There is something primal about the music of Explosions in the Sky. It comes from a place outside language and does not compromise itself to words. As instrumental music that eschews much of the computers most bands lean on nowadays, it has a certain incomparable purity. It is characteristically instrumental music indeed and does just fine without a singer, thank you. A frontman and lyrics would probably only ruin it. The band knows how to support a melody with triumphant lead guitar work that also knows how to settle into a rhythmic role in order to serve the power of the music best.

Beyond that, the majesty of the Explosions in the Sky’s often lengthy and meandering music comes from somewhere outside the band’s instruments. The musicians who compose the band (guitarists Mark Smith and Munaf Rayani, bassist Michael James and drummer Christopher Hrasky) do not showboat, jacking out self-indulgent solos. The quartet from Austin, Texas do have an obsession with dynamics, however. They earn every bombastic moment with meandering, hushed passages.

Like the best instrumental indie bands that preceded them, such as Mogwai, Tortoise and Godspeed You Black Emperor, Explosions creates music via creative textures and atmospheres that transcend the technology they use. The sounds and instruments are easy to recognize: guitars and drums. But the band use them so creatively, they evoke images of nature: from the slow swell of clouds to the ebb and flow of waves on a shore to the rattle of the wind through tree limbs. Such moments in nature seem represented by the band’s quieter bits, but there are grand moments as well, epic storms of guitars tangling and drums pounding.

I had heard several Explosions albums prior to its latest one: 2011’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Support Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). However, I never felt compelled to buy any of them to make a permanent part of my collection. I fell in love with this album on first listen via a stream on-line. I immediately ordered the CD. I thought the LP packaging and the double disc aspect of the vinyl too cumbersome and pricey to enjoy the music, which flows nicely on one side of a CD. But after I heard the music closely on headphones through the mp3s generated from the CD, on my iPod, I knew this was a work dense with character that could be even more thoroughly enjoyed on the vinyl format (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon).

Probably even better than that will be seeing the band perform live. More than a year after the album’s release, I am happy to report the band has scheduled a show in Miami, and there are still tickets available. The cavernous venue should make for an excellent setting for the music of Explosions in the Sky. If you want to try for a chance at winning a pair of free tickets for the Miami show, visit the Beached Miami blog.

Finally, here is an excellent taste of the soft-powerful-soothing dynamics in the new album by Explosions. This is the official music video for “Be Comfortable, Creature”:

The band’s remaining US tour continues with Zammuto supporting through these dates:

06/18: Soul Kitchen, Mobile, AL

06/19: The Ritz Ybor, Tampa, FL

06/20: Grand Central, Miami, FL

06/21: The Georgia Theatre, Athens, GA

06/22: Jefferson Theater, Charlottesville, VA

06/24: Randall’s Island. New York, NY
Governors Ball Music Festival (with Beck, Modest Mouse, Fiona Apple, Devendra Banhart, Cage the Elephant, Built to Spill, Cults, Phantogram, Freelance Whales, Alberta Cross, The Jezabels, Turf War)

06/25: 123 Pleasant Street Morgantown, WV

06/26: The Chicago Theatre Chicago, IL

06/27: Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Beached Miami just published another post I wrote for them. It is focused on what Miami Beach-based composer Gabriel Pulido plans to bring as musical accompaniment to the silent surrealist film classics by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age D’or (1930). The on-going Great Directors series at the Miami Beach Cinematheque continues with a tribute to the preeminent surrealist filmmaker Buñuel, throughout the month of September.

You can read details about how Pulido plans to pull off his ambient augmentation of the existing soundtracks of Un Chien and L’Age by clicking through the logo below:

Though it is a one-night only event, for which Pulido has created a limited run of 50 CDs to be available for purchase at the event, the electronic music composer has experience with re-envisioning film soundtracks. His “re-mixing” of another iconic film, Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless was a collaboration with another local artist, this time of the visual realm, simply known as Buzzeye. “We’ve worked with Breathless three times, including at the French Alliance and a special event at New World Symphony,” Pulido told me when we met for drinks at a local coffee house.

The sonic and visual artists filtered the iconic French New Wave film with colorful, trippy, computer-generated visuals and supplemental sounds, including popular tunes as well as electro-synthesized music, turning it into a sort of abstract art installation. You can watch a sample of the work below:

Pulido actually called the work he did with Breathless “less experimental” than what he plans to do with the Buñuel films, at least from the sonic side, as the visuals of Buñuel will in no way be altered at tomorrow’s screening. “With Godard I mixed in other songs … and left some of the direct soundtrack, including dialogue,” he said.

