Featured, Interviews

The Astronaut: An Interview with Lights & Motion

From the embers of a thousand stars comes the music of Lights & Motion; the musical project of Christoffer Franzen. A self-taught musician of introspection, his music is a dream-like journey into the stories of his imagination. Written through the clouds of insomnia, Franzen has painted the night sky with his latest album Save Your Heart. Released via noted indie label Deep Elm Records just months after his debut, Save Your Heart has received praise and accolades from countless sources, all citing Franzen’s ability to turn the greatest of human inspiration into music.

We sit down with Franzen to talk about his craft, his passion and where his journey will take his listeners.

Congrats on the release, how does it feel now that the album is out after all those months of work?

Thank you!

Well you know, it’s sort of a weird feeling, because I have been working so hard and so focused towards making this album a reality that I haven’t really stopped and taken a look around. I never took a break after releasing Reanimation, my first album, because once that was done I got this feeling that I kind of have right now, which is a feeling a completion in the sense that this has been the big goal all along, but also a bit of emptiness due to the fact that this is something thats been taking up most of my life for this past year. You go from working 40 hours a week non-stop on this thing and then all of the sudden it’s done, it’s out, and people hear it for the first time and it’s somewhat scary. It’s been yours alone for such a long time and then you get to share it with the world, and I think that this is something that all creative people experience, the gratitude of having your work being noticed and the fear of letting it go, and to say that this actually is the finished thing, and I’m not going to work on it anymore. It’s out of my hands. I feel proud

What about all the overwhelmingly positive feedback?

The feedback, as you said, has been overwhelmingly positive and that’s so humbling, I can’t tell you. Because you don’t really think about this things when you are in the middle of the process, or the eye of the storm as I like to call it, because then it seems so far away until a possible release, so you sort of just focus on the music and that lays before you. But to get this much appreciation is extremely fun and something I never count on because who knows what people are going to think. But for the most part, the thing that makes me really amazed is that people still take time of their day to actually sit down and listen to something that I’ve created. That still blows my mind, and to be able to share this music with people from all around the world, it gives me endless joy. The feeling is like you are alone in the creation, because I always work alone on these Lights & Motion albums, it’s just me in a dark studio all through the nights, but then you walk out the door when it’s all finished and suddenly I feel like I’m in a band of 30,000 people, it’s absolutely amazing. I really feel like I have a close bond with my fans, and maybe it has something to do with what I just mentioned before, being alone in the creative space, but I feel such a commitment to them, and it’s that personal interaction that makes me work that much harder in order to achieve my goals.

How did you get started with the “self-learning” of music?

That’s a good question. I first started playing guitar when I was 16, that was the time I got my first ever acoustic guitar for christmas, so I began pretty late. Then I practiced for probably 4-5 hours every day (my poor mom and dad) and then I got into bands and all these things that you do as a young musician.

After a few years of things not really taking off, I started to feel this itch to not having to depend on other people for creative purposes. I used to wish that I was a singer and not just a guitar-player because then I actually could steer the ship a bit more and not be forced to check the schedules of 4 other people with busy lives.

I managed to get access to a studio, a very simple set-up, and during a time of sleep depravation and insomnia I started to basically spend all my nights there by myself, just fiddling on different instruments and ideas. I used to record small pieces of music that sounded awful, but I loved it because it gave me such creative freedom.

I would go there on saturday nights while everyone was out partying, and I wanted to join them but I just couldn’t let go off the studio. Just 30 more minutes I would say when they called and I would be there until 5 am.

Eventually after battling with this thought that I wanted to do something by myself, I decided to buy a bass-guitar, some drumsticks, I started to play the piano, and even though I didn’t really know any theory, I could hear when it resonated and that was a big kick. So I would try all these different instruments and record myself over and over in layers so that I could make it sound huge and not just like one guy in a dark room. I just had such a need for control and I knew exactly what I wanted, so I ended up doing every single sing by myself. I learned all the instruments I needed for what I could hear in my head, I recorded and recorded and recorded until my ears bled, and slowly I got better at it

I now have two albums out, and still I have no formal training. I have been responsible for composing, playing, arranging, engineering, producing and even mixing. And that’s what I always wanted. To be able to go from the first fleeting idea to a finished product without breaking the chain of command, which in this case is just me.

I have never actually considered myself to be that musically gifted. I always just said that you just gotta put in the hours and practice. And a lot of that self doubt was blown away after I took the courage to record Reanimation. And that I owe everyone out there who has emailed me, written on Facebook or soundcloud about how they enjoyed the music and made it a part of their day. That was incredibly humbling for me, and for that I will always be grateful.

