Categories
Music Reviews

Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death

Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death

Some of Us are in This Together

Riot Act Media

Spencer Moody’s newest adventure, Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death and its album Some of Us are in This Together, is filthy beauty. It laments the past, but not because it was any better than the present. It’s as if Triumph drove through its hometown after it was deserted by all the townspeople, and now all that can be done is relive the memories that once were, or maybe should have never been, as sung in tracks like “No Hope Here.”

It’s ambient, it’s noise, it’s spoken, it’s screaming, it’s melancholy, and it’s slightly over it. “The Dirty Street’s” lonely, echo-ey guitar and thumping percussion bounce around Moody’s tired vocals that knock and rap like a shoe against a door. Other hard-hitting tracks include “Hey Asshole” (“Hey, asshole, shut up and dance!”) and “Don’t Lust after Other Women” (complete with howling). The last song “Friends Do Not Fear” is such a great ender. There is a fine point of either hope or acceptance within the din of a heavy heart. Slow and deliberate, it’s a track not to be missed.

This is definitely a must-have for the followers of the churches of Murder City Devils, Dead Low Tide, and Smoke and Smoke.

TOLSATD: www.myspace.com/tolsatd

Categories
Print Reviews

Threadless

Threadless

by Jake Nickell

Abrams Image

A century ago America wrested its wealth out of the ground with sweat and steel. Westinghouse, US Steel, and The Union Pacific built a nation by taking the guts of the earth and rending them into an industrial powerhouse that beat back the Nazis. But today those giants are gone, bankrupt, bought out, and marginalized, only to be replaced by… get ready… art T-shirts! Eggheads from the Harvard business school flock to the Threadless Store in New York and marvel that a bunch of art students made a fortune (by Art School standards, not by Bill Gates standards) by selling T-shirts with cool graphics that people voted and paid for up front. I’ve been involved in a few T-shirt fundraisers but never made a nickel, so I give these guys points for raw capitalism.

Their business model was elegant in its simplicity. Artists submitted designs; an online community discussed them and picked the ones they liked. The owners printed the winners and never had any overstock. Along the way orders grew, designs came quicker, and every year they moved to a bigger warehouse. This glossy book tells the business story, but more importantly shows the history of their designs. Early shirts are simple, featuring blocky graphics, few colors, and iconic concepts. As the company prospered they add new lines, some featuring name designers, some using simple slogans and stock typefaces. But overall, the designs become more detailed, larger, and more subtle. Occasionally the cute and conceptual makes it in, but simple is for the past now.

Text? Is there text? Yes, but it seems cut down to the 140 characters to which modern minds are limited. That’s not a bad limit here; we want to see sexy people in tight clothing with snarky art on their chest. This business plan might work for your concept, but I’ll bet the big money comes in and gives the whole thing a bad name before long. Threadless is still a cool place with nifty products and I hope they can hold off the inevitable buyout by Sears or Target. The American Dream still has some steam left, but we are in a decade of diminished expectations. My advice? Stock up on panda shirts. Pandas will always be cool.

Abrams: www.abramsbooks.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Ke$ha

Ke$ha

Cannibal

RCA Records

To take an idiom from the art of blacksmithing: strike while the iron’s hot. For the past half-century, the expression is more apt for the ephemeral “art” of pop stars. RCA Records strives to keep the momentum going for its platinum-selling act Ke$ha. The same label that inks deals with American Idol winners released the nine-song Cannibal less than a year after Ke$ha’s debut album, Animal. And of course, the mini LP can be purchased separately or as a companion to Animal.

Ke$ha, via RCA Records, says her only goal for releasing the eight new tracks and one remix “is to keep them [her fans] dancing.” That doesn’t sound too difficult. But then again, the stylized sleaze of Cannibal is anything but difficult. All songs are about partying, guys, glitter, and partying with guys and glitter.

A propulsive echoed beat kicks off the title track of Cannibal and sets the tone for the entire album: “now that I’m famous/ you’re up my anus/ now I’m gonna eat you fool!” Co-written with Ke$ha’s mom (no joke), “Cannibal” tries to weave the filth of GG Allin into a modern pop tune. Not that Ke$ha would know who GG Allin was. Or does she? Allin did record a song called “Cunt Sucking Cannibal.”

