The word “indie” is so abused by the mainstream media nowadays. But in the early part of the nineties, this term came into the music lexicon as a reference to bands or fans of music who released music, oftentimes home recordings, on their own labels, independent of major label support or distribution with little interest in becoming celebrities or getting rich. Those bands thrived on non-commercial college radio thanks to program directors like yours truly who were actual undergrad students searching for something new in music, no matter the label. From that pure process of releasing music to the public, a particular sound emerged, as rough-edged as punk but as catchy as pop. Bands like Yo La Tengo, Sebadoh, Superchunk and others loved rock ‘n’ roll, and they were not ashamed to show it.
Most recently, the UK band Yuck garnered a lot of hype for being kids inspired by nineties indie rock though too young to have lived it. Despite the band’s recently released self-titled debut’s scarily close survey of the variety of sounds of nineties indie music— from the slow to the punk— it still lacks some of the verve of the real deal and loses its sheen fast (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the LP on Amazon). On the other hand, Love of Everything’s up-coming 4-track EP, “Sooner I Wish” is a home-recorded little masterpiece that stays focused in its minimalism while maintaining a passion for musical expression. It recalls the bouncy spirit of nineties indie rock while tackling the morose subject of honest lost love, as singer/guitarist Bobby Burg tangles with the ups and downs of his real marriage that recently ended in divorce, according to the press materials accompanying this release by Polyvinyl Records.
The solo project of Burg (Joan of Arc and Make Believe), Love of Everything has released seven albums to date. This amazingly tight but unceasingly giving 7-inch will officially make it out to the public on Aug. 2, but click on its title above to pre-order it if you want one of only 300 manufactured on white vinyl and an instant download of the entire EP. Polyvinyl is offering a free mp3 of the opening song, “Three Way Answers”: download or stream it here. On this opener, Burg concocts an impressive, repetitive hook by just traveling up and down his guitar neck as Matt Holland (Air Waves, Vacations) smacks out a steady drum beat while a bass plods along on a similar rhythm (possibly Burg tracked over). Burg comes on with his cutesy, nasal voice that brings to mind Mac McCaughan of Superchunk*, and the minimal musical backdrop provides him with a canvas to throw his emphasis where he likes. The music is perpetual and entrancing. It’s so hypnotic in its self-indulgence that I would have not minded it lasting five more minutes, but Burg knows the value of a tease at a run time of 1:37.
The second track, “Sooner I Wish,” opens with some seemingly random high-pitched plucks of the guitar that offers a misleading tone to the song that ultimately takes shape. It actually has a similar repetitious manner as “Three Way Answers” but on a faster tempo. Fuzzy reverb creates an audio hallucinatory effect of more than one guitar bashing out the hook, and the intro that opened the track seems to haunt the rest of the song in the background, barely there, as if it were an echo from a previous time. Creepy.
“Here Come the Warm Regrets” follows with a more ominous feel. The only instrumental on the 7-inch is propelled by a sinister guitar line that sounds like the beginning of a Sonic Youth song that never goes beyond its opening. To tease you, an elastic guitar solo appears from the corner to bend out whiny, steady guitar notes. When the guitar seems to tire, a melodica appears to take over the same series of notes before the song trickles to a halt. Going back further than the nineties aesthetic that influences this 7-inch, anyone who knows Brian Eno’s oeuvre will pick out not only the titular allusion of “Here Come the Warm Regrets” to Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets” but also the fuzzed out, musical references to the unrelenting distorted guitars that propelled the 1973 song, which closed out Eno’s debut album of the same name. This is the sort of hefty substance behind “Sooner I Wish” that makes it stand up beyond its reference to nineties indie rock. It reaches back to the art rock that came before it, even if only in sly reference.
The 7-inch closes with “Want,” which adds on layers of hooks. A ringing guitar part propels the song as a lushly strummed hook is coated over it. Never have I heard such a flagrant abuse of the loop pedal with such simple, indulgent results and loved it as much as this little record. All the tracks on this 7-inch seem constructed on hooks alone and never let go of their grooves. There’s an over-the-top indulgence that gives every track a delightful, mesmerizing quality.
