Unquiet and Female-fronted: an interview with Erin Eyesore of Ribbon Around a Bomb

Posted by Kells, March 30, 2019 08:49pm | Post a Comment
(Name a more iconic duo? No need.)

Radio: who wants it, who needs it, what has it done for you lately? For me, any Wednesday I can tune in to catch Ribbon Around a Bomb from 8 to 10pm on Radio Valencia works like a restorative and empowering sonic tonic. Curated and contextualized by host Erin Eyesore, I've come to rely on the show as a source for discovering obscure and often new-to-me oddities, a celebratory exhibition of bygone voices, and ultimately a testament to womanpower expressed through music. As such, I couldn't think of a better way to punctuate Women's History Month than an interview with Erin discussing all things Ribbon Around a Bomb and then some...

What can people expect to hear when they listen to Ribbon Around a Bomb

Ribbon Around a Bomb is a radio program that showcases rare, freaky, (un)funky, post-punk, new wave, pogo-pop, DIY, deathrock, synthcrap, and experimental music of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Every single track I play is female-fronted. The vast majority of the songs were recorded between 1976-1986. It’s a very international show, and it is also a gender non-binary and trans-inclusive show. I play a lot of music just for the sake of surfacing odd and obscure long-lost gems, including those which are cheesy as hell. On a typical night a listener might hear: Model Citizens, The Belle Stars, Appliances, Hagar the Womb, Mercenárias, Phranc, Mizutama Shobodan, Die Hausfrauen, Los Microwaves, Ixna, Tokow Boys, and Essential Logic. Sometimes I like to say that the show’s tagline is: this.

Continue reading...

Vinyl Valentines: 20 Ways to Play Your Heart Out on Feb. 14th and Beyond!

Posted by Kells, February 13, 2019 10:33pm | Post a Comment
What's better than a box of chocolates, a dozen long stem roses, and greeting card featuring an anthropomorphic phonograph declaring "for the record" that you're "in the groove, Valentine"? Records, baby, records! This Valentine's Day, whether you're looking for ways to clue-in your crush, let your lover know you love 'em, or simply blot out any and all the notions of the day, consider giving the gift of a vinyl valentine to your loved ones or, better yet, to yourself. Short on ideas on where to begin, and can't get your head past novelty heart-shaped singles or 2003's The Love Below ("Every day is the 14th!")? Dig these titles for a start, then follow your heart! And remember, if you can't find it in our web store, make a date of it and come in to see what calls to you and your honey from our selves IRL. Or give us a call—if we have it in stock, we can get it out to you, valentine, xoxo.

Eddie Holman - I Love You 

This is the record that first came to my mind when pondering potential vinyl valentines. Every song a love song, every bit of it sounding like it must have been an instant classic soul sensation when it arrived on the scene. From the swaying horn-laden arrangements tinged with groovy guitar filigree to Eddie "hit those notes" Holman's impressive vocal range grounded in gentlemanly sentiments, this is just the sort of record that lonely girls and starry-eyed teen dreamers the world 'round surely live for. With its timeless sound and lovesick delivery, it just might not get any better than this. Whether you're enjoying a night in with the one you love or kickin' it all on your lonesome this Valentine's Day, this'll do you. Turn the lights down low and spin, flip, repeat...

Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody Nelson

Cinematic and kinda dirty-sounding, this record lays down a slow-stroking, clothes-losing mooood almost as soon as it begins to simmer. Creeping in with sleazy bass notes, Gainsbourg's voice, low and secretive but with absolutely nothing to hide, speaks in French over the opening track describing a night drive in his vintage Rolls Royce, rhapsodizing it's "silver Venus on the radiator" at length until he nearly runs over a young natural redhead on her bike—the eponymous Melody (voiced by Jane Birkin). This dubious meet-cute kicks off a Lolita-inspired love affair/seduction concept chronicled in song, with Gainsbourg's poetic blurred lines intersecting iconically with composer Jean-Claude Vannier's sweeping choral and orchestral arrangements. Ooh la la!

