Archive for:February, 2009

‘Winding like a Snake in the Grasses’: A Review of AZITA’s ‘Enantiodromia’

February 23rd, 2009

I saw Azita open up for Stephen Malkmus at Irving Plaza in New York several years ago. Malkmus was terrific — all drawl and solos, and I can’t get that floppy bowl cut he wore out of my mind — but it was Azita who stayed with me until long after the show was over. I was struck by her singing, edgy and free and swooping in and around vowels, scooping out vowels with an unpolished spoon. Sharp and flat in the right ways, like Astrud Gilberto; moving in and around her head voice, from nasal to back of throat to everywhere else, lending her voice this totally distinctive elasticity. And those melodies — they completely insinuated themselves in me by show’s end, winding and complex, knotted, beguiling. I bought the LP “Enantriodromia” soon after.

I haven’t listened to the album in probably 8 months. So when I put it in this evening — it’s still playing now — I had this thrill, this shock of glad recognition. Don’t you love that? When you realize a forgotten record has burrowed deeply into you, into strata you had no idea it had possessed the power to penetrate. Maybe its her melodies — I believe that part of the power of a well-constructed, complex melody is its capacity to imprint the brain more deeply, sink down into its trenches, its Marianas, like a kind of tremendous galleon, sink down and stay there for centuries, attracting kelp and wolf eels and endless glittering shoal. Like Van Dyke Parks’ melodies, like Brian Wilson melodies, like certain melodies of Debussy or that of Chopin’s ‘Barcarolle’… the density of the melody helps it anchor down in the peat of the brain, slowly effervescing up through the soil, leaking good rust for months and years, blooming, ripening, gaining emotional power.

I love this record. I love her honest voice, honest and open like Oldham’s, Guthrie’s. Simple despite its restlessness and leaps and changes in timbre. I particulary dig “Birds”, its buoyant scatted passage, its arresting chord change right at “Birds have grown up singing in the trees”. I love her piano playing, instinctive and serving well those endlessly-surprising slanted harmonies of hers. Tons of extended chords, diminished chords, so much tension and suspension that so richly satisfies and never feels confrontational or difficult for the sake of it: a kind of dancing slowly and to one side, with unusual but necessary bodily contortions, like a kind of aural Butoh.

This record is a spell: long and hypnotic incantations, multiple languages, strange symbols woven into the air, complex results that reveal themselves in time. Letting this record into you is like waking up one day in a house of gordian-knotted ribbon and vine; such rare pleasure in stretching your limbs, admiring the whorling braids, pulling it all in and over you like blankets.

AZITA’s Offical Website

C. Way/ © 2009

[posted by: C Way at 11:36 PM]

[file under: Music]

No Neck Blues Band at Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, NY – February 13, 2009

February 14th, 2009

no neck

A man in the corner rattled a horn.

Another man with a long braided beard-tail carried a cymbal on a rope. He let it brush against the floor and shivered it there, giving the room some shimmery metal hiss. Sometimes he’d use his feet to play with it and pick it up. Then he would hover it and swing it, slowly & carefully, with purpose. Like you would wave and shake a censer.

This man would walk back through the seated crowd sometimes, through the aisle, not in confrontation, but just as you would move your arms in a stretch and kick your feet out in a stretch because you want to uncoil.

A woman flailed against a piano, her palms rapidly striking blocks of keys. Sometimes she slapped a cymbal. I think I saw her on the floor.

Another man played drums. What he played was sturdy and necessary. A frame for wild ivy to grow in and around.

They kept moving and changing position. They kept bringing out different drums, different instruments. Their restlessness soothed. Restless the way birds seem. Constant motion without tension.

Sounds emerged and died over time, naturally and without fuss. Guitar sounds, percussive sounds, breathy pants and moaning sounds, organ-like keyboard rumbles. All of it shifting in and out of place naturally and imperceptibly, like a star fading as dawn begins to glow, like leaves of certain tropical plants turning to face or unface the sun.

