January 30, 2014

Strip Of Six Photos

REVIEW: "Angel Guts: Red Classroom" by Xiu Xiu

The New Xiu Xiu Album is Hell (of course)

     Godhead of Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart, wants to bang on your eardrums with whatever scrap metal he’s got lying around and moan, closely, in your ear while he does it. Angel Guts: Red Classroom, the group’s ninth, is a tortuous, carnal art-rock listening experience.
     The odd title is shared with the Japanese erotic film by ChÅ«sei Sone–the inspiration for the album. The plot of the film, from 1979, follows a love affair between a writer and his subject, a troubled pornstar. Sounds about right. Thematically and musically the album throttles the usual dark melodies and incantations Xiu Xiu (and, really, only Xiu Xiu) has come to be known for. The key difference here is the noise, noise, noise.
     It’s a lowly simmer to start. The first song “Angel Guts:” sounds like wind recorded through a cheap microphone, barely hovering above audible. “Archie’s Fades” evokes a desperation with a lurching drone and Stewart’s low-registering ache. On “Stupid In The Dark” raw driving drums keep the pace while Stewart jaws manically, shushing the sound around him when he wants your full attention.
     The Xiu Xiu formula is perfectly assimilated here. The palette of sound is very lean. Only analog synthesizers, drum machines and a drum set were used, making it much more sonically straightforward than past albums. With Angel Guts, the racket is the emphasis, the crushing weight of Stewart’s tumultuous thoughts. Twisted, alarming, industrial scrap sound blankets every song and sometimes overtakes it to the point of devastation. It’s not always best. Mostly, it lacks the songs that make a listener quiver with an unredeemable sadness (see: “The Pineapple vs. The Watermelon,” “Clover,” “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl”).
     Stewart’s absurdist erotic, oftentimes discomforting, lyrics still come through in whispers and wails and climactic releases. He’s the beast of his own work. His oddball clenching need for abject sex is still strong, especially on the song without a hint of metaphor, “Black Dick.” He snarls and orders for the expansive manhood of a negro male like he’s lying on his side and it’s the only cure to his anguish. It gets weird.
     The last half of the album is all sonic combustion, Stewart’s voice growing more panicked. “Lawrence Liquors” is pure war. The enemy is nigh. Helicopter blades cut through the jackhammer beat and distorted owls coo. Shrieking feedback assails “Adult Friends,” as if the wires were splintered, barely functioning. Menacing organ swells with a blunted drum walk on “A Knife In The Sun” until it dissolves in torrential screams from all sides.
     Every song on Angel Guts, from start to finish, morphs steadily into an urgent insanity. Play this loudly in your home and your guests will have heart attacks. People will shriek in their seats, maybe pull a gun on you. The final sound heard is a buzz-saw, plain, without effects, cutting right through your stupid head sideways. It is not pleasant.
     Angel Guts: Red Classroom is released February 4 on Polyvinyl. It comes on the high-heels of Nina, a strange hushed collection of Nina Simone covers released last December on Graveface.

Key Tracks: "Stupid In The Dark," "Archie's Fades," "Lawrence Liquors," "Bitter Melon"

