Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Residents - "The Bunny Boy"

Reviewing a Residents release is not an easy task. After nearly 4 decades (!), the group continues to confound fans and maintain their profile far outside of the mainstream - despite their outright lampooning of that very pop culture.

'The Bunny Boy' seems to be a concept album about a misfit boy who posts videos on the internet as a plea to find his missing brother. Told through a series of surreal musical vignettes, the Residents' synthesize aspects of all sorts of pop musics - from rock to electronic to symphonic to hip-hop, but never actually become anything but Residents, if that makes any sense. Truly masters of their own particular arcane craft, the very theatrical eyeball-headed ones paint odd visual images in song form unlike anyone before or since.

Seriously, I can't decipher any possible lineage here, and dare I even try? Imagine, if you will, Frank Zappa, Devo, Captain Beefheart, prog-rock, industrial, kraut...I give up. I admit to not having much of an extensive Residents knowledge, having only heard a few select LPs from way back in the 70's-80's, but 'Bunny Boy', to me, is a highly theatrical and idiosyncratic album of pop tunes that may confuse you (and me). It's an enjoyable listen and very well-presented - even if you don't bother with the story and just listen passively. And they're doing a world tour starting in October, so if they're coming to your town, I'd guarantee a multimedia experience like you've never seen! (MVD Audio / The Cryptic Corporation / Mute)

Residents site/blog

Brainticket - "Cottonwood Hill" LP

Gaining prominence in psychedelic/krautrock circles, perhaps partially due to the endorsement of one Steven Stapleton of Nurse With Wound (who all but covered parts of this with his 'Brained By Falling Masonry' track in 1984), this wild acid-freakout release from 1970 still sounds foreign and outlandish, and may well frighten even fans of 'darker' musical strains. This is definitely not a record for children, either, as it's pretty well intense, even nearly 40 years later!

The opener, 'Black Sand' is a wild freeform rock track, while 'Places Of Light' is a slinky, funky little number with a flute solo. All very bohemian and 70's porno-like, actually, until it erupts into a heavier guitar-oriented flight, with spacy drug-trippy narration by Dawn Muir. This is definitely intended for chemical accompaniment!

The final 3 tracks are all part of the 'Brainticket' suite, and are undoubtably the centerpieces of the LP. Here, the record goes off the rails completely, with assorted (pre-sampling) tape effects and a skittering, jumbled, rhythmic assortment of motor vehicle engines, crowd cheers, school bells, sinister whispers, organ/guitar metronomes, breaking glass, teeth being brushed, water gargling, alarms, orgasmic female exclamations, train crossing bells, feedback noise, chimp screams, Beethoven, This is one series of tracks that you will never forget.

And so 'Cottonwood Hill' stands, an obscure yet legendary piece of hallucinogenic avante-rock, using surreal juxtapositions of sound effects to create an otherworldly 'trip' of an experience. It pre-dates the whole 'industrial' scene, which surely owes it a debt, and the out-there nature of it places it in some rather distinguished company. A landmark LP, and one that you really should hear.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clayton Jacobson - "Kenny"

This charming mockumentary from Australia is a triumphant look at an everyman (played by co-producer/co-writer Shane Jacobson, whose brother Clayton also co-wrote and directed) who happens to be employed as a port-a-john deliveryman/plumber. Convincingly honest, down-to-earth, and likeable, Kenny is assailed at all sides by family woes (his ex-wife is a royal pain), a disapproving (and cranky) father, and some incompetent workmates, as well as a son who he'd like to spend more quality time with.

In-between all this, he manages to earn a trip to Nashville, TN to attend a prestigious international plumbers convention - which leads him to meet a potential love interest named Jackie (who is a flight attendant on his airline) - and a work promotion when he seals a major deal with a large Japanese company - spearheaded by a Japanese drinking buddy he meets and deems ''Sushi Cowboy'.

But this is not another tale of the down-and-out loser, or the bumbling fool as it seems most American flicks of this ilk end up like. Somehow, you just feel good about Kenny and his choices. He is a respectable and virtuous man who happens to work 'in the shit'. His anecdotes are amusing, wise, and oftentimes hilarious, and it's actually a credit to the directors that his portrayal is so utterly realistic and human.

It's not 'lol' funny, but 'Kenny' is a rollicking good time of a movie, and here's hoping it gets more attention stateside.

September (Beer) Song

Ratings are 5 = must-drink winner, 4 = excellent and worthy, 3= average/drinkable, 2 = kinda bleah, 1 = absolutely shite.

Remember to drink responsibly, and support local/craft beer. Fuck corporate!

