Friday, August 14, 2009

“Disposing of dead people is a public service, whereas you’re in all sorts of trouble if you kill someone while they’re still alive.”

I realize that I've haven't posted anything in a long time. I wish I could say I'm sorry about that, but I'm not. Sure I've read books, seen movies, and heard music worth telling other people about, but you know what? I didn't feel like writing anything, so I didn't. And I feel A-OK about that.

But. But. BUT. I just watched movie that I need to tell anyone and everyone about. I can't not spread the word about Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore), and all of its insane, batshit, hilarious glory.

What is Cemetery Man, you ask? Well, it's a movie that is something of a combination of horror, comedy, romance, erotica, drama, and giallo all wrapped up in some fever dream Freudian nightmare. Just about the only thing not in this movie was incest, which is really only noteworthy because I'm pretty sure this it's at least partially French.

Rupert Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of a small town cemetery. He lives in a dilapidated house in the cemetery, along with his assistant Gnaghi (an absolutely amazing François Hadji-Lazaro), a bloated, dim-witted man-child who only communicates through a series of grunts. As is explained in the opening, people who are buried in the cemetery tend to rise from the grave within a week of being buried, making part of Dellamorte's job to matter-of-factly brandish an antique revolver in order to shoot any undead in the face at a moment's notice (or, as the case may be, whack them in the face with a sharpened spade).

Beyond that set-up, it's hard to figure out what else to recap of the plot, since the movie has a tendency to take bizarre turns frequently and at regular intervals. There's some stuff about impotence, impending nuptials involving the decapitated head of a teenage girl, a Death Incarnate-urged murderous rampage, and Buñuel-esque love story revolving around a woman who keeps reappearing despite Dellamorte repeatedly killing her. And violence. Oh the violence. The movie appears to be fairly low budget, but it is filled to the brim with graphic and gratuitous practical special effects (including exploding heads, lots of flesh-eating, and at least one scene of Dellamorte smashing a zombie nun's face into a bloody pulp).

I wish I could present something of a coherent explanation of what Cemetery Man is like, or even what it's about, but given its tendency to spin off into wild, unpredictable territory, I feel like it's nigh-impossible to do that. One thing to note, though, is that the movie never comes across like it is cobbled together from multiple narratives. Despite its crazy narrative, it does come across as basically linear. The movie moves from point A to point B to point C and so on perfectly smoothly, it just happens that points A, B, and C are vastly different from one another. But the movie never seems jumbled or mashed together.

At least part of the reason I loved this movie as much as I did was its huge stylistic debt to the giallo movies of the 1970s. I intend to write up a post entirely devoted to giallo at some point (we'll see if that ever happens), but basically giallo movies are horror or suspense films made in Italy primarily in the 1970s known for their overly stylized look, garish colors, intense musical scores, elaborate and gruesome set pieces, and their tendency to eschew logical narrative in favor of a typically surreal atmosphere. Cemetery Man more or less follows that template. Intense, almost suffocating visuals. A bizarre, dream-like narrative. Gruesome and stylized violence. And just all around amazing.

[After babbling about how great Cemetery Man is after watching it, my opinion was confirmed by my friends Conor, who said, "Yeah - that movie is fucking terrific, even if it's more than a little totally inexplicable. You're right - it's like they jammed together a horror movie, a love story, a Bruce Campbell style B-grade movie, and some strange Euro art film all into one movie. It's awesome," and Brencho who said, in part, "I love Cemetery Man…ahh, fuck…gross…"]

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Many of the boxes come with halos."

"I finally learned how to come into possession of an encyclopedia. I already own one now - the whole thing contained in three glass vials. Bought them in a science psychedeli. Books are no longer read but eaten, not made of paper but of some informational substance, fully digestible, sugar-coated. I also did a little browsing in a psychem supermarket. Arranged on the shelves are beautifully packaged low-calorie opinionates, gullibloons - credibility beans? - abstract extract in antique gallon jugs, and iffies, argumunchies, puritands and dysectasy. A pity I didn't have an interpreter. Psychedeli must be from psychedelicatessen. And the theoapotheteria on Sixth Avenue has to be a theological apothecary cafeteria, judging from the items on display. Aisles and aisles of absolventina, theopathine, genuflix, orisol. An enormous place; organ music in the background while you shop. All the faiths are represented too - there's christendine, antichristendine, ormuzal, arymanol, anabaptiban, methadone, brahmax, supralapsarian, suppositories, and zoroaspics, quaker oats, yogart, mishnameal and apocryphal dip. Pills, tablets, syrups, elixirs, powders, gums - they even have lollipops for the children."

-Stanislaw Lem
The Futurological Congress

Are you hallucinating?

"There were fewer rats now, they must have walked off somewhere. Only four remained. At the feet of Professor Trottelreiner, who was sound asleep, they were playing bridge, using his cards. Bridge? Even with the unusually high concentration of hallucinogens in the air, was it possible for rats to play bridge? Worried, I looked over the fattest one's shoulder. He was holding his cards helter-skelter, and didn't even follow suit. It was alright then...I gave a sigh of relief."

-Stanislaw Lem
The Futurological Congress

Friday, April 10, 2009

Urgent Message! The World's Greatest Sinner returns to TCM!

Many moons ago, I reviewed The World's Greatest Sinner after catching it on late night TCM. To briefly recap, the movie follows a man named Hilliard who quits his job, forms a new political party, embraces rock'n'roll, declares himself a god, seduces the young and old alike, and engages in increasingly bizarre activities. And in reality, the movie is so much stranger than it already sounds. It's an amazingly bizarre no-budget movie from 1962, with all music done by a pre-Mothers of Invention Frank Zappa. For anyone with a tolerance for cinematic weirdness, I can't recommend it enough.

The downside to recommending this movie, though, is that it's not available on DVD. Which isn't necessarily all that suprising, given how strange it is, how low budget it is, and how incomprehensible the filmmaking can be at times. But all those things help to contribute to its downright, shit-your-pants amazingness.

But good news! TCM will be playing it again next Friday night, April 17th, at 2am (EST). See the TCM Underground website for more information. So mark your calendar's, find a friend who has cable, maybe get some booze, and hunker down for a fantasia of cult movie fantasticness. Miss it again, and who knows when you'll get another chance. (Probably never! Do you hear that? Never!)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

2nd Annual Progress Report

Well, another year has passed, and the Octopus Motor is still cooking. Who would have thought?

It's been a crazy year. I learned how to add pictures (oddly enough, I figured out how to add videos before I learned how to add pictures). I went through that whole Jandek phase (and I am still planning on continuing the 10-part Jandek review series, FYI). There were fruitful times (December and January were pretty good), and less fruitful times (last summer was pretty slow). I added that fancy new banner. But seriously, who cares? It's the Octopus Motor's 2nd anniversary, so that means another mix!

No videos this time around, we'll just stick with the embedded playlist this year. Enjoy the Octopus Motor's Cotton Anniversary Mix!

