Reviews, January ’15

Books

 
antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_31_Image_0005THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ SCENE 1970-2000: A PERSONAL RETROSPECTIVE
THOMAS W. JACOBSEN
(LSU PRESS)
Jazz music is New Orleans’ artistic tributary that runs into the larger river of American music and culture. Music folks and local historians know the history of Congo Square nurturing a myriad of traditional African religious and musical practices in the face of systemic European, and then American, oppression. More so, they know the history of Louis Armstrong, Storyville, and the other jazz icons and landmarks that became famous in the early 20th century and became must-stop locations on any history tourist’s checklist. The last part of the 20th century is often looked over, but it is during this period that jazz became an institution. Thomas W. Jacobsen’s The New Orleans Jazz Scene 1970-2000 chronicles the jazz scene in New Orleans until the dawn of the 21st century. It tells the story of how jazz music moved from obscurity and run- down clubs to Jazz Fest, a World’s Fair, academia, and a cornerstone of the New Orleans tourism industry. Jacobsen’s book is just as much about how jazz survived in New Orleans as it is about the artists, venues, and records. Before the 1960s, jazz music stagnated in the city, relegated to second-rate bands playing late night sets in seedy strip clubs. No media or critical attention focused on emerging jazz in the city. In the ‘60s, the reopening of Preservation Hall and the opening of Pete Fountain’s Jazz Club started the new “Golden Age” of jazz in New Orleans. Constant touring and international gigs helped export the music to global audiences. Along with the emergence of new venues came a new, global population of jazz musicians who also found a home at places like the Norwegian Church in the Garden District. Jacobsen weaves some of the city’s political history into the book by discussing the tourism projects of Mayors Moon Landrieu and Marc Morial. He details the city’s efforts to enshrine jazz and capitalize on a resurgence of international interest in the music through various means, such as erecting a statue of Louis Armstrong and starting Jazz Fest. He also delves into the emergence of young people playing in brass bands for change. While his description of sets at Jazz Fest and artist residencies in clubs prove exhaustive and might interest serious music fans (he is guilty of the insufferable act of lumping all non-jazz musicians, like Stevie Wonder and Willie Nelson, into the “Pop” category), it’s the history of the institutionalization of jazz in New Orleans that makes Jazz Scene an important book for anyone curious about the history of Jazz Fest, Preservation Hall, or the city’s tourism industry. —Andrew Mullins III

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_32_Image_0003PUNK USA: THE RISE AND FALL OF LOOKOUT! RECORDS
KEVIN PRESTED
(MICROCOSM PUBLISHING)
Having sort of grown up with Lookout! Records, I was really looking forward to the release of this book. There is a lot of pre-band and pre-label history that I was interested to know, plus I had always wondered how such a popular (and lucrative) record label could go under. Founded in Laytonville, California, by Larry Livermore (an ex hippie in his ‘40s at the time), Lookout! started as a way to put out his band’s first release: The Lookouts’ One Planet, One People LP (1986), featuring a very young Tré Cool on drums. He teamed up with David Hayes (local Bay Area scenester) and they released the iconic Turn it Around 2×7” compilation, featuring the earliest recordings from Crimpshrine, Operation Ivy, Corrupted Morals, and Isocracy (pre- Green Day, Samiam, and Filth). Author Kevin Prested goes into detail, through narrative and interviews with people who were there, about how Livermore met and became close friends with 14 year-old Chris Applegren, a DJ at local radio station KMUD. The age difference made for a weird pairing, and after adding artistic differences to the equation, David Hayes soon parted ways with Livermore to start his own label, Very Small Records (later called Too Many Records), a great label in its own right. Of course, Lookout! struggled for years—operating out of Livermore’s apartment—to raise money for each release until the inevitable happened: Green Day became a huge success and the label started reaping the benefits of their new popularity, becoming millionaires by simply selling copies of the band’s first two albums. Prested interviews a lot of people associated with the label (Lookout! employees or members from such bands as Blatz, Tilt, the Wynona Riders, The Donnas, etc.). Most of the book focuses on Applegren and how he eventually became sole owner of Lookout! It explains how the label rose to the top and then, through a lot of bad business decisions, poor management, shitty book keeping (or none at all), ended up losing everything. I won’t go into detail about how it all happened, but it’s pretty amazing. It seems that toward the end, all Applegren had to do was keep repressing his two biggest sellers (Green Day and Operation Ivy) to stay afloat and he couldn’t even get that right. Add a bunch of lawsuits to the equation and the amount of money pissed away is staggering (probably $50,000,000). I have a lot of problems with this book. It’s written so simplistically that it feels meant for a 5th grader. Prested goes into great detail to describe what each and every band sounded like, which I thought was redundant; it seems most people who seek this book out are probably familiar with some (if not most) of this music. He also goes on and on about the Mr. T Experience throughout the entire book. I always thought they were rather lack luster, but they receive the bulk of the narrative for some reason. What I did enjoy about this book was all the great memories it brought back about my younger days: seeing Green Day play their first New Orleans show at the Abstract Bookstore, going to Gilman Street for the first time in 1994, seeing Pinhead Gunpowder in Robert Eggplant’s backyard in 1996, and traveling all over the South with friends to see Jawbreaker, Fifteen, Avail, etc. It even made me go back and listen to a lot of these records, some for the first time in decades. My musical tastes have changed (and expanded) a lot since 1990, so sadly most of this music does not hold up to the praise I once gave it. The Lookout! bands I can think of that still have a place in my heart are Crimpshrine, Nuisance, Avail, and Op Ivy. Plus, you can’t deny the greatness of Blatz, Filth, and Monsula. I still can’t believe the time and energy I wasted on Screeching Weasel back then. The one thing I found missing was the big debate as to why Livermore refused to put out the Crimpshrine Lame Gig Contest LP in 1989 (it was originally pressed on a label in Germany only to later be repressed by Lookout! in 1992). I had heard he thought it wasn’t good enough or maybe it was because they were breaking (broken?) up. Despite the elementary writing style and the fact that there are no pictures or interviews with Livermore at all (a big disappointment), I still think this is a worthy historical document, especially if you have fond memories of these bands, the music, and that time in your life. —Carl Elvers

