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Objective Favoritism Presents…Florida Dreamin’: Spring Breakers

Today, Kevin Pearson takes a look at Harmony Korine’s latest film, “Spring Breakers,” a look at the cultural decay that affects our youth, and examines how well Korine meets his goal. Read on to learn more!

Spring break WOOOO!

Harmony Korine is updating the decadent life of youth. It was almost 20 years ago that he co-wrote the breakthrough film, Kids. At the time, the shock of seeing teenagers happily drink, do drugs and commit felony sexual crimes at leisure was enough to shock a portion of American life. Now Korine is at the helm and giving the world Spring Breakers, a charged look at what havoc bored teenage girls can cause when inspired to enjoy the wrong things at any cost. The update arguably has the youth committing worse crimes, but more pointedly, they are succumbing to an existential boredom and yearning to fulfill their idea of what goes hand in hand for enjoyment and debauchery in the American sense. Too bad the result for Korine is more an update in cultural clichés for what interests today’s generation.

The premise could be a joke, but it is not: four girls escape a humdrum college life to find paradise in Florida during spring break. The urban bleakness and decay of St. Petersburg is sublime enough to make them realize, “dreams can come true.” What they initially find is the idea of freedom and an endless amount of fun. For the four girls, their idea of fun comes with a hitch: to procure financial funds to even go on spring break, three of them take part in an armed robbery. It is simple means to just get enough money to do something they feel is owed to them. In the film, the phrase of it being their “right” to enjoy spring break is spread around. The fourth girl is Faith and she is more identifiable in trying to lead a good life (by belonging to a church group), so the cliché of her name serves its major purpose. However, she identifies with part of the rationale and joins in.

Upon arrival to Florida, the film is barraged by clips of partying. It’s the exuberance of being in a party zone and indulging fully. The thematic contrast is Faith begins to call back home to grandma and lie to her about the idea of what kind of peace she is finding in Florida. While trying to make it seem like an innocent trip, the images of her partying betray what she is saying. At this point she is happy to live the consequences of a double life when it comes to her grandma. The limitation is that this simple contrast is all the editing is concerned about. What Faith is saying to her grandma is dubbed over a barrage of party imagery. A two second editing idea is not really expanded upon. The only other consistent image present is the Florida skyline and the sun beautifully melting away in a sunset. An idea of natural harmony could be adapted since they appear when Faith seems to be most enthusiastic about the inner harmony Florida is providing her, but the film keeps her early characterization to what is fit to print back to grandma. Still, most annoyingly, the idea of making a character calling back to a grandma to show she is innocent is too tired of a subplot to trot out.

Taking a break from being rich and privileged to show off how rich and privileged we are!

Innocent indulgence ends when the girls go to jail and get bailed out by a character named Alien. He saw them before, heard of their mishap and saw a chance to pounce on attractive tourists. At first his demeanor is kind to the girls, but he wants them to be excited so he’s enthusiastic about showing off his gangster lifestyle. The method is to tour them around his house and show off his collection of weapons and anything which can be prescribed to a gangster lifestyle. Obviously since Faith had no doing in the armed robbery, she is alarmed by Alien and the people around him. Inside she is stricken and lashes out by complaining to the other girls. Alien senses something is wrong and tries to softball her, but Faith wants out. The emotional payoff is seeing her personally twist and freak out on her friends. Indication for what it means is that she got in over her head and isn’t ready for the connection partying can have to violence. Her friends are more accepting.

Two babes, two guns…every man’s dream…

The major transition happens when Alien challenges the remaining girls to succumb to his lifestyle. At first it gets another girl to reconsider everything and leave, but the remaining girls throw his world for a twist. They begin to threaten him with violence and an ongoing grudge with a rival gangster gets the girls to challenge Alien in uncomfortable ways. Instead of just talk the talk, they want to go full out with an assault and murder spree against his rival. It’s now more about their thrill. Alien goes along but it seems obvious he is uncomfortable. However, the consistent style is the editing of the two leftover girls talking about how their dreams are coming true and the imagery contrasting urban decay with pictures of natural beauty. I guess the update is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and these girls have now crossed over to a different level of savagery than what simple robbery can imply. If they can find idealism in something truly horrific the same way Faith could find it in just being able to party a little bit, it’s a comment.

Spring Breakers isn’t serious about its allusions. Harmony Korine is more stylized than Larry Charles (director of Kids) and likes to play fiddle more with abstracting the reality of the scene, but both still believe in a first person-documentary adherence to personalizing extreme situations and forcing the audience to get as close to collectively breathing the same air the characters are. There is no Sydney Lumet rule of the close up shot being a major pay off moment late into the film. The filmmaking decision is simple: stay as close to the character’s actions and their reactions to everything. Since filmmakers have always been obsessed with finding ways to cut out plot and delve into the bowels of what a powerful personal experience on film can feel like and how it should be filmed, we should accept (in the digital-handheld world) every technical trick is now available. There is no Robert Bresson today who has all the imagination and is limited by his generation’s lack of technical innovation. The question now is what aesthetic choices is Korine making in Spring Breakers?

For me, the choices and vision of Spring Breakers is depressing. Charles already maxed out the potential of the documentary candidness of youth debauchery with later films like Bully. Whatever felt could be deemed exploitive in Kids and its repetitiveness with documenting bad behavior was more honestly rendered sad and depressing with the true story in Bully. Spring Breakers, however, loses any potential interesting hook line and flings itself into absurdity with a third act that sees youthful girls with no experience at operating guns, taking out a number of armed men, and riding off into the sunset. I guarantee irony and skepticism is implied in finale. Early in the film, the characters tell themselves they need to see real life gunplay situations as “video games”. As a joke, Korine could be saying the girls got their unlikely talent from video games – or it could be mocking the idea. The problem is that the style and tone throughout the film is sincere about rationalizing absurd characters as (at least) sincere in what they say and mean in their moments of saying them. Of course, the problem is that the characters are all over the place. Like every character in Dr. Strangelove over acting and their craziness being a reflection of the nervous system of the American government at the time, these girls could be their own version of today’s youth being tightly wound and ping-balling off every imagined ordeal. It is farce masquerading as realism to imply their childlike idea of what serious aspirations and ideas should be. In staying true to comedic perspective, the characters at least fail in every regard.

The problem with this idea is that it’s still a rationalization. Spring Breakers has no real inventive filmmaking idea to string together the realism or unlike Dr. Strangelove, no different way to heighten the level of implied craziness which could possibly criticize a cultural phenomenon. The film is a developed montage of imagery and clips our society is already berated with. The result is an attempt at repackaging something people already know. What felt new with Kids quickly became exhausted because our society has eaten the idea whole. Original ideas have better wall-space life in the art world and can allow a painter ability to make a career out of. What Kids accomplished (at the time) was interesting in its own tunnel vision way, but it was also easy to see little future beyond the film. The French Shock Cinema movement in the 90s feels like a similar victim and only has one real talent left in Gaspar Noe. What Harmony Korine is trying to add the American counterpart isn’t much.

The Kids, Korine’s last movie, may have explored it’s themes more coherently.

Postscript: No real comment on the actors or acting. It’s easy execution of clichés and exaggerated generics. Since the material they are performing is darker, the illusion could be what they are doing is more dramatic or interesting. It is not. Just a series of mimicries that are easy to duplicate.

Stuff That Doesn’t Suck Presents… Lucifer Rising

Audrey takes a look at the darker side of the 70’s music scene with Manson family connection, Jimmy Page, and more, all connected to a strange rock and roll album…

Scary.