LT Tour Theme – Le Tigre (Feminist Sweepstakes, 2001)

Born out of the classic riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna's Le Tigre continue Bikini Kill's feminist infused rock. Decidedly more fun and dance oriented than its more incendiary punk predecessor, Le Tigre manages to preach feminism without being preachy. Silly and fun, but definitely never stupid, Le Tigre's music is always smart and always enjoyable. "LT Tour Theme" is the first song off their second album, Feminist Sweepstakes, and seemed like the perfect way to kick off the Cotton Anniversary Mix.

Take the Skinheads Bowling – Camper Van Beethoven (Telephone Free Landslide Victory, 1985)

I'm relatively new to Camper Van Beethoven, but from what I've heard, I really like it. This song is an amazing combination of punk and a sunny Sunday afternoon spent on the back porch with friends. And beers. Beers and friends. And hopefully no Skinheads. Cuz that'd be awkward.

I Against I – Bad Brains (I Against I, 1986)

This song is well over 20 years old, but just like the album is comes from, still sounds exciting and fresh. Throwing a variety of styles and influences into one big boiling hardcore pot, Bad Brains' music clips along at a pace that sounds like it's constantly on the verge of flying off the rails. It's no wonder Bad Brains are as revered as they are, their music has proven to be both influential and totally singular. No one can match their reggae and dub inflected hardcore punk.

Dr. Rock – Ween (The Pod, 1991)

Ween has to be one of my all time favorite bands (and concerts). There are few bands that are as talented, strange, unpredictable, and just plain awesome as Ween. "Dr. Rock" is off their second album, The Pod, which is the album that the duo famously claimed they wrote and recorded while under the influence of a severe Scotchgard huffing habit and a vicious case of mononucleosis. While I'm pretty sure the Scotchgard comment was a joke (though, I think the mononucleosis thing is real), The Pod is hands down the strangest and densest thing these guys have ever done. It may be uninviting at first, but I recommend spending a little time in Ween's Scotchgard fueled world. You won't regret it.

Chumbawa – The Detroit Cobras (Mink Rabbit or Rat, 1998)

One of the things I definitely regret never doing before leaving Michigan for Texas is seeing the Detroit Cobras in concert. All of their songs are garage rock covers of old obscure R&B singles, giving you music that is skuzzy, danceable, sexy, and fun. I have no doubt that they would put on an awesome show, and that I really missed out by not seeing them before I moved. Of course, they do in fact go on tour, so I guess I've still got a shot.

Little Babies – Sleater-Kinney (Dig Me Out, 1997)

Appropriately or not, Sleater-Kinney gets lumped in with the whole riot grrrl scene. While I have nothing against riot grrrl bands (I actually like quite a few of them), in the case of Sleater-Kinney, I can't help but feel like it's not entirely accurate. They not only can play the incendiary punk that characterized the scene, but they can bust out metal, hard rock, pop, and just about any other kind of music you can make with two guitars, a bass, and a drum set. It's a real shame they split a couple years back. They were definitely one of the best female rock bands out there.

Sealed with a Kiss – Deerhoof (Apple O', 2003)

For a while, about the time Apple O' was released, it seemed like Deerhoof were on top of the indie world. They basically play a vaguely experimental kind of fractured pop music, a sort of abrasive twee pop, complete with sickly sweet sounding tiny Asian girl vocalist. Ultimately, Deerhoof is pretty hit or miss for me, sometimes their weirdo twee noise pop falls completely flat for me, leaving me annoyed and irritated. But then again, sometimes they hit on that perfect balance of noise, sweetness, and pop sensibility. And that's exactly the kind of song "Sealed with a Kiss" is: perfectly, enjoyably sweet.

Sing Swan Song – CAN (Ege Bamyasi, 1972)

A lot of the songs on CAN's Ege Bamyasi slide by in a sort of smooth, lazy, mid-tempo breeze. It's extremely easy to sit back and let their jazz-influenced prog rock (or "Krautorck" if you're feeling fancy) glide by in the background, missing most of what is going on in a given song. CAN's music is almost deceptively complicated; one semi-attentive listen will reveal how much is actually going on in their music. In that way, Ege Bamyasi is almost like two albums. One you can play in the background or one that can grab your full attention. However you listen to it, CAN's Ege Bamyasi is an incredible album.

Space – The Beta Band (Heroes to Zeros, 2004)

The Beta Band are almost like a pop version of CAN, crafting music that sounds both complicated and easy. Blending acoustic sounds, electronic flourishes, and indie rock guitars into rollicking yet smooth pop music, the Beta Band manage to walk the line between being an extremely interesting and extremely easy listening experience. All of their music is worth listening to, and much like Sleater-Kinney, it's a real shame they split after releasing Heroes to Zeros (oddly, the only album the band ever expressed satisfaction with).

Snakedriver – The Jesus and Mary Chain (The Speed of Sound, 1993)

This song is pretty emblematic of the Jesus and Mary Chain's music. Distorted guitars. Detached and droning vocals. Slinky, aloof, retro cool. All wrapped around a song of bittersweet resignation. These guys are fucking cool. Cool as hell.

Black Rider #1 – Frank Black & the Catholics (Black Letter Days, 2002)

While I've never liked Frank Black's post-Pixies solo stuff too much, this song just kills. The mix of 50s and 60s rock'n'roll, honky tonk piano, and oddly inviting violent lyrics ("Come on in/it ain't no sin/take off your skin/and dance around in your bones") makes for an undeniably catchy song. I really have to be in the right mood to listen to Frank Black's other stuff, but I can always listen to this song. And I always have a gay old time.

4/10/05 - Sunday – Fantômas (Suspended Animation, 2005)

When I included Faith No More's "Surprise, You're Dead!" in last year's mix, I asked, "Is there anything that this guy [Mike Patton] hasn't done or can't do?" Fantômas is just one of many post-Faith No More projects Patton has going, and they all are infused with his unbridled experimentalism and just plain weirdness. I'm always willing to check something out as soon as I know he's involved. Certainly not for everyone, he's definitely someone I try to keep an eye on (easier said than done, though, with his seemingly hundreds of side and solo projects).

L Dopa – Big Black (Songs About Fucking, 1987)

I'd be hard pressed to think of someone who works harder at being as offensive, ugly, uninviting, and unpleasant as Steve Albini (his band after Big Black was called "Rapeman" after all). But the man does it so well! The sonic assault of Big Black, mixed with Albini's drier than dust, biting humor creates truly ugly and brutalizing music. Just about everything about Albini and his music is uncompromising, and it is all the better for it.

Politicians In My Eyes – Death (For the Whole World to See, 2009)

Even though their music was only finally released this year, Death actually came out of Detroit in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, the difficulties of promoting a trio of black brothers playing experimental, R&B influenced, hard rock, proto-punk in the early 70s proved too much. After recording an album and signing to Columbia, the Hackney brothers clashed with their label over the band name, eventually abandoning the project and moving to New England. An obvious precursor to punk bands like Bad Brains, their demo tapes have finally been released as For the Whole World to See. Read more in this excellent NYTimes article about them.