Dolly Parton - Dolly: The Seeker – We Used To

Whenever in doubt, reach for Dolly. After all, she will always love you! While any number of Dolly's songs are capable of filling hearts with love, or wringing out the heartache as the case may be come Valentine's Day, this somewhat elusive 1975 collection of "Dolly's favorite love songs" she's written herself is worth searching for, and not just because it's partially titled The Seeker. Actually, the other song checked in the title is the track in my opinion because, not only is it a beaut of a bummer ballad, it also flaunts a melody that sounds almost exactly like Led Zeppelin's infamous "Stairway to Heaven" riff. While Dolly eventually cut a proper "Stairway" cover, and Robert Plant has since joked that the band wrote their 1971 epic for her, I hope them Zepp boys count themselves truly blessed by Dolly's loving embrace.

When in deeper in doubt and Dolly just won't do (not that I can imagine why), try the brothers Isley:
On Valentine's Day, or any damn day of the year, the Isley Brothers have got you covered (quite literally with the latter two suggestions here). Whether you go for their 1966 classic This Old Heart of Mine filled with many a love-themed oldies hit single, or their 1971 album Givin' It Back featuring covers of songs focused largely on love (like a ten-plus minute acoustic version of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" and a bright n' groovy take on Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With"), or the ultimately optimized for Valentine's Day A-side of their 1983 slow-jammin' Between the Sheets, you really can't go wrong. It's all good!

Reiko Ike - You, Baby (Kokotsu no Sekai)

This 1971 album of burning torch songs from Japanese "Pink" film actress Reiko Ike is surely the most "adult" inclusion in this list. Ten seconds into the opening cut and the vibe is hot, the music is a steamy mix of lounge instrumentations rising and falling suggestively, and Ike's vocals, breathless and moaning, are nothing short of pornographic as she details with desperate sighs how severely she cannot help herself. By the time the horns and flute kick in she sounds like she's just about to climax, so, like, crank it up as loud as you want! Just about every song is soaked with copious cuíca timbres and layers of sexy vocals, from spoken word passages pocked with orgasmic grunts, to backing vocals do-do-doing a second melody beneath Ike singing about things like how wet everything is. This record pairs well with towels. 

Jackie Gleason Presents Music For Lovers Only

Fun fact: this little wonder, circa 1952, still holds the record for the longest stint on the Billboard Top Ten Charts, holding it down for 153 weeks! It also ushered in a whole new genre of "mood music"—instrumentals for "making whoopie" and such. Perhaps a more notable fun fact is that Jackie Gleason could not read or write music, and that all the original music included on this and all his other bestselling jazzy instrumental records were conceived as melodies in his head that were later transcribed into music? Hmm... Regardless of what he brought to the table, band, or orchestra, this record remains a charming and effective artifact of bygone romantic strategies, and Bobby Hackett's sublime trumpetry. 

Fabio - Fabio After Dark 

A rare gem of spoken word and smooth R&B grooves circa 1993, this prize bargain bin find features the one and only Fabio Lanzoni offering romantic advice (like sharing his "recipe for a perfect evening for two lovers") and singing(!) his own original slow jam "When Somebody Loves Somebody". Sure, you could just build your own playlist suggested by the other songs that flesh out this special blend (like Billy Ocean's "Suddenly", Kenny G's "Songbird" instrumental, and Barry White's "I Like You, You Like Me"), but then you wouldn't get the benefit of Fabio's encouragement where it counts. Keep your eyes peeled for this odd bauble when combing clearance bins and, if you're lucky, you too can revel in the potency of this obscurity while making love like Fabio! CD and tape only :(

Blondie - Heart of Glass 

Numero Group recently reissued this single as a six track exploration of the hit's history and genesis featuring distinct versions of the song and it's demos remastered from analogue tapes. Housed in a de rigeur 12" die-cut sleeve stylishly sporting a disco ball design, this is a chic alternative to the usual cherry red heart-shaped novelty singles freshly dusted for Valentine's Day sales. But what make it a vinyl valentine? Well: "Once I had a love and it was a gas/ Soon turned out had a heart of glass/ Seemed like the real thing only to find/ Mucho mistrust, love's gone behind. In between 'what I find is pleasing' and 'I'm feeling fine' Love is so confusing There's no peace of mind..."

Joe Tossini and Friends - Lady of Mine

I learned about this endearing slab of sincere musical expression when Jessica Pratt mentioned it's upcoming reissue in an IG story (p.s. she's got a crucial new record out that would make a fab vinyl valentine, and she's featured in a new What's In My Bag video if you're curious about what she's digging these days). Slated for a Valentine's 2019 release via Efficient Space, this 1989 self-made debut from Italian-American Joe Tossini is a charming lounge-synth oddity born of necessity when he took to songwriting as therapy to keep depression in check after weathering tragic life events. Recorded in an Atlantic City basement, the sparse drum machine and Casiotone arrangements provide ample space for Tossini (and friends) to make pure magic for the ages.

