Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This Is The End ...Of The Year: Favorites Of 2014

So... 2014 kinda came and went, didn't it? Nice knowing ya, year of recorded human history!

Here are some of the things I liked from the year that was. Keep in mind that this isn't some sorta "Best-of 2014" list. These are just things that caught my fancy. Because best-of lists are for contention-loving schmucks.


Favorite Record  
1. Eyelids 854 (Jealous Butcher)

In a musical landscape so backwards-looking and tired, it's refreshing to hear an unfussy, straight-ahead indierock record. 854 by Portland's Eyelids is so damned awesome, it reminds of why you listen to independent rock music in the first place. Boasting a pedigree that includes musicians from Guided By Voices, The Decemberists and Elliott Smith's former back-up band, Eyelids make music as familiar as a pair of comfortably broken-in Chuck Taylors. Purchased on puke green vinyl, this record hasn't left my turntable since I brought it home.

2. Real Estate Atlas (Domino)
3. Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animals (What's Your Rupture?)
4. A Sunny Day In Glasgow Sea When Absent (Lefse)
5. Grouper Ruins (kranky)
6. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
7. The Minders It's Going to Break Out (Dirigible)
8. Tacocat NVM (Hardly Art)
9. Whirr Sway (Graveface)
10. Alvvays Alvvays (Polyvinyl)

Favorite Reissue 
Flake Music When You Land Here, It's Time To Return (Sub Pop)

Cleaned up and dusted off, this pre-Shins release from Flake Music simply sounds amazing. Where the Omnibus Records version sounded charmingly lo-fi, Sub Pop's near-crystal clear reissue (remixed by Kennie Takahashi and remastered by J.J. Golden) brings these 11 songs out from under the fuzziness and tape hiss. With new album art and songs given new names (and previously untitled songs again given names), When You Land Here... is a masterfully recharged time capsule.

Favorite Album Cover
The Faint Doom Abuse (SQE Music)

Here's a couple of things I know about The Faint: 1. They make electronic-ish music (right?) 2. Emo god Conor Oberst was in this band during it's infancy. 3. I can't name a single song of theirs. That being said, I love the album artwork on the band's sixth studio release, Doom Abuse. The collage is Robert Pollard-esque, with those kinky, creamy thigh high stockings peaking up all preying mantis style. And Doom Abuse? That's a fuckin' great name right there, I have to admit.

Favorite Song
Grouper "Clearing"
From the album Ruins (kranky)

Portland-based musician Liz Harris makes fragile and stirring music under the moniker Grouper. It's as if the songs she writes are carefully written with a fine point paint brush on the side of spider webs. Ruins, Harris' latest album (right at home on the kranky Records roster) is utterly beautiful and brilliant. Of the eight sparse and tender songs on this album, "Clearing" commands repeat rewinds. Harris' vocals weave smoothly between piano raindrops like a phantom you've always wanted haunting your world. Ruins is, quite simply, a stunning album.

Image courtesy christopher-walken.tumblr.com
Favorite Live Show
At The Crystal Ballroom
Portland, OR

As if I was going to pass on seeing shoegaze legends Slowdive perform their dreampop journal entries live on stage. Twenty years on, and the band sounds as if they never unplugged their effects pedals and called it a day. While songs from the band's first two albums sounded delightfully note-for-note, retooled songs from their third release, Pygmalion, sounded rollicking ("Crazy for You") and surf dusted ("Blue Skied An' Clear"). I even got a smile from singer Rachel Goswell as the band exited the stage. So, night absolutely - ecstatically - made.

Favorite Video
The Walking Dead Parody (Nerdist.com)

While I can't say that there was a music video from 2014 that particularly impressed my (sorry Taylor Swift), this Walking Dead parody titled (ironically enough) The Walking Dead Parody by The Hillywood Show indeed does. Set to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" - and boasting production values that put typical YouTube videos to deep, deep shame - Hilly (as Sheriff Frank Grimes) and her extremely talented crew have produced a video that is at once entertaining, inventive and, yes, highly impressive.

Favorite Record Label 
Bayonet Records

Launched this year by Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur and his wife (former Captured Tracks label manager), Katie Garcia, Bayonet Records is one of those scrappy upstart record companies you just want to root for. With a roster that includes Warehouse, Jerry Paper, Frankie Cosmos, and, of course, Beach Fossils, Bayonet is off to a fantastic start. Even their logo over there to the left is on point. There's no website as of yet for this fledgling record label (which shows they're keeping costs down), but they have a social media presence via Facebook, Twitter and SoundCloud, so there's that. Now go out buy one of this label's records already, would ya?

