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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Let's Get Lost", the sad jazz of Chet Baker

Let's Get Lost
Beefeater In-Edit 2012, Chapter III

Our third film on this edition during the 10th edition of the Beefeater In-Edit Festival was a special challenge for me. I assume this would decrease my "hipsterism" or "coolness factor" to dramatic levels, but I don't get jazz. I won't lie. It bores me, sometimes even annoys me, and I don't think it works for me, not even as background music. That's why "Let's Get Lost", incredibly praised by movie critics (rated 2nd on the documentaries' best-of list) was a challenging proposal for me? Would I enjoy it?

The answer is yes and no. Mostly "yes", because Chet Baker's story is powerful and puzzling, and foremost, because director Bruce Weber seems to be always there, allowed to explore not just the most pleasant parts, basically that Baker was an outstanding talent, a one-in-a-million musician, but also showing that he wasn't precisely a lovely human being: liar, drug addict, not a very caring father, troublemaker, etc. It seemed to me that he was careless about life, and in some way a very sad character. Was he really able to connect with other human beings aside from his trumpet or voice? Weber had the courage of presenting the contradictions of the artist. Showing that behind the "cool cat" flair, there was a lot more to dig in.

"Let's Get Lost" show us Baker's "glory days" in abundance, becoming an icon (he was also good-looking, so success was granted), a reference for the youth in the 50's. He basically represented being cool. It's very interesting to see (its also pointed out by a few opinions) how jazz and particularly Chet Baker were "the alternative" in those days. But his "dark side" was also notorious, and Weber finds and seeks opinions enough to let the spectator get its own conclusions. In particular, there's a lot of attention and information regarding Baker's behaviour with his several women. They are one of the stand-outs of the film for sure.

But I also said "no" before. And that's due to the amount of footage that to me was gratuitous or overlong (as you can see I'm not referring to the songs played despite admitting I'm not into jazz). We have plenty of them, and I can only presume artistic intentions (many of them seems to recall Nouvelle Vague in the way they are filmed) that may embellish the film as a whole, giving it a dreamlike sensation. Ok, it may fit with the music, and even gives a poetic touch reconstructing some moments of Baker's life. But there should be some logic in the chaos, and sometimes is very hard to find it in the film. The opening scene on the beach, the cars at the amusement park, these recurring night walks joined by stunning ladies, the naked women book... I can understand the purpose was to reflect that Baker's life was almost surreal, a junkie (the end of the film is striking) living a parallel existence, one that Weber wants also to present, mixing, building what his memoirs, thoughts and experiences would have been along with not that beautiful reality. But it really harms the dynamic of the film. A length of 120 minutes was completely unnecessary. It also makes it a bit confusing and, sorry to say, pedantic.

Overall, it's an striking portrait of a deeply absorbing character, but also a blurred documentary that wouldn't qualify as really recommendable for many. Shame because "Let's Get Lost" could have really deserved all the praise received.

SCORE: 6,5/10

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart", Wilco at the crossroads

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. A Film About Wilco
Beefeater In-Edit 2012, Chapter II

The nice and great people of Beefeater In-Edit elaborated (collecting the opinions of "many experts") the 100 music documentaries best-of-list in occasion of its 10 birthday, including the top ten among the films that can be seen in this edition of the Festival. Needless to say, it was a great opportunity to enjoy some of them. I’m not a fan of Wilco, but its a band I’m quite curious about and I respect a lot, so their story in its hardest hour, their battle against music corporations, sounded pretty exciting to me.

Unfortunately, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” suffers, quite a lot, from “too high expectations”. Interesting and I assume, really addictive for Wilco fans thanks to the amount of live songs included, I have to say this is not the promised revealing take on a band struggling, internally and against their record label (Warner- Reprise Records). How to define it? The documentary is (hope that’s understandable) reflective. We don’t really see the band in these turbulent, tense times. We see the band (and manager Tony Margherita, plus other few people) telling us there was conflict and tension then. But that’s giving us their opinion, something that can be interesting, but its far from being the outstanding, unmissable documentary we expected.

That brings directly me to my other concern, or better said, main question: is this documentary controlled, approved by the band? The insight on the group seems quite biased, in my opinion. You spent a third of the movie length before any of the “issues” arise. There’s only one scene in which you can see the obvious tensions between Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy. Then there’s a little take on Tweedy doesn’t wanting to say much about it, and the rest of band showing their relief the former member was fired, while Bennett suggests a much bigger problem within the band. There’s only one phone conversation in which we can see the label and the band are going to crash. The rest is merely the thoughts and opinions of Tweedy and Co. (Margherita opinions are brutally biased, he’s a pretty annoying character I have to say). I expected a lot more on the clash between artist independence vs. commercial/music label greediness.

So what’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” offering? A bit of the band on the studio creating Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, tones of live music (Tweedy alone & the full band) looking cool (surely will amaze fans), and just a little bit of what was supposed to be a very troubled period for Wilco. I can’t help but keep thinking director Sam Jones didn’t want to or wasn’t allowed to show us all the stuff he had. Maybe the band (or some members) wouldn’t look so heroic if he had shown us the whole picture? Being honest, after watching the documentary, my impression is that Wilco is Jeff Tweedy's band (look who signs the new contract). For the good, but also for the bad.