From the beginning, there were always connections between the Manson family and music. The obvious story was the one of Charlie’s own failed music career, and the horrible crimes that were committed because of that. I’m not going to talk about that today, though: there was another member of the Manson family was also creating interesting music before any of the murders happened in ’69. That man is Bobby Beausoleil, and much like Charlie, he is currently serving a life sentence for murder.

Though this article obviously isn’t meant to be about his motives or the details of the crime (this is primarily a music blog, after all), I will divulge a bit of information about what happened: Beausoleil was involved in the murder of Gary Hinman, a music teacher; allegedly, Hinman owed money to the Manson family for a bad batch of mescaline that they had purchased from him and sold to a biker gang, who subsequently demanded their money refunded when they realized the drugs were faulty. On July 27, 1969, Beausoleil (along with family members Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner) showed up at Hinman’s house in an attempt to get their money back. When he refused to pay them, Hinman called Manson to the scene, who arrived at the house and promptly chopped Hinman’s ear off with a sword. When Hinman still insisted that he didn’t have money to give them, Beausoleil stabbed him to death. Afterwards, they wrote “Political Piggy” on the wall in his blood. Alongside that, they also drew a paw print in an attempt to make it appear that the crime was committed by the Black Panthers. This was the first of the string of gruesome murders committed by the Manson Family: a little over a week later, Beausoleil was arrested after he was found driving Hinman’s car.

Before his incarceration, Beausoleil played in several different bands; the most notable of which was Arthur Lee’s Grass Roots (no relation to Creed Bratton’s band of the same name), who later became the very influential Love. He also played in a psychedelic rock band called The Orkustra following the Grass Roots’ dissolution. Not only was Beausoleil involved in music, but he was also an aspiring actor, which is incidentally where his most famous recording Lucifer Rising comes into the picture.

It’s impossible to talk about this album without bringing up yet another important ‘60s icon: Kenneth Anger. If you’re not familiar with the name, Anger made a lot of experimental short films throughout the ‘40s up until recent years, usually blending surrealist imagery with occultist themes. Anger was a follower of Aleister Crowley’s religion of Thelema and made many references to it in his works, including the short film Lucifer Rising, which featured Beausoleil in a major role. The original plan was that Bobby would be the star of the production and that the music would be composed by Jimmy Page. Unfortunately, there were many issues during the production of the film. The actual filming was delayed many times due to a number of problems: Anger claimed that Beausoleil stole the original footage, but the rest of the cast stated that this didn’t happen and that Anger simply ran out of money. Another major issue involved the soundtrack; Page and Anger had a falling out during the creation of the film: one story says that Anger began to question Page’s devotion to the Thelemic way and, because of this, he placed a curse on the Led Zeppelin star. Another, likelier story is that Page wasn’t working as quickly as Anger wanted him to and, in his stead, the filmmaker tapped Beausoleil to compose the score in addition to being involved as an actor. Either way, after an argument with Charlotte Martin – Page’s longtime lover and the mother of his first child – Anger washed his hands of Page.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad decision on Anger’s part considering that Beausoleil is an extremely talented musician in his own right. The most amazing thing about this record is that it was entirely recorded behind bars. Even more remarkable, especially considering the occult and otherwise taboo themes of Anger’s films, Beausoleil was given permission by the warden of Tracy State Prison – where he was incarcerated for his involvement in the Manson crimes – to create this soundtrack. With the help of some incredibly skilled inmates, the record was created in the late ‘70s. I really wish that I could find more information about the recording process of this album: it sounds absolutely incredible given where it was recorded. I can’t imagine that a prison in the 1970s would keep very many (if any) decent musical instruments around, let alone any recording equipment, so the amount of cooperation between the prison and the outside world would have been unprecedented. Despite the locale where it was made, this album sounds as if professional engineers were on hand to record it using somewhat decent studio equipment. While this technical consideration would be quite remarkable if true, I suppose it made sense that they were able to find such great musicians among the inmates given that this was a prison in southern California during the drug-conservative 1970s: there were probably plenty of talented musicians who were incarcerated for narcotics and other minor crimes.

The album is completely instrumental and separated into six movements. The music contained within is reminiscent of early Pink Floyd; all the tracks are dreamy psychedelic soundscapes that act as a showcase for Beausoleil’s exquisite compositional skills and guitar work. That’s not to say that Beausoleil’s playing is the most important part of the record; the session musicians are incredibly tight and focused as well – especially the horn player. There are moments in the fifth movement where the trumpet becomes the main focus, and is just as beautiful as the guitar on the rest of the album.

While it isn’t necessary to do so if one merely wishes to enjoy the record as a musical statement, it helps to watch the film to see how the portions of the score that were selected for inclusion (the soundtrack album’s runtime is about 46 minutes to the film’s 29) complement Anger’s visuals. Due to all of the production delays involving the soundtrack’s rather unique circumstances, Lucifer Rising – although completely filmed by 1972 – wasn’t released until 1980. Although it features luminaries such as Anger himself and Marianne Faithful (as well as Mick Jagger’s brother, Chris, in a minor role), there is no dialogue to speak of, giving Beausoleil’s musical contribution an even greater importance. The finished work is loaded with Thelemic symbolism as well as a lot of very dated looking psychedelic effects, which makes for an entertaining watch if you’re in the right mindset (stoned *cough*). Honestly, I would have probably enjoyed Anger’s film a lot more if I were knowledgeable about Crowley and his teachings: as I’m only mildly aware of Crowley’s philosophies, I’m sure that most of the symbolism went straight over my head. Even if I didn’t completely understand what was going on, it’s still cool to have Anger’s cinematography in the back of my head while listening to the album: I can’t hear it now without picturing pyramids and volcanoes.

Since this record was written by a famous murderer and completely performed by inmates, one would think that this album would only hold value as a curiosity for record collectors and outsider music enthusiasts, yet this is not the case at all. It is probably best not to get caught up with that notion since this album doesn’t deserve to be cast aside as simply a novelty: It is a remarkable achievement, especially considering the ostensibly limiting conditions under which it was created. Anyone interested in hearing some really great psychedelic instrumentals and guitar work should check this one out, since – even casting aside its interesting context – it really doesn’t get much better than this.

Objective Favoritism Presents…Remebering James Agee in Film

James Agee

Kevin Pearson takes a look at the film career of James Agree, which has been potent. A series of reissues mark a flurry of new excitement surrounding Agee’s work. Take it away Kevin.

If you’re a James Agee aficionado like me, the past few months have been exciting. Not only was the original prose for what would later be expanded and molded to become his masterpiece, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, finally published (entitled Cotton Tenants: Three Families), but so was his unique travel guide, Brooklyn Is: Southeast of the Island. It’s all pleasant and expected news as the writing life of a writer generally extends past their earthly existence. The only sadness is that since Agee died in 1955, these two publications may be the last things able to be unearthed.

I’m haunted by a million thoughts, feelings, and hopes for what kind of artist James Agee could have been. If any writer had a measure of immense talent and potential and failed to live up to either, Agee certainly belongs. He extended himself a million ways through journalism, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that he could never fully concentrate on one outlet. One of Agee’s main interest and arguably most doomed to fail was his fascination with writing about and making film. Like many novelists and writers at the time, Agee took advantage of the Hollywood boom of the 30s and 40s and banked on jobs which were more guaranteed pay days than almost anything a writer was going to put out (even amongst established novelists at the time). The grudging difference is that unlike most of those writers, Agee dedicated himself to film out of passion.

