Dance Rock Pop Rocks

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Artist: BEGINNERS

Venue: The Bootleg Theater, Hollywood

Date: April 5th, 2014

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Remember Pop Rocks? Ripping open the pouch and pouring out a pile of bright crumbled crystals. As soon as they touch the moisture of your tongue the candy fragments start fizzing like flurries of carbonated fireworks. Enjoying Pop Rocks is a unique experience, a singular candy-grenade demolition spree. Pop Rocks are fun. The fun is what matters.

A Saturday night at the Bootleg Theater is one of the best places you can be any weekend in Los Angeles. New garage-synth sparklers Beginners recently played the Bootleg and won over the audience with sugary hooks dangling on sharp beats.

This fresh ensemble is the creation of writer / producer Nick Ruth and vocalist / bassist Samantha Barbera, who used to play together in a band called Malbec. When it dissolved a few years ago Barbera kept her chops up punk-rocking with Holy Fever while Ruth collaborated with various solo artists, including Blaqstarr, Mikky Ekko and Active Child. Nick and Samantha decided to compose together again after hanging out at a Foster the People concert.

Beginners’ set opened the night. When they kicked off people were still ambling around the bars, lounge and patio. The hard four-four drumbeat and simmering harmonies worked magic right away.  During the first song a steady stream of people came crowding in, drawn to the bouncing synth-pop like curious children toward a big colorful bowl full of unguarded candy.

You can bet your online reputation that Beginners play tunes people enjoy. They may be recently formed but Beginners play with an understated confidence only seasoned musicians can really afford. It helps to have a convincing, charismatic frontwoman. Samantha Barbera projects determined intensity that demands attention without being bombastic.

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Overall the group produces a casual dance-rock sound that fits what’s most popular in indie music right now. Some of the backing vocals are reminiscent of certain kids with augmented kicks, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Beginners released a self-titled EP on March 25th. “Ever Love” puts the cherry-cola chorus right up front. This mellow, flirtatious groove is a potential single top-to-bottom. It also boasts a scuzzy electric guitar that drapes the keyboard chrome in a well-worn leather jacket. “Who Knows” is a ringing kick-drum driven number full of pop-timism that shrugs with wistful acceptance we’ll somehow decipher our collective confusion as we roll along to the beat.

The best track on the EP is easily “So Close I Almost Believed It”, an elevating buzz that doesn’t rush the warm progressions. This songs cinematic future-vintage soundtrack beauty is hard to resist. The melody line sways back and forth in the breeze and the floating vocals tug you into an ambient harmonic drift.

One aspect that really helps is how the production is not overcooked. Super-slick production is an unappealing problem most modern artists suffer from in the digital age. Beginners keep the sonic elements expertly balanced and economically arranged. The pacing and tempos are breezy and refreshing.

They’re edgier live than on record and that’s good. In the end their set at The Bootleg could’ve been a little longer but they accomplished the commendable task of leaving the crowd wanting more. Beginners are cool fun and that’s what matters.

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https://www.facebook.com/BEGINNERS.OFFICIAL

 

Above & Beyond

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Above & Beyond:

Riccardo Tisci & Givenchy Give The Legendary Air Force 1 New Wings

When everyone owns multiple pairs of Air Force 1’s, how are yours special? A massive trans-continental industry of custom and boutique edition kicks has flourished for the needs of every Sneakerhead’s wildest dreams. True connoisseurs continue to thirst for that rare, extra-special color combo. AF1 aficionados need look no further since French luxury label Givenchy’s brand commander Riccardo Tisci and Nike have teamed up and done all the hard work to produce a top-shelf release that will be an instant classic and collector’s must-have.

The AF1 is a dominating cornerstone of modern footwear; cross-genre, cross-gender and sublime in its smooth lines of less-is-more architecture. Named for the airborne chauffeur of the President of the United States, the Air Force 1 was born in 1982. For some unfathomable reason they were discontinued in 1983 but miraculously reborn in 1986. Tisci is aware of this dynamic.

“And so I was thinking, what is the essence of the Air Force 1? And how do I make that essence and make my own statement? For me the Air Force 1 is not about gender, it’s not about a particular city, nor is it about a certain style. The community decides. It’s democratic. It’s love.”

Over seventeen thousand different versions of the AF1 have been officially produced so far, not counting any of the countless one-of-a-kinds commissioned from your airbrushing pal around the way. Annual AF1 retail sales are humbly estimated at upwards of eight hundred million dollars.

Givenchy has been internationally renowned and distinguished for over sixty years. One important thing you should know is how to pronounce it. The name sounds like Jhee-Von-Shee. The French house was founded in 1952 by the visionary Hubert de Givenchy, who caused a major sensation for using fabric called ‘raw cotton’ for high-end garments. It was Punk Rock twenty-three years before Punk Rock music was born. The hits continued and in 1993 annual sales escalated past one-hundred and seventy-six million dollars.

Riccardo Tisci became Creative Director of Givenchy womenswear in 2005. Three years later in 2008 he expanded to menswear. His themes are noted for dark shades of dense color and a concentrated push toward minimalism. Givenchy chief Marco Gobbetti notes what works about Tisci’s sensibility.

“He (Tisci) has an elegance that is very modern, very contemporary and romantic at the same time.”