Palmer Rockey - Rockey's Style

Getting into Joe Tossini brought to mind another Italian-American outsider lounge lizard, Palmer Rockey, and the somewhat risky yet totally relevant vinyl valentine appeal of his "movie album" Rockey's Style. I say risky because Rockey's record has a darker vibe and overall stranger sound, but it too is mostly comprised of original and re-purposed love songs, or would-be love songs depending on your interpretation of curious tracks like the foreboding "Scarlet Warning 666", the quasi-exotica "Scarlet Moves". All "Scarlets" aside (yes, there are more), the mystery of this recording has been all but fully unraveled by Jonny Trunk with the Trunk records reissue a few years back, so get into these "feelings of love, yeah, feelings of love" babe. 

Sade - Love Deluxe

C'mon, it's Sade. What else do you need to know?

It's timeless, enduring, and so, so smooth.

Like the aural equivalent of a rejuvenating candle-lit bath or honey dissolving into tea. A long slow dance.

This is no ordinary love.

No ordinary love. 

Various Artists - Studio One Lovers

Soul Jazz reggae comps generally rule, and this bright pink collection of sweet, soulful reggae love songs is tops come Valentine's Day—it even kind of looks a little like a valentine. Featuring covers like The Mad Lads' take on Curtis Mayfield's "Ten To One" and Doreen Schaeffer's groovy version of Boz Scaggs' "We're All Alone", as well as original tracks from heavy hitting reggae legends like Delroy Wilson, Horace Andy, Alton Ellis, and Bob Marley and The Wailers, the charming harmonies and sultry melodies on parade here, from "Jamaica's finest label"—Studio One, is a veritable love fest of Lovers fit for a steamy night in. 

LovageNathaniel Merriweather Presents... Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By

A concept album that is part homage (the cover art is a riff on Serge Gainsbourg's second record), part hodgepodge genre satire (from spoken word/comedy and easy listening to lounge and library music), and all downtempo/trip hop experiment, Lovage is Dan the Automator, Mike Patton, and Jennifer Charles inviting you to taste the difference between your grandparent's dusty mood music collection and their sensual sound seduction à la 2001. Don't let mouldering mainstream reviews of joint this fool you; anyone criticizing these cheeky arrangements for being a collection of songs that are too similar given the levels of talent collaborating on the record should try making out to it. Stroking is the antidote...

Speaking of make out records...

The Cure
- Disintegration

Shout out to anyone who has ever put themselves through the loving trouble of making a mix tape for their crush back when the best way to convey how you truly felt inside was a two-sided sequence of self-selected love songs. The Cure has always been a reliable source for working through the awkward and precious teenage emotions of yore, and Disintegration in particular often pulled double duty as font for mix tape fodder and a practically perfect make out soundtrack for freaks and geeks of the X generation. The only other Gen Xer record that might rival Disintegration's make out sesh readiness is Portishead's 1994 debut Dummy, but don't take my word for it, find out for yourself! 

Grace Jones - Island Life

This compilation of Grace Jones hits spanning the first nine years of her career makes for a good gift anytime, even if the recipient already has a copy—it's just that essential and gift-able. What's more, it is valentine-versatile as well as it is suitable for both friends and lovers, even if the receiver has recently been unlucky in love or has zero clue as to how you really feel about them. With it's upbeat, disco rhythms and sizzling island vibes tempered by Jones' chic savoir faire, the tracks collected here are as ageless as Jones herself seems to be, and her infectiously energetic versions of songs like Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug" and Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose" further stoke the love vibe terrifically whether your heart is in it or over it.

Pizzicato Five - [any record you can get your hands on]

I'm not recommending any specific title because I feel any of their records would generally make for a good valentine. Why? All their songs are about romance (from love at first sight to lost love), dating (from getting ready to go out to hoping your date shows up), self-love (from retail therapy to nightclubbing), and...Tokyo (even those tracks play like love songs to the the city). Over the course of about 20 years, peaking in the 1990s, Pizzicato Five have built a vast discography of cute, catchy pop tunes done up in a dizzying array of lounge-y mid-century samples framed by runway-ready Euro House grooves—who cares if all the lyrics are in Japanese? Get hip! Here's an uplifting song about a break-up titled "Triste" (that's French for "sad"). 