First, Agee transitioned by doing so in the easiest way. Having committed the bulk of his career to journalism, Agee found himself furiously writing film reviews. At the time, film journalism was an open market. You were likely to see a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance musical be reviewed by a dance critic or anyone else. More importantly, there wasn’t a ledger guideline in how to format reviews. Agee took heed of this openness and developed a quasi -diary format for his pieces. He didn’t care if he touched every production detail able to be reviewed. The concern of his reviews was the running dialogue and how he mixed a personal experience in watching a film with an objective review. Before Citizen Kane became fodder for academics who rightly understood its historical genre implications, Agee wisely positioned the film as an American take on techniques established in German Expressionism during the 1920s. It’s not the most exhaustive thing to say about the film, but if you’re writing a front-line review and have no literature to help you establish parameters, there is more truth to looking at the film that way than any other. Agee got that essential truth correct.

The African Queen.

The ability to write about film got Agee start admiring certain directors. Most famously, his infatuation for John Huston spanned a number of reviews. In the filmmaker, the writer saw a champion of something more in film, “Huston’s pictures are not acts of …benign enslavement but of liberation, and they require, of anyone who enjoys them, the responsibilities of liberty.” The admiration transitioned into a relationship when the two began to work together. If a chemical reaction was going to lift Agee into moviemaking, it would be through this. While Agee did experiment with a documentary short prior, writing the screenplay for John Huston’s The African Queen was his foray into major motion picture work. The travel adventure, starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, follows in the vein of realism much like Huston’s previous effort, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Love, my dear? Or hate?

The other major writing feature was The Night of the Hunter which became more famous for Robert Mitchum’s performance than anything. Do I consider these scripts to be major works by Agee? Not necessarily. Both are adaptations of novels and both, for me, had varying successes with two different directors. Being directed by Huston, The African Queen played more into Agee’s attraction to naturalism in writing. If you consider one of the bends of his career in film criticism, there is a heavy dose of him being attracted to films which could extend themselves past genre conveniences. Most notably, he would mockingly write about some films and say only a few paragraphs were necessary to really evaluate their genre stock existence. It’s well known the American genre films were influential for French New Wave cinema, but for Agee, he was a man already pedigreed in other arts related to language and was interested in different ways film could evolve.

Both films were made in the 1950s and Agee’s life exhausted itself by 1955. Whatever promise he would have to transition into film was going to be cut short. Similar to the playwright Bernard Shaw (known now as George Bernard Shaw), interest came too late. During the sunset of his life, Shaw admitted he wished he had the chance to devote himself to film instead of theater. Agee has no formal comment on the subject and his passion may have been too varied and fleeting for him to really comment or know whether or not he would have been all in with film. The other basic problem is both writers grew up in an age that yet had no basis in watching film or movies every day. One of the better comments about why all the New Waves (i.e., young filmmakers revolting against studio norms) happened around 1960s or 70s in numerous countries is that was the first generation of younger people who came of age during heyday of movies in their respective countries and were first able to make films themselves. It was the first generation of people who knew film inside-out and wanted to put their own stamp not only on what changes they were interested in making, but also reflect on what their history with cinema was. Generational difference was difficult for the likes of Agee and Shaw.

These hands have done a lot…

Problem is the story mostly ends there. The legacy of James Agee in film is mostly comprised of an excellent critical career (available in the book, Agee on Film), a few shorts plus two scripts for major features. The task I like to daydream is what kind of filmmaker he would have been if better timing and facilities were available. First, I would have seen Agee extend out of John Huston’s realism. If he had been fortunate enough to come out of the 1960s, John Cassavetes could have been a kindred spirit in comparison. For independent American cinema, Cassavetes saw a documentary-grit approach to storytelling less as a genre choice (opposite of French New Wave) and more of a sightline in how to depict the harshness of American life. Agee also was less interested in plot invention or playing up other fanciful methods to allude to problems in his story and was more about extending out the depths of personal grief in poetic, but densely realistic and harsh ways.

Another consideration is the structural oddities in Agee’s work. The poetry in Let Us Praise Famous Men is a key component. There are also lists of varying elements of daily life about the Cotton tenants in the story. The book has personal story about the people, but backs it up with so much poetry, documented lists, and photography to make it much more of a rounded picture. For this, there has to be European consideration to similar filmmaker traits. Alan Resnais is excellent in making structural works which will get down to the gritty details of life in poetic fashion (Hiroshima, Mon Amour), but considering Agee praised Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible films by calling the first part a “corpse”, Resnais may be too dry. Francesco Rosi has more humanitarian interests in his structural essays while I’m sure Agee could have been excited by Federico Fellini’s later filmmaking flair but also willing be to disregard some of his fancier storytelling ideas. The ideas are endless to what keyholes in filmmakers could have fit.

I imagine most fans of James Agee stick mostly to his criticism. It’s the most fulfilled thing he ever did in film and amongst critics; his work is still standout for a profession that has some excellent voices and thoughts. It’s a depressing though to delve too deep into his script work because the major feeling is how one always is left wanting more. In the existence of time, Agee’s place with film is too short.

Objective Favoritism Presents…Seven Psychopaths

Kevin Pearson, the latest addition to the Culture Fusion review crew, is a movie fanatic with the kind of in-depth knowledge of movies that would frighten Roger Ebert (were he still amongst us). There are few people who’s insight into movies I respect more, which is why I’m thrilled he’s decided to contribute a regular look at movies. Today, he takes a look at director Martin McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths.”

When The New Republic’s film critic, Stanley Kauffmann, was overseeing the terrain of 1972, he happily admitted the offbeat comedy, Pocket Money, (notably written by Terrance Malick) was his favorite film of the year. He didn’t wash the film in any other acclaim. From my disposition, Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths is my favorite movie of 2012. Instead of stop comment as short as Kauffmann did when he made his remark in passing during a review for another film, I think McDonagh’s work has some relevant updates on the relationship between violence and comedy.

The simple story of a struggling writer (played by Colin Farrell) trying to come up with screenplay ideas for his titled script, “Seven Psychopaths,” becomes fodder for metaphysical mishaps when his friend (played by Sam Rockwell) unexpectedly gets him mixed up in mob action, meeting potential candidates for psychopathic inspiration, and finding other ways for the script to begin writing itself with Farrell orbiting around a host of crazy characters and situations. Also making things more convoluted is when Farrell begins pawning stories he hears as his own and finds them unexpectedly having truths to people around him.

Scene to scene explanation of the story involves too many highs and extremes to canvas in any word limited review. Probably, that’s the point. At the beginning, Farrell’s character, a loathing alcoholic, proudly announces he wants his film to be about psychopaths but have an antagonistic relationship to playing up the violence. The continuing feud between him and Rockwell’s character is how depraved and isolated Rockwell is in any logical bearings and wants the film to be over violent. Rockwell continually tries to be sensible and fails in most regards. Throughout the film, the two flex the extent of a friendship by bouncing antics off of each other and riding the other to be better versions of their selves.

Shut up when you’re talking to me.

One of the ways in which Rockwell’s character digs an emotional foothold into the story is through his friendship with Christopher Walken’s character. The two scheme to kidnap dogs from people and return them to collect reward money, but at the heart of their misdeeds is a genuine love for each other. While background for Walken’s character is eventually elaborated through a simple story that the film later reveals to be about him, the characterization begins by depicting his loyalty and sense of romance to his ailing wife. She is hospital bound to a cancer ward. Seven Psychopaths isn’t meek in trying to play up the music and the sympathy card. In Walken’s own way, he’s a disheartened psychopath, too. The film collects personal anecdotes to tally up the whole of his behavior.

During interviews for the film, Martin McDonagh did say he wanted the film to be different from other films in today’s landscape of easy violence in movies. Right now, most American films interested in violence and its relationship to irreverent humor all descend from the altar of Quentin Tarantino. With movies like Pulp Fiction, Tarantino pried violence away from mostly being the cause and effect result of extremely tense moments to an element of everyday reality for some extreme characters. You can be a gangster who just got done with the ordeal of an accidentally killing a man in the back of your car and grimace more over the cleaning issues of a blood sprayed car than anything else. The comedy of complaining who is more to fault and what body parts the guilty party should clean has its inherent comedy in contrasting sanity with insanity.