 

Movies

 
antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_32_Image_0004THE BALLAD OF SHOVELS AND ROPE
JACE FREEMAN
(THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS)
Filmmaking team The Moving Picture Boys captured a pivotal two-and-a- half year run by Americana’s reigning husband and wife duo, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, billed as Shovels and Rope. The film opens with a teaser of the 2013 Americana Music Association Awards, where S&R would eventually win Song of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year. What was supposed to be a project spanning months turned into an extended run, as the film crew came under the S&R spell. This documentary really shines with intimate footage that almost seems too good to be true: Cary Ann waiting tables and bussing dishes, Michael singing early bars to “Cavalier” into his laptop’s camera, or Cary Ann fleshing out the first verses and chords of “Birmingham” on her front porch in South Carolina. We also get close- up scenes with S&R and their mascot and beloved dog, Townes Van Zandt, camping out in their van, which is parked overnight at a Wal-Mart. We learn that Cary Ann has a penchant for spaciness (losing drum thrones, making a huge mess at the laundromat); how much she’s willing to spend on pajamas for Townes (“It was freezing!” she pleads); or a rare moment of rage where she unloads about a shitty show and threatens a drunk pedestrian who touches their van (don’t touch their van). S&R have always embraced their failures and vulnerabilities––it’s one reason their songs and story have such an aura about them. And Ballad seems to be there for every step of it, whether it’s studio sessions collapsing, discussing record deals, or upgrading from the van to an RV (a moment where Michael picks up Cary Ann and carries her in as if it’s the threshold of a honeymoon suite). We even find out how well Michael cleans up when it’s Christmas time at the Hearst family residence. That’s right, we get to meet Cary Ann’s parents in this film. Framing their story around the Americana Awards is my only quibble, as the Americana scene can feel exclusive, insular, stiff, and a little bougie at times. Shovels and Rope’s story is much more universal: it’s a blue-collar, working musician story, with huge overtones of romance and partnership, all set to kick-ass music. For anyone who’s ever had to count out laundry money, or wonder how your art is going to feed you, this documentary is for you. And if you’re already a diehard fan of S&R like me, Ballad will scratch that itch real good. —Dan Fox