I think the most definitive comments on this film came from Rolling Stone’s journalist David Fricke (an opinion that, if you think about it, shouldn’t be particularly relevant for the development of the story) who establishes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as a landmark within their time, because of its painful process of recording and then fighting against media monster corporations, but in particular due to the music, a creative attempt to challenge themselves musically. What Fricke says is that all that matters is the music. I guess he’s right with this documentary. Must-see for fans, but occasional Wilco listeners or people without a clue about the band might find it quite flat in terms of storytelling. So it will all depend on how much the music appeals you.


Monday, October 29, 2012

"Searching for Sugar Man", mystery, magic, music

Searching for Sugar Man
Beefeater In-Edit Festival 2012, chapter I

First of the five films of our selection at the Beefeater In-Edit 2012, and what a movie to start the Festival! Finally a film where what matters is the story that is trying to tell the spectators. And what a story! Incredible, shocking, mysterious, touching, musically very attractive... In a word, fascinating.

This is a documentary on a completely forgotten artist. Not even a side note on the page of the 70s' music history. Sixto Rodriguez, an unknown folk-rock singer/songwriter from Detroit (Mexican familiar origins) who released two albums in the early 1970s, "Cold Fact", and "Coming From Reality". Despite the quality of his music and lyrics, somewhere in between Bob Dylan and Nick Drake, he could not achieve any popularity, so he quickly vanished, retiring, unnoticed from music. We get opinions from his producers and critics, praising the artist and blaming his lack of success and being dropped by his record label.

To this point, "Searching for Sugar Man", would have been a nice music discovery, because the songs of Rodríguez deserve to be listened (so the research will be done) but not a very memorable film. But we quickly discover this is not the end of the story... On the contrary, is an unexpected beginning... Because while completely unknown in America, the guy was a phenomenon in South Africa, a massive success and a referential artist for many people in that country, the soundtrack of the fight against Apartheid by Afrikaners. For them, Rodríguez was a hero with little or zero information about. A mysterious legend who rumours said had a dramatic end.

How could that be? Why Rodríguez was never aware of his success? What about the terrible suicide? I won't spoil you the movie, so I will stop revealing the development of the film here. Just let me add that starting from these questions a search of information, an attempt to solve the mystery begins, carried by hardcore fans, who become music detectives. It will unfold a story that you will qualify as surreal, impossible, one that Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul bring to us in the most touching way, as explained by the people who did themselves, meeting and connecting with others. It's an amazing quest, that will grab you and touch you deeply. Because they will reach an unexpected goal, a goal that will reveal itself as an example, celebration of human condition and how powerful music can be.

"Searching for Sugar Man" is not only a great and deeply absorbing entertainment. It is also an inspiring film on mankind. There's mystery, magic and wonderful music. What more can you ask for? Thanks In-Edit for such a discovery.

SCORE: 8,5/10

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stop Awful Covers 7

The tragedy continues and being honest, it doesn't get any better. I think this might be the worse chapter of the whole Awful Covers Series, regrettably. Don't know what's going on inside the heads of the musicians responsible of the following disasters. Please stop...

Dr. Dog: Wild Race EP
Panda Bears are cute, ok. But not combined with tacky fonts and cute additional imagery

Jets Overhead: Boredom and Joy
I easily see the boredom, its looks mightily and annoyingly pink, but where's the joy?

Titus Andronicus: Local Business
More boredom... now in red. Doesn't look like a very promising business

 Jason Lytle: Dept. of Disappearance
Leave the mountains and the album title. The rest can disappear for good

Ty Segall: Twins
Another fine example that artists shouldn't decide about their artwork when drunk or on drugs

The Bewitched Hand: Vampiric Way
One of my personal contenders for worst artwork of the year. Creepy, tacky, horrible colours...

Ms Mr: Candy Bar Creep Show
The artwork fits the album title... I do hope the music doesn't....

Here's my interpretation: the naked guy means freedom and joy, the lady means submission, and the bored again means boredom. That could be what the artwork wants to say about love? Well, no, that MY interpretation, because the cover doesn't mean anything

Death Grips: No Love Deep Web
Decided to put the original, uncensored version, because a penis is not the problem. The problem is that no-one would like to have an album with a cover like this at home because it's awful. That's not transgression, that's stupidity.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Indie Anthology 21: essential songs

The next chapter in our Anthology is reserved to a very special artist, very dear to me, who I'll be seeing live, for the third time (first in the best of possible companies), next Friday. A great singer, clever lyricist, smart observer of personal relations and social behaviours, capable of making you laugh or wallow on your own pain when you feel miserable (oops maybe I have said too much here). A composer and creator of wonderful pop songs.

Ladies and gentlemen, the indie-pop genius of Mr. Neil Hannon, The Divine Comedy.

