Once we decided, the
feeling was, ‘Let’s give a lot of music.’ And there is more music, too, that
wasn’t even included.”

 

Pfeifer currently plays with Tabby Chinos. He also
participated this year in the Cleveland Confidential book tour – three alumni
of Cleveland
punk bands who had written books. His, a novel called University of Strangers, is based on the Amanda Knox murder
case. Cheetah Chrome read from A Dead
Boy’s Tale
and Mike Hudson of the Pagans from Diary of a Punk.

 

He discovered on that tour a fascination by a younger
generation with the classic punk music of northeast Ohio. “When we were on that book tour,
everywhere we went we were like ambassadors for Cleveland,” he says. “Sixteen-year-old kids
in Berkeley
were asking obscure questions about people in bands there 40 years ago.”

 

At Syracuse,
where Pfeifer was studying philosophy, he met Marcarian in a class. He had
already made music in Cleveland with Metz, but found the
cover-band scene there boring. “I was at Syracuse
when Robert Palmer wrote an early review of Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel,
and I said, ‘Jeez, we should do this,'” he says. “So on a break we went home
and I discovered Pere Ubu and Rocket [Pere
Ubu evolved from Rocket From the Tombs, which included David Thomas, Chrome and
the late Peter Laughner and has itself recently reformed for a tour
], and
little things going on in Cleveland.”

 

So in 1977 in Ohio,
the band recorded a four-track EP. “I asked David (Thomas) to mix it and he
did,” Pfeifer says. It featured “Fly-In,”
“Distemper,” “Shake It Boys” and “San Francisco
Nights.” And it debuted the band’s memorable moniker: “We had the
EP done and had to come up with a name,” he says. “Ron and I were sitting
around watching some Cary Grant kind of film where (someone) said something
like, ‘Oh, your human switchboard has your calls for you.’ And we said,
‘Hmmm…Human Switchboard…  Sounds good.

 

“We pressed it up and sent it to, like, Bomp, NME, Melody Maker and some people in New York,” Pfeifer
continues. “It’s not like today with a million voices on the Internet. And all
of a sudden these reviews started coming out and John Peel started playing it
in England
and we sold 3,000 records in a week. That was the beginning.”

 

Human Switchboard: “No
Heart”

 

 

 

Bowing to his father’s wishes, Pfeifer enrolled in Ohio State
University’s graduate
program in philosophy. But Human Switchboard stayed together in Ohio and a couple well-received
indie singles, especially “In My Room” with its Van Morrison-meets-Jonathan
Richman intimations, followed in 1978 and 1979. Reception was good enough
Pfeifer was ready to break from academia.

 

“I figured if I went with the track I was on I was going to
be a professor, but all these things were going on,” he says. “I thought,
‘Let’s stop graduate school, go to New
York, play a gig and see how we are.’ In the meantime
was the question of what do we do. The idea of a used record store came up.
Those things usually happened around college campuses, so we opened a record
exchange around Kent, near Cleveland. And then we
played a New York
gig that was well-received and we went from there.”

 

That gig, in summer of 1979, was at the club Hurrah – a hot
spot for live alternative music. It went well and the band developed a
following – especially for its male/female yin-yang. “That was something no one
was doing,” Pfeifer says. “That was kind of a conscious way we’d be different,
and the point of music at that time was to be different. I remember the reviews of X, when they came east, were that
they were a West Coast us.

 

“But since that was a distinguishing feature we had, it was
easy for people to jump on the male-female thing as romantic tension, when
really I often listen to music as sounds,” Pfeifer explains. “So voices are
instruments to me – I don’t even listen to lyrics a lot of the time. What is
interesting to me is having the variation in voice when performing. Typically,
I’d write all the music and then if Myrna sang she’d write her lyrics.”

 

Human Switchboard:
Live at Hurrah, 1981

 

 

 

Pfeifer says there was the occasional criticism, however.
One came from the leader of the band that first inspired him, Television. “When
Tom Verlaine came to see us, he said he really liked the band, hated the organ
– because he’s a total guitar guy.”