The music they brought was not a song, it was without beginning or end, it was like a jungle waterfall you approach, sit beside, feel the rushing misty balm of, and then leave behind: it was falling before you got there and it will keep falling when you’re gone. It doesn’t care about you and at the same time will always need a witness.

C. Way/ © 2009

No Neck’s Myspace


Soundatone Records [order No Neck stuff here]

[posted by: C Way at 4:09 PM]

[file under: Music]

The Fisher King: Movie Review

February 12th, 2009

fisher king robin williams

I didn’t think much of Robin Williams before this movie. If I thought of him at all it was as a hyperactive, babbly gnome. Now to be clear, The Fisher King *does* find Robin in babbly gnome-mode part of the time. But the rest of the time he’s a complex marvel: tender, knowing, sly, grieving, thoughtful, earnest. I respect his talents so much more after this movie.

In fact, the two scenes I found most stirring involved him. First, the scene where he’s looking up at Lydia, declaring himself with agonizing openness & yearning, the kind of overture that must surely be met by disbelief, fear or ridicule, and which is instead met with complete loving gratitude. Second, the scene where he’s kneeling before the red knight, desperate to be free of the pain and haunting of trauma, offering himself up as sacrifice to the bat-wielding boys, tearfully thankful when the blows & blood come.

Mercedes Ruehl also took my breath away; everything about her performance rang true, from her unrequited mothering love of Jack to her no-nonsense Queens talk to her frustration & pain in the face of Jack’s inability to love and commit. The camera lingers on her face during key emotional scenes and she never disappoints; every charged moment finds her breaking through into a place of total investment in the character and narrative.

I could go on about the plot, the symbolism, the psychological framework, but all that’s amply covered at IMDB, Amazon and any number of other review sites. I don’t write formal plot-summary-ish reviews; I just try to record my most powerful impressions of great art.

That said, the other thing about this movie that stopped me cold was its mature, respectful handling of mental illness, trauma and how people try to help themselves and each other cope with pain. No overdubs, no painful explanatory conversations, no crutches; we’re left largely to construct for ourselves the Story [i.e., the psychological narrative, what the characters are motivated by, what their pain is, what their desires are, why they do what they do] behind the story [i.e., the actual events depicted]. I am always so deeply gratified when a film allows me to do this work; when a film doesn’t pander to me, doesn’t assume my capacities, is totally assured and seems to trust that I have all the tools and experience to meet it on equal terms and come to intimately know it.

Oh and one more thing — this is a movie that is unabashedly emotional. There are strings. There are emotional cues in the music. Pounding drums during tense moments. There is a sublime waltz scene in grand central. There is magical realism; there is fanfare and carnival; it’s a kind of patchwork urban fantasia.This is a film that heartily embraces the conventions of epic film-making. And at first, I kind of cringed in the face of it. Maybe for the first five minutes.

Why? I guess I don’t see a lot of films that are emotional in this way anymore. It’s a language that is rusty in my mouth. But the more it spoke to me, the more I let myself speak back to it in the same way, the easier it became, the more natural it felt. Until the film’s voice began to strike me as something I had been wanting badly to hear. Until I realized this was the only way I wanted this kind of story told — with arms wide for the entire panoply of human feelings — absurdity, buffoonery, desolation, madness. This movie may only take place in Manhattan but behind the screen it is writ large enough to embrace everyone in every place.

Mahler once wrote: “The symphony should be the world”. And The Fisher King is a movie like something Mahler would write — a world expansive and rich, heartbreaking and ridiculous, a little scary, a little desperate, a little corny, but always striving nobly to reach our tragi-comic core.

C. Way/ © 2009

[posted by: C Way at 2:37 PM]

[file under: ABOUT ART]
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‘Manes Tsergiach’ by Andonios ‘Dalgas’ Dhiamandidhis

February 11th, 2009

I just got into the Greek music known as Rebetika. I first read it about it in Eugenides’ Middlesex, and not long after, my friend Anthony by good chance happened to get a Rough Guide Rebetika compilation. I devoured it, loved all of it.