Save Your Heart comes less than a year after your debut, how did it come around so quickly- was it just natural inspiration to keep writing?

After Reanimation was out I felt that I had so much creativity left that I didn’t want to stop. I jumped right in and started recording ideas, the first of them being ”Heartbeats”, the opening track. Even though it was written probably 1 month after the first album was out, I already knew it was going to open my second album, whenever that was going to be or whatever it was going to sound like. Then of course I would sit on things for months, just listening back and forth and adding sprinkles of sonic fairy dust and try to really make it shine in it’s own right. I tend to work like that; very fast and effective when laying down the foundation, but then I spend an enormously long time finding the sound for things, getting into the arrangements and the production side of things. In the opening track there is probably 80-90 different tracks layered, and if you listen really carefully in good speakers I’m sure you would be able to make it a lot of details in the background, ambient movements and stuff that you might not think much about but if you were to take those sounds out, a lot of the magic of the song is lost.

How did you and Deep Elm come together? It seems like the perfect fit for both of you.

Deep Elm signed me back in 2012, after hearing one of my first tracks called ”Home”, which was released on my first album, but back then it was only a demo. I knew them through Dorena who I had met in the studio, and I thought that they would be a perfect fit for my vision of this project. Since then, John (who runs Deep Elm) and I have been working very close throughout this entire process. They give me complete trust and creative space, and I look to them for everything surrounding the releases to the day to day givings of me sending them tracks and asking for their opinion. Its’s been working really well I got to say, for the both of us. I’m just grateful we got the chance to meet because it was a series of small stuff that led us there.

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Listen to music from Save Your Heart:

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You talk about music similar to painting and how your songs have a certain hue to them, what are your favourite “colours” to paint with at the moment?

Yeah that’s right, and I understand that it might be a hard and abstract concept to grasp but I really do think of music in terms of colors. If something sounds earthbound and calm I immediately think of colors like yellow and brown, whilst sounds that have a big quality and a sort of distance to them are blue/violet to me, and blue/violet was exactly what I wanted to bring into this record, Save Your Heart. This is all very visible in the artwork as well, done by an amazing artist called Elias Klingen. I went to him and I pretty much said; “Look. I have all these colors in mind and I want to make em shine and blend together to represent the music I’m writing for this album. It’s called ‘Save Your Heart’, so maybe that could be a starting-point for you. I want the colors to feel alive and to illustrate the sonic identity of this record.” He did an amazing job, I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I wanted this album to venture higher up in the skies, towards the stratosphere, and then stay there. In comparison, Reanimation is more earthy for me, it takes place down here while Save Your Heart is up above the clouds in terms of the sonic identity.

What was your process for writing Save Your Heart, did you write a lot of the material at once, or was it more of a gradual process?

I never really took a break, but the process was different. Some stuff came right away and then I worked on it for months. Snow was an early one, and I probably did 3 different versions of the outro before settling on the one you hear now, and that’s also how I work. I search for that, in my mind, perfect thing.

Some of the tracks like “Save Your Heart” and “Atlas” came to life just 3-4 weeks before the mastering was scheduled to begin. Then we have tracks like “Sparks”, “Bright Eyes” and “We Are Ghosts”, who have in one way or another been sitting around on tapes for years. I tried to dust them off and I obviously changed a lot of things within them but It’s kind of funny to think that these demos I made back when I was just alone in a studio with no name or anything, would end up on this album all this time later. Very rewarding for me personally.

lights3andmo

Your songs have a very dream-like, stratospheric aura to them— would you say that Save Your Heart has a distinct “theme” or story to it?

I always try to think conceptually and visually while I write. Reanimation came from me not being able to sleep, and by chance discovering this amazing world which I would get lost in, and I never wanted to wake up. I would sit in my studio at winter, 4 in the morning, looking out the window and see everything being lit up and covered by snow, and I would feel like I was the only living person awake in the entire city. That was pretty magical sometimes. For Save Your Heart, I really wanted it to be an escapism as well, but the main thing for me with this one was that determination of having the courage to go with your passion, and not cave in even though it’s easy to do. This project takes up a huge amount of time and effort in my life, and sometimes it’s hard you know? You see friends and family doing “proper” jobs and giving in to the “conformity” of society. At times it’s a struggle not to let your passion go because it’s hard doing this. And that is really what Save Your Heart is for me. It’s an encouragement to stick with the things you love and see them through. If you find that thing, you owe it to yourself to keep it alive. I think that’s extremely important. For me it is.

Do you have a particular track on Save Your Heart you can say was the most satisfying to complete?

