Saturday, June 14, 2014

Music Review: Brian Jonestown Massacre - 'Revelation'

The fourteenth Brian Jonestown Massacre album, Revelation - the first to be recorded in their new Berlin, Germany recording studio - is a jangly psych-rock affair glazed in a frosty shoegazing chill. Although it's a terribly bland title, the new album is spirited with BJM's gloomy, then bright  psychedelic haze.

The band's one constant -  singer, writer, multi-instrumentalist Anton Newcombe - is a survivor of documented drug addiction (the rock documentary Dig!) and rumored alienation. He has produced an album with an almost paranoiac tone yet with a glint of light, of hope, creeping through the window of his safe European home. He has relocated to Berlin and is now a husband, father of a young son, and record producer. Word is, he's on the mend.

BJM have always been conspiracy-minded with a reckless enthusiasm for all things dark and dangerous. What more can you expect from a band name that is a combination of tragic Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones, and the mass suicide (or was it murder?) of hundreds of members of The People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. On Revelation an adult maturity has seized and anchored Newcombe, as if it suddenly dawned on him that being alive is better than being dead. "You've got to wake up and be a man, and know the plan", he sings on "What You Isn't", a song bristling with angry confidence and backed by a white-knuckled organ and American Indian tom-tom percussion.

The album boasts Newcombe's musical influences. He raises his glass to Robert Smith and The Cure on the ska-tinged, "Food For Clouds". He channels The Man Who Sold The World -era David Bowie on the whimsically lovelorn "Unknown". "Memorymix" impossibly combines The Beatles repeating Sgt. Pepper (title track) guitar riff with '90s electronica and club land dub, and is the most experimental song here even while constrained to a dance groove.

Newcombe never sounded so at peace with himself as he does on "Nightbird", a soulful "waking up alone" ballad with a modest string arrangement accompanying an acoustic guitar and killer melody. Throughout the album jangly Byrds-era guitar and customary drum beats that break in at perfect intervals add a sunny splash to the moody atmospherics.

Revelation gets darker and deeper on repeated listens. On first take the instrumental "Duck and Cover" seems only filler. On further listens, the whistling keyboards, like a perfectly cued air raid siren, paint a drone-filled sky governing the continents. It's food for thought from an artist not quite ready to abandon his inner rebel.

this article was first published at

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Music Review: Swans - 'To Be Kind'

Is that a melody? The new Swans album is packed with leader Michael Gira's trademark loud art rock - lengthy guitar slams and atmospheric droning passages in a no-wave political music one might meditate to while contemplating global domination. Add to the equation a sparkling melody and a shiny pop sheen.

There are downright catchy background vocals on the funk-minded "A Little God In My Hands". A trombone assault closes "Oxygen" like a Duke Ellington show-stopper, and there's guitar intros so rudimentary you could swear you're listening to Grand Funk Railroad strumming chords in search of a song structure. Swans have been infected with rhythm and melody, not to mention rock 'n roll.

It's a welcome change, a bright human element in Gira's bleak worldview where the godless militant sky squashes men like in an old Raid! commercial. Not that Swans have abandoned their metal shield of all things unnatural. The darkness is still visible in long guitar noise of complete chemical breakdown. Weird twisted tribal tongues still bark in the face of established religion. Moments of pure silence are shattered by a deafening assault on the ears. It's just that they've never sounded happier about total devastation.

On the 34-minutes long "Bring The Sun  / Toussaint L' Outerture", Gira sounds positively joyous singing a gripping infectious mantra above a cacophony of fierce guitar waves as if shouting "Ride 'em cowboy!" while straddling a nuclear missile.

In the David Lynch inspired collage "Just A Little Boy (For Chester Burnett)", he channels a cosmic hillbilly sporting a metal plate in his forehead while bleating "I'm just a little boy! I need love!". It's an eerie crawling music full of metallic tinkering and atmospheric hum interrupted by a mocking television laugh track. I envision a human harvesting operation in the Ozarks. The dedication to the great bluesman Burnett ("Howlin' Wolf") may be indicative of both Swans and Burnett employing pounding repetition in their music.

To Be Kind is a mammoth 2-disc recording (Special Edition has 3 discs) with over two hours of poetic, adventurous music. Swans have never sounded so accessible and yet so dark and mysterious. Largely funded by the Swans fan base, the album answers to no one but the delighted mesmerized listener.

