Amoeblog

Show Report: Zola Jesus at the Echoplex

Posted by Billy Gil, November 1, 2011 06:06pm | Post a Comment
LA Vampires started this Halloween show at the Echoplex with a psych-dance set that perfectly set the stage for Zola Jesus. Amanda Brown’s post-Pocahaunted project, in which she collaborates with artists such as Matrix Metals and Zola Jesus (aka Nika Roza Danilova) to fashion dubbed out psych-tronica that belies its goth veneer by injecting with positive vibes and beats from early techno. Brown’s freaky dancing and faded vocals pull you into the trance created by her collaborators’ loops and synths. Her bleached-blonde mop perfectly matched that of Danilova, who came out during a sick cover of The Cardigans“Carnival” to dance and sing alongside Brown. In the dark venue, the two looked like tiny wraiths writhing around onstage intoxicatingly.

 



Danilova, meanwhile, dug into a gauzy set that relied heavily on her recently released Conatus. Songs like Conatus’ “Hikikomori” and “Seekir,” the poppier songs on the record, came through with as much or more power than on record, their hooks amplified to new extremes. The Echoplex tends to add a lot of natural reverb to shows, and this at times added to the already soaked songs to the point that it was a deluge, almost overpowering. I haven’t seen Zola Jesus play live before, but I’m willing to bet her shows are always this dreamy. The music just sort of pours over you, and Danilova swings her arms and dances in flowy garb. Everything feels the way Fleetwod Mac’s “Gyspy” video looks.



Part of it may have been the Halloween vibe, but it’s almost scary how powerful her voice can get, especially near the end of this set, when she let loose her operatic howl and cut through the din.  I could have stood to hear more from Stridulum (she did play “Night,” getting one of the best responses of the night) and The Spoils. But I was really glad to hear Conatus’ “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake,” a particularly moving track on the album that concludes with a powerful choral section that was still effective recreated digitally, though it begs to be heard with backup singers in a more open setting. Let’s hope for a show someday at the Bowl or the Walt Disney Concert Hall, hmm?

Geoffrey O’Connor Brings His Noir Synth Pop to Hollywood Forever

Posted by Billy Gil, September 28, 2011 02:09pm | Post a Comment
Geoffrey O’Connor, frontman for Australian indie pop band Crayon Fields, released his debut record under his own name this week with Vanity Is Forever, a dark and sexy collection of new romantic pop reminiscent of Bryan Ferry and later-period Roxy Music. It’s gorgeous stuff, and tonight he’ll play it at Hollywood Forever Cemetery alongside Swedish songsmith Jens Lekman at 8 p.m. I took a minute to chat with O’Connor about his music upbringing and influences — surprise, it’s not all ’80s all the time!

PST: Can you tell me a little bit about your musical background up until releasing Vanity Is Forever?

O’Connor: I’ve been writing and recording songs since high school, which is when I started playing with Crayon Fields — we are now working on album number three. I released a solo record in 2007 as Sly Hats, but then decided to drop the name for the one my mother gave me.

PST: What are some of the influences, musical or otherwise, that got you making the music that appears on this album?

O’Connor: Classics like Fleetwood Mac, Lou Reed and Dory Previn are the first musical influences that come to mind. I work in a cinema and get to see a lot of free movies — often there will be a memorable scene or quote that will trigger a song idea, even in the ones I don’t like.

PST: I definitely hear a cinematic quality to your music. Have you or would you consider scoring a film?

O’Connor: Very much so — it is pretty much my dream to score a film. I often feel like my efforts making films are more to do with wanting to score them.

PST: I feel like there's been a return to sort of luxurious music of the '70s and '80s lately in underground/indie music and film. Music like Washed Out and The Field, referencing bands like Roxy Music; the movie Drive comes to mind. This sort of like, underside of "Miami Vice" thing. I see songs like "Whatever Leads Me to You" fitting alongside that to some degree. But that's just it conjures up for me, I guess. Does that sound along the lines of what you'd like to create, or is it very different for you? What imagery come up for you when you hear/make your own music, and do you see it as fitting alongside other artists of this era?

O’Connor: It’s been interesting how often the ’80s has been cited in the write-ups and reviews for the record so far. Generally it doesn’t bother me — I can see how the comparison could be drawn. I do love Roxy Music too, especially the later stuff. It’s certainly not a premeditated thing though, or an homage of any kind. I guess I’ve always liked the purity of direct, melodramatic pop music — which is typical of many ’80s classics. While I love a lot of contemporary music, a lot of it frustrates me in its lack of both lyrical and melodic conviction.
 
PST: At the same time, the music is very removed from a lot of trends. It's more deliberate and sensitive to me. Did you seek to make music that sounded like it could come have come from a number of different eras and genres?

O’Connor: To a degree I did, I always aim to make my songs sound contemporary — but I guess my approach to song writing resembles that of the ’60s and ’80s in that the melodic hooks and lyrics always come first. I’m very much into music that sounds deliberate, as opposed to being improvised — and that’s the way I go about writing and recording.

PST: Are you involved in any other projects, musically or otherwise?