Crackity Jones –Pixies (Doolittle, 1989)

Short, fast, and more than a little spastic, "Crackity Jones" is a tiny burst of perfect weirdo college rock. Apparently, the song is about a crazy roommate Black Francis had while living in Puerto Rico. But listening to Francis convulsively yelp and howl his way through a very fast, and very brilliant, minute and a half, one wonders how he could have possibly been the "normal" roommate. Just how crazy was Jose Jones' story?

Everything is Fair – A Tribe Called Quest (The Low End Theory, 1991)

I'm not sure what I could say about Tribe. They are amazing. There is no bad time to listen to Tribe. They're like the little black dress of hip hop, they're good for any occasion.

Stereo – Pavement (Brighten the Corners, 1997)

I've always viewed Pavement as the quintessential 90s slacker band. I'm not sure if that view is entirely accurate, but it's hard to not see the slacker brilliance in a song like "Stereo." With its jangly guitars, meandering lyrics, and all around playfulness, "Stereo" sounds almost effortlessly clever, amusing, and downright silly. Which is exactly what I think of when I think of 90s slackers.

The Lung – Dinosaur Jr. (You're Living All Over Me, 1987)

The best way I know how to describe Dinosaur Jr.'s music is by saying it has a sort of lazy urgency. A laidback propulsiveness, if you will. I remember seeing Dinosaur Jr. on their reunion tour years ago. They did a few small shows to start the tour, and I was lucky enough to catch them at Ann Arbor's Blind Pig. They were loud, fast, and raucous. But they also seemed like they just woke up and didn't really know what was going on. The concert started late because the drummer, Murph, was downstairs at the 8Ball drinking and lost track of time. Bassist Lou Barlow broke a string, but apparently didn't have any back up basses, so he just sang the bass lines while a roadie replaced the strings. Lead singer and guitarist J Mascis looked like an older version of Garth Algar (seriously, compare this to this), and like he was on the verge of falling asleep while onstage. All this might suggest the show was bad, but it wasn't. It was easily one of the best shows I've ever seen. Loud, fast, totally kickass, and half asleep, that's just how these guys roll.

If I'm a Man – Burning Brides (Fall of Plastic Empire, 2001)

Undeniably a stupid song, there isn't much to say about "If I'm a Man." Everything by Burning Brides has the same balls out rock'n'roll aesthetic. It's noisy, kind of sloppy, definitely stupid, and completely fun. Oh, and they went to Juilliard. Go figure...

Chuggin' – Z-Rock Hawaii (Z-Rock Hawaii, 1996)

Z-Rock Hawaii is a one-off collaboration between Ween and Japanese noise-freaksters the Boredoms. And it is as weird, goofy, and amazing as that collaboration sounds. "Chuggin'" is easily one of the most straightforward and normal songs on the album. "Tuchus," for example, consists of undulating sounds, Japanese chanting, and one of the Ween bros repeating lines like "Tuchus/You got a nice tuchus" for a few minutes. This album is one of the weirdest and best things I've ever heard.

Beat me Daddy, Eight to the Bar – Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (Lost in the Ozone, 1971)

Oddly enough, this hard rocking, honky tonking, bar band hailed from Ann Arbor, MI. When you've got a band from a place like Ann Arbor playing music like Texas honky tonk, it usually doesn't end very well. They can come across as glib, like they're making fun of the music. Or they can seem painfully inauthentic (sort of like when a bunch of white people form a funk band). But Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen have an obvious love for the music they play, and they definitely have the musical chops to back it up. Lost in the Ozone is an album I sort of discovered by accident, but I'm glad I did. It's nonstop foot stomping brilliance.

Our Paths Will Cross Again – William Elliott Whitmore (Hymns for the Hopeless, 2003)

William Elliott Whitmore's music is characterized by sparse instrumentation (generally just an acoustic guitar or banjo and maybe some percussion), old Southern blues-esque lyrics (e.g. death, sin, regret), and most importantly that gravelly voice that sounds so old beyond its years. Whitmore's music seems both of an older time and yet timeless. "Our Paths Will Cross Again" is probably most hopeful song I've heard by Whitmore, and as great of a song as it is, his music has so much more to offer ("Digging my Grave" off of Ashes to Dust is probably my favorite). But I couldn't leave on too dour of a note...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh my god. Or: The craziest news no one cares about but me that I’ve heard in a long time

While on the phone with my brother Brad, trying to troubleshoot how to watch Michigan play Clemson in the first round of the NCAA tournament (with me living in Austin and him living in St. Paul, both of us got stuck with the Texas v. Minnesota game on TV), he mentioned that he had read that some Black Metal musician was being released from prison, but he didn't know who. I assumed it was Gaahl, former lead singer of Gorgoroth, because it seems like that guy is either going to or being released from prison every other week. But no, it wasn't Gaahl. It was Varg Vikernes! VARG VIKERNES IS BEING PAROLED! Hide your children, foreigners, and social progressives!

For those who don't know, here's a little background. Black Metal, and specifically Norwegian Black Metal, is a subgenre of extreme metal that has gained global notoriety for its almost cartoonish level of violence, sometimes on stage, but mostly off. Various musicians have been arrested for a variety of violent crimes that include murder, arson (specifically church burnings), kidnapping, and torture.

Varg Vikernes ascended to the dubious level of being the quintessential representative of all dangerous and violent actions in the Black Metal scene. Varg was not only a founding member of the scene in the early 90s, but was also member of the godfather of all Norwegian Black Metal bands, Mayhem. Performing under the pseudonym Count Grishnackh, Varg performed with Mayhem and released large amounts of music via an assortment of solo projects, establishing himself near the top of the Black Metal music and social world.

In 1993 Varg viciously and repeatedly stabbed Mayhem band mate Øystein Aarseth (stage name Euronymous) to death in the hallway of Aarseth's apartment building. When Varg was arrested, police found a massive cache of explosives complete with plans to blow up a leftist organization, Blitz, in Oslo. In 1994 Varg was charged and convicted of murdering Aarseth and for his involvement in a number of church burnings. Varg's infamous reaction to receiving the maximum sentence of 21 years was to simply smile.

Since his arrival in prison, Varg has continued to record and release music, mainly as Burzum, one of his solo incarnations. He has also written extensively on a number of far right wing topics, reinventing himself as something akin to a fascist, white-power thinker. (Though that Guardian article makes it sound like Varg has abandoned the right-wing philosophizing and is embracing humbleness.)

And now he is being released from prison after serving 16 years of his sentence. Crazy. I can't believe that they are letting him out early. Unless he has undergone some sweeping personality changes in prison, the guy is batshit crazy, racist as hell, and obviously dangerous. But what do I know? (Admittedly, very little.)

I've heard some Mayhem, but nothing from Varg's days, nor have I ever heard any of Varg's solo stuff. It's my understanding that arson, murdering, and hardcore xenophobia aside, Varg is an extremely talented musician. But I think I'll just stick to my Emperor and my Melechesh and my what have you, and try to keep my distance from people like Varg.

Thank you for reading this installment of "The craziest news no one cares about but me that I've heard in a long time." Here's a picture of Varg when he found out that he got that vacant apartment in your building. Enjoy!

“’Scream! Squeal!’ Those were the first words I heard you say.”

