Monday, December 30, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #233 - Candy (1968, dir. Christian Marquand)

            French actor Christian Marquand’s 1968 directorial debut Candy is a film that could only have been made in the late 1960s. It’s one hundred percent a product of its time. It’s a largely plotless, psychedelic hullabaloo with enough gratuitous sexual misadventures to satisfy even the cultiest of cult movie fans or the perviest of sexploitation fans. It’s the type of hippie counter-culture film that seemingly oversaturated this era in cinema but has almost completely disappeared as a style in subsequent decades. It’s been a favorite film of mine ever since I first saw it as a very young man and I’m confident it will soon be one of yours too.
What I love about Candy is not necessarily that it’s such a great film. In fact, the screenplay, written by The Graduate screenwriter Buck Henry, and adapted from the Terry Southern novel of the same name, is for the most part meandering and lackluster. And it’s not even the fact that a strangely large number of amazing, high-profile actors threw caution to the wind and decided that the script wasn’t total schmaltz either (more on this later). No, for me, this film’s role and influence on my life has everything to do with being in the right place at the right time. In fact, if there was ever a moment that I could pinpoint in my life that was my absolute coaxing, albeit perhaps too early, into manhood, I may cite the time that I inadvertently (but intently) watched Candy for the first time. I must have been ten or eleven years old. I don’t really even remember how I stumbled across it. It could’ve been one of those deals where Cinemax was offering a promotional free weekend, or maybe just a routine viewing of USA Up All Nite (for you younger readers, that was a delightful late night trashfest that aired on the USA cable network, hosted by either Elvira or Gilbert Gottfried depending on the night, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, which played wonderfully horrible B-movies and exploitation films). All I remember is that I happened upon it quite by accident and even now, in my 40s, I still feel like maybe I’m doing something wrong when I watch it.
            Of course, I, like every male character in the film, was immediately transfixed by the film’s lead, the mesmerizingly beautiful Swedish actress and model Ewa Aulin. Aulin, just 18 years old at the time Candy was filmed, was not very adept at acting in general yet, let alone portraying an American girl, so her acting seems a bit flat. Ultimately though, this doesn’t matter. Contrary to the rest of the cast, this isn’t a film to be watched for its brilliant thespianism. Candy should be watched because it is incredibly sexy, totally weird and beautifully shot by famed Italian cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno.
As I mentioned, there isn’t much to sift through plot-wise. Candy is a young ingénue who materializes from space (because: drugs). She then sets off on a series of bizarre adventures where she encounters a range of different men, each weirdly needy and pervy in their own way. Her first encounter is with a drunk, lecherous celebrity poet named McPhisto (Richard Burton) who, after a speaking engagement at her school, coerces Candy to get into his car where he proceeds to make grabby sexual advances at her. This sets off a string of similar confrontations. Among Candy’s conquests are a depraved army general (Walter Matthau), a depraved hunchback (Charles Aznavour), a depraved surgeon (James Coburn), a depraved bullshit-artist calling himself an Indian mystic (Marlon Brando) and a (you guessed it: depraved) Mexican gardener played by the decidedly non-Mexican Ringo Starr at his most delightfully (and not-so-subtly) racist best. Candy struggles her way through all these encounters in an almost dreamlike - or, more accurately, drug-induced - state, evidently learning more and more about the nature of life and love as she goes along. Candy seems blissfully unaware of the power she has over these men, which to the chagrin of her parents (John Astin and Elsa Martinelli), leads her into increasingly more troublesome situations the more men she meets. Her sojourn concludes in a large field populated by the entire cast, (which looks remarkably like the last Pitchfork Festival I went to, but I digress), Candy makes her way through everyone and on to the desert where she eventually dissolves, presumably back into space.
            What Candy lacks in narrative structure it more than makes up for in charm and aesthetic feel. The film was undoubtedly made for a ‘60s audience, but if you’re a fan of the look and feel of that decade, or the sound for that matter (among the contributors to the killer soundtrack are The Byrds and Steppenwolf), or if you’re familiar with the films of, say, Roger Corman or Russ Meyer, then Candy might be right up your alley. It’s an incredible piece of ‘60s exploitation celluloid that fits totally at home alongside any of those cult classics.
            - Jonathan Eagle

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Twist and Shout Staff Picks: The Best Albums of 2019 (Pt. 2)