What do they call the Big Mac?

The problem is with this innovation came duplication and instead of violence being aged to a fine wine of any sophistication, filmmakers began to compliment every imaginable situation with its greatest violent possibility. Ability to be judicial also ended because filmmakers in America were blessed with the rating of PG-13 and knowledge the rating board would approve most things under the content sun when it came to violence. Sexual content was another matter, but copycats of Tarantino could live happily knowing they were able to show most things and expand their audience reach. The normalization of this commodity also made Tarantino’s original effect of a violent statement almost obsolete. The audience no longer churns and stands back at humor and violence. One still should appreciate Pulp Fiction because it is well written and acted, but comparable to Hitchcock and his original idea of shocking suspense, the effect could only be short lived.

Seven Psychopaths exists thanks to this history. To make a comment, the film purposely plays up the comedic faults of the characters and whirls generalizations and stereotypes into a frenzy. Also stretching itself out of Tarantino, the film revolves around conservation and interaction between characters. Tarantino did tap into something uniquely humane by basing his vision of violence in domestic ways through violent characters because it better reflects how people interact, but Seven Psychopaths is a more honest projection of our desire to carry on friendships. There is an intangible love between Rockwell and Farrell that spans as many narcissistic and insane ideas of problematic friendships people may see or experience every day. The film just so happens to mesh the whirling madness of a friendship with a number of violence clichés in movies.

It also avoids some previous problems by other filmmakers. Mr. and Mrs. Smith with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie was intended to be satire of action films, but its cast two action stars in the roles instead of more recognizable dramatic actors who would have been out of place trying to ham up action clichés. Sam Rockwell will never be confused for an action star (well, same would have been said for Bruce Willis pre-Die Hard, too) but the build-up to his idea of the perfect shoot out is pitch perfect comedy for our time. Like I said, Farrell wants the film to be anti-climactic about violent outcomes, but Rockwell continues to badger him about the necessity of violence in his script. In trying to help out Farrell, he acts out his idea of what a perfect gun fight would look like. The film graciously provides depiction of what his shootout looks like and it’s filled with enough over-the-top craziness. The film also captures fair amount of Rockwell’s inspired performance of it.

Woo hooo!

In interviews, Martin McDonagh said he wrote Seven Psychopaths at the same time as In Bruges but made the latter first since it required less technical knowhow as regards to filmmaking and production. Transitioning from theater, there needed to be a professional development in film before McDonagh could exploit tricks of the action trade in this story. He also said the film was written specifically with Sam Rockwell in mind. All the actors (Farrell included) are better actors at comedy than anything else, but Rockwell is one of the better comedic actors in recent years and it’s easy to say he has the standout performance. The film takes advantages of his talent with playing neuroticism and extending out reaction to people/things in scenes a little longer and with more detailed nuance. Many actors can play neurotic and play up neurotic characteristics well enough, but Rockwell knows how to operate in the spaces between the actions and how to delay the payoff funny reaction. Emma Thompson once said screen acting was the ability to master the look of concentration on film. Rockwell is able to find a way to concentrate while in a state of neuroticism and make it feel both fluent with the character and detailed enough to be relatively realistic (well, for as much realism as a comedy can grant).

Seemingly at ease with a slower process, Martin McDonagh has admitted his next intended feature film is written and pre-planned for a number of production details, but like Seven Psychopaths, he will wait a few years before formally moving forward with it. As a fan more than anything else, I’m hoping the next four years pass by and when they do, not too much time feels lapsed to make the waiting process feel cumbersome on any level. More Martin McDonagh is needed for our everyday cinema.

Stuff That Doesn’t Suck Presents…Les Rallizes Dénudés

Audrey is back with some words of wisdom on a far out band from Japan. Dig it.

A lot of feird music comes from Japan. Thinking about this has inspired me to write about one of my favorite groups to come out of Nihon. What I’m reviewing today is going to look pretty tame compared to the ridiculousness that is the Gerogerigegege, but bear with me: this is still pretty weird, especially considering when the band began creating records. Les Rallizes Dénudés may not have recorded themselves shitting their pants (at least, not that I know of…) or masturbated on stage, but I promise that this is worth your time if you like avant-garde music.

Are you still there? Good. Les Rallizes Dénudés (a linguistic mash-up of Japanese and French that translates to ‘they who are fucked up and naked’) formed as a concrete entity in 1967, its members originally bound together as an avant-garde musical theatre troupe. The band was led by the incredible guitarist and vocalist Takashi Mizutani. LRD became infamous in Japan for their intense, visual live performances and extreme leftist politics. In 1970, they became even more infamous when one of the members decided it’d be a good idea to hijack a plane.

Bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi was a member of the Japanese Red Army – a Communist group formed in the early ‘70s whose ultimate goal was to overthrow the Japanese government and eventually spread their message all over the world. Nine members of the JRA, including Wakabayashi, boarded Japanese Airlines Flight 351 on March 31, 1970 with the intention of hijacking the plane and flying it all the way to Cuba. They apparently didn’t plan this very well, since the flight that they hijacked was only traveling 45 minutes away and there wasn’t actually enough fuel in the plane to make it all the way to the Caribbean. The plane ended up landing in Pyongyang, North Korea, where the hijackers were given refuge and treated as heroes. Most of them stayed in the country for over thirty years until they were eventually allowed back into Japan: those who returned were immediately arrested. Supposedly, Mizutani was also asked to join in the hijacking, but he declined, choosing to stay in Japan. It’s a good thing that he did, or some of the heaviest music ever to come from that part of the world wouldn’t have been created.

The most direct comparison that one could make with this band would be that they’re somewhat like the Velvet Underground: the band even dressed similarly, wearing all black clothes and dark sunglasses; Mizutani looked like he could have been the Japanese Lou Reed. Their live shows were also very similar to Warhol and the Velvets’ Exploding Plastic Inevitable revue, featuring bright strobe lights and crushingly loud feedback. While they were very obviously influenced by the group, Les Rallizes Dénudés can’t simply be discounted as Velvet Underground rip-off: after all, they went a step beyond what the Velvets did. By turning the volume up even higher, playing their songs for much longer, and adding much more reverb to their vocals, their sound was significantly more disorienting and psychedelic than anything the Velvets ever did.

Aside from the Japanese noise music enthusiasts and the artists they influenced (most notably High Rise, Fushitsusha, and the Acid Mothers Temple collective of music groups), the band was largely forgotten by most until 2007, when Julian Cope’s brilliant book Japrocksampler was published. Les Rallizes Dénudés were one of the bands he chose to focus an entire chapter on, leading to a resurgence of interest in the band among aficionados of avant-garde sounds.

If you’ve ever heard anything by this band, it’s likely that the recording was a bootleg: Rallizes had almost no official releases, and next-to-nothing of their cumulative output was recorded in the studio. However, when looking at the massive array of unofficial material, deciding where to start can certainly seem intimidating: their rateyourmusic.com page lists over 70 third-party records, many of which are sourced from grainy live recordings and contain multiple discs. In my opinion, a good place to start is the aptly titled Heavier Than a Death in the Family: this bootleg record – a collection of recordings the band made mostly dating in or around 1977 (with the exception of the track ‘People Can Choose’, which was recorded in 1973) – is widely considered to be one of their best.

