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Reviewed: Jorma Kaukonen – Ain’t In No Hurry

April 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Jorma1

One-time Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna picker Jorma Kaukonen is back with a new album of stripped-down acoustic tunes that showcase his uncomplicated songwriting and classic blues picking style.

Meandering through American folk, blues, and a few tunes that have a laid-back, Jimmy Buffett sound. Ain’t in No Hurry features covers and original tunes and help from Kaukonen’s longtime Hot Tuna bandmate Jack Casady, Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin, Larry Campbell on strings, and Teresa Williams on backing vocals.

For longtime fans of Kaukonen, this album is an intimate glimpse into the mind and music of a renowned artist, and for new fans, this is a great jumping off place to start backtracking your way through Kaukonen’s celebrated career.

In the Spotlight: The Ninth Gate

November 12, 2014 Leave a comment

NinthGate

by Mat Weir

Dean Corso is the type of cutthroat dealer you only want to meet when you’re giving him money. Even then, you only hire him because he’s the best at hunting down and assessing rare books, not because you like him. He’s a man driven by greed who isn’t afraid to screw over his competition to make his client happy.

Played by a young(er) Johnny Depp, Corso is the protagonist for Roman Polanski’s 1999 thriller, The Ninth Gate. Loosely based on Arturo Perez-Reverte’s 1993 novel, The Club Dumas, the movie follows Corso as he’s hired by wealthy book collector Boris Balkan; a man with little personality and few morals to offset his billions of dollars. Balkan instructs Corso he has acquired a copy of the priceless The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows—a seventeenth century book written by Aristide Torchia (who was burned at the stake for the manuscript) based on an earlier manuscript authored by the Devil himself. The Nine Gates has the power to summon the Demon and even give the bearer immortality, if and only if, the spells are done correctly. Balkan tells Corso there are only two other manuscripts in existence (three total), but rumor has it only one of them is genuine. It’s Corso’s job to locate the other two, in the private collections of equally rich and eccentric characters, and assess for himself if there’s any validity to the rumors.

Spoiler Alert!!! Do NOT enter the Circle of Knowledge if Thou is not prepared!

Almost immediately after taking the job, strange things begin happening to Corso. Upon visiting with the Balkan manuscript’s previous owner, the lusty, young (well, much younger than her late husband, anyway) trophy widow, Liana Telfer, he’s followed by several people and keeps seeing the same, strangely beautiful woman—who seems like she might be helping him somehow.

Corso flies to Europe in search of the other two copies, learning the differences between each lies in the engravings. While each book has nine similar engravings, each copy has three that are slightly different from the others—and the differences are signed “LCF.” Think of it as a Highlights Magazine “Spot The Differences in These Two Pictures” for Satanists.

With the mysterious deaths of the other two collectors who own The Nine Gates, Corso is able to grab the LCF engravings and delivers them to his client. Balkan then unsuccessfully tries to summon The Beast and burns in the fires of Hell, leaving Corso to have random sex in front of an old castle with the woman who’s been helping him. The movie ends with the woman telling Corso that the final engraving Balkan used was a forgery. Corso returns to the original documented owners of the manuscript to find they had been killed but just so happens to find the real engraving (what a lucky break!) The final scene is of Corso walking through the Ninth Gate at the old castle from previous. The anti-climatic ending is only one of many flaws riddled throughout a movie that should’ve resembled a masterpiece instead of Swiss cheese.

Depp

I originally saw The Ninth Gate in the theaters at the ripe age of 15 and I was stoked. A new thriller by legendary director, Roman Polanski, featuring my then favorite oddball actor (by 1999 Depp had solidified himself with movies like Fear & Loathing, Dead Man and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape without becoming a cliché with later roles like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tim Burton’s not-so-secret-crush)—I mean, how could I not be stoked?

It would turn out to be the time I learned a valuable lesson in cinema. As I watched the film roll by, I grew more and more confused at the transparency of the screen, hoping to learn at the end that Polanski had sent the audience on a red herring hunt. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

As I like to pretend to dabble in optimism, let’s start with the good points. First, Ninth Gate actually starts off strong. Our introduction to Corso is him assessing a private collection as priceless, telling the inheritors not to sell the collection for anything less then eight figures but they have a few “more common” titles he’ll gladly take off their hands for more than their worth. Of course, he’s lying through his teeth, screwing his competition and the collectors. The pace is moderate and utilizes many noire elements that continue throughout the film: shadows, lines, hardened characters, seductive females, a quick tongued protagonist who isn’t quite sharp enough to put all the pieces together until the end and even the detective motif (even if Corso is a book detective).