Song: Absent Friends
Artist: The Divine Comedy
Year: 2004

"A Lady of Certain Age", "Our Mutual Friend", "Tonight We Fly", "Songs Of Love"... I could be arguing with myself for decades. I can't decide which is my favourite song of The Divine Comedy. So why I choose "Absent Friends"? It's not the first that brought me to his music either (the amusing "Alfie" or "Everybody Knows that I Love You" are the ones). But "Absent Friends" was the one that made "click" on me, the one that made me move from an occasional listener, waiting for a greatest hits compilation, to a devoted fan. There's something on his voice, always delicate but never more powerful than here, brilliantly accompanied by the orchestration (the chamber pop master at his finest hour?). There's something on the orchestration, upbeat, epic, and martial, but allowing every word to be heard. There's something on the words, heartfelt and honest. A song about long-gone, missing, somehow fallen heroes have never sounded so touching and uplifting.

See you in a week dear Neil!!   

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Music & Movies: In-Edit 2012 begins!

Beefeater In-Edit 2012 begins tonight! 

From October 25th to November 5th, a brand new edition (its 10th birthday) of the Barcelona's International Music Documentary Festival takes place. After last year's great experience, Bloodbuzzed repeats with another dose of the most exciting rockumentaries (plus a conference which I hope to attend). Here's what my schedule looks like. 

     Saturday, October 27th
18:00 Searching for Sugar Man
22:30 I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

Sunday 28th 
20:00 Let's Get Lost

Monday 29th
20:15 Sunset Strip

Wednesday 31st
19:00 Music and Politics (Chat)

Sunday, November 4th 
20.15 London: The Modern Babylon
See you at the movies!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Prometheus", a sci-fi disaster


You have to be careful when you are going to review a sci-fi movie. The legions of genre fans are by far, the most passionate you can reach out there. Therefore, they are the toughest collective when you have to argue with them. If you are in front of a sci-fi frea.... sorry fan, it’s better to share his/her opinion. Personal worse moments: “The Lord ofthe Rings” trilogy (lamest dialogues in film history and equally lame plot), “Blade Runner” (sorry, fascinating aesthetics, but the film bores me to death) and “Alien”.

So after watching it, facing the review of “Prometheus” was a scary challenge to me, because I can only describe it as a wonderfully looking but amazingly empty, even silly film. Many sci-fi films are ok with just providing a futuristic landscape/looks, ultra-cool guns and “toys” and tones of action and special effects. While others promise a much deeper, usually existentialist experience. “Prometheus” tries both, but fails, miserably, on the second category.

I was deeply relieved when I read on the blogosphere (if you speak Spanish, don’t miss this overlong & relentless review) I’m not alone thinking “Prometheus” is a conceptual disaster. Many claim, as I do, the film is a just collection of scenes (mostly impressive in terms of visual experience) with very little/zero coherency. “Prometheus” should be used in script writing classes as one of the best possible examples of what’s an awful script, written by Damon Lindelof (“Lost” series) or at least one full of plot-holes. 

Examples are nearly infinite and can be divided in several categories. First, we have the “funny ones”, summarized on the shocking composition of the space mission crew and their absolutely ridiculous behaviour. A special “recognition” for the biologist and the geologist lost on the "labyrinth" (no spoiling). How on Earth (or planet LV-223) could they have been selected for such an important expedition when they aren't able to distinguish right from left? The amount of stupid mistakes is huge (without helmets, really?). They take incredible risks for being such a bunch of scientific experts. And the lack of communication or vigilance is puzzling (no matter how attractive some casual sex with Charlize Theron might sound).   

Second, we have the ones that can be labelled as “providers of some emotion and/or action”. Sci-fi can be cold, too cold sometimes, so I guess even a well-known director like Ridley Scott (or Lindelof) thought a few scenes of “personal motivations” would be needed for reaching a bigger audience. But they made me blush of embarrassment. The character played by Noomi Rapace is supposedly the best scientist, yet is faith (horrible flashbacks included) which moves her to discover what? That the Christian God was all a lie? Action/tension scenes are quite spectacular but are also quite dumb. The impact of the abortion scene is ruined why the not-so-advanced technology and the surreal behaviour post-surgery. I already mentioned our dumb & dumber (geologist and biologist) scenes. One of them even comes back. I could keep writing for long. Death among the expedition is (that’s a common fault on action films) treated poorly: on that scene I'm devastated because I lost my husband/boyfriend, next scene I'm kicking some ass. Some secondary roles are just there to add a silly joke (the captain assistants) to the film, but they don't make the spectator laugh much, they just add confusion and implausibility to a film that lacks tones of congruence.

And third, we have the “pretentious ones”. I'm using that word because I'm convinced either director or screenwriter put it there just for the sake of giving an aura of knowledge, relevance, message (won't go much further on it's Christian message) or a "coolness factor". Some could be interesting and intriguing, but while few are left behind, bizarrely, from scene to scene, others are simply forgotten during its development. So, at the end, are the engineers our Gods, they created us? What's the black liquid? Why the engineers behave that way? Why the aliens appear? Someone could explain the robot behaviour? I believe they tried to mix many things and offer two different directions for the movie: the existential plot about the origin of mankind with the action/horror/thriller film that is full of references to the "Alien" saga. The result is simply incoherent, and kills the potential of the film, or at least its capacity to be entertaining.

Only positive points on the film are the visuals, including planet designs and scenarios, and Michael Fassbender, again excellent and scary although his role is among the trickiest ones of the film. But that is not enough to save "Prometheus" from being a disaster. And sorry, but I won't buy the argument that everything will be revealed on the sequel, obviously announced on it. No, that's a despicable trick to justify the lack of ideas (or with the purpose of making more money). In my case at least, after such an awful film, I'm not interested in seeing what's coming next.