Favorite Film
Guardians of the Galaxy
Directed by James Gunn
Marvel Studios

I should put Birdman or Nightcrawler here; something cinematically respectable-ish. The problem (yours, not mine) is that I can't think of a film I enjoyed watching more this year  than Marvel's Guardian's of the Galaxy (The Grand Budapest Hotel runs a very, very close second, and God Help the Girl third). Directed by James Gunn (Super, Slither), and starring Parks and Recreations' Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy is just another super hero team-building exercise, only funnier and infinitely more entertaining. Pratt plays Peter "Star Lord" Quill, a human plucked from Earth as a child by aliens, taken to a distant galaxy, seemingly fed protein shakes and muscle toner, and groomed to be expert space pirate (think Han Solo crossed with Malcolm Reynolds). Armed with the best mixtape, like, ever, Peter runs afoul of some big shot looking to retrieve the MacGuffin our hero just plundered... Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, the plot is textbook comic adaptation. What's not is the character-driven likability of the principle players. You got Pratt (always hilarious), Star Trek's Zoe Salanda as bad-ass Gamora, former wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax, Bradley Cooper as the voice of bounty hunting Rocket Racoon, and Vin Diesel (!) as the voice of giant CGI talking tree name Groot (his only line: variations of, "My name is Groot.") You'll like these guys. You'll root for these guys. And much like Firefly, by the end this crew feels like a reluctant, yet loving family. Guardians of the Galaxy is a damn good, highly entertaining and hilarious movie.

Favorite Book
Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film
By Marc Spitz

One wouldn't be remiss for confusing "twee" for "hipster." But since the word "hipster" has become a four-letter punching bag as of late (sorry, 1960's poetry-spewing beatniks), journalist Marc Spitz knows better than to put that receipt poison on the cover of his latest book, Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film. Charting the trajectory of all thing precious and whimsical in our society, Spitz gives us the history of twee culture from Charles Schultz, Nick Drake and The Smiths through to Belle and Sebastian, Wes Anderson and Zooey Deschanel. And just when you think he'll miss a touchstone or two, Spits will make mention of Vince Guaraldi, Dawn Wiener or Portlandia. For as exhaustive as Spitz research and writing are, however, his coverage is surprisingly, er, pale. Sure, this is twee culture he's writing about, and this culture appeals to a largely white demographic. But, where is the mention of former Daily Show correspondent and puppet-aided comedian Wyatt Cenac? Arthur Lee and Love?  Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi? Graphic novelist Adrian Tomine? Or even the legions of dedicated Smiths/Morrissey fans within L.A.'s Latino community?  Where's the chapter on professional skateboarder, artist and frequent Spike Jonze collaborator Mark Gonzales? That being said, Spitz's book makes for an entertaining and educational read. There's more of you quiet, crafty and thoughtful folks out there than you know. Mark Spitz has kindly provided the bible for your kind.

Favorite Thing
Keen Footwear 'Vendetta' Mid WP, Sz. 13

Or the part where I should just call this section "Favorite Shoes." The last couple of years (seriously? Years, now?!?) doing these year-end lists, my favorite thing has been a pair of shoes. What can I say? I love shoes. This year's shoe comes from Keen Footwear. I've never owned a pair of Keen shoes, but since obtaining this brand's Vendetta waterproof mid top kicks, I realized that I have never (up until this point) known what true shoe comfort really is. The Keen Vendetta has become my go-to shoe. Comfortable and lightweight, this is the perfect fall/winter shoe. The Vendetta features a generous toe box, supportive foot bed inserts, padded collars, and traction soles, This shoe is even great for riding my bike in, as it features a reflective strip on the back ankle section. Sturdy, aesthetically slick (they remind me of Batman's Tumbler for some reason), and - above all - comfortable, The Vendetta is my absolute favorite thing from the year that was twenty-ought double-lucky.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Guided By Roses" Skateboard Deck - Guided By Voices x Vision Mark Gonzales

The original board, c. 1997

One of my absolute skateboard decks of all time is the Vision Mark "The Gonz" Gonzales "Gonz and Roses" plank. And one of my absolute favorite bands of all time is Dayton, Ohio's Guided By Voices.

The Krooked repro, c. 2014

One day, while listening to Guided By Voices' album Mag Earwhig, I was hounding eBay for a vintage "Gonz and Roses" board (which easily fetches over $1,000 now). Looking at this board's graphics, insipid inspiration took hold, and the idea to take two things that I love and merge them into one became an impulse I could not ignore.
And that idea begat this: the "Guided By Roses" deck.

"Guided By Roses," c. 2014

It features Bob Pollard à la heavily-inspired Mark Gonzales artwork, beer bottle in one hand, cigarette in the other, with Mr. Pollard's take-no-shit mug. The flowers feature the GBV rune in the middle of them, as does the dot on one of his sneakers.

This board, of course, was designed for fun, not profit. I simply wanted to make a tribute to two artists I admire greatly. So, yeah...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fiver XII - Troll 2: Leprechaun In The Hood

Whew! It's been a while since I've done one of these most popular and highly clamored-for Fiver music recommendation entries. My apologies to all three of my regular readers.

So, a lot has been happening in my life that has afforded me no free time to dilly-dally on this here middling blog. Four months ago I moved to a new town (Portland, Oregon), got not one but two new jobs (one in the shoe biz, and the other in cleaning up people's hotel rooms - natch!) and have been learning my way around my new adoptive city.

