You wouldn’t bully a teen would you?Comments Off on Only juvenilia past this point.
Originally appeared in BeatRoute Magazine.
Movie buffs can remember the mortared fields of battle when The Life Aquatic hit theatres. Generally enraptured after The Royal Tenenbaums, the critical community felt slighted at the new work, and deemed it a slight work. As if shaking themselves from a dream, half called Anderson a hack, and the other half defended him as rigorously. Those battle lines exist today, weakened by the triumph of The Darjeeling Limited, and bolstered again by the snark surrounding The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s latest, I feel like the naysayers will reach a Waterloo of sorts. An appropriately precious story about two disaffected youngsters on the edge of puberty fleeing their obligations to make physical their pen-pal relationship, the film is almost a spiritual prequel to The Royal Tenenbaums. Containing the same fetishes for precocious young women that inspire deep change in men and the trappings of a Rockwell ‘60s nuclear family ideal (that may have never existed at all), Moonrise might as well be the story of Margot Tenenbaum’s first love.
When Sam (Jared Gilman) runs away from summer camp on an Eastern Seaboard island, and Suzy (Kara Hayward) likewise jets from her suffocating family, it kicks off a game of cat and mouse between the pair and the authority figures in their lives who launch a manhunt. Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton), the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) have subplots running through Moonrise Kingdom, but the main attraction is pure John Hughes territory. It’s Sixteen Candles through the Anderson lens, and it works beautifully.
Where Fantastic Mr. Fox was criticized for being dialing “Anderson-isms” up to 11 — the long pan shots, meticulous mise en scene, and deadpan dialogue — Moonrise again reveals those idiosyncrasies in Anderson’s style to be deeply effective. It is simply one of the most stunningly shot films in recent memory, with the dense, virgin, rainforest-like locale of Suzy and Sam’s outing serving up some of the best nature appreciation on film this side of David Attenborough. It’s a technical marvel, to be sure, but Anderson is at his best directing his most sincere love story to date.
Suzy and Sam’s romance is deeply rooted in the short prologue to The Darjeeling Limited, Hotel Chevalier. The short film visits a problematic Paris tryst between Jason Swartzman and Natalie Portman. The attention paid to short, pithy lines of dialogue pregnant with capital ‘M’ meaning is on full display in Moonrise Kingdom. The difference here is a lack of anger or cynicism, and a great deal more fumbling in the dark.
Suzy and Sam are the young love ideal — blind, sincere, and honest. Suzy hauls around a suitcase full of science-fiction and fantasy, her escapes from a life she detests. She expresses the desire to be an orphan, just like Sam, because it sounds more interesting, and all her heroines are orphans. “I love you,” Sam says to this, “but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Their exploration of each other is as deeply male as it is deeply felt, and it never falls into the saccharine. It’s a balancing act Anderson navigates expertly.
Anderson is clearly in love with the idea of the early ‘60s, but his version of the age is the Mad Men version, the version that will likely send Sam to Vietnam and Suzy to Kent State. Nostalgia doesn’t cover or apologize for the problems and flaws in Moonrise Kingdom. Nothing is idyllic, save for Sam and Suzy, alone in the woods, constantly hunted. It’s a stirring, unapologetic tale of young love, and might prove to be Anderson’s crowning work.Comments Off on Review – Moonrise Kingdom
Originally appeared in Discorder Magazine
Go do the Pepsi Challenge with the Mother Mother discography and you’re going to taste two distinctly different bands. Their debut record, Touch Up, is a justifiably lauded alt-folk masterpiece, and by the time “Legs Away” starts playing, Mother Mother has cemented themselves as something other, and exciting. It’s perhaps not puzzling, like a hippie trading rope sandals for wing tips when baby makes three, that they would trade that uncanny quality for something more widely palatable. Not puzzling, but a shame nonetheless.
This might sound like lame nostalgia on the occasion of the latest Mother Mother release, The Sticks, but that nostalgia runs a hard path through all of their subsequent releases. I wouldn’t even have new listeners go back to Touch Up to see what the band could do with an acoustic guitar, some stilted lyrics, and a three part harmony. Ignorance is bliss, and O My Heart et al are much more enjoyable not knowing what was, and not wanting to shake the band by its collective shoulders and ask them to disregard Emily Haines and just be themselves, dammit.
But that’s flawed. The identity of a band is rooted in the present, and by that principle this Mother Mother is more calculated and aerodynamic at the expense of weird. The Sticks is such that a live set including Touch Up in any way would seem like pockmarks on a white porcelain surface.
“Let’s Fall In Love” is probably the most accurate thesis statement on the record, a power pop piece with no power. It’s an earwig, to be sure, and one sure to be hummed through the year, but it’s safe. And not just seatbelt safe, but full racing harness safe. Water wings safe. “Businessman” and “Happy” continue the trend, all but screaming a query: Where did the energy go? We know multi-album deals are a wet blanket on creativity , but The Sticks could stand to generate some friction and heat.
There’s no offense here, but I doubt the critical clairvoyants could have predicted unmemorable outings from Mother Mother. Here we are, ankle deep.
On “Verbatim”, frontman Ryan Guldemond had the verve to call himself “the rooster in the morning and the cock of the day”. The Sticks is a kind of bird too, but it’s more like a sleepy seagull at night, belly full of yesterday’s scraps.
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Living obese is like a couple of ambulances screeching by, sirens on fire. Those ambulances don’t affect you presently, but knowing that their rush is to tend to multiple casualties brings that passive foreboding, that palpable feeling that something has gone quite wrong. Like any prolonged health problem, the foreboding doesn’t really catch up to you until that ambulance is ordered on your behalf.
This is where my conflict comes in reading Ljudmila Petrovic’s article recently published in The Peak [“Fat happiness: Is it wrong to be fat?”, February 20]. That article focused on Kalamity Hildebrandt, a sufferer of the slings and arrows of a culture that values a human life so long as the body containing it fits certain parameters. While it is undeniable that the psychological damage conquered by Hildebrandt far eclipses my own, I know a thing or two about the receiving end of one of the last casual discriminations sponsored by people today. Her conviction and dedication to what she calls “fat politics”, however, is something I cannot identify with, as it would be an act of hypocrisy as I do everything I can to exit their ranks. It’s a hypocrisy that could well enhance the lives of those that embrace it.
As universal equality marches forward, the normal start to squirm a bit. When women got the vote, when the slaves were freed, and when civil rights was racing into existence, it’s not a stretch to imagine the psychological state of the previously “normal”, the people (invariably white men) who just had their superiority dismantled. “Who am I better than now?” was surely a common topic of inward conversation. With a new lack of socially acceptable targets comes the search for green pastures.
Luckily, nobody really sweats about coming down on fat people. Make a crack or disparagement about a person of colour, creed, or sex in mixed company and chances are that somebody is going to say something, or at least feel some righteous indignation. Not with fat people. Fat people are guiltless fodder, even for other fat people. Everybody likes feeling superior, and the fat have that nice padding to insulate them from feelings.
This is the social fabric that led to the vilification of the uncanny that Hildebrandt and I experienced in our earliest years. Her parents deviated from mine, in that mine figured a growth spurt and active adolescence would sort things out. Hers decided diet pills were the answer, putting them in league with her tormentors. This is second only to an acquaintance of mine whose parents looked the other way on a nasty cocaine habit because it made her skinny, and my heart feels for both of them. My heart sympathizes for that special moment, too, where the lion’s share of verbal and overt discrimination gives way to a quiet preference that never includes us, with that cutting “no fat chicks” adage that isn’t as gender specific as it looks. My heart is with these women, and everyone that dealt with fat discrimination in youth. But where in my heart is my brain?
My brain can’t subscribe. It is, in fact, a little chapped at the insinuation that there is a civil rights argument to be made for fat people like myself (“like myself”, a chorus that will run through this as I attempt to bait authority, a pudgy Richard Pryor standing in judgement of his own). Far be it for me to paint myself as a temporarily embarrassed skinny person, but I can’t put myself in a political struggle that co-opts the language and struggle of women and other minorities. Because the truth is, fat politics is consolation for a population with more in common with cigarette smokers fighting prohibition laws than with any suffrage movement.
Fat politics is consolation for a population with more in common with cigarette smokers fighting prohibition laws than with any suffrage movement.
Hildebrandt points to the unfair language of “epidemic”, describing the rise in obesity as troubling but gradual, not explosive. Similarly, the language adopted by Dr. Scott Lear, the much repeated refrain of “giv[ing] people the education and the tools with which they can make healthy life choices,” are fingers shoved in the ears of the overweight to drown out the klaxons of their own hastened mortality. Soft-pedalling the danger of obesity with a semantic argument or politicizing the lack of basic nutritional common sense is excuse-making of the highest order.
