Thursday, January 20, 2005


There was a time when I was a steadfast foot soldier in the cause of Cool Movies. I joined the Films Committee at the union my freshman year and convinced the team to show Eisenstien and Bunuel movies. I knew the cult/indie/foreign section of every video store in the 20 mile radius. I gathered signatures to get to be able to screen “Pink Flamingos.” In short, a Cool Movie dork. As time went on, the exuberance of youth gave way into being a 9-to-5-er, where bills and traffic and drinking and sloth usurped my energies previously spent pouring over “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” a second time.

Fast forward 13 years, the supposed trinity of Netflix, Sundance and IFC are here to fill my needs, but the law of supply and demand backfires. Back when you had to hunt for the scarce supply of cult cinema, every morsel was delicious. Now we are bombarded by every vanity project and 1.5 trick pony that could snatch funding off the tree. Case in point: “Garden State.” The tale of a lost boy returning home to find the familiar to be equally empty as the destination they ran off to, is more common than muscle-bound warriors born to save the world with pure heart and sharp sword. Tabula Rasa Zach Braff manages to film himself doing the Holden Caufield to the camera for the better part of two hours, simulating the act of masturbating in front of a mirror, except more narcissistic. I won’t ruin it for you by revealing the line that forms the hub of this motionless wheel of Braff, but when his hands manage to leave his pockets for once and are borne aloft, outstretched, you’ll know what it is.

The other cool movie type is the tale of the Misfit. The fish out of water, except he is, um, in the water. “American Splendour” had some success in making Harvey Pekar the hidden everyman, but the whole time I felt it was trying to be “Crumb” the documentary, without the real life weirdness of R. Crumb and his family to uphold it. The latest 2005: A Dork Odyssey is the much hyped “Napoleon Dynamite.” Like the lovechild of “Repo Man” and “Mary Gallagher Superstar,” our hero with the unexplained name continues to kick against the pricks in his own delightfully inept way. While the movie was enjoyable (a trait that was mostly lacking from Garden State) I consistently wanted some break from the character. I wanted him to expand beyond his weirdness, but he never managed to do it. No explanation required in the world of Cool Movies.

Strangely, the one sub-genre that has surpassed Cool Movies, ones where the character wander their lives as zombies, is one where the characters actually fight against these zombies. Thankfully, the living dead are in full effect recently, no longer stumbling slow brain eaters, but amphetamine-fueled omnivores that want nothing more than to fuck your living shit up. Sad that a movie like the “Dawn of the Dead” remake starring Ving Rhames as both the muscle and conscience of the human condition, inspired more introspection and was frankly more “buyable” and either of the aforementioned movies. Who would’ve guessed that a Ving Rhames zombie movie would have one of the more touching relationships in recent cinema. (the one with himself and the gun shop stranded owner across the street, communicating only via handwritten signs on the roof over a sea of dead malevolence, with the inevitable looming on the horizon like an approaching storm. It’s almost Beckett-esque in its implications.)

“28 Days Later” had the same effect. I really felt for the protagonists in this film fighting everything from fatigue and hopelessness to fear and an unstoppable enemy, while all Zack Braff has to do is get on his meds and get over himself. These hit home in that the characters, and the audience, don’t necessarily know if they are going to make it. Horror movies have the delicious cathartic option of killing off its leads without ruining your buzz, whereas had Napoleon Dynamite died while having his head dunked in the toilet, it would’ve died on the vine. The dynamics between the characters in zombie movies, often thrown together by circumstance rather than an actual supposed bond, have a more believable relationship than those of the families and friends in the Cool Movies.

“Shaun of the Dead” brings this all full circle. Shaun, the surfer on the low tide of life is the archetypical Cool Movie protag. He has a bigger loser for a best friend, an impossible dick for a roommate, a babe he doesn’t deserve for a tenuous girlfriend. The beauty of it is how the zombies make their presence gradually known. In Shaun’s world, the line between the walking living and the walking dead goes unnoticed until the scale begins to tip toward the undead. His trials and triumphs are bigger than the average horror movie knight, which I cannot detail without ruining it, but trust me, he does more psychic damage to himself than he does to the slobbering monsters he eventually slays.

I am not, as a rule, a “Horror Fan.” I don’t sludge out to every slasher thing that comes out, and the humor of circus sideshows like Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” has faded on me. I still have hope for the Cool Movie. I know they are still out there, waiting to hatch. But until the financial backing runs out on the current spate of Feel-Indifferent-Movies, my reserve is bolstered with the knowledge that there are always more zombies.


Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Matt Sweeney – Superwolf

Caveat Lector: I am a huge, unabashed Will Oldham fan, and have a difficult time separating the wheat from the chaff in his wide river of song, since it is all tasty wheat to me. Some folks have a Morrissey, or a Nick Cave, or still even an Elvis that they can anchor their boat with, someone who can always be counted on and even in times when they don’t deliver, there is a surplus of devotion to spackle these small holes in continuity. Will Oldham is my Morrissey.

