Thursday, March 30, 2006

beta feels old, ham, joy

Every moment that Will Oldham is on the screen in Kelly Reichhardt's second feature film, Old Joy, it's impossible to look away from the man's mesmerizing, almost-freakish visage. Playing the perpetually-stoned and non-commital Kurt, that expansive pate, protruding forehead, and thick jut of amber beard threatens to overtake the film's surroundings, and yet the film's main focus, Mark (played by Daniel London) more than holds his own with his own intent stare.

His eyes are closed when the film opens, as he practices his meditation despite the blender of his pregnant wife and the phone call of his old friend. Mark is trying to do good in the world, trying to set it to rights as he drives his Volvo, listening to ranting left-wing talk shows, trying to remain centered. Or has he divulges at one point: "Find another rhythm, do what other people do."

The film, based on a short story by Jonathan Raymond and expanded to a full-length with Reichardt, is simple enough in premise: two friends decide to reconnect for a quick camping trip before paternal duties tear them asunder for good. They smoke a jay, get bummed about a record store they once knew and frequented closing down, feel the highs of the past come much lower now, and guards remain raised. And yet no interaction between two people, be they lovers, friends, or strangers, is ever that simple. Every word echoes an unseen past.

As the last post's faceless dialogue attests, Will Oldham himself, his creak of mystery, his crackled voicing of the unknowable ancients, resonates deep within my roots. Hearing him, seeing him, moves me to a heady time of my life, to malleable, infinite-possibilities of young years, to invincibility, to you know, the "quiet joys of brotherhood." So to see him portraying an old acquaintance makes me re-think my other strained and fissured-with-time relationships to friends in the past.

Throughout the quiet --at times unspoken-- dialogue between the two old friends, I project myself and my estranged friendships instead, toggling between which man perhaps represents us best. Am I more the ever-adrift and dispersive Kurt or the self-immolated tethering of Mark? Am I lost amid devilish details or else on the road to hell paved smooth with good intentions? As the men make u-turns, get lost, seek drunken shelter from the encroaching darkness of both Oregon rainstorms and inpenetrable forest dark (cinematographer Peter Sillen captures the overcast skies, the umbrage and chill of trees come evening exquisitely) or else wander slowly along faint trails towards their destination, there is the small realization of no straight trajectories, no cut and easy path to travel. "It is to be on one thing only, on the road to God knows where," Kurt croaked in another life.

The film's center, soaking in the buck in cloistered hot springs with a can of Hamm's to cool them, is silent, just the gurgle of water and steam rising between pale feet. His hands move to Mark and yet there is no resolution. As the discussion afterwards goes, Reichardt wonders about idealism when it is unforgiving or unable to come across and reconnect, to forgive with grace. Grace...that's an unwieldy word. I still find myself in such a limbo, wondering (with a line that echoes one once written to me in a long-buried letter) if the wires can ever be burned clean, if there is ever true connection between people. Is communion only in the past?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Grace…That's a weird word."

"I was having a bad time of it back then. Running ecstasy in the deserts of New Mexico, across the border and back. But shuttling between Texas and California began to take its toll on me, and after one big payoff, me and my girl headed to Juarez and just burned ourselves out. Pills, 'shrooms, coke, anything we could get our hands on. We blew apart like dust down there at the border. An awful ending to it, man. So bitter."

"That sucks."

"So I just blew back into town for a few weeks, no money, no nothing, just the clothes stuck to my back, and telling myself that I’m just crashing here for a few days, to make up some time with a lost friend. Trying to recollect my scattered self.

"So I’m sitting in my friend’s living room one morning, listening to Bob Dylan leer out ‘No man alive will come to you with another tale to tell...’ when a scrap of paper on the hardwood floor catches my eye. It’s wedged between these books; one's called Way of the Animal Powers and there's a purple book saying Be Here Now. It's under these small clouds of cat hair and weed twigs. There, on this tiny piece of paper were these slanted, scrawled words my friend had hurriedly written out in his shaky hand:

I send my love to you.
I send my hands to you.
I send my clothes to you.
I send my nose to you.
I send my trees to you.
I send my blues to you.
Won’t you send some back to me?