I’m not a fat person because of a lack of nutritional knowledge. I know constant snacking and large meals will keep me overweight. It’s not my mother’s fault I asked for seconds and her kindness granted it. It is the ingrained personality of the glutton, one alive and well in me. Even as I make the first real, successful strides of my life to exit the world of the fat, that gluttony is there, a drooling devil on my shoulder, trying to convince me that the pleasure felt by . . . anything, really, can’t last and can’t be repeated.
That thought pattern created the Super Size at McDonalds; have pleasure now because it might not happen later, damn the consequences and the logic. It’s an adorable lack of self-confidence in your ability to create pleasure at a later date. If it’s available now, eat it all. Where is the instant gratification of moderation?
While that same gluttony under control has served me well in other areas of my life (that hunger translates rather nicely into the areas of knowledge and relationships), it highlights the main difference between a fat person and an actual oppressed group: there are immediate health benefits to exiting the demographic.
There are citations to be made about the health risk factors of being in a recognized minority or group traditionally thought of as oppressed, but your risk of heart attack doesn’t plummet if you just stop being gay, an impossibility in itself. You can’t stop being a person of colour, and if you could, your cholesterol wouldn’t hit the skids if you did. You can, however, ‘stop’ being fat, and the benefits to doing so are many.
The carrying of excess weight is a documented, obvious health risk. To argue against the “medicalization” of the language surrounding the condition borders on delusional. The medicalization of obesity exists because it is a medical problem. To say otherwise is to fly in the face of decades of medical science, and is shockingly irresponsible.
Buy a sandwich. Not a hamburger, and not with a bunch of bacon on it. Some lean meat and a bunch of vegetables. Eat half. Throw the other half away. Do this for every meal for six months. You just lost weight. It’s not your glands, and it’s not your metabolism. It’s not medicalized to the point of shame, and it’s not conforming to what GQ has decided is the ideal man. It is a good caloric intake, and it’s putting yourself in a position to not die early, and to not spend those twilight years on a Rascal, beeping a horn at the able-bodied to accommodate your useless knees. It’s a person I don’t want to be, and that I refuse to be. So I throw that half a sandwich in the garbage because that moment of gratification isn’t worth years of disability, poor health, and being a strain on our system of medicine.
The first pieces I wrote for The Peak were part of a column called “Big man on campus”. They were a humour-filled look at the life and trials of fat people in a culture where a visible ribcage that can be played like a xylophone is a desirable trait. The pain of being ‘other’, and the pain of being ‘normal’ wasn’t lost on me then. It wasn’t lost on me when my parents were having conversations about whether they would be the ones planning my funeral. And it’s not lost on me that a brave section of our kind have decided to reject expectations and love themselves. It’s beyond commendable, and something I struggle with every day. But the rhetoric that placates the voices in their heads and the voices in the heads of others that suggests the health risk is minimal has to be nipped in the bud with as much prejudice as the voices that would keep us down and scared and ugly.1 Comment on The danger of trying to be happy when you’re fat
You can change a lot of things pretty easily. The identity of a neighbourhood is not one of them.
For example, in my own head, I can change the entire meaning of a song with an errant mental comma. If I take the first line from Wilco’s “Jesus Etc” (Jesus don’t cry/You can rely on me honey/You can combine anything you want) and put a comma after the word “Jesus”, the entire tone of the song changes from the placation of a messiah to the frustrated kvetching of a boyfriend ill-equipped to handle the anger of a jilted significant other. If you imagine that comma, you alter the identity of a song, but that doesn’t make it the definitive version, no matter how satisfying the change.
The Hastings North Business Improvement Association (HNBIA) recently decided to do a little housekeeping as far as neighbourhood naming goes, and their changes go far beyond a little comma usage. With the help of absolutely no community consultation or mandate from city hall (who has its own Naming Committee that seems to mirror the lack of action of our municipal government as a whole), HNBIA made the unilateral decision to change the name of an entire neighbourhood. Hastings-Sunrise will now be called The East Village, and if you don’t like it, you can suck a lemon.
Without arguing about the crushing pathos of aping a recognizable part of New York City (though some would argue a majority of the music coverage in this very magazine is dedicated to that very act), it’s a little sinister that an association of retailers and businesses can have that kind of power over an area’s identity. Surely these businesses add to the colour and texture of the neighbourhood, but taking their livelihood from the area cannot be more important than the people who simply live out their lives there.
The new materials for The East Village describe it as a “vintage neighbourhood with a progressive attitude”, but who imbues the area with those delicious buzzwords? Communications graduates to be sure, but even if those were objective characteristics of Hastings Village East Sunrise or whatever the hell it’s called these days, it wouldn’t be the sushi restaurants and Mobilicity franchises that make it as appealing as it has become.
It’s a cynical marketing ploy that has pulled the carpet out from under the neighborhood’s residents. While we here at BeatRoute are pleased as punch to be the first magazine in the brand new East Village, I’m flabbergasted that this change seemed to come out of nowhere.
I get that an endless consultation process is incompatible with the marketing aims of area merchants, but the HNBIA either made no overtures to discuss the changes, or they were so invisible as to elude a notice in the mailbox of our office, located right at Nanaimo and Hastings, the heart of their new neighbourhood. Not very neighbourly.
And we got off relatively easy. There’s now a section of Kingsway called Little Saigon, a wonderfully racial slice of idiocy that makes The East Village look like Coke Classic. A nebulous little region by Tinseltown (another failed experiment in modern Vancouver renaming) is now called Crosstown, and the poorest postal code in Canada has dropped the moniker Downtown East Side and has become the lovely Hastings Crossing.
While I’m happy for the developers that now get to pitch new condo buildings like they won’t be built on former drug corners, that name represents a sweeping under the rug of epic proportions. That association of businesses can’t convince anybody to give a shit about people living on the street, so they’ll gentrify it all away in a soothing mist of social media engagement and marketing smoke and mirrors. It will be like a Fresca commercial except inSite will lose their lease to an Urban Outfitters.
The East Village is a fine name for a community, a fact New York City has known for years. But the contempt shown for the input of the proles by the HNBIA is staggering. They’ve staked a claim and emblazoned it with their standard. They’re the lords and we’re merely tenant farmers in The East Village. We live here (or, more accurately, rent overpriced basement suites here), but we’re secondary to the economic output of the Hastings corridor. If that isn’t a bluegrass-worthy sign of the times, I don’t know what is.
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Originally appeared in BeatRoute Magazine.
I would compare Michael Dowse’s hockey epic Goon to Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, but that might earn me a deserved punch in the face. On the surface, Goon is the likely heir to a throne left vacant by Slapshot, one that has resisted succession by saccharine feel-good hockey movies and Mighty Ducks-clones. But, like all of Dowse’s work, there’s a lot of heart and thought bubbling under the surface.
Goon is the story of Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott), a brawler who gets the attention of a hockey coach with a muscle problem. The toughness Glatt brings to the roster gets him notice from a Halifax farm team where Glatt is assigned to protect a former wunderkind they want back in the big leagues. Along the way he gets his ass kicked a bunch, and meets a nice lady.
Many people will watch Goon and just see that — a simplistic fighting and hockey with some half-hearted jokes thrown in for good measure. But Dowse is not a dumb as the Goon his movie focuses on. The director has made a career out of making films about dumb people, and he always manages to find a deep humanity in them. He’s got it down to a science by now, and loves his characters in an infectious way.
Fubar and its sequel are much loved for their catch-phrases and quotidian aspects, but nobody denies the thumping heart at the core of those films. Dowse’s crowning work so far, the excellent It’s All Gone Pete Tong, followed a similarly pitiable figure, but was never a mean-spirited work. As it was with these films, it is with Goon.
As played by Scott, Doug Glatt is nearly non-functionally stupid. His stupidity is pounded home with every opportunity, but so is his unflappable kindness, a feat through the judicious pummelings. This is where Dostoyevsky comes in, his idiot reflected nicely in Glatt. Through that stupidity, he’s implied to know some deeper truth about what it means to be a good person. Unadulterated by ego, Glatt just wants to protect his teammates, and if that means breaking a few deserving teeth, so be it. Mike Leigh covered similar ground in the excellent Happy-Go-Lucky, but the people who see Glatt’s kindness as a weakness are usually beating the hell out of him instead of just being rude and dismissive.