SCORE: 3/10

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Marley", king of reggae's hagiography


I can imagine how hard has be making a film on such an icon as Bob Marley. We are talking about a universal legend, a myth that goes beyond the human being, the musician, his influence and his legacy, including the social and political side. But considering the potential of the material and what a good filmmaker is Kevin Macdonald, I can only qualify this film as a big disappointment. 

Labelled as the "definitive life story" of the Jamaican musician and world icon, "Marley" is not much more aside an extremely long, lush and epic hagiography. Using a strictly biographical account, from childhood to death, based on tones of footage and bits of interviews from the people who knew him close, the rockumentary evolves steadily, but without anything really remarkable, revelatory or just engaging for the spectator. It's a very comfortable work for Macdonald and Marley fans. Most of the interventions are annoying in their emptiness. Marley is merely described, there's little depth on his behaviours, thoughts, attitudes...

Even without being a fan or someone who enjoys reggae, there are things I know about Marley, several moments that should be relevant but are surprisingly ignored on the documentary. Needless to say, I suspect these omissions are made on purpose, so the film can move smoothly, without conflicting facts. It's a very shy, academic approach to a myth.

Despite the second half of its runtime focus on his politic involvement, what we receive is just partial, biased. What about the black panthers, or the unity of black people? The most casual listener can recognize a level of political commitment or commentary in his lyrics, something that is criminally hidden in the documentary (music in particular is vastly neglected in this documentary). What about Robert Mugabe? We see his enthusiasm for the independence of Zimbabwe, but nothing about the instrumentalisation of his music and image by a dictatorship? He was indeed a symbol of reconciliation for a violently divided Jamaica. But her immediate past, before fame and music recognition wasn't really a paradigm of peace, love and understanding. We see some (very interesting) footage about the arrival of Halie Selassie to Jamaica, so we get to know a bit about the rastafari movement/belief, but why there's nothing about Selassie's death when Marley even composed a song, "Jah Live" about it? Won't even start talking about the issue of his "several relationships" and extended offspring (Cedella and Ziggy Marley might be the only exceptions, with a couple of more substantial comments) but is sad the director overlooks the question. Marley was a very complex person, therefore a fascinating character to make a film about. Not just a pleasant hagiography.

In my opinion, "Marley" suffers from wanting too much to be the "complete story" without choosing a focus. Musician? Political activist? Human being? Icon? Macdonald tries to talk about everything, but he is unable to expose more than a few facts, tidbits that conform an excessively long film of 140 minutes without articulating a relevant portrait of a character like the Jamaican legend. Will surely please the fans, but it is, sadly, a failed film.

SCORE: 5/10

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Discoverer 45: new indie findings

A rainy Sunday deserves great new indie proposals, so here you have, enjoy!

The Spook School. The image on your left completely caught my eye. Is the cover of 7" "Here We Go/Cameraman", the latest release (out now in Cloudberry) from this DIY four-piece band from Edinburgh (Scotland again). Active since 2011, they released their lovely (check it out!) first single "History/Hallam" in March, followed by a homemade EP of demos entitled "Are You Who You Think You Are?" A small collection of gorgeous indiepop lo-fi tunes, delicate, sweet, vocally irresistible (hear "Cameraman and fall in love). See? Artwork matters. Thanks to it, I found The Spook School.     
Boarders. It's kind of frustrating the little amount of information I have found on this six-piece group from Melbourne. Because judging from their amazing music the Australians deserve a longer account of their short history. A first EP "Flower Drum" in 2010, a couple of songs this year and a compilation entitled "Vintage 2011" just out now at their bandcamp. So I will have to focus on the music. Which is outstanding. Jangle pop made in heaven, with stunning dreamy guitars and vocal harmonies. If you love The Pains of Being Pure at Heart this band is for you. Or if you just love the best indepop, go check them quickly!
The Bilinda Butchers. Michael and Adam are "the butchers" a duo from San Francisco who obviously love My Bloody Valentine, and in particular her vocalist, Bilinda Butcher. Formed in 2010, two EPs, "Regret, Love, Guilt, Dreams" in June of 2011 and "Goodbyes", in August of 2012, is the melancholic, sophisticated, moody and haunting repertoire they have so far. Atmospheric dream-pop with a lightweight electronic pulse and droned-out vocals. Check them out now. You can download their songs naming your price at their bandcamp.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Killing Yourself To Live", Myth America?

Killing Yourself To Live: 85% of a True Story- Chuck Klosterman

Misleading advertising on a book again. After enjoying "Fargo Rock City", a work where auto-biography and music are blended with pleasant results (yet also some concerns) it was a matter of time I was going to read another Klosterman's. "Killing Yourself To Live" seemed the ideal choice, being built around the premise of Spin's magazine feature on death rock icons. A road trip through "Myth America" by a passionate music commentator looked great. But that's not what the book exactly offers.

Unfortunately, America's most famous rock and roll death places, from where the plane with Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly crashed to where Kurt Cobain's shot himself, is a mere excuse to talk, primarily, about something else.

