Monday, April 30, 2007:

Vanya and Julia

Vanya pretends she is called Julia, pretends she wasn't born where she was, pretends she doesn't look how she does, pretends she's graceful and witty, glamorous and poised. Yet she is not ugly, not dull-witted, not socially incompetent; what she is is self-conscious. She spends her spare time composing a soundtrack to a film that's never been made, a film she imagines as a musical Amelie, though her deepest convictions will lead it astray.

Opening credits: a woman in her mid-30s in an overcoat, dress, and heavy shoes, walking down a snowy sidewalk. An immediate sign that the film is more expressionist than realist: the buildings in the background are all missing their facades as Vanya passes them. Inside each apartment the people go about their daily business, apparently oblivious to their exposure: a mother playing peekaboo with her toddler; a woman in curlers at the stove, smoking as she fries liver and onions; a man doing pushups, the TV blaring behind him; a couple in bed in flagrante delicto; a young man in bed flat on his stomach, holding a pillow over his head. Vanya walking down the sidewalk, a distant look in her eyes.

Waiting at the bus stop: Vanya pines for Stefan yet he pays all his attention to Dora. Dora: bold, beautiful, flashy, flirtatious, the kind of girl with a reputation.

Listening to the seemingly random bleats and blats of traffic, Vanya begins to sing her frustration: what's a woman to do, and maintain her dignity? How can you compete with women who don't? She imagines herself Julia again.

The sound of traffic merges into muted trumpet and tuba and drums and triangle, the people at the bus stop nodding in rhythm; pedestrians accenting the downbeats; passing traffic in both lanes joining in, bicyclists and cab drivers and businessmen all together singing "Stefan: come to your senses." She is Julia, taking the lead, respectable, well-dressed, and intelligent. The song dies and the fantasy dies with it, and then she's just Vanya waiting for a bus.

End credits: Vanya and Stefan paying the bill and leaving the cafe together, Vanya with a quizzical, half-sad smile. The music longs for the whimsical chintziness of Herb Alpert; feels itself pulled towards the mournful dissonance of Sketches of Spain: what to do when you've got what you want and are no longer sure you want it? Isn't achievement supposd to lead to happiness?
[Last Balkan Tango and @ emusic which, in spite of its crummy user interface, is increasingly coming to seem like a public service.]
[Queens & Kings and @ emusic]
[The Promise and @ emusic]

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007:

If you listen to internet radio...

I've been following the news about internet radio with some alarm: in essence, the rates are being increased quite a lot, so sites like Pandora and are in danger.

I'm quite fond of Pandora, which lets you to enter an artist or song in a search and have it generate a playlist of other songs you might like based on how you rate the results; in fact I've been using it for research recently.

If you like internet radio, or if you've ever wondered why internet radio and satellite radio should have to pay licensing fees while public radio gets a free pass (perhaps so the public will always have somewhere to go to hear Kansas sing "Dust in the Wind,") you might be interested in this note that Pandora sent out recently:
Hi, it's Tim from Pandora,

I'm writing today to ask for your help. The survival of Pandora and all of Internet radio is in jeopardy because of a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board in Washington, DC to almost triple the licensing fees for Internet radio sites like Pandora. The new royalty rates are irrationally high, more than four times what satellite radio pays, and broadcast radio doesn't pay these at all. Left unchanged, these new royalties will kill every Internet radio site, including Pandora.

In response to these new and unfair fees, we have formed the SaveNetRadio Coalition, a group that includes listeners, artists, labels and webcasters. I hope that you will consider joining us.

Please sign our petition urging your Congressional representative to act to save Internet radio:

Please feel free to forward this link/email to your friends - the more petitioners we can get, the better.

Understand that we are fully supportive of paying royalties to the artists whose music we play, and have done so since our inception. As a former touring musician myself, I'm no stranger to the challenges facing working musicians. The issue we have with the recent ruling is that it puts the cost of streaming far out of the range of ANY webcaster's business potential.