O’Connor: I’m finishing a Masters in film this year, and using my time in the course to put together a series of music videos. I’d like to be more involved in film/video making, I enjoy it just as much as making music. I’m still not entirely sure what I want to do with it yet, though I’m toying with the idea of putting together a soap opera at some point — I’ll probably call it “Vanity Is Forever,” too. I also play in a couple of other people’s bands on guitar and bongos — Guy Blackman, Montero and Monnone Alone.
 
PST:
What's your setup for playing live?

O’Connor: I have two modes at the moment. I usually play with two other dueling synthesizer players, and then for the solo shows it’s just me with a guitar and sampler. I’m very much into making it a visual thing and I bring my own projections, lasers and smoke when I can. I think both modes work in very different ways and suit different environments — it’s always nice to have company though!


Why We Love Those Sad Songs So Much: Because It Feels So Good To Hurt So Bad!

Posted by Billyjam, July 21, 2011 01:20pm | Post a Comment
 

The Smiths "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Today"

Why do we love those sad songs so much? What is It with songs that help us wallow in our misery? Those post break up anthems, or songs about loss and depression that just seep of sadness yet draw us like a moth to a flame. Why do people love Morrissey and the Smiths' sad songs about been miserable? Because - like hot tea on a hot day that fights fire with fire - so too do sad songs quell the sadness in our collective hearts. Some say that we like sad songs of others' tales of despair because we can indulge in their suffering from a safe distance. Like in the comic strip above we love/hate those sad songs so much we have to hit replay. "Please Mr Please" don't play B 17. I don't ever want to hear that song again," sang Olivia Newton John on the weepy Bruce Welch & John Rostill penned 1975 international hit - but you know she secretly indulged in hearing B17 again despite the sadness it aroused in her tortured soul.  Of all the pop hits over the past several decades Elton John's Bernie Taupin penned hit "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" sums up our need for sad songs: "It's times like these when we all need to hear the radio.`Cause from the lips of some old singer we can share the troubles we already know. Turn them on, turn them on. Turn on those sad songs when all hope is gone!" and the song's clincher line, "it feels so good to hurt so bad"

(In which I celebrate four years of rad love.)

Posted by Job O Brother, January 10, 2011 03:53pm | Post a Comment
 
Today the boyfriend and I celebrate the fourth anniversary of our first seeing each other’s faces. Upon awakening this morning, we each remarked that it hasn’t felt like four years, but shorter. In part this could be because we have so much fun together, but it also helps that the season-less weather of LA makes everything feel like one, very long year.

It was music that brought us together, which is funny when you consider we often have such different tastes. For instance, he thinks cranking some Tori Amos while taking a hot bubble bath is swell, while I find the very idea akin to suicide; when curling up with a good book, I like to listen to some classical lieder, an past-time he would typically describe as “poop-facey.”

Our first connection was made on Friendster. You young ‘uns won’t know anything about this, but long, long ago – before there was Facebook (yes, it’s true!) – there was a site called Friendster, which amounted to about the same thing: letting you maintain the illusion that you’re “in touch” with everyone you care about and simultaneously allowing you to seek out companionship with strangers based on what movies/music they list as liking.

“He’s a surgeon who looks like a young George Clooney but oh – I could never date a guy who likes 311 and Matrix Reloaded. Our babies would have webbed feet.”

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Perennial Melodies: Sukiyaki for the Sentimental

Posted by Kells, March 28, 2010 02:39pm | Post a Comment
A few weeks ago the vocalist Eduard Khil and his heart-swelling vocal flexes were nothing to me, but now I cannot think of a day gone by without my acknowledging the impression his song has left on my heart. For those who've yet to encounter Khil, his claim to international stardom comes of the internet meme known as "Trololololololololololo," a video clip circa 1976 that features a dapper dandy (Khil) vocalizing a song called "I Am Glad To Be Finally Returning Home" with plenty of laughing ha-hahs and hearty bellowing tro-lo-los as he gestures with casual fluidity, occasionally directing viewers to consider the paltriness of the set pieces that flank him. It is an aural and visual happy-pill dressed in sunny yellow, an upper to be taken when the spirit lags and, for about the last two weeks, it's been the very first thing I enjoy in the morning. 


As if the simple joy and outdated charm of that performance alone wasn't enough to make me fall head over feet for Eduard Khil, he has since been featured in another recent post, a Russian press interview, showing Khil sitting down to view his viral video along with several parodies of it added into the mix (including one starring recent Academy Award recipient Christoph Waltz as seen on Jimmy Kimmel Live!). Khil's delightful reactions to these parodies and subsequent video statement in which he addresses the people of the world to invent lyrics to the much beloved song (which, according to Khil, originally flaunted rather raunchy lyrics --- so naughty in fact that they were never published, but decidedly ditched the for trololo vocalization in hopes that the song stood a chance at being appreciated but for its melody). He then suggests that everyone choose a time to gather and synchronize (via the internet ) to sing their version of the song all together, in their own tongue, in the style of "We Are The World." Okay, so he doesn't mention "We Are The World," but of course he doesn't have to, the sentiment is there, especially as, according to Khil, the song is about returning home and, in his mind, the newfound popularity of his tune represents an eternal homecoming of sorts, and a happy one at that. Bravo Eduard Khil and Спасибо.