Brian Wyatt

1.  L'epee – Diabolique
2. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
3. Robert Johnson – Kind Hearted Woman / Terraplane Blues (RSD)
4. Frankie & The Witch Fingers – Zam
5. Babe Rainbow – Today
6. Death And Vanilla – Are You A Dreamer?
7. Gang Starr – One Of The Best Yet
8. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Fishing For Fishies
9. Wooden Shjips – Shjips In The Night (RSD)
10. Mystery Lights – Too Much Tension
11. The Murlocs – Manic Candid Episode
12. Oh Sees – Face Stabber
13. Freddie Gibbs/Madlib – Bandana
14. Reigning Sound – Abdication...For Your Love
15. Los Destellos – Sicodelicos (RSD)
16. Allah-Las – Lahs
17. Cosmonauts – Star 69
18. Black Mountain – Destroyer
19. Dead Meadow – Feathers (Reissue)
20. Follakzoid – I
21. Night Beats – Myth Of A Man
22. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Infest The Rats' Nest
23. Stray Cats – 40
24. Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – De Facto
25. Big K.R.I.T. - K.R.I.T. Iz Here
26. The Time Quinn Knocked His Bottle Over At The Meeting.
27. The Time Eagle Discovered You Could Make A Corndog Out Of A Tijuana Mama And Ordered A 'Tres Hombres' Gatefold Beach Towel.
28. The Time Cobos Came In On Time (I Should Talk)
29. The Time Spivack Picked A Prog Record
30. The Time Paul And Leo Discussed The Finer Points Of What 'Grindin' Is.

Jack Brown

1. Rhiannon Giddens - There Is No Other
2. Stephen Mallinder - Um Dada
3. Come Organisation - Box
4. Clipping. - There Existed An Addiction To Blood
5. Mike Patton/Jean Claude Vannier - Corpse Flower
6. Kaada - Zombielars OST
7. Melvins/Al Cisneros - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
8. Meat Beat Manifesto - Opaque Couche
9. Battles - Juice B Crypts
10. Zonal - Wrecked

Kevin McGrellis

1. Lingua Ignota - Caligula
2. Aldous Harding - Designer
3. Jamila Woods - Legacy! Legacy!
4. Little Simz - Grey Area
5. Nick Waterhouse - Nick Waterhouse
6. Pharmakon - Devour
7. Big Thief - Two Hands
8. Marissa Nadler and Stephen Brodsky - Droneflower
9. Nivhek - After Its Own Death/Walking In A Spiral Towards The House
10. The Twilight Sad - It Won't Be Like This All the Time

Bridget Hartman

1. FKA Twigs - Magdalene
2. Tyler the Creator - Igor
3. Solange - When I Get Home
4. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Infest the Rats' Nest
5. Alfa Mist - Structuralism
6. Y La Bamba - Entre Los Dos
7. Kiefer - Superbloom
8. Flying Lotus - Flamagra
9. Anderson.Paak - Ventura
10. Melissa Aldana - Visions

Madden Ott

1. Lingua Ignota - Caligula
2. Have A Nice Life - Sea of Worry
3. Black Midi - Schlagenheim
4. DIIV - Deceiver
5. Interpol - A Fine Mess (EP)
6. Chelsea Wolfe - American Darkness
7. Drab Majesty - Modern Mirror
8. Clipping. - There Existed an Addiction to Blood
9. FKA Twigs - Magdalene
10. Sunn o))) - Life Metal

Josh Eidler

1. Toro y Moi - Outer Peace
2. Marvin Gaye - You're the Man
3. Anderson.Paak - Ventura
4. Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated
5. Young Thug - So Much Fun
6. Babymetal - Metal Galaxy
7. Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka
8. Doja Cat - Hot Pink
9. FKA Twigs - Magdalena
10. Patsy Cline - Sweet Dream: the Complete Decca Masters 1960-1963

1. Donnybrook
2. Shazam!
3. Long Shot
4. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
5. Brightburn
6. Rocketman
7. Biggest Little Farm
8. Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark
9. Booksmart
10. Spiderman: Far From Home

Ace Stanley

1. The Coathangers - The Devil You Know
2. The Paranoyds - Carnage Bargain
3. Control Top - Covert Contracts
4. Laura Stevenson - The Big Freeze
5. Zig Zags - They'll Never Take Us Alive
6. PUP - Morbid Stuff
7. Stereo Total - Ah! Quel Cinema!
8. Cosmonauts - Star 69
9. Tyler the Creator - Igor
10. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Twist and Shout Staff Picks: The Best Albums of 2019 (Pt. 1)

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.

Our Number One Winner with 9 votes:
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Infest the Rats' Nest

Our Number Two Placer with 7 votes:
FKA Twigs - Magdalene

Our Number Three Showers with 6 votes each:
Mdou Moctar – Ilana: The Creator
Oh Sees - Face Stabber
Tyler the Creator - Igor

Fourth Place Mentions with 5 votes each:
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
L’épée ‎– Diabolique
Lizzo - Cuz I Love You
Anderson.Paak - Ventura
Solange - When I Get Home
Jamila Woods - Legacy! Legacy!

