THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN: LEONARD COHEN, JEFF BUCKLEY, & THE UNLIKELY ASCENT OF “HALLELUJAH”
It still maintains a hold on us, this song of longtime troubadour/ writer/poet Leonard Cohen’s that first appeared on Various Positions, a 1984 album of his that initially went unreleased by CBS Records due to its supposed lack of a possible hit single. Alan Light chronicles the strange journey “Hallelujah” has taken, to its many appearances in places both sacred and profane: from the mouths of American Idol contestants and the performances of church choirs (though it isn’t covered in The Holy Or The Broken, a recent, heavily gospelinfused take on the song can be heard on John Boutte’s latest album) to its emergence as a modern hymn of sorts through Jeff Buckley (by way of John Cale) and finally to its overuse in films such as Shrek, in 9/11 memorials and in television shows. Adam Sandler’s recent terrible parody of it during the 12/12/12 Sandy Relief concert may well have beat “Hallelujah” into the ground for a while, but Light’s book remains a fascinating query into not only the lives of Cohen and Buckley with regards to the song, but also into what has made “Hallelujah’s” unique blend of Biblical references, love and loss such an enduring work, speaking to people on nearly every level of modern society. There is little in music-writing today that will break your heart and put it back together again as deftly as this book will.
KIM MARIE VAZ
THE “BABY DOLLS”: BREAKING THE RACE AND GENDER BARRIERS OF THE NEW ORLEANS MARDI GRAS TRADITION
Xavier University professor Kim Marie Vaz has built something magical here. It masquerades as a scholarly look at one of New Orleans’ Carnival’s most historic and leastregarded masking traditions: that of the Baby Dolls, a group of women who, just a decade or so past the turn of the 20th century, got together and decided—for one day—to turn their scourged positions as prostitutes on their heads and make them something to celebrate. Vaz interweaves the hardness of African-American life, the dance and performing roots of jazz music, and the comparisons of the New Orleans Baby Dolls to similar masking traditions in France and Trinidad in such a way that nearly obscures the fact that, as far as documentation of the tradition goes, the particulars are scanty. All that remains of that first bunch are the words of a few Baby Dolls themselves as told to journalist Robert McKinney, the remembrances of them via some jazz musicians from that era and a mention from author Harnett Kane. Baby Dolls is far more interesting in that it compels readers to look at Carnival in a different way: as the transformative social street experiment that, despite its more gentrified elements, continues to move and groove to its own taunting beat. In a world still heavily intent on pigeonholing everyone, it seems we need that view now more than ever.
WAKE IN FRIGHT
DIR: TED KOTCHEFF
In an industrial art form that values gloss, glamor and glitz over authenticity, it is jarring to experience a film that is as real as narrative movie making gets. Wake in Fright really is jarring in its gritty, sandchoked way. It’s a Technicolor gut punch of a film that subverts your expectations while constantly keeping you off balance. A handsome, urbane schoolteacher in a dust-caked town little more than a train station wide heads for Sydney on vacation, but finds himself caught in a delirious spiral of self-degradation and alcohol at his stopover in “The ‘Yabba,” a slightly larger burg populated by huge men with red noses and leering eyes. The film builds a dangerous sort of inertia, ratcheting up the disorder slowly as John (Gary Bond) bounces from one alcoholsoaked situation to the next. His selfassumed superiority to the locals blinds him to his own temptations as he’s led further down the rabbit hole by Doc (a superbly unhinged Donald Pleasance) whose crazed smile, drunken narratives and manic energy brings a shade of the insane to the flood of aggressive hospitality and hyper-masculinity that permeates the screen. Wake in Fright is a terrifying look at adolescent posturing left to fester in damaged men. It’s a powerful study of the step-by-step way that man can shed his civilized exterior, losing first his way, then his mind. Shot beautifully in desiccated, sweltering long shots of yellowed dirt and blue skies or in disorienting interiors that practically smell like a cramped, sweat-dampened shack, director Ted Kotcheff clearly made his masterpiece with this film. Climaxing in a nightmarish orgy of spotlights and mass animal murder, Wake in Fright is a front end collision with morality, good taste and high art; a brutal masterstroke of exploitation masquerading as cinema (or vice versa). It’s the kind of movie that deserved to be rediscovered, a gem of Australian film that’s as transgressive as it is unforgettable.
