Worry Me: Horror Folk/Pop weirdo Grace Sings Sludge returns with new album Life With Dick

Posted by Kells, June 7, 2017 11:26pm | Post a Comment

Back again with another batch of demented home recordings from her very own twilight zone, former Sandwitches and Fresh & Onlys siren Grace Cooper, a.k.a. Grace Sings Sludge, continues to bleed out her uniquely brooding singer/songwriter stylings via Life With Dick, her new confessional LP/CD out courtesy of Empty Cellar Records, thus ensuring that all things strange and amazing haven't entirely vanished from the Bay Area.

Evocative of intimate interiors and a labor for love, or "the weariness of a woman giving in to a love requited" as Empty Cellar so perfectly puts it, the self-produced sound of Life With Dick is neither crunchy nor polished, but seems to teeter on the edge of a reality that alternates between ominous assertion and a sultriness so creepy it'll make you check your six if you dare listen to it alone, headphoned, in the dark (recommended!). Sometimes the vibe tilts toward the otherworldly as raw, layered melodies drift and amble in and out of sonic focus as if attempting to haunt every moment they're allotted—pianos echoing here, guitars heaving there, with now-and-then hallow drum lines (courtesy of Nick Russo) sauntering along beneath Grace’s emphatic vocal clips, plaintive wails, and whispered half-breaths. There is also a pervasive after hours type of jazziness that slinks in and around almost every song, coloring Grace's achingly bare vocals a deep rouge (a darker, redder version of the opening credits for the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show comes immediately to mind). 

For me, the track "U.C.B.", buried on side two, delivers some of the most iconic, or "Grace-ist" if you will,  lyric threads and vocal sincerity found on the album, especially when she croons, "I hate to see you in pain; what kind of chain keeps you here? The sooner that I let you go is the sooner that you go. Back to what you've always known," only to issue the punctuation, "Over my dead body."

Stills from the official video for "A Man Doesn't Want" from Life With Dick, directed, shot, and edited by Grace Cooper

The album's extensive accompanying visuals offer further glimpses into the mire and musings behind the music and, what's more, every bit of it appears to be solely produced by Grace Cooper herself. As with her previous collections of home recordings, the outer and inner sleeve artwork for Life With Dick bears Grace’s own signature scrawls and pen and ink/watercolor reveries, this time in strands and snarls of pale yellow/greens. And, in what I personally hope will be a venture not limited to a one-time gig, Grace went ahead and directed, shot, and edited her own video for the album's lead-off track "A Man Doesn't Want", delivering "wrapped in plastic" realness and then some (see below; NSFW).

Speaking of "wrapped in plastic" realness, given the timing of this release and the consistent thematic and atmospheric similarities between the two, I feel, now more than ever, like I cannot help but associate the looks, sounds, and feels of Grace Sings Sludge with the world of Twin Peaks, a connection made way back when she seemed to be channeling Ronette Pulaski in her 2007 video for "Oh Baby Look". We are so lucky to be getting more official Twin Peaks transmissions and flavors to savor, and, considering all the new music that comes along with this new season, it makes me curious about what other artists could potentially fit into a kind of Twin Peaks song cycle (not that we need yet another arbitrary genre to obsess over). That said, self-control be damned! If you have any thoughts or suggestions regarding artists that could fit into a dedicated Twin Peaks playlist, by all means please do share. In the meantime, let Grace Sings Sludge sings Life With Dick (or any other albums of hers for that matter) take you there.

Summer is Icumen In... Again: The Wicker Man: Final Cut now in theaters!

Posted by Kells, October 1, 2013 07:05pm | Post a Comment

Not an Autumn goes by that I don't indulge in the ultimate cinematic sacrifice to the regenerative forces of Spring by viewing the most excellent British cult classic The Wicker Man (not to be confused with the poorly-honeyed and over-the-top misogynist romp of a remake starring Nicholas Cage). This year's viewing, however, will be an extra special treat in that the film is celebrating 40 years of horrific pagan pageantry with the theatrical release of The Wicker Man: The Final Cut wherein director Robin Hardy's original vision is finally restored.

For those who have never seen it, take warning. This film is unsettling in that it is a bit of a musical studded with weird sex scenes and even weirder segments debatably necessary nudity, often interrupted by non-violent horror elements and culturally-confused comedic spells all revolving around a central mystery thread: a child is reported missing from a remote Hebridean island and the stringent Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), come from the mainland, is determined to find out what happened. The result is a very revisitable cinematic delight, though it ultimately leaves disconcerting and, depending on your moral compass, a horrifically distressful aftertaste.