Well it’s hard because every song has different things related to it, but if I have to pick one I would say “Heartbeats”. Simply because that song turned out exactly as I had hoped, and it was the foundation on which I would then proceed on with the other songs of the album.

Will you be touring in support of the record?

I would love to tour, but right now it’s not planned at all. I spend so much time writing this music that once I’m done, I sort of step out into the world again from my studio and realize that it’s a much bigger place then I remembered, and so if I were to tour I would want to do it just as had envisioned it, like I did with my music.

It would take a lot of planning and ambition, and I have simply not had the time to do that properly yet with touring. But I’m thinking about it a lot now so who knows..

Now that you’ve conquered the stars so to speak, where do you go next with Lights & Motion music?

Haha, well I definitely want to keep writing. I might release some new music next year and in the meantime I want to keep writing film music which I have been doing a lot this part year in between the more traditional L&M songs, and these pieces of music has become quite popular on Soundcloud, so that’s a big ambition right now.

I would love to score a film someday. That’s a big dream of mine for sure. I am such a movie-goof and I probably check IMDB on my phone 5 times everyday for new trailers, so being able to score one one day would be so cool.

Who knows..

If listeners can take one thing away from your music, what would you like that one thing to be?

A sense of hope.

 

Lights & Motion’s new album, Save Your Heart, is available now via Deep Elm Records. You can read our review for it here.

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Featured, Interviews, Music

Show Your Teeth: An interview with Year of the Tiger

New York-based electro-rock act Year of the Tiger have been quietly making noise in a busy city. The duo have been crafting their brand with attitude-a-plenty, taking the best from influential figures like Karen O and infusing it with their own personality. They’re music savvy, industry intelligent and hungry to claw through the buzz-heavy capitol of the music world.

You can check out a stream of their brand new track, “Push”, at the end of the interview.

Year of the Tiger is a musical endeavor you do with…?

Sable: Henry is my BFF– we’ve been best friends since we happened to be neighbors our junior year at SUNY Purchase. I think for a while we were “married” on Facebook, which while endearingly cute probably just ended up cock-blocking each other. We always thought it’d be cool to do a musical project together and then we finally did (3 years later, natch) this past winter around the time we both lost our jobs and had the free time to do it.

The three bands that immediately come to mind for me are: Goldfrapp, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Peaches. Hot or cold with this assessment?

S: Hot, hot hot! We are so inspired by all three of those bands—I’m more so from the YYY camp than Goldfrapp and Peaches. Considering it’s just us—Henry on the computer/trigger board, and me with the microphone—it’s like front woman duty x10. And as far as stellar front women go, you really can’t top Karen O. She’s brilliant.

Henry: I really love elements from all three – the rock out, adrenaline fueling rawness of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the brilliant production and melodies from Goldfrapp, and the heavy, grinding, explicitness of Peaches. As well as the feeling throughout of total confidence – like they know exactly what they’re doing, and don’t give a fuck. And they all put on some badass shows. So yeah. That’s inspiration all right.

Is there an accurate term you’d want people to describe the music as? Electro-pop?

S: We’ve been called electro-clash, pop-rock, electro-rock, electro-grunge… I guess when I describe our genre I’d probably be most likely to say “electronic rock.” To me it doesn’t sound so pop, but to everyone else it seems to. It’s not as important to us that people can accurately label us so much as they enjoy what they’re listening to.

H: Christopher Weingarten (music blogger for the Village Voice) dubbed Rockit as “anthemic noise pop,” which I thought was interesting. I guess I don’t really know where we fit exactly; electro rock perhaps? Or rather, I don’t really care all that much.

How does the songwriting take place? Is there a natural process to it?

S: The backing tracks are all made using Ableton and Digital Performer and then come the lyrics. The words sometimes get changed or moved around when Henry shows the songs to me, but otherwise that’s as natural as it gets. So far I’ve only written lyrics for one song, “White Flag”, that Henry made the beats for afterwards.

H: Yup, that’s pretty much it. Though sometimes the lyrics or even just a generic idea comes first.

What are your instruments of choice?

H: A lot of guitar, a lot of chopped, gritty synths, and heavy drums.

S: Yelling. Mostly yelling. And wrath.

I’m really liking the up-tempo, harder hitting nature of “White Flag”- which artists would you say have been an indirect influence to your music outside of the electro realm?

S: Thanks! (That’s the ONE song I’ve written lyrics for so far) Well, I suppose this goes back to Karen O. She can pretty much do no wrong in my book. But otherwise we’re influenced by a lot of stuff when songwriting—David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Metric, The White Stripes, Quentin Tarantino, La Femme Nikita… pretty much anything badass that just doesn’t give a F**k.