 

Record-industry interest was keen, and Human Switchboard
signed with Faulty Products, an imprint of then-super-hot I.R.S. Records, home
of the Police and R.E.M. The tracks were recorded in Painesville, Ohio,
with production by the band and Paul Hamann. But while I.R.S. releases proper
went through powerhouse A&M Records, Faulty Products had independent
distribution, which limited Hangar‘s
potential reach somewhat. Still, says Pfeifer, “It did well enough we were able
to tour. We were able to live on it – that’s an accomplishment making a living
with what you love.”

 

But when it came time for a follow-up, the band and the
label had a falling-out. Other labels showed interest – the CD reissue includes
demos recorded for Polydor in 1983 – but Pfeifer says A&R changes always
stopped a deal from being made. After the band called it quits, he released a
1987 solo album, After Words on the
Passport label. (Both Marcarian and Metz
have stayed musically active.)

 

Then, despite Switchboard’s problems with record companies,
he went into major-label A&R as a career. He rose with Epic Records,
signing Alice Cooper for a huge 1989 comeback with “Poison.” He became
president of Hollywood Records for a brief period in the 1990s, and in the last
decade became ensnared in the wiretapping case against L.A. private investigator Anthony Pellicano.
He eventually pled guilty to one charge of aiding and abetting and was fined
and sentenced to time served and community service, according to an L.A. Weekly story. “I have no comment on
any of that. I can’t,” Pfeifer says.

 

Pfeifer, however, has fond memories of his time with Epic.
“I envisioned a Jerry Wexler/Ahmet Ertugen kind of A&R, which is exactly how
I did it,” he says. “I was in the studio and worked with people. I got to make
an Ornette Coleman record (Virgin Beauty). I got to bring back Alice Cooper. I got the Screaming Trees. I didn’t sign
anybody I didn’t love. I signed very few people and most had some success. To
this day, I’m proud of being involved with those people.”

 

And he’s proud, too, of Human Switchboard’s Who’s Landing in My Hangar being readily
available, again, as more people than ever come to realize northeast Ohio’s role in punk/post-punk
rock.

 

 

Human Switchboard:
Live at the Peppermint Lounge, 1981

 

LESS IS MORE: DJ Shadow

The OG
of instrumental hip hop – who, incidentally, performs tonight and tomorrow in Oxford and London
– talks about his recent return to form.

 

BY RON HART

 

“I think any good album title should apply not only to the
music contained within but also to the world at large,” says DJ Shadow, of the
name he gave to his new album The Less
You Know The Better
. “I don’t think we as human beings have been given any
kind of instruction manual on how we’re supposed to assimilate all of this
messaging we are bombarded with.”

 

Words to live by, particularly as we balance on the tip of
the iceberg of arguments, assimilations and asinine public remarks accompanying
the 24/7 news coverage of the logic-defying clusterfuck that is the 2012
presidential campaign. Josh Davis’ fourth full-length is the followup to his
2006 effort The Outsider (a bold but
questionable experiment with the fleeting and already forgotten-about mid-‘00s
rap fad “hyphy” that alienated many of his longtime fans). The Less You Know… is indeed a fond recall to the cinematic strain
of Shadow’s groundbreaking 1996 debut Endtroducing.
While collaborations are a key component of the new album, with contributions
from Posdnous of De La Soul, Talib Kweli, Tom Vek, Afrikan Boy and Little
Dragon, it’s the moments that hearken back to the sample manipulating
soundscapes of Shadow’s garage days that has people calling this one a return
to form, such as on ominous track “Give Me Back The Nights”.

 

“The voice comes from a record I found at a thrift store in Sacramento,” reveals
Shadow when asked about the impetus behind the dialogue interlaced atop the Blade Runner-esque cut. “It looked like
just another religious record from the ‘70s, but I was stunned when I dropped
the needle. I love the texture of the recording, it sounds like someone turned
on a tape recorder in a sweat lodge or something. Once I heard it, I knew my
job was to shepherd it to completion with a sympathetic background score. I
like choosing moments in my records where I take a back seat rather than trying
to overproduce. Just sit back and let it happen.”

 

Unfortunately, many of the little neighborhood record stores
and secondhand shops guys like Shadow and his brethren have spelunked to seek
out these hidden treasures are largely falling prey to the desperate economic
end times of the modern age. This is a hard fact for all lovers of these sacred
vestiges of sonic knowledge, but something Shadow takes in stride even though
he remains cautious of how the gauntlet is being passed down.

 

“The stores I grew up going to were these old Mom and Pop
type geezer record stores that catered to older doo-wop and rock collectors,”
concedes Shadow. “They didn’t care about soul and rap, so they didn’t know how
to price it.  That was when it was fun.
All you have left for the most part are vinyl boutiques, where every record is
researched to the hilt online and priced within an inch of its life. I don’t
really care for that shopping experience as much. If I want to pay Internet
prices, I’ll go on the Internet; why would I go through the trouble of driving
there and dealing with Mr. Unpleasant? I still dig, I still support the vinyl
format, but I do it quietly, on my own terms, without a lot of fanfare. The
game has changed, but my passion for it remains.”

 

As for his own future, with the 20th anniversary
of his old label, the groundbreaking abstract groove imprint Mo Wax, looming on
the horizon, the notion of reuniting with his old partner James Lavelle and
reforming the classic lineup of their celebrated illbient supergroup UNKLE  is a strong possibility for the milestone
celebration.

 

“I’ve been seeing a lot more of James in the last year,” he
reveals. “I think the good times have finally defeated the bad times in his
mind. He went through a rough time when he lost all his artists, and it ended
up alienating him from us. We talked briefly about the possibility of a
reunion, and I do think it will happen at some point.”

 

 

A
version of this story also appears in the latest print edition (#11) of BLURT.

RESURRECTING THE WILD-EYED BOY Carter Tanton

A traumatic experience
with an indie label leads to multitasking with several indie artists – and,
subsequently, one of 2011’s best indie albums.

 

BY
MAX BLAU

 

On
David Bowie’s early classic album Space
Oddity
, There’s a somber, orchestrated song titled “Wild Eyed Boy From
Freecloud.” According to Bowie,
it’s a track “about the disassociated, the ones who feel as though they’re left
outside.” He wrote the song to describe his own feelings of introspection and
isolation. It’s a song that explores our carefree curiosities in our youth and
the evolution of that into our fragmented adulthoods.

 

When
Carter Tanton was 15, he first listened to David Bowie’s outsiders’ ode. It
stuck with him over the years, both in terms of his own individualistic
exploration as a songwriter. “The way in which I interpreted his lyric[s] has
to do with preserving youthful inspiration, wild unadulterated joy and
innocence,” he explains.

 

It’s
that pure, unadulterated experience that has driven Tanton continue making
music.

 

His
latest album Freeclouds (Western
Vinyl; read the BLURT review here), his first recorded work under his own name,
finds the songwriter recapturing the magic of simply writing songs and the
sense of creative accomplishment that ensues. It’s a record full of sonic
diamonds in the rough of his shifting noise experiments, revealing an
infectious pop hooks before waning into the hazy walls he’s constructed.

 

More
than anything, Tanton’s work can truly be considered a labor of love after the
near half-decade struggle he’s faced in releasing a full-length effort. He
previously led the group Tulsa,
who garnered attention for their 2007 EP I Was Submerged. The group signed with
Park The Van records and began to work on their debut LP.

 

Tanton
spent two years writing and recording an album that never got released, teaming
up with Califone producer Brian Deck, whose work he admired given its adept mix
of both lo-fi and hi-fi recording techniques. Halfway through making the album,
however, his relationship with Park The Van went sour.

 

“Park
The Van stopped writing checks after only a few weeks and eventually stopped
returning everyone’s calls, Tanton explains. “Which left me with the
responsibility of financing a record which was only half tracked. I sold off my
own studio in Boston
to keep it going until even that ran dry. It eventually reached the point where
for six months I did not own the masters to the record.”