Tisci had some big shoes to fill when he took the job. He was preceded as Givenchy Creative Director by John Galliano and the late Alexander McQueen. Fortunately his run has enjoyed critical and commercial acclaim. Taking all that into account, how do the shoes look? They cooly embody all the aesthetic choices that made the name Riccardo Tisci first stand out to fashion movers and shakers.

The enhancements are focused on distinct, contained areas; under and around the tongue and laces, the back above the heel, the side swoosh and strap. They look sleek and refined. Each different size (low-cut to knee-high) also presents the much desired trait of being a design you and your crew can not reproduce in the driveway with spray paint and duct tape. The first version in white debuts March 1st, the black pair is released April 1st.

The Tisci AF1’s are a cut above. They won’t be cheap, but they’re an investment. Keep them extra clean with a crisp box and you can probably flip them online whenever you feel like it. But chances are you can probably already tell from the photos, these are keepers.

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Sources: vogue.co.uk, wikipedia.org

Image: hypebeast.tumblr.com

The Once And Future King

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March 9th, 2014

CHRISTOPHER WALLACE, THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING…

In the sprawling celestial crystal palaces of Heaven there is a large elegant building devoted to music studios. In Room 112 you’ll often find the smiling faces of Freaky Tah, Big L, Big Pun, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and the golden boys Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

They’re head-nodding and rhyming ferociously into mics that look like golden ice cream cones topped with shimmering scoops of diamonds. Friendly musicians visit all the acoustically perfect rooms. Bob Marley often rolls up, Hendrix is always recording cosmic solos that even God is surprised by and Amy Winehouse is always in demand. The concept of epic jam sessions doesn’t come remotely close to describing the mind-melting sonic orchestra constantly reverberating in Paradise.

The music they make up there is so incredible you have to die before you can hear it. Jesus has exceptional taste. He’s truly seen and heard it all. When Jesus wants to pump it up he wears his heavy chain, a thick cuban link necklace made from solidified starlight with an iced-out medallion of BIG’s face. He likes to call it his Biggie Piece.

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FLASHES OF GLORY ON MEMORY LANE…

Remember the first time you saw the video for “Big Poppa”? It instantly changed the room into the coolest nightclub in the world, even if it was just you watching in your sweatpants. When BIG and Method Man rip the chorus of “The What”, doesn’t it make you feel like you could easily conquer the world if you just work hard and believe in yourself? “Who Shot Ya?” always rocks hard, but do you ever feel a quick cold shiver run up your spine on those ominous piano notes?

On his debut album Ready To Die, Notorious B.I.G. had already mastered multiple sides of songwriting, swinging from edgy head-bangers to champagne drenched R&B party songs with nonchalant ease. The content is emotionally deep and vulnerable in its honesty. It also greatly benefits from Biggie’s playful sense of humor. Track 8 on Ready to Die and the “Nasty Boy” intro stand with other skits and interludes as evidence he was a funny guy. Rapping conversations with himself in slightly different character voices (“Gimme The Loot”, “Warning”) shows his cinematic creativity in full stride, like Eddie Murphy or Peter Sellers playing different parts in the same film.

Though an undeniable full-on Rap Star, Biggie seemed somehow accessible. Listening to his music means walking and hanging side by side with him. His baritone flow draws you in, hypnotizes your attention and weaves a web of dynamic intrigue. The scenes are vividly detailed right in front of you. When he’s having fun you’re at the greatest party ever, and when he suffered you felt his pain. “Suicidal Thoughts” is a threatening, terrifying recording.

Biggie was fearless about putting his life story in the spotlight. His records share all the desperation of his lowest points and the intoxicating glamour of his success. It’s a compelling and thrilling journey that winds you up like a dramatic action-adventure movie anchored by a charismatic leading man. Ready To Die and Life After Death are visionary, timeless works of art that riff on the roller-coaster ride of the human condition, told through the unique perspective of a poetic genius from New York City in the early and middle 1990’s.

EULOGY FOR A ROYAL LION…

It’s difficult to pinpoint specifically what made Christopher Wallace so magnetically attractive. His magic was the kind that comes from within. When we see someone as confident and intelligent as he was, we want to spend time with them. We all wish we were sharper and bolder. He speaks to the best versions of ourselves.

The shadow cast by the Notorious B.I.G. is long and global, the impression he left on popular music tremendous. The legend of Biggie Smalls parallels our collective memories of the Twin Towers; majestic symbols of greatness, reminders of promises forever lost.

One of the hardest parts of being American is coming to grips with how deeply our history has been stained by gun violence. John Lennon, Tupac and Biggie would’ve never been shot down on tour in Europe, Asia, Africa, or most of the world, only in America. In the future, there’ll be no debate over gun control because human beings will evolve into having no use for instruments of killing.

In a perfect world where he survived the 1997 attack in Los Angeles, Notorious B.I.G. kept making critically and commerically acclaimed albums. He nurtured a remarkable roster of talent and co-owned Bad Boy Records with Sean Combs. Biggie and Tupac made an album together capitalizing on their former rivalry called Clash of the Titans. The record was such a massive success they made a movie based on it. Biggie enjoyed more acting gigs as he got older, including memorable roles as a close ally of Tony Soprano, as Larry David’s hard-partying neighbor on Curb Your Enthusiasm and supporting parts in all of Wes Anderson’s and Spike Lee’s films. Always a man of the people, in his middle-age Wallace successfully ran for Congress and thrived as a political working class hero. Libraries, hospitals and schools throughout Brooklyn are named in his honor.