So, you can forgive me for not devoting as much time to writing about and pontificating on the merits of modern music as I have in the past. Upheaval and reorientation really takes a toll on your trivial, self-imposed blogging duties.

Given that, I give you this: a brand new installment of Fiver. And because one of my favorite past times is kvetching while the getting's good, here are some observations I've made about the town I live in and love:

Stephen Steinbrink "Now You See Everything" (mp3)
From the album Arranged Waves
2014, Melodic Records

The one thing I've come to be tickled about Portland is that no one can, for the life of themselves, point you in the direction of a decent rain jacket. For a town synonymous with rain, you can't help but appreciate the irony of people being flummoxed when asked where a great place to purchase a shield from the drizzle is. I see people walking around in some spiffy-looking rain kits, and out of desperation, I've even asked several of these folks where they've purchased their gear. Every time, the bedecked person will squint their eyes, look far off while combing their memories and tell me that they can't recall where they purchased their aesthetically-pleasing rain jacket. It's become a bit of a game for me, this rain jacket query thing. Mark my words, one day I'll find that Portlander who will recall where they bought their rain jacket. Mark 'em!

Alvvays "Archie Marry Me" (mp3)
From the album Alvvays 
2014, Polyvinyl Records

Speaking of games, one of my other favorites is wearing my Joy Division Unknown Pleasures T-shirt out and about and receiving comments like, "Hey: Joy Division!" as if I didn't know what was screen printed on the shirt I was currently wearing. Exactly when did t-shirts become something you had to read out loud to the wearer? While I admit it was kind of nice being lavished with attention for making a clothing purchase that reflects my music predilections, this point-and-comment jazz has become slightly irksome. Now I carry a note pad filled only with hash-outs in it. For every comment, I pull out the note pad, strike a hash, show it to the commenter, and say something like, "And that's number five!" I'm fun.

Eyelids "Forget About Tomorrow" (mp3)
From the album 854 
2014, Jealous Butcher Records

You know what's not fun to do in Portland? Driving a car. Driving in this town isn't horrible, per se. It's simply annoying. This town is, by design, condensed. Come five pm on any given work week, the streets and freeways are packed, bumper-to-bumper, with cars. But even on those days when traffic isn't an issue, some of this city's denizen's driving is. We're talking drifting into other lanes, braking through turns, driving excessively slow, etc. You want to know why so many people in Portland ride bikes? Exercise? Enjoyment? Mobility? Perhaps. Perhaps... But I like to think another main factor is that riding a bike in Portland (even when getting nearly clipped by automobiles and city buses) isn't as much of a pain in the ass to maneuver around people mis-driving their cars is.

Tacocat "Stereogram" (mp3)
From the album NVM
2014, Hardly Art Records

Okay, not to objectify and reduce other human beings down to the sum of their literal parts, but I like big butts and I cannot lie. Nay! Will not lie. But even as an appreciator of perfectly round glutenous maximi, I can't help but reel at the veritable embarrassment of riches Portland offers in the viewing of said buns. Yes, I'm talking about women wearing tights as pants, and it's out of control up here. Leggings, sprayed-on jeans, oil-slick pants: you name it, and Portland's youthfully booty-ful are squeezing into them. Tight leggings are essentially the be-thonged whale tail of The Tweens, and nearly everyone here (and I'm sure in your town, too) is lip-biting and cursing their way into them. But with so many butts on display, overload has eventually set in, and like viewing a rare eclipse of the sun, it's now become best to simply look away.

Grouper "Clearing" (YouTube)
From the album Ruins
2014, Kranky Records

Speaking of butts... Come summertime, the phenomenon of ass cleavage rears it's smooth, taught head! Yes, lower butt cheek-revealing casual wear is the norm among Portland's non-cellulite-having young women when the sun beams down. Barely cloaked in what is essentially denim bikini bottoms, this ass cheek peek-a-boo will at once excite and leave the viewer feeling lecherous. Ghostly white, artificially baked and even tattooed (imagine requesting that service), there are nearly as many women's butt cheek peeks than the entire of Daytona Beach on spring break (hyperbolically speaking). Of course there are worse things than living in a town full to the bottom of barely-revealing Daisy Dukes, and I wouldn't have this shameless little burg any other way. All-in-all, I unequivocally love this town!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands

2014 - Documentary
Heaven Adores You, LLC
10 out of 10

The first and only time I stood in the same room with singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, I had to be cajoled into doing so. My then-ex-girlfriend had become - due in large part to Smith's Goodwill Hunting Oscar nod - a recent and ravenous fan of his sweetly delicate sound. I, however, was resistant to jump in on the Elliott Smith-adoring bandwagon, despite my love of Nick Drake, Love, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and all of the other hazy folk-rock music makers I championed (which Smith easily would have fit in with).  

Maybe it was the hype building around this guy. Or perhaps it was my ex's ex-boyfriend's not-so-subtle re-courting of her with Elliott Smith-laden mix tapes. I dunno. I just wasn't buying in to this Smith guy's deal.

