Wednesday, June 27, 2012

SWANS - "The Burning World" CD

I'm pretty certain Michael Gira didn't anticipate, nor "green light" this 2012 reissue of Swans' infamous 1989 major label album. And for collectors or fans, it offers little over the original pressing aside from a louder remastering. I'd have liked to see the single B-sides, at least, appended for a more complete experience, but that's nitpicking.

It's been well-documented before many times. Gira and company were signed to MCA/Uni, and with the addition of an outside producer, Bill Laswell, they came up with this selection of 10 folk/world songs. Coming on the heels of the bands' sprawling, scalding masterwork, "Children Of God", this mellow, moody, and melodic set was subjected to numerous declarations of "sellout". And though it produced one of Gira's most memorably haunting songs ("God Damn The Sun"), the singles "Saved" and "Can't Find My Way Home" didn't find themselves charting much anywhere. 

Years later, many still consider "The Burning World" a blemish within Gira and company's illustrious catalog. Gira himself has outright refused to reissue this, aside from some odd bits included on his "Various Failures" compilation, and a very limited handmade redux called "Forever Burned", which also sold out quickly and now fetches large sums itself.

"The Burning World" isn't a terrible effort. On the contrary, it's a strong one, but it also needs to be seen for what it is --  a turning point, a very public transition where Gira, Jarboe, and Westberg would shed their previous image. They would eventually resolve to rebuild the band's legacy several years later with the double-album epics "White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity" and "Love Of Life", and that legacy continues today, stronger than ever.

So, while this reissue may not be fully "official", newer fans unable to obtain a reasonably-priced original will find it's an appealing alternative. Let's just hope Water/Universal compensates Young God Records for this one. (Water/Universal)

"SpokAnarchy!" DVD (directors: David W. Halsell, Erica K. Schisler, Jon Swanstrom, Heather Swanstrom, Theresa Halsell, and Cory Wees)

This fun, energetic, and interesting documentary is subtitled "Where were you in '82?", and that sums up this look into Spokane's loose-knit underground & punk scene in the early 80s. Interviewing a number of scenesters, band members, artists, and associates from the years "before punk broke", "SpokAnarchy" also features a wealth of rare photos, flyer art, and live clips of bands who never "made it", but are now, fortunately, immortalized in digital form.

Suffice to say, if you weren't from Spokane in the 80s, you've likely never heard of these artists, renegades, outsiders, and punks, but I think nearly anyone from a small, conservative town can relate. There are so many great stories and memories, most of which are forgotten as time and technology march onwards. Congrats to all the filmmakers here, for capturing a time and place that would be long since forgotten. I'm inspired again, and wish someone would make a film like this about my own "small-town" punk scene. Hmm. (Carnage & Rouge/MVD Visual)

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Cult - "Choice Of Weapon" album

It's been some years (5 to be precise) since we heard from the Cult, and this set of tunes may be the best showing since their 1989 breakthrough "Sonic Temple".

The first single, "For The Animals", is a catchy hard rock tune, but it's cuts like the opener, "Amnesia", that really shine. Billy Duffy's guitars here harken back to the band's psychedelic acid-rock days, and Ian Astbury's finally confident vocals summon both Jim Morrison and British heavy metal equally. "Embers" is another standout -- a dramatic and bluesy ballad that fits in well with the Cult's legacy and widely-varied back catalogue. Maybe the presence of producer Bob Rock (who worked with the band in it's heyday) is a factor in this rejuvenation.

Suffice to say, "Choice Of Weapon" is the best assimilation of the band's heyday (think "Love") and their more metallic ("Sonic Temple" as a reference point). At last, an album that fans of any Cult era can appreciate equally. Rock solid, boys. (Cooking Vinyl)

"P.O.E. - Poetry Of Eerie" DVD

An anthology of short films based on Edgar Allan Poe tales, "P.O.E." is, for the most part, a collection of Italian directors who were allowed only 3 days to complete their work. As a result, there are plenty of rather forgettable and hackneyed pieces here, among a few memorable gems.

Most of Poe's best-loved tales of desperation, sorrow, guilt, loneliness, and paranoia are here, and inspired works are generated by Matteo Corazza (who takes "Glasses" to in a sexy, modern direction), Paulo Gaudio (who interprets "The Black Cat" faithfully in excellent claymation style), Guiliano Giacometti (who takes some stylistic pages from Dario Argento in his colorful version of "Berenice"), Domiziano Cristopharo (who takes "Maelzel's Chess Automaton" into a strange and modern direction), and, finally, Yumiko Sakura Itou, who retells "Song" as a Japanese seppuku scene -- oddly poetic and beautiful, somehow. 

There are 13 short films here, so there's some pretty pedestrian work here to wade through, but serious Poe fans will certainly find something here of value, as "P.O.E." is an interesting set of homages from an Italian point of view. (Elite/MVD Visual)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Calexico - "Flor de Muertos" DVD (director: Danny Vinik)

This film serves a dual purpose, and I'm not sure which takes precedence. But no matter, as "Flor de Muertos" is effective on both counts. On one hand, it's a concert film highlighting Calexico's 2009 performance at Tucson's Rialto Theatre. The Tucson-based band perform a stunning synthesis of jazz, Latin, and stylishly dark indie rock that sounds like no one else out there. The footage (and music, featuring a number of guest artists) is clear and packed with life and energy.

The other side of "Flor de Muertos" is a documentary focusing on the cultures intersecting at the borders of Mexico and the United States, with immigration playing a key role. Also examined, though interviews with residents as well as journalists and writers, is the celebratory "Day Of The Dead" traditions, and Tucson's own All Souls Procession -- a street festival held yearly where the city recognizes and celebrates their own friends and family since passed. It's a very engrossing, well-shot, and colorful look at life (and death) near the border. 

So, fans of Calexico will enjoy this immensely, but it's equally as worthy as a documentary. Highly recommended to anyone, "Flor de Muertos" is a cinematic triumph. (Sonication FIlms/MVD Visual)

Ufomammut - "Oro: Opus Primum" CD

This veteran Italian group has been garnering some notice these days, and with good reason. Now signed to the esteemed Neurot Recordings label, Ufomammut's 6th album opens with the epic "Empireum" -- a 13-minute slab of mammoth instrumental riff that's equal parts down-tuned stoner metal and evil post-Sunn O))) drone. "Aureum" is even heavier, with spacey electronic elements complimenting the crushing guitars and sparse drumming. Think SWANS meets Hawkwind.

"Infearnatural" slow-churns in the style of Neurosis -- sludgy, slow, and grinding. Other cuts, like the mantric "Magickon", echo this direction. Ufomammut are a crushingly heavy act, focused on low and slow assaults, and "Oro" is a massive juggernaut of seething power. I'm impressed. (Neurot Recordings)