August 28, 2009
A super-group formed. Born from an idea originally intended for Modern English. This idea manifested itself into an underground force comprised of the best 4AD records had to offer that churned out 3 spectacular Dream Pop records. Or Goth records. Or Darkwave records, call it what you will, there is no denying its impact.
This Mortal Coil was the brainchild of the head of 4AD records, Ivo Watts-Russel. 4AD was quite the label in its heyday 1980-1994. Though the early 90’s were sort of weak on releases, Red House Painters alone makes up for any crap act they might have pressed. 4AD was responsible for releases from Goth-Rock heavyweights such as Bauhaus and The Birthday Party and would be home for The Cocteau Twins, Pixies, A.R Kane, Dead Can Dance, Pale Saints, Lush and many others. Originally, Ivo wanted Modern English to re-record “Sixteen Days” and “Gathering Dust” as a medley since they were ending their live shows with those two songs, but the declined. Ivo then recruited members of Cocteau Twins, Colorbox and Cindytalk to record it. The B-side was a Tim Buckley cover, “Song to the Siren”, performed by Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins. The strength of this cover made its way on to the A-Side of the 7″ release, with a reprise of Sixteen Days being the B-Side. From the success and reception of this, Ivo made the right call to further pursue this idea and make an LP. The first LP, the subject of this entry, is “It’ll End in Tears”.
This album would set the trend for the other two LP’s that would follow. It consists of covers of a wide range of artists, from Singer-Songwriters to Post-Punk acts that only occurred a few years before this. This record preceded “Treasure” by Cocteau Twins by a month, a record that would become a staple in any fans collection, often in top 3’s of fans, yet dismissed quickly by the band. The Twins had released their Spangle Maker EP, a significant release because it would foreshadow the direction Cocteau Twins would take, hinting at their abandoning of goth/post punk roots and more processing pop sensibilities through ethereal means.
From start to finish this record is a few things, but all things solid. Its a sad tale, starting and ending with a whimper. Using the power of other people’s words, this album holds true to its title. This is not a record to be taken lightly. The first three tracks are enough to make you crawl into a ball and hide beneath the covers. Side One opens with a very much organized take on Kangaroo by Big Star. Its a perfect beginning to this 44 minute dream-like opus. The original version of this song is to say the least, a mess. It was from Third/Sister Lovers, which in itself is a mess on the whole. A good mess mind you, but this song was one of the weaker parts of the album, and This Mortal Coil breathed life into that was never there. Following this we have “Song to the Siren” which wouldn’t be anything new to already acquainted fans of this group, seeing as it was on the first release by this group. But touching on this song, hearing the original from “Starsailor” they play it very similarly but with much more space and atmosphere and Fraser’s angelic voice definitely suits it more than Buckley’s baritone bore. The second of the two Big Star covers follows, “Holocaust”, sung by Buzzcocks/Magazine front-man Howard Devoto. So far we’re 3 for 3. This piano-driven song is very pretty. The focus becomes on the voice while the piano sounds oh so distant, slowly making its way back to the forefront. The Piano line flows much nicer and doesn’t sound like a turtle struggling to keep moving forward. Another thing that makes some of these songs successful in execution is the orchestral aspect to them, using strings to thicken up the sound beautifully. The next song, the first original/instrumental on the record “FYT” is conceived by Ivo himself along with John Fryer, but performed by Mark Cox and Martyn Young and this resembles the 4AD sound fans would have come to know at this point in time. Drum Machine with samples creating a dark landscape drenched in synthesizer and other effects. One could argue these kind of songs to be some of the basic groundwork for what industrial would become. Maybe. I’d have to look more into it but I don’t want to. Flowing from one to another, Fond Affections is up next. This was originally by Rema Rema, which was only a few years before this. A group that released an EP on 4AD, the members would later go on to form The Wolfgang Press. Its sung by Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk, but it sounds like a woman. I don’t know what to tell you. We’re at the end of Side One, we close with Instrument and Incidental entitled “The Last Ray” performed by Robin Guthrie, and new member of Cocteau Twins, Simon Raymonde.