It was around 1999 that Elliott Smith was touring behind his latest album, Figure 8, and he was coming to The Fillmore in San Francisco. The Minders were opening, and since I was (and still very much am) a big fan of that band, I relented to my ex's prodding to go with her to this show. She even offered to pony-up for the tickets, so why not?

From the time Elliott Smith took the stage, to his final bow on the third (or was it fourth?) encore, I realized exactly what kind of ignoramus I had been (the worst kind, naturally). There I was, standing in the presence of a bona fide musical genius: it was undeniable. To this day, I'm still thankful that I hadn't missed what I still consider to be one of the absolute best concert-going experiences I've been extremely fortunate to witness.

From that moment to this, I have remained a huge fan Elliott Smith's music.

Judging by the capacity crowd at the Portland Art Museum's Whitsell Auditorium - there to watch Nickolas Dylan Rossi's largely KickStarter-funded documentary about Smith, Heaven Adores You, (part of the 32nd Annual Reel Music Festival) - fans both young and greying have been touched by the late musician's music. For anyone in the audience on the fence about the brilliance that lies within Smith's songs, Rossi's film will surely have produced new converts.

Steering away from the sensationalism that made the previous documentary about Elliott Smith's life (2009's Searching for Elliott Smith) seem more like tabloid fodder lite, Rossi instead rather wisely focuses on the gravitational pull Elliott Smith's music had, and still has today (Rossi purposefully omits any mention of Smith's former girlfriend and the last person to see him alive, Jennifer Chiba, all together). Retracing Smith's life in chapters, HeavenAdores You moves along - much like Smith's music, which of course appears this film - at its own glacial pace, tracing Smith's early musical inclinations as a teenager in Texas, through his prolific and formative rain-soaked Portland-based days playing in a bevy of 90's bands (Heatmiser, most notably), to his Oscar-buzzed rise and eventual decline (Smith died in Los Angeles in 2003 at the age of 34).

Through the tapestry of Elliott Smith's life, Rossi introduces us to Smith's friends and family, each discussing the profound impact he had on them. From Jackpot Studio's Larry Crane, Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon, Hazel's Pete Krebs, Smith's former girlfriend Joanna Bolme, his half-sister Ashley Welsh, and many, many more, Rossi's film weaves together the threads Elliott Smith's presence had on everyone he knew, and the void his passing left behind.

All of this is not to say that Heaven Adores You is a completely melancholy film. Though Smith's death hovers throughout, Rossi's film is tempered in equal measures pathos and humor. Through various recorded interviews, pictures both smiling and mischievous, and interviews with friends, family and colleagues, Rossi paints a picture of a man in possession of a deep well of thoughtfulness and joy. As Crane recollects at one point in the film, all Elliott Smith wanted to do was write and record music. Smith's genius, as this movie illustrates, didn't just lay in his voluminous output, but his desire to share his music - his observations, heartache and humor - with the world.

That Smith had a keen ear for melody and harmony (to say nothing of his skillful guitar playing and his honey-hushed vocal delivery) were part and parcel of the man's intellect. As illustrated in Rossi's film, Smith's solo artist emergence in Portland (and later, the world) was immediate and undeniable. The casual observer may have heard just another depressed guy singing "sad bastard music," but those with keener ears (Smiths fans, most notably) saw and heard reflections of themselves in Smith's songs. The thesis statement of Rossi's film may just be that Elliott Smith belonged to us: we got him, and he got us - even if only for too a short time.

According to the film's music scorer and close personal friend of Smith, Kevin Moyer, Heaven Adores You is slated, hopefully, for a spring 2015 release. As a fan of Elliott Smith (and film in general), I sincerely hope a savvy and intelligent studio picks this film up for wide release. This is quite simply a beautiful and moving film, filled with emotion, insight and, of course, Elliott Smith’s incredible music.

From it's sumptuous aerial and still photography, to its seemless editing, and those rare, unreleased songs (the hilarious and sweet "I Love My Room" in particular, which plays over the end credits, was written when Smith was 14 years-old), Heaven Adores You is one of the best independent documentary films I have seen (and on a deeper level, felt) in a very long time. A bittersweet and cathartic film, Heaven Adores You will leave you smiling through the tears.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ello, Ello - Here We Go (Again)!

Ello's Logo: A premature shit-eating grin?
So, I too have bought in to the brand new social networking phenomenon taking the "old" social networking website guard (sorry, Facebook) by streamlined, no-frills, advertisment-less storm. Yes, I'm talking about the website you and your friends have all been raving about: Ello.

Promising an non-intusive and simple social networking experience, Ello bills itself as a very un-Facebook friend-connecting experience. To take part in this website-gone-viral, you have to be invited by a friend. So, essentially, Ello is a sort of virtual country club, but one decorated in stark and simple black and white. Think Twitter if that site allowed more characters and was rendered on a white sheet of paper.