Ralfi Pagan - With Love

"You know how much I love you, don't you mami..."

Gotta wrap up this post with another sure thing, something as good as the record that kicked it off, a full album of sweet 'n slow panty-droppin' lowrider serenades from another "hit those notes"-calibre  crooner, Ralfi Pagan. Like Eddie Holman's I Love You, Pagan's 1971 album With Love gives love back to front, through and through. Beginning with a sensual cover of Bread's "Make It With You" followed by track after track of sultry Latin soul breaking out with a groovy wild hair here only to settle back into another sensitive love theme there, suggesting quite naturally this record is perhaps best explored via slow dance in good company.

Happy Valentine's, mis amores! 

Best of 2018: Kelly's Top 5 Picks

Posted by Kells, December 31, 2018 03:35pm | Post a Comment
It's that time of year again—the end! But before I dive into my five faves of 2018, I'd like to briefly salute Destiny's Child Kelly Rowland's new single "Kelly" for adding some much needed beef to the existing "Kelly" songs menu. It's a shameless strut of an anthem that blows the hatches off Air's sweetly space-crafted "Kelly Watch the Stars" and stomps the throat of Woody from Cheers' dopey "The Kelly Song". But for all it's sass (and "ass"), Rowland's "Kelly" can't surpass the scandalous charm of Del Shannon's wistfully two-timing "Kelly", not by my reckoning anyway. That's just this Kelly's opinion though, and, no matter what, it is good to know that that Kelly's "got flex", et cetera. In other words, i.e. her own words, "go Kelly go—go, go Kelly go"! 
Read on for more of this Kelly's opinions re: top five records of 2018, it's been one helluva year...

Dick Stusso - In Heaven
(Hardly Art)

I don't know who Dick Stusso is, but I'm convinced he's got it all figured out. His tight yet loose roadhouse-rock sound is so right, with heavenly guitar tones and twangy saloon piano interludes that sway and swagger over close-carpeted rhythms and far away vocals so in your face and from the gut it sometimes feels like an arm creeping 'round your shoulder to give you a sip and questionable life tips. Maybe it's too easy to say Stusso's got a little bit country of a rock'n roll thing going on, but that's a good place to start. Also, I don't really want to get political here, but anyone remember that time before the 2017 inauguration when folks were saying stuff like the incoming administration would make Punk great again? This review has nothing to do with that exactly, but as far as present times fostering better modern music goes, Dick Stusso’s In Heaven achieves the level of excellence I’ve been waiting for in terms of any silly "great again" shorthand beckoning a means to a musical renaissance, or something similar. Cue title and final track on the record for a come down fitting for a new year and a new you; may the things you like always last...

Various Artists
- Technicolor Paradise: Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights
(Numero Group)

Leave it to the tireless diggers at Numero Group to unearth and lovingly compile a buy-or-die collection of musty, dusty,  mid-century musical curios from the tiki craze heyday. This 3LP
 box set of deep Exotica, Jazz, Surf and other tropical novelties is easily the most crucial release of the year by my reckoning. With so many standout tracks and impressive behind-the-music research packed into it, I'd be hard pressed to highlight any way in which this label has not outdone themselves (yet again) with this project. Make mine a triple!

Cold Beat
- A Simple Reflection
(Dark Entries)

Sometimes the best obsessions come from flipping through records (an obsession in and of itself). This dreamy 7-song collection of Eurythmics covers began when Cold Beat front-woman Hannah Lew came across the Eurythmics' early works while digging through a bin of 12"s,
sparking an obsession that crystallized into A Simple Reflection. With tracks plucked from the Eurythmics' early b-sides, their In the Garden debut, and Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) follow-up, Cold Beat's reimaginings sound as fresh and organic as they play faithful to the original material, their synths and rhythms seemingly maintaining the bands' overall sonic trajectory while likely informing new directions to come. As always, Lew's high level of aesthetic taste is on display, this time exhibited playfully on the cover in a series of Annie Lennox-inspired looks.