Swans just started an extensive American and European tour.

this article was first featured at

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Theatre Review: 'The Anastasia Trials in The Court of Women' by Carolyn Gage at Rust Belt Books (Buffalo, NY)

A tiny space in a back room at Rust Belt Books on Allen Street in Buffalo, NY, is the venue for The Brazen Faced Varlet's production of "The Anastasia Trials in The Court of Women" by Carolyn Gage. It is an informal stage to say the least. Just ask the late arrivals who stepped through a door and into the small theatre and found themselves center stage during performance. They promptly sat in chairs that were certainly part of the set design.  A cast member turned to them and rudely said, "you can't sit there - go sit over there", and pointed to the designated seating with all the authority of a traffic cop and without losing a beat of her monologue.

The Varlets, a feminist thespian troupe, were prepared and likely eager for any impromptu minor collision to occur in this reckless comedic tour de force, a play within a play, concerning the trials, both genuine and psychological, of The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikulaevna,  the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

Before you envision Ingrid Bergman offering longing haunted looks to a movie camera, know that this Anastasia is a traumatized veiled waif who screams wildly at the mere mention of her history and behaves as though she needs a miracle worker and not a lawyer. She is played by a member of the bickering cast-within-a-cast who are mounting a theatrical production about a courtroom trial in which Anastasia accuses five women of denying her a rightful identity.

The production is falling apart at the seams as the cast bickers over everything and backstage shenanigans ensue. Two top critics are rumored to be attending the night's performance debunking the theory expressed by several of the ensemble that "The patriarchal media never reviews women's theatre!". More theatrical clichés are decked out like vaudevillian vignettes. A young ingénue hopes to steal the spotlight from a seasoned thespian; the playwright adds a new character moments before the curtain rises and informs the cast that she herself will play the role; a stagehand with a phobia of acting is thrust onstage much against her will. It is a recipe for the broadest and possibly blandest of comedy.

Yet this comedy with all its silliness rests assuredly on the historical plight of equality for women and the very genuine sorrow of the raped and murdered Grand Duchess Anastasia and her pathetic imposter who was briefly the toast of the New York City elite in the 1920s. That this "Noises Off" farce could so seriously strike a humanitarian feminist vein in the midst of its outrageous comedy is a credit to its impassioned and energized cast and director, Lara D. Haberberger.

Diane McNamara playing Anastasia's aunt and closest surviving relative embodies the entire fallen Russian empire in gestures of regal hollowness that turn the stage deadly significant however briefly. She offers a surprisingly touching account of her niece's final days. Kelly M. Beuth playing a cussing bag lady friend of Anastasia is as animated as an adrenalin-charged cartoon character, and as wise as theatrical bag ladies will be. The entire cast performs well teetering between loud absurdist comedy and empowered feminist statement.

The audience plays judge and are asked at times to allow an attorney to proceed or be sustained, through the use of little stick women designating yes or no, handed out as the audience enters the theatre. It's a cute gimmick that adds a childlike touch to a strange night of theatre wherein the audience exits with the dubious and possibly schizophrenic understanding that we are all Anastasia, Grand Duchess to the Tsar of Russia.

this article was first featured at

Monday, January 6, 2014

Music Review: Various Artists - 'Punk Goes Christmas'

This is not your father's anarchic punk Christmas..The punks in the new holiday compilation from Fearless Records, Punk Goes Christmas ,are a gentle lot content on cuddling warm embraces under the mistletoe and marveling over Santa's solid gold Cadillac. These punks are tame mainstream rockers with holiday songs more indebted to Brenda Lee than The Sex Pistols.

William Beckett's "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is so void of irony, so traditional, you might as well be listening to Catholic mass. Even Alvin and The Chipmunks probably have a more sparkling rendition of this holiday chestnut.

There are more familiar punk leanings on Man Overboard's snotty "Father Christmas" with a jagged garage guitar backing up a leftist sentiment of an unfair Santa who gives "all the toys to the little rich boys". The song is all about rolling Santa for his money and is about as radical as this music gets.

Issues' "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" (no shortage of uninspired song titles) is catchy radio fare with an aggressive metal vocal grunt merging with a squeaky clean pop vocal track. It's a delectable blend of Top 40 kiddie pop with just a sprinkle of holiday sentiment.