Like other pop stars’ records, the sticky sheen of hitmakers Dr. Luke and Max Martin is all over Cannibal. Ke$ha sing-raps her bratty rhymes with Auto-Tune and vocoders over club-ready electro pop beats. And there’s the text-worthy song titles (the first single “we r who we are” and the ’80s workout video-sounding synthesizers of “c u next tuesday”). Six lyricists are credited with writing “Blow,” which makes you wonder how many brains it takes to craft a winning chorus like, “this place about to blow ow ow ow ow ow ow.” It doesn’t matter. While Cannibal certainly isn’t great art, it will keep Ke$ha’s fans dancing.

Ke$ha: www.keshasparty.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

David Bowie: Rare and Unseen

David Bowie: Rare and Unseen

starring David Bowie

MVDvisual / Wienerworld Presentation

There’s the stoned-out-of-his-mind David Bowie in this collection, and there’s the warm, sober, mature David Bowie, and both endure dreadful BBC interviews from the likes of Russell Harty. Either of these Bowies could easily be the most elegant creature England has ever produced, but the stoned one was a bad mix with Harty and a five-second satellite delay that no one was really used to in 1972. In this lengthy early interview Bowie focuses on where Ziggy Stardust lives, but remains completely polite as Harty grills him on what sort of suit he might wear on his next tour. Personally, I would have called in an airstrike on my own position.

Once Harty fades and Bowie is cleaned up and retrospective, he becomes interesting, funny, and open about the indiscretions of his past. In an attempt to cure his addiction, he moves to Berlin, the heroin capital of the world. Yet he survives and continues to produce interesting material, even if he’s not burning up the charts in his orange hair and cast of theatrical persona. Working with Brian Eno, he becomes less an actor and more a musician. Drop-ins by Carlos Alomar, Brian Eno, and Julian Temple add some contrast to this wide ranging documentary, and Peter Frampton and old video clips enforce the artiness of his endeavors. If you can get through the stoned opening segment, this is a fine compilation of interviews and an introduction to Bowie’s inner monologue. If you want to be a rock superstar, you could do worse than emulate him. Just make sure to include that “surviving drugs” part, that’s pretty important.

MVD: www.mvdvisual.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Brian Wilson: Songwriter 1962-1969

Brian Wilson Songwriter: 1962-1969

starring Brian Wilson

Chrome Dreams Group

If you think Lawrence of Arabia has too much sand, then you might think this documentary has too much Brian Wilson. Clocking in at a bit north of three hours, this “unauthorized” biography spans Wilson’s most productive years. The first of these two discs takes in his childhood and the rise of surf music, with the second disc focusing on his studio years when touring began to overwhelm him. At the end of the series, we leave Wilson sapped by drugs and mental illness with the uncompleted Smile project abandoned by Capitol records, which this documentary claims never “got” him.

So how much do we learn about Wilson? He’s a driven creative genius with a fatal flaw — just the type to make a great tragic hero. The Beach Boys was a family project, but Brian often worked with outsiders, including his girlfriend (in The Honeys) and he even gave Jan and Dean a huge hit (“Surf City”). Wilson saw himself as a sort of Phil Spector, and hung out at Gold Star Studios. Beginning in the surf genre, Wilson expanded into the wall of sound, and ultimately became influenced by the psychedelic movement. Extensive interviews with bandmates, session players, producers, and musical experts are endless and occasionally fascinating. We see early “videos” created to promote the songs. A professional musician explains chord structure and key changes and the internal dynamics of Wilson’s music. Someone describes the process as creating “Wagnerian kids’ music.” At the time we all saw his sound as light, floaty love songs that celebrated sun, sand, surf, and birth control pills, but what we were experiencing was divine intervention.

Were the Gods of Rock speaking to us as we made out and worked on our sunburns? Possibly, but those Gods are pretty loquacious and not everything they say is critically important. Like a session with your camera-crazy uncle after a vacation to the Dakotas, there’s an interesting story lurking here if an editor would exercise the discipline of the 90-minute human attention span. I watched this over several nights and after awhile I found myself checking to see if I accidently hit the double back arrow. As much as I love Wilson’s sound and songs, this documentary induces a powerful urge to fast forward.

MVD Visual: www.chromedreams.co.uk

Categories
Straight No Chaser

CD Review – Haroula Rose (Folk album of 2011)

CD Review – Haroula Rose (Folk album of 2011)

These Open Roads

Self-Released

Picture yourself in the middle of a field with nothing around for miles. Just then you hear some mid-tempo finger-pickin’ and a whispy voice barely heard over her guitar. This would be Haroula Rose and the song would be the opening track on her debut album These Open Roads. The rest of this 12-song album is a folk-lover’s dream. Guest spots by fellow folkies Orenda Fink (of Azure Ray) and Sad Brad Smith add some indie cred to an artist that is deserving of her own. Haroula’s sound puts you at ease and her voice is like audio Vicodin. It will take all your pain away and leave you refreshed. Once you are finished with this album, not only will you feel better about yourself, but you will also understand exactly why Haroula Rose is a singer/songwriter that will blow you away with barely a whisper.

http://www.haroularose.com

Categories
Print Reviews

Rock Connections: The Complete Family Tree of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Rock Connections: The Complete Family Tree of Rock ‘n’ Roll

by Bruno MacDonald

Collins Design / Harper Collins

Can you define rock ‘n’ roll with just a few dozen artists, a handful of labels, and three or four clubs you wished you’d visited but never did? That’s the task Bruno MacDonald set out to tackle, and by reducing most artists’ careers to trading card size, he does a fair job. The big name Gods of Rock: Elvis, Mick, Bowie, and Iggy get star treatment with two page spreads, but Michael Jackson scores three pages. You may not like his pastimes, but damn, he moved product. While the occasional scandal gets a passing comment and the spectacular deaths by OD, HIV, or DOV are alluded to, this book is an upbeat, “let’s focus on the positive” publicist’s version of the past 60 years of rock history.

MacDonald aims for a paper wiki of rock history, showing the connections that casual fans might miss — the stylistic influences of clubs, producers and labels, chance meetings between acts, and to a very minor degree, who was sleeping with whom. Yazoo and Justin Timberlake find a common point in David Bowie. The Chemical Brothers and The Beach Boys link via Daft Punk. Elvis influenced everyone, but to get to Waylon Jennings you have to get off at the Johnny Cash interchange and go past the Dylan bypass for three more exits. Wait, you were supposed to turn at Carly Simon a mile ago…

Each page has a dozen tags with other page numbers you can refer to for a “Choose Your Own Adventure” journey, and that’s an annoyance. Just like tvtropes.org or Wikipedia, the crossed threads of information tie together in odd and unexpected ways. Online, it’s a perfect way to explore, but in print it gets confusing, and books work best if you read them front to back. I tried the jumping around concept, but finding precise pages wasn’t as fun as just opening at random. Flipping paper to trace out the world of CBGB alums or David Bowie’s influences seemed more work than I wanted to expend and this book demands a web page and a dedicated army of fans to update it and keep it fresh. But it’s a great concept, one I’d like to see pushed farther than mere ink on paper.

Harper Collins: www.harpercollins.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Vanity Theft

Vanity Theft

Get What You Came For

Vigilante Music/Adamant Records

Why do I love Vanity Theft’s popcentric take on grrrl rock? For the same reason I can’t resist The Donnas — because, though they’re not making any strides to redefine music, they know how to structure a pop song and back it with a little bit of a dirty punch.

Get What You Came For, with its perfectly constructed little three-minute nuggets, is brought to sparkling life by four adorable chicks who are barely of legal drinking age — one of whom, oddly, is a former Disney Channel star (Lalaine from Lizzie McGuire). Before disregarding the group merely for its Disney association, take “Anatomy,” and “Limb From Limb” for a spin. These two songs alone, and perhaps in spite of the rest of the otherwise redundant record, make this little band from Dayton, Ohio worth opening your brainwaves to.

It may not be life changing, but it’s pop music with a youthfully naive tough girl sneer, and if it worked for The Runaways and Tegan & Sara, then why not for Vanity Theft?

Vanity Theft: www.vanitytheft.com

Categories
Archikulture Digest

Chicago

Chicago

Chicago Book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb
Music by John Kander
Lyric by Fred Ebb
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Choreography by Denise Ahlert
Starring Danielle Lang, Michelle Elise, Priscilla Bagley, and Joel Warren
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

Wow.