So far, my experience with Ello has been, well... meh. While it is nice to be on a social network that doesn't data mine your identity into oblivion, Ello's sparse aesthetic mixed with making it difficult to find friends on the site and a lack of a mobile app presence leaves something to be desired. But, that being said, Ello is still in its beta test phase, so they can afford some baby steps slack. And it's free for those invited, so there's that.

Given the history of several tried-and-failed social networking misfires (*cough!* Google+ *cough!*), Ello definitely seems to be positioning itself successfully at the moment as the "anti-Facebook" that website's increasingly kvetching users have been clamoring for for some time now. Time will tell if Ello is indeed the giant slayer it posits itself to be, or yet another in a long line of best intention-ers whose names you can't remember. 

Anyhoo, I'm here if you're interested in Ello-ing with me. So far I have two very underwhelming missives and I had a "friend" (I'm sorry, "Noise") made with me by someone who "ello's" in Spanish (damn you, high school German language-taking me!) So... huzzah, I guess.

Ello. It's like Facebook, only not. That's what seemingly everyone's hyping about these days, anyway.


Update (09/05/2014): Due to a complete lack of interest in investing the time or energy it requires to post anything on this brand spankin' new social networking website (that, mind you, had everyone all a-buzz just a few weeks ago), I've cancelled my account. Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, this blog, and a raft of other social media obligations (let's face it, that's what all this online junk has become: obligatory), I suppose personal expression online outlet fatigue has finally set in. So... Ello, goodbye.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bonding. James Bonding.

Name another film franchise with more longevity, influence and legend as the James Bond series. Go ahead. I'll give you a second or 0:07...

With 23 films spanning over 50 years (not counting teleplays, spoofs, and one non-cannon entry), creator Ian Flemming's suave, adventurous and quip-equipped British secret agent has thrilled audiences for decades. Played by six different actors over Bond's storied lifetime, 007 set the standard for everything action movies are today. No other movie franchise has had as long-lasting an impact as James Bond.

I was first introduced to Bond in 1994 while watching For Your Eyes Only on VHS at a friend's house. Needless to say, I was instantly and insanely hooked. And like many James Bond fans of my generation, Roger Moore (the third actor to take the up the M:I6 agent's mantle), became my Bond. Decades later, I would introduce my son to Bond via Pierce Brosnan's four film run. Bond has become such an ingrained institution in our family, I have no doubt any future grandchildren I may have will become indoctrinated into the adventures of Universal Exports most successful field agent as well.

James Bond's fans are legion. Take Matt Mira and Matt Gourley, for example. Their shared enthusiasm of all things Bond led these two superfans to create and host the highly entertaining and in-depth film review podcast, James Bonding (via the Nerdist.com website). Highly informative, brutally honest and absolutely hilarious, "The Matts" delve into these Bond films with the fervent reverence and devotional love only those who enjoy blue terrycloth onesies can appreciate. Joined by a slew of comedic guest hosts (Doug Benson, Steve Agee, Paul F. Tompkins, Alie and Georgia, Paul Sheer - to name but a few.), James Bonding is the pow-wow podcast for Bond fans to listen to while you wash your dishes. 

You'll be shaken. You'll be stirred. You'll be doubled over laughing at more than one point. Just make sure to pull your Aston-Martin DB5 over to the side of the road before you start listening.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Does It Feel To Feel About A Shoegaze Documentary? (Quite Good, As A Matter Of Fact!)

Of all the genres of music that have ever meant anything to me (and there are quite a bit - rock, punk, be bop, hip-hop, etc, etc.), shoegaze has always been my favorite. The moment I first discovered the glacial chimes of Lush or the beautiful feedback-drenched reverberations of My Bloody Valentine, I knew I had found the sound I was looking for. 

Shoegaze, to me, will always be a timeless music genre. Born in England and tagged with a disparaging moniker by a member of the constantly fickle British music press, shoegaze quickly fell out of favor when the twin maelstroms of Grunge and Britpop came blowing through town. While detrimental at the time, the bandwagon-hopping inclinations of the music market would, in time, prove to be quite advantageous to a scene that appreciated effects pedals over sacchrine pop hits. In going underground, shoegaze, as a music genre, eventually gained a certain air of mystique and mystery to it.

While Oasis and Blur battled it out in Brittan, and Nirvana and Pearl Jam were influencing the future generation of "constipation rock" (Creed, Matchbox Twenty, Nickelback, etc.), many underground American musicians were basking the shoegaze afterglow, writing and performing their own dreampop songs. From the mid-1990's up to now, it's this level of dedication to the tone-bending craft - by those who appreciate it the most - has allowed shoegaze to age with both dignity and grace.

Twenty years on from the time bands like Ride, The Pale Saints or The Boo Radleys were staring down at their seemingly vast arrays of effects pedals, hammering out shimmering atmospheric ditties, shoegaze has followed its vapor trail back into reverence and appreciation from the shortsighted and  musical purgatory imposed upon it. Bands such My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver and Slowdive have recently reformed and are currently playing shows all over the world. A few have even released new albums.

It's a good time to be a fan of this music genre. 