The thing about Les Rallizes Dénudés is that while their discography is enormous, there really isn’t much variety in it. That’s not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing – after all, their recordings were consistently pretty good, if you’re into that sort of thing. The only problem is that – for me, anyhow – it gets boring after awhile. Since I’m kind of insane, I’ve done the hard job for you and listened to hours and hours of their recordings. I can honestly say that Heavier Than a Death in the Family is probably the most solid overall. The record features only six tracks, although most clock in at over ten minutes. In terms of musical content, the core of the record is just primitive rock and roll. It features simple, repetitive riffs, throbbing bass lines, and steady drumming. Sounds easy enough to get into, right? Wrong.

The thing that really sets this band and this album apart is the noise. One of the main things Les Rallizes Dénudés are known for is how ridiculously loud they are. Honestly, if you listen to this album all the way through and your ears aren’t ringing by the end, you either need to get them checked or turn the volume up to a listenable level: I can’t even imagine going to see them live. Every recording I’ve heard by them (except for the odd folk songs on their Mizutani record – one of three band-sanctioned recordings) is incredibly loud, and sounds as though it would have been deafening if experienced live. Not only were Rallizes very noisy, their sound also had a lot of psychedelic elements to it; consequently, they’re most often classified as psych-rock. Although the long guitar solos were obviously influenced by American psych and experimental bands, I find this to be a gross oversimplification of what they do, and anyone checking them out for this reason will either be in way over their head or pleasantly surprised.

One time, in a disgustingly Garden State-esque moment, I told a former professor of mine that this band would change his life. While I can’t say that this will be true for everyone, if you like noise, psychedelia, or any sort of avant-garde rock, you definitely need to check LRD out. When I first heard them, I was already into weird Japanese stuff like Boredoms and Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., so this was a step down in terms of strangeness, but the experience made everything suddenly click for me: I finally realized the point of influence that all of these forward-thinking Japanese bands shared: Les Rallizes Dénudés started the wave of all the cool experimental and noise bands that came from the land of the rising sun, and I’m incredibly grateful for their existence.

Dispatches from Chaos presents…The Civil Wars?!

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

A Folksy review by Sean M. Hebner

Exclusively written for

4 “Whosawhatsits” out of 5

Welcome to the first installment of “IT CAME…FROM MY WIFES CD WALLET!” This is a series where I’ll randomly take a CD from my beautiful wife Loretta’s collection and give it an honest listen and review.

I should point out that my wife and I have vastly different tastes in music. This will create the cognitive dissonance required to create a HILARIOUS review. Also, when I try to take an unbiased approach to music, I don’t generally have an emotional attachment to it which helps me become a REAL writer!

However, I’ll admit that this particular review is kind of cheating. I’ve been a fan of Folk and Filk music as long as I can remember. One of the first tapes I ever enjoyed as a child (that wasn’t Weird Al or Elton John) was Bay Filk 3, which was recorded in 1983 and featured a younger Mercedes Lackey (on backing vocals on one song) and an aging Peter S. Beagle (author of “The Llast Unicorn”). My mother owned the tape as it featured my former Cousin MEW (www.mewsic.com). Little did my mom know, that my eventual lust for Power Metal and other Folk infused genres of music would stem almost exclusively from this tape.

I say all this to imply that “Civil Wars” is a Folk album. I happen to like it a lot, thank you. Every spin of this record brings out new, exciting positives. The lyrics are a “joy” (HA GET IT!? This album is depressing!), a great mixture of classically influenced Folk and modern, poetic explorations of poetry. You could probably use some of these lyrics in a poetry class. They’re THAT GOOD. Take their single “Poison and Wine,” for example.

“Poison and Wine”*

I find it rare that a song so bitter and honest gets main stream air play. “Poison and Wine” has been referred to as Country and I can see why: once upon a time, this genre was this depressing:

I don’t love you and I always will

I don’t love you and I always will

I don’t love you and I always will

Editor/Boss-man Eric doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to make him cry again. (Editor/Boss-man Eric: Manliness challenge accepted)

I’ m fairly close to crying as I type this. That’s some lyrical heaviness neither of us has encountered since “The Magnetic Fields.” I’m sure Eric has heard more depressing lyrics, but perhaps not something we’ve been mutually exposed too.

Anyway, “Poison and Wine” starts out with the line “You only know what I want you to/I know everything you don’t want me to” and there is only a grand total of like 50 words to the song …and yet it instantly brings to mind relationships from my past. Specifically, dysfunctional relationships where the words “power balance” didn’t exist and from which the pain long dissipated is temporarily restored by these potent lyrics. Thankfully, they indirectly teach me to never repeat those mistakes and should a legitimately REAL problem arise in my marriage to just frickin’ TALK about it. This paragraph brought to you by Life©, ain’t it somthin’? (Editor/Boss-man Eric: life is the only thing worth living for)

Hope, the only thing left at the bottom of “Pandora’s Box” as a way to combat the evils of the world, feels in short supply on this album. I mean it IS here. However, the duo broke up last year only to reunite to make a new album this year, but they will NOT tour.

It seems that one member wants to get famous and the other wants to be a non-sellout. All the turmoil in the band has me thinking that the hope that’s tucked within this album is more superficial than I realized. For a duo this powerful to give up after existing since only 2008, it’s a wonder that they even lasted this long. I’ve found no information to tell which one wanted to end it and which one wanted to take off …your guess is as good as mine.

I have the sneaking suspicious that Johnny Depp here may have been the culprit.

Not that I like proving my wife wrong about stuff, but while writing this review I told her “wow this is a really ‘hopeless’ album!” Of course, she immediately said “NO ITS NOT!”

The marriage argument game had begun! I countered her witty retort with my own, elucidating that “okay, maybe not ‘hopeless’ but it’s fairly dark…”

Then, I decided to look up the lyrics to the rest of the songs just to see if my instincts on the album were correct. Ammunition is important in this vital arguments, my friend. If you’re married, I know you’re nodding your head in agreement, male or female.

Well anyway, the first track is about a deadbeat father who, after 20 years, won’t claim responsibility for a child from a one night stand. Boom.

The title track “Barton Hallow” is about a man wanted for Murder in…heh, heh…Barton Hallow. He is never going back to the place that was once his home town. Boom boom.

In fact, reading through the lyrics revealed three songs focused on unrequited love, murder, regret, prostitution or just plain loneliness. Mostly Hopeless. Three out of 14 tracks is A LOT of dark….and I LOVED every minute of it.

Heck we can even dabble in cover songs that they did to see if their overall mood as a duo is better when being “casual.” Nope. The Civil Wars covered Portishead’s song “Sour Times” and Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”, another song about denial of parental responsibility. They are a tour de force of depressing and heartbreaking heartbreakyness.

“My heart, in the parking garage, with the guitar…you win Civil Wars”

What can I conclude about this venture into my wife’s CD wallet? First of all, my wife’s favorite band is freaking awesome. However, I’m not surprised that they aren’t sustainable. Country music fans dip their toe into the depressing aspects of real life, but tend to confine them only to Johnny Cash or Willie or some other old hat star.

A new group that puts out Cash caliber depression doesn’t really work (at least as a business model) in a world of Brad Paisley or Taylor Swifts.

Yeah, Taylor Swift is mad, but she’s adorable, adorably mad with still less issues than one ALBUM from a duo that’s a bit older and a bit worse for wares. Lastly, my wife thinks this band deserves a seven out of five on the “Whosawhatsits” scale. I’m thinking she’s right…this is some of the best stuff if not THE best Main Line Country music…nay Main Stream Music period has produced in the last 5 years. So I’ve changed my original score to match her request because it really is that good.

Tune in next week when I do, some more METAL YEAH! Goodnight!

Dispaches from Chaos Presents…The Top Five Weirdest Judas Priest Videos!