Everyone I know who has seen the Swedish film Let the Right One In (aka Låt den rätte komma in) has seen it multiple times. When it first came out in theaters, no less than four people I know went back for a second viewing almost immediately after the first. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to see that it was going to be released on DVD last Tuesday. I immediately threw it at the top of my Netflix queue, and got to experience Let the Right One In shortly thereafter.

Just to come straight out with it, does Let the Right One In live up to the uniformly positive reviews? Is it so good that it warrants going back to the theater the next weekend to watch it again? Yes. I think it is fair to say that Let the Right One is a modern masterpiece. It is the kind of movie that begs repeated viewing, not because it is too dense or confusing that multiple viewings are required to appreciate it, but simply because it is so good that you'll inevitably just want to watch it again.

Let the Right One In chronicles the burgeoning relationship between Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson). Oskar is a lonely and neglected 12 year old boy; the only attention he receives is in the form of bullying at the hands of a gang of classmates led by the cruel Conny. Eli is Oskar's enigmatic new neighbor, a 12 year old girl who is kept isolated in her apartment, appearing sporadically in the housing project's courtyard at night, often underdressed and barefoot in the snow. The movie depicts the quotidian horror of being the strange kid growing up, the day-to-day problems, both emotional and logistical, of being a preteen vampire girl, and the bond that grows between these two young isolated children.

Tomas Alfredson's direction is characterized by a near clinical level of precision. Every shot, every edit, lighting, and sound are all carefully and thoughtfully chosen and expertly executed. It is apparent that everything in Let the Right One In has large amounts of thought behind it. This over controlled, over thought style of filmmaking can (and often does) choke all the life out of a movie, but thankfully the excellent and naturalistic performances of all the actors, and especially the lead child actors, breath more than enough life into the movie. The excellent acting and writing give Alfredson more than enough leeway to carefully construct his film exactly the way he wants it, down to the tiniest detail.

Ultimately, one of Let the Right One In's greatest strength is its ability to be so many things all at once. While most films that try to span genres and blend tones end up being messy failures, Let the Right One In succeeds so greatly in large part because it isn't trying to be everything at once. By simply being what it is, by simply telling the story that it wants to tell, Let the Right One In manages to be that perfect blend of tones, themes, and genres without having to try. It is a love story, a coming of age story, a tense thriller, a suspenseful horror movie, and at times a pitch black comedy all at once, and succeeds at doing all these things extremely well.

There are so many things that can be said about Let the Right One In. So many scenes are packed with subtly and ambiguity that repeated viewings and post-movie discussions will inevitably uncover more and more layers to characters' internal and external worlds. Everything in the movie is so downplayed and implied to such great effect, that any time anything is presented explicitly it is jarring, heartbreaking, and/or horrifying.

I would love to say more, but for the sake of spoilers, I won't. I will say this, see Let the Right One In, and see it multiple times.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I’m sorry, I swear, but I doubt I’ll do better. Or: Lots of stuff about Prince.

After an uncharacteristically fruitful January (16 posts!), I really dropped the ball in February with that one lone post. I would like to promise that I'll pick up the pace again, but to be honest, I'm busy and I don't have anything particularly interesting to write about.

But in the meantime, to make up for it, I suggest you watch the following videos from An Evening with Kevin Smith, in which Smith recounts the week he spent at Paisley Park trying to make a documentary about Prince. And yes, Prince is as weird and/or awesome as you'd think.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

This whole thing really reminded me of that Chappelle Show skit with Charlie Murphy talking about the night he and his friends played basketball against Prince and the Revolution. I assumed the story was made up, but now I'm not so sure.

And I cannot suggest strongly enough that you watch the video for Prince's "Batdance" that Smith references at the very end, click here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

“The detective…A dangerous and impulsive man.”

In Gun, With Occasional Music, author Jonathan Lethem marries hard-boiled pulp noir with dystopian sci-fi satire. Imagine if Jim Thompson wrote Brave New World (or if Aldous Huxley wrote The Killer Inside Me). I feel like a Philip K. Dick comparison would be particularly apt here, but I've never read any Dick, so I'm not going to make that comparison. But I feel like it's at least in the ball park.

Gun, With Occasional Music follows the misadventures of a private investigator named Conrad Metcalf, who has been hired by a murder suspect to clear his name. The victim? Metcalf's last client, the rich and successful urologist Maynard Stanhunt. Metcalf navigates a near-future Oakland, populated by gangsters, molls, crooked Inquisitors (i.e. the police), and evolved animals (including a particularly aggressive kangaroo mob enforcer named Joey). As the case progresses, Metcalf finds himself in a tangled web obsession, drugs, and violence that threatens to be his undoing in any number of fashions.

There are two things about Gun, With Occasional Music that are immediately striking. First is Lethem's prose, aping old hard-boiled dime store noir. Second is the near-future world he creates, a twisted take on a future recalling Brave New World that is both funnier and more horrifying than anything in Huxley's classic.

Lethem's prose is all hard-boiled dime novel. For instance, opening to a random page I find: "When the door closed, he turned to me and his eyes lit up for a second, and he came towards me with a fist coiled up at his waist, and smashed me right in the middle of the stomach. It was the closest thing to language that had passed between us. I guess I should have been grateful to the guy for opening himself up to me like that." To be perfectly honest, the overly self-conscious dime novel prose was distracting at first, but soon I gave myself over to the fun Lethem was having playing with pulp conventions. The prose is undoubtedly cool, and Lethem both buys into that cool and subverts it. One of the best running bits throughout the book is Metcalf's penchant for metaphor. Depending on how on top of his game he is at a given moment, Metcalf's metaphors drip with pulp cool or completely fall flat. This reoccurring bit sums up why Lethem's noir writing works, it can drip with cool, it can be silly, but it's always fun and always amazing.

Lethem's portrait of a near future Bay Area will be broadly familiar to anyone who's read any dystopian literature, but the particulars of his vision can be both haunting and hilarious. The closest predecessor to Lethem's dystopia would have to be the aforementioned Brave New World. In Lethem's future, everyone is on "make," a psychologically deadening class of drugs that include Acceptol, Avoidol, Forgettol, and similar variants. Politeness has been taken to such extremes that asking questions requires a license and any improprieties are punishable by law, specifically by reducing an individual's state-monitored "karma" (a sort of social currency). Nerve-swapping is both funny and more than a little unsettling. The evolution of the news media is so bizarre and amazing that describing it here wouldn't do it justice. I almost laughed out loud when I reached the moment where the title comes from.

And, of course, there is evolution. Animals can be scientifically "evolved," giving them the mental capacity of humans, leading to everything from child-surrogates, sex slaves, and the occasional kangaroo mob enforcer. The most horrifying aspect of Lethem's future, though, has to be the baby-heads. Baby-heads are infants that have gone through the same forced evolution as the animals, leading to a subculture of drug-addled, cynical, alcoholic infants who speak in surreal nonsense and riddles. Metcalf's trip to a baby-head bar is far and away the most memorable moment in the book, a cross between a crack house, an opium den, a flop house, and a dive bar, populated entirely by talking infants.

