Sunday, January 22, 2006

Kool Keith: SPANKMASTER (Overcore/TVT, 2001)

I remember very little about this record (although that Cheeseburglar line certainly pricked up my ears) which I reviewed for mere months before 9/11/01 (on 9/12/01, the reviews section was cut...seriously, the very next day, with nary a hug from editor Billy Altman nor that copy of WILD ABOUT MY LOVIN' that he promised me). I clearly overrated SPANKMASTER since I no longer own it (just checked - it's not even in the reference shelves). It's obvious to me now that I was trying to massage Keith's uncritical cult, those that would applaud an album of tuba solos from the nutter since anything similarly kooky would fit his psychotic profile. And that includes an album resting upon dull ass beats. Why I felt compelled to cater to his cult I dont know exactly. Maybe because I was (and still am) a fan myself and tend to embrace birds with broken wings anyway. In any event, where the hell has he been lately?

ARTIST: Kool Keith

TITLE: Spankmaster

LABEL: Overcore/TVT

REL. DATE: 6/5

HED: Cuckool

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

by Kevin John

Back in the late 80’s with Ultramagnetic MCs, Kool Keith oozed stream-of-consciousness raps about cars and eating brains. But now hip-hop’s premier eccentric has a lot of competition from an entirely viable underground, where eccentricity comes with the territory. On first listen, Spankmaster, the latest disc in Keith’s ultra-prolific post-Ultramagnetic career, appears to be a sour grapes response to this threat. One track is flat-out called “Jealous”, proceeds to blast Funkmaster Flex and MTV for not playing his music.

But for better or worse, Keith can never sustain a boast or a dis without a detour into some truly bizarre material. “Mack Trucks,” for instance, starts out with Keith ripping on “major fake ballers” but his rap gets absorbed into the confusing chorus of “Macks trucks, big wheels roll,” crooned, like every chorus on the album, in a demented loveman falsetto. If it’s a metaphor for Keith’s prowess, well, it’s a bizarre one. “Drugs”, alternates between history (“I used to be up all night in the living room smoking a lot of weed…”) and hallucination (“…with The Four Tops.”). Even his rampant sexism takes a turn for the odd. He clearly has disdain for the woman in “Maxin in the Shade”, whose evil deeds only begin with running up his phone bill talking to drug dealers. But that disdain manifests itself in a trip to McDonald’s so that she can “take a picture with the Cheeseburglar…let him know how you got your hair done.”

It’s be easy to pass this all off as pure psychosis (the man did do well-publicized time at Bellevue) if the music weren’t so madly methodical. Practically every backing track here follows the same pattern: a stark beat with eerie electronic hooks that recall the bleeps of the earliest video game systems and Keith driving right over (like a Mack truck?) instead of working rhythmically against it. When the raps become too opaque, there are real pleasures to be had honing in on this uniquely minimal sound. And it does make you throw your hands in the air – not to wave them like you just don’t care but because you have no idea what to do with yet another one-of-a-kind Kool Keith joint.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fave music moment of 2005

I returned a few CDs to the library and was waiting for one of the librarians to retrieve a few more for me. So was this gorgeous Indian (I think) guy - flippy hair, slightly exaggerated features, a decently developed body that didn't seem to fit in its frame or the clothes draping it, a dash of queeniness (or is that just a non-Western masculinity?). Definitely not a classic beauty but stunning nonetheless. Anyhoo, he sees the pile of CDs I've placed on the counter to return. At the top is Z.Z. Hill's GREATEST HITS.

Guy (in a thick accent): Z.Z. Hill? Sheesh - I didn't think anyone knew who he was anymore?

Me (straining to see what he just returned): Guess so. I'm mildly shocked YOU know who he is. You like that kind of music?

G: Oh yeah. I'm getting a Bobby Bland CD right now.

M: Oh I love him too.

G: What else do you have there?

M: Oh this is just Brian Eno. (Guy gives confused look.) You don't know Brian Eno?

G: No.

Surprised, I babble on a bit about ambient and tangential listening. He doesn't seem interested so I try to pepper up my speech by saying that this disc (ANOTHER GREEN WORLD) is an earlier, ear-friendlier take on ambient. Still doesn't bite. But he DOES seem interested - maybe wanting to talk about something else besides music. And, of course, I do nothing about it, assuming I'm just misreading signals. I get my CDs and manage a lame "Enjoy Bobby Bland" before floating out.

