Monday, December 29, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #119 - Marc Ribot – Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos

In 1997, Ry Cooder released Buena Vista Social Club, featuring forgotten Cuban musicians being given a platform to get heard in the States and creating an album that masqueraded as a reunion of a multi-generational group that never really existed except as a fantasy music lineup. And it did gangbusters here – both in the U.S. and right here at Twist – which probably helped open the doors for this 1998 album, in which avant-leaning NYC guitarist Marc Ribot formed a (real) group he dubbed Los Cubanos Postizos (The Prosthetic Cubans) to pay homage to Arsenio Rodríguez, a hugely influential Cuban musician in his own right.
Rodríguez was born in Cuba, lost his sight at any early age, and learned to play the tres cubano (a 6-stringed relative of the guitar), working in several bands before forming his own group in the 1940’s and laying the foundations for modern salsa (and, he claimed, the mambo as well) with his rhythmic acuity and songwriting skills. After emigrating to the U.S., he worked in New York until moving to L.A. and passing away in 1970, a largely forgotten figure. But Ribot was familiar with his work and here assembled a group of tunes either written or popularized by Rodríguez (plus one original and another classic Cuban tune) and scaled them down to fit his Prosthetics – a quartet of his guitar, bass, drums and percussion, augmented often by organ, less often by vocals, and once by a goofy baritone sax that suits the album’s playful vibe.
And that’s a key difference between the similar projects enacted by Ry Cooder and Marc Ribot – while both honor the traditions of Cuban music, Cooder’s approach is more folksy, more hands-off, allowing the musicians to play their own tunes their own way and then adding his own guitar (and less impressively, his son’s percussion) into the mix. Ribot, on the other hand, decided to have some fun with the music, to filter Arsenio Rodríguez’s tunes through his own post-modern, NYC filters to create something at once respectful and modern – postizo also translates from Spanish as “fake.” And it’s a gas to listen to in a way that the more stately BVSC record isn’t. Maybe you’ve heard Ribot’s own records, maybe you haven’t Maybe you know him from his stints with Tom Waits or Elvis Costello, or maybe the name is completely new to you. Doesn’t matter, ‘cause if you dig guitar, you’ll be a fan after about 30 seconds of this album.
The record kicks off with the lovely “Aurora en Pekín” (one of the non- Rodríguez songs, written by the early 20th century Cuban musician Alfredo Boloña). Given that aurora means “dawn” it’s a perfect opener, rising quietly and beautifully, but hardly giving any warning of what’s to come as the day heats up. By the third song, “Como Se Goza en el Barrio,” things are in high gear and it’s clear what kind of Cuban music Ribot’s got in mind – traditional yet modern, danceable and funky yet slightly bent; in a word – postizo, but not in a bad way, even if in a way that Cooder would never condone. This is followed by the only Ribot original of the set, “Postizo,” which further drives the point home. And though most of the album is instrumental, there are a few vocals – “La Vida Es un Sueño” (“Life Is A Dream,” a song Rodríguez wrote after he learned he’d never see again) is delivered in a disaffectedly humorous monotone and deliberately unaccented Spanish while he occasionally translates the Spanish of “No Me Llores Más” to an equally droll English language song. Elsewhere titles are sung or joyfully shouted from the background (“Postizo!”), but most of the record remains the core group – bass, drums, and percussion – with Ribot’s guitar doing most of the talking, sending out melodic lines or ripping leads as dictated by the songs.
The Cubanos Postizos released a second album that’s also well worth your time (2000’s Muy Divertido!), but it’s been in and out of print for a while. It has less surefire tunes – though Arsenio Rodríguez’s “El Divorcio” is a killer, as is Marc Ribot’s “Baile Baile Baile” – but more rocking lead guitar to compensate. Maybe it’s fake and the ethnomusicologists out there would find it too ersatz to take seriously. But as something of a fake ethnomusicologist myself, and one who revels in syntheses of music from all over the globe, I find it completely entertaining. Give it a listen and you probably will too.