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“Big influenced a generation. This whole generation took pieces and bits. Everybody took a piece out of Big that’s on the charts right now. Everybody.” – AZ

It’s hard to listen to “Juicy” and not get a little choked up. The song is so positive, so full of life and hope. It’s moving to get the rush of how it must feel to have all your dreams come true. That pure joy is captured in the music, and it hasn’t dimmed in two decades. If anything, it’s gotten brighter. Reassuring yet untouchable, it’s there in that radiant light, where Biggie is and will always be with us all.

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Image sources, from top;

1. hiphopolitic.com

2. twitter.com/HipHopGoldenAge

3. roninology.tumblr.com

*AZ quote;

http://www.npr.org/2010/08/02/128916682/biggie-smalls-the-voice-that-influenced-a-generation

THE NIGHT SKY

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Artist: SKY FERREIRA

Venue: El Rey Theater, Hollywood

Date: Sunday October 27th, 2013

PART ONE:

YOU WON’T BE PULLED OVER FOR SPEEDING IN A CAB…JOIN THE PARTY FOR YOUR HEAVY METAL HEART…

Sky Ferreira is to the mainstream music industry what Daenerys Targaryen is to Westeros on HBO’s Game Of Thrones. Daenerys and Sky traverse the borders, storming castles and gathering powerful momentum expanding their armies of true believers. Sky’s dragons are her songs. You can see the fire in her eyes and hear it crackle on every chorus.

It’s been about one year since I first encountered Ms. Ferreira in an article on the Fall 2012 CMJ music festival in New York City. Who was this black leather biker jacket blonde scowling out from under the stage lights? She projected the rare kind of vibes our culture used to associate with Movie Stars. It used to mean something better than it does today to be called a Movie Star, long before the media circus dimmed the celestial luster.

The 2012 EP Ghost bewitched me like a zealous new convert to a cult religion. I wasn’t the only one. Positive buzz has been snowballing for Ferreira all year. Earlier in the Spring the title for her debut album was said to be I’m Not Alright. Months later it was reported as I Will. The days have mellowed into Fall and tonight is the album release party for Night Time, My Time. The concert was originally booked for the end of September, but rescheduled for a month later to line up with the album date.

One of the best parts of going out is the cab ride. You should be going very fast with the window down. You won’t be pulled over for speeding in a cab. If the driver isn’t zipping through yellows and hurtling past traffic then you’re being ripped off. Take the highway to go faster. My headphones oozed mirror-ball tremolos over snare-snapping beats, beckoning me into the electrified darkness.

Earlier in the day news had broke that the legendary Lord Lou Reed had passed on. Reed was so sharp and granite-hard as if to be immortal, like the Greco-Roman Gods rocking on Olympus. Part of me wanted to sit in dim candlelight playing White Light, White Heat on repeat for hours. My fingers were crossed that Sky might play a Lou Reed cover.

The boiling red and blue neon lights of the El Rey sign hovered above down the boulevard. When you look up past the palm trees and commercial structures the night sky is a solid, even shade of pale steel gray. You don’t see any bumps or wisps of cloud textures. There are no open pockets as far as you can see in every direction. It’s like a man-machine made digital dome yawning over all of Hollywood.

It’s both dark and bright at once. A similar visual effect happens in Manhattan when the light pollution bounces off overcast clouds. In New York the Atlantic Ocean winds shred the clouds into strips and puddles. In Los Angeles the gray blanket hangs incessantly throughout the night, a reflection of both Hollywood’s bright shining possibilities and it’s whirlpools of fatal darkness.

I sauntered under the marquee of the El Rey and made my way inside, cobalt blue wristband certified. The Investigative Journalist in me decided to use the Voice Memo phone function to drift around and ask random strangers; “Why do you like Sky?”

Thank you very much to all the friendly faces who gave these thoughtful quotes. Ages range from 18 – 50, with a mode of 18, median of 29 and a mean average age of 31.

“Why do I like her music? I think she is edgy and I think she is um, very real, and she’s not a pop princess. She’s Pop, but it’s real, legitimate songwriting and singing and she has very real talent and she puts it all out, she lays it all out. I mean if you watch her performances, she cries on stage. This is not um, someone ‘Selling Out’, this is someone who is working. And this is someone who is selling their Art, and showing it, and that’s what’s important, I mean, I think that’s what matters.” – FRANKIE

“I think she’s really just fun to listen to, she has great lyrics, and I think it’s really cool how she started so young, and she’s becoming so big, and not only is she such an amazing artist, she has such a cool lifestyle that she lives and her style in general is just really cool.” – MARIA

“Yeah I’ve kind of been following her whole evolution since you know she first started releasing music a few years ago, so it’s exciting to be at her album release party and get to see a final product. Um, I don’t know, it’s just exciting, it’s personal.”

“Why do you like her in particular, like what about her music, do you like?”