Fifth Place Mentions with 4 votes each:
Big Thief - Two Hands
Black Midi – Schlagenheim
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Floating Points - Crush
Flying Lotus - Flamagra
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Fishing for Fishies
Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka
Angel Olsen - All Mirrors
Sturgill Simpson ‎– Sound & Fury
Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
Sunn O))) – Life Metal

Sixth Place Mentions with 3 votes each:
The Beatles - Abbey Road (50th Anniversary Edition)
Black Marble - Bigger Than Life
Bon Iver - i,i
Danny Brown - uknowwhatimsayin¿
Clipping. - There Existed An Addiction To Blood
The Dukes Of Stratosphear ‎– Psurroundabout Ride (reissue)
Bob Dylan - Rolling Thunder Review 1975 Live Recordings
Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Frankie & the Witch Fingers - Zam!
Kim Gordon - No Home Record
Karl Hector and the Malcouns - Non Ex Orbis
Robyn Hitchcock/Andy Partridge - Planet England
Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains
Thom Yorke - Anima

Paul Epstein

1. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars/Western Stars Soundtrack
2. Prefab Sprout - I Trawl The Megahertz
3. Steve Gunn - The Unseen In Between
4. Robyn Hitchcock / Andy Partridge - Planet England
5. Mercury Rev - Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited
6. Sturgill Simpson - Sound & Fury
7. Raphael Saadiq - Jimmy Lee
8. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Colorado
9. Van Morrison - Three Chords And The Truth
10. Santana - Africa Speaks

2019 Reissues
1. Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks original acetate (RSD 2019 LP)
2. The Beatles - Abbey Road Super Deluxe 50th Anniv. CD
3. Neil Young - Tuscaloosa
4. The Dukes Of Stratosphear - Psurroundabout Ride
5. John Coltrane - 1963: New Directions
6. Bobby Gentry - Girl From Chicksaw County
7. Allman Brothers - Fillmore West ‘71
8. Grateful Dead - Giants Stadium '87 '89 '91
9. Bob Dylan - Rolling Thunder Revue
10. The Yardbirds - Live & Rare

Patrick Brown

1. Mdou Moctar - Ilana (The Creator)
2. Todd Snider - Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3
3. Negativland - True False
4. Los Wembler’s de Iquitos - Visión del Ayahuasca
5. Anthony Braxton - Quartet (New Haven) 2014
6. Raphael Saadiq - Jimmy Lee
7. Chuck Cleaver - Send Aid
8. Abdullah Ibrahim - The Balance
9. Lizzo - Cuz I Love You
10. Michael Formanek/Tim Berne/Mary Halvorson - Even Better
11. Imperial Teen - Now We Are Timeless
12. Bantou Mentale - Bantou Mentale
13. Fea - No Novelties
14. Tank & the Bangas - Green Balloon
15. Yola - Walk Through Fire

New non-box set blu-ray of 2019:
1. The Image Book
2. Parasite (early 2020 release)
3. Birds Of Passage
4. Ash Is Purest White
5. Midsommar
6. The Dead Don't Die

Archival/catalog Blu-ray releases of 2019:
1. Wanda
2. Polyester
3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
4. Criss Cross
5. Bob Le Flambeur
6. Cruising
7. The Stuff
8. Obsession
9. Death In The Garden

Ben Sumner

1. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
2. Michael Kiwanuka ‎– Kiwanuka
3. Prefab Sprout ‎– I Trawl The Megahertz (reissue)
4. The Beatles - Abbey Road (50th Anniversary Edition)
5. The Residents - B.S. (reissue)
6. The Residents - Not Available (deluxe reissue)
7. Mike Cooper ‎– Distant Songs Of Madmen
8. Sturgill Simpson ‎– Sound & Fury
9. Cosey Fanni Tutti ‎– Tutti
10. Moon Duo ‎– Stars Are The Light
11. FKA Twigs - Magdalene
12. Robyn Hitchcock / Andy Partridge ‎– Planet England
13. Rupa - Disco Jazz (reissue)
14. The Dukes Of Stratosphear ‎– Psurroundabout Ride (reissue)
15. Mdou Moctar ‎– Ilana: The Creator
16. Prince - Originals
17. Kate Bush - Other Sides (b-sides compilation)
18. Alex Cameron - Miami Memory
19. Gong - Live Au Bataclan 1973
20. Johann Sebastian Bach ‎– Cello Suites (Alban Gerhardt)
21. Robert Ashley ‎– Private Parts (reissue)
22. Henryk Górecki / Beth Gibbons / Krzysztof Penderecki ‎– Symphony No. 3 (Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs)
23. Janáček - Piano Works (Jan Bartoš)
24. Hawkwind - The '1999' Party (Live in Chicago, 1974)
25. Gene Clark - No Other (expanded reissue)
26. John Coltrane ‎– Blue World
27. Akiko Yano - Iroha Ni Konpeitou (reissue)
28. Karl Hector And The Malcouns ‎– Non Ex Orbis
29. L’épée ‎– Diabolique
30. Popol Vuh ‎– The Essential Album Collection Vol.1

