Let's see if I can actually rip out a quick High Five, something I used to be able to pull off w/ ease in the early days of this blog, long before family responsibilities took over my life 24/7. I've simply taken 5 releases of varying kinds doing the rounds in my mind and body this past week.
First on the chopping block is the brand new Kraftwerk biography penned by Englishman, David Buckley, Kraftwerk Publikation. I received this today as a gift from a friend in Sydney who works in the publishing business. I send him promotional CDs for his jazz radio program, so he thought he'd return the favour. When I opened the satchel and saw this beautiful-looking item in my hands, I thought I'd hit paydirt. Firstly, it's a handsome beast - sharp and concise graphics not unlike the band's album covers - and secondly, Kraftwerk's '70s records have once again been spinning in my vicinity of late: this will be perfect reading fodder. I wrote briefly about 'em here a while back. Don't take what I am about to write as a "review": that would be unfair. I was excited to get home from work today, kick off the boots and give this a peruse. In between the usual domestic madness, I actually managed that for about 5 minutes. Later on tonight, I will kick back for real and begin reading this tome. For now, this is my first impression: this hardcover book looks fantastic; its text even comprises a nice-looking font. There are colour photos within. I checked the index for a quick run-through of a few artists I feel must be covered in at least a vague detail when discussing the career of Kraftwerk. Stooges? MC5? Not even mentioned. Kraftwerk loved 'em both, and said as such to Lester Bangs in his infamous Creem article on the band in '75. Again, this isn't even mentioned in passing. I figure it's important that a famous German electronic band, completely out of character for such an ensemble and for the musical landscape of the world as we knew it in 1975 - remember the Stooges/MC5 were considered bargain-bin disasters for all but the clued-in cognoscenti at the time - to like such groups and say so to the American media was unusual, to say the least. For us to know that gives us some context for the atypical musical approach Kraftwerk were forging at the time. But who is listed in the index? Moby, Kylie Minogue, Radiohead, Madonna, The Prodigy, Pop Will Eat Itself, et al. Madonna gets 5 times the page entries of Harmonia. Here is a quote from Kraftwerk Publikation: "The number of people who claim to have seen the Sex Pistols' Anarchy tour must now be in the millions, whilst the Stone Roses' Spike Island gig of 1990 seems to have attracted half the adult population of Northern England and a good proportion of their children too... Seen from the perspective of today, with rock and alternative music so marginalised and generally unloved, and with so few worthwhile rock bands on the touring circuit, one could make the claim that the most contemporaneous incendiary appearance of the Sex Pistols in 1976, or the much-later Madchester love-in of 1990, ultimately lead to a dead end." Ahem. Out of fairness to Mr. Buckley, I will read this book for real, and if my initial impression is wrong, a bad impression simply based upon my own musical prejudices, then I will retract this premature negativity. We'll just have to see where this leads...
The big deal in this household the past 3-4 years, as I've documented before, has been post-war R & B and rockabilly music, roughly spanning the years 1946-1959. I haven't, however, spoke much about titles to recommend in these fields of interest for the simple reason that there are so many blogs out there, blogs so much more well qualified than my good self to write about these things. I'm talking about 50-year-old guys - always guys - who've been collecting and obsessing over this stuff since the 1970s. Some a whole lot longer. Do you really need a neophyte such as myself giving you the Amateur Hour rundown on such things when you can ask the real professionals? Well, I feel I know enough these days - I can bore the piss out of a man at 10 paces on the genius of post-war imprints such as Meteor, Aladdin, Combo, Excello, King/Federal, Modern/RPM, Ace/Vin, etc. - to at least mention a couple of primo releases from the UK's Ace label (the label for this kinda stuff) which document the rockabilly side of Eddie Shuler's Goldband label from Louisiana in the 1950s. Like most indies from the time, Goldband dabbled in any music which would make 'em a buck, and in the cross-pollinated musical world of Louisiana, that meant everything from blues to R & B to cajun to hillbilly to amped-up rockabilly. There's two killer comps on Ace which deal in the blues (Goin' Down To Louisiana) and R & B (Bayou Blues Blasters) side of the Goldband label, but both Boppin' Tonight and Bayou Rockabilly Cats are just about the two best label-based, regional rockabilly collections you're likely to find in the market today. Hell, I've bought enough of 'em now... I figure I can make such a claim without getting laughed at too hard from the bouffanted boffins of the scene.
Boppin' Tonight starts off w/ the infamous title track from cajun rockabilly hero, Al Ferrier, one of the wildest and rawest honky cuts of its day, and really doesn't let up over its 22 cuts. It deals in the wilder, more unhinged side of Goldband's cajun-influenced rocker stable (Jay Chevalier, Larry Hart, Little Billy Earl), whilst its companion album, Bayou Rockabilly Cats, seems to concentrate on the more hillbilly, Hank Williams-derived side of rock & roll as we know it. A track like Hopeless Homer's "A New Way Of Rockin'" really does sound like amped-up Hank, and it's no lesser for it. There's 26 tracks of warm 'n' woolly swamp-rockin' goodness, all sweaty & agitated, perfect listening for the upcoming summer (as they were last summer, and the summer before... it's taken me a long time to come out of the fold and give you the belated dirt on these gems). The hybridising of music forms at the time - cajuns and white trash listening to hillbilly and R & B and blending these sounds into their own regional stew - is the stuff of great musical and cultural beauty. These two collections are mastered, sequenced, annotated and presented to the point of goddamn aesthetic perfection. You, of course, need 'em.