As a whole, “Sooner I Wish” has a lo-fi, fuzzy quality throughout, permeated with a reverb seemingly created from the levels recorded too high. As is the case with many of the great lo-fi recordings that defined the nineties, a subtle psycho-acoustic effect emerges that invites interpretation from the listener. Maybe some listeners will notice phantom melodies that accompany the music, recalling some of the best creators of lo-fi music working on low-grade recording equipment like Guided By Voices, early Dinosaur Jr. and Smog.
In the end, Burg never gives up on what I liked best about the lo-fi rock of the early to mid-nineties: this love of catchy, perpetual electric guitar lines that never stop or even slow down to take a breath. Love of Everything brings it to the edge and takes a flying leap with fuzzy guitars blaring.
*In the nineties, McCaughan founded Merge Records, which recently made rock history as the first indie label to earn a Grammy with Arcade Fire’s latest, the Suburbs. Arcade Fire has been on the label since thier first album brought them word-of-mouth buzz by many popular bands and musicians, including David Bowie, back in 2004.
June 22, 2011
Though this blog often hypes vinyl versions of albums (what do you think is the origin of that word?), more often than not, record labels do not do justice to the analog format by using digital sources. Like the recent Fleet Foxes album, along comes an album recorded on analog tape that belongs on vinyl: the new Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi record Rome (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the album on Amazon.com).
Rome has been available on CD and as a digital download since May 17 (Support the Independent Ethos, buy either format on Amazon.com). Finally, after considerable delay, it seems this Tuesday marks the release date for the vinyl version. I am confident this slab of wax will be well worth the wait, as not only was Rome recorded on analog tape, but only vintage, period instruments were used by many of the original musicians who played on the classic sixties Ennio Morricone movie soundtracks that inspired Rome. In a brief interview with Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, the fabulous website Nowness, confirmed these facts, which will certainly make for a luscious listen.
Though, as of this post, it looks as if the vinyl version of Rome has sold out on Amazon ahead of its release, a rep at EMI/Capitol assures me it is on schedule to appear in stores this coming Tuesday. He suggests to check your local indie music stories (in South Florida, where I am, that would be Sweat Records in Miami-Dade and Radio-Active Records in the Broward area). He also noted Third Man Records has it for sale. Jack White, who offers guest vocals on a couple of tracks on Rome, owns the Third Man label/store/studio, and is probably music’s best known vinyl-phile. Fittingly, his label produces vinyl only recorded on analog equipment. He knows what’s up.
I leave you with a trailer for Rome where the main artists talk about the album, its inspiration and the musicians involved. It also features snippets of the album’s music and some evocative imagery of the Spaghetti Western cinema that inspired it:
Cult filmmaker Monte Hellman talks about ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’ and ‘Road to Nowhere’ in exclusive Indie Ethos interview
June 20, 2011
Ahead of his “appearance” in my neighborhood (well near Miami: Miami Beach), film director Monte Hellman agreed to a short chat over the phone to connect what is probably his most notable work, 1971’s Two-Lane Blacktop, with his most recent, Road to Nowhere. Both will be screened at the Miami Beach Cinematheque beginning with a one-night only screening of Two-Lane Blacktop (this Thursday at 8 p.m.), which will also feature Hellman’s live appearance via Skype on MBC’s big screen for a Q&A with the audience about the influential film. Then, the MBC will host nightly screenings of Road to Nowhere beginning the following day (Friday, at 7 p.m.) and every day after until the end of the month.
Edit: On July 9, 10 and 17, the film continues its South Florida run in Fort Lauderdale, at the Cinema Paradiso.
Edit 2: Road to Nowhere will screen at the University of Miami’s Cosford Cinema on Friday, July 29 @ 9:15 p.m.; Saturday, July 30 @ 5:45 p.m.; and Sunday, July 31 @ 6:15 p.m.
The one-night only screening of Two-Lane followed by a Q&A with a director who worked with Roger Corman in the late fifties and throughout the sixties is truly a special opportunity for fans of cinema. Hellman is often associated with that bold generation of filmmakers that broke out of California after the Motion Picture Association of America dumped the self-censoring rules of the Hays Code and adopted the current rating system. It was an era in Hollywood inspired by the unrestricted art films that had begun pouring in from Europe and the social movements of the time. Films like Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy and Bonnie and Clyde defined the start of that time in Hollywood.