H: For me, I find I get a lot of inspiration from anything that really captures a specific feeling or theme, regardless of media type. Not literally, but stylistically and emotionally. Whenever I write, I always try to do that. For example, rather than scream ‘I’m angry’ or something, I’d rather whisper fuck over the sound of a distorted siren or something.

This is an entirely DIY project thus far- how are you both approaching the idea of labels and the music industry? A positive or a negative?

S: When we first put our stuff out there this past February and emailed a handful of music bloggers for press, we actually had a really great reception, much to our surprise (and delight). We believed that our material was worth listening to so it was really encouraging that the internet was into Year of the Tiger as well. A label isn’t all that necessary for us as far as production is concerned. We piqued the interest of a major label very early on based off that initial press, but I think we’re much too new for them. I’m pretty sure majors want an up-and-coming buzz band with an established fan base that they can sort of “take it from there.” We’d actually prefer a booker or booking agent first rather than a label since they can get you on good bills to build said fan base. So we’d be more interested in courting those types at this point. We just want to play awesome shows! Labels will come when they’re ready for us and hopefully we’ll be ready for them when they do. So… positive until it’s negative?

H: Make awesome music. Get people who like it. Get big enough for label attention, license your music to them, give them a cut and let them do what they do best. Basically, I think labels are good for the business and technical end of things like tour management, publicity and promo, but as far as giving away rights, I think not.  I’m not sold on the idea that the goal is to get ‘signed’ – that doesn’t hold much water for me. It’s what helps us get our music out, and makes it easier for people who like our stuff to get it.

What are your likely tour goals?

S: We’ve been toying with the idea of doing one-off weekend tours to neighboring cities like Philly or Boston to play shows. Only problem is we don’t know anyone or have any connections in pretty much any city outside NY. Bummer, right? I figure that’s the way to DIY, but we definitely wouldn’t be opposed to touring with a bigger band as a supporting act.

Recording plans?

S: We’re always writing new material and recording (we do all the recording and mixing in Henry’s apartment in Brooklyn) and it’s coming along pretty well so far—we’re a pretty minimal operation thankfully making the whole process pretty efficient. We have our demo but we want to have enough songs so that we can sort of curate an album rather than just put the first dozen songs we recorded on a CD. So far I don’t think we’re even at one dozen yet!

H: We record all the time, and test our new stuff live. We like to make rough tracks, see if people are dancing at the show and how it’s received, and then decide if it’s worth keeping.

How friendly is the New York scene- do you see it as a great place to start music in 2010 and beyond?

S: As much I’m in love with this city (more of a love-hate maybe) and it’s been my home my whole life, it’s really not the most fertile environment for new bands starting out. The NYC scene is pretty full of itself and you have to work extra hard for the attention. And then once you get it you’ve still got to prove that you’re worth your weight. It’s a pressure cooker for anyone with grandiose dreams, which definitely weeds out the dilettantes and talentless hacks but at the same time, can be unduly discouraging. There’s a lot of attitude and bullshit you’ve got to push through to get your foot in but once you do, you learn pretty quickly whether or not you’ve got a good thing going, or else you just get chewed up and spit out. NYC has a pretty discerning eye for posers and generally does not take kindly.

The show-going culture in NYC is definitely much more apathetic than elsewhere and for the most part is pretty passive. I tend to chalk it up to the fact that there’s just so much going on every single night that every event’s got competition. Also, everyone’s either got their heads up their own ass or else is working their asses off in this city and probably too tired, stressed out and broke to go out. So on a weeknight at some dive venue, if you can get a crowd on their feet and rock their worlds, it’s doubly gratifying! New York presents a unique challenge in whatever you do just because of its insular nature, but it’s not without rewards. It gives back as much as you put in and it will work for you if you work for it. Which to me is just a thrilling and terrifying concept. It’s kind of like going to see The Wizard (of Oz, I mean).

H: I think it’s a challenge – we’ve been received great online, but it’s another thing to transfer that elsewhere. I love the atmosphere of NYC for music. I just find the scene a bit claustrophobic. We’re not big networkers, and we don’t schmooze, unfortunately… so it’s tricky as we don’t necessarily do that. You really have to party with/know the right people. It adds some extra steps and cold calling, but we’re doing ok so far. We’ve been finding some awesome people along the way who are really into what we do – not just waiting to see what happens. We figure it’s far better to be surrounded by a few genuine people who are great than a lot of people who are marginally interested. The whole point of our project was just to get people to dance, not give a fuck and feel something. Anything. It was never about networking or business! If it’s not fun, what’s the point? We just say fuck it – it’s true that if we can do it here, then we can do it anywhere, and that’s definitely motivating.

