Thursday, April 24, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #104 - Duke Ellington – The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse


A lot of people associate Duke’s music mainly with the 1920’s up through the WWII era, but there is no point in his 50-year career where he was not refining and advancing his music, right up until his death in 1974. From his Cotton Club “jungle band” of the 20’s through his redefinition of big band swing in the late 30’s to his dance bands of the 50’s to his senior patronage of the stars of 60’s New Thing jazz, he changed his approach, constantly absorbed the newest styles and continually retained his own sound – and his big band – through every change. The late 60’s and early 70’s brought a renaissance in his music, leading up to a great series of albums of which 1971’s The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse is one of the finest – and my own personal favorite of the later period, even over the renowned The Far East Suite (though maybe I’d have to think long and hard about whether I like it better than And His Mother Called Him Bill).
            The album kicks off with a spoken introduction by Duke, who explains the title concept – a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan – and lets us know that the band (featuring “our piano player” as he was wont to refer to himself) is going to display it musically by playing music inspired by the many countries they’d visited – Asian and African primarily, but without ever losing its roots in blues and jazz. And then things kick right into the big band taking on one of the album’s best tunes, “Chinoiserie” a blistering, riffing complex of catchy, interlocking horn parts that features the propulsive rhythm that runs throughout the album.
The song – and the album – also prominently features Ellington’s piano playing, which is always a treat and sometimes takes a second seat to Duke conducting his band. It also features several long time Ellington regulars, including saxophonists Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney, and trumpeter Cootie Williams, who tie the music back to classic Duke bands all the way to the end of the 1920’s, but also makes space for important new members of the band – notably saxophonist Harold Ashby (who joined a few years prior in 1968), and the killer rhythm section of Rufus Jones on drums (who’d been with Duke since The Far East Suite was recorded in 1966) and bassist Joe Benjamin (who became part of the band only a year earlier with New Orleans Suite in 1970). And it’s this combination of Ellington’s history, classic elegance, and (there’s no other word) genius tying together the older and younger generations to make music of the highest caliber, but also music that’s simply fun to listen to.
“Didjeridoo” follows on the heels of the lead track, showing Duke’s spare rhythmic displacement that lead him to say once upon a time that Thelonious Monk had stolen his style, and it’s followed by the best thing here – the drum-heavy “Afrique.” It’s a showcase for Jones’ huge drums, but also Duke’s interaction with them, which feels nearly like a duet though the whole orchestra is used. Horns create subtle lines that build to huge climaxes in the song, but the stars here are Jones and Ellington. “Acht O’Clock Rock” takes down the intensity a bit after the heavy drama of “Chinoiserie” and “Afrique.” “Gong” is another Rufus Jones showcase which moves from the intensity of the opening into a more delicate feature for Duke’s piano, then “Tang” highlights Duke’s chips-of-ice style with a modern jazz feeling opening that settles into the riffs and rhythm style that characterize the album. The record moves on to “True” – the most old-fashioned thing here, hearkening to a classic 50’s swing style – and closes on “Hard Way,” a bluesy closer that is the mellowest cut on the album.
It’s a great record, one of the finest full-lengths of the career of a man whose work spanned every recording technology and musical innovation of the mid-20th century. While the focus on Duke’s work tends to shine a spotlight on the work up through the War period, his later works are in need of a serious reassessment, as this great one is only one record of many that could be pointed to to make a strong case for his late-period brilliance. On Tuesday the 29th, Duke would’ve turned 115 if he was still alive. Let’s take a minute to celebrate his accomplishments and his genius with a listen to this album. And then others as well.
- Patrick Brown

Monday, April 14, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #87 - Wizards (1977, dir. Ralph Bakshi)


There was the 60’s, and there has been an interminable “now” that started sometime in the late 70’s and will apparently last until the oceans rise enough to wipe out any memory of Justin Bieber, Twitter and energy drinks. But for a very short historical moment in the early to mid 70’s Hollywood made a kind of last-ditch effort to hold on to some sort of originality and idealism. Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, which was released two weeks before Star Wars in 1977, is one of the last great examples of that beautiful childish idealism. Being that director Ralph Bakshi is the guy who created the edgy animated films Fritz The Cat, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, it is a childishness cut with gritty realities, sexy heroines and a real sense of moral outrage and philosophical clarity.