Gun, With Occasional Music is a quick, wonderful read. It is funny, scary, engrossing, confusing, and above all, entertaining. I would recommend it to anyone who likes detective stories, science fiction, satire, or simply good books.

Friday, January 30, 2009

“No zombies have been seen in the area, and with any luck, Tuesday’s cold front killed off any undead…”

I've mentioned in the past some of the things about Austin that I really appreciate, such as men in g-strings and trustworthy auto mechanics (though, that auto mechanics thing is debatable). Well, like all people, places, and things (and any noun, really), Austin isn't perfect. Traffic is terrible, for instance. Oh, and the zombies.

Apparently Austin's developed a bit of a zombie problem. But hey, at least they're giving us a head's up about it:

I guess someone hacked into one of those programmable detour signs to warn everyone about the zombies in the area (some of whom are apparently of the dreaded "Nazi zombie" variety). Pretty awesome thing to do, I'd say. Though, I question traffic controller Bruce Jones' speculation that the prank was perpetrated by a "hacker…computer genius from UT." Not so much the UT part, I'd buy that it was a college kid, but a genius? Really? They can't make hack-proof voting machines, but those detour signs are unhackable by anything less than a genius?

Also, as my brother Matt astutely pointed out, "Ms. Katie Petroski [the article's author] is really endangering the citizenry of Austin by suggesting that cold will kill off the zombies."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Too awesome not to steal

I saw this on blog's are about ego a while ago and thought it was too rad to not pass along. I have no idea where this came from, but I'm stealing/reposting it. Enjoy the flow chart of heavy metal names:

Thanks Dustin!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jandek Reviews, Pt. 2: Living in a Moon so Blue

As I mentioned in my review of Six and Six, I'm anticipating a lot of these Jandek albums to sound very similar to one another. For now, I'll give a brief recap of Jandek's sound, but focus more on giving a brief description of how Living in a Moon so Blue (1982) differs from Six and Six (1981). The upcoming installments in the Jandek Reviews series will follow this general format (brief description of Jandek's style with a description of how the current album differs from those that came before it). Unless I come across an album that is such a departure that warrants a brand new, from scratch review, I'll stick with this format. On to the review of Living in a Moon so Blue:

Jandek's music consists of a single man playing guitar and singing. The guitar is out of tune, and played with hard, unpleasant plucking, rather than strumming. The guitar playing can be arrhythmic and seemingly random. Jandek's singing is usually a hushed whisper, a sort of speak-singing, but can at times rise into a strained, somewhat atonal singing voice. The lyrics tend to be of a stream-of-consciousness, surreal, and nightmarish style. His music is unpleasant and strange, but much like his almost nonsensical lyrics, there is deep emotional and intimate content that is as easy to feel as it is oblique and difficult to make sense of.

Broadly, Living in a Moon so Blue doesn't deviate too much from that description. It does, however, differ from Six and Six in some ways. Lyrically, the album is not as impenetrable. The lyrics are still oblique and personal, but they make more literal sense than Six and Six. The guitar work seems to have progressed a bit. It is still difficult, out of tune, and consists mainly of plucking, but it seems less random. A few songs even incorporate some strumming, but it is just as harsh and abrasive as the plucking (e.g. "One Step Ahead" started giving me a headache by the end of its 2:24 run time). At times, the guitar sounds like it is being strummed and smacked at the same time ("Crime Pays"). Just as the guitar playing has progressed a bit, harmonica is introduced as well, such as in the song "Alexandria Knows."

Overall, Living in a Moon so Blue is very similar to Six and Six, but includes a little more variety and is slightly more straightforward. But make no mistake, this is still harsh, unpleasant, and difficult music. Part of what makes listening to Jandek rewarding is having the patience to appreciate the subtle changes to such a simple and singular approach.

“What’s it like to be stupid?”

If I had to describe Smart People in one word, it would be "generic." It is one of those self-consciously quirky pseudo-indie dramedies, populated by self-consciously quirky characters, who have self-consciously serious conversations peppered with overly clever dialogue. It's not unwatchable, by any means, but it is definitely something that you have seen before. Its familiarity is probably its best asset, lending the movie a nonthreatening sense of comfort.

Smart People follows how a series of events following a head trauma induced seizure changes everyone's lives (at first for the worse, but then for the better). Dennis Quad plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a curmudgeon of an English professor at Carnegie Mellon, who is taken to the Emergency Room after hitting his head while breaking out of the campus impound lot. There he meets Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student of his, who informs him that due to the fact that he suffered a trauma-induced seizure after his fall, his license would have to be revoked for six months. This prompts the arrival of Lawrence's ne'er-do-welll, lay about adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church), who invites himself to stay with Lawrence and act as his chauffeur. Add in Lawrence's two children, the over-achieving, politically conservative, book-smart, socially inept Vanessa (Ellen Page), and the willfully distant, bitter, poetry-writing James (Ashton Holmes), and you have the makings for some quirky family indie drama.

Lawrence, a widower, starts dating Janet. Chuck makes it his mission to get the 17 year old Vanessa to act her age, that is to say, he talks her into smoking pot and getting her drunk. James basically shows up now and again to point out how miserable everyone is, and how Lawrence is so self-involved that he has no idea what's going on in his own family. With the exception of James, who is probably the least fleshed-out character in the movie, the characters' relationships do evolve in some interesting ways. Vanessa masks her own feelings about her father dating again by becoming over protective of him. There is less a sense that she is upset that her mother is being replaced, but more that she herself feels replaced, long having taken on the role of a surrogate housewife. Vanessa's relationship with Chuck takes a somewhat interesting turn, just as it looks to be another free-spirited slob rescues square from button-down boringness story. Unfortunately, Lawrence and Janet's relationship, arguably the main storyline of the movie, is probably the most boring. There's no real emotion progression. Basically, some stuff happens, and that's about it.

Smart People isn't a bad movie. All the main actors (even Parker) are serviceable at their worst, legitimately charming at their best. The directing is competent. The writing is fine, even if it is overly generic. I can't think of a situation in which I'd recommend watching this. I guess if you're looking for an easy movie, a way to turn off your brain and watch a very middle of the road movie, it might do the trick.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

“I get a funny feeling”

I was just eating dinner, reading /Film, and listening to iTunes on shuffle. I stopped momentarily, thinking "Holy shit, this is really good." And yes, I was at least partially reacting to some good Gilliam news (of which there has been quite a bit lately), but no, that wasn't really what gave me pause. The song playing on iTunes was big, anthemic, and extremely catchy. I looked and saw that it was "The Fan" by Material Issue, off their 1994 album Freak City Soundtrack.

As I recall, I bought a used copy of Freak City Soundtrack about a year and a half go as part of a 3-CDs-for-$10 deal, and never really gave the album that much attention. I listened to a few songs, but never paid much attention to it. After hearing "The Fan" I turned shuffle off and listened to the album in its entirety while I finished dinner.

