Monthly Archives: March 2009

Jeffrey Lewis Interview Pt.2

Continued from yesterday.

jeffrey lewis  I’m reading ‘Watchmen’ for the first time – what should I look out for?

JL: It’s hard to say. I guess, reading the comic, there’s no way to catch it all on the first read or the second read. Try to pay attention to everything in every panel. Take your time to fully take in all the details of each panel, but don’t worry too much about driving yourself crazy wondering what you’re missing out on, because there really is no way to pick up on everything going on. Part of the fun of it is that every time you read it there’s new stuff that you missed before, and on the first reading is the only time you’re going to experience the thrill and the pacing of the whole thing and enjoying the whole thing itself. Basically, I now can’t see the woods for the trees because the examination of it, which was certainly fun, hasn’t allowed me just to take it as a story.

Now, the sex scene in ‘Watchmen’, right, is hilarious. It’s so out of place in the film. When I picked up the comic I immediately skipped to that part to see what it was like, and it was much more tasteful.

JL: That’s funny, because that hadn’t stuck out in my mind. I’ve seen a lot of criticism that says “oh, that one sex scene, it’s so bad!“, and I thought the Leonard Cohen song was a corny thing to throw in, but it kind of fit with the rest of the song choices. If anything stuck out as wrong to me, it was the earlier scene with Dan and Laurie where they’re fighting the thugs in the alleyway, and they’re just so completely brutal, tearing this crowd of thugs apart…

That scene was pretty shocking, I remember one of the guy’s bones being forced through the skin of his forearm, it was pretty nuts.

JL: Yeah, I’m as into screen violence as the next guy, I watch a lot of horror movies and all of that stuff, I’m not anti-violence in movies. But part of the point of those characters is that they’re the most human characters in the story, and if they’re just as violent and murderous and vicious as Rorschach or anybody else, then it kills some of the point of the story. If they’re vicious killers, what’s the point of Rorschach’s character? And also, because the movie removes all the human characters from the story and the comic book has so many more normal people in it, Dan and Laurie are supposed to be the most normal of the superheroes and it kind of de-humanises them by having them be so vicious. It takes away a lot of the emotional basis of the whole story. It’s like there’s no normal people to care about. I thought the movie was relatively well-done, considering how much worse it could’ve been. They did as good a job as one could expect.

What kind of horror movies do you like? 

JL: Mostly older stuff, 80s stuff. For some reason, I haven’t watched that much modern stuff. I really love ‘Evil Dead II’, it’s one of my favourites. It’s so unpredictable, you think it’s a horror movie but it’s also a comedy, almost a superhero movie. By the time it’s done, you’re like “what the hell did I just watch?”, but the piece fit together so well. It breaks all its own formulas. And then there’s ‘Street Trash’, which is an absolutely brilliant movie. It’s not as well-known, but it’s just amazing. I had an experience recently where I saw it with a bunch of friends, I hadn’t seen it in a few years, and apparently the version that’s now available on DVD is a totally different edit than the version I’ve seen so many times, which sucks. There’s all these extra scenes that are really stupid and kill a lot of the streamlined pacing of it, so I feel like I can’t fully recommend ‘Street Trash’, and I feel bad that I’ve been telling everyone for years that they have to see it. I wish that wasn’t the case.

I read that Sam Raimi is planning to remake the original ‘Evil Dead’. What do you think about that?

JL: Well, I’m not sure what he’d do with it, the first one is pretty perfect as it is. The fact that it’s so low-budget and lo-fi is part of what makes it great. I finally got to see, after many years of searching, Sam Rami’s original film called ‘Into The Woods’, a sort-of student short film about 20 minutes long that later ended up becoming ‘Evil Dead’. It was impossible to get your hands on it for years, or it couldn’t be legally released, it just circulated on bootlegs. I was hoping I’d get to see it at some point, and I looked for it at conventions… I met a guy in Ireland in a bar who said he had a connection to it and that he’d send me a copy but I never got it. It was this kind of elusive, almost mythical thing, and then finally I tracked it down on YouTube but they keep taking it down. That was really cool to see, it was really low-budget, maybe some tenth-generation bootleg so it was uber-grainy and very amateurish, but it’s great to see how his whole concept started.  

We’ve wandered off-topic somewhat. You’re playing the ATP Festival in May, and I can’t wait. Are you planning on sticking around for the whole weekend? Who do you want to see?

JL: I haven’t seen what the line-up is, I know that the day we’re playing we’re gonna be followed by Devo, or at least we’re on the main stage and there’s us, then a band, then Devo. I’m really excited, I’m a big Devo fan and I’ve never seen them play. I think at this point we don’t have a show booked on the following day, so I’ll check out what the schedule is.  

In your song ‘Back When I Was 4’ there’s a line about how your older self flushes his best friend, a goldfish, down the toilet, and it breaks my heart. I’ve been there. Have you?

JL: I can’t say that I have. I had some frogs once that I kept in a box, but they escaped and unless they were living in my room I have no proof they survived. I like the idea of having a dog on tour, but it’d have to be for US tours only.  

I guess it’s crueller to have a dog when you’re an international musician.

JL: Yeah, immigration laws are tough on pets.

As ever, you can visit Jeffrey here. This interview also appears here, at The Fly.

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Jeffrey Lewis Interview Pt.1

Recently, PM spoke to Jeff Lewis. It was good. He’s really nice and knowledgeable. It was early in the morning for him though, so he took a few moments to warm up.

jeffrey lewis

What time is it over there, is it early?

JL: It’s pretty early, it’s about 9:30… 

Have you had any breakfast yet?

JL: Nope.

Any plans for breakfast?

JL: Uhh, no plans.

Do you have a morning routine? I suppose it’s quite a fragmentary lifestyle that you lead…

JL: It’s pretty random, I don’t have a regime.

You’re off to Australia tomorrow, are you excited?

JL: Yeah, it’s pretty thrilling, I’ve got a lot to do before I go though. I’m not sure what to expect when I get there.

Have you even packed?

JL: Noooooo…

I’ve been listening to ‘Roll Bus Roll’ from your new album. Do you get lonely when you’re on the road?

JL: It’s funny, because I hadn’t even thought it was interpretable as an on-the-road touring song. It’s funny that people might think of it that way, I hadn’t realised it until yesterday. We tour in little cars mostly. It’s more about experiences taking Greyhound buses, specifically between New York and Maine, where I go to my cabin in the woods to get away and work on my comic books. It’s kind of a jarring experience to go from the hustle and bustle of New York and have a ten-hour bus ride and get to Maine in the morning. From the bus in Maine to where the cabin is, it’s like a thirty mile hitch-hike, and then there’s a mile of dirt road where my little shack in the woods is. There’s no electricity, no computer, just perfect for getting artwork done.

How often do you go there?

JL: I used to spend a lot of time there, like 3 or 4 or 5 months out of the year. The last few years it’s just been whenever I get a chance go for a couple of weeks. Maybe a couple of times each year.

Do you take your guitar?

JL: Yeah. I write a bit. It’s mostly for doing comic books, but I usually end up with some songs by the time I go. I guess I was there about month or so ago. It’s definitely a weird emotional experience. I mean, you don’t need to buy tickets in advance, you can just get on that midnight bus and be in a completely different environment.

I wanted to ask you about ‘The Upside-Down Cross’, which your brother Jack wrote. There’s a trumpet solo on there.

JL: Yeah, the writing was all Jack. Usually he’ll present a bassline and lyrics and then I’ll flesh it out with a guitar arrangement and some arranging ideas, maybe we’ll change or adjust some of the lyrics. That song we had some differences on how we were going to end up mixing it. Jack has his own musical projects, he can do what he wants with his songs in his band…

But this is coming out under your name… 

JL: Theoretically.

You’ve released records under several different names, with the Jackals, this one is Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard, sometimes it’s you and your brother… why the constant name-changing?

JL: Partially it’s because my brother and I can never agree on a name. He’ll come up with something and I’m not that into it, I’ll come up with something and he’s not into it. Every time we print a new shirt or go on a new tour we need a new band name… it’s very hard to apply a name to project that already exists. It’s much easier to start out with a band name. If you already have a band and try to think of a name that describes it accurately, that’s very challenging. And also the band line-up is flexible, y’know?