Following his work with Corman, Hellman made Two-Lane Blacktop with a couple of popular musicians in the lead roles, who would otherwise never act again. James Taylor played “the Driver” and Dennis Wilson (drummer for the Beach Boys) was “the Mechanic.” No names, just a couple of manly men living on the road from one drag race to another in a souped-up ’55 Chevy. Their co-stars were Laurie Bird as “the girl” who tags along with them while hitchhiking and Warren Oates as their cross-country competitor, “GTO.” What unfolds is much more than a road trip movie but a meditation of what it was to be a man in a changing era.
According to the press kit for Road to Nowhere, Two-Lane Blacktop was Hellman’s first major studio film. But when a Universal executive did not like the results, the film rolled out into theaters with little publicity and in limited release. Hellman has since earned the last laugh with a cult audience growing up around the movie on video ranging from car enthusiasts to music fans to cineastes interested in the counter-culture period of Hollywood. Some of the more famous fans include two directors who epitomized the new nineties era of independent cinema: Quentin Tarantino (Hellman executive produced Tarantino’s breakout debut Reservoir Dogs) and Richard Linklater (see his 16 reasons to love Two-Lane Blacktop). Most recently, Two-Lane Blacktop was blessed with a double DVD treatment by the premiere home video company, the Criterion Collection (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the DVD on Amazon via this link).
More than 40 years later, Hellman continues to reinforce his independent ethos with Road to Nowhere. In his profile piece in the “New York Times,” “Elder Statesman’s New Story,” John Anderson wrote: “Road may also be as significant to the indie feature as Avatar is to the popcorn movie: the entire film was shot on what is essentially a still camera (the Canon 5D Mark II), while looking like a mega-million Hollywood production.” In the article, screenwriter Steven Gaydos noted the film cost “under five million” to make.
But beyond technology and budget, Hellman explores narrative in an incredibly radical manner. Road to Nowhere is more than a movie, but several layers of movies wrapped into one. Tygh Runyan plays Mitchell Haven, a Hollywood director, behind a modern film noire based on a true story within the story of his making of the movie. The “femme fatale” at the center of the stories is played by Shannyn Sossamon. A tangled relationship soon develops, and the results are dark in that classic grim seventies sensibility of the unhappy endings that Hellman matured in as a filmmaker.
The movie made its world premiere at the 67th Venice Film Festival (where the picture of Hellman at the top of this story was taken by Lesly Hamilton), in 2010. It was also the place where Tarantino presented Hellman with a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award. It made for a fitting tribute as the film is as much about movie making as it is about film narrative, which happens to focus on one of Hollywood’s most beloved genres, coined film noire, by the influential critics of the French New Wave.
I asked Hellman, who is also a teacher of cinema studies at the California Institute of the Arts, about both movies as well as how they fit in with today’s film culture …
Hans Morgenstern: The ending of Two-Lane Blacktop really is gorgeous, and the pay off for you must be that it only gets better with time because it’s so open-ended and at the same time enhances every action that has played out before the film stops in one of the most definitive endings of cinema.
Monte Hellman: It was a hard to decision to make because there were a lot of people who advised against it … collaborators and just friends, they just said, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ and a lot of critics did criticize it. It’s just some people love it and some people hate it.
It was one of those things that came to me kind of in a dream, and I did have some misgivings about it because I felt it was a kind of intellectual conceit, but I was moved by it, and I still think it works.
What do you expect of audiences when they see an ending like that?
Well, it’s the same thing I expect of audiences in general. I have a great respect for the audience, and I demand a lot of them. I want them to be the final collaborator of my movies, and I think, by and large, the audiences come through. They are terrific collaborators.
This and Road to Nowhere are being shown as a double feature. What do you think connects them?
I think what connects them for me, and there’d been a few movies in between that had followed through on the same theme: I got hung up after seeing Shoot the Piano Player on just the idea of a man’s conflict between his profession, his work in life, and the need for love in his live, and I’ve experienced some of those very problems along the way (laughs), so it’s very personal to me. I kind of can’t get away from that theme.
