Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pitchfork Reviews Crocodiles Crimes of Passion

(Crocodiles Crimes of Passion Album Review)

  I say that the number of Pitchfork album reviews is more important than the score of those album reviews. If you were to compare the career of an Artist who has one album review with a high score, vs. an Artist who has a half dozen reviews with mediocre or even poor scores, you know that the first Artist literally hasn't done shit since they got their award, because otherwise Pitchfork would be at least reviewing it.

 I think the proper way to express the relationship between Pitchfork and the Artists who get their albums reviewed is that Pitchfork is a kind of global university/college for non-Top 40 musical Artists. You can think of the various local and international artist generating scene/locations as being the equivalent of "high school/secondary school."  So not everyone from high school goes to college, and not everyone who goes to college graduates, and no everyone who graduates goes on to a succesful post-college life.  "Post-college life" in this analogy would be the universe of Top 40 bands.

  Examples of Artists who have made it "all the way" are Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, M83, Animal Collective, The Shins, Deerhunter. End of list. The goal however, is not necessarily to be one of the graduating Artists who makes it to Top 40, it is to obtain four LP review in a five year period or so to demonstrate that you have what it takes to survive.   After all, music is a business, and while fashions come and go, the business side is built on productive personal relationships and reliability, and band with 3+ Pitchfork album review has shown that they have both attributes.

 Far worse is to have a first LP reviewed and to then release a second LP and have it ignored entirely.  That is the equivalent of flunking out of college.  It doesn't mean you won't succeed, but it is not a great indicator of future success.

  I think it's fair to think of Pitchfork editorial as being a kind a faculty of prim, grim faced professors.  I mean obviously, Pitchfork takes itself seriously. Individual teachers/reviewers are free to hand out their own grades, but the central administration retains discretion to make grading policies consistent over the entire faculty.

  Within that world, Crocodiles are like a smart-ass student with potential but one who doesn't really do well within the constraints of the "academic" system, a band whose strengths are simply not particularly appreciated by this global University of non Top 40 music.   However, they are also a student who has managed to graduate, perhaps with average marks, but with a diploma.

 I can tell you from my own personal experience over 7 years of post-high school education, that is not a bad place to be in.  There is nothing wrong with being a straight A student but it doesn't necessarily set you up for real world success once you leave. At the same time, failing to graduate by releasing the sufficient number of LPs in the four/five year time line (unless you already made it to Top 40) is the absolute worst thing that could happen.

 All I'm saying is that once you've actually had 3-5 Pitchfork Album Reviews, the actual scores are less important then simply continuing to release records on a periodic basis, preferably once every 12-18 months.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells p. 1898

Book Review
The War of the Worlds
 by H.G. Wells
p. 1898

  For my money The War of the Worlds is the best of H.G. Wells top hits because he wrote it before the concept of "World War" i.e. World War I, World War II, was current.  In other words, his War between Worlds preceded the concept of a global war, and it seems like his story may have even provided the inspiration for the phrase "World War" considering the publication date of 1898, and the coming of the Great War/World War I almost 15 years later.

  The War of the Worlds, in addition to being the first novel written about an interplanetary conflict, is also the first novel to describe the mass destruction of an industrial society that would become commonplace in the 20th century.  It's hard to imagine the impact that The War of the Worlds must have had among the initial audience.  I can't think of another book that comes close to describing the Biblical-level destruction that the Aliens wreak on the area around London before they are felled by their lack of immunity to our germs and diseases (praise Darwin!!)

  The War of the Worlds is also interesting for Wells' description of what essentially sound like robots before such a term existed.  Truly, The War of the Worlds is a clear indicator that the genre of science fiction had great potential for power as a popular literary genre.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Charulata (1964) d. Satyajit Ray

Madhabi Mukherjee, screen goddess of India

Movie Review
Charulata (1964)
 d. Satyajit Ray
Criterion Collection #669
Release Date: August 20th, 2013

  This is the second of two Satyajit Ray classics that Criterion Collection is releasing this week.  The other film is The Big City, which was released in 1963. Where The Big City was a film about a contemporary issue, "women in the workplace;"  Charulata is a period piece set in the 1870s. Shailen Mukherjee plays Bhupati, a wealthy, liberal newspaper owner who is obsessed with politics.  Madhabi Mukherjee plays his bored wife. the Charulata of the title.  If this were a Western film you would expect adultery to ensue, but this Indian film in released in 1964 is about as tame as you would expect from a hypothetical movie shot in the 1850s.

  The plot of Charulata revolves around the heroine's efforts to free her soul from the monotony of existence by writing.  It's impossible to understand Charulata without at least knowing that the Bengali Renaissance was a spiritual/political/artistic movement that swept Bengal in the 19th century, that the film maker, Satyajit Ray, was from a family that was part of this movement, and that the characters in Charulata also represent individuals from this movement.