“It’s hard to say because all of it’s been so different since the beginning but I think all of it kind of has, dark undertones I kind of relate to, so even with the poppier stuff like it’s just relatable, for me.” -TONY

“I just think she has a lot of soul, when she sings and uh, I don’t know I just like the music. It’s very, for me it feels old but very new and very modern, so I relate to that I guess.” – JUAN

“I think Sky overall is just such a cool person. Her style, everything about her is just really cool and you want to get to know her. Her music is upbeat but it’s also real, it’s not fake. With Pop music a lot of times it’s like ‘This is so generic’ but she has stuff that you don’t hear everyday.” – MARENA

“I’ve know her since she was 13, and she writes all her own songs, most of her own songs, so you know.. I’ve followed her career, and she’s got a voice and she has a good sound.” – CARL

PART TWO: 

HOLLYWOOD HOWLS FOR THE HOMECOMING QUEEN…THE VALUE AND BENEFITS OF AUDIO EXORCISMS… 

The crowd starts screaming as the curtains rise. The shadowy figures of the band amble across the boards. Sky settles in center stage. The set kicks off with Boys. All her fast numbers evoke this jittery bliss. The music is like fireworks, booming and blasting with glittering colors. Her icy white gold hair is cropped short to the shoulder line. Dark jeans, black jacket and no costume changes. The fog machine effect is fun to watch. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker could be one of the songs on the soundtrack of SKY: The Movie.

You’re Not The One. Bloggers keep repeating each other trying to describe how perfect this track is. I remember playing an early live version of You’re Not The One over and over on a loop so much I was concerned my neighbor might cut my door down with an axe. It would have been worth it. The bass guitar line alone is priceless.

I love losing myself, talking to myself in the dark…

Heavy Metal Heart. A whirlwind hurricane orchestrated by a bent-synth soft-grunge siren. If I was a psychiatrist I would play this for my patients and let them go wild and smash things in my office. They would be cured of all their problems. This thunderbolt was built to rock stadiums and arenas. Bet on it. Don’t underestimate this song. Stadium Anthem.

It’s slipping away, there’s nothing we can do…

24 Hours. Pure unfiltered Pop Magic. Singer-songwriters and bands of the world; want to learn how to write an insanely catchy melody? Study this one. Ascension. Add in a fog machine at full blast and a sci-fi laser light show and you’ll have hundreds of people going absolutely bat-shit bonkers. Fact.

How could you know what it feels like to fight the hounds of Hell?

I Blame Myself. A phoenix rising from the ashes. This is your headphone audio exorcism. It does take many years of practice to craft tunes like this. Dreamers, keep practicing. This is how the chorus and crescendo are supposed to sound.

From http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catharsis

ca·thar·sis noun \kə-ˈthär-səs\: the act or process of releasing a strong emotion (such as pity or fear) especially by expressing it in an art form.

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Everything Is Embarrassing makes an appearance later in the set and the audience shrieks like it’s a last-minute touchdown. This Big Hit doesn’t define or limit her in any way. She’s already pushing further and farther beyond. Still, it’s a Neo-classic.

My somber wish In Memoriam was granted when the opening chords of Sunday Morning by Lou Reed rang out. It’s the first track from The Velvet Underground & Nico album and yes it was a Sunday morning when Lou moved on. Ask and you shall receive. Strands and branches of infinity twirling out above us…

Oh Japanese Jesus… Oh Japanese Jesus, Come on… I’m gearing up…I’m gearing up for a Japanese Christmas… Oh Japanese Jesus, Come on…

Omanko. I can’t explain exactly Why? but Omanko is devastatingly excellent and maybe as good or better than anything I’ve heard all year. I don’t even want to try to analyze it. I don’t need to, just go listen to it and you’ll get it. Top Five contender for Best Songs of 2013. Early call for my favorite off the new album, tied with Heavy Metal Heart.

I won’t forget the time Sky started sobbing in the middle of Sad Dream at the Bootleg Theater show of early 2013. It’s never pleasant to see someone cry. You always hope they don’t, that they battle on and keep it together. It’s awkward for everyone. You’re thinking; “Hmm. How do I react to this? I don’t like this feeling! Sad confusion?” They’re probably thinking; “I’m crying in front of all these people staring at me.”

It was the second verse or so of Sad Dream and Sky was crying, holding the microphone away and turning from the crowd. Her bandmates looked worried. Fans started cheering and clapping, urging her on to continue. She offered some anxious apologies. The crowd showered encouragement at her. The band kicked back in and she belted out the rest of the song with tangible slow-burning anguish.

I’ve enjoyed hundreds of memorable shows from the tiniest dank clubs to the biggest outdoor arenas. I can’t recall any similar feeling comparable to that moment at the Bootleg. You root for her because she’s tough and she must have gone through some serious shit to get that way.

He was of a different generation and gender but the actor James Dean had the same quality. When you watch James Dean on film, its vividly clear that he’s gone beyond the surface of acting. He is diving into the well of his own most brutal life experiences and excavating the pain and anger to find the flowers and gems of redemption.

I can feel the pulse of my Heavy Metal Heart, my Heavy Metal Heart Heart Heart oh-ohh…

Right here, right now, Sky is The Best. You’re welcome to disagree, but you’ll really be missing out on some phenomenal music. Go buy the album and just enjoy how fun and cathartic it is. Welcome to 2000-Now and welcome to New Pop. NEO Pop. Try NOT over-thinking so much and embrace it like the ambient synths embrace the diamond-cut electric guitars. Years from now Night Time, My Time will be praised as an iconic musical moment from the second decade of the new millennium.

Oh Japanese Jesus… Oh Japanese Jesus, Come on… 

(Repeat into infinity……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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*All italicized song lyrics copyright Sky Ferreira.

Night Time, My Time is available on iTunes.

VISCERAL ESTRANGED FURY

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Artist: SAVAGES

Venue: EL REY Theater, Hollywood

Date: Wednesday July 24th, 2013

FUTURE SCHOOL AND THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP…LAVA-FLOW CREEPING LANDSLIDES AND STREET FIGHTERS…LET GO AND FALL FOR THE CHARMING MENACE OF SAVAGES…

West Hollywood, the El Cid theater on a weeknight in late July of the year MMXIII. Seekers are amassed in a cavernous hall draped and colored deep red in every direction. You slither through the crowd toward the front, drawn forward by the rumbling magnetism of four women on stage. Punk-Rock tight pants and tees in all black save for one in a pearl white shirt.

Sonic simmering, a slow-burn building to a volcanic crescendo of passion or the aggressive impact of an explosive punch of volume and tempo. Both have their own moments. Sometimes you want no one else but Dee Dee Ramone wailing out the “one-two-three-four” intro to ten songs in a row. Other times, it’s all about the ethereal Mood, an escalating seduction of the audience / listener(s) by the band / artist(s).

Savages are a four-piece Post-Punk group from London. Together they are a unique synthesis of four brooding young women, growling and glowering with a threatening allure. At first listen they even sound odd, not for negative reasons but because most bands (especially in Hollywood) in 2013 are not writing and performing in the defiant, droning rhythmic punk-thrash style Savages are.

Every modern musician or artist is a special result of influences from the past being absorbed, blender-shredded and re-born by the creative subconscious. In the colossal, imaginary ‘Earth’s Greatest Record Store’, there resides every single piece of recorded music in human history. Browsing the brimming aisles of this Cosmic Ameoba Records, you can find the chemical compounds to assemble the core sound of Savages by boiling and brewing the base elements of Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Public Image Limited.

Despite that simplified comparison, it’s fair to say that Savages sound like NOTHING this music connoiesseur has EVER heard before.

STREET FIGHTING WOMEN

Drummer Fay Milton attacks the kit. The beats are measured and precise, pounding and filling the large room with a heavy thump. This drumming is easy to groove to. Milton plays with the brash confidence all really good drummers display, a brash honest pummeling attitude of “I’m going to make one incredible hell of a racket here, and you’re gonna like it!” She’s convincing.

Bassist Ayse Hassan rumbles along in the low end thunder zone with the drums. It’s an edgy pulse at a pace that saunters slowly at first then rises into hammering fury, like a human heart careening from calm rest into wild excitement and adrenaline. Fay and Ayse make for a solid, kick-ass combo. This catchy, dark, rocking sound pleasantly anchors the core vibe of Savages. These rhythms are not the most complicated, they’re repetitious but charming and fun to casually bounce along to.

Guitarist Gemma Thompson squeals and riffs in the trebly, distorted and boosted stratosphere above the rhythm section. A variety of Fender guitars provide booming low-note valleys as well as screeching lines of intense harmony. The guitar is not looping traditional patterns and leads across the verse and chorus structure, it’s painting and coloring textures and emphasizing moments. Overall it’s something a little different, and very effective. Which is a great way to describe the band in general.

Vocalist Jehnny Beth is not the traditional format female lead singer you would expect, and no less of a STAR for it. If anything, her rarely-seen particular blend of controlled fury and power of presence make her stand far out from the crowd as a singer you don’t quickly forget. She had every single person in the crowded venue completely entranced. Jehnny has a slight but noticeable Franco-European accent. It’s clearly not a voice from these shores. It wasn’t easy to decipher every word of every line given the style of music, but you certainly get the idea. Jehnny Beth is having a good time venting. She is also not kidding in the slightest and would seem at ease in a street fight. There is a distinct and unmistakable toughness to her. The specific sources of her rage aren’t announced, but they don’t need to be, we all feel it. It felt very real, not an acting stage-show pose or contrivance.

However, for all this mention of rough-edged attitude, it’s important to point out that the songs are melodic and catchy. After building the melodic tension to incredible levels, they really get grooving on a landslide riff plus punchy vocals and you don’t want it to end. You want it to stay up high and not come down, because it’s pretty damn wild and thrilling up there. Savages are pretty wildly thrilling all around.

FUTURE SCHOOL

Few would argue against the opinion that pop-culture trends come and go in rapid succession in the Modern Age. Maybe in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties you could map out major changes in music trends approximately every 4-6 years. Today those numbers have shrunk to every 1-3 years, or less. Around roughly 2009-2010 Psychedelic-Computer-Rock was strumming and chirping at all the hip bars, clubs and parties. This style of Beatles-meets-Eighties-Nintendo soundtrack was succeeded by the Digital Nervous Breakdown of Dubstep. Dubstep caught on quick, but it didn’t have much lasting power, so as the masses searched for the New Buzz the next logical step was Full Throttle “Electronic Dance Music”, or ‘EDM’ if you’d rather.