Wizards takes place in the distant future, when a post-nuclear apocalypse has returned the Earth to a more primitive state, and divided people into the good - represented by conventionally drawn, cute, round fairies and elves - and the evil - mutants, goons and all sorts of bio-mechanoid beasties who carry weapons, dressing and behaving like Nazis. In fact the evil leader, Blackwolf, has dug up all sorts of buried badness from the past. Most importantly, he has stumbled upon a movie projector and footage of Adolph Hitler and the blitzkrieg and has used it to not only bring his mutant hordes together as an army, but also to terrify and ultimately defeat and enslave the elves. He is determined to rule what is left of the world. Conversely, his brother, Avatar, is an old-school, cigar chomping, boozing, lusty old wizard who is all things good but would rather be left alone to spend his retirement among the succulent female fairies. OK, enough about the specifics of the story, because they can make Wizards sound like a conventional family, fantasy film. And it is certainly not that. It is enjoyable for both kids and adults to watch, but at the heart of this unique animated work is a dead-serious polemic about the dangers of technology and how easily it can be used by the dark side.

Using the Nazi imagery makes for a very understandable antagonist, and casting Avatar and the elves as long-haired, lusty earth children lends a post-60’s wistfulness to their plight. The story rolls through journeys and battles that bring about a redemptive and enjoyable resolution, but the real focus of Wizards is the constantly unexpected and innovative animating techniques employed by the fearless director Ralph Bakshi. Combining his years of conventional training at Terry Toons with the psychedelic consciousness of the times and his own frightening and forward-thinking fear of fascism and over-reliance on technology, he creates a universe where, McLuhan-like, “the medium is the message.” It is in the very swirling, mixed-media originality of his animation techniques that Bakshi most eloquently makes his case. When contrasting a kaleidoscopic freak-show of drooling, skeleton nazi monsters and stock footage of Hitler’s minions goose-stepping their way to hellish infamy with a pastoral animated world of busty hippie chicks flying around a “Garden Of Eden” on gossamer wings, one didn’t need to be a genius or on LSD to make the right choice.

It is because Wizards is so clearly directed, and that the groundbreaking animation techniques are so vivid and so powerfully reinforce the moral tone of the script that it has lost none of its greatness in the almost 40 years since its release. It feels as fresh and fun as the first time I saw it, and it has lost none of its punch.
- Paul Epstein




Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #103 - Emmylou Harris - Wrecking Ball

We were 8 years into owning Twist and Shout and I was finally starting to feel like I was part of the music scene. We started out so completely unconnected to the industry. I was a customer of the record stores in town and I filled many seats at local concerts big and small, but essentially I was an outsider. That night in 1995, I remember being at a show downtown. There was a year or two where a series of shows was put on outdoors in a very urban location. I think the band playing might have been Los Lobos but I’m not sure. Either way one of my ex-employees came up to me and said “you should come over to The Bluebird Theatre after this show. Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois are going to play a private late night show.” !! I was very excited. These were two artists I loved dearly. Emmylou since her days with Gram Parsons and her early solo hits. I saw her in the mid 70’s with her original Hot Band and was blown away by how effortlessly she straddled the fence between country and rock. She brought down the house over and over. Daniel Lanois had been a growing obsession through his work with Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, Neville Brothers and more recently his first brilliant solo album Acadie. The idea of seeing them together was tempting. I had no idea how tempting.

Harris and Lanois perform "Wrecking Ball" in 2012
When we got to the Bluebird it was packed with hipsterati and music industry insiders. I felt like this was possibly the best place in the universe to be that night. There were candles around the stage and the house lights were dim. They walked onstage and for the next hour and a half we were collectively lulled into a state of euphoric devastation. That seems like two unlikely emotions to work together, but that is the exact effect this music has on the listener. Wrecking Ball is musically euphoric while the lyrics and overall effect are devastating. Finding beauty through melancholy is something that Emmylou Harris has always done well.