  Like The Big City, the Bengali-ness of the film is obviously a topic near and dear to the heart of Satyajit Ray.  At the same time Ray's subtle, neo-realism influenced style belies the national/ethnic emphasis and creates something that is more universal.  Other then the language spoken by the characters, Charulata has a plot that wouldn't be out of place in an English Victorian novel from the 19th century.

   Charulata has a gentle touch and has none of the edginess or existentialist influence that characterize so much of Auteur type cinema from the the mid to late 20th century, but at the same time it is impossible to deny Ray his well earned Auteur status.  Despite the clunky, retro plot I found myself transfixed by Charulata in much the same way I was transfixed by The Big City.  There is something about seeing Indian society so well described that I find it impossible to look away.  I just want to drink it all in.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Beast Within by Emile Zola

Poster from Jean Renoir's 1938 film adoption of The Beat Within/La Bete Humaine

Book Review
The Beast Within
 by Emile Zola
p. 1890
Penguin Classics Edition
Translated by and with an Introduction and Notes by Roger Whitehouse

  There is something exciting about Zola and his novels.  Maybe it's the gusto with which he depicts the physicality of life.  God bless the Victorian novelists of England but they are a prudish bunch.  Zola meanwhile, will describe a good fuck, a good fight, a good murder.  And if it's murder you are after, The Beast Within has plenty.

 I believe The Beast Within is the last listed Zola novel.  While I prefer him to a Thomas Hardy, it's hard not to shake the feeling that the naturalist/realist approach was a literary wrong turn.  It represents a point of departure into modernity where art ceases to be concerned with producing beauty and where it begins to carry a political agenda.  The assimilation of art by political agendas ends up with Leni Riefenstahl and Socialist Realism.

  Roger Whitehouse's introduction points out that prior to becoming a full time writer, Zola was the head of publicity for a publishing house in Paris, and his career, particularly his novels, appears to be informed by some of the truisms of the advertising that have become commonplace today, "Sex sells;" "If you want to sell the steak you need the sizzle." ETC.  Zola's break-out novel was Therese Raquin, in which sex and violence figure prominently, but Therese Raquin is a a walk in the park compared to the violence/murder obssessed story of The Beast Within.

  The characters fight, and fuck and die.  There is not just one but two horrific train crashes, one of which is fully described.  Zola treats the reader to several graphic depictions of murder, the main female character is repeatedly raped as a child by one of the victims.  It's enough to make Quentin Tarantino blush.  At the same time Zola doesn't stint on the description.  The Beast Within is focused on the doings surrounding the train and people who work on the train- the murders mostly happen on or near a train.  He was a nut for research and it shows by his accurate descriptions of life on the rail road in the mid 19th century.  Zola was using the train as a metaphor for progress before it became a hoary cliche.  The only similar usage of the train in a novel that I've read so far is in Anna Karenina, and there the railroad is merely a setting, not a central metaphor for life, the universe and everything.

  Zola's characters are so universally miserable it's hard to muster much sympathy for any of them, and perhaps that is a cue that his universe is a wrong turn in the world of literature.  You read the Beast Within because it is eminently readable and because the action is compelling, in the same way you would watch a Hollywood Blockbuster but not really give a shit about what happens to the hero.  In fact, The Beast Within is a novel without a hero.  All the characters are perpetrators of violence, even the victims.  It's a dark world and it is only going to get darker.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Crocodiles Crimes of Passion Out Today in UK/EU

Crocodiles Crimes of Passion LP- I would have left the sticker off.

Crocdiles Crimes of Passion Rough Trade UK
Crocodiles Crimes of Passion Picadilly Records UK
Crocodiles Crimes of Passion NME Review 7/10
Crocodiles Crimes of Passion This Is Fake DIY Review 8/10
Crocodiles Chuck Rowell Interview Radio Adeliade
Crocodiles Crimes of Passion Spectrum Culture Review 3.75/5
Crocodiles Last Fm

   When you are an Artist, and you are more or less instantly embraced by a critical and popular Audience upon your debut, that's impressive, but it doesn't say anything about the depth of your character as an Artist. There is something deep and compelling to be said about struggling for your artistic survival prior to "making it."  For an Artist who immediately succeeds upon reaching Artistic maturity, success is simply expected, but for an Artist that struggles to find that success, it's arrival is sweeter and more meaningful.

  Despite having a long history in the music industry, and experiencing success in that history, the path hasn't been a simple one for Crocodiles. The creation of Crimes of Passion, their fourth LP, came under circumstances that are impressive to contemplate.  Crocodiles third LP, Endless Flowers, was released on June 6th 2012 by Frenchkiss/Souterrain.  Souterrain promptly went under. I know this from talking to the principal of Fresh & Only's- another artist that they released, and one that is still featured on their so-called "new releases" page.  Sales of Endless Flowers were poor, and the attendance at live concerts was so-so.  No big festivals, no second tour of the United States. Thus, at the end of the Endless Flowers life cycle they had a record label in the U.S. and little momentum.