ROGUE - Brutal Bitter Ale (Newport, Oregon) - 5
Not nearly as 'brutal' as the name implies, this rich and golden ale pours with a nice, frothy head. The hops are abundant, and this well-balanced mix has a notable floral aroma, yet never gets into IPA territory. It's got a clear and balanced sweetness to counteract the hoppiness. Beautiful to behold and a joy to drink, I'll be seeking out more of these!

BECK's lager (Bremen, Germany) - 2
One of the more prominent German lagers, this one pours thin and watery, with a pale gold appearance and ample carbonation. Has a very clean taste, with a sort of dirty hoppy aftertaste. Comparable to Heineken, maybe, and ideal for a hot, summery day. Otherwise, not an inspiringly creative brew, and not one I'm all that fond of.

TWO BROTHERS BREWING - The Bitter End Pale Ale (Chicago) - 4
Mmm! This rusty-red English-style ale comes out with a deeply fruity bouquet. The initial olfactory sensation sets the stage for a sturdily hoppy (yes, it's got a nippy bitterness), yet with a well-balanced malty aftertaste. A complex and highly palatable beer, certainly one to enjoy in small doses. I really liked this one.

MICHELOB ULTRA - Tuscan Orange Grapefruit Lager (St. Louis) - 1
Super-fizzy, but quickly-dissipating upon first pour, this hybrid pilsener brew smells (and looks) like a soft drink - all watery and pinky in color. And, truth be told, it tastes like a soft drink, too. Bland and unappealing, this 'beer' lacks any complexity in flavor at all - just a nasty artificial citrus-simulation. My best advice is to leave this one on the racks.

KetVector - "The Infinite Regress" CD

Being in an industrial act in the present day is a pretty shady proposition. Major labels want absolutely no part of you (that's no problem, though). Your audience is insulated and precious (and utterly tiny), and they usually dress really silly. And this is coming from a seriously-involved fan from way back before there was a dress code, Hot Topic, and before the wishy-washy gothy scene absorbed all the heavy and mean electronic sounds. Yeccch!

Anyway, Justin Bennett is no newbie or stranger, and it shows. His resume includes stints as drummer with Professional Murder Music, Thrill Kill Kult (who he still tours with), and these days, he works within the Skinny Puppy live band, as well as on other lesser-known projects called Bahntier and American Memory (with independent filmmaker and visual artist William Morrison).

On his debut as KetVector, he joins fellow Bahntier member Stefano Rosselo, and together, they manage to slice through all the crap and tedious stereotypes. 'The Infinite Regress' is an excellent and - if not innovative - a perfectly worthy collection of mostly instrumental soundtracks with plenty of dark cinematics, heavy rhythms, and expert live percussion. The ability to mess with the structures (and go on for weird, seemingly nonlinear noise tangents) is a skill which even Puppy themselves seem to have lost since their reformation.

Bennett's more than proven himself to be a worthy programmer, and it's a shame this release isn't getting larger media attention on a more prominent label (apparently Rustblade is an Italian micro-indie). A super-limited version of this album was available as a box set with a bonus disc (and some extra tracks), but nonetheless, any fan of classic Skinny Puppy will thoroughly enjoy this fine selection. (Rustblade)

KetVector page

Justin Bennett page

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Steve Kilbey - "Live" DVD

Kilbey, for those who don't know, is the conceptualist, vocalist, and bassist with Australian rock legends The Church, and here he plays a comprehensive solo acoustic set for a small, intimate audience in Auckland, New Zealand in 2007. Being a big fan of The Church for some time (their spectacularly understated and psychedelic 'After Everything Now This' was perhaps my favorite album of 2002), I was quite stoked to see this - especially as Kilbey's solo work is quite hard to find here in the states.

Well, Kilbey's a master showman, and a true 'magician of the spirits'. In the nearly 2-hour set here, he digs in to some prime covers (the Velvets' 'Caroline Says', Dylan's 'Is Your Love In Vain?'), some tracks from his collaborations with Grant McLennan (R.I.P.) as Jack Frost, his solo work, and of course some Church favorites. The fidelity isn't super-HD, and it's not all super-Dolby surround-sound, but the impression of seeing Kilbey perform to a small (and sometimes disrespectful audience) is a seldom-seen treat. Incredibly, even sans a band of any sort, Kilbey is a troubadour of utter class and distinction. His passion and fire is evident during the impressive 'Wolfe', whereas he coasts through sublime standards like 'Under The Milky Way' like a master. A lovely set of tunes from one of music's most underappreciated lyricists, 'Live' is a real winner. (Plus1 Presents/PIcturesque Films)