Which brings me to this: Los Angeles-based film director Eric Green's documentary about "the scene that celebrates itself," titled Beautiful Noise. Generated via Kickstarter, and produced by Green's wife Sarah Ogletree, Beautiful Noise traces the roots and influences of the shoegaze movement, featuring interviews with My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie, and Mark Gardner of Ride, as well as interviews with rock luminaries such as Wayne Coyne, Billy Corgan, Trent Reznor, Robert Smith, and more. 

Beautiful Noise looks like the documentary shoegazers the world over have been waiting for. I certainly know I have.

Originally reported by Pitchfork.com.

Additionally, here are some homemade shoegaze compilations available for your listening pleasure, available here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cruz'n For A Brew'zn: An Interview With Penelope Cruz?

Where to begin?

I hadn't heard from (name withheld by request - I will refer to this editor by their initials, which are "J.J.J.") at (name of publication withheld by request) in over six months. When I saw [their] name pop-up on my cell phone, my stomach sank. My last article detailing graft within the the paper's parent company had not gone down very well with the big wigs upstairs, and I had attributed this to the fact that I had not received any writing assignments since.

I feared legal repercussions. Instead, I received what I would later come to comprehend as one of the worst, most perplexing writing assignments I had ever been tasked with in over 15 years as a freelance journalist.

"Anthony, my boy," J.J.J. said in what can best be described as a jubilant tone (which, for this ever-frustrated and easily irritated editor is a rarity indeed). "Do I have an exclusive for you!"

As my bowels slowly began to ease, my apprehension took hold. "Oh, yeah...? I haven't heard from you in a while [J.J.J.]. Now all of a sudden here you are with an assignment?"

"Water under the bridge," J.J.J. said, [their] ever-present cigar audibly mashing between [their] teeth. "Under. The. Bridge."

I didn't say anything, for effect.

"Look, do you want the work or not?" he barked smoothly. "I haven't seen your name on a byline in a while."

J.J.J. was right. It had been a while. The last piece I wrote was snarky bit about 50 Shades of Grey (sigh) for a local alt. weekly with a readership tighter than a Brooklyn transplant's jeans. I needed the work, if for anything to fill-in the gaps on my resume. 

(Also, if I may be completely honest with both you and myself, I needed the cash. And if I'm taking assignments from J.J.J., then you know I'm desperate.)

"Okay [J.J.J.]," I said, smugly. "Whaddya you have for me?"

"How would you like to interview Penelope Cruz?" J.J.J. said with [their] usual gruffness.

"Penelope Cruz, the actress?" I asked in disbelief.

"No," J.J.J. snapped back. "Penelope Cruz, the garbage collector! Of course it's the actress Penelope Cruz!!!"

"Hell, yeah!" I returned, barely hiding my giddiness. "I'm in!"

"Great! Can you get to the [name of airport withheld by request] by 3pm?" Typical J.J.J. It was already 2:30pm.

Thankfully I was already dressed in a sports coat and pressed pants from a job interview earlier in the day (though, I didn't have time to put my tie back on). I grabbed my shoulder bag and shoved my notebook, computer and pens into it. Unable to locate my digital recorder, I settled on simply using my cell phone's recording function as my recording device, instead. "I'm leaving now."

"Fantastic!" J.J.J. wheezed.

"Hey [J.J.J.]," I paused, cell phone crooked between my shoulder and ear. "What's she promoting?"

"That's what you're going to find out, hotshot!"  "Hanger 18. Go get her!" [they] said before abruptly hanging up the phone.

I jumped in my Tercel and lead-footed it down to the airfield. 

Arriving at Hanger 18, I found Ms. Cruz's public relations liaison, Angela Havelock waiting for my in front of a private jet, engines whirling and ready to go.  She was flanked by two very large, very menacing bodyguards in matching black suits.

"Mr. King?" Angela greeted me with a manufactured smile, my reflection staring back at me sheepishly in her impenetrably thick and expensive-looking sunglasses. Her pail face was framed by a blonde bob haircut grown longish. 

"Yes," I said.

She wore a black-as-night short sleeve top and matching ankle-length skirt. Her shoes, also black, were of an unknown manufacturer to me, but I could tell that they easily cost more than the monthly rent on my studio apartment. In shaking my hand, I immediately noticed that hers was ice cold.

"Glad you could make it," Angela said, ushering me into the pristine private jet which reeked of new plane smell. "My employer has much to discuss with you. We're hoping for a favorable interview."

"As am I," I concurred. "What does Ms. Cruz want to discuss?"

"You'll find out when we get there," Angela said, cryptically.

"Okay, so, where are we off to, then?" I asked, as we both took our seats.

"I'm afraid my employer's current whereabouts are strictly confidential," Angela informed me, removing her sunglasses. "I can't tell you precisely where we are flying to. It's for her protection, you see."

"Protection from what?" I asked.

"I'm afraid I can't divulge that information." Then, Angela leaned forward and said in a hushed tone, "Let's just say that my employer has had some ...extremely enamored admirers."