The Top 5 Weirdest Older Judas Priest Music Videos

A List by Sean M. Hebner

Written exclusively for Culture Fusion Reviews

While researching my “Painkiller” review last week, I came to a realization: Judas Priest is weird as fuck. This became especially obvious to me when I was compiling a list of “Weird Metal Music Videos” and I realized that most of them are all from the same band…Judas Priest. Welcome to part one of a potentially ongoing list of weird metal shit. Today, we focus on the “Top Five Weirdest Judas Priest Music Videos.” Who knows where we’ll go from here.

Just for the record I like/love all of these songs and I’m not critiquing the music, lyrics or performance. Yes, I even love the song that appeared on Bennet the Sage’s “Bad Songs by Good Bands” list. Sit back, relax, and bask in the manly glory that is Judas Priest and their strange obsessions.

#5-Hot Rockin’

The first time I saw this video, “music piracy” was called “sharing” and dial up was the only connection available. My little brother Kyle “shared” this video when he was about 11 or 12. Amusingly, it appears to be the only video that follows the plot to the song. “Hot Rockin’” is about pumping iron and going out. And yep, there’s Rob Halford doing manly pushups while the rest of the band works out behind him with their shirts off. So THAT’s what hot rocking is!

I’ve never seen the video from beginning to end. My current living situation is without reliable internets, which takes me back to me and my brother’s childhood of stopping the video due to laughing too hard.

OHHH internets working now…POCKET SAND!

This one clocks in at number five as it starts out weird and ends kinda relatively normal. I’d rate this video on my “Whosawhatsit” scale at 2 ½ because it would be a little dull without the song being SUPER awesome. But come on, this song is a Proto-Metal anthem which set up a legacy for the ENTIRE Genre of Heavy Metal. Gods bless you Rob Halford, Gods bless you!

#4-Got Another Thing Comin’

At first, this one feels out of place but a slight hint of weirdness oozes out from the beginning. A dude with a briefcase is walking about the place and is totally out of place. Pretty weird right? Not convinced? Skip to the end last 30 seconds: Rob Halford’s manliness gave him FUCKING SUPER POWERS!

He can blow up heads and drop pants at the same FUCKING TIME!!! I can hear the gang now as the obvious dummy’s pants fall down and they all laugh till they pee themselves. I know I had a good chuckle watching that unfold. I also want to point out the MANLY arm THRUSTS he uses to summon his Hidden superpower of HEAD EXPLODY!

Overall, and in spite of the amazing HEAD EXPLOSION I’d give this video a solid 2 on my “Whosawhatsit” scale as it takes a bit too long to get to the best part. But boy, is it the best.

#3-Freewheel Burning

Now, this music video is really funny! Let’s go point by point here: first, there’s the printed “freewheel burning” on the side of the F1 Machine; there’s the amazing solo in the background while the kid plays “Missile Command”; and who can forget the Pac-Man sound effects at the beginning? Am I listening to Pac-Man Fever all of a sudden? I wish!

Best of all, they put that Surgeon General warning at the end about Heavy Metal being hazardous to your health. Obviously, but what about Rob Halfords invading your video games? That seems more scary than the power of metal.

I mean, why does Rob hate little chubby boys? He follows this poor chubster through two video games to end his life-force! I know: Rob has FUTURE SIGHT (of course he does, the man has more random super powers than Superman) and he must have seen that the kid was going to be a future Hitler or something!

I’d also rate this video a solid 4 “Whosawhatsits” out of 5 as its cool and the people who watch it are cool.

#2- Turbo Lover

Freaky…everything is shot in negative in the background. Do you know what that means?!?! DYSTOPIAN FUTURE bitches!

And Rob unveils another super power: TIME TRAVEL. Group time travel at that as he’s still surrounded by his clearly bewildered band maates.

You may question why Rob Halford would time travel to a dystopian future but there’s only one possible answer: he has traveled forward in time to bring the MULLET and the gift of dance to… skeleton-robot-things!?

Sure. Why not? Rob’s hair is strange in this video. His hair has never been truly unruly but his random MULLET adds to the weirdness of this video.

Other than that, and thanks again to crappy internet, I rate this video a whopping 3 “Whosawhatsits” out of five cause it’s fun to watch but not super exciting.

#1-Locked In

This one is a winner! We’re still in the same universe from the “Turbo Lover” video in which Halford, the bastion of Manliness that he is, is kidnapped by sexy ladies who want him to dance into their pants.

Wait…they aren’t wearing pants. Uh . . . so they want to sex him up? Good luck with that.

I love how devil may care the band is while breaking him out. Their attitude seems to be one of “this happens ALL the time.” I’m quite sure it did: the wave of heavy metal singer kidnapping by deliriously horny groupies jumped over 10,000% after this video! Which is to say, it multiplied the previous amount of “zero” by “10,000.” Math is hard.

Anyways. Beyond the hot kidnapping babes, we got a skeleton bugging his eyes out and generally being a useless waste of video budget. Nah, I take that back: its hilarious and only enhances the insanity of the video.

Honestly, the skeleton and his pals alone boost this video up to a 4 ½ on my “Whosawhatsit” scale.

So what did we learn today kiddies? Well, Rob Halford is a super hero with the power to WOO women despite finding them sexually repulsive! He can also see into and then TRAVEL through time! He’s got the super strength needed to do lots of Push-Ups to the beat of pulse pounding music! And obviously…he can EXPLODE heads and remove pants! AT THE SAME TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!

Someone should write a comic book about him.

“In a world where Manliness is a super power, Rob Halford is KING!”

Tune in next week where I tackle a CD from my wife’s collection in an attempt to teach myself to be a REAL writer! Goodnight!

Savage Hippie Presents…I Don’t Know What to Say About Radio Werewolf

Edwin Oslan touches on the existence of white supremacist rock bands (don’t worry, he’s against them, as is everyone on the site) focusing specifically on a rather…odd band’s interactions with the king of scum sucking white supremacist lunatics: Tom Metzger.

Note: I initially wrote this piece before doing full research. After I did I found that Nicholas Schreck had made a couple of appearance on Tom Metzger’s show and expressed disturbing views that seem to suggest he supports some form of white supremacy along with his wife Zeena (daughter of Anton LaVay).

Shortly after, they formed the Abraxis foundation and staged a Satanic/Fascist rally on 8-8-88, renounced any Social Darwinist viewpoints and became Buddhists. While it’s touching to know they allegedly no longer follow a fascist mindset, that didn’t stop them from releasing a Radio Werewolf CD called The Vinyl Solution, containing a bunch of outtakes and still acting like a couple of humorless, pseudo-intellectual buffoons.

Oh and if you want Nicholas Schreck to give you religious mentoring, feel free to send him $100 for his hour long mentoring sessions!

Dangerous Minds posted an article on Facebook about when it seemed okay for goth groups to go onto white supremacist Tom Metzger’s cable access show Race and Reason. I was already aware that Boyd Rice dabbled in fascism. He has never blatantly made it clear which side he stands on; he never expressed any particular hatred for any group of people yet at the same time apparently enjoys praising some of history’s most notorious offenders under the assumption that might makes right. His music has been released by big level independent labels like Mute and he has a relatively large following in the neo goth/noise/neo folk electronic scene, where lot of those people blatantly express racist views.

Furthermore it should be noted that these aren’t like your standard Neo-Nazi skinheads who sing hardcore punk or metal songs about killing minorities. These so-called “neo goth/noise/industrial” groups consider themselves artists and intellectuals who reject liberal ideals and justify the atrocities committed on humanity as the natural order of things.

It seems pretty crazy right?

However, the early industrial scene was all about transgressing moral taboos. Throbbing Gristle wore military uniforms and sang songs with names like “Zyklon B Zombie,” sang about the Moores murders, “the hamburger lady” and performed a called “United” which quotes various serial killers.

