Friday, February 27, 2009

Scott Walker - 30th Century Man

Perhaps the recent Scottumentary 30th Century Man, will answer some of these burning questions-

Why are people so obsessed with someone most people have never heard of?

Why, in the 90s, did English tabloid giant The Sun offer a cash prize for anyone to take a recent photograph of Scott?

Why would anyone care?

Why did Scott's group The Walker Brothers have more members in its fan club than that of the Beatles?

Why did Scott quit this group and join a monastery?

Why did Scott sing songs by Flemish art songsmith Jacques Brel on prime time TV?

Why and how did Scott sell records to teenagers and housewives, with lyrics based on Bergman films and Camus novels?

Why have Scott's albums in the last 25 years been utterly and impenetrably weird?

Why do David Bowie, Brian Eno, Radiohead and Jarvis Cocker love Scott so much?

Why did Julian Cope release a compilation of Scott tracks subtitled “the godlike genius of...”?

How is it possible for Scott to look so good at 65?

Why are Scott's solo albums from the 60s considered by many intelligent people to be among the great works of art of the 20th century?

What does “stump of a drowner” really mean?

Go and see 30th Century Man (Playing at the Starz FilmCenter March 6 – 12) and find out.
Note - Twist & Shout's Twisted Spork Club Card members can get 2-for-1 tickets by presenting their Club Card at Starz Film Center.

SCOTT WALKER: 30 CENTURY MAN Directed by Stephen Kijak (USA/UK, 2007, 35mm, 95min)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What's in the Bin? - February 26th, 2009

One of the sheer joys of being in an indie record store is browsing the bins. Just starting somewhere, flipping through things, pulling out items that catch your eye, giving a few of them a test spin. So in the seventh of a hypothetical series, I've browsed the "New Arrivals" bins here at Twist & Shout, picked out a few things, and gave them a listen. The nature of used record stores being what it is, I can't promise these items will still be in the bin by the time you get here. But hey, browse the bin anyway. You might find something else of worth.

CD - Rod Stewart - The Definitive Rod Stewart
There's a certain type of Rod Stewart fan. Those who, when they first hear the words "Rod Stewart", immediately flash onto songs like "Handbags and Glad Rags." Who still think of Rod as "that guy from the Faces."

Those fans probably don't need me to tell them this, but they're gonna want avoid this disc like the plague.

For the rest of us, this two-CD set is about as good a collection as you're bound to get. It obviously uses the pop singles chart as a basic guide, so there's a lot more MTV hits than "classic early sides." But I don't consider than necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, I understand that, oh, "An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down" is a "better" song than, say, "Some Guys Have All the Luck." Yeah, "Tonight I'm Yours (Don't Hurt Me)" is a really dumb song. The lyrics are horribly contrived even from a "let's have a one night stand" perspective, the weird high-pitched "whoo"s at the end sound like a four-year-old girl on a roller coaster, and the synth lines were already sounding dated back when the song came out in 1981. But you know what? I still like the damn thing. I recall watching the I-guess-this-is-sexy video back in the day, and wanting a neat shiny pink vinyl jacket and visor combo like Rod sported. And I wanted to have a fun bikini-clad party at a Best Western, too, culminating with me pushing my guitarist into the swimming pool at the end of the night. These are the sorts of weird but fun memories that "Raincoat" just can't deliver. Pile on top of that all the memories (or baggage) concerned with "Young Turks" and "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)" and all the rest, and you might understand why I'd drag this CD off the rack more often than Every Picture Tells a Story.

No, of course the collection isn't "definitive." There's that obligatory "new" song at the end that isn't worth much. And even I think it gives the early years short shrift. And there's a lot of later stuff that I don't really need to hear. But then again, there's probably a guy about ten years younger than me who has similarly weird memories about "Rhythm of My Heart" and "Downtown Train" to those I have about "Passion." In which case, good for him.