Wrecking Ball consists of 12 songs carefully chosen by Emmylou and Daniel, which through a combination of the emotional impact of the lyrics, the perfection of Ms. Harris’ delivery and the utterly unique and sympathetic production and musical style achieved by Mr. Lanois produces one of the great albums of my lifetime. Lanois’ musical fingerprints are everywhere, as he not only creates a swampy, mysterious atmosphere but adds musical touches throughout, playing on every song. He never loses sight of the mission, and this is ultimately the secret to this album and all Lanois’ great production work: he keeps Emmylou’s voice and interpretive skills at the very center of the mix, crystalline perfection – nothing distracts from the miracle that is her voice. And her voice never found a greater group of songs to perform. Except for Hendrix’s “May This Be Love” all the songs were fairly contemporary to the album. Emmylou was trolling the best of the current crop of writers – Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Dylan, Julie Miller, Anna McGarrigle, Neil Young, Rodney Crowell, Daniel Lanois and herself – and she came up with a magical collection of songs. It’s not a bunch of happy ditties, in fact the running order reads like a litany of human loss and sorrow. Take as an example her version of  “Sweet Old World,” Lucinda Williams’ song of losing a friend to suicide, Already a powerful statement, Emmylou takes this song to such an incredibly heartbreaking place with a quavering voice and Neil Young harmonizing the chorus and adding a plaintive harmonica wail. Or the aforementioned “May This Be Love;” Emmylou brings her gentle calm to the vocal and Lanois doubles her vocal while bringing forth Hendrix’s spirit with a squealing guitar solo. Each song is set, jewel-like, into the perfect setting to show off the lyric and to keep Emmylou’s voice the center of attention.
 Lanois may have reached his zenith as a producer with Wrecking Ball, which could be selling the rest of his career short (after all he did pretty well with U2), but with this album he seems to have found his sweet spot as both producer and collaborator. He enhances all Emmylou’s natural gifts and together, they delivered the album of her career. I’ve wanted to do this review for a while, and it was a happy coincidence that when I
finally got around to it, there was a deluxe version of it being released. Paired with a disc of demos and outtakes, including Leonard Cohen’s “The Stranger Song” and Lanois’ excellent “Still Water” as well as a DVD documentary on the making of the album, this package gives the album the special treatment it deserves. I was thrilled that the documentary contained not only footage of the band making the album - Neil Young in the studio playing second banana to Emmylou - but also has some footage of that special show at the Bluebird Theatre. Seeing it, took me right back to that wonderful night, and re-ignited my burning love affair with this album.

- Paul Epstein

Monday, March 31, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #87 - Tetro (2009, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)


"You can't look at the light. Don't look at the light"

As I stare into the black light of my computer screen after watching Coppola’s Tetro I again find myself at a loss for words (I seem to choose films for these write ups that leave me speechless). However once again I’ve chosen a film that floods my mind with a barrage of reasons to turn you on to this recent masterwork from a proven master of cinema. While the film is story of the dysfunction and rivalry that resides at the core of family, the film unfolds like the petals of a blooming flower. With each moment and each line of dialogue Coppola is strategically dropping puzzle pieces that work together to scoot your rear to the edge of its seat.
The film begins with a series of artfully blurred lights, the starkly contrasted black and white photography brilliantly immersing the viewer in the world in which we are about to spend the next two hours. Out of the sound of moth wings beating toward and against an electric flame we meet our first character, Bennie. The story then proceeds as we follow Bennie arriving at his brother, Tetro’s (Vincent Gallo), house in Buenos Aries. After a brief time with Tetro’s wife Miranda (Maribel Verdú) and a cold closed door from his brother, Bennie lays on the couch and pulls out a well worn letter from his brother Angelo (Tetro’s name from another life) and the scene fades as he falls into a tearful sleep. With a door slam in the morning Gallo brings Tetro to life with cold nonchalance and a volley of brotherly wit and sarcasm as the journey of familial discovery begins. To attempt to boil the plot down for you would be a tad asinine; instead I feel I can only allude to the virtuosity of this film’s Shakespearian plot.
Aside from the maze of story luminously woven together to create a nearly perfect tale the film is graced with fantastic acting that truly brings the narrative to life. Vincent Gallo brings his abrasively subtle style to yet another stunningly complex character (see also my review of Buffalo 66 which he wrote, directed and stared in). Newcomer Alden Ehrenreich kills it as the young naïve brother looking to find himself and the meaning behind his family’s turmoil. His playful demeanor and puppy-like exuberance develops throughout the film coming to a powerful and formative fruition in the end. The magnificent Maribel Verdú provides amazing support as the two immensely different brothers hurl through this tale of self-discovery. The entire cast is exceptional, however these three remain the rock upon which this film is firmly and captivatingly anchored.
Turning to the all-important and incandescent visuals, working with the relatively young cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (who also shot Coppola’s Youth Without Youth (2007) and Twixt (2011)) Coppola transports the viewer into a poetic black and white film noir fantasy. While the film is ambiguously set in modern times, there is no mistaking the beautiful light, shadow and reflective play that is most definitely an homage to the stark films of the fifties. There are a few flashbacks and surrealistic ballet sequences, which are all letterboxed and shot in rich nostalgic Technicolor. These scenes littering the aesthetic of vivid black and white photography serves to strengthen the entire look of the film.
Now to tear through all of the big words (which I felt necessary when talking about such a nuanced and meticulous film), this is truly one of the most beautiful and intriguing stories about family I’ve seen in a long while. The acting is spectacular, the story is complex and consistently compelling, and the images are simply stunning. I don’t know how else to put it – this film is flat out rad in every important category in which I can assess it. Why should you buy it? You really need to have this movie in your possession, you need to watch it, re-watch it with others, put it away and re-discover it later (as I just did this evening), I’ve tried hard to convince you without giving away any of the twists and turns of the narrative and now I believe that it’s time for you to turn down the lights pop in the DVD and see for yourself. If you need any further convincing feel free to find me here at Twist or head over to the Sie Film Center and ask Will (who occasionally writes for this movie blog) as he and I were both drooling over the prospect of writing about this film.
            - Edward Hill