Though that team spirit and thick-headed dedication to the protection of his teammates is portrayed as a simple nobility, Dowse doesn’t give the violence of sports, or the glorification of the fighting that makes hockey unique, a free pass. While the idea of a less-than intelligent white man fighting to protect his team-mates is about as hawkish as it gets, Dowse puts the action set-piece experience he gained from Pete Tong’s Ibiza club scenes to good use in examining the brutality of the sport. Bruises last, bones are broken, body parts are busted and slashed and cut to no real end with gripping realism and fidelity.
Slapshot made the violence of hockey a punchline, but Goon opts to make it a noble farce, something undertaken for reasons that don’t withstand scrutiny. Some might call the film a critical allegory of Bush Doctrine foreign policy, but they’re probably just hosers.
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Originally appeared in The Peak.
You can’t feel it, but I’m trying to light you on fire with my eyes. I want to hate you to death. I’ve stopped listening to anything the professor is saying and I am trying to awaken in me the power of Greyskull, my X-Gene, or that weird kid from The Omen, and I’m trying to make you combust a little. Not a full body burn or anything (I’m not a weirdo), but just enough to cause you enough discomfort to leave, and maybe take your friends with you so I can listen to the aging hippie trying to pound some book learnin’ far enough into my skull so that I can get out of this place and leave you to pat the hair flames out. I don’t hate you. You just don’t give a shit, and we both know it.
And it’s not totally your fault. You probably shouldn’t be here. You obviously aren’t a scholar, because a scholar would revel in the opportunity to soak in some quality knowledge, even if they were being coerced into a breadth or writing course by an overzealous university desperate for its ‘comprehensive’ crown. So instead you lean over and have a laugh with your friend, in distracting whispers in a small room and full-on conversations in a major lecture theatre. But I understand. The value of a degree is far inflated and you might just be here because it’s the new price of admission to life. I get it. But please, please shut up.
I don’t trust profs to mete out the kind of medieval justice I am looking for.
A professor once commended the summer class I was in because we restrained ourselves from watching funny videos on the Internet while he was trying to lecture. I laughed before I saw that he was deadly serious. It was at this moment that a striking injustice for our current system of professor feedback. We, with no knowledge of what makes a good professor outside our own subjective ideas of what makes a good educator, grade them and affect their careers every semester. We also get grades from them, but that grade is on our work as academics. There is usually some participation grade, but how often does it make a difference past your second year? And besides, I don’t trust them to mete out the kind of medieval justice I’m looking for.
I want to grade you.
Hear me out on this. We all know academic probation is a thing, and we all know that acts of plagiarism and moral turpitude can get you chucked out of any institution if you try hard enough. But the more insidious disease at this school and schools everywhere is people impeding the education of others. It was cute in high school, but now you are taking money out of my pocket with every word you whisper out of your jerk mouth into the jerk ear of your jerk friend who is a jerk. So I want to grade you. When you take my money and my time away from my studies, I want to give you a point. I’m not special (though you think you are), so there is likely a radius of like-minded humans imagining unpleasant things happening to you in their heart of hearts, so they can give you a point too. Now, a single off day inspiring a single lecture full of angry yuppies can’t get you in much trouble, but pretty soon a pattern is going to emerge.
And then you get expelled.
Yep. We’ve become too soft in our scholarly institutions. Rigor went out the door the second tenure became something dependant on the opinions of the student body. So we students are taking matters into our own hands. If you get too many points, you’re out the door. If you can inspire enough people to convince a posse of real human beings and peers and maybe some sort of board reviewing all the points you’ve accrued to chuck you out, you obviously didn’t have your head down low enough to be studying with any real effort. So you’re gone. Go someplace else. Away with you, and giggle no more.
Please, please shut up. You are taking money out of my pockey everytime you open your jerk mouth.
You’re thinking about the practicalities of this system, how the names of the future dead (to us as a school, not actually dead) would be known to their would-be detractors, or how such a system could beat personal vendettas or organized lynchings or what have you. Good, that’s a good brain to have in your head. I bet you shut up in lecture. But if Yelp can develop a good system for the world to come together to rate the local noodle hut, the greatest minds in academia can come up with a system to make sure that those who weren’t raised at home don’t take out their parental shortcomings on the rest of us.
So next time you’re trawling English 101 for that ‘W’ credit you need, or just have no idea what you’re doing in college, don’t lean over to the person next to you to have a chat about how the major you chose won’t make you any money. Just leave. Go look at pretty girls or eat a bagel. Just leave me to my studies so I don’t have to hate you so hard I start devising peer review systems to throw you out of school.Comments Off on Behave for the grade
Originally appeared in The Peak.
On a continent where some of the most popular shows are about a dying drug dealer forced by desperation into life of crime or the worst people in the world running the worst bar in the world, or a competition to be alone and rich on an island somewhere, it’s understandable that we’re a bit cynical. Indeed, it’s no wonder that in the land of Breaking Bad, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,and Survivor that a ferociously optimistic television show about an alien adventurer can’t break very far into the mainstream. Of course I’m talking about Doctor Who.
Doctor Who is a BBC series that has been running since 1963 about an alien with a time machine, wandering and running in search of a good time. That is until danger rears its head and The Doctor has to leap into action with his human companions and giant brain to avert disaster. It’s a kind of Golden Age comic book premise that’s just too sickly sweet for a North American television audience weaned into modernity on homicide procedurals and sadness. It’s that aversion to even the hint of optimism in the genetics of a show that is depriving audiences here of some of the best on-screen storytelling in a generation.
The Doctor flies around time and space (all of it) in the TARDIS, a time machine that can camouflage itself to hide in plain sight and just happens to be stuck in the form of a police phone box used by the London Metropolitan Police. He is of a species known as Time Lords from the planet Gallifrey, and is about 905 years old. In that time even he has gotten a bit cynical, and has started to take the wonders of the universe for granted. So he travels with companions, letting the lens of their awe keep his life of relative solitude exciting. Galleries of villains roll in and out of the lives of The Doctor and his companions, but their overall philosophy remains the same: “The universe is awesome and time is awesome, let’s go see all of it.” And when they come across someone who needs a helping hand? “We have to help.”
The problem has a loose American analogy in the rapid degeneration in relevance of the Superman mythology. Moral infallibility and nigh invulnerability are in low demand in the Age of the Anti-Hero, but those characteristics in both The Doctor and Superman are the source of their most interesting trait: their god complex. Showtime and HBO have given us a steady diet of overt crisis, so it’s understandable when subtext seems out of reach.
The Doctor and Superman are both immigrants obsessed with their adopted home world of Earth. Whereas Superman is a sworn protector in title, The Doctor is just a little more dedicated to the protection of Earth than any other planet because of his fascination and, ultimately, envy of the human species. They persevere, survive, and thrive right to the end of the universe and the onset of entropy in the Who universe, and their development and startling goodness as a species is a never-ending source of amusement for someone who has seen it all. The Doctor brings a human to be by his side so he doesn’t get off track, so mortality remains a constant factor and so his ability to violate the interstellar Hippocratic oath he lives by stays in perspective. He desires humanity, and the easiest way to shuck the burden of his abilities is to party with them. Humans are the favourite cause of a being with access to everything.
But even with the refreshing optimism that makes Who a total joy to watch, the newest incarnation of Doctor Who never forgets the sadism that goes along with great drama. Showrunners Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat make sure that, just like with Superman, the darkness is there, bubbling just under the surface. The Doctor faces the moral dilemmas of omnipotence regularly: if I’m the last one standing, that means I’m the victor and can do whatever I want? I feel a need for these companions, but am I ruining their lives by dragging them into danger? Who am I to decide what is right and what is wrong? Do the means justify the ends when all of time is available to me to see what the consequences are? The personal psychology of an impossibly old and wise man losing his way makes the current Who years a fascinating character study.
The source of that directionless wandering, that constant search for a moral compass? It is the core of what makes The Doctor who he is: When the adventures are done, The Doctor will always be alone, an immortal madman in a stolen blue box meant for a crew.Comments Off on A Contract With God
The Besnard Lakes have deserved to win two of the last four Polaris prizes. This is a true fact.
Only a Canadian would not only work on their vacation, but do work that required them to talk to a member of a demographic who put them within arms reach of the Polaris Music Prize twice and arguably robbed them of it. Olga Goreas fought a weak cell phone signal after a short vacation to her namesake.
Not really to her namesake personally, but to the namesake of her band, The Besnard Lakes. “The people who run the joint, they know us. They’re well aware that we’re in a band of the same name,” said Goreas. “They’re very welcoming and nice to us. We just like to go camping and fishing. It’s good.” The break was likely needed. Touring almost non-stop since the release of their last LP, The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, it stands to reason that a little relaxation might be nice.