LP - Neil Norman & His Cosmic Orchestra - Greatest Science Fiction Hits (Volumes 1 & 2)
Neil Norman has a pretty odd gig. Well, he's a bigwig at GRP/Crescendo Records (the home of these two recordings), but it's his other gig that's the real strange one. Imagine going to a science-fiction convention (or, if you've actually done this, think back to your last visit). Now imagine a group of people in silvery spacesuits, playing lounge-y/future-y versions of classic sci-fi themes. Well, the head guy in silver is Neil Norman. That's his gig. Playing sci-fi songs at sci-fi conventions, and anywhere else there's a market for guys in silver spacesuits playing sci-fi songs. And Neil's been doing it for almost three decades.

These two LPs are from the start of his career, and it pretty much set the stage for what came after. It was as the 70s gave way to the 80s, and Star Wars found a much larger audience for sci-fi than anyone thought possible. On each LP, Neil works this to his advantage, performing arrangements of various sci-fi tunes. The track selection is rather broad - it ranges from the obvious ("Close Encounters") to the obscure ("Phantom Planet") to the bizarre ("Can You Read My Mind" from Superman), and he even finds time to perform a couple of originals ("Not of This Earth," "Vampire Planet") that fit in quite well. The term "Orchestra" may be a bit of a stretch, but he does have fourteen musicians credited, so it's certainly more than just "a guy and his keyboard." And how does it sound? Well, as good as it possibly can, I guess. The band is quite good, the tunes are often deftly arranged, and Neil even adds some killer guitar solos here and there. But, you know, it still comes down to that basic fact - these are future-y versions of classic sci-fi themes. There seems to be some limit as to how high this stuff can climb. To his credit, Neil generally gets to that point, even if he can't transcend it. I think these albums would make great background music for a fun party. Assuming your friends have a bit of a sense of humor, anyway.

12" - Earons - "Land of Hunger"
The 80s nostalgia kick seems to be ending, which is fine. Not that I didn't love the 80s and all, but I've gotten to the point where my memories of the Flock of Seagulls are more of people talking about how dumb Mike Score's haircut in the "Space Age Love Song" video looked than they are of...well, "Space Age Love Song." And that's why it's fun to come across a song or band that really wasn't touched by the 80s nostalgia kick.

And yes, I'm totally aware that I'm about to ruin that for this song. Pretty meta. Anyway.

The Earons were yet another new wave band with a gimmick, but theirs was at least simple to set up and maintain. In the genre where image was at least as important as substance, the Earons went with a "non-image." The band only appeared in white jumpsuits and motorcycle helmets, and individual members were to be referred only by number. (The lead vocalist? 28.) The music's pretty good - a reggae-influenced synth-based dance song with "aware" lyrics. Three versions of that song might be a bit of overkill, but considering that this song isn't one you stumble across on "Best of the 1980s" albums, it's probably worth picking up. The song did hit number one on the dance chart in 1984, but the band was pretty well forgotten a year later. But that's what makes the song so fun. Everyone remembers "Come On Eileen," and not everyone is going to instantly remember the tune. However, this IS the sort of song that will make some people stop, open their eyes wide, and say "Oh YEAH!" And that's always a fun feeling.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Otis Taylor interviewed by Paul Epstein

Otis Taylor is a study in paradox. He is an immense, imposing man physically, yet he rarely speaks above a whisper. When we had lunch recently to conduct an interview about Black History Month, he had to repeat every single word he said to the waiter. It is common to see people leaning forward trying to understand him. He has a sophisticated understanding of antiques, being a successful dealer for years(specializing in Indian blankets), yet he favors a low brow lifestyle. “I don’t want any ‘salad-mexican food.’ Take me somewhere where they use hamburger meat.” He has a keen understanding of the history of music in all its forms, but he favors a hypnotic, primitive form of roots music that defies the Blues categorization he is tagged with. He has created his own language of music, such as Fela Kuti or John Lee Hooker did, completely unique to himself and answerable only to his own aesthetic desire. In other words, Otis doesn’t give a fuck what anybody thinks - never has, never will. As a musician, as a citizen, as a human he marches to his own beat. So, as we ate our Mexican food, the paradoxical Black Man with blue eyes answered my questions about Black History Month the way he saw fit.

Paul: How different is being Black in America in 2009 compared to when you, your father or your grandfather were kids?
Otis: Well the good part is we are freer. The bad part is we fear our own people...gangbangers etc.