That’s pretty much where the good ends. While one-dimensional characters work in noire films due to context, they don’t work for Polanski. With no character depth, one of the first blaring questions peeks at the beginning: Just who is Balkan and what does he do to have so much power and money? When he first shows Corso the tome, it’s locked away in an atmosphere controlled, private library. Something not very many collectors in my financial bracket own. Just saying.

As mentioned, the major flaw of the film is transparency. Towards the beginning we see a shot of a tattoo on the widow Telfer’s shoulder, later to be told in weak dialogue that is almost forgettable, that’s the mark of an underground cult for the rich & elite. But why is this even important? Everything is explained later in the film and we see Telfer in the cult. The movie could’ve been much more thrilling without the knowledge at the beginning of the film, leaving the audience to guess about who’s after Depp’s copy and why.

The worst crime of transparency is about three quarters of the way in, when Corso is chased through the streets of Paris and the mysterious woman (who you always suspect is the Devil in a series of not-so-subtle suggestions about her ulterior motives) rushes to his rescue BY ACTUALLY FLYING IN AND SWOOPING DOWN on the assailant. I mean, COME ON!! Yes, the film’s subject matter is based around religious phenomena, but Polanksi still had the viewer believing the film was based in reality. This scene was so horribly done it actually had me laughing in the theaters.

Honestly, I’m still not even sure about the significance of the castle in the film. I mean, why that place? What happened there that the Devil just can’t get away from? With absolutely no explanation the portal o Hell could easily have been the French woods or, more accurately, a McDonald’s.

All that said, The Ninth Gate is a flick worth watching simply to see what it could’ve been. The cinematography is beautifully done and Polanski’s noire feeling throughout is worth it. The potential for an amazing film is all there, but instead of pushing the boundaries, Polanski believed his own hype and allows the movie to coast through mediocrity. The Devil is in the details.

Rockfire Funk Express – People Save The World/Rockfire Funk Express

July 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Rockfire

by Mat Weir

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In 1964, three young, African-American brothers sat down with their father to watch The Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The next day the eldest brother, David Hackney, found a discarded guitar in the alley and began learning songs.

By 1971, David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney formed the protopunk band, Death. Despite the band’s new version of hardrock and their positive message of love, record labels hated the name, didn’t think it was commercially viable and completely missed the Hackney’s concept of taking something negative and spinning it to the positive.

However, this isn’t about Death. It’s about their soul-side project from 1973, Rockfire Funk Express. While they never released any music whien David Hackney was still alive, RFE recorded two songs, “People Save The World” and “Rockfire Funk Express,” both of which are now available on 7-inch vinyl from Third Man Records.

“People,” the A-side, is a funk-rock tune with socially conscious lyrics driving the way. The self-titled track is a much lighter, breezy instrumental track with the Hackney’s enjoying a jam session.

What I really love about this release is the “What If” factor. It’s amazing to think that such talented musicians with a wide array of musical tastes (besides protopunk and funk, the Hackney brothers would also be in a gospel band, finally settling into a reggae band before Death was discovered in 2009), were so far ahead of their time it would take 30 years for the rest of us to catch up. Thank God we did, too, because the Hackney’s music still sounds fresh, vibrant and powerful.

Reviewed: Vultures At Arms Reach – Colossus

July 24, 2014 Leave a comment

VAAR

by Mat Weir

If you’re a Santa Cruz resident even remotely tapped into the local music scene and you haven’t heard of Vultures At Arms Reach (VAAR) then you’re a got-dang dirty liar. In the three years of their hatching, VAAR has released 2 EPs, +)))((()))((()))((()))- (the battery symbol) and дикарu (Russian for “savages”), both with high number of downloads and an underground, online following.

Recently, VAAR released their latest album, Colossus. Available on CD or blood red vinyl, the album’s title describes itself perfectly. VAAR creates their sludgy sound via Godflesh, sprinkle some Neurosis and then set the whole fucking thing on fire.