Is it art? Eh, I dunno. I like reading true crime books too so, I can’t say. These artists were dark and disturbing but never appeared racist.

Boyd Rice’s appearance on Metzger’s talk show and his association with “racially aware” groups like Skrewdriver and Death In June caused many to dismiss him as a racist. But then again, his music is usually a bunch of experimental noise. The piece he did with Current 93 was actually pretty cool to these ears. I can’t say if he’s a racist or some bogus “social Darwinist” but this leads me to the whole point of this article: Radio Werewolf.

It's a good idea not to take them as seriously as they take themselves.

It’s a good idea not to take them as seriously as they take themselves.

When Radio Werewolf appeared on Race and Reason, I was completely prepared for members Nicholas Shrek and Evil Wilhelm to make statements similar to Rice about being “racially aware” and explaining the different ways to indoctrinate the youth. But I got something so much better!

I’d never heard of Radio Werewolf prior to seeing this clip but I immediately downloaded the album The Fiery Summons after finishing the video. Hearing Shrek sing the phrase “the final cleansing” should raise a red racist and fascist flag.

However, the entire album is a minimalist collection of minor chords played on church organs with Nicholas Shrek moaning about “the circle being complete” and “the werewolf order” in what can only be described as a “vampire” voice.

In fact “March of the Werewolf Order” has no music; it’s just Schrek chanting a strange werewolf anthem. It’s both silly and tedious.
So, when Nicholas Shrek and Evil Wilhelm appeared on Metzger’s show, they gave him possibly the greatest interview I’d ever seen. The whole scenario is bizarre. Like I said, I thought Shrek and Wilhelm were going to talk about “racial identity.”

First of all the appearance of Schreck and Wilhelm should immediately cause a chuckle; both are completely pail and dressed like vampires. Wilhelm has a monocle which he keeps adjusting over the course of the interview. Oh, that’s right; HIS NAME IS EVIL WILHEM!!! At first I thought he was just born with an unfortunate name. But clearly that’s not the case.

During the interview, Schreck (German for “terror”) describes the “Werewolf Order” and how they plan on recruiting the youth through their music. Schreck’s instrument is the “licanthropicord” and the group doesn’t perform gigs; they hold Werewolf Youth Party meetings. This is all punctuated by the fact that Schreck is speaking with a straight face the entire time and Wilhelm occasionally chimes in to clarify.

When asked when the group started, the answer is, “in 1984, the year of the werewolf.” The group’s purpose?; “to define and spread fear and terror” and to” weed out the weak.” Are they Nazis? Nope. They are beyond Nazis and other mortal labels. When asked who can join their “order”, they say, that they decide the criteria of who joins.

But they never define any criteria!

Does this guy meet their criteria?

Does this guy meet their criteria?

Needless to say I thought it was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. Now Tom Metzger is obviously a horrible human being with vile beliefs but it was amusing watching him look confused while trying to make heads or tails of the bizarre duo.

Were they white supremacists? They never said so! They said they are beyond such mortal labels! My guess is that these guys are having a laugh.

It should also be noted that when Nicholas Schreck appeared on an episode of Sally Jesse Raphael addressing Satanism, his performance seems a lot less staged. He could very well be a Satanist and made some vaguely controversial statements about Charles Manson and Hitler. Watch this clip on Sally and let me know what you think! His part starts about halfway through but you might enjoy looking at Anton LaVay’s attractive daughter first.

The Red Telephone Presents: “Goat” by The Jesus Lizard

All things come to an end. And thankfully, all things come to a beginning. Chris Harry, the newest contributor for Culture Fusion ponders the eternal question of beginnings and endings and decides upon a single point of origin: Goat.

Goat.

Where to begin. Where to begin.

I listened to this about 5 days ago for the first time. I’ve been on a long Grateful Dead trip for the past few months, but for some reason I felt like acting on a suggestion my friend Adam has made to me multiple times. Jesus Lizard. Jesus Lizard.

I listened to Then Comes Dudley on Youtube around a month or so ago, but it didn’t click with me. I’ve since listened to Goat. On repeat. For the past 5 days. I mean, I’ve been listening to other stuff. I even bought the new Boards of Canada. But, my god. I don’t want to know how many times I’ve listened to this album.

Where to begin.

So, they’re from Austin, formed in 1987. The Jesus Lizard play a really heavy driving and hard hitting form of noise rock that is completely original and very brooding. Sparse hints of industrial music and speed metal are found throughout this varied yet distinctive record.

Their lead singer, David Yow, is a slightly deranged skeleton from Austin who is a very compelling case for Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as a completely intuitive singer in every possible limb of his act: his crazy and unpredictable songwriting; his behavior on stage; and his “singing” on stage. The man is a walking study in schizophrenia.

Yow.

So, it’s fun to count the man’s changes, since they happen so often and drastically randomly throughout the course of this album, so many times, that it’s almost as if he was patched together by a drunken robot that runs on magnetic tape. He’s almost inhumane, like a wounded train hobo, drunkenly moaning in the night.

It’s daunting, it’s dark, it’s disturbing at times but it’s always Yow. Drunk Yow. Stoned Yow. Sleepy Yow. Maybe even, “Wanting to Strangle Albini Yow.” Who knows. Who cares. His singing is great. He shares “The Damo Suzuki Effect” where a completely bizarre and uniquely talented singer jumps into a band that is complete sounding and who don’t really need a singer.

This is part of the reason everything the man does when he opens his mouth sounds appropriate. That and he’s insane enough to emulate raw fear on command. He conveys it with his grunting and his screeching and his swells. Just about everything else too.

Then there’s good ol’ Duane Denison. A man who’s face screams: “You’re lucky I’m way too fucking high to care about anything, or else I’d probably strangle you with my guitar strap.” A man of interest and certainly a man of stellar cohesion.

Within their dynamic, his role in the band is very contrary to our friend Yow. He pierces through anything the band does on every track in this album and sounds like a fire storm doing it. But he’s the wings of this band. They fly because of his ability to retain structure within his chaotic playing. The melodic edge he brings to this band gives the music its nastiest and grimiest edge.

“The Serial Killer Sound” as my dad commented. I thought more, Aztec. Then Comes Dudley sounded like Tenochtitlan to me.

Either way, Duane brings his bizarre look farther than meets the ear  whenever he’s playing. On Nub, Denison’s guitar sounds like a chainsaw that suddenly found itself attached to a rocket that was cutting through the Mojave sky, and Karpis has a very ornate rhythmic and harmonic structure. It also happens to have the unarguably clearest vocal takes on the whole record. I would say: “The whole band really meshes on this track.”. But since that can be easily applied to every track, I’ll just say Goat. 

Goat.

Goat.

The bands dark energy and constant hay maker attitude is affirmatively owned by Mac Mcneilly and David Wm. Sims. They stir around like a giant vat of oil, bubbling sporadically to release some of the built up pressure, but with a constant undertow spinning the entire room to make it seem as if things are going wildly out of control. They are maniacally entwined on this record and without their incredibly tight chemistry, The Jesus Lizard would just sound like a creepy meth head playing random riffs while his drunken friend screams and barks and yells incoherently and drunkenly dives into the “crowd” only to get up and continue.

Not without his beer, though.

Combine the psychiatric facility ramblings, the blisteringly melodic and sharp abrasion of the guitar, the impossibly tight lock-step drumming matched to the “T” with an incredibly murky and speedy bass line and you get one of the best records you’ve heard in a long time. You get a rethinking of what you thought music could be. You get it all.

Goat. 

Goat’s sheer capacity for slamming all of these things so fiercely together just boggles my mind. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to write about this stuff, especially with it playing. Let’s just be safe and say this record, after listening to it with intention, has commanded my attention ever since I laid ears on it (again).

