Monday, March 16, 2020

I'd Love to Turn You On #252: Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004)

            In 2004 Kings of Leon (brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill plus cousin Matthew Followill) weren’t the Kings of Leon we came to know in 2008 after MTV got their grubby corporate hands on them, made them cut their hair, take a shower and hit it big with “Sex on Fire” off their fourth studio album. In 2004 the sons of a Pentecostal preacher were dirty, long-haired dudes in their early twenties (one of them even a teenager) living in Nashville, and Aha Shake Heartbreak is their rebellion album. They wanted to make an album that just came to them, without a record label breathing down their necks. So they made Aha Shake Heartbreak, an all-out jangly garage rock album with mostly unintelligible and a little bit questionable lyrics. 
            Aha Shake Heartbreak is the only Kings of Leon album with a parental advisory label. You may not be able to understand most of what lead singer Caleb Followill is singing but believe me, it deserves that parental advisory. I had been listening to this album on repeat for years before I looked up the lyrics, I had always just sung along with what I thought he was saying. I was in for quite the surprise when looking up lyrics to some of my favorite tracks off the album. If y’all thought “Sex on Fire” was vulgar just take a look at “Soft” - never knew he was singing about perfect nipples, being “passed out in your garden” and umm…soft. Or “Rememo,” which I always saw as a swinging, twangy slow jam about nothing. Turns out it’s about the flirty girls they encountered on tour in Europe, some of which may have been young - but there was a 17 year old in the band. Or my personal favorite “Taper Jean Girl” - this song was my morning alarm for all of high school, one of the only things that would be loud enough to wake me up (the other being an air horn but that's a story for another time). It also has that word that rhymes with punt that shouldn’t be used in mixed company, which blew my mind when I found out they were saying it. If Caleb wasn’t singing, I think people would be way more in tune with just how dirty the songs on this album are, but he is and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would sound like if he wasn’t. He is all over the damn place and I love it. The rest of the band just seem to feed off of his rollercoaster singing, responding with their own out of control sound. There are many points in this album where it seems like everything is going to go off the rails, like in “Soft,” or “Razz” where you get this all-out freakout that makes you just want to just flail around, or “Taper Jean Girl,” which kicks off with a wall of sound lead by a big bass line. Even “King of the Rodeo” has such a good beat that it’s perfect for two stepping, as shown in the music video, or just flailing around, as shown in my car. All in all I love this album for the sound way more than the lyrics. I liked the chaotic noise, which I would say sounds best blasting out of a car stereo. It’s the kind of album you listen to on a road trip when you are trying to stay awake; I know this because I’ve done that with great success.
            I’ve never seen Kings of Leon live, and to be really honest, I don’t think I want to. Unless someone invents a time machine and I can go back to 2004 and see them at Exit/In in Nashville, cause I would do that in a heartbeat. It sucked seeing the Kings of Leon I knew, dirty long haired boys, get turned into a clean-shaven, cookie cutter, man-band. There was something charming about those quirky, dirty, long-haired boys that was gone not that long after Aha Shake Heartbreak came out. You can see hints of the weird on their third album - mostly in the first two tracks “Charmer” and “Knocked Up” - but they had cut their hair and started dating supermodels at that point. I’d like to think if 2004 Kings of Leon met 2020 Kings of Leon they would probably beat the crap out of them. I think it would be a fair beating.

- Anna Lathem

Monday, March 9, 2020

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #237 - Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997, dir. David Mirkin)

            Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, if you weren’t in your teens or twenties in the late 90’s I bet you didn’t see it. It was Mean Girls before Mean Girls. It’s the story of two twenty-something overblown Valley Girls scheming up a plan to wow all the assholes who made fun of them in high school at their upcoming reunion - what’s not to love?
            I have a confession to make, I haven’t seen all of Friends. I know, shame on me I guess. I knew Lisa Kudrow as Michele before I knew her as Phoebe, even though Friends was a constant on television my entire childhood. I just saw this movie way more than I watched Friends. There just couldn’t be another Michele, just like no one else could be Romy but Mira Sorvino. They are the perfect combo of lovable idiots. And their friendship is so pure, you believe anything they say to each other. Romy and Michele have an eye for fashion - it might be the most outrageous eye for fashion but they have it. From the first time you meet them, lying in bed making fun of Pretty Woman decked out in neon colors like they are about to hit the club all the way to the baby pink and blue dresses they made for the reunion there are some seriously insane outfits. The catalyst for their epic life makeover is a chance encounter with former classmate, Heather Mooney (played by the one and only Janeane Garofalo). Now, Heather here is what one might call a stone cold bitch, and she has every right to be a chain-smoking, all-black-wearing, cursing bitch. She is the literal opposite of Romy and Michele. Like Romy and Michele she had a pretty shitty experience in high school thanks to the “A-Group” lead by Christie Masters (Julia Campbell) and her gaggle of dumb cheerleader friends. Heather also had a big time crush on big time nerd Sandy Frink (Alan Cummings), who had a big time crush on Michele. 
            Romy and Michele decide they can’t just show up to the reunion as their underachieving selves. They have to show up with new fancy jobs and hot boyfriends, but the best they can do is borrowing a fancy car and making their own outfits. So they hit the road, come up with the idea to tell everyone they invented Post-its, have a falling out, and then reach the reunion. Not surprisingly the Post-it scheme doesn’t work out, but the good news is they prove to Christie Masters and her bimbo jock husband Billy Christiansen that maybe their lives turned out for the better - even if they didn’t invent Post-its and get called out on it in front of everyone at the reunion. But then here comes Sandy Frink to save the day, showing up in a dang helicopter. Surprise! - turns out the nerd everyone restlessly made fun of in high school is super rich now and comes to the reunion to win Michele's heart with a dance - which Michele only agrees to if Romy can join them because it’s not Michele and Sandy’s high school reunion, it’s Romy and Michele’s high school reunion. Who knew Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" would turn out to be the perfect tune for three weirdos to do an even weirder interpretive dance to in front of everyone they went to high school with? Romy and Michele are truly ride-or-die best friends who end up with their own little clothing boutique in L.A. funded by Sandy. In the end they get the life that is perfect for them. 
            This may come as a surprise but Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is based on a play called Ladies Room by Robin Schiff. Schiff, a member of the Groundlings, also wrote the screenplay for and co-produced the movie. Lisa Kudrow played Michele on stage before she did in the movie, maybe that’s why she is so perfect for this part. She lived with Michele for longer than just the filming of the movie. Dim-witted dry humor saturates the film; it sneaks into every scene. Like when Romy asks Heather, who literally has a cigarette in her hand every time you see her, if anyone has ever told her that smoking can kill you, Heather stares right back at her and responds dripping with sarcasm and a little bit of sincerity “No. No one. Thank You.” Romy goes on thinking she had maybe made a difference in Heather's life, and Heather just goes about her life. It’s what makes the movie great, everything just rolls off Romy and Michele, they don’t take themselves or anything they do too seriously. 
- Anna Lathem 

Monday, March 2, 2020

I'd Love to Turn You On #251: Rupa - Disco Jazz (1982)

            Rupa’s Disco Jazz didn’t gain a ton of traction upon its initial release in 1982. Born as the brainchild of the now Grammy Award-winning musician Aashish Khan, the record sold very few copies in its native country and was quickly forgotten about as the weeks passed. Rupa Biswas, the record’s titular and charismatic vocalist completely put the memory of recording the album in the rearview as the years went on. It was only after her son rediscovered the album in his mother’s attic that the family would go on to find out Disco Jazz had become a grail item for record collectors across the world. While its grooves are oriented in something that could feel dated to the average listener, its instrumental and vocal idiosyncrasies make the album an enjoyable and impactful listening experience. It’s for this reason that Disco Jazz not only stands as a testament to the talent of Rupa and the collaborators that made this record possible but also to the strange relationship of the album format and time itself.
            Disco aside, there seem to be both spiritual and psychedelic influences at play across the album and musician Aashish Khan is likely to thank for this. Khan’s performance on the sarod as well as his credits as both the producer and arranger of the record suggest he had strong creative influence over Disco Jazz’s four tracks, each of which makes an impression on the listener. His expertise on the sarod, which makes an appearance on every track, is the glue that holds the charm and beauty of the album together. The opening cut “Moja Bhari Moja'' borrows the core of its elements from standard late seventies and early eighties disco, but one doesn’t have to listen too long to be sucked in by the stark contrast of its transcendent breakdown, which slowly and brilliantly melds the sarod and Geoff Bell’s tremolo-drenched synthesizer in beautiful harmony. “Aaj Shanibar,” perhaps the album’s most well-known track, also dabbles in the realm of psychedelia with its sleek bassline and near jam-band guitar solo. The highlight of the track is the falsetto vocal from Rupa as she sings along note for note with Aashish Khan’s rhythmic, instrumental triplet. Aashish’s brother Pranesh Khan makes an appearance on this track as well as the album’s closer, complementing the track's lush production with his table playing.
            The album has its fair share of floor killer elements as well. “East West Shuffle,” the album’s bounciest and funkiest cut, is carried by the booming drum sound of percussionist Robin Tufts, whose polyrhythmic tendencies keep the track's repetitive and hypnotic bassline moving through its duration. The rock-inspired chorus of “Moja Bhari Moja” somehow fits just as much on the dancefloor as it would on any Yes album before 1972. “Ayee Morshume Be-Reham Duniya,” the album's sprawling, 15-minute closing cut, wraps up the listening experience perfectly, bringing together the best elements of side one into one epic mega track. Rupa's vocal melody over the Western funk of the Khan brothers’ instrumentation makes for some of the album’s most captivating moments. The hypnotic and pulsing refrain sucks you in and when you’re finally lost in the world the album has created for its listener, you feel as though the track could have gone on for another 15 minutes.
Disco Jazz could have been more appropriately titled Disco Psych, but the album gloriously lives up to the potential its moniker suggests. Rupa Biswas never made another album and never fully got to realize her musical prowess as the years went on, but the recent resurgence of her singular effort has revitalized her career and made her of a cult figure in some circles. If the story of Rupa proves anything, it’s that it’s never too late to make an impact and that genius is sometimes never recognized until decades later.

- Blake Britton