Brian Albright

1. Long Ryders - Psychedelic Country Soul
2. Meat Puppets - Dusty Notes
3. Sacred Paws - Run Around the Sun
4. Anderson Council - Worlds Collide
5. Drab Majesty - Modern Mirror
6. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
7. Redd Kross - Beyond the Door
8. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble - Build Bridges
9. Robyn Hitchcock/Andy Partridge - Planet England
10. The Minus 5 - Modern Mirror

Anna Lathem

1. The Beatles - Abbey Road 50th Anniversary
2. Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka
3. Jenny Lewis - On the Line
4. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Brian Jonestown Massacre
5. L'epee - Diabolique
6. Bob Dylan - Rolling Thunder Review 1975 Live Recordings
7. Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks Test Pressing
8. Lizzo - Cuz I Love You
9. Maggie Rogers - Heard It In A Past Life
10. Bleached - Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?
11. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Fishing for Fishies
12. The National - I Am Easy to Find
13. Joe Strummer - The Rockfield Studio Tracks
14. Spaceman 3 - Live In Europe 1989
15. Oh Sees - Face Stabber
16. Mercury Rev - Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited
17. Brittany Howard - Jaime
18. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
19. Sasami - Sasami
20. Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
21. FKA Twigs - Magdalene
22. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Infest the Rats’ Nest
23. Link Wray - "Vernon's Diamond"/"My Brother, My Son" (7" single)
24. Various Artists - Stax Does The Beatles
25. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!
26. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
27. Thom Yorke - ANIMA
28. Mdou Moctar - Ilana: The Creator
29. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - O.S.T.
30. Jamila Woods - Legacy! Legacy!

Jonathan Eagle

1. Sunn O))) – Life Metal
2. Meat Puppets – Dusty Notes
3. Fire! Orchestra – Arrival
4. Arrington de Dionyso – Honey & Poison
5. Black Midi – Schlagenheim
6. Bartosz Kruczinski & Poly Chain – Pulses
7. Cherubs – Immaculada High
8. Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel
9. Danny Brown - uknowwhatimsayin¿
10. Bill Orcutt – Odds Against Tomorrow
11. Fennesz – Agora
12. L.A. Guns – The Devil You Kno
13. KK Null – Abiogenesis / Quantum Pulsation
14. Joe McPhee / John Butcher – At the Hill of James Magee
15. Mdou Moctar – Ilana: The Creator
16. Not Waving / Jim O’Rourke – Side A / Side B
17. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
18. Swans – Leaving Meaning.
19. The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
20. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana

1. Them That Follow
2. Murder in the Front Row: The Bay Area Thrash Metal Story
3. Rolling Thunder Revue
4. The Irishman
5. Ken Burns’ Country Music
6. Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
7. The Dead Don’t Die
8. Dolemite is My Name
9. Sword of Trust
10. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Marley Schwartz

1. Goldlink - Diaspora
2. Earthgang - Mirrorland
3. IDK - Is He Real?
4. Flying Lotus - Flamagra
5. Mahalia - Love and Compromise
6. AJ Tracey - AJ Tracey
7. Solange - When I Get Home
8. Tyler the Creator - Igor
9. James Blake - Assume Form
10. Anderson.Paak - Ventura

Monday, December 23, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #246: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2005)