It opens with the title track, a droning tune about how we build prisons of hate around ourselves, flies through “Blood Eagle” with its headbanging riffs and gang vocals, settling into “Dust,” a hauntingly-melodic number that starts beautifully and ends as hard as concrete.

This is where VAAR gives a creative middle finger to anyone who tries to classify them.

Side B begins with “Ashes,” another song that starts gently, incorporating a morose piano with Travis Howe’s suicidal guitar wails, Brian Rucker’s pounding backbeats and Nate Kotila’s steady bass. “Ashes” rolls into “Heavy Hands,” ditching the piano and cleaner sound for their beloved distortion and switching it up even further with Howe ditching his scream for singing.

“I’ve always liked the concept of an album break,” explains Howe. “It’s like, ‘That’s our level of Rock ‘n Roll. That’s our intensity, now here’s a nice little break before we do it again.’”

“We’ve been branching out in a lot of different ways,” agrees Rucker.

“Yeah,” clarifies Kotila. “We’ve been experimenting with a lot of weird stuff, but it’s still us.”

This is proven by the last song on the LP, a Melvin’s-like doomy number called, “Draugr.” The song is one of the reasons I love this album so much. It’s strange and distant at times, with the band less concerned about entertaining their audience as they are trying to forge a path only they can see.

Colossus is available at Streetlight Records while supplies last and look out for VAAR t-shirts, available soon!!

Reviewed: Ghoul – Hang Ten EP

July 23, 2014 Leave a comment

HangTenCover_TC76-copy-e1396476169636

by Mat Weir

When we last left the band of murderous mutants from Creepsylvania they were riding high off last year’s split, Splatterhash, with Cannabis Corpse. We know they were on the upswing because the songs “Inner Sanctum” and “Spill Your Guts” were about gore, torture and weed; everything a good Ghoulunatic loves.

But friends and fiends! Creepsylvania is falling! Hang Ten finds the land torn to bits by hordes of Mezmetron-addled gangs. The most brutal of all are the Cannibals MC, led by the murderous Kreeg, who “ruled Creepsylvania with an iron fist from the throne of his iron hog.” To wrestle power from Kreeg, an army of vigilantes is raised, calling themselves “The Acolytes of the Basilisk.” Will the Basilisks gain control of Creepsylvania and knock the torturous Kreeg from his powerhold? Or will Kreeg and the Cannibals MC prove to be the greater lunatics?

If you’ve read this far and I haven’t convinced you to listen to Hang Ten yet, then you seriously need to reevaluate your musical taste. However, I will try one, last argument.

As the name suggests, Hang Ten is Ghoul’s surf rock opus in a way only that band knows how. Let’s put it this way: things would’ve been much different if Ghoul was at Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello’s Beach Party. These songs are sped up, distorted down and thrashed out; the perfect soundtrack for Gidget after coming down from an acid trip with a nice speedball shot to the brain. They even end the EP with an instrumental cover of Ervin Drake’s, “It Was A Very Good Year,” made famous by ol’ drunken, Mafia-connected, Franky-boy Sinatra.

With all the great music coming from Creepsylvania lately, it only leaves the question: Where’s the new album?!?!?

Light in the Attic Reissues Dylan Gospel Covers Album

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

BrothersAndSisters_Outside

by Cat Johnson

I’ve always thought that a good gospel choir could make any song sound amazing. “Mary Had a Little Lamb?” No problem. “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad?” Brilliant! So throw a song such as Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” into the mix and we’re talking a potentially transformative situation here.

In 1969, a group of session singers called Brothers and Sisters took on the Dylan catalog for Ode Records, the record label of renowned producer Lou Adler. With roots in the Baptist churches of Los Angeles, Brothers and Sisters tapped into the soul, human questioning, and acceptance that’s woven throughout Dylan’s material. Now, Light in the Attic has reissued the classic, rafter-raising album on CD and vinyl. Here’s the track list:

1. The Times They Are A Changin’
2. I Shall Be Released
3. Lay Lady Lay
4. Hey Mr. Tambourine Man
5. All Along The Watchtower
6. The Mighty Quinn
7. Chimes Of Freedom
8. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
9. My Back Pages
10. Just Like A Woman

While it’s a bit odd to hear “Lay Lady Lay” and “All Along the Watchtower” reworked in the gospel style, other tunes, including “I Shall Be Released,” sound as though they were made to be sung in church.