Side Two starts with a song that is drastically different from the original. Another Day, a somber folk song by Roy Harper turns into a Violin/Viola/Cello driven song topped with Elizabeth Fraser’s vocals. This is one of my favourite parts of the album. Its the strings that really gives this collective life of its own, and not making it a run of the mill goth rock project on a goth label. It gives it life and room to move around and not get buried beneath better things. Following this, we’re treated to the first of two songs by Lisa Gerrard. Its my understanding that this song was composed by her. Beneath the title “Waves Become Wings” in the LP, it only mentions her name and credits her as the only artist on the song. Lisa Gerrard was 1/2 of the band Dead Can Dance, a band that defines acquired taste if you ask me. They took elements of post punk and goth rock along with dream pop and channeled it through songs that would better be suited under the genre of World Music. A talented woman, with a powerful voice, that’s for sure but I’ve never been able to stomach her group. This song teeters more along the lines of ambiance with a minimal arrangement that sounds large. If i’m right, there are no proper lyrics to this song, in fact no words at all. Lisa Gerrard doesn’t go away, and stays on the next song by taking the role of just looped accordion on “Barramundi” with Simon Raymonde handling the duties on guitar and dx7. Another song that sort of foreshadows later Cocteau Twins circa Victorialand and their instrumental LP “The Moon and the Melodies”. This side deals less with constructing dream pop songs persay, and tends to blend together into movements. Up next, “Dreams Made Flesh” another song that credits Lisa Gerrard with yang t’chin (I believe to be some sort of cymbal, possibly Tibetan or perhaps Middle Eastern) and vocals. If this is a movement this is the 3rd part, the last part. After this we’re back to the dark wave sound most will be craving at this point with “Not Me” by Colin Newman, formerly of Wire but this song was taken from his solo career. This song sounds like something you would definitely hear on a new wave radio station at 1 in the morning. It features vocals by Robbie Grey of Modern English. This track is good, I might like it more than some of the Side One songs, but for me its the weakest part of Side Two. But with saying that, I prefer side two of this album. It feels much more original in its approach, branching out from the 4AD sound to more of a Brian Eno influenced ambient style, without being too bare or boring, and with a healthy dose of creativity. We end on “A Single Wish”, with a quick appearance by Gordon Sharp on vocals, this song seems like a nice way to end an overall sad album. This feels like that single ray of hope we’d expect to get after this assault of darkness created by this album. But listen closely to the small amount of lyrics sung: “You and I, alone here. You and I, It’ll end in tears.” No way are we going to get off easy. Perfect end to this album. There is nothing else I can really say about it, except its brilliant. Simply brilliant.
I recommend this album to anyone and everyone. If not for me, check this out because of the fantastic Patton Oswalt joke! Even after writing this Ebert-esque post about this album, I still prefer the second release, “Filigree and Shadow”. It was the first one I owned on vinyl, and I spent many nights listening to it with my Dad’s headphones, and each side plays like its own EP. Its like an album of four movements. Maybe I’ll write about it someday.
August 23, 2009
Lets clear the air…
I love Japanese movies! I love them. I also love Swedish films, but once you sift through the films of Ingmar “Boogerman” Bergman, there isn’t much movement left. Japan gave birth to more than a few brilliant directors that tend to have more than a few classic films under their belt. I started safe, with Kurosawa, and I made my way to the new wave from there. Its interesting that Japanese new wave is hardly discussed. I find it superior to the french new wave. There are probably some arty kids out there who would like to disagree, but I’m not too concerned. They still think their life can be breathless. I like french films, don’t get me wrong. I like Jean-Pierre Melville and I like Jean Cocteau. Uhh, a couple Godard films are OK? Tirez Sur La Pianiste is the best Truffaut/only good Truffaut movie? Anyways, I love Japanese movies! I watch whatever I can find available on DVD or on internet. Today I will talk about one I saw recently, that is the subject of some controversy, or at least was. I don’t think people care anymore, with the advancement of times and the loosening of censorship.
On Sunday night, I was with my girlfriend Kait, and my friend Joe. Sometimes in life we make decisions. I gave Joe a choice: We watch The Burmese Harp by Kon Ichikawa or we watch In the Realm of the Senses by Nagisa Oshima. He chose the latter. These things happen…
So we watch. It just received the criterion treatment, which is always a treat. This movie was a feast for the eyes I tell you. I usually dislike 1970’s film due to the way it translates on screen, but there are exceptions (Such as Days of Heaven, a perfect example of beauty in all its 70mm glory). The colour was striking, the sets almost looked expressive, as if constructed on a studio stage instead of using something outside which would probably be easier. The attention to detail definitely had me hooked, not to mention the movie itself.