I’m always listening to it, wherever I go and that trend doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any-time soon. I would maybe considering going down a list of individual songs, but honestly, it’s rather pointless. I don’t feel like spending the next four hours trying to draw minute and demure comparisons. I feel like listening to Goat.

Goat.

Goat.

Stuff That Doesn’t Suck Presents: Lorca by Tim Buckley

Today is a big day for Culture Fusion: our efforts to expand to a wider range of writers and musical interests has hit pay dirt with the introduction of new reviewer Audrey. She enjoys exploring the realms of the strange and unusual and who’s innate understanding of music helps create an informative and enjoyable read.

Her first review delves into the strange and unusual world of Tim Buckley’s experimental period with the classic album “Lorca.”

Nothing unusual here…

I’ve found that it’s impossible to have a conversation with someone about Tim Buckley without the subject of his son immediately slipping into the dialogue. So, I will get this out of the way right now: I am not a fan of Jeff Buckley. There, I said it. Shoot me.

Don’t get me wrong: Jeff isn’t bad; I just don’t find him all that interesting. He has a nice voice, and 1994’s Grace had a few good songs on it (his cover of Hallelujah brings me to tears), but as an album, I find it to be completely unremarkable; this is a lot of why it enrages me when he inevitably gets brought up every single time I try to talk about his father.

Seriously, people – I just want to talk about one of my favorite songwriters, not his son. Jeff couldn’t even swim! (Okay, that was bad.)

Jeff is not amused, Audrey.

Also, Tim was just so dreamy. I mean, look at those curls. Swoon.

When I listen to Tim’s output from the year 1970, I can’t help but wonder why he isn’t more recognized and revered. He released two of his strongest records that year: Lorca and Starsailor. The former of these two releases is not only the Tim Buckley album I enjoy the most, but also one of my all-time favorite records.

It was recorded during the same sessions as his 1969 album, Blue Afternoon but they couldn’t be any more different. Tim was trying to fulfill contractual obligations to his record labels during this period and was creating and releasing a lot of new material.

Perhaps as a response to creating so much at once, his music started becoming eccentric. Rather than writing catchy tunes, Lorca found Buckley completely abandoning the binary structure of his songwriting to explore a more free-form style: this led to his songs being much longer than on his previous records. Leaving behind the verse-chorus format allowed him to focus on creating immersive pieces that highlighted his astonishing vocal range and his poetry.

Not only did his lyrical approach begin to differ, his musical approach was similarly altered: this certainly wasn’t the hippie-folk sound that he used on his earlier albums. On Lorca, Tim started incorporating free jazz and avant-garde elements into the compositions, which undoubtedly alienated his fan base.

Fans may have also been alienated by the minimal levels of acoustic guitar on the album. It was no longer the musical focal point and driving force of the tracks. There is almost no percussive element on the record, except for congas in the background of a few songs.

With the exception of perhaps the track ‘Nobody Walkin’’, these songs don’t sound like traditional rock or folk. His voice completely took over and led the songs in much different directions. Largely owing to the unexpected nature of the record, the album was a financial and critical failure.

All smiles…

Side one opens with the title track, which is much more jarring than anything he had previously released. The song begins with the sound of various keyboards (including the pipe organ), an immediate and complete departure from everything he had done before. Tim plays in an unusual and uncomfortable 5/4 time signature, which creates an brooding atmosphere he maintains for 10 long minutes. This is easily the most difficult track on the record, and I’m guessing it probably scared a lot of his folk-oriented fans away from the album.

The other track on side one is called ‘Anonymous Proposition’. I get the impression that Tim must have been depressed when he wrote most of songs on this record: almost every track creates a strong feeling of isolation which is especially strong on this song. The track (which is easily my favorite on the album) features what I feel is the best vocal performance Tim ever recorded: the song appears to deal with an uncommitted relationship, and I cannot help but be moved by his authentic-sounding delivery of lyrics like “love me as if someday you’ll hate me”, knowing that his romance was doomed before it even started. When asked about the piece, Tim said, “It deals with a ballad in a totally personal, physical presentation… It has to be done slowly; it has to take five or six minutes; it has to be a movement. It has to hold you there and make you aware that someone is telling you something about himself in the dark”.

Side two of the record is significantly less challenging than the first. It starts off with the beautiful ‘I Had A Talk With My Woman’ which initially seems to be more uplifting than the rest of the record.

However, when you listen closer to the lyrics, the song reveals itself to be just as depressing as the rest of the album.  The track has similar lyrical themes to ‘Anonymous Proposition’: Tim alleges singing about his love from the top of a mountain in one verse, but questions how long the love is going to last in the next. Fans looking for an accessible starting point on Lorca could do well to start here, as it features more similarities to his older work than anything else on the LP while still retaining some of the jazzy elements that are present on side one.

Next, we find a moody piece called ‘Driftin’’. Like the rest of the album, this song reaffirms my belief that Tim was dealing with depression over a break-up or a stagnant relationship. It is a slow, dreamy song which features some very lovely guitar work. If I had to identify a low point on the record, I would say that this wonderful song is it.

The final track is ‘Nobody Walkin’’, which presents a musical change of pace. The slow moodiness of the rest of the album is broken by an upbeat, fast-paced groove which feels out of place in the context of the recording. As alien as it is, the song leaves the listener with much better feelings than that rest of the songs.

Lyrically, the song is also different in that it sees Tim take initiative by leaving his lover rather than wait to see whether or not she is going to leave him. This more proactive approach makes ‘Nobody Walkin’’ an appropriate, somewhat positive conclusion to the story of Lorca.

Much like the love spoken of in ‘Anonymous Proposition’, it seems Tim knew that the record would be doomed from the start. Larry Beckett, Tim’s early songwriting partner, said that he wanted to purposefully alienate his fans with his new direction. Tim was once quoted saying that Lorca is a record that “you can’t put… on at a party without stopping things; it doesn’t fit in.”

I would definitely have to agree with him. I’ve tried playing it for a group of friends and everyone in the room immediately stopped talking and started listening. It’s definitely a record that demands your attention.

Just one more (political) party stopped dead by the power of Lorca.

For the time, there aren’t many albums to which you can compare Lorca. The 1970s weren’t a time when popular folk artists were incorporating avant-garde and jazz elements into their sound. Buckley’s use of the chromatic scale sets Lorca apart from the more conventional and melodic folk music which lived (and lives) as the norm. The most obvious contemporary of Lorca’s would be Nico’s ‘Desertshore’, but even that record doesn’t have the desolate and stark qualities of Lorca.

My opinion of Lorca, much like my opinion of Jeff, is the unpopular one. Most people I know prefer Starsailor. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on that album; it’s a fantastic record and certainly deserves all of the acclaim it receives. The two albums receive comparisons quite often since they’re both products of his avant-garde period and they have some similar qualities.

Starsailor also loses out in the “album cover” contest. Blandzilla, yo.

However, I think it’s unfair to compare the two as they have many important differences that separate them more than their similarities unite them. First of all, Starsailor is a much more adventurous and genre shattering album. Tim dove even further into experimentation on that record and came up some very interesting and unique songs as he moved further and further from the folk norm and format. Lorca does not dive as fully into the uncertain waters of the unknown and holds more strongly to traditional folk music formats.

While I usually tend to favor weirder albums, Lorca is my favorite album by Buckley. Starsailor is a fascinating listen, but it lacks intimacy, whereas when I listen to Lorca, I feel like I’m getting a better look at what Tim was like during this point in his life. It has a very atmospheric quality to it that few other albums I’ve listened to are able to achieve, and for this reason alone, it is worth your time and effort to enjoy.