Here’s an excerpt of what Light in the Attic has to say about the project:

The genesis of the project was Lou Adler, the music business visionary who staged the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival. He imagined a project that combined the songs of Dylan with L.A.‘s most sought after session singers, most of which began their singing in the Baptist churches of South Los Angeles. “Listening to Dylan’s songs, I felt there was a gospel-like feel to them, both spiritually and lyrically,” Adler says in the liner notes. “So those two ideas, to work with these singers and to explore that side of Dylan – came together.”

Recording sessions at Sound Recorders Studios in Hollywood were a four-day party, with food, drink and far more musicians than were ordered, many of the singers bringing along cousins, mothers, partners and more. Carole King came to hear, as did Peggy Lipton and Papa John Phillips. It was a rock ‘n’ roll version of a gospel church. “Lou just put on a big, crazy party,” remembers Edna Wright. “He had all these people together, all this raw talent. And we were there for nothing but the love of singing.”

If you’re a fan of Dylan, gospel, Light in the Attic, soul music, or killer reissues, you’re going to want to give this one a spin. Here’s a teaser:

Wandering Out of the Chaos with the Black Angels

March 18, 2014 Leave a comment

IndigoMeadow

by Mat Weir

Last year saw the release of the Austin-based, L.A. transplanted Black Angels’ fourth full-length, Indigo Meadow. By compressing themselves into a quartet (although I remember five people on stage in San Francisco for the tour), the Black Angels maintain their fuzzed-out, ’60s vibe while straying from their earlier psychedelic roots and branching out into more structured, poppier songs.

Compared to their first two albums, Passover and Directions to See A Ghost, the Black Angels substitute their sonic offense with more playful, accessible songs. Tunes like “Don’t Play With Guns,” “The Day,” and especially “You’re Mine” approach the genre in the same vein as the Yardbirds or the Turtles; catchy ditties heavy on Christian Bland’s & Kyle Hunt’s fuzztoned guitars topped with plenty of Farfisa organ and–dare I say it–radio friendly.

Even with the evolution of sound, Stephanie Bailey’s drums are just as thunderous as ever. They provide the heavy spinal chord for singer Alex Maas’ liquid voice to flow through. Songs like “Evil Things” and “Holland” maintain the more droning, dramatic flavor we’ve all come to love from the band. In this sense, Indigo Meadow fits nicely into the Black Angels’ discography.

However, this also poses a problem which can be summed up nicely in an example from real life.

One of my fellow Streetlightians is a huge ’60s, psychedelic, garage rock nut. This cat has LPs and 45s from bands nobody but the true, vinyl elite know about. Not only will he play you a track from a band so ahead of their time they were making punk in 1960, he’ll then play you the obscure, underground bands they were influenced by. A true connoisseur. However, whenever I play the Black Angels his face grows puzzled and he asks, “This is what you call psychedelic?”

This sentiment is shared by several critics. Steven Hyden in Pitchfork went as far to say that Indigo Meadow is nothing more than the same from the Black Angels, only worse because of the breakdown in psychedelia & the band’s pretentious nature (yes, the band is a little pretentious, but they’re an acid-rock band living in L.A. They’re supposed to be pretentious. Just look at the Doors.).

And herein lies the problem. For some, the Black Angels started out as nothing but a throw-back, hipster band trying to revive a type of music not their own. For others, they’re a band that draws influences from the past but tries to add their own flavor, which is wandering out of the chaos and into the more digestable.

I’m of a third party. I’ve loved the band since the first time I listened and continue to be Pavlovian excited whenever I hear something new. Even though I know what to expect from the band, each album does have its own unique style, a snapshot of the band at that moment in time. Sure, you might not be in the mood for something more poppy–like when I was tripping on acid last weekend and the album sounded sooooo organized and produced–but their discography will always provide you with something else. Plus, they’re killer live. Both times I saw them live, the show was energetic, dreamy and lucid with the music flowing through the audience’s bodies in a drugged-out trip.

Indigo Meadow might not be my favorite album, but it’s a great one for anyone not familiar with the musical genre who’s looking for a more prodced sound. I’ve kept this thing on heavy rotation since the release date and the LP format comes with a beautiful, giant booklet attached inside the gatefold. Once again showing that the Black Angels are a bunch of artists trying to preserve some form of standard in an ever-changing landscape.