- Patrick Brown

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #106 - The Wiz (or - Lighten up and let yourself be charmed) (1978 dir. Sidney Lumet)

The year is 1978. American cinema is immersed in Blaxploitation, hard-boiled crime dramas and an un-satiated, seemingly endless lust for sex on screen. A wildly popular, all African-American cast Broadway extravaganza called The Wiz has begun to finish its long standing (since 1975) run. Enter Sidney Lumet; hot off the successes Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Murder on the Orient Express and Equus. The goal? A no-no of a remake of the indelible 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. What’s that, you say? Why touch an allegedly perfect film? Well, I say why not?

Is The Wiz even half as charming, polished, accessible and heart-warming as the original? Absolutely not, and it's proud of it. Lumet (although he was hired simply because the original director quit after being forced to cast Diana Ross in a role undoubtedly too young for her) was determined to ignore the 1939 opus and head in his own direction. The result is an absolute mess. But, it's a hot mess – a mess that this writer cannot look away from. A mess that, whether intentional or not, stumbles into near-transcendent moments of pitch black humor, far too much self awareness, undeniable beauty and atypical, but succinct songs that will stick with you should you head back for another viewing.

The cast is unbelievable. Michael Jackson steals every bit of the show with his youthfully exuberant portrayal of the Scarecrow. Ted Ross brings a dark undercurrent to his initially surface-level portrayal of the Lion. Nipsy Russell phones things in a bit, but ends up endowing the Tin Man with the bit of humanity we need to feel the tug of the heart strings in the overly preachy final moments. Richard Pryor isn't given enough time as Oz, but makes damn sure you won't forget the time he has. And last, and certainly least, Diana Ross nearly derails the whole affair, pretending to be a youngster full of hopes and dreams; which only comes out as a constant attempt to be on the verge of tears. Quincy Jones adapts many songs from the Broadway original to fit with Lumet's dark, borderline surreal portrayal of Harlem and eventually the Land of Oz.

Even if you only watch this film as a curiosity, I can near promise that you will be surprised and delighted by at least one aspect. Again, we are dealing with a hot mess. But, this hot mess has a lot of heart, a lot of passion, and who can resist Michael Jackson giving his all in any circumstance (accusations of whatever not withstanding)?

                                                                               - Will Morris

Monday, December 15, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #118 - The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues

Fisherman’s Blues, The Waterboys’ fourth album, came out the year Twist and Shout opened, 1988, and it was my favorite record in my first year as a record store owner. This may seem like an inconsequential milestone to most but I took the job pretty seriously and felt that I needed to be able to say with some genuine authority: “I think this is the best album of the year.” I had been following music carefully my whole life and was familiar with most everything that was popular at the time. I knew who The Waterboys were and had heard some of their songs on the radio, but was generally unfamiliar with their music. This turned out to be pretty irrelevant as Fisherman’s Blues represented a new direction for the band. With the departure of Karl Wallinger and the addition of fiddle player Steve Wickham, leader Mike Scott took his band on a journey through his ethnic, cultural and artistic roots over a two year period and the resulting album is one of the defining moments of British folk-rock.

Opening with the absolutely breathtaking title song Scott sings “Well I wish I was a Fisherman, tumblin’ on the seas/ far away from dry land and its bitter memories” and we know immediately we are on a journey. The music sails through the album being completely true to both the Celtic/Scottish roots Scott embraced so closely, but never being any less true to his calling as a rock singer. Like The Pogues or The Band this music is as equally legitimate as rock and roll as it is folk. Led by Wickham’s lyrical fiddle playing, the songs drip with traditional instruments - fifes, horns, accordions - while being propelled by hard-driving Hammond organ and a rock rhythm section.