This new restoration comes courtesy of a world-wide search spurred by the director and StudioCanal who reached out to fans via Facebook to help them locate and recover the long-lost footage cut from the film. Why was it ever cut in the first, you ask? Well, it seems The Wicker Man originally screened as the "B" picture on a double bill with another thriller flick and there is one story circulating that said release was truncated to "fit" with the feature (whatever that means. It begs the question: was this a time issue? Because let's be real: double features are gonna be long no matter how much you chop).
There are other reports that the shorter, restructured narrative that deviated Hardy’s initial cut were ordered by EMI studio executives that suggested a more "upbeat" version of a particularly brutal, not to mention crucial, scene. Hardy refused and consequently had to remove twenty minutes of, well, heathen logic. Even Roger Corman judged in favor of cuts when he was sent a copy to screen (which proved very helpful when the hunt for "complete" versions of The Wicker Man began in the mid-70s because, of course, Corman still had his).

Anyway, one would think all this tinkering with lost, found, and lost (again) footage restored time after time into a patchwork of scenes, multiple chronologies, questionable erotic content and musical interludes would not a critically acclaimed cinema classic make. On the contrary, critics, casual viewers and midnight maniacs alike spread nothing but love for this masterpiece that is often and affectionately referred to as "the Citizen Kane of Horror movies" in spite of its many renderings (and I refer not only to its checkered past of re-cuts and re-releases but also to the crappy remake as well as the sequel it spawned).

Do the right thing, see the final final cut of The Wicker Man during its US theater tour (see the schedule below the trailer) or do the lazy thing and hold out for the DVD. Either way, King for a day, amirite?

The Wicker Man: The Final Cut
 - U.S. theatrical schedule: 

  September 27 – October 3    NEW YORK,  NY    IFC Center
::    October 4 – 5    SAN FRANCISCO,  CA    The Castro Theatre
::    October 11 – 17    SANTA FE,  NM    Jean Cocteau Cinema
::    October 18 – 19    NASHVILLE,  TN    The Belcourt
::    October 22    DULUTH,  MN    Zinema 2
::    October 25 – 31    CHICAGO,  IL    Music Box Theatre
::    October 25 – 31    DALLAS,  TX    Angelika Dallas
::    October 25 – 31    SAN DIEGO,  CA    Gaslamp 15
::    October 25 – 31    FAIRFAX,  VA    Angelika Mosaic
::    October 25 – 27    BELLINGHAM,  WA    Pickford Film Center
::    October 26    SEATTLE,  WA    Cinerama
::    October 28 – 31    PITTSBURGH,  PA    Pittsburgh Filmmakers at Regent Square
::    November 1 – 7    LOS ANGELES,  CA    Landmark Theatres - Nuart
::    November 1 – 7    PORTLAND,  OR    Hollywood Theatre
::    November 3    AUSTIN,  TX    Alamo Drafthouse - The Ritz
::    November 8 – 14    PHILADELPHIA,  PA    Landmark Theatres - Ritz at the Bourse
::    November 9    KANSAS CITY,  MO    Alamo Drafthouse - Mainstreet
::    November 15 – 16    HOUSTON,  TX    Landmark Theatres - River Oaks
::    November 15 – 16    DENVER,  CO    Landmark Theatres - Esquire
::    November 15 – 16    BROOKLINE,  MA    Coolidge Corner Theatre

SPRiNG BREAKERS: Spring Break 4 Ever!!!

Posted by Kells, July 29, 2013 01:02pm | Post a Comment

Spring Breakers, the name says it all. For all intents and purposes it is the what, when, why, where, and who of Harmoy Korine's latest youth culture thesis -- a 94 minute non-stop Girls Gone Wild-esque Dubstep rager that prudently substitutes a copiousness of style for a seemingly decided lack of dramatic substance, inter-cut with super slo-mo beach bosoms and bottom biscuits jiggling at a hypnotizing rate of frames per second. it doesn't make a much sense, but whatever. It's summertime and this movie rules!

It seems to me that the real juice of the Spring Breakers fruit has little to do with cautionary tales, innocence lost or questionable actions, but rather it has everything to do with James Franco's cornrows. That is, soaking up the the overall look of the film, which seems to be inspired if not full-on endorsed by Vice Magazine sponsored American Apparel type fad-mongering marketing strategies, is as good as this movie gets.

It shouldn't go without mentioning, however, that that highly skilled costume designer Heidi Bivens'  hot-neon, day-glo accented beach wear, DTF sweatpants, and pink unicorn ski masks really transport viewers into the hyper-surreal world of Spring Breakers to the point of outmoding the efforts of the aforementioned houses of haute hipsterwares for the trending-now crowd. Indeed, the joint efforts of Bivens and Korine, not to mention the talents of cinematographer Benoît Debie, seem to signify an extremely creatively driven approach to fully realizing this project, but the commercial element Spring Breakers presents is most definitely a fashion force to be reckoned with, whether the message translates as what to buy or what not to buy. For me, I couldn't suppress the urge to indulge in a cinematic marathon of summer fashion features after practically gagging on Spring Breakers.