Speaking of inspired looks, and given that songs from A Simple Reflection were featured in Moschino's Spring/Summer 2019 fashion show(!), I was thinking to button up this blurb by including show footage backed by Cold Beat's version of "Love is a Stranger", especially considering its lyric that delivers the word "obsession" so deliciously. However, because 2018 may be remembered as a peak year for RuPaul's Drag Race, what with the debut of season 10, seasons 3 and 4 of All Stars, and the "Holi-Slay Spectacular", I've to go with the show opener video featuring "Never Gonna Cry Again" and champion Ru girl Violet Chachki both on the runway and in the air! Feast your eyes and ears:

A Moving Tribute to Studio-Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata (RIP)

Posted by Kells, April 9, 2018 10:22pm | Post a Comment

Famed Animation juggernaut Studio Ghibli is best known for the work of two of its directors, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Both masters of the medium, the two legendary auteurs seem to challenge and inspire each other's creative output by employing contrasting aesthetic styles and work ethics, as much as their collective works consistently trounce the increasingly unimaginative box office bloaters made in, well, let's just say California. Their efforts are the stuff timeless, enduring classics are made of.

This past Thursday Isao Takahata, 82, died of lung cancer in a Tokyo hospital. When I learned of his passing I experienced a strange, instant cold sweat pang of a panicked feeling a sudden realization sometimes triggers. Nobody lives forever, and I didn't know the man personally, but I sensed a grave pressure drop-like feeling like I had lost a loved one. What could I possibly say about what his work meant to me in my life other than the simple truth: movies are the best, and Isao Takahata's films are so fully fantastic I always feel emotionally spent and high on enchantment after watching them. I could go on plodding away about how I appreciate Takahata's freewheeling yet meticulous approach to working, never compromising quality in no matter how large the deadlines loom, and how his love of realism is reflected not only in his work, but also in that of Miyazaki, his former apprentice, and how I agree his critically acclaimed 1988 World War II drama Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most gut-wrenchingly film experiences worth enduring, but that wouldn't be as fun to digest as what I have in mind—an actual moving tribute to Takahata's works (via gifs).

Here follows a selection of giffy bits and bobs from Takahata's filmography, with titles and links below each image to Amoeba's online emporium. As always, feel free to call us up and see what we've got on the shelf for ya if you don't see what you want in our virtual shop.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) - Takahata's exquisite final film.

Pom Poko (1994) - Tanuki take over the world!

Only Yesterday (1991) - My very favorite of his films.

Panda! Go, Panda! (1972) - Considered by some to be a precursor of Miyazaki's Totoros.

My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) - A stylized departure from traditional anime styles.

Another from Only Yesterday—not just because it's my favorite, but because ending with a sunset-lit countryside frolic seems fitting. Rest in peace Takahata-san, may your films live forever.

Best of 2017: Kelly's Personal Picks

Posted by Kells, December 22, 2017 07:45am | Post a Comment

sometimes the past burns itself down

This year has been, in a word, unbalanced. Thankfully there was a wonderful array of music and movies to take the edge off the chaotic instability. Here are ten or so of my personal favorite new releases that got me over and through this year's peaks and troughs...

Once & Future Band - Once & Future Band
(Castle Face Records)

This molten monolith of masterful musicianship dropped back in January and, dammit, it is without a doubt the best record of the year. Sounding a little bit like a bygone vision of future sounds, I like to think of this album as the melodic equivalent of going thirty years into the future and replacing the plutonium fission reactor on your homemade time machine with Mr. Fusion before returning to 1985. You could wear yourself out trying to dial-in the potential influences that inform the shifting paradigm of sonic cues, fluid syncopation, beyond-the-friend-zone journal excerpts et cetera at work here, or you could just let go and let this progressive psychedelic jazz-rock splitter take the wheel. Either way, you'll be totally taken in by this beast. It rules!

Check out this trippy rainbow Rorschach sponge art video for "Rolando":

Grace Sings Sludge
- Life With Dick
(Empty Cellar)

I've already said a lot of what I wanna say about the wrapped-in-plastic, trauma-folk singer/songstress stylings of lady Grace Sings Sludge earlier this year in my review of Life With Dick right here, but I wanna reiterate my love for this spooky-ooky mood record by urging everyone to creep up on it and let it smother you with its provocative freakouts and unabashed bedroom devotionals. Sounding not too, too far from her contributions to The Sandwitches (RIP), Grace's solo works harbor a larger, almost uncomfortably huge, betrayal of her competence for crafting ominous pop dirges and unchained melodies that shatter whatever home-recording confines she commits herself to.