It’s 2005: the Internet is skyrocketing, New Orleans is underwater, and the War On Terror is in full swing. America the Cultured is in a cultural ditch: Destiny’s Child is breaking up, Flavor Of Love is in pre-production, and in his first televised bed-shitting, Kanye alleges that the POTUS is a racist. On the other side of the pop spectrum, Rock’n’Roll has gone full-on Sad-Boi™ and seems to have completely sold itself to corporate media. Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco are being crammed down the throat of nearly every emotional pre-teen and baggy-eyed Clear Channel jockey out there, driving them both to suicide. Between looming threats of another 9/11 and another forced serving of “I CHIME IN,” it was a scary time to be a young American – yet this national state of paranoia could never be enough to faze socially awkward college kids with dial-up connections. A smart, college-educated Brooklyn hipster like Alec Ounsworth, for example, is far too busy playing and promoting his band’s debut, chock full of weird guitar songs about young love and “…Young Blood” to Manhattan crowds that are growing larger and more prestigious by the night. (Imagine singing, “You look like David Bowie”, directly to the David Bowie....)
Originally released in June 2005, the self-titled debut from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sounds as chameleonic as it does disciplined, and its distinctly “indie” lore remains intact to this day. Following exceptionally positive online buzz and culminating with a glowing review from an increasingly influential webzine called Pitchfork Media, demand for the album became so large that the band had to reprint and reissue the disc altogether, selling over 40,000 copies on their own by the end of September. They signed a deal with UK indie Wichita Records in October only as a means to get the physical disc across the pond. What started as a way for Ounsworth to channel his love of quirky 70’s/80’s new wave and 90’s alternative morphed into one of the Internet’s first overwhelming musical sensations – something reveled by both no-name bloggers and heavy-hitting industry titans (like Bowie and David Byrne who were both spotted at the band’s Manhattan shows).
In other words, freedom from the influence of label heads and industry execs allowed CYHSY total creative freedom, and this quality is immediately evident to the listener. The album’s off-kilter, unorthodox feel can be heard straight away in the eponymous opening track. On “Clap Your Hands!” a carnival Wurlitzer lays the red-paisley carpet for Ounsworth, the madcap master of ceremonies whose lyrics throughout the album are as nonsensical ("betray white water, delay dark forms") as they are woke ("Should I trust all the rust that's on TV/I guess with some distaste I disagree"). The record’s lyrical pinnacle is born on the powerful, Dylan-esque “Details Of The War”; here Ounsworth’s warbled “mezzo-tenor” croons “Nakedness, a flying lesson/Tattered dress, sunburned chest/You will pay for your excessive charm.”
After a point, it becomes futile to trace the sonic influence of CYHSY, as any two record connoisseurs will ultimately come up with different sources. While Ounsworth’s vocals do draw obvious comparisons to Byrne, and nods to Berlin-era Bowie are scattered throughout the otherwise sparse arrangements, the record also qualifies as an indie/alternative funhouse. Perhaps the most agreeable influence is that of Frank Black, whose Pixie-dust is sprinkled on the heavier, guitar-oriented tracks (“Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away,” “In This Home On Ice”), although another listener could easily make an argument for Pavement, or even Yo La Tengo at their loudest. The sonic sources become more ambiguous as the group channels everything from Stereolab (the euphoric “Is This Love”) to the Cure (the goth-pop of “Over And Over Again”), and utilized everything from toy pianos (“Sunshine And Clouds”) to digital Theremins (“Heavy Metal”). The album’s most ear-catching sound is the 8-bit synth patch heard on its only single, “By The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth,” which sounds like the soundtrack to your favorite old Game Boy game.
In this day and age, where every self-righteous “gifted” millennial is pirating Ableton on uTorrent and publicly claiming they’re about to produce the next channel ORANGE, the grassroots creation of CYHSY seems almost too good to be true. Although M.I.A. had blown up MySpace in the year prior, and the Go! Team had received serious praise from mp3 blogs, there had yet to be an unsigned act that tapped into musical virality. Even Merge, a renowned indie, was driving the seismic impact of the Arcade Fire. To that effect, CYHSY is one of the first and most lasting testaments to the power of post-millennium DIY culture; its recording and release chronicle a young band’s journey from virtually unknown local favorites to international sensation in the matter of weeks. It’s not quite Beatlemania, but the thing that hooked people onto CYHSY – what set them apart from the pack – was their status as a totally organic, bare-bones guitar band that built their sound, image, and promotional material all on their own apart from any major external force. Additionally, the one force that did catapult this group into the spotlight from obscurity was an exponentially budding music blogosphere that had not yet been swayed by money and corporate interests.
The main lyrical theme of the album – the disillusionment of intelligent youth, poor and heartbroken, in a superficially materialistic Western society that lives in constant fear of mass destruction – is something that is transcendent in the best of all Western pop music, yet Ounsworth’s freewheeling energy and epileptic delivery make these age-old themes seem urgent and uniquely contemporary. Still drunk off the mercurial splash that was Funeral, journalists and A&R men everywhere were desperately looking for an answer to the Arcade Fire, and (if you asked Bowie/Byrne) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were it. In sound, structure, and style, this is as indie as it gets.
- Ethan Griggs

Monday, December 16, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #233 - Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998, dir. Terry Gilliam)