Any names you rejected? 

JL: Tons and tons. I’m always partial to alliteration myself, I usually like the ones that start with ‘J’ or ‘L’…

You recently recorded a cover of Eminem’s ‘Brain Damage’ with Laura Marling. What drew you to that song?

JL: We’re doing this weekly podcast series for The Guardian, and that’s the first episode. I’m supposed to get the second episode in today, but I’m really behind the deadline, there’s a lot of work to do on that. I thought doing something with Laura with back-and-forth vocals would be good, and that song ‘Brain Damage’ has parts where he has dialogue with his mother and with a nurse, so I thought might lend itself to Laura and I keeping that dialogue aspect.

Your version makes it sound like a Jeffrey Lewis song instead of a hip-hop song. Do you listen to any other hip-hop?

JL: To a certain extent. It’s not my main musical intake, but I do have my share of hip-hop stuff. Eminem is kind of a new discovery for me. I’d heard his bigger hits, but that album in particular, ‘The Slim Shady LP’, grabbed me more than his other albums because he’s not really rich and famous yet. A lot of it is about living through rough times, school, being broke. So much popular hip-hop is about being rich and famous, and this is a more interesting angle and topic to write about.

More tomorrow! Visit Jeffrey Lewis at his MySpace and enjoy his whims.

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Spokes – People Like People Like You

Spokes – People Like People Like You (Counter)

spokes

Strangely for an unashamed post-rock collection of hammer ‘n’ tongers, Spokes are at their best when they’re nimble. With most exponents of the genre, it’s the slow builds to zeniths that make people fall for them (though there’s a strong argument that suggests that there’s little left that will truly shock or satisfy at the end of these builds, such is the collective wont for sheer unexpected noise among the genre), but this Manchester quintet are at their most potent when they ignore the tenets one would expect them most likely to adhere to. Sadly, this is not especially often and, as a whole, People Like People Like You doesn’t play with the conventions enough to escape being a mere copycat. 

The long-winded climax to Sometimes Words Are Too Slow has the same tom-tom march and literally the exact same Menuck guitar tone as Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s opening to Lift Yr Skinny Fists, but with little of the menace. It eeks along at a snail’s pace without resounding triumphantly enough to give the audience a sense of achievement, a mouse that should have shouted. They tread a similar path to Yndi Halda, whose still-indebted post-rock sound is at least far more impassioned and worthily complex – the odd dash of directionless violin melody on Young People! All Together doesn’t so much add to the atmosphere as it does confuse it by pointless meandering.

Of course, there are moments that ring of invention within the confines of their chosen field. The sudden gear change four minutes before the end of Young People! All Together is a genuine mood-enhancer, with the unexpected vocals (the first in the whole album after some considerable instrumentalism) and unison thwacks of snare and shimmering guitar emerging as very welcome chaos. That nimbleness doesn’t make many more appearances on this continual reference to already-existing standards. All the greats of instrumental rock get a namecheck through musical timbre, whether it’s Explosions In The Sky at the end of Scatter: I Miss You or the winding violin of Godspeed on We Like To Dance And Steal Things. A shame, because when they push themselves up onto their hind legs and totter into view, they can create worthiness.

People Like People Like You comes out on April 6th via Counter Records (as a reissue, mind). More here.

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Extra Life – Secular Works

Extra Life – Secular Works (Loaf)

Extra Life - Secular Works

Extra Life‘s composer and vocalist Charlie Looker clearly has a deep connection with the renaissance and the very emergence of vocal music in the western world. Modal scales and flourishes are backed by, interestingly, an array of traditional prog accompaniments, but this is not to say Secular Works is by any means a cut ‘n’ shut generic juxtaposition. Looker’s vocals extend the bases of his influences – from Guido of Arezzo’s first attempts to notate scaleic, syllabic passages comes Looker’s often delirious melismas. The frameworks are essentially the same, but here they are stripped and rebuilt, faster and leaner and more electrifying.

The Tortoise-esque grind of opening epic Blackmail Blues sees Extra Life exerting themselves in restless fashion. There’s no temporal anchors to be found, the angular viola and bass vying for equal billing in tempestuous territory, and then those vocals enter. You’d be forgiven for immediately assuming that this was some sort of hilarious goth experiment, such is the surprise on hearing Looker’s bell-clear nonsense words. There are cantankerous china cymbals and the occasional return to a more accessible rhythmic bent, and even some lyrics about staying together as friends to adhere us to the present. Towards the end, though, the vocals truly become virtuosic and intuitive, synchronizing in glorious homophony with razor-sharp snare attacks. This is a true reinvention of vocal techniques. Many acts have taken Luciano Berio’s sequenzas and the like as their emotive vocal templates, particularly in female alternative vocals, but few would dare to return so far back in time and try and deliver the worn as being completely fresh.

This Time is akin to Trust-era Alan Sparhawk in its lengthy climb from near-silence to final cataclysm, with escalating tension courtesy of excellent pacing and shivering viola. When it occurs, that cataclysm is slightly disappointing in that it sounds too easy, too much like a melancholy GY!BE and not nightmarish enough. The borderline insane guitar/vocal line on See You At The Show, too, proves that there is still so much to be done in the world of popular vocals. The circulating flourishes, if they were performed with vibrato over a pop backing rather than a doomy soundscape, would not sound so alien to the ears as they do here, and it’s a massive risk to rely so heavily on one element in a seven-minute piece. Each of these seven pieces has their moments of true invention and for the most part remain at a pace brisk enough to hold the attention. It’s not classically engaging and visceral and might require some acclimatisation, but once Secular Works begins to take hold, it’s impossible to ignore how very interesting it is as an experimental document and benchmark for vocal complexity.

Secular Works is out on April 6th via Loaf recordings. They’re jolly excellent. Here.

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Dan Deacon – Bromst

Dan Deacon – Bromst (Carpark)

Dan Deacon - Bromst

Bromst is a mischievous, soulful work that manages to sit in one generic camp throughout without becoming tedious or even getting close to repetition. True enough, there are a great many repeated phrases and musical motifs, but they’re dressed in such a way as to mask the whole process. It’s like sitting on the floor, gazing at every aspect of the same corniced ceiling. From spirituals to corroded spasms, Dan Deacon proves himself to be a master manipulator of base materials.

Gently waking, opener Build Voice is blissful, tripping vocal samples and, after some needed tension-building, is absolutely immersive with chorusing saxophones and hysterical beats. It requires nothing less than full engagement to appreciate fully, and indicates that Deacon has gone for the “throw enough and some sticks” approach in excelsis. At about four minutes in you realise that this has actually built from silence – a masterclass in craft and construction that would enliven any number of tired post-rock projects that claim restraint to be their greatest virtue.

There are several artists who work in the independent community and bill themselves (or are billed by others) as having been classically trained. This can produce the most varied of musical results: compare Deacon with the likes of David Karsten Daniels or Johann Johannsson, for example. Many of these artists are united by their adherence to the rules and ideals of minimalism as pioneered by Stockhausen, Reich and Reilly, but Deacon unites only with himself alone by being one of the truer embodiments of Stockhausen’s legacy working in popular music. The intro and outro to Snookered are, at their core, a lighter and more melodic version of any number of more difficult electronic manipulations that came out of Reich’s tape looping phase. Lonesome but adhering to a beautiful melodic shape, those melodies are what stays with the listener, even after the extreme hyperactivity that they bookend.

The spiritual is a bastardised genre in the modern era (by, with varying degrees of worthiness, Moby and The Coen Brothers among others), and Deacon manages to remain on the side of tastefulness with Wet Wings. If he’d actually written a spiritual in the Deep South tradition then by crikey, wouldn’t we all label him as having missed the bandwagon? The ballsy move here is to stick neither to traditionalism or distasteful manipulation – the vocal motifs are roughshod and possibly from found material, assembled in a concrète style in a matter not dissimilar from Steve Reich’s ‘Come Out’, gradually becoming less and less in synch with its repetitions, but is wholly warmer in tone. It ends with death drawing nearer in the lyric, but it is almost erased by the almost-inanely bouncy follow-up of Woof Woof. Deacon peppers the whole of Bromst with these hilarious juxtapositions, allowing even the edgiest and glitchiest beats to be undone with kitten sound effects.

