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Rock On Their Own Terms: Japanese Women Making Music Beyond J-Pop

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, March 25, 2013 06:06pm | Post a Comment
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"Rock You in a Tatami Room" by artist Yumiko Kayukawa

 
It's Women's History Month and, as time would have it, I am missing the Underground Japanese Rock section that I used to upkeep at Amoeba Music's San Francisco location. Having dedicated not a small amount of my life to the study of Japanese language and culture over the last thirteen years, caring for and discovering Japanese music at Amoeba in tandem with my academic duties has been and continues to be a pleasure, though the enjoyment of filing them neatly into their own cozy little vicinity is, sadly, a notion of the past. We do keep a J-Pop section up and running, but I digress.
 
With this post I seek to celebrate Japanese women in music, specifically the musicians performing on the (alternative/avant-garde/experimental or whatever you want to call it) flip-side of the produced-for-mass-consumption J-Pop norm, and, even more specifically, my favorite artists in the cut. Whenever possible I have included live footage of these artists because, frankly, I find the fact that some of these performances are available at all is incredible. Case in point:


 


Fantasy Ireland: Where John Boorman's Cinematic Whimsies Come Alive

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, March 17, 2013 02:05pm | Post a Comment
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"Your God gave you the gift of the Gun. The Gun is good. The Penis is Evil." - Zardoz

 
Sick of honoring Saint Patrick's Day by celebrating your Irishness or affinity for Irish culture by going out to drown your innards with copious amounts of Irish spirits? Stay indoors, save some green money, tuck into your own whiskey stash while marveling at the natural beauty of the Emerald isle as framed by British filmmaker John Boorman in such films as Excalibur (1981) and Zardoz (1974) -- could two films made in the same location, directed, produced and written by the same person be more different? I think not.
 
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Gabriel Byrne and Nichol Williamson as Uther and Merlin in Excalibur 
 
And yet one gets the impression that even in within the context of Boorman's adaptation of Arthurian legends the sword Excalibur represents a goodness not unlike that of Zardoz's "God-given gun" while the "evil" penis serves naught but to wreak havoc upon Camelot's carefully constructed peace what with all that adultery and incest going 'round the round table. But Zardoz is one of those films that I find myself thinking about more than I probably should, perhaps that's because no matter how many times I've seen it it completely freaks me out. It is such a strange film that it's almost impossible to believe it actually exists.
 
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Sean Connery in Zardoz
 
It does exist, of course, and looking past Sean Connery's adult diaper-looking red short-shorts, matching bandoliers and thigh-high leather boots costume -- not to mention the plenitude of naked women that flesh out the cast -- to digest the core of the penis vs. gun debate in this most extravagant of dystopian science fictions is only half the fun. But I digress, and I really shouldn't attempt to mold Excalibur to its freaky, art house contours. Though both of these films were made in Ireland, largely filmed on Boorman's own estate (must be nice!), Zardoz doesn't pack the same atmospheric punch that Excalibur does, but then Excalibur isn't trying to sell viewers on the concept of giant stone God heads that fly around distributing arsenals of firearms to the people down below by ejecting guns by the dozen from it's gaping mouth-hole. Excalibur's magic is a softer, more subtle stuff. Personally, I think it's the best movie of it's kind ever made.
 
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Nicholas Clay and Cherie Lunghi as Lancelot and Guenevere in Excalibur 

There is a seemingly excessive use of green lighting used to fantastic effect throughout Excalibur, highlighting what I've always assumed to be the suggestion of magical elements at work within the story (see the green glint on the sword pictured above), and spotting the use of unnaturally green light throughout the film seems worthy of a drinking game. Unlike Zardoz, Excalibur's more unbelievable moments are enveloped within an oft-told mythological narrative so well known that when when the audience is presented with, say, an awkward, huffy-puffy sex scene between a nude actress (Boorman's own daughter, Katrine as Igrayne of Cornwall) and a fully-armored knight (Corin Redgrave as Cornwall, or is that Gabriel Byrne again?) it's not all that surprising. Shocking? Maybe a little, but plausible. Just about as plausible as the Lady of the Lake (featuring Boorman's other daughter, Telsche), whose scenes not only make an argument for her existence showcase some of the more beautiful of Excalibur's Irish locations.
 