That something else is, of course, Chuck Klosterman. "Killing Yourself..." is in reality a not very subtle dose of the writer's obsessions, in particular his troubled relationships and the confusion provoked by them. This might sound like Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity", this time on a car through the States, but believe me, it doesn't have the British's book charms. And no, I won't say this can be compared to gonzo journalism either, even if there's some booze and drug situation involved. No way.

Don't get me wrong, the book is very enjoyable and, thanks to his recognisable prose and what he is talking about, meaningful to many. But Klosterman has a serious issue with digression. "Fargo Rock City" suffered from that. But this one has several parts where its practically ruined because of that. The reader will quickly have the feeling there's no focus.
And damn it (sorry) but Klosterman can really be engaging when he talks about music. The best parts on "Killing Yourself..." to me are about Radiohead's Kid A (spectacular), the Chelsea Hotel or the brave (and so true) comment on Nirvana's end and the creation of Kurt Cobain's myth. But he shifts, better said hides, these sorts of opinions in between an overwhelming amount of pages that go back and forth through his three most significant relationships by then.... and the music becomes just the background of the book, sadly.

Why the death of a rock star is the "smartest" move any musician can do? Why do they matter that much to us? I'm afraid we didn't know. Klosterman wasn't that interested in his own premise.

SCORE: 5,75/10

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fanfarlo fills Barcelona with light & great music

Fanfarlo. Sala Apolo, October 14th, Barcelona

Simon and Amos in Barcelona.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
I was dying to see Fanfarlo live, probably since I heard "Reservoir", their debut album, for the first time. And despite "Rooms Filled With Light", also a good record, still has to grow to have the impact their first one had on me, attending the gig was mandatory.

"Lenslife", "Tightrope" and "Feathers" opened the gig in Barcelona at a happily (didn't expect that, being a Sunday night) full Sala Apolo. It was a wonderful way to start. Three good songs that blossomed live, into a more vibrant, dreamy tunes, instantly catchy yet elaborated. More passion and less brain.

Cathy Lucas, violins & keys.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
Quickly arrived the first highlight with "I'm A Pilot" a soaring indiepop gem. First goosebumps of the night while trying to reach the glorious chorus along with (the always-in-movement) singer Simon Balthazar. If the concert had ended there, it would have been worth it already.

Luckily there was a lot more to come. "Grey & Gold" followed, being one of the several new tunes presented in Barcelona, announcing the arrival of a new album in 2013 (terrific!!), which sounded promising. Then came "Bones" and "Tunguska". Trumpets, saxophone, violins, guitars, keyboards, rhythm, double and triple vocals. Overall, quite a lot to look and listen at, and a lot of joy (without hiding melancholy) is what their songs offer. "The Walls Are Coming Down", a explosion of indiepop perfection. If you have blood in your veins, you'll end singing its chorus.
Simon tuning his guitar.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed

On the equator of the gig, we heard another new (and excellent) number, "Cell Song",  followed by another unmissable track from "Reservoir", "Comets". Sorry if I begin to repeat myself, but that album is a modern classic, so full of splendid tunes, as the superb "Finish Line", coming after "Deconstruction", with its epic crescendo, proved again.

The last section of the concert opened with "Dig" followed by the great "Luna" and a super-upbeat "Landlocked", another new one that has "single potential" written all over. The happy band seemed to put an end to the gig with the lovely "Shiny Things".

Trumpet solo in BCN.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
But very soon they returned with a short of encore with "The Sea", announced as a genuine première for Barcelona but maybe the less inspired of the new songs presented (or maybe it was just misplaced on the setlist, being that close to end of the gig), followed by the unbeatable "Harold T. Wilkins". Oh! How many years waiting to hear (and sing, and dance to) that song live! As expected (dreamed) it sounded lush, fierce, pure melody and vitality. The perfect closure for a great gig.
Setlist of the gig.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed

Fanfarlo played with enthusiasm and energy. Don't believe Simon drank enough whisky to consider that was the reason. Don't believe it had something to do with the incense either. They just seem to be that passionate with their music. So that's what their music transmits to the listener. Using the title of their last record, they brought light, they filled Apolo with their light on Sunday.

Finally saw them live. I guarantee you, it won't be the last time.

"The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake", on desolation row

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake (Trilobites, Spanish translation) Breece D'J Pancake

"I give you my word of honor that he is merely the best writer, the most sincere writer I've ever read. What I suspect is that it hurt too much, was no fun at all to be that good. You and I will never know."
Kurt Vonnegut on Breece D'J Pancake

You read words like these from a wonderful author like Vonnegut (among several others, all acclaiming the completely unknown writer) and you cannot escape from curiosity, so you put the name on the "search list", and, eventually, you get your hands over its work. In the case of Pancake, his only book, as he took his life when he was just 26. Only 12 short fiction stories, six previously published.

His stories are unusual. The environment, that hostile West Virginia (where he lived) is scary and desolated. And the characters involved in their tales are people who might not feel miserable, but look like it for reader. Life is a trap, and doesn't seem to be much hope out there either, so it's not really worth the trying.  And the ones who try, like the "former young punk" Colly in the title story "Trilobites" return as "I was so damned mad". And the third recurrent element in Pancake's stories is violence. Guns are everywhere, and even when there are no physical acts, the threat of violence is ever-present. 