To conclude that Bromst is wildly inventive is too easy. It is wildly inventive, but what impresses most is that Dan Deacon has managed to reign in any ridiculous flights of fancy. This is serious music that happens to contain jovial elements, scherzos among the expositions and recapitulations, if you will. More than sheer jollity, Deacon deals in immersion, subversion and the cool defiance of musical expectation. ‘Intricate’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. Bromst deserves to separate Deacon from ‘classically trained’ peers and earmark him as a wrangler of sonic energy and composer of real merit.

Bromst is out on Carpark Records on March 30th. Obtain. Read this review at Drowned in Sound.

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Flash Gordon OST – Jimmy from Teeth Of The Sea Reflects

PM is currently working on an article about the OST for Flash Gordon, performed and written by Queen. We were put on to Jimmy who, with his band Teeth Of The Sea, has covered the entire soundtrack. Seeing as we’ll only be able to get the odd quote into the main article, it seemed silly to let Jimmy’s exhaustive thoughts on this occasionally-forgotten work go to waste.

What separates the Flash Gordon OST from other film soundtracks and from other Queen albums?
 
First off, I have to say I agree with what you said below about the links between sci-fi and opera, and I think it stands to reason that you can extend this to the music of Queen as well: Of course, a lot of the more popular contemporary sci-fi cinematic epics, like, say, Star Wars are oft viewed rather sniffily by ‘hard’ sci-fi fans as ‘space operas’, almost as if they’re unworthy of being judged alongside Asimov or Philip K. Dick or what-have-you. That’s a kind of compliment as far as I’m concerned, As much as I love ‘proper’ sci-fi, I have to say my own personal taste tends to veer more towards the realms of high camp and outlandish costume design, so Barbarella and Flash Gordon are always going to win out over Fahrenheit 451 or THX-1138. Similarly, my favourite Queen album is Queen II, which is by far their most ludicrous and operatic, even down to including an overture, not to mention shamelessly vaudevillian fare like Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke.
 
It was presumably Dino De Laurentis’ decision to get Queen involved: After all, he knew the score, if you will, having previously commisioned Morricone to do the (amazing) music for Danger Diabolik. Apparently Mike Hodges was thinking of getting Pink Floyd to do it, which ended up being a lucky escape for everyone. Conversely, the hiring of Queen was a rare and delightful piece of serendipity for me, as the film and the band make perfect bedfellows in all their respective garish glories. I’m a fan of pretty much all Queen’s stuff apart from the Hot Space and The Miracle albums, but I think Flash Gordon is in my Top Three. It’s a curious paradox that of the most colourful examples of the shamelessly OTT Queen aesthetic comes in the form of something as self-effacing as a mere film score.
 
What do you make of the use of leitmotif in the soundtrack? Personally I think the subtlety of it wins out – the love theme, for example, is by no means a flute ‘n’ string-led John Williams obvious-athon, and when it returns it’s only slightly tweaked to alter its impact, it’s unsettling rather than romantic or soothing…
 
I’m not sure if you can use the word ‘subtlety’ to describe the most prominent leitmotiv in the film, which is clearly the Flash! theme itself. Or, indeed, getting Brian May to play the wedding march as an axe-chorale. Part of the success of Queen’s part in the soundtrack is their ability to hammer you over the head with an idea so obvious and stupid that it enters the realm of genius. That said, as you say, the love theme (which has actually remained in the Teeth Of The Sea set beyond the New Years Eve show, for some reason possibly owing to its odd charms) is an example of a deftness of touch which people often forget about in the oeuvre of Queen. Ditto The Kiss, which does wander round the fringes of John Williams territory, but remains odd and disquieting nonetheless, and that’s indeed its saving grace. Although part of the glory of Queen was they were never overly concerned with looking cool or worried about acting ridiculous, this also didn’t mean that they weren’t erudite aesthetes when the time was right.

 
There’s a balance between orchestral, electronic, and rock musics throughout the OST, but they rarely co-exist. What significance do you think these ‘genres’ (for lack of a better term) have on the soundtrack?
 