Freak City Soundtrack is filled with fantastic power pop. The entire album is quintessential power pop, loud and fast guitars speeding through pop songs overflowing with infectious hooks. The best songs on the album celebrate feelings of unrequited love. And I do mean celebrate. There is no sad bastard moping to be found, instead the songs rejoice in the nervous excitement one feels when they've met someone new.

This nervous excitement, whether represented in the lyrics or not, permeates the album. You get the impression that lead singer and main songwriter Jim Ellison is the kind of guy who's sort of nerdy, awkward, and much cooler than he thinks he is, and that impression is exactly what comes across in the music. In this respect, he sounds like the bridge between power pop pioneers like Cheap Trick and later bands like Weezer, who found much more success just a few years later.

Material Issue does sound distinctly 90s, which can make them sound a little dated. But songs like "Goin' Through Your Purse," "Kim the Waitress," "A Very Good Thing," and "Ordinary Girl" are near perfect pop songs, showcasing masterful songwriting. Ellison unapologetically incorporates sounds from 60s pop, 70s arena rock, 80s punk, and distills it all into catchy, upbeat, 90s alternative pop. Despite the fact that it sounds very much of its time, the songs on Freak City Soundtrack are simply too good to be tarnished by seeming too dated.

Needless to say, this album was more than worth the $3 or so that I paid for it.

Sadly, Jim Ellison committed suicide less than 2 years after the release of Freak City Soundtrack.

[Note: I was going to embed the video for "Kim the Waitress," the only song off the album that has a video, but Universal Music has disabled the embedding feature. You can watch it here.]

“You can feel it. That cold ain’t the weather. That’s death approaching.”

I've never read the 30 Days of Night comic book, but I've heard that it's fantastic. At the very least, I've seen some of the art work, and it's pretty amazing. I'm not sure if I'll ever get around to reading it, but seeing the movie adaptation certainly isn't motivating me.

30 Days of Night starts with a pretty awesome premise. Every winter, the town of Barrow, Alaska experiences 30 days without sunlight. The small town is so remote that there are no roads in or out, and the flights to and from civilization halt during the month-long darkness. On the eve of final sunset, a rash of vandalism besets the town. Power and phone lines are severed, sled dogs are viciously killed, a commercial helicopter is stripped, and a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster) appears. Shortly after the sun sets, the town is overrun by a pack of vampires, signaling the start of a month-long siege. The story follows the attempts by a small group of residents to hide and wait for the eventual sunrise. Among the residents are Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett), his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), and a handful of other locals.

Though 30 Days of Night may have a few things going for it, overall it's, at best, a by-the-numbers horror thriller. Hartnett is terribly bland as the typical horror movie hero, specifically the calm, competent, self-sacrificing, All-American-Boy variety. George's Stella is essentially the female version of the same archetype, she has all of the same characteristics as Eden, just to a lesser degree. It isn't even worth talking about the other residents; they're not even fleshed out to the point of being archetypes. They're just sort of there to be picked off, one by one. Even Ben Foster (Six Feet Under, 3:10 to Yuma), who generally impresses me more every time I see him, is almost laughable as the Stranger. He talks in a strange and strained accent, speaking in riddles that are supposed to be eerie or terrifying, but are mostly just irritating.

One glaring problem with the movie is the pacing. The vampire siege don't build or escalate, it sort of lurches forward in abrupt leaps. It jumps from build-up, to full on war, to cat-and-mouse hide-and-seek, to confrontational resolution in near transitionless scene changes. On top of robbing the movie of what could have been a slow, suffocating sense of tension, I was also left with the impression that without the subtitles announcing "Day 7" or "Day 18," I probably would have completely forgotten about the 30 days without sun concept, assuming this was all happening over the course of a single night. Hartnett's single proclamation that being rough, pioneering Alaskans, they know how to deal with the cold and ration food appropriately robs the movie of getting any tension out of the 30 days gimmick. A single night, a week, a month, or even a year, there is no tension in how long the vampire siege lasts. No one seems particularly worried about supplies or how long they have to last in the Arctic cold without power.

30 Days of Night's main problems are its combination of genericness, erratic pacing, bland acting, and missed opportunities. Which is not to say the movie is a complete failure. There are a few things that it manages to do well.

The movie's take on vampires, for instance, is initially exciting. These vampires are much more animalistic than most representations. With the exception of a few locals-turned-vampires, the only vampire to speak is the leader (Danny Huston), using an archaic language. The rest of the pack communicates through bird-like chirping and screeching. They behave like a pack of well-organized wild animals. The vampires are reminiscent of the infected of 28 Days Later, just with a bit more self control. There is some every effective use of fast-motion early on, when the vampires are seen only as blurs of dark colors on the white snowy background, picking off residents, who seem to fly off the screen. As with most monster movies, though, once the vampires come out of the shadows, they get progressively less scary.

The residents soon realize that their attackers can't be stopped with bullets, and discover that decapitating them is the most effective way to stop them. This leads to a few gory scenes in which Hartnett graphically chops the heads off of some vampires and some bitten locals (usually taking two or three whacks to do it). The first time around this is a jarring and horrifying sight, but as with the vampires themselves, it is used more and more with diminishing returns. (It also seems oddly timely, given the conversation I had had at a party the night before about real life decapitations like this one and this one.) Along the same lines, there are a few scenes that should have been much more upsetting, but movie simply didn't earn the right to elicit any real emotion from the audience (such as when they're forced to kill a little girl vampire, who inexplicably has an Einsturzende Neubauten tattoo, or when Eden discovers that his deputy has murdered his entire family rather than let the vampires get them).

There are a few scenes that are done well. The vampires' first full-on assault on the town is shown using aerial shots of the town's streets. We see the chaos spread out over a few city blocks, as people scramble through the streets, vainly shooting at the vampires as they are chasing them. Or a husband's vain attempts to chase his wife from crawlspace to crawlspace, as the vampires drag her through the snow and under houses. As the vampire leader, Marlow, Huston is somehow both animalistic and somewhat debonair, almost like he's constantly struggling to remember what it was like to act human. I'm sure there are others, but I'm at a bit of a loss trying to remember them.

Ultimately, 30 Days of Night is a fairly bland, by-the-book movie. I certainly wouldn't recommend renting it. It's the kind of movie that might be worth watching if it's on TV and you have nothing better to do, but that's really the only circumstances I can imagine where watching this movie wouldn't seem like a waste of 2 hours.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How does this make you feel?