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_33_Image_0002WILD
JEAN-MARC VALLÉE
(FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES)
Wild is the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, which takes us with her on a trek across the Mexico- to-Canada-spanning Pacific Crest Trail, after a tragic loss and the self-destructive decisions that follow in its wake. Cheryl, played expertly by Reese Witherspoon, is revealed slowly to be a kind of feminist anti-hero, through a non-linear plot. We meet Cheryl in stages: first as the bumbling, amateur hiker; later as the self-righteous teenager who is smarter than her own mother; then as the no-fucks-given heroin and sex junkie; and finally, as a grounded human being. Don’t think this is 127 Hours for chicks: Cheryl is not presented with ultimate survival/ life-or-death scenarios as she traverses the trail over a series of months. Sure, she gets thirsty, she eats cold mush, she experiences extreme discomfort. But Wild is not for the macho-hearted. There is no money shot—or, if there is, it happens in the opening sequence, when Cheryl rips her big toenail off, loses a boot to the precarious edge of a cliff, and then flings her other boot off in utter disgust. There’s plenty of tension in the script, though (crafted by High Fidelity’s Nick Hornby), which also introduces most of the male characters as creepy antagonists. A truly honest summation of Wild could be characterized as two hours praying Cheryl doesn’t get raped by the men she encounters on the trail. It’s a film well worth watching if you’re a man wishing to experience what it’s like to suspect—rightfully so, in many cases—the motives of a strange man who wishes to bring you donuts and coffee in the morning, or offer you help when you need it badly. Ultimately, this is a tale of transformation, and it soon becomes clear that Cheryl has already cheated death at the trail’s start; hiking the PCT is one long, slow heal. Director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer’s Club) has an able actor in Witherspoon, so we’re left alone for vast stretches of the film with Cheryl, plunging deep into her headspace, thanks in large part to Wild’s score, which haunts us over and over again with Simon and Garfunkel songs. Not since The Graduate has their catalogue been so effectively mined and molded to depict a song stuck in one’s head. The time period of the film also plays to maximum effect: set in the mid ‘90s, there is not a cell phone or computer to distract the plot or characters, and that simplicity greatly aids the efficiency and emotional complexity of this film. —Dan Fox

 

Music

 
antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_30_Image_0003CLASSHOLE
S/T
(TERROR CULT)
You hate to use the word “supergroup” with bands like these but how else can you describe Classhole’s lineup, which features Siberia co-owner and longtime scene pirate Matt Muscle on vocals, Gary Mader (Eyehategod, Hawg Jaw) on guitar, Grant Tom (haarp, Mountain of Wizard) on bass and Paul Webb (Clearlight, Mountain of Wizard) on drums? Classhole is the stripped down version of all those bands, like a study in classic hardcore without any embellishment. You won’t find solos or extended jams on this record, just 15 tracks (at 45 RPM no less) that all tell the cops, herd mentality, and the ubiquitous “you” to fuck off in as many ways. Thanks to production by Steve Berrigan (who’s also worked with Eyehategod and Mountain of Wizard), this release—Classhole’s first on vinyl— is punchy as hell, but still plenty nasty. The insert features a wicked photo by Gary LoVerde that captures a Classhole warehouse show, including rapt crowd. I’ve seen blood-splatter pressings of this record on the internet, if you care about that kind of thing. —Dan Fox

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_30_Image_0009D’ANGELO & THE VANGUARD
BLACK MESSIAH
(RCA)
After 15 years in the shadows, Michael “D’Angelo” Archer—whom music critic Robert Christgau christened “R&B Jesus”—has finally delivered his Sermon on the Mount. This masterful pastiche of blues, funk, soul, gospel, hip-hop, and R&B sounds at once novel and ancient, sighing through dense layers of instrumentation like some sort of mythic beast. Of course, the artist is merely a man, and like any mortal, D’Angelo gets by with a little help from his friends. Among the disciples in his Vanguard are Questlove, Kendra Foster (of Parliament/ Funkadelic), and Q -Tip. As far as musical influences are concerned, the list goes on and on. “1000 Deaths” sets an old recording of a preacher over a funky, oscillating groove that recalls Prince’s Revolution, while a track like “Sugah Daddy” is likely to tug the heartstrings of local natives raised on Allen Toussaint and The Meters. Released at the end of a nightmarish year of violence, the album appears like an apocryphal voice from the past, encouraging listeners to breathe deep and beat on, boats against the current. In the liner notes, D’Angelo writes: “It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen.” The beautiful messiness of Black Messiah presents a mirror to the world we live in, showing it as it was, as it is, and leaves it up to us to decide how it will be. —Alex Taylor