In the near future, during Miami Beach’s next Sleepless Night arts festival, he plans to do a similar work with Buzzeye. “We’ll be doing a new filmmaker. One of the big ones,” he teased. He said the film will be screened on the outdoor wall of the New World Symphony, off Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue, during the festival that starts Nov. 5, a Saturday night, and continues into Sunday morning.

Pulido actually has his hands in many projects, including his own solo work as Gabó. He completed his solo debut in 2007, entitled Somewhere Between the Beach and the Sea. In early 2010, he released an EP entitled “After the Moonlight” and has a new single with Latin music vocalist Natascha Bessez, which you can stream below:

Then there is Deep-Surface. On the website for the project it is described as a “A concert/multimedia performance in homage to the Sea [featuring] music, dance, video-sculptures and projections.” It debuted during the Miami Beach Sleepless art festival in 2009. Local dancer and choreographer Sandra Portal-Andreu is part of the group, as is an eclectic mix of musicians including Abi Loutou (cello), Ebonee Thomas (flute), Ali Kringel (voice) and Rafael Solano (percussion). It has even been performed by the artists in France. They made some video clips of their Miami Beach performances, and this must be my favorite:

When asked who are his touchstones when it comes to electronic music, Pulido, who has a degree in Music Synthesis from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and a diploma in film scoring from the “Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris Alfred Cortot,” notes some of the true pioneers of electronic music as influences, including the so-called “Father of Electronic Music” Edgar Varèse and Steve Reich, whose pioneering work with tapes holds particular interest. He also cites Eric Satie as the pioneer of ambient music, though he also has a place in his heart for Brian Eno and popular artists like Air.

Pulido will appear for only one night (tomorrow) offering his distinct ambient stylings to back-to-back screenings of Un Chien Andalou and L’Age D’or at 8 p.m. The MBC has vintage Buñuel memorabilia on display for the month of September, which will also offer one-night-only screenings of 1961’s Viridiana on Sept. 8, at 8 p.m. and 1962’s the Exterminating Angel on Sept. 22, at 8 p.m. (Read more).

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

I have been real busy as of late working other blogs with film and music pieces, plus I am brewing up some interesting exclusives for Independent Ethos. But today, I must pause to note that this day marks one year since one of South Florida’s greatest guitarists died and came back to life.

A few days ago, I wrote a brief profile piece on Carl Ferrari and his work for his band Gypsy Cat on Beached Miami, ahead of this “re”birth day, Aug. 28. Click the Beached Miami tile below to read it (and get a free download of “Zambra,” a mesmerizing, 11-minute-plus slow burn of a piece that highlights Ferrari’s plucking acrobatics):

It’s a short profile piece mostly focused on this man who should have been dead after suffering an electric shock on stage that stopped his heart. His savior, Alex Logan, a friend/musician/paramedic, describes that terrifying day last year in the piece.  “I remember I dropped down to my knees and prayed to God to keep him good and safe,” he told me over the phone. He said he had spent close to 10 minutes giving Ferrari CPR until paramedics arrived.

The profile was also in promotion of the release of the debut album by Gypsy Cat, which came out this past June. The eponymous debut sure is something different from the music I first heard him performing in the mid-nineties. He was the lead guitarist in what I described in the piece above as the “gloom-rock outfit Swivel Stick.”

This new CD opens with distinctive polyrhythmic beats of hand drums and hand claps, establishing it as Flamenco-influenced. “Nuestra Rumba” then continues on a rolling guitar rhythm featuring two intertwining melodies on one acoustic, sealing the Flamenco quality. But then a soprano sax offers a jazzy accompaniment, which the guitar joins. The instrumental pulls and melts into this shifty, yet cozy amalgam of very distinct styles, setting up the record’s unique sound. It also features more meditative pieces, like “Preludio” and a daring reinterpretation of the horn master Miles Davis’ “So What” with electric guitar at the center, not to mention the mp3 noted above. You can stream tracks from the full album here:

Check out Gypsy Cat’s Bandcamp page

I did not have space to share all the Ferrari-related news in the piece on “Beached Miami.” He also told me he is not necessarily done with Swivel Stick. During a recent phone conversation, he was fast to tell me that he maintains an affection for the dark, hardcore rock of Swivel Stick, which actually evolved to a more jazz-influenced group, often featuring several John Coltrane pieces in its repertoire. In fact, Ferrari assured me he’s not done with Swivel Stick, as he plans to have their unreleased 1998 album available to the public soon. “It’s pretty much finished except [producer] Frank [Albergaria] is pretty obsessed with it. He’s been mastering it for a while. That will be just an Internet release. I’ll set up a Bandcamp where people can download it for free.”