Monday, March 24, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #102 - Cornershop - When I Was Born For the Seventh Time


Cornershop are a band that have always seemed a little out of place, as much by design as anything else.  The brainchild of leader Tjinder Singh, Cornershop combined pop and rock, funk and hip-hop and a whole bunch of other sounds and styles with an undercurrent of traditional Indian music that occasionally makes its way to the top.  Seemingly as an answer to the massive Britpop scene, Singh sought to add his own ethnic heritage to the mix and came up with a sound that transcends any particular trend or time period.  After the independently released debut Hold On It Hurts and major label debut Woman's Got To Have It, Singh and company put it all together for third album When I Was Born For the Seventh Time and the result was one of the best albums of the late 90s.

"Sleep on the Left Side" opens the album with a laid back funky groove and poppy melody.  Things really pickup with the undeniably catchy "Brimful of Asha," an infectious pop song with sitar strumming courtesy of Ben Ayres, the only other constant in the band besides Singh.  A remix by Fatboy Slim got some attention a few years later but even that can't beat the charm and bounce of the original.  The album contains several instrumentals that provide short blasts of hip-hop inspired funk.  These aren't just filler though.  They help tie together the various strands of the album and the best, like "Candy Man" and "Butter the Soul," stand out on their own.  The album hits its peak with "We're in Yr Corner," as a hypnotic beat backs Ayres’ sitar and Singh sings in Punjabi.

The band scores a major coup in getting legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg to contribute a spoken word piece "When the Light Appears Boy."  It was one of the final recordings Ginsberg made before his death and works well with the worldly feel of the album.  Another infectious pop moment comes with "Good Shit" (retitled "Good Ship" for radio play).  The song features a great example of the clever word play Singh often employs, as well as being a great feel-good jam. Cornershop takes what may actually be its most surprising turn with the country flavored "Good to Be on the Road Back Home."  Singh duets with Paula Frazer and comes up with another great set of lyrics married to a catchy tune.  It doesn't seem at all out of place, fitting in nicely with the album's eclectic vibe.  The album concludes with a little wink, a faithful cover of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" sung in Punjabi.  It's a clever way to end an album that takes listeners on a journey through the sounds and interests of its creators.  Cornershop and Singh have been up and down in the years since When I Was Born For the Seventh Time, but the album remains one of the finest of its era.  It may not have been a big hit, but it certainly deserves to be discovered and appreciated.
            - Adam Reshotko




Friday, March 14, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #86 - The Three Amigos! (1986, dir. John Landis)