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_30_Image_0004HIGH
REAL GOOD EP
(SELF-RELEASED)
HiGH’s new EP is, well, real good. It’s only three songs, but it’s extremely enjoyable, especially for anyone who listened to 106.7 The End in 1998. Each song is unique and shows off how musically versatile the band is. Isidore Grisoli’s haunting and broken voice on “What You Want” forces the listener to be engaged and uncomfortable in a way that makes you want to take the long way home. Josh White’s percussion has always impressed me. He drums with care and chooses to hold back in order to let the music be what it is. He doesn’t care if all eyes are on him or not. Craig Oubre, on guitar, is the most interesting part of HiGH’s sound. The almost shoegaze vs. Santana instrumental segment of “Hunchback” shows how unique the band can be. Hopefully they continue to trust themselves and their talent so that a full length can come and remind all of us that we should’ve enjoyed the Clinton era a little more. —Robert Landry

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_30_Image_0005METRONOME THE CITY
INSOMNIA
(SELF-RELEASED)
Metronome The City is the little engine that could in a scene so cliquey, jaded, and picky. They are too smart and clean for the crusts in the Bywater and too weird and linear for the college kids uptown. However, being a band for 15 years gives them some pretty thick skin. It’s unfortunate to say, but Metronome The City has no true home in New Orleans. Unless you’re a jazz band, being instrumental in New Orleans is like mild chicken from Popeyes: no one is interested. Insomnia breaks that mold, or at least it should. “Spaceracer” comes out with a bang, blasting loud, heavy drums and taunting melodies from the keyboard. The weight of 15 years sits strong in the drone and the pace. The band returns to their roots with tracks like “Beach” and “Wonton.” These tracks are angular and dry, but nostalgic in all the right places. These old timers have grown, proving that New Orleans is more than just played- out jazz riffs and young fashionable punk bands. —Robert Landry

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_30_Image_0006MR. GNOME
THE HEART OF A DARK STAR
(EL MARKO)
This Cleveland duo is less of a band and more of an existential attack. The Heart of a Dark Star is an experimental painting—one that spans so many genres that listing them here would be a waste of space and ink. When I put this record on, I was lifted from my small living room out of the window, gently floating in blues and blacks on some bizarre Peter Pan adventure. Nicole Barille guided me in “Star Stealers,” as the waves of her voice both caressed me under a pillow of shiny red lips and cut through my bones like an angry lover. Still intact, the production styling of Sam Meister is what gives Barille’s voice a place to be free and daring. This is exemplified in the track, “Rise and Shine,” where Barille’s voice is caked with purposed and cannot be held back, even by recording limitations. —Robert Landry

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_30_Image_0007NAME CALLING
2014 DEMO
(SELF-RELEASED)
One of the newest groups to dive into the pit of New Orleans punk bands, Name Calling comes out swinging. Their new four-song demo is fresh, imbued with impressive and bold energy. Having only played a few shows, they’ve made a splash, being dubbed one of the most pop-punk bands in New Orleans. It’s hard not to agree after listening to their demo. The influences range from newer outfits such as RVIVR, all the way to The Descendents with simple, fun chord patterns and honest, almost introverted lyrics. Ricky Hayden (vocals/guitar) comes in with an agenda and a pretty good voice. Most of the lyrics come out of a diary and seem genuine—the kind that procure a sense of auto-therapeutic value. John Saia lays down simple, yet complementary bass lines (and some decent screams in the album’s closing track). David Gonzalez’s wild and flashy drumming is also essential to their flailing sound. Most of the time, these kinds of drums are annoying, but in this case, they are instrumental to keeping the energy at the forefront. This is a solid demo from a group that shows great potential. —Robert Landry

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_30_Image_0008NATIVE AMERICA
GROWN UP WRONG
(INFLATED)
This New Orleans trio has spent quite a while playing in support of bands like The Shins and The Black Angels. So much so that the group has managed to pick up a few tricks from the road and pour them into Grown Up Wrong. It’s rare for a band these days to make a song about giving up singing songs and have it sound so good. But Ross Farbe, John St. Cyr, and Ray Micarelli spin the cries of the practical-minded into pop gold harmonically reminiscent of The Byrds and filled with a heaping dose of guitar rock backing it up (see: “Well Understood”). In fact, the guitar rocking is such good throwback work that it nearly obscures some great lyrics, which serve to belie the throwaway length of many of the songs (the tracks rarely extend beyond three minutes). Granted, there are a great deal of “guy longs for girl” trope twists in songs like “Caroline” and “Jenny,” but the delightful snooze of “Naturally Lazy” and the wistful, swinging remembrance of days past in “Old Friends” hint at what Native America could become. Wrong at its best is garage rock done right. More road-testing should get this band there. —Leigh Checkman