But these three factors alone couldn't make me qualify this book as unusual. What strikes me the most, for the good and the bad, is the tone of this collection. Pancake's prose is oblique, sometimes odd, even dreamy, and almost always painful. It's hard to put in words, but the author is capable of creating a mood and making you feel uncomfortable while he describe these mundane and sad lives, without really giving us much information or concrete detail. A couple of stories are even hard to specify what are really about, but the sense of damage and reading about damaged people is notorious. Depression and frustration are the words that comes to my mind. And seeing how Pancake took his life, it's puzzling. Frightening.

Being honest, I couldn't say I enjoyed reading "Trilobites" a lot. To me it was about sensations and not really about stories. But I wouldn't dare to criticise this book either, as I admit that in terms of impact, this book keeps going in my mind. Very peculiar and captivating stuff. Read it with care.

SCORE: 6/10

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Taken", violence, absurdity and Liam Neeson


Dear Liam Neeson,

Why did you become involved in such a disgrace of a film? You are such a talented and respected actor, with an incredible screen presence... why? Oh why? There was no need for it. "Taken" is a ridiculous film, almost from start to finish. Excuse me, no, that's not accurate, Liam. It gets worse as the movie goes on... to unbelievable levels. Put it simple, is an atrocity. I just don’t get what you are doing on such an awful movie.

Because Liam, don’t you realize the only argument “Taken” has is you? Your presence? I'm amazed director Pierre Morel didn't care a bit about the words he put on your mouth, or about the excuse (usually defined as the plot) needed to justify an absurd and violent choreography of scenes. A bit less amazed (he’s not my favourite director precisely), but still puzzled on how Luc Besson co-wrote this script. Honestly, is there any?

Liam, I'm sorry to tell you that, I respect you too much, but I have seen Charles Bronson’s movies that are more consistent than “Taken”. I'm using Bronson’s reference due to the amount of violence the film has and the message, based on revenge, that reveals a quite scary ideology. Everything is justified in order to save your daughter. Even the killing of innocent people. I'm frightened you were interested in being involved in a film like this one. It also scares the hell out of me to think many critics have considered this movie entertaining... There's something wrong with you guys...

Anyway, you chose to get involved on the film, maybe you thought it was interesting, or challenging, to play such an “over-the-limits” role. But didn't you realise the whole story is simply ridiculous? You are a retired agent, have you counted how many people do you kill on the film? Just you, alone? Do you realise you almost run a marathon surrounding river Seine? How a single man can get away with that level of destruction without being prosecuted by French authorities? And how can you have such a silly daughter? Won’t say nothing about her “peculiarity” (no spoiling) but it is a very pathetic reason to keep the movie going.

In just one sentence: didn't you realise “Taken” was a very stupid action film? Because that’s what it is, Liam. A very dumb, embarrassing movie. No one could have saved it from that conclusion. Not even you, Liam. Which makes even more worrying you agreed on being part on “Taken 2”. Disturbing.

SCORE: 1,5/10

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Discoverer 44: new indie findings

New Sunday proposals are here for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

The New Tigers. Thanks to the excellent blog The Jangle Box I have another reason to love Finland: this quartet from the ever-pretty city of Turku. Active since late 2008 (seems the origin of the band was a wedding), they released a debut EP in 2010. After many gigs and some studio recordings, their first, self-titled album arrived on September 2011. And now a split single with the Swedish band Top Sound, covering their song "I Have Been Replaced". Using the fuzz as an envelope in which they hide the brightest melodies, or mix the immediacy of lush pop with sparse moments or sonic blasts, the Tigers are shoegazer magicians.

The Pear Traps. Among the best bands reaching my inbox lately there's this Chicago group, formed after a Craiglist ad in early 2009. After a self-titled EP in 2011, here comes "The Elsewhere" EP, four haunting tunes that immediately recalls Real Estate's masterpiece album "Days". Laid-back indie-pop/rock where guitars sound shimmery and adventurous, where the storm can be as warm as the sun, and where lo-fi aesthetics moves forward from its "comfort zone", announcing the promise of something very big. A name to follow close.   

Pure Bathing Culture. Let's go to Portland, OR, to meet Daniel Hindman and Sarah Versprille. The duo began writing songs together in 2009. After two years, they moved to "Portlandia", and officially started their music project, quickly getting the attention of multi-instrumentalist/producer Richard Swift. With his help, they released their self-titled debut EP this spring, and what a debut it is! Pure retro-pop gold! Sorry for the excess of exclamation marks, but it's hard to contain my enthusiasm! Can you imagine Beach House leaving the "darkness"? Or Tennis looking to the 80s? Sophisticated, lush, charming. Awww, the joy of great pop music.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Under Great White Northern Lights", The White Stripes on the road

Under Great White Northern Lights

I'm not a fan of The White Stripes, never been more than a casual listener who enjoys some of their songs. But I do not hesitate to recognize them as one of the most intriguing and exciting bands of the last 20 years. I would have loved to see them live. So, as some sort of consolation prize, I was really looking forward for this rockumentary, that films their 2007's very special tour through Canada, commemorating its 10 years of existence as a band.