Set It Off's "This Christmas (I'll Burn It To The Ground)" sounds more Halloween than Christmas. It offers a traditional "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" morphing into a Gothic dripping Christmas rampage concerning a can of gasoline. Not only does Grandma get run over by a reindeer, she is  burned alive at the stake.

But mostly these are tame radio friendly songs your Grandmother might tap her foot along to. New Found Glory's "Nothing For Christmas" is an acoustic-strumming, folksy love song about wanting nothing for Christmas because "I got what I needed ... it's you".  The Summer Sets' "This Christmas" is a slick and danceable glitter ball of kiddie techno culture. That is as fine as Top 40 radio gets.

But is this punk? Absolutely not. But it is is a most agreeable grab bag of Christmas candy. These young punks still believe in Santa Claus.

this review was first published at

Friday, November 29, 2013

Music Review: Al Kryszak, 'Lullabies For People Who Don't Need Sleep'

Bless the unknown musician who, despite a constant output of musical creation thrown to the wind unheard, continues to burrow through the icy and crowded stream of musical culture with his latest, soon to be unheralded collection of songs.

Al Kryszak, creator and front man of Buffalo-based alt-rock outfit REV, is one such musician. With four full-length REV albums and several classical music and film score releases distributed from his one-man operation,  Kryszak continues to produce and release fiercely independent music that goes largely unheard.

His newest, first alt-rock solo release, Lullabies for People Who Don't Need Sleep is an intricately woven but wildly stitched pattern of acoustic composition adorned with a light arrangement of sparse background collage that support the subtlest, and often sweetest, of melodies.

The lingering melody rises above a low hum and rattle industrial soundscape in the somber "Shadow of A Coal Plant". Kryszak's soft acoustic plucking, and a swirling, decidedly '70s style church organ paint a lovingly polluted blue-grey sky over a dominating, watchful coal plant. It's a sad, nearly resigned protest song set in a post-apocalyptic-like urban wasteland where citizens work their cancer-causing impossible gardens "in the shadow of the coal plant". It is the outstanding track on this album.

The organic acoustic compositions, often adorned with low-key techno arrangements, snake through a jungle of urban and emotional angst that finds modern blight suffocating the artist sadly strumming his guitar at its center.  Album opener "Declare Nothing" is a downcast of anger with overdubbed vocals and altering guitar riffs. It finds the composition of music and its empty reception, a lifestyle where "talking to the mynah bird" is the art of writing a song.

Elsewhere things get a bit more cheery. "The Rock I Came From" is a funky acoustic jam that explores the genre of rock music, or existence itself, as a rapidly disappearing entity where flowers still grow. "Trying To Remember" is a warm slice of dreamy psych music with the slightest detection of an old Neil Diamond guitar chord at its base.

One gets the impression that when Kryszak touches upon a musical nirvana, such as the peaceful plateau he reaches on "Trying To Remember", the field is ripe for further exploration. But he quickly moves up the path, searching for another riff or melody, as if snuffing out any commercial weeds growing in his garden. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. It makes for wildly creative music, but you may want to linger a little longer on the breezy summit of "Trying To Remember", which is just over two minutes long.

Lullabies For People Who Don't Need Sleep is a little rough around the edges. The naked, likely first-take vocals are sometimes harsh, when you know he can sound better, as he does when he supports his own voice with background vocals. It is his choice for the organic sound of the recording, a precious expression of a genuine artist.

this article was first published at:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: 'A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir' by John Grant

Ask the question, "What is film noir?" of film buffs and you'll likely get diverse answers. Ask them "What is neonoir?" and you're liable to start a fight. Passionate arguments abound about what is and isn't film noir, and if the term "neonoir", a term used to describe noir made after around 1960, is a valid genre in the canon of cinema.

 In his humongous volume, A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir (Limelight Editions, 2013), author John Grant defines film noir - a term first coined by French movie critics to describe the wave of American black & white crime movies of the 1940s - as "knowing it when you see it". His complete definition is more thorough and complex, but "knowing it when you see it" is an apt description of this elusive movie genre that most often incorporates shadowy lighting, black & white cinematography, urban settings and crime.

