Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category



I first met Ethan & Caleb at the show pictured above, playing songs from their debut album Turquoise, released 2007. I was surprised and impressed hearing them for the first time, the way you can be, unexpectedly, when paying heed to opening bands. I was cautiously hopefully before I ever heard them play a note when I saw them rolling in the Hammond, checking the harmonica, and asking the sound man for as much reverb on the guitar as possible.

I am a sucker for music evocative of the emptier patches of the American southwest (Calexico, Friends of Dean Martinez, Valley of the Giants, etc). With a name like Headdress and an album decorated with feathers, tipis, and hand-stitching, they make no secret of their aim to follow the same trail with their pueblocore sound. Unlike the previously mentioned bands though, the music of Headdress feels slower, thinner, and more expansive, with the small sound of their two-piece band echoing to fill the shape of much larger space, suggesting all the stereotypical imagery of vast canyons and open plains.

The song they performed that night, ‘Sky Mountain Rising,’ was recorded live at The Mohawk, and is yet to be released, but still my favorite:

They spin themselves into a shamanistic, purifying drone, with chanting and rattles and bone-shaking low end. Truly great stuff. Ride the snake, boys.

Headdress are playing tomorrow at Webster Hall, New York City, 1-28-2009.


The Wrestler

Disclaimer: I am a wussie. I had to talk myself into agreeing to see Let the Right One In, the bloody Swedish vampire flick in theaters right now. But it was nowhere near as violent as The Wrestler. Vampire movies are surreal and detached, but The Wrestler was real and terrifying.

There’s a whole category of movies I love that celebrate niche groups and outsiders. The Wrestler is not a documentary like those—indeed it overstates its dramatization—but it is the only serious treatment of pro wrestling that I’ve ever seen. This movie exposes the physical and emotional addiction that tempts these performers into a career that leaves them broken and bruised. For the main character in this film, that physical decline is matched by a descent into obscurity, and an inability to assimilate after his one talent in life no longer pays the bills. In the mind of the audience, choreographed wrestling matches were transformed into gripping fights, where the age and frailty of the wrestlers created heart-pounding uncertainty about whether the pain on their faces was fake or real.

For me, the most poignant theme offered by this story was the profound loneliness of this man, who for all his warmth cannot seem to make connections with the people he meets outside of the wrestling world. During a brief scene, he invites one of the neighborhood boys into his trailer to play a video game. They play a game starring the wrestler himself, released during his heyday many years ago. But the boy, unimpressed, makes a careless remark about how old it is, declines a rematch and leaves to be with his friends. It was so affecting to see that even a child could simultaneously reject and make irrelevant this towering hulk of a man.

My only complaint about this movie would be how distractingly present the screenwriting was. Every person was a one dimensional character: jersey x’er with the hair metal tapes, lesbian with father issues, stripper with a heart of gold. Every carefully placed motion advanced the plot: does a glance askew mean he’s ADHD; does a labored autograph mean he’s illiterate? Blagh.

In fairness, no scene was wasted. The pace was fast and the message was clear: today’s heroes are tomorrow’s castaways. Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m too jaded to appreciate well-executed scriptcraft without noticing the numbers behind the paint.

Music with Roots in the Aether: Pauline Oliveros

Music with Roots in the Aether: Pauline Oliveros
at MoMA 11-27-2008

Music with Roots in the Aether, Part 6: Pauline Oliveros (1975) was presented as part of the Looking At Music film series currently at the Museum of Modern Art.

This film was a triple threat with an interesting interview of influential composer Pauline Oliveros, a surreal setting that included costumed actors engaged in absurd performance in the background, and a final half hour full of pulsing drone as Oliveros gave an intimate concert.

Like most of the composers interviewed for this series, Oliveros first learned the language of traditional composition through her studies, and only earned her notoriety after developing her own voice. She described how her rebirth began with deep listening—a microphone in the windowsill inspired a promise to herself to always be aware of the sound environment around her.

I identified with her complaints of performance anxiety. Her attempts to free herself from that led to her current compositional process, which is an extreme form of detachment that she describes as “deformation.” It’s a state of improvised performance that she tries to reach by ignoring her own impulses, which she calls “intentions.” If she feels a conscious urge to create a sound, she ignores it, and instead waits for a hand of creation that seems to come not of her own will.

Also identified with her intensely introspective thinking. In her own words, she spends a great deal of time analyzing her own creative process with a scientific rigor, including the emotional setup and extraneous influences of setting and circumstance that combine to direct the result. She is her own analyst and observer and she reports on her thoughts and motivations with an insight and clarity that is telling of a very intelligent lady.

She also frees herself from painful scrutiny by drawing in “materials other than sound” into the “performance event” in order to disorient the audience by upsetting their expectations. I can see how that would create a situation where the audience is forced to respond to the piece on its own grounds, severed from any conventional wisdom about what makes music good or bad. Expectation taints perception. It is a prejudice that undermines the honesty of experience.

The back and forth between the interviewer, Robert Ashley, himself a noteworthy figure in highly academic contemporary music, was that of and informal chat among peers. I really enjoyed their sincere appreciation of each others work and comments on such, and the insider perspective enriching the whole discussion.

Anyone who enjoys thinking about what music is, how music is made, and how it can be performed would enjoy this documentary series. Also, this one in particular would be a mondo headfuck while on mushrooms.