But one song consistently on that record consistently leaves me breathless. I don’t understand what’s being sung and I don’t need to:

Andonios ‘Dalgas’ Dhiamandidhis: ‘Manes Tsergiach’

The gasping, arcing vocal, the shivery vibrato, the fits of melisma. The sighs at 2:47 and onward, death sighs, lust-sighs, grief-sighs. The recessed commentary right after. What is this? Where do you go from this? I think Pavement came on right after on my Itunes and the disconnect was so profound I had to stop the track cold.

This music, this haunted and alien music so anxious to be known, like old Dust Bowl pictures and the families in them squinting into the camera.

I hear it and I know the heart can — almost perversely — suckle pain and dread like freshly bitten strawberries.
C. Way/ © 2009

[posted by: C Way at 11:13 PM]

[file under: Music ||| music - mp3s]

Tindersticks, Brooklyn Masonic Temple, March 6 2009

February 2nd, 2009

    (Photo credit to red nails, wrongcity)

      “Hungry Saw” was not a favorite Tindersticks record of mine when it was released. Aside from abut three or four cuts, it struck me as a very respectable effort which suffered from mediocre performances & material in its first half and which was lopsidedly rich in emotion and re-playability in its second. No Curtains, but what the hell is?
      But last night, live, the record — which they played in its entirety aside from a middle suite of older material and an encore — ripened and grew into itself, lent strength by the urgency of the band’s delivery. Terry Edwards and the brass/woodwinds accompaniments in general helped the songs reach intense emotional swells of force only hinted at in studio. And Stuart with his slight bodily stutter, his seductive and slightly-medicated sway, his maracas-shaking rhythm-keeping, helped fulfill each “Hungry Saw” song to what was promised on record.
      I recognized many of the songs as if for the first time, like people who I’d seen through rainy windows. “Yesterdays Tomorrows” is a good example, lent drama onstage which never hit me on LP. “E-type” too was so amped with swagger & sheer drive. “Boobar”, a favorite of mine on record, emerged stronger live as well — the band storming out of the hushed bridges, jovial and grinning at one another, mastering the song’s swells in and out of hush and gentleness.
      Total truism, but this is why seeing music live matters. To see loved songs not so much transformed as fulfilled, like sketches blooming with color before your eyes — to have your later listenings enriched with memory, as if memory was another instrument, another section in the orchestra — there aren’t words for that magic.
      My only disappointment is the continued absence of Dickon Hinchcliffe [I think it was your standard creative-differences split between he and Staples, but not sure] — or some other live violin player capable of rounding out the Tindersticks’ sound with some of Hinchcliffe’s gorgeous arrangements. Hinchcliffe’s contributions to the band’s sound were enormous, defining — and I miss his touch on “Hungry Saw”, I miss his baroque and anguished lines, his dissonances, his sweep and pathos, and his soulful vocal lines on “Waiting for the Moon” and “Can our Love…”. Still, they did a hell of a job live trying to patch over the hole left by his leaving.

      Other things I remember –

      “My Oblivion”, that swoony crescendoing opiate, a little edgier than on record, absolute fucking lotus.
      “My Sister” — I song I never expected to hear live — played with a palpable sense of discovery and spell-casting by the ensemble, especially the delicate otherwordly percussion in the beginning, and that pindrop-hush interlude — the “orange and mustard planets” passage — executed as it needs to be: with wonder, tragedy, enchantment.
      Stuart’s gentle, endearing, half-lidded way with the audience and with his band; his searing, brief solos and tremolo-bar chords at the end of “Her”.
      What a band. By turns morose, noirish, soul crooning & fanfaring; day of the dead, lullaby gondola-sway, flamenco explosive, carny wobble; raking up love’s gutters and tambourining amid the refuse.
      What does everyone else think? Who went?

C. Way/ © 2009

[posted by: C Way at 2:25 PM]

[file under: Music]