Here's the second music video from Life With Dick, "Everlasting Arms"—a single-take shot and directed by Chiva MF of Tirando Terror (Mexico):

OOIOO - Gold & Green
(Thrill Jockey)

This is has been one of my “desert island” records since the very first time I heard it nearly seventeen years ago. It still sounds fresher than fresh today, in a delightfully almost alien way, as if it were the kind of music weather would make if it could stop shifting Earth’s elements long enough to galvanize an improv rock band for a interstellar open mic gig. From the opening clarion call of “Moss Trumpeter” to the moment “I’m A Song” bursts wide open into concentric sonic layers, Green & Gold plays as much like a visionary “headphone album” as it feels like a guided navigation of pulsating terrestrial rhythms, atmospheric river melodies, and electric celestial sorcery. Thankfully available for the first time as a proper and complete vinyl release (the very limited 2001 edition was available only in Japan or at some international shows and didn’t include the full album or it’s extensive lush artwork), this is probably the pinnacle of OOIOO’s output to date and a great place to start for anyone curious about Japanese underground rock and the wonderful women who continue to lend their experimental musicianship to the genre. Fun fact: I named my little corner of this here Amobelog after a song on this record because it rules so hard("Grow Sound Tree"—see the vid below). Bonus fun fact: The Flaming Lips found a muse in OOIOO founding member Yoshimi P-We and named their 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots after her.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

(Death Waltz)

This year there were not one, but two reissues of this devastatingly essential masterpiece of a motion picture soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti (with David Lynch), and this "Black Lodge" styled 2LP set is the one to get if you've already splashed out on the "White Lodge" companion package Death Waltz created for their reissue of the original Twin Peaks soundtrack last year. Having been haunted by the mysteries of the music created for Fire Walk With Me since my best friend gave me this soundtrack on cassette as a Christmas gift in 1992, I'm almost at a loss for adequate words to describe how these songs have impacted and inspired me over the years. Simply put, it is a beloved piece of work that continues to move me deeply (with real indications spurring longing urges for nighttime drives of yore). Also, Criterion bestowed Fire Walk With Me with its patent deluxe DVD/Blu-Ray treatment (including crucial bonus content) for new release earlier this year which, altogether with Mark Frost's Dossiers and Twin Peaks' return to the tube in what is likely the most unbridled televised art-moment to date, makes 2017 one helluva twelve-month for Peakers, or I don't know—what do TP nerds call themselves?

Anyway, I wanted to button-up this blurb by including a video for "The Pink Room", but the best one I could find is essentially the entire scene from Fire Walk With Me that occurs while said song is playing and, movie spoilers aside, it features a little too much rude nudity so here's a barely there video for "Sycamore Trees" instead (RIP Jimmy Scott).

Speaking of films... 

The Bandit (2016)
dir. Jesse Moss

I fell in love with this documentary in 2016 and now it's finally available on Blu-ray! That is, it is available as a bonus feature included with the Smokey and the Bandit 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (which makes perfect sense because even if you're buying it to own a hard copy of the doc, you're gonna wanna see the OG Smokey and the Bandit movie). Although created for and funded by CMT, San Francisco-based film maker Jesse Moss' motivation to make the documentary was the relationship between actor/wanna-be stuntman/star of Smokey and the Bandit Burt Reynolds and his best friend/stuntman/wanna-be actor/director of Smokey and the Bandit Hal Needham. From this key moment in their careers, Moss' documentary takes an archivists' dive into the lives of Needham and Reynolds, following their trajectories from humble upbringings to the titular buddy/road movie that solidified their status as 1970s superstars and beyond. What's more, the film conceptually explores the past, present, and future of "the Bandit" as a character (a part originally written with country music super-picker Jerry Reed mind, but it's all good 'cause he ended up in the movie in more ways than one), a car (specifically the iconic 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am), a look (apparently Reynolds bit Needham's personal style pretty hard in his portrayal of Bo "Bandit" Darville in the film), and an American cultural artifact (as Paul Williams says in the sneak peak video below, "you know, in the South they think of Smokey and the Bandit as a documentary.").