 

He
ultimately purchased his masters back from the studio, but the damage wrought
by the indie label was done. The process left Tanton stuck between a rock and a
hard place, having invested so much of himself into that record but having
little to show for it. The battle drained him of his creative impetus,
ultimately resulting in the disbandment of Tulsa and the anticipated follow-up record.

 

“I
still can’t think too much about this without going into my own private blind
rage. I was so inspired to make that follow up record,” Tanton vents. “I lived
and breathed it for two solid years, to the point where the stress of it all
began to suffocate.”

 

Left
without a project or direction, Tanton took to a variety of other projects,
including working as a producer for numerous acts, most notably Twin Shadow. He
also recently joined Lower Dens as a permanent member this past year, and has toured
as a guitarist with Marissa Nadler – in what became, incidentally, a
relationship more than what your average frontwoman and touring musician might
have.

 

Tanton
and Nadler worked closely together, as he essentially became her right-hand man
for her 2011 release Marissa Nadler.  “She allowed me to become very involved with
the songs, from helping select which ones to record to doing a bit of
co-writing,” he says. “We developed a trust that I haven’t reached with anyone
else where she really gave me carte blanche on the record.”

 

Working
in these different capacities helped Tanton to find his way back to his own
work. He tried to let go of his desire to write songs – something he had
started to resent at one point. It was in this uncertain place, caught in his
tumultuous love-hate relationship with songwriting, that Freecloud‘s opening track
“Murderous Joy” was born.

 

“It’s
about the joy I felt when I first began writing songs and how different I had
begun to feel in the months prior to recording and writing “Murderous Joy,” he
admits. “I had grown to resent how much music isolated me from my friends and
having intimate relationships… What was formerly all I ever wanted to think
about and spend my time doing was now like a scapegoat for how unhappy I was. The
song does not come from a good place is all I can say.”

 

The
song’s chorus returns to his Bowie
fascination, recalling that dualistic introspective immersion and
disassociation as he cries out, “I need just a little time to sing you a
line you won’t soon forget / about a wide-eyed boy and his murderous joy / when
words to a song he’d set.” Tanton’s album opener cathartically sums up his
songwriting struggle in one of the year’s best pop gems.

 

Freeclouds‘s nine other tracks
offer a collection of songs that spans as far back as his pre-Tulsa days. It’s
far from a cohesive record, something Tanton concurs with. It’s more
interesting in a way, offering a true first look into the development of a
promising songwriter’s evolution over the course of several acts, experiences working
with other talented musicians, label struggles and life in general.
“Horrorscope” emerged from the high-end Tulsa-LP sessions as the one song
Tanton and Deck successfully collaborated on. Tanton created “Gauze Of Song” on
the exact opposite end of the spectrum, recording a Tulsa demo in a garage. “Fake Pretend,” which
features Nadler, was reworked numerous times since Tanton originally wrote the
song as a “weepy ballad” back in 2004.

 

With
Freeclouds finally released, Tanton
finally has stepped forward, closing a chapter he’d like to forget and moving on
from the ashes of Tulsa.
Looking forward into the next year, he’s focused onto next year’s plans, which
included lots of touring, releasing a record with Lower Dens and finishing up his
next solo record.

 

“I’m
touring this record until March or thereabouts, then Lower Dens will tour the
new record,” he says. “That sits well with me. I’ll have made my new record by
that time and so hopefully it will be released as Lower Dens finish our touring
cycle.”

 

Tanton’s
finally got his groove back as he moves forward into 2012. A large part of
that’s due to the fact that he’s learned to roll with the punches, be it label
troubles or working all sorts. More importantly, he’s rediscovered the wild-eyed
boy within himself and rekindled the flame that’s kept his songwriting desire
burning as bright as ever.

 

“If
I wanted to stop [writing music] I could [have]… it was my choice to continue
with music or not,” Tanton concludes. “What started out as a pretty bleak
outlook turned into something powerful and reassuring.”

 

 

MUSIC AS CONVERSATION Hiss Golden Messenger

Erstwhile
The Court & Spark frontman MC Taylor’s new message sounds golden.