(ASIAN MAN/ COMMUNITY)
With a roster that includes members of Vox and the Hound, the Rooks, Astronomical and Dead Legends, I went in expecting a broad musical perspective from All People; and they delivered. The debut album, Communicate, boasts a huge sound that is equal parts angst, hope and most importantly, fun. At 23 minutes and eight songs, ambassadors to the all-ages community tread in the waters of world music, hardcore, reggae and even spoken word. Tracks like “Unhindered” and “Fleeting” bring a ferocity that would make the Suicide Machines blush, while more subdued tracks, like a perfectly percussive dub instrumental, make for a more balanced listen. One of the high points is a well-placed monologue over the chimes of a dreamy electric piano and vibraphone. The delivery is more hopeful than frustrated and the message is clear: honesty and empathy equal unity. As this musical rollercoaster builds upon itself, it’s hard to ignore the potency of singalongs that chant “It will happen one day at a time / with others in mind.”
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO OST
After the devastating death of frontwoman Trish Keenan in January 2011 due to pneumonia, it’s almost too eerie to hear the latest Broadcast album. While the band is most recognized for their iconic psychedelic synth pop album Tender Buttons (2005), this release seems to follow more closely in suit with Radio Age—the band’s last release while she was still alive. Although recorded before her death, the 39 haunting tracks (most of which are less than a minute) could be mistaken for an album of mourning by sole remaining bandmate and Keenan’s romantic partner, James Cargill. However, Berberian Sound Studio was created as a soundtrack to Warp Films’ latest thriller, which follows a foley artist as he works on a giallo-style Italian horror fi lm set in the 1970s. The tracks range from signature psych, ambient fl urries like “Teresa, Lark of Ascension” to heavily weighted organ compositions like “Burnt at the Stake.” Cargill spoke of a future release of neverbefore- heard recordings featuring more of Keenan’s infatuating vocals, but until then this ominous original soundtrack will have to hold us over.
THE DAPPER DANDIES
BETWEEN ST. ROCH & THE CHANNEL
New Orleans has been in the midst of a full-on traditional jazz revival for the past few years now, bringing the music away from its ossifi cation within the canon of American art forms and right back into the street, the clubs and the smaller venues that are cleaned-up versions of the brothels and honky-tonks from which it fi rst emerged. The Dapper Dandies, comprised of a musically savvy bunch that includes vocalist Caroline Fourmy, piano player Josh Wexler and bassist Greg Schatz, threatens to yank the music back into the canon. Not that it doesn’t sound good: Fourmy’s vocals on classics like “Sweet Substitute” and “Buddy Bolden Blues” are straight out of a radio broadcast circa 1930; Sean Dawson’s trumpet work is a revelation and Jason Cash’s elegant clarinet playing ought to be up there with the work of Dr. Michael White and Panorama’s Ben Schenck. Compared to the work of some of the other trad jazz revival artists on the current scene, the Dandies’ work simply sounds so correct, a pretty sonic picture that doesn’t take many chances. It will take far more than their chops to distinguish themselves in the current environment, but it’ll certainly be fun to see how they’ll try.
(MOM + POP)
My mistake was listening to this record in the beginning of an early morning. It sounded good, sure, but in the sunrise nothing really clicked into place. The second time I started up Flume, the lights were low and everything just made sense. The heartbeat thud of the bass, the serpentine rhythms, the hissy snares; “It’s a sexytime record for hipsters!” I thought. Unlike contemporary producers like Flying Lotus or Hudson Mohawke, Flume seems far more comfortable making something groovy without digging into intense polyrhythms or stoner space trips. There is an element of French house in the muffl ed poofs of his bass hits and the grooves he digs into, though. The most interesting element to Flume’s production is in its casual weirdness. Songs sound clean, but there’s always something askew. Claps seem to pop just a hair later than they could, the beats sometimes feel a little hitch-stepped and his full-on hip-hop track “On Top” pairs rapper T. Shirt with a simple break that’s warped by fader swipes and a burst of machine noise for each hook. Even his more abstract moments are still more relaxed than intense. “Ezra” rides clicking percussion and whirring synths to a laid back climax, but just as quickly morphs into the more aggressive “More Than You Thought,” which comes on like West Coast G-Funk fi ltered through fl angers (or didgeridoos maybe?). It’s a groovy cut before it drops into an ambient chant, then quickly bounces back to life again; there’s always a left turn waiting ahead. After the second, third, tenth play through, I can only say that the warm, soulful way Flume produces electronic music only gets more impressive.