 For 90/100 bands that might have been the end, but Crocodiles wrote and recorded a new LP, found a replacement for Souterrain (Zoo Music) and generally handled their shit in a professional way.  That's what you call "Surviving" and for my money I'd rather work with a band that has shown they can persist then a band that has every fucking thing handed to them on a platter. Artists that have struggled have demonstrated that they have it what it takes to survive. Crocodiles have demonstrated that they have what it takes to survive.

 And what is simply not appreciated about Crocodiles and front-man Brandon Welchez, is that while this has been going on, they've essentially established a viable independent label that exists separate from Crocodiles and their future.  That is a real accomplishment, and if you want to give me a list of corresponding achievers It would be a good list to be on.  For whatever reason, this combination of skills doesn't seem to be something that critics have the intelligence to appreciate.

  To take a non-Crocodiles related example, Thee Oh Sees front man is a partner in Castle Face Records of San Francisco and I almost never see it mentioned let alone appreciated. When a working musician creates a functioning record label whose success is traceable to their participation,  that is a fact worth taking into consideration when you assess the actual Art produced by that same Artist.

  It shows an understanding of the ideas that inform creeds like "DIY" and "Indie."  I'm not talking about marketing buzz words, I'm talking about the actual ideology of "DIY."  The fact that an artist/band has started a record label that has released other bands is proof that the band believes in DIY and that their heart is pure.  It should earn them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making numerically based assessments of new efforts.  The two things are related, even if critics seems disinclined to take the connection into consideration when formulating their opinion of a specific work.

The Big City (1963)d. Satyajit Ray

The Big City d. Satyajit Ray is out 8/20/13 in Criterion Collection edition.

Movie Review
The Big City (1963)
d. Satyajit Ray
Criterion Collection #668
Out August 20th, 2013

  Major epiphany this weekend when I realized I was going in the wrong direction vis a vis the Criterion Collection Spine numbers.  Obviously, there is more interest in the new releases vs. the back catalog DUH.  The Big City is actually coming out today, so this is literally a "new release" review.

  Of course, it's not a review of the Blu Ray DVD since I watched it on the Criterion Channel on Hulu Plus, but surely the day of the release of the Criterion Collection edition is the proper time for a blog post on the film itself.  Also being released today is another Satyajit Ray film, Charulata (1964.)  I don't think I'm being controversial by saying that Ray is by far the most famous Indian film maker outside of India.  Personally, I couldn't name another even though I have an above average level of knowledge about the history and cultures of India.

  Something specifically Indian to understand about Ray is his Bengali ethnicity. India is a majority Hindu speaking country.  Bengali is a separate language, different then Hindu, and speakers are concentrated in Eastern India and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh Bengali is THE language and Bengalis are the absolute majority.  Within India Bengali is the majority language in the state of West Bengal but is a minority language in the rest of India.   So the fact that the language of Ray's films is Bengali and Hindi is significant, somewhat analogous to a Quebecois film maker making a movie in French, or a Mexican-American film maker making a film in Spanish.

   The use of language in The Big City is worth pulling out of what is essentially an interesting but conventional "Woman in the work place" melodrama that grapples with issues familiar to any viewer of American movies and television of the 50s and 60s.  First of all, the characters themselves speak Bengali but will switch into and out of English when they want to use a phrase that is specific to the English language, "This is none of my business but...." for example.

Arati Mazumdar (the first role of Bollywood leading lady Madhabi Mukherjee)

    One of the co-workers of the female star of the film, Arati Mazumdar (the first role of Bollywood leading lady Madhabi Mukherjee) is an Anglo-Indian, which is an actual ethnicity in India, the children of relationships between British workers (often Scottish and Irish industrial workers)  and Indians.   These Anglo-Indians were citizens of India, but spoke English as their first language- despite having no history in England or outside of India.  They were not typically "Upper Class" since the parentage often stemmed from working class relationships. In The Big City, the Anglo Indian character is named Edith, and she speaks to Arati in English, and Arati answers in Bengali.

  In one scene, Arati goes to Edith's apartment and meets her Mother, and Anglo looking woman who speaks her English with a heavy and distinct "Indian" accent.  It is Arati's defense of this Anglo-Indian friend that cues the ultimate resolution at the end of the film, so the appearance is hardly a throw-away.

 Ray was supposedly inspired to take up Film after seeing the Italian neo-realist film The Bicycle Thief on a visit to London, so it is no surprise that The Big City has a distinctly realist feel. There's none of the cartoonish song and dance routines that exist in the minds of Westerners as a Bollywood stereotype.

  That being said, I actually lived with a guy from India who was from West Bengal and he endlessly watched Bollywood films and they were all of the song and dance variety- he didn't have any Ray films. The Criterion Collection description of the new release says that the English subtitles are new to this edition.  I would argue that it is the use of language by Ray in this film that is the most interesting aspect.  That, and the performance of Mukherjee who fairly sparkles with her expressive face and mannerisms.   In almost every scene I found myself thinking that she was really nailing the complicated role. 

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