Reviews, February 2015


Best known for the landmark hip-hop history Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, Stanford University Institute for Diversity in the Arts director Jeff Chang now turns his eyes to diversity in our visual culture, be it in the art gallery or in advertising. What follows are looks at how multiculturalism infiltrated and transformed the fine arts worlds while doing the same for marketing, culminating in the then near-perfect melding of street art with Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  But the recognition of a man of color as the head of the country has not ended  the reality that people of color must still fight to be seen. To Chang ’s credit,  though his transition from discussion of the visual to an examination of where we are today—which include  unflinching looks at undocumented immigrants fighting for the DREAM Act, the Trayvon Martin case, and the true losers in the Great Recession— seems clunky, it jibes well with what he shows throughout Who We Be: we have gone too far to turn our backs on each other. The images surrounding us make sure of that, even if our politics may ignorantly fight it. —Leigh Checkman

Confession: I’ve been looking forward  to this type of memoir from Neil Young for a while—one that dwelt on his magnificent obsession with collecting  old cars from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Special Deluxe mostly delivers, in ways that Waging Heavy Peace, its precursor, couldn’t. By focusing on the cars as his storytelling vehicle (pun absolutely intended), Young is able to reminisce without getting too preachy in the wrong places, driving his story as well as he drove his 1948 hearse “Mort” through his early days as a musician in Canada. Young ’s surprisingly delicate, beautiful watercolors of the cars he recalls accompany chapters that build in their intensity and introspection, culminating in the tale of Young ’s grandest mechanical project to date: transforming a 1959 Lincoln Continental into the series  hybrid Lincvolt. It is there that  Young ’s yen for old gas guzzlers, his artistic interests, and his devotion to environmental causes come together. The way he writes about it is slightly less impassioned than the way he wrote about Pono music players, yet more focused. Through knowing his cars, Young truly knows himself. It’s an added bonus that Special Deluxe is that rare sophomore writing effort that  shows improvement on the part of the writer. —Leigh Checkman



After two very excellent 7”s, plus a limited live cassette recording, Skrammel Records (from Sweden) pummels the public with this bulldozer of an album. Gasmiasma has been playing shows here for a few years and features former and present members of Down, Crowbar, Eyehategod, Missing Monuments, Cancer Patient, Ritual Killer, Mountain of Wizard, etc., but this band sounds nothing like their previous projects. Just like you’d expect, the songs shove you to the ground from the beginning: “For eons we have suffered to the iron sledge of war, shot in the face to save a race of systematic whores” from “Der Schrecklichkeit” = fucking brilliant! The lyrics deal with war, suffering, violence, politics, death, etc. Nice gatefold packaging and images. This 12” plays at 45 rpm and is over before you know it—pretty appropriate since they play faster than hell. Absolutely some of the fastest drumming I’ve ever heard! It seems like this band would be bigger if they could tour (I know they’re playing Houston soon), but jobs and other band responsibilities are probably hindering that option. So if you don’t live in New Orleans, drive over to Siberia next time they play and prepare for the onslaught. “Shoot to kill, don’t shoot to hurt”: indeed. —Carl Elvers


From the ashes of haarp and Omean  comes the first official album from Gristnam—basically compiling both bandcamp entries (release 1 and release 2) into an 11 song LP (limited to 300) and cassette (limited to 100). If you’ve been paying attention, I reviewed release 1 last year and this LP further showcases  their place in brutal music. Shaun’s voice is unmistakable and downright powerful. Watching him scream in your face with his veins popping out of his neck can be intimidating. I’m glad Housecore agreed to release this since these guys probably won’t get a chance  to tour very often; I guess that’s why the LP is so limited. Let’s see, gatefold jacket? Check. Lyric sheet insert? Check. Colored vinyl? Check (although my copy is black—damn). I’m not saying every album should have these components, but in my opinion that’s how you do it right. No CD release? Comes with a download card instead; I guess that’s cool unless you don’t have a computer. I was worried these guys wouldn’t ever play New Orleans since they’re scattered in different areas. Boy was I wrong! Essential listening. —Carl Elvers


feb15-ag_Page_34_Image_0006IRON  & WINE
It can be all right to take a look back, to take a dig through long-forgotten work and see where an artist has been. Sam Beam, of Iron & Wine, has decided to do just that by pulling out some recordings, dusting them off, and letting them see the light of day. What he reveals is, in many ways, what longtime listeners of his music have known all along (but has lately been submerged under layers of electronic bells and whistles). His true strengths lie in his lyricism and the near-hypnotic way he has with spare instrumental arrangements. The first of his Archive Series begins with music of such intimacy and longing, it’s almost startling in its romanticism, yet it envelops the listener like a cozy blanket. His lens begins to widen with the wistful where has it all gone? tale of “Beyond The Fence,” returning to an uneasy relationship peace in “Quarters In A Pocket.” Volume No. 1 could probably have lopped off the last three songs just to keep the atmosphere of the album from getting too bogged down musically—after a while, it begins to sound too dirge-y—but the disc as a whole is a testament to how much, and how little, Iron & Wine has changed over the years. —Leigh Checkman