Personally, this makes me feel good.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

“We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

I recently watched David Lynch's Lost Highway. I remember seeing it shortly after it came out, which means it would have been some time in the late 90s. I also remember being thoroughly confused by it, but still liking it. I didn't really trust my previous opinion of it, and for good reason. I was probably 15 or something when I saw it the first time, which means my opinion is worthless for a few reasons. First, no wonder I didn't understand any of it, I was 15. Second, the soundtrack features a lot of Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and Rammstein, so 15-year-old me thought that was pretty sweet. Finally, the movie features plenty of nudity, and no one should ever trust a 15 year old boy's opinion of anything that involves nudity. So, anyways, here we go, Lost Highway Round 2:

Lost Highway starts out following avant garde jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). Fred suspects Renee of cheating, and is especially wary of her friendship with a man named Andy (Michael Massee). Their marital issues are put on hold, though, when Fred and Renee begin receiving video tapes in the mail. The tapes initially show the outside of their home, but soon begin showing the interior and even Fred and Renee asleep in their bed. Fred and Renee's storyline continues to progress (I won't say much more for the sake of spoilers), up until Fred is literally replaced by Pete (Balthazar Getty). Fred goes to bed one night, and the next morning Fred is gone and Pete is in his bed. Pete is a young mechanic who gets the majority of his work from Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), a violent and ruthless (albeit pretty charming) mob boss. Mr. Eddy introduces Pete to his girlfriend, Alice (Patricia Arquette, yet again), and soon Pete falls in love with, and starts a torrid affair with, Alice. As the situation between Pete, Alice, and Mr. Eddy spirals out of control, Pete's mind begins to slip away. All of this, both Fred and Pete's stories, are overseen by a threatening and mysterious diminutive Mystery Man (Robert Blake).

Lost Highway revels in film noir conventions. The mobsters, the femme fatales, seedy motels, double-crossing, and infidelity. The film also has a decidedly nourish style, steeped in darkness, the sets are draped in deep reds, stark whites, and urine-stain yellows. (Though, apparently, the Region 1 DVD release looks different than other versions) The film is certainly a David Lynch film, exploring concepts of identity and reality, presented in an ambiguous, fever dream style. Lost Highway seems to be Lynch's homage to the more exploitative side to film history, recalling classic noir and drive-in fair like Siodmak's The Killers, only seen through the distorted and nightmarish lens of classic Lynch.

While it doesn't reach the heights of Lynch's upper pantheon (e.g. The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks), Lost Highway most certainly has its merits. It's an exceedingly dark and terrifying movie. It is certainly confusing and even frustrating, but worth the effort, especially if you're a fan of David Lynch (or neo-noir or psychological horror, for that matter). Plus it has one of the more ridiculous casts I've seen in a while. The following actors are all in the movie in roles of varying size: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Robert Blake, Robert Loggia, Richard Pryor, Gary Busey, Henry Rollins, Giovanni Ribsi, Marilyn Manson, Twiggy Ramirez, and Balthazar Getty (who, for whatever reason, I feel like I should know, but admittedly don't).

I do want to talk a bit about the confusing nature of the movie, but that requires discussing things that are definitely spoilers. So if you haven't seen it, and want to see it, stop reading here. Part of what makes the movie so exciting is not really having any idea where it's going.

*** SPOILERS ***

So, I'll admit up front, I had no fucking clue what was going on when this movie ended. I was trying to piece together how Fred and Pete's stories were connected. There were obvious connections (e.g. the Mystery Man, Renee/Alice, Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent, Andy, etc.), but I still couldn't seem to make the two worlds fit. Not even a little. I wasn't expecting the pieces to all line up perfectly, but I was seriously at a loss.

I did a little internetting, and pretty quickly came across what seems to be the prevailing interpretation. One that, in hindsight, made me feel extremely stupid for not figuring out on my own. Here goes: the entire Pete storyline was a fantasy/delusion/dream of Fred's. The second half of the movie was essentially an "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" story (which, by the way, you can read in its entirety here), meaning Fred was condemned to die and experienced a sort of dream-like hallucination or psychotic break. A fantastical escape from his inescapable fate.

Here is basically how I see the movie's story breaking down. Fred suspects his wife of cheating on him, kills her, and is sentenced to death. He experiences his escape from reality in the form of "becoming" Pete. Pete goes along with his normal existence (which apparently is comprised of going to dances at bowling alleys, having sex with his unbelievably good-looking girlfriend Sheila, and working at the garage). Pretty soon, Fred's reality comes creeping in to Pete's world. Alice, the ersatz Renee, enters the picture, and Pete begins reliving Fred's life. Soon the Pete fantasy has become so overlapped with Fred's real life, that Fred re-enters the picture, re-replacing Pete, and proceeds to finish out his own story (i.e. killing Renee and her lover Dick Laurent, aka Mr. Eddy). After informing himself of Dick Laurent's death (i.e. the first scene of the movie, as seen from the other side of the intercom), Fred leads the police on a high speed chase through the desert while being electrocuted in the "real" world (hence the strobe lights and all that jazz).

Now, this obviously doesn't explain everything. Is Pete a real person? If so, how did he and Fred switch places? If not, what was all the talk about what happened "that night" to Pete? Who is the Mystery Man? Why was he sending Fred and Renee the video tapes? How could Fred tell himself that Dick Laurent is dead?

There a number of answers to those questions (e.g. the Mystery Man is something akin to Fred's conscience, and was sending him the tapes to remind him of what really happened as opposed to simply what Fred chooses to remember), and plenty of other questions one could ask. I'm not looking for definitive answers, especially given that this is David Lynch we're talking about. No matter how you look at it, this movie is not going to wrap up into a neat package. There will always be loose ends, and that's definitely not a criticism. He doesn't give you everything, and many times, I'm not sure there's an "everything" to get. But that's just part of what makes Lynch Lynch. It's part of what elevates him from simply a filmmaker or storyteller to an artist.

Plus, any movie with a scene as terrifying as Fred's confrontation with the Mystery Man is worth seeing. "Alice who? Her name is Renee. If she told you her name was Alice, she's lying. And your name? What the fuck is your name!"

[Update: The discussion of interpretations of the movie has continued in the comments. It is filled with spoilers, but my opinion has progressed past the "Owl Creek" interpretation.]

Good luck and Godspeed, President Obama

Today was a good day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jandek Reviews, Pt. 1: Six and Six

I've been listening to those Jandek albums for a while. I'm get the distinct impression that Jandek's style is so singular, if I'm going to review each album individually, I'm going to end up repeating myself a lot. I'll give it a shot anyways, but most of the reviews (at least until I get to some of his later albums when some he starts incorporating other musicians and starts varying his style a bit) will be short and to the point. With that in mind, here's part 1 of what will hopefully be a 10 part series, my review of Jandek's Six and Six.

As I had previously discussed, Jandek's music consists mainly of a single man playing a lone acoustic guitar while sing-whispering stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

The guitar sounds grossly out of tune (though in one of his two "interviews" Jandek claims it is not out of tune, but an open blues tuning). It is rarely if ever strummed, mainly plucked slowly, hardly, and generally arhythmically. Often the notes seemed to be selected at random, a slow and harsh cascade of random dissonant tones. The more his songs play, some semblance of reason emerges, and whether there is subtle, hidden rhyme or reason to his playing, or if I'm just being dragged into such an insular world that I'm developing a sort of musical apophenia, I honestly can't tell.

More central to Jandek's guitar than tuning, strumming, plucking, rhythm, or technical ability is the simple, basic, emotional gut-reaction to it. At times it is quiet and slow, creeping about in an almost suffocatingly vast empty space. As songs build, the plucking becomes harsher, louder, and faster. At first the notes seem to linger threateningly in the air, before coming alive, flying at you, and attacking.