The husband and wife vocalist/instrumentalist duo of Jace Lasek and Goreas so often play with themes of loss and solitude, it also stands to reason that being hounded by fans on vacation might be a bit of a drag as well. Goreas disagreed.
“It’s always kind of surprising to us that people could know who we are. It’s always such a thrill and a joy. Canada is a pretty small country when it comes to it. There’s only so many people. There’s way less than 6 degrees of separation. It’s been great so far.” The size of this country might only be matched by the sheer amount of countries the band toured in the last year. “The last year was completely amazing. We went to Australia, we played in China. That was definitely a first and I don’t know if we’ll be allowed to again.”
In the short spans not filled with touring, the band has set its sights on scoring film and television. With expansive, moody textures and compositions on their records, they seem like a sure fit for a certain kind of movie. The band caught the attention of actor and new director Mark Ruffalo and scored his directorial debut, Sympathy For Delicious, which picked up a Special Jury Price at the Sundance Film Festival upon its premiere. With one more upcoming feature and a National Film Board gig scoring the web documentary Welcome To Pine Point (which will spawn a companion EP), Goreas says it’s an experience she is keen to revisit.
“They were both amazing experiences. I like the process of scoring a movie. I like having something visual to follow,” said Goreas. “There is a little bit of a difference between the albums we put out and the CDs we release. I enjoy doing both of them a lot, I would definitely see (us) doing them again.”
Heading back out onto the road with songs already committed to albums and new ones not yet fully formed, a sense of unease with where the songs were left must (and does, in some bands) fester. Goreas disagrees with this as well.
“I’ve never really had that feeling,” she said.
“The song does sometimes become something a little bit of its own and it has its own power and purpose. I’ve had people come up to us after shows and say ‘Man I love your record, but seeing you guys live is just beyond what the record is.’ That’s cool with me. I like that you can keep adding to it to make it something powerful on it’s own.”Comments Off on Interview – Olga Goreas of The Besnard Lakes
The late night talk circuit may be a fading institution, but for the families of your average workaday musicians, that introduction by Conan, Letterman or Fallon might still be just the thing that convinces them that silly band of yours is a real thing.
“I had like various stages of that. My dad treated me differently when he saw my picture in Rolling Stone. He was like ‘Wow, you’re not just kidding around,’ ” says Ian Williams. He plays with a little band of massive acclaim called Battles, and they just released a tremendous new record called Gloss Drop. Still, in this world gone mad, it takes television to justify music. “It’s exactly the thing that translates to your aunt.”
Battles catapulted into the minds of music fans everywhere with their debut LP, Mirrored, in 2007. Less carrying the torch of the post-rock that came before it than snuffing it out and lighting a new one, it was a towering work, but nonetheless one that took a scenic route into the ear holes of the non-music nerd public. Appearing in everything from commercials to British teen soaps to video game soundtracks, standouts “Race : In” and “Atlas” were some of the best songs people had no idea were not written specifically for a product.
“You need strange new platforms to get your music out. People release their CDs now inside of magazines,” says Williams. He owes it to the loss of the small town (and even big city) record store, a much belaboured point, but sees the circumstances of their loss as a pyrrhic victory for musicians. “In some ways I’m not disturbed by what’s happened in the music world. In one way I think a band like Battles in a strange way, actually can get on Jimmy Fallon and other TV shows now. If you imagined 10, 15, 20 years ago, I think that there would have been more gates closed to us,” he says. “Our music would have been considered a bit more outsider. Now it’s not like Metallica has it all locked up because their publicist and manager have deep pockets. I think it’s healthy.”
From hearing Battles on the LittleBigPlanet soundtrack to hearing the album in full, a common reaction swells from new mainstream audiences: Where are the lyrics? Williams, who has played in bands similar to Battles dating back to the Tortoise-led instrumental rock movement currently monopolized by Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky, sees this challenge to ubiquity archaic. “I’ve been playing instrumental music since like 1992 in various bands. I remember instances in the underground indie world where it was a novelty not to have vocals and everyone was talking about that. Now that gimmick – well, it’s not a gimmick – that’s not really seen as a novelty anymore. It goes without even mention,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s shocking just within the bubble of underground indie trendy. I don’t even know if it’s shocking to your average guy in the suburbs who goes to an Aerosmith concert.”1 Comment on Interview – Ian Williams of Battles
Unfortunately not reflected in this interview is the 20 odd minutes Darnielle and I spent talking about the Stanley Cup playoffs and his love of the Carolina Hurricanes.
By now it’s pretty much accepted that somewhere after Dylan on the mythic “Important Songwriters” list, John Darnielle’s name pops up. In that vein, over the last decade of making music he’s created somewhat of an Electric Dylan controversy for himself -instead of switching from acoustic to electric guitar, however, he’s graduated from solitude to team-building. The man who used to walk on stage alone and wryly introduce himself as “The Mountain Goats” can now justify the plural, adding Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster to the permanent roster, and their latest album, All Eternals Deck, reveals the fruit of those changes.
“We like playing together. It’s underreported,” says Darnielle. On the eve of a European tour behind the new album, Darnielle maintains that the change has been a welcome one. “And I don’t want to say that because I’m grateful for any reporting I get – but people don’t seem to notice that we’re a good band now and play well together. We do a thing that is musical. It’s not just about me doing my lyrics. About three guys playing together. When I have no voice, we can still play, and we can do the thing.” Darnielle admits, however, that a great deal of the band’s appeal still comes from his lyrics and singing, but not his voice. “People aren’t listening to me for my voice,” he says. “Half the reviews you read lead talking about how bad my voice is. The timbre of my voice is a take it or leave it proposition for most people. Singing and phrasing I feel I’m pretty good at.” It’s this reason why he does not insure his voice like many vocalists. “If my voice goes, I will still be able to do what I do. If I were a real singer, if I were Liza Minelli, I would insure the shit out of my voice.”
Though it might go without saying for an artist that has been making music solo for longer than many bands exist, playing with a group doesn’t make playing live a more comfortable prospect. “I’ve always been comfortable on stage. I enjoy being on stage. From the first time I stepped on a stage, I said ‘I like this’.”
Set to burst into the mainstream with his new film, Looper, director Rian Johnson has a few sterling credits to his name – the gritty high school detective noir Brick, the colorful international caper flick The Brothers Bloom, and a somewhat unlikely team-up with The Mountain Goats, Johnson’s favorite band. “In 2003 or 2004, my wife and I went to see Brick. Great movie, and the credits are rolling, the credits attribute the music to the “Hospital Bombers Experience”. And I was like, ‘Wait just a fucking minute here! I made that name up!’ And my wife was just like, no, no, no, I think that guy wrote to you at some point. And I was like ‘oh no, somebody I forgot to write back to!'” The experience was a positive one, resulting in the live performance film The Life of the World To Come. “You have all these names who are legendary names, but Rian is one who is a legendary name who isn’t legendary yet.”
All Eternals Deck is another riveting record from Darnielle, with all the lyrical eccentricities his fans have come to expect. But even with all the new changes, some things will always stay the same. “The lyrics, that’s still between me and the spirit of the universe. It’s very much a mystic pursuit with me. I don’t ask for anyone’s advice on the lyrics,” says Darnielle.
“I sit there with my thoughts and images. I do feel freed to write lines with more space in them.”1 Comment on Interview – John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats
Sex With Strangers is killer. I can’t wait until my schedule lets me dance like there’s ass in my pants at one of their shows at long last. Their new record is a blast, and they’re some super nice guys. I had almost an hour and a half of interview here and it was a tough time cutting it down into a paltry 600 words. Always a good sign. Bandcamp embeds are tricky for me, so listen to this while you read.
There was a shift, somewhere. Disco died and rock decided that candy pop and Britney Spears were not going to have the a new monopoly on the dance floor. All of a sudden, boy bands were washed up and guitars were marshaling parties all over again. LCD Soundsystem was hitting big and the airwaves were saturated with House of Jealous Lovers. On the west coast, that torch is borne in a big way by Sex With Strangers, and their mission to get you dancing and thinking about….robots.
“I’m a pretty shallow person,” says Hatch Benedict, Sex With Strangers’ vocalist and frontman. Coming off a trilogy of records ending with 2009’s Tokyo Steel, Sex With Strangers puts to bed one narrative arc involving sexy robot ninjas and start something new. “I’ve always been kind of uncomfortable doing songs about me and my life, my friend here and his life, and stuff like that. I’ve always been fascinated by telling stories.”
