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Make Mine A Triple: Joanna Newsom says, "Have One On Me"

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, February 22, 2010 02:09am | Post a Comment
Joanna Newsom Have One On Me Record review drag city art deco cover image album
Have you ever been so hungry for something, a rare treat that smelled so good sizzling on the coals, that against your better judgement, you burned your mouth in your wolfing haste to taste it? Upon procuring my copy of Joanna Newsom's latest opus, the fresh-from-the-fire triple LP Have One On Me, Christmas morning-ish feelings of borderline maniacal anticipation welled up in my belly and I imagined my immediate consumption would be not unlike taking a rich, slow-baked indulgence dish to the face and, Lord knows, how I tried. Eighteen songs and two hours later I felt pleased to have a feel for the depth and complexity of the bounty, but proper digestion recommends dipping in --- all the better to savor the flavor. Seriously folks, this big 'un is a whole mess of treasure that takes time --- sweet, precious time --- to appreciate in both fathomed comprehension and measured worth. So approach with a mind to settle in and absorb each third accordingly, one by one (because you know we'll be referring to them from now 'til eternity, respectively, as record one, record two and record three), and be sure to make time and take it, like Joanna's first cooing words on the opening track, "easyeasy."

"Easy"
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Have One On Me as a complete work, generally speaking, plays like an almanac harkening a bygone age which, when you think about it, encompasses everything we've come to expect from Miss Newsom. The album artwork appears to draw heavily on art deco influences, what with the choice of typography, the subtle design notions featured on the insert and, of course, the cover image in which we see Newsom, sprawled kittenish on a couch, pictured in what appears to be a vintage tinted photograph of a disheveled dressing room decorated by a deranged zoologist. And it's all show inside as well: the black box houses three individually sleeved albums and a booklet packed with lyrics, credits, and a curious lack of thanks set against a series of four, seemingly sequential black and white candid shots of our girl in a simplified portrait setting evoking a subdued recollection of the madness depicted on the cover, looking very lithe, long-limbed and undeniably beautiful in bib-and-brace short-shorts (something tells me this look'll be trending a little while longer) as she twists her hair in a fix, gorgeous. Then there is the music.
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For me, Joanna Newsom is as much Elton John on holiday as she is a harp-wielding Morgan le Fay. "Easy," the opening number, showcases the shadow and the light of Newsom's "Elton" leanings, that is to say, her ability to lay down a playful yet solid piano track that is as much of a portal unto itself as it is a portent of things to come. "Easy" begins slightly dormant in bed, yawning with lyrics suggesting the movements of a doomed relationship from contentedness to conflict to confrontation and, interestingly enough in the end, to conjuring. It's good stuff and good enough to rouse the listener into readiness for the multi-instrument maelstrom of musicianship to come in the eleven minute title track where Newsom flaunts her penchant for folklore and the storytelling origins of the bard instrument that have sensationalized her skills internationally. The song "Have One On Me," like "Easy," features a host of arrangements around Newsom's central vocals and instrumentation, providing a lushness very much like that of Van Dyke Parks' orchestral wizardry that graced the strains of Ys, not to mention the four man and a lady Ys Street Band (still a corn-nut of a moniker) that provided a miraculously scaled-down live distillation of the aforementioned orchestration on a scattering of instruments for Newsom's Ys tour (three of the original five comprise the core of the guest players on the new record). I suppose that's why Newsom claims that Have One On Me reflects an amalgam of her previous works. 
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While there are a few uncluttered, straightforward harp or piano plus vocal compositions on the record, many of the songs are dressed up in one way or another with arrangements attributed to the guest musicians themselves, some of whom play such exotic oddments as timpani, kora, Bulgarian tambura, kaval, vielle, rebec, and coronet (the bulk of the latter lending "Kingfisher," on record three, courtly virtue). Still, at first spin, these endowments make for a complicated, tight-lipped listen that takes a little getting used to and may, at least in my case, leave the listener wondering what some of these songs might sound like en deshabille. Still again, what works for songs like "Go Long," where Newsom plays three harps (!), and the jaunty seventies (1970's, not 1870's or earlier like some of Newsom's other pieces suggest) feel of "Good Intentions Paving Company" is the motley mélange of guitars, percussion, banjo, mandolin, trombone, piano and (especially!) the warm waves of the Hammond organ and layered vocal harmonies à la Joni Mitchell or Fleetwood Mac or --- so clearly single-worthy a track it was no mistake that it was leaked as a teaser (in fact, all the pre-release date treats are stand out numbers by now, just as surely as impatient hunger for the feast has broken them in). 

Briny Bivalve Soundings: Ween vinyl reissues hit the shelves this week!

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, February 13, 2010 07:41am | Post a Comment
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For all of us who slept on the bus and thus failed to jump on the limited edition Ween 1996-2000 vinyl box set that dropped last September, don't fret, because all three Ween albums are now available for individual sale, finally! Personally speaking, I feel like I've been waiting for ages, however patiently, to get my paws on The Mollusk, pressed on 180 gram lushly marbled turquoise vinyl no less. The other two albums in the series of three released this week include 12 Golden Country Greats and White Pepper, also pressed on 180 gram colored vinyl, brown and white I believe, respectively. Happiness! 

Like many others to come of age in the early nineties, Ween played an important part in my grasping a hold of reality and flinging it as far as I imagined I could away from the mundane commonplace-ness of everyday happenings. I was first exposed to the idiot dance of Ween's Pure Guava by a small, motley crew of arty stoners I'd sometimes roll home with after school for lack of anything better to do. It didn't take long for me to need Ween; I became a fast fan when I discovered that their kooky alterna-jams are the best thing to ween dean and gene alternative rock listen to when everyone else around you is high and all you wanna do is interpretive dance. It helped that MTV liked them too and that, what with the awful death of Headbangers Ball, 120 Minutes made Ween's "Push th' Little Daisies" video a played out hit. I thought Ween could never top themselves after Pure Guava. I mean, Chocolate and Cheese is fun and 12 Golden Country Greats is a pants-ripping hoot and everything, but The Mollusk is, in my opinion, Ween's finest work to date. 

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Contact Highs, Lows: Awaiting Mad Men, Loving Kurosawa's High and Low

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, February 6, 2010 01:23pm | Post a Comment
I can't say I've ever counted myself as a big fan of Akira Kurosawa's films, but I can say that, despite having never completed a healthy film study of the man's abundant works, I've heartily enjoyed Kurosawa film I've seen, the latest being a first time viewing of his 1963 thriller High and Low (Tengoku to Jikoku).
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I love a film that is simultaneously heavy on the symbolism and rife with gorgeously composed frame after jaw-dropping frame of gray scale captured with every possible shade and highlight of true black and true white intact. The good people at Criterion love this sort of film too, perhaps almost as much as they love Kurosawa's handiwork (more than twenty-six of his films can be obtained as Criterion Collection issued DVDs), or perhaps almost as much as Kurosawa loved to cast internationally acclaimed film star Toshiro Mifune as his leading man (I reckon Mifune has Kurosawa to thank for his fame and good fortune). There's a lot of love in the room. But what really makes this cinematic gem sparkle and shine presently in my eyes is the fact that it took a little of the edge off of my pining for the release of the Mad Men Season Three DVD set.
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High and Low is the first full-length Kurosawa film I've seen that wasn't a period piece (which also means that it was my first look at Mifune in a suit and tie instead of his de rigeur samurai threads) and I'd like to think that it offers an somewhat accurate look at an affluent family living in 1960's urban Japan. I find the overall look of the interior sets very similar to Mad Men, save for occasional signs of traditional and cultural differences that mark the setting as somewhere other than Madison Avenue, which is a reminder of how long we've all been living under the some of the same aesthetic influences. The story, however, is a clean cut one with as complicated a network of writing credits as one can get (which in all probability resembles Mad Men more than I'll ever know), what with director Kurosawa teaming up with Eijiro Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni to adapt a screenplay loosley based on Hayakawa Shobo's translation of Evan Hunter's novel King's Ransom, written by Hunter under the pen name Ed McBain --- whew! I can only hope there was a lot of love in the room for all those involved!
akira kurosawa high and low dvd film review toshiro mifune 1963 criterion collection
Storywise, High and Low reads like a detective thriller and plays like film noir. Short of saying, "don't take my word for it, find out for yourself" (cheers to you, Levar Burton), High and Low stays busy with plot complications unfolding like a budding branch succumbing to rising heat all the while dazzling the eyes with a veritable smorgasbord location settings (a glorious beach, a summer home in the mountains, a garden in full blossom, a booming port-side dancehall, back alleys dripping with smack addicts, crowded police briefing rooms, a hot hospital waiting room, corridors of speeding commuter train) and stellar cinematography. All of this framing the eerie quiet of a well-feathered nest about to unravel and a man who finds himself (and his loved ones) caught in the center of a no-win shit-storm. This is a great movie.
high and low akira kurosawa film dvd criterion toshiro mifune 1963
One thing that I'd like to mention: the original title of the film, Tengoku to Jikoku, when directly translated from the Japanese reads as Heaven and Hell. However, I understand why the translator here chose to affix what appears to be a pretty-near-but-not-plum, slight mis-translation of the title in favor of more straightforward, unassuming one. I believe the reason for going with the title High and Low is suggestive of the many interpretations such a header provides for a complex film steeped in multiple struggles operating on many levels be it class-related, or altered emotional, behavioral or mental states of being. In any case, the title is a beginning in more ways than one; this movie has stayed in my thoughts for days and highs and lows keep surfacing. Maybe a Kurosawa bender is in order. Or maybe just more noir-y, Mad Men reminiscent films to further dull the longing. Maybe both.