THIS is why I show up at the theatre every weekend. Steve MacKinnon and his stellar cast put all their energy, timing and skill on stage and pull of a show that would make Mr. Fosse proud. From the opening rag to the final jazz hands, this trip to the wild Midwest never relents – the songs resound, the dancers hit their marks and the sin never stops.

Halfway thought the Jazz Age bimbo Roxy Hart (Elise) shoots her lover Fred Caseley (Steven Pugh.) Hubby Amos (Eddy Coppens) might take the fall, but Caseley sold them their furniture and that sort of makes a difference to a simple guy like him. In jail, Roxy meets her press idol Velma Kelly (Lang) and her manager Mamma Morton (Bagley). While hanging is an option, so is the Orpheum circuit if Roxy and Amos can raise $5k to hire Billy Flynn (Warren). Flynn has a perfect record, none of his female clients have swung, and many have gone on to play in Peoria. Five grand is a few years’ wages for a guy like Amos, but he pulls part of it together and the real fun begins when Flynn manipulates the press and Sister Mary Sunshine (Joshua Eads-Brown) into painting gold digging Roxy as a misunderstood Mother Theresa. Yes, it like Fox News, but with much better choreography.

Let’s start with the dancing – there’s quite crowd on stage, and beyond not tripping over each other Denise Ahlert gave us the tightest lines I’ve seen on stage – NO one was off beat. Bits of Busby Berkley appear, and master of Ceremonies Santio Cupon could well have been animated by Tex Avery. Behind the arras Don Hopkinson made a last minute substitution for the piano player, and gave us a soundtrack quality musical experience. The follow spot spends most of its time on lead Danielle Lang; she seemed world wearily but not ready to give up her dancing shoes – you need good footwear to steal a show this big. We found her moral opposite in Eddy Coppens as Amos Hart – he was the only principle to not have his own exit music, but broke your heart with “Mr. Cellophane.” Pick names at random, everyone had a starring moment: Joel Warren with Flynn’s “Razzle Dazzle,” Roxie and her opener “And All That Jazz,” Mama Morton’s smoky “When You’re Good to Mama.” You know the hits here – pick your poison.

OK, there’s sex, jazz, miscarriage of justice, and hot-cha dancers. For all I know, Sloth is lurking as well but I’m just as happy if they replace it with a few of the other six. Time here is well spent – every song might chart, every dance inflames, and the tale of Roxy selling out that last bit of soul that was caught in her molars is the sort of morality play that’s aims to entertain, not reform. Roll down your socks and rouge your knees – it’s Friday night, and I know a place with a hot piano.

For more information on Theatre Downtown, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net

Categories
Archikulture Digest

Glory Days

Glory Days

Glory Days
By Nick Blaemire and James Gardner
Directed by Ryan Roberge
Musical Direction by John R. Mason III
Airhead Productions
Studio Theatre, Orlando FL

Not many shows set their emotional bar as low as “Glory Days.” Will (James Channing) reunites his other nerdy buddies a year after high school graduation. None of them made the cool football team, and he’s out for vengeance: he’s going to turn on the sprinklers during the “Senior – Alumni” foot ball game. Supporting him is frat boy Andy (Kyle Stone), the logical Skip (Ross Alagna) and ambiguous Jack (Sean Flynn). It’s good to hook up again, but no one shows much enthusiasm for the sprinkler prank and it fades when the keys don’t work, Will’s possibly imagined girlfriend “Horse face” Henrietta doesn’t have the real ones, and Skip brings beer. Eventually someone comes out of the closet, and we wonder if any other secrets lurk in this well adjusted group of ordinary guys. There aren’t.

The singing doesn’t always project to the back of the room, but theater are some nice songs – “We’ve Got Girls (by The Balls)” and “Open Road” have some legs, “The Thing About Andy” offers a smidgen of surprise, and “My Next Story” shows Will is over his plan to sprinkle a game that is often as not played on muddy fields. In the world of vengeance, Will needs to aim much higher, and while his other friends seem to have their lives in order, he feels at loose ends. Perhaps tonight’s failed prank will set him straight.

While the cast seemed nice enough, there was little audience involvement beyond the director. The story and people in it are flat and thinly drawn, and what conflict arises never seems important on stage. Some background checking shows this Broadway one night stand had a solid four week run in the DC area, and then a short preview run followed by a cancellation. It’s not a bad show; it’s just not an interesting one.