Their new record, Frontier Justice, covers some new, familiar ground, a sort of Road Warrior story set in the Pacific Northwest. “These kinda two tribes that are battling each other for possession of the land or whatever. In between these two lovers, a man and woman with these mysterious powers and they’re basically going to these villages, driving up and down the coast and when they come to a village, bad things happen. Then these two tribes sort of realize ‘Okay, I know we’re battling but these two people are doing something crazy.'”
It sounds eclectic, but you shouldn’t think too hard about it. Hatch isn’t. “When we’re writing songs, I don’t take the the lyrics seriously. So I put together kind of sketches and ideas of songs and I’ll come back with all the words and say ‘Alright, here’s ten songs with lyrics, now make a story out of that.’ So it’s kind of a reverse thing. So I won’t go necessarily in there with a story. I’m always like ‘Oh shit, I need to come up with a story.'”
The lyrics don’t seem to matter to the man who writes them, but they matter on the dance floor. That lyrical quality that cuts through the fog of sweat and cologne, that pushes through and stands between you and whoever or whatever you’re grinding up against is present throughout Frontier Justice and the entire Sex With Strangers discography. It’s the “All My Friends” effect: the heat of the moment might wash out the context, but nuggets slice through and elevate the proceedings. Not that the musical base needs it, but it’s welcome.
Co-founder Mangus Magnum talks about the production of the new record. “This album we tried to get a more raw feel. We increased the focus on bass. This is our first album with live drums. There’s no real master plan.” No plan. Not taking it seriously, but serious music coming out. So what’s the secret? Benedict and Magnum answer simultaneously.
“Jack Daniels.”Comments Off on Interview – Sex With Strangers
I love me some Two Gallants. The Throes is one of the best records of the last decade. Originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine.
Once, a band break-up was terminal. Any amount of time passing where news was unforthcoming about material in the works was another grain in the distressing end of an hourglass. Fortunately, the industry moved past the bonded church marriage stage of band interactions and embraced with open arms civil unions – shacking up and open relationships that let bands wax and wane rather than smash their head against a console until The Spaghetti Incident came out. Record, tour, relax, do other stuff, come back. Boomerang musicianship is the new norm, and just as their “comeback” tour ramps up, Tyson Vogel of blues rock duo Two Gallants reflects on coming back from what used to be the brink.
“We’re pretty excited about the whole thing. It comes naturally with a mixed bag of emotions. It’s been kind of a long time,” Vogel says. As the most dedicated-to-a-vision member of the Saddle Creek roster, news that Two Gallants would be taking some time apart after a string of lauded releases was cause for some concern, even if that concern did not penetrate the band itself. “We went off and did our thing for the past couple years and came back with like, a totally new understanding of ourselves and music in general and the music that we make together. It’s really invigorating and kind of intimidating.”
The break commenced after touring behind their 2007 self-titled release – like The Throes and What The Toll Tells before it, a bourbon soaked blues marvel, with rich narratives and six-gun smarts – didn’t go exactly as planned. “We hadn’t really planned on taking so much time off. Everything with Two Gallants has always been really organic for us. So I mean, the last three years had been really intense.” Personal issues and the demands of touring led to the prolonged absence. “We kinda needed to just step away and try to like, regroup a little bit individually so we could keep things healthy.”
Contributing to the hiatus was a string of unfortunate occurrences and a couple of loud, distracting events. Van breakdowns were just the start of it – album standout “Long Summer Day” on What The Toll Tells met a string of critics ignoring it’s southern fried narrative and instead vacantly decrying it’s use of the word “nigger.” Around the same time, a noise complaint was served by a Houston police officer that chose to physically stop a Two Gallants show, assaulting both members of the band. “It was never like really shy of strange happenings. Those were just one out of quite a few bizarre experiences. It definitely added to it. When the Houston thing happened, the events kept leading to pending disaster. We had to sort of step back and take a good look at why we were inviting such shaky things.”
Their time apart invited the other new norm of band life – side projects. Vogel flexed his compositional muscles with Devotionals while partner in crime Adam Stephens cracked out a solo record. “I think it was really necessary for him as well. The songs he wrote on his own were very different than we would have written. I think we both achieved something that way. With the new understandings, there’s a new quality.” Those new understandings, Vogel says, light the way forward.
“We want to do things differently because we don’t want it to happen the way it did before. We weren’t very healthy individuals when we took a break. We both have gotten over some hurdles and want to keep it in the past.”Comments Off on Interview – Tyson Vogel of Two Gallants
I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Neon Indian before I was asked to write this story. My previous listens were too flippant, I think. Psychic Chasms is certainly not what I reach for, not at the top of the party stack, but it is pretty incredible.
Stepping in to research though, this fake “chillwave” discourse washed over me. It was really incredible the way people frothed at the mouth to slap the label on his stuff. There was no discussion of the incredible maturity of the record, just about how cool it was. That’s really what it all came down to: it was cool. Oddly, the person making that cool record is so far above all that bullshit it’s scary. Does that make him transcendently cool? I think probably.
It’s a conversation involving everybody except those involved. The genesis and subsequent disavowal of chillwave all took and takes place online, a preening mass of genre argumentation and classification concerning the heavy hitters of a sonic Furby, too trendy to sustain itself and destined to collapse under the weight of its ironic baggage. But these are the shrill inventions of commentators, as evidenced by the deep calm of the fake genre’s favorite son, Alan Palomo. The Neon Indian himself, he’s mentioned in any worthwhile breath on the subject. Wise beyond his 22 years and a scarily thoughtful individual, he breaks with the loud lo-fi chorus by starting most sentences with the words “I think,” and instantly convincing you that’s true. Recording his follow-up to the 2009 breakout hit Psychic Chasms, Palomo doesn’t let those voices affect him as much as they’d like to.
“I think for the longest time I told myself, regardless of the way things might unravel that I will just follow the same trajectory. I mean obviously influence is always going to be there,” says Palomo. Fresh from recording a collaboration with The Antlers on a yet to be released track and speaking from his home in Bushwick, Brooklyn, he admits that his influences are much more personal than aesthetic, but his past success still informs what he creates. “I try not to think about it, but there are those moments when you come up with something unusual that you might like but you might wonder, well… I’m sure there are some people that would appreciate some more sonic nonsense, and others that are just looking for the clear cut single. I get the most joy out of music when I play with that impulse and see what people project onto it.”
The yet-to-be-titled sophomore release from Neon Indian led Palomo away from the New York breeding ground that claimed it to an unlikely Scandinavian cradle. “I did most of the writing in Helsinki. I have a little studio or an efficiency apartment up there with all my synths and I set up a little work station in the living room and got into the headspace of making music there.” The locale caught his eye during an extended tour in support of Psychic Chasms. “There was something always really bewitching about that city that made it a… I don’t know, just a really suitable place to take some time off. I had spent most of the year touring and the notion of kind of being in solitude for a little while in the winter months sounded like a real placid way of stirring up some new ideas for the record.” That headspace wore itself thin, however. “I think people tend to romanticize solitude. I think it was more conducive to personal development than album writing. It kind of ended up getting dark at certain moments just because of the lack of sunlight and the negative Celsius weather.”
The danger with any sophomore release seems doubled lately. Artists have their entire lives to work on their first great masterpiece, and then just a year or two to follow it, undertaking complex baker’s math to innovate while not alienating their base. Palomo is attempting just that in the age of the buzz band and the “Best New Music” tightrope, aiming for a new, dynamic sound. “The first thing that really came to mind as far when you think of lo-fi records with dynamic, a lot of post-punk comes to mind. It is like, in a way, an electronic post-punk record.” This is not to say that the frigid European north turned Neon Indian into a completely different animal, he says. “I think a lot of the influences are still there, but I think when I got there I was listening to and revisiting a lot of post-punk records, enjoyed previously. In my head I was coming up with these songs that were essentially guitar songs but I don’t really play guitar (laughs).” Like most things, Palomo is calmly aware of the dangers of a sophomore reinvention. “It’s a little bit more of an expansive sound, which in some ways can obviously come off as kind of a cliché when somebody is talking about a sophomore record. The idea right from the get-go was, I definitely am somewhat rooted in lo-fi recording and get some pleasure out of that aesthetic as far as the sonics go, but I definitely wanted it to have more dynamic because there was some sounds I was hearing weren’t translating.”
With all the expansion, it helps to look back at where he’s come from. Neon Indian caught ears with it’s innovative soundscapes but kept them with honest emotion. The moody vocals and stained-glass nostalgia colored Psychic Chasms, but the idea of writing specifically about a scene or event in his life is lost on Palomo. “I think obviously when I write a record, at least lyrically, I have to shoot from the hip. I can’t write lyrics based on any kind of abstraction, or I can’t write a song about a rock in a pond, you know? I think the music definitely reflects my current disposition and that is definitely in and of itself a scrapbook or a document.” That too will undergo a change with his new record. “I think that idea is still the same but I don’t think it’s necessarily as nostalgic.”