"Just then I heard him stir in the other room, slowly shuffling into the bathroom. Even with the vent on, I could hear him murmur a small chant before the cracked mirror and stained porcelain sink. When he emerged, I couldn’t contain myself.

"'Man, did you write these lyrics? This is really fucking good!'

"Mumbling and clacking his new prayer beads together, he moved for the stereo, yawning out: 'No. I got it from him.' He handed me this broken jewel case. A crack sliced the black, backlit head of someone in front of a curtained window. Impossible to make out the face of this individual, but he almost seemed familiar, even in the shadows."

"Had you ever seen these Jandek records back in Houston? Weird shadowy faces and drum kits gleaming in the evening light? That's what the cover always reminded me of."

"Nunh-uh. But when he put it on, it was the strangest thing. There was just this hiss of room air, a sigh of breath, a rustle, and then the hesitant plucking of a guitar, attuned to itself but much looser, at a lower pitch. Then this flicker of a flat voice warned and warbled in a whisper: 'When you have no one, no one can hurt you.'

"The songs mumbled along to themselves. And just that morning I had this dream about stumbling into a room, and seeing myself separately in the creaky pink chair, leaning forward a little to sing in a wretched voice. Neither able to play or sing, I was somehow doing both, a set of fingers and thumbs, a pair of heaving lungs. Awkward chords, squeaking strings, wavering words in the vacuous room. And I watched as this shadowy self billowed about like wind-stirred curtains. It was fucked-up. That's what this thing sounded like. The more it became me, the more alien it was, too. And when we got to the song from that scrap of paper, it was like some crazy prayer sung on the verge of tears.

"I became obsessed, had to hear it all the time. All of our friends, too. We listened to it at his place every day, over and over again, trying to crack its code like we had cracked the plastic case that reflected it darkly. We grew beards, picked at guitars. Was it a Palace Brother, even if the only name on the case was plural? Was he an Oldham? Pushkin? Little Willy Bulgakov? My friend showed me the other things, these dusty seven inches of sketched covers, obscured with the shifting of names and people. It seemed like it could all be the same person, emanating from the backwoods like a nimbus on nimble little goat legs. I mean, it was him and his brethren that were bellering out like loosed wolves on "Come A Little Dog," wasn't it?

"At the same time, it seemed like it could be us as well, as we too took to the streets at night, our heads empty with acid and dope. Devout, we were. Read Timothy Leary, Diary of a Drug Fiend, Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, Valis trilogy. Crazy on the Holy Spirit, we thought, like wheels about to explode.

"We would see these curs out too, their nails clacking down 3AM's unlit streets in ragged packs, digging for nourishment among the garbage and table scraps. Every encounter with the wild dogs would raise the questioning voice in my head: 'Where'd the little dog come from?' And my voice would answer back like a skull echoing with webs: 'The little dog came from you.'

"This quavering voice told us of the fantastical tucked into the bleak, even in near-rural isolation with sheep and cow mewls. In daylight, it would be insurmountable, but with night's descent, all seemed possible. Taking the shit out of your pockets at night could turn you into a cosmonaut. Or did he say astronaut? Not only had this little man been a big ol' bear once, but also a duck out on the pond, saying 'fuck the land.' There was that one song with the storm on it, with the birds still chirping..."

"Number six?"

"Oh yeah yeah, that's the one where Stable Will morphs into a racing horse. Or that little sliver of a song where he told how Pretty Polly, or whatever her name was, could change her form: "Down the hill I'd like to take you, where I shot a little deer. My little dear, I'd like to take you down there."

"That one is called 'All is Grace.'"

"Grace…That's a weird word. Anyway, I kept expecting these prophecies to reveal themselves though, the lyrics to make sense, veils lifted, a lasting transcendence to come, but it always fell away. If we partook and got high, so would we come down.

It is to be on one thing only
On the road to God knows where.

"I was giving up. Does God even know where? Does God lie within? Was it all a lie? Or was it just this emptied earth, only animals and people, one form changing into the other? I didn't know shit. Who came by the way that he walked? Enigmas became tiring and useless. By the end of it, I would listen to the end of the record and laugh that he was actually singing that he was 'a kiddie pornographer.' And when that next Palace record came out with those Neil Young rockers on it, I mean, I still liked it, but that religious shit was just over for me."

"So what do you listen to these days?"

"Eh, mostly just Fiddy."