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

The way MC Taylor sees it, he made life-long friendships and
enduring musical connections in his previous band, the critically acclaimed San
Francisco-based The Court & Spark. Other than that, though, “everything
else about that band was a failure.”

 

A harsh verdict, yes, and one that sidesteps the varying
quality of four full-lengths of roots-tinged, ‘70s-flavored rock TC&S made
— but an accurate verdict nonetheless by almost every other “success”
yardstick. Typical of the band’s fortunes, for instance, was a 2006 four-act
bill in Charlotte, N.C. – including Dead Science, Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista,
and Shearwater — that this writer and maybe a dozen others enjoyed in a club
that can hold 1,100 people.

 

“The show that you saw us play, that was the story of that
band, really,” Taylor
says now, with a rueful chuckle. “Low turnouts, long drives, playing to nobody,
not selling any records, the people in charge of selling our records having no
idea what we were trying to do.”

 

So Taylor, now 36, did what you do in the Internet-era: He
disbanded and turned to a self-contained project that costs him much less,
rarely plays out or tours, and runs at its own pace while hewing to its
artist’s vision more so than ever before. Now operating under the spiritually
significant moniker Hiss Golden Messenger, and celebrating a wonderful new
release called Poor Moon (his fourth full-length
as HGM), Taylor
has come to terms with the place music holds in his life.

 

“I’m making this music primarily for myself,” says Taylor. “My illusions of
making a living off of music are sort of gone – if they’re not gone, it’s not
something I’m considering anymore. I have a different way of being at this
point in my life. So what I’m trying to do is make music that makes me think,
and that makes me work, and that makes me a better person beyond the music.

 

“Sure, I would love to make some money; I’ve been doing this
so long and only ever owed money, and
there’s something wrong with that equation. But generally speaking, if you take
away a heavy financial motivation and the allure of just being on stage and
being in front of people, which is really an incentive that can’t be discounted
for a lot musicians, just that sort of public recognition, I don’t really give
a shit about that anymore, you know?”

 

That’s not the only change Taylor’s gone through over the last five
years. He left the Bay area for North Carolina
and earned a Master’s in Folklore from the University
of North Carolina, Chapel
Hill. With the birth of his first child, Elijah, two years ago, Taylor’s shift to a more
home-based musical enterprise and limited release-runs made sense from every
angle.

 

His music certainly hasn’t suffered from its lack of outdoor
activity. The move to Carolina, with its
proximity to the wellsprings of rock music, has inspired Taylor to explore those elements in full and
leave others by the way (HGM’s 2010 record, Root
Work
, offers a left-handed hint). The first Hiss Golden Messenger release, 2009’s
Country Hai East Cotton, set the new
template by stripping back some of the dub and Krautrock references from The
Court & Spark’s moody and atmospheric country folk  for a more direct — if no less meticulously
crafted and textural — palate.

 

Focusing thematically on the spiritual search that often highlighted
Taylor’s work,
the results may sound like they tilt more rootsy now. But they still reflect Taylor’s broad crate-digger interests: the autumnal melancholy
of Bare Trees-era Fleetwood Mac; the laid-back
wah-wah of Topanga
Canyon and NoCal twang; the
warm, Obscured By Clouds and Spirit of Eden atmospherics; the
Traffic-like horn breakdowns; the occasional Canned Heat boogie flavors. Taylor’s laconic vibrato
carries over as well, as does his connection with TC&S alumni (and consistent
collaborator) Scott Hirsch and Tom Heyman.

 

That collaborative familiarity, and the music-wonk’s
inherent curiosity, is what makes HGM records such rewarding listens. In other
hands, those deep-catalog references and inspirations too often result in dusty
Smithsonian-worthy artifacts or, as is the case with young acts that haven’t
grown into their own sound yet, cheap knock-offs. For Taylor, it’s essential that HGM remain a
“contemporary concern” no matter how deep or obscure his music’s lineage.

 

“In the kind of realms of music that we’re working in,” he
says, “it seems like there is that Civil War re-enactment thing that can
happen, where you’ve got your bellbottoms, you’ve got your long hair and your
beard and your turquoise jewelry, and then the music starts and it’s like, ‘wait
– that’s it? That’s all you’ve got?’ So I’m not interested in re-enactment at
all.”