The lo-fi, bedroom-recording aesthetic runs up against a certain philosophical wall after a successful record and tour. Does the destruction of the poverty aura surrounding the movement become a concern of authenticity? Does the sound ring false if money can be spent on its curation? Palomo is unfazed. “I think, obviously this time around I do have more resources and to just sound exactly the same would not be entirely representative of some of the things I could do. I don’t necessarily think it’s contradictory, it just depends on what the equipment is and what it’s meant to do, or what it’s not meant to do, more importantly.” Lo-fi chic is another abstraction Neon Indian just doesn’t subscribe to. “I think playing with fidelity is an aesthetic choice to begin with. I think if I wanted, if originally Psychic Chasms was meant to sound better or different it would have. I think because my background before Neon Indian was kind of more rooted in dance music which is just kind of obsessing about production.” That stifling attention to detail is what attracted Palomo to the “kind of aloof, carefree take on the arrangements and sounds,” Psychic Chasms made gospel. “The ideal was to never slow down the momentum,” he says. “This one, by design because I’m trying to make sounds that are a little more focused or are used a little more strategically, any way you cut it, it was… you would have to sit and really tinker with the sound. You would get to a point where the initial spark of it wasn’t there.”
What is it that allows someone so young to ride so firmly in the eye of a storm created around him? The coping mechanism could be credited to another musician in the family, the Palomo patriarch dabbling in Mexican pop music before Alan was born. Making music accidentally perfect for pissing off squares and one’s parents (a distinctly retro and seemingly forgotten notion), Palomo insists they’re open to his endeavours. “The comments I hear are like ‘why is your voice so obscured? You have a beautiful voice! You shouldn’t put too much effects on!’ The kind of stuff where you’re like ‘Daaad! It’s supposed to sound like that!’ ” Their interest is probably more parental than musical though, Palomo figures. “I think because I’m doing it, they definitely try to branch out and really listen to it. My dad’s done music his whole life, so the bridge isn’t that wide.” The acid narratives are another story, though. “I guess that’s just the kind of thing you don’t talk to your parents about.”
A savantish, centered 22-year-old riding the eye of a manufactured sensation, Palomo translates that advanced maturity into his work: it endures, and will endure when their chillwave enters the elephant graveyard alongside ragtime and trip-hop. “I didn’t really set too many tangible goals or expectations, it was just, they’re all rooted in the music itself. There’s nothing I can be prouder of than whatever comes out.” The hyperventilation is not his, and the quick route to cool is a selfish dedication to the art, one he navigates easily. Its future?
“I’d like to be hanging out in Texas, eating tacos with my friends.”
Comments Off on Feature – Neon Indian
I god damn love Man Man. I’m biased. Six Demon Bag is in my top ten records of all time, so talking to Honus Honus was a real bucket list moment for me. Their new record, Life Fantastic, comes out tomorrow and is incredible. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
“For the tenth time, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It’s as odd a way as any to be greeted on the phone, but not for Ryan Kattner, better known by his pseudonym Honus Honus and as frontman for the experimental psych-pop band Man Man. Whether this was purposefully zany, an attempt to put me off my guard or a successful attempt to inspire an opening paragraph such as this, I never found out.
On a break from near constant touring on the eve of the release of their fourth album, Life Fantastic, Mr. Honus reflected on the new record.
“I’m really psyched about it. I’m excited to see how it’s received. I really hope people listen with open ears instead of being like ‘Another Man Man record!’ We put a lot into this one. Not that we didn’t with the other ones, but a lot of different energy on this one.”
Starting with the 2004 release of The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face, Man Man has traded heavily in bizarre, catchy baroque pop and a live show that sets word of mouth and blogs blazing. Like an energetic, (more) inscrutable Mr. Bungle in dayglo warpaint or the score to a David Lynch world conquest, their breakout 2006 release Six Demon Bag may have finally been bested with their latest. “I feel like we’re getting better and better at what we’re doing,” says Kattner.
Teaming up with Mike Mogis, of Bright Eyes fame, as producer, Life Fantastic puts front and center the elegant songwriting and emotional depth that made Six Demon Bag a critical and cult darling. Their first time working with a producer, Honus Honus sees it as a positive experience. “We needed to have some outside ears, and someone with a chainsaw to attack our songs.”
The new focus is apparent. “Dark Arts” is a marvel; its piano ambush intro melting into a frenetic, hellish tango, with Honus Honus crooning “These days I feel like a pariah/an albatross with my feathers on fire.” Its contrast with the soda shop sing-along “Piranhas Club” and the career high “Shameless” is stark, but all three represent the core of the Man Man philosophy: intimidating musicianship producing challenging pop with a deep melancholy that never bogs down the dance floor. It’s a trapeze act with no net and Man Man navigate it like Flying Graysons (without the fall, naturally).
“It’s the whole reason why I got into playing music,” says Kattner. “It was to get these things out of my system. It can be transformative. For me, it’s getting some baggage out, but for some people that could be a fun joyous song. I appreciate the challenge of a melancholy center being wrapped in birthday wrapping paper.”
Central to Man Man’s growing legend is their marquee live show. “We have fun playing music together. And we’re really fortunate to do it as long as we’ve have and that there’s people that support what we do.” The stage climbing, diving and intense bandmate interplay of their shows has been the sustaining force of their career. “We feel like, even four records in, we’re a word of mouth band. It’s the gospel of what we do.” Kattner insists. “We don’t wanna get complacent. You gotta have the hunger.” It’s something he’s keen to do for the foreseeable future.
“Fuck, I don’t know what my marketable skills would be at this point. I don’t know what the demand is for someone who wears dresses on stage and looks like a maniac and sings sad songs.”Comments Off on Interview – Honus Honus of Man Man
I really loved that first Saw flick, so I jumped at the chance to talk to the guys behind it. Insidious is flawed, with a ton of startle horror, but at it’s core has great practical effects and filmmaking techniques. It’s the most fun I’ve had at a big horror flick since The Descent.
Like most revolutionary horror franchises that push past the boundaries of a trilogy (and even moreso the ones you can’t count on both hands anymore), people forget just how groundbreaking they were. Certainly Saw will be remembered alongside Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street, but where those franchises fell to camp, Saw fell to blood. Giving rise to a slew of “torture porn” pretenders that peaked last year with the fascinatingly abominable A Serbian Film, Saw was a revelation in a stagnant genre. Somewhere along the way, however, the focus became the gore and blood, the two least frightening parts of Saw. The creative team behind the revolution, screenwriter Leigh Whannell and James Wan attempt to capture the riveting psychological horror that set Saw apart with their latest film, Insidious.
“I think that’s partially what I want to prove with Insidious is that it’s possible to make a scary movie without blood and guts,” says Wan. With his partner Whannell, Wan has crafted a horror film that is mindful of convention, but aggressive in it’s subversion of those tropes The story of a young boy’s mystery coma and the spiritual infestation at the root of it pulls the very best of Poltergeist into the the modern shell of The Ring caliber art direction and bowstring suspense. He claims the Saw sequels missed the true horror core of it’s origin. The fear in Saw never came the blood, but the simple query “do you want to play a game”; the use of a bandsaw to cut off a limb was never near as scary as the threat of it’s presence. “There was scary things in the first Saw film that people now forget. All they can remember now is all the traps and the blood and guts of the sequels. That was never the focus of the film. I wanted to go back and do something that was scary again, but without all the trappings of what Saw had.”
That the partnership between Whannell and Wan that started in film school is obvious. The academic attention to horror detail and history is plain in Insidious, and is in some sense a return to Hitchcockian suspense techniques and tone seen in Saw. Starring Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Hard Candy) and Rose Byrne (Damages, 28 Weeks Later) as the doting parents who must contend with the cleverly realized spirits harassing their family, Insidious is as inventive and flawed as their previous work. From the brilliant throwback title card to the daring sequences of terror in broad daylight, Insidious plays fast and loose with hackneyed horror. “We want you to be uncomfortable in all scenarios. We don’t want you to take a breather when morning comes,” says Whannell. “You know a film is good when it has you scared in the daytime.” While one horror trope Insidious does not eschew is tripping on the hem of it’s dialogue, it’s effectively plotted, it’s startle-moments and aural stingers balancing nicely with eye-popping fever dream art direction.
