Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mutant Down'ds*

*Short for 'downloads'; rhymes with 'sounds'

MUSIC

I try to avoid all those full album blogs that flood the internets, as they are so overwhelming and morally reprehensible (kidding), but I give in every once in a while. Any lover of music and blogs at least ought to know about Mutant Sounds and the more narrow-focused Commercial Zone, and that gems like the following are waiting on the hard drives of some MegaUpload or RapidShare computer farm out in Wisconsin:

--Confetti are rightly compared to Young Marble Giants, but I would say they have a slightly more maximalist approach to minimalism. Give them a few more pieces of musical equipment and some club beats, and you might have Saint Etienne. I really love this stuff, the Sarah Records sound (a label Confetti had nothing to do with), music so pleasant and pretty and quiet as to be totally audacious. Their take on Josef K’s “It’s Kinda Funny” from their Retrospective LP both improves the melody and drowns it in groovy, yet barely there, atmosphere, and not long after that, there are three (3!) Wedding Present covers lying in wait.

--Spent Bullets is the second straight Adam Franklin solo album that starts with a hazy and off-kilter pop gem and ventures into territory so hazy and off-kilter as to transcend the category of “pop gem.” This guy’s good at what he does.

--Crazy Rhythms-era The Feelies had succumbed to the rise of jangle by the time they released their second album, The Good Earth, in 1986. Thank God, as this is canonical jangle, and features “When Company Comes,” a mostly wordless tangle of jangle that is even moodier and less beholden to conventional song structure than their similarly instrumental-ish greatest song ever, 1980’s “Raised Eyebrows.” This is leafy greens music, very humid.

--The Gun Club: Are they The Leaving Trains with a deeper sense of American imagery, or The Leaving Trains with less memorable tunes? It was The Leaving Trains who advised us to kill tunes, while The Gun Club’s Fire of Love sounds like corpse music, walking undead blues or something. Very good.


On the legal front, I went to the best but most out of my way TC record store, Treehouse, the other day, and bought a compilation by the great 60s British psych rock band Kaleidoscope called Dive Into Yesterday. That’s an unfair genre tag, though, as these guys, unconventional though they were, aren’t nearly self-indulgent enough to manage much in the mind-melting department. Theirs is a gentler pop touch. When you stumble across an 8-minute track called “The Sky Children” from a 1967 album called Tangerine Dream, you naturally expect a thoroughly boring psychedelic jam, correct? But Kaleidoscope take a page from “Desolation Row” and “Visions of Johanna,” and their epic album closer is instead mellow and lilting, repeating its pretty refrain for the duration. I suppose that’s its own sort of self-indulgence, and the lyrics aren’t worth tuning in for, something about “fluffy white tears,” etc., but the band recognizes a soothing melody and how long to sustain it.

Anyway, this is a peculiar comp, as it contains only seven-elevenths of Kaleidoscope’s highly revered debut but the entirety of their slightly less revered follow-up. There are a few singles thrown in too, and those are pretty special. I’d already heard “Flight From Ashiya,” which actually might melt your brain, restrained though it is, one of those songs that seems to be happening at the bottom of the ocean. “Jenny Artichoke” is clearly an attempt to cash in on the rise of Donovan, but this band is so lively and has such good taste that they’re incapable of embarrassing themselves. The shoulda-been-the-A-side B-side, “Just How Much You Are,” is the sweetest piece of orchestral pop I’ve heard in a decent while. Well, I’m always a bit surprised when I hear such savvy music from the 60s that isn’t by The Beatles or The Kinks, as if I didn’t already know that most of what I like originated among that decade’s unsung heroes. I need to make sure I never let the 60s become quaint, and Kaleidoscope certainly helps.

MOVIES

500 Days of Summer, for all its post-modern playfulness, is the most innocent, chaste and conservative love story in ages, and knows it. There’s something almost charming about a movie that tells you, with voiceover narration, that there are two kinds of people in the world, “men” and “women” (or was it “boys” and “girls”?) and that each is meant for the other. In fact, all straight love stories should be required to define themselves in this way, right? It seems like movies, in the 1930s say, used to do that implicitly. So here’s a very self-aware movie; that quality can sometimes be detrimental on the narrative level, but it also results in some perceptive moments, particularly those that acknowledge that our ideas about love are completely dependent upon our experiences with love.

A caveat: This was advertised as a movie about a boy who likes sad 80s British bands, and I am sad to report that’s not what it is. After all, no one’s really clamoring for that movie to be made (though were the masses really clamoring for a Joseph Gordon Levitt-Zooey Deschanel love story?). Anyway, the movie culminates in a scene in which our Smiths-loving protagonist realizes he bought in at an early age to the myth of love and true happiness, and that post-punk is really what cursed him. I guess I’ve always felt that Morrissey’s denial of the possibility of happiness outweighs his belief in the ideal of love, but I believe this movie knows what it’s talking about (what with its plethora of vintage band t-shirts) and would’ve liked to see this developed more. Perhaps they saved that angle for the 500 Days of Summer music blog.

I re-watched two of my favorites of 2005, Mysterious Skin and Me and You and Everyone We Know, which are about—this is singular—real people.

BOOKS

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte : There’s scarcely a mention of England in Wuthering Heights, its interior spaces are very lightly rendered, as are its exterior spaces, so it won’t fit into any category of 19th century British literature that I can think of. I don’t know what to make of it except to cherish it as a glorious fever dream. Charlotte Bronte probably learned how to write by reading, and Emily Bronte learned by hiding in caves.

Private Lives and Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward : I’ll quote myself from an e-mail and say that Noel Coward “charms the pantalones [sic] off me, perhaps only literally.” I don’t know what I meant by that, but I will say that I was messily eating popcorn last night and felt utterly boorish, having just finished Act One of Private Lives. I will have to compile a list of the wittiest lines.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt : I was wondering if I could banish any lingering traces of unfulfilled expectation from childhood, so I read this for the first time. It’s a nice piece of writing, with a great prologue that describes with remarkable precision what the first week of August feels like. Most children’s stories at their root are about the first important events of childhood that can’t be communicated to adults, leaving the child feeling lonelier and wiser. That story is told well here, and how lovely that the fountain of youth is described as left over from “some other plan for the way the world should be.”

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams : Williams has been parodied to death, but no one ever tells you how plausible these characters are.

1 comment:

aaron said...

When you stumble across an 8-minute track called “The Sky Children” from a 1967 album called Tangerine Dream, you naturally expect a thoroughly boring psychedelic jam, correct?

quite the opposite!