Ok that's not exactly earth-shattering. But in a way it is. Music has always been a too too private phenomenon for me. I've met only one or two of my editors in person and have received feedback on maybe 5% of what I've ever written (from readers AND editors). The music goes in, the review comes out, and never much static in the cycle. Few live shows feel like a concert in all senses of the word. And we just don't invite friends over anymore to sit around iTunes like we did in the good ole days. This little moment, however, felt more chaotically public than most live shows I've attended. And it underlined my reality as a geeked-out white collegian who assumes the world's more familiar with Brian Eno than Z.Z. Hill.

Best of all, it engorged music with the kind of vibrant modernity scholars like Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Anne Friedberg and Miriam Hansen associate with trains, shopping, movies and/or walking down a city street - chance meetings, missed opportunities.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Pazz & Jop 2005, Y'all!

Dear Kevin John:

Thank you for your submission - your votes have been recorded.

Your Pazz & Jop albums ballot was submitted as follows:

1. Wide Right - Sleeping On The Couch - Pop Top (10)
2. Kanye West - Late Registration - Roc-A-Fella (10)
3. M.I.A. - Arular - XL (10)
4. LMP - A Century of Song - Polyholiday (10)
5. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema - Matador (10)
6. Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock & Roll - Fierce Panda (10)
7. The Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart - Yep Roc (10)
8. Amadou et Mariam - Dimanche a Bamako - Nonesuch (10)
9. Africanism Allstars - Africanism III - Tommy Boy (10)
10. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois - Asthmatic Kitty (10)

Your Pazz & Jop singles ballot was submitted as follows:

1. Hard-Life - Hard Toxic (Stupid September Mix) - UNKNOWN
2. Amerie - 1 Thing - UNKNOWN
3. Gnarls Barkley - Crazy - UNKNOWN
4. Guillemots - Who Left The Lights Off Baby - Fantastic Plastic
5. Black-Eyed Peas - My Humps - A&M
6. The Click Five - I Think We\'re Alone Now - Lava
7. Ying Yang Twins - Wait (The Whisper Song) - TVT
8. Supersystem - Everybody Sings - Touch & Go
9. Roll Deep - The Avenue - Relentless
10. Tori Alamaze - Don\'t Cha - Universal

100 (or so) Films (and 10 TV shows) you should see...sometime

I suppose it was inevitable but my students asked me for a list of 100 films they should see before graduating. But a similar list concerning books has filled me with anxiety ever since high school. (Apparently, we got to "everything" save for PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN and JUDE THE OBSCURE. Read the former immediately upon graduation but never got around to the latter. Never having read it seems like a minor triumph now.) So instead, I gave them a list of 100 (or so) films that I merely adore. I tried to pick obscure films/directors not for obscurity's sake but for the students' own. Perhaps I'm naive in assuming this but I believe that someone someday will tell them that ALL ABOUT EVE or NIGHT OF THE HUNER are great films and that they should seem them right now. In fact, I already did that myself during class. So the titles below exclude some personal faves (like the above) so that they'll move beyond Welles and Chaplin.

But I had an ulterior motive in making this list. I always actively encourage my students to support local businesses. So for better or worse, almost all of these titles are available at Austin's amazing video stores (I Love Video and Vulcan Video). Still, I included a few films that have never been released on video (never mind DVD) just to remind them to seek out films on film when they can.