I hope you'll take just a few minutes to sign our petition - it WILL make a difference. As a young industry, we do not have the lobbying power of the RIAA. You, our listeners, are by far our biggest and most influential allies.

As always, and now more than ever, thank you for your support.

-Tim Westergren
(Pandora founder)
Tuesday, April 17, 2007:

you can stop counting

The Legendary Pink Dots -- The Made Man's Manifesto
I don't know enough about the Legendary Pink Dots to say if it's rare that they sound like pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, but does, and does.

All I know is I like this track, and it reminds me a bit of Floyd but, to indulge a cliche, "not in a bad way," and I don't know which made man's manifesto it might be referring to; I'm having a hard time relating the lyrics to any fictional or real mobsters I know of. Also:
1 2 3, 4 5, 6 7 8, 9 10, 11 12,
You can stop counting.

5 10, 15 20, 25 30, 35 40, 45 50,
You can stop counting.

Ten, ten ten ten ten, ten ten ten ten, ten,
You can stop counting.

0 1, 10 11, 100,
You can stop counting.

128, 64, 0, 0, 8, 4, 0, 1,
You can stop counting.

You can stop counting.

The Legendary Pink Dots have been around for a quarter-century and have released about 40 albums. Twenty-four of them are on emusic. I haven't yet heard The Maria Dimension, though right off it reminds me of a friendlier and less demented Aphex Twin crossed with a less moody/brooding early Dead Can Dance.
[Your Children Placate You From Premature Graves @ emusic]


Monday, April 16, 2007:

The Octopus Walks Across the Coral

Morningbell -- The Octopus Walks Across the Coral
Morningbell has a new album out. It's a Choose Your Own Adventure album; the adventure I chose was to listen to the tracks in numerical order, and then to give it some time and listen again. I'm happy for the ways it shows the group stretching out, expanding their sound, and while there aren't any tracks on it I dislike, I think the two being promoted are not the two I would have picked: my money is on "Utopian Fantasy at the Center of the Earth" and "The Octopus Walks Across the Coral."

I've written about Morningbell twice before, once for kicks and out of general excitement, and once as part of a failed experiment. What I haven't written much about is octopuses.

What can you say about octopuses that doesn't involve ink or the lack of a skeleton? They can camouflage themselves amazingly well, sometimes to ambush a shark; they can open jars for food and climb onboard boats to get at food stored in the hold; they can walk on two legs, six arms wrapped around them so they look like a coconut taking a stroll, or hold the other six arms up, twisted about so they look like algae. They can also regrow an arm, unless the budget doesn't allow it. And they can play the guitar but not the bagpipes.
[Morningbell's site]
[Morningbell's MySpace page]
[This was a Team Clermont promotion, but I would have picked it up anyway given my fondness for the band.]

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Saturday, April 14, 2007:

Roots Canal: everybody look what's going down

Sex Mob -- For What It's Worth
This is on a totally different track, but Tuwa's last post reminded me of a great version of For What It's Worth by Sex Mob, which was Steven Bernstein's last band before Millenial Territory Orchestra. Bernstein takes jazz in all sorts of interesting directions, trying to make it a little less cerebral and more accessible. He describes it this way:
Jazz used to be popular music. People would go out to clubs, listen to the music, go home, and get laid. Simple as that. We're bringing that spirit back.
Give a listen. Maybe you'll get lucky.

[Solid Sender] Also on emusic.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007:

stop, hey, what's that sound?

College was a culture shock: going from true poverty to an artificial poverty with secure housing and a clear end, from a small town where I was considered brilliant to a college town where I was surrounded by people who were, from oversight that was vindictive and capricious to authority that were indifferent, all of it coupled with an exhilerating and terrifying freedom. My first roommates were from Boca Raton, the three of us sharing the second-cheapest room on campus, built for four, their friends coming over to drink or smoke, one of them once memorably complaining about being given a car which cost more than my mother's house but wasn't what he wanted.