Chock full of incredible footage, photographs, interviews, and insights, The Bandit is more than a documentary about the making of a definitive buddy/road movie, it is itself a buddy/road movie defined by a creative union the likes of which we may never see again (not outta Hollywood anyway). I only wish some of the loose ends that lend a bit of mystery to all this sweet tea could have been explored a more thoroughly, even if they couldn't be completely tied up due to those who passed on before this doc was made (namely Needham, Reed, and Jackie Gleason) and those who apparently passed up on being included (Sally Fields). Still, it's an entertaining viewing experience overall, and super dank cross-section of high seventies culture made possible in large part by Reynold's contributions (you can almost smell the Florida funk on the artifacts and ephemera featured throughout the film) and Moss' skills and interests as a deep-diggin' documentary filmmaker.

- The Blood of Gods
(Metal Blade)

After all the feces GWAR has faced in the last few years, the simple fact that they managed to release a new record during these feculent times is proof that 2017 hasn’t been a total flush. The Blood of Gods is a tribute to founding member Dave Brockie, who also portrayed GWAR’s lead vocalist Oderus Urungus until his death in 2014 and whose influence clearly lives on despite his untimely passing. That said, the big question remains: this being the first record released after the death of their fallen leader, does this shit shred like a GWAR album ought to?

While I miss the uniquely raspy, round depth of Oderus’s voice, current GWAR vocalist Blothar the Berserker (Mike Bishop) possesses a bellowing vocal vigor that really suits these new tracks, especially catchy single “I’ll Be Your Monster”. It seems the band is attempting a nostalgic return to 90s GWAR sound, which is rad, and each song delivers a lot of fans might expect from any GWAR record: pristine guitar-work amid heavy riffage with plenty of political satire (“El Presidente”), humorous social commentary ("Death to Dickie Duncan"), anti-humanity anthems (“Fuck This Place”, "Swarm"), and a grand continuation of the GWAR saga (“War On GWAR”). So yeah, this shit shreds, but there’s also a closing dirge/tribute ballad for Oderus/Brockie called “Phantom Limb” that punctuates this curiously satisfying new chapter in the GWAR epic with grace. Actually, the real closing track on the album is a cover of AC/DC’s  "If You Want Blood (You Got It)" which really shows off Blothar’s 70s hard rockin' Bon Scott-like vocal capability, but ultimately serves as a reminder that GWAR is best experienced as a live show (so they can drench you in blood during this song) therefore this last banger feels more like a bonus track than a part of The Blood of God's total package. All told, GWAR lives! Rest In Power Dave and Cory.

Cold Beat - Chaos By Invitation
(Crime on the Moon)

Ever since Oakland-based visionary artist/musician/filmmaker Hannah Lew (Grass Widow, Bridge Collapse, Generation Loss) founded Cold Beat to channel her, uuh...”cold beats” into, the band has consistently delivered cool, catchy, icy-glazed dark waves of contemporary post-punk computer goth fantasy for your nerve despite any shift in creative contributions, style, or direction. This third LP of theirs may begin (and end) with a quasi-standalone transmission of blown out gossamer synths accentuated with subtle yet driving basslines (see the video for "In Motion" below), but it perfectly bookends the record's inner spacial shifts from dreamy hypno pop smog to danceable electro art punk static and back again as Lew's crystalline ethereal vocals soar over every swerve along the way.

Speaking of inner spacial shifts...

Earth Girl Helen Brown - Mercury, Mars, and Saturn
(Empty Cellar Records)

Described as limited edition "seasonal series" and initially offered on "100% post-consumer recycled cassette tapes", Earth Girl Helen Brown (aka Heidi Alexander from The Sandwitches) has thus far released three really great mini-album EP thingies with the enlisted assistance of a veritable mega-group of musicians known collectively as the Earth Girl Helen Brown Center for Planetary Intelligence Band (featuring a lotta earthlings from Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Sonny & The Sunsets, Citay, Mikal Cronin, and The Fresh & Onlys and so many more it's as if the band idea came second to establishing a roadside artists colony). Beginning with Mercury last April, Mars in August, and Saturn this past November, each installment tributes, tackles, or aspires towards a bounty of Earthsongs focused on universal issues via fuzzed out twangy outsider pop abstractions n' things. I don't know what it is about Ms. Brown's vocalizations, but I've had noting but time for her melodies, harmonies, and spoken word treks since I picked up Story of an Earth Girl way back when. Here's hoping the series continues and Venus or whatever is ready for lift off.

Peep this video for Mercury's "Earth Elevator" (directed by Ryan Browne):

Speaking of Earth elevators...