"Under Great White Northern Lights" is mainly a concert film, mixed with a bunch of "behind the scenes" material. The "gigs" scenes are frankly stunning. Director Emmett Malloy really does an impressive job of capturing the rawness and uniqueness of the duo. Jack White is mind-blowing on stage, he might be the most significant artist music has given in latest years. Their songs, they way they perform are also helped by their minimalistic but suggestive visual looks, something that Malloy interprets and takes benefit of it. Red, white, black. Almost every song (a very diverse selection, showing the many sides of the band) performance on the film is a blast

Aside from the tunes live, the other focus of interest of this film is the challenge of playing in every single province of Canada, and also doing so on not just the usual venues. Jack and Meg did play on a bus, cafés, a bowling alley and even in front of a privileged cast of Indian tribal elders. That particular scene is shocking and amusing. 

But "Under Great White Northern Lights" has a problem, quite serious one. It gets boring, as a film. While the songs are amazing, the leading actors (the "characters", Jack and Meg) or the plot is quite disappointing. Sure, the couple's relationship (extensively written, discussed and documented about) is quite special, but their dynamic in front of the camera leaves the spectator (or at least me, I already said I'm not a fan) quite indifferent. 

Ok, then let's argue Malloy is not interested in exploring the sentimental side of The White Stripes. That's a very reasonable choice (then I ask myself, why the latest, deeply touching scene?). But the interview scenes, about their career, the way they make music, about playing live, are far from being significant either. Meg is silent (her shyness is brutal, very shocking), but is the more talkative Jack who doesn't show/explain much to be remembered either. The opportunity of having an insight on the Stripes is missed. And considering how special was this band, so ambitious and yet so simple (the backbones of music), and how complex was their relation (something you can speculate while watching, but is just that, mere speculation), "Under Great White Northern Lights" to me is a great film concert documentary, but also a seriously missed opportunity. Except if you were looking just for songs of The White Stripes performed live.

SCORE: 5,75/10

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Indie Anthology 20: essential songs

After some hiatus, here's the next tune of our very personal Anthology. A song too infuse you some energy, some hope, some courage, some comfort (I believe) as you will realise there's still people willing to fight. This is also a modest homage to them.

Song: French Disko
Artist: Stereolab
Year: 1993

These are confusing, frustrating and exhausting times. Times when you think, in many occasions on a single day, "I want to quit", "I want to give up". When I discovered this (for me) Stereolab's timeless classic I was a Political Science university student seeing how President Bush II decided to go to war on Iraq being followed by our equally repulsive president Aznar, seeking for his 15 minutes of fame. "French Disko", with its vibrant structure, its inner tension, and Laetitia Sadier's lyrics (below the video, please read them) calling to arms on that unforgettable chorus "La Resistance!", was the perfect (personal) soundtrack for those days of protest and (modest) rebellion. Ironically, almost a decade after, the song is still perfectly suitable considering how the world is completely insane today. But now it has another, unexpected lecture, personally. Its a song of hope, one to stick with on days/periods like the ones many are living right now, in which we would like to hide/disappear/give up. Don't do it. Keep fighting.

Though this world's essentially an absurd place to be living in
It doesn't call for total withdrawal

I've been told it's a fact of life
Men have to kill one another
Well I say there are still things worth fighting for

La Resistance!

Though this world's essentially an absurd place to be living in
It doesn't call for (bubble withdrawal)

It said human existence is pointless
As acts of rebellious solidarity
Can bring sense in this world

La Resistance!

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Hollywood", Bukowski at the movies

Hollywood- Charles Bukowski

As previously announced, my next literary stop was going to be, thanks to John and Dan Fante, another taste of the peculiar talents of enfant terrible Charles Bukowski. And I chose a very singular book to do so, "Hollywood", one of his latest works, and that aside from a novel could also be categorized as the "screenplay's cut" of Charles Bukowski.

Under the well-known alter ego of Henry Chinaski, Bukowski transforms his thoughts and views about the filmmaking process of "Barfly", directed by Barbet Schroeder in late 80's, with a script written by him, on a novel. On a Chinaski novel. But this is not the chaotic and dark (frequently depressive), wicked and wild Chinaski. He's still a sardonic, drunken and cynical character, who aside from drinking and writing spends his time (and money) at the horse races. But he has also grown-up, and in this occasion behaves more like a humorous witness of all the crazy situations and weird people involved in the making of the film. The result is a lighter and funnier book, probably without the substance and vitriol of his trademark straight prose, but full of rewarding moments and an excellent, very engaging rhythm. It will grab you, guaranteed.

Throughout a collection of anecdotes and surreal situations, Bukowski displays an accurately funny dissection of that parallel world known as "Hollywood". He once defined "Hollywood" as a novel of "outrage" in an interview. ''I guess I never believed Hollywood - I heard it's a horrible place - but when I went there, I found out how really horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible it was, black and cutthroat". There's a bit for everyone, indeed. Actors, directors, producers, journalists, distributors. Its a complete monsters parade, full of egos, economic interests, delusions of grandeur. Bukowski hides some names, but others are revealed without much contemplations. The likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Sean Penn, and "Barfly" starring actors Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke are portrayed with the merciless tongue & pen of Chinaski. There's only one exception, aside from Chinaski's wife: Jon Pinchot, alter ego of Barbet Schroeder. There's even an evident tenderness on the way the writer narrates his incredible sacrifices and efforts to make the film go along.