I was a teetotaller losing his faith, bitter and angry and self-righteous, and took comfort in my arrogance. Cypress Hill was a fixture in the room that year, even before "Insane in the Brain" hit MTV; I heard their first two CDs constantly and hated them for their stoner vibe and the gangsta theatrics, but still I wondered if it was a deeply ironic word choice or a sly wink and a bit of hiding in plain sight that--among the machismo and claims to murder--they'd drop lines like "I'm a chicken hawk huntin' for a chicken."

Some time back I remembered the group with some fondness, and bought Black Sunday, and found that their sound on the CD was actually fairly interesting. In trying to describe it, I thought it would be like a pitchfork: deep prominent bass, high far-off (far-out) sounding noises, vocals in the middle. And going back a bit further, to high school, to Young MC, I stumbled onto what seemed like a precursor to their sound; a track with all that lethargy and sonic separation yet from someone who, from his lyrics, would clearly not approve of Cypress Hill's lifestyle. I'm not sure if Young MC has changed his attitudes towards drugs since 1989, as mine did, and did again, since 1993; his first CD was the only one I listened to, and I listen to it still: I enjoy the beats and the facility with rhyme (even silly rhyme) ("I'm sloppy like Oscar but neat like Tony Randall"?) and the general party atmosphere of it, which is light and fun as long as it's not taken seriously. In this regard it's like the early Tribe records, which also have some green lyrics, some clumsy seductions and misplaced wallets.

But the more I think of it, the more I notice songs flirting with this Cypress Hill sound, this same sound predated by Young MC's track: decades earlier, in Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine"; and a few years later, in The Coup's "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish," in Louise Attaque's "Du Nord Au Sud"* and, to a lesser extent in Radiohead's The National Anthem (the vocals at the high point, the horns starting in the middle ... but too thick a sound overall, too much overlap and chaos) and in The Cure's remix of "Fascination Street" (the bass needs to be thicker, the middle thinner).

The more I think of it, the more I think I hear it (Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode, Baaba Maal), leading me to wonder if it's everywhere or if it's anywhere at all. It's possible I'm imagining it: representative samples in a frequency analyzer show some similarity, but not the separation of sound I thought I'd heard:Young MC and Cypress Hil samples

But quite distinct songs (Tears for Fears' "I Believe," The Beatles' "Helter Skelter") don't show nearly as much difference as I'd expected:
Helter Skelter and I Believe samples

In '93 I'd probably bend over backwards, making any contortions necessary to prevent saying "I don't know" or "I was wrong." I don't know, and I may be wrong. Yet I'm not sure that recognizing that puts me any closer to finding what the similarities are, if they even exist.

Readers, if you care to comment (musicians, music theorists, music historians and/or critics--anyone with a clue really), is there actually any similarity between the Young MC track and the Cypress Hill track? If there is, how would you go about finding more of it?
[Stone Cold Rhymin' @ amazon, @ emusic]
[Genocide & Juice: out of print]
[Black Sunday @ amazon]
[Comme on a Dit]
[Mixed Up]
[Kid A]

* First posted 63 years ago in internet years on my guest post to Said the Gramophone.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007:

White Elephant Blogathon: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

This post is part of the White Elephant film Blogathon, in which volunteers throw a movie suggestion into the hat for someone else to review. The only restriction was that the movie be widely available; and the implication was that most of them would be bad because bloggers could already use their site to review good movies. I ignored that implication, as I didn't have the heart to recommend a film I thought was truly bad; instead I recommended one I thought was quite good but somewhat obscure.

And in return I got Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I'd remembered it fondly, but I'd last seen it in high school, when it probably spoke to me more, and I'd seen it with a group of friends, which can shore up a mediocre comedy. It's a truism that actors in a comedy should act as if they're in a drama; else the comedy becomes less about situation than about actors showing out. The performances here are oversold and the timing poor, each joke delivered with a wink and a beat after it as if to slot in a laugh track. This is not Howard Hawks direction with a Ben Hecht script, though the script does have potential.