Scott’s writing is a rare breed in popular music, having both an ear for the undeniable hook, and a brain for heady, poetic expression. His influences, ranging from poet W.B. Yeats to Hank Williams to Van Morrison, The Beatles and Woody Guthrie, are all worn proudly on his sleeve as he takes on Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” to great effect, ad-libbing a verse of “Blackbird” in the middle. “Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?” captures Williams in both insightful profile, and fan-like admiration, and the magnificent album closer “The Stolen Child” pairs W.B. Yeats’ poetry (as read by famed Gaelic singer Thomas McKeown) with The Waterboys’ hypnotic acoustic approach, and then cleverly appends a bit of “This Land Is Your Land” at the end replacing Celtic locations for the American landmarks in Woody’s version. The best parts of the album though are the songs written by Scott, which detail his internal quest for identity, happiness and love. “We Will Not Be Lovers” is a clear-eyed and heartbroken assessment of love gone wrong, while “And A Bang On The Ear” affectionately recalls past romantic triumphs and failures. Perhaps no song captures what is great about The Waterboys better than “Strange Boat” which opens with the lines “We’re sailing in a strange boat, headin’ for a strange shore/ carrying the strangest cargo that was ever hauled aboard” and continues to essentially tell the story of The Waterboys, which in turn tells the story of all artists in pursuit of truth, beauty and meaning.

Every song on Fisherman’s Blues is a moving insight into Mike Scott’s journey to find himself. It has the mature songwriting and superlative lyrical expression of a mature man, but the music has the buoyancy and spirit of youth. 27 years after its release it feels as fresh and alive as the day it came out to my ears. It remains one of my favorite albums, of any year.
- Paul Epstein

Monday, December 8, 2014

Twist and Shout Presents: Top Things List 2014

As at the end of every year, we ask our employees to share their favorite releases of the year. Herein are the results of our end of year employee poll. We gave each employee a sheet suggesting ten titles on different formats but weren’t strict about how the numbers broke down and also weren’t strict about what format, whether titles were new, or whether it was even music, so there’s a lot of variety here.

This year was a big year for garage-leaning indie rock amongst the staff. Our top three – King Tuff, Mac Demarco, and Ty Segall – all work their own variations of the indie rock ethos. Tuff is riff-heavy rocking, Demarco a lo-fi singer-songwriter, and Segall is a non-stop song factory almost definitely lodged in someone’s garage. Check out our individual lists and see what your favorite employee voted for, find that person whose tastes are in line with yours, or the one who can point you to some great new music that you’ve never heard before.

We’ve tallied the music releases that appeared on three or more employee lists to make a snapshot of Twist & Shout’s best-loved music (and also movies) of 2014. Rather than delineate by format, a vote for a release on any format specified by the employee counted toward the total. To view our list CLICK HERE.

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #105 - 2 Days in Paris / 2 Days in New York (2007 / 2012, dir. Julie Delpy)

Indie film goddess Julie Delpy made 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York because she was tired of seeing romantic comedies that cast 30- and 40-something actresses as women who, as she explained to The Guardian in 2012, have “the problems of a 25-year-old. Like, should I date him, should I not date him? Should I have sex with him but tell him I don't like him? OK. I mean, I have friends who are still single, but even they don't ask themselves those kind of questions. They've evolved into something else." In both films, she plays Marion, a French woman who’s already in a relationship and the plot follows them through the time-honored challenge of meeting the parents, which in these films is a particular challenge because her boyfriends, played by Adam Goldberg in Paris and Chris Rock in New York, are kind of uptight and Marion’s relatives are so uninhibited they’re almost nuts. Played by Delpy’s actual parents, they’re aging French radicals, veterans of the 1968 revolution, and they’re eccentric to say the least. In Paris, her dad serves for their first meal together a braised rabbit, eyeballs and floppy ears and all, and spends the evening quizzing her poor beau on obscure French painters and poets. Later on, her mom bumps into him as he’s coming out of the shower, naked, and in slow, broken English she waxes nostalgic about being a member of an all-female activist group called the “343 Sluts” and brags about sleeping with Jim Morrison. On the family’s visit to New York in the sequel, her sister brings along a pot-smoking quasi boyfriend and blatantly hits on Rock’s character.
            All of which allows Delpy to shine as an actress, to flesh out a marvelously complex character, at times mature and confident, other times neurotic and volatile. In Paris, she loudly condemns an ex in a crowded restaurant for traveling to Asia and buying child prostitutes, and in New York she filets an art critic who panned one of her exhibitions. And she’s got a rather bawdy sense of humor that’s refreshing and hilarious. She’s comfortable with sex—not in a one-dimensional Hollywood kind of way, like some kind of overly horny vixen, but like a real woman who’s experienced life and isn’t hung up about it, who’s been with quite a few men in her life and she’s not at all ashamed about it, who can say “blow job” without blushing or lowering her voice, even in the face of her current boyfriends’ jealous uneasiness. She’s sure of herself in all the ways that traditional rom-com leads don’t seem to be, and yet has enough hang-ups and flaws—occasional hysterical outbursts and more frequent insensitivity to her guys’ insecurities—to make her come across like a real person. As a result, the movie gets to a deeper place because instead of hanging on to the question of when the two will get together, it asks where will this situation take them, whether they’ll stay together or fall apart, and what will they learn about each other and themselves. Unlike more typical rom-coms, there’s no way to know for sure how these questions will be answered and that makes the zany cross-cultural fun all the more alive with delicious tension. And when the answers arrive, it’s so much more satisfying.

            - Joe Miller

Monday, December 1, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #117 - Spacemen 3 - The Perfect Prescription

The duo of Jason "Spaceman" Pierce and Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember came together in the mid-80s with a mission of blending all their myriad influences into a big psychedelic stew. They dug the proto-punk of the MC5, Stooges, and Velvet Underground; the garage-psych of the Red Krayola and 13th Floor Elevators; the avant-jazz of Sun Ra; experimental and early electronic composers like LaMonte Young and Terry Riley; and, perhaps most importantly, early blues and gospel. This put them out of touch with most of what was going on in underground music at the time, but the sounds they created as Spacemen 3 had an indelible effect on those that heard them. They mixed noise and feedback with quiet beauty and a touch of soul. They also did a lot of drugs and weren't shy about singing about it. In fact, the band's slogan was "Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to." Yet instead of the big mess this could have been, Spacemen 3 were able to build a unique sound and a memorable discography. Their greatest achievement is their second full length, 1987's The Perfect Prescription.

"Take Me to the Other Side" kicks things off with an all-time great guitar riff and an invitation to rock out. "Walking With Jesus" is more reflective and also much quieter than the feedback enhanced early version of the song, then titled "Sound of Confusion."  The song also establishes the use of religious imagery that would become so much a part of Pierce's songwriting.  "Ode to Street Hassle" is exactly what the title promises, a spaced-out rewrite of the Lou Reed classic. An excerpt of "Ecstasy Symphony," the ambient piece they played before they took the stage, leads into a long, mellow cover of the Red Krayola's "Transparent Radiation." This represents Spacemen 3 at their most blissed-out and trippy.  "Feel So Good" is another slower number, but they kick it up again for the stomping rocker "Things'll Never Be the Same." The early blues influence shines through with the acoustic "Come Down Easy." This is a laid-back, front porch strummer all about the joys of chemical enhancement. The original album concludes with the haunting "Call the Doctor," a reminder that some trips don't always end the way you want them to. The current CD edition adds a pair of instrumental bonus tracks, the sax-enhanced "Soul 1" and the guitar rock of "That's Just Fine."

Like many great creative duos, the union of
Pierce and Kember was not built to last.  After The Perfect Prescription they began writing separately and the band split for good in 1991.  Pierce went on to form Spiritualized, who have become one of the most acclaimed bands of the past 20 years. Kember launched several projects, including Spectrum and EAR, and has recently worked with MGMT, Panda Bear, and Wooden Shjips. With Spiritualized, Pierce has reworked several Spacemen classics, with "Walking With Jesus" and "Take Me to the Other Side" becoming concert favorites. While it's unlikely we'll ever see a Spacemen 3 reunion, their once obscure catalog endures and continues to draw new fans. The Perfect Prescription is a great place to start.

            - Adam Reshotko