With over 3,250 movie entries listed in encyclopedic fashion, the book is a page-thumbing romp for movie buffs with a passion for noir. The short introductory chapter is an interesting history that finds the genre evolving, not from artistic creativity, but from a limited movie budget which sacrificed elaborate set designs for shadowy rooms narrow in scope. We learn the French coined the term in retrospect, after viewing American films of the 1940s denied to them during the Nazi occupation of WWII.

One man's film noir is another man's detective story, or police procedural, or gangster film. It's a highly subjective categorization that the author admits will find discourse among readers. It is my opinion that Thelma and Louise (1991) does not belong here, while David Lynch's Inland Empire (2006), should have been included. You may disagree or feel validated by several of the author's inclusions.

The listings include production credits, national origin, year of release, and cast. Several obscure foreign film noir are among them. The sometimes brief, sometimes lengthy plot synopsis are often wordy and strictly subjective. I wish the author had omitted his critical analysis of the films in favor of their relation to the genre of noir. The premise of the hard-boiled, white-knuckled paranoid crime thriller D.O.A. (1950), a classic black & white film noir, about a man hunting the killer who gave him a fatal dose of poison, is described as enchanting. It is not. It is mean and raw.

Still, the book is a welcome addition to any film buff's library. It's communicative to the point that you may yell out loud in disagreement. It includes glossy publicity photos of selected films, and selected filmographies of directors, actors and authors.

this article was first published by -

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Music Review: Tony Joe White, 'Hoodoo'

In 1969, Washington D.C.-based Monument Records released Cajun-blues inspired Tony Joe White's first single - "Polk Salad Annie" - a delectable blend of swamp rock and funky Mississippi Delta Blues, that was immediately likable and addictive, and unlike any other Top 40 record of the era. After 9 months of circulation, the single never broke into the popular charts and was deemed a failure and written off by the record company.

Yet requests for the single trickled in from remote Southern U.S. locales, where White had toured, and a few visionary disc jockeys, recognizing the excellence and hit potential of the record, continued to play it. The unlikely hit single that sang of "poke sallet", a food product of the pokeweed plant known to Southern culture, started to nudge up the charts and didn't stop its ascension until it reached #8 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Here's hoping it doesn't take blues music fans as long to find Tony Joe White's new album, Hoodoo (Yep Roc Records), as long as it took record fans to find "Polk Salad Annie". At 70 years old, the songwriter of one of the most beloved blues songs to ever hit the popular charts - "Rainy Night in Georgia" - has released a low-key and stunning guitar driven blues record featuring a low and thumping bass line sure to fondle the beat of your blues hungry heart and shake the beer in your glass.

The blend of instruments - guitars, thumping bass, a touch of harmonica and keyboards - have such an organic and impromptu sound it is no wonder White boasts that much of the record was recorded live to tape on first takes. It sounds like a flawless live performance. White's fluid sliding guitars merges seamlessly with Steve Forrest's bottom-feeding bass and Bryan Owen's steady percussion, to create a simple but atmospheric and seductive blues music.

The autobiographical songs of hungry life in the rural South are heartfelt testimonies from a master of Blues philosophy. "Alligator, Mississippi", with its chugging chainsaw guitar, has all the muscle and drive of an alligator wrestling its dinner. "Gypsy Epilogue" fuses the dying embers of a gypsy campfire with a reverberating slide guitar adorning the sentimental philosophy - "can't eavesdrop on the future, can't dance with the past".

The most striking songs are eyewitness accounts of natural disasters so familiar to the people of the deeply southern U.S. The cyclic familial narrative of "Storm's Comin'" invokes a warm bond as White's patriarchal, controlled voice sings with just a measure of desperation - "Kids get up, get your clothes on, storm's comin'". The catastrophic 2010 Nashville floods are documented in "The Flood", where a higher ground vantage point reveals an unrecognizable Nashville with "guitars floating down the river and drum sets washed up on the road". These storm-themed songs come from a voice that has experienced and a respect for the ravages of nature.

Listening to White is like listening to the elder father at the family supper table, who holds you spellbound with tales of storms, lovers and family bonds. He grips the listener in a warm cocoon of fascination while never abandoning a rich and rowdy blues spirit. Hoodoo is a splendid blues album, maybe the best we'll hear all year.

this article was first published by the author at: