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

Monday, February 10, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #99 - Rush - Signals

After many years of derision and disrespect, Rush has finally achieved a degree of respectability in the world of music, capped off by their recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many are coming to realize what fans of the band have known for years, that Rush is an innovative, talented, and forward-thinking rock band. For 40 years they have been reflective of the musical times, not following trends but instead constantly being influenced by the music around them. In the early 80s, the band found themselves with their greatest success yet thanks to the breakthrough of the Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures albums. They had gone from heavy-prog cult band to mainstream AOR. Their contemporaries went from Yes and Led Zeppelin to Styx and REO Speedwagon. But they really yearned to be in the company of The Police and Talking Heads, the bands they were listening to at the time, and this is what led to 1982's excellent album Signals.

Rush had been using synthesizers and keyboards for several years, mostly in a background or atmospheric capacity. Now, the synths moved to the front, not replacing but sharing equal time with guitar, bass, and drums. Geddy Lee proved to be as proficient on the keys as he is on bass. In fact, the first sound you hear on the album is the ominous synth tones of "Subdivisions," an early 80s version of the power riff. Like the previous two albums, Signals opens with its best (and best-known) track. Neil Peart's unusually angry lyrics attack suburban conformity and plasticity with a punk-like ferociousness. Guitarist Alex Lifeson proves guitars and synths can coexist as he reels off one of his most powerful and emotional solos. "Subdivisions" may not be as famous as "The Spirit of Radio" or "Tom Sawyer" but it's every bit as good as those undisputed classics.

For the rest of the album, Peart moves from anger to an attempt to find more positive ways for creative people to transcend their surroundings. "The Analog Kid" opens with a more traditional guitar riff and comes off as a great high energy rocker. Like many bands of the time, Rush began incorporating reggae sounds into their mix and that influence is most greatly felt on "Digital Man." All three band members are quite comfortable locking into a reggae groove and melding it with some classic rock riffing. This was the first album where the band completely abandoned long, multi-part compositions. Yet they still nodded to their prog past noting "The Weapon" as part two of a reverse trilogy that began with the Moving Pictures cut "Witch Hunt." Musically, "The Weapon" is actually the most 80s influenced track on the album, with pulsing synths reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder. The album takes a poppier turn with the catchy "New World Man," a song that actually became the group's first single to crack the Top 40. Underneath the verses, however, Geddy Lee tosses off some of his most intricate bass lines, proving he hasn't completely forsaken the bass for the synthesizer. The album concludes with the upbeat "Countdown," a tribute to the recent first flight of the space shuttle Columbia.

The world has finally come around to recognizing Rush as one of the all time greats. Diving into their catalog reveals a band always in touch with the musical world around them. They would move onto U2-style arena rock in the late 80s, a re-emphasis on guitar oriented rock with the grunge/alternative breakthrough of the 90s, and a recent return to their prog roots, but with a contemporary rock sound. Signals can be seen as a transitional album, yet the quality of the material and strength of performance make it an essential entry in the catalog of an essential band.
            - Adam Reshotko

Monday, February 3, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #83 - The Fifth Element (1997, dir. Luc Besson)

“Leeloo: ‘Everything you create, you use to destroy.’
Korben Dallas: ‘Yeah, we call it human nature.’”

For this edition of I’d Love To Turn You On At the Movies we will be turning our attention onto Luc Besson’s futuristic masterwork The Fifth Element. To put my reasoning in a succinct way, this film is AWESOME. When re-watching it in preparation for this piece I was reminded just how much this film truly embodies all that is great about successful blockbuster films, of which this is a perfect example. It has everything: action, drama, comedy, intrigue and a love story to tie it all together. While many blockbuster films fall short in some aspect and fail to have a higher purpose this film not only kills it on all counts it all centers around a universal theme, the importance of love in the battle against the darkness beneath human nature.
The setting is the twenty third century; Earth is being threatened by an amorphous and seemingly omniscient evil and the only way to save it is by bringing together the ‘five elements’ or representations of them that had been left on Earth by a benevolent alien species for this particular purpose. Korben Dallas, played by Bruce Willis, is unwittingly brought into the action when Leeloo, or ‘the fifth element,’ (played by Milla Jovovich) falls into his cab. From this point on the action of the film rarely lets up. Dallas is recruited by a variety of people to aid in Leeloo’s mission to save the world. Boiling the plot of the film down to these bullet points simply doesn’t do the piece justice. The awesomeness of this movie lies in the immense nature of the story and the winding way in which all of the pieces are connected. Simply put this is a great science fiction treat.
All of the different aspects of this movie are treated perfectly. The small details about the future society really bring the world to life and the visual effects breathe further life into this society. The characters and the actors who play them are wonderfully developed and portrayed. Bruce Willis is the ideal reluctant hero; Milla Jovovich is amazing as the naïve but flawless personification of the fifth element; Gary Oldman is astounding as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg the merciless bad guy; Ian Holm is swell as Father Vito Cornelius the leader of the order that has passed down all of the answers to solving the puzzle and saving the world; and last but certainly not least Chris Tucker is PERFECT as Ruby Rhod the comedic DJ that loudly sews it all together (BZZZZZ). In addition to a well put together future society and a stellar cast the film has an interesting story that only gets better with multiple viewings.
In the end, Leeloo has learned all about the negative aspects of human nature and the need to be shown love. It sounds cheesy to a certain extent but the way director Luc Besson went about building up the side love story is just sublime. All of it culminates in a nail biting final sequence, giving it a truly brilliant payoff and resolution of all of the plot lines.
If you have been living under some sort of rock and haven’t seen this film it is a must that you purchase this and spend some time in this world, you will certainly not regret it. And if you have seen it, don’t you think it’s time you saw it again? You know you want to! This is one of those great movies that gives me the action I crave, the stylization I fiend for, the edge-of-your-seat intensity I need to keep my attention, and the love story to play to my sensitive side. It’s a fun and intriguing film, so please enjoy!
- Edward Hill