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_31_Image_0002REVEREND HORTON HEAT
REV
(VICTORY RECORDS)
It’s a tendency for any musician who specializes in a certain form of American roots music or Americana to slip into a bit of nostalgia with age. Aging artists reminisce on topics ranging from past loves to stupid mistakes, the “good old days,” or whatever the fuck happened to our values, morals, and country. For the Reverend Horton Heat, this self-introspection, both personally and musically, might seem a little redundant. The right Rev from Texas plied his trade and rode his psychobilly surfboard on the wave of nostalgia for early American rock and roll in the early ‘90s. His gasoline-fueled, Texas fried, coked-out brand of surf rock spawned hits like “Bales of Cocaine” and “Galaxy 500.” You can even play his “Psychobilly Freakout” on the popular video game Guitar Hero. With his new album REV, the content doesn’t change much, but he writes from a perspective that suggests maybe he’s taking the good times for granted as he’s gotten into middle age. He starts the album off with a massive surf rock jam called “Victory Lap” that throws a middle finger in father time’s face. This segues into the second track, “Smell of Gasoline,” about a girl from his youth who ran faster and looser than even the young RHH. “Let Me Teach You How to Eat” is the type of drunken, late-night declaration of love that oozes more good, bone-clinging grease than a gas station hot plate. Still, the spectre of time hangs over the album. Songs like “Never Gonna Stop It,” “Scenery Going By,” and “Chasing Rainbows” all impart some of the Reverend’s wisdom on life garnered from wild nights in bars and long stretches on the road. The content and style of Heat’s music hasn’t really changed at all; he’s always been nostalgic for the stylings of another era. It’s his commitment to the music and style that brought him happiness through the long tours and desperate nights that he can be proud of as his career moves towards the golden years. —Andrew Mullins, III

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_31_Image_0003TARE
BY PROXY
(LABEL)
Tare has come out of nowhere, crashing through doors that their former outfit, New Lands, set up for them. However, they aren’t ones to ride coattails. Josh Campbell (guitar) and Zak Meredith (vocals/guitar) have paved their own path, showing that diligence, persistence, and honesty can take you quite far. Within the past few years, there has been an influx of sporadic, edgy, twinkly bands in the New Orleans scene, but Tare fills the gap between reverbed emo and grunge. By Proxy reeks of awkward moments at that college party where you get too drunk, and long distance phone calls where you hesitate to say “I’m sorry.” Songs like “You’re Not Just Some Eisenhower, Are You?” lead you on with a linear structure, only to bring you back with the nostalgic verse. Dustin O’Keefe (bass) is untamed in his playing, which acts as the main energy source for the band. “Jefferson Invents The Wheel” is the highlight of the record, evoking memories of Minus The Bear. As with each project Ian Paine-Jesam (drums) is involved with, his creativity shines through. However, in tracks like “S. Adams” he isn’t afraid to be reserved. This band needs to exist in New Orleans. —Robert Landry

 

antigravity_vol12_issue3_Page_31_Image_0004TV ON THE RADIO
SEEDS
(HARVEST)
TVOTR are very much in the driver seat of their artistic endeavors these days. If you are an existing fan, then you already know. If not, then Seeds might be the prime opportunity with which to align yourself. On their fifth studio album, Dave Sitek (guitarist/ producer) and company are proving once again that growth within a pre- established aesthetic is not a dirty concept. Lead single “Happy Idiot” is an upbeat sing-along that might just save pop music from itself, while the clever layering on “Test Pilot” might appeal to a more patient soul. I find it kind of refreshing to hear a band of this caliber still embracing the intimacy required to complete a focused dynamic. The epic “Ride” starts with a swelling piano/strings intro just before being swept up into one of the bigger rock arrangements in the band’s recent efforts. Between sprawling vocal hooks, danceable beats and pulsing synths, fans will be hard-pressed to pick favorites here. If these are just the seeds, then I very much look forward to the fruit. —Kevin Comarda

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