P: What do you think the current Black legacy on the arts is compared to 50 or 100 years ago?
O: Now you can speak your mind versus 100 years ago when a Black man couldn’t say a fuckin’ thing. The legacy is freedom. This White or Black thing, it’s all’s colorblind. In my case, I just didn’t know any better. I had no fear of failure.
I’m the guy who left the village a thousand years ago. I’m a genetic outliner.

P: Do you have an obligation to tell the story and keep the memories alive?
O: No, it’s just my experience. Hungry people can be White, Black, doesn’t matter. Some of my better songs are about White people.

P: What about the legacy of the Blues?
O: I don’t know much about the Blues, but I’m good at being Black. I’m not a fuckin’ historian, I’m just old. And I’m not bitter, it’s just my reaction to life. I’m outspoken so I piss everybody off. I’ve been able to succeed by being obscure. Like my Banjo album (Recapturing The Banjo - Taylor’s critically lauded traditional Banjo album) I wasn’t disappointed that it got no attention. The critics loved it, but that’s the kiss of death. The movie people are starting to take me seriously. (Taylor refers to some soundtrack work he has been doing).

P: Are you part of the Blues continuum?
O: In my mind yes.

P: Are you the “other” or in your mind are you a part of American mainstream life?
O: I’m always Black. If you’re White and you see me it’s “Oh shit who’s that.”

P: Yet you live in one of the Whitest places on Earth. (Boulder, CO.)
O: I wasn’t getting out of Black culture, I was getting’ out of Dodge, you know what I mean? It was like the Irish got out of Ireland. Money follows money. Black people are tight with their money because they never had nothing, so they are tight with their money. I didn’t leave my experience behind, you take the best things from all cultures through your own filter. My childhood was fucked up. I got outta dodge.

P: Describe what Barack Obama being elected means to you and to all of us.
O: It’s gonna be harder to play the race card. There will be the same amount of racism, it’ll just be harder to call now. Those Republicans are after him. Don’t forget, over 40% of Americans didn’t vote for him. I don’t think being a Democrat or Republican is important. No, I think being a human being is important.

P: Do you envision a time when being Black will be invisible to the eyes of our society?
O: If you’re African you’re invisible. That’s some beatnik shit for you right there man. I live a dual life. When I travel in the South with my light-skinned daughter it’s a scandal; people staring at us, etc. But when I travel with my daughter who is the same shade as me, it’s “oh what a lovely family.” You remember that Star Trek episode with the guys who were half White and half Black? It’s like that. These differences just exist in our society. Look at the Irish, killing each other for years and you can’t even tell the difference between them. Same with Suni and Shia Arabs. Humans seem genetically programmed to hate someone. Make war on someone, that’s Mother Nature’s shit.

P: In spite of all this, you show incredible awareness of being Black.
O: Like I have a choice motherfucker!

And with that we changed subjects to music, touring Europe, antiques, and any other subject that crosses Otis’ mind. He is an unexpected, unique thinker. There are no stereotypes in his world. Everything is just another moment to be dealt with in the now. Unlike so many people I have met, Otis Taylor doesn’t live in a past of injustice or slavery, or in a future of grand success and acceptance. Otis lives right now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day recommendations from Twist and Shout!

My sweetheart already has everything. All that's lacking is something to tote everything around in. Preferably something with pigs on it. Pigs making pancakes would be ideal.

Adam R.This Valentine's Day, all you need is love...and Philip Norman's acclaimed new biography of John Lennon. We all shine on.

Extra Kool
The best thing to give your loved one for Valentine's Day is a nice case of Chlamydia, or Gonorrhea... well, maybe not. But the cuddly stuffed toys made by Giant Microbes of chlamydia or gonorrhea are a sure win. What girlfriend doesn't want to tell her friends that she got an STD for Valentine's Day? Or at least a stuffed one...

Not that I HAVE a sweetheart, but if I did- I would buy them music!!!You would have to love music to be MY sweetheart! I would give them one of my favorite local bands like Bela Karoli, Ian Cooke, Roger Green or Porlolo. What could say I love you more than an album filled with beautiful songs! Luckily Bela Karoli and Ian Cooke will be playing the Hi-Dive for Valentines Day, so maybe I will see all you music lahvahs there!