All that said, Bonnie Prince Psuedonym has teamed up with frequent cohort and ex-Chavez and Zwan member Matt Sweeney to create one of the best records Sweet William has ever blessed with his ever-smoothening falsetto. One of the things I love about Will Oldham’s output is the static pulse of his records, whether it be the stark world of “Arise Therefore, the opium den that is “Get On Jolly” or even the rollicking country romp of his recent “Bonnie Prince Billy Sings Greatest Palace Songs”, his records flow by like a barge on the river (except that they usually adopt a slower pace that your average hotshot barge) This time around, the music revolves around the medium speed plaintive canticle of Matt Sweeney’s guitar and slight augmentation, while the two harmonize singing abstract hymns to love and sex and the sun. It’s one of the least pompous of Will’s records (and I like his pompousness) in that he seems totally comfortable sharing the marquee with his partner.

The spooky slow-burner “My Home is the Sea” lends credence to the “Neil Young X Postmodernism = Will Oldham” equation oft thrown out when describing him, while doing what very few Billy songs do – pick up the pace half way and rock out. There are plenty of beauty-seeking duets between the two like “What Are You” and the transcendent centerpiece “Bed is For Sleeping” perhaps the prettiest song he’s ever done.

Also present are the trademark churchy numbers like the spiritual locust swarm of “Goat and Ram” and the non-ironically uplifting “Lift Us Up.” A highlight track for me is the is the nearly monochromatic “Blood Embrace” where the music wavers in and out of corporeality under Will’s stark tale of betrayal and revenge, complete with a cinematic sample from some movie that makes this song flicker, like cinema projection though a haze of smoke.

In an era of long albums, “Superwolf”s 44 minute running time makes this album the perfect length, slithering by you, picking up psychic lint shed as you spellbound listen without eroding you, which even I will admit, some of Will’s former snail paced output has a tendency to do. This album free of trickery and bombast is perhaps my new favorite from my old favorite and I gleefully hereby spread the word.


The Black Keys – Rubber Factory

Amongst music nerds with a big-picture viewpoint and tendency for hyperbole, there is a common drinking game instigated by the utterance: “OK, Best Rock Band Ever…” and a vortex of time opens up swallowing all attentions away from bored girlfriends and ongoing pool games so that all available energies may be applied to the given task. To put in true dork context, its like as if lights would dim on the Enterprise so that Warp engines could be fully torched and push our beloved crew to their Final Destination. There are a variety of contenders: The Ramones invariably come up (whereas the Influential Sex Pistols almost never do), as do The Velvet Underground and The Clash and Neil Young and Crazy Horse. If the hoary Beatles or Rolling Stones get mentioned, the collective scoffs hang in the air like vapor trails – now is not the time for voting with the major parties, now is the time to collect signatures for your particular Nader. I’ve heard plenty of minor leaguers brought up (some by me) like Oasis, The Pixies, The Sonics, The Fall etc etc – all bringing about a spate of goatee stoking and thoughtful effort put into support/refutation, but I think my finest hour came when I threw down The Black Keys.

From Akron, OH, via the wellspring of swampy blues that is Fat Possum records, spring this raw electric guitar and drum duo, stripping away trappings of style and fashion to just rocking the fucking house. Their earlier albums “The Moan”, “The Big Come-Up” and the spectacularly greasy “Thichfreakness” get at the core of apple Jack White and Jon Spencer are satisfied to merely polish and place on the teacher’s desk. The Black Keys exemplify what I truthfully want in a bar band: get my head bobbing, make me do a kick-drum shuffle with my foot as I ignore the drink in my hand, make me wanna holler “YEAH!” at the end.

This new album “Rubber Factory” sees them following their previous blueprint with a little growth as songwriters. The fiddle-scraping opening dirge of “When the Lights Go Out” captures the slow rotation of the earth of Delta Blues while infusing it with the mechanical sturm and drang of a lower-wattage Swans, while rockers like “10 AM Automatic” and “Stack Shot Billy” kick out the dark blues cobbler, proudly bearing their sources (Rolling Stones’ “I’m Losing You” and the standard “Trouble in Mind” of which freaking Moby made a career) To mean the real shining moment is the tender slide and acoustic ballad “The Lengths” that glimmers in the twilight like the best songs by The Band. The Black Keys dovetail nicely with the new breed of Americana artists ( term that is on par with “electronica” in bloodlessness and lame-ity, but to evoke “” seems an even more egregious offence) like Drive-By Truckers and Slobberbone, that are not secretly hoping to get to be poet-in-residence offers at small progressive English departments so that they may pursue their own personal Townes Van Zandt ghosts in comfort, (though Patterson Hood of DBT would probably be game for it, now that I think of it) but wanna take their brilliance on the road and trail that other Van Zandt spectre. And I don’t mean Little Stevie.

I never could completely convince my partners in crime that The Black Keys are worthy of the Golden Pitcher at the aforementioned council meetings, or that they even qualify for competition, but love is not primarily an objective enterprise, and I love this lil band and will take it any day over whatever dark horse you are backing with equal devotion. And that’s what makes being a big music nerd worth while.

Monday, January 10, 2005


I was a distraught teen with tendencies for overreaction, and think how Xiu Xiu would've been talking about my life, man, just like I thought Bauhaus was.

Xiu Xiu – Fabulous Muscles

Ah youth! Carefree and full of mischief! Trotting down gravel roads, setting a hoop to spin with trusty stick, beloved pals in tow. Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu seems to have a had a similar halcyon childhood, ‘cept his was augmented by cold leather daddies who made scary use of his oft-mentioned anus and left him weeping in the rain, the cries of his cracked adolescence bouncing off dead ears to head to the unfeeling moon. OK, I don’t actually know Jamie Stewart or anything, but if the overwrought melodramatic frank narrative of Xiu Xiu’s output is to be believed to be 25% true, the boy did not grow up on Walton’s Mountain.

Xiu Xiu the band backs up JS’s histrionics (picture a more dramatic sounding Connor Obrest, if you can) with a combination of video game bleeps, sensitive acoustic guitars, an exploratory bass, with a rhythm so disjointed that it has not experienced since The Blue Nile’s “A Walk Across the Rooftops.” I think they fall into some post-emo nether category with fellow drama club stars Destroyer and the aforementioned Bright Eyes guy. And every fiber of my musical tastes wants to hate this corny off-Broadway-musical-grade shit, but then I harken back to when I was a distraught teen with tendencies for overreaction, and think how Xiu Xiu would’ve been talking about my life, man, just like I thought Bauhaus was. And, the songs, bent as they are, are pretty catchy. The opening “Crank Heart” sounds like a Merlin has gone horribly awry, and this was the last goddamn straw for our hero. Highlights for me are the scathing polar-opposite-of-Toby-Keith “Support Our Troops”, bravely indicting soldiers directly for being part of a cold, violent war with the after-school special bravery of the spazz finally standing up to the jock; “I Love the Valley (Oh!)” is like Joy Division gone roller skating and the plaintive title track contains the winner lyric of the whole this thing:

Cremate me after you cum on my lips
Honey boy place my ashes in a vase
Beneath your workout bench

All of a sudden, Morrissey’s wanting to plummet off the Ferris wheel seems rather well adjusted.

The whole thing reeks of piqued teen angst, but so much so that it totally works and I unabashedly love this weepy lil group, bless their tortured hearts.

Outsideleft: The Return of the Boredoms

Boredoms – Seadrum/House of Sun

Ask anyone who is either too cool for school, or is an import-hungry troglodyte collector, and they will tell you that the band to beat nowadays is The Boredoms. They made the big splash in the halcyon days of Shimmy-Disc with their sub-noise-belch-from-rocker-hell “Soul Discharge” and have released a not entirely known quantity of impossible to find albums that will open your lazy ears on up. If one is to chart their ascent, they started with a garage racket reproducible if Pussy Galore was fronted by baboons, into some just plain weird music on “Chocolate Synthesizer” and “Onanie Bomb Meets the Sex Pistols”, where primal screams and feces-smearing regression meets the most original sonic dynamics this side of John Zorn, a frequent collaborator. eYe, the lead Boredom went on to gain further notoriety being the definition of frenzy for Zorn’s “Naked City” group, whilst the guitarist Yoshimi collaborated with Princess of Kool Kim Gordon in Free Kitten.

They labored in multitudinous side bands and tiny releases until 1999 when they released the modern psychedelic masterpiece “Vision Creation Newsun.” And I don’t mean psychedelic like Brian Jonestown Massacre but like what Pink Floyd are purported to sound like – head opening rhythmic biorhythms from the palpitating cosmos. This new one, come 6 fucking years later, follows the same tack but elongated and distilled. “Seadrum”, the first of two mammoth tracks, was recorded on the beach, where drum sets were stood up to face the tide, with the rush causing a static rumble in the bass and cymbals. On top of that, eYe, who has transformed himself into a rather singular DJ (no mean feat) mixes in various drum and rhythm tracks, WHILE Yosihmi drags her hand up and down the keys of a piano, creating a maddening-yet-soothing-after-you-submit new Exotica, the like of which could only be produced by a frazzled army of zombie Matrin Denny’s. It’s almost more taxing to describe than it is to listen to all the way though. But I swear, once you get used to the taste, nothing else will satisfy the Boredom hunger. They may be the ultimate cult band in that respect.