THE MAN WHO DIED IN HIS BOAT
Portland’s queen of melancholy and Grouper’s mastermind, Liz Harris, has quite an expansive cult fanbase. An original LP of her ambient masterpiece Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill (from 2008) is nearly impossible to track down in the far reaches of eBay. Believe me, I’ve tried. One can only imagine how overjoyed I am that there is a reissue coming out this month. What I didn’t see coming was an entire new album of unreleased material recorded during the same era. Thus The Man Who Died In His Boat stylistically reflects Dragging but stands tall as its own body of work. Her first single off of the album, “Vital” is a droney acoustic track with hazing vocals that had me convinced this would be my favorite release of 2013, but the track “Living Room” confirmed that. The trickling guitar melody, accompanied by a stark vocal tinged with stillness, leaves me breathless. The album was inspired by a memory from Harris’ teenage years when she saw an abandoned sailboat washed up on Agate Beach. In a press release, Harris states: “It was impossible to know what had happened. The boat had never crashed or capsized. He had simply slipped off somehow, and the boat, like a riderless horse, eventually came back home.” Who’s to say why she abandoned this material until now, but I’m glad it seemed to also find its way. —Dominique LeJeune
THE LONE BELLOW
THE LONE BELLOW
The eponymous debut from the Lone Bellow is certainly a very good record by a very talented band. Mastermind and songwriter Zach Williams has generated a catchy, heartfelt batch of tunes borne out of his marriage and its struggles to overcome his wife’s severe horseback-riding accident and resultant temporary paralysis. There’s plenty of jangle, a pronounced gospelsoul influence, and the three singers create a harmony in the class of CSNY or the Grateful Dead. Unfortunately, the whole thing suffers from a hint of contrivance. Before listening to any of the music, I expected to hear something like a choir of fieldhands chained to the front of a locomotive charging through a tunnel, which is what a Lone Bellow should sound like. But the Descendant label is a division of Sony Records and in a New York Times piece, executive Jay Harren basically admits to trying to ride the coattails of Mumford & Sons with this band. Even at that, this record lacks the dark drive so prevalent in Mumford songs or the recklessness that the Avett Brothers embrace so readily. In their stead, we find too much Nashville polish and big arrangements that are neither lone nor bellowing. There is talent here, certainly, in the writing and the singing. It just feels like the label’s ambitions are getting in the way of where the band could/ should/wants to go on its own. A little less wall of sound and a little more Florence Welch could turn the Lone Bellow into something monstrous and beautiful, and this record makes it fairly obvious that that is indeed what they should be. —The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Jackson
MAN CHEST HAIR
There’s something inexplicably satisfying about a good, dumb rock song. The brainless lyrics, ham-fisted posturing and caveman backbeats just can’t be stopped when the sun has set and the room smells like booze. Man Chest Hair is a cheekily titled treasure trove of lesser known hard rockers from the English rock scene of the ‘70s. These are the kinds of rock songs written by men who don’t know the meaning of the word “monogamy” and they want to sing all about it. It’s a parade of long-haired, bare chested guitar rock, but there’s surprising variety here. The glitzy disco-funk of Slipped Disc’s “Come On In” is as far from the dilated pupils and ancient synthesizer bleeps of Savoury Duck’s “Dragon Flight” as it could be, but here they are nestled together comfortably. The connective tissue throughout is a carefree attitude towards music, a scene that finds it perfectly acceptable to pen a wah-wah rock anthem heavily indebted to pomade. Urbane Gorilla’s “Ten Days Gone” feels like the illegitimate child of Ozzy and Grand Funk and in my book that’s a damn good thing! Unapologetic, shirtless rock’n’roll is really where it’s at. There’s the sound of mindless fun blasted across this compilation, from its massive kick drums, big voices and even bigger riffs. On their own these bands never made much of an impact, but removed from their day, assembled like a crack team of partiers and played now when radio is dominated by gutless music, it’s jarring to hear how much fun rock’n’roll used to be. —Mike Rodgers
PERSONAL SPACE: ELECTRONIC SOUL 1974-84
There’s an experience that only comes from visiting your local record store. You’ve been there a hundred times, everything looks the same, then something catches your eye. Through the beautiful alchemy of cover art, title and indescribable emanations, this record stands out. It’s a glorious moment for treasure hunters and sometimes it produces gems like Personal Space. Collecting home recorded, barely-heard cuts from the early days of synths and drum machines, this compilation is a beautifully damaged counterpoint to the smooth R&B that dominated the charts then. Amateurish, creaky, sometimes even cornball—this is electronic production in its toddler phase for sure. But like all outsider music, the sheer force of sincerity in these clunky songs is more than enough to mask any technical difficulties. Jerry Green’s “I Finally Found the Love I Need” is hissy, lo-fi and incredibly funky. The robotic drum machine, the tense, crackling synthesizers and Green’s unreserved delivery—like he was leading a church choir—add up to something so good it’s scary. From the echo chamber future soul of Starship Commander Woo Woo to the brain damaged, downer funk of Spontaneous Overthrow’s “All About Money” there’s a breadth to this collection that was unexpected going in. I love music that feels a little broken, so a ditzy cut like Jeff Phelps’ “Super Lady,” (casio beats, squealing oscillator and all) just hits a bullseye for me. Like all great compilations, listening to Personal Space feels like opening up a larger world. —Mike Rodgers