7" Fix: Crystal Stilts "Love is a Wave"

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, January 21, 2010 09:15pm | Post a Comment
Another January day in San Francisco, another forecast calling for gloomy weather with a ninety percent chance of cabin fever for all you would be picnickers, window shoppers and beach combers out there. Well, don't let the gray days get you down! Turn on the ol' hi-fi and turn up the heat with a hot nugget of a jam like "Sugar Baby," the b-side on the Crystal Stilts Love is a Wave seven-inch single, and try your gams at dancing the "stanky legg" like these limber ladies:


Don't you just love it when the girl in the white pants fans herself during her mesmerizing little solo? It's understandable because attending to such greatness just plain gives me the vapors too, honey. I suppose we need extend our thanks to Texas rap ensemble GS Boyz for introducing the world to the stanky legg via their hit single called (can you guess?) "Stanky Legg" (which also, for your information, includes other sensational dance moves known as the "booty dew" and the "dougie"--- dance moves that apparently also entertain their own corresponding singles, but I digress), which just goes to show that now, more than ever, hip hop is not back on the dance tip but still on it. As far as the Crystal Stilts' association with this dance craze goes, well, I guess they just got real lucky. And why not? It totally works.
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As for the video and A-side single "Love is a Wave," though nowhere near as hypno-dope as the ass-tacluar wonder featured above, it also deserves inclusion here, as it is pretty stellar in its own right. I love the A.D.D. editing style mixed with the kind of satisfying feeling that comes from viewing a bunch of scavenged gems apparently culled from heaps of "lost footage" and cutting-room fodder. It really suits the making-the-old-new-again vibe of the Stilts sound --- you know, that post-punk, neo-garage psych-pop revival sound that has within the span of a year become so popular a wave that it has virtually churned over to swell almost tsunami-sized in terms of underground (street) credibility. It's no secret that this scene has become especially celebrated in Northern California, what with such local heavy hitters as Thee Oh Sees, the Fresh & Onlys, Ty Segall and Girls (the latter two having performed sweaty, fantastic in-stores at Amoeba Music San Francisco last summer), each seeming to enjoy their respective rides atop the crest of the movement that shows no signs of diminishing anytime soon.

Thank you Sir, may I have another: Patrick Stewart and Peter Jackson receive knighthoods

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, January 2, 2010 01:09pm | Post a Comment
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My favorite famous people are already like living legends in my mind, so whenever they make the Queen of England's annual knighthood list it's almost not a big deal. I mean, if it were up to me to decide who receives the shining armor Patrick Stewart and Peter Jackson would have been knighted fifteen years ago. I remember falling hard for the dashing Stewart during his Star Trek: The Next Generation years and I recall early hints of my understanding Jackson's genius with my first viewings of his masterworks Dead-Alive and Heavenly Creatures (one of my forever top ten favorite films). From those first impressions all the way 'til today both men have become more dear to me as living artists, as pop culture icons and as all around purveyors of delightful diversions. Besides, there is really nothing that can be done to make a major-hot veteran of stage and screen dream like Patrick Stewart more amazing than havipeter jackson knighthood honor film director new zealandng to refer to him from now on as "Sir Patrick." And to honor filmmaker Peter Jackson as well? That deserves as hearty a "good on ya" as do his seventeen Oscars and timeless film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings!

To both "Sirs" with love, I can't wait to see what your respective next moves will be. Sir Peter: if only your lovely bones were taking the helm of the Hobbit film adapatation; Sir Patrick: I'm pretty sure you already know what I wish your next move would be...Captain, my captain!

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