(Originally published in Sound Collector Audio Review #5.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

beta ketchup

Even though I had the most horrifying near-disaster of having my kneecap pop out of place last week, crumpling me to the floor of my house with fears of ACL surgery sans health insurance (or else falling down subway steps every time I venture out now), it's somewhat appropriate for the distinct sensation I've had the past few weeks of being busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

Not that you'd notice it from a dearth of posts, or my only recent links being from two-month old reviews in Miami that sat in editorial-switcheroo limbo before finally running this week, but I have been swamped with work, non-work, and a spring cold. Swear shit'll pop back into place (body shivered at just the thought) but until then:

Prog is not a four-letter word
"Too Much Love" (Rub'n Tug Remix)
"Just Like We (Breakdown)" (DFA Remix)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

zo so beta

My piss-take coda to James's otherwise choice Led Zeppelin overview at Moistworks.

Slightly more serious is last week's selection of African tunes I'm digging mightily. Worth a look just for the bad-ass photo Ali Farka Toure. Once again, I'll big up Keith Harris's look at the Golden Afrique sets.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

heep see

Cluster : '71

While staying in Chinatown recently to elude yet more transit shutdowns, I came across this odd wooden fish with a few black knobs on it that my friend had tucked away in her room. Hitting a red switch on it, a sawtoothed sinewave began to squelch aloud. Every nudge of a knob created new barbs, increased envelopes and attack or else screwed higher already ferocious frequencies. Her roommates were nonplussed that I had found it, as I immediately set about tempering and getting the noise under control. Were I to have mastered that fish, I'd only be creating Cluster '71 some thirty-five years after the fact though, so I just buried it under some of her laundry and went about my business instead.

Loose Fur : Born Again in the USA

Previous Jim O'Rourke excursions were somewhat rote exercises in various facial hair styles, despite the man being clean-shaven throughout. Early on, he worshipped those intellectual beards that AMM grows, then got downright grizzly with "the Fahey" by the time of Bad Timing. Eureka had him trimmed down to Van Dyke Parks's van dyke, but now he seems to be obsessed with both Steely Dan's wu-stache and "the Hitler" that Sparks's Ron Mael rocked, and so is Loose Fur oh so seventies. Not that the Fur is nearing the heights of either band (or sonically mimicking them, as O'Rourke projects are wont to do), as despite chops and parts aplenty, they're simply not razor-sharp enough with their wit to pull off a quasi-concept record about Jesus returning to Midwest Mall American culture and golf-playing carsalesmen for Christ.

Much like facial hair, this really grew on me. "Licks, licks, licks" the Mael bros. might've crooned, with Kotche cowbell just for the clop of it, the coda jazz chords and proggy changes getting pressed into some dinky diamonds. And holy shit, check out the 'power' video for "Hey Chicken") Which makes it fairly easy to forgive some of the shitty lyrics ("Thou Shalt Wilt" is a real shame, just because when Jim whispers like a high school drug dealer "Check this shit out" it always makes me snigger right before hitting the FF button to avoid the Ten Commandments redux). As the crunchy wanking gives way to the oozed wooze of "Wreckroom," it makes for an early quarter highlight.
Loose Fur - Pretty Sparks

Fred Neil : Fred Neil
Vince Martin : If the Jasmine Don't Get You the Bay Breeze Will

Standing on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal in the middle of a blizzard, I now know what these two New York folkers were doing when they got the fuck out of the Village scene and lounged down at the sparse Coconut Grove in FLA instead, putting the lime in the coconuts. The exhaust smoke out of their clothes, its instead infused with...well jasmine and bay breezes. Both of these were recently reissued and they sound like the sea itself, mighty and deep, simply unplumbable and breathtaking at either sunrise or sunset, flashing you their majesty while also revealing the smallness of humanity. The playing is top-notch throughout (Village all-stars on the former, Nashvillain session men on the latter), and there's really no need to spend time gleaning the strands of folk, jazz, raga, country, and blues that course through the sounds, as its all of a piece. A friend at Other Music deemed it "marina rock" (not to be confused with yacht rock) and you can feel the salty spray coming off the prow of the boat, the dolphins unseen as they course alongside you.
Vince Martin - Snow Shadow