Ben S.
I knew my wife was the one for me, when she was able to sing the SYD BARRETT's unreleased masterpiece "Vegetable Man" from memory. Of course, she knew it from THE SOFT BOYS' version, but that's cool too. Her taste for quirky English guys is self evident.

For my Valentine's Day recommendation I would have to say, if you haven't already picked it up, the new Raphael Saadiq record, The Way I See It, is a good gift. It has songs that are fun, catchy, romantic, but not too syrupy sweet (yuck!). On CD, vinyl, and limited edition 45's of the entire album.

My sweetheart enjoys all things Pekkle. That's the adorable little Sanrio duck character. And when is a bad time to get a nice pen? You should always have a pen on hand.

The perfect new Valentine's litmus test: If she don't dig Burroughs, run.

Mark Farina in-store Saturday the 14th (St. Valentine's Day) at 5PM!

Just a last minute heads-up in case you didn't already know - DJ Mark Farina, one of the gods of downtempo music (and house music, and electronica...) in the United States, will be performing a short DJ set and signing autographs at our store starting at 5PM on Saturday, February 14th.

He visited us a year and a half ago on 7/7/7 and spun for a couple hours, to the enjoyment of many. Tomorrow he's more limited on time but it's sure to be an action packed set. And be sure to make it to his nighttime show at Cervantes, where you'll get a heapin' helpin' of what you'll only have a taste of here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What Are You Listening To Lately (Part 11)?

Sly & the Family Stone - Stand!
If it were not for the just-OK "Somebody's Watching You" and the slight excess of "Sex Machine," this album would be perfect - the absolute inverse in its brightness, drive, and optimism of There's a Riot Goin' On's murk, languor, and pessimism. There's nary a hint of the darkness that would consume Sly a year or so after the making of this album - it's all hope and optimism and direct confrontation of problems, none of the resigned negativity he'd essay on the next record. And it's beautiful for most of its length, with "Everyday People" standing as not just one of Sly's best songs, but one of the best pop songs of all time. A true, indelible, A+ moment. But it's only one standout of Sly's grand statement of purpose - or at least of the purpose he espoused in 1969. On nearly any other record, "Everyday People" would be a career-topper the artist would try forever to recapture. On Stand! the song, brilliant as it is, finds at least three others on par with it - the bruising funk of "Sing A Simple Song," the tense equality plea of "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" and the nearly-surpassing-it masterpiece of "I Want to Take You Higher." It's a landmark album, kept half a star short for me only by some minor flaws which in truth never cross my mind while it's playing, only in reflection afterwards.

Meat Puppets - II
In a way, their best because it's got the most breadth but it's also a little on the side of wild youth - they got wiser as they continued, and I for one appreciate that. But even so, they're pretty damn smart even this early on in their career and I don't think they were ever more fun, singing however they feel it without worrying about, y'know, pitch and stuff and playing their wacked out guitar/bass/drums the same way. Which just means that Kurt & co. cleaned them up a bit for their respectable stab at the MTV crowd, not that Nirvana improved on the melodies or the words. Cobain was right to pick three songs from this album for their big acoustic special because it's the Puppets' catchiest, their easiest to absorb (especially in the cleaner Nirvana versions) and he knew as well as anyone that "grunge" fans fans not acclimated to the underground that spawned Nirvana would be able to glom on to these shoulda-been hits more readily then the thrash of the first record or the wide-eyed (or should I say wide-pupiled?) psychedelic wonder of some of the later ones. So yeah, I guess it really is their best, a repository of melodies, riffs and memories, even though I find that I don't always go to this for my Puppets fix, which just means there are more great ones lurking out there.