feb15-ag_Page_34_Image_0003MARK RONSON
What makes Mark Ronson’s albums  curious isn’t the music. In fact, each album he makes seems to increase in pop artistry, with Uptown Special bringing some incredible funk (especially on the Morris Day and The Time-tinged “Uptown Funk,” which Bruno Mars makes his own) as well as guest appearances by recording newcomer Keyone Starr on “I Can’t Lose,” and Kevin Parker on ”Daffodils.” The crafting of most of the songs references late ‘70s-early ‘80s funk but steps out some for the Mystikal showcase “Feel Right” and “Crack in The Pear,” a noir suite with lyrics by novelist Michael Chabon. The curiosity here is a familiar critique of Ronson’s albums that still applies: will Ronson as artist please stand up? What he is great at thus far is producing, talent scouting, arranging, and DJ-ing, while roping in Chabon to write for him. Ronson is the Don Kirshner of our times, except Kirshner never attempted to pass off what he did as art. I’m left wondering how many more albums Ronson will make that will allow him to remake his influences to his own satisfaction using other people’s voices, lyrics, and instrumental work (credited, of course). But these days, who really bothers to look at liner notes? —Leigh Checkman


Before Carrie Brownstein gained recent international fame via the popularity of Portlandia, Janet Weiss became  known as a kick-ass rock drummer in her own right, and Corin Tucker made her way through the past decade with her own group, all three were part of a great band that has taken its sweet time in coming together to make another album. Though it doesn’t rock quite as hard as 2005’s The Woods (“No Anthems” is the closest they get), No Cities To Love still has plenty of moments to love that have made it well worth the ten-year wait. It starts with the blissfully guitar-heavy comment on the cost of living, “Price Tag,” and continues on from there. Brownstein’s and Tucker’s voices merge well on “A New Wave,” “Bury Our Friends,”  and “Fangless,” with Tucker coming on vocally like the love child of Pat Benatar and Robert Plant more than ever before. What’s evident in Sleater-  Kinney’s latest wails and beats is that  all of this has been sorely missed in rock/indie music as of late, and No Cities is hopefully a harbinger of more to come from these skilled, intelligent rockers. —Leigh Checkman


feb15-ag_Page_34_Image_0009 feb15-ag_Page_34_Image_0008SUPLECS
The day has come: I never thought I’d see Suplecs recordings released on vinyl, but the mastermind at Emetic Records (a huge fan of NOLA bands—they’ve reissued five Eyehategod LPs and Hawgjaw) finally did it! I remember the first time I saw Suplecs (October 1997 at Faubourg Center) I was immediately hooked. Guitarist/vocalist Durel Yates gave me an advance cassette of Wrestlin’… in 1999 and I remember driving home from Checkpoint’s listening to it. When I arrived at my house, I just sat in the car, listened to the entire album and couldn’t move until it was over. Getting signed to Man’s Ruin Records and getting Frank Kozik to do the cover art seemed unreal to me. After seeing them dozens of times around New Orleans, I finally got the chance  to see them in other cities (Chicago in 2001, San Francisco in 2003, Portland in 2006). It was awesome to see different crowds react to my favorite hometown band. Their Mardi Gras show has become legendary and it’s the one show I look forward to all year (I’ve seen all 14). “Stalker;” “Moped;” “Rampage;” “Rock Bottom” (watch that video on YouTube); “Lightning Lady;” “White Devil”—these songs have all become classics. Of course, what goes up must come down. After releasing Wrestlin’… in 2000 and Sad Songs… in 2001, Man’s Ruin sadly went under. Then there was the misfortune of reissuing Sad Songs… on This Dark Reign in 2002. I thought their ship had come in when Mad Oak Redoux was released on Small Stone; they did a vinyl pressing for Dixie Witch, so why not Suplecs? All life lessons and learning  experiences, I guess. Hopefully Emetic is the next step forward for Suplecs. I’m glad they were able to use the original artwork for these reissues (limited to 250 copies each), but they could’ve been so much better. There’s no liner notes, no lyrics, no photos, no colored vinyl (which I care about damn it!), etc. It seems such a shame that these two classic albums got reissued with the bare minimum—they could’ve been massive with just a little effort. Maybe next time. —Carl Elvers


feb15-ag_Page_35_Image_0003THE BODY/THOU
Portland meets Baton Rouge—again. This is the follow-up to Released From Love which came out last year on Vinyl Rites. Not a split LP, but more of a collaboration between both bands. I’m a huge fan of Thou, but I’ve never  understood what The Body are trying to do. I’ve always thought they were nothing but sheer volume with noise and screaming in the background. That doesn’t make this album unlistenable, just different. On top of the trademark heaviness, the songs seem very dark and haunting. To be honest, I would’ve never known “Terrible Lie” was a Nine Inch Nails cover without a little  investigating. 200 copies were cut on white vinyl, 300 on clear, but they all sold out during the pre-order. There’s still plenty of copies on black vinyl, which include a download card. The CD version contains both LPs. All in all, another interesting ongoing piece of work from Thou. Maybe next time they’ll do a project with Coffinworm or something. I just pray they don’t start  going the “noise” route like Full of Hell and Cloud Rat. ––Carl Elvers