Hard to believe this was released back in 2009: seems like just yesterday I was hearing a workmate play it day in/day out for months on end, to the point where I felt that I never wanted to hear the fuggin' thing for as long as I lived. I wrote about Rowland S. Howard here earlier this year. I'll admit that in some sense I'm late to the party. As I noted in my review of the excellent and highly recommended Howard documentary, Autoluminescent, I found myself in such a position w/ 2009's Pop Crimes: in a workplace w/ a diehard Rowland fan who played it into the ground, to the point where I felt that I'd had my life's fill of the music contained within. In the past month I have finally procured a copy of 1999's Teenage Snuff Film (again, I heard this whilst working at Missing Link upon its release roughly, say, 500 times) - for free, natch - and just last week I grabbed myself a copy of his 2009 release, as it is once again back in print locally. Does one need to review this disc at this stage? Well, I started it... and this is my fave of the two. The line-up and approach is an excellent excercise in musical minimalism used to maximum effect. It's simply guitar and vocals from Rowland - lots of guitar screeches anmd effective use of tremelo and echo, little in the way of power chords - and an anchored rhythm section which rarely gets fancy or, for that matter, beyond a basic yet utterly effective 4/4 beat. There's Mick Harvey on the skins and J.P. Shilo on bass, w/ occasional second guitar and violin, and Jonnine Standish on guest vocals on the opener, "(I Know) A Girl Called Jonny", a wonderful, Spectorish lament which possesses a certain Brill Building/girl-group ballad feel. There's only 8 tracks spread out over 38 minutes, and it makes for a fantastically concise set. The title track is an awesome, driving dirge, and the cover of Talk Talk's "Life's What You Make It" works much in the same way as his unusual take on Billy Idol's(!!) "White Wedding" did on Teenage Snuff Film: a total reinvention. Whilst Talk Talk's track doesn't possess the inherent cheese of the Idol number (I happen to like the TT original), lending it more weight as a song to cover, it obviously has the gravitas weighed on from Rowland's sad death soon after the album's release (or was it before?? My mind doesn't go back that far these days). Regardless, there isn't a track I don't really like on Pop Crimes. As I said earlier in the year: when Rowland S. Howard was around and playing the traps, I stupidly ignored his presence in my peripheral, and only in his death am I playing catch-up. Pop Crimes really is the classic everyone said it was and is. It's simplistic, sharp and yet works on so many layers. There's not a second wasted throughout its entire duration.
OK, let's discuss a moving picture, specifically James Watkins' 2008 British horror/thriller, Eden Lake. James Watkins also co-scripted the shit-awful sequel to Neil Marshall's excellent horror pic from 2005, The Descent (it's called The Descent Part 2 and is not worth your time and trouble) in 2009, but prior to that he wrote and directed this rather excellent and extremely effective chiller which is very much in the Deliverance realm of square-suburbanites-way-out-of-their-depths-in-the-hills school of storytelling. Sure, it's a basic plot outline which has been flogged into the ground ever since Ned Beatty got cornholed 40 years ago, but when it's done this well, you'll hear no complaints from me. I watched this last week, and it wasn't actually the first time I'd seen it. I rented the DVD about 2 years ago, it left a huge impression on me, and I cautiously went back for more. My caution wasn't brought on by a feeling that I might not like it the second time around; it was based more on the thought of putting myself through the trauma of watching the film all over again. Eden Lake is an intense ride. The film starts off w/ a middle-class London couple, Michael Fassbender and the extremely easy-on-the-eyes Kelly Reilly, driving from their jobs on a Friday afternoon to the remote Eden Lake, what I'm assuming is a fictional, remote area soon to be developed into a holiday resort for yuppies. The idea, of course, is to enjoy its untouched beauty before it's ruined. Both Reilly and Fassbender are blandoid yuppies, but we can identify w/ them because, at the very least, they understand the basic rules of civility and civilisation. When lazing around the lakeside, they encounter a group of local "chavs" (the British slang for white-trash, good-for-nothing layabouts; here in the land of Oz, we used to call such people "bogans", although that term has taken on a different meaning the past decade - now it denotes a certain breed of clueless, unsophisticated suburbanite), tough teenagers who don't appear to give a fuck about anyone or anything, and Fassbender, in an attempt to show his white-collar existence hasn't totally demasculated him, makes the foolish move of challenging their loutish behaviour. Things go pear-shaped thereafter. There's a couple of elements which make Eden Lake a really effective and frightening film. The first is the realistic portayal of the amoral youths, a sadistic crew who egg each other on to commit foul acts just as teenagers do; only these arent simple pranks (like most teenagers do). The leader of the gang, Brett, played by actor Jack O'Connell, is one of the most terrifying motherfuckers to have graced the screen. His penchant for grisly kicks - just because it gives him a thrill - is portrayed with no gloss or pretension: he seems real. And the second element which makes it work, at least for me, is the fear it instills in you as you wonder the potential fate of the main protagonist, played by Kelly Reilly. Without giving too much away, when you see what happens to Fassbender halfway through the film - a torture scene which is gruesomely effective yet not drawn out and exploited in the manner of the boring "torture porn" flicks which have been all the rage the past decade - your mind reels at what the gang of sadists may do to a female they capture. I will watch just about any horror film I consider halfway decent - it is simply a genre of moviemaking I greatly enjoy - but when one excels, I can recommend it to all and sundry. Eden Lake excels simply because it is exactly what so many horror films aren't: intense and scary.