“House of Sun” is a more somber affair, with guitars and sitars meeting in a constant solar drone, and really, there is not a whole lot more to be said. Honestly, it’s not their best effort, since the Boredoms used to put all this and more into a 2 minute song, but both tracks in their 15-20 minute lengths do manage to astrally project you into their peculiar dimension if you are willing. My advice: get a copy of “Vision Creation Newsun” and become converted in the way of the Boredom before strutting down the aisle to handle the serpents with this release.

Sunday, January 9, 2005

outsideleft: Do Yourself a Favor, be daniel Johnston's Savior

Tribute albums are like airplane food to the serious music fan. They really want to hate their arrival, dry unsavory resemblance of the real thing doled out by people who are paid pretend to care that you are hungry for it. But also like airplane food, you know you secretly salivate for it when you see that cart emerge from the hidden nexus of the plane. You secretly hope “This will be the one. This one will be delicious.” That chicken sandwich will be delicious, transforming the start of the journey into a vacation unto itself. And, my theory is all serious music fans are closeted or unrealized musicians and that they are waiting for the moment that someone recognizes your dedication and asks you to be the dark horse addition no one has heard of on track 13. Personally, I am going to start on my ukulele rendition of “Michigan State” for the eventually appearing I Put the Ovaries in my Mouth: A Tribute to Devendra Banhart, so it’s ready when I’m asked.

All that said, I always check them out, and this one is maybe the best tribute album ever, in terms of structure, packaging, and content. Everyone is in their Sunday best to interpret the honored mentally unstable songwriter best know to the outside world, if at all, for making that alien t-shirt that Kurt Cobain was famous for wearing. Lesser known is he for the devastatingly, openly honest and powerful love songs he’s belted out with his squeaky voice and reed organ into the Panasonic Portable of the Heart for years. The hit to miss ratio is rather high on the hit side, with Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes winning the spirit stick for his alternative-rock-tastic take of “Impossible Love” and the Eels taking a wistful run though “Living Life,” imbuing it with his/their own peculiar wash of happy-sad. TV on the Radio, a current big deal that had bypassed me somehow offer a good “Walking the Cow” even tough it sounds like Peter Gabriel being backed by someone drumming a bedspring. Clem Snide, an alt-country underdog I’ve dubbed “the New 97’s”, who caught my attention the first time with a cover of VU’s “Sunday Morning” turn in a splendid “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Your Grievances”, as does Vic Chesnutt, who in some circles is considered like Daniel Johnston, but crippled instead of crazy, stepping in with “Monkey in a Zoo”, making it his own. Hip Priest of the Overrated, Tom Waits kicks in with a surprisingly effective “King Kong” accompanying himself on (gasp) human beatbox. Elsewhere is Beck, (the replacement for Sonic Youth as for omnipresent tribute-album-contributor) Death Cab for Cutie, M Ward, Calvin Johnson and Mercury Rev (has their singer always had such a weird voice, or was all that reverb out of necessity on “Yerself Is Steam?”) all provide satisfactory renditions, and the few sub-par contributions are good enough that they don’t mar things up. Were I to have time traveling and unstoppable powers of persuasion, I’d have had The Mountain Goats do a cover of my favorite DJ ramble “I Save Cigarette Butts” but (sigh) no one consulted me….

Now, reviews like this can be annoying to the unconverted, so this comp gets the gold fucking star for including a track for track second CD of all the originals, so that you can go reference what inspired this pantheon. Daniel Johnston’s pathos is in amazing effect here, running the gambit from his hissy cassette early years to various indie rock prop-ups in the late 80’s-90’s. Plus, pop that cd into your TV-typewriter and you get a multi-media Flash thingy with all the song lyrics, a huge scrolling index of Daniel Johnston original artwork (like I stopped flipping through it at about 50) all for sale, with links to the purchase site. They are all around $150 I believe, which is too tempting to pass up. The only indulgence on the part of the documentarians is the creepy Flash 101 “video” to the only new track, “Rock This Town.” That song, by the way, is the perfect anchor on this CD. Daniel sounds cigarette addled and maybe even a little drunk, being backed up by a thrashy outfit on this uncomfortable hymn to being fucked-up. It reminds you that Daniel Johnston is not some Tiny Tim curiosity, but a real damaged person, who does not poetically dance on the razor between insanity and genius, but a guy that really has a loose grip and needs help to keep from plummeting down the well, like he has numerous times before when he ventured out on his own.

This brings me to why this compilation is worth your dime (two cd’s for one cd price). The proceeds of the CD and the artwork sale are all going to Daniel, and the story I’ve heard, is that his parents are trying to buy the house next door, so he can move out of their basement and lead a semi-independent productive life but be reigned in when need be. I personally thing Daniel Johnston is not only a good performer, a great songwriter, but an actual important artist. One who has the call to open his heart to us, and one to which we can open our wallets.