The story is about two exceptionally ignorant and lazy but good-natured bad musicians who are on the verge of failing their history class and, hence, flunking out of high school. At a convenience store the night before they have to give the history presentation that could help them pass the class, a phone booth falls from the sky. In it is a man named Rufus who came from the future and takes them back in time to see Napoleon Bonaparte. From there Bill and Ted jaunt through history collecting historical figures and nearly getting killed in various ways. If Ted doesn't graduate he'll be sent to military school, so it's clear why they want to get a good grade on the presentation, but it's less clear why they have any interest in being musicians since it's clear they never practice.

The movie has a few moments that work and a lot more that don't; for every nice touch like Napoleon cheating on his bowling score there are more attempted jokes which fall flat, such as the notion that Joan of Arc is Noah's wife. Many of the scenes may have worked on paper but don't work on screen; in one of them, Bill's father and stepmother kick Bill out of his room so they can get it on. The scene could have been very funny if handled right; instead it just seemed like a scene that could have been very funny if handled right. And some of the other jokes would have been better left for the viewer to discover, like Bill's Oedipus complex.

It's disorienting in a comedy to wonder if the cleverest jokes were intended as jokes--Rufus goes back in time to ensure that the past happens as it should, yet rather than going back in time far enough to allow Bill and Ted to research and prepare a proper presentation, he goes back to the night before it's due. Research would make for a dull comedy (or a much more cerebral comedy than the screenwriter wanted), so Rufus' choice may be a narrative necessity, or it may be a subtle joke about the culture Bill and Ted have inspired, in which everything is done at the last minute. (If I remember right, Bill and Ted devise a similar solution in the sequel, just before the competition when they still don't know how to play guitar: they go back in time to practice, then return to just a few seconds after they left.) The clever joke, or perhaps plot hole, is that Bill and Ted spend all night traveling through time rather than sleeping and that staying up all night would render most people exhausted and inarticulate, yet they are more eloquent in their presentation than they ever have been before.

I wondered more than once if the film were actually a personal fantasy written by a young man in high school with a project due very soon--I was never convinced that the future Rufus comes from would be one I would want to live in. And I couldn't help wondering also if Mike Judge didn't address the movie and its sequel twice: first in Beavis and Butthead, making the dimwitted teenagers petty and vicious, and then again in Idiocracy, making a future populated with dimwits a nightmare rather than a fantasy.

White Elephant Blog-a-thon:
The Ongoing Cinematic Education of Steven Carlson on Bio-Dome.
Flickhead on Teen Witch.
Zoom In Online on Tale of the Bunny Picnic.
Eddie's Blog-a-Thon Board on Purple Rain.
Ben @ Lucis Screening on Nude for Satan.
Andrew @ Lucid Screening on Troll 2.
Lazy Eye Theatre on Forbidden Games.
Filmsquish on Air Bud: World Pup.
As Cool As a Fruitstand on Picnic.
goatdogblog on Making the Grade.
Talk to Me Harry Winston on Riki-Oh: the Story of Ricky.
The Exploding Kintetoscope on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Next Generation.
Ben @ Lucid Screening on The End.
Case @ Lucid Screening on Minoes.
Rufus @ Lucid Screening on Dark Harvest 2: The Maize.
Additional links to be added as I find them....

And two mp3s, since this is an mp3blog:
Primus -- Tommy the Cat
Primus -- Bob
"Tommy the Cat" is actually used in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, not the original, but the soundtrack to the original doesn't impress me at all and the soundtrack to the sequel outdoes it by having one song worth the time spent listening to it.

Primus are a divisive band; most people I've met either love them or hate them. For my part, I thought Sailing the Seas of Cheese and Pork Soda were good and the rest were not.

Les Claypool has a unique approach to playing bass, but what surprises me most about this track is Tom Waits as Tommy the Cat. The song is originally from Sailing the Seas of Cheese and tells an amusing story; "Bob" is from Pork Soda and is a sober track about a friend's suicide, aptly hinting at the darkness and obsession that surround the event but avoiding emo territory in its delivery.
[Sailing the Seas of Cheese]
[Pork Soda]

And, on the subject of comedies centering on research, some wonderful detective work at Making Light, about what looks roughly similar to an Elmore Leonard story set in the publishing business.

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