The Three Amigos! Is like comfort food to me. I first saw it when it first came out, when I was in high school, when I was going through a particularly tough stretch, and I went back to see it two more times. Since then it’s been one of the most reliable go-tos on my DVD shelf during times of frustration, anger, whatever. For me, it’s the simple, uplifting, melodramatic plot, the endearing dumbness of the three main characters, played by Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase, and the music. It’s a quality comedy from the mid-80s, a feel-good time.
            So what sets it apart from other such films? Historical significance, at least to fans of Randy Newman. The Three Amigos! Is the only screenplay Newman ever wrote (co-wrote, actually, with Martin and SNL creator Lorne Michaels), so the humor carries some of the biting wit of his his funnier songs, those sung in the voices of hapless, lowlife characters, who do and say things that are at once absurd and brilliant. The best examples in this film come from the bad guys – a hideously surly bandito named El Guapo (trans: The Handsome) and his yes-man sidekick, Jefe (Boss). At one point El Guapo asks Jefe, “Would you say that I have a plethora?” Jefe immediately and wholeheartedly agrees, “Yes, El Guapo, I believe that you have a plethora”. Of course, Jefe doesn’t know what plethora means. (Neither did I at the time.) In another scene at El Guapo’s birthday party, in the middle of the scorching northern Mexico desert, Jefe and his crew give their boss a sweater of the hideous late-80s variety, and El Guapo is most pleased. It’s silly, yes, but weird in a kind of smart way.
Newman also wrote three songs for the film, "The Ballad of the Three Amigos", "My Little Buttercup", and "Blue Shadows,” all of which are great songs that suit the story and characters well. The first provides one of the best gags in the film, an improbably long, sustained note sung by the three main characters as they ride their horses across the horizon. During “Blue Shadows,” adorable creatures come out of desert darkness to sing along. And Newman even plays a role, the voice of a singing bush the Amigos find in an arroyo. The idea is taken from the Bible, of course, but the songs the bush sings are old 19th Century ditties, and it’s voice is nasally and hilarious.
            This film was the first I knew of Newman doing film work. His songs had appeared in earlier films, but almost all of those were ones he’d already recorded on an album. So this marks one of his first significant forays into Hollywood, for better or worse, the beginning of a shift in his career, coming between Trouble in Paradise and Land of Dreams, the last record he would release for another seven years, and arguably one of his darkest and most personal. He’s said to have been going through a divorce at the time, and his mother died, so I like to think this project became like comfort food for him, too and in this way maybe I share something in common with one of the great singer songwriters. 

- Joe Miller



Monday, March 10, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #101 - Franco & Rochereau - Omona Wapi


In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire (and before that, the Belgian Congo), a style of music known as soukous originated. It’s a popular dance style that emerged from African rumba and infected and influenced music all over West Africa from the 1960’s up through the 80’s (and beyond) with its sung intros and lengthy, danceable guitar segments which could stretch upwards of a half hour in live shows. The two undisputed giants of the music are Franco and Rochereau. Franco is the leader of the group T.P. OK Jazz, known as the “Sorcerer of the Guitar” for his seemingly effortless, fluid, hypnotic guitar lines, while Tabu Ley Rochereau is the leader of Afrisa International, the great rival band to OK Jazz, and Rochereau’s high, sweet singing is the expression of one of the most renowned and distinctive voices in all of 20th century African music. Their career trajectories are both detailed on a series of superb 2-disc collections released by Sterns Music – Franco’s on Francophonic Vols. 1 & 2, and Tabu Ley Rochereau’s on The Voice of Lightness (only the second volume is currently in print). But this intersection of both of their careers is one of the high points of either one.
This collaborative effort makes the most of what they both do, merging Franco’s rougher, rawer style with Tabu Ley’s slicker, more plainly lovely version into something unique in both their catalogs. To this end, they’re helped considerably by guitarist Michelino, who defected from Afrisa International to OK Jazz in the late 70’s but plays with both of his bosses here, and Matalanza whose terrific saxophone is given some leads, but is heard mostly as part of a great horn section.
            The record kicks off with killer groove, “Lisanga Ya Ba Nganga” a highlight in the extensive body of work of either of the artists. It finds both of them doing what they do best, with lyrics that call out nods Franco and Rochereau, but also to Michelino who interlocks with Franco here to create a shimmering dance groove that’s irresistible, while Rochereau’s sweet voice mixes with Franco’s rougher, lower one up top. The next track, “Ngungi” features less guitar, and provides more of a vocal showcase, an interesting turn for Franco who, while no slouch in the vocal department, is best known for his guitar and who often hired the best singers around to take the vocal spot while he concentrated on the rest of the music. Rochereau is of course resplendent again in the vocal department. Third cut is the title song and it’s another uptempo slayer to get you on your feet. Franco again earns his title as Sorcerer and Michelino is again called out in song to weave intricate patterns against the Sorcerer’s work. It’s also the only cut on the album clocking in at under 8 minutes, tagged at a mere 7:58. The record closes with “Kabassele in Memoriam” a heartfelt tribute to Rochereau’s former bandleader and the spiritual father of all rumba/soukous, Joseph Kabassele, who died shortly before the recording of this album. He is known more widely by his recording name Le Grand Kallé and has been called the "Father of Congolese Music” for his innovations, his patronage of the country’s music, and his broad influence, and the song is a gorgeous farewell and a spiritual passing of the torch from his works to those of successive generations. He himself is the tributee of yet another great two-disc collection recently released by Sterns: His Life, His Music.
            Franco himself would be dead of AIDS within six years of the making this album while Rochereau went into exile in 1988 in France (and later California), only returning to Zaire after the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was deposed in 1997. But though he kept recording, his career never again reached the heights of popularity or artistic integrity that he enjoyed from the 60’s through his exile. This album stands as a monument to the amazing and enduring powers of both musicians, and hopefully as a starting point to exploring the works of both of them (and their godfather, Le Grand Kallé as well).
            - Patrick Brown




