Sunday, July 24, 2011

A disputed image

Anna Calvi again

There are quite a few talented, dramatic, haughty girls (where I use 'girl' just to signal newness, and in a relatively non-age-specific way, cf. 'riot girl', 'roaring girls/boys') around in popular music right now, and I applaud the trend, but, for me, among recent entries, Anna Calvi has jumped out ahead of the pack:

One problem, I've yet to hear an album version of one of her songs that is as good as, say, the best three or four live performances of that song available on youtube. Calvi's performance skills and presence are so strong that it's evidently going to be hard to match that and capture that on record. Strong performers from Joanna Newsom to Janelle Monae to Gaga have all had to find some way to do this consistently, albeit in each of those cases too there are songs where the live versions are markedly superior, so maybe this isn't a problem that can ever be completely solved. At any rate, in my view Calvi's still got some work to do on the recording side, perhaps she has yet to find the perfect studio collaborator (Eno's watching over her, so presumably that's a problems that'll be solved). Apart from that, though, she's fabulous, appears to have everything figured out and to have almost no limits.

p.s. In my view, anyone who prefers Gaga's Edge of Glory nonsense over Calvi's Desire for an '80s-big-rock fix needs his or her head examined:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sylvian and Sakamoto's Bamboo Music (1982)

And the B-side, Bamboo Houses (which was arguably even better):

Extraordinarily talented and serious and beautiful, Sylvian was too good for pop music (it felt at the time like pop music for aliens, for a higher form of life than humans were currently capable of). Amazing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Antlers' I don't want love

Don't know anything abut these guys, but this is a purdy half-song. Where's the rest of it?

Keep Watching

I have put a vid. up on youtube here of a 4 bar Class Actress loop (from the end of the fab. new single Keep You) over a minute from near the end of Snyder's Watchmen film.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fox's S-S-Single Bed

A #1 hit in Australia and #4 hit in the UK in 1976, this record (with just a little reinstrumentation and fattening of the bass) could be in the charts in 2011 (e.g., it would then sound a lot like one of Gaga's best songs, Summerboy). Cartoonish, vaguely inhuman vocal tone? Check. Nursery rhyme lyric? Check. Danceable but somehow deracinated? Check. All of that's pretty appalling on one level, but on another level it's an inspired formula that obviously works for lots of people. SB seems to foreshadow much of modern dance-pop in something like the way I Feel Love and TEE and Pop Muzik do.

Update July 19, 2011: I've been listening to Fox's eponymous debut album from 1975. It's fantastic, and like S-S-Single Bed seems way ahead of its time. Very impressive stuff. I can hear why it didn't quite blow up at the time: there's no Lady Marmalade or Dancing Queen or I Feel Love or Holiday or Bad Romance, no one song that really leaps out in that unignorable, star-making way. But there's a consistent vibe here that's fresh and appealing, one that with hindsight lots of subsequent people have reinvented bits of. Fave tracks include Pretty Boy, Red Letter Day, and the Abba-ish Imagine me Imagine you, but, seriously, almost every song (I can do without the Love Letters cover) is great.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jobriath's Inside

Finally, this largely unheard masterwork, should-be-a-standard is up on youtube. For how long one wonders (I tried uploading it several times and was rejected)? Enjoy it while it lasts.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In flagranti

Brain magazine is a source of some of the best dance + soundtrack mixes around today. Everything I've sampled from them has become a staple. Its In flagranti mix [NSFW graphics!], for example, is utterly outstanding. Highly recommended. Brain magazine is a French site, so it's also a good chance to practise reading a little colloquial, subject-specific French.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Bette Davis, resmitten with

What a gal! I'd not seen any of Davis's TV interviews from the '70s and early '80s until recently. Before that I knew her just from her ding-dong classics (esp. All about Eve, Now Voyager, Dark Victory, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and The Letter), and from her later near-disastrous, post-stroke, Oscar shows appearances (as presenter but also as Testimonial awardee IIRC). Youtube, however, enables me and others to fill in that sort of gap: it's a treasure-trove of interviews that awesomely display Davis's smarts and 'stand and deliver' personal style. Having spent a few hours clicking around through these items, I'm blown away again, resmitten. Over the next month I'll try to rewatch some of my existing Davis faves and check out at least the obvious biggies that I've missed before (esp. Jezebel, Of Human Bondage, and her Elizabeth I movie, if I can get hold of them). Go here for Meryl Streep's lovely tribute to Davis if you need further inspiration to do the same. Streep describes herself and her high school girlfriends regularly watching Davis's classics on after-school tv in the 1960s, and as taking lessons from Davis on 'how to scare the hell out of men'. Haw haw!

Update July 13, 2011: Just saw The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Pretty good w/ a powerhouse lead performance from Davis (who's unafraid to play ugly and unappealing and super-high-maintenance - Davis's frantically fidgeting Elizabeth I feels like a prototype for Olivier's later Richard III). Unfortunately, despite some interesting, almost 3-D effect focal length tricks from director Curtiz, the script and production is very stagey and somewhat hard to believe. E.g., the few outdoor scenes are filled with incredibly bright, steady CA sunshine that's ridiculous for England - the soundstage, interior light is much better although it's still unrealistically bright for the renaissance/medieval world; and Flynn's Essex is given some absurd lines that make him a proto-Locke or Thomas Jefferson. Moreover, the casting of Errol Flynn (w/ a Korngold score) and Olivia de Havilland as an insolent lady-in-waiting (who should surely have lost her head!) invites comparison with Robin Hood and GWTW, respectively, but PLEE isn't nearly as much fun or as spectacular as those. At any rate, next up: Jezebel.
Update August 1, 2011: After some delays, Jezebel! More excellent work from Davis in a well-made film with an unfortunately too predictable script. The 'noble'/self-sacrificing ending is an odd beast because it's evidently also a deeply self-interested ending on Davis's Julee's part. At any rate, it's impossible to be moved by what happens because of the conflicted stances the action embodies. The ending then comes to symbolize the complexity of our feelings about all of the main characters. Nobody comes out especially well, so I guess that makes J a rather good drama, but it's no Dark Victory or Now Voyager. J's setting and content invites comparison with GWTW - but, alas, that just makes me appreciate GWTW's scale, spectacle, casting, and score even more. Fonda's a bit of wet-blanket compared to Gable, as is the good-girl foil to Davis (Margaret Lindsay's Amy) compared to De Havilland's Melanie. Deep down too, I wonder whether Julee's character even quite makes sense. She's supposed to be a free spirit/spitfire. But she's also supposed to mope around the house, to receive no callers etc. for a year after things blow up with Press. That doesn't seem like a plausible combination to me. Also, we're supposed to believe that Julee's red dress scandalizes society, and that that then has consequences with Press. But the movie focuses completely on the fallout with Press, so that it's as if it forgets that Julee is now regarded as a scarlet/wild/trollop-y woman and should be paying social prices independently of Press for her non-conformism. Maybe my two complaints are connected and may be jointly answers as follows: maybe we're supposed to infer that Julee holes up for a year after Press leaves in part because New Orleans society now largely shuns her. But if that's so then I think it needed to be clarified, e.g., there's a scene missing, perhaps of people crossing the street to avoid Julee that we need.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The best rock formation in The Searchers

Very cool, no? (Click for bigger, more gloriously VistaVisiony version.) It reminds me a little of a Jawa Sandcrawler from Star Wars:

Obviously SW alludes directly to The Searchers in the 'Luke finds his home destroyed and Aunt and Uncle killed' scene, but Lucas's debts to Ford are diffuse and v. extensive, from the cinematography to the treatment of 'natives speaking their own languages'.