The first and foremost prerequisite for enjoying this movie is having read the source material. You simply have got to be acquainted with and appreciative of Hunter S. Thompson’s groundbreaking writing. Nobody excoriated the current state of American political culture in the late 60’s and early 70’s like Thompson. He spoke to the entire generation of drug taking rock and roll fanatics because he was one of them. Like so many of his generation, the double-edged sword of drug advocacy cut both ways within his life, opening avenues of incredible insight and hallucinatory description like no other, but later leaving him creatively impotent and looking like a sad reminder of past mistakes. In his glory though he captured the gestalt with razor precision and spewed his acid-tinged bile across the page with delirious abandon. It was both fun and enlightening to read of his drug-addled exploits while he dismantled conservative orthodoxy with the skill of a surgeon. Because his writing so vividly described states of chemical madness the desire to see it depicted on screen has always been on the short list of generational desires. Like other literary talismans of the era - Naked Lunch, Catch 22 or Slaughterhouse Five - the reality is often not what we saw in our mind’s eye. So to begin with, if you are not already a fan of Thompson’s work, or sympathetic to the psychedelic state of mind, turn back now! This is not some light-hearted comedic romp through goofball party time. This is a dark and disturbing trip into the politically charged wreckage left on the road leading out of the 1960s.
Based on the actual journalistic experiences of Hunter S. Thompson (played with leering glee by Johnny Depp), Fear And Loathing finds him being assigned to cover a motorcycle race in Las Vegas. He loads his crazed lawyer drug buddy Dr. Gonzo (Benecio Del Toro with a 50-pound gut) into a Cadillac convertible loaded with illegal drugs and guns and heads off across the desert to take on Sin City. The assignment itself quickly becomes secondary to the pair’s frenzied drug consumption and anti-social behavior. Much of their behavior is the cornerstone of the book and movie’s reputation, and it is actually not funny, but a super-exaggerated reaction to the hypocrisy and violence of the Nixon era. Thompson reviled middle class values and the macho, police-state culture of 20th century America. The ugliness of Nixon, Vietnam, the war on drugs, and all that went with them was crystallized in Las Vegas and Thompson and Dr. Gonzo can only respond by outdoing the ugliness. As a result, much of the movie involves itself with the frenetic, disturbing, dangerous, often disgusting behavior of drug addled adult delinquents. The drug excess does not seem fun, but scary and sick-making; in fact Del Toro’s character spends much of his screen time vomiting, twitching, oozing and writhing like a stuck pig. This is not ribald humor it is savage satire. Thompson’s written word left many with unease while simultaneously confirming, reflecting and glorifying their youthful excesses - Gilliam’s movie does a woozy good job bringing the hallucinations to life.
Acclaimed for his work with Monty Python and then for his own movies like The Fisher King, Brazil, and 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam was clearly acquainted with the original material and the lifestyle it portrayed. He does a remarkable job smoothing the transition points between straight narrative and insane states of drug madness, thus putting the viewer squarely behind the rolling, red eyes of Thompson. He gets the most from his actors as well; Depp and Del Toro are both extraordinary - Depp slithering around like an anesthetically impaired iguana, mugging and dodging Del Toro’s wrecking ball of a character, who veers between utterly menacing and completely disgusting. The era was complex, ugly, and confusing, and Gilliam’s movie is equally so.
The biggest payoffs come in the few reflective scenes, when Gilliam dials back the insanity for a moment and allows Depp’s voiceover to revel in Thompson’s insightful prose. In one scene, Thompson stares out a window and reflects on the changes he has seen since the mid 60’s “We were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark, that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” It is a poetic moment within the maelstrom of lunacy that surrounds it, and that ultimately is the power of Hunter S. Thompson’s writing and Gilliam’s movie - they both manage to find a kind of beauty within the madness that surrounds them.
- Paul Epstein

Monday, December 9, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #245 - Michael Hurley, the Unholy Modal Rounders, Jeffery Frederick & the Clamtones - Have Moicy! (1976)

Back in late 1975 two folk scene stalwarts, Michael Hurley and Peter Stampfel (on hiatus from the Holy Modal Rounders at this point), got together with younger singer-songwriter Jeffery Frederick to make an album that ended up being more consistently entertaining - and more consistently goofy - than anything I’ve ever heard by any of them separately. This is why the record is, clumsily but accurately, credited to "Michael Hurley, the Unholy Modal Rounders, Jeffery Frederick & the Clamtones" - though that gives the impression that three bands got together to put out a compilation, rather than the sympathetic communal wackiness that's actually on display here.
The three main (vocal) personalities at play here are as follows:
1. Peter Stampfel, 37 year-old co-founder of Greenwich Village folk scene regulars The Holy Modal Rounders (who you may know from "If You Want To Be A Bird" on the Easy Rider soundtrack). He's a weirdo and a seeker of music who digs into deep Americana to find songs to cover, rip off, or sometimes just inform his own writing. And he sings with a wild enthusiasm that's hard to match (or resist), even if that enthusiasm does not often translate to any kind of musical accuracy.
2. Michael Hurley, the easy-going 34 year-old "outsider folk" prodigy who began writing and recording in his early teens, but didn't get a career rolling until his 20s due to illness, and then began a slow outpouring of his laid-back, almost soulful folky ease. Only by having Stampfel next to him does he seem like a normal musician.
3. Jeffery Frederick, at 25, the baby of the bunch, an East Coaster relocated to Oregon, who approaches the musical side of things somewhat more professionally - relatively speaking - but his words are every bit as wacko as his confreres.
Lyrically, Stampfel will sing about bidets, Paris, wine, young people in love, dancing, and the freak party on the edge of town; Hurley tells us about spaghetti, dirty dishes in the sink, heartbreak, the blues, and oral sex; Frederick tells us about robbing banks, hamburgers, the blues (also), and a heart attack. Among other things. Musically, it flows beginning to end, from the Parisian wine at the beginning to the Thunderbird wine (and a pound of hash) that closes things, with members of each leader's band performing alongside each other throughout the album creating the kind of musical consistency that's rare in any collaborative project like this. Special kudos go to the fiddler and mandolin player credited solely as Robin here, though the fine work of the understated but supportive drummer known as Frog should also be mentioned.
            The album passes singing and songwriting duties around from track to track like the joints they no doubt shared during the record's creation, and the result is a melodic, good-natured, hilarious exploration of what happened to "The Scene" of the late-60s by the time we got to the mid-70s. Rather than becoming wistful for the past, as many of the older guys' contemporaries were already doing by then, they found their joy in smaller pleasures like those detailed above. It kicks off with "Midnight In Paris," a 1935 pop tune turned all banjo-and-mandolin bluegrass style here, where Stampfel (credited as "Pierre" instead of Peter for this track) gets the ball rolling in his best American-ese "You wear my bee-ray/and I'll use your bee-day/I'll be clean and you'll be free." And then they take off from there, straight into Frederick's "Robbin' Banks," a song about exactly what it says, supposedly inspired by his bank robbing grandfather, but just to prove his freak bona fides, he throws in lines like “If you get scared and run you bastard, I’ll break your arm.” Up next is Hurley, with "Slurf Song," where he envisions a feast for all his pals, but laments the cleaning up afterward, and follows the feast right through to its (bio)logical end.
            And so it goes. Other highlights include Stampfel's "Griselda," written by the Greenwich village folk scene musician Antonia who introduced him and the other Holy Modal rounder founder Steve Weber back in the 60s, Jeffery Frederick's "What Made My Hamburger Disappear?" which sounds silly (and was supposedly performed on Sesame Street) but is written from the point of view of a burger eater having a heart attack, Hurley's slyly naughty "Driving Wheel," and the killer Antonia-penned capper "Hoodoo Bash," which may as well be describing the freak party that is this album.
            Of course, if you can't attenuate Stampfel's vocals into something your ear can easily digest, if you want your folk music all serious and stately instead of lively and of-the-people, if you like your freaks a little more toned-down than these guys, maybe this record isn't for you. For anyone who's in it for the fun though, dig in. You won't regret it.
            - Patrick Brown

Monday, December 2, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #232 - Blow Out (1981, dir. Brian De Palma)

Back in 1981, director Brian De Palma followed up his hit thriller Dressed To Kill with something darker and grimmer, gave John Travolta his best on screen role ever (that's right, ever), took a none-too-unbelievable look at American politics, and created his finest film. That film is 1981’s Blow Out, and despite critical acclaim at the time of its release, it was a box office failure, probably in large part due to the film’s bleak outlook - and probably also, as Nancy Allen suggests in the bonus materials contained in the Criterion release of the film, that an intellectual, personal, and political work was released and expected to compete in summer blockbuster season, rather than in the fall, when “critics’ films” tend to come out. But time has been kind to the film, and it's shown itself to be among the smartest and best-made of the run of 1970s political thrillers. It might help that it actually came after the end of the 70s, with Watergate and its aftermath in the rear-view mirror, rather than being released in the thick of it when everything was still unfolding; the kind of behind-the-scenes machinations that power Blow Out no longer seemed like far-fetched paranoia.
The film starts out as a cheesy horror flick, quickly revealed to be a screening of Co-Ed Frenzy, a low-budget slasher film-within-the-film for which cop-turned-soundman Jack Terry (John Travolta) needs to record new sound effects (and which provides a running joke that turns gut-wrenching in the film’s final moments). Out at night recording, he hears (and records) a blow out and sees a car careen off a bridge and plunge underwater. Diving in to save the woman inside, Sally (Nancy Allen), he becomes embroiled in a plot to derail the upcoming presidential election, but due to the constant movement of the shadowy antagonist Burke (John Lithgow) he finds it difficult to convince others that a conspiracy may be afoot.
The film is De Palma's finest - the place where his thematic ideas about voyeurism and watching (and here, listening) and systemic violence perpetrated against women mesh with his virtuoso filmmaking in a dazzling array of traveling Steadicam work, split screen, slo-mo, 360 degree pans, and other effects that all heighten and work in service of the story being told, rather than merely drawing attention to themselves. And beyond his famous camerawork, the sound design of the film is marvelous - as befits a movie about a soundman - with the visuals we see and the sounds that accompany them often providing an ironic complement or counterpoint. Even in the seemingly innocuous opening credits sequence where Jack is cataloging his stock effects - gunshots, glass breaking, a body falling to the ground, and so forth - these are played over a split screen montage of a TV broadcast of an event for a presidential hopeful whose car is, unbeknownst to him, about to end up at the bottom of a river, and the entire sequence conveys a lot more than the names of the crew. And later in the film, the disparity between TV news reportage and events we've seen firsthand always provides a chuckle.
And as fine as Travolta is in the film, he's matched scene for scene by Nancy Allen, who as Sally attempts to control her own destiny only to be swept away by forces beyond her control, and those of Travolta’s attempts to protect her. And it would be a disservice to not tip the hat to De Palma regular John Lithgow, whose chameleon-like bow as the villainous Burke keeps the film's seemingly implausible menace feeling very real indeed, or to another De Palma fave Dennis Franz, perfectly sleazy as photographer Manny Karp.
If the film were merely a clever thriller, it would be enough to recommend it, but it's more than that, refracting recent political history - Watergate and Chappaquiddick particularly - through De Palma's ideas to arrive at a fully integrated - dare I say it? - work of art. The film looks at sordid post-Watergate closed-door dealings, with the subsequent mistrust of government coloring the cynical proceedings in a film that endlessly looks outward to the modern political landscape and reflects it darkly back on itself. One wonders what sort of grim thriller could be made out of the raw material of today’s political events.
- Patrick Brown