Monday, March 3, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #85 - Caché (2005, dir. Michael Haneke)


The plot of this film is so simple that it can be boiled down to one sentence on IMDB: “A married couple is terrorized by a series of surveillance videotapes left on their front porch.” But what the film does is hardly covered by that synopsis, because it takes off in so many unexpected ways from conventional suspense films that it turns into something totally different by the end of the film, and it can be a frustrating experience for many – but I love it.
First off, let me note that prior to seeing this in the theater, I had seen only one Michael Haneke film, the original Austrian version of Funny Games, and I hated it - HATED it. It made me angry in a way that very few films have. I suppose that means that it worked on some level, but it made me make sure that I didn’t watch any more of this director’s films – for a while anyway. But then in 2005, this one made the rounds of the art theaters and a friend invited me to it. “Oh no, that’s by the guy who made Funny Games, right? No way!” I said. “Trust me, I think you’ll like it.” She said. And she was right (thanks Yvette!). But I also saw some affinities with the earlier film that made me know it was by the same guy – a cold, almost clinical tone watching the gorgeously photographed proceedings, abrupt violence coming up unexpectedly, another theme of a family falling apart, and an ambiguous ending that hardly resolves anything, it just stops. And when I saw it, and reading about it since, I find that a lot of people don’t like it like I do. The comment from a woman in front of me in the theater then sticks with me “Did I miss something?” – and the answer is probably no, it’s just that the film didn’t do what most people expect it to do.
Daniel Auteuil is a well-liked and popular entertainer in France, having won a couple Cesars (their equivalent to the Oscars) and starred in several major French films. All the better to have him play the popular TV personality Georges Laurent, who, with his wife Anne (played brilliantly by the great Juliette Binoche), tries in vain to figure out who is sending the anonymous tapes, crude drawings, and postcards that at first seem vaguely menacing but begin to imply violence, possibly toward their son Pierre (Daniel Duval) – or possibly not. After a while the tapes and drawings begin to suggest things about Georges’ past so that he starts to suspect that he knows who has sent them – a man named Majid whose immigrant parents worked on his family’s farm. And that’s where we must diverge from discussion of the plot.
And it’s not because I would give anything away necessarily – as noted, Haneke has something else in mind with this film. He hasn’t wrapped up a mystery in a neat little bow that careful observers will solve by weeding through red herrings and catching hidden clues (the title, incidentally, translates as “Hidden” and it’s as apt a title as any I could imagine, echoing out to many levels of the film, which leaves much hidden). The film is more about playing with viewer’s expectations about what a thriller should be. In that it’s like Hitchcock, who knew exactly what effect he wanted to have on audiences in his films by what he chose to show and not show with tightly controlled camera work and framing. But Haneke doesn’t lead you by the nose in the same way, he drops you into a scenario and gives enough clues to make it menacing and then lets you sit there and experience the tension, knowing there’s a lurking menace out there but never making it plain. Eyes scan the many long shot frames for clues and come up empty because the tension is built around what you’ve seen in a thousand other suspense/mystery films and what “should” happen, not what the film is doing – but there are no “jump scares” to be had here, just a continual increase of pressure. It’s slowly digging deeper and deeper into Georges’ past, uncovering things he’d rather keep hidden, and by extension – perhaps, if I’m not stretching things too far – things France might rather keep hidden in its past treatment of its Algerian immigrant population.
The film implies much and asks a lot of questions without giving any easy answers. There are implications of subtle racism in the lead character early on that may or may not be relevant. There are plot points that could be taken one way or another – like Kurosawa’s Rashomon this is an exploration of several truths, each contradicting the other and making none of them ultimately feasible. Roger Ebert, in his review, mentions a “smoking gun” at one point in the film that he feels solves the riddle, but I beg to differ. The film instead puts viewers out of their comfort zones, out of their expectations, and into a shaky territory where terrible things happen in beautiful settings and cinematography, where motivations aren’t clear and there are no easy answers. Sometimes, he pushes people too far – Funny Games pushed my buttons hard when I saw in 1998 and the 2007 U.S. remake he did didn’t fare any better with me, though at least I knew what to expect. But generally speaking Haneke is asking the right kinds of questions and pushing things in the right direction. And Caché proved to only be the first evidence I saw of how good he could be – the other non-Funny Games films I’ve seen have been great as well, and more recently he’s won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his two most recent films: The White Ribbon and the unironically-titled Amour. But with Caché, you’ll know if he’s for you or not. And I understand if he’s not for you – after all, that’s how I started off with him.
- Patrick Brown