More often than not, I hear going to the movies as an “escape” from the day-to-day, yet these movies both sort of try to re-create life and its open-endedness.
Certainly movies that are pure escapism have validity, but I think there’s more that movies can offer. I’m kind of interested in that more and what theater offered even in the times of Greek tragedy and Aristotelian purgation of pity and fear. I think that if audiences can get more than escape then they’re better off for it.
In my studies, especially in film studies, I was taught the structure of story, and how long you should dwell on a very specific story arc. If you do a script, it is supposed to be this long; by this page, this should happen, etc. How important do you feel the classic narrative is? Would you agree it is more powerful to subvert it over following the rules?
I don’t know if it’s more powerful. I think movies that are structured in that kind of form can be very successful and very satisfying. The first thing that comes to mind is the one with Bruce Willis in the tall building … Die Hard. Die Hard is a terrific movie, and it’s a formulaic movie, but you don’t really mind that it’s formulaic, but, for whatever reason, I don’t usually make those kind of movies (laughs). I do abandon all those rules … but when they’re done well, they’re terrific. I’m not putting them down in any way.
I really think that I let the movie tell me how fast to go, and I was concerned in making Road to Nowhere that today’s audience might be impatient with the movie, so I purposely decided to really slow it down at the very beginning, and then, hopefully, they would think the rest of the movie was moving fast … I think it worked.
Talk about your use of non-actors. I know you used real cops in Two Lane Black-Top, but are they real in Road to Nowhere?
They were real cops. Whenever possible I like to use people doing what they do because they know how to do it. You don’t have to give them direction. Sometimes people say I use non-actors in so-called acting roles, and that’s misleading because when I cast someone like James Taylor and Dennis Wilson or Rob Kolar and Waylon Payne [also musicians] in Road to Nowhere, they’re not specifically actors or trained to be actors, but they are performers. They are singer-songwriters, they play in a band or whatever, and it’s not that different from being an actor, so they’re not really non-actors, but they’re essentially untrained actors. Sometimes it can be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
(Laughs) I love that. Terrific. At that time even then she may have been the present already … the new present.
Your new film is dedicated to Laurie Bird. Can you tell me why you chose to dedicate it to her?
Because she had a lot of influence in the creation of the character. I used a lot of her dialogue. We should have given her an extra dialogue credit (laughs). A lot of things she said wound up in the movie.
Did your interest in cinema wane at all after Silent Night, Deadly Night III ? What happened after that movie (21 years ago)?
I was just trying to get pictures made. I basically spent a lot of time developing pictures for other people. I worked for a couple of years on Freaky Deaky for Miramax. I had worked on a project for Francis Coppola. I didn’t stop working. I didn’t have a day off other than when I went to a film festival. A lot of pictures just didn’t make it to the starting gate.
Which film would you consider your most personal and fulfilling as a director?
I have to say Road to Nowhere in many ways. I don’t think there’s even a close contest. It chronicles a lot of experiences I had making movies. It has a lot of my own beliefs that somehow made it into it and a lot of just personal relationship stuff. It’s very personal.
I heard you filmed the movie without permits. Was this only in Europe?
Only a couple of times in Europe, and it was really mainly because we didn’t have time. If we had gotten permits, we would have had to wait for three months, and it made it possible to shoot anyways, so we did it. In the US everything was permitted.
… and you used a still camera’s movie feature to shoot the scenes, a camera which cost under $3,000?
The fact that this camera is accessible, and it’s a great camera, really, but it doesn’t mean that it’s that much cheaper to make a truly— professional is a bad word because there’s a lot of great amateur work of every kind— but to make something that really takes advantage of the medium in the best ways, it’s not that much cheaper than shooting on film. I just think it happens to be, in my opinion, better. But we had to have pretty much as many lights as you would use in a film production and pretty much the same size crew for the type of movie we were doing. I’ve made relatively low budget movies on film. Two Lane Black-Top was shot on film. We had essentially the same size crew, the same size production as Road to Nowhere. It didn’t make that much difference. We made it pretty much as cheaply.