An Actor's Revenge (Kon Ichikawa 1962)
Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold 1998)
Angel, Angel, Down We Go (Robert Thom 1969)
Angel Face (Otto Preminger 1952)
The Apple (Menahem Golan 1980)
Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson 1966)
Autumn Tale (Eric Rohmer 1998)
Awaara (Raj Kapoor 1951)
The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer 1934)
Blow Job (Andy Warhol 1963)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah 1974)
By Brakhage - Cheating, I know but...
Careful (Guy Maddin 1992)
Céline and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette 1974)
The Chambermaid on the Titanic (Bigas Luna 1998)
A Chronicle of Corpses (Andrew Repasky McElhinney 2000)
La Cienaga (Lucretia Martel 2001)
Close My Eyes (Stephen Poliakoff 1992)
The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Paradjanov 1968)
Conspirators of Pleasure (Jan Svankmajer 1996)
Crash (David Cronenberg 1996)
Crazy in Alabama (Antonio Banderas 1999)
Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arzner 1940)
Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terrence Davies 1988)
The Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara 1979)
Edge of Hell (Hugo Haas 1956)
8 Women (François Ozon 2000)
Esther Kahn (Arnaud Desplechin 2000)
The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel 1962)
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (Russ Meyer 1965)
Female on the Beach (Joseph Pevney starring Joan Crawford 1955)
The Five Senses (Jeremy Podeswa 1999)
Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith 1963)
Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien 1998)
Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky 1948)
The Gay Deceivers (Bruce Kessler 1969)
The Girl From Chicago (Oscar Micheaux 1932)
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (Lewis Milestone 1933)
The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang 2000)
I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov 1964)
Illusions (Julie Dash 1980)
Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk 1959)
It's Pat - The Movie (Adam Bernstein 1995)
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman 1975)
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray 1954)
Kal Ho Naa Ho (Nikhil Advani 2003)
Love Me Tonight (Rouben Mamoulian 1932)
Love Streams (John Cassavetes 1982)
Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey 1937)
Katzelmacher (Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1969)
Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano 1999)
The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis 1961)
Lost Book Found (Jem Cohen 1996)
Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem 1999)
Love Streams (John Cassavetes 1984)
Manji (Yasuzo Masumura 1964)
Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli 1944)
Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May 1975)
Moonrise (Frank Borzage 1948)
The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache 1973)
My Architect (Nathaniel Kahn 2003)
My Parents Read Dreams I’ve Had About Them (Neil Goldberg 1998)
The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann 1953)
Nightdreams (Francis Delia 1981)
Oasis (Chang-dong Lee 2002)
The Old Dark House (James Whale 1932)
On Top of the Whale (Raul Ruiz 1982)
Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa 1926)
The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges 1942)
The Pajama Game (George Abbott/Stanley Donen 1957)
Pink Flamingos (John Waters 1972)
Playtime (Jacques Tati 1967)
The Plot Against Harry (Michael Roemer 1968)
Porn Theater (Jacques Nolot 2002)
Red Line 7000 (Howard Hawks 1965)
La Région Centrale (Michael Snow 1967)
Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov 2002)
Seeds (aka Seeds of Sin) (Andy Milligan 1968)
The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson 1943)
7 Women (John Ford 1966)
Sextette (Ken Hughes starring Mae West 1978)
Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton 1924)
Shoah (Claude Lanzmann 1985)
Shock Treatment (Jim Sharman 1981)
Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven 1995)
Some Call It Loving (James B. Harris 1973)
The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi 1939)
Submit To Me Now (Richard Kern 1987)
Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor 1935)
The Target Shoots First (Chris Wilcha 1998)
Ten (Abbas Kiarostami 2002)
Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train (Patrice Chéreau 1998)
Time Out (Laurent Cantet 2002)
To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett 1990)
Tough Guys Don't Dance (Norman Mailer 1987)
Track of the Cat (William Wellman 1954)
Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch 1932)
Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade 1915-16)
The Vyrotonin Decision (Matt McCormick 1999)
Wanda (Barbara Loden 1971)
White Dog (Sam Fuller 1982)
Women of the Night (Zalman King 2000)
Xanadu (Robert Greenwald 1980)
The Young Girls of Rochefort (Jacques Demy 1967)

TV -
The Ben Stiller Show
The Critic
The Ernie Kovacs Show
Get A Life
Green Acres
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
The Outer Limits (especially episodes directed by Gerd Oswald)
Parker Lewis Can't Lose
Pink Lady (terrible early 1980s revue show but the Jerry Lewis guest spot is jaw-dropping)
Sabrina The Teenage Witch

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"No more secret songs."

I got to use one of my favorite lines from SCHOOL OF ROCK (a film pissing favorite lines) and for once, it was entirely appropriate (sadly, not many scenarios call for a response of "Uh, we're not goofing off; we're creating musical fusion").

So I finish my blog, right, and proud of the results, I show the Mr.

Me: Look. Here's my top 100 singles of the 1980s list.

Mr. (barely a nanosecond later and not even really looking): Oh, does it have Nolan Thomas' "Yo' Little Brother" on it?

Huh? So I did a little search (actually, he fucked up little Nolan's name a bit) and whaddyaknow? Pulled a forgotten 1980s pebble right out of his ass (and here I thought I knew them all).

As we know, pebbles don't make big waves and indeed "Yo' Little Brother" apparently stalled at #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985. That seems just - it's a catchy but unmomentous cautionary tale with just the slightest touch of Cat Stevens' odious "Wild World" in the lyrics. One website called it crossover freestyle which I admit I didn't hear at first. Too slow, I guess. And too crossover too. Definitely diluted although why freestyle needed diluting is beyond me. Was Debbie Deb ever so avant or Latin to require it (oooh - avant freestyle - someone run with that)? Did anyone ever call successes like Exposé or The Cover Girls "crossover freestyle?" "Yo' Little Brother" came out on Mirage (home of greatest single EVAH "Bon Bon Vie") so clearly the label was aiming to build on the Shannon momentum. But "Give Me Tonight" and "Let The Music Play" (originally on Emergency, I know, which had something to do with "Yo' Little Brother" too; check out the 45 here) were waaay more freestyle than this and managed to "crossover" something fierce. "Crossover" simply doesn't sound right as a freestyle m.o. It was never content to attentuate in some purist underground. Music of such dazzling eaux d'artifice was bound to explode forth and get someone, anyone wet.