Working with a budget even less than that of Saw, Insidious flaunts ever dollar on screen, becoming the best major horror production since The Descent graced screens. Wan and Whannell claim the restrictions enabled that success. “Leigh and I wanted this to be a low budget film. This is way smaller than Saw, and Saw was small. I actually find that when you have a finite amount of tools and toys and budget to play around with you actually make a scarier film,” says Wan. Whannell adds, “The difference I saw with James is that with Saw, he was frustrated with the lack of budget because it was preventing him from getting all these shots he had in his head for years. On the set of Insidious, he was reveling in it. He was reveling in the spirit of the thing. I think he was sick of development hell. I think that instilled in James a sense of ‘I just wanna go and shoot something!” It’s an adventurous attitude that bleeds into the film. “So instead of saying ‘oh man, I can’t believe we can’t get that crane shot’, you’re just like, fuck it. Let’s just grab the camera and do it.”
He continues, laughing. “Film school. Film school spirit.”Comments Off on Interview – Leigh Wannell/James Wan of Insidious/Saw
I used to listen to The Dears a bunch, but one song in particular. When my hetero life-mate Tiffer and I were making a video together for our high school graduation, I was of the opinion that it should have been an upbeat affair ending in a devastating montage to their track “We Can Have It”. That never materialized, but I remember summer nights with the windows rolled down listening to that song. Not particularly good times, but good memories. I was pretty excited to do the interview, is what I’m trying to say. Originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine.
There was no finger tattoos reading “ELWOOD” or jail time that threatened and disbanded the previous version of The Dears. But the resurgence of the Toronto rockers and their shiny new line-up came about in a decidedly Blues Brothers way. Talking just days after the band’s second appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman and the release of their fifth LP, Degeneration Street, frontman Murray Lightburn notes a marked difference from the new group and the one that years earlier experienced a messy mutiny almost took down the band from the inside.
“The spirit of the band is significantly renewed. The band that was on Letterman a few years ago was feeling quite defeated. The spirit of the band was feeling pretty down.” The problems within the band threatened to end the way the band was, but according to Lightburn, never threatened the band directly. “You always hear about some bands not getting along, but they still go forward, or they break up. For myself and Natalia it wasn’t really a choice to end The Dears. We didn’t feel like we had that right. It wasn’t really entirely up to us.” So, the pair did like Jake and Elwood and put the band back together.
The new lineup for The Dears isn’t coming in completely fresh. With the exception of drummer Jeff Luciani, the group all have some tie to the band’s shared history. “[Robert] Benvie toured No Cities Left, [Patrick] Krief toured No Cities Left, Gang of Losers, played on Gang of Losers, and everybody played on Missiles. There’s a deep connection. Roberto played the very first Dears album.” The new blood doesn’t stick out, Lightburn says, remarking that Luciani has “been amazing, an amazing addition, he fits right in there in spirit and attitude”.
Getting the right people into position wasn’t a simple prospect, however. Each member had some hurdle to clear before they could be added to the roster. Benvie was the most fortuitous addition. “We kind of saw the writing on the wall. The bass player that committed to playing on Missiles quit. So when she quit, we needed a bass player for the North American tour. So we said ‘for kicks, why don’t we ask Benvie, that could be fun’. So we talked to him, and as luck would have it, his job and commitment was ending the very day our tour was beginning in Toronto. So he quit his job and went straight to sound check and got on a bus for a six week tour.” At the end of that tour, Benvie expressed interest in joining the band proper.
Roberto Arquilla was long a de facto member of the band, but never consummated the partnership. “When I sent him a text, it was funny. We said ‘look man we got the crew together, this is it, are you in or out’ and he said ‘at the moment I have to say I’m out’. So we get this other guy in, send him an email saying ‘welcome to The Dears’ and literally 24 hours later Rob comes over and I’m like, ‘what’s going on here’ and he’s like ‘alright, I’m in!’” His addition to the band was a personal victory for Lightburn. “I’d been waiting for him to say that for about a decade”.
With the pieces back in place and on the legs of a brawny, demanding new album, The Dears might not be on a “mission from God”, but are ready for anything “One of the things I learned after making Missiles was that The Dears could withstand pretty much anything.” Lightburn includes time in what they weather.
“I’ve committed myself to being the lighthouse keeper until…until I’m gone.”Comments Off on Interview – Murray Lightburn of The Dears
I have a few choice memories of my cousins Owen and Ethan. I found myself at their house a lot when I was a kid, and for some reason there is always music of the moment playing in the bacground of those memories. I can remember being incredibly young and satirically reenacting Spice Girls videos (this explains a lot, I realize). I can remember pained recitals of City High’s “What Would You Do?” and similarly impassioned renditions of the classic duet “Forgot About Dre”. Mostly though I remember screaming the lyrics to Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” over a television at max volume displaying the video for that song that seemed to be just about everywhere.
Cake would run through my life in a number of ways after that — car sing-a-longs at 3 A.M. to “Comfort Eagle” spring to mind — so interviewing a member of the band and working my way back through their discography was a heavy dose of nostalgia.
Originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine.
There are a few things most people note on their calendar. Anniversaries, birthdays, religious holidays, major album releases by recording artists that have not put out a proper LP in seven years. That sort of thing. So it stands to reason that Cake trumpeter Vince DiFiore would have a major album release – his own – on his mind the day it came out.
“God, is that right? This is the day! It’s like it’s my birthday and I didn’t even remember!” Of course he’s spaced on the release of Showroom of Compassion, Cake’s first album in the better part of a decade. Released essentially by accident on New Years Day, the occasion (now remembered) has allowed a founding member to reflect on his time in the legendary ska pop band.
“It feels really good. We’ve been through this before. We know the highs and lows of it and understand the significance of it, and it’s really that much more interesting for us and more of a life experience. It’s something we did all under our own power and with our intention.”
Indeed, the general Cake vibe with the new record is one of great satisfaction. Recorded in a studio owned by the band, the self-produced album features Cake at their most thoughtful. While some songs are in sharp contrast with even their Pressure Chief days, it’s nothing seven years of maturation and reflection can’t explain. It’s put the quintet in a good place. “Everything was something we needed as a band and wanted to do as a band. Everybody in the band is happy with their contribution. I believe everyone is happy with the record. Everybody had a really good part in it.”
Upon completing their recording contract with Columbia in 2004, DiFiore and company reflected before signing another dotted line, opting to go it alone instead. “We thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s better if we just do things on our own with the Internet.’” Through their working hiatus, the Internet became more than just a marketing vehicle for the band as it kept them mindful of each other and their goals. “The website is something that really kept us connected as individuals. It kept us on the same wavelength, and kept us developing our worldviews together.”
That wavelength is one that prevented them from releasing anything less than an album in the interim. Discounting a B-sides and rarities collection, the band shied away from singles or EPs. “I’m in love with the album idea – I love it when an album comes out. I guess everyone feels like that because we didn’t think twice about it when we started.” Far from assuming the album format is dead, DiFiore thinks participation in the format is beneficial. “If you make a solid album, you’re perpetuating the idea that the album is the way to go.”
Playing against a career spent cultivating bounce and sway, Showroom of Compassion is a sharp veer into a singular, cohesive album experience — arguably a Cake first. Launched to popularity on the mainstream back of a few gargantuan singles (“Short Skirt, Long Jacket”) and some enduring classics (“Comfort Eagle”), Showroom is a clinic in musical growth. “I think we threw caution to the wind and did crazy things, like put reverb on the vocals,” DiFiore says laughing. “I think we’ve been afraid…we always wanted a really dry sound, and this time we went ahead and used some of the resources a studio has, like that fancy reverb knob.” It’s a change, but a welcome one that will please fans and newcomers alike.
The Great Cake Hiatus resulted in some welcome consequences, but it’s something DiFiore is not keen on repeating. The band is primed and ready to get back to the studio, albeit on their own schedule. “We hope it’s more like two years than seven years this time.”Comments Off on Interview – Vince DiFiore of Cake
Do you know how much I listened to Twin Cinema in high school? How about Streethawk: A Seduction. This was pretty cool, to say the least. Originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine.
“It feels about 10 times longer than anything else,” Dan Bejar says with no obvious hint of fatigue. For a man requiring more fingers and toes than the average person has to tally his pressed musical output, one would expect the two years invested in his latest album, Kaputt, to feel like a lifetime. Released like so many others under his ostensible solo banner, Destroyer, Kaputt is another in a string of reinventions Bejar has introduced into his many projects. Retreating from the idiosyncratic rock core that has centered his work since 2001’s standout Streethawk: A Seduction, Bejar and his collaborators are readying a jarring LP for release in 2011 that owes more to the jazz and R&B worlds than the indie rock one in which Bejar has thrived. The casual pace, Bejar says, is just part of that new sound.