Do you agree with the idea that technology’s advance, for instance, cheap digital cameras and YouTube, has resulted in more creative works or more junk?
I think for some people who become addicted tuning in to YouTube and spending all their time watching as much as they can, there is some great stuff in there. Granted, you can go back in time and see things you might have missed 50 years ago or 30 years ago or whatever. The fact that more people can express themselves through this medium is terrific, is great.
* * *
Have some of your own questions ready, if you plan to attend this special screening of Two-Lane Black Top on Thursday (June 23) at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. The event begins at 8 p.m. and is free for MBC members but $10 for non-members and $9 for students.
… just don’t ask him to analyze his own movie. When he appeared at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic with a newly restored print of Two-Lane Blacktop, he was asked to explain what the film’s about. In the commentary track on the Criterion DVD with filmmaker Allison Anders, he recalled that he simply stated, “It’s about an hour and three quarters.”
It seems like just the other day Brian Eno came out with Small Craft on a Milk Sea (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the album on Amazon). Well, eight months later, here comes another all-new full length by the art-rock and ambient music pioneer: Drums Between the Bells (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the limited edition on Amazon).
I have already received several emails hyping this release, with preview streams and a free download, but in a third email I received yesterday, the album’s website on Eno’s homepage, revealed one song that struck me as one of the most gorgeous I have heard him produce in years, “Pour It Out”:
Something about the leisurely guitar work reminds me a bit of “Deep Blue Day” from Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the CD on Amazon). But what’s more striking is the rhythmic use of the woman reciting the poetry of Rick Holland, who wrote all the “lyrics” for this new album due out on July 5. The delicate delivery of the words, which have their own surreal quality, adds a beautiful layer to the work.
Just this past weekend, I caught a segment of NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” during which host Bob Boilen interviewed Eno, who played DJ. It was a great conversation and featured the above track plus Eno’s story behind it. I would recommend you hear the show for yourself, as Eno talks about the early rock ‘n’ roll music that moved him as a child, as well as his own music, on top of some of the new music he admires (he chooses an amazing song off the highly underrated Portishead Third album [Support the Independent Ethos, buy the LP on Amazon]).
Eno has also made two other tracks available as free streams:
Though more frenetic than “Pour It Out,” both of the above cuts are quality experiments of music melded with poetry and bode well for this new album, which is so far sounding like one of Eno’s strongest in years.
Warp Records will release Drums Between The Bells in a variety of formats:
-A 44-page hardcover book with a double CD (one disc features instrumental versions of the tracks)
-A double LP (with a download for the instrumental version of the album)
-A single CD in a digipak
-A digital download
All have their own unique covers, all designed by Eno himself:
June 14, 2011
Just as I thought I was done hyping the shows coming to South Florida this September, I get an email from the the Rhythm Foundation (the same group hosting Bryan Ferry) announcing Manu Chao’s appearance that month (Sept. 9). Born and raised in Paris to Spanish parents, the world artist blends an array of styles (punk, Afro, Latin) for a sound all his own. The results are infectious and quite worth experiencing live:
But, it’s not all about spastic bouncing around. He has some nice atmospheric songs, too:
His website hasn’t noted any dates beyond Europe, but it certainly adds another interesting element to the major acts visiting South Florida very soon, and thankfully no overlapping shows… yet, which would make for a rare occurrence in this area of the US, but it did happen last year when Massive Attack and MGMT played the same date. All my adult friends went to see Massive Attack but I went with the kids to see MGMT.
Chao’s show at Downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park Klipsh Amphitheater marks the ex-Mano Negra frontman’s debut Miami appearance. Tickets go on sale this Friday (June 17) and are general admission. The email from the Rhythm Foundation noted that you can get the tickets through Ticketmaster outlets or local indie stores like Sweat Records (Miami), BASE (Miami Beach) and Radio Active Records (Fort Lauderdale).