The real treat with "Yo' Little Brother" is the video which you can watch on this very gay website. I immediately knew why it stuck in the Mr.'s craw - two young boys somersaulting around for his fabulous fourteen year old delectation. I sincerely hope they're both enjoying life as homosexuals as much as we are.

With that, he went to work and I told him "no more secret songs." Although I can understand why it was a secret to begin with.

Monday, January 09, 2006

CAFE LUMIERE (Hou Hsiao-hsien 2003)

Here's a blurb on it from the Voice poll by the terrific Mark Peranson (read it in its entirety here):

"Hou Hsiao-hsien's vision of contemporary Taipei consists of rock 'n' roll, screaming motorcycles, raves, and dimly lit sex, whereas his Tokyo is sweet and even quaint."

Now here's an IMDb comment (read it in its entirety here):

"Hou shows us a Japan that has changed so much from the Japan that Ozu so painstakingly tries to hold on to by capturing it on his camera. Each tear, each regret, each joy is now lost in a world that tries too hard to change. Wim Wenders first laments this in Tokyo Ga on how banal Tokyo has become and how much of an imitation culture new Japanese culture is. Cafe Lumiere, while not being as impassioned as Wender's masterpiece, is every bit as pensive about its regret of the passing on of the old Japan that Ozu loves so much...In the overwhelmingly modern backdrop of Tokyo, we see how something of the past, like the cafe that Yoko hunts for, that some people so want to preserve, has been turned into another urban development project."

These two sentiments seem to be at odds with one another. Unsurprisingly, I think Peranson is closer to the mark here. Very little in CAFE LUMIERE seemed "overwhelmingly modern." In fact, there's a brief scene where Yoko buys something (forget what) on a narrow street of touristy or trendy-looking shops. THAT scene is overwhelmingly modern. But it stands out in a film of muted colors, relaxing ambient sound, and unpregnant (paradoxical given Yoko's pregnancy) moments. Even the copious meditations on trains seem somehow (hate this word but) organic. The last shot of trains working their way through the city resembles a cut away of worms slithering in and out of underground dirt tunnels.

It appears, then, that some viewers must invoke an agrarian/suburban Ozu (one where women apparently "knew their place" a bit more) to pinpoint what Hou's film is "about" - namely, a mourning for a pre-pomo globalization time and space. But the visual/sonic evidence simply doesn't bear this out. As Peranson suggests, Hou looks and listens on this Tokyo with more of a sense of delight than sadness. In this regard, Hajime is Hou's rather obvious surrogate in the film. Hajime records the sounds of different trains because, despite all of them being products of Fordist modernity, each has their own unique, irreducible
aura (it's a bit odd to write "each" in reference to trains here but appropriate in Hou's hands). Similarly, Hou infuses his spaces and sounds with a bit of auratic experience.

How does he does this? I'm not sure although my immediate impulse is to suggest that he achieves it by refusing to burden Tokyo with the traditional narrative function of mere setting. Still, that leaves me with little to say as to what the film may be about although I'm not sure "aboutness" is what Hou's about. I love this post to an IMDb messge board responding to the question "What is this movie about...?" (read it here):

"You know how sometimes you see a film so big and full and immersing that by the time it ends you feel kinda empty (for most people it's the Lord of the rings or Matrix or Star wars type of films)? well, (CAFE LUMIERE) is so empty that in the end, it makes you you feel full. I remember feeling more refreshed and alive after this film, than any other film i had ever seen. I can't really explain why though... It's like magic..."

Beautifully put, methinks, and my sentiments exactly. While watching it, I was typically bored, fell asleep a few times (never a negative sign in my book nor in Peranson's as he attests to in another Voice blurb). At the end, it seemed like minor Hou. But I soon started to miss it like a friend. Or maybe it was more architectural than that, missed it like I missed my Austin apt. during Xmas. I am willing to admit that this state of mind is a direct result of the fact that I returned the DVD to the video store without having burned myself a copy. If I have it around "for good," will my longing for it stop? Who knows? In short, recollecting the film now, I do not know exactly what I am full of. I hope it's not shit (ha! beat ya to it!). But I'm not sure pinpointing that fullness is the key to loving Hou.