Monday, November 25, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #244 - Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000)

            Lately I’ve been getting caught up in the Hulu show Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Even though it’s kind of a shitty show, it’s reminded me that revisiting my love of the Wu-Tang Clan is something I need to do occasionally. I’m certain I’m not alone in my assessment that when the Wu-Tang Clan came to prominence, they were a cut above the rest in terms of the hip-hop of the ‘90s. They quickly became one of my favorites and it didn’t take long for me to start tracking down every solo album by every solo rapper even tangentially related to the Wu.
            Among the masterpieces to grace the world at the turn of the new millennium was Supreme Clientele, the second solo record by the inimitable Ghostface Killah. Released at a time when most Wu-Tang members had either already ventured off onto their own solo paths or were about to, de facto leader RZA could not oversee production on all of them, and it often showed. He did, however, opt to man the boards (and contribute some rhymes) for Supreme Clientele, enlisting the help of a small team of other RZA disciples. Incorporating the sexiest of obscure R&B samples (the cover photo of Ghost crooning into a retro microphone makes it even look like it could be a 1970s Jerry Butler record or something) into the sleaziest of beats and loops, to produce a result that is pure Staten Island sound: pure Wu-Tang. Ghost’s lyrics provide vivid narrative structures emboldened by deep personal introspection while laced with abstract, ostensibly nonsensical poetic liberties. Many of the lyrics on Supreme Clientele were written while Ghost was on a several month-long trip to Africa, incorporating much of his experience with the culture there (and his subsequent disdain for American consumerism) into his words. And the flow doesn’t stop with just Ghost. In fact, not only is he joined by RZA but other fellow Wu members Cappadonna, GZA, Masta Killa and Raekwon pop in and out to take a verse or two, making it just about as close to Wu-Tang-Proper as it gets.
            The thing about Supreme Clientele is that it’s quite notoriously one of the most-loved, if not the most-loved of the non-Wu-Tang Wu-Tang projects. At least one of the highest charting ones, if I’m not mistaken. And deservedly so. It’s not only a step up creatively from its predecessor, Ghost’s powerful debut Ironman (which is also great), but production-wise too. Supreme Clientele is stamped front to back with that unmistakable RZA sound which, by 2000, just wasn’t as ubiquitous as it once was. In the 19 years since this record came out, the world of hip-hop has only gotten more incredible and complex and the landscape is constantly changing. There are countless talented emcees and DJs out there and with Soundcloud and Bandcamp and the like, it’s easier than ever for some of the lesser-known talented acts to be heard. Even Ghostface himself has gone on to release material that far surpasses that of Supreme Clientele. In fact, 2006’s Fishscale is high in the running for best hip-hop record ever, in my opinion. But this… this is the one. This is, I think, the reference point that people will point to when talking about solo Wu-Tang albums. When this record came out, I could not get enough of it. And now, listening back to it as much as I did in preparation to write this, it still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did when I first bought it.
            Honestly, I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to write about a record that’s already received as much critical and commercial praise as Supreme Clientele has received. I mean, theoretically it’s already had so much smoke blown up its ass over the years that I couldn’t possibly have anything to add that would be useful. And anyway, the point of these reviews is to “turn you on” to something you may have otherwise missed. It’s just that I truly believe that this record still needs to be talked about because it’s a god damn masterpiece. Whether you’re new school or old school, there’s something on Supreme Clientele for every hip-hop fan.
            - Jonathan Eagle