I can do without most of the orchestral score, to be honest. It comes in handy in The Kiss, but one of my biggest soundtrack bugbears tends to be ‘one size fits all’ orchestral scores in the place of any actual interesting or original music, as a kind of default setting for tension, action and intrigue. It’s been a particularly persistent niggle in the 21st century Dr. Who, for example, especially when compared to the otherworldly electronic splendour of the 60s and 70s Who scores. Michael Kamen has got a lot to answer for, which is ironic as I think he collaborated with Queen on the next film score they did, Highlander. The electronic aspect I love, partly because I think it almost works better now than it did then, as the dated synth sounds almost equate to the bacofoil costumes and rickety spaceships of the original Flash Gordon: Deliciously potent retro-futurist chic. The rock, meanwhile, forms a perfect companion piece to the battle scene: Brian May’s unquenchable love of a good riff coupled with a gloriously ‘Boys-Own’ spectacle of cartoon violence.
 
Finally, do you have any general comments on the purely musical aspects of the record? Any points you think are particularly interesting?
 
The use of synths is a curious one for other reasons as well, as Queen, up until their The Game album of the same year, had been one of those stridently luddite bands who had ‘No synthesizers!’ on their album sleeves, almost as if the use of too much modern technology amounted to cheating. Also, although the album really belongs to Brian May, it’s a classic example of why Queen are so much more than the sum of their parts: Freddie’s love for high drama gave us the Ming theme and the fight-scene piece de reistance Football Fight, Roger’s love of uncomplicated tub-thumping gave us both the proto-Boredoms stomp of the Love Theme and the sinister Escape From The Swamp. And, presumably, John Deacon hung around in the background keeping everyone’s more wayward ideas in check. After all, it’s worth noting that recent abominations like We Will Rock You, which exemplifies what can happen when Queen’s overarching showbiz tartiness and OTT demeanour go horribly wrong, and the laughable-or-just-plain-tragic album with Paul Rodgers, were entirely devoid of Deacon influence.

You can listen to the excellent Teeth Of The Sea at this clicking point where you click.

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Vile Imbeciles – Jennifer/Tramp

Vile Imbeciles – Jennifer/Tramp (Tea Vee Eye)

vile imbeciles

Stepping in the reasonably hallowed footsteps of Liars and Erase Errata, Vile Imbeciles are certainly better than their name, full of vermin-like menace and almost hickish snarl. Their guitars are too distorted to be picked out easily (definitely the most suitable way for them to be), the bass crawls around like an angry baby, and the vocals growl entertainingly enough. At their best, on the scuzzy and occasionally brilliant Tramp, those confusing guitars stalk the spaces in the bar very effectively, while everything else, chants and bass and drums, take care of the raw power. Without the guitars in that song, it’s nothing.

Also included on this double A-side is the one-track ‘mini-album’ Death Jazz. What a fucking wacky title that is! Wouldn’t it be fun to include incoherent fragments of noise and atonal guitar waddles with no regard for any thematic construct or at least artistic basis? If the intention was to have no intention, then it’s not made clear. Even 4’33 had a point. It all begins to tighten up in about six minutes time (though by this point there’s a daunting twenty-five still to be explored), and the occasional groove established, but not in a satisfying way that juxtaposes disharmony with harmony. This is noise, but not clever noise. Sometimes, there are glimmers of homophony that are just so welcome – the power of them goes not unnoticed amongst the mire.

Are they being funny? With such a silly 17 year-old’s title, Death Jazz is as confusing a specimen as you might find. The band align it with Ornette Coleman’s concept of free jazz, but there are none of the anchors to reality that made it so powerful. When Coleman opposed his manic solos with the regularity of his accompaniment, the effect was so much more powerful than Vile Imbeciles manage to achieve. Because there are no reference points (something that’s usually a positive), the listener is totally unable to contextualise the performance. A shame, because much of this performance is interesting at least. At their best, they manage to entertain as they experiment, but lessons in musical placement and decision-making might be required.

This all comes out on Monday March 30th through Tea Vee Eye, more info here.

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