Together with Pinchot, probably the only honest man on "Hollywood", there's another moment on the book where Chinaski lets his guard off: when attending various scenes of the filming and gets a bit jealous, at the same time touched, by the actors that are representing his own story. It's a wonderful account, without affectations, of the past, his youth, the writer has left behind.

More linear, with a clear and actual plot for what's usual with Bukowski, "Hollywood" is a testimony of what a sort of miracle was that "Barfly" became a movie, considering all the unbelievable situations the people involved on the film had to suffer, but foremost is a very amusing, fast-paced and engaging novel of literature and its hard relation with cinema, about an industry with little glamour and much to be scared about, and the weird (very weird people) that is part of them.

SCORE: 7,5/10

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Discoverer 43: new indie findings

It's Sunday, so here you have the usual dose of new indie proposals. Proceed with care, they are highly addictive!

Big Wave. Watched the infectious video of "Only You", single due to November, on the ultra reliable friends Indie Pop Saved My Life. I immediately ran to hunt for more of this five-piece band hailing from Torquay, Devon, UK, and living all together. Their first EP, "Another Year or Two", appeared in November 2011. This June released "The Roots of Love (Come Tumbling Down)" plus the tune "Dying on the Vine" on August. A collection of vital indiepop, driven by euphoric guitars and contagious vocals exploding in meteoric choruses. A band to love and dance to! If you are not made of stone, that is.
Literature. Sometimes its the name of band what gets your attention. That has been the case with this group from Austin, Texas, active since 2010, when they released their debut 7" "Cincinnatti", followed, on January of 2012 by their first LP (grab it at the price you want) , "Arab Spring" (another name that made me curious). Glad I checked them, because their music is a formidably catchy, urgent and carefree example of why power pop and pop-punk are styles needed in this planet. Their music reinvigorates the spirit and makes you smile, so for a while, the world looks like a brighter place.

Pale Lights. And our third proposal comes from New York, being the latest project, started on Fall 2011, of Phil Sutton, former member of the indispensable Comet Gain, after the hiatus of his latest band, the already recommended here The Soft City. The first combo (a five piece group with members of Soft City, Crystal Stilts and Knight School) that Sutton fronts (guitars and leading vocals), since May we have their first EP out. Four songs that are pure jangle pop, romantic bliss. The Go-Betweens, Felt, Comet Gain and many others will come to mind. Indeed, sounds like a classic.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"A Skin Too Few", the mystery of Nick Drake

A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake

How can you make a music documentary when the subject, the band/artist you want to talk about has no "documents", aside songs, of course, on which you can support your film? You probably have only two options: one is filling the gap with hundreds of opinions/assessments from music journalists, other musicians and "cool people" in general. The other choice is just focus on the people that really knew the artist, and we the story is told, end the film (in only 48 minutes!). That's the path taken by Jeroen Berkvens on "A Skin Too Few", an impressionistic and very very intimate attempt to shed some light into the superb English folk singer/songwriter Nick Drake.

With the exception of some off-voices at the very beginning of the rockumentary, pointing out the qualities and legacy of Nick Drake's music, and the short comment from mod-father Paul Weller, "A Skin Too Few" the film develops using the chronology of the musician's short life (1948-1974). So we will begin in Burma, where the artist was born, to follow his childhood in Warwickshire, then teenage and adult years in Cambridge and London, and finally back home in Tanworth before where he sadly took his life (accidentally or not) when he was just 26. The insights are provided by his older sister's Gabrielle Drake (who is the pivotal element of the film), with the occasional comments of the recorded voices of his now defuncts parents. There are not a lot of anecdotes or trivial moments from childhood memories, and music appears quite soon on the conversation.  

As we enter the adult period on which Nick Drake becomes an incredibly gifted musician, we also get the opinions of a couple of friends, his producer, arranger, sound engineer, and the photographer of his albums sleeves. That's how we get to know about his guitar playing style, the presence of music on his family, the wonder of recording his songs (the faces on the scene with collaborators John Wood and Robert Kirby says it all, the joy of recording the music, but also the utter sadness of his finale) and also his disastrous first and last tour, the lack of commercial success and his depression and retirement from society. 

I used the word impressionistic before because the film doesn't want to speculate about the reasons of his death or lack of success, but setting a mood, a tone, an imagery. His tunes are the only soundtrack, and the director uses the landscapes of London, the Warwickshire countryside as well as his house and even the room, packed with the few pictures and memories available, as the only visual anchorage. It's quite amazing that with so little, Berkvens is able to be quite touching with his movie.

Being such an honest documentary, don't expect the film providing any revelation. If any, it confirms Nick Drake mystery: no one really knew him, so not even the closest testimonies possible are able to explain how such a talented person was so troubled with the world. Maybe it was too sensitive for it, as his sister's say? We will never know. But at least, his gorgeous music will never leave us. In that regard, a final praise of the closing scene, where the composition of images of Tanworth with "Northern Sky", suddenly reduced to just his voice is an enduring and compelling closure.

Too short (don't think some comments about his music's legacy and influence would have harmed the film) but very moving and special documentary. Highly recommendable. Please listen to Nick Drake.

SCORE: 7/10