Anyway, that’s some extra news about this talent from Miami, and it’s a good thing for music to still have him around. Happy Re-Birthday, Carl!

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Today marks the opening day of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. As a childhood fan of scary movies, particularly of the mysterious unexplained kind featuring unearthly creatures, I can totally relate to why the film’s producer/screenplay writer Guillermo del Toro felt the need to revisit this 1973 made-for-TV movie.

One Halloween day, many years ago, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” was asking listeners to talk about the their favorite scary movie. The usual suspects emerged: The Shining, the Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc. Then someone mentioned Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and described the happenings featuring little whispering critters scurrying in the dark corners of an old mansion. The memories came flooding back. This was the movie that freaked me out so bad as a little kid, home alone, that I ran out of my house after the finale to wait for mom to get home, one sunny Saturday afternoon.

A couple of days ago, I was able to attend a preview screening of Del Toro’s re-imagining of the story (he did hire Troy Nixey, a first-time feature film director, to helm it) and decided to write mostly about my memories of the original, as, for me, nothing was as scary as that original film … being an 8-year-old kid and all. My review appears through the logo below:

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark opens in wide release today and is rated R.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

So Cowboys and Aliens isn’t your thing this opening weekend at the movies? Well, a couple of days ago, I reviewed a real alternative option for sci-fi fans as well as a documentary about a chimpanzee researchers tried to raise as a human, which are opening this weekend at a pair of local art houses.

My review for James Marsh’s Project Nim appeared exclusively on Beached Miami’s blog: “Project Nim: Chimpanzee as guinea pig.” I had high hopes going in, seeing as I consider Marsh’s 2008 documentary, Man on Wire (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon), one of the most moving and powerful films I have ever seen. I was not let down. Though I loved how Marsh captures high-wire walker Philippe Petit’s transcendental experience by walking a wire between the then under-construction Twin Towers in NYC in Man on Wire, there is no transcendence in Nim’s sad tale, which concludes with the obvious: Nim is not human. However, the drama Marsh creates on his way to that conclusion with talking heads, atmospheric music and archival footage is unrelenting in its power.

There is also no transcendence to be found in World on a Wire, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s obscure foray into science fiction. However, it is quite a meditative work on man’s possibility to transcend the self via alternate realities augmented by a super computer. As detailed in my lengthy review posted here earlier this week, Fassbinder is an amazingly brazen filmmaker of the German New Wave Cinema scene. Though the film was a challenge to keep up with at three and half hours long, Fassbinder comes across as giddy with the possibilities of science fiction via is creative use of set design, otherworldly music and the obtuse acting of his cast. Beached Miami ran a shorter version of my review, here: “‘World on a Wire’: Fassbinder’s sci-fi mindbender.”

Go through the hot links to Beached Miami for the reviews and the specific screening dates.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

I recently spread out my blogging to Beached Miami. I had been in awe of their brave, expansive coverage of the city I have been calling home since I was but 5 years of age. I wanted in on this. So I took some of my talents to Beached, giving them my ramblings on the visionary director Terrence Malick (they trimmed it back respectfully), as the Miami Beach Cinematheque starts a retrospective of sorts tomorrow on the philosopher turned filmmaker. Here’s a direct link to the piece:

‘Early Malick’ offers low light, high vision

Those who usually expect to see my film writing here can click the link above for this latest piece previewing MBC’s ongoing Great Directors Series, which continues with “Early Malick.” You see, before the Tree of Life’s Brad Pitt, there were other hunky actors in the gorgeous frames of Malick, like Martin Sheen in Badlands (1973) and Richard Gere in Days of Heaven (1978). Of course that’s sarcasm, as Malick is less about offering up star vehicles and more about wringing out the most art possible film has to offer. While doing so, he trusts the audience to open its mind to the possibilities of a message beyond language, embedded in an aesthetic that is pure cinema and deserves to be celebrated. MBC offers its own tribute to Malick’s work in the wake of the arrival of his newest film, which won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

MBC will host special one-night only screenings for each of Makick’s first two films this week and next, beginning tomorrow night. Badlands screens first, Thursday, July 14, at 8 p.m. Next Thursday, July 21, also at 8 p.m, the series continues with Days of Heaven. UPDATE: Due to popular interest, Days of Heaven‘s screening (on high-def Blu-Ray, incidentally) has been extended: Friday, July 22 at 8:50 p.m., Saturday, July 23 at 5 p.m. and 8:50 p.m.

In the meantime, I plan to keep offering more exclusive Miami-oriented film and music events via Beached Miami, so check their blog out.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)