For example, Earth Girls Are Easy most definitely shares the Spring Breakers affinity for hot pink bikinis (and aliens for that matter):

And I couldn't help but think of Overboard when I saw those super-fly pink tiger swimsuits:

I also couldn't help but recall the Runaways film, perhaps owing to Benoît Debie's role as cinematographer for both The Runaways and Spring Breakers (I've got to see more of this guy's work).

Then there's that whole "good girls gone bad" vibe Spring Breakers, well, exploits:

Not only did that aspect of Spring Breakers (forever) make me want to watch Desperately Seeking Susan, but it kind of made me feel like Madonna in that famous Cheetos overdose scene:

Similarly on the good little bad girls on vacation tip, there were many moments that reminded me of the many times I've watched Dirty Dancing in my life. I wonder if Spring Breakers will age as well as DD has.

I also thought of that other film made by the team behind Dirty Dancing (but nowhere near as successful as their Swayze craze), Shag -- the story of four Southern girls looking for one last wild 'n crazy getaway before succumbing to the rigors of boring, normal adult life. Similar premise, and yet...

The look is different. But the late 60s beach parties of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina are just as ridiculous and offensive as those of the South Florida "Spring Break Forever" fever-dreams of today apparently...

A  N  Y  W  A  Y . . .

Want to channel your inner Vanessa Hudgens in your very own Spring Breakers inspired photo shoot?

All the photos that follow hence are taken from an impromptu Spring Breakers inspired photo shoot created by my good friend and fellow Amoebite Gabriel Wheeler after he hosted a Spring Breakers viewing party at his home (sadly, much like Selena Gomez's Breakers character, Faith, I left before the fun happened). Without further ado, here's how to ham it up Spring Breakers style:
You're gonna want to need some cash, lots of cash.

Also, be sure to don swimsuits or any other sort of beach wear you can rustle up, the brighter the better. Don't forget the ski mask! For men Hawaiian prints are a plus.

You don't want your models to dry up under those lights so be sure to stock plenty of beverages.

Also, don't be shy about dipping into your cache of original formula Four Loko.

Of course, ladies, you'll want to get your guns out for this one.

...and don't forget to relish those greens.

Make it rain.

And remember: "SPRiNG BREAK 4EVAH!"


Takako Minekawa emerges from a thriteen year hiatus with Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong

Posted by Kells, June 20, 2013 05:26pm | Post a Comment

Sometimes the wait for new material from a beloved recording artist can feel like an eternity, especially when their last album presaged a significant shift in one's personal musical tastes. In February of 2001 I picked up Takako Minekawa's Maxi On! on a heavy vibe-induced hunch (the cover art called to me for reasons I'll never understand -- this kind of thing happens to me all the time) and it forever changed the quality of pop music I seek and enjoy. I spent the next few years digging into her extensive back catalog, digesting it rapidly while anticipating a new release that never came. So began my fascination with an artist that had seemingly just shelved her career as a keyboard-collecting, color obsessed, cat-loving experimental electro-pop singer/songwriter indefinitely.

Twelve years later and I honestly can't remember the last time I checked Minekawa's near dormant website for news or scoured the interwebs for any new transmissions indicating fresh airs from one of my forever favorite recording artists. Then the other day a co-worker (and kindred spirit who knows me very well) uttered the words, "hey, have you seen that new Takako Minekawa album? We have two!" Gobsmacked. Yes, gobsmacked is the best word for my reaction to this query. No, I hadn't seen it. I hadn't heard it or heard of it, but I am listening to it, again, right now, all fifty seven minutes.

I also hadn't heard of (ex-Ponytail) guitarist Dustin Wong until yesterday but my opinion of him as a man and a musician are highly colored by the fact that he deserves hella mad props for luring Takako Minekawa out of her thirteen year hiatus. Known for his intricate solo performances where he delicately loops guitar pieces via a bow-shaped arrangement of various effects pedals, Wong's working approach to music-making doesn't sound all that different from Minekawa's methods, that is, if you switch out the guitar and pedals for a drum machine and a phalanx of precious keyboards. With those similarities in mind their collaborative debut, entitled Toropical Circle, sounds a lot like you'd expect it would. Only, it actually sounds better than I expected, but then that's a testament to the kind of vintage hype that only a baited long-ass waiting period can buy. 