Various Artists - Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition
(Ozma Records)

"Experience the historic interstellar message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played," says the kickstarter campaign created by Ozma Records to get the historic Voyager Golden Record recordings from the original tapes (that sat untouched in an underground warehouse since the Voyager launched in 1977) into the hands of the humans that need these kinds of things—who doesn't need more records?! This mega-deluxe 3LP box set includes all of the same music (from Bach and Beethoven to Chuck Berry and Louis Armstrong, Navajo Indian chants to Gregorian chants, Japanese shakuhachi to Solomon Island panpipes), spoken greetings (in 55 human languages and one whale language), and other sounds of our planet (weather, birds, insects, animals, tools, transportation, etc.) contained on the original golden phonograph records as curated by a visionary committee lead by astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan before being mounted to the two Voyager spacecrafts launched by NASA forty years ago. That's nearly two hours of audio attempting to tell a brief yet comprehensive story of life on our planet, can you dig it?

The set also includes a bunch of other great Golden Record relevant goodies, but considering that Voyager I is currently the farthest human-made object from Earth, chilling somewhere in the interstellar medium, I can't get over the simple quiet thrill that comes with putting on this record, hearing a song like Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night" and knowing it's somewhere out there floating like a message in a bottle, inching ever farther into deep space. Pardon the idiom, but it'll hit you right in the feels.

Various Artists - Seafaring Strangers: Private Yacht 
(Numero Group)

I'm a sucker for a conscientiously curated compilation, and 2017 was not short on great collections of various artists. This year was so good in fact I could make a whole other Best of 2017 blog post focused entirely on comps (maybe I will?), but whittling all the top contenders down to one, this "wreck-diving the private American AOR ship graveyard" effort released by Numero Group, a label well-known for sorting treasures from trash with the masses in mind, is golden. For more love on this jam check out my blog post from earlier this year here, or peep the preev below for a taste, or take a dive and come all aboard this sweet collection of breezy n' smooth soft rockin' deep cuts by pickin' up your own copy cold turkey. My favorite track in the cut is still "One More Time" by Salty Miller (a.k.a. Nelson Miller of The Monzas—I'm eternally a sucker for anything remotely Carolina Beach Music related).

Only Yesterday (1991)
dir. Isao Takahata

Saved the best for last! I'm not much of an anime nerd, but I absolutely adore Studio Ghibli's works, especially the films written and directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata (the Yin to Hayao Miyazaki's Yang). When it was announced some years ago that Disney had acquired the worldwide distribution rights to all Studio Ghibli films I was worried that some of their best movies (i.e. Takahata's films) would be shelved indefinitely for being too culturally anchored, not kid-friendly enough, or, even worse, suffer heavy editing to make them more appealing for global consumption or something. Over the years, however, Studio Ghibli's high quality filmworks have slowly surfaced one by one and now finally, finally, Takahata's 1991 masterpiece Only Yesterday is available in North America, something I never thought possible because, aside from it being an animated feature film, it is realistic drama that seems to be specifically made for an adult female audience.

In Japan in 1982 an unmarried woman over the age of 25 is considered past her prime, but 27 year old Taeko, a Tokyo professional tired of her office job, is too busy planning her upcoming vacation to the countryside to help harvest safflower at family friend's farm to fuss about guy troubles. The one thing she didn't count on was meeting the hunky farmhand man of her dreams along the way—just kidding! No, the one thing she didn't count on was unpacking a constant stream of vivid memories of her fifth grade self while embarking on her agri-tourism getaway. The seamless mashup of Taeko's mid-1960s flashbacks within her real-time traveling to and working in rural safflower fields makes for a meditative sort of storytelling that is effectively heart-warming and melancholy in the best way. And yeah, okay, maybe there is a guy, but don't get it twisted. This movie is about adult issues, processing childhood memories, embracing nostalgia, and facing your truths in order to live your best life.

The English dub ain't half bad and features the voice talents of Daisy Ridley (speaking with an American accent for some reason) and Dev Patel (who's rockin' some sort of decidedly non-American accent), but I find that so much of the nuance and tone of the original dialogue is lost in the English versions of Ghibli films (Spirited Away being one of the most difficult English dubs to endure). That said, I'll take what I can get. Check out the trailer for the English dub new release below, and have a happy new year everybody! xoxo

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