Monday, February 24, 2014

I’d Love To Turn You On 100th Episode - Sun Dial - Other Way Out


Oozing into the aural field like high tide imperceptibly covering land, the first song “Plains of Nazca” off Sun Dial’s debut masterpiece Other Way Out leaks paisley gauze from your speakers and crawls up your leg, covering you in the strange yet familiar warmth of genuine psychedelia. This obscurity was first released in 1990 as an import-only limited edition on the excellent Tangerine label. It is hard to know if anyone who didn’t work in a record store even knew about it. I saw it on one of my weekly import sales solicitations described as “indescribably heavy psych.” I liked that idea and I loved the name of the band. I don’t know why but it conjured up all sorts of good associations. As the British say, I was gob-smacked the first time I played Other Way Out. With modern technology and a doctorate level understanding of what made 60’s music great, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Gary Ramon carves a brilliant post-script to that decade of music which adds to the legacy, honors it and in some ways betters much of it.

Ramon is clearly in thrall of early Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Love, The Beatles and the hundreds of curios (July, Arzachel, etc.) who populated the bottom of the British charts in the 60’s but he is also an accomplished songwriter and arranger in his own right. In addition the contemporary Manchester scene growing up around the Stone Roses sound at the time is clearly also an influence. The result of these factors is an album that sounds classic and new at the same time, and one that defies age because 24 years later it still sounds classic and new. This is no easy trick. It is because Ramon executes each discipline (writing, performing, producing) with such finesse and maturity that the result is timeless.

Every song is a monolithic slab of psych confection allowing Ramon ample room for his masterful guitar soloing. He pulls out all the stops on every solo, never letting up. It’s hard to not compare it to Hendrix, who was the same way: just immediately identifiable and always going for the jugular. Ramon has perfectly sympathetic partners in Anthony Clough, whose melodic bass lines and sheets of heavenly organ strike the perfect balance to Ramon’s ballsy guitar and fuzzy vocals, and drummer Dave Morgan whose Nick Mason inspired drum fills propel things forward constantly. And that is ultimately one of the best things about Other Way Out; it is an exciting sonic blast from start to finish. Ramon lavished great care into every track - whether it’s the upside down and backward guitar solos on the beautiful “Poster Painted Skies,” the start/stop surprise of “Lorne Blues,” the Beatles-ish exuberance of “Exploding In Your Mind” or the MC5-like post punk of the soaring instrumental “Slow Motion,” each song is a thrilling trip through the past and straight into the heart of the now.