Digesting Khil's suggestion that the world set out to celebrate our affection for a singular melody, his melody, by independently crafting original lyrics to accompany a borrowed tune recalled to mind a sweet, bewitching song that I first heard many years ago in an elementary level Japanese class: Sakamoto Kyu's (坂本 九) sentimental hit "Ue wo Muite Arukou" or "I Walk With My Head Held High." Though introduced as a classroom exercise, I became one of many folks in that class who couldn't shake the lovely melancholy of such a tune, even if we couldn't understand everything Sakamoto-san crooned. Like the Russian "homecoming" song, the sentiment of acute longing and heartache expressed in Sakamoto's song, regardless of the presence of meaningful lyrics (and the potential inability to make sense of them), is clearly understood simply because of its perfectly crafted, jaunty-yet-melancholy melody. In fact, this song topped the U.S. Billboard charts for three weeks in 1963 under the title "Sukiyaki" (renamed because the execs at Capitol and HMV thought the original title too difficult to pronounce and/or remember). To date, Sakamoto Kyu's hit single has been the only song sung entirely in Japanese to ever top the charts in the states and it is the only Japanese song to ever enter the U.K. Billboard charts. Indeed, it must be all about that [sigh] sentimental melody. 

And it's that melody that has been, for better or worse, shanghaied halfway 'round the world, the old fashioned way (that is, without knowledge of its being taken until it "arrives"), as a borrowed tune dressed in several languages, most notably as the sentimental slow jam "Sukiyaki" performed in 1981 by A Taste of Honey, the disco ensemble famous for crafting the hit dance single "Boogie Oogie Oogie." All I have to say is thank heavens they resisted suggestions to turn Sakamoto's tune into a disco jam, instead opting for turning it out as a soft-focused ballad which probably has everything to do with the song becoming Honey's final number one single of their career. Unlike Eduard Khil, however, Kyu Sakamoto cared not for the Misses Honey's take on his wistful walk-a-long hit and reportedly sued Capital Records for copyright infringement, a litigious action that pantsed those who had thought the song fruit of the public domain tree, ripe for the taking, and so plucked the tune and inanely kept the altered name "Sukiyaki."

By the way, sukiyaki (a Japanese steam-pot dish) has next to nothing to do with the original lyrics of Sakamoto's song or the romantic interpretation laid down by Honey's Janice Marie Johnson, who found that English translations of "Ue wo Muite Arukou" could be viewed three ways: as a man on his way to his execution, as someone trying to be optimistic despite life's trials, or as the story of an ended love affair (of course she opted to paint the English lyrics in the waning light of a love gone bad). My favorite quote related to the ridiculousness of naming a song for a word that is short, catchy, recognizably Japanese and familiar to English speakers comes from a Newsweek columnist who reportedly likened naming Sakamoto's song "Sukiyaki" to issuing a popular tune like "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew," a total wah-waah.

Of course there have been other takes on the popular tune, mostly covers of A Taste of Honey's "Sukiyaki" rather than further takes on Kyu Sakamoto's crooning hit, but there's certainly nothing like the real thing. Featured below are several videos, the first being a 1963 video of Sakamoto himself walking and singing "Ue wo Muite Arukou" with his head held high ("so the tears down fall from my eyes" according to the original Japanese lyrics) followed by a live performance of "Sukiyaki" by A Taste of Honey complete with the aforementioned Johnson and bandmate Hazel Payne clad in kimonos, koto accompanyment on the song, finished with a whispered "sayonara" at the end. Then we have a 1995 version of "Sukiyaki" delivered by American R&B ensemble 4 P.M. (p.s. did they gank that set from that Heavy D & the Boys video for "Now That We Found Love" or what) and then a live version of "Sukiyaki" en Español as performed by Selena on the Johnny Canales Show.










As if that wasn't enough sentimental gumbo or stew or whatever Westerners are reducing culturally enriched stock to these days, I have to address here the ultimate slice of flimsy-whimsy courtesy of the what-were-they-thinking school of sentimental panty-plaint, under-the-influence love jams: Bob Welch's "Sentimental Lady." Though the song cannot claim any worldliness or global catchiness the likes of which "Sukiyaki" can boast of, the unfathomable sappiness of the composition as a whole gives me cause to lump it in with this exploration of catchy, sentimental melodies, even if it plays the vapid fool of the group. I mean, what the heck does he mean by "fourteen joys and a will to be merry" in terms of the "sentimental, gentle wind" he sings of "blowing through" his life again? The fact that this song was originally recorded for Fleetwood Mac's 1972 album Bare Trees and then re-recorded for Welch's 1977 solo album French Kiss boggles my mind entirely, but don't get me wrong --- I love this song, if not but for its sheer docile naïvité. However, this subject might be better saved for delving in an entirely different post altogether. Enjoy!

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