 

It seems strange then at first glance that, for Poor Moon,
Taylor has hitched his wagon to the North
Carolina start-up label Paradise of Bachelors, his
first label since The Court & Spark days. The label’s purview, after all,
began as an archival house. But in choosing Poor Moon as their first
contemporary release, the label owners – run by Jason Perlmutter and Brendan
Greaves, the latter a fellow UNC folklore alum – chose wisely not to become an
artifacts-only factory themselves. Their mission, Greaves wrote in the latest
issue of the Carolinas’ music quarterly Shuffle, is dedicated to “releasing under-recognized musics of the Southern
vernacular, regardless of vintage.” Their offer didn’t come as a big surprise,
says a thankful Taylor.

 

“Those guys are encyclopedias of music, so I can actually
sit down with them and we can really, really geek out,” he says, insisting that
both label owners are just as well-versed on contemporary music, too. “That’s
something that’s very important to me in my life. That’s something I like. That
knowledge isn’t something that I lord over people in any way, but it’s part of
what gets me off. I like to talk about weird stuff, I like to acknowledge this
sort of obscure music in my own way in my own music.

 

“If we think of music as a conversation over time, then I
need to be doing that to keep my music in touch with the past and what’s to
come.”

 

***

 

Note:
If you’re in the North Carolina region, the
release party for
Poor Moon will be held at the Nightlight in Chapel Hill
on Saturday, Dec. 10. Opening will be Lambchop guitar whiz William Tyler,
who’ll also be sitting in with Hiss Golden Messenger.

 

DESERT NOIR, REVISITED Calexico

A
limited edition 12-LP box set showcase an alternate musical history of the
Tucson-based musical mavericks. Check the video trailer, below.

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

 

For longstanding Calexico wonks, the tour-only and
“unofficial” website releases under the band’s Our Soil, Our Strength imprint have been treasured goldmines — none of that cutting room-floor detritus or
those vault-cleaner cash-outs for this act. As I once wrote elsewhere, toss
another vocal track or two on these and they’d be indistinguishable,
quality-wise, from the band’s official output.

 

This isn’t meant to imply they could be better. They stand
on their own both musically and as snapshots of destinations along the Calexico
voyage, the “alternate history” that the band members allude to in the liner
notes. For example, Aerocalexico,
from 2001, may have been a collection of compelling studio snippets,
experimental instrumental voyages and homeless songs, but combined together
they read like they always were together — so much so that it’s long been one
of this writer’s favorite Calexico releases, period.

 

And there’s more, as each “collector’s item” carries its own
personality. Travelall, the 2000 LP
they did with Chicago-scenesters Doug McCombs, Noel Kupersmith and Rob Mazurek,
among others, is a marvelous blend of classic Windy City
post rock and the band’s sun-baked noir (it’s not an oxymoron with Calexico).
The Book & the Canal, from 2005,
shows them branching out into more electronica-accented territory, but without
losing their native sound. The all-instrumental songs on Tool Box, recorded in just three days in 2007 to support a European
tour, returned the band – in this case just co-founders Joey Burns and John
Convertino — to its desert-and-border roots just when some wondered if they’d
abandoned them after 2006’s more indie-rock inclined Garden Ruin.

 

Even the two live discs, 2002’s Scraping and 2008’s Ancienne
Belgique — Live In Brussels,
offer bookend examples of a great live band
that’s evolved over the years without losing their capacity to floor a crowd on
any given night.

 

Whichever unofficial release you gravitate toward, from
1999’s six-song Road Map EP to the Circo movie soundtrack from 2010, the
compelling originality of the fare, and the care with which the band delivers
it*, makes all eight releases essential for Calexico fans. And now they’ve made
it easy for listeners by collecting them all together and reissuing them in a
handsome, 12 vinyl-slabs box set (!con download codes! – including a code to access a slew of bonus tracks)
appropriately titled Road Atlas
1998-2011.
They’ve even drafted their former Tucson neighbor and BLURT editor-guru Fred
Mills to pen liner notes for the 40-page booklet.