The album erupts with the single, "Party on a Floating Cake" -- a title that sounds like it could've been a throwaway from Maxi On!. Though it begins with a blippy, looped prelude the momentum shifts as Wong's sunny, surf-inspired guitar twangs mingle with Minekawa's trademark breathy vocal wisps until the layers of guitars and synths, piled high and teetering at this point, finally waffle into a sort of false ending that feels anything but finished (think: just about any track from Blonde Redhead's 23). At first listen I mistook this as an ill omen for the record as a whole, but I found that each track overall reflects a sprightly and playful organic genesis that sometimes sounds loosely composed in a random jamming (i.e. "experimental") fashion while otherwise showcasing the technical prowess of the two gurus behind this sonic mixed bag. I especially like the track "Swimming Between Parallel Times" as the woven illumination of the instrumentation resembles a piece that OOIOO might've dreamed up during one of their heady gamelan orchestra collaborations. There are also many shimmering magic moments pulsing throughout Toropical Circle that bring to mind another collaborative effort, Tujiko Noriko and Aoki Takamasa's 2005 album 28 (though the vibe there was more late night neon seduction rather than coltish pastel whimsy and stratified "Mary Had A Little Lamb" tangents).

Continue reading...

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

Posted by Kells, March 4, 2013 01:17pm | Post a Comment

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.

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.

Now, Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys, the latest second two-disc installment in the Depp/Verbinski/Willner pirate hymns and devotionals, released February 19th on Anti Records, is as boozy and weathered as its predecessor, exploring new crests and troughs of the diverse spectrum of second-wave maritime melodies that advance and perpetuate the popularity of salt-sea songs and drunken sing-a-longs. It should come as no surprise that the likes of Tom Waits lashed up with Keith Richards and the slow-rolling runnels of layered vocal-rumblings over a watery melange of acoustic strums and pluckings in their rendition of the early 19th century folk song "Shenandoah" is a highlight of the record that almost making up for neither of them appearing in the original Rogues Gallery crew. In fact, curious pairings are more of a theme this go 'round what with even Michael Stipe and Courtney Love getting together (!) for "Rio Grande" -- one of the more traditional-sounding contributions that outweigh, say, more "raw" cuts like Iggy Pop and Hawk and a Hacksaw's grisly take on "Asshole Rules the Navy".

Todd Rundgren, however, should be marooned for his take on one of the most wildly popular whaling chanteys, "Rolling Down to Old Maui" (made famous by the late great master of modern Canadian Maritime Folk, singer-songwriter Stan Rogers). His high-impact club-thumper of a pop dance pump-a-thon is the most heinous and unnecessary so-called interpretation of an enduring classic on the whole record. In fact, it's so abominable that I almost want it to work despite the sum of it's being jacked-up beyond all recognition because his is precisely the kind of yarn that makes this funky weave worth unraveling. Instead it seems that Todd is having a laugh, baiting the hook for nautical nerds everywhere only to violently yank our jowls out of our faces before we can fully gag on his electronic mutiny. [Dearest Todd, I love you and I know you've sort of "gone bamboo" of late what with your new tiki bar opening soon, but come on! Rather than pillage a classic when you should've pumped your bilge with a something a little more kitschy like the Sex Pistols did with "Friggin' in the Riggin'"] I'm just not into it.

Of all the artists that appear here there are some very lovely surprises like actress Anjelica Houston singing "Missus McGraw," Marianne Faithfull together with the McGarrigle Sisters on “Flandyke Shore,” some long lost Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Inventiondoing an instrumental version of one my favorite old sea songs "The Handsome Cabin Boy" (check out Ewan MacColl & A. L. Lloyd's traditional recording on their albums The Black Ball Line (1957) and A Hundred Years Ago (1963) as well as the excellent Topic Sampler No 7 collection Sea Songs and Shanties) and even the rock n' roll pirate himself, the Depp, lends a loving hand on "The Mermaid" with Patti Smith and "Leaving of Liverpool" with Shane McGowan and first mate Gore Verbinski.

All in all, the savvy outweighs the sloppy with tracks like Dr John's rum-soaked "In Lure of the Tropics" drinking Macy Gray's reggae-toned "Off to Sea Once More" way, way under the ship's table in this NSFS (Not Safe For Starbucks) compilation. Other seaworthy notables include songs from Beth Orton, Robyn Hitchcock, Nick Cave (who previously stacked two tracks on the first Rogue's Gallery voyage), Sean Lennon paired with Jack Shit (also appearing again) as well as Akron/Family who this time around teamed up with New Orleans' gender-bending rap duo Sissy Bounce (Katey Red and Big Freedia) -- a triple threat balancing tamer teams of three like actor Tim Robbins with Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs singing "Marianne." In short, if you fancy lengthy compilations loaded with the promise of adventurous curiosities, maladjusted charm, sloppy oddities, and deviant beauty then avast ye matey -- this here's the swill for you.

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