Various Artists - Produced by Trevor Horn
Before I had any idea who Eno was, before I made any connection between Phil Spector and the multitude of hits he produced, I could identify a Trevor Horn production within a few bars. So his 80's material collected here holds a special place for me. He's the magic link between ABC, my heroes in Art of Noise, my favorite Pet Shop Boys song, the wacko "Buffalo Gals," and my otherwise inexplicable attraction to Yes and Godley & Creme. I don't necessarily need his 90's and 00's stuff the way I love his 80's, but neither do I mind hearing how he's developed (though I have yet to develop my own tastes enough to enjoy t.A.T.u for more than 2.5 minutes at a time.). Like the key AoN releases, like "Buffalo Gals," like "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Cry," the bulk of the 80's material here takes me to a sentimental place that I enjoy visiting. And if I don't love it all equally, this is a fundamental piece of my musical development. Eno and Spector came later and I can't in truth say that they've meant more to me.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Two films by Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel was a Spanish-born director who made less than five films in his native country, creating the bulk of his work in France and Mexico, which is where he filmed the latest two offerings from the Criterion Collection, The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert. As a member of the Parisian surrealist group in the 1920’s, Buñuel liked to deal in imagery at once confusing and sometimes shocking – at least two of his films were banned in several countries for their scandalous content.

One of the key goals of the surrealists was not just to shock (though it was a favorite tactic) but to liberate thinking from what they perceived as the shackles that bound people to conventional thought. Buñuel was fond of attacking those institutions – social, governmental, and especially religious – that he felt were particularly responsible for providing and reinforcing those barriers to a freer mode of thinking and expression, of living. So it’s no surprise that many of his films circle around themes of frustration, wherein the protagonists find themselves unable for whatever reasons to satisfy even the simplest desires.

Take for example his 1963 masterpiece The Exterminating Angel. In it, a group of upper class citizens return from the opera to their host’s home for dinner. After dinner, they retire to the drawing room for some entertainment before going home. But no one leaves. Nothing physical prevents them from exiting the drawing room; they find that they simply can’t leave. At first it’s an annoying state of affairs, but as it continues for hours, days, weeks (perhaps months? It’s never made clear exactly how long it goes on) and things become more desperate all their well-bred social graces slowly fall away. They argue and fight, they covet neighbors’ wives, they panic, they commit suicide and attack one another – anything they can think of to survive in the room in which they’re trapped. Buñuel of course never clarifies or explains matters – this is simply a situation that exists and how these people respond in the resulting pressure cooker is what’s interesting, milked for black comedy as much as possible and laced throughout with satiric barbs. It’s possibly the finest realization of satirical wit married to more obscure surrealist free expression out of all of his 36 films.

A close second might be his short film Simon of the Desert that, in only 45 minutes, takes an equally humorous and scathing approach in its satire on religious piety, echoing The Exterminating Angel’s attack on bourgeois morals and manner. When Buñuel’s producer ran out of money halfway through production, the film was done. But the structure of his films, in which a central idea runs through like an endless railroad track on which any number of scenes can appear – getting off at an earlier station than originally intended still leaves us with the satisfaction of the journey we wanted. Here, a saint (Simon, played to pious perfection by Claudio Brook) sits atop a pillar in the desert to bring himself closer to God but true to Buñuel’s satiric form, this sort of strict adherence to dogma has no place in the real world. He performs miracles rated by onlookers as so-so, restores a thief’s severed hands only to have the thief’s first act with his new hands turn out to be the slapping of a boisterous child. While these scenes smack of the sort of disrespect bordering on blasphemy that gave his earlier works Viridiana and L'Age D'or such notoriety, it’s Buñuel’s clinical and intellectual (and secular) interest in the subject that also allows him to dryly and humorously explore the theological end of things. Simon is not merely there as an object to poke fun at for his inability to transform earthly matters, he’s also repeatedly tempted by Satan (in the form of actress Silvia Pinal), who appears and reappears in various guises, bringing us back to Buñuel’s interest in desire and frustration (in this case, self-inflicted). The point of all this is that Simon has bound himself to something that – like the class-bound diners of Angel – prevents him from experiencing his own life, from feeling the full range of his being by cutting himself off with his ascetic existence. When the devil finally takes him in the abrupt finale to a rock and roll club Simon doesn’t seem to be in hell, he merely seems disappointed in how mundane the real world can be, removed from the saintly struggles that gave him a sense of purpose.

Both of these films are high water marks for Buñuel and surrealist cinema in general. Both are being released by the Criterion Collection on Tuesday February 10th and are loaded with extras, including interviews on both DVDs with actress Silvia Pinal, interviews with Luis Buñuel from the 1970’s, critical essays, and more.