Friday, March 29, 2013

XLR8R's Best of 2012: Top Downloads

Yeah, finally downed their 100-track monster and reduced it all to the 80 mins. of killers below. Make your own version at the site here. Faves are "Test Me" which will test the patience of changing same enemies and "Delirium Tremens (Nathan Fake Remix)," six minutes of vaguely shoegazey moan atop a slinky house 4/4 followed by four minutes of beatless noise-tone.

Lucky Paul: "Rather Go Blind (Etta James Rework)"
B-Ju: "Mia Got A New Haircut"
Para One: "Lean On Me (Salva Remix)"
fLako: "Mating Dance"
Lianne La Havas: "Is Your Love Big Enough (Soul Clap Remix)"
Teeth: "Percolator Meme"
The Gaslamp Killer: "Impulse (feat. Daedelus)"
Daedelus: "Curtains Don't Talk"
Clams Casino: "Swervin"
Disclosure: "Flow (Amusement Remix)"
Galapagoose: "One Who Can't Move"
Mario: "Let Me Love You (Lapalux Bootleg Remix)"
Jodeci: "Freek N' You (TOKiMONSTA Frickinyoo Remix)"
Flosstradamus & DJ Sliink: "Test Me "
Indian Wells: "Night Drops"
Neon Jung: "Delirium Tremens (Nathan Fake Remix)"
Robag Wruhme: "Pokatoll"

Hoberman on Room 237

J. Hoberman's review of Room 237, a silly-sounding essay film compiling various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, reminds me of a conversation I had with a film professor who had just completed grading a huge stack of film analyses. When I asked how they turned out, s/he replied "the girls' papers were great; the boys just wrote about Stanley Kubrick."

In his review, Hoberman asks "is this sort of over-interpretation intrinsic to movies in general or was Kubrick practicing a radically different sort of filmmaking that would make it intrinsic to his work in particular?" Of course it's not intrinsic to movies in general; would that Stanely Donen could inspire such over-interpretation. And while Kubrick is hardly the only filmmaker to elicit such boyish burrowing (Tarkovsky comes to mind), he epitomizes the activity with pounds of exegeses available on Amazon (including behemoths on films he never made) and standing room only panels at SCMS. I'm not claiming he doesn't deserve the attention. I just wish the exegetes would now and then turn Kubrick's examination of power on themselves. To paraphrase Margo Channing in All About Eve, there are other films.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ultramagnetic MC's: The B-Sides Companion (Next Plateau Entertainment, 1997)

Here's a slightly edited review I wrote presumably for Addicted to Noise (or was it Sonicnet at the time?) of an Ultramagnetic MC's profit-taker. I need to thank my pal Jesse Hulseberg who with a musician's ear discerned what the hell Kool Keith was up to and then shared his wisdom with me.

Ultramagnetic MC's: The B-Sides Companion (Next Plateau, 1997)

On the inner sleeve of their 1989 album Done By The Forces Of Nature, the Jungle Brothers gave props to a long list of hip-hop inspirations, both past and present. But for the future, they had only one prediction: Ultramagnetic. The Ultramagnetic MC's were hip-hop's archetypal cult crew, and some think they're still ahead of their time. As with most cults, the obsession centers on one genius figure -- MC Kool Keith. Frequently revered as an innovator in the same breath as Rakim, recently recast as the even more cultish Dr. Octagon, disturbingly sampled by The Prodigy right at the beginning of their mega-breakthrough album, Kool Keith is as acknowledged a planter of twisted roots as Alex Chilton.

But it's no mystery why few drank down the spiked Kool Aid of the Ultramagnetic MC's hallowed debut, Critical Beatdown, upon its release in 1988 on Next Plateau. In the easily sopped-up aural environment forged by Public Enemy, Rob Base, EPMD, Biz Markie, De La Soul and many others at the time, Critical Beatdown worked like Randy Newman's 12 Songs. You had to listen hard to figure out what made it special -- so hard that It Takes a Nation and the like naturally eclipsed it with their abrasiveness and/or directness.

Much of what made it special came courtesy of Kool Keith, who worked his magic quite subtly indeed. He took a cerebral scalpel to his rhymes and abstracted a totally unique rapping style from traditional MC boasts. Even though he likened himself to a steady Eveready, he rapped more like an unstable power cable flinging lyrical sparks around like Jackson Pollock flicked paint. Out of nowhere, a surge would occur like this exhilarating one from "Ease Back": "I bought a Saab, a 1990 Turbo. Shining, fog lights in the front. I bought myself no seats for a stunt [here's the surge] cuz I want it like that, I got it like that, I have it like that, I need it like that, it's better like that, I made it like that, I bought it like that, I'm livin' like that." Critical Beatdown indeed. This spew refers to nothing except Kool Keith's own hyper fit and, as such, ushered in rap's expressionist era.