AUDIO STREAM: “Push”
http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F5242852&show_comments=true&auto_play=false&color=fffe18 Year of the Tiger – “Push” by soundthesirens

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Album Reviews, Music

Review: Jarrod Gorbel – Devil’s Made a New Friend

Like the early morning rays peering through the cracks at dawn, there is an intangible quality to Jarrod Gorbel’s voice. It is like an awakening, a vast serenity that evokes an almost immeasurable amount of contrasting emotions. His voice is as moving (and sometimes more so) as any music can be; but is as comforting as a well-liked old friend. It shakes and shimmers, cracks, and echoes as it paints from an aural palette of beautifully written Americana. It leaves an indelible mark on his craft and it always has, from the earliest of his material under the Honorary Title moniker, to his brand new solo material, Gorbel’s voice is the silhouette in which all his art is cast in.

Devil’s Made a New Friend could have easily been the follow up to Scream And Light Up The Sky, yet it doesn’t aim to be. It’s not as urgent as the last few Honorary Title albums, but boasts far more vivid textures. The songs take their cue from the topics that have always fuelled his storytelling; personal growth and pain, love and loss, and the understanding of life as you travel down beaten paths and cobblestoned roads through big cities and small towns. But there seems to be a great deal more patience here. There are more string accompaniments, lush keys and floaty riffs; products of more refined songwriting searching for a wider acceptance.

From the opening “Extraordinary” to the single “I’ll Do Better”, it is clear there exists a certain calmness to the material. Fit for Sunday afternoons and lazy evenings, the territory covered topically is often more of a desperate nature. A twinge of sadness and melancholia that is both beautiful and moving. In the aforementioned single, he sings with strange perfection white flag notions of personal acceptance; “Taking me forever to accept this weakness / That I’ve been defeated / I need help, I need you”.

The reworked (full band) version of the previously released “Ten Years Older” (from the terrific EP of the same name) gets a more layered treatment here. The acoustic version was the EP’s most harrowing song- a look at life some ten years down the road where the protagonist discovers that it has in many aspects, passed him by. The percussions and added guitars have given it in a little more depth, but it doesn’t change the emotional pull of the song. When Gorbel sings, with great conviction; “One day you woke up ten years older / Taken prisoner like a soldier / You left your home for what seemed noble / Give anything to do it over”, there is an immediate connection to it. It feels a lot like the possibilities of life stunted by its unpredictable path of choices, addiction, and circumstance.

There are luscious “oohs and aahs” here and there (in “Need For Control”) and there is a slight smoky lounge (dare say, at times baroque-ish in its simplicity) sheen to “Take Me” that comes across as a meeting between The High Llamas and Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips. But it all comes through with ample grace.

Produced by Blake Sennett (of Rilo Kiley fame), Devil’s Made a New Friend is a very assured debut. His music has always worked on a very straightforward acoustic pedestal- buoyed of course by that inescapable voice. The work here however, is his attempt to make the sound distinctly more palatable (in a good way). It is every bit soul-infused serenade as it is a beautiful pop record. It is perhaps Gorbel’s finest outing to date and the comfort found here is quintessential Americana. Recommended, highly.

[xrr rating=4/5]

AUDIO STREAM:
Jarrod Gorbel – I’ll Do Better (from the album Devil’s Made a New Friend)

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Columns, Music

Me and Rivers and Everything You Know

I had a dream about Weezer. It was a strange dream, probably the fourth of fifth of the night. I’m in the process of recovering from illness so these dreams come in an array of medicated madness streaming through my unconsciousness like a good Chris Nolan flick. Like all dreams, I don’t remember how it started or I how I got there, but I do remember being there. I was in a park that looked like every other park, wide and green and filled with the indistinct noises of chatter and moving people. I had just downloaded (illegally of course) the new Weezer album, Hurley, which in my dream had a new dark blue sheen to its artwork. In reality, I think if an image of Hurley had imposed itself into my brain during sleep, this is where my dream would have ended- instantly and abruptly.

In a parallel to reality, my subconscious seemingly spared me the relief of having to actually listen to the album in full. Instead, fast-forwarding to the moment where I had finally hit “stop” and was left with nothing but the feeling of disgust and disappointment. Next thing I know I’m in this park, and I come across Rivers Cuomo sitting on a bench. Still geekily bespectacled, he was now looking unshaven and slightly bedraggled- as if the diminished talent had finally taken it’s toll (like that Keanu meme). He soon told me, as I fumbled with the voice-recorder application on my iPhone (the app finally has a use!), that he was tired of being a rock star.