I imagine she would. A star of Ms. Cruz's caliber and beauty must have amassed legions of whackadoo fans over the years. But this level of secrecy and security bordered on the absurd. 

As I buckled my seat belt, one of the bodyguards yanked my shoulder bag out of my lap. He took the seat across from me and began rifling through the bag's meager contents. 

"Just a precaution," Angela assured me. "I'm sure you understand."

I did, and I didn't.

As soon as he was done perusing my bag, the bodyguard thrust it back into my chest. "It's clean," he said in a flat, blunt tone.

What had J.J.J. gotten me into? Was this some sort of revenge scenario [they] had been cooking up for the last six months?

The flight took less than two hours by my estimation (I couldn't tell for certain, as my watch - as well as my cell phone and shoelaces - had been confiscated by one of the bodyguards before we took off). Nobody spoke while we were in the air, despite my numerous and awkward attempts to ask Angela questions (she simply ignored me while conducting business furiously on her iPad), or trying make light chitchat with the stone-faced bodyguards. So I busied myself with the best "who," "what," "why," "where," "when," and "how" questions I could concoct as if I had the foggiest notion as to what any of this was all about.

We landed at an airfield that looked nearly identical to the one we departed from. As we got up to exit the plane, the pilot emerged from the cockpit with a warm smile (a welcome sight, given the company). 

"Welcome to... " began the svelte, middle-aged aviator. He wore his salt and pepper mustache neat and trimmed. His feather grey hair tousled ever so slightly by the gentle wind coming from... from... which direction was it? I wasn't exactly sure.

No sooner had he started his sentence than he was quickly cut-off by Angela, her pursed ruby red lips elongated back as if the ends were trying to touch each of her ears. Wide-eyed, she made a series of slashing motions with the flat of her hand which barely grazed her neck. "Shht! Shht!"

The pilot look sheepishly at the floor, like a middle-aged child who just got in trouble.

As we made our way down the stairs, we were greeted by three more black-suited bodyguards surrounding a black Cadillac Escalade with black-tinted windows. Angela's assistant, Melody, emerged from the back seat. 

Melody was about 22 or 23, petite, with cat-eyed glasses. Her hair was tied back into a perfect, no-strand-of-hair-out-of-place bun. As became apparent by her body language (and the way she curled herself around her tablet computer), Melody was easily fearful of her boss.

"How was your flight?" Melody meekly asked Angela.

"None of your business," Angela sniped back. "Mr. King, this is my assistant, Melody. Melody? Mr. King."

Before we had a chance to greet one another, Angela was onto business. They walked and talked rapidly from the plane to the car.

"Did you get the revised schedule I sent you?" 

"Yes. The changes have been made."

"Good. Emails?"

"Yes. I personally responded to all of them this morning?"

"Okay. Scripts?"

"Outlined and noted, with tabs on all of her pages of dialogue..."

"No, Melody. Prescriptions!"

"Oh. Yes. They are on the counter of the master bath, right next to the sink."

"Good. Good."

One of the bodyguards opened the passenger-side door of the Escalade, which is where I assumed I was to sit. As I began to enter, the guard flat-palmed me with one hand to the chest, pinning against the side of the car. With eye's wild, he began reaching around to his back for ...something. A weapon, perhaps?

Incredulous, Angela waved him off. "I sit up front, Mr. King," Angela informed me. "You'll sit in back with Doug and Caesar. And I must insist you wear this during the car ride."

No sooner had she extended her left hand then Melody placed a black satin hood into it. 

I laughed this off. "Are you serious?"

She peered into my eyes and said, "Quite."

I took the hood and got into the back seat of the immaculately clean SUV. Two bodyguards sat on either side of me. The driver sat eerily still, looking forward out the window.

As Angela took her seat up front, she closed the door and rolled the window down. "Good work," she said to Melody in a tone that denoted she could barely believe the girl could handle such responsibilities. Turning her attention to her iPad, Angela then remembered one more piece of business that required immediate attention.

"Oh, and Melody?"


"The pilot. Fire him!"

Before the SUV sped off - and the black satin hood was taken out of my hands and placed over my head by one of the bodyguards - I could see Melody turn to the plane were the pilot was, and then back to her employer with sad, yet determined eyes.

The car ride took forever. Under the black satin hood, not only could I not see out, but I couldn't breathe very well, either. And despite the A/C being turned up seemingly full blast, I was sweating like a pig. Or at least my head was. The rest of my body was - despite being sandwiched between two very large men made of completely of muscle and testosterone -  quite cold.

Realizing I may very well be in this situation for God knows how long, I laid my head against the headrest and promptly fell asleep. 

I'm not entirely sure how long I was asleep, or even how long we had been driving, but I awoke from my slumber to hear the familiar metallic clink-clunk of the SUV rolling over one of those tire-shredding deterrents most common in metropolitan parking garages. Just as I was shaking off my sleep-induced grogginess while trying to get my bearings, one of the bodyguards ripped the black satin hood off my head, taking several strands of my hair with it.