Flood Tide is a cinematic reimagining of a project dreamed into reality by Swoon, the world-renowned street artist whose wheat-pastes and installations like The Music Box have enriched the New Orleans art scene for years. Back in 2008, over 40 artists and performers floated seven large sculptures—known as The Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea—down the Hudson River. An undertaking of this magnitude dredges up a multitude of questions: Who are these people? Why are they taking to the river? How do they manage to put together machines as practical as they are pretty? What ecstasies and/or struggles do they face on the water? Unfortunately for us, Chandler chooses to ignore the intriguing realities of this adventure in favor of a false and fractured narrative. Instead of making a documentary of the voyage, we are presented with a disjointed collection of images narrated by a dead woman (about whom we know almost nothing) whispering clichéd prose posing as poetry. This haphazard attempt at dramatization only serves to make me hate the characters involved for their confused  stares, open mouths, and rejection of their parents’ “easy” money. According to what we’re shown by the movie, this impressive feat of artistry was accomplished by a ragtag group of aimless drifters, coasting through their  lives as dumbly as they coast along the river. Chandler’s band, Dark Dark Dark, does provide a beautiful score, especially when set against the eerie, underwater footage shot along the river bottom, and it’s apparent that all of the proper elements are available and ready to be assembled into something greater than the sum of its parts. All the same, in the end, there is only a feeling of betrayal. Certainly, somewhere along the way, there was a real story to be told. As far as I can tell, though, the filmmaker never found it. —Alex Taylor


I love music documentaries and I really love the Descendents. Thank God this film doesn’t disappoint. There’s tons of old footage, photos, and luckily a lot of surviving members and scenesters to interview such as Mike Watt, Keith Morris, Kira… even Dave Grohl puts his two cents in. I wasn’t upset that  Henry Rollins wasn’t interviewed, but why not Greg Ginn? Not only was drummer Bill Stevenson a member of Black Flag for three years, but all the early Descendents records were on SST. I would’ve liked his input (I guess he’s too busy suing people to be interviewed). Anyway, the film explains  the band’s early roots in Hermosa Beach in the late ‘70s, how they came together (I had no idea their first bass player, Tony Lombardo, was 19 years older than the other members!), how Milo joined and became the “anti- frontman” (most hardcore bands had tough guys and Milo was a total dork/ science nerd), the endless lineup  changes, which eventually led to the formation of All, etc. They’re credited with inventing melodic pop punk (singing songs about girls and food instead of Reagan) and influencing  countless bands who became way more famous: Green Day, Rancid, Pennywise,  MXPX, Face to Face, Blink 182, NOFX, Lagwagon, Rise Against, etc. A lot of the film focuses on Bill Stevenson and how influential he is, being compared to Keith Moon and Neil Peart. There’s so many awesome quotes in this film, such as: “Who cares if only 50 people like your band?  There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing shameful.  Where is it said that every band has to be huge like Michael Jackson? Where’s that written?” (Bill Stevenson) OR, “What I do is filtered through a lack of true knowledge of music, just an incredible love for it” (guitarist Stephen Egerton). I can’t stress enough praise for the Descendents or this film—really incredible! “Clean Sheets” to this day is still in my top 10 of most awesome songs. You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of pop punk to enjoy Filmage—it reaches all lovers of music. —Carl Elvers


Frank tells the story of Jon Burroughs, an aspiring musician whose big break comes when the keyboard player for the experimental band Soronprfbs tries to kill himself by walking into the ocean. Jon happens to be watching the attempted suicide, tells the band’s manager that he plays keyboard, and is hired to fill the newly vacated spot. The rest of the story unfolds as a kind of musical bildungsroman, wherein Jon pursues his rock-star pipe dream by studying the lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), while isolated with the rest of the band at a cabin in Ireland. The film was originally conceived as a biopic, written by Jon Ronson, keyboardist for the English band Oh Blimey Big Band, which is fronted by Frank Sidebottom (a character wearing a spheroidal papier-  mâché head created by Chris Sieves back in the ‘80s). As the screenplay took shape, Ronson increasingly fictionalized the characters and events, drawing inspiration from such musical weirdos as Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart. Despite the dense layers of musical mythology and the efforts of the filmmakers toward marketability and entertainment value, the film manages somewhat successfully to maintain the theme at the heart of the story. Somewhere out there people are still making things out of pure, animal  necessity and sometimes the best thing you can do to help them is to leave them alone. Then you can make a movie about it. —Alex Taylor

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