The Joy and Pain of Music Criticism… and Some Recently Viewed Films

Boy, do I hate prog rock. Especially wanky, cheesy synthesizer infested prog rock with over-zealous sensitive growling guy vocalists and eighteen-minute songs that go too many places, all of them crashing dead ends. I mention this because I’m listening to Ryo Okumoto’s Coming Through, one of the CDs I have to review for Splendid! I got my box of 15 CDs in the mail two weeks ago; I’ve already written about six of them, and have listened to 11. The music is of every description and stripe, both in terms of genre and quality. In the first two weeks, I wrote about the following…

Jerry Fels, a clever DIY guy, possibly Jonathan Richman’s long lost child. He sings engagingly short and goofy songs and is charmingly self-deprecating; his own label is lovingly called “Nobody’s Favorite Records”.

Aaron English, a Puget Sound-based pianist who is undeniably talented and inventive, although he sounds a little too much like Sting for his own good. His voice ain’t as good as Sting’s either, but I love the track that closes out his CD, a fun novelty number called “Animals Like Us” that should be in the running for this decade’s “Down Under”.

Soulthieves, a bloozy, not very soulful Colorado quintet without a hint of originality to them. They have both eyes on commercial radio; too bad they can’t write a single decent lyric (and even the instrumental, “Sugar” has layers of chatter, proving that they just don’t know when or how to shut up). The dorky voice echoing the title of “Dreamchaser” is excruciatingly lame. This is the CD that made me want to yell out, “Mommy, make the bad men stop!” every time I tried to get through it.

Arab Strap, a band I’ve always been curious about since Belle and Sebastian name-checked them in one of their album titles. Very different from B and S, though, particularly in vocalist Aidan Moffat’s tunelessness. This took a couple of listens to sink in, and I’m glad I stuck with it, as it (so far, too early in the game) rivals The White Stripes “Elephant” as my favorite of the year.

Godboxer, a Boston power pop quartet. Their debut EP is nothing but seven catchy tunes gleaming with hooks and lots of crunching, sighing guitars. The already classic-sounding “Only A Broken Heart” is favorably comparable to Mary Lou Lord’s great “Lights Are Changing”.

The Electromagnetic, a boy-girl quartet who sound mostly like a lesser Dandy Warhols, but “Love You Into Pieces” suggests they’re capable of great things.

Next week, I’ll write about Okumoto, Blue2Noise (a Yo La Tengo-esque dream pop quartet whose record is fine and gorgeous but too damn long), and The Battle of Lake Erie, a band I know little about except they sound similar to Blue2Noise, and their five song EP was self-burned, with the tracks written on in sharpie marker. I’ve also listened Jabe (Mellencamp-like singer/songwriter gone cowpunk) and The Man From Fiery Hill (Barenaked Ladies on crack and into loud guitars and louder harmonies). Still awaiting my ears are four other CDs: a two disc compilation of ambient music amusingly titled “At Least You Can Die With a Smile on Your Face”; a seven track disc by what looks to be a Danzig-like metal band (oh, can’t wait); Trio S, an instrumental, downtown avant jazz group; and The M Word, which comes on a (physically) teeny tiny EP and features a duo consisting of guitar and trashcan.

I’ve been so busy apartment hunting… and I’m so ecstatic that I got this place in Jamaica Plain. Too bad I have another seven weeks before I can move in. As for movies, here’s what I’ve seen lately.

“Tully”, a careful, subtle, slice of life coming of age tale set in rural Nebraska. Very lucid and real, if too leisurely-paced at times. As the title character, Anson Mount is not a generic hunk, but a multifaceted figure, physically a man but not quite there yet emotionally.

“Bamboozled”, Spike Lee’s satire/parable on race and racial stereotypes, particularly the Minstrel Show, and what might happen if it were revived. It’s outrageous and nearly unbelievable at times. It’s also a hilarious tribute to “The Producers”, although what makes it a greater film is the line of Good Taste it recklessly but necessarily crosses and the implications and consequences that occur because of a controversial, but intentionally harmless act. “Do The Right Thing” and “25th Hour” have more to say about human nature, responsibility and image, but this is rich and complex in how it examines what is for Lee a love/hate relationship with White America’s perception of Black America, past and present.

“Friday Night” is Claire Denis’ latest feature, and it was almost ruined for me by the two obnoxious, chatty, possibly inebriated women sitting behind me (we should all be allowed to bring Nerf bats into the theater so we can painlessly smack someone when they won’t shut the fuck up). And, I was a little sleepy, never a good phase for Denis’ otherworldly, meditative style. But after the eerily beautiful but intermittently ridiculous vampire flick “Trouble Every Day”, this is back on par with the spectacular “Beau Travail”. Only time (and repeated viewings) will tell whether this is as special as that amazing, incredibly unique and invigorating film. It’s a seemingly simple tale about a woman who gets stuck in a citywide Paris traffic jam and hooks up with a stranger. Denis finds joy and intrigue in such mundane things as listening to a car radio or deciding whether or not to give up a dress for Goodwill (the woman is set to move in with a lover the next day). The sex scenes are like nothing I’ve ever seen before; erotic enough, and real, but extremely and effectively selective in what’s shown and how the act seems to proceed. The movie as a whole is about very ordinary things, but they come off as exotic, vivid, and illusory. I can only imagine, though, what it would have been like if Denis Levant had played the male lead.