off: I M P

January 14, 2014

The Jostling of Classic Art at an Arizona Gallery

from: Quiet Lunch Magazine

"Conscious Automata" by Daniel Martin Diaz (detail)
     Justin Bieber may the slickest pop star today, but what if he were a painter from the Renaissance era? What if his greatest subject was himself? Artist Mike Reynolds paints the singer decked out in centuries-old attire with classic sunglasses and a look of pure self-worth in his "Untitled 18 from JB throughout the Ages." It's a mash of the modern and neo-classical.
     Messin' with the Masters, an exhibit showing at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum in the desert of Mesa, Arizona, puts forth works by current artists who seek to reinterpret some of the world's most famous paintings.
     Each piece in the gallery is based on a venerable work of art from the past. Renovation is the funnel for each artist’s modern creativity. The inspirational work tied to some of the paintings is seen in plain sight, while others cut it and twist it beyond all familiarity or borrow only the root idea.
     "American Gothic," by Grant Wood is flipped by David Bradley into "American Gothic, The Farmer's Daughter." It immediately pricks the eye with recognition. Upon closer inspection, though, it looks like the hippie children of the original painting's couple have run off to find a farm of their own. A suggestive dollar bill pokes from the elder's overalls while an Indian figure watches from the bushes.      
"Bon Voyage" by Matsuyama
     Tomokazu Matsuyama takes what looks like an old Samurai statue and punctures a New York tourist emblem into its chest. The piece, titled "Bon Voyage," exemplifies the globalization of society and the slow shredding of the classic art form.
     The history of art has always been a source of revelation for current artists. Inspiration itself is sparked from the discovery of past work and creativity stems from the reinterpretation of old ideas. This collection finds an engaging mix of light-hearted parody and grotesque re-imagining.
     Arguably the art world's most famous figure, the “Mona Lisa” gets a sublime rendering from Randy Slack in his "Mona Citrus." Mona gets the washed out treatment, half-drawn and blurred by pale shades of green and yellow. Behind her is a field of two-dimensional citrus trees.
      Conversely, the piece by Martin Wittfooth, "The Baptism," is a scene of nightmarish survival. A towering elephant walks with its kin through a lake of burning oil. The tough, canvas-like skin of the downtrodden beast smolders in its own flames.
     The most stunning piece is absolutely Christopher Ulrich's wall-sized reworking of Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting, "Last Supper." The characterization is rich and suggestive. Chubby angels with workingman expressions bathe a jeering dragon as Christ looks burdened and emotionally weighed down. To his right, a cast of sorrowful disciples wait on his word, each one with an eyeball-shaped hole in their palms. To his left a provocative group of characters look anxious and sinister.
     There is no limit to the painting's effects. The scene is loaded with tiny details, both historical and personal. Ulrich painted himself vacating the room, staring disconcertingly at his reflection in a hand-held mirror. This slice of vanity pulls the painting from its historical grasp and spreads it across the full timeline. Purely a masterpiece.
     Restructuring famous art to discover new perspectives is nearly as old as art itself. It can be an act of rebellion, shaking a fist at the establishment. Messin' with the Masters steers clear of that mentality. It signals a devotion to the forefathers, paying homage and respecting the challenge of reinterpretation.
     Messin’ with the Masters runs until Sunday, January 26th at the Mesa Arts Center.

"Last Supper" by Christopher Ulrich

January 07, 2014

REVIEW: "Cupid Deluxe" by Blood Orange

Get locked in Blood Orange's new groove

Dev Hynes's second full-length release as Blood Orange is a collection of lush and funky songs focused on the deep inner emotions of love's onset and it's ultimate estrangement. It's called Cupid Deluxe.
At the front door "Chamakay" shuffles in with a smooth drum beat and vocals from Hynes that yearn and burn. He exhales every note, breathing deep breaths of serial longing on the microphone. His ache is front and center. His harmonies are weighed down by it. The song fades off with a slather of saxophone, an instrument that resurfaces often throughout the record.
Hynes is a British composer and songwriter. He has recorded albums as Lightspeed Champion and also with the band Test Icicles. Blood Orange came about after the dissolution of that band and the hiatus of Lightspeed Champion. Coastal Grooves was the first Blood Orange release with an emphasis on electronica and an R&B mood.
The tools at Hynes disposal could all be from the Eighties. Mainly, the groove of a chunky bass, a spirited guitar, to-the-point beats, synthesizers that cup the edges, and that wandering sax. It flutters along with a jogging bass line on "Uncle ACE," while jabs of thick synthesizers compete with spiny guitars.
"Chosen" is a cresting wave of saxophone falling over an archepelaggio of crimped bass and guitar. "On The Line" meshes a hypnotic keyboard loop with a subtle bass grope. "Tell me baby are you mine?" Hynes asks with a desperate energy in a drifting duet with Samantha Urbani, who lends her voice to seven tracks. 
Hynes's songs are quick dents into the lovelorn psyche. Each one instantly catches fire and burns steady with a groove that churns. He is the male version of Solange, who he has worked with. They both  grace their flittering, midnight R&B with impish quivers. They both use their music as a vehicle of emotion.
On "You're Not Good Enough" a guitar twang dips into the sappy romantic tale of a love left unrealized. The vocals alternate between the sexes, each one equally distraught. Hurling from the record's blueprint is "Clipped On," a blend of early 90s, record-scratching hip-hop with a bass line Sade would turn into gold. 
As great as the songs on Cupid Deluxe are, they don't expand much. They get locked in their groove, then become prisoners to that groove. It's not always a bad thing, but there is a desire for surprise at times. 
Every track on Cupid Deluxe has a deep longing and emotional pull to it. With Blood Orange, it is a formula that has become Hynes's forte. With his pumping blood red heart infused with every note of his music he has birthed indie rock's version of "soft rock." 

Key Tracks: "On The Line," "Uncle ACE," "You're Not Good Enough"

from: I.M.P.