 

*(Author’s Note: How much care does Calexico put into these in general? When this reporter
mail-ordered Aerocalexico in 2001, it
showed up with a hand-written thank-you note from Joey Burns and wrapped in
some pages of the local weekly — mind you, not Tucson’s local weekly, but
Charlotte, North Carolina’s local weekly. I live in Charlotte, by the way. As if that wasn’t
curious enough, Burns had circled a tiny ad for the best and most
off-the-beaten-path Mexican food eatery in town, and done so for a place that,
to my geeky knowledge, Calexico has never played.)

 

(the complete box set)

 

 

 

Most of the pleasure from the studio sets in this collection
stems from the interplay between Burns and drummer Convertino, where most
Calexico songs begin their lives. The duo’s intuition allows them to converse
on an organic level you rarely hear from rock musicians; they seem to reside
full-time in that mystical pocket most rockers hope to visit on occasion. Of
course, the better the musician, the more fruitful the improvisations – Burns
is classically trained, Convertino’s jazz chops are significant, and they’ve
played together forever since beginning as the rhythm section for Howe Gelb’s
Giant Sand incarnations in the early ‘90s (they also were original members of
the Friends of Dean Martinez ensemble). In the early Calexico years, Burns and
Convertino often toured alone, too, woodshedding with audiences. They still
occasionally begin shows with an improvised intro before the rest of the
collective joins in.

 

As for the 16-song sampler tapping selected choice tracks
from the box set, Burns and Convertino seem to have taken as much care
assembling this as they have the larger box’s entire contents over the years.
You know this because, while personal preferences may dictate which tracks you
also wish were included, it’s difficult to argue with any that are here (though
the version of “Man Made Lake,” taken from the 2008 live disc, finds
the band replacing nuanced instrumental moods with tumultuous indie noise to
poorer effect).

 

For instance, are you going to say to “no” to the band’s
haunting Spaghetti Western classic “Glowing Heart of the World” from Road Map, with which they dropped jaws
(including this one) and opened live sets in the early years? (You are not.)
Ditto for Burns’ mournful nylon-stringed renditions of Aerocalexico‘s “All The Pretty Horses” and “Gift X-Change,” the
former colored by Convertino’s brushed beats and pedal steel laments – the band
at their dusky best – and the latter’s soulful bowed bass and cello leavened by
vibes that suggest snowfall in the desert.

 

Calexico may be known primarily for these border-blending
hybrids and moody desert-noir compositions, but their palate takes in even
more. There’s the band’s jazz-funk groove (represented here by Tool Box‘s “Detroit Steam” and Travelall‘s brilliant “Cachaca”), and
“Half a Smidge” and “Ghostwriter” from the Book
& the Canal,
straight-forward twangers reflecting the band’s C&W
influences. There’s also “Waitamo,” the Yo La Tengo-like cruiser from Tool Box that shows Calexico’s affinity
with their indie rock peers, and the 90 seconds of samples, beats and organ
noise on Circo‘s “Entrenando a los
Tigres,” which blends in the band’s fondness for their home region’s
Native American rhythms.

 

As for what’s missing? Well, the sampler lacks any of the
more adventurous extended moody instrumentals — “Sequoia,” the beautifully
forlorn 7-minute experimental piece from Aerocalexico built on overlapping treatments of bowed bass, cello and nylon guitar, could
have replaced the original “Crystal Frontier” from that same release (heard
anyway in two more versions on the official 2001 EP release, Even My Sure Things Fall Through), and
any of the band’s longer excursions from Travelall would have been welcome additions, too. Also missing are their Euro-friendly numbers, like the chanson accordion waltzes or Erik Satie-influenced impressions that
pop up occasionally throughout the band’s catalog.

 

But these quibbles are mostly inside baseball for diehards.
As an introduction to one of America’s
most inventive and original bands, and as a taste from one of the true treasure
troves from anybody’s “secondary” catalog, this is a superb collection.