Some of the details here get a little hazy but I ask him why, among other things, he can’t write more music like he did for that first Blue Album. I tell him it’s still one of the greatest albums ever written (okay, so a slight exaggeration by my dream self- I apparently have no critical control of him) and it seems to bring a light to his face, a brief and recollective smile. Almost as if, he too remembers that one time long ago, he was a great songwriter. One that penned uniquely intelligent but accessible pop songs that were neither patronizing or self-absorbed, but that moment was fleeting, a flicker long gone. “My Name is Jonas”, “Undone- The Sweater Song”, “Say It Ain’t So”, all since replaced by an endless array of tripe like “Pork and Beans”, “The Girl Got Hot” and “Beverly Hills”. It has been one big joke at all of our expenses that only Rivers and the label were in on. How many more terrible videos can we be subjected to? How does the album cover just get worse and worse? No answer.

I ask him if there is any difference to being on Epitaph than it was to being on Geffen before he lets out a prompt, but ample sigh, “no” he says.

This is where the dream ends. As quickly as I had begun asking him all these questions, a pack of older, slightly overweight gypsy-looking women appear at our table with what I can only decipher as either a television or a karaoke machine and scare Rivers away.

So as I awake from this rather hazy slumber, I hastily jot down this bizarrely memorable dream. What was my subconscious telling me? Was it that the side effects of this medicine need to be studied further, or that Weezer have become so appalling that even a drug fueled dream can tell you so. I didn’t even need to listen to the new album to know this is true. And I’m sure that when I do, I will come to the same conclusion.

I am not surprised to hear rumblings are abound that a possible Blue Album/Pinkerton-only tour could happen. Imagine a Weezer performance where you wouldn’t have to listen to anything they wrote after 1996. Glorious. Think of it as ‘Good Time Weezer’ or ‘How Weezer Should Have Ended’.

In case you doubted my subconscious, Weezer have released the first single from their upcoming Epitaph debut streaming below. Safe to say gypsies singing karaoke are much preferred.

“Memories”
http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fsoundcloud.com%2Fepitaph-records%2Fweezer-memories&secret_url=false
Hurley is out September 14th via Epitaph.

For the sake of reference, here is a small reminder of Rivers’ one time genius:

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Television

Why American television needs John Luther

John Luther is not a man of great style, he is not a hero, he is not a soldier, and although he is a brave man, he is not a man of great bravery. Unlike Dexter Morgan, the voices of demons in his heads are the voices of real people, in their flesh that torment his waking hours. He is not a serial killer but at times, he wants to act like one. He is intelligent, haunted, but a good detective, one who battles as many demons as criminals, and he would be perfect for American television.

Luther is a BBC produced television series that aired in the UK this past May, a brutal, distinctly British examination into the life of a murder detective and the evil within and around. Starring Idris Elba (American audiences will be familiar with him from The Wire and more recently, The Office) as John Luther, the series does not hold back from the always difficult life of a police detective- juggling his disintegrating private life (a crumbling marriage) with that of a crime fighter. While topically familiar, it is the method in which this 6-part series plays out that makes it truly memorable. Like The Wire, there is an honesty that paints a picture of grit and turmoil, an underlying imperfection that plagues Luther as a man. When the series begins, Luther is recovering from a botched assignment in which his mental well-being is put into question. Suspension from duty leaves him with nothing but his thoughts to contend with and from here, we see the character’s many layers unfold.

Through circumstances (details withheld to prevent spoilers) he meets a psychopathic woman named Alice Morgan (played with an eerie brilliance by actress Ruth Wilson) that serves as a catalyst for Luther’s constant battles with himself. Alice tortures him mentally, and the fragility of his mind comes as the cost of those around him (most notably his wife Zoe (Indira Varma). His struggles to maintain these pieces gives him an edge over more noted American television characters- who while are dealt with certain turmoil, are never quite taken down a path so dark that we, as the audience, feel genuine fear and sympathy. Unlike the Horatio Caines of the television world, the series creators seem unsympathetic towards Luther- making him strong one moment and distinctly weak the next, almost crippled. Dexter Morgan is perhaps the most similar character on television- except his demons aren’t real- they manifest themselves in his head from ghosts of his past. John Luther however, is tormented by someone who will call him on a miserable afternoon to torture for pleasure.

Procedural television series (CSI, Cold Case et al.) will sometimes have longer story arcs that prevail over the course of the season or over a few, but they will linger, leaving the audience rather exhausted over the 22 (or how ever many) episodes. Luther however, gives you 6 in which all the drama plays out with great urgency. Much of the series is beautifully shot amongst London’s monolithic cityscape. There is great use of light and momentary pauses that enhance the atmosphere of the show. Unlike the machine gun editing of their American counterparts- Luther benefits from the slower, more natural scene-to-scene transitions that rely on a little patience and imagination to hold the viewer’s attention.