EDM is peaking right now, this summer of 2K13, brought to full global dominance by the French duo praised as early pioneers of the sound. The smash album Random Access Memories is the sound of “real instruments” (remember those?) played by human players. Daft Punk’s statement is a chandelier of Disco-Soul-Rock proclaiming their own personal boredom with EDM.

Watching Savages felt like seeing a strong contender for What’s Next. They could catch a major wave if they’re lucky, because their sound is a counter-point growth out of most of what EDM is about. It’s a step in evolution that keeps the tempos and crowd-pleasing low end pulse and does it with real instruments and heavy loads of emotional passion from the singer.

The beats are heavy but simple enough to groove on easily, the melodies bounce, attack and howl in repeated lines full of estranged fury. All the sounds you’re hearing are being played by people right in front of you, there are no DJ or backing tracks filling in. It’s a comfortable Next Step on from EDM, just familiar enough to what you already like and just new enough to make it glisten and sparkle when it hits your ears.

Challenging, seductive and visceral. Singing and blasting like a beautiful menace. SAVAGES.

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Find them at savagesband.com

YOU NEED TO VISIT TWIN PEAKS

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TELEVISION FROM A DIFFERENT DIMENSION…THE ENDURING MYSTERY OF  DOUGLAS FIR TREES…DAMN FINE COFFEE AND DAMN FINE ENTERTAINMENT…

Twenty-three years since its original broadcast, the early nineties series Twin Peaks remains in a league of its own as a primetime television show. Maybe once or twice a decade an exceptional classic appears, such as The Simpsons, Sienfeld or Friends. Even if you aren’t a fan of those three series you could acknowledge they’ve had a massive impact on countless shows that followed. The best elements that made The Simpsons, Sienfeld and Friends runaway hits are now token go-to formulas that have spawned so many hits they can almost be considered specific genres, possibly; animated social satire (cartoons for grown-ups), snarky awkward-situational banter spiked with oddballs (“You’re not going to believe this, but…”) and the Big City life fantasy beyond all established real-world logic (hang out, hook up, hang out, repeat).

The same genre-establishing (cliffhanger action-comedy labyrinth of twists, turns, clues and holy crap did you see the show last night?) influence could be said for Twin Peaks, and it only consists of one-and-a-half seasons plus a feature film prequel story. It breaks down as an hour-and-a-half long pilot followed by 28 episodes each just under an hour, bookended by the prequel feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

While it’s not as well known as Homer, George or Rachel’s haircut, Twin Peaks is certifiably an overall artistic masterpiece. It remains an enduring body of rich, layered work that is deservedly the subject of study in major universities. Twin Peaks is to primetime television of the late eighties / early nineties what The Velvet Underground was to subversively popular alternative music of the late nineteen-sixties and forever more.

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Though it was conceived and produced in the transition years between the nineteen eighties and nineties, the world of Twin Peaks seems to be from a different time altogether. It’s difficult to date precisely. The phones and electronics all look like the late-eighties, but the teenagers dress like the mid-fifties.  This is especially featured by the high school girls in their sweaters, tiered skirts and black and white saddle shoes, like they’re headed to an early hip-swinging Elvis concert.

The main drive of the first 16 episodes is the criminal investigation into the murder of teenager Laura Palmer. The real heart of the show is the people who make up the small rural town of Twin Peaks. It’s a soap opera fueled by the constant drama of their good and bad sides, in connection to mystical, otherworldly dimensions that are rarely, if ever actually seen but often referred to by key characters. Interesting heroes and villains of every kind are continually torn between temptation, desire and greed versus honesty, justice and empathy. Above them all, the owls are watching, ghostly winds bluster through the pine trees and something wicked past explanation lurks in the night shadows of the forest…

For all the darkness, there’s a welcome balance of light. Comedy of various degrees pops up often to soften the tension and suspense. A unique tone of morality and idealism is present, and is best described in an earnest quote from FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (quirky Superman-esque Kyle MacLachlan) to his colleague Albert (played by excellent bulldog set-chewer Miguel Ferrer), who has recently arrived to town and badly ruffled a few feathers.

From Episode 3, “Rest in Pain”,  written by Harley Peyton;

“I have only been in Twin Peaks a short time, but in that time I have seen decency, honor and dignity. Murder is not a faceless event here, it is not a statistic to be tallied up at the end of the day. Laura Palmer’s death has affected each and every man, woman and child because life has meaning here, every life. That’s a way of living I thought had vanished from the Earth, but it hasn’t Albert, it’s right here in Twin Peaks.”

One clever aspect of the show is Invitation To Love, an over-the-top soap-drama shown on television sets in various locations. Invitation To Love is goofy and cartoonish, but the events mirror and act as comments on what’s happening in the storyline of Twin Peaks. It’s a show within a show. The Invitation To Love announcer voiceover reads the name of one actress playing twin sisters Emerald and Jade. The Twin Peaks camera pans from the flickering TV set back to the somber living room of the Palmer home, where we now see Madeline, the dark-haired cousin of the late blond Laura Palmer. Besides the hair color difference and a pair of glasses, Madeline and Laura look exactly alike because they’re played by the same actress; All-American girl Sheryl Lee.