June 11, 2011
September in South Florida is beginning to look as good as last year’s October, or should I say: “Rocktober.” It’s still four months away, but I’ve already bought advance tickets for two acts below, and there is one I am hoping to turn into an interview, but we shall see…
First was news of Bryan Ferry appearing at the intimate Fillmore Theater in Miami Beach (Sept. 29). The last time I attended one of his concerts in South Florida was the mid-nineties, at the much larger Sunrise Theater in Broward County. Though his latest album Olympia (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon via this link) did little to move me, even if it included every member of his old band Roxy Music in some form, I’ll be there. His solo work in general has been a hit and miss affair, but this English glam-rock pioneer has always done justice to the early seventies Roxy Music tunes that I thinks stands up as some of his best work, yes, even better than the later-era Roxy Music.
That said, I’m looking forward to seeing how he pulls off “Virginia Plain” nowadays. So sue me, I’m stuck on the past glories of Bryan Ferry. Here’s Roxy Music, when they were a new pop band on the scene, circa 1972, promoting “Virginia Plain” with a lip-synced performance on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops” (legend has it their set up was too complex to hook up all the instrumentation in the TV studio, so they had to mime the song, and yes, there is Phil Manzanera on guitar and Brian Eno on organ):
Then I get a text from a friend recommending I get my Peter, Bjorn and John tickets for their appearance at the even more intimate Bardot, in Miami (Sept. 23). He said they were going fast. When I purchased them they were $25 and could be up to $30 now, if not sold out. I’ll admit, I got the tickets because my wife would not forgive this opportunity should I pass on it. I have only casually listened to their work, but over the course of six full-length albums, they have shown an interesting career, from their third album’s breakout hit “Young Folks” in 2006 to their surprisingly spare and at times dark follow-up Living Thing (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon via this link) and now comes the Swedish trio’s return to perky form, Gimme Some (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon via this link). Here’s a video from a their new single on the new album, “Second Chance”:
But, speaking of dark: the reliably grim Swans are the capper for me (thanks to Sweat Record’s mailing list for the heads up!). The band I liken to the sound of the end of the world if it had melody, is only making it as far south as Respectable Street in West Palm Beach (Sept. 14) , but I will be there. I have been into this gloom and doom band, which stands head and shoulders above any Goth or Industrial band ever, in its own wall-busting genre, since the early nineties.
I first stumbled across their music during my years at Florida International University’s radio station when it was on the AM dial and played grunge music before MTV (and nobody listened). But Swans was not grunge, industrial, Goth, dream pop, shoe gaze, noise pop or any of those scenes of that era. They were an entity unto themselves. They still are. The band broke up soon after I got into them in the mid-nineties, but 2010 saw the group’s baritoned singer and songwriter Michael Gira re-form the moniker for a new album and tour. I will now finally have a chance to see them live (I have never even bothered looking up live videos of them, as I have only heard of some of their legendary performances, and I prefer to be surprised). I’ll leave you with the rare video “Love of Life” that appeared on MTV’s “120 Minutes” once or twice: relentless drums, minor key piano, roaring guitars, creepy warped backward female voices, quickly cut disturbing images. Don’t call it Goth rock. This is music of grandiose doom…
P.S. Emile at Sweat Records told me Sir Richard Bishop will warm up the stage for Swans with his Flamenco-inspired noise. He is the co-founder of late-seventies-era experimental rock band Sun City Girls.
Another show of note in September includes another dark, re-formed nineties-era act, Berlin’s electro-hardcore act Atari Teenage Riot. They will play the night before Swans (Sept. 13— funny, that’s my deceased, Berlin-born father’s birthday) at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale.
I have heard the band’s new album already thanks to an advance copy from their PR company. Fans will be happy to know that the “hacktavist”- inspired album features Atari Teenage Riot as raucous and ear-splittingly aggro as ever. Is This Hyperreal? (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the album on Amazon via this link) is slated for US release on July 26. They have already recorded one of their new songs during a recent session for Daytrotter, which you can stream or download by clicking on their Daytrotter-drawn mugs above. I don’t know how these geezers can still do it, but just as their new album is true to their familiar sound of inhuman rhythms and screeching electronics, their live shows will probably be just as brain-melting. Here’s a taste of a recent live performance in HD:
Hopefully, September will see even more cool shows in South Florida. If so, I plan to up-date this post, so stay tuned and maybe bookmark this post.
Addendum: Manu Chao to make Miami debut Sept. 9