Tony Soprano is long gone and time will tell whether the new series of Dexter (does Rita become another ghost in his head?) will hold as much as the previous, American television needs another strong, multi-faceted but fragile leading man. Compelling dramas like Luther come every so often to HBO, series that leave the audience with a sense of accomplishment and intrigue. The ground may have already been covered before but rarely has it been done with such conviction.

BBC America has announced that Luther will premiere in the United States October 17th.

[xrr rating=4/5]

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Film, Film Reviews

The Expendables: The Greatest Movie Ever Made

The title of this article is both a factual and erroneous statement. Movie scholars will immediately come to the conclusion that Sylvester Stallone’s ode to the explosive 80s is indeed a few levels below Citizen Kane. Nonetheless, given the current cultural landscape we find our Hollywood in, The Expendables is indeed, the “greatest movie ever made.” Give me a few paragraphs and I am fairly convinced that I can at least get you to meet me halfway.

The cast is superb, to say the very least- an almost complete list of hugely muscled action heroes of past and present headlined by Sly, Jason Statham and Jet Li blow things up alongside Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin and Dolph Lundgren while Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis provide contextual backdrops to why these men exist. There is of course, a superbly cheesy cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger to boot. The cast alone is enough reason why every man should indulge in this piece of celluloid history. With more testosterone on show than all the Wrestlemanias combined, Stallone’s ham fisted directing and sometimes terrible writing places these mercenary men in the middle of every 80s action flick plotline weaving together South American generals, exotic islands, Princesses, Eric Roberts, drugs, and lots and lots of explosions. Think of it as the very best amalgamation of the following movies: Rambo, Delta Force (all of them), Commando, Bloodsport, Die Hard, Deathwish, Raw Deal and of course, the predecessor of them all, The Dirty Dozen.

It has been some time since Stallone last delved into the psyche of a brutish man (Rocky), and in The Expendables, amongst the ruin and rubble left behind by the countless objects and human body parts exploding, it is Mickey Rourke who provides a brief moment of analysis- and thankfully, it is only momentary (he even briefly, sheds a tear). The rest of the film is about punching the audience in the face as hard as humanly possible. It is a beautiful sight.

So here comes my argument then, on why The Expendables is the “Greatest Movie Ever Made”, a bullish one, but one with (hopeful) sincerity nonetheless.

We find ourselves in the era of the politically correct safe bet. Capitulated by countless franchise sequels, recognized adaptations of popular novellas, graphic novels and humanizing animations of household pets and toys. We are in the era where boy wizards and effete vampires are the best way a movie studio makes money and in a sense, The Expendables is a safe bet on its own. Stallone collected the biggest names he could find for the project (Jean Claude Van Damme apparently, turned down a role in the movie and we are not sure whether Steven Seagal is still alive and whether or not Chuck Norris is now too much of an internet demigod to do movies) in order for it to have maximum impact with press and media.

Yet the movie’s biggest difference in comparison to Box Office go-getters is its breaking of cinematic social norms, and with it, the political correctness a movie abides by in order to elicit an overwhelming acceptable response. We have in recent years seen organizations speak critically of popular films. Sasha Baron Cohen’s Bruno received a great deal of negativity from GLAAD for its negative stereotypical portrayals of the Gay and Lesbian community and countless lawsuits from people duped during the filming (although in reality, it should have just been criticized for being a crappy movie). We’ve seen films like Passion of the Christ, United 93, Fahrenheit 9/11 cause uproar- and in today’s touchy political climate, it is with good reason. So comes The Expendables, devoid of any political correctness, the movie rampages through 100+ minutes with the subtlety of a hurricane, highlighted by a scene where Steve Austin (perhaps, almost hilariously parallel to that of his real life) punches a woman in the face (met with audible gasps in the cinema), exotic South American locales (vaguely named Vilema) complete with tyrannical General despot and goofy Caucasian mastermind, and of course, having Jet Li’s persona in the film named, I kid you not, Yin Yang. But it is this bravado that makes it great- uncaring of backlash and accepted norms, instead, grabbing the bullhorn and proclaiming loudly, what I’m sure a lot of us feel.

This brings us to the second argument, and that of the long gone aura of male machismo. The 1980s were a golden time for a being a man in Hollywood- an era where the biggest movies were as polite as a brick to the head- and so it is only fitting that one of the biggest bricks of that generation is bringing it back today. It is just not socially acceptable in today’s world to punch a girl in the face, and let’s be honest and say that Michael Cera (and all the characters he will ever play), will never do such thing. I am convinced however, that this desire to bring back the manly man is not an isolated occurrence.