I feel it is safe to assume you probably have not heard or even heard of Sun Dial before this, so it is safe to say that Other Way Out perfectly represents what we hoped to accomplish with this I’d Love To Turn You On column. Working in a record store, we spend our days being exposed to more music than the average person would ever be able to take in. It’s more than any human can take in, but it means that you do get exposed to things that are way below the surface of the mainstream, and some of these things truly deserve to have a larger audience. Through the vagaries of the music business, the fickle nature of public taste or just “the breaks,” things get lost to history and popular attention. Our antidote to this is I’d Love To Turn You On. Hopefully over the last number of years this column has done just that and turned you on to or reminded you of some great albums. To me Other Way Out is the perfect candidate for this column because it is probably unfamiliar to most listeners, it is probably something you will be glad you know about once you hear it and it appears as a deluxe reissue on the extreme-metal label Relapse, so it is possible most stores wouldn’t know about it, or categorize it correctly - or even bother to order it. It is one of the true high points of 90’s indie rock, an indispensable continuation of the 1960’s psych legacy and a damn fine rock and roll album, and you know what…?

I’d Love To Turn You On

- Paul Epstein




Monday, February 17, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #84 - Let’s Get Lost (1988, dir. Bruce Weber)


If you go to the vinyl room of Twist And Shout and look up at the west wall near the big neon display for The Cure’s album Boys Don’t Cry you will see an odd photograph of two men sitting on a couch in a very casual setting. One of the men was an early Twist customer named Manzy, the other, a somewhat broken down old dude, is the jazz legend Chet Baker toward the end of his life. He spent a little time in Colorado, playing gigs where he could find them (a posthumous live album from Pueblo of all places was released) and, from what Manzy said, hanging out at his house, getting wasted and listening to jazz. Let’s Get Lost was released in 1988, the year I started Twist and Shout, and the coincidence of seeing the movie and meeting a real live connection to the man has given Chet Baker and this remarkable movie a special place in my life. Luckily, it happens to be one of the best music documentaries ever made.

I make that claim because it is one of the few films about a specific artist that not only informs about the artist, but also makes valid points about society and art in a larger sense. It is a profound experience if you are interested in Chet Baker, jazz, the nature of celebrity or the elusiveness of youth and beauty. It can be viewed in many ways - all successfully. Director Bruce Weber weaves together footage of Baker’s life, from angel-faced trumpet prodigy, to slightly scummy Italian B-movie star and sex symbol, to washed–up junkie jazz archetype, along the way interviewing his former lovers, abandoned children and bemused fellow travelers who paint the picture of a man who floated through life, getting by on his talent and youthful good looks, but who, like some Dorian Gray in reverse started to show the lines and cracks of his moral dissolution in his very countenance. In fact that ironic and painful counterpoint between the beautiful, almost perfect face of the young man and the tortured, caved-in puss of the old wreck stands at the heart of Let’s Get Lost. Weber creates a contemporary narrative framework for his movie by filming Baker at the very end of his life (he died just months after the final filming) in a couple of interesting situations. One time, he takes Baker with him to The Cannes Film Festival, allowing the once glamorous and still alluring star to make ghostly appearances amongst the currently beautiful people. One senses Baker’s own mixed feelings about the whole affair. He is allowing himself to be a prop in a film about himself. The other sequence finds Baker hanging around in Santa Monica with a group of young hipsters half his age (including a young Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers). They surround Baker with admiration and hero worship while, for his part, Baker slips in and out of an opium-induced reverie; eyes half closed, a smile dancing across his lips. It is powerful stuff - especially when intercut with his youthful face on screen, full of promise, blowing his trumpet and singing like a cross between Miles Davis, Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. He had everything it would seem.

The lasting value of Let’s Get Lost is in its exploration of the very nature of fame. Baker never seemed comfortable with his fame, he never felt at ease out of the world of the musician. His life was an endless one-night-stand, where marriages, children, stability and ultimately happiness take a back seat to the lightning thrill of the next gig and the only companion to be counted on is the needle. The portrait we leave this film with is that of a true artist - his remarkable gifts still intact even at the end of his life, housed in the body of a very imperfect man. Chet Baker wandered this world creating beauty and leaving sadness in his wake, but director Bruce Weber finds a way to bring redemption from this sad tale. Ultimately each of us must wrestle with the good and bad forces within ourselves, and seeing another human live this juxtaposition and leave a legacy of great art is all we can ask from another frail human being and more than we can ask from any film.
- Paul Epstein