“Usually, these things take a couple months max. I never work around the clock on a record, but this got off to a pretty slow start, a pretty scattered work schedule for the first while.” Interspersed with releases by the New Pornographers and Swan Lake, Bejar marshalled a long list of regular and new contributors in the seemingly endless recording process. It’s an assault on the primary myth of Destroyer as a Dan Bejar solo project, the man in question quick and liberal with his deflections of credit. “The albums are a testament to that. They don’t sound like someone sitting down with a guitar for the most part. I’m not like Prince. I’m not orchestrating these things all on my own, especially on this album, where I barely did any singing and I brought to the table just a couple melodies. My hands on a musical instrument at any time was scandalous. I was practically like a curator.”
The album title Kaputt serves to put another bullet in the gun of those who would flippantly toss the words “literary” or “pretentious” as careless descriptors of Bejar’s songwriting style. “With Kaputt, I had this book that someone lent me. It had never really dawned on me that the letters ‘k-a-p-u-t-t’ was the word ‘kaputt’ that gets used once in a while in English or something, being kind of collapsed or over.” Written by Italian dramatist and writer Curzio Malaparte, the book title Kaputt struck a chord with Bejar. “It just looked like some strange, cool looking word…maybe because they used the German spelling. I think even when I decided that might be a cool title for a record that someone else had to point out to me what that word was. I thought it was a word in a foreign language.”
While New Pornographers partner A.C. Newman has succumbed to Canadian musical brain drain and moved south, Bejar keeps strong ties with his hometown of Vancouver. “I’m here. I was born here. I’m a son of Vancouver. I mean, I’ve moved around a little bit but I’ve clocked a lot of time here and I mean, who’s to say I won’t move again.” He is grounded in his admiration, however. “If you’re asking me if there are a few reasons why someone shouldn’t move here, I could name a bundle, but I’m not going to get into that.”
After living in Spain and touring heavily, Bejar is aware of the pressures of touring, while keeping a positive perspective on the base unit of a musical career. “I’m still trying to act semi-professional. Destroyer’s mantra is kinda ‘keep it semi-pro.’ I’ve failed to really hone any other bankable skill in my last 38 years of living, so you try and figure out another way of, you know, another way of living. All that talk makes it sound like I’m gonna be onstage rolling my eyes and pouting, which isn’t at all what happens. People say that I do but I don’t think that’s what I do.”
Working once again with longtime friend and Zulu Records proprietor Nick Bragg, and again adding the producing and musical talents of John Collins and David Carswell (of JC/DC Studios fame), Bejar works hard at dispelling any auteur delusion. “It’s always key to Destroyer. There’s no record where it hasn’t been yet… I mean, Don and Dave played a huge role on this record. When I listen back to it, in a lot of ways it sounds more like Don’s record than mine (laughs). It’s not something to get glossed over.” The JC/DC partnership is a prolific one for Destroyer, and Bejar has come to value their contributions highly. Of John Collins, producer and New Pornographers compatriot, Bejar notes, “There is a certain pace that he has. A feel, which I do think comes shining through on the record. I knew that going in and that’s why I wanted him to be involved as heavily as possible from the get-go because I thought it would be a real strength.”
Bejar attests that the recording process was almost casual, and mostly consisted of collaborating artists “coming in and blazing all over what we have and then leaving.” Odder still is the aural blinders Bejar applied to them. “I didn’t want other people to hear what the others were doing. Any kind of illusion of that is part of the mixing process, really.” The forced conclusion is that Kaputt is, then, a marvel of production, as while the process seems like that of a jam band, each track segues seamlessly into the next, each feeling more like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle than a haphazard Pollock splotch. These factors result in a new, welcome distance from the material for Bejar. “What I like about the songs on Kaputt is that I don’t know how they go for the most part. There are like two or three songs with a conventional song structure and then there are some that are just like, jams that I sing over. And then, there’s ones that are neither.”
The first major sea change in the Destroyer sound since the artistic leap forward displayed on the 2006 critical darling Rubies, Kaputt learns as much as possible from the worlds of acid and ambient jazz. A notable addition: actual trumpets, bleeding in and out of the background, waxing from mournful to playful in a heartbeat, all Red Shoe Diaries without the sleaze. “I don’t think there’s ever been trumpet on a Destroyer record besides from the fake bullshit that you can hear on Your Blues.” Realized indoors on GarageBand and perfected in the studio with actual players, the shift is impossible not to notice but is absent the mid-career bloat endemic with similar movements. Fans can breathe easy, as Kaputt packs on the extra instrumentation with poise, more Pet Sounds than The Soft Parade. Early album standout “Blue Eyes” walks softly with crushing vocals, “A Song For America” threatens stationary hips everywhere and a possible incongruity with rare lyrical collaborator Kara Walker forms a prime centerpiece for the ambitious LP.
Through a collaboration on a Merge box set, visual artist Kara Walker discovered Bejar and the Destroyer back catalogue and set in motion a peculiar partnership. Known as a formidable lyricist, one could imagine that the most presumptuous of pitches to Bejar would be lyrics. Walker took the chance, and the resulting product forms the basis of “Suicide Demos for Kara Walker.” With a moody, ambient introduction giving way to evocative poetry, her fingerprints are as obvious as the modifications Bejar made and the JC/DC production value. Begun as a series of rough demos, the song title became less aspirational, transforming into what Bejar calls “maybe an educational video on how Kara Walker could kill herself.” The smooth vocals are a significant distance away from the wailing on “Jackie Dressed In Cobras” and bears only passing similarity to the intentions peppering Streethawk through Trouble In Dreams but are somehow unmistakably Destroyer. That is, channeling Pet Shop Boys in a world where synth is illegal. Walker’s impressions were positive. “She’s heard it. She gave me the go ahead. She says she liked it, which is cool because I want her to like it.”
Kaputt also marks another in a series of collaborations serving as the professional end of a long friendship. Nick Bragg and Bejar have been friends for roughly two decades, and Bragg’s role as the de facto lead guitarist of Destroyer is seemingly both a minor and major part of that relationship. “It’s like a little blip of time compared to the amount of normal time we spend. He’s kinda played lead guitar in Destroyer for like nine years or something. It’s not like I go to him…there’s not a lot of dialogue. I’m basically like, ‘Go home and shred all over this stuff and if you feel like it, come into the studio and do some more.’” In the same way as with his other collaborators, Bejar is again quick to deflect much of his praise to Bragg. “His playing has real fangs, and a lot of this is based around softer sounds and textures. I wasn’t sure if he would be into it, if it would be his cup of tea. I find most of the cathartic moments on the record come from his playing.” Bragg is similarly vocal about their relationship, both in and out of the studio. He remarks that Bejar is “more of a friend than a musician to me” and that he derives great pleasure from watching his friend grow in that respect. “People talk about how stylistically or sonically, concepts he’s playing with have changed over the years but I just look at it how he’s continued a series of ideas and kept refining them to the point where they are now.” For Bragg, however, the huge shift in concept and tone on Kaputt is something he welcomes from Bejar and Destroyer. “When you boil it all down, it still becomes essentially a Destroyer record. No one would expect him to make a record of quiet storm, late-night R&B songs. I don’t know if it’s the record he wanted to make. No record ever really ends up exactly where you want it and that’s probably part of the fun.”
While Kaputt instantly eliminates any accusations of sloth or inattention to detail that the word “casual” may impart, one could posit that of a recording process that shares more in common with an impromptu Super Bowl potluck. Along with the oddly final album title, one wonders if these are the last days for Destroyer. Bejar figures there is really no metric for when it’s time to quit. “I’ve never tried to write a song. I don’t know if I know how to go about trying. I don’t think it means that once you have to start trying, it’s as simple as you should stop or quit. There is a whole school of songwriters that I really admire where tedious craft is part of what they do. It would probably be good for me to have like, some kind of ethic like that, like a work ethic like that. Toil instead of just rooting over weird things in my brain.” It’s a sentiment he explores on “Blue Eyes,” singing loudly “I write poetry for myself/I write poetry for myself.”
Still, retirement is something he cannot immediately reconcile. “I haven’t really thought of all this kind of Jay-Z retirement stuff. Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t feel like naming (Kaputt) something as ironed out as that.” The action intrigues Bejar, however. ”I have no beef with that whatsoever. I love people who retire in general. I always find it really admirable rather than just punching the card for the rest…” Bejar trails off.
“Punching the card, is that the expression?”Comments Off on Feature – Destroyer