Twin Peaks is always commenting on the duality found in all people and how the community at large presents itself. How do secrets and hidden desires really drive external behavior? Everyone has secrets, even ultra-clean Agent Cooper, though his aren’t explored until late in Season Two. On a level beyond the horror and comedy of Twin Peaks, the commentary on society is often profound, bordering on genius.

In the middle of a banquet party for Icelandic investors at the Great Northern Hotel, grieving father Leland Palmer begins to have a public nervous breakdown. He stands alone in the middle of the room moaning and tragically half-dancing with himself. He shakes and rocks with spasms of unhinged madness. Slick big-wheel Benjamin Horne implores his mistress co-conspirator Catherine Martell to dance with Leland, to disarm a potential crisis scene which will scare off the Icelandic moneybags. Catherine hops out on the dance floor with Leland. She mimics the way he grips his head in pain as if it’s some newfangled jazz-hands dance move. Soon the room is filled with people doing ridiculous variations of “the Leland”. The foreign visitors are having fun, the champagne flows and the party swings on, ugly scene averted. In the wings, sensitive teenager Audrey Horne hides and quietly cries at the emotional gruesomeness of it all.

No one will risk actually trying to help Leland, to comfort him, a shattered man whose daughter was murdered mere days before. They humor him briefly only to save embarrassment in front of outsiders, then shuffle him off so the manufactured fake laughs can continue uninterrupted. Somewhere in this scene is an appraisal of how we as a modern society, in so many cases from homelessness, domestic abuse, intolerance to pollution (and many more), would rather look away and pretend it doesn’t exist than have to directly confront and try to solve or at least help the problem. Better to not ‘stick your neck out’.

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The shining gems of Twin Peaks are the actors and the beguiling array of characters they bring to life. One of the more cryptic fan-favorites is known as “The Log Lady”, played with award-worthy gusto by the remarkable Catherine Coulson.

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From the “Log Lady Intro” to Episode 1 “Traces to Nowhere”(not the pilot), written by David Lynch;

“I carry a log, yes. Is it funny to you? It is not to me. Behind all things there are reasons. Reasons can even explain the absurd. Do we have the time to learn the reasons behind human beings varied behavior? I think not. Some take the time. Are they called detectives? Watch, and see what life teaches.”

When Twin Peaks originally aired on network primetime TV, no Log Lady intro was present, although the character was part of the supporting cast. The first time Twin Peaks was rerun in syndication on the Bravo network, co-creator David Lynch wrote short introduction scenes featuring Catherine Coulson as the Log Lady for each individual episode (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Log_Lady). If you haven’t seen them, each one looks exactly the same; a serious middle-aged woman with red hair and red glasses sits in a chair holding a large wooden log. She holds the log in her lap, cradled like an infant, sitting next to a wooden table with a teacup in a room paneled in wood and stone. Some of the monologues from these scenes are outright bizarre, right in key with the shows overall tone. They seem to reference the events of the upcoming episode in varying degrees of direct metaphors or mind-boggling riddles. For example;

“Pie. Whoever invented the pie? Here was a great person. In Twin Peaks we specialize in cherry pie and huckleberry pie. We do have many other types of pies, and at the Double-R Diner, Norma knows how to make them better than anyone I have ever known. I hope Norma likes me. I know I like her and respect her. I have spit my pitch gum out of my mouth onto her walls and floors, and sometimes onto her booths. Sometimes I get angry and do things I’m not proud of. I do love Norma’s pies. I love pie with coffee.”

It’s almost like Lynch and Frost are trying to find a group of images particularly American in style and tradition that are simple yet profound enough to suggest some relatable pattern of keys to purity, truth and possibly happiness. Where Jeff Bridges’ “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski has his famous signature sweaters, white russians and love of bowling, Kyle MacLachlan’s “Special Agent Dale Cooper” has his FBI-man trenchcoat, donuts and love of pie with coffee.

This motif is present throughout the series, and best personified by the central hero of Agent Cooper. Initially, Lynch and Frost did not name the episodes, but when the series aired in Germany, each episode was titled. These titles were subsequently translated in English and have been used by fans ever since. Episode 2 is known as alternately “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” or “Zen and the Art of Killer-Catching”. Eastern mysticism meets small-town America in a murder mystery soap opera. It sounds ludicrous on paper but it’s enchanting on-screen.

Composer Angelo Badalamenti delivered a score that is tremendously moving and superb. Like many elements in Twin Peaks, the quality level is worthy of mega-budget feature films. You can’t fully comprehend the word “haunting” without hearing the music of Twin Peaks. The soundtrack can also be playful and mercurial, bopping along with a rockabilly funk like a 1950’s teenager buzzing on an overload of caffeine and sugar from the local soda fountain. In some moments the melodies are beautiful and angelic, effortlessly soaring into heavenly grace. Just as you feel totally comfortable at ease it careens into passages of darkness and dread that not only suggest but even threaten to summon true evil.

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The series is a mutant hybrid of high-caliber, fine-crafted writing, acting, casting, directing, production design, everything involved in making a show. The locations are so unique and clever they almost become characters themselves; from the coffee cups of the Double R Diner to the endless wood paneling of the Great Northern Hotel. The surroundings of each scene have a strong presence. You are somewhere else while you’re watching. The sense of transportation and immersion is palpable. The shots of flora and fauna in the rugged Northwest are striking; majestic Douglas fir trees, mysterious owls looming in the sky, the churning white mist of the towering waterfall behind the Great Northern Hotel.