"You snore when you sleep," Angela informed me. "Loudly."

I was led out of the SUV only to discover that we were indeed inside a slate grey underground parking garage. Angela was already at the elevator waiting for it to arrive as I stumbled over to her, still groggy.

"You might consider adjusting your yourself," she said. I did the best I could.

There was no reason the elevator ride should have been any different from the plane ride and the car ride, as the four of us (Angela, the two bodyguards and myself) rode up to the 36th floor. Given the faux-art nouveau decorative nature of the elevator, I surmised that I must be in some sort of contemporary office or apartment building. The number pad and floor indicator were both gleaming new with their blue-on-black digital displays cased in brushed steel. Oddly enough, however, the elevator didn't feel as if it were actually moving up, but rather gently swaying side-to-side.

As we reached the 36th floor, the doors opened to a large living room where several very photogenic mid-to-late twenty something men and women were standing around, engaging in conversation. A jazzy, David Lynch-ian tune hovered over the din. 

The oddest thing about this scene, however, was that the place was lit like a sitcom or television commercial. It sounds crazy, but this place felt didn't feel like an real life apartment, but more like a sound stage.

Angela lead me to the middle of the room and positioned me in front of a set of closed double doors, where yet another black clad security guard was standing sentry. Angela walked past the guard and into the room. As I waited, I could feel the guard sizing me up and imagining various scenarios in which he'd enjoy dispatching me. 

Angela soon emerged from the room, swinging opening both doors in a wildly dramatic fashion. "You have three questions," Angela informed me, curtly.  

At this point I should have been stupefied. I was dragged however many miles on a private jet to ask world-renowned actress Penelope Cruz only three questions? Well, I would have been had it not been for the alarming realization that I must have left my shoulder bag in the SUV. Still, I was  confident I could wing this interview. i just needed to make my three questions count.

Against a huge picture window stood the actress, looking out onto the skyline of whatever city we were supposed to be in (in fact, the skyline didn't look quite real, but rather like an almost convincingly painted backdrop). Ms. Cruz was dressed in a smart, form-fitting cream-colored dress accented with a thin black belt. She was, quite frankly, radiant.

As soon as I walked in, she turned around and asked, "Coffee or espresso?"

"Oh, coffee, please" I said graciously, taking a seat on a brown couch in the middle of the room. I could feel Angela pacing behind me, crossing her arms in an needlessly aggressive fashion.

Ms. Cruz meanwhile was placing a plastic pod filled with some coffee-like concoction or another into a very fancy and futuristic-looking coffee maker. It only took a matter of seconds, but out came two cups of frothy brown coffee, which the actress delivered to my personally. Of the two cups of coffee, she handed me the slightly larger one. 

For a woman who seemingly surrounds herself with an aggressively rude staff, Ms. Cruz was the absolute picture of charm and grace.

As Ms. Cruz took a seat in a chair opposite the couch, Angela chimed in bluntly with, "Remember, I said three questions!" Perhaps it's Angela who should be concerned with her memory, as she just gave me these instructions 13 seconds ago.

The coffee was good. Perhaps a bit too sweat for my tastes, but good, nonetheless. I figured I'd use this as an in to ask lightheartedly, "Is this coffee?" I even went so far as to give my inquiry a nebbishy lilt. I like to put my interviewees at ease with seemingly innocuous questions first.

Ms. Cruz smiled and said, "it's Nespresso Vertuoline."

"How do they make the froth?" I asked, looking at my cup as it it were a laboratory experiment in a jar I was absolutely astounded by.

"It's coffee crema," she said confidently, as if that was a thing; a well known thing.

Before I even had a chance to inquire about this so-called "coffee crema" ingredient, Angela butted-in again: "Last question!"

This time my indignation at Angela's rudeness could not be contained, as I found found myself almost involuntarily turning around to give her a "the fuck's your problem?!?" scowl.

I needed to buy more time with Ms. Cruz, if for no other reason than to figure out just why the hell I was here on assignment in the first place. I didn't fly all this way and and endure her raft of well-dressed miscreant flunkies in order to not get the story I was sent here to write (whatever it may have been). So I played the only card I had left:

"May I have another cup, please?"

"Thank you," Angela said in a brash, snotty tone. "Next!"

Next?!? Huh??? Just how many reporters did they fly in to get this mysterious story, anyway?

As I left, Ms. Cruz held her coffee cup up to her chin, smiling while holding a spoon through the brownish froth. She sat motionless in that position as I was escorted out of the room by a bodyguard.

Next thing you you know, I'm whisked back into the SUV, then the private jet going back home. And that was that.

Needless to say, when relaying this story to J.J.J., a series of creatively crafted expletives were hurled my way. I think it's safe to say that this may be the last piece of reporting you see from me here in the pages of (name of publication withheld by request). Well, at least I got a cup of frothy coffee out of it.

Below is a dramatic reenactment of my interview with Penelope Cruz, starring noted Cruz look alike Francesca Fiore