Five tracks from Critical Beatdown reappear on The B- Sides Companion, which should really be called The Remixes Companion since 10 of its 14 tracks are exactly that. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the resettings disturb Kool Keith's groove thing. There are more great power surges as he sputters out of meter on "A Chorus Line 2000": "You never were sayin' or payin' attention to me, my rhyme, my clothes, my hat, my shoes, my shirt, my tie, the glasses on my eye. I try not to cry cuz you're wack as ever."

"Watch Me Now" reveals another facet to this crazy diamond -- the rapper as art film editor: "Everyday when I come outside, you step back, stay inside [brilliant pause] your house while you look out your window. Your girl screams, 'Where Kool Keith go?' Walking while punks keep talking annoying me, MCs hawking ... " Imagine Run- D.M.C. relegating a sucker MC to merely looking out his window. It's such a bizarre dis because it gives the chump the potential for mobility; it doesn't smack him down. He could very easily leave the house (just ask Main Source who was "Lookin' At The Front Door"). But the fact that he doesn't lends the girl's question (but why does she have to scream it?) and Keith's stroll a remarkably vibrant and dream-like cinematic quality. That's because it's not really a dis but rather a stream of consciousness reworking of hip-hop subject matter -- Super Wolf fancying himself Virginia Woolf. 

The B-Sides Companion also does a good job of delineating how nightmarish those dream-like states were. Kool Keith and fellow MC Ced-Gee mention brains on almost every cut, and the majority of those allude to eating them (haven't they heard of laughing disease?). Bearing down on their idée fixe rhyming style makes the progression from a track like the supposedly self-explanatory "Mentally Mad" to the corridors of Dr. Octagon's Horror Hospital easier to grasp.

There's just one teensy thing I've glossed over: the music, the beats themselves. By the end of Critical Beatdown's 47 minutes, it takes a nation of millions to wake me up. Their JB and scratch just isn't as ear-catching as PE's saturation bombs, and for the sheer ID pleasure of voices, Roxanne Shanté cuts Kool Keith's Queazy-E. Where the conceptual thrust of Dr. Octagon's porno skits and spooky sound effects pull me into the movie, little more than critical duty compels me to break the Ultramagnetic MC's' code. 

The B-Sides Companion's duty should have been to help me do that, but its 10 remixes don't do what the best remixes have always done: reinterpret and/or recontextualize. All 10 differ only in uncrucial ways from the originals, and the few remaining live/renegade cuts offer little help. But maybe that's the point. Maybe a remix philosophy that offers little of anything new is more in keeping with the perverse legacy of Kool Keith.

Monday, March 25, 2013

If anything would get me to listen to more metal...'s Scott Seward's "Of Wolves and Vibrancy: A Brief Exploration of the Marriage Made in Hell between Folk Music, Dead Cultures, Myth, and Highly Technical Modern Extreme Metal" from Pop - When the World Falls Apart: Music in the Shadow of Doubt, ed. Eric Weisbard (Duke UP, 2012): 271-281. Some choices nuggets:

"With metal, I think it's that sense of immediacy and vitality that even mediocre examples of the genre can conjure up simply by virtue of hyperbole and that striving to be the most of something. The most base, or debased, or most grandiose, or most gloomy, or most triumphant. I respond strongly to unashamed displays of the will to power in most genres of any art. At the very least, I admire those who feel as if the infinite is within their grasp. No matter how misguided their central premise. Believing you are a badass is half the battle when it comes to creating something compelling" (272).
"Modern extreme metal—the hard-to-grasp stuff, the nasty stuff, the stuff that doesn't reach out to include you, the stuff that lives in its own world away from the crowds, and that doesn't try to soothe even in its beauty—reminds me more of jazz or rap or tricky modern classical music, which demand that you crack codes before they will break bread with you" (272-3).

"The truth is, metal needs its puerile and unsavory elements to be as strong a form as it is. If you exclude the bad and the ugly from art and only focus on the good, then you are truly living in fairyland. Also, you are your grandmother. A song entitled "Strangled by Intestines" will not be to everyone's taste, but dig a little deeper and you will learn that its author, Joe Wolfe (of the group Heinous Killings), is revered by hundreds as one of the greatest low-tone goregrind vocalists of all time" (274).