Scott Walker : Climate of the Hunter

No doubt to 'cash in' on the Scott Walker wave that will accompany The Drift when it comes out in May, Climate of the Hunter, Walker's much-maligned 80's album, comes back around. While I am of course kicking myself for not purchasing this on record when I came across a clutch of Scott records (2&3), I could see why I would pass it up on first audition. It opens with the unfunkiest clop of a cowbell I've ever heard. It clamors like, you know, a lolling cow in a field. It has Sting-sleek bass, proggy compressed drum sounds, and Scott's dark theater could easily get mistook for a Phantom of the Opera audition. And Billy Ocean, for fuck's sake! To have giants among men like Tennessee Williams, Evan Parker, and guitarists Ray Russell and Mark Knopfler simply absorbed into the black hole of the man is telling though.
Scott Walker - Sleepwalkers Woman

Santana : III

Before the collab-heavy star-hitching (to have Lauryn Hill be your mule is plain wrong, but I must cop that the Rob Thomas smooth-cringe was a guilty pleasure) Santana owned San Antonio and would stop through every four months or so to play Sunken Gardens. The place remains a refuge for metal: Moxy records are on the walls, Bloodrock goes for money, and senior citizens like Budgie and King Diamond make a stop before touring Brazil or wherever it is they're still treated like gods. When I was in Costa Rica, jamming the official station for middle-aged American ex-pats, Radio Dos, every half-hour or so, the crybaby wails of "Black Magic Woman" would emerge, a decidedly American comfort sound in Latin America. I ignored those hallucinatory Santana gatefolds outright most of my formidable years, but this reissue shreds, making me re-think the man. Playing it at work, the acidic solos always elicit audience reaction of some sort.
Santana : Toussaint L'Overture

Kay Hoffman : Floret Silva

If you're into aural weirdness down in San Antonio, at some point you come across Mister Spacer, who intermittently looses crucial documents on Robot Records. A true heavyweight, the man played this pup some real shit (Pierre Henry's lobe-microwaving Cortical Art III for one, but he was one of the first people I knew in the early 90s to appreciate late-era Talk Talk, too) and he put out singular seven inches from the likes of Merzbow, John Duncan, Organum, and Lithops. But even this release is an oddity for him.

A clutch of poems from unknown monks in the 13th century, their kind eradicated by the encroaching and assimilating Roman Catholic Church, save for these documents unearthed in the 19th century in Germany, subsequently set to music by a lovely young Italian lady named Kay Hoffman. Hoffman and her co-horts have ties to the Italian prog scene, and this album was originally slated to come out in RCA/Italy in the 1970s. Of course, that didn't happen, but it did make its way out in the mid-80s in Japan. So maybe getting reissued in Texas come the 21st century isn't so strange after all. For something 800-odd years old, this sounds timely, anachornistic while simultaneously being medieval, folky, proggy. Themes these minstrels once wrote on include this terrestrial life, spiritual quandaries, love, the dark forces to always contest...meaning it is everpresent.
Kay Hoffman - Tempus Instat

Oh yeah, this marks my 100th post.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

bet ajar

It's not every day that I recommend the poetry of a Rolling Stone writer, but Peter Relic's stuff in The Nightjar Review is delightful. (Jury is still out on Fricke-ian Sestinas though). Utilizing the Malaysian stanza form known as the pantoum (Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and John Ashberry all used it), Relic toggles between being trenchant and ludicrous, all rendered with a definite sense of craft. Gay quarterbacks, special hacksaws ordered off TV, and Jesus's love of hot pants are just a few poetic images visited. Hep also to the "No mini-Stereolab; aloe, retsin, I'm on" threats of Jeff-cepter as well as the murmured words of Diane Cluck.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

beta daze in heaven

As the PB Wolf or Burns' side Project could tell you, Movie Night is a-rolling. Imagine the Sopranos episode where Carmella and the molls/gals watch Citizen Kane with the help of Leonard Maltin ("Oh! The cinematography!") and you're almost there. Granted, it's been some austere titles so far, Tarkovsky's Mirror and Terence Malick's Days of Heaven. Throw in some Timmy Treadwell and you would have a good overview of the most eloquent wind shots in the history of cinema, as the three capture gusts across grass and brush verily, showing the chill of nature's invisible breath.