The plot is based on the true events of Sada Abe and Kichizo Ishida. I will not recount the actual tale, but the one drawn from the film. I’m almost positive that not many liberties were taken from the source material. Sada Abe works in a restaurant as a maid, formerly a prostitute. The owner, Kichizo Ishida takes a liking to her and they enter into a sexual relationship, without his wife’s knowing. The sexual energy they draw from each other is strong. The feelings Sada Abe feels turns into an obsession and jealousy, while Kichizo concerns lie more in the realm of devotion to her. They take a trip to a restaurant hotel, where they arrange a marriage ceremony. The sex scenes we see up to this point are all real. Definitely unsimulated. While the scenes almost seem harmless, the consummation in front of the geisha’s is what takes this new wave film into some avant-garde territory. We see two of the geisha’s strip the other and start performing sexual acts to her, which ends in an orgy-like display involving all 5 of them (including our two lovers*).
I felt like there were many layers to this love story. Or at least, it was more than just what we saw. There is such a buildup through the second half of the movie leading to the end, which is the death of Kichizo Ishida. Sada Abe doesn’t allow for sleep or rest. She is constantly hungry for love from her partner. She can’t get enough of it. She refuses to have the room cleaned that they inhabit, because she loves the smell, even if others are offended by it. Its the smell they make, so its value goes beyond simply sentimental. The exhaustion Kichizo Ishida feels comes right off the screen and affects you. It was almost torture watching this man. Constantly yearning for rest but refusing to in order to please his partner. The practice of auto erotic asphyxiation doesn’t help. Leaving him in pain, he tells her if she does it again, to just keep going. He is willing to sacrifice his life for his lover’s pleasure, her need to climax. It was the ultimate conclusion to a man who just wants a peaceful sleep. With his death, Sada Abe commits what she made as earlier threats if he were to ever make love to his wife again. She castrates him, and places his penis and testicles inside her, suggesting that they be together forever. This lasted for about four days. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. One of the most moving scenes is Sada Abe having Kichizo Ishida make love to a geisha in her late 60’s. To me, it was a little hazy as if we were supposed to take her reactions as jealousy or simple pleasure. The camera focuses on her mouth, biting her lips.
Nagisa Oshima does owe a lot to the french for this film, since it was a co-production, so I guess French cinema isn’t completely useless. They had lifted any restrictions on pornography, which helped in making this film possible. You should not be quick to dismiss the idea of Pornographic Film. In no way am I an authority on the subject, seeing that my experience with films containing legitimate sexual acts is limited. But movies like this, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, and Pink Flamingo take the taboo subject of explicit sexuality and incorporate them into film well. I can’t really understand why it would be frowned upon. Assuming the proper age bracket is viewing this, how is it different than what you do with someone of the opposite or same sex behind closed doors. This method is easily effective in the retelling of real events, and displaying the relationship that leads to the self destructive nature of Kichizo Ishida and Sada Abe’s love turned obsession that drives her to mad acts.
The political side of this story sort of went by me unquestioned or thought much about. Its sort of when I read Milan Kundera. I read to learn about these characters, more real than most people we know, and the political side is needed but not pursued by myself to the same degree. I guess this does go against what Japan government would approve of. A woman, formerly a hooker, becomes a waitress, soon to become a mistress who makes money for her and her lover by turning tricks once again. The army marches by Kichizo Ishida, as he walks by with almost a scowl. Their life together is in contradiction to everything around them. Insects eat, sleep, defecate, procreate. These two sort of just procreate and eat rarely. Now, I’m not saying the people around them are bugs. That would be mean, and mildly racist. The idea of working, living in a stable outfit, and properly socializing and integrating themselves into everyday society just doesn’t jive with these two. This movie is still banned in Japan.
I’m going to start adding movie entries to this blog. Also on a side note, I watched The Burmese Harp last night. Moving, sad ending.
August 19, 2009
If you’re going to set out and make a fast paced, action packed, crime drama in the early wake of when the 1980’s abandoned any hanging threads of the 70s and truly came into its own that would drive Michael Mann up the wall, you’re going to need a soundtrack that rivals Jan Hammer. Enter Wang Chung.