Twin Peaks is an unconventional experiment that should not have worked as well as it does. It aggressively breaks the rules and common practices of television. Mark Frost, David Lynch and a top-shelf cast and crew created an anomaly, a fascinating enigma that continues to endure, inspire and captivate new audiences. As the charismatic red-suited “Man From Another Place” of The Black Lodge / Red Room (played by memorable Michael J. Anderson) would say backwards in distorted slow-motion; “She’s full of secrets…”

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*A very special thanks to the staff of the University of Southern California’s “Voices And Visions” program for the exceptional Spring 2013 Twin Peaks retrospective and all the special guests who attended for inspiring this article.

SAYING GRACE WITH HIP PRIEST

Film: HIP PRIEST

Directed by Gregg De Domenico

Inspired by a Paul McDonough photographImage

Run Time: 27 minutes

CONFESSIONS, RITUALS AND REDEMPTION…SEARCHING FOR SALVATION IN THE RUBBLE OF THE ANCIENT MODERN CITY…SAYING GRACE WITH HIP PRIEST

 

People are often reflections of their environments, and vice versa. Surgeons gamble with life and death in operating rooms. Performers conjure magic on stages and athletes thrill crowds with finesse on the designated fields or courts of their chosen game. For an ordained clergyman, one assumes their central place of business is the chapel or temple house of worship, where from the altar to the confessional they attend to the spiritual needs of the faithful. 

The main character of the film Hip Priest is identified and referred to simply as “Priest”. His true church is the sprawling city streets. Priest’s followers and constituency are all the people of urban society who make the cold concrete hum, buzz, sing and cry with living energy. Priest is a beacon of spirituality for the many wounded lost souls floating through the wreckage, desperate for sympathy to ease their palpable suffering. He carries a gentle understanding, a charming sense of humor and a warm lack of judgement. In the mold of a classic local folk hero, Priest is beloved and respected by everyone from the innocent children cheerfully dancing and playing on the sidewalks in the afternoon sun to the rough-edged older crowd of grown up kids getting loose at a live rock show in the ominous night.

Hip Priest succeeds as a memorable and intellectually satisfying film on several levels. From a visual perspective it looks gorgeous. Shot in black and white, every frame is elegant in composition and dynamic without appearing manufactured or fake. The lack of color beyond dark, light and gray tones gives a pleasing aesthetic that enhances the emotional weight of the subject matter. Whether intentional or not, the exterior shots of New York City boulevards, parks and architecture strongly echo the crumbling ruins of ancient Rome. The city itself is another lost soul, exhibiting both the fantastic ambition of the initial dream of the metropolis super-structure and the battered morning-after reality of survival in harsh conditions. 

Priest glides along, eyes shielded behind thick black sunglasses, crisp short-brimmed black hat and ever-present smoldering cigarette dangling. The film is very much about playing off the contrasting images of the traditionally typically restrained, orthodox conservatism of professional priests re-imagined as a well-dressed hipster preacher man with a sly wit, a street-wise swagger and a familiarity with the edgy, dangerous side of the nightlife. Priest takes confessions in bars from emotional folks getting an early buzz. He tenderly consoles an agonized woman reeling over a visit from the dreaded touch of Death. For his personal pleasure and release, he goes to small rock club to watch a band play, shaking his head in affirmation with the new wave trance of the music as guys bash around up front and girls dance up and down around him. 

Leading man Gerard is very convincing and natural as Priest. His presence on screen is formidable, cutting an imposing figure in all black as he marches through the urban jungle. Gerard  brings a wry sense of humor and emotional weight to Priest, creating a well-rounded, charming and believable human character. We all wish we had someone like Priest roaming our neighborhood, to console us in despair and laugh with us in joy. The definition of where Priest ends and Gerard begins is a comfortable gray area. This aspect is another mirror of the city itself. 

Are the people finding true happiness in the rituals from chess to softball to whiskey, achieving a poetic level of simple, humble grace and bliss? Or are they screaming and whimpering under the massive weight of all that immense stone, steel and rubble, being slowly crushed by the constant pressure of feeling overcrowded, under-paid and rattled by sensory overload? Ask anyone who has lived in any big city for long enough to not feel like a tourist and they’ll confirm it’s always a bit of both, another washed out pale gray, deciding its level of hope or doom based on the momentary mood of the day.

Hip Priest winds down with a hopeful sense the citizens are in good hands. They’re not yet completely doomed. Salvation and redemption are not fully out of reach. Spiritual older brother Priest is there to help show them a simple, straightforward path toward forgiveness and light. Some of the best scenes in the movie occur when Priest delivers several monologues directly to the audience, quoting passages from the pages of the thick, tattered book he carries everywhere, like a personal updated edition of the Bible. If the Old Testament and New Testament comprise the original, Priest reads from the Gray Testament; a compilation mix-tape of verse from Oscar Wilde, Alan Watts and Henry Miller commenting on the Ego-wracked hysteria of modern society. Not truly despicable nor close to glory, somewhere in-between the human drama unfolds like an infinite puzzle within a maze within a nightmare and a dream.

*Watch Hip Priest at

http://www.gerardgerard.com