Malick, like the finest wool, does not bode well when shrunk. Days is severely cramped on the small screen, as is Badlands or The Thin Red Line, but it is a reminder to maybe race towards The Lost World (though it is its own phenomenon now).

Forgot about the Ennio Morricone soundtrack, which finds the maestro at his harmonicky hootenanniest, all pickin' and Accadian hollerin', with fits of tap-danced hoedowns, too. Gere anticipates Cheney at one point, about to buckshot Sam Shepherd while hunting quail. Did I mention this all takes place in the Texas panhandle? Though I can't rightly say I recollect Amarillo ever looking so danged fertile, flowing, and well...heavenly.

The Malick Poetic Voiceover is everpresent, with his ancient-sounding young girl talking to the wheat patches; in return they visit her at night to sway and whisper in her dreams. The cinematography gets downright National Geographic (perhaps my favorite aspect of a his films (Red Line's lens is entranced with razor grass as much as its all-stars), to the point you think there'll be discussion about the grasshoppers mating cycles or their diet. (I myself get a craving for whole wheat bread untoasted mid-film). That is, until the childish euphemism for grasshopper becomes the more adult "locust."

The giant cycles of man and his tractor machinations are already wheeling and gnashing at the film's start, outing hares and pheasants to scamper from the blades. Such manmade creations are soon overtaken by the larger wheels of seasons and blight, and ultimately that great destroyer, fire. The whir of the thresher becomes the hum of pestilence, the tiny chitter of locusts grows as deafening as flame's crackle; where man and animal once walked in abundance of the land, they are now cursed to scurry over the face of scorched earth. Gere himself is hunted like an animal by movie's end. When were those heavenly days though? Out in the fields during back-breaking labor? Daydreaming among the hay and fresh-crushed wheat berries?

There are cartoon birdies a-chirp on the cover of the newest Arthur Russell set, First Thought, Best Thought. Inside are extreme close-ups of flowers in bud (taken by Russell's Zen master) and a wide shot of a wheat field. One can only wonder how many times the native Iowan wandered lost through the fields, presaging his meandering the villages of New York, spacing out on the ferries and bodies of water that echoed the flatness of home.

Space and spaciness go hand in hand for Arthur, the space in the sound of these orchestral works, the latter in how Instrumentals Vol.1 never existed, yet Vol. 2 did, only wait, it was mastered at the wrong speed. Pieces break off mid-thought, or else pick up in different mindstates. This selection is from Vol. 2, and it just picks up at random and leaves that way as well. This work evokes the recent Moondog set, in that the two men take the limitless expanse of the Midwest and tuck it inside Gotham's claustrophobia, clearing out the headspace via ears. Moondog's recordings have wolf howls and taxi horns, the din of traffic made to respond to Harding's concise orchestrations. One piece on the Russell set has a foghorn bellow caught in its amber.

A discussion the other night with Steve Knutson (who took on this Sisyphean task of releasing the vast archival work of Russell's) and minimalist composer Arnold Dreyblatt touches on Arthur's sense of humor. It's light and full of whimsy these works, never ponderous but twinkling, shimmering, almost catchy and dare I say it, twee. Dreyblatt suggests further the generous nature of Arthur and how such abundance shows up in his music. Hear how the wheat sways:

Arthur Russell - Instrumentals Vol.2 (Track 11)

beta got it for cheap


Ennio Morricone : Crime and Dissonance

Tony Conrad, Rhys Chatham, and Jonathan Kane
Orthrelm : OV (disclaimer: auditioned and writ during my food poisoning episode (not recommended))

rocket beta

Of course, Simon can precisely link to the PiL Top of the Pops performance that altered his trajectory, but the only good thing I can find (my laziness extends beyond mere blog non-update) on YouTube is of the Transformed Man mutating into the Three-Headed God that he secretly is during this smoker-friendly rendition of "Rocket Man" from a '78 Sci-Fi Awards show.

Feeling guilty for not discussing Sylvestergate, SPINsanity, Dick Wolf, or "the Harold," here's the song that inspired the song that inspired such transformation:

Pearls Before Swine - Rocket Man

Friday, March 03, 2006

beta why you been gone so long

Dealing with the French Revolution of crit-dom over here (and feeling like a chicken-head despite the toga), I only got this to show for it.