In 1985, director William Friedkin released To Live and Die in L.A, a fine piece of cinematic action, and one of the nicer slices of crime film in a time when originality started to wear thin in this genre. I would go as far to call it Neo-Noir. The plot is simple. A hard-boiled anti-hero secret service officer, Richard Chance (played by William Petersen) is out to bust counterfeiter/tortured artist Rick Masters (played by Willem Dafoe). This is driven by the death of his former partner, who died at the hands of Masters with only a few days left til retirement. Spare me the statement of the plot sounding run of the mill. This is 1985, not 2009 when studios are still churning this out but without much of any goodness to it. Richard Chance is easily one of the grittiest cops I’ve seen on the screen. He definitely brought a new meaning to playing by your own rules.
This came out during the first or second season of Miami Vice. A lot of similarites can be drawn, and I heard it royally pissed off Michael Mann. If you know me, you know I love Miami Vice. Well, the first two seasons. Miami Vice’s legacy should always be strong. It took the idea of sophisticated drama and without dumbing it down, made it an excellent exercise in style. The show takes more than enough time to enhance the setting, making montages of beaches, resorts, the clubs, and the streets of Dade County. The choice of colour on the screen is key. The rule “No Earth Tones” is definitely sworn by, and the payoff is priceless.
The direction in To Live and Die in L.A is exceptional, and there is a stark contrast from Vice when it comes to photography. Done on a low budget, this film just looks hot and bleak. The sky looks polluted, almost a constant orange or bright sky, that is reinforced from the beginning throughout. The houses are dank, save a few shots, the bars are dingy. Definitely far from the sleekness of Dade. Some similarities can be drawn between Richard Chance and Sonny Crockett. The main thread is that they are doing whatever its going to take, whether its by the book or not. The difference is the extremity to which they’ll go to abide by this belief. Richard Chance will do whatever, even kidnapping someone in order to come up money to go through with a sting operation. Crockett knows when to say no. Crockett has a sense of humor. Chance doesn’t have time for one. Chance is an asshole. Crockett can be nice.
I watched this movie with my friend Joe, and I was blown away. The following day I was talking with my Dad about it and he said, “Oh yeah, I have the soundtrack by Wang Chung”. This was so funny to me for a few reasons. First of all, my Dad hasn’t seen the movie, and secondly, Joe and I kept talking about how good the music is and how we needed the soundtrack for our I-pods. I went through my Dad’s records, pulled it out to see the cover was exactly what it should be, and went to my room and threw it on.
This brings me to the other main comparison of L.A and Vice. The music. Vice relies on Jan Hammer, one of a kind composer, and lots of new wave artists and other popular songs as part of its angle, since its geared towards the MTV generation. Wang Chung would seem like a good bet to counter both of these factors. Listening to the title track off of the soundtrack and looking at their catalogue of hits, Wang Chung have a good balance of being able to construct well-written songs and knowing how to write songs that will dominate the charts (Everybody Wang Chung tonight, and Dance Hall Days), and this soundtrack is effective in accompanying the movie with proper music that fits the time period as well.
On the back of the LP, there is a tiny essay by William Friedkin:
“It will come as no surprise to anyone who has listened to Points on the Curve that Jack Hues and Nick Feldman are two of the move innovative musicians around.
It might also come as no surprise to listeners of their music that while their sound is contemporary, their musical orientation is classical….Strauss, Wagner, Schoenberg, Stravinsky.
Their work stands out for me from the rest of contemporary music, which is why I asked them to create an original score for the film To Live and Die in L.A.
What they finally recorded has not only enhanced the film — it has given it a deeper, more powerful, dimension.
While mixing the sound track I was struck by the inseparable flow of one musical piece into another.
Listening to the album, just now I discovered, to my surprise, that each track also stands out on its own — and delivers its own statement.
For me this is not only an exciting film score, but a fine piece of modern music.”
This film is dated. So is Miami Vice. They’re both dated. Its why I love them. These will always represent a slice of the early 1980s. Some people love things for their timelessness, but I have always loved amazing representations of a moment in time. This movie hands you the whole cake.
“Let me tell you something, amigo. I’m gonna bag Masters, and I don’t give a shit how I do it”.