Over this cacophonous guitar, Jandek sings and whispers lyrics that are surreal and nightmarish, that ache painfully of desperation. While the lyrics may maintain a certain level of nonsensicalness, they reek of something deeply personal. You might not know what he's singing about, but you get the distinct sense that whatever it is, it is so serious, so intimate, that you shouldn't be listening to them. That you've inadvertently walked in on something that wasn't meant to be heard by anyone, least of all, you.

He may never yell or scream, but Jandek's voice follows the same pattern as his guitar playing. He often sings in a hushed whisper that suggests a deep resignation, but just as the guitar turns from haunting to dangerous, that resignation turns into a thinly veiled, barely controlled rage. That seeming desperation gives way to a base fury, as his voice rises and that whisper turns into strained harsh singing.

The two basic ingredients to Jandek's music, his guitar and his voice, echo and hiss, sounding like they were recorded in a large empty room in an old house. The sound of the recording suggest a man, sitting alone in a room with little to no furniture, in a decaying house out in the vast prairies and scrublands of East Texas. The echoing of his guitar and voice sound almost oppressively vast and empty, as if Jandek and his guitar were the only things as far as the eye could see. A single man, with his guitar, out in a harsh, wide-open landscape.

Juana Molina – Un Día

Do you like Björk, but wish she were less icy and synthetic? If so, I'd recommend checking out Juana Molina. On her newest album, Un Día, she makes extensive use of looping and layering multiple vocal tracks, interweaving them with traditional Argentine drums and guitars. Electronic and synthetic elements creep in now and again, but are used as minor flourishes and accents, leaving her music thoroughly warm and organic sounding. Individual tracks are made up of mostly acoustic guitars, drumming, vocals, humming, whistling, and are then layered, looped, and intertwined.

The music on Un Día ranges from upbeat and lush ("Un Día") to relatively more spare and elegant ("No Llama"), but maintains a sense of unity throughout. Many times single songs ebb and flow between sparse guitar/singing and a denser/lusher multilayered style ("Vive Solo"). Generally the songs are a little long for pop songs (only one clocks in under 5 minutes, with most lasting between 5:30 and 7:30), but this gives Molina plenty of breathing room to let the songs wander in and out of different variations of her distinct style.

And a distinct style it is. I had compared her music to Björk's, and that seems fairly apt, but Molina is making music that is definitely unique and definitely her own (unless there is a whole genre of Argentine atmospheric acoustic quasi-electronica out there that I don't know about, which could certainly be the case). The way in which she combines the more experimental elements of someone like Björk with the warmer sensibilities of the singer-songwriter yields music that is both unique enough to be exciting, but familiar enough to not be off-putting or inaccessible.

Un Día is a beautiful, fun, and inviting album. It is only Molina's fifth album in 13 years. She is, apparently, primarily known in her native Argentina as comedic television actress. Her music, quite surprisingly, is more of an occasional sideline gig. And while I have yet to hear any of her earlier work (and I will certainly go back and check out more of it), Un Día will hopefully serve to be an introduction to some great music.

Here is a video of the title track, "Un Día "

“A long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time. You don't know anything about me.”

A few nights ago I was about to go to bed when I saw that The Big Chill was starting on TCM. I remembered a conversation I had with a guy about The Big Chill four or five years ago. He was in his early-to-mid 40s, and was telling me though he loved it, he didn't think I'd like it. He had said that there is so much generational identity wrapped up in the movie that he didn't think that I'd be able to appreciate what it was saying (he also said all the characters were assholes). Actually, the conversation was probably more like, "You haven't seen it? Don't bother, you're too young. Oh, and all the characters are assholes…" So when I saw that it was on, I decided I could sacrifice a couple of hours of sleep to check it out. It's considered something of a classic, but mostly I wanted to see if that guy was right.

Following the suicide of their friend Alex, a group of old college friends reunite at his funeral, and subsequently turn it into a weekend-long reunion of sorts. There is Harold (Kevin Kline) and his wife Sarah (Glenn Close), with whom Alex had been living at the time of his death, who own a series of shoe stores that are about to be bought up by a large corporation, and who play host for the impromptu reunion. Michael (Jeff Goldblum), a reporter for "People" magazine, TV-star Sam Weber (Tom Berenger), public defender turned real-estate lawyer Meg (Mary Kay Place), drug dealer and Vietnam vet Nick (William Hurt), and finally Alex's young live-in girlfriend Chloe (Meg Tilly) round out the rest of the group. They spend the weekend talking, drinking, musing, smoking pot, listening to music, etc. (Oh, and watching Michigan football. Go Blue!)

The Big Chill is well acted and well written. Overall, it is a good movie, but I can't help but feel like that guy was right. A lot of what the movie explores is wrapped up in the Boomer generation coming to terms with growing up and abandoning the ideologies of their youth. The suicide of their friend Alex, who is talked about as the one with the most potential and the one who was always the most lost, makes for an easy introduction to serious "life" talks and an obvious metaphor for all that is lost in the transition from youth to adulthood. Their reunion forces them to stop and evaluate where they all ended up, years after their politically active and socially conscious college experience. They are all confronted with the realization that none of them have lived up to their youthful ideals. Meg abandoned her altruistic instincts to defend the poor when she realized how many of the criminals she was defending were "scum," and took up real-estate work. Michael never became an investigative journalist, nor a novelist, and instead writes pap for celebrity magazines. Everyone's relationships are struggling, unfulfilling, or have fallen apart.

And this leads into the second reason that I couldn't really connect with the movie. There are a lot of themes that are specific to the Boomer generation, but large portions of the movie are simply about looking back on life, regardless of generation. All the characters are in their mid-to-late 30s, and are dealing with how their lives have turned out. A lot of what the characters are dealing with doesn't necessarily have to do with loss of idealism, but simply disillusionment. Their careers have not turned out as they had hoped they would. They all, for the most part, hate their jobs, and still expound on pipe-dreams they all know they won't follow through on. They've realized that marriage is difficult, and even Harold and Sarah, who have the strongest marriage in the group, are obviously struggling.

And while this is all fertile ground for a movie, and done quite well here, I'm admittedly about ten years shy of having to deal with this kind of disillusionment myself. Now, most movies tackle issues and themes that I personally have never had to deal with but could still emotionally connect with, The Big Chill for some reason left me with the distinct feeling of being on the outside looking in. I could engage with the movie in cerebral ways, and occasionally in a deeper more emotional way, but overall I felt a bit like I was watching the movie from arm's distance. Which is not to say the movie is not good. I would say it was definitely good, but this feeling of detachment kept it from being great. I can't put my finger on why I struggled to connect with it. The generational gap could be it, but I feel like it was something else.

If it really is the generational issue, I am curious to see how the movie ages (the fact that it's already 26 years old, notwithstanding). As the Boomers retire and the torch of film history and film criticism is passed on to the younger generation, what will happen to a movie considered a classic among its target audience but keeps everyone else at arm's distance? Can revisiting a film not only turn critically reviled movies into classics (a la Peeping Tom) or flops into cult favorites (a la Harold and Maude), but also turn previously "great" movies into simply "good" movies? Just some food for thought.