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Nigel Terry as King Arthur approaches the Lady of the Lake
 
All in all, there are plenty of other fantastic fantasy films made in Ireland (Princess Bride is a standout favorite) so if you're stuck inside the house this St. Paddy's Day, or are just plain loath to go out and mingle with the greenery, get a little Irish film fix with either of these Boorman classics. Also, be on the lookout for the Excalibur documentary, Behind the Sword in the Stone, currently in production and featuring interviews with Boorman himself and many cast, such as Nigel Terry, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Cherie Lunghi and Charley Boorman who played young Mordred in this so-called "Boorman family picture." Check out the trailers for both Excalibur and Zardoz (if you dare) below.
 
 
 




Joanna Newsom covers Sandy Denny's "North Star Grassman and the Ravens" for Wren

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, March 15, 2013 04:42pm | Post a Comment
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We've caught neither peep nor lead regarding a follow up to Joanna Newsom's 2010 Have One On Me triple LP the future Mrs. Andy Samberg has been making news recently, case in point. Last year a couple of new songs, "Look and Despair" and "The Diver's Wife", were caught during two live different live performances in San Francisco and subsequently released into the wild, as happens more often that not in this increasingly borderless world of oversharing we live in (no complaints here). After dangling the carrot that was the announcement of a video shoot to showcase the jaunty, up-beat "Good Intentions Paving Company" music video in June of 2011 and later, in March 2012, the shaved vignette of a preview for the clip (as one comment sardonically pointed out, "this video is practically the indie Chinese Democracy") it feels good to finally see something new from Lady Jo, even if the newness is a "fashion video" for the Fall/Winter 2013 collection of Los Angeles based clothing line Wren, and the song is not new material but rather a Sandy Denny cover (again, no complaints whatsoever).

Son of Rogue's Gallery: Strange but Seaworthy Reworkings of Traditional Maritime Folk

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, March 4, 2013 01:17pm | Post a Comment
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Okay, we get it. There is no need for further evidence that Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski have developed an immortalizing affinity for all things piratical. Not that there's anything wrong with pirate fever, mind you, (I might be the only one on staff here at Amoeba Music SF that'll openly admit to being stoked about the prospect of future chapters in Pirates of the Caribbean film series) it's just that their enthusiasm for more legendary exploits of swashbuckling buccaneers, pillaging priveteers, salty sea dogs, and scurvy scallywags of yore sure has manifested itself in stranger ways than Walt Disney's theme park attraction turned multi-billion dollar motion picture franchise success story (sorry, Haunted Mansion). Of course I'm talking about their published tributes to the sea chantey arts.
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Back in 2006 Depp and Verbinski had a hand in producing Hal Willner's Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys -- an unruly and somewhat drunken compilation featuring an intriguing, genre-spanning line-up of mostly high profile pop/rock artists revisiting a bounty of maritime folk and seafaring work songs, songs that were once passed down quite literally over vast oceans of time thus contributing to modern music styles in more way than one might immediately suspect. These reinvigorated renditions of antiquated rhymes that comprise Rogues Gallery serve as pleasant testaments to the durability of oral tradition, though oddball tracks buoy here and there throughout the cut, rendering some beloved chantey-man reels near unrecognizable, freakish even, challenging imbibers to sink or swim along with each tune and demanding listeners to temper their grog with a certain amount of equanimity.

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7" Fix: Grass Widow / Shannon and the Clams Split for Hollywood Nailz

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, February 17, 2013 11:13pm | Post a Comment

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I can't think of the last time a seven-inch split lead me to a TV show, let alone a scrummy back-bridge of DIY television programming like Hollywood Nailz. All I thought I was getting into when I slid the 45rpm slice of block-rockin' Bay Area vibrations onto the ol' hi-fi was some good time 90's cover tunes redressed and turned-out by Grass Widow (who tackled EMF's "Unbelievable") and Shannon and the Clams (who snagged "The Power" by Snap!). And, for a fact, much enjoyment ensued. But, as luck would have it, I wanted more.
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Gripping the record sleeve, flipping it over, and eyeing the artwork during that first listen, my mind swam with questions as to what the impetus was behind this particular joint funfest (as if a reason for such is needed). Questions like: what is this, Hollywood Nailz™: the Record? Why is everyone so wigged-out and googly-eyed? A wee visit to the web, et voilà, I found myself tucking into a near twenty-five minute acid rainbow of a variety show that could very well double as testimonial to thrift stores, dumpster diving, and other such pursuits that, coupled with not a small amount of ingenuity, have the power to fulfill even the most ludicrous of 1-900 intergalactic phone sex wishes and Neon Desert battle-of-the-band dreams. Speaking of the battle-of -the-bands, who knew Grass Widow could breakdance?

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