"Metal has always been a great place for people who don't feel they belong in the world. And metal artists go to great lengths to create a home, a place, a life, a philosophy, a religion, out of the tools of their art. Or they go out of their way to trumpet the merits of their own small patch of soil...I can dig the sentiment. In the 1980s, I was a big admirer of British anarcho-punks like Crass and Flux of Pink Indians, and the idea that some of these groups had punk-rock communes seemed so cool to me. In the states there was the Dischord house and the Better Youth Organization. Punk boy scouts, really. I would have looked for a like-minded place or cult myself at the time, but I've never been fond of gardening" (274-275).

"Even a cursory glance through the interview section of The Convivial Hermit magazine - an excellent chronicle and repository for the wit and wisdom of scores of kindred spirits in the metal underground - will reveal more evidence of a longing to be left alone to create in peace than of overarching theories regarding the superiority of any one race" (276).

And, finally, a quote from Ulver from their 1999 Metamorphosis EP: "We are as unknown to you as we always were" (281).

And, lo, once I stopped snickering, I actually got something from Faroe Islands' Tyr. Something like, ya know, the will to push forward:

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Luther Price films at The Nightingale

Never pass up an evening of Luther Price films. Despite (if not because of) their propensity to assault us with crusty reminders of our perpetually decaying existence, they themselves are fragile things that sometimes fail to survive projection, perhaps never to be seen again, like scabs lost forever in shag carpeting. So a Luther Price screening is always a precious event indeed. Last night, White Light Cinema presented SLAM! – A Luther Price Super-8 Sampler at The Nightingale kicking off with Mr. Wonderful (1987, 10 min) which consists entirely of an uncomfortable close-up of Mister Rogers' Let's Be Together Today as selections from the album play on the soundtrack. The image has a bit of schmutz on it - ear wax, maybe, or dandruff. Fred sings "The Clown in Me" about acting the clown as a response to fear and uncertainty. You can hear the song in a different version below.

H.S.C. (1989, 10 min) was shot off a TV screen broadcasting the Home Shopping Club (now Network) selling us a Capodimonte porcelain figurine. I could've sworn that this then cut to home movies of a little girl showing off some ballet moves and being entertained by a clown at a party. But my friend Todd thought this latter footage was another film.

Jellyfish Sandwich (1994, 20 min) features old war footage (Pearl Harbor maybe), Asian women chatting, and upside-down football plays intercut into a maelstrom of angry energy. Todd: "That's exactly what I think of football!"

In the middle of the program, I lost track of which film is which but these were shown:

Porcelyn Ribbon [aka Porcelain Ribbon] (1995, 5 min)

Slam (1996, 5 min)

These & Those (1996, 4 min)

One of these combined hardcore gay porn with a western movie. But I'm certain about the final three.

Ritual 629 (1999, 13 min) - Two main layers of imagery - 1. creepily inert surgical footage (or some sort of meaty material) again shot off a television set (I think) and 2. more extreme porn including a man bringing his asshole down on a thin pole and another pissing or ejaculating into a wine glass. The soundtrack was industrial scrapes and clangs. My favorite.

Dead Ringer (1999, 4 min) - Yet another film shot off of a television screen, this time the climax of the 1964 film of the same name in which Bette Davis plays an identical twin who kills her sister and assumes her identity. You settle into the narrative but all too soon, it cuts off at an utterly random moment at which point it seems to signify or "happen." Why there, we wonder, as we do with so many events and lives cut short.

Yellow Goodbye (1999, 10 min) - This one started out with the feel of a Richard Kern film as it observes and swirls around (and with) two men in bad drag dancing around to, according to Fred Camper, a Cass Elliot song. It cuts to spinning footage of buildings taken from a courtyard and then to shots of a shirtless man imprisoned by yellowish scrapes on the film.

Overall, I'd say this Price screening was much easier to take but less profound than the last one I attended, Kittens, Biscuits, & Blots on March 20, 2011 which remains one of the most exhilarating, if punishing, cinematic experiences I've ever had, especially at the end when the last four films, all hand-painted and/or buried in the ground, flaked off in the projector until the final one, presumably Dusty Rickets (2007, approx. 8 min.), broke a few minutes in.

Added attractions: a fat cat named Simon who greeted us at the door; seats on the comfy couch in the front; and Charles the love hound who sat with us for the entire screening.

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