We have seen a resurgence of such- albeit in the form of successful advertising- in both the Old Spice Man and the Dos Equis Man. Embracing all that is man, they are all a far cry from the hyper-sensitive, androgynous flavouring that has become the norm in music, television and film; an understandable by-product of a changing society moving away from so-called archaic ideas. The Expendables however, is like one long Dos Equis/Old Spice ad spliced together with Mad Men scenes where Don Draper is boozing and womanizing with great aplomb soundtracked by Thin Lizzy’s fitting anthem “The Boys Are Back in Town”. With guns of course.

The female counterparts in the film? Well, they rest somewhere between unapologetic eye-candy, the strong but still needs the help of a man woman (portrayed by Brazilian actress Giselle Itié), and the damsel in distress (Buffy’s Charisma Carpenter whose defining scene comes after she’s been beaten by a man and watches as Statham’s character single-handedly disposes of these brutes with violent disposition). But that is the point isn’t it?

It is the summation of all these things that make The Expendables so great. It is a cinematic homage to an era seemingly forgotten, crafted with as much brute force as a cinema will hold, all against the grain of what is now deemed right and wrong. For that bravery, there surely must be some medal awarded to someone. It is time for men to be men again. And in all its glorious machismo, Stallone reminds us that it is not okay for a man to weep openly, to wear make up or constricting pants, to not be able to chop down a tree or break the face of an evil despot’s henchmen, to be a wimpy girly man or Adam Lambert. But most of all, The Expendables believes that perhaps the manliest thing you could ever do (besides watching this movie instead of Eat, Pray, Love), is to someday fly a plane while drinking a beer and smoking a cigar.

BE A MAN!

Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Bruce Willis, Charisma Carpenter, Mickey Rourke
Released by: Millennium Films
Website: http://www.expendablesthemovie.com
[xrr rating=3.5/5]

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Film, Film Reviews, Music

Film Review: Oil City Confidential

One of the most immediate things you notice about Canvey Island in the UK is its desolate, almost-lifeless visage. Adorned in the most brutal way possible by a gargantuan oil refinery, it is a most fitting birth place for one of rock music’s most enigmatic, yet seemingly underappreciated acts in history; progenitors of punk Dr Feelgood. Julien Temple (The Future is Unwritten, The Filth and The Fury) once again brings to life music’s most lucid tales, this time with the least known acts to complete his trio of films (Joe Strummer and the Sex Pistols in the aforementioned documentaries). Dr Feelgood were, to all intents and purposes, punk before punk- straggling on stage around 1971 against the glam and glitz of stadium rock being served by the likes of the Beatles and the Stones and their kind. This is the very essence of the piece, that Dr Feelgood were rock’s mainstream counterculture, the pre-eminent underground rock n’ roll band.

Let’s make no bones about it however; Oil City Confidential is driven by Dr Feelgood’s primary guitarist and chief songwriter Wilko Johnson. This man is the documentary’s tour de force protagonist, praised for his iconoclastic herky-jerky guitar movements on stage and choppy riff style, his recounts and storytelling are the centrepiece of Oil City. His eyes bulge when he tells you about Canvey Island, he shimmies, shakes, and bounces all over the screen, and the history of the band comes to life because Johnson knows how to tell a great tale.

Other than the band’s almost-as-enigmatic lead singer Lee Brilleaux, we don’t get as much substance from the supporting cast. There are interesting bits and pieces that prop up the two main characters, but it is Johnson and Brilleaux that make this band unforgettable. The latter of who, regales us with his immense drinking ability, dirty white suit, and great rock n’ roll frontmanship. Sadly Brilleaux lost his battle with cancer in the mid-90s and his presence is made up or archival footage and interviews long before this documentary was made- but through the snippets of live footage and television appearance, it is clear that Brilleaux was one of rock n’ roll’s most memorable lead singers. Fittingly, burning out more than fading away.

The editing is fast paced and Temple is almost better than anyone at setting up a great backdrop to a music documentary. This is perhaps the weaker of his trio, but only because the Sex Pistols and The Clash provide a richer source of music history. It is however no reason to overlook Oil City Confidential, in their own small place in history on a broken down, ugly piece of English land, Dr Feelgood wrecked havoc just as well as anyone, and reserve their right to be remembered.

Directed by: Julien Temple
Cast: Wilko Johnson, Lee Brilleaux, John Martin, John Sparkes
Released by: Cadiz Music
Website: http://www.oilcityconfidential.co.uk/
[xrr rating=3/5]

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